Bright Spots in Trying Times

Dear Reader,

For some reason, the phrase, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” keeps springing to mind. Despite its original context sharing nothing with the current climate, I keep thinking it. These are in fact trying times.

But, if you’re like me, you already know that. And you don’t need to hear about it. You need something to do during it, something to distract you. And that’s what this post is going to be: distraction, pure and simple.

What I’ve been baking. I’ve been baking a lot the past few weeks. I don’t think I’ve made muffins since I was sixteen years old, but I saw a recipe for carrot and coconut muffins and thought, “Man, those sound really good.” Add in silicone muffin tins (WAY easier to clean than the old-style metal ones, and no liners required: win-win!), and I’ve since become a muffin devotee. Check out the recipe at It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken here. The author of the page, Sam Turnbull, comes up with so many delightful recipes that I asked for her cookbook for Christmas. She’s got so many great ideas, and focuses on creating recipes that have a few very standard ingredients with quick prep times. If you’re generally on a baking kick like I am but carrots or muffins aren’t your thing, Sam has another HUGE winner in her Cranberry Pistachio Loaf recipe, which you can check out here. I’ve made the muffins three times in the past month (Lord help me), and baked the loaf three times around Christmas. Sam’s also a fun Instagram follow @itdoesnttastelikechicken; or, if dogs are more your thing, check out @chickpeadog for some great content.

As a side note, if anyone has a great tried-and-true bread recipe, leave it for me in the comments, would you? I used to bake bread years ago but haven’t lately, and now seems a good time to restart the habit.

What I’ve been reading. I haven’t spent as much time as I ought to this year reading. I’m finding it difficult to tear myself away from my phone these days, unfortunately. But when I’m in the mood to read, I’ve been plugging along at a short story by Mark Twain called “The Mysterious Stranger” and the novel The Lacuna by my all-time favorite novelist of our time, Barbara Kingsolver.

The Twain short story was recommended to me by Allison, one of the lovely reference librarians at school. We said we’d read it over spring break and discuss it afterward. She read it in high school years ago and had never re-read it, but said she often thought about the story and what it meant. I am not generally a fan of Twain, or of many classic American authors, but I value Allison’s recommendations and since it was a short story, I thought I’d try it. My good intentions of reading it over spring break fizzled out (there were too many other things to do!), but the volume is still on top of my stack. I highly recommend this story if you like your literature to be philosophical and aren’t easily offended by religious skepticism. 😉

The Lacuna is interesting so far. I started it last year, and must confess that I forgot quite a bit of it since then. Most of Kingsolver’s novels take place in the United States, but this one is set in both Mexico and the U. S. Though the setting might be different, it’s still filled with the clever turns-of-phrase I’ve come to expect from Kingsolver’s finest. Every time I got to the used book store near me, I ask, “What do you have by Barbara Kingsolver?” Whatever it is that they have, if I haven’t read it already, I buy it.

Oh! And I almost forgot! I listened to an audiobook recently… I think for the second or third time. Life After Life and A God in Ruins, both by Kate Atkinson, are really great if you like historical fiction (and, in the case of Life After Life, a side of paranormal focusing on reincarnation and alternative timelines). I read Life After Life about ten years ago, and A God in Ruins is its sort-of sequel, while following different characters. Kate Atkinson, like Kingsolver, impresses me with her clever turns-of-phrase and vivid imagery. The one that sticks out to me from A God in Ruins: Hot slices of sunshine. The narrator for A God in Ruins is great, and that’s suuuuuuper important to me in an audiobook.

I know I said I was going to make this post about distracting and reminding you about cool, fun things to do, but this article keeps sticking in my mind as something I ought to share, even thought it is pandemic related. Thankfully, I have heard/seen very little racism of people calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus.” Buuuuuut, if you’ve been thinking it but haven’t been saying it, you should definitely check out this Vox article, “How our environmental practices make pandemics like the coronavirus more likely.” I won’t say a lot about it because I want to keep this light, but you should definitely check it out if you want some coronavirus coverage that is interesting and from a bit of a different angle.

What I’ve been listening to. Music is crucially important in times like these. It sets the tone for everything. I’ve been putting things on shuffle a lot lately, but always end up going back to my tried-and-true favorite British singer-songwriter, Frank Turner. His 2018 album, Be More Kind has been the soundtrack and mantra of my life for the past year plus. I’ve been singing “Don’t Worry” to myself for more than a month now (and still worrying, of course; I’m only human!). I’m really bad at keeping up with new releases and didn’t know until three or so weeks ago that Turner had released a new album, No Man’s Land, which highlights famous women. The track, “Silent Key,” commemorating Christa McAuliff, is I think my favorite from the new album, especially given the recent anniversary of the Challenger incident.

What I’m studying. Finally, a school update! This semester I am enrolled in College Algebra. My professor is fantastic, and has handled this transition to all-online classes very well. Class still meets at class time, Monday and Wednesday from 8:30 to 10:20, via Zoom, and we submit homework and take exams online. After a lot of thought, I’ve decided to not take trig this summer. There’s too much going on right now for me to even try to plan that far ahead, and even though I don’t mind the online format, I’d rather be in the classroom. This summer, I’ll work as much as possible (and as much as is safe!) and resume classes again in the fall. In the fall, my professor has asked me to be a study group leader for elementary algebra, so that’ll be really, really sweet! I’m looking forward to the challenges that will bring my way, and what I will learn from that experience.

And that’s probably about it from me! I’m going to try to update at least quarterly. We have home Internet now (it only took a pandemic for us to give up our last stronghold of Quakerism and join the collective), so writing & publishing a post will be a lot easier now.

Stay safe, people. Stay home. Stay hiking, and reading, and baking, and hoping.

All my best,



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