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Pocket of Joy: Heirloom Tomatoes

Among the joys of homegrown veggies and fruits, heirloom tomatoes rise the highest above their grocery store cousins. Nothing cultivated to survive mass production and shipping to supermarkets can compare to the flavor of a homegrown heirloom tomato. Heirlooms come in a startling variety of shapes, sizes, and colors with great variation in flavor and texture as well. The bright, shiny, red, smooth, uniform-looking tomatoes that show up in grocery stores have been hybridized to enhance production and durability at the expense of flavor. There isn't anything wrong with eating grocery store tomatoes in terms of health, but once you taste the sweet, brilliant complexity of an heirloom tomato, you understand right away how different and special they are. If you can't or don't wish to grow heirloom tomatoes yourself, and if you don't have green-thumbed and generous family or friends willing to invite you over for grilled bruschetta this summer (oh, the tragedy!), you can usua

No Cook Summer Snacks

We've been living without a kitchen for over a month now while we renovate, and while I miss baking and cooking, it's also a little bit nice to not have to cook. My family doesn't have a daily takeout budget (or else we'd be paying someone else to renovate our kitchen, obviously), so we've relied on my parents to share their kitchen and home-cooked meals with us in addition to setting up a makeshift pantry in our living room filled with foods that don't need to be cooked. During a hot summer, even when we have a fully functioning kitchen, it's nice to have some things on hand that don't need to be cooked with a stove or oven--or even a grill outside on scorching days. Whether or not you have a lovely kitchen that works, anyone can stay a little cooler and enjoy a little more time to relax this summer by stocking up on no-cook snacks such as... in-season fruits and veggies that can be enjoyed raw hummus, salsa, liquid nacho cheese (no judgment), or any ot

Pocket of Joy: Renovating to Love, Not to List

My mom and I have watched Love It or List It for years, and it's no surprise to us that most families choose to stay in their own, customized home rather than move into a new, blank box. The qualities that make a house a home are not the same qualities that make a marketable real estate property. Houses sell better when they are whitewashed into sterile, blank boxes where a new homeowner can come in and add their own personalized color and texture. If you're rich like the people on LIOLI , you can custom build a personalized home from scratch or personalize a market-fresh house in a short time, but even so, it's easier to stay in an already-customized house than to start over.  For regular people who aren't rich, turning a house into a home takes even more creativity, hard work, and time. But working class people certainly can create beloved homes. I've seen dream homes created from the tiniest of tiny houses in the humblest of neighborhoods, in trailer parks, in a

My Kitchen Is a Cleaner, Empty Box

This won't come as any surprise to anyone who's done it, but wow does everything about a home renovation take longer than expected! Over the past week, we figured some things out, added tasks to our must-do list, filled holes and gaps, did several rounds of mudding and sanding, shopped and scrounged for supplies many times, made quick substitutions when the things we wanted to buy were out of stock indefinitely, and washed the ceiling, walls, and floor several times.  This weekend, Michigan apparently entered its new climate-change-era monsoon season, jacking up the humidity to 85+ throughout the day and night along with swamp-butt hot temperatures--a set of conditions not amenable to painting or allowing paint to dry properly. My husband spent a large portion of yesterday constructing, from scratch, a wooden frame to hold one of our window air conditioners in a kitchen window, to cool and air condition the room maybe enough that we can start priming today. There will be no ven

Pocket of Joy: Old Books

Old books! You can judge them by their shabby chic covers, because they function as objets d'art and objects of desire on a shelf no matter what stories they tell inside. Books with leather bindings, books embossed and edged in gold, books with plates and illustrations and fancy lettering inside, books that give off the subtle scent of an aged library, books with fraying ribbon markers and tactile spines. Old books are charming, comforting, and, when they aren't first edition antiques, they are usually cheap. The stories told inside of old books can also be wonderful and so thick and rich that you can revisit them again and again, each time discovering something new or forgotten, as fans of Jane Austen and George Eliot know well. Those were stories built to last the ages. An old book can be a roundly multi-sensory experience. I once picked up an old maiden volume by Anthony Trollope that had never been read--and I know, because I had to rustle up an antique book knife to cut ap

My Kitchen Is a Dirty, Empty Box

My kitchen is demolished! Goodbye, soffits! Goodbye, can lights that never worked and dead outlets and bad fire-hazard electrical circuits! Goodbye, busted hinges and wonky drawers and peeling laminate cabinets! Goodbye, moldy plywood and crumbling tile countertops! Goodbye, load of rubble I drove to the dump in my rusty old pickup truck! Goodbye, goofy tile backsplash and chunks of various glues! This week, we'll say goodbye to corroded pipes and have some new plumbing stubbed in before we install new cabinetry. Soon, we'll get to start adding new stuff to this empty box! Tomorrow, I'll get a quick YouTube education in how to plaster a ceiling. I have never done a demolition or construction project before, so this is all stressful and scary, yet exciting. It's nicely metaphorical to gut and re-imagine a living space as the whole human world feels its way out of the worst (we hope) of a historic pandemic and thinks carefully about rebuilding differently than how things

Pocket of Joy: Michigan Seasons

Michigan's four seasons can be dramatic, especially as climate change progresses, but I've learned that I just can't quit them. Their rhythm is embedded in my soul. Without them, I feel adrift.   When I was young, I had that itch of wanderlust that comes naturally to young people everywhere. Although Michigan boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth, I needed to see what else was out there. I longed to sample the nuances of other cultures, other kinds of lives, other fields of human experience. After I traveled and spent weeks or months at a time in faraway places, I realized that getting far, far away for long, long spans of time and coming home again was the only way I could fully appreciate the place where my roots had formed.   My husband and I agreed: It was ourselves that needed to expand and grow and change in order to put down deep roots in the first place we had ever learned to take for granted. We married young for our generation, at 23 and 24, and al

Smashing the Ticky-Tacky

The demolition has begun! After more than a decade of living with an outdated and dysfunctional kitchen, we are slapping the tackiness out of this place and creating our own functional, beautiful, and family-and-friends-friendly space. My husband and I are thrifty, practical people--and because of that, we put off updates to our home until we got through the messy, silly, frantically busy, and expensive years of early parenthood and entertaining groups of rowdy children. But now our daughter is graduating from elementary school, my parents are newly retired and eager to help, and pandemic legislation put our student loans on hold, so IT IS TIME!  Until a couple of weeks ago, our late kitchen featured: a partially broken, scuffed-up, shabby, and weirdly tiny sink; a rusty, falling-apart vent hood; a poorly installed, ugly tile backsplash; broken cabinets with peeling doors; three lights and several outlets that don't work, due to horrifyingly wrong electrical wiring; countertops mad

Pocket of Joy: Going Out

My husband and I have had our shots and started going out in public for fun again! After more than a year of staying home and staying safe, I have put away my sweatpants, pulled out my skirts (it's too hot for pants already), painted my toenails, and broken in my cute slides and high heels! We are grateful for the privilege of being able to go out and have fun safely. We understand that not everyone else enjoys that privilege, including those undergoing chemotherapy or taking certain kinds of lifesaving medications that render Covid-19 vaccinations ineffective. We understand that some people have disabilities or health conditions and a lack of access to accommodations. We know that some people simply lack transportation to get anywhere, or leisure time to go out. And even among the able-bodied and financially free, there are those who have to be careful where they go in public due to threats of social violence--gendered harassment, racism, nationalism, homophobia. We live in a cu

Vaxxed and Unmasked for Margaritas with Alice

My dear friend Magdalena has always had a special talent for sniffing out delicious secrets. She's an outgoing, bold, colorful woman, but she keeps an eye on the quiet people. She has a knack for glancing over a bunch of same-same-looking folks, breezing past all the dull sad sacks, and picking out the socially camouflaged, melancholy few who seem to be harboring some kind of romantic ennui, guarded eccentricity, or rich private life that they aren't eager to share. And then she goes after those people with the focus of a truffle pig on the scent and won't stop until they reveal themselves to her and let her love them! I had the pleasure of meeting Magda's latest conquest, a silver-haired lady I'll call Alice the Archivist, last weekend in my very first post-lockdown public group hangout (everyone 100% vaccinated!). The following is my understanding of how Magda infiltrated her personal bubble and founded the official Alice Fan Club. Alice is Magda's next-door a

Pocket of Joy: Coming Out

Happy Pride Month! Has it ever been a better time to come out? Lil Nax X has died for our shame, descended into hell on a stripper pole, and slain the devil with his lap dance. Tig Notaro has conquered the undead and possibly usurped Kate McKinnon as most badass comedic lesbian paranormal action hero, which is now A Thing. "Schitt's Creek" has normalized pansexuality and revived America's faith in all kinds of enduring romantic love. Elliot Page has freed the trans man nips in joyful thirst traps on Instagram. After a year in quarantine, drag queens Trixie and Katya have become everyone's imaginary best friends. And my Instagram feed is sprinkled with videos of happily married, openly HIV-positive Jonathan Van Ness doing the happiest gorgeous little back flips. Kids today have all of these pop culture examples of people of every gender identity and sexual orientation living their best lives, creating joy and sharing it with others. Sadly, the danger in coming out

Pocket of Joy: Human Touch

Are you vaxxed, relaxxed, and ready to satiate your touch starvation ? It is time! All human persons need skin-to-skin contact sometimes, even those who value their personal space. It doesn't have to be sexual or intense, but we can't do without it indefinitely. The gentle, electric exchange that occurs between two animal bodies that meet in meatspace boosts our immune systems. It calms the vagus nerve, the heart, experiences of both physical and emotional pain, and the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It stimulates the release of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Going without touch for too long can lead to depression, anxiety, and behaviors that exacerbate social isolation. And loneliness can erode bodily health faster than cigarettes. All humans need touch, but it doesn't always have to be human-to-human. Pets can provide beneficial snuggles and wrassles to a person who lives alone. Volunteering at an animal shelter and petting kittens and puppies to socialize th

The Pandemic Turned My Church Outside and Online

The pandemic might have permanently pushed my church outdoors and online--even after we can come inside again. The radically inclusive church that I work for, UU Lansing , has adapted so successfully over the past year that we've learned how to make better use of technology to reach more people; we've found creative ways to accomplish more effective community care without putting people at risk of disease transmission; and we've connected more deeply than ever with our land and local ecosystem.  As Molly Costello has illustrated with her generously shared activist artwork : Crisis expands our imaginations around what is possible. I'm so grateful right now to be a part of a respectably longstanding faith tradition that never wastes an opportunity to learn a hard lesson and transform itself from the inside out. Unlike some centuries-old religious institutions, Unitarianism (and its more recently evolved form, Unitarian Universalism) had open-mindedness and adaptability

Pocket of Joy: Close Grandparents

One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was to settle close to my parents before having a child. I even convinced my parents to move right into my neighborhood after they retired, a ten-minute walk from my backyard, and everyone in my family has benefited from the arrangement . Grandparents and grandchildren are great for each other's physical, mental, and emotional health. And the support grandparents can provide in helping to care for and raise a child benefits the child's parents. Over the past year, I think we all realized just how important it is for parents to have reliable and safe childcare, and unfortunately our nation has some work to do to provide for the needs of working class families. Those of us fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and able to help us care for our children are blessed indeed. Close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren create well-being and resilience in every generation of the family. It is wonderful to have

Endo Belly Dance

Later this summer, I have an ultrasound scheduled to begin the process of maybe, finally, diagnosing the endometriosis that I believe I have.  End of summer edit: Diagnosis achieved! It's not endometriosis, it's ovarian cysts and internal vascular damage caused by a history of untreated, rupturing cysts combined with severe dysmenorrhea caused by an excess of oxytocin, which also caused me to produce milk like a prizewinning dairy cow and to experience other side benefits that you can probably guess, which helps make up for the lifelong menstrual disorder and extra painful labor. I have begun taking a low daily dose of progestin, which is already helping without causing noticeable side effects. There are many reproductive and menstrual disorders that can cause similar symptoms, many of which can be diagnosed with a minimally invasive ultrasound and treated in ways that can transform your health and quality of life. Get it done if you need it. You're worth it! Sometimes I fe

Pocket of Joy: Entering the Flow

Over the past year, much has been written about how entering into a flow state with an immersive hobby can protect us from the negative effects of a life-disrupting disaster like a pandemic. When the world outside is out of control, it can be lifesaving to find escape and release inside of our own minds. As a writer, I can get into my most intense state of flow by writing long fiction. When I wrote my last novel, Leirah and the Wild Man , I felt possessed. I lost myself so completely in the narrative that when I went back and read some of the pages I had written, they surprised me. I remembered something like having a dream about the contents of the story but not actually coming up with those particular words.  During the writing process, I experienced sudden storms of inspiration that drove the story in unexpected directions but never totally off course. I learned to trust these moments and open my mind's sails, and my story grew more complex and nuanced and wild without losing t