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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

Pocket of Joy: Companionship in Solitary Work

Coffee shop ambience. Silent meditation circles. Sitting with a loved one in grief. Writing sprints. There is something soul-sustaining about being in the presence of others who exude love, focus, hope, creativity, inspiration, or any other energy that fills up our spirits while we journey alongside one another on solitary paths. Something about autumn pulls us inward, to reflect upon our own personal moods, dreams, and goals, but also together, as we long for cozy companionship. As more people finally receive Covid vaccinations and cases continue to decline after a nasty peak, book clubs are coming back together. Families are reuniting for long-delayed weddings and memorial services and looking forward to holiday celebrations. We are starting to grieve and to dream again, together. Personally, I am looking forward to having my daughter, the last little member of my family, vaccinated so that we can celebrate with a "vaccination celebration bucket list" our daughter started f

Pocket of Joy: Catching More Grief with Sugar

A few days ago, I wrote about the irrational anger at death that I discovered lurking under my grief and fear . Then I saw this poem by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, and it broke my heart open in a different place. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (@gabbat) It is said in pop psychology that sadness lies beneath anger, but in myself I find layers of both, one upon another over and over again, glued together with veins of sticky sweet frustrated longings and backed up affections and other feelings wedged here and there untidily, which cannot be easily peeled apart and healed. I suspect that most people are like me in that way, more or less, and so they have patterns of mixed up emotional tissues unlike mine, in other disordered arrangements. Last week I realized once again, as I must do from time to time, that I am a coddled pet of this world, with so many privileges that a sense of entitlement sneaks up on me whenever I forget how a

Pocket of Joy: Laughing Off Your Bogus Ego

We deserve nothing in this world. Let go of the whole idea that you "deserve" or "don't deserve" the fulfillment of your dreams. Whether you get it or not depends upon luck and what you do, not what you deserve. There is no cosmic Santa Claus doling out blessings and curses to the passive Nice and Naughty lists. You can be as nice and naughty as you like while you decide each day whether to keep working toward your goals or give up. And remember, changing your strategy isn't quitting; staying the course when it isn't working is a sneaky form of giving up on yourself under the guise of hustling. To win at life, as far as I can tell, you must be both humble in your identity and confident in your abilities to learn and adapt. You must love yourself so deeply from the inside out that you can laugh off your bogus ego, release your baggage, strip down to your truth, and get light and free. What a joy it is to finally accomplish that, no matter what achievement

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

Pocket of Joy: The Indiana Jones Door Slide

I find that sometimes when the gods close a door, you can run and slide through the crack at the very last second. And even reach back to grab your hat, if you're quick! Indiana Jones Door Close GIF from Indiana Jones GIFs   This feels like the vibe for all of my home and auto repairs over the past year as well as how I released my novel, and it feels like how I'll need to finish my 2021 Christmas shopping. Over the summer, my family went through a harrowing adventure in major home repairs and maintenance that suddenly seemed financially possible due to those stimulus payments and that free student loan forbearance. My husband and I, with the help of my parents, spent the summer and early fall doing most of the work ourselves to demolish and rebuild our kitchen and main bathroom, which had seemed to fall to pieces all at once, just like our furnace and vintage pickup truck did the moment we finished renovations. Thank goodness for emergency savings and credit cards! In the Tim

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

Second Spring Breakdown

It's the second spring of the pandemic, and it's... not all better. Time to break down how bad it is and how good it can be if we can get through this year’s spring fever. Case rates of Covid-19 are far higher this March than they were last March when the big lockdowns happened, and the infection rate is roaring upward because people are losing their minds faster than they are getting vaccinated. Italy is going into its second Easter lockdown, and the United States has made a clear collective decision that the mindless consumption of novelty products and services matters more than human life. As a nation, despite the refreshing progress and signs of hope coming from the new White House, we're done pretending to care about each other. We still haven't agreed that childcare and elementary schools are more important than bars or that real children's childhoods are more important than adults' rights to party like Florida Man. Our culture of overwork and gross consum

Pocket of Joy: Loving The Fall's Complexities

Fall, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love the cool mornings, the storms that mix blue-gray rain with yellow leaves already showering down from my walnut tree, and the afternoons that heat up and draw out that rich, warmed-earth, sun-dried leaf scent. I have always loved the dawns of autumn, the tender turning of the earth, the anticipation of color and movement, the coming fall! The motion of it, the actual falling of the leaves, the accelerating changes that saturate the senses. Later comes the Grimshaw phase of autumn, with its metallic sheens and spidery mists. It isn't just the festive harvest season or the bright middle of the fall that I love but the whole arc of it, the warm and the cold, the light and the dark and the glowing twilights humming with the shades and scents of memory mixing with rebirth. "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his exquisitely dissatisfying novel about accelerating, blaz

Pocket of Joy: Roasted Pumpkin Bowls

It's edible gourd season! Did you know that some of those cute little pumpkins that people stack in decorative heaps at this time of year are also delicious and stealthily nutritious vegetables? This fall, my family and friends have devoured over 25 of these tricky treats, which volunteered out of last year's decorative gourd compost! These are mini tiger stripe pumpkins, which have a mild and nutty flavor, pale greenish insides without that distinctive "pumpkin guts" smell, and a wealth of petite seeds delicate enough to roast without shelling and snack on like popcorn in front of a spooky Halloween movie. Pumpkin flesh and seeds are super snacks packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and they're so yummy and festive that my family gobbles them up like any comfort food. Mini tiger stripes are the perfect size to stuff with stew, breakfast sausage and eggs (pictured above), or a wholesome treat like apple pie filling (pictured below).     You can buy tiger str

Pocket of Joy: Real Clean Scents

It's peak lilac season where I live, and on warm days, one of my all-time favorite scents wafts in from every window, along with the scents of apple blossoms, violets, and roses. My daughter enhanced the moment in her bedroom by cutting a bouquet from the back yard. We avoid artificial scent chemicals at our house, so when we want our spaces to smell better, we clean up anything that stinks and add real things that produce aroma, like fresh flowers from the gardens outside and fresh-baked pies and cookies. Real clean scents almost always smell better than fake ones, and they are usually less toxic to release into your precious indoor air . The only way to truly banish a stink from anything that is dirty, deteriorating, or moldy is to remove the stinky material from the premises. Bad smells are your clue that it's time to do some spring cleaning. This spring, my husband and I made a few changes that gave the smell of our walkout basement a total rejuvenation. We already take ca

Pocket of Joy: Heavy Metal Belly Dance

The ability to dance to the beat of your own bum is one of the best perks of being a human person. Sexy or sensual dancing to whatever makes your muscles want to stretch and flow and make space in your spine and hip joints, no matter how weird or dorky or trashy, is a great way to stay strong, healthy, and happy in your own skin during a time of continued social isolation. There are people who make good money posting video tutorials or performances of sensual dance, but it's also freeing and empowering to dance when, truly, no one is watching. You can dance with or for a sexy partner, or you can dance for yourself alone. Doing the tango or learning to salsa dance with your lover can be a great way to spice things up, but your most important and intimate dancing partner is always yourself. When you know that nobody can see you, it can help you loosen up and discover the movements that feel good from the inside, no matter how they look on the outside. One of my favorite ways to work