Membership Not Required

Good evening, friends and neighbors.
I don’t go to the gym.I was never really a “gym rat” or part of gym culture. For the couple early years I DID have a membership, I didn’t really go there to socialize. The hours I went tended to forbid that. The gym was open 24 hours, and my preferred times were either in the early morning hours (before work) or in the middle of the night (after my shifts at the hospital.​

Here’s the story of how I learned to keep $50 a month in my pocket and still stay fit.

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Making Time: The Need for Family Dinner

Good evening, friends and neighbors.
It has been months since I have had dinner with my family.
The last time I sat down to dinner with my family was when Emily and I were back in New Jersey for our wedding. Even with just two of us, Emily and I only get to sit down to a homecooked meal together maybe twice a week.
It’s quite a change from when I grew up, one I tend to feel often. It’s no surprise then that when I saw this early this morning, trawling through social media, it struck a chord.
I was extremely fortunate as a kid- I had both parents, one of whom (my mom) didn’t need to work. She became a librarian when my sisters and I were in high school/college- not through necessity, but because she was bored and wanted something to do.
The whole time she was a stay-at-home mom, though, my mother insisted on a family dinner every night, and that that dinner should be homemade. Of course, all stereotypes have a seed of truth to them- some dinners were hits, others misses (my father will tell you stories of black bean burgers, and nuclear-hot buffalo wings where the red color was entirely from paprika.)
Hit or miss, though, the intent was the same. Dinner was when the family talked. It was where we shared our day and our thoughts. Books were forbidden at the dinner table (quite the imposition on three exceptionally bookish kids. A common game when out to dinner was “Guess the literary work from the first line that I’m reciting from memory.”)
Comic books, toys, and any other diversion where likewise banned. It was family time.
Since moving away, I have missed those dinners more and more- not just the food, but the conversation. The experience of eating and sharing together. Living on my own has gotten me used to… well, being on my own.
I do enjoy my alone time. It’s when I do some of my best work, and when I can think most clearly. At home or out on the town though, the most enjoyable of those dinners I remember involve friends. They involve laughing, sharing stories and jokes, and just enjoying each others presence in our lives.
I talk a lot on this blog on the virtues of food as communication, as well as the economic and experiential joys of home cooking. Of all the things cooking communicates, though- the very best is love.
There is something profoundly primal about the emotional impact of sharing with, cooking for, and feeding others.
Looking after your friends and loved ones at this most basic, biologically necessary level communicates- in a way deeper than words can conjure- that you love them, care for their well-being, and want them around.

“The fact is, I love to feed other people. I love their pleasure, their comfort, their delight in being cared for. Cooking gives me the means to make other people feel better, which in a very simple equation makes me feel better. I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words. My Gruyere cheese puffs straight from the oven say ‘I’m glad you’re here. Sit down, relax. I’ll look after everything.’

– Ann Patchett, “Dinner For One, Please, James”

Four years ago this month, my grandmother passed on- and some of my most treasured memories happened around her dinner table. Holiday dinners- when family would come from afar and gather around her huge dining table with the carved wooden legs- are some of the happiest moments of my life.
The food and drink would flow, the family would laugh and share jokes and stories. To quote Vonnegut, in those moments “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
In retrospect, that was one reason I became a cook and a baker- I wanted to help EVERYONE find those moments of happiness. Whether I was cooking for them, or teaching people to do it themselves, I wanted everyone to have at least one moment around their dinner table like I did.
You have a busy life, though. You have so many things demanding your time and attention. Dinners tend to be afterthoughts, and lonely ones- or when you are not alone, it is so easy to be distracted.
There’s a club for people that deal with that- it’s called “everyone.” I attend the meetings every now and then.

When I decided that I was going to get in shape, one of the challenges was finding the time. I didn’t know when was best, when I’d have the most energy, when I’d feel the most motivated- “when I’d have the chance.”

One of the biggest lessons I learned from that was “You always have time for the things you make time for.” Thirty minutes I spent dithering on the computer could be spent running. Time in front of the tv could easily be active.

The same applies to your family dinner- “you have time for the things you make time for.”

Pick a time after which you will NOT be disturbed by work or other activity. If that’s too much, pick just one night a week. Keep it open for family dinner, and keep it sacred.

That sounds dramatic, but it really is what you need to do- make that time or that night special, to yourself and the ones you love.

It can be a homecooked family dinner right out a Norman Rockwell painting- or just swinging by a friends place with Chinese take-out.

It’s not hard, or even a really big ask- but it can mean the world.
You don’t need to cook well- or even at all. You just need to BE THERE.
Be there to witness- to listen, to laugh, and to tell.
Be there to love the people you love- they will know.

It’s not that hard at all- and it’s worth it.

Stay Classy,

Where You Find Them

Good evening, friends and neighbors.
It’s 5:15 in the morning. My alarm just went off, but I was up at 4… and at 2.

Since coming home from the wedding, Emily and I decided that for the first few months of 2017, all we wanted in the world was to be boring. No sudden moves. No job changes and hunts. No weddings, no big events, no nothing. For just a few months, all we wanted to do was wake up, go to work, come home, maybe eat out every now and again, and catch our breath after the last year and a half.

Things keep changing though, and the world comes knocking.

“Things change.”

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“All things change, and we change with them.”

Since I was a kid, I loved folk stories and legends. One of my favorites was a story about the Magic Ring of Solomon. In short, the famous Biblical king seeks to humble an overly-proud servant of his by giving him an impossible quest: finding a magic ring that will make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. The legendarily wise king is astonished when the servant returns, claiming to have succeeded. The ring is a plain silver band, with the Hebrew for “This too shall pass” engraved on it. Immediately, the king realizes all his riches and success will one day be ashes, but that a man NOT fortunate enough to be king would take the message as a promise of good things to come.

According to the legend, Solomon rewards his servant handsomely, takes the “magic” ring, and it gives him balance and wisdom the rest of his life.

We do not all have magic rings.
We do not all realize how things can-and must- change.
We do not all know that nothing lasts forever.

I promised myself long ago that this blog would not get political- and I plan to keep to that promise. We are in a time of upheaval. There are those who would say we always have been, but don’t really pay attention.
So maybe this blog can be like Solomon’s ring- not everything to everyone, but SOMETHING to everyone, maybe everything to someone.

If nothing else, I offer a counter cliche to “things change.”

“Simple Joys”

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I spent the last year or so in what felt like a constant state of flux. I travelled across the country, and set down roots somewhere far from everything I’d known before. I was jobless, job hunting, and hired several times- then fired for the first time in my life- so I officially started my own business, got hired again, and got married.





More than once, I felt burned out.
More than once, I wanted to rip my hair out and scream in frustration.
More than once, I collapsed in a sobbing heap and just wanted to pull the earth over me.


More than once, it really goddamn sucked.

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Through all of it, the things that kept me together were not great gestures. They often weren’t expensive, or expected, or even “things” at all. Simple joys- by definition- usually aren’t.
Baking and cooking (though mostly cooking recently, as baking is my job.) The meditative prep and emotional lift of good flavors and smells- and feeding someone else- can’t fail to ground me in some universal truth: that all people eat, and being one who feeds them is a gift. Back at the casino, I told my friend Karen that when life gets really frustrating, I find myself looking forward to going to work because that’s where I know there are things under my control. I remember her chuckling and nodding and saying, “That’s absolutely it… and no one else will ever understand it.”
Warm Society. As I write this, I am sitting at the bar of the Liquor Store on Belmont in SE Portland. The bartenders and kitchen staff know me here. No one is really bothering or talking to me- and sometimes that’s how I like it. All the better to write. It’s a splendid thing to, every now and then, be wrapped in the ambivalent embrace of the public and carry on my day as a spectator to theirs. Perhaps they feel the same way about mine.
Books. I read and reread my favorites, the ones that inspire and make me smile. Certain stories wrap me in their lessons and words, reminding me that there is still hope in the world. There are always heroes, and who knows where they will come from- but when I read these books, I feel for a moment that I can be one.
Exercise. It does more than keep me healthy, it makes me feel ALIVE. It forces my body out of torpor, and so forces my brain to quell whatever it is that’s bothering me for the time being. With the sun on my face, weight in my hands, and sweat pouring, my mind can move in different directions. All of my best ideas come to me when I am exercising- it’s one of the few times I can go completely, perfectly blank.
Calls from old mentors and friends.
A good book and hot tea on a rainy day.
A smiles from the old lady you helped at the grocery store.
HELPING that lady at the grocery store.

Whatever you feel like are your rocks in the stream, your anchors on reality- they are wherever you find them.

Stay Classy,

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