Lucky New Year’s Collard Green & Black-Eyed Pea Soup

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I love a good soup. Infinitely forgiving, enhanced by improvisation, requiring minimal cleanup – making soup is my kind of cooking. I’m also a sucker for traditions – especially holiday traditions that are steeped in history. This recipe combines the ease and comfort of soup-making (and soup-eating) with time-honored tradition promising good fortune. Plus, it’s winter – Lord knows stewing some greens and veggies in bone broth ain’t gonna hurt your immune system. You really can’t beat this soup for some hungover, post-partying comfort.

Living in Savannah for 20 years certainly influenced my palate and my sense of history – you can’t help feeling closer to the past when this is your hometown:

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If I ever win the lottery, I want my house and yard to be just like this. Maybe this soup will bring me a winning ticket. Come on, big money!
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I will forever miss strolling through Forsyth Park and the Savannah’s many squares during the holidays.

In the American South, it’s pretty much a given that most everyone will be eating some variation of the same meal on New Year’s Day: collard greens, black-eyed peas, some form of pork (usually ham), and corn bread. These foods are meant to bring good fortune in the new year, and it doesn’t hurt that they are super yummy. Each ingredient is symbolic, and their powers are only amplified when eaten in concert. Collard greens represent all that cash you’ll want in your wallet as you face another year, and black-eyed peas stand in for coins. Some traditionalists count out exactly 365 black-eyed peas – one for each day of the year, but just incorporating them is enough to grease the wheels with Lady Luck. Cornbread is the color of gold, and the more you utilize pork in the meal, the better your chances for a lucky year, as pigs symbolize forward motion (and also pair really well with collards and “field peas”).

Usually, all these symbols end up on the table separately. The collards greens are slow-cooked with ham hocks and fatback. Black-eye peas show up in the form of Hoppin’ John, and the cook’s favorite pork – maybe chops or a boozy ham – will take center stage on the table.

But that’s a lot of dirty pans and a lot of focused effort after a long, champagne-fueled evening. Also, soup rocks – and you get to utilize some Christmas leftovers nearing the end of their shelf-life. So here you have my tasty twist on the classic Southern New Year’s table.

It’s worth noting that collard greens and black-eyed peas can go really, really wrong, and both benefit from tried-and-true traditional cooking methods – namely cooking them in pork fat, adding a little vinegar for balance, and cooking them patiently to avoid a mouthful of bitterness. (Pro-tip: add a pinch or two of nutmeg whenever you’re cooking greens – collards, kale, chard, etc – it’ll enhance the flavor.) This soup incorporates those lessons, and you get the bonus benefit of all the vitamins that cook out of the collards but remain in the broth (called “pot likker” for obvious reasons…yum…).

Ingredients:

Ok, so here’s the deal. I’ve never, ever measured anything for this soup, and I completely forgot to try to do so this year. All the measurements below are guesses, but the good news is that this recipe is super forgiving. This soup is rustic, so have fun with it and don’t worry about perfect amounts. I promise it’ll still be yummy. The same advice goes for the knife work. Go easy on yourself and chop things are large as you want. I love a chunk of onion, so I can get pretty lazy with this. I’m pretty sure that one day, I’ll just toss in a whole onion and call it a day.

A note on the ham stock: I make my ham stock using the bone from my Christmas ham, and I just freeze the stock until I need it. It’s really easy. I just put the bone in a soup pot, fill that bad boy up with water, and add a couple carrots, an onion or two (depending on whether the onions are large or small), a couple stalks of celery, a few cloves of garlic, and two bay leaves. Simmer covered for four to six hours (seriously). Remove the stock from the heat, allowing it to cool, skim off the fat, strain out the solids, and voila! Best thing about making the stock is that it’s so forgiving. It’s great for cleaning out the fridge. Got some random parsley or thyme that you don’t want to throw way? Add it to the pot. Have a few leftover carrots? Toss them in, skin and all. You even leave the skin on the onions and garlic, so this is literally the lowest effort cooking you’ll do all December, but you’ll feel really cool and impressive when you mention you’re making your own bone broth. See how fancy that sounds? Go have fun with it.

  • ~4 cups collard greens, chopped into approximately 1 inch rectanglesOk, I usually use one bunch of collard greens, but when I bought them this year, the bunches were smaller, so I used two.
    • To prepare the greens, soak them in cold water in the sink for a couple of hours, then gently but thoroughly scrub/rinse each leaf under running water to remove any stubborn sand and dirt. When chopping them up, make sure you remove the stems and ribs. 
  • 8-10 cups ham stock (can substitute with chicken broth in a pinch)Ham stock works best, but you can use chicken broth or beef broth if you don’t have any ham stock available. Just keep in mind that store-bought broth will be saltier than the homemade stock, I wouldn’t recommend adding salt until the end, when you can taste the soup and gauge what it needs. Also, if you opt for beef broth, keep in mind that it’s going to change the flavor much more than chicken. I’ve made no-pork collard greens for my Muslim friends in the past, and beef broth works really well with the greens in that context, but here, it could overpower the other flavors. Proceed with caution.
  • 2-3 cups ham, cut into roughly 1-inch cubes Leftover Holiday Bourbon Ham is perfect for this. Also, cut the ham into whatever size chunks you want. You really can’t mess this up.
  • 6 pieces thick-cut baconOk, so the deal is that you’re just cooking the bacon and reserving the grease to cook the veggies and greens. You could use lard or some other form of animal fat instead. Traditionally, collard greens are usually cooked with fatback or ham hock, and this is method is just a variation based on (A) what I tend to have in my fridge (read: bacon – nom nom), and (B) since this is a soup made with ham stock, I think the bacon works just as well.
  • 2 (16 oz) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsedSo, you can totally use dried black-eye peas here. I’m usually in the clutches of post-Christmas malaise at this time of year, so I’m not organized enough to remember to soak and prep the black-eye peas. If you are, go for it.
  • 1 large onion (red or yellow works), large diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 carrots, choppedI usually go with 4 carrots because I like carrots – and I tell myself that the extra veggies balance the wealth of fat I dump into this soup. Also, I’m from the “more is more” school of cooking. I can’t help myself.
  • 2 cups celery, choppedI usually end up using 2 or 3 stalks plus the “heart” of the celery bunch, leaves and all.
  • 1-2 cups button mushrooms, chopped (optional)
  • 1 small bunch Italian parsley, roughly mincedOk, so the story here is the I had an entire bunch of parsley in my fridge this year that was 100% going to spoil if I didn’t use it, so I said to hell with it and used the same thing. I was lowkey afraid that the parsley would overpower everything else, but honestly, it was fine. You in no way need to add this much, but you can if you find yourself with a bouquet of parsley, you don’t have to let it wilt in your veggie bin.
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • ~1 tbsp Texas Pete Hot Sauce
  • ½ tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup heavy creamGo with your gut here. I like a lot of broth, and I like a healthy amount of cream to enrich the soup and balance the greens. I’d start with a cup and just taste it. If you feel more cream would enhance the flavor, pour in a little more.
  • Salt and pepper to tasteBecause I don’t salt my ham stock, I end up adding a significant amount of salt at the end. My advice would be to gently, cautiously salt the veggies as you sauté them, but don’t add anything more. At the end, just keep adding and tasting until you hit your saltiness sweet spot.
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Look at those beautiful veggies. Mmmm……
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Getting ready to remove the center “rib” from these collards. Also, isn’t this cutting board beautiful. It’s made from reclaimed wood from Savannah’s historic buildings. My husband bought it for me at The Paris Market & Brocante – a Savannah gem that’s so worth the visit.
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My mise en place. I’m totally obsessed with prep work these days, as it makes the actually cooking so much easier when the stove is on and suddenly the baby is fussing. An ounce of preparation, as they say….

Directions:

  • Cook the bacon until crisp – either in your soup pot or in a separate frying pan. Reserve all of the grease, and save the bacon for some other meal – you won’t need it for this soup.
    • The pot is a time saver, but I find the bacon doesn’t cook as well for me when I do it that way, so I generally take the extra step of cooking the bacon in a frying pan and transferring the grease to the pot. Either way, you’re after the grease here, so the bacon is a fun bonus. I tend to snack on it as I cook, because most of the time, it’s the afternoon, and all I’ve put in my belly since waking is black coffee and San Pellgrino. My husband and dog also enjoy this part, as they too receive a delicious portion of snack bacon.
  • Melt the butter in the bacon grease on medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are beginning to soften and become translucent.
  • Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute or two to release the flavor.
  • Add the carrots, celery, and mushrooms, and sauté for another several minutes. Once again, the goal here is to release the flavor and slightly soften the veggies.
  • Add the collard greens, and keep turning/sautéing for another couple minutes. You really want the fat and heat to work their magic on the greens a bit. They won’t wilt significantly the way kale or spinach would, but they should limpen a little.
  • Add the paprika, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, fresh parsley, and Dijon mustard. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, but don’t go crazy. You can’t take that salt back, but you do want to add some to help all the other spices along. Give the veggies and spices another minute on the heat to incorporate the flavors.
  • Add in the ham stock. There’s an art to this. I love a lot of broth in my soup, so when I’m adding my stock, I just keeping pouring until I hit a solids-to-liquid ration that makes me happy.
  • Add the black-eyed peas, Texas Pete Hot Sauce, and white wine vinegar. Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Simmer for 45 minute to an hour. I recommend tasting the greens at the 45 minute mark. Collard greens can be very bitter if undercooked. If you’re tasting the bitterness, give it another 15 minutes and try again.
  • Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve hot with a side of cornbread.
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Not gonna lie: I put SO MUCH butter on this cornbread after I took this picture.

I hope you love this soup as much as I do. May it bring you prosperity and good health in the new year (or whenever you choose to enjoy it).

Happy New Year,

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Happy New Year, everyone!

Holiday Bourbon-Glazed Ham

Ham is my favorite holiday main. Where turkey can go wrong so easily, ham is infinitely more forgiving. I love a good roast, but beef can be difficult to prepare for a crowd, particularly when I prefer my cow mooing and much of my family demands that it be burnt to a crisp. Lamb and duck are delicious, but a number of my relatives won’t eat outside the established boundaries of chicken-beef-pork-fish. Besides, ham makes the best leftovers. I love to eat my leftover ham at midnight, in front of the fridge in my bare feet while drinking orange juice out of the carton. Plus, there’s so much you can make with it. Ham salad. Split pea soup. Pasta carbonara with ham and peas. This Hungarian Bean Soup (Bab Leves) that I’ll be posting about in the near future because it is nom nom nom to die for.

So ham. Yum. You’ll get no complaints here.

Ham is both my Christmas and Easter go-to, and this recipe is my favorite – a foolproof crowd pleaser that is always tasty. When selecting your ham, definitely go for the fatty, bone-in cut. Spiral cut is ok, although I prefer to carve the meat myself. The bone is perfect for making a yummy stock, necessary for my Lucky New Year’s Collard Green & Black-Eyed Pea Soup, which you should definitely make on New Year’s Day or just, you know, whenever. Yum.

Also, please be advised that I don’t trim my fat. What can I say? It encourages so much flavor and keeps the meat succulent and moist. Plus, it’s delicious.

Hey, I own my gluttony. You do you, but for the record, I encourage this minor act of hedonsim. It’s the holidays.

Anywho, here’s the recipe. Happy gnoshing!

Ingredients:

For the ham:

  • 1 beautiful, fatty, bone-in ham
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • Bourbon
    • 1 tbsp bourbon for the rubdown
    • ½ cup for the pan
  • 2-3 tablespoons coarse grain mustard
  • 1-2 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • ½ tsp powdered ginger
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 -12 oz can of Coca-Cola
  • 1 cup orange juice

For the glaze:

  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • 1 tbsp bourbon for the glaze
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup orange marmalade (optional)

Directions:

For the ham:

Preheat your oven based on the instructions provided with your ham. Generally speaking, the typical cooked hams that crowd the grocery stores during the holidays will usually require about 10 minutes per pound in a 325 oven.

Combine butter and 1 tbsp bourbon in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and allow bourbon to cook down. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Set aside and allow to cool.

Place the ham in a roasting pan directly on the bottom (not the rack) of the pan. With a sharp knife, score the ham in a diamond pattern.

To the saucepan containing the brown sugar reduction, stir in the coarse grain mustard, prepared horseradish, ginger powder and marmalade. Rub this mustard mixture all over the ham making sure to get into the crevices.

Add into the roasting pan the can of Coca-Cola, 1/4 cup of bourbon, and 1 cup orange juice. Tent the ham with aluminum foil.

Follow the heating directions for the ham. Baste occasionally.

For the glaze:

Combine butter and 1 tbsp bourbon in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and allow bourbon to cook down. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Stir in the orange marmalade. Set aside and allow to cool. (If this gives you deja vu tingles, it’s not you. You already did this exact same thing then you prepared the ham to begin roasting.)

For the final 20 minutes, brush 1/3 of the glaze over the ham, and turn up the heat – usually to around 375-400, although you know your oven, and you need to be careful not to dry the ham out. I find a lot of recipes are too aggressive with the temperature and duration they note for glazing, and a dry ham is an affront to good taste. I’d rather have a gooey glaze and a moist ham, but that’s just me.

In any case, continue to bake, adding the remaining glaze after 10 minutes. Be sure to watch that the glaze doesn’t burn, but instead turns a rich, deep golden color. Let the ham rest before slicing.

Enjoy!

Wishing you lots of leftover ham for snacking,

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P.S. I am painfully aware that this post needs at least one picture, but for some reason, I can’t find one single photograph of this dish, and I’ve been making it for YEARS. Sigh. I’ll have to take one at Easter and update this post. Sorry!

Black Pork Belly Curry

Black Pork Belly Curry
Black Pork Belly Curry

Yesterday, I posted a recipe for my dad’s Sri Lankan deviled shrimp curry. That recipe was 100% my dad’s invention, and if you search for deviled shrimp recipes online, you’ll find a great deal of variation in general. Curries tend to be that way – particularly Sri Lankan curries, which (here in the USA, at least) are still almost exclusively refined in the realm of home cooking and less frequently found in restaurants. Every family seems to have their own version of the classics, refined by generations of men and women who spent lifetimes familiarizing themselves with the flavors. My dad was an excellent cook, and whenever I crave Sri Lankan food, I tend to first crave his flavors. After he passed away in December of 2017, I began the process of trying to archive his recipes. I’ve been collecting my own handwritten notes and collaborating with my mom, who learned most of his recipes and took over the cooking duties when he started having issues with tremors in his hands. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share these recipes as my mom and I work through them, so that you too can enjoy a little taste of my childhood home if the mood strikes.

This recipe isn’t one of those dad-tailored dishes. You see, my dad literally never made pork curry in my lifetime. The story goes that when he was a student back in college here in the states, the most affordable meat was pork. So he prepared pork curry all the time. Apparently, he ate the dish so often that once he finished his studies and had a decent income, he never made pork curry again.

The recipe below is actually an adaption of a dish my husband and I sampled during our 2015 trip to Sri Lanka. We were staying at a villa in the tea country when one of our relatives requested pork curry for breakfast one morning. What the chef created for him was exceptional – flat out one of the tastiest curries I’d ever tried. The fatty, salty meat combined with the piquant blend of spices to create a dish that was spicy, savory, sweet and rich. I could have eaten the entire bowl, but all I had was one, lonely taste – a taste that I’ve been chasing for three years. A few weeks ago, I think I finally, finally landed on a close version. This is that recipe.

Ingredients:

 Meat:

  • 2 lbs pork belly, cut into ½ – 1-inch cubes

For the marinade:

  • 2 to 3 tsp ground black pepperI use 2, but I have tried 3, and it’s delish – just hotter than I like. Also, crushing/grinding your own whole black pepper adds an extra dimension to the flavor, but real talk, that’s more work than I often feel like – so regular, ground black pepper works fine.
  • 6 cardamom pods seeds 
  • ¼ tsp cardamom
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder Here’s a link for online shopping in the USA: https://www.lokubox.com/country/usa/Currypowder/
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional – adjust based on your heat tolerance)
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 3 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp Canola oil

For the curry:

  • 2 tbsp Canola oil
  • 1 green chile, sliced
  • 1 inch of peeled ginger, minced – or substitute 1 tsp ginger paste (great if you’re tired and impatient, which I often am)
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ large onion, quartered and sliced
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • 4-5 curry leaves

Directions:

  1. Mix together the cardamom seeds, black pepper, curry powder, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and ground ginger.
  2. Add 2 tbsp of this spice mix, the tamarind paste, and 1 tbsp oil to the cut pork and mix to coat. Leave to marinate for a few hours (up to 12 hours/overnight).
  3. About an hour before you’re ready to cook, remove the pork marinade from the fridge to allow it to warm to room temperature.
  4. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a non-stick wok or frying pan over medium heat.
    • Note: you want a pan with a lid (although in a make-it-work situation, covering that bad boy with a cookie sheet will get it done).
  5. When the oil is hot, add the bay leaves, ginger, and onions, and sauté until the onions become translucent. Add the garlic and sliced green chiles, and sauté for another minute.
  6. Add the marinated pork and sugar, and stir to mix well. Add  ½ cup of water and bring this to a boil.
  7. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Finish the last 15 minutes uncovered.
    • If the curry is drying out, add a little more water. This dish has a drier gravy than many Sri Lankan curries, but it shouldn’t be totally dry. Lots of the pork fat will render as well, so chances are, you won’t need more water.
  8. Add the curry leaves and turn a few times to release the flavor/aroma. Taste the curry and add more salt if needed.
  9. Serve hot – or let it rest and serve it the next day. The flavors marry, and it becomes even more delicious.

Enjoy!

Tastefully Yours,

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Dad’s Deviled Shrimp Curry

Plate of Sri Lankan Curries
Dad’s Deviled Shrimp, Black Pork Belly Curry, Jaffna Dhal. Please forgive the quality. I didn’t expect to blog about food, but I just happened to snap this picture of my plate with my ancient iPhone the other day….

This is not a traditional Sri Lankan deviled shrimp curry. There are many, many recipes online for more traditional versions (although spoiler alert: I’ve yet to find two that are the same), and most incorporate sugar and tomato in some form. This recipe is specifically my dad’s invention, and the flavor immediately takes me back to weekend meals with my parents. It could just as easily be called “turmeric shrimp,” but where’s the fun in that? Deviled just sounds like a better time.

Ingredients:

For all measurements, use a teaspoon/tablespoon that you would set a table with – normal flatware, not a baking/measuring teaspoon/tablespoon. It’s the way Dad measured, and I haven’t measured out a converted amount yet.

  • 1 lbs jumbo shrimp (shelled, deveined & washed)You can use fresh or frozen, but don’t make the mistake I made last week and accidentally buy cooked frozen shrimp.
  • ½ heaping teaspoon of Sri Lankan roasted curry powder So, my parents have always just supplied me with my curry powder. Sometimes, they get it from Canada. Other times, a family memember goes to Sri Lanka and brings back packets of the homemade stuff. All I know for sure is that we use roasted curry powder, and my guess would be it’s usually Jaffna curry powder since that’s where my dad’s family originates. Here’s a link for online shopping in the USA: https://www.lokubox.com/country/usa/Currypowder/
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 large yellow onion, quartered and sliced
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic, crushed with knife and cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon Canola oil
  • One green chile, sliced (optional)
  • 4 or 5 curry leaves

Directions:

  • Toss the shrimp with the curry powder, turmeric and salt. Mix until evenly coated. Put in fridge and let marinade for at least a half hour.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or large, non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • Bring down the oil heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Saute until softened/beginning to carmelize.
  • Add the shrimp and green chile to the pan. Sauté for approximately two minutes.
  • Put a little water (few splashes) into the bowl the shrimp marinade in to get out the remaining curry/spices. Add to the pan and finish cooking the shrimp. (Careful not to overcook.)
  • Remove from heat and add curry leaves. Turn a few times and serve.

Enjoy!

Tastefully Yours,

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The Enemy of the Good

A favorite axiom of one of the VPs at the telecomm company I used to work for was, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Andrew didn’t invent the saying – this particular aphorism is usually attributed to Voltaire, although the idea of the “golden mean” existed long before Voltaire quoted an Italian proverb in  La Bégueule. Nonetheless, I will forever associate that quote with sitting at the board room table, sipping tepid coffee, fingers itching for a cigarette, while Andrew reminded someone (oftentimes me) to just embrace the Pareto principle and get something done. The point always came down to this: there’s some ideal situation where your project will move forward smoothly, your business case will prove out your next big venture, your novel will finally get written, you’ll give up carbs and couch surfing, and you’ll finally archive all your old photographs. But you can’t wait around for that ideal situation. You need to do something now, with what you’ve got. Figure out a workable compromise and get going.

We all know those, “if I just had ____, I could,” and the “as soon as _____ is finished, I will,” moments. They hold us back. They are a perfectionist’s catchphrases, and they fuel procrastinators across the globe to not do anything under the guise of trying needing to do everything to the optimal best.

I’ve been playing this game with myself about this blog. For months.

Seven. Damn. Months.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a perfectionist. Exacting. Thorough. Meticulous. Dedicated. I’m all of those things. Sometimes, those traits served me well in my career, but most of the time, the return on investment was scant in comparison to the physical, mental, and emotional toll of demanding perfection. Hell, I used to fix the formatting and grammar on my colleagues’ documents just because I hated managing through other people’s inconsistencies. Of course, the beauty of all the extra work that I did is that no one noticed or cared.

Real talk: I was killing myself over perfectly formatted spreadsheets and labyrinthine business plans all while managing the workload of at least five people in a normal company (no, I’m not exaggerating). In the meantime, I failed at carving out time for my writing, my relationships, or my health – all because I spent so much time getting my work exactly right.  That search for perfection was the perfect excuse to procrastinate. I mean, why bother doing anything if I couldn’t do it really well? 

So yeah, I was oftentimes the person who needed to be reminded to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good because in striving for perfection, I lost sight of what the company really valued and needed: getting shit done. No one cared if if my business case used brand standard fonts and colors. Accidental misspellings and inelegant summaries were fine. A new product built using 30 manual billing codes instead of the more efficient 16 automated codes was acceptable, even though it was a messier solution with more room for error, because it saved time and got revenue on the books faster. On and on. The moral was always just move forward. Make your deadlines. Get shit done.

There have many, many benefits to leaving behind that world and pursuing a new career path as a writer and consultant. But a major drawback of this massive lifestyle change has been that I’ve occasionally fallen back into old patterns without the constant demands of a dynamic industry to push me beyond my self-made constraints.

I’ve spent seven months thinking about writing in this blog and making excuses for not just writing something.

I was pregnant and my head was foggy….

I was tired, and I didn’t have the energy to write eloquently about my life….

I had an interesting idea for a topic, but I couldn’t get to it until I wrote ____ (fill in the blank) first.

I was going to post, but first I had to select and edit the photos – which meant that I really needed to finish archiving all of my cloud-based pictures first because blah blah blah. Lately, I’ve found myself waiting for the right moment to write my son’s birth story. I tell myself I’ll do it when:

… I’m not so tired…

… and I have some quiet time…

…after I’ve written at least one new short story draft so that my creative fiction always takes precedence….

I have a list of half-baked topics in my phone that were waiting on a similar set of prime conditions before they could bloom into actual posts. This is that list (mostly):

  • Stretching to Accommodate: Stretch Marks & Plus Size Pregnancy
  • The Best & Worst of What I Can Be (The Shock of Gestational Diabetes)
  • Aggrey’s Birth Story
  • New Mom, Old Lens: Examining a Lifetime of My Own Judgments
  • Silenced Narrator: Searching for the Voice in My Head
  • Living My Parents’ Lives
  • Counterfeit Adulthood
  • Moments Making: Visiting Dad’s Grave
  • Traditions New & Old
  • Hurricanes, Law & Order, and the Rituals of New Motherhood
  • Strange New Body (of Regrets) – The Way I Look & the Things I Did or Didn’t Do
  • Branding Parenthood & Personhood
  • Etc., etc, etc….

It got to the point that just looking at this list would hold me back – forget actually sitting down to do something.

You see the problem here.

Yesterday, I told my bestie, Samira @ https://memoryboxmom.wordpress.com/, that I was ready to shut this blog down for awhile because I just can’t seem to focus on it, and I have to dedicate my scant “free” time to finishing my novel, etc. Then, in her marvelous Capricorn way, she made some comment about her own commitment to writing at least one post a month, come what may, and I got to thinking that maybe I need to get out of my own way, get embrace the Pareto principle, and just do something. Take one little step forward. This is one of the traits I admire most about Sam: she just puts herself out there and tries.

Imagine that.

So here I am, writing this post. This post is my one, teeny tiny step forward. It’s neither the birth story I wanted to share nor does it touch on the profound changes that came with motherhood. I’m not writing about the art of writing or the joys of getting to know my son.

This post is a promise to myself. To try. To do what I can and accept what I cannot. It’s the first of many little steps I’m taking – towards completing my novel, towards improving my health, towards finding my way as a new mom.

So, I’m not going to proofread what I’ve written or agonize over syntax. It’s good enough. I’m not going to spend more than 60 seconds selecting a picture to accompany my writing, either. Hell, I’m not even going to edit that picture. In a few seconds, I’m going to just stop and hit the “Publish” button.

And I’m ok with that.

Until next time,

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P.S. Here’s my handsome boy in all his unedited glory.

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#nofilter

Birth, Death & The Journeys In Between

On Monday, May 7th, my father would have celebrated his 78th birthday. My husband and I had just returned from our brief but blissful babymoon on Clearwater Beach, and the juxtaposition of those two events got me thinking about birth and death and more importantly, the substance that comes between, the sum total of the moments we live and the places those moments take us. I got to thinking about travel – particularly about my father’s love of travelling and how it has influenced my relationship to exploration and adventure.

A close family friend of ours likes to share a piece of wisdom his grandfather passed on to him. You may have heard it before, but it’s worth the repeating. So the friend in question, David, was a young man visiting a cemetery with his grandfather. Grandpa, being wise as grandfathers are, knelt down and pointed to the inscription on the headstone. “What do you see here, son?” he asked.

David squinted at the stone and repeated back to his grandfather, “I see two dates. His birthday, and the day he died.”

“And between them?” his grandpa pressed.

After studying the inscription again for a few moments, David finally shrugged and replied, “Just a dash.”

His grandfather, a tall, proud man, stood and beamed at the young man. “Exactly, son. Everything we are – everything we’ve ever done, anyone we’ve ever loved, all the things we’ve seen – every single hope, dream, fear and breath – it’s all right there. That’s all we are, boy. The dash in between. That’s the time you get – just a tiny, brief length to live the best life you can, so you gotta know how to make your dash count.”

Now there are poems and songs and eulogies the world over that express this idea, but I always love listening to David tell the story. He has a flair for storytelling like many southerners, but it’s the wet glaze over his eyes, the extra swallow or two while he remembers his grandfather, that makes his telling of that tale come alive.

My dad was that kind of storyteller too. He was born near Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in 1940. As a young man, he taught English in Sierra Leone before moving to the United States to study at Bowling Green State University. Like most children, I struggled to imagine my father’s life before me, to visualize the part of his dash that came before I existed. Luckily for me, I was blessed with a father gifted in spinning a good yarn. He told stories of ghosts stealing away souls in the night, of soothsayers predicting his future in deserted bars, and of his ancestral home, Old Castle – how the vanity that built it also cursed it in equal measure. In my mind’s eye, his childhood was full of restless spirits and dense jungles – of everything exotic – elephants and mango trees and sprawling beaches. I spent hours at his side, enthralled by stories about chasing cobras from his bedsheets and getting mistaken for a diamond smuggler in Beirut. And my father – he shared with me the dreams of his youth: curiosity about the taste of strawberries, dreams of visiting the Wild American West spun up by cowboy movies and John Wayne, plans for buying a cottage in Ireland. I’ve enjoyed a good deal of travel with my mother, yes, but in her heart, she’s generally content to explore the areas closest to home. My father was different. He’d been bitten by the travel bug as a young man, and he’d fed himself a steady diet of stories to nourish that interest.

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Dad and Granny, 1941
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Dad (second from the left) and friends in Freetown, Sierra Leone
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Dad, middle boy, with his siblings and parents.

The same restless need to see everything and go everywhere infected me as well. Like my dad, I wanted to fill up my dash with as many sights and sounds and tastes as I could. There’s a theory that wanderlust is a genetic trait, that some of us are driven to venture out, to push our boundaries in service of exploration. Scientists posit that this trait accounts for humanity’s spread across continents and oceans, the only organism to inhibit every major land mass on this planet. I believe this theory, because the same energy that drove my dad also drives me. I daydream about travel. My plan trips in my head during meetings and conference calls. And most of all, I immerse myself in stories that drive me to move forward, to see more of the wide world.

Dad didn’t just dream of visiting places, he created his own stories that fed his interests. In Ireland, I remember traipsing from pub to pub in search of a place where Irish locals lifted their pints and sang traditional songs (spoiler alert: we found that pub somewhere in Northern Ireland). Like my father, I too tell myself stories about the places I want to visit, setting scenes in my mind.

Perhaps the storytelling gene and the wanderlust gene travel hand in hand, the same momentum that propels us forward also compelling us to share accounts of places both familiar and strange. Or maybe I just want to believe I’m born to go places and write things. Either way, it’s a link I share with my father – one I hope I can pass on to my son.

I love to travel the same way Dad did – planning well in advance, researching areas of interest and history, and enjoying luxury as much as possible. We were never ones to rough it, Dad and I. Workaholics that traded long hours for the financial means to pamper ourselves, we didn’t go on camping trips, but we did go on many a shopping spree together.

Because of my father, I’ve had a great many opportunities to venture out into the wide world. I took my first international trip  – and my first airplane ride – to the Bahamas when I was six. I vividly remember that our hotel’s garden was full of snails. I collected their molted shells along with the expected cockles, angel wings, and conch fragments. We came home with fistfuls of snail shells, a sand dollar, and a prize piece of brain coral that’s now displayed in my living room alongside all my best objets d’art.

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Dad and I in the Bahamas, 1988

During long road trips to visit family, I’d trade seats with my mom midway through the journey and ride shotgun with dad. We’d sing along with his favorite tapes – ABBA and Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole – as we wound our way through the Smoky Mountains on the long trek from South Carolina to Ohio. Our traditions ran a different course from my best friend, Samira, whose mother packed intricate lunches to be enjoyed along the way (check out her excellent post about her travel traditions – and the need to sometimes break with those traditions – here). Instead of loading meticulously made snacks, we hit the road with little more than a travel mug of coffee for dad. We’d rise well before the sun – sometimes as early as 3:00 AM – in order to get ahead of traffic. I’d sleep sprawled across the backseat until the sun rose, and then it would be time for a brief stop at McDonald’s for sausage, egg and cheese biscuits that inevitably reduced themselves into buttered crumbles I’d pluck from my shirt for the remainder of the ride. Kentucky Fried Chicken was the usual lunch stop. Through some feat of dexterity I still cannot replicate, my father would tidily eat crispy chicken thighs while pointing out sites along the drive – glimpses of waterfalls, vintage cars, the occasional deer.

When I was nine, Dad asked me where I’d like to go during summer vacation. This was the season of my cetacean obsession, and so my parents and I ended up whale watching in Cape Cod as a result. I stroked the hard shells of horseshoe crabs along the cape, tried clam chowder for the first time, and sighted a spyhopping humpback alongside my father.

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Off the coast of Cape Cod, 1991 – a few moments after spotting our first whale. This godawful hideous picture of me was one of my dad’s favorites because it “reminded him of a special time with his daughter.”

There were many more adventures over the years that followed. In Maui, where the air smelled of plumeria, my dad ate Korean food for the first time, and I strung my own leis from tuberose and orchids. In London, Dad and I shopped on Oxford street for hours and hours while Mom relaxed at the hotel, and in Scotland, I tried my first shot of whiskey at a distillery and learned that I really, really hate Scotch (this still holds true, try as I might to cultivate a taste for it). Switzerland was where Dad and I gorged on raclette and discovered Alpine water’s impossible turquoise hue. We drank Guinness in Dublin and marveled at the Redwoods outside of San Francisco. In Memphis, we swam in a guitar-shaped pool, and a few years later, we got stuck in a crowded elevator at the Hoover Dam with an Elvis impersonator. We ate rambutan from street stalls while searching for bespoke suits and dresses in Kuala Lumpur. Much later in life, inside a little coffee shop in Amsterdam, I shared a joint with my husband, my mom and my dad. On that same jaunt across Europe, I helped Dad cope with the reality that Vienna was nothing like the Austrian paradise that lived in his mind, and we got pedicures together in Budapest as a consolation to lost dreams (what my dad really was hoping for probably exists in Salzburg, but that’s a story for another day).

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In Carmel-by-the-Sea, 2002
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Dad in Ireland, 2003
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In Amsterdam, 2012
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With my parents in Zaanse Schans, 2012
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Cruising the Danube through Budapest, 2012
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At a cafe in Gruyere, 2003
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Atop the Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, 1999
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Gstaad, 2003
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In Edinburgh, 1994
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Ireland, 2003

The adventures we both cherished most, though, were the trips we took to Sri Lanka together. I was lucky enough to visit Sri Lanka four different times with my parents – in 1999, 2001, 2009, and 2015 – and as the daughter of an immigrant, I can’t stress enough how much it meant to visit the country where my dad grew up. We had our Sri Lankan traditions together – lazing around the pool and watching the monkeys play at Heritance Kandalama, enjoying a glass of arrack and deviled cashews in Colombo, taking afternoon tea with “short eats” in Nuwara Eliya where the air itself smells of tea leaves.

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At the bar in Colombo, 2009
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Baby monkey’s playing on our balcony, 2009
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Dad in hotel hallway with monkey, 2009
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Poolside lounge in Kandalama, 2009
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At a rest house near Kandy, 2009
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Dad enjoying young King Coconut, 1999
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Dad and I in Nuwara Eliya, 1999
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With our big travel group, Colombo, 2001
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At Gal Vihara, 2001
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Mama and baby monkey, Heritance Kandalama, 2015
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The church my dad attended as a boy – Jaffna, 2015

During our last trip to Sri Lanka, we celebrated my father’s 75th birthday in a colonial bungalow in the tea country that my father rented for our party of family and friends. We ate his favorite foods and lounged in the gardens. Looking back on those days, I remember how happy he was at the bungalow, sipping Lion Lager with his childhood best friend as a cool breeze slinked through the open doors.

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Dad with his Lion Lager, 2015
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The entryway to our bungalow
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The bungalow gardens
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Our home away from home in Nuwara ELiya
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A really epic tree, Nuwara Eliya
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Dad opening his birthday cards at breakfast
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Dad’s birthday posse
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Smiles from the birthday boy

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The gardens around our bungalow
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A view from inside the bungalow

There’s a running joke in my family about how every trip my parents took to Sri Lanka was their last trip. Somehow, they’d commit to “one final journey,” saying tearful goodbyes to friends and family, only to decide after a few months at home that one more – just one more – trip was in order. It would be the last time, of course.

As you can imagine, a few months after returning from the 75th birthday trip, dad was already scheming over how he could convince all of us to visit Sri Lanka one. last. time. But our 2015 trip had been different, and it made all of us nervous. Dad had struggled through the airports, wheezing and stumbling when the wheelchair we’d reserved was unavailable. The layovers were long and the flights felt endless. In Dulles, my dad’s pants fell off in the middle of the terminal. He hadn’t bothered to replace his belt after customs, and he was bone tired. Although we all helped him and shared a giggle over the moment, privately, my husband and I eyed each other with concern. My dad wouldn’t be able to make another trip. I knew it in my bones. And yet still, he planned. He spent two years organizing arrangements and shuffling dates with his travel agent in Colombo. We booked and cancelled the trip twice due to health scares with his defibrillator. Throughout it all, I argued with him. He promised to be firm about demanding a wheelchair this time. He swore he’d worked on a plan with his doctor.

In the midst of all this planning and wheedling, he also dreamt of new journeys. What about a trip to Denmark, he asked, or a maybe a river cruise through Scandinavia? Ireland would be nice again – relaxing and low key. He researched a luxury train that wound its way through the national parks and began a campaign to convince my mom to book tickets. Before he went into surgery in December of 2017 to address his growing abdominal aneurysm – the surgery which ultimately resulted in complications that led to his death – he was optimistic about the future. This surgery was effective 98% of the time. Although he hid it from me, he was already on the phone with his travel agent in Sri Lanka, looking at dates for a trip in February. He promised me a cruise to Alaska – something low key and full of good food and great scenery.

But my dad’s travelling days had come to a close. Instead, the vast unknown country that comes after this life beckoned to be explored, and he departed on December 16, 2017 – two months before that “one last trip” to Sri Lanka.

I think of him now – not just all the places he went, but all the places he didn’t go. I think about what of the world remained undiscovered in his dash. It helps to remind myself to keep pushing forward, to keep dreaming and plotting and saving and setting aside time to see just a little more of the miraculous, improbable planet we call home.

Many friends and colleagues have warned me that travel will stop or slow when my son is born. There will be new priorities to consider, new hurdles to scale and scant energy to scale them. I’ll be two tired to take the baby with me and too attached to leave him behind. Travel won’t matter for a few years, and then it’ll center around my child’s desires – Disney and water parks and kid-friendly spaces.

Now look, to all of that, I say, “Ok, maybe.” I mean, I don’t know what I don’t know. I’ve got no clue how I will feel once my son has actually arrived. But I know I’m already building my own stories. I’m daydreaming of the most epic safari when he’s a little older – let’s say 8 or 9. I’ve got routes charted for the great East African safari a la Hemingway, with stops at Giraffe Manor in Kenya, a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti, and a final stop in the Seychelles for sunbathing on Anse Source d’Argent. Or we could take the southern route – hippo tracking and luxury tented camps in Botswana. Cape Town, whale watching, and wine tasting in South Africa. Exploring the desert in Namibia.

Some of my dreams keep us closer to home. I imagine my son’s first trip to see the ocean. A roadtrip to the mountains. A visit to Niagara Falls. I wonder how I’ll introduce him to Sri Lanka without my dad to bridge the gulf between worlds. I want to wander with him, to expose him to the incredible diversity of our planet, and I want to wander without him as well, to ensure he understands the value of independence and autonomy – especially in women.

I suppose, though I should wait until he’s born and go from there. For now, I’ll just write us into new adventures in my head.

Happy Travels,

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A Brief History of (My) Time (Online)

Once upon a great many years ago, in the days before the term blog was widely used and the Internet was still an oracle conjured solely through computer monitors, I started an online journal. It was 2001, and I was a sophomore in college. I’d come to the conclusion that I would never be a person that maintains a paper journal – probably by staring at the stack of unused journals cluttering my dorm room – so I decided to move my journaling attempts online. I signed up for a free account at Diaryland, and my first blog was born. That attempt didn’t last long, but a year later, I was at it again, this time setting up a flashier account at Xanga and typing from my own desk in my own room in the apartment I shared with my best friends. Perhaps the new sense of solitude and autonomy somehow encouraged that effort. Maybe it was because I chained smoked while I typed. For one reason or another, though, that blog stuck. I maintained it from 2002 through 2005, when I jumped platforms to Livejournal. But by mid-2007, I was deeply entrenched in a number of real life activities, including buying my first house and transitioning to a new career in marketing, and I began to neglect my blog. That trend continued until late 2008, when I wrote my final entry several weeks before beginning divorce proceedings with my (now ex-)husband.

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Previous banners and featured photos from my former Xanga blog.

And oh, the difference ten years makes. Looking back at what survives of my old online journals is a lesson in humility (and humiliation). I was a very dramatic, intense young woman. Most of the writing makes me cringe, and all of it prompts me to ponder how I’ll assess this writing in another decade or so. And I can’t help but interrogate my motives here a bit more harshly.

Which brings me, rather circuitously, to my point: sometimes, we have to examine the past to give direction to our future. There’s a lovely quote from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time that explains time in terms of chaos.

“The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.” – Stephen Hawking, from A Brief History of Time

What he’s talking about here is the “Arrow of Time,” a concept I’m in no way qualified to explain even half as well as this article, if you’re interested. The basic idea in a very small nutshell is that as conscious beings, we perceive the future as the direction where all the disorder – all the messy potential – exists. To us, time flows forward, from certainty to chaos. Except General Relativity tells us that time isn’t a projectile hurtling forward – it’s the fourth dimension, as omnipresent as the three dimensions of space that we comprehend with our senses. Just as all of space exists right now, despite our perception of moving through it, so does time exist – full and complete, no past or future to be seen. As a writer – particularly one focusing on speculative fiction – the concept of time fascinates me. And the act of writing itself allows us to move outside of time – to examine the past, yes, but also to center ourselves in the present and imagine the future. Through the act of writing, we can experience time as we experience space – in every direction, or focused on the entire wide expanse of existence.

For this reason, I’ve plucked the above quote from it’s context to consider time through the lens of the endeavor at hand: blogging. I’m looking at this blog in several directions – examining the seemingly unchangeable past alongside the apparently unknowable future.

In the past, I blogged to chronicle a specific time in my life, to capture a snapshot of the events and emotions that shaped me from the ages of 19 to 25. Scrolling through those old writings, I’m swept into a different time. I enter a mind at once familiar and alien, full of longing and anger and insecurity that I somehow both vividly remember and cannot believe I felt. I can’t help but laugh at the resolute proclamations I made about life and love and work when I was 22, so certain of my understanding of the world. I read an entry about a visit I took to Athens two years after graduating, about how lonely it felt to visit a space that held memories but no future potential, about the rift I felt forming between my best friends from college and my newly-married self. I wanted to rub that young woman’s back and tell her that it’s just a growing pain. A byproduct of personal evolution.

“The friendships will be fine,” I soothe.

Most fascinating of all are the moments I forgot. Stress about an exam in a class I can’t remember taking. The breeze that slinked through the pine trees outside our apartment balcony. Lectures I skipped. The quirky way a close friend smoked his cigarettes. Anxiety and existential angst spun up from my early days in telecom sales. The moments before a memorable kiss in the pouring rain.

Suddenly, there was life in the past again. It held surprises. An unexpected kind of disorder of forgotten times. It struck me that the experience of engaging with my memories as a text crafted in another time provided me with insights I couldn’t easily excavate from my own mind. It felt personally important, but then again, that was the purpose of my early attempts at blogging – to create a record for myself and perhaps the handful of strangers that stumbled across my site. But is that form of blogging still valid in 2018?

So I sat down today, in the fleeting present, to craft my first post here, and I reacquainted myself with those forgotten writings to help answer the fundamental question that has troubled me since I began to seriously consider creating this site.

Why blog?

More specifically: why would I start another blog now? What am I offering here, in this digital space?

Most of the guides to modern blogging steer readers in the same general direction: create a blog with a clear purpose. Define your niche well, and you should immediately know your readership. You will be a Mommy Blogger, a Food Blogger, a Travel Blogger, a Fashion Blogger, or a Blogger that Blogs About Blogging. You will craft on-message posts in the voice you’ve cultivated to support your personal brand and engage your readership that is, understandably, looking for tips about motherhood, recipes, travelling, style, or hey, how to start a blog. Support all of this thematically-relevant content with cross-channel tie-ins – snappy Tweets, hashtag-heavy Instagram art, your YouTube channel and Pinterest boards – and suddenly you’re building a platform that can be monetized.

Now, we’re just meeting, so you don’t know this about me, but I can be rather contrarian – my natural space is the outsider space, and I tend to have a reflex that ensures I remain an outlier. So I read all of those articles and thought, “Fuck no.” To be fair, what I meant in more diplomatic terms was, “That advice isn’t relevant to my personal reasons for returning to the online blogging space, and I’m not sure I want to conform to these current ideals.” It just came out as, “Fuck no.”

Don’t get me wrong. Yes, I tend towards knee-jerk defiance, but I’m also a marketer. I get branding. I get defining an audience and driving engagement. In point of fact, the strategy outlined above works, and it is common sense if your goal is to create a revenue-generating engine. I just came to the conclusion that I’m not attempting to create a revenue-generating engine.

A few of years ago, when I was still deeply entrenched in the business world, I decided that the blog I’d been considering in my head would be about how to apply project management concepts to writing a novel. The way I imagined it, I’d drive my own novel to completion (I have to pause here to appreciate how I was even thinking in jargon back then) by working through my levels of effort, creating a scope of work, crafting an exhaustive project plan, and holding myself accountable until I’d finally, finally finished the final draft.

That was in 2014. Four years later, I’m still working on the same novel (on version 90 at this point). I never did any of that planning, and frankly, I’m pretty sure my own idea wouldn’t have worked for me. Certainly, it’s working for someone, somewhere. But me? Nope. I’m just not that kind of creative writer. No matter how capable I am of managing a different sort of work using those methods, that’s not how I want to – or can – write a book.

(Little aside: I’ve been lucky enough to study under and get to know the amazing author of the Nina Zero series, Robert Eversz, through my continuing education studies with UCLA Extension. It’s a longer story for another day, but in a nutshell, when I started working with Robert, I’d worked myself into a state of perfectionist paralysis thanks to months of research on plot structure and craft. The way I figured it, “rigor follows risk” – and carving out time from my truly insane work schedule to write the novel I hoped would one day break me free from my corporate bonds – well, that was the definition of risk in my mind. It took advice from him to be able to let go and trust myself to write – to begin to stumble my way back to my natural storytelling rhythm. I’m still recovering, slowly rediscovering the heart of my work.)

In any case, my one, structured idea for a blog died a slow death, and I was never able to find another well-defined niche. I love to travel, and I try my best to make room for sojourns in my life as much as possible, but I don’t travel nearly enough to fill a blog with fresh, relevant content. As much as I love to read stories about bloggers who sell their possessions, quit their jobs, and transition to a life on the road, I know I can’t live that way myself. My home provides a balance to my wanderlust, a sanctuary where I can nurture myself, where I find solitude with my thoughts. Plus, I’m kind of a hermit sometimes. Most times. Any time I’m not working or travelling, really. I need a stable place to return to, and I’ve had to accept that I don’t actually want to be the nomad that lives in my head. So yeah, travel blogging is out. I followed this process of elimination through a list of all my interests and skills, and I landed at the conclusion that I just didn’t have a blog-worthy concept.

I didn’t revisit the idea until three years later, when my best friend, Samira at Memory Box Mom, suggested I try again.

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Sam and I in Chile’s Atacama Desert – enjoying the sunset at Chaxa Lagoon.

This was just over a year ago, and I’d finally managed to extract myself from my demanding job at the company that had employed me for 13 years – or just over 75% of my adult life. I was deeply entrenched there, so it had taken more than a year and a half from the time I submitted my resignation to the day I packed up my office and sat for my exit interview. I was leaving Savannah, the place I’d lived for more than 20 years, to move to the family home I’d inherited from my grandmother in Cleveland, Ohio. My husband and I had lived apart for that grueling stretch of time as I worked to sell our house and exit my job, and he labored to find employment and renovate portions of our new home. We did all of this so that I could make a huge sea-change. I was shaking up my life, breaking free from the bonds of inertia that had held me in the same progressive motion for more than a decade. I was facing down the entropy of the unknown future. This was the risk I’d feared and dreamt of throughout years of stolen weekends and sleepless nights bent over my laptop, pushing ever higher up the career ladder. I was saying no to the life I’d stumbled into and never left, creating something new from its ashes. This was goodbye to my role as the big provider in my family – the moneymaker, the workaholic, the breadwinner, the bacon-bringer. My trembling hands were poised to pass that baton to my husband so that I could be free – unbound, really – to focus on the one true love of my life: writing. This is how I would do what I’d been saying I would do since I was three years old. This is how I’d become a novelist. A professional woman of creative words.

Resigning. Moving. Shifting rolls. Renovating a home. Finding a new life. Claiming an intentional destiny.

Suddenly, my stable life brimmed with change. Choices were made, and hurdles were faced. That’s the bones of great fiction for sure – this have to happen to have a story worth telling, after all, and I hoped all the upheaval would provide the ingredients of a life that felt worth living.

Samira took in my situation, eyed me carefully, and told me, “this is it. This is what your blog should be about.” And she was right. Really, she’d found a seed that could mature into a compelling blog if only I’d water it, allow it a little sunlight, make room for it to grow.

Readers, I’m sad to report that like most plants that find themselves in my care, I let that little seed die. I was consumed by the tangible act of overhauling my life. Moreover, the emotional toll was heavy, and I came to feel that what I needed most of all was space. Time to not work. Time to not think. Time to heal in the still-developing cocoon of my new life.

So that year passed without a written record of its ups and downs. And it was a worthy journey, one I imagine I’d be interested to examine anew as time passes. I survived the renovation from hell, began life as a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and took the trip of a lifetime to the Atacama Desert in Chile with my sister-soulmate as a step towards finishing my novel (read Sam’s recollections of that trip in Chile Part 1 and Chile Part 2 at her blog). Then, just as I sat down to finally, seriously begin working on my novel anew, more change arrived to upend my still-settling existence.

On December 16, 2017, my father passed away. A few days after his funeral, on Christmas Eve, I learned I was pregnant.

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“Reading” the newspaper with dad, 1983.
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Cruising down the Danube in Budapest, 2012.
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In Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka in 1999.

Those two events tore through my life, an arrow of my personal sense of time rending my life forever into Before & After. All time may exist right now, in this moment, but suddenly that arrow pushing me forward, creating the illusion of time as a motion rather than a space was more prominent that ever. The future was nothing but chaos and entropy. It felt beyond the scope of my own imagination – a life without my father and a life with a child, as a mother to another human who will perceive me as no other human ever has.

The concept of this little human who would henceforth be a part of my life for all the vastness of time felt crippling, a foreign weight bending me low, into a new world I could barely fathom. And the shadow of my father’s death loomed, complicating the already complex storm of emotions raging inside me.

In 2016, I weathered Hurricane Matthew in my home, with my parents. They’d opted at the last minute to stay, and though I’d already made evacuation plans, I refused to leave them alone, especially since the area around my home was theoretically somewhat safer from falling trees and flash flooding. I remember most vividly the inner band of the storm, where the wind was at its most brutal, pummeling the house at speeds of over 90 mph. I can still hear the low groan of the siding, the way the glass moaned in its frames. That roar of wind like the open mouth of the Old Testament God. I thought the roof would peel away. Waited for the flood of rain to sweep us out to sea. And I perceived, perhaps for the first time ever, my own insignificance. The smallness of my world – myself, my family, my home. The sum total of my connections, belongings, and dreams felt infinitely small and fragile and fleeting.

That smallness, that sense of a reckoning come to bear against the borders of my existence – that’s what I felt when I tried to wrap my mind around the sudden, immediate reality of becoming a mother.

Now, I know we’re still just meeting each other, and we’ll have plenty of time to explore this topic further, but let it suffice to say that though I’ve struggled with the burden of an infertility diagnosis, my husband and I have never actually tried to conceive, and I’ve never, ever been at peace with the idea of motherhood. I’ve been torn between longing for a child and feeling that the role of parent was not for me. It’s never been easy to sort through my feelings on the subject, and seeing double lines on a pregnancy test for the first time in my life didn’t make it easier. It was a raging storm – the hurricane bearing down while I uselessly considered whether I should have fled.

Sneak preview: I’m making my way towards a certain kind of peace and assuredness on this topic, but its hard work, sorting through the debris left in the hurricane’s wake.

But let me wander back, finally, to my point. This arduous review of my blogging history and the lengthy explanation of the changing landscape of my life comes to this: I’ve got a focus for this blog. It’s not an easy soundbite. I’ll have to work on my elevator speech. But I know why I’m here.

I’m here because I want to explore time in the context of my own life. I want to do what a writer does and move backwards and forwards. I want to keep my eye on the expanse of it all, the landscape of time that makes my life. I do this not for money or because I imagine anyone else needs these words. I do this because I need to write these words. I need to stare down all the disorder of the unknown future and write my way towards it. I need to look back and struggle for understanding. This is a blog about both yesterday and tomorrow. What I write here is a byproduct of the new kind of freedom governing my todays and tomorrows, a wandering towards the undiscovered country that is my new life, a way to sort through what to do now that I’m a writer unbound.

Thanks for joining me on the journey.

Gratefully yours,

 

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