Thursday, July 24, 2014

New Thing: Play 9 Holes of Golf

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try - some of them are super difficult others are so boring you'll reconsider my success as an adult. You can read about previous adventures here.

In case you were wondering what to wear when one goes golfing, my answer is:
I don't know, dude. I wore a striped skirt from Target, ballet flats, and a giant leather belt I bought for $2 at Salvation Army. 

This probably wouldn't fly at Pebble Beach, but I wasn't particularly interested in experiencing golf for the first time amidst snootiness and plaid - which is why I convinced my guy and two exceptionally patient friends to accompany me to Minneapolis's wonderfully affordable and laid back par three public golf course at Theo Wirth park. $11 to golf? $6 for a zoomy little cart? $3 for a Bud Lite Lime? DON'TMINDIFIDO.

For a long time I've relegated golf to the list of sports That Are Not For Me.*
It's expensive.
It takes a long time.
It's generally played by rich, middle aged, white dudes who spend their golf games making business and political alliances that affect The Rest Of Us.

And while all that might be true, it's also pretty fun.

Some things I discovered:

* You'll be waaaaay better at golf if you, you know, pay attention. If you happen to do surprisingly well the first few holes that doesn't mean you're actually good or that you should stop aiming for the hole. 

*  'Par' means how many times a good golfer would hit the ball to get it into the hole. So if a hole is 'Par 3' a good golfer could get from tee to hole in three strokes. My personal best for this Very First Game was four strokes. Worst? Ohheyletsstopcounting.

*  Uh, did you know that some golf courses have separate tee areas for women?! That are easier?! RUDE. 

* Golf carts are the most fun to drive. Particularly if you yell "Zeeeeewwwwm!" while doing so.

* These games are loooooong, dudes. Like, nine holes took us 3.5 hours. Granted, there were four of us and I spent a lot of time chopping my ball out of the weeds, but it was quite the time commitment. 

Have you ever played golf? And if you have, how do I become less awful? 

P.S. That time I went to a batting cage and That time I ran a 5k

*it's a really long list. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

8 Things You Can (and should!) do when business is slow

Has your business ever gone through a slow spot? Of course! It's happened to all of us! And it frequently happens mid-Summer (when everyone's on vacation) or in January (when everyone's spent all their money.) On my small business blog I'm sharing some tips to deal with it. 

Mini Travel Guide: Zambia

This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which expats and locals share their favorite things and make us want to put a $2,000 flight on our credit card.

travel guide for Zambia

Hi! My name is Twaambo, I'm a Zambian girl who dearly loves her home country. I was born in the capital Lusaka, and lived there until I finished high school and have globetrotted since then. Landing at the airport is like putting on an old comfortable house shoe. We just fit!

Must go
South Luangwa National Park
This is a world renowned wildlife haven that caters to all kinds of travellers. Depending on which lodge you stay at,the adventurous type can sleep outdoors in tents (or in the tree house tents , the monkeys give a great "Good morning"!) or you can stay in safari luxury at one of the award winning lodges. There are several National Parks e.g Kafue National Park which also give you a great wildlife experience, bush walks, evening drives

Victoria falls (Mosi oa Tunya) 
One of the seven wonders of the world, this is one of the things that Zambia is best known for. The lovely spray of water (depending on when you visit) leaves you refreshed and surprised, and swimming in the ‘Devils pool’ (amongst other thrilling things you can do at the falls) is for the daredevils!

Lake Tanganyika
The world's longest freshwater lake! It boasts amazing waters, magnificent sunrises/sunsets, great birdwatching and fishing.

Mutinondo Wilderness 
If you're looking for a peaceful, tranquil stay in the African bush, this is a gem. Read a book, seated in a three walled chalet (yes, it stays like that all night, and, no, nothing will come and get you!) You can also try activities like hiking, biking, horse riding, and swimming in the clear rivers. 

Must do
Bungee jump 
Of course you have to bungee jump of the knife edge bridge at the Victoria falls! It's a 111m drop and a breathtaking view! Adrenaline anyone?

Tazara train to Dar es Salaam
Take the train from Kapiri Mposhi all the way to Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania). Enjoy uninterrupted views of Zambia, bring a book, an ipod and patience, as the train does not always run on time! Watch the kids wave at you from your window and be surprised by the elephant or giraffe as you chug through some national parks as you go through Tanzania.

Livingstone Royal Express
If a train ride with fine dining is your thing, the Royal Livingstone Express may just be it. The journey runs parallel to the Zambezi River. Guests have the opportunity to catch glimpses of elephants, birds, other wildlife (even the white rhino!) As it gets darker, guests are invited to a lavish dinner in the lush dining cars. 

Must eat
This is the local staple food (like polenta!) that you can eat with various vegetables, meat or fish. Eat it with pumpkin leaves (pumpkin leaves and groundnuts, yum!) and a side of fried bream (fish). Also you must eat with your hands!

Caterpillars (mopane worms)
Why not try something out of the box? Caterpillars are tasty and a good source of protein! They are sold dry and you can eat them as is, or fried crisp, or with onion and tomato.They pack a whopping 31 mg of iron per 100 grams. 

This is a vegetarian meatloaf made of boiled orchid tubers and peanuts that's affectionately called the African/Zambian polony. You can also find this for sale in the markets, just a little chilli and you have a delicious snack to go.

Cultural Tips
Zambians are very nice people that are pretty open about talking to people, but don't like confrontation. Striking a conversation is easily done but if someone gets annoying simply state your place and walk away. As in every country you visit, one must be careful with personal belongings, especially around markets and crowded areas.

Travelling on the cheap
Numerous long distance bus routes are available to get from the Lusaka to most parts of the country (especially tourist spots). Your lodging should be able to give you insight on the best way to get to them. Feel free to ask the locals for recommendations. Buses and taxis are widely available, just double check with a local of the actual price as on some rides you may pay ‘tourist tax.’ Public buses do not run much later than 11 pm, and then taxis are your best and safest option.

Thanks so much for sharing, Twaambo! Have any of you guys been to Zambia? Any tips to share?

P.S. I rounded up all of my favorite travel resources here

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

12 Ways To Look + Feel Fantastic Even When It's Face-Meltingly Hot

You’d think since I live in Minnesota (land of the six month winter) I’d be poorly versed in sweat-soaked tank tops and under-boob sweat. 

But you’d be wrong.

Since Minnesota is so far inland, our summers are nearly as rough as our winters - 90% humidity, 100 degree days, opaque curtains of mosquitoes. This, coupled with a year and a half spent in tropical Taiwan, has taught me how to navigate three months of sweat and sun. And to supplement my knowledge? I asked the lovely people of Twitter and my Facebook lady friends. 

Here, for your summer reading pleasure are 12 ways you can survive (or actually enjoy!) the heat of summer while still looking reasonably cute. 

1. OMG, dresses
Are dresses the answer to every question? Probably. They make you look fancy and pulled together when they’re really just an elevated onesie. You’ll feel even more comfortable if you buy dresses in natural fabrics (I love this cotton one) or find a cut that’s simultaneously cute and a little roomie (like this one).

2. Natural fabrics
Let’s talk about 100% cotton and, yes, linen. Also, let’s take an official stance that wrinkled clothing is chic. Natural fabrics breathe a million times better than rayon or poly blends and they also help us look like those casually beautiful women who drink tea while sitting on weathered Adirondack chairs. It’s also worth noting that we’ll all enjoy summer more if we extend the natural fabric policy to our underwear. Isn’t this linen skirt cute?

3. Reconsider your bra situation
If you’re super well-endowed you should probably stick with your trusty underwire, but if you’re smaller than a D-cup, I’d make the argument that you could probably switch to a sporty-ish bra, cute bikini tops, or tops with built-in support.

During the summer, I almost exclusively wear these bras - they’re a million times more comfortable than underwires, you can toss them in the wash, they work with any racer back tank tops, and they’re lined and have separate cups so you don’t get the Dreaded Uniboob. Bikini tops look cute peeking out from your tank tops and are made to be washed a million times.

Also: keep your bras in the freezer! Heavenly. 

4. Wear your hair up (of course) 
You’ve read this advice a million times because it’s good! I like using an elastic headband to do a twisty milkmaid-y thing, but there are piles of cute, easy hairstyles for the summer. I also love this topsy-tail thing and this 'boho chic' thing

5. Buy some summer-specific accessories
Here’s what I don’t leave the house without: a hat (I wear this one all the time), a cute water bottle, and I recently bought a super cheap collapsible sandalwood fan. I was worried I’d look a bit Blanche Dubois, fanning myself dramatically in the park but tons of people have asked me where I got it. I’m on a one-woman mission to convert Minneapolis hipsters into fan-carriers.

I’ve also seen people carrying those non-environmentally-but-probably-really-amazing aerosol cans of Evian. I’m putting off trying them because I’m afraid they’ll be life-changing and then I’ll be the sort of person who sprays herself with Evian AND fans herself with a tiny wooden fan in public. Ugh/awesome. 

6. Give up accessories and makeup that’s not heat-friendly
Big cuff bracelets and liquid eyeliner are part of my everyday uniform, but in the summer those bracelets sweatily stick to my forearm and my eyeliner flakes off. So I made the executive decision to put them away for the summer. I’m also giving up on scarves, pointy toed ballet flats, and skinny jeans. Nope.

7. Use products that melt in an appealing manner
Everything is going to melt off within an hour or two, so you might as well use stuff that’s going to look good as it melts - cream eye shadow, tinted moisturizer, tinted chapstick. A friend from Arizona gives up perfume for the summer and just uses scented lotion or sunscreen. This 30 spf sunscreen apparently smells like sugar plum and freesia!

Also: keeping your cosmetics and skin care products in the fridge feels great and (I’m guessing) prolongs their life. 

8. For the ambitious: dye your eyebrows and/or eyelashes
Since I’m blonde and capable of getting a tan, every summer my eyebrows bleach out to the same color as my face. Awwwwwesome. While that’s not something everyone would care about I’m vain and I like visible eyebrows so I dye mine with Just For Men Beard Gel (yes, really). I don’t do it regularly, but in the past I’ve had my eyelashes dyed which makes me feel like an old Hollywood glamazon, waking up and looking all bright-eyed and made up. 

9. Deal with the chafing
As far as I can tell, the only benefit to having a thigh gap is that you will never have to endure summer chafing. For the other 99% of us, let’s talk about this anti-chafing gel or these under-your-dress-shorts. Personally, I’m more likely to opt for the gel because I’m loathe to wear another layer in 90 degree weather but I know many women who swear by those shorts!

10. Eat all the cold things
Gazpacho! Cold quinoa salads! Mango lassi popsicles! Beet lemonade! They’re all easy, healthy, and you can prepare them ahead of time so you can eat them right out of the container, standing in front of the fridge, bathing in that glorious cold. Hypothetically. 

11. Wash your feet with cool water before you go to bed
This seems extraordinarily strange but I swear it works. If you’ve been padding around the city all day in sandals, your feet are probably surprisingly gross and putting cool water on your extremities is a great way to bring down your core temperature. I give mine a wash with a scrub brush and some zingy tea tree peppermint body wash

Does this actually make you feel cooler? No. Is it fun to do anyway? Yup. 

Warm climate friends! Share your advice in the comments!

Love this? Want more? Get my free ebook BE YOUR OWN STYLE ICON by signing up below!

photo by guido aldila // cc

Monday, July 21, 2014

True Story: I Lost My Dad To Suicide

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Amy and her dad's death.

Amy and her dad

Tell us a bit about yourself. 
I’m Amy, a 30 year old woman from Pennsylvania. I work from home for a baby and toddler goods brand so I can spend more time with my husband of seven years and our two children. I love geek culture, especially Star Wars, Doctor Who, and video games. 

When you were growing up, what was your family life like? 
I had a pretty normal upbringing. I am the oldest of three and was always seen as the responsible one, but was also a bit of a stubborn know-it-all, and often butted heads with my dad who had the same traits. However, my parents were always there as a support system. I saw my dad as having all of the answers and he bailed me out of many bad decisions (though not without dad lectures!) He was my superman. 

My dad had a very big personality. He loved corny jokes (“You know what really burns my ass? A flame about this high!”) and was the kind of person who could leave any situation with a new friend. He was also a very generous and giving person and did volunteer work and gave a lot of his time to his many hobbies. He would drop everything to help a friend in need.

Did you know that your dad was struggling? 
I didn’t know he was struggling. He had mentioned that he had a significant loss of income due to the recession, but since my brother and I both had out first children during that time, he spent more and more time with them which seemed to uplift him. He had recently lost one of his brothers to lung cancer, and I attributed signs of sadness to that. After his death, I was able to look back and see small signs, but I don’t think he put out enough warning signs for anyone to catch it and in fact went out of his way to hide it.

Do you know why your dad chose to end his life?
He left us a letter and video summarizing his financial problems and we discovered the scope when preparing paperwork for his estate. He was self-employed in a financial field and, we discovered, would fall behind on paying his taxes during lean years, but then catch up when business was better. Unfortunately he fell behind prior to the recession and couldn’t catch up. His tax debt was going to keep him from renewing a license that was crucial to his business, thus putting an end to his career. That, paired with the very significant debt, was not something he felt he could dig out of. 

Can you tell us how you found out about your dad's death?
I received a phone call from a man identifying himself as a police officer and asking me to come to my mother’s. I was having trouble grasping what he was saying because something seemed off but it didn’t register until later that he asked me to come to my mother’s house rather than my parents’. Finally he hesitantly told me there was an incident, and my father passed away.

I handed the phone to my husband who was home sick that day (and I am so very thankful that he was) and the officer told him what had happened. I crawled up the stairs, sobbing, to throw on clothes and my husband called his mother to come watch our toddler daughter. Since he knew that it was suicide and I didn’t, he just wanted to get me to my mother as quickly as possible. I still have flashbacks where I remember running on wobbly legs to the car, and shaking through the ten minute drive to my mom’s. We finally pulled into the driveway and saw the officer talking to my neighbor, he just directed us inside. It was very unnerving.

When I got inside, my mom was embracing her female boss, the first person to arrive, who got up to allow my mom to tell me alone. In the following hours, my brother and his wife came, and my neighbor sent someone to pick up my sister from college. My mom had to tell us each one-by-one. Eventually, we watched my dad’s goodbye video and the next day were able to read his letter after it was copied for the police report.

In the weeks and months following his death, how did you feel about your dad and his choice?
In the weeks right after, I focused my energy on my family. My mother had asked us to move in with her and I spent my free time either spending time with her, making room in her home, or packing, and then settling my family in.

Because of the financial aspect of my dad’s death, a lot of time was also spent trying to wrap up his estate - organizing mounds of bills for the lawyer, assisting my mom in the sale of my dad’s business, fielding calls from collection agencies whose tactics were atrocious (One told me my father would be so disappointed and another told my widowed mother they would see that she’d lose her house. My advice for anyone in a similar situation is to NEVER assume any responsibility for the debt, refer them to your lawyer!)

I did everything I could to try to take the pressure off of my mom, but managed to neglect my own grieving for the most part. About 10 months later, I ended up having a breakdown because I’d suppressed so much of my grief and sorrow, and I finally started counseling to deal with grief.

Has his death affect other aspects of your life? 
His death affects every aspect of my life, I think about it every day. Whenever anything happens, good or bad, I wonder what my dad would say. My husband and I were trying for our second child at that time and dealing with secondary infertility. I felt a lot of irrational guilt, like if I had gotten pregnant right away that my dad might not have done it. I know the stress did not help our fertility issues. When I eventually did get pregnant and had my son two years later, it was difficult to think that this was a child my dad would never know and vice versa. My son looks a lot like my dad, and absolutely has a personality like his, and I feel so sad for the relationship they would have had.

I’m a lot more serious about mental health and suicidal ideation since then. If I feel that someone is contemplating suicide, I will take action whether it’s calling for a well-check or relentlessly checking in on them and offering my ear. While nothing can replace my dad, I feel like the friends I’ve helped have been a silver lining in this very dark cloud.

Are you concerned that you or your siblings might have a genetic predisposition to mental health issues? 
I do worry about this. I had issues with depression and anxiety prior to my dad’s death and have heightened concern since my father had also lost a brother to suicide. it wasn’t something he spoke about often, but was still held very close in his heart. I was in therapy for about three years, and have a list of coping methods to help me through tough times. I found that a gratitude journal, as cheesy as I thought it was, has been an excellent tool for turning negative thoughts around.

For many of us, when a friend experiences tragedy like this, we're not sure how to help or what to say. What would have helped you?
The single most helpful things was that my best friend just made herself available and showed up. That kind of support system is fantastic since it took the pressure off of us to ask for help, she stepped in wherever she could.

I know it’s terrible to say, but I felt alienated when people tried to relate by bringing up a non-suicide death or the suicide of someone they were not close to. It felt like it was dismissive of the many layers of this kind of loss. The hardest part for me was knowing that my dad chose this, and knowing that he died feeling the way he did. It helped to hear people who had known him tell me about happy memories with him, especially reminders of his amazing personality. People who didn't know him helped a lot by allowing me to talk about my grief, or by asking what he was like. His death did not define him, and knowing that he left his mark on the world was a huge source of healing.

Thank you so, so much for sharing your story, Amy. Have any of your experienced anything similar? And if so, what helped you to work through it? 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Web Time Wasters

How was your week, guys? I spent 15+ hours responding to everyone who took me up on the 'give your site a once over' offer (!!!) and now my BFF from NZ is in town and I'm enjoying showing her and her husband around St. Paul. Today we're going to head up north so they can discover the joys of homegrown raspberries, venison, and canoeing out to the island.

Enough about that! Links for you!

Tree house + tent = take my money now.

How gorgeous are these graphic beach towels?

I always wondered how to set my white balance! Now I know.

If you're alive and a human, you probably occasionally struggle with negative thinking. Here's how to stop.
If you’re out of the practice of positive thinking, it might be difficult to start, and you will probably feel a little awkward and strange about cheering yourself on. But to counteract the habit of name calling or internal grumbling, you will need to go further than to stop thinking negatively, because there’s probably a slight chance that you won’t stick the landing perfectly every time. At least then, you’ll still end up with a net positive. 

A home built into sandstone caves? Yes.

5 DIY natural makeup removers!

I've been using this on my sweaty summer skin and it's amaaazing! (Even more amazing if you keep it in the fridge.)

These photos are mesmerizing.

A private moon. How sweet!

Someone smart once told me that there are really only two reasons that relationships fail. Either the person isn't that into you or they're too emotionally stunted to show you that they're into you. A quote that speaks to that.

How to use statement pieces to make your outfits more interesting. Related: these shoes look amazing.

Is irony ruining our culture?
Recently, the Onion spoofed an ad campaign in which Applebee’s encouraged hipsters to visit their restaurants “ironically” and middle-aged adults to make fun of hipsters. The parody describes four “with it” young folks “seriously” eating their dinner at Applebee’s while ridiculing the food, service and atmosphere. Behind them sit three sad, middle-aged adults mocking the hipsters, sarcastically saying “because I know who the latest bands are I am too cool to eat a cheeseburger without making fun of it.” Neither group is genuinely happy about their meal or station in life. The Onion’s satire points out that irony and formality have become the same thing. 
Random cat-owner suggestion: get these. So much more pleasant when you cat wants to sit on your chest and breathe in your face!

Vaguely related: a makeup bag with cat ears!

If you live in the Twin Cities: all the outdoor movies this summer and 50 things you probably didn't know about MSP

Cute! Zodiac-specific gift ideas.

Was your mom right?
Researchers studying 13-year-olds found that those who engaged in “pseudomature” behavior -- such as minor shoplifting and precocious romantic relationships -- and were seen as the "cool kids" tended to develop problems with drugs and relationships by their early 20s.

How do college kids change in their first year at school? A photo essay.

100 (!) vegetable-based recipes.

Interesting! How is 'real life' makeup different from 'red carpet' makeup?

And some Yes and Yes posts you might have missed: True Story: I waited till marriage to have sex, A 2 step plan for getting what you want, Mini Travel Guide: Ireland.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How To Totally, Amazingly Thrive When You're Living With Mental Illness

This post is brought to you by kind, beautiful words, lipstick on teacups, the letter m, and Esme Wang.

When you happen upon Esme Wang's blog your first thought will inevitably be "these words feel right and true." Your second thought will probably be "Wow. Girl's got some writing chops. This right here? This is some capital W Writing." 

Esme is a real, proper, actual writer. Like, Yale and Stanford and literary-agent writer. And her blog posts are so beautifully, wonderfully written I want to print them out and read them on a patio somewhere. 

An excerpt from Living With Mental Illness, And The Choice Not To Have Children:
Once, I did want biological children. And then, hours after pausing in front of a children’s clothing store in San Jose, California, I did not. I’d watched women purchase tiny peacoats and miniature blouses with peter pan collars, with my own shopping bags hanging at my sides. Later I called my then-boyfriend, now husband, and said, “I was at Gymboree, and I thought of you.” Though he’d spoken several times of wanting to have children with me, this was the first time that I had, however vaguely, returned the sentiment.

He was quiet. “I talked to my mom,” he said.

I didn’t understand.

“She said that mental illness is genetic.”

“Oh. Never mind, then,” I said. “Forget I said anything. I didn’t mean it.”

In addition to being an amazing writer (here are her favorite books about writing you've probably never heard of), a good friend, and a great wearer of lipstick, Esme was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. She writes about living a good, fulfilling, love-stuffed life in her new book Light Gets In.  And if you've ever struggled with a mental health issue or loved someone who has (which is probably all of us) you owe it to yourself to read it.

You can follow Esme (and her important, perfectly chosen words) on Twitter or Instagram.

I do one sponsored post each month. Would you like a post devoted to your work? Check out my rates and traffic info here or drop me a line at sarah (at) yesandyes (dot) org. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Read // Eat: Custard Fritters from 'Like Water For Chocolate'

This guest post comes to us via Alicia of Jaybird fame. When she's not making a mess in the kitchen, she tries her hand at home DIY projects and elaborate picnics. Go be friends! Twitter /Facebook.

A simmering tale of passion, Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate isn’t your typical love story. Each chapter of the book covers a month whose story revolves around a recipe: quail in rose petal sauce, turkey mole, chillies in walnut sauce. As the women of the story cook, the forbidden love of Tita De La Garza and Pedro Muzquiz weaves its way between the smells of the kitchen and the old family stories.

“...for Tita the joy of living was wrapped up in the delights of food. It wasn’t easy for a person whose knowledge of life was based on the kitchen to comprehend the outside world.”

Tita, the youngest daughter of the De La Garza family, is forbidden to marry. According to family tradition, she must remain unwed and take care of her mother until she dies. Pedro’s love is a wrench thrown in the plans, and so the only way for him to be near Tita is to marry her sister, Rosaura.

As you can imagine, tensions run high in the De La Garza household. Thankfully for the readers, they come out in the kitchen as Tita pours her emotions into every dish. Practically raised by the family’s cook, Tita uses cooking to express her stifled love.

Every family member has their favorite dish, and custard fritters are her sister Gertrudis’. Made of fried eggs and cream, the fritters are a hot dessert with a crisp coating and a soft center. Gertrudis can barely focus on Tita’s romantic plight as they cook together:

“Gertrudis stroked her hair tenderly, but was careful to watch the fritter dessert that was on the flame. It would be a pity if she couldn’t eat it. When it was almost starting to burn, she detached herself from Tita and said sweetly, ‘Just let me take this off the burner, and then you can go right back to crying, OK?’”

Custard Fritters from Like Water for Chocolate
Serves 3-4 as dessert

6 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
butter to grease pot
1.5-2 cups oil for frying

Over a small bowl, separate eggs, letting whites flow into the bowl and putting yolks in a larger mixing bowl. Reserve whites. Add cream to the yolks and whisk until evenly mixed.

Use butter to grease a medium-sized pot, making sure to get the bottom and the first 1.5 inches of the sides. Pour in egg mixture, making sure it is not more than one inch deep (if it is, you need a larger pot or it won’t set appropriately). Place over a very low flame and cook until the custard sets, about 35-40 minutes. It will remain soft but, to help it cook along, you can scrape the sides and angle the pan to make sure all the liquid cooks.

Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, then cut into small squares. In Esquivel’s words, squares should be “a size that won’t crumble too easily.”

Heat oil until sizzling. Beat the egg whites and roll each fritter in egg whites, then use a slotted metal spoon to drop into oil. Be careful not to splash any on yourself! Fritters will immediately puff up and start to turn golden. Cook for 15-20 seconds, flip and cook until golden brown. Repeat until all fritters are done, removing them from the oil to drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Sprinkle fritters with cinnamon and serve with the syrup of your choice.

Note: to dispose of frying oil, let it cool, then put it in a jar, cap it and dispose of it in the trash. Do not pour it down the sink.


Though you’ll have to pick up the novel to learn what happens to Tita’s forbidden love, you can enjoy these fritters at home in less than an hour. Buen apetito!

Have you read this classic? What was your favorite dish from it?

P.S. Food on sticks and all my favorite vegetarian recipes

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Thing: Do A 'Habitat For Humanity' Day

Every year on my birthday I make a list of new things I want to try. Some of these are exciting and novel, a lot of them are shockingly mundane. Either way, it's really fun, interesting, intentional way to add new things to my life. You can read about past adventures here.

In my fantasy life, I'm the sort of person who knows how to hang drywall. I'd be one of those women who buys old houses for $1, rehabs them single handedly, decorates them with jewel-toned mid-century furniture she found on the curb, and then sells the whole she-bang for a cool half-mil.

In real life, I'm a slightly-more-handy-than-average human who can assemble things from Ikea and just recently learned how to use wall anchors
Which, P.S., I'm incredibly proud of. 

All of this means that while I was very, very interested in doing a day of volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity, I wasn't particularly interested in failing at power tools, in front of strangers, while assembling a family's home. I like to do that in the privacy of my own apartment, thankyouverymuch. 

But did you know that Habitat offers all sorts of different volunteer options? Like a landscaping?! Yes, I can totally dig holes and put flowering trees in them! Now you're speaking my language, dudes. 

You guys? Doing this was The Best. After my oddly disheartening experience writing a big check to charity I wasn't quite sure what to expect but this was one of the best Saturday mornings I've had in ages.

And I regularly attend the bottomless mimosa brunch at Dixie's on Grand so you know this is pretty great.

Some of the volunteers were sweet, chatty master gardeners with the University of Minnesota's extension service, so they could reel off suggestions about root balls and mulch like it ain't no thing. Present and future Habitat homeowners pitched in and tiny neighborhood kids helped by transporting one little trowel of mulch across the yard at a time.

Our group was a mix of ages, races, genders, and backgrounds which made me realize how rarely I interact with people who are significantly different from me. When was the last time I talked, at length, with an teenage Ethiopian boy? Probably never. Or a middle-aged woman from Kerala, India? Well, probably when I was there - and not since. One of the things I miss most about teaching ESL is how it forced me outside my bubble. On a daily basis, it was a reality check, a heart and mind opener.

Our work day wrapped up early - because we'd been so enthusiastic with our digging and mulching - and the homeowner sweetily presented us with cinnamon tea and lentil samosas, refusing to let us eat any fewer than three. We nibbled the snacks and chatted about our weekend plans and made weather-prediction small talk.

More than almost any other new thing I've tried, I'd like to make this a regular part of my life. I'll happily sign up for that wonderful exhaustion that comes from doing hard work outside, new friends, expanded perspectives.

Have you ever volunteered with Habitat for Humanity? Do you find yourself spending time with people who are just like you? 

P.S. 19 tiny things you can do to make the world a better place and paying off someone's layaway plan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My grandpa's matches and why you shouldn't save 'the good stuff'

It seems like a strange thing to admit to the internet: I wasn't particularly close with my Grandpa Von Bargen.

He and my grandma lived three and a half hours away and he was truly a man of his generation:
Huge calloused hands and countless pairs of Carhartt pants.
More comfortable putting in the dock than making conversation with pre-teen girls.
Hardworking, quiet, reticent.

I knew he loved me in that way that children blindly assume that all family members love them but I didn't know much about him.

Every time I visited my grandparents I'd spend hours examining the four coolest things in their house.
1. The player piano
2. The glass paperweight with A REAL SCORPION INSIDE
3. The jade bull from China
4. My grandpa's collection of matchbooks from all over the world

I'd paw through them, sorting them by place of origin, color of matches, books vs boxes. And every once in a while, my grandpa would lean over and tell me about the restaurant in New York where he got that shiny red box of green-tipped matches.

When my grandma died a few years ago and the grandkids were choosing which mementos they wanted, I knew I wanted my grandpa's huge jar of matches. I wanted to be able to sift through them at my leisure and see if my travels and his ever crossed paths.

I made a home for that jar of matches in my pantry and one cold autumn day, while trying to light a cozily scented candle, I couldn't find a lighter.

So, sacrilegious as it seems, I reached into that antique jar, pulled out a box of matches from 1956 and used one small, wooden match to light that candle.Since that day, I've been slowly working my way through those matches, using them on birthday candles, holiday sparklers, pilot lights that go out. And each time I use one of my grandpa's matches I think about him and wonder about the life he lead and the adventures he had that I didn't know about.

A friend who watched me do this shrilled "You can't do that! You're wasting them!" and while I understand where she's coming from, I believe that things are meant to be used.

Your expensive lingerie wants to be worn and petted.
Your good china wants to serve chili and sandwiches and nachos.
My matches want to be lit.

I'm not going to save 'the good stuff' for some imaginary, perfect time that may or may not happen. A birthday cupcake or a mid-summer's night sparkler is reason enough for me.

Do you have a tendency to 'save' your best things for some indeterminate future date? If that's something you're trying to get over, how are you going to use them?