Kale Carrot Applesauce Spice Muffins

6 Apr

My daughter turned a year old yesterday.

I’m not really sure how it happened.

She had my Lemon, Brown Sugar, and Olive Oil Cupcakes frosted with whipped cream for her birthday cake, with fresh berries.  And oh my did she love it!

But after yesterday’s indulgences (way too much pizza – thanks Grandpa! – and cake), I thought it would be good to have something quite healthy for breakfast.  Well, sort of healthy.  Healthy-ish?

You see, she’s been on a bread kick.  She loves anything baked.  Takes after me, I suppose. She used to be the kid who would sit down and plow through a plate of sauteed spinach or kale, no problem.  But lately…  She’s getting into the toddler years (she started walking in earnest 5 weeks ago) and starting some toddler pickiness.

So this morning I made eggs.  And served them with avocado.  And berries (which she scarfed; kiddo loves her fruit too!).  And these.

Oh my.  These.

They are nothing short of delicious.  You must know I like “healthy” (and don’t need things to be quite sweet).  But even if you are a little less ready to try “healthy” food, do give these muffins a try.  They really are extremely tasty, and have a lot of great nutrients inside!

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Kale Carrot Applesauce Spice Muffins

Adapted heavily from 365 Days of Kale

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh raw kale
  • 1 large carrot (you could really even use two)
  • 1/2 cup plain (full-fat) European-style or Greek yogurt (more protein this way!)
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar or honey
  • 2 tbsp good oil (I used olive)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (honestly you could probably use all whole wheat but I didn’t want them heavy)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp clove
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

In the food processor, finely chop kale and carrot.  I added the yogurt and applesauce and just blended the whole thing up together until it was all the texture of applesauce.

Put Kale mixture in a large bowl and add the rest of the wet ingredients (egg, sugar/honey, oil, and extracts).  Mix well.

In a small bowl, mix together dry ingredients (flours, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices).

Carefully mix the dry and wet ingredients until just combined. Scoop into lined muffin cups. Bake 15-20 minutes or until a light touch on the top of the muffin meets resistance.  Makes about 16 regular-sized muffins.

These don’t have a lot of fat in them, so they WILL stick to the liners.  It’s ok – they’re still delicious. ;)

 

Oh yes, and the obligatory birthday cake shot. <3!Image

Carrot Zucchini Breakfast Bread

4 Dec

For the last couple of days I’ve really wanted carrot zucchini bread.  Not just one or the other.  Both.  Zucchini are out of season, of course, so I thought I was out of luck.  Until I went to the Farmer’s Market today and saw some lovely zucchini just sitting there, three for $2…  I nabbed them!  And then I looked for a recipe.

But the recipes out there are so sweet.  They have a ratio of 1:1 sugar to veggies, and a cup or more of oil, which is just flat-out not healthy for me right now (especially since I really wanted this bread as a mid-morning snack).  What’s a girl to do but come up with her own? ;)

This is a seriously simple recipe.  Add everything except the flour and baking powder to a bowl and stir well before mixing that in too, pour into bread pans, bake, enjoy.  It’s a not-too-sweet and not-too-healthy breakfast bread (no cakes or doorstops here!) with tons of flavor from spices and a kick of almond extract, a little extra protein, and a 5:1 ratio of veggies to sugar.  Seriously, it hits the spot!

Carrot Zucchini Bread

Elisa’s Carrot Zucchini Breakfast Bread

  • 1 1/4 cups shredded and drained zucchini
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded carrot
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil (I used grapeseed because we happened to have it around, but olive oil would be excellent, and any oil you like will do)
  • 2/3 cup almond meal or ground almonds
  • dash salt
  • dash ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup white flour

Like I said, this is a dead easy recipe.  Add all the ingredients except the flour and baking powder, stir until well mixed, add the flour and baking powder all at once and just stir until the flour is incorporated (don’t overmix!).  I divided it between two greased and floured loaf pans because I didn’t know how much it would rise, and baked them at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  It didn’t rise too much though (it barely doubled), so you can very likely have great success with just a single loaf pan, but you’ll probably need to bake this for upwards of an hour and fifteen minutes (as you might see from the photo, the bread I made tonight is slightly wet still – that’s what happens with so much vegetation in the batter!).  The bread is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  You could, of course, make this into a dozen muffins; adjust time accordingly.

This bread is soft, tender, flavorful, and not overpowered by sugar or fat like so many zucchini bread recipes are.  I’m totally smitten!!!

What I Want to Teach My Son (If I Have One)

2 Nov

I just witnessed a most disgusting display of juvenile chauvinism at lunchtime in the quad.  Discussions like the one I overheard should never be part of a mutually respectful environment such as a college campus, but so often are.  These discussions lead to a male sense of entitlement that, in turn, leads grown men to believe that their paternalistic view of the world is what’s best for women in general.

Allow me to elaborate.

A young college student, I hesitate to call him a “young man” because it implies manners and respect that he has not yet achieved, was discussing his girlfriend with a friend of his.  Talking about how she was always down, depressed.  How her job prospects were slim.  How she didn’t care to ask his dad for help.  “It’s just calling on a contact!” he argued.  “You know, they say that guys are the more immature of the species, and I guess in some ways we are, since we make more immature jokes at older ages.  But women?  They’re such children when it comes to stuff like this…”

He went on. “You know, there’s a reason why things have turned out the way they did.  I mean, can you imagine if we had a woman president and she was on her period?  And other countries just wouldn’t talk to us if they were on their periods too?  I mean, obviously, there’s a reason why men are in power, right?  There’s a natural order to things.  If it was supposed to be the other way, we’d be the ones without the power.”

To his friend’s credit, he answered, “Well, does that mean that black people were obviously supposed to be slaves, since that’s how THAT turned out for such a long time?”

The misogynist laughed.  “I don’t know man, I guess that’s true, but women…  They’re just a species of their own.  They make no sense.  They’re just totally irrational.”

Their conversation continued.  I seethed.  How, in this day and age, could a young person say such a completely irrational, insensitive, illogical, and chauvinistic statement?  Aren’t today’s students meant to be enlightened?  Public education is supposed to widen your worldview.  Is it possible that this student had missed the very point?  At the college where I work, by the way, women are the majority; not in every major, and we’re still making progress in the STEM majors.  But I would have thought that outside of the 1950s or 60s, such ideas would have been limited to backwoods country types with very little education (my apologies to anyone who lives in the country).

I was silent until I got up, finished with my lunch.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I turned around and faced the child.  A jock with a muscle shirt on, he looked like the very definition of everything I don’t want my future son to be.  “If your mother heard what you said about women and presidents,” I said, quietly, but startling him just the same, “she would be most disappointed.”  I walked away.  I wanted to tell him about all the women we have serving in high office around the world, and all the women who managed to get over their “periods” and get some excellent work done.  Eleanor Roosevelt.  Margaret Thatcher.  Sally Ride.  Madame Curie.  Mother Teresa.  Benazir Bhutto.  For God’s sakes, the last two Secretaries of State – the very people who talk to other countries on a daily basis as the representatives of our country – had two X chromosomes.

I’m certain that he’s now rationalized to his friend that I proved his point; women are crazy.  Or something.  But maybe, just maybe, I got through to him.  Perhaps.  If only it were that easy in every instance.

At any rate, this got me thinking.  As you may know, I’m expecting.  I find out in under three weeks whether we’re having a boy or a girl.  At this point, everyone’s been saying girl, but I know my husband has a (small) preference for a boy.  Either way, I’m thrilled.  But I started thinking hard about what I want to teach my son, if I were to have one (now or in the future), about the differences between men and women.  Such as:

  • Women are just as smart and capable as men.  There is no physiological reason that women’s brains would not function as well as men’s.  In fact, studies have shown that women generally have better capacity for memory and multitasking.  Want to see this in action?  Go ask any mother.
  • Women are very much capable of higher-level thought and study.  Often, lack of opportunity is confused with lack of achievement.  But women can and have broken the glass ceiling for hundreds of years in the fields of science and math; whether or not we know their names is another matter.  Anyone know about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin?  She discovered that the sun is made up of hydrogen, and that hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements in the universe.   Before women had the right to vote in this country.  And before she, an English woman, could officially be awarded a degree at Cambridge (they didn’t give degrees to women until 1948).
  • Women might not be as physically strong as men, overall (that is, they can’t bench press as much).  However, their bodies are made with reproduction in mind.  Physically, someone with both X and Y chromosomes (biologically male) cannot get pregnant.  No, the movie Junior couldn’t possibly happen in real life.  Anyone who has studied any part of the science of reproduction can tell you that this is a pretty incredible feat, and that women’s bodies are well-equipped for the task.  Anyone who has gone through natural childbirth can tell you that there is very likely no greater pain that can be survived; and it takes an awful lot of strength to do that.
  • EVERYONE has specific reasons why they might do things (apply for/not apply for a job, be friends with someone in particular, act a certain way in a relationship).  These reasons are built on both nature and nurture – personality and environment – and our ideas about what is right and wrong are formed through our experiences.  Therefore, just because something makes perfect sense to you doesn’t mean it makes perfect sense to someone else.  Therefore, we have to do our very best to treat everyone’s decisions with respect.
  • On that note, women’s hormones do sometimes affect how they feel.  Contrary to popular belief, SO DO MEN’S.  There is a vast psychological arena studying things like responses to hormonal and pheremonal stimuli and decision making.  Generally speaking, large decisions are not affected.  So whether a country would “not talk to us” or, as has been argued, bomb another country, based on a single woman’s hormones, is not something that could ever be tested.  But if it were, we would inevitably find that a woman has no more chance of making an irrational decision on that sort of scale based on hormonal changes than a man does.
  • Mutual respect should be the number one priority of anyone, man or woman.  I believe that this extends to respecting one’s wishes, beliefs, religious or political affiliations, and right to control one’s own destiny.  In case anyone’s wondering, joking about a woman’s lack of judgement when she’s hormonal, or her inability to make a decision, or her education, or her sexuality, or her weight are disrespectful.  Likewise joking about how men “always think with their reproductive organs,” or how they can’t have a fulfilling emotional relationship, or how they are too sensitive, are disrespectful too.

I hope that my calling upon his mother helped me to get through to that particular young person.  Perhaps he can, in time, call himself a man.  Maybe when he learns respect for everyone – and doesn’t make such illogical statements.  But even if I didn’t, I hope that I can teach my future son that viewpoints such as these are not only uncalled-for, they’re flat wrong.

Butternut Squash Pizza

21 Oct

Yes, PIZZA.

I know it’s been a long, long, LONG time since I posted.  Especially a recipe.  Last year I went through a bunch of digestive issues that ultimately resulted in my finding out that I’m extremely sensitive to xanthan and guar gum and lots of other nasty additives in so much of our food system (but not gluten, despite what I thought for a while).  Then my hubby and I went on vacation, which was awesome.  And then I had so much work (with my business) that I was doing nothing but work and sleep.  And then…

Well, then, my friends, I found out I was pregnant. ;)

It was just a week after my last big event for several months, a day or two before our unprecedented heat streak in Southern California…  And three days after I started feeling flu-like symptoms (in my defense, my coworkers at my day job had all had the flu the week before).  It was 5 am.  And of course I woke my husband up (sorry honey!). And then?  Well, then I pretty much slept for three months.

I couldn’t go in our kitchen – the mere whiff of the sink or the trash can (even if it were freshly changed) or the fridge made me gag.  And it was extremely hot (like, minimum high 90s) for weeks on end.  We have no air conditioner at home, so my only relief was going to work!

Anyway, it’s just been since I hit the second trimester that I’ve really started cooking again.  I can look at (some) raw meat without wanting to lose it.  And I can stand in the kitchen without being a mess.  It helps that it’s cooler (it was lovely and rainy today!).  Because, of course, it’s fall.

And I can’t let a perfectly good fall go by without making something with butternut squash.

Like pizza.

Why not?

I started planning this out in my head last weekend, but it was warm again for most of this week, and we were busy (my business is in full swing again for the next month). So it got put on hold.  But I was thrilled to try it tonight.

Oh BOY was it worth the wait!  This pizza has all the elements of a beautiful Fall meal in one easy package…  And it’s so, so incredible tasting…  I’d been dreaming about this pizza from the moment I conceptualized it, and it lived up to every single expectation!

Elisa’s Butternut Squash Pizza

  • 1 medium (approx. 10″) homemade pizza crust, par-baked
  • 1 1/2 tsp butter
  • 4-8 leaves of fresh sage, chiffonade
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • flesh of 1/2 medium cooked butternut squash (approx. 1 1/4 cups, smashed)
  • 1 tsp corn starch (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 uncooked Italian sausage links (we love Trader Joes’ Sweet Chicken Italian)
  • approx. 1 cup greens (we used spinach because it’s what we had on-hand but kale or other winter greens would be lovely here)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 5-6 oz grated mozzarella cheese
  • fresh ground black pepper and salt

This recipe takes a little prep (but nothing like my past dabbles into butternut squash!).  It’s easier if you can finish all the prep work first and then assemble. So here goes:

In a small pan over medium heat, cook butter and sage together until butter is almost browned and sage is fried crisp.  Add garlic and cook for another minute or so (but don’t let the butter get black).  Mash the browned butter together with the butternut squash, crushing the garlic and sage so that they incorporate well throughout.  Add a few grinds of black pepper (I used approx. 1/4 tsp but you might find that you like more). If your squash is very watery, you might need to add some starch as a thickener.

Caramelize your onions; try to get them soft and brown but not crisp or burnt.  The best way to do this is actually to throw them in a small baking dish with a bit of fat (butter or oil, just enough to keep them from sticking to the pan) and some salt and let them bake, covered, while the butternut squash roasts.  This can be done in a crock pot or stove top too, of course! ;)

Wilt your spinach or other greens with a tiny bit of oil in a pan.  We don’t want to add too much extra oil to this dish, since we already have the butter, but you will need to add the oil to keep it from sticking.

Now, assemble.

Spread the squash mixture in a thin layer on the crust.  Add onions over the top.  Top with dollops of sausage and wilted greens.  Spread parmesan and mozzarella cheese over the top of the whole pizza and bake at 450 degrees for 15-17 minutes.  Devour.

Fall has never tasted so good. ;)

Why I (Still) Love Skechers Shape Ups

18 May

Look, people, simmer down…  I’m so over all the brouhaha this week about Skechers Shape Ups.  They lied!  Everyone who bought them was duped!  They look silly!

Everyone’s up in arms over the the fine slapped onto the Skechers company by the FTC regarding their (admittedly ridiculous) advertising claims that the shoes would do everything from improving posture to magically kickstarting your metabolism into melting those nasty pounds away.

And – shocker! – they used Kim Kardashian to lie for them!

Look, people, if anyone thinks there’s truth in advertising…  Well, let’s just say I have some oceanfront property to sell you in Nebraska.  It’s got a fabulous private beach too.

Come on, people…  I’m a size 16.  Even when I work out consistently and watch every single thing that I eat, and lose a grand total of three inches…  I’m still a size 16.  It happens.  My body is happy there.  The last time I was at the doctor for a physical, she said I was quite healthy, thank you very much.

The point is that anyone who is my size and shape who thought that they were going to get to look like Kim Kardashian just because they bought a pair of shoes is not only gullible but stupid.  There is no magic pill for weight loss.  Let me reiterate this: no magic pill.

Would it be nice if every company that sold a product did so completely without embellishing?  Of course it would.  In my own business I am completely above board and up front.  I make it a point of pride to do so.  Most small business owners are the same.  But when it comes to big corporations, I kind of figure that someone, somewhere, is probably lying.

That’s how you make the big bucks, people.

It’s also why I don’t ever plan to go multinational corporation with my company.

But getting back to my point…

Oh yes.  Why I (still) love my Skechers Shape Ups.

Because I totally do.

I own four pairs right now.  I’ve worn holes in three others.  I wear them for long work days, schlepping wedding supplies.  I wore them on vacation – walked upwards of 50 miles in them – and adore them.

Yup.  I bought Skechers Shape Ups.  More than once.  I’ll continue to buy them too, despite the advertising, um, miscues.

Because that funny little rounded back on the shoes?  It’s done a lot for me.  And made my walking a heck of a lot better.

You see, when I was ten years old, I stepped in a gopher hole during PE at school.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I broke my ankle.  I also apparently aggravated some already-relatively-loose tendons.  I stayed off my foot for a week or two, thinking it was sprained (yup, thanks mom for NOT taking me to the doctor to get that ankle checked out!).  And then went on my merry 10-year-old-tomboy way.  Back to volleyball practice.  And soccer at lunch.  And running around the playground like a hooligan.

And every few months I’d step on that ankle in just the right way.  And it would give way.  Wrench to the left or right, painfully rolling, twisting, and tearing.  It would swell to bowling-ball size.  I’d ice it, elevate it, stay off it.  Or limp around like an idiot in heels, trying to make sure my job got done (oh yes, I recall very well the day of the Yo Yo Ma concert downtown when I didn’t bring any flats with me and had to limp around for three hours straight).  I’d deal with that for almost twenty years before a doctor (finally!!!!) sent me to physical therapy for it.

I went diligently for months, learning to balance on a balance ball, building up my strength in the ankle.  It’s just a bad tendon, they think, but every time it twists, it gets weaker.  Still, there are things I can do.  Exercises.  It helps.  I still do them.  But the thing is, the tendons can’t really be strengthened.  Only babied.  Eventually they figure I’ll have to get surgery to fuse together the bones.

Let’s just say that’s not a good option for me.

I have to admit that I probably would not have tried the Skechers Shape Ups had a friend not told me that her mother’s doctor recommended them for ankle stability.  I’d seen the commercials.  I thought they were stupid (I still do).  They actually turned me off buying the shoes which…  I’ll stop short of saying, “the shoes that have changed my life,” but they’ve come close.

I remember thinking, “How the heck can a pair of shoes improve your stability?” and also, “Ugh, now I’ll look like all those stupid people who wanted a tight butt from the commercials…” but I went to my local Big 5 and tried them on.

And they felt…  Very strange.

I’m a toe walker by nature.  It’s part of the reason my ankles were unstable (probably the biggest reason, actually).  So to have these (big, heavy) heels on these shoes felt… Unnatural.

But I tried them.  I consciously walked heel-first in them.  Rock-step, rock-step.  It felt kind of nice.  Awkward.  But nice.  I was sure I looked like a clown with big strange shoes on my feet.  But hey, I could feel my ankle engaging with every step.

So I bought them.

A day or two later they didn’t feel so awkward.  I learned how to walk properly in them.  Because my heel was making contact with the ground first – subconsciously, once I figured out how to use them – I had very little chance of twisting my ankle.

Do I still?  Of course.  I’m a klutz.

But it’s rare that I’m just walking, in my Shape Ups, around the house or the office or the block, and stumble for no reason.  I used to do that a lot.  I’d just be walking, on a perfectly flat surface, and – BOOM! – I’d twist my ankle horribly and be in pain for a week or more.  Now, if my ankle wrenches, it’s because I was running, or I didn’t see an uneven patch of ground, or I wasn’t in my Shape Ups.  Because I still walk toes-first in my other flats.  I’ve tried to train myself but it’s my natural way to walk.  Which is why I like that it feels very strange in Shape Ups, which forces me to walk the way other people do – heels first.

These shoes are good for me.

And about all the claims of how they’d make you lose weight?  Meh.  They’re about as founded as the late-night infomercials that claim to have the latest fat busting exercise machine that you only have to use for five! minutes! a day!  I do actually feel like there are certain muscles that are more toned since I started wearing them – and I can definitely feel said muscles at the end of a long day wearing my shoes – but there’s not really a good measurement for that.  And since I’m pretty much always going to be a size 16, I’m not too worried about it.

I’m just really happy these shoes exist.

So everyone who’s been badmouthing Skechers and Shape Ups wearers, can you please lay off?!?  Not everyone who bought them was duped by the company.  Not everyone who bought them actually bought into the claims that they’d make you drop a zillion dress sizes in a week.  And some people actually really find them to be good shoes.  Gimmicks aside.  These shoes actually made a difference in my life.  Not the one they claimed to make.  But a difference nonetheless.  I plan to wear them for a really, really long time.  I hope they keep making those funny-looking shoes forever.  Because I love them.  Still.

Family

2 Mar

I’m a firm believer in welcoming as many people into your “family” as possible.  I was blessed with phenomenal parents and a sister who is my very best friend.  I married an exceptional partner – a man with an incredible mom (whose dad I wish I could have met because I’m sure I’d love him too) and brothers who treat me like I am their sister (I am, after all, but it feels very special to be welcomed like that), and a multitude of cousins and aunts and uncles.  They love me so much that they never stop asking me when I’m going to get pregnant because they want a grandchild/niece/nephew to spoil! ;)

But I also have other people I consider my family.  People my heart has “adopted.”  People who are more than just friends to me.  Maybe it comes from my parents – after all, I grew up calling (and still call, yes, at almost-32-years-old) their best friends “Aunt” and “Uncle.”  I grew up with three sets of grandparents, too, and not because of divorce.  My mom had been “adopted” into a family when she first came to California, before she met my dad.  Once my dad came along, he was quickly accepted (in fact, he became best friends with the patriarch) and we were their first grandchildren.  They didn’t treat us any differently once they actually had biological grandchildren of their own.  When someone is family, they’re family – no matter who they were born to.

I didn’t decide to make these people into my “family” – they just were.  Sometimes completely subconsciously.  Sometimes from the moment I met them, sometimes completely out of the blue.  Further proof that how well you know someone, or how often you talk with them, doesn’t determine how important they are to you.  It also doesn’t necessarily make any sense at all.

Sometimes I feel like a momma duck with ducklings, even with the “family” older than me, checking up on them to make sure they’re going to be safe and happy.  I think it’s my personality to want to make sure the people I love are okay.

My best friends from high school and college are my “brothers” – in fact, when we weren’t sure if my dad’s back would hold up long enough for him to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, my second choice was walking up the aisle with one of them on either side of me.  One is married now, and I am so thankful that he found someone I could love like my sister; the other has just started dating someone and I am pretty confident I’m going to love her, but I’m still holding my breath (seriously, these are worries that go through your head when your male best friend first starts dating someone, silly as it sounds…  Will she like me?  Will she feel weird that he’s already got a girl that he shares so much in his life with?  I suppose I’m lucky, too, because my husband’s best friend is a girl, so I know she went through the same thing, and I know I passed that test!).

In Kindergarten I was best friends with two girls.  We’d dance around the soccer field, singing doo-wop songs in harmony with choreographed dance moves.  One of the girls moved to another school shortly afterward; the other moved a few years later.  Fast forward to the end of Fifth grade (I went to a Catholic school from K-8) when I found out that (my favorite) one of the two was moving back to town and coming back to school.  We were together almost constantly that year until disaster struck (her dad was killed in an accident) and she moved away again.  Thanks to the magic of technology we’ve stayed in intermittent touch ever since; we even got to see each other for a nice long day when I was visiting relatives a few years ago (and we’re hoping to do the same this year).  We might not talk every day, but when we were together it was like we’d never been apart.  We’re always laughing, too, that we’re sisters separated at birth, because we’re still so similar – we even get sick at the same times (yes, 2,000 miles apart).

About 9 (!!) years ago I met six women I consider sisters, all through the same thing.  I won’t get into it here (nothing bad, just slightly embarassing to look back on…  Itwasasillyfanthingokay?), but from the first week I knew them I knew they were going to be a big part of my life.  For two of them, we’re just months apart in age, and we’ve grown from nerdy 23 year olds to…  Well, less nerdy 32 year olds (I hope).  We’ve been in each other’s weddings.  We’ve had sleepovers like teenagers, staying up giggling all night.  They’re the first people I think of when something amazing happens, or when I need an honest opinion.  The others range in age from just a few years older than me to a few months older than my mom, and while we don’t talk as often as we used to (I remember one day in particular when we stayed up until about 3 am chatting via e-mail; considering one lives on the East Coast, that was awfully late!), we keep tabs on each other, celebrate with each other, and support each other.  For a long time I was the baby sister, and I guess I still am, but they’ve helped me to grow up into the woman I am today.

Two summers ago I was introduced to someone who would open my “family” circle even wider – at the time, just someone else I was singing with, with an amazing voice, who could sight read music (okay, I was more than a bit jealous!); I didn’t get close to my “little sister” until last summer, when we sang together again, in a similar group, along with several other members.  One of the members was a young girl who reminds me so much of myself at her age; her mother and I started chatting and realized we had so very much in common.  Soon the three of us grew close.  Within a few months my “little sister” and my “older sister” and I could hardly think of life without each other.

Around the same time I was introduced to another “sister.”  We’re both wedding professionals, and officially met over coffee.  But it was as though we were just picking up a conversation where we left off; we immediately started talking about all the great things we were going to do together.  We’ve collaborated on projects and created beautiful things, come up with ideas and will (hopefully) be starting something else amazing together soon; the latest was a photo shoot we put together in just one crazy week, an insane ride where it felt like we were sharing a single brain.  We disagreed on one single point throughout the whole process, and we were both totally surprised by it.  It’s strange to me that I’ve known her less than a year, since it feels like I’ve known her my whole life.

About a month ago I was going about my business when I was suddenly struck by worry for someone I’ve known for two thirds of my life, the father of my ex boyfriend.  I know it sounds bizarre but I was suddenly (and when I say suddenly, I very nearly pulled over on the side of the freeway to check on him) worried to distraction for a man I haven’t seen in over a decade.  I followed up and it turned out that he was very sick (sicker than anyone knew at that moment, in fact), and he had surgery a few days later.  I kept tabs on his surgery and recovery, and a few weeks later was struck by the same worry.  Sure enough he’d been airlifted from the recovery center to the hospital about the same time I was thinking of him, with an infection, which (thankfully) cleared in a few days.  I’ve always felt a lot of love for him and his wife – they were so very good to me for many years (before, during, and after I dated their son; in fact I was thrilled to send them a Christmas card last year) – but I had no idea I’d “adopted” them until this experience.  I guess you can never have too many godparents.

This week it appears I’ve “adopted” another sibling.  It’s kind of a strange case, and I’m still not 100% sure I understand it.  But regardless of whether it makes sense, I was introduced to my new “brother” several years ago, as potential boyfriend material.  It would have been a rather spectacular failure in any case, for a lot of different reasons, and I’ve never been sorry that it came to a quick end (okay, maybe for a few hours), but I’ve always felt slightly protective and concerned toward him.  Over the course of the last eight years he’s had more heartbreak than anyone should ever have to; it hurts me to think about it.  Regardless of how we initially met, I am now firmly in the “protective big sister” category in both our minds, and that’s exactly as it should have been all along.  He actually apologized for treating me not-so-well all those years ago, to which I replied, “Actually, I’m glad you did; if you wouldn’t have, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now!”

Earlier this week, out of the blue, he started pestering me about when my husband and I were going to have kids.  “Why,” I asked, “are you so looking forward to becoming an uncle?”  “Yes!” he answered.  “Only I’m way more excited about spoiling your kids than my [biological] sister’s!”

I couldn’t help but feel the warmth come through in that sentence, and I grinned.

There are lots of ways to become family with someone.  You can be born.  You can marry.  Or you can somehow connect and simply choose to be.  And when it comes to what’s important in my life, the family in my life trumps professional success or personal accolades every single time.  I just feel so blessed to have every one of them in my life.

Oh, and even though my heart is full, there’s always room for one more.

What a Difference…

30 Nov

A few years make.

Looking through old photos yesterday really drove home the point.  It seems like I just blinked, but really it’s been almost a decade since I graduated from college.  Do you know how old this makes me?  Actually if you don’t… Don’t do the math.  It’s depressing.

I don’t usually feel older than the students I advise (especially if I’m watching what I eat – gluten is still a HUGE irritant).  Oh, I can see it around the eyes.  And in my friends’ gray hairs (I don’t have any, but only because I pull them out when I see them).  But I still feel like I’m nineteen or twenty inside.  I watch shows like Glee and listen to songs from my college years and think fondly of being a young adult.  There are times when I walk around campus and can just feel the energy of those students, the overwhelming IMPORTANCE of everything.

Growing up, I always thought it was the way things were.  You grew old enough and went to high school and college accordingly, got a job, got married, and had kids.  By 23, I was sure, I’d be a mom.  That was so old.  Of course I met my now-husband when I was just shy of 24.  I barely had a date before I was 23.  No, really.  I mean, I had a boyfriend from the end of high school into college, but between his moving out of state and my being totally not ready to be physical…  Not that it should be an imperative in any relationship, but he was.  Ready, that is.  Not that we ever talked about it.  Oh no.  He just found someone who was.  Before breaking up with me.  Yup, he sort of forgot that step for a few months.

I can joke about it now (and actually accepted his friend request on Facebook a few months ago and have appreciated reconnecting with him, since we were actually friends before dating), but I remember so well that phone call, two days before my nineteenth birthday.  By the end of it, and for days afterward, I was a blubbering mess.  Sobs wracked my body whenever I’d think of it.  I don’t think I did anything but sing sad songs and think to myself that I’d never find anyone.  I don’t think marriage actually held the same meaning then as it does now.  I think it was more of the Disneyfied ideal of riding off into the sunset together that I was after, but darnit, I was supposed to marry that boy!

Again, perspective is everything.  He joined the Army after college (in fact he was in college on an ROTC scholarship).  Two years after he broke up with me, September 11th happened, and he fought in the Middle East multiple times, and had we still been together, I’d have spent the next decade or so with my heart in my throat.  Oh yeah, and moving from state to state with his various Army deployments.  At eighteen, the concept of moving every few years while your husband is on deployment doesn’t sound so bad.  It might even be romantic to have to write letters back and forth (remember, this was before we were in a war, so there wasn’t much of a real danger).  Now?  I know I’d never have been happy.  My parents drove me crazy as a teenager, but as an adult I can barely go a few weeks without stopping by to see them.  Not to mention that I go nuts when I’m without my husband for a single evening (if he’s working late, or when he went to Las Vegas for his brother’s birthday, for example).  I’m a homebody, and I like being settled.  I want a house I can be in for the next few decades.  Not for a year or two.

The next New Year’s Eve was Y2K, and I remember very vividly going to Mount Soledad with my high school best friend (a boy, and before you ask, no, we never dated) and talking about how this was the decade we’d conquer the world.  We still thought it was a given that once we got to a certain point everything would just fall into place, and we were convinced we’d find our spouses and start having kids before 2010.  I was sure I’d start dating a ton, soon.  I was over my ex, I thought, and after all, wasn’t that what you did in college?

I actually didn’t have a single date in college, though, at least not after my ex broke up with me.  I kept myself busy, but more than that I was always with my college best friend (who also happened to be a guy).  It didn’t occur to me until about 2 months ago (literally; I was walking on campus and the thought struck me) that there was probably a good reason that neither of us got dates in college.  People totally thought we were together.

Not that we didn’t actually get told – multiple times, by just about everyone – that we should date.  Our friends joked that we were an old married couple anyway, so why didn’t we?  I even tried to wrap my mind around it once (after college, when a mutual friend started dating her best friend – who she’s married to now!).  The idea made me physically ill, and I actually called him on the phone to tell him so (sorry M).  He was offended for a minute, but then started thinking about how weird that would be, and agreed.  Incestuous, even.  I’d do anything for him and I love him like the brother I never had, and I think he’s a handsome guy.  But…  Just…  No.

It’s funny, though, because we easily spent as much time together as any couple.  So it’s not surprising that people would assume that’s the way we felt about each other.  We just didn’t.

We both had crushes on other people during college, though, and I remember us both making fools of ourselves on more than one occasion about them.  Actually both of us made fools of ourselves at the same time about the same person on more than one occasion – one would try to be the wingman for the other and end up looking just as foolish.  We thought we were cool, of course.

My major crush in college was a great match for me – similar experiences and interests, incredibly sweet and highly involved in student leadership.  I was so star struck.  More than once I almost asked him out, but I lost my nerve every time.  Which was probably for the best, since he was probably more interested in my (male, remember!) best friend than in me.  Which was totally ok.  Except that I was sooooo clueless that it took me almost two years to figure it out.  Poor guy probably felt like I was totally stalking him.

After college I had one good guy-filled year.  I mean, I wasn’t exactly Miss Popular – and more than once I ended up in my car blubbering about how I’d never find anyone.  But the more I think about it, I had plenty of guys interested in me, including one who saw me from afar and had his friend come and check if I was single.  It’s funny actually, thinking back on how bleak things looked.  Of course I was still clueless.  It was an overarching trait, and one I actually find is pretty normal to have in your late teens and early twenties.  Even when that guy’s friend asked if I was single, it took me at least 10 minutes to understand.

It took me years, actually, to realize that one boy in particular was actually interested in me at the same time I was interested in him.  Oops.  I tried so hard to suss out his feelings, and to get through his naturally-shy outer shell, and I actually did a decent job overall, even getting him to buy me a drink once.  He was actually the subject of a lot of blubbering.  I thought he’d never like me, and I’d never find anyone.  It wasn’t until many, many years later, and based on more information than I had at the time, that I realized he probably felt the same way.  Okay, probably minus the blubbering.  We’d have made a terrible couple.  He’s an amazing guy, but is better with plants and trees…  And I’m way too much of a social butterfly for him!

I got introduced to a friend of a friend that same year, when I was 23, actually, and while he made it pretty obvious that he was interested in me, he wasn’t interested in the same things I was, to put it delicately.  Remember why my first boyfriend broke up with me?  Yeah, this was round two, except he didn’t bother to date me at all.  Also?  Potentially explosive situation with him.  Excellent guy.  Lots of emotional stuff.  And with my own propensity toward being emotional?  It would have been disastrous.

Again, I can laugh about it now – about them all – and look down my Facebook friends list and see every one of them (hi guys!).  But back then?  End.of.the.world.  Seriously, when “friend-of-a-friend” ignored me for a month, I couldn’t help but sing sad songs to myself and think that I was never going to find anyone.

The irony is that when that friend-of-a-friend finally did get back to me to tell me what a nice girl I was and that he couldn’t string me along (which actually was a very mature perspective, despite the fact that it made me mad at the time), I got pissed off enough to go dancing with friends that night instead of staying home like I wanted to.  And I met my husband.

Perspective is everything.

Had that friend-of-a-friend strung me along, I’d have probably stayed home that night.  And never met my husband at all.  Or been so blind that I’d have ignored him.

And then where would I be?

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