Category Archives: Guest post

Guest Post: The Truth About Therapy

Just the other day, one of my students asked me why I, a seemingly well adjusted adult who is the leader of her classroom, would ever go to therapy. She said the word with disdain – therapy– as if it was something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I chuckled, wondering just how much time I had to enlighten her on all the reasons why I do need it, and why I have been going to a therapist since college.

I’m an open book, someone who is not afraid to share her story or struggles with the general public, but I was not always that way. When I first started treatment for my eating disorder back in 2013, I was terrified about letting the world know that was what I was doing. I covered up my move to New York as a career move (I’m in the arts so it wasn’t a stretch), but the longer I was in treatment and the more I opened up to my therapist, the more I knew I needed to open up to the rest of the world. I needed the walls to come down, and little by little, they did. Now, I can’t imagine my life without being someone who shares what she went through with anyone who asks.

Because I am the passionate, go-getter individual that I am, when I started recovery I set a very high goal for myself. I remember saying the words out loud to my therapist. “I am going to love my whole self, 100% of the time.” She laughed at me. She literally laughed, and said, “that’s an impossible goal, Katie. I’m not letting you set that.” I was angry at her for doubting me. Hey, you barely even know me!! You don’t know what I’m capable of! But it’s true…I would be disappointed every single day when I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t fall in love with the broken, changing girl in front of me. She was trying so hard. She also believed that therapy was something that you accomplished, and then you were done. Much like how I viewed recovery when I first began the process. I would quickly learn that, like almost everything else in recovery, it was not that simple.

To an untrained eye, I am recovered. I eat normally, I have restored my weight, I don’t have panic attacks daily, and I’m not a slave to my compulsions like I used to be. But I know that recovery is a lifelong venture that doesn’t end just because you aren’t in treatment anymore. Because of the nature of this ongoing journey, I firmly hope that I am always in therapy. It’s a safe space – a place that taught me how to be open to trying new things, how to speak authentically, and what empathy really means. Most importantly it showed me how to begin a conversation about mental health with anyone who asks, including my students.


Katie Berger is a musician, performer, and teaching artist based in St. Petersburg, FL. She is the writer and composer of Full the Musical, which details one girl’s battle with her eating disorder and struggles with childhood trauma. She began treatment for anorexia in 2013 and is so grateful to her treatment team and the people who supported her through the worst of her illness. She is a mental health advocate and an ear for anyone who might need one.

This guest post was inspired by BetterHelp, a website that makes professional counseling accessible so anyone can get help – anytime, anywhere. If you’re interested in learning more about online therapy , CLICK HERE.

Guest Post: Is Online Therapy for You?

I always seem to find out about the newest life-changing products and services through sponsored ads on podcasts. And my interest is inevitably piqued. (I guess they really know their demographics!) From clothing rental services to period panties to audio books, they’re always telling me about something I’ve gotta try. In my experience, they’re usually right! But lately, a new set of ads has been cropping up — for online therapy. Intrigued, I thought I’d ask Marie Miguel, a resource creator for Better Help, a few of my most pressing questions…

Is Online Therapy for You?

No matter who you are or what you do, chances are pretty good that you have experienced anxiety or depression at one time or another. Some of us more so than others. In fact, depression is the most common reason for disability in America and anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the United States. The worst part of this is that many people with a mental health disorder will not get treatment. In fact, almost 40% of people with mental health conditions do not reach out for help. That is most unfortunate because both depression and anxiety disorders are treatable with therapy and/or medication. One of the most common excuses is that they do not have time. Well, with online therapy you will have time because you can do it anytime. And that is only one of the benefits of online therapy. Here are some others:

Who Can Benefit from Online Therapy?

Anyone can benefit from online therapy. Whether you have some type of anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, a mood disorder, if you are having trouble with your relationship, or even if you just need some advice about a problem. There are thousands of online therapy sources on the internet such as BetterHelp.com, which has over 2,000 licensed professionals that can help you. However, if you are in need of immediate emergency care, need medication, or are having suicidal thoughts, you should call a hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Is Online Therapy Effective?

Studies have shown that online therapy is just as effective as face to face therapy. In fact, in some cases it is better than regular therapy because people who need it are more likely to use it because it is easier for them to get. Those with mental health disorders usually tend to put things off or set appointments and not show up. This may be due to the anxiety of going somewhere, embarrassment of being seen at a psychiatrist’s office, or just because some people with depression or anxiety do not want to get out of bed some days. Therefore, online therapy can be much more effective.

What Makes Online Therapy Better than Traditional Therapy?

Online therapy is more convenient because you do not have to set an appointment, get transportation, find a babysitter, or take time off work or school. It is also less expensive because the therapists have less overhead such as rent, transportation, and paying employees to work in the office. It is also more private and easy to just log into the website or chat room to talk to your therapist from wherever you are. Even if you are stuck in traffic and want to get something off your mind, you can use your smartphone to email, chat, or even text your therapist. (Not while driving of course! You’re the passenger in this scenario.) Online therapy can also be a big benefit to those who are embarrassed or have trouble talking about their feelings face to face. You are in control of the conversation at all times. You also do not need an appointment so you can contact your therapist any time, 24 hours per day, seven days a week. So, what are you waiting for?

What do you think? Would you try online therapy? Or recommend it to someone who, for whatever reason, finds traditional therapy difficult? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of online mental health resources with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

I talked to a woman for 4 hours on the train.

Recently, my friend Rachel shared the following story with myself and a few of her other friends and I jumped at the chance to have her share it with all of you, too. Not only was I touched by her experience but it spoke to so many of my thoughts on alternative transportation (which you can read about in this post). I believe Americans, who have long shut ourselves off by hopping into cars each day, stand to learn so much by sitting next to and around people who don’t look like us. Our deeply ingrained “car culture” doesn’t allow for the type of amazing interpersonal interactions like the one detailed below. The type of beautiful, sometimes painful, interactions which broaden our perspective and give us pause. Keep reading…

rachel post 3

A note:  I feel the need to preface this story with a statement about myself.  I’m a white, middle class, cis gendered, heterosexual woman.  In some ways, the story below is about meeting someone fascinating.  It is also a story about being confronted with my own privilege by way of a meaningful interpersonal interaction.  I say all this to acknowledge the fact that sharing this story broadly gives me pause.  It puts me in the position of, potentially, being one of those well meaning white folk who uses the experiences of others to garner some sort of attention or approval for themselves.  My intention in this writing, is to honor the power of talking to strangers and striving for empathy in a world that could use a measure more of that.  My intention is to encourage others to be open to interpersonal interactions that may broaden or challenge their worldviews.  I welcome correction if my intentions are not reflected in the action of sharing this story.          

In mid-November I was on a 17 hour Amtrak trip back from Portland, OR to my home in Northern California.  I’d been in Portland for a professional conference which had been super inspiring and successful.  I was taking the train because 1) I put off buying my plane tickets because I am a procrastinator at heart and by the time of my purchase the train was half as cheap as flying, 2) train travel is way better for the environment, duh, and 3) because public transportation always lights this small fire in my introverted heart; it’s as though I am suddenly in a space where it’s okay to be whatever form of myself I feel like being that day.

The train ride up had been beautiful.  I left at 11:30 pm and I awoke to views like this.

rachel post 1

The ride back was different.  We left at 2:20 pm, so most of the ride would be in the dark, and I had a seat mate until Klamath Falls, around 10:30 that night.  

The man working our car was a hoot.  He was loud, talked to all of us like we were 11-year-olds (not in an unkind way, but in the way you do when you have dealt with tons of adults who can’t be trusted to think things through), and had a gelled back hair-do that was 100% too perfect for this world.  My seatmate was a young dude who worked for Intel as a coder and was headed to Klamath falls to buy his very first car.  We chatted for a bit.  He was an interesting kid, we had a lot in common, and each time the fellow working our car gave someone an extra helping of sass, my seatmate, myself, and the woman sitting alone in the pair of seats across the aisle from us would laugh.  Because it was awesome.  Because this guy clearly gave zero fucks, or so it seemed.  The fella told me afterward that he likes to seat people near others he thinks they will get along with, which, mind you, he is basing completely off of a 10 second look at you and your bags.  So, this guy is dishing out sass, it’s great, and my seatmate, myself, and this woman start to chat.

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, likely because it was dark and our conversation lasted for hours and the long monotony of the train ride made everything seem blurred around the edges.  So I can’t tell you how or why this woman started talking, but I can tell you the things she said and how they made me feel.

She was a Native American woman from the far north of Washington State.  She’s from a whaling people on the coast, but she hadn’t seen the ocean until she was a young adult.  She was raised by a foster family, described it as basically growing up Amish.

She had a photo album tucked into the top of her backpack.  It had pictures of herself as a teen in a long dress in front of a small house.  She showed me pictures of the wide open grasslands that occur at high elevations, on land that so few people want, where impoverished populations are often pushed.  Her husband had died two years previously.  She showed me pictures of her 7 year old son.

She was 25-years-old.

She showed me a picture of herself and her late husband standing beside a 600 pound black bear, which she had shot.  He was supposed to stay and help her process the meat, the hide, the internal organs, but the next day he and his father were called away for a week to work as well diggers for an oil company.  He told her she would just have to figure it out.  She described the process as “horror movie gory,” which I totally believe, but she told me how they utilize every part of the animal.  How she froze the meat and used it for more than a year, distributed rendered bear fat throughout her community, gave meat to the old women living down the street who had no one, and how she still had all the bear’s claws. The internal organs were kept in a bucket in a warm place, I was never clear for what purpose, and, for a year, when friends came over to drink beers around a fire, they would pull out buckets for everyone to sit on, and the out of town friend always found themselves, unknowingly, perched atop a bucket full of bear innards that heated and stank until, suddenly, they realized what was happening.

After her husband died (a drowning, though he hated the water and she still doesn’t know why he went down to the river), she took her 5-year-old son on a two year long road trip across the country.  They camped and bartered and traveled down through Texas and the southeast, up the east coast, and on into New York City.  She worked in hospitality in some fancy hotel there, and a manager told her she was good at it, could move up if she went back to school.  She’s starting an MBA in the fall.  She wants to build a set of tiny houses on her high elevation property in Oregon.  Maybe people will use them as hunting cabins?  She has a generous smile, and I would probably pay to stay in her backyard.

Life is often more intricate than we could ever anticipate.  After a 15 minute stop at a station where passengers exited and boarded the train and those continuing on took a smoke break, she asked me if I wanted to see some “badass jewelry.”  Obviously, yes, I did.

rachel post 2

​It’s a type of bead work called peyote stitch, which I googled afterward.  She had one piece with a bead that had the letters LL and a little star laser cut into it.  She told me it was her maternal grandmother’s symbol and name, Little Light. Somewhere down south, maybe New Mexico, someone had seen the little laser cut symbol in some of her beadwork, recognized it, and asked after her grandmother–whom this woman on my train only knew of and had never met.  This random person, who she met thousands of miles away from her home, asked for her phone number. Two weeks later, a call came from an old man who asked her mother’s maiden name, then told her he was her grandfather.  In the last two months, she had met all three of her sisters and her birth mother.

Some time in the last several months she had also gotten engaged to a man she met while traveling.  He gave her several thousand dollars and told her he wanted to be with her, that she could come and be with him in southern Oregon, but really all he wanted her to do with the money was get herself and her son out of the drug riddled community where she had grown up.  She’s been gone for over 6 months.

There are so many other details, so many happenings in this one woman’s life, which she shared with me.  She described in visceral detail the feeling of walking across what I suspect was a quaking bog in Maine.  She told me about her fiance’s family in upstate New York.

Her first marriage was arranged and happened when she was 18, and she felt so lucky that she had loved him.  When he died, she knew she had no idea how to be a mother, but she knew how to be a fucking fantastic friend, so she went with that.  She used to drag her son out of bed and into the yard in the dark, chasing him, tickling him.  Maybe it used to scare him, but now he whispers into her ear “Pull me off to the dark Mom, scare me.”

She told me she could hardly imagine a world where you could be 28, have no children, and have only just gotten married.  

She told me she thought every person was like a puzzle piece.  There are things in your life that happen, and maybe they carved parts of you out, hollowed you in a way.  But if you look for people, maybe some of them might just click right into those empty spaces.

rachel post 4

So, what’s the point?  Other than the fact that the tapestry of the human experience is vast, varied, and chest tighteningly beautiful? I’m not sure there is one.  For me, people consistently question my willingness to take the Greyhound or an extra long train ride, and I’m going to keep telling them it’s because people are more relaxed when traveling connected to the Earth.  To me, people feel distant on planes, they are just going from place to place.  And maybe that’s part of the privilege of being born with the means to move through places while holding yourself separate from them.  Sometimes I want that, and I’m lucky that I have access to it.

But, sometimes, the chance to see what things have touched other people’s lives is a difficult gift.  You see a picture of a 21-year-old woman standing before a dead, 600 pound bear, having no idea that, tomorrow, she will be left to deal with that on her own.

When people share themselves, I think the only appropriate response is a deliberate, active softening of my heart to those who experience life as a less friendly thing.  I feel touched by the knowledge that even difficult paths are so full of beauty.  I try to be grateful when people are kind and generous and offer up their experiences to me whole cloth.

It’s certainly no one else’s job to teach me about the world, but it’s surely my job to learn.

This woman told me, “Your first interactions with someone are so pure and unedited.  Why wouldn’t they be?  I’m never going to see you again.”  I told her we might see each other again; after all, stranger things have happened.


To read more of Rachel’s work, including the full account of the conference she attended in the midst of all the train travel detailed above, check out her blog Sweet Tea, Science. Rachel is currently working on a PhD in Ecology and lives in California with her husband, pup, and ragdoll cat (sidenote: her cat and my cat are brothers!). She is a kickass scientist and storyteller and I love reading the nitty-gritty details of her fieldwork, her honest accounts of academia, and all the ways she’s making the world a better place. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Rachel! 

10 Trader Joe’s Favorites Every Vegan Should Try

tj's favorites

Recently, I challenged my Mom (expert of all things vegan-related as well as a STRONG believer in the joys of grocery shopping) to share her favorite items from Trader Joe’s with all of us. Here’s what she had to say…

I’m not going to lie, I’m one of those strange birds who loves to grocery shop. At the same time, I pretty much hate all other shopping. But give me a store full of food and I am salivating at the prospect of shopping for all of the goodies. I could literally go to the grocery store every day, and just about do. And so when Trader Joe’s opened a store in Lexington, KY, I was like a kid on Christmas morning.

It didn’t take long for TJ’s to become one of my favorite stores and here is why. Every time I go, there’s a new adventure waiting. The thing that Trader Joe’s does really well is to provide lots of interesting, unique seasonal products while maintaining a great array of staple products that one always needs. And TJ’s knows how to market all these specialty products really well. The Fearless Flyer shows up in my mailbox, I study it like I’m preparing for the biggest exam of my life, I make a list of all the things I must try, and then off I go to the store. The most recent Fearless Flyer was titled “We have a thing for pumpkin” and, believe me, they do! Pumpkin tortilla chips, pumpkin spice granola, pumpkin bagels, pumpkin butter, pumpkin Joe-Joes (wondering what a Joe-Joe might be? Stay tuned for an explanation later in this post.) and, hey, even plain ol’ pumpkin. Yummo! And we won’t talk about how many boxes of Pumpkin Joe-Joes I bought, Shhh!

Needless to say, when Beth challenged me to name my 10 favorite TJ products and then write about them for you guys, I was on this project in a hot minute. Now let me forewarn, these aren’t the pumpkin products that I was just talking about. Pumpkin goodies are just for October and November. Come December and I will be onto other treats. What I am about to share are my 10 faves for year round purchasing and consumption. And these are 10 things that are vegan (because I’m vegan) so those of you who want plant-based cuisine, TJ’s has you covered. So, here goes, my top 10 Trader Joe’s products:

#10) Green Fin California Red Table Wine. I generally like to match my wine to the season (thanks Beth for putting me onto seasonal wine drinking) but I like having this wine, made from organic grapes, on hand for whenever I feel the need for a nice glass of red that goes with pretty much anything.

#9) Cookie Butter. I was introduced to cookie butter when my younger daughter, Katie, lived in Minnesota. This stuff is addictive, great on toast or whatever, and fills in nicely for dessert when no other dessert options are available.

joe joes and cookie butter

#8) Vegan Tikka Masala. I keep one of these in the freezer at all times. Then when I have one of those 10-hour work days and don’t feel like preparing food, I pop this bad boy in the microwave and voila!

#7) Beef-less Ground Beef. A staple and, while there are a number of companies that produce soy crumbles, this one is particularly good. Ask me about the killer meat-less loaf I made last week. Meat-less loaf sammies for days!

beefless ground beef

#6) Organic Garbanzo Beans. Another staple not to ever be without. Again, organic chickpeas are available everywhere but not for the price at TJ’s. And check out The I Love Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook and make this BBQ Bowl. Delicious!

#5) Super Spinach Salad. I just love this salad! And have it about once per week. Spinach, quinoa, carrots, dried cranberries, edamame, pumpkin seeds and a carrot ginger miso dressing. What’s not to love?

#4) Goddess Dressing. OMG! This is so good! Honestly, I make most of my own salads even though I succumb to the Super Spinach Salad from time to time. I even make my own dressings a lot of the time. But when I don’t make my own, this is my go-to dressing time and time again.

vegan tikka masala

#3) Hummus. No self-respecting vegan or vegetarian can be without hummus, right? I’m right. I ALWAYS have some on hand to pair with my pita chips, tortilla chips, veggies, etc. I love the TJ Quartet most of all because then I don’t have to decide which flavor to get. Heck, just get them all!

#2) Cereal. I LOVE cereal but only for breakfast. I’m not one of those people who eats cereal for supper. However, I’m pretty particular about my breakfast cereal. It needs to be organic, there needs to be at least 2 kinds in the bowl (usually 3), there needs to be berries &/or banana slices on top and there needs to be cold soy milk poured over it (I’m definitely Team Soy for this delight). All that being said, I can’t name just one cereal that I purchase at Trader Joe’s. I almost always have 2 or 3 or 4 boxes at check out. But make no mistake, there will be cereal.

cereal

#1) Drum roll, please! Joe-Joes. Think TJ’s take on an Oreo. I happen to like Joe-Joe’s better, though. These are my little chocolate sandwich cookie guilty pleasures. I don’t eat them every day or in large numbers – that wouldn’t be very healthy, now would it? – but when I need a chocolate fix, nothing satisfies quite like a Joe-Joe. The chocolate Joe-Joes are getting a little jealous here lately as I’ve been experiencing more pumpkin cravings and resorting to pumpkin Joe-Joes. Don’t worry chocolate Joe-Joes, you’ll always be my true love!!

trader joe's haul

And there you have it. My Top 10 TJ Products. What are your top 10? While you’re thinking about that I’m just going to make a quick run to my Trader Joe’s for some more yum-yums.

Thanks, Beth, for the challenge. You know, I love a project – especially one that involves food!

P.S. Check out this book

trader joe's cookbook

…if you’re looking for some TJ’s inspiration!

P.P.S. The super adorable vegan avocado cross-stitch is from SickBeetStitch.

 

In Defense of “Go Set a Watchman”

Today, I’ve asked Katie to share her thoughts on Harper Lee’s newest book, “Go Set a Watchman” and explain why she’s defending this controversial follow-up to a classic. Enjoy!


 

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

scout finch

I will never forget the first time I read “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  I was in the 4th grade, which was, looking back, the most formative year of my reading career.  I read books that to this day remain some of my favorites – “The Giver”, “Walk Two Moons”, and “The Shadow Spinner.”  But most importantly, I was first introduced to my spirit animal – Scout Finch.  At the time, I had this quirky habit that ultimately led to me becoming an actress.  I would pretend with every molecule of myself that I was the protagonist of whatever story I was in the middle of (even if the character was a boy).  So for about a month when I was nine, I lived in Maycomb County, I had a brother named Jem, my father was a lawyer, and I signed every journal entry as “Scout”.

This particular book left a lasting impact on me, more so than any other story I had read as a young girl.  I remained Scout in my head long after I finished the final page. Harper Lee’s novel became my favorite book, and has remained as such.  I have reread it countless times, I have performed in the stage play (as Mayella Ewell), I have traveled to Monroeville, and it was even the subject my BFA senior project in college.  So, as you can imagine, when the news of “Go Set a Watchman” hit the mainstream media, I was more than a little excited.  I couldn’t wait to read the rest of the story.  In this installment, Scout was 26 (and being a 24 year old, this absolutely thrilled me).  Before I could even get a copy though, I was inundated with negative opinions (“What is this!! Atticus is a racist!!  MY WHOLE LIFE IS A LIE!!!”).  Now, having read it, I can honestly say that I believe it is an incredibly important part of the story.

go set a watchman

In defense of “Go Set a Watchman”:

  1. Jean Louise is the protagonist of this story.  Before we start getting our collective panties in a wad about Atticus losing his integrity, let us not forget who the hero of the story is and always has been.  Scout.  This is her story.  This is her coming of age.  This is her loss of innocence.  This is HER moment.  Throughout the entire narrative she has maintained her truth and defended what is important to her.  That is an amazing thing!!  One of the reasons I loved TKAM so much as a nine year old is because I could relate so much to Scout’s journey when she also was a nine year old.  But now I’m 24.  The world is completely different.  The same things that I stressed and worried about as a child are not the same as the things that keep me up at night now, but it is so comforting to read this book from a strong woman’s point of view.  She is still a major role model to me without having to look up to a nine year old.

  2. It teaches a lesson we all must learn in our twenties.  Which is that coming home after being away for a while is hard.  Whatever you consider “home” is not a golden, safe haven where your problems disappear.  Your parents don’t always have the answers.  Your responsibilities are still there, waiting for you to attend to them. I believe that everyone has that moment where they realize that their childhood home and the people that shaped them are not actually as idealized as we make them out to be in our heads.  It’s what we do with this new information that makes us who we are.

  3. Atticus has always been a little bit racist.  Maybe I have a skewed perception due to that time I delved so deeply into the psyche of Mayella Ewell that I will always hate Atticus just a little bit (I got something to say and then I AIN’T GONNA SAY NO MORE).  Of course, he’s very polite about it in TKAM, but it’s there.  He even jokes about relating intensely to a white supremacist senator who was involved with the klan. It is Scout, not Atticus, who ever pushes against racial or class distinctions.  Is Atticus a villain?  Absolutely not!  He’s a product of his time and place.  We as readers viewed him through the rose-tinted glasses that Scout herself was wearing, and as she matured, so did we.  His flaws were brought to light, and yet Scout was able to transcend that.

While “To Kill a Mockingbird”  will remain my favorite book, my favorite college experience, and the subject of the best paper I have ever written, I truly believe that this book is an incredibly important part of Scout’s story.  She is the hero, which makes me even more proud to have named the protagonist of MY story Harper Jean, a direct allusion to TKAM.  While I understand that sometimes it hurts deeply to see someone we have idealized for decades become someone we can no longer trust, let us not forget that the protagonist’s integrity and kindness has remained 100% intact.  I will be forever indebted to Scout Finch for teaching me the wisest lesson of them all…

 “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

Recipe: Chicken and Sausage

Emotional ties to food have long been of interest to me. The way Chet talked about this dish; pining for it before he cooked it, savoring it while he gobbled it up, and re-hashing it’s glory long after the last drop was gone; I knew I wanted to share it with y’all. So that those who would like to can recreate it, yes, but also to share a small piece of what shaped him into the person he is. For him, the memories and comfort tied to this dish are just as important as ingredient ratios. This dinner may not be your jam but it’s creation is universal….a person, longing for a taste of home, steps into the kitchen…


 

Rice and gravy has been a staple of Cajuns since we started farming rice after arriving in Louisiana in the 1700s. It’s something I ate at least once a week growing up, and it’s a popular dish because of its simplicity and affordability. The method and cook time of the dish is good for turning otherwise tough or less desirable cuts of meat into an amazing meal that can feed a whole family This is a good Sunday meal because of the cook time involved, though the prep is simple.

Ingredients:

  • 4 Large chicken thighs with bones and skin removed
  • 1 lb of smoked sausage
  • 1 Large onion, diced
  • 1 Large bell pepper
  • Cajun/Creole seasoning (Tony’s or any similar brand should work fine, but you can also make your own by combining salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper)
  • 2 TBSP Oil of your choice
  • 2 Cups water
  • 1 Cup of rice

Bring oil to medium high In a large pot (preferably cast iron). Add chicken and brown thoroughly. I usually do this for around a half hour. Keep moving the meat around and it won’t burn. If the meat is sticking to the pot too much, add a little water.

chicken and sausage 1

After the chicken is browned, remove it and add veggies. Let the veggies cook down for about another thirty minutes. If they start to stick, add a little more water. Around 15 minutes in, your kitchen should be smelling really, really good. You should also begin to notice a nice yellow broth forming in the pot. That’s your signal to add the sausage.

chicken and sausage 2

Keep cooking down the mixture and adding water as needed. Once your veggies are soft and you have a fair amount of that yellow juice, return your chicken to the pot, add enough water to cover the meat, and reduce heat to low (if you’re using a cast iron pot, you could even set your range to warm).

chicken and sausage 3

Let it cook on low for a good 5-6 hours, stirring one every half hour. It’s going to reduce quite a bit, and that’s fine. Just add water as needed and let the meat cook down. Season to taste about halfway through.

chicken and sausage 4

It will be significantly darker when it’s finished, and there should be some oil accumulating on top. Skim off what you can and then serve over rice.

chicken and sausage 5

This dish is traditionally served with corn, and most folks like to toss it right in with the gravy. Enjoy!

Nostalgia aside this dinner was DELICIOUS. While I consider this dish pretty quintessential Cajun, there are similar meals and methods in many cultures. Do you prepare something like this? What dishes call up memories of home for you? What meals will you continue to pass down and keep cooking for years to come? Share below! 

The 365 Sentence Memoir Project

Recently, my sister Katie told me about a genius project she is undertaking and I wanted her to share it with you guys! She is a wonderful and creative recorder of her thoughts and history (a quality I deeply wish I possessed), and her newest take on journaling would be an awesome summer activity for those of you eager to get the writing juices flowing (or well-oiled if you’re on a break from school). Let’s learn more…

365 day memoir

For a very long time, I didn’t necessarily identify as a “writer.”  In fact, I would never say I was one.  I was (and am) a musical theatre actress.  Last December, when I had the first reading of the musical I wrote  there was a press release that said “Join Playwright Katie Berger as she shares her original musical.”  My thought process went like this: “Playwright Katie Berger?  That’s me?  Oh, yea that’s ME!!  Of course I’m a writer!  I literally write all the time!  It’s one of my very favorite things to do in the world! I wrote a musical!”  Anyway, since then I have been asked numerous times for advice and even though I feel very unqualified to give tips of any kind I always say “Make sure you write every day, even if it’s only a sentence.”  Thus my newest project was born.  Every day for a year, I will be writing a one sentence story.  By the end of the year, I will have a 365 sentence long memoir. A year is a while to wait though, so here is a peek:

 

4-22

She found herself hiding in every single song on the radio.

 

4-23

It wasn’t exactly that she was heart broken but the rain relentlessly fell on her umbrella and she was definitely glad it wasn’t sunny.

 

4-24

She loved them so much that she absolutely would, without question, stay trapped in a mine if it meant she could hallucinate from lack of oxygen with them, and she took great comfort in the fact that they felt the same way about her.

 

4-25

He could make her smile harder than just about anyone.

 

4-26

Let’s get married if we both aren’t, she joked, and he said earnestly I would jump at the chance.

 

4-27

Sometimes it’s nice to have someone hand you a beer, crank up the show tunes, and dance the night away with.

 

4-28

She looked down at her flannel shirt and her polka dot skirt and her knee socks and boots and pushed up her thick rimmed glasses and chuckled at the fact that after so long trying to escape the manic pixie dream girl trope here she was delivering a handwritten letter to a boy trapped inside his own anger and when she got back home she would probably play her ukulele and dance by herself to her Ben Folds a cappella cd and she thought maybe it’s okay to be a walking stereotype because this is exactly who I am when no one is watching.

 

4-29

She realized that starting tomorrow she will have spent more time on this earth without him than with him.

 

4-30

She laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe and maybe it was because everything always seemed a bit absurd on the anniversary of her dad’s death or maybe it was because she felt slightly feverish but it was probably because the response she got from her handwritten, heart felt letter was “my chinchilla chewed the paper.”

Keeping a Notebook

Recently, my dearest has been experimenting with a new organization/journaling/calendar system. Since starting a few weeks ago he’s been RAVING about it. Honestly, the whole system seems like a total game changer so I asked him to fill us in. Take it away, Chet!

I have dates in my Google calendar. I have notes from courses that I’ve taken in Evernote. I have random ideas and lists jotted down in Google Keep. I have a near endless number of notebooks, legal pads, binders, and folders filled with years of academic and recreational work. Ideas, outlines, lists of books to read, movies to watch, music to listen to….stuff.

Digital technologies have completely unleashed work and leisure. We are all familiar with the struggles of being plugged in 24/7, but I’m consistently frustrated with the solutions to these problems. There are no shortage of apps and software designed to help us organize our lives, but, somehow, the more apps I download to organize my life the more disorganized and fragmented it becomes! I log into some of these programs, weeks or months after I’ve last used them, to find piles of useful notes, things that would have helped save me time if I had remembered their existence. Months ago, I bought a Moleskine notebook in order to help solve this problem once and for all. I would hand write all of my important notes to this one notebook so that it would be impossible to lose track of information. The result? Disaster!

notebook1

I ended up with this mess. All of my notes were in one place, but they were completely unreadable. The Moleskine was a great place to keep content, but not a great place to sort and easily find that content later. Enter the Bullet Journal. The Bullet Journal is a very simple analog note taking organizational scheme. In essence, it provides the system for organizing a notebook into a searchable, readable form. The most basic entries are simple task lists and reminders by day.

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Much better! Tasks are now clearly organized, and can be checked off or moved around as necessary. The Bullet Journal system also uses page numbers in some really cool ways. I’ve gone through and numbered the whole book in advance, and those numbers can now be used as a table of contents.

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I’ve only just started this system, so I don’t have many entries (yet), but I do have a few cool ones. You can see in the pic that there are some other categories listed like movies and pc games. These are persistent lists. You can keep adding items to them and reference when needed. I’ve already used a full page for my first movies list, so I’ve brought a few stragglers over and created a new one.

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You can even begin to subdivide using other important tags like Netflix availability. This method of organizing has really helped me to be more efficient in my media consumption. Before, I would twiddle my thumbs, browsing Netflix aimlessly. Now, I can quickly scan through stuff I want to watch, and not just settle on content I’ve already seen. I also plan on including a few tags with titles that I’m unfamiliar with so that I can sort even quicker.

My favorite aspect of the Bullet Journal, by far, is the customization. Now that you have an organizational framework, you can use it to your advantage. I used a ruler to draw up a simple calendar for this month. On the opposing page, I’ve made a list of monthly notes/goals.

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This gives me a macro/micro view of my ongoing projects. If I want to sketch out a given week, I’m also free to do that.

I’ve only just started using the Bullet Journal, but it’s already helping me tremendously. I’ve been able to organize and collapse some disparate lists into a compact, portable package. The daily lists sometimes aren’t needed. I’ll remember everything on my plate for a given day and finish them all. I’m still working at cracking the journal open at least twice a day. When I do, I get to see my tasks, and then see them completed or re-organized. It adds a great sense of accomplishment to a day, and also helps me prepare for the next day by clearly establishing my goals. I also think it’s a great place to unplug, to practice your handwriting, to not use a phone all the time!

If you’re feeling frazzled by apps, or just looking for a place to keep some informal lists, a Bullet Journal may be for you!

Thanks for sharing, Chet! I’ve been pretty enamored with this whole system since he began sharing it’s success with me. Luckily, I was gifted the tools to start trying it out for myself…

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So far so good! ❤ 

 

 

The Case for Chromebooks

A few months back, as I twisted my laptop’s charger round and round for ten minutes patiently waiting to hear the beep letting me know it was actually charging, propping a pillow under the cord JUST. SO., and trying to work as motionlessly as possible to not upset this careful balance –I succumbed to the idea that it might be time for a new lappy. Putting old lappy out to pasture was a stressful notion…mainly because I feel hopelessly clueless about all things technology and have a terrible time making decisions (especially when they involve spending money). I didn’t want to live lappy-less for weeks on end as I waited to make up my mind. I also never necessarily believe that more expensive is better…surely there was a better option than dropping a few G’s on a machine. Thankfully, I received some much needed tech advice. And because I think the words of wisdom I received could be valuable advice for all of my budget conscious readers, I asked Chet Breaux to share it with y’all, too! It’s great to have a tech guru on speed dial. ; ) Enjoy!

savemoneygochrome

Chet: I’m writing this post using a Chromebook. What’s a Chromebook? You may have seen them advertised recently and thought “that’s just a tiny laptop!” You would be correct, but not necessarily about the tiny part. Chromebooks are a new kind of computer that runs the Chrome operating system. If you’ve ever used Google’s Chrome browser, the setup of a Chromebook will look remarkably similar. So what’s the big deal? Why should you care?

First, Chromebooks are inexpensive. They aren’t “cheap” as many tech bloggers have been quick to claim. My machine, an Acer A7, set me back just under 200 dollars. It has an 11.6 inch screen (small, yes), an Intel processor with Haswell architecture (more on this later), and a 16 gigabyte internal hard drive (tiny right?). How can I get anything done on this thing? It’s actually easier than you might think.

Google launched this project because they know a thing or two about the internet, and, more specifically, how people use the internet. Their analysis of Chrome browser users indicated that people were spending a whopping 90% of their time on a computer in the browser. Suddenly, a machine built around a web browser makes much more sense.

Let’s go back to my Chromebook, which seems to have very limited specifications. First, the size. It’s small. Is it a problem? Not really. I have very large hands, but I’m still able to type normally. The small size also means light weight, clocking in at about 2 pounds. This machine is perfect to travel with (no more super heavy bag). The Intel processor is slow, but that’s not important. Most desktop processors, and even many laptop processors, are overkill for what most people actually need a computer to do. The processor in my machine can easily run high def video and keep up with quite a few open browser tabs. Oh, and the small internal storage? Google will automatically give you a huge amount of cloud storage for free for a couple of years (don’t worry, that storage doesn’t cost much after your trial expires, and you are essentially paying for cloud backup, which everyone should have). You’re also getting a solid state hard drive. That means instant wake from sleep and about 20 seconds to boot.

Should you consider getting a Chromebook as your next laptop? Absolutely! Unfortunately, a lot of people in the tech industry have taken to bashing these machines and comparing them to netbooks. Dan Ackerman recently reviewed a new Chromebook manufactured by Toshiba. He’s making a lot of the same complaints I see in other Chromebook reviews. Yes, you have to be connected to the Internet, but so what? I’m not sure who they are speaking to with comments like these. I work at a University and have a home Internet connection. I don’t work in the middle of a field. Yes, it’s made of plastic. So is every other laptop under 1000 dollars. Yes, it has limited on-board storage, but that’s kind of a moot point in the streaming age.

What can Chromebooks do for you? Just about whatever you need in a laptop. Google has a suite of services that can easily take the place of word, powerpoint, and excel (plus all of your work is safe in the cloud and can be accessed from any web browser on any computer!) It runs Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora….In short, I’m not seeing any limitations with my machine, just convenience.

Why do I care so much about Chromebooks? As an educator, I often see students that don’t have easy access to technology, and, I’m sorry- college students NEED a laptop. A 200 dollar Chromebook is a lot easier to afford than an overloaded, overpriced machine that Best Buy normally tries to sell to the parents of college students.  They can succeed with a Chromebook in front of them. I’ve seen it happen. Oh, and if something happens to it, don’t worry. All of your work is safe, and once you can afford a new one, all that it takes is a Google sign in to restore your machine.

I purchased my Chromebook with Chet’s help and couldn’t be happier with it–all of my work is seamlessly saved through my Google account which allows me to pick up where I left off right from my work computer with no hassle, I’ve yet to find anything I CAN’T do on it, and it didn’t break the bank. Perfect lil bloggin’ machine, in my opinion. What do you think? Do you have a Chromebook? Would you buy one? 

 

How to throw a HIMYM finale party.

If there is one thing my sister and I can agree upon it is the importance of television (aka welevision). When she mentioned her plans to go all out for the series finale of “How I Met Your Mother” I asked if she would share her menu plan with us over on the blog! If you’re gonna tune in on Monday, why not make it an event? You see, in my family, we’re all about some themed food. World Cupcakes representing soccer teams during the World Cup, Island/Dharma Initiative dinner for the series finale of Lost, Fifty Nifty United Pizzas–I think by now Katie is an expert. : ) Enjoy! 

Kids, in the Spring of 2014, one of my favorite television shows gave it’s final toast .

TV LOOKOUT

This show was incredibly special to me. True, it was a comedy on the surface, complete with running gags, a laugh track, and Bob Saget, but at its core it was a heartwarming story of friendship, connection, and the universe taking care of us. It taught me a lot of lessons about the age I was entering at the time – the unchartered territory of my twenty somethings – and before I knew it, I was connecting with the characters on a level I wasn’t prepared for.  Because of this, for its final episode, I would throw a party.  It really was the only way.

Now kids, I had to make sure that the menu matched the spirit of the show.  I had to find the perfect thing to capture the essence of McLaren’s pub – to the cookbook shelf!!

maclarens

Drinks:

The Minnesota Tidal Wave/The Robin Scherbatsky (coconut rum, peach schnapps, vanilla vodka, strawberry creme liqueur, cranberry juice, sugar,maraschino cherries.)

The Pineapple Incident (Parrot Bay Pineapple Rum, pineapple juice, grenadine, garnished with a cherry)

Beer, beer, and more beer

Nibbles:

Oven Baked Onion Rings 

Nachos

–          Served with queso (vegan or dairy), salsa, and sour cream (vegan or dairy).

Potato Skins

Wings (vegetarian or carnivore)

–          Served with ranch, celery, and carrots

Treats:

Wedding Cake Cupcakes 

Sumbitch Cookies 

Kids, as I was planning this shindig, making these treats, and binge watching a few episodes for nostalgia’s sake, I couldn’t help but think about all of the things this show has shown me throughout its nine seasons.  Here’s a few lessons I would like to pass on to you…

–          Perfect isn’t always perfect.   Sometimes it’s just not meant to be.  And that’s ok.

–          Nothing good happens after 2am.  Just…go to bed.

–          Don’t settle for someone who accepts your quirks, be with someone who loves them.

–          Your friends are your family.

–          When you’re sad, stop being sad and start being awesome instead.

–          New York really is the greatest city on earth.

–          Sometimes you just have to let the universe take over.  Everything happens for a reason.

–          Don’t postpone joy.

–          Don’t ever think something or someone will last forever.  They won’t.

And most importantly:

–          Life is hard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be legen…wait for it I hope you’re not lactose intolerant because the next word is…DARY.

Kids, there will come a time where you find something in popular culture that speaks to you.  Since you’re my hypothetical future children, there is no doubt in my mind that you will love television, so if you find a show that you watch obsessively, don’t be embarrassed.  Share it with your friends, have discussions about topics it brings up, make connections with people who also enjoy it, and hell…suit up and THROW A PARTY!

Thanks, Katie!!! Any HIMYM fans out there? What series finales have been especially epic for you? Lost was a pretty big one for me and I can remember crying during the finale of Home Improvement, lol. Tune in for the hour long finale of How I Met Your Mother next Monday at 8 pm (7 central) on CBS.