Confessions of an Anthropomorphizer

Of course, I was just fooling myself. I might have fooled my dogs, or not, but that’s tough to know unless you have an animal psychic to bridge the interspecies gap. And I’m glad I didn’t.

Jake and Wendy 2.14.14In an icestorm after a snowstorm on the third day of no electricity or water,  I woke up last Sunday under so many blankets that my joints ached from being crushed like peanuts in a PB&J. I hadn’t gotten much sleep but never got out of bed because there was nowhere else to go. It was cold out there above the sheets. Dismal. Apocalyptic. I had been up since 4 a.m. thinking about so many things, I couldn’t name any of them now, except the brilliantly clear thought at the end: I just can’t take it anymore.

And so we decided to take a break:  from any and all plans, obligations, and cohabitants in our ever-chilling, dreary home. We drove 22 miles, just missing an accident involving an overturned snowplow, and dropped the pets off on our way to the Hilton.  We were going to power up, shower up, walk downtown to eat hot food, and watch HBO. We had canceled plans to go out of town that weekend anyway, so we figured we may as well get some sort of enjoyment out of the situation.

fog across snowy field & roadUnfortunately, due to the conditions, this now hinged entirely on my ability to prioritize human comfort (and some basic necessities) and forget about the dogs: whether their walks were long enough, whether their food was doctored up properly or served before they got too hungry, whether their little hearts had an outlet for all that people-pleasing energy, and just how far below their normal comfort and overall level of happiness things were going to be.

Oh, I knew what the answers were before any of us got in the car. More than that, I knew the only real problem lay in my acceptance of the entire situation as a whole, and not its parts. Because the parts were – well, a little further under the bar than I was prepared for. It turned out that the pet hotel was also out of power. (Okay, “pet hotel” is a bit of a euphemism, a vestige of my hopeful brain making sense of taking my precious dogs to a kennel – but yes, it was a kennel.) We had the option, of course, of not leaving them there, but one of the workers said they would probably get their power back in a couple of hours. They also said they were going home two hours early that day. I carefully re-weighed the pros and cons given this new information, mentally taking each fork in the road, but I was worn down. I looked at my disappointed, not-going-to-Portland-for-the-weekend husband, and made a gut decision: just let them go.

It wasn’t easy, but on a larger scale of reference, it wasn’t that hard. Sure, I’m still haunted with the very real memory of walking down an unlit hallway of what was supposed to be bright individual rooms with heated floors, but what instead looked, smelled, and (I imagine) felt exactly like solitary confinement. There was another couple with their small dog, so I got to watch them push the little teacup poodle into an abysmal cell and hurry out the door, pretending they didn’t hear its high pitched howls. “She has a little trouble saying goodbye,” the husband said. I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the dog or his wife, but they walked out and drove away regardless. My husband and I repeated the scene, but this time it was worse because I had a window into this little dog’s brain: She can’t possibly be leaving me in this dump. Surely I’ll die of a toxic emotional cocktail of depression, lack of comfort, and anxiety. What did I do to deserve this?

But then I imagined my husband and other family members and friends – even strangers, really – being able to see the exact contents of my mind and how they would laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. And I knew if I could step back and view my worries and projections objectively like that, I would do exactly the same thing. That’s the best thing about having anxiety be your worst problem: sometimes, all you have to do is shed a little light on it, and it vanishes.

2007Alcatraz.LisaI once took a tour of Alcatraz, another dismally damp and cold environment where I couldn’t believe anyone would expect a person to stay, let alone live. You only make sense of the extreme isolation, the rusty cages, the cold calculations of people as numbers, because you can now say that it’s defunct, we’ve learned something from it, and anyway, they were all hardened criminals.

2010_5yroldWendyTry saying that to this face. This is the face I saw just before I shut the steel door behind me. This is the face that was superimposed onto the screen at the movie theater, on my plate where a delicious wood-fired pizza was supposed to be at the restaurant, on the back of my eyelids when I lay down in a pristine, soft, warm bed.

And yet, each time I was able to recognize it for what it was: a projection. I wasn’t seeing my actual dogs in actual pain. Their needs were more than met. They had food, shelter, blankets, and caring people around them. I really did enjoy myself during our little “staycation,” and I’m happy I had the opportunity to do it. Clearly I need to practice letting go, and so I did. Every time I worried whether it was going to be okay, I just reminded myself that dogs don’t need featherbeds and they don’t hold grudges. Yes, I caused them some anxiety, but I do the opposite the other 99.9% of the time, and it wouldn’t do any good to cause myself more anxiety than I imagined they felt. How can I really know how they feel? They eat grass, throw up for fun, and lick their own butts.

I should say we have a cat, too. He’s so low maintenance, we could leave him at home.  In fact, if I had a window into his mind, I would say he didn’t notice we were gone. Even though I promised myself after last Sunday I would stop projecting onto animals – or anyone, for that matter – I’m pretty sure I’m right. Nova

Facebook Faux Pas

Jake shamingI’m so ashamed. It was right here that I broke up with Facebook, and now I must confess that I have reinstated my account. Four months ago. I know – whatever happened to my resolve? Where is my consistency? What made me think I was so much better than Facebook and its 500 million users anyway?

I don’t know. All I can say is that I moved 2000 miles away from Minnesota and many family members and friends, and I wanted to keep in touch. I’m not sorry I did it. Okay, I am a little sorry I did it. I’m not sorry that I’ve been able to see the pictures of my niece’s first year at college, and friends’ and family’s kids in Halloween costumes, and the smiling faces of people I know at all the get-togethers I’ve missed. I am sorry only because I’ve lapsed back into bad habits: the wake-and-check (Facebook); the chronic multi-task (Facebook+baking, Facebook+walking, Facebook+watching TV – pretty much anything but driving); and the chunk of life I’ve used up formulating my Facebook identity (“To comment, or not to comment/ That is the question”).

Not only that, but my bad habits have grown. This morning during my wake-and-check, I found myself in another Facebook faux pas: the reading loop to infinity. It’s when you click on an intriguing article and it leads you into reading a string of articles on that site, which leads you to another site, and so on until you look at the clock and realize either you haven’t eaten all day, or you’ve somehow gone through two bags of chips without knowing it. This time, my reading loop started with an old local news station. I had clicked on an article about a man waking up alone on a locked plane because no one noticed him when they landed. This led me to the links at the end, where I started clicking and reading about other news in the Twin Cities. It started with Prince’s Chanhassen estate going into foreclosure, but that was a Skittles rainbow compared to the rest. From “Woman Jumps off I-94” to “Body Found in Lasalle Avenue Parking Garage” to “Girl Survives Days Alone with Dead Mother,” I quickly became horrified to the familiar point at which I looked with paranoia toward the door, got up like I was exiting a helicopter, and made sure I locked it as securely as possible.

photo (2)Which is stupid in so many ways, but especially since I now live 2 miles outside an unincorporated community and 18 miles outside a small city whose biggest recent news story was “Jogger’s Dog Bitten by Another Jogger’s Dog.” I’m not saying that nothing goes on around here, but if it’s all relative – well, then, nothing goes on around here.  The most frightening thing in my neighborhood is a bull in a shabbily fenced field that moos when I walk by in bright colors.

I know I didn’t move away from bad news by moving here, any more than I did by deactivating my Facebook account. I only avoided reading about it. But I want to avoid getting into an endless loop of bad news. Now that Facebook and I are back together, I have to find another way to read around things I don’t want to waste my time and energy on. I have to sort through the constant ads, page suggestions, and silly memes that have become a huge part of it since I went away. Primarily, I want to find the willpower to overcome my bad Facebook habits, both old and new. In addition to the wasted time, the wake-and-check, and the chronic multi-task, I now have virtual friend dreams: dreams in which I’m hanging out with the people who recently posted things in my Facebook newsfeed. I now find myself telling friends who are not on Facebook about Facebook “events” - what someone recently commented, and then what I commented in reply, and the comment they wrote after that. I might even laugh at how funny and clever it all was.

Yes, I’ve become someone whose most interesting topics of conversation all too often come from Internet “Top Ten” lists on websites featuring dogs and cats. I’m one of those people who suddenly goes, “Here, look at this,” and then shoves an iPhone in your face. I’m like one of those kids who eats dinner at the table looking down at their crotch, only I’m not a kid, and I’m not hiding it because I think no one will notice - I’m hiding it because I’m so ashamed.

Is there a website for that? Any recent articles that have gotten a lot of shares? How about an online petition against too much junk on Facebook that I can sign by “liking” it?

Wait a sec, I’ll check. Be right back . . .

Filling the well

2013ocean.thoughtfulLisa.WendyFor me, 2013 is not just a year anymore – it’s also the number of miles I moved from Minnesota to Oregon. Two months and ten days have passed since then, and just a few days more since I’ve written anything, blog or otherwise. You’d think such a big change would give me oodles of inspiration, but no. More than once I’ve had an idea, but after running to the computer, I sat in front of a blank Word doc for minutes before realizing that my mind was just as blank. How did that happen?

Doesn’t matter. I’ve done this long enough to know when the creative well is empty, and when that happens, you fill it. So in those times I do not attempt to write. Instead (and when I can’t go to the ocean), I bake.

I’ve done more than bake since I arrived – from sifting through and tossing stuff, to applying and interviewing for jobs, to catching up with my old second home of Eugene and the friends and family who remained during my ten-year absence. I’ve always baked when I needed something: a gift or potluck dish, something sweet, something to do with restlessness. Now I have another reason. I am again immersed in Eugenean ways, a nature-focused, health-oriented culture. It may drive some people crazy, but I like it. In fact I cried a little when I heard my favorite kombucha drink actually flows on tap here.

In looking around at ads, in stores and restaurants, I also saw “gluten-free” everything. I guess it’s not just for celiacs. My two closest friends here are doing it, so I wanted to see if I could get the same benefits. For a baker, it is difficult, but for a lover of baked goods, it begins as hell. You say (or yell) things like, “Who cares if it might make me feel better?!” And then you hear yourself, and you take a good long look at why you wouldn’t want to feel better, and you imagine Cher in Moonstruck slapping you in the face. If I could feel more energetic, less foggy and bloated, and almost definitely lose weight, why not?

There have been failures, to be sure. More than that, I have spent way too much time looking for recipes, since I decided to combine gluten-free with refined-sugar-free baking. But the following are the three best, often repeated recipes I have been proud to make my own. And my husband, a meat eater and gluten lover (and says about sugar, “The more refined, the better”) loves them just as much.

The most repeated and simple recipe is for pumpkin bundt cake, pumpkin bundtwhich is not necessarily gluten-free. I simply used the old South Dakota standby, the glorified cake mix recipe, and substituted a gluten-free cake mix! The recipe:

1 box of yellow cake mix

1 15-oz can of pumpkin

3 or 4 eggs (I have tried as few as 2, plus a “flax egg” which is 1 T. ground flax + 3 T. water, which worked great and adds omega-3s)

2-4 T. olive oil

1/2 c. sugar (a refined-free sugar to use is coconut palm sugar, or a combination of that with apple sauce)

2 t. cinnamon + 1 t. pumpkin pie spice

Bake it at 350 for 45 minutes. I made a glaze of: orange rind, honey, maple syrup, and 1 T. coconut oil (melted to mix). I sprinkled on unsweetened coconut and crushed roasted pecans. The glaze makes it stick to the top. It’s divine. And yes, the cake mix has some raw cane sugar.

Next best recipe I have gloriously dubbed the orange scented date bar. It makes it sound fancy, and it really does have an aroma of orange, both when you bake it and bite into it. I adapted this from myrecipes.com “Maple-Date bars,” which I originally passed up until fellow blogger at Healthy Twists referred to it.

Lisa’s Orange Scented Date Bars

Pretty date barscant 2 c. finely chopped pitted dates (I used medjool)

scant 1 c. fresh squeezed orange juice

1 t. vanilla + 1 t. lemon zest + 1 t. orange zest

Put first two (2) ingredients in a medium saucepan, let bubble on med heat 12 minutes or till it looks like a jam – zest and vanilla go in at the end. Then turn your stove on to 400, and cream together:

1/2 c. sugar (like coconut palm sugar), + 1/2 c. butter, + 2 T. apple sauce

To the sweet butter mix, add the following pre-combined dry ingredients:

1 c. oats, 1 c. flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free mix + 1 t. xanthan gum), + 1/4 t. soda, + 1/4 t. salt.

I coated a 9 x 13 pan with coconut oil, and pressed most of this batter into the bottom, then spread on the date jam. To the rest of the batter (about 1/3 cup) add:

1/2 c. chopped pecans and 1/4 c. unsweetened shredded coconut; use fingers to make it crumbly like biscuit dough and sprinkle/press onto date layer. Bake 15-20 min.  When they come out, label them, because these bars are chocolate-fakers. No chocolate lover wants to be faked out by date jam.

But if you do fake out a disappointed chocolate lover, make it up to them with tiny brownies. I do it for myself because, while I can’t always stop a sugar-binge with binge-launching chocolate-anything, I can sometimes quell the itch with cocoa. These are definitely gluten-free and vegan, if you care. This recipe is adapted from Ricki Heller. I call them Chocolate Fix + Healthy = Gluten-free, Refined Sugar Free Brownies

one hemp brownie1/4 c. coconut sugar, + 1  t. powdered Stevia

3 T. water

1 t. vanilla

1 T. olive oil (or other kind of oil)

Combine the above ingredients, set aside, and set oven to 350. Then combine dry ingredients, before adding to wet:

scant 1 c. almond flour

2 T. cocoa

1/4 c. hemp seeds, crushed in a food processor

1/4 t. soda + 1/4 t. powder + 1/4 t. salt

These are really cute in a mini muffin pan. I used liners, but they kind of stuck to the liners, so you could just spray the pan for a better result. Before baking, sprinkle on some unsweetened coconut. When they come out, top with a roasted & salted pecan. The inventress of the original recipe, Ricki Heller, is a pro and eats a truly monstrously specialized diet, the “anti-candida diet,” which some people do for a few months to let the body rest from sugar. Some people swear by this diet forever and are militant about it, so you can be assured that your body will think of this brownie pretty much as garden salad.

And no, hemp does not make you high, is legal, and is a best source of fatty acids and (vegan) protein, among many other healthy, legal, non-trippy things.

And yeah, and I just conquered writer’s block. Here’s to happy baking!

From Bars to Worsted: Mystery Solved and More

bars lemonade best
How did these, the sweetest and most delightful oatmeal jam bars on Earth, get onto my plate? The short story is: I made them. The long story is much more complicated, but equally delicious. It all started with a picture. You could go back a little further and say it started with this giggler, a.k.a. my mom:

1945Donna1stComn_giggly

who grew up, went to college, put up a “roommate wanted” sign, and kept in touch with said-roommate-turned-friend Karen  for 45 years. After Mom died in August 2012, I contacted Karen because I knew that, living in Guam, she probably wouldn’t hear about it any other way. Fast forward to July 2013, when Karen called to say she would be in Minnesota and wanted to get together. We arranged for me to come to lunch about an hour and a half’s drive away.

I didn’t know how much Karen and I would have to talk about, but I knew I wanted to bring a couple of pictures I dug up and ask her especially about one of them, in which a woman in a red wool coat (I’m going to call it worsted wool because it makes my title work) stood on the deck of a ship:

In Red on the Boat Niagara FlsI suspected that the woman was Karen, but I was frustrated that I couldn’t know for sure. For the first time in my life, Mom wasn’t there to explain her old pictures and identify the people in them. All I had was the process of investigation and conjecture. The picture was among a collection that appeared to have been taken on a trip some time before 1966, when Mom got married. I was frustrated, too, to know that Mom was likely the one behind the camera for this picture, and for some reason I really wished she had one of herself on that ship. I hoped at least with Karen to solve some of the mystery.

I arrived at Karen’s home, actually her childhood home where her mother Ruth still lives. They both greeted me like I was a long-time friend, and I (quite embarrassed) had to ask Ruth’s name, but still somehow I also felt like I was seeing long-lost friends. We sat down in the lovely 1920s home among Ruth’s beautifully refurbished antique furniture (her own work) and talked. I showed them the picture, and at first Karen said she wasn’t sure about the woman in red, but Ruth (who, as Karen’s husband Frank pointed out, is older than her house) immediately said, “Oh, that’s you. I remember the red coat.”

There was another picture that I had from that same collection:

Sitting by the Storefront Windowand now Karen knew for certain it was her and gave me the whole story. It was 1965 and my mom had said she had a friend in Boston they could visit. They made a road trip out of it, going over to Michigan (where they took the “Milwaulkee Clipper” depicted in the woman-in-red photo), up through Canada, to Niagara Falls and finally to Boston. In this photo, Karen said they had decided not to get a hotel room but to sleep in the car. Her idea to drink whiskey to stay warm, she recalled without fondness, was admittedly not the best idea she’s ever had. They were hanging out in front of the store before they turned in (to the car) for the night.

After Ruth’s delectable homemade lunch and strawberry rhubarb pie, Karen was able to do one better than identify the people in my pictures – she had her own pictures in a photo album right there in Ruth’s living room. She opened it up to page one, and there it was: their 1965 road trip to Boston. Best yet, the very first photo on the page depicted none other than the photographer of the woman-in-red photo:   my mom.Mom.MilwaulkClppr1965

There was yet another surprise. In the photo she is wearing her favorite accessories of the time: her matching alligator handbag and shoes. These are the same shoes that she had kept in her closet for decades, until I took them out when she was sick and made a kind of decorative installation out of them (yes, they are that fantastic):

Photo courtesy of Donna Burns

Photo courtesy of Donna Burns

I really am getting back to the bars. As I left my 3+hour visit with Karen, Frank, and Ruth (it turns out we had plenty to talk about), the amazing Ruth sent me home with her very own cherry-rhubarb icebox jam. Make no mistake about it: this jam was so good, I was eating it by the spoonful right out of the jar. One of my favorite desserts of all time is oatmeal jam bars, so I could think of nothing better than to use this cherry-rhubarb delight. And I was right.

I simply used this recipe, which is your basic, simplest oat-jam bars. But with Ruth’s jam, the fact that she made it, the way it came into my hands, and all the rest of the story, these bars did not stay on the plate in my kitchen for long.

And if you kick in some fresh squeezed lemon-limeade? Get outta town. There are no words to describe that kind of package, but in honor of my mom and all the wonderful people she had in her life, I thought I’d give it a try.

Woman In Red on the Boat - used with permissionMom.MilwaulkClppr1965