top five

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1. In June at the beach in Southie with my sister, secret Coronas sweating in plastic cups and the whole night stretching out in front of us pink and blue. We ate watermelon and watched the meat market, waded in up to our knees.

2. In July in Chicago at J’s parents’ house, middle of the night and barefoot doubled over laughing, eating cake and tortellini straight out of the fridge.

3. On the porch of the bar in Montana in August, chatting, taking pictures. Watching the cars drive away.

4. In Nashville, with a guy in a chicken suit.

5. On the plane to New York after book tour, the skyline springing up out the grey, grey window. My phone dinged when we landed. Come over! I have snacks.

Tell me your top five.

flicker on

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It is endlessly bleak and dreary here so I am lighting every candle in my apartment and reading about Hygge, watching Christmas movies and knitting scarves and eating extra-dark pretzels dipped in mascarpone cheese. In December the cold makes me feel old fashioned, like someone who darns socks or has a root cellar, so I wrapped and sent out a bunch of Christmas packages full of bits and bobs from my overstuffed stationery drawer and made a bunch of dinners from stuff already in the fridge. It’s nice, this preparing kind of feeling. The notion that that something is on its way.

on capsules

This fall I started doing the capsule wardrobe and it has been kind of a life changer. Lots of other bloggers have explained it better than me and are probably doing it better, too, but the basic gimmick is that you edit all your clothes down to 37 things you really love putting on your body, get rid of as much unnecessary cheap itchy yank-y spur of the moment sale purchase shit as you can, and then you shop real careful-like at the beginning of the season and call it all done for three months. I wanted to be able to get dressed in five minutes and I wanted to not walk out my front door and immediately be hit with crippling outfit regret, so I tried it, and for me at least it has really worked.

What was really striking to me, though, was that once I did it with my clothes I immediately wanted to do it in every other area of my life. I was brutal with my kitchen cabinets. I tossed a bunch of garbage makeup from 2003. And I have started thinking really, really seriously about some lifestyle and career changes to carry me into my thirties–a kind of whole-hog capsule, a way of incorporating that kind of care and intentionality into how I move through my days.

(Is this gross? It is, I know it’s gross, but I want to talk it out anyway.)

Here are things I am really bad at, a selected list: big groups of people, having weeks that are too crowded and busy, being away from home for more than three or four days at a time. I know that–I have met myself before– but a lot of times I’m tempted to do those things anyway, to buy them cause they’re on sale or cause everyone else has them or cause they feel like the kind of things I should make myself do in order to be the kind of person I think I ought to be. It’s exactly the same rationale I would use to buy a cheap dress that fits weird in the boobs and that I know in the back of my mind is going to wind up in a trash bag sooner rather than later–cause I have a party tonight and it’s trendy and on 60% markdown, or whatever.

Here’s what I’m better at, generally: long, rambling one on ones. Baking bread and taking weekend trips. Writing it all down. These are the places I want to put my energy, to spend my emotional dollars–on things that are sustainable in the long term, things that fill me up instead of emptying me out.

As this year winds down and I start to look at the next one I want to try to break myself of the habit of trying to do everything, all the time–to stop giving in to that internal pressure that’s constantly saying not enough not enough not enough. Because it is enough, it is, whether it’s 37 articles of clothing or just me here singing to myself, moving forward. It is more than enough.

special intentions

In high school I had a theology teacher we will call Ms. A who couldn’t have been much older than I am now, or maybe she was even younger. Also, she was nuts. One time she taped two girls’ arms together with packing tape at the front of the classroom, then yanked the tape off, held it up so that we could see all the arm skin gunk on it, and explained that this was why we shouldn’t have premarital sex. This is my favorite story to tell about Catholic school when I am drunk because it gets a great reaction every time, and when I am drunk I am always looking for a reaction.

Ms. A started every class period with a prayer, and a thing you could do was raise your hand and say if you had something or someone you wanted the group to pray for, and if you didn’t want to say what it was specifically that was okay too, you could just say special intention. I actually think that was the most respectful Ms. A ever was of any of us, of our privacy or of anything else: We don’t have to understand what you are asking for. But we will ask for it on your behalf.

My plan was to make a gratitude list for today, and I’m going to do that later anyway because I am, I am so grateful, for my beautiful family and my gorgeous friends and the fact that I have never in my life had to wonder if I was going to eat that day. But what happened last night in Ferguson—what is happening all day every day, world without end—has left me so heartbroken and afraid and angry and helpless-feeling, and the idea of cheekily telling you I’m thankful for the Serial podcast and tottering off to New York for the week makes me want to punch my own self in the face.

I tend not to write a ton about what’s going on in the world because I always feel like there are other, smarter, more articulate people who deserve to be heard much more than I do. I tend not to write a lot about faith because my feelings are murky and confusing at best. But I will say that back in Ms. A’s class it used to help to know that nineteen other girls in uniforms were praying for you to get what you needed, even if they had no earthly idea what it was.

I don’t know what we need, exactly. But I will ask for it today.

comfort food

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Last week I was really afraid of something so I stopped what I was doing and made potato leek soup to stop thinking about it. Afterward I was still afraid, but I had soup to eat for lunch at work all week instead of a crummy ordered-in sandwich and it felt good to be doing something productive with that nervous energy, to be directing it someplace besides inward onto my own organs. I remember that once right after college when I was looking for a job and beating myself up every day for not having a successful career at the age of 22, I read a quote that said, “No matter what happens, we can always bake a cake.” I love that. Control what you can control. Take care of what’s in front of you. Sweat your onions before you add your stock. Etc.

And with that, I give you: Potato Leek Soup for the Acutely Anxious

This recipe is almost absurdly simple and there are definitely fancier ones out there, but as somebody who has made a lot of truly disgusting soups in her day I find it is best to exercise a certain amount of minimalism in endeavors such as this one.

4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 big onion or 2 small ones, peeled and chopped
2 leeks, rinsed and chopped
4 good sized potatoes, peeled and chopped
6 cups chicken stock
A good sized hunk of parmesan rind (if you’ve got one)
1 cup milk or cream
salt & pepper to taste
sour cream and shredded cheddar, for garnish (optional)

Cook your bacon in your biggest stockpot or dutch oven and set aside. Add butter to the bacon fat and saute onions and leeks with some salt and pepper until they’re all melty and good, about ten minutes. Deglaze your pan with a glug of chicken stock and a wooden spoon, then add potatoes and the rest of the chicken stock, plus the parm if you’ve got it. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on medium heat anywhere from half an hour to 45 minutes (I had homework, so I just left it until I was done and no disasters occurred). Fish out the parm rind and puree soup in two batches in a food processor or blender until smooth, then return to pot and add milk, plus salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with bacon, sour cream, and cheddar.

99 DAYS, and a giveaway

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I was at a writing retreat recently and I heard a woman say that before she actually sat down to do it, she had been very smug about writing her second book. “I was like, I just wrote one,” she said, shaking her head a bit in disbelief. “How hard could writing another one possibly be?”

Spoiler alert: it was very hard.

I mean, not hard-hard. Not hard like working on an oilrig or being in the army or cleaning bathrooms. Not hard like being a surgeon, like saving lives, and yes of course books save lives but sometimes I feel like I don’t even write those kinds of books, the really important lifesaving kind, not that my books aren’t important and not that I don’t feel proud but why does this feel so difficult and and on and on and on.

Do you hear me? I trust you to hear me.

The point is: HOW TO LOVE I wrote for the fun of it, because at the time I was playing around and didn’t really know any better. My third book, the shiny neon tragedy I’m writing now–that one I’m writing for love.

99 DAYS? 99 DAYS was work.

And it was so, so worth it.

I love this book, you guys. I am so excited to share it with you. It’s about a girl and two brothers and love and families and friendships and secrets and candy and water and ghost hearts and how sometimes you can’t even pinpoint the moment when a mistake starts to happen—you just look behind you at the end of it and there it is stretching back to the horizon line, as far as your eyes can see.

Also there is like, a ton of kissing in it, if that’s your bag. It is certainly mine.

99 DAYS isn’t out ‘til next April (although hello yes it is available for preorder), but I’ve got a stack of ARCs sitting on my desk and I would love love love to send one of them your way, along with a host of other goodies. A 99 DAYS Prize Pack, even. How about that.

There are four ways to enter, and you can enter up to four times:

  1. Subscribe to this blog (if you don’t already) and leave a comment here telling me you’ve done so.
  2. Follow me on twitter (if you don’t already!) and leave a comment here telling me you’ve done so.
  3. Follow me on tumblr (if you don’t already) and leave a comment here telling me you’ve done so
  4. Follow me on instagram (if, wait for it, you don’t already) and leave a comment here telling me you’ve done so.

The contest will run until this Sunday, November 16th, and is unfortunately only open to residents of the continental US. I’ll post the winner on Monday. So go play!

UPDATE: this giveaway is now closed. Stick around for more chances to win!

on and on

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In 2008 I was depressed so I started doing extreme couponing. Not, like, EXTREME extreme couponing, with the forty jars of mayonnaise and a year’s supply of Desitin for the baby I didn’t have, but extreme couponing nevertheless. I read the CVS circular the way I imagine other twenty-three year old women read Joan Didion, at length and with great attention. I was bored. I was looking for something. It was not six packages of oil-free Neutrogena wipes for a penny, but looking back I think I liked the weird obsessive logic of the endeavor—do this and this and this and this and this is what will happen. You will have something, you will have paid very little, and you will feel satisfied.

The other thing I did in 2008 was start this blog, and the two things feel connected a) because I used to TALK about my effing couponing here, as if that was the kind of thing that people wanted to read about, and b) because I think at the time it was satisfying to me in a similar way? The give and take of writing here and reading elsewhere, the click of my hands on the keys.

The point of all of this is that it’s six years later, I have two books under my belt that are happily not about couponing, I like to think that I’m generally less of a sad sack, but I still have a lot of other things to yammer about that are not fictional or my shopping habits (okay I want to yammer about my shopping habits a LITTLE). Most of all I miss making my home here, unwinding my words in this space.

I do this, and I feel satisfied. I am still here, if you are still here.

Plus if you’re interested I know where you can get some face wash WICKED CHEAP right now.