Dance Like Pachamama’s Watching

Village square Amantani Lake Titicaca Peru

A lone woman, burdened by sticks, enters the village square.

Soon there’s another … seven … twenty.

Their bonfire warms our cheeks, ignites our imaginations.

They’ve circled, in blurs of accelerating joy, since before Spaniards arrived to conquer a land, but not a people.

Festival on Amantani Island, Lake Titicaca, Peru

42 New York City subway station

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Deleted moments

I love the move to digital photography with its endless chances to get the shot right, and I delete the bad ones as I go along. When I sifted through a box of old, curled up family photographs, though, I realized all those deleted moments must have held some gems, and real history isn’t always composed just so.

In a film roll of 36 prints, I’d find at least a few good pictures, sharp and perfectly lighted, with a facial expression of my own I could tolerate, or my baby looking angelic, or a loved one’s eyes sparkling with affection. The other 33 pictures might be slightly out of focus, or have a head chopped off here, an angry expression there, or maybe a messy background that I didn’t want to advertise to the world. Those shots got stuffed into a drawer.

The rejects contained elements that it took decades to appreciate:

  • The kind of lousy shot of my parents with my son has in it my only photograph of the “Macquarium” my dad made out of an early generation Apple computer, a lasting reminder of his quirky ingenuity.

Macquarium, Apple aquarium

  • The series of pictures of me and my brothers sticking various numbers of fingers out reveals codes for the new camera settings my dad was experimenting with; as we goofed off, he earnestly took notes on the settings.

Brother secret code 1979

  • Dorky me, my dad, and my little brother pose with the heartbreaking Twin Towers looming behind us; to our naive selves it was unfathomable they could ever come down.

Twin Towers New York 1980

  • My brother and his curls that “grow so incredibly high,” as his beloved Beatles themselves might have described them.

Brother hair style 1979

Years after my father died I found an old camera with a half-used roll of film from an afternoon my kids and I spent with him in his backyard pool. I had switched to a digital camera and never finished the roll. After my nostalgic afternoon going through the drawer of old photos, I shot off the rest of the roll and dropped it off to be developed.

As I drove to the store to pick them up, I thought about how picking up developed pictures was a treat that’s been lost to the digital age. I would always rush through the photos looking for the surprises, the perfect iconic moments. Then I would go through again slowly, scrutinizing. I’d go through a third time, selecting the ones to save in a photo album, condemning the others to the drawer.

In the roll from my dad’s pool, there weren’t any hidden gems as I had anticipated. No unusual expressions captured, no special portraits of my dad. But I held the photos in my hands, and in those ordinary shots I saw my dad watching the boys see who could hold his breath underwater longer. He egged them on, as he had egged me on when I was small.

I saw a perfectly mundane afternoon by a backyard pool, one that was long gone and almost forgotten, and I was glad that those mundane moments weren’t deleted.

Boys underwater 2003


yeah write 260 staff picks nonfiction

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If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d’ve Baked a Cake in a Shoe Box

Cake in a Shoe Box 2

I’ll admit it: I am drawn to the kooky. Whether it’s a challenge to host a Spambalaya Jambalaya dinner party, visit kitschy roadside attractions, or make guacamole ice cream sandwiches, I’m your woman.

And since I never know when something I should have thrown away will come in handy, I smiled when I came across a recipe in the New York Times that featured a shoebox as a cooking vessel.

Cake in a Shoe Box? Of course!

Cake in a Shoe Box 3

I knew mischief was afoot when it was published on April Fool’s Day, but I also got a kick out of it. Since I don’t bake often, I had to step up my game. Making a delicious cake is quite a feat. So how was it? I can’t say my family was head over heels, but it did foot the bill as a sweet, nutty ending to a Sunday supper, especially since my sole purpose was to make something goofy. Please don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.

If you’d like to follow in my footsteps, it made enough for a size 8 cake. Just take it one step at a time.

The recipe: Cake in a Shoe Box

Cake in a Shoe Box 4

Cake in a Shoe Box 5

h/t to Reddit for the plethora of foot puns

Cake in a Shoe Box 1

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Up a Creek, but Unsinkable: Weekend in Denver

Snow covered creek Colorado

{In a previous post, I told how my husband is convinced he’s solved the mystery of Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure–Seeking Treasure: The Thrill of the Chase.}

“From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.”
     — from Forrest Fenn’s poem of clues to the treasure

Ah, springtime…

I awoke to news that a massive blizzard had dumped a foot of snow and canceled 1200 flights in Denver, the city I was planning to land in during that night’s wee hours to search for Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure. After some harried Googling, I learned my flight was still scheduled. My husband and I flew in late that night and headed for the mountains early the next morning.

Heading for the mountains Colorado

We made it to our secret location the next afternoon to search for the treasure. It was fun to be traipsing in the snow for several cold hours, but we found no treasure chest of gold.

Checking out a creek Colorado

Although the treasure eluded us, piles of snow four feet deep made it impossible to rule out the area. As one of Fenn’s clues states, we were up a creek without a paddle. Or something like that.

Checking out a creek Colorado

As far as we know, the Denver blizzard had no relation to the deep snow that messed up our plans in the area we searched, and we were probably just guilty of scheduling our trip too early in the spring.

Without a thorough search, though, we couldn’t determine that the site was actually wrong, so my husband is planning to go back after the snow melts. That’s also why I am still maintaining an air of secrecy about where we searched and why I can’t share most of my photos from the site that we hope is the one Fenn called “no place for the meek.” 

Maybe the treasure is still out there, waiting for us.

No worries, though. We had a weekend ahead of us in Denver before we had to return to the workaday East.

Denver Biscuit Company

We set out the next day for a late breakfast at the Denver Biscuit Company. We were already hungry, and there was a 75 minute wait. This interlude gave us the perfect chance to explore the neighborhood. We walked down the street to browse a record store, Twist & Shout, featuring thousands of vinyl albums — yay! — and the Tattered Cover Book Store, where I bought some pencils that I can bury later to grow basil and cilantro plants. We bought books, too, but how about those pencils?

Twist and Shout record store Denver Colorado

Dog mural Denver Colorado

An hour later we wandered back for what was now a short wait.

And those biscuits delivered!

Denver Biscuit Company Facebook post

We toured the house of the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, a truly inspirational woman, and the Denver Botanic Gardens, an incongruous visit with lush tropical plants followed by a stroll through the snow-covered grounds. Then it was time for a night on the town.

Molly Brown House Denver Colorado

Denver Botanic Gardens

Whiskey Bar Denver Colorado

I loved Denver (and the secret Colorado location we searched). Overall, I was struck by how laid back and polite everyone was out West.

Soon enough, I was back in the highly stressed East. I got into an argument on the plane with a rude passenger, and he flipped me the bird. I yelled at him, and multiple groups of people yelled at me, not at the man who had just flung an obscene gesture at a complete stranger on a plane.

After my fantastical weekend, I was clearly back to reality, the treasure still hidden across the Great Divide under a mountain of snow.

Update: We made a mini vacation out of one more search (still no treasure): An Empty Nester’s Tour of the American West


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Seeking Treasure: The Thrill of the Chase

Treasure chest closeup

My husband pores over web sites, explaining his line-by-line interpretations as he toggles between a Google map and a poem that holds clues to the hidden treasure. He points out canyons and creeks, hots springs and abandoned mines. He has a feverish gleam in his eyes.

I know that look.

I grew up watching “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” roughly every Sunday afternoon of my childhood, sitting next to my father on our seventies-orange couch. So I’ve seen that look plenty of times.

It is the look of a man who thinks he is about to claim a hidden treasure as his own.

It is a look that cannot be denied.

Each night for a week, Randy uncovers additional clues and struggles to convince me that he’s found the secret treasure hidden by Forrest Fenn somewhere between New Mexico and Canada. I get random texts like this one, left vague for security reasons:

Screenshot treasure nugget

Randy makes his case, a strong one, that he knows where the treasure is hidden. He wants to book a flight and search for it out west.

treasure circle quotationI hold back. While I consider myself an optimist, it’s an eggshell optimism, a Cinderella faith that expires at midnight. As I try to think of a synonym for “eggshell optimism,” I realize there is one: pessimism.

Still, I decide to support him. How could I not? He’s convinced he knows where a million-dollar treasure is hidden.


“Honey,” I parry, “all these guys who are professional treasure hunters, you know, they’ve gone out 40, 50, 60 times looking for it, convinced they were gonna find it. The thing is, those clues are vague, and the West is lousy with hot springs and mines, and the clues might not even be for hot springs or mines. The thing is, they could be interpreted a hundred different ways.”

Randy is undeterred.

My older son hears Randy’s theories on the drive home for spring break and texts me his concerns about his parents’ midlife crises, but I assure him I am skeptical:

Steadfast against his family’s rebuttals, Randy opens some new maps, finds some new clues that confirm the location for him.

Randy with The Thrill of the ChaseWe’re flush with free airline miles, so we’re going to hop on a plane during an upcoming weekend. We’ll rent a car and travel to that spot my husband found on Google maps. I can’t tell you where we’re going because it’s a secret, a top secret, and if I’ve learned anything else from “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” it’s that you’d better not let a secret about treasure get out.

We’ll claim our treasure at best, or give it our best try at worst.

Because that look cannot be denied.

Treasure chest

Would you support your partner’s search for hidden treasure?

Update: We went out there for the weekend and didn’t find the treasure–this time. Our search–Up a Creek, but Unsinkable: Weekend in Denver

Forrest Fenn’s clues (in the poem at the right): The Thrill Resource Page


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Schadenfreude in My Facebook Feed

Ceramic tchotchke

Schadenfreude: pleasure derived from the misfortune of another, or, just maybe, from the fortune he never wanted

Although he was my mortal enemy and chief bully during my formative years, my brother Steve and I reached a détente when I reached my 30s, and he saw me for the first time less as a four-eyed, fat and ugly, lazy loser and more as a hard-working, loving mother of two. By the time we’d helped our second parent die of cancer, we saw each other with something approaching respect, two good-at-heart people trying our best to make it through this perplexing world.

Marcy's catfish and a classic MustangGrowing up, Steve was a proud misogynist, calling women “Ws” for “wenches,” as in this I-swear-it’s-true command to an old girlfriend: “W, get me a beer,” in front of our family while watching football.

To my never-ending horror, she got up and got him a beer.

I still cannot hear Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” without hearing it as Steve’s frequent serenade: “You … are … so … ug … a … ly … to me. Can’t you see?” The song came out in 1974, which means it’s been playing this way in my head for over 40 years, interpreted here by a guy I paid five bucks on Fiverr to sing it:

(Source: Vikastomar)

Everyone admits Steve’s a funny guy. Living in the same small town, I would occasionally hear first- and second-hand stories of the hilarious stand-up monologues he gave to packed barrooms about how pathetic I was.

I worked as a cashier at Caldor, and one time as I stapled a customer’s receipt to his bag, he read my name tag and said, “You don’t seem that bad.” He’d heard Steve’s monologue the night before at the bar at Chuck’s Steak House.

bully circle quotationWhy Steve was obsessed with hating me I never quite understood, but I went toe-to-toe with him in profanity-laden screaming matches, his spittle flying toward me as his face reddened. When a certain vein would pop out on the right side of his forehead, I knew it was time to back off. A big bull of a man, he never struck me, but the worry of that was always lurking. I was more careful when I was home alone with him and comforted that I knew “9-1-1.”

During our bouts, I constructed lawyerly arguments against him, and I shared the psychological theories I was learning in college, like the view that his homophobia probably stemmed from latent homosexual tendencies. That vein made a quick appearance, but the phone was nearby, and I rehearsed in my head: “9-1-1, 9-1-1, 9-1-1.”

Even when not spouting off against women, homosexuals, or one of our family members, Steve was difficult to get along with. He wouldn’t cooperate for something as simple as posing for a family photo. He also scorned marriage along with any of his buddies who fell victim to it.

That makes the latest twist in our relationship the funniest of all.

Steve met a single mom in the Philippines and married her. She Facebook friended me, and I now see regular updates in my news feed from half a world away of my big brother Steve posing at an underground river, posing in Hong Kong, posing at the beach.

By all indications, his wife is a loving, family-oriented woman. I wish Steve the best and hope he has found happiness with his new family. I, too, feel the sweet stab of schadenfreude to see him posing stone-faced for those photos, part of his new married life, part of his ninth circle of Hell.

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Perfection slips away, one shot at a time

Spectators at Copper Valley Club

The ball springs off his racket toward my sweet spot; I’ll smash a forehand down the line:

racket back,
turn sideways,
little steps,
line it up,
track it,
bend my knees,
follow through —

a split second late, and that ball sails wide.

Tennis balls at CVC cardio tennis

42 New York City subway station Perfection slips away Editor Pick from yeah write 257

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Odds and Ends as Spring Arrives

1. — Over the last year, I’ve photographed a few examples of the number 42 for a writing challenge I sometimes enter, but I recently started seeing the number all over the place. I’ve been scanning signs and price tags for it everywhere, and it keeps popping up. Does that happen to anyone else? No. Just me?

42 cents

I’ll keep adding new ones to my 42 page as I find them. I know they’re out there.

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2. — I’m clueless quite often, but how did I not know how easy it is to make a gif?

via GIPHY — from Bar Juggling Scene

Excuse me while I go and make 20 gifs.

3. — I bookmark blog posts to read, but don’t always get to them right away (or, in this case, within six months), so my list of posts to read gets longer and longer (like that never-ending pile of papers I have to correct). With Easter nearing, I finally came upon this adorable clip of Jacques Pépin making olive and grape bunnies. Just wait for his punchline at the end.

(h/t The Kitchn)

I once had the chance to meet Pépin when I worked as a small town newspaper reporter, and he was appearing at a local event. I had never heard of him, thought it looked boring, and threw out the press release. Regrets, I’ve had a few…

4. — I try to be minimalist and avoid getting specialized gadgets, but I’m yearning for these Korean stone bowls. Bibimbap would be perfect for our next Stay at Home Date Night. Hey, they could be used for soup, too.

Korean Dolsot Stone Bowl
(No affiliation)

How to Make Bibimbap Without a Recipe

5. — This was my grandmother’s sewing machine, and I remember her letting me work the foot pedal as she sewed intricate little dresses for my dolls when I was a kid. I’d love to still have one of those dresses, but this gorgeous old machine will have to do.

Old Singer Sewing Machine

6. — I do not succeed at being minimalist.

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Bánh Mì: The Best Sandwich in the World (a Second Stay at Home Date Night)

{Celebrate your courage: Send me a postcard.}
pork banh mi sandwich, blurry background, sandwich, roast pork.Homemade Pork Bánh Mì for Stay at Home Date Night

The story behind my obsession with this sandwich

banh mi circle quotationPerhaps you too would have felt cranky and dubious if you’d been lost in Little Italy, dragging two whiny kids behind you, as you searched and searched for a supposedly good Vietnamese sandwich shop hiding behind the storefront of a jewelry store.

How good could this sandwich possibly be, as you find it, pass the glass cases of jade bracelets and gold necklaces, and finally get the food in some bags to go, only to wander around the bustling streets of Manhattan for another half hour looking for a place to sit down and eat?

Banh Mi Saigon Mott Street 2009 New York City Marcy

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery Mott Street New York City 2009

And then, feeling annoyed and giving the stink eye to your husband, it happens: You bite into the Best Sandwich in the World.

Marcy bucket of frogs New York City Chinatown 2009This was my experience in New York City in 2009, when we wandered the city on an already over but delightful foodie photo scavenger hunt. (Fun fact: That’s also when I had the pleasure of sticking my hand into a bucket of frogs.) We found Bánh Mì Saigon on Mott Street, behind the storefront of a jewelry store. (They have since relocated to more spacious digs on Grand Street.)

I’ll always remember that moment of biting into the crusty French bread. The mix of salty, sweet, sour, and savory melted away all my aggravation as I realized that, yes, this sandwich was worth the search and more. It features a mix of crunchy pork and creamy pâté, tangy pickled vegetables, bright cilantro, and spicy hot sauce. It even throws in some history, as the Vietnamese ingredients combine with the remnants of French colonialism in the bread, mayonnaise, and pâté.

Our Second Friday Night Date Night

This special sandwich was the star of my second Stay at Home Date Night, and, oh, what a star it was.

We used Chef John’s recipes for pan roasted 5-spice pork loin and the pork bánh mì sandwich.

If you missed my first Stay at Home Date Night, I’ll say it again: cooking together at home for a date night is cheaper than going out and a lot more fun than cooking as a weeknight chore. Plus, we get to enjoy our own music, wine, and cooking, and we don’t have to deal with crowds. I won’t say the sandwich came out better than the first one I tried, but it definitely surpassed the ones I’ve ordered in restaurants since. Fresh, delicious, not hard to make, and exactly how I wanted it.

pork banh mi sandwich, roasted pork, homemade banh mi

What was in my bánh mì?

  • Crusty bread toasted with special sauce (mayonnaise with hoisin and sriracha)
  • Roast pork, thinly sliced
  • Pâté
  • Pickled carrot and radish (substituted for daikon, a Japanese radish)
  • Cucumber spears
  • Jalapeño slices

Let me know if you stick your hand into a bucket of frogs–or if you give the sandwich or stay at home date night a try.

pickled carrot and radish, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno

pork banh mi, cooking, pan roasted pork

pork banh mi, pan roasted pork

pork banh mi, roasted pork, slicing

pork banh mi, sandwich

See also:

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Jewel-toned one-pot pasta: Beets cleaning an extra pot

{Celebrate your courage: Send me a postcard.}
One pot pasta with beets mushrooms and parmesan

I got the side eye from family members when I picked up beets for a new beef and beets pasta recipe I wanted to try, so I roasted the beets anyway and set them aside for an undetermined purpose down the road. That purpose arrived when I decided to jump aboard the one-pot pasta craze, albeit about two years late.

One pot pasta ingredients beets and mushrooms

The not-quite-a-recipe:   I sauteed half an onion and 3/4 cups of sliced mushrooms in olive oil and then piled in the rest of the ingredients: a portion of bucatini with a diameter of about a nickel (1/2 cup?), two small roasted beets sliced into half moons, garlic, salt, pepper, and about a cup of water. I heard one part pasta to three parts liquid works well, but I think I went more with one to two, figuring I could add more liquid if needed. I nailed it, though. After 10 minutes, the pasta was al dente, and the gorgeous ruby liquid was perfectly absorbed. I topped it with a little parmesan cheese.

One-pot pasta: It’s an absorbing process

The taste?   Good, but yikes that was a high beet-to-pasta ratio. I still had a pile of beets left over in the bottom of the bowl when I finished eating, and I ate enough beets to stain my lips red (or redder). It was the prettiest jewel-toned pasta I ever did see, though.

And cooking it in one pot?   Beets cleaning an extra pot.

One pot pasta bowl with beets mushrooms and parmesanOne-pot Pasta: Bucatini with Mushrooms and Beets


Just another Meatless Monday

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