Mail Run

With my parents and sister out of the house, I was finally alone. The curtain fluttered by the sliding glass door, and I swung it shut, flipping the lock into place. On TV, Billy Corgan swayed behind the wheel of an ice cream truck as I crept down the hall into the master bathroom with careful, measured footsteps. No one being home didn’t take away from the fact that my mission was covert, a highly classified secret.

After slowly unzipping my mother’s makeup bag, I fished around inside until my fingers touched what I had come for: a single tube of drugstore mascara. Having just turned thirteen, I had never worn makeup before in my life, but the well-read copy of Seventeen that was stashed in my room devoted an entire page to the art and science of mascara application. Less is more. Use a light hand. Don’t “pump” the wand, it pushes air into the tube. On the page opposite this piece of journalism, Cindy Crawford gazed out from a Maybelline Great Lash ad, smiling.

I wore a seafoam green sweatshirt, my shoulder-length hair swept up into a baseball cap, face scrubbed clean. For a moment, my mind harkened back to Andrew, a boy from my pre-algebra class. He wore Guess jean shorts and a slim gold chain around his neck, and his voice changed registers like a loon warbling on a mountain lake. I pictured his face, especially the soft flesh between his nose and mouth. I held the mascara wand in my right hand and with the gentlest of taps, applied a few short strokes to the outer corners of my upper lip. First one side, then the other. I took a step back and stared into the mirror, judging the effect. Yep, that should do it.

Stuffing the mailbox key into my jeans, I flung open the front door, ready to head out into the world.  

Three months earlier up at the lake, Mom handed me a five dollar bill. “Go down to Obexer’s and get us a half gallon of milk.”

The little red and white shack on the side of the two-lane road that circled the lake was the closest thing for miles that resembled a grocery store. Inside were basic food items, wine coolers, sunscreen, and videos to rent for three dollars a day. Summer days up at the lake sometimes dissolved into one long, muggy blur of swinging in the hammock and playing Uno, and the water was far too cold to ever swim in unless you had wetsuits, which we didn’t. A trip to Obexer’s was a welcome errand.  

“Bring me back the change,” Mom said. “And take your sister.”

I clenched the money in my fist. Everything always seemed more expensive at Obexer’s but maybe this time there would be enough money left over to get a donut or a Snickers bar.  We began our walk, passing the white mailbox at the end of the driveway, edging along the part of the road where the two-lane highway met the gravely shoulder. Because there were no sidewalks, Mom and Dad preferred we walk single-file but since they weren’t around, we walked side by side. Since I was older, I took the side closest to the road.

Inside Obexer’s, a Hamm’s beer sign slowly rotated from the ceiling, emitting a swampy, yellow-green glow. My sister held up a plastic quart jug with a smiling cartoon cow on the side, seeking approval.

“No, this one,” I said, pointing to another brand. Mom preferred non-fat.

...

The journey back to the house typically took about fifteen minutes, and I held the cardboard half gallon of milk in the crook of my arm as we made our way along the shoulder. We walked with the flow of traffic, and played a game upon hearing cars and trucks approaching behind us. Smaller vehicles made different noises than RVs and trucks, and we tried to guess what kind of car was coming based on the sounds we heard. We’d been doing this for years and had yet to ever guess correctly. Soon enough, we heard the hum of an engine.

“Ford Bronco,” I said.

“Land Cruiser,” my sister countered.

A teal Toyota Tacoma sped by.  

Moments later, a different noise emerged from behind. It was quieter, and less powerful. A compact car for sure.

“Geo Metro” my sister offered.

“Mmmm…slug bug.”

Seconds later, a blue Geo Metro zoomed by. I stared at my sister, stunned. This had never happened before.

She raised her arms triumphantly above her head and cheered, prancing up the gravel on her tip-toes. Then she stopped, bent from the waist, and took a full bow just as another car came around the bend behind us.

It was an unremarkable square-ish beige sedan. Three men sat inside with the windows rolled down. As they passed, one leaned out of his window toward us, and all three of them made the exact same noise.

“YEAAAHH!” they bellowed from the car, all in the same key, as if it were rehearsed, as if they knew exactly what to say once their cue came.

The car flew past us and disappeared around a bend in the road. We both stopped walking, momentarily stunned. I had never been yelled at like that before. Sure, grown men had cheered for me in the past. At softball games, talent shows, and when I’d won second place in the geography bee. But this kind of public declaration of approval felt different. This kind of “Yeah” sounded like the noise my friend’s older brother made when he watched football games on TV and the camera would cut to the cheerleaders. We said nothing, and continued our walk. Our mouths were quiet, but my brain was in fifth gear, trying to come up with something light-hearted to say to break the silence. That’s when the car appeared again. This time on the other side of the road, going just a little slower than before, with one of them leaning out of the window.

“WOOOO!” came the noises from the car, like a pack of coyotes howling in approval. They had turned around. They had turned the car around to come back to us. Now the car sped away toward Obexer’s, in the opposite direction we were walking.

Beads of sweat surfaced along the sides of my forehead. It was as if I had been dropped into the middle of a foreign country, and was clamoring to make sense of a new emerging reality.  But it simply could not be. My mind raced with excuses, rationalizations, justifications. If only my sister hadn’t bent over and stuck her butt in the air. Maybe if we hadn’t been wearing shorts. They just didn’t know. They didn’t realize it was scary. They couldn’t know how young we were, how I had only started wearing a bra last summer.  I thought of other reasons they could be mistaken, imagined them apologizing to us and feeling bad about it later as they drove home.

I looked at my sister. “If they come by again, just start running.” She nodded. Our feet crunched over the gravel shoulder.

...

The carton glistened with condensation, and the milk sloshed back and forth inside, like the soft, wet slaps of waves hitting the sides of a boat. The shadows from the fir trees were just starting to lengthen over the asphalt.

A Winnebago hurled past on the road, kicking up a tiny trail of dust. As the noise grew distant ahead of us, new sounds emerged close behind: the soft purr of a slowly-rotating motor, and tires crawling over the shoulder, the jagged gravel groaning beneath the weight. A car was right behind us, straddling the road and the shoulder, moving at a slow, steady pace. We faced forward and kept walking, too terrified to turn around and look. My breath quickened, my heart thundered in my chest. One foot in front of the other, we kept walking. I glanced at my sister, her face drained of color. She heard it, too.

We rounded the bend and caught sight of the white mailbox. One hundred yards in front of us was sanctuary, safety, home. My throat was heavy, my mouth dry. “Go!” I managed to croak, and we began a full sprint, the milk tucked under my arm like a football.   

I flew over the gravel, my arms pumping. Who’s the fastest person alive, and what would they do? A supercut of athletes from TV played in my head. Flo-Jo sprinting on a straightaway, Kristi Yamaguchi winding up for a triple toe loop, Michael Jordan taking flight for a slam dunk. The slippery milk carton slid out of the crook of my elbow and flew out of my grasp in a rainbow arc high above our heads, landing ten feet in front of us on the gravel. It burst open with a mighty sploosh, the laminated cardboard torn apart, the milk rushing away in deltas between the pebbles and sand. Behind us, the peel of tires making a u-turn. Then, silence.

The road was quiet now, and the trees sighed and shivered in the wind. Far away, a dog barked. We stood over the shredded carcass, staring at it like a piece of roadkill, its blue-white entrails eddying over the ground, when Mom appeared, a hand on her hip.

“What...happened?” The usual softness in her voice had turned to surrender, a slowly unravelling ribbon, emanating fatigue, exasperation, and bewilderment at her own children and their ability to ruin the simplest of requests.

I looked at the ground. “It fell.”  

The mailbox key lay nestled in my pocket, and the mascara on my upper lip was dry. Our vacation at the lake was done, and now that we were back at home, Mom had recently tasked me with the responsibility of walking a mile and a half through our suburban streets to get the mail from our new PO Box every Saturday. I obliged, but I needed a plan. I’d started wearing the baggiest clothes I owned, hiding my long hair in a hat, squeezing into a sports bra to flatten any indication of emerging womanhood. If I looked like a boy, I hypothesized, no one would bother me. And so far, it had worked. No honking, no yelling, no creeping cars, no commentary flung from an open window that echoed in my head for days afterwards as I made the mile-and-a-half journey to and from the post office. And today, with the drugstore makeup dirtstache, I’d taken things further than I ever had before.  How far could I go, I wondered. How long could I hide.

It was the weekend, and the post office was quiet. The contents of our PO Box contained nothing of interest to me, just something that looked like a bill, and one of those junk mailers where you tape a penny to the corner and get five CDs in return. My stomach growled. There was nowhere I needed to be. I could take a little bit more time.

The automatic doors to Safeway slid open, and shiny bundles of mylar helium balloons twirled in the breeze. I passed the stack of newspapers piled up front and eyed the headlines. Nolan Ryan had pitched his last game. They still hadn’t found the missing girl in Petaluma. I stood in front of the self-serve pastry case, clutching a handful of spare change. There was just enough for a chocolate cake donut, glazed with icing. Swathed in waxen tissue, my hand hovered over the spread for a few seconds, and clamped down like a claw over the one I wanted.

Insider

One Sunday morning earlier this year, I woke up in my bed dry-mouthed with a pounding headache and an errant false eyelash stuck to my cheek. I slowly rose to a sitting position as the late-morning sun streamed through my rumpled shades. Last night’s Spanx lay balled up on the floor and I threw them in the laundry as I made my way to the kitchen, where I promptly downed two full glasses of water, one after the other.

Overall, it had been a lovely party. It was a work event, a once-yearly fete for the exceedingly casual startup I work at, the one night out of the whole year when we swap out our hoodies and sneakers for blazers and heels, run an extra swipe of gloss across our lips, and party our heads off for a few fleeting hours.

A few days before this party, Steven knocked on the door of my office. It had been over a month since I’d moved to a different corner of the building and he hadn’t visited until this moment. Not only a co-founder of the company, Steven is also the CTO, and as far as I’m concerned, the Mr. Spock of the original founding team. Logical, reserved, and possessing an undercurrent of dry humor, I had a hard time getting a read on Steven when I first got to know him, but as the years went by, he slowly emerged as one of my favorite people at work.

I had an inkling as to why Steven had chosen this afternoon, mere days before the party, to pay me a visit. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Steven let out a small sigh, stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets, and said in his clipped, direct manner that is oh-so-very Steven: “So. I need to make a speech.”

Ah. Of course.

Over time, I’ve learned that some clients are very upfront regarding a ghost writing assignment, while others are more “hey-could-you-maybe-help-me-with-this” about it. Steven, with his no-nonsense pragmatism, definitely fell into the former bucket. It all started about a year and a half earlier, when he took notice of an anecdote I made at a company function and asked for my assistance on a small project a few weeks later. “There’s this thing I need to write,” he said. “But I thought you could take a crack at it first.”  One assignment lead to another, and as time went on, I was authoring communications for other executive-level people at the company, too. I was the ace Steven (or anyone else) had up their sleeve, if they found themselves needing it.

These asks were always carried out in the greatest of secrecy. It would have felt self-serving and duplicitous to brag to my co-workers that it was actually me who had written the latest company-wide communication. “Did you see that memo from Valerie?” someone asked me one day at lunch about a particularly newsworthy broadcast. “I did,” was my nonchalant reply. I mean, of course I did. I had written it. I kept my mouth shut, however, as I scooped a pile of basmati rice onto my lunch tray. To let my ego take over and spill the secret that I was in fact the author would destroy the trust I had built with the management team, and perhaps prevent further assignments from coming my way. I got a great sense of satisfaction from writing these clandestine messages, and I didn’t want the stream to dry up. Honestly, this under-the-radar writing was exciting. I felt helpful, necessary, needed. The drudgery of my day-to-day was elevated tremendously when an ask of that magnitude came my way. I felt like I mattered. And because most of what was said in these communications was privileged and private information, I felt like an insider.

The party was mere days away and Steven stood there in my office and explained the basic premise of what he wanted to say.  It was a fairly simple speech praising a certain person on his team who was going to win an award. I took some notes and asked Steven a few questions, all the while wondering why he needed my help at all. Steven was an intelligent, articulate guy. He could totally do this himself. After Steven left I banged out a few ideas, wrote a draft, and sent it his way. It was fairly short, maybe 125 words long. Steven wrote back later that night saying he would change one sentence, but leave the rest alone. I went to sleep that night satisfied. I had done my job.

What I choose wear to the annual company party is never a last-minute decision. This year, I had selected a black Jason Wu dress, simple black heels, and an antique brass dragonfly necklace. As I primped, I switched on a four-hour long Tom Petty documentary that was currently playing on Netflix. Half listening to the film, I applied my lipstick and blotted with a square of toilet paper. One last eyebrow check (are they even?) and I was Cinderella off to the ball.  

Things were already getting good when I walked into the event space that evening. Plates overflowed with macarons and charcuterie, the boys smelled like fresh laundry, the girls admired each other’s blow-outs, and the DJ dropped the needle on Frank Ocean’s new single as I bellied up to the bar and ordered a Bulleit on the rocks. Not long after I had taken my first sip, the oscillating howl of microphone feedback ricocheted off the brick walls, signaling that the awards and speeches were about to take place. Heels clicked onto the marble inlay floor of the main room as the MC wrangled the cord around the podium. It was standing room only, and the show was about to begin.

Six speeches were made that evening, and Steven was the only person who delivered his without notecards, without reading directly off of his phone, and with the measured, relaxed tone of a natural orator. He made good on his word, saying each sentence exactly how I had written them, save for the final tweak to the closing line at the very end. Thunderous applause enveloped Steven as soon as he finished, and I heard one executive whisper to another, ‘Damn. He’s making me look bad.’  I delighted in hearing this. Whether or not Steven actually made that other guy look bad was of no consequence to me. Because I was the one that made Steven look good.

Steven strode confidently back into the crowd and into the arms of his girlfriend. As luck would have it, I was standing right behind her as she gave him a squeeze.

“That was great, honey,” she said.

Steven was all smiles. “Thanks!” he said. “Catie wrote it.”

Steven couldn’t see me, but I twisted my face up like I had caught a whiff of rotten eggs. I walked over to the bar and ordered another Bulleit on the rocks. Why is he telling people this, I wondered. He’s missing the point. He’s breaking the spell.

The next morning I was nursing a headache, debating whether or not a trip down the street to the bubble tea shop was worth 1) the punishment of direct sunlight and 2) the effort of putting on real pants. While mulling that over, I commenced with frying a pan full of bacon and switched Netflix on once again, finding the Tom Petty documentary that I had started the night before. By this point I was about half-way through the film and figured that this quiet Sunday morning was the perfect time to finish it up. As I chomped through my second piece of bacon, I heard a line that stopped me mid-bite.

Tom Petty was talking about how in 1981 Stevie Nicks approached him and asked for a song. She was working on her first solo album and wanted a specially-written piece from him, one of the most beloved and successful musicians of the day. Petty was talking about how at first it was challenging to write something for her, because her style was so different from his. But after some thinking, he realized why she had approached him in the first place. “When you write a song for other people,” he began, “you sit down and you’ll write something just like them. Often, you’ll write right in their style. The truth is, if someone’s coming to you looking for a song, they’re really looking for something that sounds like you. Because they’ve got plenty of things that sound like them.”

I rewound a few seconds back and played that part three or four more times. With each listen, it made more and more sense. Who cares who knows it. A hit song is a hit song, and giving credit where it is due is an implicit part of the creative process. Steven wasn’t bursting some magical bubble, he was accurately contributing to the liner notes of this song we had written together.  It wasn’t he who was missing the point. It was me.After the initial song request, it took a while for Tom Petty to arrive at something that he felt was right to give to Stevie Nicks. In fact, the first piece that he wrote he ended up taking back and keeping for the album he was recording at the time with his own band, the Heartbreakers. So he worked at it a little more until he came up with another song that he felt was both right for Stevie and that he was willing to part with. In the end, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around was a huge hit on Stevie Nicks’ first solo album Bella Donna, released in 1981. That same year, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers put out their fourth studio album, Hard Promises. Buried on side two of Hard Promises is the song that Petty initially wrote for her but in the end had to keep for himself: Insider.

36 Good Things About 2016

Oof.  Lots of people are talking about how 2016 was one for the record books, and not in a good way. While I tend to agree with this sentiment, last night I felt compelled to take stock of the moments, however small and personal they were, that made it worth it to have lived through another trip around the sun. As it turned out, it wasn't too difficult to find those special times, places, and people.  I decided to catalogue 36 items, because I turned 36 this year. Seemed appropriate. May the coming year be better for all of us.

1. My wonderful friend Armando moved back to the United States, after living abroad in Germany for almost a year. 

2. Beyonce's Superbowl performance

3. I had purposefully avoided watching the movie version of Into the Wild for the better part of a decade, but finally caved this spring. And when I did, this short scene broke it all open for me. I had to gasp for breath. Sometimes the right words have to hit you at just the right moment. And hoo boy, what a moment.

4. I was interviewed about my dad on the ARRVLS podcast. 

5. Chance the Rapper's verse on Ultralight Beam

6. Tarot readings from my friends Vega and Rosey. So dead-on it was spooky. I loved it.

7. A guy I know named Steven texted me on July 29th (about a speech I gave) and it made my whole week, pretty much.  

8. A guy I know named Jerry texted me on November 5th (about a story I wrote) and it made my whole year, pretty much. 

9. We got a ping pong table at work and it's pretty cool. 

10. Jumping on trampolines with Gerald for his birthday. 

11. Eating a cheeseburger on a barstool in the Joshua Tree Saloon while watching baseball highlights. 

12. Vic Mensa's verse on Wolves

13. Jana's wedding reception. All of us in this photo (save for the groom on the far left) went to high school together. Best Class of '98 reunion yet.

14. My seven-year old niece looking at me on Christmas morning and saying, "You're a real artist." 

15. Seeing Beyonce perform at Levi's Stadium with my friends Laura and Geri-Ayn

16. The duck toast at Bar Agricole

17. Dancing with my friend Meg at Top of the Mark

18. I finally watched the final three episodes of Mad Men. I'd been saving it because I didn't want it to be over. Whew, what an ending. 

19. In February I went on a textbook "great first date" with a guy named Luis. Although a relationship didn't form, we became instant friends and remain so to this day, despite the fact that we now live in different hemispheres. 

20. I went to my house in the high desert six times this year. Sometimes with friends, sometimes with family, other times alone. It was perfect every time.  

21. The Cubs won the World Series. Hey, they're not my team, but so what? They deserved it.

22. Splitting a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau with my friend and mentor, Mary, at Chez Maman.  

23. Cancelled my Vogue subscription.  No offense momma Anna and fairy godmother Grace, but it's just not my jam anymore. I've still saved every issue from the past ten years, though. 

24. My 36th birthday party was actually really good. 

25. Lemonade came out in April.

25. Finally got a '13' tattoo on a Friday the 13th. Cross that off the list. 

26. Honestly, I had a very kind and sweet boyfriend for a good chunk of the year. A wonderful person, although in the end we had to part ways.

27. These girls! 

28. It came too late but I broke through my media bubble, which created an unfortunate liberal echo chamber that cocooned me from what eventually happened on election day.  I don't want to live in an "everything's fine" mentality anymore, reading news and op-eds just as long as I agree with the message. I value critical thinking too much.  

29. My Favorite Murder is a podcast and I love it.  

30. I got a new job. It's the best thing ever and I love it. 

31. I'm in a cute new office, too. 

32. Had the pleasure and wonder of being at a doljanchi, the traditional 1st birthday party of a Korean-American baby. 

33. My friend Natalie doesn't have breast cancer anymore.

34. New mobile app that I'm into: Streaks.  A great way to help form small daily habits.

35. New favorite desktop app: Honey. It's free. I feel like an idiot for not getting it sooner. 

36. On a warm Friday night in September down in Joshua Tree, I found myself in a karaoke bar on the side of the highway. I'll never forget the sight of a dozen baby-faced Marines, off base for the evening in their "nice" plaid button down shirts and identical haircuts. I stood onstage in my dirty Levis and sang American Girl and when my song was over, they high-fived me with one hand and held their glasses of beer in the other.  They were so happy to just have that night and be with each other.  When I look back on this year, despite my love and need of solitude, the moments that I most fondly remember were spent with those that mattered. That's the common thread that snakes through all the noise. Not what I expected, but worth taking to heart.

Hoop Dreams

As a freakishly tall person, it pains me to say that I am a dreadful basketball player, and always have been.  You never saw such an awkward, uncoordinated long-limbed thing attempt to play a sport.  Imagine a newly-born giraffe taking its first steps. Now, have it dribble in a tank top and you’re still nowhere near the level of failure achieved by someone so vertically gifted.

Pop came from Indiana, where they take their basketball very seriously. But he had other things in mind and made his way out of the cornfields, moving west to settle in San Francisco in the 1970s.

Mom is fourth-generation San Franciscan, a one-time model lauded for her height who took a job as a secretary before the ink was dry on her diploma from Mercy High School. Mom had been at the office nearly ten years when Pop, with his wry Midwestern humor and dreamy sweep of Robert Redford hair, was hired on.  Her first thought upon seeing him went something like, Whoa, who’s the new guy? They soon began dating.

Weather permitting, Pop and a few of his work buddies would drive through Pacific Heights on their lunch hour, all the way to the very end of Vallejo where it edges up against the Presidio.  There, somewhat inexplicably, among the city’s most imposing mansions, was a solitary basketball hoop.  It stood at that dead end, planted in a stretch of concrete that was part of no one’s driveway or property.  Mom tagged along but sat in the car most days, sipping on a coffee from All-Star Donuts and listening to the radio while Pop and the boys played two-on-two. When the coffee got cold and the fog horns bugled, they put their ties back on and returned to the office. 

They got married in their blue jeans at City Hall in November 1978.   One week later, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were killed.  I was born a few years after, in Oregon, and from that point on San Francisco was a place we came to visit. Our family and old friends lived here, but I certainly never did.  But I always wondered if I would.

Nine years ago, I married the wrong man.  He had a temper and demeanor that grew increasingly violent as time went on, and no amount of talking or pleading could convince him to change. I refused to be a silently suffering abused wife and sign myself away to that life.  So eventually, like the narrator in a twangy country ballad, I left one night with no more than what fit in the back of a truck.  The only thing that was in my mind was getting many miles of road between me and him.  And where did the road end up taking me?  San Francisco.

I stayed with family for those first few months, and eventually found a cute little studio on Jackson and Baker.  During those early days of exploring my new neighborhood, I turned a corner on what is today known as Billionaire’s Row and came face to face with the basketball hoop. I immediately knew what I was looking at, having heard that portion of the story of my parents’ courtship years before.  There it stood, tall and stalwart at the street’s end, as it had thirty years before, a piece of family history watching over this new crowd of San Franciscans passing beneath it, running the Lyon Street stairs in Lululemon pants.

I never dreamed my life would circle around the way it has.  I thought of this as I stood staring at the hoop, imagining Pop’s ghost whiz past me to shoot a layup.  God help me if I was ever passed the ball. Because you know I’d miss.

On Hanging on to It

It recently occurred to me that I’ve had this bag for nine years. Bought online in the spring of 2007 from discount luxury retailer Bluefly it was, in my then twenty-six years of existence, the single most expensive item I had ever purchased.  My wallet felt the sting for sure, with the whopping $740 dollar price tag. (I was pulling in about $30K a year in my entry-level administrative job at the time, so this was no drop in the bucket) ‘It’s fine,’ I told myself, justifying such an exorbitant expense, ‘It’s classic and I’ll have it forever.’  How many times have we said this to sooth ourselves when making a non-essential purchase?  In the long run, it rarely ends up being true. But this time, for me, it was.  

As this bag stares down a decade of service, the brown leather on the handles has grown several shades darker, colored by the natural oils in the skin of my hands. The canvas, once licorice-black, is now a faded brownish-gray. The fob on the outer zipper has long since fallen off. A small dark splotch near the ‘e’ in Chloe is the result of a single drip from a cherry Sno-Cone at an Oakland Atheltics game.  The roundedly squarish shape lends a relaxed structure, like a caramel soft from sitting in the sun. The slightly oversized zipper teeth and footed hardware suggest a cosmopolitan ruggedness.  Like a fine wine and certain Hollywood leading men, its handsomeness has increased with time.

As I’ve carried this bag, so to has it carried me. It has held many a Macbook, doubled as an overnight bag, been a makeshift umbrella in a sudden downpour, and my carry-on as I've traveled the world (one of the reasons the black canvas has lightened so dramatically is from days spent sitting in the sun on various Mexican beaches). The scratches, marks and imperfect coloring endear me to it even more. We've been through so much together: changes in careers, changes in men, and traipsing through the streets of nearly a dozen countries.

But don’t rely on my word alone for its enduring style.  I receive just as many compliments on this bag in present day from strangers and friends as I did when I first bought it. Seeing their mouths form a perfect ‘o’ when I mention it’s age is one thing, but most satisfying of all is when I reply, quite truthfully, ‘Thank you. It goes with everything.’

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

vegan chocolate chip cookies

When I'm invited to a potluck, nine times out of ten I volunteer to bring dessert, and it's usually these peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.  Below is the recipe that I've been slowly tweaking for the past dozen years. It evolved from the recipe at the back of this book. And yes, they are vegan! 

Ingredients...

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance, the whipped kind is best, so 1/4 of a tub of Earth Balance)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla 
  • 2 tsp arrowroot
  • 2 tsp water
  • 2 cups creamy peanut butter (a typical jar is 16 oz so you're good there)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 package of vegan chocolate chips
  • soy or almond milk 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set the chocolate chips and milk aside and mix everything else in a big bowl. Once things are mixed, add in the milk a few splashes at a time until the consistency of Play-Doh. It's best to just mix and squeeze it with your hands at this point. Add the chocolate chips last. Roll into ping-pong sized balls and press down slightly onto the cookie sheet. They don't spread out very much so it's ok to put them close together. 

Throw them in the oven and since all ovens are different, check them after nine minutes. Most ovens take 10-15 minutes. I've baked these cookies in so many ovens over the years so I'm not going to commit to a set time. You mileage may vary! 

I prefer to take them out when the bottoms are golden brown. I let them cool immediately on a cooling rack. Try not to eat too much dough, it's hard to stop once you get going.

Makes about three dozen. 

Making Space for It

I'm not that big on New Years resolutions. They're a little too high-pressure and sentimental for my tastes. Plus it usually seems to be about denying yourself things, like a Lenten season that has no end. Whatever happened to the whole 'I like doing stuff' component? A few years back I started writing things I'd like to do on index cards and taping them to the refrigerator in my tiny apartment kitchen. This was not something I'd come up with on my own; a friend of mine and his girlfriend were doing the same thing with Post-It notes on a corkboard, writing down goals for themselves as individuals ('Get my cosmetology certificate') and as a couple ('Buy a new truck'). Feeling inspired, I asked my boyfriend of four years, who I shared that tiny apartment with, if he'd like to do something similar. He was not interested and said 'Probably not,' so I forged ahead alone.

At around the same time, I was invited to attend Mighty Summit, a special weekend in the woods for creative entrepreneurs. We did an exercise where we made a list of 100 things we wanted to do some day. Big goals, small ideas, medium-sized aspirations. After our lists were done we shared them with each other and plotted and schemed on how we could make it all happen. A small sampling of my list included traveling to Greece, adopting a kitten, marrying that boy I had given my heart to, and making a pie crust from scratch.

About a year after Mighty Summit, and a little more than five years into our relationship, my boyfriend decided to uproot himself from our California home and move to the east coast. I initiated the 'I'm coming with you...right?' talk. He was not interested and said 'Probably not,' so I forged ahead alone.

Naturally it took some time to unravel from the wadded up tangle of feelings I balled myself up into in the aftermath of this devastatingly enormous change. What that actually felt like is not something I will discuss here, but one of the many things that emerged was the fact that all those pieces of paper on the refrigerator, those dreams and goals, were now all truly mine and mine alone. I was going to live life purely for myself again, with no one else's needs in mind. It was a strange concept at first, but the more thought I gave to that, the more exciting it seemed. So I got to work and threw more of those list items up there, always on white index cards with my special red pen.  Some were simple and borderline boring ('Open a Roth IRA'), others were more adventurous in scope ('Go to Paris') while others seemed flat-out crazy ('Buy a Home'). But I figured having a healthy mix on the attainability spectrum was fine. Plus, these were not New Years Resolutions, with no start and stop dates to live and die by. In a way, that was kind of liberating; it was stuff I wanted to do, and I could be fairly chill about it and move along at whatever pace made sense. 

But a few thing started happening once I wrote them down. I'm alone in my apartment 95% of the time, but when someone comes over, they see the cards and a discussion ensues.  Co-workers, friends and dates ask me about them, and if they happened to know that I completed something, they ask what new card I was planning on putting up in its place.  So it's like my community knowing about my cards made it feel like I wasn't going it alone. Something else I discovered was the sheer act of seeing my index cards every single time I was near my refrigerator drilled everything into my brain like a fire hose. It was like I was in high school again with my home-made flash cards, but instead of memorizing Spanish verb conjugation, I was reminding myself of the things I wanted to do.  'Hey,' they were saying, 'Remember how good you feel when you do this stuff? We're still here. Don't forget about us.'  

There's really something to be said for making space for what matters to you.  I don't believe that the mere act of writing something down means it will just magically happen. But writing it down is better than nothing because it takes something that before only existed in your head and makes it a little bit more real. And taking it one step further and putting those words in a place where you see them every day makes it pretty much impossible for you to forget about them.  

                                         

Something on the forefront of my mind in the latter half of 2015 was the fact that I needed to figure out how to make owning my own home a reality.  By the time August rolled around I had more or less decided to buy a small homesteader cabin in the Joshua Tree region of Southern California. Here comes the part where making space isn't only relegated to the written word.  I imagined myself chilling out in my hypothetical house. I pictured what it would be like inside, what the view from the living room window would look like, and what kind of music I'd be listening to, if I spent the day there alone, drinking in the wonderfulness of my very own home.

So I made a playlist. Every time I'd listen to it in my city apartment, I'd imagine myself there instead, out among the rolling thunder clouds, jackrabbits, Joshua Trees and spikey greenish-brown yucca schidigera.

The more excited I got about this idea, the more I wanted to tell people about it.  With the card that said 'Buy a Home' in front of my eyes every day and the playlist blaring through my headphones, I couldn't help but share with a few people what may have seemed to them to be a hair-brained scheme.  This act also felt like another step closer toward making it happen, and by the time October was over, things were snowballing.  After visiting about a dozen properties, I finally found a mid-century house that had all the must-haves on my checklist (acreage, mature vegetation, sturdy cinderblock walls, an uninterrupted view for miles, a wood-burning stove, a bathtub) and more. I made an offer and cried a couple of days later when I got the call that it had been accepted.

Historically, big life choices either have me in full-on panic mode or the picture of serenity.  I can't help but think that the reason I'm so calm about the house is because it feels like the best decision I've made in years.  And perhaps all the mental prep work of making space I did ahead of time prepared me a little bit better than going at it blind. But who knows. It's a new year. The house is mine.  And I know just what songs I'll listen to the next time I'm standing in the living room, staring out at those thunderclouds.