Let Them Eat Cake

I had a slight argument with my daughter today.

“It’s your parents anniversary today, kiddo.”

“No it’s not.”

“Actually, yes it is.  October 22.”

“No it’s not.  We don’t have cake.”

To my three year old, nothing is worth celebrating unless it comes with cake and ice cream.  And possibly streamers and balloons.  It’s so linear to her- an anniversary is a celebration, celebrations have cake.  We have no cake, hence, I must be sorely mistaken.  It couldn’t possibly be our anniversary.

I’ve ruminated on her observation this afternoon.  Our anniversary has fallen during the week, and as such and due to the season we’re in with a small child in the mix, celebrations have looked an awful lot just like every other day.  We say well wishes, joke about taking pictures in the rain all those years ago, how we were the first people to leave our own wedding reception and move on to the steaming of broccoli (the only green vegetable our kid will eat) settle in on the couch and proceed to follow every other day protocol: run downs of the day, dishes in the dishwasher, lunches in lunch boxes, brushing teeth, trying not to fall asleep in the living room during Ink Master reruns.

But something about El’s refusal to accept what today signifies snapped me to attention.  Hey.  We’ve been together for ten years.  Married for nine.  That’s actually, in the grand scheme of things and the world around us, an accomplishment worthy of celebration.  We have committed, for better and worse (and we’ve had plenty of both) ourselves to the other for nearly a decade.  That’s more than double our kid’s ENTIRE LIFE.

We were going to just put our anniversary on hold until the weekend when things aren’t so rushed and tiresome.  We were going to just kind of sail through it, and not overlook it necessarily, but give it a gentle nod instead of a song and dance.  But I dug out some pillar candles and polished the holders.  I put on a dress I just had dry cleaned and let my kid go nuts with some handcrafted decorations to hang in the dining room.  I even put lipstick on before grabbing my keys.

“Come on, El, we gotta go to the store to get some champagne and a cake.”

“That’s a great idea, Mama.  Now’s it’s a real Anni-bur-sorry.”



Sometimes we forget how good we have it and sometimes the goodness overwhelms us.

Sometimes it seems we’ve done nothing but sacrifice and sometimes it seems our path was paved while others were left to forge their own way through the wilderness.

There are times we are resentful of how much we work, how much time is spent outside of our home to make our ends meet and then, there are times of great joy and tears of thankfulness for opportunities of employment while others wait and search.

There have been times this past year where we thought we were hungry but were really just entitled and snobbish, and times when we were actually hungry and grateful that we knew, at least, the hunger will end and there will be a paycheck and a hope.

There were times when our hearts stopped believing in God’s faithfulness so our heads and the litany of promises kept had to sustain us, and there were times when our heads couldn’t make sense of Christ’s character so our hearts had to step in and take over.

There were times we wept and ached for another child and times we stepped back and watched our blonde headed wonder and marvel at how lucky we are to have her.

There were times we threw things at the walls of this house for being an albatross around our necks, tethering us here in it’s depreciation and condition and times we’ve kissed the floor in gratitude for how it has served us- and others.

There have been times we watched each other’s eyes pool with tears of brokenness for a friend and times of rolls of laughter.

There were times we’ve pinched our extra middles in exasperation and grumbled about the growing older, and times when we’ve laughed at the knowledge that it doesn’t make us any less beautiful to each other, and we’re all that really matters, right?

There have been times we’ve built one another up in love and times we’ve teared each other down with words.

There have been times spent on our knees in contrition and in praise.

There are times we saw glimpses of who were nine years ago, and times we saw who we are now and were content with the changing.

It never gets easier, but it always get better.

Happy nine years of marriage, to us.


Somewhere along the line, we have classified things.  We are either the creative type or the scientific type.  Math or English.  Athletic or musical.  These ways of categorizing both polarizes and instills a sense of belonging : these are my people, those are not.  It can work both ways, but for me lately as I’ve been exploring what my designated (self imposed) categories are, I’ve discovered that I have used them as excuses to maintain my comfort zone.

Case in point.

I’ve toyed with the idea of taking a Barre 3 class for just about forever.  I’m at the point in my life where just eating a few kale leaves every now and then isn’t really doing anything to maintain an optimal weight.  Mores the pity.  What happens to your metabolism when you turn 30?!?!?!?!?!?!?! I need to be moving…….something thats not just walking to and from the train station anymore.  Barre 3 seemed, well, fun.  A little dance a little yoga a little pilates. Something to instill a little lean, a little grace, a little emphasis on how the body moves and how beautiful it could be.  But, I can’t walk without tripping over imaginary objects.  I get out of breath bending down to tie my kids shoes.  I’m so glad I was never in a situation in which I had to walk the straight line because I can’t even do it sober.  My sister-in-law tried to teach me to ride a bike and we both ended up on the ground- me from falling, her from laughing.  Dancer is NOT my category.  So I’ve written it off.

It’s one thing to have gifts and talents and use them appropriately.  We should hone our craft, polish our skills in the areas in which we are gifted.  It’s good and right and biblical to do that. We honor Christ when do that- put ourselves out there with the gifts he LOANED us because He expected us to use them. But it’s all the other stuff we’re not so great at that helps us grow.  Isn’t humility part of the deal? Part of me would like to think that I’ve been humbled enough in the past few years, I don’t need to make an ass of myself in front of a dancers mirror and twenty other well toned SAHMs, thank you very much.  But I don’t want to swim in the kiddy pool for the rest of my life.

What have you not done because it didn’t fit in your “category”? Let’s not forget that the only classification we have that’s right and true is to be a son or daughter of the King.  Everything else is fair game.

Lactose Intolerant Intolerance

As my three year old would say, “I was havin’ a day.”

As in, everything I touched blew up, every word spoken was misinterpreted, every shoe lace was untied; you get the idea.  Nothing went right.  I was feeling rather sorry for myself, to be honest.  As I wandered around the upper east side to kill some time before my tutoring session, I walked past a homeless artist trying to sell some of his wares for food.  As like most Americans, I didn’t have any cash on me so I thought, in order to turn this day around, in order to make this not about me, I will use the money I allotted for my lunch and buy him a meal.

I always ALWAYS feel awkward giving people a meal.  I hate when people hand me a tissue when I’m crying.  Until I got used to his chivalry, I would always refuse Rich’s offer of his coat when I was cold. I don’t like to take help, but, I’ve never been so hungry I’d consider scavenging through trashcans.  So, I sucked it up, bought a ham and cheese sandwich and a banana and trudged back outside to say hi and hand over the goods.  And it went like this.

“Hey, I know you’re hungry ( pointing to sign that says, I’m HUNGRY) so I got you a sandwich.”

Hand over sandwich and fruit.

Man sniffs fruit, takes sandwich apart to reveal the interior.

“I don’t like cheese.”

Tries to hand sandwich, MY sandwich, the one I can’t eat now because he mauled it, back to me.

I’m sorry????????  What???????? Did you just take my lunch, the one that I was going to eat, roll it over in your hands, sniff it, and declare it was inedible because it has CHEESE on it?

Does your sign not say HUNGRY?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Did I miss the fine print where it displays your dietary restrictions?

I smiled, told him to pick it off, and walked away.

And it haunted me the rest of the day.

How often do I throw out the meat with the cheese?

How often do I miss out on nourishment, because of something that insignificantly offends my preferences?

How many times have I overlooked an opportunity for growth because it didn’t come in the package I was looking for?

I’m so glad Christ is not intolerant of my intolerance, as I am of homeless men and their lunch orders.

Next time, I’ll bring PB and J.

If he tells me about a nut allergy, though, I’m out.

The Shannon Family Table (Literally)

Dear Concerned Neighbor/Woman walking her dog/Anyone else within earshot of my house,

I’d like to assure you that my daughter is well.  She is not undergoing various strains of Chinese torture.  She is not being mauled by wild coyotes.  No one is picking off her toenails one by one with pliers.  She is simply appalled by the abhorrent, three little piece pile of sweet potato on her plate.  She is convinced they will kill her.  I calmly discouraged the thought but she would not be deterred.  There will be no eating of those terrifying little orange things tonight.  And thus, she was whisked off to her room to think about what it means to not have dessert.  In her room filled with toys.  With the lights on.  And a chalkboard wall.  Not to be confused with Riker’s Island.  Which is where she thinks she is.  And now, where the entire neighborhood thinks I exiled her to as she is shouting out of her open window:

“My Mama HATES ME!!!!! Why is it wrong to not like sweet potatoes?????? I CANT EAT THEM!!!!! I STILL WANT DESSERT!”

And my personal favorite:

“I’m just a little girl!”

There are two houses for sale on our street.  This show’s for free every night at 6, folks.  Tomorrow night’s spinach.  Get ‘em while she’s hot.

My Month Without Facebook

Alright, so it may be cheating a little, but this is preemptive post.  I am still completely off of Facebook until October but I actually couldn’t wait to tell you how it went, er, is still going.

I had been feeling, overloaded.  Too much noise, too much time wasted, just too much.  It seems I barely had time to check up with my husband to see how he’s doing- I didn’t need to be spending time reading other people’s statuses.  So, I got rid of it.  And something weird happened.

I didn’t miss it.

And I started getting excited about all the other crap in my life I didn’t need, either.  The poor VETS have been to my house three times in two weeks to pick up the stuff I’m cleaning out of my basement.  We’re on a first name basis.  They know where the coffee machine is.  I’ve even let go of books, people.  Books.  And clothes.  Like, all of them.  All of a sudden I was overwhelmed with the less is more, last shall be first and I gave everything away.  Literally.  Almost everything.

And then I paired down my shopping list as I thought of all the people in the world and what they eat, or don’t have to eat, daily.  And I stopped just, “popping in” to Whole Foods for $45,880.00 worth of one fillet of fish and a piece of cheese and cooked what we had (which means my husband ate meatballs made out of eggplant this week, see earlier post).

I started thinking about all the time I freed up by not checking social media and started reading my Bible.  And other stuff.  Like, really good stuff.  And praying.  Not like I usually do with ceremony and a list and a system : Thanksgiving, Petition, Praise and started just TALKING.  Like we were pals.  I am 31.  It took me a while to catch on that this was what Jesus was talking about.

I started crying about orphans and widows and the lost and the hungry and I gave more clothes and food away.  I can’t walk through Penn Station without crying anymore, and though I pretty much fit in with everyone else, this gives me little comfort.  I’m there twice a day, three times a week.  That’s a lot of crying, folks.

I began getting rid of other apps on my phone and started cleaning the windows in the kitchen and began thanking Jesus for weird things like bees and polar bears and headbands for little girls.

In short, I became a raving lunatic.  And then I read Jen Hatmaker’s Seven on the train on the way home in one sitting and cried all over again how she stole my idea and put it in a book way before I ever thought about it but I’m so glad she did and then I cried all over again.

One month fasting from social media and I have become a tree-hugging, Bible-reading, broken people loving maniac looking to adopt/take home/love on/feed delicious meals every man/woman/child in a 5 foot radius.

I’m not going to promise I’ll never go back to it, but man has life been good without it.

P.S. I’m sure some of you who were directed to this blog via Facebook are like, “Um, what is she talking about?????”  To clarify: the blog is automatically published to Facebook, my fast has been to stay away from the Facebook page itself.  Even though the blog has posted, I have only done so through the blog’s site and have not visited the Facebook page since the last day of August.

The Muffin Deception

I made vegan meatballs tonight.  Not because I had something to prove, or lovely Bohemian dinner guests. I’m not considering a change of lifestyle- she says as she takes another bite of ice cream- not even for only two meals a day.  Tofu for BREAKFAST???? I’ll pass.   I just took out Mark Bittman’s VB6 Cookbook from the library this week and they actually sounded, well, good.  But I’m actually not going to talk about Mark Bittman, or his meatless balls tonight.  (On which I grated a copious amount of parmesan.  It’s not a confession if there was no intention to begin with, ok?) But rather, another foodie icon in this house.

During a surge of unexpected domesticity, I decided to make dinner AND dessert.  My husband, mind you, is not a dessert guy.  Breads, muffins, those are more his bag.  So, I turned to one of Ina’s cookbooks for a tried and true muffin recipe I could serve him after dinner and have plenty for breakfast the next day.  (Muffins for breakfast, yes, tofu, no.)

Ina has never steered me wrong before.   If I wasn’t already married when I made her engagement chicken, it would’ve landed a rock for sure.  I learned all of my french pronunciations from watching her Madeline-esque bob swish up and down the screen.  I have been known to whisper, “How easy is that?” Under my breath as the rising steam of of a crisp pinot grigio meets a hot pan.  I may or may not have had dreams of her leaving me her East Hampton home in her will, knowing that I would care deeply for her garden.  Her kitchen.  Her adorably flamboyant florist bestie.

I digress.

I chose her banana crunch muffin recipe and eliminated the “crunch” part, knowing my husband’s disdain for sweet things.  Poor thing.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve baked with “typical” ingredients (Like, no chia, psysillium husk, soaked almond flour, and other amazingly hippie things I have pouring out of my cabinets) and I can’t remember the last time I used real cane sugar that’s WHITE, so I just figured all of these, now, foreign ingredients must be normal.

They smelled like fairy tales while they were baking which should have been the first sign, folks.  Like fairy tales with unicorns and little girl’s princess birthday parties and rainbows and hello kitty and everything lovely.

These little monsters are CUPCAKES. You can’t just call something a muffin because you put a little fruit in it and you’d eat it for breakfast.   I’d eat pizza for breakfast.  That doesn’t make it a frittata.  Nope, not even if you crack an egg over the top.  (Which sounds like something someone should do tomorrow am.  )

Don’t get me wrong, they’re delicious.  Because they’re CUPCAKES.  However, I thought it only fair to warn you, in case you are as trusting of the woman as I was.  She will sneak that bleached white sugar right in through your door before you can say boo and hold your entire family hostage to it’s alluring power.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Muffin, indeed.

Don’t believe everything you read, my friends.

Except what I write.


I Hate Beautiful Things (But not really.)

Beautiful was never important to me.

I know that’s a strange, strange thing to say but I’ve only really begun to understand the truth of it.

Whenever I was shopping with a friend, I almost had to feign interest EVERY SINGLE TIME.  The question, “But do you LOVE it?” has always been so confusing.  How can one LOVE a sweater? A new pair of jeans? I never understood.  I have never felt that way about a single article of clothing I’ve ever seen.  Which is probably why I’ve never owned very many.

I can count on my hand the times I blow-dried my hair or applied make-up…….in high school.  And college.  And the last three years of motherhood.

Upon meeting people, I never remember their faces but their voices and names are embroiled on my brain for decades.

The only other class in high school that gave me anxiety aside from Gym (haha) was Art.

I’ve zero interest in visual artistic expression.  There.  I said it.  I just never understood it.  My patient husband gently guided my hand through the Louvre and only giggling once when I had to ask why the statue with no head or arms and really bizarre wings was the center of attention.  I cannot express myself that way, and therefore, the expression is foreign to me.  Almost wrong.  Like putting mayonnaise on a peanut butter sandwich.  Where are the WORDS to explain what one has meant by these giants things I don’t understand ?!?!?!

I have never been tidy.  To clarify- this not does mean my house is dirty.  It’s just unkept.  Most of the time.  A little three year old girl with a penchant for tiaras and high heels might have a little something to do with that now, but she is not responsible for my natural habit of tossing pants on the floor, or leaving books all over the place with their binding bending to hold my place.

After spending some time ruminating on the subject in order to figure out what my problem was, I have deduced things to the following.  In my warped, Baptist-guilted, legalistically inclined brain, Beauty equals frivolity and vanity, luxury at it’s finest, which makes it off limits.  No I cannot allow myself to love those boots because that’s ridiculously selfish.  No I cannot enjoy the scent of that candle, the look of that flower, the feeling of that painting because it insights something pleasurable and that MUST BE BAD.  Whoa.  Have people always warped Gods gifts this way?

Words are certain.  Steadfast.  Unyielding.  Visual beauty is something different entirely.  It flits from person to person like a bird, changing feathers as it goes.  No one sees it the same way.  That is terrifying to me.

Which is probably why I’ve been married for 9 years and still have never redone our bedroom to look like anything other than a cluttered nun’s room.

Why I don’t own a single painting.

Or a single pair of boots I, gasp, love.

But, God would never have made things that were beautiful if I wasn’t supposed to find joy in them.  Find HIM in them.  Because He is Beauty.  He is joy.

Someday I’m going to grow up and remember only the true things about God’s character and not get caught up in my own hang-ups.

Until then, I’m just going to take it one step at a time.

Let’s start with the boots.

Bread for Life: In Defense of Carbs

I was 22 at my bridal shower and had never touched a raw chicken.  My future sister-in-law was seated discretely behind me as I opened each wishing well kitchen gadget to whisper to me how to thank people.

Jamie: It’s a garlic press.

Me: “Thank you for the, um,  garlic press!” It looks like it would make great play doh spaghetti….

We put Cyrano to shame.

My limited cooking knowledge was accrued by watching my grandmother in the kitchen, and stirring ramen in the microwave of my college dorm.  I didn’t know a protein from teen spirit.  Who would have thought, ten years later, I would become so enamored with the kitchen enough to write a blog based on the time spent around the table?  That my whole theology would shift to accommodate the truths found in the simple breaking of bread, pouring of wine, giving thanks bolstered by the scents of baking and simmering and roasting and bubbling coming from the kitchen.  MY kitchen.

It shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was.  My great-grandfather came to America from the Netherlands with his brother to open the Vanderberg Brother’s Bakery, just before the Depression.  They knew very little English.  But they knew how to make bread.  They knew the feel of the dough between their fingers.  They knew that smell was the best way to tell if bread was done.  The knew the difference between the hollow knock of a well baked loaf and the depressing thud of one pulled too quickly from the fire.  Bread is the ultimate, cross cultural unifier.  It smells like home.  It’s in my blood.

That’s why, ultimately, this no carb diet stuff never sticks.  Not when it comes to bread.  Bread is more than it’s breakdown of ingredients.  It’s the song of ancestors and immigrants.  It’s in our DNA, whether Tortilla or Boule or Pita.  It’s foundational in it’s nutrients.  It takes time to put together.  To rise.  To rise again.  To bake.  To cool.  It’s assembly is the furthest thing from our immediate gratification syndrome.  It speaks of a time when things that mattered were placed as a top priority- something that’s foreign and strange to us, now.  Nourishment, Community, Family, Pleasure.

I live in New Jersey, work in NYC and fight for a balance amidst the hurry.  Bread helps me connect to the things that matter.

Take that, Atkins.


Nothing would make me happier than if someone had all of the books on my Amazon wish list sent to me anonymously.  Nothing.

Unless someone offered to come de-clutter my house.

But then, where would all of those books go?

We think happy hour is a fourth meal, here at the Shannons and we make good use of it. And we’re kind of obsessed with these.

I am so happy the weather is as such to re-instate our Sunday roast chicken tradition I could do cartwheels.  If I ever learned how to do them. I blame my Mother for telling me to keep both of my feet on the ground.

I made jars and jars of roasted tomato salsa with the produce that came out of my garden and had bone broth simmering in my crock pot all day and am more excited about the rye flour being shipped to my house for my sourdough starter than I ever was about buying an article of clothing.

I started brushing my teeth with baking soda and praying over the door of my child’s room against this insane virus that I see in the news and in my nightmares.

And I finished this book.  And it made me remember how Christ isn’t about programs and Facebook pages and teeshirts and highlights and everything about the hungry, the marginalized, the destitute and the broken.

I want to feed people.  People who are hungry.  I want to feed them and love them well at my table amid down lap blankets and Earl Grey.  I have always wanted that, but I had forgotten.

I watch Chocolat or Amelie when I’m sad.  Or lonely.  Or bored.  Anytime, really.

Especially when I should already be in bed.  Like, now.