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Pocket of Joy: Two-Month Belly Dance Challenges (with results from my 20s vs. my 30s)

This summer, I'm beating the bloat and feeling better about my belly! I participated in two 30-day belly dance challenges online, first Jasirah's Belly Challenge and then a summer challenge by Mahtab of Best Belly Dance Workout . I chose these two because of the kind of challenges they were--not strenuous and sweaty but instead technically difficult. I am at a healthy weight that I want to maintain, and I am recovering from moderate to severe anemia, so I wanted to avoid anything exhausting or high-impact. This summer, I worked on balance, joint flexibility, and the kinds of technical skills that work out the brain and nervous system, and I targeted the "corset" muscles that cinch in the waist, deep beneath the outer ab muscles. I've said thanks and goodbye to the visible abs I had in my slimmer 20s, which are now obscured by an age-appropriate skim of subcutaneous belly fat that I don't want to starve myself or go under the knife to banish.  And besides, af

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

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

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

Budget Bride Spring Wedding Roundup: How to Throw an Authentically Joyful Celebration and Launch a Happy Marriage

It's boom time for planning post-pandemic weddings! It looks like it will be possible to throw a biggish, in-person wedding celebration next year, when all people, including children of all ages, will be eligible for vaccination. Can you imagine? If you can't, let me help! Below are links to all ten posts in my Budget Bride series, a collection of throwback tips from my own wedding that took place in a simpler time, before Instagram filtered and squared off our dreams--before aesthetic perfectionism distracted us from the gorgeously multi-sensory experiences that can only be referenced in, not totally captured by, photographs--and way before Covid put our lives on hold. The Budget Bride series hints at how to recapture that all-consuming joy of the Before Times while avoiding many unnecessary wedding costs and logistical hassles. Even an aesthetically maximalist wedding can be done on a minimalist budget and with a minimum of negative drama. My wedding was a meaningful day to r

Pocket of Joy: Indian Food

I have adored Indian food since I first tasted it at a fine Indian restaurant as a young adult. And I loved it so much that I wasn't content only to keep coming back to that restaurant (though I certainly did that); I wanted to learn how to participate in the alchemical art of Indian cooking.  Indian food isn't just a full bouquet of sensory pleasures, it can also be exceptionally healthy . Like the Mediterranean diet, traditional Indian food packs in a variety of whole grains, fresh ingredients, vegetable proteins, and immune-boosting herbs and spices. It's also very labor-intensive and complex, requiring quite an arsenal of spices and herbs, some of which can be hard to find outside of specialty Asian markets--but, for me, the time and investment are so worth it! And shopping at Asian markets is a delight. Realistically, made-from-scratch Indian food is not something I can have every day. I can't afford Indian restaurant meals of the quality I prefer very often, and I

Breaking the Lawn! Breaking the Lawn!

This year, I'm back to work on healing the land, one square foot at a time. After I bought my house over a decade ago, and before I had a child, I created and maintained an ambitious food garden in my back yard. That practice was satisfying, productive, and educational. It fulfilled my desires to grow organic food, carry on beloved family traditions, and reduce the size of my suburban turf lawn. I'm one of those people who feel that domestic lawns (unless you are actually using them for activities like touch football or something) are obsolete relics of a time when most people weren't aware or didn't care about their impacts on the natural world, including whether they were poisoning their own air, water, and soil .  I have enthusiastically joined the movement toward replacing lawns with more beautiful, functional, and healthy landscaping that supports and enhances all of life (human health, floral abundance, native pollinators, birds, butterflies, etc.) without requir

When Life Gives You Key Limes: Pandemic Key Lime Pie Recipe

Unlock a priceless skilled trade! Honestly, I did not mean to learn a new skill in 2020, but fortunately, my new skill is unmarketable. The last thing I wanted to do is learn a new grind. Fortunately, the new trick I learned has proven a great way to unwind : making the perfect Midwestern pandemic-style Key lime pie! I already love to bake, and my favorite baked goods are those you could never buy in a store because nobody would pay for the time and fine ingredients they require. Like my husband's loaf of all-day, no-knead bread with $8 worth of cheese inside. Maybe that would fly in Italy, but not here. Americans are like, "OoH tHat'S sO expEnsIvE!" and then they go and spend $8 on one mixed drink that tastes like mouthwash and melted popsicles. Now, I know that there are some fancy Florida crackers who would mock my family’s poor taste because we make our pies the old-timey way, with canned milk instead of fresh cream. But I think our recipe is the perfect balance o

Pocket of Joy: Vintage Spring Jackets

Happy spring jacket season! I love rotating clothes in and out of storage with the changing seasons, and I also love "shopping" my collection of vintage outerwear from my own youth, from Before Times secondhand shopping trips, and from my mother-in-law when she moved to Florida. I have a vivid red wool bathrobe-style coat and a quirky beige trench that I bought in the 2000s, a worn-in classic denim jacket, an antique WWI-era dress jacket of green silk, and a few leather pieces from the '60s and '70s. I've taken many of these to the dry cleaner and the tailor over the years for repairs and maintenance, which I'd much rather do than replace whole garments with brand new ones. There's something exquisite about the combination of that fresh-new feeling of taking out new-season clothes and the comfy-old-friend feeling of a garment with lots of history. I feel good about the environmental impact of not buying new things, and I also really like well-constructed,

Budget Bride X: The Honeymoon

Ah, travel! I am starting to feel like it will truly become safe and enjoyable again soon. Not yet, though—even though some borders are reopening to tourists, many of those places are immediately regretting it. A lot of Americans who are already jetting around the world have promptly ruined things for everyone with vile, reckless, aggressive, and disrespectful behavior that not only raises disease risk but creates a hostile and possibly even unsafe environment for other American tourists who follow. Trust me, I’ve been to places where Americans were despised by the locals, and it is scary to the point of becoming traumatic. So before you embark upon an journey to someone else’s homeland, be sure to check your attitude and do your research to find a quiet, unspoiled location or one that is definitely accepting of the kind of partying you expect to do. Go in peace! Go in love! One of the pandemic's gifts has been making people aware of all the overlooked and hidden "getaways&quo

Budget Bride IX: Dance Floor Management

Budget brides , if you don't have a DJ in your family willing to work the dance party for free, you can automate the flow by carefully setting up the two dimensions of dance floor management: physical space and musical time. For ideas on how to set up a space with optimal traffic flow, see these four tips by Rescue Flats . For tips on timing the beats, read on! Dance Floor Management Automate your dancing-and-shenanigans playlist if you find yourself without professional DJ services. We used my laptop computer, hooked up to a cheap rented set of gigantic speakers and a funky light show. Our playlist began with sentimental first dances and then moved through progressive stages that we set up in advance--but were still able to modify on the spot as needed. Our silly garter toss happened in the middle, after most of the older folks and all the little kids had gone home, and it marked a transition to the louder, drunker phase of the night. We found that it's good to put some o