Monday, July 28, 2014

Keeping our humanity in the comments section

In the wake of the botched execution of a convicted murderer in Arizona, I am disturbed on a number of fronts. I will list the first and foremost thing that bothers me about this, but if you disagree, bear with me: I am disturbed that we are administering the death penalty with untested drugs, meaning each execution is a secretive government experiment on an unwilling subject. Second, I am disturbed by several trends in the online conversations that occurred around this news story, and many others like it. 
It seems that conversations on difficult and divisive subjects in this country have devolved past the point of productivity into the realm of partisan name-calling and contests to see who can do more to dehumanize the other party while winning the argument.

Beyond skill and safety: Finding yourself in the unfamiliar

One could say that I’ve been making the same mistake over and over throughout my young life. I have always made the soulmate assumption about any of the people, places and things that I’ve encountered by chance—that because the connection was made, it was fated to be permanent and meaningful and good.
I navigated my first serious romantic relationship (and, let’s get real, every one after it) from the operational principle that we wouldn’t have been brought together by the whimsy of chance if it weren’t supposed to be the relationship. I made the same mistake with my college roommates. We collectively felt that because some administrators had decided one March that we four might survive freshman year without killing one another, this meant we were bound to be friends for life. And, of course, I carried this belief even into my relationship with my city. Curiously, I only grew more committed to my hometown the older I grew. Rather than making the usual attempts to distance myself from the familiar, I entrenched myself further into the city that had most shaped me.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Kitchen Intuition: Use-it-up soup

I’ve been traveling a lot this summer but have also been trying to keep up with my farmer’s CSA share every week, and it can be a challenge to eat all the food that is flowing into my house while it is still fresh. It’s also been challenging to find the time to cook. During my first week at home after my most recent trip, I was dismayed to look at my calendar and find that I had meetings scheduled on four of the five evenings!

This is where a good recipe-less soup comes in very handy. I can use up vegetables before they start to go bad, while also making a quick weeknight meal (or cooking ahead!). Win-win! Although there are thousands of recipes out there for vegetable soups, Food52 sets out a good basic formula: chop some aromatic vegetables (onions, garlic, chives, scallions, leeks, shallots and/or grated ginger), and cook them in some butter or oil until soft; add veggies and seasonings; cover with liquid and simmer; and then blend. It’s a quick and largely unattended process. Make a little or a lot.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CARTA Diaries: When I'm alone with you

Forget "Easy Like Sunday Morning" or "Mambo No. 5"—Lionel Richie and Lou Bega have clearly never taken the CARTA No. 4 at 1:45 on a Monday afternoon. I’ve written before about love on the bus, the kind of longing and sonnets and hope. This afternoon, however, I encountered love of a different sort—the kind where you mash your faces together out of the irresistible, intoxicating pull of having your special person just a few inches away, your elbows (and many other parts) touching as you are cradled in your individual blue plastic seats. 

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Rejecting perfection and reclaiming your best self

A good way to tell if you are really, deeply out of balance is if, on a perfectly ordinary weeknight, you find yourself sobbing into your wine in a lukewarm bath.
It had happened again. I’d gotten a bad case of perfectionitis, ignored all the symptoms, and crashed headlong into the awful, ordinary truth that I’m just a human who gets some things right and other things wrong. I woke up the next morning groggy, embarrassed and almost late to a doctor’s appointment.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kitchen Intuition: The best sweet corn of the season

When I was a kid, my grandfather had a huge backyard garden where he grew all sorts of food. At one time, there had been a whole farm with his house at the center, but over the years, parcels of the property were sold, until all that was left was the house, the barn and that great big garden. The biggest portion of the plot was given over to growing corn, and when it was in season, meals were an event for me. We’d walk out to the garden together and find ears that were ready to be picked. He’d look at the tassels and maybe tug the husk back a little, pressing a kernel with his fingernail to see if it was swollen with milky flavor. We’d wait to pick it until just before cooking (my grandmother would already have a pot of water ready on the stove), and it always came out crisp and moist and ever so sweet. We’d sit at the kitchen table together while he cut his corn off the cob (he had dentures) and I ate mine typewriter-style.

As is often the case, when it comes to corn, the old ways are still the best. Whether you boil, steam, roast or grill it, cooking your corn as quickly as possible after it’s been picked ensures that it will be at its sweetest. As soon as corn has been pulled off the stalk, the sugars start to convert to starch; so the sooner you get to eat it, the sweeter it will be.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Five things I learned at the annual Williams family reunion

I recently spent the weekend at my annual family reunion in Batavia, New York. Every year, we get as many of us together as possible and pile up in my grandfather’s house. No one wants to stay at a hotel because that means missing out on our limited time together. The bedrooms are all full, as are the living room couches, the floor, and sometimes the yard when we bring tents and campers. There are a lot of jokes repeated year after year that we all enjoy beating to death. Some of them have been getting an annual flogging since the 1970s, when my mom and her siblings were kids. We drink bad beer and eat good food and enjoy being with one another.
One of the things I love about my grandfather’s house, besides it being full of Williamses, is that it’s absolutely covered in inspirational quotes. Decades before anyone could even conceive of something like Tumblr, my grandmother basically turned her house into one. She liked to be surrounded by inspiration. She has a few framed prints, but mostly, she’d cut out little magazine snippets and tape them around the house at eye level or tuck them into books. My cousins have kept up the tradition. This year, an index card over the sink caught my eye with two lines from Philippians, the ones that go something like: "Do nothing from selfish ambition, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
The Williamses, we like to keep it positive, and we like to keep it real. That’s one of my favorite things about my family. I feel like they’re always trying to be their best selves, right down to the motivational d├ęcor. In honor of their good attitude, here are five things I learned at my family reunion this year.