One step at a time.

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I’ve been struggling a lot these last two weeks to keep my chin up. I see systems of hate, sexism, and violence that have stood the test of time continue. This week, after the #MeToo flurry, I wrote an emotional piece on not being able to trust men to believe and understand what women go through. I re-lived my traumas inflicted on me by countless men this week. I read horrific stories by friends and acquaintances, and I saw so few men acknowledge their place in all of this: complicit as Hell.

It’s been one of those weeks where you have a painful doctor’s appointment and a job interview, peppered with a couple of job rejections. Real-life shit, the stuff that’s no fun to read on a blog. This last weekend, though, we went on a long walk into the park and looked at all the fall leaves and heard that satisfying crunch beneath our feet. We drank hot coffee and picked out peppers hot and mild at the farmer’s market. I cried a lot and the house smelled like garlic at night as Logan made dinner. I helped him assemble a zucchini lasagna. We got some stuff stolen off of our porch and that was pretty shit, but our front yard currently harbors thousands of brightly colored leaves that came down in the last day or two of wind. I’ve been trying to do my best and know that if I keep working hard and applying a job somewhere will come up, because I have no other options.

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Autumnal vibes and keeping my chin up.

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Autumn here reminds me of Victoria in that the humidity makes my hair crazy and my urge to explore rise again. I miss the ocean but the river will do, as long as a body of water is nearby.

Missoula is beautiful, friendly, welcoming. It’s also a really hard place to get work, and everybody knows it and laughs. They feel bad but hey, you chose to be here, so adapt. And I can’t. I’m stubborn and hard working and I refuse to work for less than I am worth. I refuse to apply for jobs that pay $10 an hour but ask for a BA and 3+ years of experience. Just because the work environment allows places to do that doesn’t mean I will comply. So, I’ve had fewer interviews and fewer chances to apply for things. At the same time, holding out because I know what I am worth feels right. I have taken underpaid jobs where you’re over-worked and under-appreciated and expected to do so much, just because your employers know how badly you need this. It feels wrong and it is.

So, in the meantime, I’ve been going on long walks, making photographs, eating good food with Logan, and seeing movies. We went to see the 1937 French film La Grande Illusion at the Roxy last night, and it was spectacular, sad, and poignant. It made me think about war and family and the common humanities we share with each other. This weekend I got to have my favorite Single Malt IPA at the Blackfoot brewery in Helena with some old friends, people who I love dearly and hold close to my heart. We drove home through a freak snow storm, crawling over a steep mountain pass, hoping nobody would be driving like a nutcase and slide and hit us. We saw aspen groves and cottonwoods and beautiful clouds hugging the mountains. Snow-capped peaks and low-slung clouds and all the colors of fall everywhere. Montana, you rascal, you always charm me even when you might be trying to kill me or break my heart simultaneously.

Reclaiming autumn and my memories.

9986656434_0654f90358_c9986642245_3c0ec8a16a_c9986759853_f440ec7b78_c9986633724_eab5e76e2a_c9986763283_394f786f74_c11593871204_85eedcc006_c9986611765_8618141283_c9986629464_711396d618_cI took some really beautiful photographs of autumn in 2013 when I was living in Bozeman. The problem was, I was dating somebody, one of those I-want-to-forget-you-forever somebodies who inflicted traumas and wasn’t necessarily a great somebody. They still quietly haunt the edges of my memories of these photographs, and that pisses me off to no end. So, I’m reclaiming them, because they’re damn fine photographs of beautiful places I am so glad I saw.

A few of them were taken on a beautiful, bare peak high up in the Gallatin National Forest. I remember how a lightning storm came in quickly over the mountains, and it made the air feel strange, and how the rain came down in fat, shameless drops, dribbling down the steep hillside while I ran to the car to escape. I remember being scared and excited by the fast-changing mountain weather, and how with the sunset the temperature dropped quickly. I remember getting my film back and being so pleased with the colors, with the memories they would bring me in the future.

Some others are taken on another part of that massive national forest, up behind Chico Hot Springs. There was a burn area, full of skeleton-like trees, with a creek running through this sterile-seeming landscape, in colors muted by the clouds. My hair was wet and my skin was parched from soaking in the hot springs, and I wanted to lay down and take a nap surrounded by the silence of the place. It was beautiful and so eerie.

I also visited my sister while she was working in Yellowstone breaking up bear jams, ticketing tourists, sharing a cabin with a wicked roommate, and spending time with wolf biologists, who are a consistently strange people.  Some of the dudes offered to share moonshine they made in their bathtubs, and I heard tales of moving dead bison, meeting the oddest visitors, and talking to the wolf photographers who spend their lives following wolf packs in the Lamar Valley. On my way home, I stopped in Livingston to drop off some library books for her (Livingston was the nearest town to Yellowstone with a library), and walked around town for the day, having the most amazing honey peach pie in a little bakery while reading an old issue of National Geographic and buying the second book in the Dune series from a secondhand bookshop. It was a weirdly warm day and the town wasn’t its usual, windy self. I drove around the quiet neighborhoods of the tiny town and marveled at the mountains, taking my time getting home to my apartment driving over the mountain pass. Fat, fluffy clouds abounded that day. It was a textbook perfect day in my mind.

I also spent time in Hyalite Canyon by myself for the first time that fall. I went hiking and found footprints and encountered dogs and hikers and smelled the fresh air as much as possible. Bozeman, while being a money-soaked place that I have come to loathe, has access to some of the best wilderness close by, where moose and bear roam on the National Forest, and where your access to Yellowstone is literally two hours away. It was a joy to be able to hike in the morning with the sun streaming in in the most loving, welcoming way. I remember feeling like I was at peace with the world on those brief hikes.

That’s the tricky thing about memory. As a historian, I have learned that memories change quickly and easily, and are heavily susceptible to fast re-writing and shifting. It doesn’t help that our minds are wired to remember the negative things the best as a survival tool. It’s very difficult to recover from negative memories and to not think about those dark corners of your mind where you’ve stashed all the shit, the sticky, messy tarpit of awful. For me to be able to look at these pictures and not think about somebody is a victory in more ways than one. I did not make these photographs for anybody but myself, and they are mine to reclaim, recover, and enjoy. I’m sharing them with y’all so that perhaps you can, too.

A bit of history in expired film.

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I met Ella on a fall day in 2014. My friend Charlotte had told me that her childhood best friend was moving back to Helena and didn’t know a lot of people, and would I like to meet her? I was working a job where my favorite coworker had just left (thank you Kevin for making the front desk livable!) and had almost no friends in Helena. I said yes please, naturally, because as much as I liked being an introvert it wasn’t sustainable.

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Ella and I chatted for over two hours the first time we met at the Blackfoot Brewery, while I was working a job I resented for money I needed. It was my first fall back in my home town, and I was making my home in my parent’s basement while I saved cash for graduate school. It was almost necessary that I met Ella, because if I had not met somebody I think I would have sunken even further down than I felt at that point. Alone, but unable to be truly alone, and twenty-three, I felt suffocated, terrified, and so, so hollow. My joys were long solo walks around the Mansion District, walking by Romanesque arches and Gothic windows and Italianate architecture that people from all over came to build in Helena, Montana. I found leaf piles beside the Myrna Loy Theater to step in and crunch, and I often sat with a book at the local Starbucks until they closed at 10 pm on weekends (no other coffee shop stayed open after 6pm in my small hometown). Life was dull beyond words, and I felt like a machine. Finding one person who seemed like they could help revert me from my corpse-like state was amazing.

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Since then, Ella and I have pursued adventures of our own but always managed to reconnect. This is somebody I have feverishly danced with, spent hours reading with, and in general feel a sense of kinship with that will always be important to simply because the timing of her arrival in my life was really important. A few weekends ago we finally, after discussing it for a year or two, used a whole roll of expired film I was saving just for making photographs. Ella’s cheekbones are unrivaled and she has the loveliest mouth, and with her Morticia-vibes hair it was so good to photograph her. I want to do it again soon! 36518519464_f9916ba3ff_c37315521871_edbf9681b1_c37458147975_f9b4d724cd_c36518520804_8069a56f8a_c

 

An ode to pizza and love.

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At least once a week, we make pizza. We use leftover veggies, meats, and whatever else we have in the fridge, and whip up pizza in our oven. We tear it apart and often eat too much. Now, pizza is old. It was imported to Italy from Greece way back in the day (i.e. thousands of years ago), and the epic combination of dough + sauce + toppings has reveled in our mouths ever since.

For me, pizza brings back so many memories. Ordering a pizza from Domino’s for a sleepover or those rare evenings when my parents just gave up, which was a treat in my childhood, brings back memories of having the warm box heat up my lap in the car, and opening it in the kitchen to waft in the rich smells. I would play with the plastic stands that came in the boxes and make them into tables for my little animals and toys. Later, pizza became a menace- a fattening monster that was delicious and ominous, full of grease and guilt, something my more-and-more aware teenage girl self was terrified of. Fat, grease, oil, calories. I watched my mother soak up the grease on napkins, and I knew that if I wanted to be attractive, pizza would fuck me over. Self-loathing made me loath pizza, and whenever it was at a party or a celebration of some sort, I remember skirting around it nearby, fearing what it would do to me. I hate thinking about those times, when my relationship with my body was so negative and full of awareness of being watched and policed.

Then, when I moved to Switzerland, I realized I never knew what real pizza was. I knew doughy, overly cheesy creations laced with slightly artificial smells. I knew of chains in the mall, slices simmering from hot surfaces next to the Dillards department store. Now, my friends and I would walk to the Spaghetti Store in downtown Lugano, where we could literally see the lights from an Italian town across the lake. We ordered pizza con mascarpone, prosciutto, e rocket, and un litro di vino tavolo, sharing chewy slices of pizza and sipping cheap wine, and letting the prosciutto and mascarpone do a dance with my taste buds. I remember fondly feeling warm, loved, and so so happy.

Now, in Montana, I watch Logan make dough, twisting and stretching and rolling it, flour on his sleeves. We chop garlic, lots and lots of garlic, and get out semolina flour to coat the pizza stone. Tomato sauce and a fresh ball of mozzarella lie nearby, and I occasionally tear off a small bit of the cheese to taste while Logan preps. We have cheap wine in odd glasses now, as our wine glasses have been broken by a clumsy gesture or two. We usually make two pizzas, thin-crusted and beautifully covered with onions, mushrooms, arugula, sardines, olives, and whatever else we want.

Ultimately, after having made dozens of pizzas with friends and family, I would narrow what makes good pizza down to a few things:

-Good dough, preferably made fresh.

-Good tomato sauce (Cento and Pomi both make good canned/boxed tomato sauces) that you can salt/pepper/flavor yoursef.

-Garlic, lots of garlic.

-Somebody you care about a lot nearby, and more people you love waiting to feast also nearby. You can also make pizza alone but you are not allowed to feel sad about it. It will ruin the taste of the pizza.

-A hot oven.

-Love and respect for yourself and the food you’re making with your two capable hands.

There you go. Now go make some pizza!

L’Autunno e qui!!!

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Hello, fellow internet dwellers! I’ve been off the grid a bit (I’m always more active on Instagram honestly) but I hope autumn or spring has been treating you all well wherever on the globe you reside!

What I’ve been doing:

Spending lots of time drinking coffee, editing cover letters, and people watching at Butterfly Herbs.

Hosting humans in our home, most notably having two Australians in our home!

Drinking some good local beer (here’s looking at you, Fresh Bongwater Hemp Ale!)

Starting multiple books and re-reading others, like Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, which always makes me cry. Her way with words is unspeakably poignant and she digs under layers of emotions that you didn’t know you were feeling at the moment. The way that she writes makes you grieve as she does, and it was a bestseller for a good reason.

Writing almost every day in my diary. This is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time and I’ve been fairly good at it recently.

Sleeping at least eight hours a night (or at least trying).

Re-watching Mad Men and having all the thoughts. What a damn fine multi-layered, complex, revealing, and sad work of art.

Scanning in film I’ve taken over the last few weeks.

Baking corn bread muffins, making puttanesca, and drinking tea.

Going home, seeing my mother, going to the dentist, doing important life things.

 

 

 

Cloudscapes and thoughtscapes

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Cornbread muffins are cooling on the counter and the smell feels like a blanket. It’s early for a Saturday night but I feel exhausted in more ways than one.

We made pizzas last night and I have finessed two more cover letters to a point where I feel like they communicate what I want: That I’m capable and kind. At this point, it feels like a task that will never end. When will I wake up at 7am to get ready to go to work again? When will I have coworkers? When will that quiet assurance of a paycheck coming into my hands happen?

On Monday I worked for a day for a temp agency, filling in an admin position in an office for the day. It felt good to pack a lunch and spend a day at a desk pretending I knew what I was doing. Poor pay but damn, it felt right to be working again. I’ve been working since I was fifteen, after all.

Life is not just that limbo of unemployment, though it can feel like it. We finally had rain, steady rain that gently soaked everything around it. It was cold and we turned on the heat in our home for the first time since we moved here almost four months ago. I have found a place near our house full of locals who tell each other great stories in the booths there. I have heard men discuss the abstract art market, how to properly care for cattle, the benefits of tea over coffee, and other conversational snippets that are lovely to hear. This week I devoured The Picture of Dorian Gray finally, after having a copy in the house for a month or two now. It was brilliant and sassy and everything Wilde means to me. I have always loved the audacity that Wilde writes with, the sheer wit and breakneck pace of conversation about seemingly useless things driving you to turn each page faster and faster. The ending was brilliant, the book was horrifying, and the dense description was fantastic.

Anyway, here are some clouds I photographed on film from the plane that took me to Victoria about a month ago. The sunset was the most incredible I’ve ever seen, and the clouds and sky were beyond words.

Escaping Hell to go fishing.

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We woke to the acrid smell of smoke invading our noses and our home. It wasn’t even 8am, and we had been up late. I couldn’t sleep any longer, as the smell was overwhelming and prevented me from feeling as though I could do anything but move to avoid it. Looking up the air quality, it was confirmed that heavy winds had brought forth a proliferation of smoke from all the hundreds of thousands of acres that are on fire in Northwestern Montana.

My home is burning. My home is evacuated, desperate, bone dry, frustrated, and suffering. We all breathe the smokey air, feel the headaches, and many of us get spontaneous bleeding noses and can’t sleep. We feel lethargic and every morning look out the window to see if anything has changed. Some days I can see the closest mountains, but most they are a mere outline, more like a mirage or a memory than the sturdy landmarks that they are.

Logan and I spent the morning nestled in a coffee shop reading and having a good chat. We went home and couldn’t stand the oppressive smoke. If we were going to suffer, by God, we were going to do it outside our claustrophobic town. Logan packed his fishing rod, I packed my camera, and we drove Jarvis to the highway to escape the shit.

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While Logan fished, I explored. We listened the the gurgle of the river, and didn’t talk much. There was nothing to say that nature wasn’t whispering to us. I could feel both of us grow more relaxed and atuned to things. The smoke wasn’t quite as bad out here, and hearing the wind rustle the grasses and the hum of bees and the gentle whoosh of the river moving over rocks as it has always done I felt like my mind could finally shut the fuck up.

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I eventually found myself looking for animals. We had seen lots of bear scat on the side of the road, full of berry seeds, and I was glad we brought the bear spray. Along the river beds I found lots of tracks, of dogs that fishermen brought, of deer, of raccoons, and of birds. Insects skated along the tops of little ponds near the river. The amount of shallow, still water and rocks made me sure that snakes and frogs were nearby. As a child, Jeff Corwin was my first crush, and I grew up watching him wrangle snakes, catch critters, and be outside. I wanted to be a snake venom researcher when I was little and much of my life I have loved all reptiles, amphibians, and arachnids. They are integral parts of our ecosystem, often environmental indicators, and really damn cool. So when I spotted a leopard frog sitting in one of the ponds, I quietly walked over and tried to catch it. It got away, aided by the thick amounts of algae, and I waited and tried to catch the poor creature again. I failed again and then left him alone to live out his days doing his thing, as stressing out wild animals is really not my gig.

We were getting ready to leave after our brief time in nature when Logan yelled that he found a snake! I put my camera down and went and grabbed this little healthy garter snake with bright yellow stripes! Of course the creature proceeded to pee on me- as many reptiles and amphibians do, because would you want to eat something that stank and tasted like urine? I let the little guy go quickly, but holding him and feeling his smooth skin was so neat. He darted into his rock home and I washed my hands and arms in the river. Logan fished a bit more, and I wandered into a grove of common tansy (an invasive species) and let the sound of bees wash over me. Having recently learned that there are 56 species of bumblebees in Montana, I wondered how many kinds were flitting among the flowers. 36226124953_55de839f2a_c36226128603_61333cc24e_c36226123263_eeecc33c84_c36637201010_41a0a62915_c

My favorite food & coffee places in Victoria.

Hey y’all. I’m in mourning already for Victoria’s food and drink options, so I’ve decided to compile a list of my favorite places to grab a bite or a coffee! I want to do another for my favorite bars/nightlife places, so stay tuned! If you’re in Victoria, check these places out. I mostly lived on a really tight budget so the places noted below are mostly for those who can’t afford a fancy meal. Enjoy the pictures too! I don’t have pictures of every place but almost.

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PHO VY on Fort

This pho place, nestled in between a bunch of small shops on Fort Street, serves up amazing pho, bun, and other Vietnamese goods in a no-frills manner that I love. It’s a cash only place that has great windows for people watching and TVs that regularly show weird game shows and maybe an old X-Men movie or two. Fancy? No. Cheap? Yes. Delicious? Oh my god. This is my favorite place to come when I feel off, need a pick-me-up, or want to take visitors. Everybody who has visited me has been taken here, without exception. My loyalty and love for Pho Vy will never die. As a Montanan who comes from a pho-free land, being able to have cheap pho whenever I wanted was my definition of being spoiled.

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CRUST BAKERY on Fort

Literally down the street from Pho Vy, this bakery is tiny, with almost no seating, but has some of the most delectable pastries and other gluten filled goods I’ve ever had. Their sour cherry pastries are incredible, the ham tomato basil croissant a fucking work of art, and even just their regular croissants are a messy, buttery, legit ode to what butter and flour do together. I love going here after an early morning walk and grabbing something on my final trek home, or getting a croissant to eat later when I’m too lazy to eat real meals.

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DISCOVERY COFFEE on Blanshard

There are multiple branches of Discovery Coffee, a Victoria BC staple, but I was lucky enough to live near the newest branch on Blanshard St. I went there 3-4 days of the week, usually around 7am, and sat in the same seat every day. The baristas got to know me, and they were super friendly. I love their cortado, and they have great cornbread and doughnuts brought in daily from local bakeries. The atmosphere is awesome- lots of locals stopping in every day, people reading, business meetings, etc. and the vibe was excellent. I can say I got about 65-75% of my best writing done at that little place early in the morning before most people are up and busy.

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HABIT COFFEE on Pandora

Habit Coffee has no Wifi, as they’ll sometimes tell you with a little more sass than necessary. That being said, they have good coffee and the downtown Pandora branch has great art, lighting, and atmosphere. I loved going in and perusing their awesome selection of magazines to read, and spent many a rainy gloomy morning tucked in there writing in my diary, writing postcards, or devouring books.

 

FERRIS OYSTER BAR on Yates

This place serves up amazing oysters in multiple varieties, makes a wicked sidecar and Negroni, and they know what they’re doing with seafood and pasta. I recommend making a reservation. The prices are steeper (think $20-30 per entree) but the food is always excellent. I’ve been there exactly three times and it has always been such a great place to take family or friends when we’re feeling fancy.

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BEAVERTAIL STAND on Broughton

Is this a chain? Yes. Is it legitimately Canadian? Up for debate (my Calgarian friend noted that the first time she had a Beavertail it was at Epcot in Florida…) but damn, fried dough with delicious toppings and wicked gelato on the cheap will always be on my menu. The guy who runs the Beavertail stand in Victoria is also one of the nicest guys- he is always down for a joke or a small chat, and he will gladly cut a Beavertail in half for anybody who can’t handle a whole one (seriously though why would you not eat a whole one, they’re amazing!). My favorite is the Beavertail with Nutella or the Skor toppings.

SUSHI FIELD off Fairfield

Sushi Field is my little secret place in Victoria that is entirely underrated because it’s a bare bones sushi place in a strip mall near the ocean. But, dude, I can tell you that the best sushi I’ve had has consistently come from places like this- where it’s not fancy, dark, or sleek, but where the food speaks more than the setting. I love their sashimi (oh my god the salmon!) and the maki rolls are amazing. The food is all made in house, even the salad dressing, and you can tell that the quality is high as soon as you taste it. The sushi is also dirt cheap and it’s off the downtown/tourist track so it’s rarely full. Also, if you’re looking for a cheap date idea, get some sushi to go, walk through the graveyard (I find them romantic), and settle down by the nearby beach for a lovely picnic!

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LITTLE JUMBO on Fort

This little tucked back restaurant on Fort offers super cozy dining with wicked food options. I ate there with Ella when she visited and I was so, so happy. Eating is my favorite hobby after taking naps, and Little Jumbo has amazing dishes (hello duck!) that hit the spot. At about the same price point as Ferris, this is a place you’d take a date or a family for a celebration, but super worth it.

LA TANA BAKERY at Fan Tan Alley

This tiny little bakery, tucked underground right near the entrance to Fan Tan Alley on Pandora, is run by a Milanese man, Claudio. Claudio can be found regularly speaking Italian in the kitchen while churning out delicious pastries and bread goods (one of his staff noted, “I don’t understand what he’s saying about 90% of the time”). The farinatas are amazing, the fagottini is delicious, and the bread stares at you from the walls with beautiful color and smells. After living in southern Switzerland, only an hour from where Claudio hails, I can tell you that this place is as Italian as they come- and it felt so good to find a little place that felt so familiar to where I was living in college. There’s also coffee! On top of this, I love La Tana because they compost and recycle and make sure that they have almost no carbon footprint. Woo!

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CAFFE FANTASTICO on Humboldt (In the Parkside Hotel)

This little cafe serves local wine, beer, coffee, and little dishes. I love it for the location and the cozy corners- it was so close to my apartment, and a great place to settle in and peruse a book and sip a good latte. Located inside the posh Parkside Hotel, the bathrooms there are also A+ (yes I take this into consideration!) because they’re in the hotel lobby. They have good little breakfast bites, like egg sandwiches and bagels, and the prices are super fair. Caffe Fantastico has three branches around Victoria, each with their own vibe/specialty, and this one is the sort of cafe branch. The others are larger, with more lighting and food options, but this one had the exact sort of vibe for a rainy morning where I could escape my apartment and take a stroll and smell the outside world without having to trek.

Before the defense

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Last week I went to an interview for a job I thought was going to be awesome but it ended up being not at all what I thought. Halfway through the interview, I was asked, “what is your biggest accomplishment?” and I paused. My thesis. My beautiful, eloquent, hard worked thesis. I knew then that this interview was a waste of my time and my interviewer’s. I called later to have them take my name off of a list. I cried when I got home to Logan, knowing that I wanted more. That aching compulsion to be pushing myself made my stomach feel queasy and I sobbed, harder than I should have.

I defended that beautiful thesis last Friday and I did well. I did better than well. I managed to answer every question, even the odd ones, and I left feeling a mix of elation and exhaustion. Hibernation sounded amazing- wake up three months later, as winter comes, and shake the cobwebs off my eyes and start over. But here I am, and it is Monday, and life continues. Except, now I am a Master of the Arts. I can put an obnoxious, little “M.A.” next to my name in email signatures if I choose (I think I will not do this).

Anyway, here are some film photographs from the last two weeks. A quick day trip to Kalispell for ice cream, used books, and terrible sushi. A fiery sunset that my film failed to capture in all it’s glory (but can a camera ever really properly do a great sunset justice?). A few moments lingering on the side of the road with Logan, surrounded by smoke and fire, watching the end of another day. Sunflowers all abloom in my parent’s yard, quietly exuding beauty without knowing it. I am trying, almost desperately, to make moments that will create the idea of a summer that has not, thus far, been fraught with a cocktail of stress, tears, and anxiety that has been almost uncontrollable. If that leaks out into this blog a lot, I cannot help it. But damn, y’all, it’s also been such a good summer. We moved into a house, had some irises bloom that were heartbreakingly beautiful and fleeting, we traveled to San Francisco, I’ve gotten to see friends I haven’t seen in months and years, and life is mostly good. There’s money for food, a roof over our head, and I’m lucky enough to be on Medicaid while I look for work.

What do you guys do to deal with stress and do self care? I’ve always been really good about it but not being able to be outside due to the smoke has made that harder.

Chocolate before dinner.

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It’s been awhile, eh? I am nibbling on some honeycomb covered in chocolate before we make dinner…oops.

In three days I head to Victoria to defend my Master’s thesis (!!!) but this last week has been something from Hell. I got really, really sick, had two job interviews which didn’t pan out (always a bit of a bummer), and generally loafed, hacked, and worked my way through the week the best I could. The smoke here has been dreadful- we aren’t supposed to be outside for too long, it’s so dense! They’ve got almost 700 firefighters from all over the country here to battle the Lolo fire in Missoula.

Besides fire and a bit of immune system failure I did bake some amazing blackberry pastries using a recipe from The Little Epicurean!  (Click through for the recipe!) We ate them up before I thought to make some pictures. Next time!

I also finished The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. An exquisite, sensitive, multi-layered book about the meeting of two cultures through the lens of an epileptic Hmong girl. If it sounds strange, fall into the pages. It’s a sad, extraordinary, determined story. Now I am reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, which is about London’s cholera epidemic. I love medical history and stories about cities and this intertwines both. Again, if you ever feel ungrateful for modern medicine, go read something like this! You’ll be so glad that you’ve got anesthesia that isn’t ether or chloroform or cocaine! (Or a cocktail of the three!)

Anyway, these photographs are from a few weeks ago. Lovely Chelsea visited, Logan and I went to a diner, and I’ve been admiring the beautiful green plums that are on our little trees in the yard. One determined squirrel has been pilfering them, but we’ve had a host of birds, including a northern flicker, in our yard lately, and it’s been so lovely to see them! I like sitting quietly on the porch watching them flit and fly around. Birds really are so neat.

 

Blackberry pie: The South meets Montana.

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Hey y’all! In the midst of it all, I made a blackberry pie! When we moved into our home I found a tangled bush/vine monster that was climbing up the back shed, and I suspected it would have blackberries. Sure enough, it did! Apparently, blackberry pie is a very Southern thing, which I did not know (my grandma is from Texas but hot damn is that the South? Or is Texas it’s own thing? I suspect the latter!) Anyway, I got to pick blackberries and take them into my kitchen literally just a few feet away! Some of them were small, other blackberries were as big as half my thumb and heavy as hell! Unfortunately there are lots of wasps hanging about (I loathe them), probably because I haven’t sprayed the three or four tiny new nests that have sprung up since we moved in. Ugh.

Now, here’s the truth: My pie didn’t turn out that aesthetically pleasing. I know that whoever reads this is probably more used to the gorgeous baking and cooking images that lace our everyday Instagram and Facebook feeds, but this pie is GENUINE! It was made with love and it tastes GREAT! Screw using all the props and the nice marble countertops if you don’t have them, because food is made for eating as well as visual enjoyment. So yes, my pie is ugly. My lattice work is hideous. But my taste buds and stomach are happy. 🙂

Having never made a blackberry pie, I searched the internet and used an excellent recipe from The Country Contessa My one change to her recipe would be that if your blackberries are juicy, your pie is going to be super juicy too- mine literally is standing in about 1/2 inch of delicious blackberry juices, which I plan to save. If you want a more firm pie, I’d increase the flour a tiny bit (something less than another 1/4 cup) and probably add a tiny pinch or two of corn starch. Rhubarb pie recipes have you lay down a sugar/flour mix at the bottom to soak up some of the juice, and you could give that a try if you wanted to. If you choose to use cornstarch, be really careful, as it can overwhelm the taste of your fruit (I did that to a raspberry pie about two years ago and still regret it). I know that baking is something close to an exact science but when you’re working with quality pie dough and good fruit I feel like there is more leeway.

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Ingredients (from recipe by the Country Contessa)

  • Dough for a double crust pie
  • 6 cups of blackberries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 of a lemon’s juice (I used a lime!) 
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 tablespoon beaten egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water (I never do a wash on my pies, that’s just me!) 

Roll out your bottom crust and lay in the bottom of your pie tin. Punch small holes in the bottom with your fork. This helps lessen the chance of burning or overcooking the bottom of your pie.

Mix together blackberries, sugar, flour, salt, and lemon juice. Put the mixture in your pie tin with the bottom crust laid out. Then, roll out the top crust. You can fold it in half and place on top and unfold, or do a lattice pie, or do whatever you damn please! It’s going to taste great.

Bake at 350F for 50-55 minutes. Remember to put tin foil or a pie plate protector on the edges so that the crust doesn’t cook faster than the rest of the pie dough!

Remove, let cool and set for at least 4 hours. Overnight is best! I like it with coffee in the morning.

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A collection of thoughts in a hot, hot summer.

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Everybody told us Missoula would be hotter than Helena. We laughed it off, sure that we would be fine with fans, ice packs, and spirit. Instead, this summer has been one of the hottest in the last sixty years. The heat starts early, seeping in through the open windows which I shut vigorously every morning. It lingers far longer than it should, an impolite guest that traps us in our homes, grumpy and disoriented. My appetite fades or I feel hungry at odd hours, and sleep escapes me frequently. I begin to loathe sunlight and the daytime and consider becoming nocturnal, except somewhere I read that being up at night and working at night fucks with your circadian rhythm and gives you higher likelihoods of getting certain cancers…but then again, at this point, doesn’t everything give you cancer?

At night we hear the train cars crash together as they move, a semi-apocalyptic sound that often shakes the house. We say it is like living on the edge of the world. When we had an earthquake a month back, I woke up because it felt like the trains but more intense. It felt like some primordial worm was crawling beneath the house on it’s way somewhere else..  Now, I often wake at an especially loud crash because differentiating between the rumble of train cars and the eerie sensation of an earthquake has blurred. An emergency kit is being made in my mind but no, we haven’t bought distilled water, flashlights, a medical kit, food, or any of the other recommend emergency things.

On Saturday night we went to see Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult film El Topo. It was a mess of gore, dead animals, weird sexual themes, and beautiful, bleak desert. When we left the theatre, it was cold! The wind whipped and blew up my dress and I held it down, and we discussed how good it felt to actually be chilly. Goosebumps on my arms felt like a soft blanket, and I felt so much more alive than when the heat saps away my energy. We had a drink at Plonk outside, and the wind made the pages of the fancy menu flap and flutter. Nighttime is the only time I feel completely human again.

My state of unemployment weighs heavily all day, every day. The quiet, insistent pressure to be employed and working makes me feel like a worthless soul, even though in fact I am worthwhile, so goddamn worthwhile. Self care in these times is important. I treasure little things, like sharing lunch with Logan, listening to a good record while we make dinner, or having a moment outside early in the morning before the heat, smelling the outside smells, heavier with nighttime moisture that still lingers. Right now, there is a blackberry pie in the oven, it’s smell wafting throughout the house. WordPress keeps deleting my post, so here it is in messy, unedited form. I cannot wait to take out the pie and see the slightly browned crust, having wrestled with cold butter in flour and gathering blackberries while fending off wasps and other insects. It felt so satisfying to be able to make the pie with fruit from our backyard! I’ll be making a post about that soon. Until then, lovely readers!

 

 

 

 

Missoula moments

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Last night Logan and I floated the Clark Fork River on some industrial rubber tire tubes. We had a river bag with two beers and our car keys tied to his shoelaces. The water was warm, and the smoke-clouded sun shone deep gold and warm orange on the water’s surface. We floated under a bridge with a loud train rumbling over and it felt surreal to look at thousands of pounds of goods moving over our heads. Fish jumped ahead of us and we heard the river get loud and quiet and loud again, and we bobbed in and out of waves and currents.

Then, we heard it. The the most pathetic sounding, wobbly, unimpressive sound a bird has ever emitted: the cry of a bald eagle! Yes, ladies and gentleman, our regal national symbol, with it’s glorious white head, sharp beak, and piercing eyes that grace the cheesy tee shirts that live in at least half of Montana’s older white male population’s closets. The bald eagle, in fact, shrieks in a most undramatic, uninspiring way. We saw two immature bald eagles and what we thought may be their mum perched in the tall trees alongside the river.

As we floated on, eagles close by and the sun going down, I looked all around us, I thought, This is bliss. This is what it’s about. Where else on earth do I get to do this?

36248384036_345caacd08_c35895831730_4abb3bea5b_c36248389366_cbf48db76b_c This last week has been full of reminders to be kind to myself. The job search has been brutal so far, with resumes given in hand and online, with only silence or rejection so far. Summer has been hot, brutally so, making me loathe everything. Sleep is hard to come by often. And yet, things are good. Chelsea visited us for a few days, making delicious palomas in the kitchen and telling stories of her around the world journey she’d been on with her Kate the last six months. We tried a new brewery, made pizzas, went to Bernice’s Bakery and ate amazing baked goods and had excellent coffee. We went to Kettlehouse and I had the most incredible slow pour nitro amber ale (which yes, is a dramatic title, and the beer was dramatic and delicious).

Life moves so fast in the summer. Last summer was a blur like this one, too, with hectic trips to Yellowstone, barbecues outside, delicious meals and cold beer, but also looking at the date and shaking my head, wondering if it was really already August. Last year, though, there was the inevitable departure back to British Columbia, the goodbyes and the sadness, and this August there is none of that looming. It feels so good to not worry about a date in which I’ll cross the border to the North and leave behind loved ones.

So life continues here in the northwestern part of Montana, where fires rage in the mountains and eagles screech from the river shores, and I continue to apply for jobs and keep my chin up the best I can. A dopo, readers!

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