a quiet house.

In my mind lives a mental to do list. of things I want/need to do. I have a huge stack of books I'd like to read. I would like to be a better friend. I'd really like to get caught up with Diane Sawyer - I love her. I want to rescue a puppy. I want to finish my knitting projects. I want to travel more. so,on and on it goes...I think about all of these things, all throughout the day, but when it comes to this ~ a quiet house ~ I'm just done. Altogether, in every way.

Last Wednesday I may have had a panic attack. It's true. I have weirdo health issues that have made wonky heart beats a part of my life, but this time was different. I stood alone in my living room while my heart thumped out of my chest. I felt like Pepe Le Pew when he sees his skunk crush. I could swear the imprint of my heart was pumping out through my ribcage. This is not the first time this has happened, yet the longer my heart thumped, the more I remembered that this is what my life has become.  And I never thought I would say this, but I am on my game every split second of every single day because it's not optional. I worry that everyone else is drowning in the wake. I worry that I've lost my ever loving mind. But I carry on.

And somehow, most of the time, I do it with a smile. This is the part that fills me up.

I'm not smiling because I've gone round the bend, I'm smiling because I have found that life is better when treated as a gift and if I stop smiling for too long, I go down with the ship. I'm smiling because all of this new crazy has become all I know.

If there were an Olympics for trying to solve all the problems in the world, then I'd take the silver. You might as well just know that. And if you're inclined not to believe me, I'll get you the hub's number. But I like to think that the scales of my life tip in the favor of the smiles. It makes me feel sane to believe that and sane is good, right?

Then I remember how I burst into quasi-inconsolable tears at my last doctor's appointment. I saw no possibility that the world was right or good in light of my imagined upcoming bad news. The events of eighteen months ago have scarred me. I tried to breathe through it. I almost threw up. *Important side-note: my mortal fear in life is anything with an appointment. Doctor's visits give me nightmares and the shakes.

Susie sat by me afterwards and rubbed my back while I cried. My instinct was I should be stronger, but even clearer was the voice telling me that I don't ever want to feel like I need to pretend. I want to know that it's okay to feel all of these things. I sat there and cried and I thought of all of the strong people I know. They probably save their emotional breakdowns for more important things. I want to bake them some cookies and spritz perfume on their hair. I thought of all of the people dealing with the same life stuff I'm dealing with and I want to march into their homes and give them a smooch on the cheek and demand that they go take a nap while I hold down the fort.

My muddied-up heart started to see that this is one reason I feel pain. It makes me human. It connects me to everyone else. I remember the bruises and I recognize them on the hearts of others. I'll take empathy over sympathy any day.

I don't know when this season of my life will pass, but I do know that it will. In the meantime, I'll continue to hold on to some sanity. I'll daydream about getting out to do something fun, all the while hoping I'll have the energy to actually do it. I'll pray that my peeps don't give up on me. I'll cut myself some slack, dang it.

If you know anything about me, or if you recognize yourself in me, then you can imagine what it feels like to blow my own cover. Please, I beg of you, do not nicely suggest that I might be depressed or that I should seek the counsel of a professional. Number one, maybe I am. I don't think so, but it's probably too early to tell. I'll keep you posted. Number two, If I have to seek the counsel of one more professional right now I might show up naked and raging with troll hair and a wild look in my eyes. It could be the very thing that pitches me over the edge.

I used to think the best definition of living was, "being present". You know, in the moment, just keep my eyes open, keep my heart willing. Live my life as authentically as possible, with the understanding that fate could always come along and mess up my plans.

Well, messed them up, she did. And now I see things a little differently. I realize now that it may  require a bit more action than I originally thought. Of course we all wait for things to come, but as we wait, there is tons of stuff to do. I know now that I don't need to pray over every little thing that comes my way. Nine times out of ten, I know what's right. It's usually the thing I'm trying to talk myself out of.
What I can do is send up my prayers. Or even better, find someone around me who needs help and go help them. Give them the benefit of the doubt or a manicure.

As for you, if you're feeling beaten-down by life, if your brain requires so much daytime vigilance that it revolts entirely at 8pm, if you are sick to death of  doctors reminding you that you are getting older, if you're still not sure where you'll be living in June, if you're so dang tired that you cannot stay awake past nine (even after Two naps), if you believe that you will never finish your stupid book, if you very quietly cuss at your overflowing laundry basket, if appointments make you cry, if you're feeling misunderstood or judged, if you're tired of guessing and failing and grasping, if your husband brought you flowers yesterday because it really is that dire, if you're feeling left behind and maybe just a smidgen crazy, please know that I am right here with you.

I'll bake you a batch of cookies.


Almond Shortbread Stars

Like all good shortbread, this dough doubles easily, rolls beautifully, and re-rolls to the last scrap.    Please note: dough needs 2 hours to chill

8 ounces (2 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/4 tsp table salt)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
heaping 1/2 cup almonds
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3-4 cups confectioner's sugar, for tossing

Toast almonds in a preheated 350° oven for 12-14 minutes, until fragrant and slightly darker in color.  Set aside to cool completely, at least 2 hours.  Toasting can be done 2 weeks in advance.

When almonds are completely cool, grind them in a food processor fitted with the steel blade to a coarse meal.  I grind for 20-30 seconds in "on" position, then give them another 15-20 pulses of a few seconds each, monitoring as I go.  You want a consistency that averages cornmeal, mostly fine, interspersed with some coffee ground-size bits.  You don't want almond butter.  See photo, above, for reference.  Measure your almonds again, after processing.  You want 1/2 cup ground.  

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, powdered sugar and salt until fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Scrape sides, add almonds and almond extract, and beat again, 1-2 minutes.  Scrape sides, add flour, and beat briefly, until just combined, 15-30 seconds.  Remove bowl, and use spatula to complete mixing by hand, capturing any flour from the bottom.  Scrape dough onto plastic wrap, pat into a rough rectangle 1" thick, seal well, and chill until firm, 2 hours, or overnight, or up to five days.  

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325°.  Remove dough and allow 15 minutes to soften slightly.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment.  Roll dough on a clean lightly floured work surface to a thickness of 1/4".  Cut out shapes, and transfer to the lined baking sheets.  This quantity of dough should fill two sheets perfectly.  Bake until firm, and smelling fantastic, and until undersides are golden, and any tips on top are starting to color, 17-22 minutes, depending on cookie size and shape.  Check often.  If baking two trays at once (I always do), rotate trays front to back and top to bottom, halfway through.  Good shortbread is crisp shortbread.    

While cookies are baking, fill a deep tray or shallow bowl with the 3 cups' confectioner's sugar.  Allow cookies to cool five minutes on sheets, then remove, still warm, a dozen at a time, to the sugar-filled bowl.  Toss gently until cookies are coated in a thin veneer of sugar.  Note that the cookies will still be hot, and will cause the sugar to melt slightly.  Mind your fingers.  Remove to a cooling rack, and repeat with remaining cookies.  

Allow cookies to cool completely, 1-2 hours, then give them their second toss.  As before, gently toss a dozen or so cookies at once in the tray of confectioner's sugar.  The light, lofty sugar will adhere to the glossy first coat, and leave a thick white dusting.  

Almond shortbread keeps, airtight, exquisitely well up to one month.


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