We Already Know That

I turn 50 this year, and weirdly, I am here for it.

Surprising, since I acutely remember saying out loud in my early 20s: “I think 50 is the cutoff between young and old. That is the year you tip.” (Youth, fraught with hubris, is utterly wasted on the young.)

Culture keeps a lot of secrets from us. One of the most glaring is that getting older is, largely, amazing. There is a premium placed on youth; after all, it is a billion upon billion dollar industry that has successfully convinced us that aging is a problem to be solved. Endless industries abandon their senior employees to advance their bottom line with less expensive, less experienced replacements. The beauty industry is downright shameless. Hollywood offers one lead role to over-60 actors for every hundred granted to the next generation. Plenty of cultural messages suggest: Green is gold. 

But with the expansive demographic of Baby Boomers and Gen X on deck, the gig is running out of steam.

There are too many of us who now know experientially that getting older is the shit, particularly as women. We are smarter, wiser, funnier, better; more successful, more interesting, more curious, more sexual. We are less interested in catering to gendered norms. We’ve developed media literacy that reduces the commercials and filters and Photoshops down to buffoonery; we’re onto it. 

Thirty years ago, we were handed a list of qualities to aspire toward. They seemed right. And since we were young and earnest and determined to win adulthood, we tried with all our might. We followed the scripts. We said yes when we meant no, and no when we meant yes. We deferred to the men. We starved ourselves and waged war against our own good bodies. We were polite. We abandoned our own instincts. Outrageously, we literally tried to do it all: marriage, parenting, career, volunteerism, hot bodies, all the housework, all the mental labor, all the emotional lifting, all the management. 

Then we learned those don’t necessarily add up as promised. Ships still sank. People didn’t love us more for our hard work; in fact, sometimes that labor created resentment and codependency. Nor were we able to control outcomes as expected. Life was still very life-y for us, our marriages, our kids, our relationships, and rather than make us impervious, it just made us tired. It was a ruse. We couldn’t earn worth with impeccable performance. Turns out, it was ours to begin with. We had it all along. 

We’re getting that now, and it is making us such better versions of ourselves, the best iterations we’ve ever been. Which leads me to my point (only now? After 500 words?? Writers are insufferable): 

Guess who is learning this much earlier? The next generation of women.
God, what a thrill to watch! They are asking questions of the system at 22 I didn’t ask until 45. Patriarchy? Be a good girl and sit quietly? They.are.not.having.it. Tons of them are forgoing marriage (and sometimes parenthood), and others are changing their wedding ceremonies; no one will “give this woman to this man” because she is not property, for God’s sake. They have abandoned rules that were performative in the first place. They absolutely disparage their moms’ diet culture. They take social media off their phones because they’ve already linked it to mental health. They wear sneakers to their dressy events and blink plainly at the raised eyebrow: “Why on earth would I wear uncomfortable shoes?” 

They ask for raises and call out sexism, homophobia, ableism, and racism no matter the environment. They hire each other in their self-made businesses. They aren’t interested in outdated protocol, and sexual shame has met its match in these girls. Not to mention their total rejection of hypocritical organized religion – it will demonstrate spiritual integrity or they will not have it. They won’t tolerate it hoping for better days. They’ll just leave it behind. They are onto all of it. 

As a leader of women around my age, I turned a well-worn message from my community to my daughters and their friends thinking I was mentoring them early:

“You are worthy exactly as you are.”

Their response?

“We already know that.” 

It occurs to me that they are standing on the shoulders of the women who went before them, plowing up inhospitable fields of equality. Our predecessors made it possible for us to say to ourselves and each other: “We are worthy as we are, not just for what we do.” And so we started saying it. And bit by bit, we started believing it. And slowly but surely, we started living it. Our generation then plowed up more of the field. We’ve made the clearing wider these last 20 years. 

This next generation is now strolling where we toiled, where the women before us toiled even earlier. It worked. It mattered. It changed things. They heard it. They believed it early. Look at them! They know about consent, and they discuss the gender wage gap in interviews. They are changing the disproportionate ratios of men to women in law school, med school, boardrooms, state capitols. They are making their beautiful art now instead of waiting to “reclaim it” in their empty nest years. They travel alone and their best friends are their families. They vote and march and see past political shams. They know what they want and structure their lives to have it; how novel. 

It is a wonder to watch. 

They are experiencing the gorgeous qualities of getting older…younger.
Now, lest they get too fancy about it, we still have the irreplaceable wisdom of lived years, age mates. We’ve got some stuff. We earned all this the hard way, and as Jonathan Swift once wrote: “No wise man ever wished to be younger.” Our earth years did not have a short cut, and we are the better for every single one of them. Life experience cannot be replicated.

But what a thrill to see some of the seeds we planted take off. My prediction is that this next crop will outpace us in real time, and I say: let it be. Grow, grow, grow, young ones. Reach and expand and bloom and propagate. Plow up the next field; this is your work. Women are certainly not where we deserve to be, and our elected leaders are dragging us backward as we speak. You have a big task ahead, and it is not for the faint of heart. 

Fortunately, you are not faint of heart. You are exactly who you are, as you were meant to be, and as you want to be. A generation of women not obsessed with performing and pretending, uninterested in the self-serving whims of the patriarchy, is exactly who we need. You are the ones just as you are. 

You are worthy.
But you already knew that. 


The response to this blog has been overwhelming in the best way. I realized we are on a journey. A powerful journey of rediscovering and reclaiming our worth.

I wanted to create something for us to check in on ourselves. An honest self-assessment. And offer some next steps in healing, growing, and community.

Answer these 12 questions with all the vulnerability and honesty you can muster.  And at the end, you’ll receive a custom set of content (and a free phone wallpaper) to encourage you on your journey.

My thoughts on the Roe v. Wade reversal

I’ve sat quietly with the leaked news of the Roe v Wade reversal for two days. Spent time in panicked group texts with my closest women and colleagues. Listened and watched and tried to get centered before offering anything to my community, because my first reaction to something this big is generally emotional and half-baked.

There are a dozen terrifying implications here (the destabilization and politicization of the Supreme Court overturning settled law with double precedence stands out), but what I want to focus on is the immediate, disproportionate harm this will cause women. And not just emotional harm; physical and legal harm.

As unambiguously proven by data, making abortion illegal doesn’t lower abortion rates. It simply makes them more dangerous. And dangerous for whom? 1-in-4 American women have had an abortion, so…dangerous for your daughters, your sisters, your best friends, your colleagues, your neighbors, your church friends, and of course those of you reading with your quiet, private personal history here, as it should be, yourself. It will be disproportionately dangerous for women of color and under-resourced women, as all social ills are.

Abortion is a choice women make for endless personal reasons including the health of the mother, the health of the baby, rape, incest, viability, financial instability, a dangerous home environment, lack of help, and of course reasons that are theirs alone…as are their bodies.

This is intensely personal and private, and women deserve agency and choice not only with their bodies but over the decision to parent for the rest of their lives. Anti-abortion advocates have every right to their convictions, but those convictions should only apply to their bodies, their families, and their futures.

Worth noting is that the legislative opponents to Roe are largely participating in the political theater because if this rabid energy was genuine if it had any integrity, it would come baked in with the fiercest and staunchest advocacy for free birth control, comprehensive sex education, maternal health care, paid maternity leave, subsidized child care, affordable housing, marriage counseling and family support systems, guaranteed food security, victims’ rights for all the rape and incest survivors forced to carry their abuser’s baby, subsidized medical care for all the women forced to carry a baby to the detriment of their own health or that of their baby, life insurance for the families whose mothers died in forced childbirth, and every conceivable support for a mother, baby, and family from birth until forever.

Adoption agencies would be overflowing with advocates prepared to raise these children. This would make sense alongside the fanatical crusade against reproductive rights because everyone is… so concerned about the babies.

But of course, that is not at all what we see, because it is not at all true. Abortion became a convenient lightning rod for power and political capital, and it has been used to great effect ever since. Its reversal will not course-correct the moral climate of our nation. It will simply mean more women are permanently injured, dead, or imprisoned to the destruction of their families and lives. That’s all.

It will mean girls and women will have only unsafe, illegal, and dangerous options they will choose. And as a reminder, those “girls and women” are our daughters, our sisters, our best friends, our colleagues, our neighbors, our church friends, and ourselves.

Women deserve agency over their own bodies and their own futures. The overturning of Roe is a shocking, unprecedented repeal of women’s rights, and it will not be the end. Although the leaked opinion cites an absence of constitutional mention of abortion as its key justification, we currently enjoy numerous civil and human rights not explicitly stated in the Constitution, so be prepared to see those on the chopping block of democracy too. This precedence is the key that will turn the lock to a catastrophic loss of freedoms. This one may not come for you, but the next one might.

I have such respect for convictions and personal beliefs, and I understand them to be nuanced and complex. I don’t believe pro-life people are universally anything; folks come to that conviction for a million different reasons which they have the right to. But reproductive rights belong to women, individually, and they keep us safer, healthier, and autonomous. This reversal will cause monumental physical and social harm to women, and as a way to love our sisters, we will use our voices, our votes, and our giant arms of love for one another.

Sabotaging Big Days

Tracking your history, have you noticed that Christmas produces an inevitable cocktail of unintentional sabotage, overreactions, and meltdowns (or total withdrawal)? Do the best of days ended in tears, yelling, and devastation? Do you end the season curled up in a ball, confused how these lovely moments keep going sideways?
Big Day Sabotage is no joke, man.For all my friends who parent someone with unrealistic expectations, or you’re related (or married) to someone like this, as well as grownups who also sabotage Big Days unwittingly, you’re not alone. Maybe you find yourself wrecking Big Days like Christmas, feeling frustrated year after year at your own self. Perhaps this will be helpful for you too, dear one. So many factors contribute to this grief and self-preserving behavior; being abandoned is one contributor, but other circumstances result in the same reaction.

First, the WHY. This is multifaceted and certainly varies from person to person:

WHY: Abandonment, that common old culprit, is a deep shame so entrenched, most affected people don’t even know they are operating out of it. Whether with full memories in hand or not, it doesn’t matter. The narrative is: I wasn’t good enough to keep or to stay with or to stand by or to love well. This may affect children you are parenting, or it could be residual pain from your own childhood – someone left you, walked away, or maybe even lived in your home but was entirely absent. This sense of unworthiness is so deep, it takes a lifetime of intentional work to overcome. What shame says is this: I am not worthy of love, happiness, or goodness. It seems ridiculous to those who love that person, but those affections can’t erase a hard story. When someone doesn’t feel worthy of happiness on Big Days, he or she might sabotage to hasten the disappointment before it gets to them first. Double bonus if that behavior triggers someone else’ anger, because then shame is validated.

WHY: Big Days trigger Big Feelings. No matter the extreme (good or bad), it is all INTENSE and triggering. It conjures the most tender emotions, the most volatile responses, kind of like laughing hysterically at a funeral. Of course the reaction seems outrageous, but Big is Big and when a traumatized or sensitive person opens the door to Big, everything is free to spill out. Some folks spend so much energy keeping a lid on their pain and fear and trying to just “act normal,” so when permission is granted to feel all their feels, both ends of the spectrum dump their restrained contents and it is a cluster of hysteria.

WHY: For many people, exiting the safe space of ordinary, regulated, predictable routine and entering the scary space of extraordinary, disregulated, unpredictable practice is very disruptive. When your insides feel out of control, it is incredibly calming to have a schedule you can count on; no big surprises to derail, no left field scenarios to navigate, no uncertain activities to worry about. Big Days not only produce exceptional emotions (not normal), but everyone else places heightened expectations on the impending (not normal) celebration, and the stress is unmanageable.

Or the opposite. Maybe you (or someone you love) place your own unreasonable expectations on Big Days. Someone might imagine a narrative so impossible, so idealistic, so over-the-top, every normal detour is devastating. The desire to craft the Most Perfect Day Ever reaches a fever pitch, and with the slightest wobble to the plan, that person comes unraveled. He or she wants to control the outcome all the way to perfection, but that doesn’t exist and inner shame trumps it anyway. That person falls from an exceptional height of Expectations + “I am unworthy of happiness.”

WHY: Regret and sadness. You know what? It is just sad to remember grief or pain or loss, whether it happened early or just this year. Big Days can be a reminder of what should have been but wasn’t, all that was lost, all that will never be. While others seem to happily skip through every charmed Christmas memory, the sensitive, fragile heart feels lonely and isolated from the merriment, alone in very real feelings of sadness.

So here are some suggestions for Big Days:

If possible, shrink the runway to Big Days. The longer the season (THANKS FOR NOTHING CHRISTMAS SEASON THAT NOW STARTS IN OCTOBER), the greater the stress. It’s just too much to worry about for too long. So if possible, don’t say a word until the day before or day of. On seasons like Christmas, the next suggestion is helpful…

Which is this: lower stimulation all around. The conventional American approach suggests that MORE Christmas is called for. Let’s make so many beautiful memories! We’ll give you all the magic! But it can have the opposite effect. Too much stimulus, too many feelings, too much activity, too many opportunities to fall apart. Keep Big Days (and seasons) simple. Don’t overschedule or overhype. The calmer an activity is, the less noise and people, the better. And don’t talk about those activities until they are practically happening. Less is more.

Try to manage expectations. Cast simple, manageable vision for Big Days: this is what we’ll do, this is who will be there, this is what we won’t be doing, this is about how long it will last. If possible, address unrealistic expectations early; better now than someone obsess for weeks then face disappointment times one million. (I had a hard conversation with a kid a couple of years ago because she kept asking for an iPhone. I finally said, “Honey, you are not getting an iPhone. No 3rd grader in this family has ever had an iPhone. Let’s let that go right now so you don’t expect one on Christmas morning.” Once that stressor was gone, she did not worry about it for the next 10 days then despair on Christmas morning.) When someone tips their hand toward unrealistic expectations, manage them then and there. And if the unrealistic expectation is yours, sit your own self down and talk yourself out of the rafters. Paint a realistic picture for your mind and try to untangle from dreamy scenarios that will unlikely happen.

If it is appropriate, lots of touching and pauses for affection. This has a calming effect on my entire family actually. When you see one of your people spiraling, it helps to pull them on your lap, rub their backs, and redirect their attention for a few minutes. It is a physical solution to an emotional problem. It often works like a reset button. If it is you? Talk someone into scratching your back or rubbing your hands or shoulders for five minutes. (One of my best friends likes to have a small touch during Big Moments. I’ll reach over and rest my hand on her forearm and tell her, “Who loves you? Me.”)

Finally, talk in advance about how Big Feelings might show up. Recall other Big Days and identify emotions. Validate, validate, validate, making sure your Big Day Struggler hears that he or she is NOT a bad person wrecking a perfectly good day. (And you may need to tell this to yourself, dear one.) Talk about fear and sadness and feelings of scarcity and how that shows up, and give them full permission to feel it all. Assure them that whether they get a handle on it or not, they could not possibly make you love them less, and if the worst thing that happens is they have a bad day, then no big deal. Everyone gets to have bad days. It’s not a deal breaker.

Just taking that pressure off is so helpful. Feeling less alone in anxiety, confusion, and shame is so healing. The message is: We are in this together, and just knowing that makes us all less afraid.

For those of us managing a lot of hearts and lives, it helps to take our own expectations out of the stratosphere, and if a Big Day goes beautifully, then HUZZAH!! If it doesn’t, it is just a day and we are looking at the long road with our people, right?

To all parents doing this hard work and to grown-ups with sabotaging behaviors and worries about these Big Days ahead, I just love you. We’ll just keep working, keep trying, keep loving, and keep forgiving ourselves when it all goes sideways. You are not alone, know that. So many of us are right there with you, doing the stuff, having victories and flat-out disasters. But we are trying and we care and we Love Big and that counts.

The merriest of Christmases to you, friends. And if the whole Big Day goes in the gutter, there is always the egg nog.

What is your experience here? What do you see? What do you do? How do you help?

Whole30: A Lazy Girl’s Tale

Once upon a time, a girl ate whatever she wanted and quit exercising and treated her body like a dumpster fire and then she couldn’t fit into any of her pants. The chubby girl cried. Also all her joints cried.

The end.

I can’t possibly imagine what is wrong with a steady diet of goat cheese enhanced dishes, chips and salsa, pizza, and Almond Joy coffee creamer, but somehow it all turned me into an achy, squishy lady with fingers that wouldn’t bend in the mornings. With a near constant rotation of friends, dinner parties, events, and celebrations, my world had too much joy in it for sensible ideas. Like my friend Shonna says, “Our lives are too fun to be skinny.” You are correct, ma’am.

But after a lovely round of GOUT (what am I, a 78-year-old man?) following chronic inflammation, fairly unattractive bloating (BRANDON IS A LUCKY GUY – eyes up here, bro), and basically my entire body turning to pudge, I figured it was time to act like an adult and get serious. It occurred to me that a 42-year-old body gets pretty sick to bloody death of being treated like a 16-year-old body, so it throws in the towel and stages a mutiny. My body was having none of this. It was so angry at the bad choices my mouth was making.

So I asked the internet what to do, and it gave me Whole30.

For the uninitiated: W30 means no gluten, grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, or alcohol. ALSO, no processed food, fake healthy food, soy anything, or basic joy. Essentially, look at everything in your pantry: it is all dead to you. Half your fridge: bye, Felicia. Restaurants: fix it, Jesus.

Me at restaurants this month: “Can you tell me what the chicken is cooked in? Is there sugar in the dressing? Can you leave off the cheese/bread/breading/peanuts/sauce? Can I get that on the side? Can you make that dry? Will you tell me all the ingredients in that soup? Can you just put a plain piece of fish on the plate and bring it to me?”

Waiter: “I hate this job.”

Anyway, I did it, y’all. I did the thing. I did the W30 and didn’t cheat except for one time I accidentally ate chorizo that had sugar in it but I didn’t know that until my sis-in-law told me the next day, so it doesn’t count as a cheat if I DIDN’T MEAN TO. Trust me, if I wanted to cheat this month, it sure as crap wouldn’t have been on chorizo. I would have gone face down in a trough of chips and queso with a wine chaser.

I promised you at the beginning of this I wouldn’t over-exaggerate the effects of W30 (“I lost my left arm and Whole30 grew it back in eight days!”), because none of us have time for the online evangelists. I can’t handle someone who has been a vegetarian for four days telling me how their hair is already growing back from its red-meat-related atrophy. Stop it. You ate a cheeseburger 92 hours ago.

So in full truth, here were the benefits of W30 for this lazy, undisciplined girl: 

1. Halfway through, my inflammation was for real better. Before, I looked like the Snow White witch every morning with my gnarled fingers, but I could bend them like Beckham at about the 14 day mark. My knuckles were less swollen and I fit back into some rings. Basically, my fingers went on a diet and now they work.

2. I slept better. I have no idea why, but I did. I also slept more simply because some nights I was so bored and couldn’t have any snacks (don’t come at me with your snap peas) and didn’t want to drink ANOTHER SIP OF HOT TEA and I didn’t know how else to pass the time so I just went to bed.

3. I lost 12 pounds. I know, I know: “It’s not a weight loss program.” Well, I lost 12 pounds, jokers. It’s like unloading a very oversized baby. Thus, back into a few pairs of jeans that I had simply asked too much of 12 pounds ago. They were like, HELP US HELP YOU. PUT DOWN THE HOAGIE. WE’VE DONE ALL WE CAN DO HERE. YOU NEED A NEW CONTAINMENT STRATEGY.

4. My favorite benefit sounds pretty woowoo, but it was simply a lifting of brain fog. I know I sound like one of the online evangelists here, but I really did think better. I DID. Maybe it is that I could think longer – I normally kiss mental acuity goodbye around 1:00pm. I just lose steam and get mentally garbled; it’s hard to hang onto ideas and wrangle them into submission. But I looked at my brain this month and said, “Hello, thoughts. How nice to see you again. Look at all these lovely thoughts you’re thinking!” It was probably a function of digesting 8937 pounds of coconut oil, notorious brain food, but my head is operating better and longer.

5. Actually maybe this is the best benefit: the emotional victory of making a healthy decision based on self-discipline and seeing it through. At the onset, I looked at my calendar and thought: There is no way I can pull this off. Too many events, too many social things, too many guests coming over, Easter, Savor Food and Wine Festival, two weekends of out-of-town company, Supper Club, work travel. BUT I DID IT. Like a real life adult. It is possible. (My best hacks and tips are here.) After such a run of unchecked indulgence, showing restraint for 30 straight days felt like an enormous accomplishment. I’m not doomed! I’m not a lost cause! I’m not stuck in bad habits after all! The discipline spilled over into some other areas too, because while I was getting my crap together, I figured I might as well spread it around.

Like I told you here and here, I for sure had some rough days, but here is some good news: Nobody can actually make you eat or drink anything you don’t want to. No one asks you to leave their dinner party if you don’t eat the French bread. No one quits talking to you if you are drinking club soda instead of a cocktail. I made my own choices everywhere I went and even as I was hosting, and exactly no one died.

Furthermore, I didn’t miss out on hardly anything, or the best parts of it all at any rate. Still got the great conversation, amazing company, beautiful gatherings, all the fun. Still had the people, the experiences, the celebrations, and the connections. Also, I still ate food. So yay! And the food was good, even if I ended up making whackadoo stuff like cashew creme over squash “pasta.” The worst thing is that I was annoying and people had to endure my abuse of the word “compliant” which is W30 vernacular guaranteed to make us all outcasts.

W30 Happy Hour. This is water. LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL. 
??Maybe this will tell you the best truth: I feel so good and have conquered so much of the mental challenge of W30, I am mostly going to still do it. My goal is maybe 80%. Because listen, I can’t worry too much about a smidge of sugar in my ketchup. LET ME LIVE, HUMAN BEINGS. I’m not saying I plan to Cookie Monster a pile of cupcakes, but if my chipotle aioli has some soybean oil in it, I don’t even care because I’m a good person and Jesus loves me.

Finally, I will tell you this: my greatest lament during W30 was coffee. I know: bulletproof coffee and the nutpods and the ghee and the blender and I KNOW, PURISTS. I did that shiz. And then everyone was like, you won’t like your old creamer when you go back to it because it will taste like a highchair tray.

So on W31, I put my Almond Joy creamer into my coffee and I will tell you exactly what it tasted like:

Unabridged joy and fulfilled dreams. 


My Saddest Good Friday in Memory: When Treasured Things are Dead

I spent a bit of time yesterday reading pieces I’ve written on Good Friday for the last several years. They all have a different tone, a different perspective, a different sense of the day Jesus saved the world.

This year is different yet again. If you’ll permit me grace to speak absolutely plainly, I’ll tell you a bit of how loss and grief and rejection will pulverize your heart and deliver you to Good Friday in pretty bad shape, or in any case, in the throes of recovery.

Good Friday is about death – even a necessary death – and that makes more sense to me now than maybe ever. It speaks of a dark day and broken hearts, unmet expectations, mob mentality turned brutal. When I consider that day now, in 2017, it all feels insane, blood-thirsty, the punitive result of being on the wrong side of religion. Of course, it was all planned, all intentional; Jesus was out to rescue us. We have the luxury of knowledge; we know about Sunday. We are living in the post-Sunday story, God’s grace to us.
But I get the death part this year, the Good Friday part. All the memes and quips and quotes floating around the internet are falling on a numb heart. This year, I deeply experienced being on the wrong side of religion, and it was soul-crushing. I suffered the rejection, the fury, the distancing, the punishment, and sometimes worst of all, the silence. I experienced betrayal from people I thought loved us. I felt the cold winds of disapproval and the devastating sting of gossip. I received mocking group texts about me, accidentally sent to me; “Oh, we were just laughing WITH you!” they said upon discovery, an empty, fake, cowardly response. It was a tsunami of terror. One hundred things died. Some of them are still dead. Some are struggling for life but I don’t know if they will make it.

I told you I’d speak plainly.

This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ. I saw how it all works, not as an insider where I’ve enjoyed protection and favor for two decades, but from the outside where I was no longer welcome. The burn of mob mentality scorched my heart into ashes, and it is still struggling to function, no matter how darling and funny I ever appear; the internet makes that charade easy.

I went to the water as the tsunami crested, and my friend Trina drove out uninvited so I wouldn’t be alone. She took this picture and said: “I want you to remember how you felt on this day.” I cannot even look at it without sobbing. 
Simultaneously, other things died during the election season. Much ink has been spilled here and I won’t belabor the point, but I know I’m not the only one holding a pile of tattered threads in her hands, wondering what on earth just happened to our supposed holy common ground. The Christian Machine malfunctioned, and we are all still staring at each other, trying our damnedest to figure out how we understand the gospel so differently, unsure if we will ever find our way back to each other. The Christian community has been maligned, mocked, dragged, and dissected publicly, our civil war evident to a watching world. We are a meme. It is truly awful.

My mind knows the difference between the Christian Machine and Jesus, but this year it feels hard to separate. The whole system seems poisoned, and I struggle to drink any of it. Even as I recognize my cynicism throwing a wet blanket over the credible, sincere declarations of others, I can’t quite stop it. It’s all falling on damaged ears. Every bit of it feels manufactured, brand-building, pretty words that failed me, didn’t show up, joined the chorus that broke my family’s heart. This is plainly unfair, but here I am.

I think about Good Friday, and somehow I am comforted; typically this day is full of grief for me as a believer living in grace and privilege, unaccustomed to the sting of death and thus struggling to identify with Jesus on his darkest day. Usually, His pain pierces me because I live in such abundance, and the contrast shocks me silent. How could I have this much life when Jesus had to experience that much death? 

But this year, it all makes sense: the death, the anger, the man who never took his place in the machine. This day was lonely for Jesus. It was excruciating, physically and emotionally and spiritually. His people left him, even turned on him. God Himself hid his eyes. The sky went dark and life was extinguished. It was all so sad, so dead, so not yet resurrected. This was a day of tears and shock and loss and fear. It was a day of the cross, not the empty tomb.

Today, everything falls away and there is only Jesus for me. In His presence, my numb, angry heart gives way and I sob without end. But only with Him. Elsewhere, I have to be careful because I can never be as vulnerable as I was ever again. Everyone else at arm’s length. I’ll be friendly with folks but never again tender. You’ll get the strong, varnished version of me but I’ll not make the mistake of handing you my true heart. I actually told another person: “I wish you didn’t know as much as you know about me. I wish I could take that knowledge out of your head. I have to trust you with it, and I don’t now.” This is all a clear lie, somewhere between stages two and four of grief, but I’m still in recovery, not through it; I ask your grace.

I’ve obviously not said any of this to you, dear ones. I like you to see the strong, varnished version as well; it’s better for the brand, I’m told. But I’m tired of being a brand, because it is exhausting and, as it turns out, it tells people I am not a human being who bleeds out. Say anything! Make assumptions! Write a scathing narrative of her faith and faithfulness! After all, she is just a brand. I obviously don’t want you to know how much that stole from me; what I don’t want is more vulnerability right now. But Good Friday compels me to tell the truth about death. Just for a moment, the truth.

Some of you are simply enduring Good Friday so you can celebrate the victory of Sunday, where your heart lives, and I am so glad for you. I am. That was me last year. Seasons of wholeness and optimism and gratitude are so dear. Cherish it, if that is where you are today. Cherish the abundance of life after the tomb.

But for those of you hunkered down on Good Friday, identifying with the loss of this day in agonizing ways, ways that you did not want to understand the cross, I am your sister this year. When too many things still feel dead and resurrection feels as unlikely and impossible as it must have on this day all those years ago, I can’t help but believe Jesus has his eye on us specifically. Who can better understand the cross than the man who chose it? Who better to hold us close in our loneliness than the man who was left to suffer all alone? Nobody, not one human being on this earth understands a dark Friday more than Jesus, well before anyone thought to put a “Good” in front of it. 

I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone.

The Gate is Open

I don’t know if you know this, but chickens are low-hanging fruit. My girlfriend Katie asked me yesterday: “Did you have trouble with animals digging to get to your chickens? Did you have anything around their coop to prevent it?” No, we basically provided a free chicken buffet for neighboring raccoons, dogs, and coyotes. We started with twelve chickens and now we have two (RIP) (#neverforget).

But let me tell you about our two. These girls, they are survivors. I am so serious. They are two tough broads. All their sisters fell one by one to poor wandering habits and a basic ignorance of their surroundings, but these two own the hood. They never leave each others side and I’m pretty sure they are never going to die.

Until about three months ago, we let the chickens free range all over our one-acre (and sometimes the neighbors’ yards which accounted for the untimely deaths of chickens #4, #7, and #10). We would shut them in their coop at night all roosted together, and in the morning we’d open the door and they’d all run out at top speed to begin their thrilling day of hunting and pecking. I mean, I’d open the gate four inches and they squeezed out and ran for freedom.

But because chickens actually crap all over everything including your patio furniture and new porch, we fenced in a large area around their coop and confined them to a normal-sized free-range zone so we would no longer constantly sit on/walk through/clean up their irrational amounts of poop. They’ve been in there for three months.

Yesterday after texting with Katie, I decided to let the two plucky chickens have a field trip around the yard. Won’t this be fun for the girls! I thought. They’ll run around their favorite old paths and scratch under the trees and have a merry time. We had some rain so everything is soft and bugs are plentiful and this will be their #bestlifenow.

So imagine my shock when I walked over to the coop, excitedly threw open the gate preparing for the chicken sprint…and they just stared at me. Come out, gals! Look! Run like the wind! The whole yard is your playground today! But they just turned away and walked back toward the coop. I left the gate wide open all day, and they never left. The adventurous, seize-the-day spirit of our two survivors was gone.

I can’t quit thinking about it.

I’m a big fan of freedom, of wide-open spaces, of not being confined and imprisoned and stuck. This is absolutely God’s craving for us too: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). That first sentence is everything. Why did Jesus set us free? So we would be free. That’s basically it. He emancipated us from everything that imprisons because freedom is its own reward. To hear the Bible tell it, Christians should be the freest, most unstuck, unrestricted, liberated people breathing air.

I woke up thinking how many of us are staying inside the tiny coop while the gate to the big yard is wide open. There it is! Right there! Freedom! We believe we are locked in, but the confinement is imaginary. We’ve been imprisoned for so long, we cannot even recognize what an open door looks like. The small space, the fence, the latch, the borders; it has become our whole world until there is nothing even visible outside anymore.

Who told you imprisonment was your only option? What narrative have you believed that keeps you trapped, forfeiting your own freedom? And how long have you chained yourself inside? The prisons, they are many: toxic relationships, abusive churches, soul-crushing jobs, addictions, sorrow, impossible expectations, deferred dreams, the lie of scarcity, fear, regret.

These are hurdles, not prisons.

“…through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1). Somewhere along the way, the idea of misery became enmeshed with the notion of Christian sacrifice. God became this irrational, confusing abuser who kept his kids locked in poisonous or barren environments for the sake of…I’m not sure what…the kingdom? Longsuffering? Death to self? I’ve heard abused women say, “God has not released me yet…” and I want to scream YES HE SURE AS HECK HAS. I’ve seen folks shrivel and shrink under toxic church leadership, dreamers desert their gifts under the double lie of scarcity + fear. I’ve seen the emotional surrender to addictions, imagining freedom is for other people.

Why do we think we only deserve the coop when God gave us the whole yard?

I remember the day I realized Brandon and I could walk away from a toxic environment that had broken our spirits. It was like a revelation, the moment my eyes saw the open gate. We can leave?? There was no Protestant work ethic that demanded we forfeit our souls for “loyalty.” There was no requirement of emotional loss so someone else could gain. God never asked for our full erasure to serve a bottom line. We were free.

We always had been.

Dear one, I don’t know what prison you are in, but listen to me: the gate is open. We are loved by a God of freedom and liberation and adventure and meaning. Run like the wind! Look, right outside the fence, there it is! We are not a people of prisons. Perhaps your spirit has been broken, because small locked spaces can do that after awhile. But you are not a slave to those shackles. Jesus set you way too free for that nonsense. There is so much life out there, so much to see, so much to experience, so much to enjoy, so much space to heal and find your legs again and run.

I know those first few steps outside can be terrifying; prisons confine and restrict but at least they are familiar. But if Jesus is to be trusted, He opened the gate because evidently freedom is how to do this thing, this life. It is his plan and will and He believed so deeply in its power that He went all the way to the cross to secure it for us. You are pluckier than you think; it’s still in there down deep. I know it feels risky, even unchristian if you’ve been abusively programmed. But you can do this. You can sprint through that gate. The whole yard is yours.

Off you go.


Gilmore Girls: All My Feely Feelings

In a leader, you really want tenacity. Friends, I want you to know that you can trust my influence because I totally committed to the entire Gilmore Girls series this summer. I see through my vows. I am not a quitter.

A lot of you followed “my journey” through GG since June, and the thing about Gilmore is that you want to talk about it with other addicts enthusiasts. Because Brandon refused to join me on my journey (BYE FELICIA), most GG observations have pooled in my brain and need voicing. They need to be heard and understood by other Friends of Gilmore. So can we talk about the quirky, hilarious observations only people who’ve watched 154 consecutive hours of the same show can appreciate? In no particular order:

The coffee. This has several subpoints:

  • Luke only pours about three swallows of coffee into everyone’s mug.
  • Lorelai and Rory never pay for their coffee, which is only fair (see previous sentence).
  • The to-go cups of coffee are clearly empty. The girls wave them around like the empty Styrofoam containers they are, and they can carry a whole carton of coffees like they weigh nothing at all and will never spill. Which they don’t and won’t.
  • Always black coffee? What is this, Communism?
  • After ordering coffee at Luke’s, Lorelai and Rory take one swallow and then leave in a rush to the inn/Chilton/Yale/town meeting: “Thank you for this huge cheeseburger! Oops. Gotta go.” They clearly don’t value their food purchases, which is a wash since they never pay.
I was obsessed with the background activity. I have never seen a show with so much going on. Constant people walking (near and far), cars driving, people fake talking, someone decorating the square (again), people eating, mamas pushing strollers, folks standing in line, people shopping. It was someone’s whole entire job just to coordinate the background activity. I always tried to find repeats. WHICH I FOUND. That same car sure loves to circle the square.People “eating” at Luke’s. A cousin to the background activity obsession, these people had full plates of food and never, ever ate. They pushed the food around, picked up food with their forks and put it back down, shook a lot of salt, held their (mostly empty) coffee mugs, talked with no actual sound, nodded and smiled, dabbed their mouths with a napkin, cut food with a knife repeatedly, and basically acted like a toddler pretending to eat. Well done, Fakers.

Related: in general, I have never seen an empty or even half-empty plate on GG. Every Friday dinner at Emily and Richard’s? They leave full plates. Luke’s? Full plates. The dining room at the inn? Full plates. No one eats in Stars Hollow. It is a town of abundant food and zero consumers. This is why Lorelai and Rory constantly eat like 18-year-old frat boys at a fast food convention and still zip up those size 4 jeans every day. WHATEVER, fake eating skinny girls.

Apparently in Stars Hollow it is always and only Fall and WinterThere is a tiny window of spring for one episode and then all major characters take a full summer vacation/summer job/traveling responsibility/distant internship. Summer is dead to Stars Hollow. Spring is hanging on by a thread. The bread and butter of Gilmore is Fall and Winter. The chief mascot of Stars Hollow is the pumpkin, which adorns every home, stoop, business, and town activity in 91% of the series.

Sookie’s kitchen looks like a staged fresh produce commercial that is entirely, completely impractical.
 Overflowing baskets of fresh bread, a sink full of beautiful washed lettuce, giants bowls of cherries/peppers/oranges/purple onions, perfectly decorated pastries and pies just sitting there (never covered and no pieces ever cut out), pans of tiny, lovely roasted quail, a glass-front refrigerator that looks like an ad for OCD medication. And absolutely zero chopped anything, no mess, no dirty bowls piled up, nothing in the sink (except that beautiful produce), nothing half-prepared, no sloppy utensils, no used pans, no foul-mouthed, sweaty chefs, no signs of actual cooking. I make one average meal for seven people and my kitchen appears ransacked by drunken raccoons.
Where is all the nasty crap?
The boyfriend dilemmas. The rotating cast of boyfriends/fiancés/husbands was our cross to bear during Gilmore. I guess Amy Sherman-Palladino wanted us to kind of like each one and kind of hate them. Dean was so kind and considerate…but OH MY GOSH STOP YOUR WHINING. Jess was intelligent and deep (compared to Dean the sweet dumb-dumb)…but if he opened that fresh mouth one more time to Luke, I was prepared to snatch him bald-headed. PRACTICE YOUR MANNERS, YOUNG MAN. I never bought Max for Lorelai. And the Luke/Christopher conundrum drove me to the bottle. The only boyfriend I really liked was Logan. I don’t care what you say! Team Logan! And we all know how that ended. THANKS FOR NOTHING, PLOT SUBVERTERS.

Low: my least favorite part of the series was when Lorelai and Rory were in an eight-episode silent standoff. I basically hated that whole season. Are you kidding me? Eight episodes of childish, heartbreaking silence?? I actually googled: “Were Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel in a real life fight and Amy couldn’t write them into scenes together?” Because otherwise I guess the writers just hated us. I was so mad at Lorelai and Rory during that fight, I actually prayed for their reconciliation. And God was like, “Get a life, Hatmaker. I have people to help who are not imaginary.”

Second low: Rory and Married Dean. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. No. No. No. Hate. Sad. Tears. Despair. Fury. Disappointment. Five stages of grief. Never reached “acceptance.” Terrible. I want to go back and write that part out of the show.

Highs: Rory’s high school graduation speech.
 This was my actual face during that episode.

I carb loaded to prepare for this episode and it still didn’t help.
Other highs: Kirk’s night terrors. LOLZ. The fast-talking babbling. Paris’ hilarious commentary (she really grew on me, that one), Lorelai’s sarcasm (to Rory before her Yale panel presentation: “Good luck, honey! But just remember: if you don’t do well, we will stop loving you.”), Rory’s bangs, Emily’s outrageous elitism made me howl.
And I know I am in the minority, but I loved the series finale (minus the absence of beloved Logan; still bitter). I started crying when Lorelai watched Rory sleep and I bawled like a newborn baby until the very end. The tents Luke sewed together, the townspeople, the signs everyone was holding (when they pulled up in the Jeep and saw the signs in the rain, I’m pretty sure I needed a therapist). It tied up the series with a lovely bow and I thought about it for three straight days. (Brandon was just happy it was done. He was like, “Remember that summer all you did was watch Gilmore Girls? That was fun. Good times.”)Gilmore made me feel so many feelings! I loved it. Loved, loved, loved. I was devastated it was over! (I heard rumors that Luke and Lorelai didn’t get along in real life, and I CHOOSE COMPLETE DENIAL ON THAT.) I read all the articles (Liza Weil tried out for Rory and was so interesting, Amy wrote the character of Paris for her), clicked on the Gilmore-related Buzzfeeds, listened to the interviews, and watched the reunion taping from earlier this year. I drank all the koolaid and it was delicious.

Thank you, Amy Sherman-Palladino! Please make us a Gilmore reunion special or, better yet, a Gilmore movie. It must seem obvious at this point that millions of psychotic fans will beat down the doors to every theater in the country. We are incredible weirdos and you made us this way. We used to be normal, but now we are Gilmore lunatics. We miss Stars Hollow and that wacky cast of characters. Please bring them back to us.

I would still be in mourning…but I’ve already started Parenthood.

EDITED: I can’t believe I didn’t mention Michel! I am hopelessly devoted to him: “People are particularly stupid today. I can’t talk to any more of them.”

GG Fans, what else did I miss? Funny observations, quirks, best and worst moments, favorite scenes, favorite quotes. We could do this for DAYS.

Our Family Cancer Manifesto

We continue to be incredibly grateful for your concern and follow up on my mom’s cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in November and moved pretty quickly into surgery and radiation. She now has regular scans, so we live in three-month increments praying for the all-clear each time. We are in Cancer Maintenance.

I’ve mentioned before that as adult children, when one of your parents gets sick, everyone reverts to their standard roles. You hop into your lane and peddle furiously along familiar paths because you don’t have time to innovate; adrenaline only leaves room for you to do what you already know how to do.

In our case, I am the oldest child, so I jumped into procedures and systems obviously. (The middle children constantly monitor everyone’s feelings, and the babies are free to get clingy and fall apart. How nice for them.) As the oldest, I immediately started planning to keep this thing on the rails. We couldn’t go willy-nilly into Cancer Mode without defining the mode. What was our mode? We needed a mode. (No one ever voted me “Most Fun” in high school.)

So six months ago, five hours before my mom’s surgery, some of us prayed, some assembled snacks, some set up a care calendar. I wrote an essay. (I am a first-born, controlling, career writer; I had no alternative.) I penned the following manifesto and sent it to our family. I wonder if it might be helpful to you? I believe these guidelines apply to any family in crisis and those who love them. Obviously, cursing is allowed when your person gets sick, so feel free to use our swears in addition to our rules. (And FYI, readers: the following is simply our family tone, so even if you are less…salty…the approach works across all family brands.)

The King Family Cancer Manifesto

Well, I told cancer our family was off limits, but cancer is an asshole. I already have a death plan for Mom and Dad: they are supposed to die peacefully in their sleep forty years from now on the same night holding hands.We need to get our cancer rules together here on the front end. Mom goes in for surgery in five hours. Obviously, we hope the surgery will be the end of this, and Mom will kick cancer’s tail and we’ll get back to our important issues like Lindsay’s grilled pimento cheese recipe for her new menu and…whatever it is Dad does at the ranch (is it hay? Alfalfa? Are the calves born in the spring or fall? It’s all so unclear).

Amy H gave me this idea. It goes like this:

  • We have concentric rings around Mom’s cancer, and she gets to be in the bulls-eye, because well, she has the actual cancer.
  • The second ring is Dad, because he said “in sickness and in health” 45 years ago and so now he is stuck.
  • Us four kids are third, because we are the fruit of their loins (gross).
  • The people we married or “are hanging out with” (side-eye to Drew) or birthed are in the next ring, because Mom is their Grana or mother-in-law or “mom of the guy she is hanging out with” (Drew, land the plane, we like her so much).
  • The fourth ring includes all our best friends. The real ones. The ones we ask to help us move and crap like that. The ones who walk into our houses without knocking.
  • The outer ring includes our work friends and church friends and neighbors who like or even love us, and they will get swept into our cancer vortex by proximity.
  • Everyone else in the world is outside of those rings.

The way this works is that stress can always go out but never in. Mom is in the bulls-eye, so she can say and do and feel whatever she wants at all times. She gets to act straight crazy if she’s in the mood, but at no time does she have to deal with our psychosis or anyone else’s. No other rings can dump their worry, fear, or burdens on Mom. She is the Cancer Queen and zero drama can reach her on the throne. She can be calm and measured like she normally is, or she can be irrational and hysterical. It doesn’t matter. In the bulls-eye, crazy can go out but no crazy can come in. We have to be strong and steady at all times for Mom. I don’t know how we’ll manage as this is not our skill set. Maybe there is a YouTube tutorial.

Dad is next. He can’t give Mom any fuss ever, but he can give it to anyone outside his ring. We have to absorb Dad’s junk too. We know him: this won’t look like fear or panic, it will mostly just sound like a lot of words. Dad gets to say all the words in all the world and everyone outside his ring has to listen patiently, because the only person who gets to shut him down ever is Mom. Gird your loins.

The family is next, so none of our crazy can go in toward Mom or Dad, but it can absolutely go out to the other rings. Our outer people have to deal with us without so much as a raised eyebrow. If we want to completely overreact and flail into a quagmire of tortured exaggeration (we are not a stoic people), we get to do that and our outer people will let us. If we decide on a bad day that our doctor is a quackadoo with a degree off the internet, they should confirm our theory and google replacement doctors. Our best friends are the recipients of all melodrama, inflated enthusiasm, and emotional outbursts. They can give us exactly zero of those things. Outer rings can only send in the good. Absolutely no crazy. If an Outer Ring Person consistently makes an Inner Ring Person panic by, for example, telling lots and lots of dead people stories, his or her ring career is over. Crazy-senders get booted from the rings immediately. We police the rings like Martin Riggs.


Mom, we have no idea what the doc will find today, but let me tell you this: if it is worse than we think and you are looking at mastectomies, feel free to get a nice new set of knockers when this is over. It will be your silver lining. You’ll look like a 16-year-old cheerleader. While you are under that knife, we can add on any other treatments you want BECAUSE YOU HAD CANCER AND NOW YOU GET ANYTHING YOU WANT FOREVER.If people outside our rings want to help, they can pray. Remember? We believe in God! How lucky for us. And for Mom. You know she has filled, what, a million pages with her Scripture and prayer journaling every morning for forever? Mom doesn’t do a lot of talky-talking about her God feelings (that is Dad’s territory), but she is all filled up with the goods. We know how Dad prays, because he constantly makes us bawl by emailing his prayers for us. We know God loves Mom (the prayer journals alone are a straight ticket to heaven, plus all those times she bailed us out of jail) and if we are not one of His favorite families, then God has no taste at all. He’s got us. I know it.

So no matter what comes later today and next week and this whole next year, we can handle this. We have each other and we have God and we have good rings. We can always default to inappropriate humor, and fortunately, Mom’s cancer is in her boobs, so that gives us instant material to work with. We’ll all do what we do: Dad will talk about it, I will make rules, Lindsay will wail, Cortney will diagnose, Drew will gripe at the sisters, and Mom will be the calm Cancer Queen in the middle of this crazy family she created, probably acting like the sanest one of all.

We can do this.


Six months on this side of the manifesto, I can tell you that the ring system WORKS. If the rings are maintained well, the bulls-eye person gets to sit in a soothing emotional spa of calm and serenity and love. Oh sure, her people have plenty of fear and crazy, but they only send it outward, never inward, so she is shielded. Good outer rings constantly strengthen the inner rings. For my mom, this looked like a stocked refrigerator for weeks, an usually calm family, gifts for every single day of radiation from her staff, a cleaned house, rotating hand-holders on radiation days at the oncology office, anointing her with oil and prayer, baskets of lotion, tons of emails and texts.For us in the innermost rings, this looked like a billion calls checking in on us, friends meeting us at the doctor’s office, a steady supply of patient listeners, well-timed distractions, invites for fun stuff, treatment strategy partners, encouragement galore, helpful research, laughter. Our people absorbed all our fears so we were free to absorb Mom’s and Dad’s. Our rings served us so well.

God was and still is so ever present, so ever near, so ever good. And we are taking our turn as outer rings for other folks right now, because that is how the community thing works. When someone staffs the outer rings of others, she need not worry when her day in the bulls-eye comes. She’ll be surrounded by good people who love her and know the rules:

All the fear and worry can go out, and only strength and goodness can come in.

Last day of radiation. Nailed it.

If you are in crisis with your people right now, you have all my love and solidarity. Life is hard, but God and people are good. Set up your rings, explain the out-but-not-in Crazy Policy, and remember that God loves you and is for you. I am for you too, and your pain is always safe here. Consider me an outer ring: I will gladly, patiently absorb it all for you here today.

**Quick update: My friend “Amy H” (mentioned above) who gave me this idea read it from another article! I’m sure she mentioned that but the details completely fail me. This was six months ago and we were in Cancer Crisis. All I can remember is her great idea about “stress out, never in.” I would never borrow a concept without crediting the original author intentionally (that has happened to me before and it blows). I am super glad to link you to this one she’d read in the LA Times by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman. I hope the “ring wisdom” is useful to so many of us. May it be a comfort and guide when our people are sick and we are all struggling.

Homemade Pizza Tutorial

Most home cooks have a signature move: mine is homemade pizza. (I have a few other personal faves, mostly based around curry or pickled onions/beets/radishes/anything, but my people get weird about those.) But homemade pizza? Homerun every time. Because ‘Merica.

I usually post my recipes willy-nilly on Facebook only to have you send me 937 emails asking where it is two weeks later because “YOU CAN’T FIIIIIIIIIIND IT,” so I decided to put this one on le blog so it can be pinned or whatever the heck.

Outside of a few fresh ingredients, you almost always have everything you need for homemade pizza. Let’s do this:

Dough (2-3 hours before you are ready to make the pizza)

(It is so worth it to make your own dough. This is so easy, even a caveman can do it in his electric mixer.)

1 tsp active yeast (or half of a package)
1 tsp sugar
4 C flour
1 tsp sea salt
1/3 C olive oil
1 T honey

Sprinkle yeast in 1 1/2 cups of warm water with a tsp of sugar. Let it proof and bubble while you do the rest.

In your electric mixer (or a bowl), put in flour and salt and mix on low. While still mixing, drizzle in the olive oil until incorporated. Stir the yeast water and drizzle into the dough mixture while mixing on low. Add the honey. Let your mixer knead for around 4-5 minutes, or you can obviously do this by hand. (The fatal dough flaw: undermixing. If you knead it long enough, it will become pliable and smooth. Not enough and it is sticky and crumbly.) Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a clean bowl, put the ball of dough in and coat it all around, and cover the bowl with a damp towel for 2-3 hours to let it rise. I usually keep this near my stove where it is warm.

This whole thing takes 10 minutes. Why does dough seem “fancy”??

House Sauce (1 hour before Pizza Time)

You know how much I abhor being dramatic (sarcasm font), but this sauce is LIFE. I make this once a week. I’ll include the doubled recipe quantities, because if you aren’t doubling your House Sauce to freeze for next time, I guess you just hate yourself.

1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil
1 T red pepper flakes
6-8 cloves chopped fresh garlic
28 oz can organic tomato puree*
15 oz can organic crushed tomatoes*
Some balsamic vinegar (I don’t know…3 T?)
Sugar (this is to taste…I probably use 1/4 cup)

* First, a word about the tomatoes. I use Muir Glen, and there is really nothing you can ever say to make me change my mind. DO NOT GET SOME JANKY TOMATO SAUCE FROM THE BOTTOM SHELF. I am so serious. This sauce is only as good as the ‘maters. Cento is a 2nd place brand if my store punks out on the Muir Glen. Fresh, homegrown peeled tomatoes are the Prom Queen of this recipe in the summer obvs, but how many of us are going to boil and peel 20 tomatoes when we could open a can? We are already making our own dough. Good lord, what do you want from us??

On low heat (LOW! If you burn that garlic, there is no point in living), put in the olive oil, red pepper flakes, and chopped garlic for 3-4 minutes until it starts to smell like Jesus’ corner of heaven. Add everything else and – this is my least favorite part – whisk until all that oil is incorporated. This takes longer than I am happy about. I usually have to switch to left-handed whisking to get through it. #thestruggleisreal

Taste and adjust (I usually like more sugar than the average bear), but remember that this develops after cooking. Keep the heat low, cover, and let it bubble and simmer for at least an hour. Taste, taste, taste. A good home cook should be very familiar with Scorched Tongue Syndrome because evidently we cannot wait 10 seconds for our spoonful to cool.

Note: If you like your sauce a little thicker, make a quick slurry of 2 T of cornstarch whisked into a bit of water and stir it in at the end. It will thicken up the whole pot like magic.

Heat from House Sauce + dough that needs warmth to rise = SYNERGY.

I may be occasionally bossy about important cooking things, like tomato puree brands, but when it comes to pizza toppings, my philosophy is SURE, WHY NOT?

Things I always get every time I’m at the grocery store:

fresh mozzarella
block of mozzarella
block of Parmesan
deli pesto

So no matter what, we can at least have basic pizza any moment the mood strikes. But after that? WHATEVER, MAN. On this particular pizza, because i have a vegan daughter now (I am out of can’t evens), I made one with roasted shaved brussel sprouts and onions. I sliced them up on my mandolin in like three minutes, tossed in oil and S&P, and roasted for 20 minutes or so. If you don’t believe this can be delicious, I don’t know how I can ever be of service to you in the future.

Listen to me, loves: you can put anything you want on a pizza. If you like it, it will be delicious over homemade dough with House Sauce. I don’t even know why I have to explain this.

Divide your dough into fourths, and wrap up two portions in plastic wrap and stick in your freezer for next time. Do you see how helpful I am being for you? You will already have dough and sauce for your next pizza night, and as you are enjoying that low-prep meal, you will fill your mind with the fondest thoughts of me. You might make up a song in my honor. I don’t know. Anything could happen.

Look at the roasted brussels and onions. WHO IS LAUGHING NOW?

Now you have enough dough to make two pizzas. Flour your counter and roll them out.

It is vital to the recipe to preheat your oven as hot as it will go (around the 500 degree mark) and put your cast iron pizza pan (<– this is mine…GAME CHANGER) in there for 20-30 minutes. If your pan and oven are not hot, your pizza will make you cry all the tears in Italy, and life is already hard. We don’t need this.

Once your oven and pizza pan are scorching hot, drizzle some olive oil on the pan and put your dough in the oven for around 5 minutes. This is my preference because I like thin, crispy crust, but you could roll yours out thicker and let it be all soft and squishy if you are not spiritually mature in the area of crusts.

Take it out carefully (that cast iron pan in a 500 degree oven is no joke; someone I know has burned herself at this stage more than once), and put on your sauce and toppings. My people are big fans of the House Sauce/pesto combo, and last time I checked, it was a free country where we have Sauce Freedom, so you do you here.

The edges of your crust can be a hot mess. I just bend and fold mine all into place.
Back into the oven for another 5-6 minutes until everything is melted perfection and your crust looks nice and toasty (except for the Soft Crust People in which case I have no idea how to help lead you). Slide it onto your pizza paddle (<– this is mine…she’s been so good to me), and let it cool for a couple of minutes before slicing it up and becoming the Family Hero. My first pizza is always completely gone before I can get the second one even in the oven.
Me and Sydney’s veggie pizza. Her side with no cheese or pesto because of the PARM in it. It’s like all I’ve ever worked for in parenting is in shambles.
I know this seems like a lot of steps, but after making your own pizza a few times, you just make it without a recipe. The steps are parceled out over an afternoon, and you just knock it out 10 minutes at a time in between other stuff. Plus, don’t forget that every other time, YOU HAVE READY-MADE DOUGH AND SAUCE, which basically means you are living a life of leisure.

I have had homemade pizza leftovers exactly zero times ever.

Your little piggies will gobble this up, I promise. Viva la pizza!

10 Summer Activities to Do With Your Kids

‘Twas the first week of summer and all through the land
Not a Mom was still signing folders, not even a Dad.
The backpacks were slung in the garage without care
In hopes that some Clean Out Fairy soon would be there.
The children were nestled (super late) in their beds
While visions of NO HOMEWORK danced in their heads.
Mama in her yoga pants and I in my jorts
Are scheduling summer playdates, vacations, and sports.
When out in the playroom there arose such a clatter
We yelled (from the couch) to see what was the matter.
The children were arguing, restless, and I was floored
To hear the young cherubs declare: I’M BORED.
“Well hail no,” said Mama, “bored kids get chores.
You can clean out your closets and baskets and drawers.”
When what to my wondering eyes should appear?
A bunch of Bored Kids who ran the heck out of here.
Now Gavin! Now Sydney! Now Caleb and Ben!
On Remy! On all the kids till the neighborhood ends!
To the park, to the courts, to the pool and the mall!
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!

It’s nearly summer, parents and teachers…WE’VE ALMOST MADE IT. Amen, hallelujah, and cheers! The children have been educated another year, and we all deserve prizes. My zip code is somewhere left of a rigorous schedule that kills joy but right of unstructured anarchy. If it smacks of rigid systems, I’ll give up on the third day. If it’s all loosey-goosey, no plans, no direction, no momentum, and no order, I lose the will to live.

I’m no Pinterest Mom, people. My life is pinnable about twelve days a year. I’m not precious and sometimes I think summer sucks, but after seventeen years as a parent and five kids up in this hizzie, I think I’ve found our family rhythm. I don’t organize every minute of my kids’ summer AT ALL (they free range a lot), but twelve weeks is loooooong and sometimes I look at the clock and cannot believe it is only 3:15pm and these people will be awake another 6-7 hours. We’ve got to have a few tricks in the bag. So here are 10 things to do with your kids this summer.

  • Find out what is free: Look for activities like theaters offering free kid movies (usually older movies but still fun because POPCORN!), Kids Eat Free days at local restaurants, Summer Reading Challenges with your local library or bookstore to win a free book or two, tours through local fire stations/bakeries/theaters/museums, outdoor concerts and plays, and local beaches or trails or bike paths. We live in Austin, and we love our city like a fat kid loves cake, so it’s super fun to trot around the city for free, because we are brainwashing our kids to never move away.
  • Throw a “Read In” and let your kids invite their friends. Set up pillows and blankets and fun snacks all over the living room floor, light some candles, put on some Pandora, and feel really good about yourself for upholding literacy. Post on Instagram for additional bragging. (They could also read the same book and have a Book Club discussion, but don’t give them wine like our grown up book clubs and maybe they won’t totally derail off topic.)
  • Let your kids make videos or movies with your/their iPhones (here are 10 movie making apps: most free or cheap). I cannot believe how electronically savvy my kids are. They are incapable of turning their socks right side out but can somehow produce incredible mockumentaries (we are a sarcastic people), all edited and everything. Then pop some popcorn, pile on the couch, and have Family Movie Night starring your kids. Public child star emotional breakdown optional.
  • For the exercise people, kids are totally down with Family Boot Camp. Make a big deal out of it. Get new water bottles, wear wristbands, make playlists. Set up an exercise tract with your kids: jogging, bike riding, lifting light weights, yoga, Pilates. Ben and I use an app called RoundTimer for interval workouts (30 seconds on, 30 seconds off…okay, fine, 26 seconds on, 34 seconds off…RoundTimer is not my boss). Got big kids? Go to the gym together. Record your times and work at besting them all summer. Take it to the high school track, which somehow seems extra fun. Do not hate on moms like me who man the stopwatch while the littles run in circles.
  • Go to your grocery store and grab a bunch of boxes from out back. Big ones, medium ones, weird ones. People, I have bigger kids, and I can still put them on the patio with a bunch of boxes, and they will play for days. Mine drag out pillows and blankets and flashlights, they connect boxes with duct tape, they create cities. It’s too fun. I sit out there and read, and yes, that fits my definition of “Things to Do With Your Kids.” If I’m next to you, that freaking counts.
  • We do “Mystery Thursdays” (Thursday is not a sacred cow, it is just the day of the week I’m about to snap.) The kids know we’re going somewhere fun, somewhere cool, but it’s a surprise. We’ve gone to every lake, river, park, exhibit, concert, and attraction in a 150-mile radius. If my kids don’t applaud this initiative in my eulogy, I’m coming back to haunt them.
  • In the spirit of my book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess,” summer is a great time to go through toy bins, closets, and playrooms and donate some great stuff. We particularly love connecting with an actual family or organization rather than generically dropping off at Goodwill, because human care matters so much, and we all belong to each other. Call the counselor at the poorest school in town, email a children’s shelter, or ask a local nonprofit to connect you with a family in need. You won’t believe how your kids will get behind this.
  • Cook! At the start of every summer, I drag out my cookbooks, my kids select 3-4 new recipes each and make a shopping list, and we tick them off one at a time. The recipe chooser is the kitchen helper, which isn’t as precious as it sounds, but nonetheless, an hour with one kid is a prize around these parts. My daughter and I made homemade meatball subs that were so delicious, we’ve never stopped talking about them, and by we I mean she and I and everyone else is over it, but just whatever. They were good, y’all.
  • Throw a “fancy” brunch for your kids’ friends. Use your good dishes. Put their apple juice in wine glasses. It doesn’t really matter what you make; this is all about the accoutrements. Eat at the good table. Cloth napkins? Brang it. Candles, place cards, dress up, all of it. Then have them change into bathing suits and stick them in the backyard with the hose, because seriously? We’re lowbrow.
  • Take a class together! Baking, crochet, cross-stitch, guitar, painting, bread-making, illustrating, pottery, archery, kickboxing, creative writing, sculpting, acting, braiding, cake decorating, weaving, anything. Tons of local colleges, restaurants, craft stores, trade schools, and culinary institutes offer one-day classes or more. Such a fantastic way to connect with each other over a new skill. Plus you can harness their new skills for your own personal gain. Fresh bread, anyone?

So Mamas and Daddies, let’s make the memories, because the days are long (oh my gosh) but the years are short. These aggravating, fighting kids will be gone in just a few years. May your summer be filled with laughter, adventure, and Non-Bored Kids. But should they risk their lives and utter the b-word, a few hours of scrubbing baseboards will cure what ails them. Mama may be fun, but she don’t play.

[I originally wrote this post for Barnes and Noble two years ago, but HERE WE ARE AGAIN, SUMMER.]

What are your summer ideas? How do you fill the hours? I’m serious: share your ideas because I am always looking for new additions to my Summer Activities List.