Category Archives: Life

A Debt-Free Life Finale + Custom Illustration Giveaway!

moneystory-elephantEvicting the roommates was a swift affair once I called in the big guns. You’ll remember from last time that they had stopped paying rent and the situation was dire. M flew in from Seattle to “negotiate” (a punched hole in the wall was involved as I recall – the Czech girl’s boyfriend was the temperamental sort). I was cowering somewhere out of sight and didn’t witness the event. The couple left with a string of muttered Czech words trailing behind, cursing my name, I’m sure. Freed from thongs and mountainous cigarette ashes, I advertised for a new roommate, and a lovely woman who loved to clean moved in. Though we became friends and our apartment looked less destitute, by now, my whole experience in my beloved city seemed…wrong.

Yes, I loved my job working on the Pottery Barn catalog, and happily arranged photos of sofas and sconces into layouts. I sighed with contentment every morning as I entered the beautifully designed office space, and I delighted in pow-wowing about various shades of the hue du jour with the Color Manager (it’s true, there was actually someone with that job title and her main responsibility was to make sure the colors looked right in the catalog). But the pay left a lot to be desired, and the truth was that I really wasn’t the type to climb the corporate ladder.

As for my second job, I convinced myself that my moonlighting gig as a dispatcher for a community safety program was a good use of my time — it entailed recording activities in the downtown area while rovers/safety officers roamed the streets or “beats” to make sure that all was kosher. ”Beat 1, report condition, over,” I would say authoritatively into a walkie talkie while sitting in a small office in downtown, and the walkie talkie would crackle, “All clear, over” or “Code 235, over” (translation: drunken homeless activity resulting in injury, call an ambulance asap). Etcetera. Food stamp dissemination days were raucous and dangerous. The pay, as you can imagine, was laughable.

All I seemed to do was work. And still, I was broke.

**

When faced with debt, there are only three rational steps to take:

1. Reduce spending

2. Increase incoming funds

3. Both of the above

But if humans were rational creatures, none of us would be in debt or overweight or anorexic or in unhealthy relationships. We would all live in clutter-free homes and crime wouldn’t exist. Procrastination would be a myth and therapists would be obsolete. We are irrational beings, filled with emotional compulsions, habitual impulses, family values absorbed or scorned, social influences, primal needs and wants, the propensity to find justification — all these factors are viewed through the various filters that are like fun house mirrors. They warp and twist and distort the simple equation of rationality. It’s what makes us wholly fallible and profoundly creative.

I was doing my best at being rational and taking all the correct steps: I’d cut all the non-essential spending I could, worked two jobs, nixed my social life. Yet, I could constantly feel the familiar and tantalizing tug of “maybe if I buy that [insert some shiny object], I’ll feel better. I deserve a little something for working so hard.” The more I resisted, the stronger the irrational pull. It was only because of M and the astronomical guilt I felt about his generosity that I didn’t succumb. Okay, I did succumb once in a while. But rarely. Despite my efforts, though, I wasn’t making fast enough progress on my debt-reduction plan.

I hadn’t fooled anyone and I knew that the San Francisco life I originally tried to create was like visiting the Hollywood studios. The artfully constructed sets look great from the front and on the surface, but a quick peek would show you that there was nothing behind them — just the backside of the cheap plywood structure hastily erected and a tangle of messy wires. I’d dismantled my little land of make believe and it didn’t feel liberating at all. Just empty and sad. I needed to learn how to build real things. Solid, immutable, deeply valuable things.

It was time to leave San Francisco. M and I had been discussing the possibility of my joining him in Seattle and I figured that if I was avoiding all social contact in SF, I might as well move to a more affordable place where I knew no one save M, and earnestly work on getting rid of my debt. So in March of 2002, I said a solemn and defeated good-bye to the city of lights and headed to Seattle.

**

I am going to fast forward here because I feel like I need to get to the point. The next phase was a lot of slogging through. So much happened, mostly bad, and M and I teetered on the edge of dissolution for many years. We lived together in one frightening apartment after another (I’ve since discovered that it’s his specialty to find scary living quarters, but they were cheap). With the dot com debacle, jobs were scarce and M had trouble finding work. I was lucky enough to interview at several good companies and worked an insane night shift position that paid the best out of my options. We had no car so I rode a bus across town at 11:30pm to basically babysit petulant workers unaccustomed to supervision, then I took two more buses after I slept a couple of hours to tutor rich high school kids in English literature. While working the night shift, I became friends with the grocery clerks at the Safeway down the street because I had nowhere else to go at 3am on my breaks. I was intrigued and inspired that my friends had saved up enough money to send their kids to college with their cashiering job, and seriously considered applying myself and punt the tutoring job. However, I was promoted to a daytime position after a year so I put the cashier idea to rest.

At this point, my income was over $60,000 and I was getting regular bonuses and raises each year. I covered all expenses as my repayment to M and that included rent, utilities, our phone bills, his gym membership and whatever he charged on his credit card. For two years, all I did was work and pay bills. By the middle of 2004, my student loans were paid off 5 years ahead of schedule. And in December of 2004, I opened my tracking notebook as I did every month, and I’d finally hit the magic number: $13,000. In one year and nine months, I paid M back in full — my $30,000 debt was gone. Two months later, M proposed.

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I often wished for a magic bullet while I was in debt and in the back of my mind I thought that if I looked hard enough, I’d find it. I wanted to pay it all off without anyone knowing, while maintaining a stylish appearance. No magic bullet exists, of course. Yes, I was blessed by M’s magnanimous nature, and if it weren’t for him, I probably would have continued accruing more debt at the rate I was going. He’s the hero of this whole story. In accepting his money though, I’ve wondered if I ended up paying a greater price: M may never fully trust me with money. We’ve talked about this. And maybe he shouldn’t. Maybe it’s an important awareness for both of us to have — that I am prone to trying to keep up with the Joneses, that I tend to fill emptiness and insecurity with material acquisitions, that it’s easy for me to revel in the brief high of feeling like I belong because I have the right bag, the right pair of jeans, the right smart phone.

It’s now been 10 years since I paid that last bill, and we’ve remained debt-free. To get here, I’ve had to find ways to make more money, spend less, lather, rinse and repeat. But the two most important ingredients for me, I found, were accountability and removing myself from surroundings that triggered my spending. As long as I kept my debt shrouded in secret and continued to interact with people that I wanted to impress, I kept digging deeper holes for myself.

It’s been hard, this unmasking. I’ve spent many years thinking about how I let my spending get out of hand, and beyond the usual explanations of wanting to fit in or the lesson of learning how to accept myself, I needed to understand how to stay debt-free. To create practical new habits. We make conscious and sometimes embarrassing choices to this end. We rent a run-down townhouse that fits squarely in our budget and drive a jalopy that is a far cry from the Lexus I declared I’d cruise around in when I was fresh out of college. But we bought it with cash and it runs just fine. We don’t use credit cards. Ever. We have savings and never touch it. I choose my friends carefully. Most of all, I listen intently for that tantalizing call to pretend to be someone I’m not — it’s how I know I shouldn’t be in a particular situation or with a certain person.

I’ve realized over and over that whenever I act out of a need for external validation, my life starts to veer off in the wrong direction. It hasn’t been just the debt. My health suffered by staying in jobs that sounded impressive. There were many bad relationships based on dating guys who fit the “right” mold, the kind of boys other people would approve of that I didn’t actually connect with. I ardently believed I needed to be thin to be accepted, so I dieted like a maniac. And on and on and on. The debt, however, was one of my biggest lessons to date. It was easy to buy an image on credit, to borrow the illusion of happiness with the best of intentions to pay it back later when I hoped my projected image and happiness would have solidified into reality. Except it didn’t happen that way.

I have more to say, but my story is at its end. I think there are many, many ways to go about eliminating debt if that is something affecting your life. My way was unglamorous and filled with shame for many years, but only because I made it that way. I believe it can be done with dignity. I’m clearly not a personal finance expert so I don’t have answers, but I do know this: most of my possessions now are humble or secondhand or wonkily handmade, but I’ve never felt richer. I have my health. And my family. And good friends. And time to create. These, I believe, are the true currencies of a rich and happy life. One more thought: after ten debt-free years, I am finally learning how to build real things. Solid, immutable, deeply valuable things.

perspective

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And now for the Giveaway!! With 2015 rapidly approaching, perhaps some of you have New Year’s goals or resolutions in mind? I have a piece of paper stuck above my sewing machine with the word “gratitude” — I’ve long stopped consciously noticing it, but I find it to be a helpful reminder when my eyes occasionally focus on it. I also like the word “perspective”. I wonder if you would like a customized illustrated word of your own? Or maybe a cute animal or a portrait of your child(ren) wearing an outfit? Amber brought up the custom illustration idea and I thought it sounded like loads of fun.

I would love to offer 10 custom 5 x 7″-ish illustrations. They will be original watercolors on coldpressed paper. To enter, it’s a bit interview-esque, but I liked this question that my editor asked me recently: “What would you like to be doing in five years?” For me, I’d like to be working on another book or two and have my own studio where I’m cranking out beautiful clothes and fun illustrations and much-improved photography!

I will keep the giveaway open until Christmas and will announce the winner the next day. I don’t need to mention that international folks are more than welcome by now, right? Good luck!

Thank you for reading
My tale of money matters
Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

P.S. My mama is in town and ’tis the holiday season, so I will take next Monday and Wednesday off. Merry, merry!

Thoughts + A Debt-Free Life aka Kicking the “Should”s

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I have been feeling a little deflated about blogging lately. I’ve talked about this before, I know, and I’ve pondered whether I’ve become too predictable because I’m such a routine-lover. I can confidently say that I’m not dialing it in by any stretch and I still love sharing my creations and each comment still makes me feel giddy. But I’ve also been conflicted about what I’m doing (at what point is too many dresses for one child? Probably about 100 dresses ago) and haven’t been pouring myself into my posts as I did in the early days, when I was scared to hit the “publish” button each and every time. Scary can be a good sign.

Not that I think this should be a vehicle for bare-all confessions or be an extreme sport version of sewing blogging, but my approach seems to have gone from comfortably intimate coffee date to community center craft fair — you know, instead of that cozy feeling of sharing recent updates with a good friend over a hot beverage, I’ve been getting the sense that I’m manning an irrelevant booth where folks meander from a safe distance, vaguely noting my amateur paintings and handicrafts, scanning the room for something better elsewhere. Maybe that doesn’t make sense. I don’t know. I know it’s a useless way to think, and I guess it’s the old insecurity monster rearing its head…I’m not looking for assurances but am trying to identify this current state I’m experiencing.

So to shake myself out of this slumpy mood and externally-focused mentality, I am going to talk about a taboo topic today: money. It’s something that makes me cringe all over, and it always helps me focus when I write outside of my comfort zone. If you haven’t gathered by now, I am not a naturally frugal person — I never have been and probably never will be (reading this, my husband is clutching at his heart and gnawing at his already bitten-down-to-the-nubs nails). I’m obsessed with pretty, delightful objects. Clothes and shoes. Stationery. Art supplies. Fabric. Books. Organic, hand-plucked, truffle-infused, wildly expensive edible things. I love love love giving decadent gifts. M jokes that if he wants to know where I am at any given point in the day, he just needs to find the nearest overpriced, beautifully decorated coffee shop.

Despite this Achilles heel of spendthrift tendencies on my part, we live a debt-free life. Yes, zero debt. No mortgage, no car payments, no credit card balance, no school loans, nada. It was incredibly hard for me to get here and it most certainly wasn’t always this way.

I’ve been going down memory lane these past few days as I am wont to do at the end of the year, unearthing dozens and dozens of my old journals. I came across a ratty old notebook with “2003 + 2004 + 2005 budget” scrawled on the cover. In it, I had meticulously recorded every expense: utilities, student loans, credit card bills. So many credit card bills…

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My parents never talked about money when I was growing up, but I knew that we didn’t have much for most of my childhood. When I was a kid, my dad ran a liquor store in downtown L.A. and business quickly boomed. We moved into a spacious white house in a tony part of town and I switched from an all-black school to one filled with blonde, blue-eyed children. But then, inexplicably and suddenly, everything went belly up. We lost the store, the house, the car, the apartment building my parents had invested in. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out about all of this — at the time I was in the second grade and just couldn’t understand why we had to skidaddle to Japan in the middle of the school year. I completed my second grade in Japan and stayed at my Grandma’s house in Tokyo, where a metal tub sat on the ground in a structure that was similar to an outhouse. It was dark and terrifying in there. Hot water had to be manually poured into the tub if we wanted to take a bath, and most days we went to the public bath house. I can still recall the bustle of naked women and girls surrounding me, how I averted my eyes and felt out of place even though I looked like them. I missed America.

Eventually, my parents cobbled together some funds and we returned to the US, briefly settling into a tiny house in an area called Hawaiian Gardens, the smallest city in Los Angeles county, and then we moved again. And again. Because my family uprooted so frequently, I grew up observing the whole socioeconomic spectrum from scrappy, welfare families to multi-jillionaire Hollywood aristocracies. I could go on forever detailing the surreal worlds I saw, but what’s important is this: I learned that money was something no one talked about.

Though dollars and cents were never explicitly discussed, I knew that spending more than you earned was not an option in our household. That was antithetical to our industrious, Japanese work ethic. As soon as I turned 15, I immediately applied for a worker’s permit and looked for an after school job in earnest so I could finally buy all the on-trend clothes that I’d coveted for years. I blew through my meager paychecks with one shopping spree after another, and my mom looked on worriedly, meekly suggesting that I might want to try to save some of my earnings. Save? What for? I was a teenager! I was certain I’d be earning gobs of money when I was older.

**

In college, I knew a girl who amassed an astronomical amount of credit card debt as well as parking ticket fees. I recognized in her the same carpe diem attitude I had in spending my paychecks, except she was using borrowed money and this unsettled me. In my naivete, I couldn’t figure out how she was paying off her credit card bills at first. When I finally sussed out that she wasn’t even meeting the minimum payments, I was astounded. Why wasn’t she worried? She seemed so confident and together and appeared secure in the knowledge that everything would take care of itself; her closets overflowed with clothes and she proudly kitted her dorm room with a state-of-the-art microwave and mini-refrigerator.

**

“I’m going to own a Lexus before I’m 30,” I was horrified with myself as I mentally saw the words come out of my mouth like a cartoon bubble while I chatted with a co-worker. I was 22-years-old and was earning $24,000 a year at a marketing firm in Santa Monica, and I was trying desperately to impress the much older and much more sophisticated woman who was training me. I remember how she tucked her glossy highlighted hair behind one ear and looked at me askance without a word. My face burned. We were heading to an L.A. hotspot for a company lunch — the type of place frequented by A-list celebrities — and I was feeling inadequate surrounded by all the glitz and glamour. It seemed like the sort of thing I should say, but it sounded all wrong when actually verbalized.

It was around this time that I got my first credit card. And I started to worship the altar of “should”s. Oh, I should get a sleek haircut so I don’t look like I’m fourteen (I looked ridiculously young with my long hair, but after my haircut I discovered that I still looked ridiculously young, only my head resembled a mushroom). I should really buy a suit so my boss will take me seriously (I bought a red polyester pantsuit that made me appear like I’d raided Elvis Presley’s closet to play dress-up – not my best look. I returned it the next day when I saw my boss’s suppressed smirk). I didn’t, thankfully, buy a Lexus on credit, and at first, I was very cautious with my newly acquired purchasing power. I kept in mind the debt-ridden girl from college and smugly knew that I wouldn’t ever allow myself to go down that route. I paid off my balance each month and soon, hooked by the ease, I was using my credit card for everything and not just for special purchases as I had done in the beginning.

And then I utterly lost control.

 

To be continued….*

 

*That’s a good cliff-hanger, right? Look at me, trying something new! Stay tuned to find out how I got out of debt — not an easy task…

 

Happy Friday + Advent Randomness

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Happy Friday! Even though I’m sharing it today, I did, in fact, finish this Advent Calendar in the nick of time on November 30th, much to my relief. Compared to the last couple of years, it’s a more understated calendar, but I put a lot of thought into it. This year, I had some very specific rules for myself:

1. Construct the advent calendar out of what I already have on hand (the exception was the little gifts that are part of the calendar)

2. No candy or sweets

3. Include lots of books, because books are K’s favorite thing in the world

4. Must have an element of giving and not be just about receiving

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I had all these left over metal tins from a misguided idea to sell magnets many, many years ago and they’ve been sitting in our basement forever. I thought I was being all eco and brilliantly repurposing (and the tins can still be reused!), but M pointed out that it looks like the attack of Altoids.

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I printed numbers onto some copper paper from my infinite stash of pretty papers and used my circle punch and some twine and voila! Aided by the magic that is mounted foam tabs like these, we have a quick and dirty DIY Advent Calendar (okay, some of the tins have been falling off the wall and required reinforcement, but the initial effect was quite lovely). What makes this extra fun is that each tin contains a little note. On odd-numbered days, I included clues that lead K to a hidden little gift — a scavenger hunt! On even-numbered days, K is assigned a “giving” task (e.g. gather clothes to donate to her school’s Uganda program or make a video to send to Grandma and Grandpa), and she gets to choose a book from the “Advent basket”. The books are a combination of thrifted, bargain sales and a few new releases that I know she’ll flip over.

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Although I spent some serious time thinking up the whole project, the execution took about an hour (mostly because I haven’t wrapped all the little presents yet since I wait until the night before to hide them). The verdict: “Mama, I can tell you worked so hard on this. You’re so so awesome!!” She practically squeezed the life out of me and I nearly cried the ugly cry — she said it in such a heartfelt, appreciative way.

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The winner of the Sew Sweet Giveaway is Haylee, congrats! I always enjoy reading all the giveaway comments and now I’m hankering to learn multiple languages, take up woodworking, try my hand at spinning yarn!

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Countdown has begun
but the anticipation
is the best part, no?

Wishing you all a lovely weekend! K has her first ever piano recital tomorrow – very, very excited!

 

 

Monday Outfit: The Scarf Sweater (by Bachan)

scarf-sweater1

Good morning! We had such a lovely, lovely weekend filled with friends and good times, but alas, that meant I couldn’t squeeze in any sewing. However, the Guy Fawkes party alone was well-worth the sacrifice (I have a good friend who is a Brit), and I indulged in a little mulled wine and quite a few “Sticky Parkins”, which tasted a little like gingerbread. A cozy group of us bundled up in winter gear and gathered round a fire pit with techno colored flames. Fun, fun.

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So instead of a sewn project, today I’m sharing this clever little sweater that K’s wearing. My mom made this last winter, and it’s got its own built-in scarf, which I think is brilliant. She knitted it during her visit along with this other one I featured before, and you can see the similarity. At the time, this particular scarf sweater was much bigger than the one with the button, and now K is nearly outgrowing it.

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After last winter, my mom stopped producing her normally outrageous amount of knitted and sewn objects. In fact, when she came to visit this past summer, she didn’t make a thing. Sadly, this is because her eyesight has been steadily declining, and by October, her left eye was significantly compromised and her right eye was nearly blind.

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It turned out to be cataracts, and after a successful surgery last week, her vision is back to 20/30! She’s still recovering from the procedure, so we’re not sure if she’ll be able to make it out to Seattle this winter, but it’s looking promising.

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It’s been a wake-up call, bringing to the forefront the realities of aging parents. Surrounded by the youthful energy of K and her friends as I am every day, it’s easy to forget the other end of the spectrum. And it makes me treasure my mom and all of her creations that much more.

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The good news is that as part of a preliminary check to make sure she was fit for the surgery, she underwent a full physical exam — something she hadn’t done in 35 years! My mom is a big believer in natural healing and she’s avoided hospitals and doctors like the plague. Well, she must be doing things right, because her results were pretty stellar. When we see her next, I’m planning on grilling her to get her healthy living secrets. You better believe that I’ll be documenting her methodology.

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So for today, a little tribute to my amazing Mama. I hope there will be many, many more clever sweaters and handmade delights!

Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! “Mama?” K asked the other day, “How is it that I have both your DNA and Daddy’s DNA? I don’t get it.” I gulped. At her eight-year wellness check during the summer, our pediatrician warned me that the questions will start. Not MY little girl, I thought smugly, I still have all the time in the world. But here we are, just two months after the warning, and K has been peppering me with some variation of this question almost every day.

So I ordered a book recommended by the pediatrician. Because let’s face it, I know myself and I will end up using weird, untechnical cute-sounding terminology (e.g. “weenis”) and completely botch up the explanation. I am utterly unprepared and unqualified for sex education for kids. My parents never even tried to broach the topic with me. I remember when I was about 11 and had some vague notion of reproduction, I genuinely wondered whether people took off their underwear. A German friend tells me that it’s such a non-issue in her native country, kids know all about the birds and the bees practically from birth. Ditto with a Dutch friend. It makes me want to move to Europe to soak in that blase attitude toward a subject that causes me to squirm when discussed publicly (being of Asian-descent raised by immigrant parents in the US exacerbates this, I think — I have never seen my parents hug, much less kiss. In their homeland, people bow to each other and celibacy is a hip and happening trend, for crying out loud).

The book arrived yesterday so I’m working up the courage to go through it with K this weekend. So awkward. Then again, if you think I’m bad, you should see M. He won’t touch the topic with a 1000-foot pole and has insisted I would be better at enlightening K. He’s got German roots so I don’t know what his excuse is.

Anyway. I’m subsisting on cough drops to avoid the usual bronchial infection I tend to get with every cold and I’m going to go binge-watch Game of Thrones season 3 (thanks for reminding me of the show, Greta!) as I build up my nerve to dive into the it’s-not-the-stork story with K.

Oh, the winner of the giveaway is Lacey, who studied linguistics. Congrats! I absolutely loved reading everyone’s favorite classes, areas of study, etc. So fun!

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Have an un-awkward, relaxing weekend, all!

No Monday Outfit
We’re switching thing up next week
Stay tuned for Friday*

*I’m featuring a cool indie pattern on Friday – I think you’ll like it!

 

Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! On Wednesday, after K’s orthodontic appointment, we stopped off at a fabric store to see if they had any orange felt or knit for her requested pumpkin costume. Then she saw that Southwestern style print and immediately changed her mind about the pumpkin. Soon, a maroon fringe ribbon was added along with silver lace. “What do you want me to make?” I asked her. She shrugged and said, “I dunno, some maid-fancy-girl”. Hmmmmmm…..I am awaiting design specs with some trepidation.

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On alliteration:

K: Mama! We’re learning how to come up with nicknames using the first letter of our names. For you, I thought of “Sanae Superglam”. Or, how about this? “Mama Megabucks”?

We laughed heartily at the irony of those nicknames.

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I’m off to have coffee with a friend I haven’t seen in over seven years! She’s in town for just a few days, and I can’t wait to have a good catch up session. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

I am so loving
all the giveaway answers
so cool to find out*

*I had this secret theory that a lot of sewing folks would have science/math backgrounds, and I think my theory is holding pretty true! And can I just say that it’s awesome that some of you answered the question just to answer the question even though you already own the book. Thank you, I love getting to know you all better!

 

Happy Friday + Randomness

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Happy Friday! I am extremely lazy at heart, and when several friends told me about the easiest bread to make, I was in. The no knead bread has been around for a while, and I’ve seen various versions of Jim Lahey’s original recipe around the web and I suppose in a vague sort of way, I’d been curious about this wonder bread. My first attempt, sadly, was a bust. Though the crust was amazing, the glutinous, uncooked middle was disgusting, and the bottom burnt to a crisp.

I’m not easily put off by failure and have since tweaked the recipe to get the best result from my decrepit oven. It literally requires no kneading, and yesterday I stirred up the dough in the morning, and by dinnertime, I had a bubbled mass that easily rolled into this loveliness ready for some baking:

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Which came out like this:

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It’s so delicious that it makes me salivate just looking at the photo. Look at that beautifully crackled artisanal beauty! K has been cramming her mouth with the stuff, generously slathered with butter. Nothing beats freshly baked bread with butter.

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In order to have an easy reference for myself, I’ve written down my own version of the no knead bread. Perhaps you’d like to give it a try too?

No Knead Bread adapted from the Sullivan St. Bakery

3 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water (room temperature)

1. In a large glass bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.

2. Add water and mix just enough to combine. Don’t mix too exuberantly, and scrape off dough from sides of bowl to create a gloppy, singular mass.

3. Cover with plastic wrap (I ran out of plastic wrap so I used a slightly damp towel instead – worked great). Let sit at room temperature for 10 to 18 hours. I’ve tried 1o hours and 20 hours and both times the bread came out wonderfully.

4. When you’re ready to bake the dough, check to make sure it’s full of bubbles. These bubbles will give the loaf those airy holes once baked. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour on a surface and scrape out the dough onto the floured surface. I like to also sprinkle a thin layer of flour on top.

5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. My oven runs hot, and I had tried it at the recommended 500 degrees first and the loaf was disastrous. You may have to play around with different temperatures. Place your dutch oven with lid in the preheating oven for about 30 minutes.

6. Gently fold the dough once or twice — remember not to knead — and shape into a ball with seam side down. This is optional, but I like to put the dough on parchment paper.

7. Place parchment paper with dough into preheated dutch oven. I’m a little OCD so I trim the parchment paper to the edge of the dutch oven opening. Put the lid on.

8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes with lid on. Remove lid and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until crust is an achingly beautiful golden hue.

9. Slide loaf onto a cooling rack and wait a few minutes if you can to cut into it. We haven’t been able to wait.

That’s it! I’ve already baked four loaves and plan on baking another one tomorrow. It’s gluten heaven, I tell you.

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The winner of the Kyuuto book is Max, congrats!

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Full of emotion, M told me this week:

“Man, it’s such an honor to be K’s father…guess what she said the other day? ‘Daddy, you know what I love about you? You really listen to me.’

They’re a good pair, those two.

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Happy weekend, friends!

Fall weather is here
Crisp air and rain aplenty
The crunch of apples

 

 

Happy Friday + Randomness

dr-office

This is the view from my doctor’s office. A muddy shot I took with my ipad while I was waiting — that building in mid-construction hadn’t even broken ground when I first started seeing my doctor almost three years ago. I had an appointment on Wednesday, the quarterly one for my thyroid condition called Graves’ Disease. Every three months or so, I get blood work done, and my Harvard-educated physician and I go over the numbers while we sit next to this view from the seventh floor.

This time, the prognosis was a mixed bag. My condition hinges on the levels of three types of hormones: TSH, T4 and T3. I’m not going to delve into details, but basically two of my numbers are heading in the right direction and the other one is decidedly ambling the wrong way. My results shift around with each lab test. Last quarter, two different numbers were looking better and the third one had held steady so I was definitely improving. I’m not in critical condition now but I’m not really out of the woods either.

I often feel like we’re conducting an experiment together, my doctor and I. Every quarter, I report on my stress level, my diet, my exercise regimen and we examine how they correlate with my numbers. I am an anomaly in that I refuse to take medication and my doctor — who I love and if she weren’t my endocrinologist, I’m certain we’d be hanging out as friends — tells me I’m “so fascinating”. I take zero medications, and the nurse who checked me in (blood pressure, weight check, etc.) marveled that my medication list was empty. “I never see that,” she told me. “Even eighteen-year-olds have a laundry list of meds these days.” That surprised me, though I suppose anyone who needs to go to an endocrinologist has some predilection that should or could be controlled with drugs.

For the first time in nearly three years, I was intensely curious about the specifics of my thyroid hormone levels. I didn’t really know what any of those numerals meant. I talked in-depth with my doctor about my test results. I asked her to show me the numbers when I was at my worst, and though I knew I had been in a seriously dangerous state, I hadn’t known or had forgotten that I was “off the charts”. My thyroid was producing nearly four times the normal amount, which as I understand it is the equivalent of shoving every known black market amphetamine down my throat. So sick and haggard and mentally deranged was I at the time, I hadn’t paid close enough attention — hadn’t really needed to pay attention since I was obviously in a downward spiral. I had so much thyroid hormones pumping through me, I could have easily had congestive heart failure. My ticker could have literally jackhammered itself to death. I’m actually surprised I didn’t have a dozen goiters on my neck. My doctor told me that she couldn’t believe my refusal of medication at that stage (she had actually pushed for surgery to remove my thyroid at the time), and that she is still consistently amazed by how much I’ve improved via simple lifestyle changes. I think she may view me as an experiment of her own too, but in a good way. I’m grateful that she stood by me as I learned (and am still learning) how to trust my instincts and listen to my body.

What we know is this: I’m highly susceptible to stress, and I risk shutting down my immune system if I try to revert to my workaholic ways. This is terrible news for me, because it drives me crazy when I can’t get a lot done and a lizard brain part of me believes that I thrive on stress. My version of relaxation makes the President of the United States look like a sloth. But this has also been an epic blessing. I had been steadily killing myself for years with my need to push myself, and now I’m forced to stop. To breathe. To take stock of what’s really important. It is hard for a chronic people-pleaser and productive-aholic like me. In this culture that celebrates doing astronomically more with less, in which the national anthem is “I’m too busy” — in this culture that I used to represent wholeheartedly wearing my workaholicism like a badge of honor, I’m compelled against my will to say “I can’t.” Or more accurately: “I won’t”.

The good news is that I have a fabulous liver of a 25-year-old, according to my doctor. Which doesn’t help with my thyroid, but still. So I will continue my experiment. I think incorporating meditation in earnest might be next…I will record my results here come January 2015, and maybe by the time that building is completed, I’ll finally be able to say I’m in full remission.

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It was so heartwarming to read all of the comments for my giveaway — the winner is Danijela, congrats!

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K on improving skills:

Mama, I’m not comfortable singing in front of people and I love singing. I think I need voice lessons to get better…it’s time for me to man-up!

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Have a lovely weekend, all!

At the end of it
My health is what’s most vital
Sleep, eat well and move

 

 

Happy Friday + Randomness

oregano-flowers

Happy Friday! It’s been a productive week – I’ve been sewing furiously behind the scenes and getting a lot done. This was the kind of week that made me extra appreciative of the friends I’ve made in the last few months through sewing. For example, I got a photography lesson from the lovely Michelle, who shot the cover of my book. She’s a consummate pro and probably one of the kindest, sweetest people I’ve ever met. We had so much fun, and she even let me use her fancy 100mm macro lens. I got a close up of oregano flowers (which she also brought for me from her garden along with some heavenly scented verbena – she’s just fabulous), and I can definitely tell that the quality is several notches above the unimpressive line-up in my photo toolkit. I’ll have to start saving up to get this lovely lens. Michelle is a very patient teacher, and we went over how to look for optimal light, setting white points and how to use this big ole reflector I got for photo shoot purposes:

reflector

I’m feeling pretty legit and my living room looks almost like an authentic photo studio now. It’s time to start improving my photography for real since I’m supposed to shoot all the interior photos for the book.

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I finally visited the new Drygoods store in Pioneer Square after a delicious and laugh-filled lunch with a compatriot in the land of sewing obsessed and wow. I mean, just wow. It’s a stunning historic space situated on a pedestrian-only, cobbled street. The ceiling soars up to eternity and gigantic windows let in copious amounts of light. Everything about the place feels airy and bright and with Keli’s flair for interior design (and the drool-worthy fabrics, naturally), you can’t help but be lured into the shop. Of course, it helps that they have a mega-clever window display:

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They’re like little state-shaped pillows. I think it’s genius. You can vaguely see the two talented ladies that help run Keli’s shop, Margaret and Julienne, and it’s so funny because they all know my taste so well. “This made me think of you,” they’ll say, and invariably, it’s something I love in the grey/black/indigo/ivory color scheme. I was overwhelmed by how pretty everything looked and forgot to take more photos, but I’ll see if I can get better ones later. Oh, while I was snapping this one above, a gentleman paused next to me and said, “What a nifty looking store, eh? Makes you want to get crafty.” Exactly.

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A conversation from this week:

K: Mama, I want a training bra.

Me: What? Why do you even know about that?? No, you don’t need one.

K: That’s the point, Mama — hello, training bra?*

*She won’t be getting one any time soon, but it did make me start thinking about making one…hmmmm…I bet I could make super cute ones and they would be so easy…

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I’m off to go practice some photography! Have a wonderful weekend, all!

Getting back my groove
I will be sewing like mad
this week and beyond

 

 

 

 

Happy Friday + Randomness

wedding-dress1

Upstaged by K’s first day of school, my wedding anniversary skulked quietly in the background this past Wednesday. M was way more on the ball than I was and presented me with a fragrant bouquet. Realizing my slacker ways, I struck a deal with some friends and scored a sleepover for K so that M and I could have a proper celebration involving a fancy dinner and entertaining movie at the cinema tonight.

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I often wonder if I would have made my own wedding dress if I’d gotten into sewing earlier. It was an arduous process, the finding of my dress. M and I were pretty much eloping (only parents and a couple of siblings were in attendance), so I didn’t want to invest heavily in a garment that I would (hopefully) only wear once. I was, as ever, extremely picky, and knew that the dress couldn’t be pure white. Nor did I want it sweeping the floor. No ruffles or petticoats or lace for me, thankyouverymuch. Simple. Classic. That’s what I wanted.

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After weeks of fruitless searching, I entered a boutique I’d never dared to browse before — too many temptations, too out of my price range. It’s the kind of place that has on display only one or two sizes of each item. And there it was: my dress. A creamy ivory silk number, the straps delicately filigreed with sapphire blue beads and minuscule pearls.

I eagerly slipped into the fitting room and shimmied myself into the whisper soft layers. Not bad, not bad, the waist hit at just the right spot. But oh, when I reached to zip up the side, the zipper teeth refused to meet. I tugged gently, afraid to tear the tissue thin lining. No. It was too small. I was heartbroken, but I convinced myself that it was a good thing since it was ridiculously expensive, though not in the astronomical range.

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A few more weeks passed, and I still couldn’t find a dress I liked, much less loved. I couldn’t get that silk dress out of my head. I was running out of time, and I was desperate enough to consider a slightly weird polyester sheath from Marshall’s since I figured I might as well seriously downgrade if I couldn’t get the dress I wanted.

I’m a masochist and decided to look at the silk dress one more time. Just a look. Nothing more. But it wasn’t there and doubly crushed, I was about to leave, but something made me stop. “Do you still have the ivory silk dress with the beaded straps?” I asked the kindly looking staff. “Oh! We just put that on sale — here, let me get it for you.” My dress, with a beautiful red slash on the price tag — half off! I had been dieting as brides-to-be tend to do, and maybe, just maybe…the zipper slid right up. I mean really, it seemed too good to be true. Not one to kick a gift horse in the mouth, I snapped it up, and nine years later, I’m still certain that it was the perfect dress.

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It’s a Wyeth by Todd Magill (from the Spring 05 collection), who is now a menswear designer. Too bad, his dresses were ethereal and so lovely. This is probably the only designer frock that I’ll ever own, and it was worth every penny (35,000 of them to be exact). Maybe next year, I’ll show you what it looked like on, and I might tell you the whole wedding story. It’s pretty hilarious. Spoiler: M wore jeans.

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Me: What kind of person do you want to marry, sweetie?

K: What? Why?

Me: Just wondering…I mean, you don’t HAVE to get married or anything (getting flustered that I’m imposing societal pressures on my 8-year-old)

K: [rolling her eyes] Someone like you and Daddy. Now can I please go back to reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

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Have a wonderful weekend, friends!

Nine years of marriage
It feels like just yesterday
when I said, “I do”

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