finding the magic in life

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The circle of life: to learn, to teach, to pass on, our guide tells us. He takes my hand and draws a circle with his forefinger and says, In Thailand we believe in magic. We learned of a man who saw darkness and death; he witnessed the suffering in the world and sought to go beyond it in to find enlightenment. Realizing that material delights were fleeting and temporary, Buddha found himself beneath a tree of knowledge and remained there, in study, until he could make sense of the world around him. Once he’d found this truth, he made it his life’s work to share it with others because he knew there would come a time when he would leave his body for another place, nirvana, the paradise of which all faiths speak. Our guide takes us around Bangkok to visit the Buddha in his various representations, seated in deep meditation, standing, reclining.

We could talk about the 24-carat priceless monument to a faith rooted in knowledge. We could talk about the grandeur of a small emerald figure seated upon a jeweled throne, or the music the chimes make when you run your fingers across a row of dull metal, or the architecture that borrows from India, China and Cambodia, but in light of where my head’s been, I’ve given a lot of thought to life, how we live it and what we do with it before we pass on.

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Time is my spectre. Ticking clocks, the movement of days into weeks and years frightens me. There was a time when I’d wake from a deep sleep to pace my apartment because there would come a day when I wouldn’t pace. When my feet wouldn’t feel the ground beneath, rather my body would become part of the earth from which I’d come, and I still can’t wrap my head around it. When it comes to death I have no peace or calm about it, and I know when that time comes I will want to hold on as long as I could rather than fall gracefully into the dark. For me, there is no beauty in that last breath shuddering out–there is only the uncertainty which follows. People have their faith, they cling to it and I get it, but I can’t imagine a binary afterlife where I ascend to a home of gleaming white or fall into a column of fire. I just don’t buy it.

Perhaps this is why I’m so fixated on what I do in this life. And while I admire the story of Buddha and his relentless pursuit of truth, I don’t believe enlightenment comes through a succession of time. We’re constantly learning and then the hope is that we teach and then relearn and then do it all over again. For me, the magic has always been a photo once blurred coming into focus. The magic is crawling your way out of the dark and knowing that there will always be dark, but there will always, always be light. And this truth is comforting amidst a temporary life that ends (at least for me) with the gravest discomfort. Of a sky or ground burial, a body burned, or a body carried down a body of water.

Joan Didion says, we tell stories to live, and I believe this in my heart but I also believe we secretly tell stories so that we can leave our mark. We tell stories to be remembered. Don’t you forget about me, and like that. I think about this and I think about how I don’t want to have children and I wonder if my passing will hurt, if people will remember me in some capacity. And this selfishness (let’s call a spade a spade, okay?) coupled with a compulsion to find truth, to know everything one could possible know in a life, is sometimes the thing that gets me out of bed.

I once knew a person who said she had an aversion to anything dark. She won’t watch sad or disturbing movies, she reads stories that always deliver that neat, idyllic end, and she presses her eyes shut to the world around her. Sure, she might read The Skimm to get the Cliff’s Notes version of the world delivered in a tone of wit, stories of which are digestible and tweetable, but she refuses to know, to see. At first I thought this was an anomaly until I started to discover that many people live this way. They rationalize the need for reality television (as an example) to escape the world. They need some levity in their day. But then they shut their eyes to the world, and if they don’t know the darkness of it, and they surrounded themselves only in false light, what is it that they’re escaping? Are they fleeing the hazy awareness that the world is sometimes bad and people do evil things?

Why is it that people run from the dark? It’s been my experience that despair, loss, heartbreak, rage–this is all temporary. There is much to be learned from settling into the dark, breathing through it to get to the other side. That side is true light because you’ve once felt the absence of it. Someone asked me the other day how I felt about not drinking for the rest of my life. Admittedly, that’s still a scary thought, one with which I occasionally wrestle. And I said that I try not to think in those terms–the vagueness of an indeterminable amount of years I’ll be here, rather I think I just won’t drink today. But more importantly, what I’ve gained from not drinking is so much greater than the fact that I’ve lost the ability to do it.

It’s about the maths, I say. Because it was only the fact that I spent so many years under anesthesia and some years without that I know the difference of a life lived within the two. And I know that I can’t go back. Why would I? Yet I only truly understood that by having traveled through a dark country and building a temporary house there.

I think all of this is part of knowledge, this circle of life as Buddhists would have it. And this is the kind of thing I like to share with others, but the struggle is many don’t want to hear it. They want the tra la la pretty shiny life. They want the periphery, the ah, yes, I’ve heard of ISIS, but I’m fuzzy on the details.

Sometimes I feel punished for what I write and my need to share it. I do. And this has consumed much of my vacation, regardless of all the fun I’m having and all the beauty I see.

I woke this morning and said, out loud, what the fuck is so wrong about the dark?

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sophie + felix

sophie is so over me
Yesterday morning it occurred to me that this month marks the anniversary of my Sophie’s passing. It’s been a year since my relapse, since the whole of my world was shrouded in darkness. I don’t deal with loss well, and I didn’t anticipate just how devastated I’d be when she died. I couldn’t find the right words to describe the enormity of my grief. When I held her as she was being put to sleep, I didn’t feel the rush of heartbreak that I would inevitably feel weeks and months after. On that rainy day in late July, I was numb, sick and bewildered. I felt nothing. Hmm, that’s not true. I felt the heaviness of her departure, this unbearable disquiet.

I loved Sophie. Really loved her. She was prickly, prone to paw swats and over-excited hisses, but she was mine. She curled up next to me while I read, and slept beside me when I was sick. Even now, even as I type this, and page through images of her, I start to cry. Hers is a loss that I’ve come to learn how to bear. My god, she was so fluffy! So insouciant! So RUBENESQUE at her 14-pound height. I mean, look at that diamond belly! Nothing compares to you, as Sinead O’Connor so sagely crooned.

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Yesterday morning I ran errands, fixed up my apartment, and while I was taking dishes out of the dishwasher Felix meowed. It’s rare to find him on the shelf where a photo of Sophie and I, and her remains, lie, but he was there. Crying. I set the dishes down and turned around and watched him touch the tin that holds her remains, and I broke down and sobbed. I didn’t tell him to get down, I didn’t advance. Rather I stood there and watched and realized that there is a possibility that he could feel a whisper of my grief. A grief that has gone cold and quiet, yet lingers.

I can never thank my dearest friend Angie enough for driving me to the shelter to pick up Felix. I was hungover, grief-stricken, and probably incoherent, yet she was calm, comforting, and moved me from cage to cage until I spotted my little man. The sweet boy who would make me realize that there is indeed space in my heart for more love.

Sometimes I find myself comparing Felix to Sophie, which I suppose is inevitable, however, they are nothing alike. He prefers his belly rubbed, and he follows me from room to room. I joke that he’s a dog in a cat outfit. We play and I spoil him rotten. I love him beyond measure, but it’s a different love than what I felt for Sophie, not a lesser than, but different. Felix is easy and Sophie was well-earned.

I don’t know what to say about all this other than I’m grateful for my life and all the beautiful people in it. I’m grateful to have had Sophie for those seven years, and I’m grateful for having fallen madly in love with Felix, my special guy.

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blueberry coconut crumble

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It feels good to be home. To lay down my head on a familiar bed and feel my Felix snake my ankles. It feels good to buy bunches of lilacs because the blooms put me thinking of T.S. Eliot and college, and me shoving my face into a lilac bush and breathing everything, everything, in. It’s been an exhausting time since I’ve been back, with having to adjust to my life in New York while still processing all that happened in India. There are fitness classes to book and take, friends with whom lunches should be planned, contracts to negotiate and small projects to complete. Yet there are vials of fragrant oils from India, and I try on luxury for size and dot jasmine on my new sheets.

There are lilacs in my house. I’m here but I’m not and you know how it is.

I haven’t baked in a few weeks and I woke this morning {at 3:30AM, mind you} craving blueberries. So here it is, something simple, sweet and vivid to usher me into the evening. I’m keeping my cards close as there is so much to process, so much to think about…

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INGREDIENTS
For the filling
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
5-6 cups fresh wild or regular blueberries (32 ounces) or 32 ounces frozen wild or regular blueberries (do not thaw) or 2 pints from your local market
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

For the crumble
3/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup dark rye flour
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
big pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup plain Greek yoghurt

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

For the filling: Whisk 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and cornstarch in heavy large saucepan to blend. Stir in blueberries and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until mixture bubbles and thickens, frequently stirring gently, about 13 minutes. Chill filling until cool, about 1 hour (I shoved this in the fridge and it cooled nicely in 1/2 hr).

For the crumble: Combine the oats, coconut flakes, flour, and sugar together in a medium bowl. Stir in the butter, and then the yogurt and mix until everything comes together in a dough-like texture. Add the blueberries to a 9-inch pie dish. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the blueberry mixture.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust and topping are golden and filling bubbles thickly, about 20-25 minutes. Personally, I loved this chilled, in the morning, with coffee.

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amer fort: jaipur, india {the longest post, ever}

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Perhaps I was too ambitious. Maybe I thought the physicality of ticking off an item on a list was still a marker of achievement. I came to India with purpose — I would have the space, time, and clarity to bring my novel home {the physical} while at the same time finding out if I need to define what it is that I want to do with my life {the mental; line forms to the left}. And naturally, there would be time, oceans of it, to complete freelance projects, and make sense and shape of all that is India. I would navigate its streets, inhale its spices, feel its people.

I never conceived of that fact that India is both exhilarating and exhausting, and I’m again reminded that once you attempt to define something, that thing changes its form until it is something else altogether.

We’re closing out our trip in Jaipur, which is a city of three million people, but it might as well be thirty with its symphony of sound, color, taste and smell. Yesterday we wandered The Pink City, and I tried to ignore the way men looked at us, looked through and under our clothes. I tried not to feel unsettled by the fact that there were hundreds of women covered in black cloth with only a slit for their eyes to betray their identity. We wove in and out of a thoroughfare of chaos with the constant drone of a horn honking {this is the norm, it seems}, people shouting, women negotiating fruit and fabric, men calling — always the siren call of the sea nymphs turned land turned street turned petal pink — cows swaggering, camels sleeping, dogs nipping, cats calculating, and the seven of us wandering, making sure we were always, always together.

There was the hiss and spit of fire {The river’s tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf/Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind/Crosses the brown land, unheard./The nymphs are departed, writes Eliot}, the spark of turquoise and cobalt dyes, the men walking beside me, telling me, It costs nothing to look. Come look. Come over here. I do not follow because I think of the fire and charcoal and how it is possible that within eight short days I can bear witness to so many examples of following a loved one into the dark.

I was supposed to finish this book. I had a kind of idea of how I would end it. The novel is a triptych of sorts, a verse repeated three times — three generations of broken women — but finally broken {a new song sung, a new page being written} by a woman who starts off the story by setting a woman’s hair on fire, but ends up wanting the single thing she, and all of the women who had come before, had been missing — someone to follow her into the dark.

Believe me when I say that I see the pages. I see the words as I’m typing them, but all I can do is feel. All I can do is exist amongst these stories people whom I hardly know, tell, and I’m reminded of the fact that I am very much on the verge. I am on the precipice of something, and the idea of returning to New York to deal with all this shit is at turns thrilling and frightening.

I’m genuinely excited and frightened of a great many things, and this is okay to feel this. It’s okay to settle into the dark but not set up shop in it. To not lay your bricks down, but perhaps a little blanket that you can carry with you when you’re ready for the light.

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Today we spent a great deal of the deal at the Amer Fort in Jaipur. From the intricate fusion of Hindu and Muslim architecture and the iridescent embossed silver mirrors, walls and doors, to the cool pastels of the summer rooms and the the apartments of the 12 women the king kept, the Fort {Palace} is an extraordinary sight to see. One could wander the stairs and tunnels and complex irrigation systems all day. We also procured fragrant oils in cactus, lavender, jasmine, sandalwood, rose and grass, whose flowers were hand-pressed and melded with hands that come from three generations of fragrance manufacturing. We saw fakirs {!!!} and cobras and dogs on their backs, and monkeys, who, in one moment would eat from the palm of your hand and then attack it.

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All the while I think of an honest love letter a new friend of mine wrote to her childhood friend, who has slowly become more than that. I remember reading it over dinner and feeling the familiar ache of a woman who has the strength to risk plucking out her heart and laying it down to be received. I was struck by this love described so simply, so plainly, and it is the very thing in which I desire for myself and for my Kate, the center character in my novel.

I think of our tour guide, Raj, a kind man who regaled the story of he {a Brahmin} and “Sweetie” {his Sikh wife}. They were beloveds through high school and college, but they kept their love a secret to no one save the very fundamentalist family. So Raj would escort her on movie dates and drop her off around the corner of her house, and Sweetie would pursue three different degrees to defer the suite of arranged Sikh suitors her parents had dutifully selected. Sweetie went on her interviews, which were a constant play on what is said and unsaid, and after having told three families that no, she does not eat meat, and no, she does not cook, and no, she is not religious, Raj’s family met with Sweetie’s and told the story of two people very much in love.

In short, this meeting was a disaster. Raj’s family was escorted out before the chai had been laid down on the table, and the father blamed the mother for the catastrophe that was Sweetie’s digressions. Family members made the 10-hour journey from Punjab to discuss, for 15 days straight, the plight of Sweetie. There were tears, threats, anguish and despair, and finally Raj took a calculated risk and told the family that he and Sweetie had already signed papers to be married.

A family debacle is one thing. A legal one is quite another. Arrangements were made, concessions acquiesced to, and for seventeen years Raj and Sweetie made a wonderful home and life for themselves, and the families became whole with the birth of two very beautiful children.

I listen to this story on a moving bus, and parts of it are funny and other parts are heartbreaking, but the light, the love is palpable, and this was once a young man who would risk everything for the woman he loved.

I think: I have this. I have this story in my hands and what to do with it? I wait for the time when mind, heart and hand are ready to move. I’m excited for the velocity of this book. I’m frightened of my personal velocity {the life undefined, the financial insecurity that is real}, and I know right now that I can’t control any of it.

All I can do is breathe, be present, and hope that life and art intersect and the character gets her way and the woman gets her way, and everyone is followed into, and ushered out of, the dark.

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thinking about a life of intention + an invitation for feedback on this space

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When I read this quote on my friend Summer’s space, I was seized. My heart suddenly stopped, and I was met with a flood of ideas. One of them is so strange so not Felicia, and I keep talking myself out of it, so much so that it makes me think that this is an idea worth considering. For the past two years, I’ve served as a mentor to dozens of people, and the fact that people seek me out and really listen to me, is humbling. I actually like the fact that I play a small part in someone’s bloom and can help them find ways to find their passion simply. Part of me wonders if this is something I can do as a side project, professionally. Give one day sessions on how to find + start on a path of intention, using social media as one of your most valuable tools. I don’t know what form it would take, and I’m not blind to the fact that there are a million sites, books, and professionals who are actually trained as life coaches and the like, but…but…I still think about it. I don’t have the answers yet, but at least I’m thinking.

Speaking of listening…

On Monday, you might have noticed that I was tinkering with the design of this space because I felt bored. I temporarily changed the design to an all-visual format, and queried my friends on Facebook to gauge their thoughts. While some adored the clean layout, some of my friends gave me very constructive feedback, which made me revert back to the layout you see now. Some folks actually like the way I marry image + type. Some folks appreciate the austerity of this space. Who knew?

While I write a lot of what excites me, sometimes I feel as if I’m moving in the dark. Am I intimidating? I want to do so many things on this space {ideas of interviewing women who run small businesses, foodie and fitness profiles, and a lot more travel pieces}, but I wonder what’s clicking for you. If I judge it by my “likes per post” {terrible gauge, I know}, you guys love the food + recipes. But is there something I’m doing right or something I could be doing better? I really appreciate and respect your feedback, and since I have no plans to EVER monetize this space, the fact that this space is a virtual dialogue between me + you means that I value your voice in the conversation.

So tell me — what is it that you love about coming here? What do you wish you could see more of? If you’re shy about leaving a comment, feel free to leave it anonymously.

Image Courtesy of Summer Pierre. If you don’t visit her blog and buy her art, you’re bananas.

marble chocolate crumble cake

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When we were about to board a plane for Dublin, my father asks me, How is your life? It was a deceptively easy question, the sort of query that requires only a perfunctory response. I could have said, Great! Busy! Rich! Frightening! Unsettling! Confusing! I could have delivered the simplest of monosyllabic responses, but instead I said, I don’t know. My pop likes his meat medium rare so instead of explaining myself, I fixate on a pool of blood eddying at the corner of his plate. I wanted to say that while leaving a place that resembled comfort, or at least delivered a terrific illusion of it, was the bravest decision I’ve ever made, I’ve no idea what’s next. I don’t know what it is that I want; I just know what I don’t want, and winnowing up the options seems like an impossible proposition. So I chicken out and I don’t say any of these things, I just say, I don’t know. Dissatisfied, my pop says, That’s a load of bullshit, right there. You always know. You’ve always known. You,, he says, pointing his fork at me, always know.

But nothing is ever one thing is it? We are never one thing, are we? Just as we think we know what we are, we elude ourselves. We form our own chrysalis and a new self takes shape, and all the things that we’ve loved before have lost its luster. Are we then only what we what pursue?

Last week two people I admire offer me extraordinary full-time opportunities. I get a green pass to hop the line and one lunch can clinch the proverbial deal, and instead of leaping at the thought of not having to hustle and finally, finally, I could have normal health benefits, I pause. I retreat. I tell my pop about my hesitation and he says, Aren’t you going to get a job at some point? To which I quietly reply, I don’t know.

Fuck if I know.

This is what I do know: I love baking cakes during the day. I love waking early and working on a novel already a year in the making. I love staying up late and working on marketing plans and taking meetings with people I respect and admire in hopes that I can help them find their way. I love the rhythm of all this but it feels like stasis. It feels as if I’m in a purgatory of sorts, and nothing yet has emerged.

A few weeks ago someone told me that I intimidated them because it seems as if I’ve got it all figured out, to which I respond, Define it. Age doesn’t neatly tidy up the world, it only gives you the time to make sense of it. Age gives you the gift of perspective and need and want. But there is no pattern that knits it all together.

Today I read a blog post where the author writes: So, what’s stopping you from doing your best work and not that crappy stuff that’s filling up so many hours of your day? And I think that I’m not doing “crap” and I’m not doing my “best,” I’m rather somewhere in the betweens.

Always in the betweens, it seems.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Rachel Allen’s magnificent Cake
For the crumble topping
125g {1 cup} plain flour, sifted
75g {1/2 cup} caster {or cane} sugar
75g {3oz or 3/4 stick} unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
75g {3 oz} dark or milk chocolate, in chips or roughly chopped into pieces

For the cake
225g {2 sticks} butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
225g {1 cup} caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g (1 1/2 cups} plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
50 ml {1/3 cup} milk
25g {1/4 cup} cocoa powder
icing sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS
For the crumble topping: Using your fingertips, rub together the flour, sugar and butter in a large bowl until it resembles thick breadcrumbs, then mix in the chocolate pieces. Set aside in the fridge while you make the sponge.

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 180C/160 fan/gas 4. Butter the sides and the base of a 23cm cake tin – if you’re using a springform tin, make sure the base is upside down so there’s no lip and the cake can slide off easily when cooked.

Cream the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together in a small bowl for a few seconds or just until combined, then gradually add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, beating all the time.

Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in carefully, then add the milk and mix gently to combine. Tip half the cake mixture into another large bowl, then sift the cocoa powder into this bowl and fold it in.

Place the two different cake mixtures in the prepared tin by alternating heaped tablespoons of the vanilla batter with the chocolate one. Using a skewer or the handle of a spoon, gently draw swirls through the cake mixture to create the marble effect – try not to overmix or you won’t get that wonderful marbled effect.

Scatter the crumble mixture evenly over the top of the cake mixture and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the crumble is golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then loosen around the edges using a small, sharp knife and remove the sides of the tin. Place the cake (sitting on the base of the tin) on a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Use a palette knife or metal fish slice to loosen the bottom of the cake from the base of the tin, then slide the palette knife or fish slice under the cake and carefully ease it onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

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if this be a home, let it be filled with light

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By the time I’m nine I know the world is a dangerous place. I’ve heard whispers about razorblades in apples, about Charlie Manson and his family. But no one is offering any clear information. –Nick Flynn

I think about a painting I used to love. A desperate woman crawls up a field. In the distance there’s a little wooden house. It’s gray, fallen to blight, like a woman who wakes one morning and realizes the years that have passed, feels her skin crumble like tissue, but the house, like the woman, stands tall, proud with the knowledge that she was once beautiful. That her face was once a map that everyone wanted to navigate and conquer.

But back to the scene as it plays out. You get the sense from how she’s leaning forward, how her hair has come undone, how her belt binds her to the ground, that reaching this home, a future version of herself, is unimaginable. All she wants is to be a girl, playing house in older woman’s clothes. All she ever wanted is to get there, but then it occurs to her that she doesn’t really know what there is. She knows the shape of it — her life stretched before her like some messy tableaux — but she can’t make out the details. Nothing’s in focus.

I’ve visited this painting quite a bit, and wondered what it would’ve been like if the woman could create a string of miniature houses — like a set of tire tracks — leading her home. One house would be demonstrably larger and richer than the previous one, and she could fully inhabit the place, lean out the windowsill, trace the dust with her hands and lay her head down on the wooden floor. As the years press on, she could shed each house like a piece of clothing, and the house would remain like a photograph, an indelible mark of the person you once were rather than the person you don’t know how to be.

Sometimes I think about all of the homes I’ve lived in over the years and all I could see are numbers on doors: 77 black, 182 white with a screen, 1256 stone, and so on. But what doesn’t make it into the frame are the insides: the color of the carpet, the furniture in each of the rooms. I can see them in pieces, but not completely, and it dawns on me that all of my homes feel like a single version on repeat, and I struggle to move forward, to shed, because I don’t know what I’ve definitively left behind.

I’ve never built a house that was a home until now. 38 years. The years.

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In this house there are books everywhere. On the floor, under coffee tables, stacked against the walls and ensconced in bookcases. There is a considerable amount of blue, a few mirrors, cashmere, and linens piled a shelf high. There is a loft with a view down below. Home is a door that can be closed, allowing me to retreat, exhale, but it’s also a door that can be opened, letting the air rush in. Last week I told a dear friend that the apartment I was leaving was a form of chrysalis, a place that allowed me to change shape. I also said that this was the place where Sophie died and out of nowhere I was overcome by her loss, as if it had just happened, and I looked at Felix, my new love, and I had to remind myself my heart is large enough for both my boy and sweet girl to fill it. Friends came and helped me lug bags and books and boxes down a flight of stairs and Sarah said that this place will bring me something new. I nodded, didn’t say much, but thought that finally home is a place where I can lay to rest. A place that feels permanent.

As you can see, I’m still unpacking. I’m still waiting for bookcases to house the hundreds of books piled on the floor. i’m exercising patience because I’ve got a strict budget {ah, the freelance life!} and I can’t just run out and buy a dining table, chairs, floor rugs, chairs, lamps, and all the things my heart desires just yet. But what’s more important to me is what I create in this space, not the things I fill it with. I have to remind myself of that every day.

In this home, in the memory I’ll now have of it, is love, is food, is friendship like a cat’s cradle held into two hands. I know each room completely. From the paint on the walls to the moldings to the grooves in the carpet, to the B-list books hidden from view. I know this place. I know this kitchen. I know this love.

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home, sweet home

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Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places. ― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

A few nights ago I woke from a deep sleep to discover the heat went out again. Since November, men with tools and pipes and electronic gadgets filed in and out of my apartment. They adjusted nobs and grunted and talked about water pressure, how there was never enough of it, and I exercised a sort of patience of which I would never think capable. The heat would work for a week and then it didn’t, and so I’ve been spending this rather cold, dark winter hoping that my space heaters won’t set my apartment on fire. And just when the last of the men came, just when I thought I’d make it into March in a warm home…

MY GODDAMN HEAT WENT OUT AGAIN. GODDAM IT ALL TO HELL, I THOUGHT.

My landlord {and building owner} and I are old friends. He’s old New York, Brooklyn-raised, and the fact that we grew up not too far from one another sometimes brings out the nostalgic in us. He hugged me when my Sophie died, and played with Felix, and we text and chat about the boiler in my apartment like how one would talk about about building a jet engine. So when I texted, Charlie, it’s on the fritz again, and he responded with, Be there tomorrow. There’s an extra space heater in 2A, it didn’t initially occur to me that the apartment I’ve been wanting for three years is finally vacant.

Until I entered Apartment 2A and nearly screamed. Crown moldings, intricately carved doors, a 100-square foot loft space in addition to a bedroom — this is a home engulfed in effulgent light. This is a space worthy of a Calvino-type possession. In the dark, I texted my landlord and he offered me the space for 30% less than market rate. There was a moment when I hesitated, when it dawned on me that I’m moving into a home that carries a higher price tag, but I stood in that space and felt something.

That something being possibility. I saw a home office where I could write and work. I saw dinner parties where friends no longer have to eat on the carpet. I saw food photography. I saw space. I saw a new life.

In a span of an hour, I found myself with a new home. It’s as if I’m playing the hand as it lays. Working the cards as I see them, as it were.

Naturally, I’m gawking at tufted chairs and kitchen islands. While packing and making the thirty-odd change of address calls, I found myself obsessing about marble stones and home office decor. But then, you know, I got back to reality and focused on moving.

One day at a time. One card picked up. One discarded.

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mandarin, polenta + macadamia cake + the power of ten

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I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, the one great equalizer, because every moment forward is a reminder that we’ll never be able to reclaim the hours. While I’m nowhere near my twilight years, I’ve been pensive in a way that people become when they’ve allowed themselves some quiet in which to think, and I look back and sometimes lament about how much time I’ve lost. Minutes are slippery, and as your eyes close and open again, you wake to find a year has passed and what have you done? Have you invested in yourself? Living the best life you can possibly live? Did you create and feel, really allow the bandaids to be ripped off, one by one? Or did you slouch through your days, sleep through your waking life, only to find yourself a year older with the scars of thousands of emails sent and barbs traded to mark time passing.

For four years I felt like I was a mass-market version of myself. I was everywhere, did everything, saw everyone, and nights I’d come home, depleted. Falling asleep on my couch was a natural occurrence and online food delivery was a constant. I wasn’t present in my life, rather I was what I was going after. I was that next meeting, those two hours spent with someone who drained the life right out of my body.

A year ago I decided to get surgical. I said no so many times I lost count. I only spent time with ten core people in my life, really focused on nurturing relationships I’d lost during the four years I spent underwater. I read book after book after book. I took classes. I visited museums. I boarded planes to countries unknown. I scheduled my workouts with the same amount of importance and regularity as new business meetings, and when asked recently if I’d never return to an agency — even if the money was great and the work was easy — I said that I don’t want to waste time doing the things I don’t love. I no longer want to feel uncomfortably comfortable. Money is no longer a marker of a successful life, an open heart. The discomfort I crave is in the uncertainty of what’s next, but I have time, wonderful, beautiful time, to have the clarity to figure it out.

Because time is more valuable than a $5,000 status bag that will invariably gather dust in my closet. I now only see the people I truly love and respect, people who are going to add richness from my life rather than eek it away. And if anything threatens my private time, the space in which I need to refuel and rejuvenate, I retreat further. I cancel plans and reschedule, because I’ve learned that my time is my own to squander.

And in those moments of solitude, I draw outlines, and bake warm, delicious things.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Australian Women’s Weekly
4 small mandarins (400g), unpeeled
2 cups (280g) macadamias
250g butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
3 eggs
1 cup (170g) polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon icing sugar

DIRECTIONS
Cover whole mandarins in medium saucepan with cold water; bring to a boil. Drain then repeat process two more times. Cool mandarins to room temperature.

Preheat oven to moderately slow (170°C/325°F). Grease deep 22cm-round cake pan; line base with baking paper.

Blend or process nuts until mixture forms a coarse meal. Halve mandarins; discard seeds. Blend or process mandarins until pulpy.

Beat butter, extract and caster sugar in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined between additions; transfer to large bowl. Stir in polenta, baking powder, nut meal and mandarin pulp.

Spread mixture into pan; bake about 1 hour. Stand cake 15 minutes; turn, top-side up, onto wire rack to cool. Serve cake dusted with sifted icing sugar.

NOTE: Native to Australia, buttery, rich macadamia nuts have a high fat content and should be kept, covered, in the refrigerator to prevent them becoming rancid. You can blend or process the same weight of other roasted nuts, such as pecans, almonds or walnuts, if you prefer, to use in place of the macadamias. Similarly, you can substitute the same weight of other citrus fruit — grapefruits, blood oranges, tangelos, etc — for the mandarins.

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white chocolate chip blueberry oatmeal cookies + getting closer to fine

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I’m awed by all the ways in which my loved ones have a way of bringing clarity into my life. Lately, it feels as if I’ve been trapped in a kind of professional purgatory, come undone by the sheer number of things I can do yet feeling uncertain what it is I want to do. It’s nearly been a year since I left a job that was killing me, a place where I felt sonnet small, a time when I was frightened by the kind of woman I was becoming. In a way, I still blame myself for Sophie’s death, simply for the reason that I wasn’t completely present in my life as I was living it. I was living an outline of a life, but one that never came into focus. So I gave myself the gift of time, the great equalizer, and I became itinerant.

A year later I have a clear picture of what I don’t want to do {work in agency, work at a place that threatens to pull me away from my more creative pursuits} and a clearer shape of what I want {flexibility in my schedule, freedom to focus on my healthy and well-being, time to read, think, and create} but the job part of it, the work, still seems innocuous.

Until a dear friend, one who always seems to save me when I need it, reminded me that I’m the sort of person who loves to obsess over the things she loves, the kind of person who is happy to dive into the deep than tread the surface. If given the chance, I’d swim 16 feet underwater instead of cutting my way across a river. I love creating and building, yet have little patience for the details of execution and the politicking of an office environment.

We spoke for a while and batted around a few ideas {as I was baking these divine cookies pictured here}, and suddenly my life seemed to come into focus. Nothing definitive mind you, and I still have to pay the bills, mind you, but I’m getting closer.

Visit Clara Persis’ space for the skinny on these perfect White Chocolate Chip Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies.

buttermilk biscuits + defining {or not} what’s next

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I spent the day with one of my closest friends, architecting a plan for her to build a brand based on mindful movement. Sarah’s this great light, and she has the ability to imbue any situation with calm. Whether she’s teaching yoga, coaching authors, or writing sketches for UCB, everything she does comes from a quiet reflection inward to create tremendous movement on the surface. Her ask of me was this: how do I bring this all together? Her question put me to thinking to the definition of yoga — a union of body and breath, and while I found it so simple to distill something simple from the seemingly complicated, I for some reason can do this for myself.

Within me I feel a fissure, a very noticeable division. I am the whole of three parts: business, food, writing. After decades of drift, I’ve found that I constantly cleave to creativity whether it be helping a multi-million dollar company re-envision its infrastructure to re-imagining words on a page. I live the puzzle of it all. How I’m able to move pieces around a board to create a new shape.

How do you sell that? How do you package it neat and tidy, when I’ve never been a woman who took on the shape of those words. I know I can’t drift; I can’t get be in this purgatory of sorts, skirting the in-betweens. Today I told my friend that I’ve no idea what it is that I should be doing. All I can do is move toward opportunities that excite me, right? Take it from there, right?

I honestly don’t know. So there’s me, gathering dough. There’s me trying to find the union between art and business. There’s me trying to figure it all out.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Southern Living, via @Emptychampagne
4 cups all-purpose soft-wheat flour, such as White Lily {I used 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour, and it turned out fine}
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup {2 sticks, 8oz} cold butter, cubed
2 cups buttermilk
Melted butter

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 450°. Sift together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until mixture resembles small peas. Stir in buttermilk with a fork until dough forms a ball. You can also do this in a food processor, blitzing the dry ingredients, adding in the butter (and pulsing for 10-12 times) and pouring in the milk through the tube. Your dough will be quite sticky — don’t let that drive you mad as it will come blissfully together and be smooth once you turn it out onto wax paper.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured sheet of wax paper. Sprinkle dough with flour, and flatten into a disk. Cover, and chill 15 minutes.

Remove wax paper, and turn dough out onto a well-floured surface; sprinkle with flour. Pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 3-inch cutter, reshaping scraps once. Place biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 450° for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Brush immediately with melted butter.
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brunch at lafayette + meeting “new” people {it’s a journey, folks}

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Contrary to popular belief, I am not an extrovert. Casual acquaintances and work colleagues will probably beg to differ, for I can be pretty gregarious around people I’ve come (or have been paid, as in the case of work) to know. When I say that crowds give me anxiety, that the idea of working a room gives me vertigo and I’d rather cower in the corner than be the center of attention, I’m typically greeted with guffaws. You, SHY? I can’t believe it, is a common refrain, to which I respond with a thin smile and a quiet affirmation that I prefer my circle intimate and my evenings quiet. When given the choice, I want my world small. People who know me best know that I bloom in pairs, that I tend to retreat into solitude in order to refuel, and it takes me an awful long time to let someone “new” in.

Lately, however, I’ve been trying to open the door, albeit just an inch. Just enough to let some of the mothballs flutter out and for a few new voices to slip in. Granted, I’ll never be the kind of person who needs constant stimulation, who always craves the company of others, but I’ve learned that while I love my tiny circle of friends it’s often refreshing to meet someone new.

This past weekend I spent a few hours feting my friend Meg for her birthday at Lafayette {best. brunch. ever.}. You can’t even know how much I deliberated not going, not because I don’t adore my friend or want to toast her on her special day, but because the idea of being confronted with four new faces gave me anxiety. What if they thought I was strange? What if, what if, what if???? However, in the end, I put my sweet friend (and her special day) over my fears and I went. AND THANK GOD I DID because I met a host of audacious, smart, well-traveled women who love fitness just as much as I do. I left brunch giddy that I’d made new friends and that my small circle was budging an inch or two…

I’m also noticing that I no longer cover my face with a book while waiting for workout classes to begin. Instead, I’m striking up conversations with strangers. Whether it’s affirming that indeed these seat lifts are killing us or to trade Classtivity stories, a few moments with strangers has oddly {and wonderfully} changed the shape of my workout, tacitly reminding me of the importance of a cultivated community. That I don’t need to live in friends extremes. That I do have the capacity to let a few people in.

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