Quinoa And Self Care

What an unusually productive weekend. Thanks to some new bottles of iron and Vitamin C, I actually got out of bed before noon and did stuff. As an ode to adulthood and taking care of myself/ourselves, here is the lovechild of my affinity for lists, need for control, and energy to entertain both this weekend.

Meals 9/16 – 9/20

Monday: Crock Pot Tortilla Soup // The recipe calls for pulled chicken but I’ll be using roasted pork.


Notes: I have adapted most of the recipe to my own liking. About two pound of pork loin worked perfectly. Cilantro really brings it all together. We’ll freeze most of the extra for a lazy night.





Tuesday: Crock Pot Galumpkis And Kielbasa // I will replace the rice with quinoa, my first experiment with the smarter grain.

20130917_185041Notes: Quinoa was a win flavor/texture wise, and its volume increased more than I thought. It’s important to have a ripe cabbage, or the pieces rip off and you end up with weirdly shaped glumpkis (see photo).





Wednesday: Pulled Pork Tacos // Using the pork leftover from the soup recipe, and served with homemade pico de gallo. Cilantro lime brown rice or quinoa on the side, depending on the outcome of Monday’s quinoa experiment.

Thursday: Food blogger event with Elliot, so no cooking.

Friday: Gorgonzola And Bacon Stuffed Chicken // Because I ran out of ideas and I know how to stuff chicken. We have a few greens and mushrooms on hand that I can whip up as sides.

Meal planning is a true accomplishment at our house because the recipes need to be low carb and (mostly) gluten-free for yours truly. This is where I draw inspiration.

Also in the realm of roundhouse kicking the world in the face, I recently mastered a workday eating schedule that is healthy, low carb, and gluten-free. The best part is that I’m not hangry and falling asleep at my desk at 3 p.m.

10 a.m. – Atkins bar

12 p.m. – Turkey/chicken and cheese roll-ups

2 p.m. – Yogurt and fruit

4 p.m. – Fruit or veggies – My Nalgene should be empty by this point.

I might have a snack before supper depending on what time it will be ready. I can’t eat one huge supper meal, but instead will eat a smaller portion to start with and maybe a little more later.

Taking care of my body is complicated but it’s worth it.


Love Wins can’t keep a working vacuum. Our printers malfunction on a regular basis and sometimes the basement floods. Oh, and someone recently stole the communion plate.

We have five paid staff members, not all of whom are full-time. At least 50 people spend time in our building every day, all of whom want to spend time with someone who cares about them.

The front door lock is installed backwards.

So what does an organization like ours do with international publicity stemming from a blog post that went viral overnight?

You put your emergency flashers on and coast on coffee and Quaker rice cakes until the dust settles.

When the blog post went out, we figured a few folks would mail concerned letters to the Mayor. Then WRAL called… and then Al Jazeera called. And then our website crashed.

So far 365,000 people have read the blog post. While that’s all well and good for Love Wins, namely our mission and brand, our new and improved platform does so much more for our friends who live outside and in shelters.

We feel like we have spent four days trying to herd cats while simultaneously nailing pudding to a tree. And that’s just to host the 50+ people currently in crisis mode in most if not all areas of their lives, nevermind answering thousands (and I mean thousands) of comments and emails.

For the time being I like to think of Love Wins as the new nonprofit fairy tale. Except we’re not waving a magical wand– you are.

At some point our carriage will turn back into a pumpkin, and that’s okay. We like being a pumpkin.

On behalf of Love Wins:



What Bugs Me About You

It really bugs me that you talk to me for the sole purpose of seeing if there’s anything in my office you can take.

It really bugs me that you constantly interrupt my conversations with others, and that you also interrupt me when we’re talking.

It really bugs me that you think that everything is an emergency.

It really bugs me that you and so many others have to tell me a five minute story just to ask for a bus pass.

It really bugs me that you can’t wash the two dishes that you dirtied with food that someone else provided to you.

It really bugs me that the people at Love Wins might be the only ones who are nice to you today.

It really bugs me that your parents were terrible and in your forty years of life no one has taught you how to properly have a conversation.

It really bugs me that everything in your life actually is an emergency, because you are in a constant state of crisis and chaos.

It really bugs me that you are conditioned to justify and/or lie about why you need help from someone.

It really bugs me that the world has disempowered you from taking care of yourself and those around you.

And it really bugs me that I can’t fix all of your problems while you eat a peanut butter sandwich in my office.

But it would bug me more if I never saw you again.


Gardening Newbie

My biggest dream as a new, young homeowner is to become a successful gardener. In spite of my nail polish habit I love spending time in the dirt. I appreciate the contrast between the peace of gardening and the noise of the city around us.

Our latest moments of peace and pride:



The roses came with the house. I can’t claim their growth but I’m proud of them regardless. They’re my adopted flowers I suppose. The tomato plant struggled initially but is now flourishing.

Next on my list to plant are swiss chard and onions. We’ll see if my thumbs are green enough to grow food.

On Saying No: Transaction Vs. Trust

Today I said no to approximately 30 people.

Do you have a bus pass? No.

Can I leave my backpack here overnight? No.

Can you give me a ride to the pharmacy? No.

Can I use the staff bathroom upstairs? No.

Can I use your computer? No.

Saying no is hard for me because I’m a gullible people pleaser with terrible boundaries and even worse self-advocacy. If there ever was a boot camp for all the above, however, it’s my office at 707 West Jones Street.

We serve dozens of people every day, each of whom carries many a burden and even more daily needs.

I could drop everything I’m doing to drive someone to the pharmacy. I could break the rules and cause confusion by granting one-time staff bathroom privileges. I could do a lot of things that a person wants me to do, but I’m not a fairy godmother. I don’t park my WalMart jeans in my swivel chair for eight hours a day to grant wishes that bruise boundaries and test authority.

I have to be okay with saying no, which means that in a particular situation I am not willing to help someone who is homeless. That feeling will never cease to be one of failure. So some days I go home feeling like a tail-less Eeyore.

But you know what? Granting wishes of immediate gratification and poor forethought and planning won’t solve anyone’s problems. If anything, doing so creates more problems for me.

Sara, when I start going to recovery meetings, will you come with me? Yes.

Sara, I’m feeling depressed… can I talk to you? Yes.

Sara, I don’t understand this letter. Can you help me read it? Yes.

Sara, will you go with me to a scary doctor’s appointment? Yes.

Sara, can you help me with my G.E.D. writing homework? Yes.

Pending my fear of heights, I would like to shout from the roof tops, YES, you can sit on the sparkly spray painted chair in my office and tell me how your mom hates you and that you haven’t seen your daughter in 10 years. YES, I will show up with bells on at your recovery meeting because I am infinitely proud of you.

YES, let’s sit down and look over your letter. I know the words can be confusing and it’s okay that you need help. YES, let’s go to the doctor’s appointment together. We will definitely have ice cream after.

So, no, you can’t use the staff bathroom and you can’t stash your backpack in my office over night. And I’m sorry. But I will listen to you until your butt goes numb on the sparkly chair, and we will work on your G.E.D. essay until you can write an essay better than I can.

We will go to all your medical appointments together, blasting Pink in the car because we both love her, and then we’ll take some extra quiet time at the froyo place to decompress.

I’m not trying to like anyone. I’m trying to love everyone, and sometimes that means saying no.

Today At Work

Today At Work is a series of interesting, entertaining, and endearing statements I hear outside my office at a small non-profit that on a daily basis befriends people without homes.


European: “No sugar added. This is definitely not an American product.”
Guy 1: “Bathing suits aren’t lingerie.”
Guy 2: “They are to me.”
“If I had a million dollars, all these people would have housing.”
“What’s the correct answer to the question ‘boxers of briefs?”

On Hugh’s new office on the second floor: “You’ll have to ask the man upstairs.”



Emily's prom, 2008

I thought my grandma would never die.

I thought my grandma would never die.

And then she did.

Most of us have people who are constants. Parents, friends from first grade, siblings, ageless librarians. Those constants shape our experience as humans through their presence in our lives.

Forrest Gump’s mom is right when she says that “death is a part of life.” I guess when someone special has been around since day one, you think they’ll be there for the rest of your life.

My Grandma was 69 when I was born. I was in elementary school when she started forgetting about her pies in the oven. Eventually she needed help grocery shopping and folding laundry. When one day she emerged from the living room on a walker I accepted that she was officially aging… but a walker is a long way from dying, right?

I had the privilege of helping  my grandparents throughout high school and college when they became house bound. Helping my Grandma get dressed, making their lunch, and doing chores around the house were the best parts of any summer I had before moving permanently to North Carolina.

Every time I went back down South for another semester of school I knew it might be the last time I saw either one of my grandparents in a relatively healthy state. That last goodbye hug of the summer always stung.

Medicine saved my grandmother many times. Hospital stays for sciatica, a bad knee, a coumidin adjustment, pneumonia, and the flu were all alarming, but every time, without a doubt, she came home after a few days. With each passing year being away from home distressed her more. Unaware of where she was and why people in scrubs were talking to her about this and that, she would plead with Grandpa to take her home.

We worked the word “dementia” into the vocabulary of Grandma’s health. But dementia is a long way from dying, right?

Today I close my eyes and let my brain soak in memories of phone conversations with my Grandma. I called home almost every weekend to check in. Over time my chats with Grandma became short and broken records, but I cherish those broken records. Despite the lack of diversity in conversation topics, Gram’s questions were still authentic and she was still interested in my life. When she picked up the phone she knew my voice.

“So, what do you for fun?”

“How’s the weather in Carolina?”

“How’s your car?”

“Anything good on TV lately?”

Her dainty voice was always chipper. I could tell when she mustered her energy for just a few minutes of conversation.

And so went my denial that some day her recliner would be empty. I thought my Grandma would never die. And then she did.

August of 2011 was a kaleidoscope of tears, driving, food, hugs, and more tears. A series of phone calls between my mother, Elliot, and I confirmed that Grandma was in the hospital with a brain aneurysm and a stomach aneurysm. On my first day back at work post-surgery I sat in my minivan sobbing. I slumped into my office with my sunglasses on so passers by wouldn’t ask any questions.

Over the next week or so my aunt and grandfather talked to doctors, nurses, and care providers who decided that surgery wasn’t an option. Grandma officially needed end-of-life care. The same week she went to the emergency room a hospice setting had invaded the living room and she was sedated 24/7.

A patient can be in hospice care for months or years. Unsure of how long Grandma had left, I was on stand-by around the clock to fly home at the drop of a dime. The plan was for Elliot to  drive up soon after with Norton. Every time my cell phone rang I shuttered at the possibility that my mom was on the other end to say it was time to come home.

A few days passed. It was Welcome Week at Campbell– the students’  first few days back on campus after summer vacation. After a long and stressful day I went to Bojangles with my friends Beth and Catherine. Nothing solves problems like a biscuit and sweet tea.

Throughout our entire conversation I felt a tug. I had been highly preoccupied over the last week but this was different– something happening far way needed my attention. On the way back to campus I pulled my phone from the cup holder in the minivan and saw six missed calls from my mom. I knew this was it, so I braced for it and held back the tears until I dropped Beth off at her apartment.

“Do you think I should fly out in the morning?”

“I think you should come as soon as you can, honey.”

Grandma’s breathing was unsteady. The priest had delivered her Last Rites. At 11 p.m. we left Raleigh with dirty clothes and Norton’s kibbles thrown into the minivan. Elliot drove overnight from Raleigh to Warren after working all day. I slept, cried, and slept some more. When we pulled into my parents’ driveway around 9 a.m. I headed straight over to see Grandma.

The next few days run together in my memory. I think I slept later that day but I don’t remember. At some point I showered and changed clothes. My mom, aunt, and I spent the night at my grandparents’ to sit, watch, wait, and to administer Gram’s pain medication. We did Grandpa’s laundry and made sure the dishes were clean. My aunt, my grandparent’s primary caretaker, was busy with other health concerns that kept her away more than she wanted. Her typically soothing voice was often frantic and unsure.

I held Grandma’s hand a lot. I felt her velvet skin, her swollen joints, and I admired her sun spots. Her long life was evident as her fingers chilled to allow blood to nourish her body’s vital organs.

And then, after a day of hand holding and whispering to others in the house, mom and I watched Grandma breathe her last. I had never witnessed a death, and besides cry a lot I didn’t really know what to do.

As much as her body was ready to give up, no one else was. We summoned Grandpa, her husband for nearly 70 years, from upstairs to tell him. He and my dad both stood stunned at Grandma’s side. Dad wept while Grandpa kissed Grandma’s forehead and held her hand. Medicine couldn’t save Grandma this time. We couldn’t avoid death anymore.

Tradition and instructions from the funeral home floated us through the next several days. I passively experienced time passing. Emily and I chose Grandma’s funeral outfit– talk about a task you think you’ll never do. We picked through Gram’s massive collection of jewelry to find just the right pieces. Gram was very detail oriented and would have wanted everything to coordinate just right.

Details became the name of the game– funeral arrangements, the funeral program, where to have lunch after the funeral, where to store the food people were bringing by, what people should wear to the funeral, etc. I wrote Gram’s obituary, which was oddly comforting. She always admired my writing and it meant a lot to  me that my words would have the final say on her life. Later that week Grandpa, a man of few words, said something I’ll never forget.

“Did you get a copy of your grandmother’s obituary?”

“Yeah, I wrote it for them.”

“Ah, that’s why it was so nice then.”

His compliment was the only bright spot in our visit home that week. Honestly, from the moment my mom made that initial phone call to the moment we pulled out of Warren to head back to Raleigh, everything just sucked. I think we all had moments in which responsibilities trumped emotions, but that didn’t make anything any easier. I was swimming upriver against my grief, unsure of where the shore was.

Eventually I found the shore. It’s closer some days than others. Sometimes when I have time to myself at home I lay down and relive memories with my grandmother. The tears stream freely as life with Mary McCarthy plays like a movie– trips to McDonalds for no special reason, eating pierogies at the Polish festival, watching Mass on Saturday morning after a sleepover. Endless scenes of feeling special.

Emily's prom, 2008

Emily’s prom, 2008