Yoga review: Alba Avella

It’s been almost two years since I first discovered yoga. As I said, I started practicing it because I hurt my hip and had to stop running while that healed; but I quickly realized that I like yoga so much more than running as a primary form of exercise. (A fine thing to discover after I finally broke down and invested in good running shoes!) I still endorse everything I said in this initial post, which I wrote when I only had experience with one instructor, Julia Marie Lopez. I still think if you’re looking to start yoga, she’s a great introduction. 

I did get a little bored after a while, but I wasn’t ready to start paying for real classes; so I started hunting around for someone else free. There are LOTS of free yoga classes on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and anywhere else you stream videos, and some of them are amazingly terrible. There are instructors who literally don’t know their left from their right, who say mean things about you if you’re struggling, and who seem to know about three poses and just want you to do them over and over and over again. 

There was one chick I followed as long as I could, because her routines were challenging; but, my friends, she said “bref” instead of “breath.” Even when I’m doing yoga regularly and breathing in a controlled fashion and so on, I’m still always right on the brink of murdering people just as a matter of course, so I just couldn’t deal with hearing “bref” several times in thirty minutes. 

Finally my friend Theresa clued me into Alba Avella, and that’s who I’ve been following for quite a while now. The worst thing she does is say “stagnant” when I think what she means is “static.” She also has a habit of reminding us frequently to “notice the difference,” and I truly don’t know what she means by this. What difference? The difference between what? I guess she just means “think about how you feel,” so that’s what I’ve been doing. 

But truly, those are the worst things she does. The good things are:

-She tells you exactly what you’re supposed to be doing most of the time, so if you aren’t looking at the screen, you can still follow. She also always knows left from right, which is very important!

-Her voice is agreeable, and she is articulate. She doesn’t play music during her classes, and I don’t miss it at all. 

-She is chill and encouraging without being condescending or overly therapeutic. I am at a point where, if I can’t do something, I just give it a shot and move along, so I don’t need a lot of “It’s okay to fail! It’s a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect!” pep talks, but she is reasonably friendly and does remind you that if you fall down, you can just get up again.

-Her routines are interesting and varied. I’ve done dozens of them and I haven’t yet found that “ugh, there’s that Alba Avella combo she always reverts to,” which other instructors all seem to have. She has a background in dance, and this may account for why the flows have a certain beauty and symmetry to them, which I haven’t noticed in many other instructors’ routines. She seems to be aiming to produce something beautiful in the whole act of the practice, from start to finish, rather than just making sure a certain group of muscles gets worked. (Which would also be okay, but I find the elegance of it is motivating for me, and keeps me coming back.) 

-The routines that say “power” in them are hard! I am sweating pretty good at the end of thirty minutes. But she also has plenty of routines that are gentle, or focused on stretching, etc., and the written descriptions are accurate and useful. 
-She doesn’t do a lot of quasi spiritual/mystical stuff. At the end of each session, she has you bow to your practice and I think maybe she mentions your third eye, but otherwise it’s all nice and physical. When I’m done, I put my hands together, bow my head, and pray “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal one, have mercy on us and on the whole world” and then add in any prayer that arises naturally, if any. Easy peasy. I’m actually fairly scrupey about spiritual mixing, so if you’re someone who has qualms about yoga as a spiritual influence, here’s my quick take on that, cut and pasted from this post

I was joking when I said earlier I was afraid I might get a yoga demon, but I am also Catholic and do not want to participate in something that could be an expression of a different religion, whether that’s Hinduism or Buddhism, or some kind of nameless New Age spiritual practice. What I have learned is that yoga, as it’s practiced in the United States, is actually a quite recent invention, and not an ancient religious practice at all. However, modern or not, there is most certainly such a thing as yoga that invites you to participate in spiritual practices that are foreign to Christianity. What we do with our minds matters, so I get a little annoyed at Catholics who scoff at the idea that any yoga class could possibly be spiritually harmful or inappropriate. I would not take a yoga class that included a spiritual element. (That includes yoga classes that try to be explicitly Christian yoga, because that’s just weird. Just exercise! Or, do whatever you want, I don’t care.) 

-Also, this is barely worth mentioning, but some instructors wear outfits that are just so silly-looking, and Avella does not. I don’t remember what she wears, which is probably her goal: Not to be distracting. The only down side to this is that I can’t make a mental note about videos, like, “Oh, I remember I really liked the one where she’s wearing that weird strappy red thing” or “uh oh, purple pants! I don’t have the energy for this one today.”

I think that’s everything. I subscribe to her channel on YouTube and have been working my way through the copious number of 20- and 30-minute free videos there. I would like to do one of the thirty-day challenges, but it’s hard to track them down in order, so I usually just scroll around and find something that seems appropriate for the day. (She also has ten-minute routines, and some 40-minute ones which I haven’t tried yet.) I’ve run across a few with poor sound quality, but that’s the rare exception. 

The first video of hers I tried is this one: 30 minute total body reset flow.

It’s not the most entertaining routine, but it’s a pretty good introduction to her style, and as promised, it does use your whole body. Some of her videos are a lot more challenging and elaborate, and many of them are filmed in some kind of ski loft or something, which is visually interesting (you can sometimes see snow outside; I believe she lives in Colorado) and has better lighting, and some are in other studios. I believe some are shot outdoors, but I haven’t tried those yet (although I have done yoga outside myself, when I forgot I told the kids they could use the TV for a Mario tournament. I figured if the neighbors wanted to watch me get up and get down and get up again, that was entirely their problem). 

All the benefits of yoga I discussed before are still continuing, as long as I keep doing it (and I sometimes fall off the wagon and don’t do anything for a couple of weeks, and I always regret it). If I do yoga several times a week, I sleep much better, my digestion is better, it’s easier to stand up and sit up straight, which in turn improves my whole outlook on life. My back doesn’t hurt, my hips don’t hurt, and I’m just calmer and more in control of my person throughout the day.  I’m still fat, but that’s because I eat too much. 

Here’s a thing I wrote about how I’m applying some yoga principles to life beyond the mat, and these all still apply, as well. 

In conclusion: Yay yoga! I do recommend Julia Marie (and for quite a while spent the $6.99 for Wellness Plus to access a larger library of her videos on Amazon) and obviously Alba Avella, but as I said, there are tons of instructors out there. Lots of people love Adriene. I find her irritating, but you may not! So do look into it if you’re feeling blah. I love being able to do a full workout in my small living room without putting shoes on, and it’s been a real gift to me overall. 


Your legs will hold you, and other lessons from yoga

Yoga has been so rewarding psychologically, as well as physically. No doubt you are imagining a middle-aged mom putting on expensive Lycra gear to meditate on the wisdom of “live laugh love.”

It’s not quite that! It’s more that the things that yoga demands of my body are instructive, and I can’t help extrapolating them into larger ideas about life. (Laughing and loving are on their own, however.)

Here are some of the more useful ideas that yoga has been helping me internalize, even during the last few weeks when I’ve been too sick to do anything more physically challenging than open a cough drop wrapper: 

It’s okay to take up space. This addresses two struggles: Being okay with taking up space, and being okay with finding value in an idea so clichéd as “it’s okay to take up space.” Every single female friend I have needs to learn both these things. This is where shavasana comes in handy. My goal is to lie there until the dog feels uncomfortable, and at least temporarily not to care about the crud on the rug, the grime on the ceiling, or the floaters in my eyeballs. It’s hard. But it’s made it easier to sit in adoration and do nothing. 

Your life is more interrelated than you realize. Very often, we’ll be holding a pose and the instructor will suggest turning your toes up, twisting your quads outward, or just looking up. And darned if it doesn’t turn on some entirely other, apparently unconnected part of your body. You can almost see the anatomy chart with the affected area traced out in red, all connected. And this happens in life, in general, more often than you may expect, if you have enough mental stillness to recognize the connection. Change one little thing — how you respond to some habitual irritant, whether or not you challenge thoughts that come into your head, what you do first thing in the morning — and it may light up whole, apparently unrelated areas of your life. It’s our own life and our own bodies, and our own mind/body connections, and yet so much of what goes on is mysterious to us. It’s worth it to do some experiments and see what seemingly small adjustments you can make. You may have more control than you realize. 

Transitions don’t have to be graceful. A lot of yoga is about getting from one position into another, and the instructor makes it look easy, but I do not, because it is not easy for me. But why should it be? Transitions are the hardest state to be in. They are inherently unstable. It’s too much to ask of yourself that you should be changing from one thing to the other and also look good doing it. Just focus on getting there without getting hurt, and you’re doing well.

Shaking is normal and functional. The instructor I follow often says “you may feel shaking and quaking,” either when we’re in a difficult balance pose, or when we’ve held a pose for a long time and it’s starting to be a strain. Then she says, “This is good news. It means your muscles are doing their job.” It’s always a relief to hear this. The shaking and quaking is your muscles rapidly compensating for you almost falling over. It’s not actually a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of functionality. It’s your body catching you, over and over and over again. Sometimes that’s how staying up happens: By almost falling over, over and over and over again. 

Relatedly: Balance comes from strength. I used to associate things like compromise, composure, and moderation with weakness and a lack of passion. Sometimes that’s the case; but sometimes it’s much more about strength, and about having built up a whole set of little, interdependent muscles which work together to maintain balance. Sometimes part of that strength includes knowing that other people see you as unfeeling, but continuing on in what you think is best, because it’s how you can maintain balance in your life. That also comes from strength.

Sometimes you push, sometimes you pull, sometimes you just let gravity do the work. When we’re in a pose or in a stretch or release position, the instructor will give us various directions for how to get the results we want, based on what we’ve been doing, what kind of shape we’re in, and how it feels. She acknowledges that, for some people, simply sitting in a certain position is an achievement, and should be honored. But for some people, or on some days, you can add more pressure, and there are various ways of doing this. It’s not about getting into a certain position; it’s about what’s actually happening in your specific body. This in itself is a useful lesson, especially as I recover from covid, and things that were easy last month are very hard again. And I appreciate the reminder that, sometimes, if you want to feel a stretch, you don’t have to exert effort or pressure. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything but wait, and circumstances will stretch you. (Catholics sometimes talk about working on accepting difficult circumstances they can’t change, rather than taking on new penances for Lent, but it’s a principle that can be applied anytime.) 

Flexibility comes in stages. I’m not very naturally flexible, in any way: physically, mentally, or otherwise. But I’m often more flexible than I realize, as long as I take it slowly — and I don’t just mean “over the course of months, with practice.” For instance, if I bow over my legs and breathe with that for a few breaths, then maybe I can creep forward a few inches, then breathe, then gain a little more ground, and so on. I’m more flexible than I think, as long as I don’t try to get there instantly. If there’s somewhere you need to get (or somewhere you need someone else to get!), you likely need to let yourself do it in increments, gradually, patiently, a few breaths at a time, with rest in between.

You can try again next time. The first time I tried crow position (standing on your head, with your knees balanced on the back of your arms), I couldn’t do it at all, and I was so upset and discouraged. But it kept turning up, and I kept trying it, and . . . I’m still pretty terrible at crow, but I’m much better at being okay with not being great at crow, which is a much more useful skill than standing on my head. There are very few things that we truly only get one shot at. There are many, many things that we can get better at if we accept that it will take time and practice and patience and a sense of humor to learn. 

Strength comes from endurance, persistence, and resistance, not violence. I used to think cardio was everything, and if I wanted to be strong and fit, I had to throw myself around and end up sweaty and exhausted, or it wouldn’t count. That never worked, but I kept trying. Well, I think I have built stronger muscles in six months of yoga than at any other time of my life. And I do sweat, but it’s been mostly a matter of carrying my own body weight, maintaining poses for longer than I want to, and pushing back against the ground and the wall in my own living room. Make of it what you will. 

Your legs will hold you. Frequently, when we’re in a difficult pose and want to get out of it, the instructor will reassure us that our legs will hold us. Raise your hand if you’ve had a rough year, and a rough other year before that. Yeah. More than once, I’ve had this phrase come into my head: Your legs will hold you. It acknowledges two things: That what I’m doing right now is hard; and that I am already strong. I can look down and see that, indeed, I have not fallen down. Sometimes just seeing that is enough to keep me going a little bit longer. 

I have tried several different yoga instructors, including the fabled Adriene, and I vastly prefer Julia Marie Lopez. I talk more about her approach here. I did her 30 Day Yoga For Weight Loss course twice, which is on Amazon Prime, then her Couch to Confident 14 Day Yoga Challenge, also on Prime, which hones some yoga skills, and smattering of a few other courses, and then, after  sampling several other free yoga instructors, I started paying the monthly fee to subscribe to Wellness Plus by Psychetruth so I could do her 30 Day Power Up! For Strength and Confidence. These are mostly longer classes, some almost an hour, and I was doing great until I got covid, boo. I’m slowly, shakily starting up again and taking lots of breaks. She’s a very good teacher. 

I can’t believe how much I like yoga

Yoga story! Who wants to hear my yoga story? 

The short version is: I used to be a runner. Then some muscle and gait problems caught up with me, and my hip started to hurt so much, I could barely walk. So I was looking for something non-jarring to keep me active while I slowly healed with physical therapy. I randomly chose yoga because it looked easy, and was amazed to discover I love it, it’s the perfect exercise for me, and I hope to do it for the rest of my life. 

Disclaimer: I’ve only ever followed one instructor, someone named Julia Marie Lopez whose videos are currently on Amazon Prime. (They are also on YouTube.) All my experience with yoga are from her classes, and I’ve only been following them for a few months.  

Here’s what I like about yoga:

It is a challenging, incredibly efficient workout. It uses every part of my body, and has made me much stronger, improved my posture, and has also improved my balance, which is something I didn’t realize needed improving (apparently it seemed normal to tip over while putting on pants or socks). I noticed a big difference during my recent renovations projects that involved a lot of getting up, getting down, reaching, scrambling, ducking, etc. I have so much more control and elasticity in my movements, it’s just easier to do all kinds of work. I expect gardening will be a different experience in the spring, too. 

It is just as effective as running for losing or maintaining my weight, together with my loose plan of modified intermittent fasting and counting calories. I started doing yoga just to do something, anything, until I could get back to “real exercise,” by which I meant something violent and sweaty. Changed my mind! I do often break a sweat with yoga, and I’m clearly building muscle and losing fat. But a lot of it a subtle, isometric, and efficient, so you don’t necessarily feel like you’re being wrung out like an old rag. 

It has shaped my body amazingly quickly. I’m 47 and was kind of resigned to just becoming more and more sack-like even if I lost more weight, but it turns out that I’m still kind of cute. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that. 

It’s been awesome for my mental and emotional state. I sleep better, and I feel energized and invigorated when I do yoga regularly, and it’s as effective as running for keeping migraines away. I have better posture, which feeds into a better mood. I apologize in advance for this, but at the end of a class, I feel like all my fluid-filled sacs have been replenished. Seriously, it’s just easier to be chill and even-tempered and confident when I get my yoga in regularly. I feel more put together as a person. This probably has something to do with lymph, but who knows. 

It’s fun, which I was not expecting. There’s lots of variety, lots of different modes of action, and the class flies by. It keeps my attention in a way that no other form of exercise has (and I have tried MANY many different kinds of workouts).  When I was running, I always craved that state where I would forget I was running and my body would enter a lovely automatic flow. With yoga (at least as I’ve done it so far), it’s kind of the opposite: You’re hyper-focused on the physical experience, and you get a lot of satisfaction out of achieving it. And you know, it’s kind of like playing. How often does a 47-year-old housewife get to be a warrior, or a cactus, or a swan? This is not something I realized I wanted to do, but now I know. I also very much enjoy how non-western some of the poses feel. It’s cool to be doing things with my body that just aren’t part of my normal body movement vocabulary. I also like learning words in a language that I’m completely unfamiliar with. 

I have not gotten even a single demon. (Yeah, this was a bit of a concern for me. More about this later.)

Now some specifics about this series. 

As I said, the videos I’ve been following are by Julia Marie. First I did her 30 Day Yoga for Weight Loss challenge, and today I’m finishing her Couch to Confident 14-Day Yoga Challenge, both of which are on Amazon Prime. They are thirty-minute classes, and there is quiet mood music playing throughout all the class. She has several more courses on Prime as well, but I may just go back and re-do these when I’m done. I think you can pay to follow live videos on her site. The classes are half an hour each, and the Weight Loss ones have little bonus chats with advice about losing weight (which I skip, because it seems to be stuff I already know). The Couch to Confident series is about getting more proficient at various yoga practices. 

I like her overall approach very much. I went into it never having done a single bit of yoga in my life, and she does an excellent job of easing you into familiarity and proficiency with the various poses, and explaining exactly what you’re supposed to be feeling, and how to correct if it you’re experiencing something amiss. Some of the poses are pretty subtle, and it looks from the outside like you’re doing it right, but you need to make an interior, isometric shift that makes a significant change in your experience. 

This is fascinating to me — because of the newness of the practice itself, and also because of her skill in describing bodily gestures and sensations. I don’t know what most yoga instructors are like, but I’ve certainly tried taking classes from other fitness instructors who are not this articulate, and it’s so frustrating, trying to play catch-up to what you see on the screen. I have a lot of trouble following left/right body commands. With this instructor, though, I rarely feel confused. Even if I can’t perform the pose, I understand what it is. (She does occasionally fill up some long spaces with talk, probably to take your mind of the discomfort of holding the pose, and a few times I’m pretty sure I caught her starting a sentence that she had no idea how she was going to end. It was suspenseful for a few seconds, but she pulled through!) 

She’s encouraging, but not patronizing, and it’s more or less a dignified experience overall. That means a lot to me, because I get embarrassed and discouraged easily.  She’s pretty open about not liking certain poses or actions, and being okay with that, but also honoring your body’s limitations, and being content with doing what you’re ready to do on any particular day. There’s no “oooh gurl, feel that burn, it hurts so good” stuff, but I still end up feeling motivated to try hard to do the best I can, because I usually end up feeling so dang good at the end of the class. She gives brief pep talks about the importance of making time for yourself, and allowing yourself to take up space, and I didn’t think I needed to hear that, but I did. I also kind of rolled my eyes at the part where you spend a few seconds in fetal pose before getting up and starting your day again, but you know what? Now I do it. Because if you can be a fetus for thirty seconds, why would you not? I even did the class that was just about resting, because I figured she must know what she’s talking about. (My normal approach would be “aw, screw this, lady, don’t waste my time!” so the fact that I listened to her will give you some idea of how much respect I’ve gained for her.) 

There is some stuff that is too hard for me. She’s very good about suggesting a modification, if you’re not feeling up to it (or, as she phrases it, “if [such-and-such] isn’t available to you today”). In a few cases, I just skipped a whole class and did an easier one, and then returned to the challenging one when I was feeling more ambitious. 

For instance, she started doing this, and I just noped right out of it, stopped the video, and went back to an easier class. A few days later, I was ready to try this pose, and I did it! I didn’t look cute, but I did it.

I was joking when I said earlier I was afraid I might get a yoga demon, but I am also Catholic and do not want to participate in something that could be an expression of a different religion, whether that’s Hinduism or Buddhism, or some kind of nameless New Age spiritual practice. What I have learned is that yoga, as it’s practiced in the United States, is actually a quite recent invention, and not an ancient religious practice at all. However, modern or not, there is most certainly such a thing as yoga that invites you to participate in spiritual practices that are foreign to Christianity. What we do with our minds matters, so I get a little annoyed at Catholics who scoff at the idea that any yoga class could possibly be spiritually harmful or inappropriate. I would not take a yoga class that included a spiritual element. (That includes yoga classes that try to be explicitly Christian yoga, because that’s just weird. Just exercise! Or, do whatever you want, I don’t care.) 

This particular class, though, is almost entirely about physical exercise, breathing, and occasionally spiritually neutral emotional things like gratitude or calm. She very occasionally slips in some quasi-spiritual stuff, and I just ignore it. She says bring your thumbs to your third eye, I think, “Forehead, though.” She says to close your eyes and express gratitude toward the spirit of whatever, I think, “Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But it honestly very rarely comes up, at least in the classes I’ve done so far. It’s usually just about breathing, muscles, where to look, where to shift your weight, what to do with your fingers and toes, and so on. 

She also mentions some stuff that may or may not be medically accurate. I don’t know what she means by “shadow side of the heart,” so I just ignore it. She mentions what effect breathing and stretching and being upside down has on your body, and I have no idea if she knows what she’s talking about or not. I’m not in it to learn about biology. I see that it’s making me feel better and be stronger, so if she says get on the floor and be a pigeon, I’ll do that.  

The weight loss classes incorporates some HIIT (high intensity interval training), so you will be doing mostly yoga, but also some classes that have terrible things like bicycle crunches and mountain climbers and even burpees; but she keeps it quick and doesn’t make you do endless repetitions. She also tends to count in breaths, rather than in repetitions, which makes it more tolerable, somehow. And I have to admit, it works really well. 

Anyway, about my hip. The physical therapist said that my glute and core muscles were weak, and I was compensating for them by using some muscles I wasn’t supposed to be using, which was putting strain on my hip. Or something. The solution was to do some boring, unpleasant exercises to strengthen my glutes and my core. 

WELL, guess what yoga does? At first I was doing my PT exercises and then yoga, but now I’m just doing yoga, especially yoga with a lot of planks, and my hip is feeling fine. Yoga is not a substitute for real physical therapy, but it’s great for maintaining the gains I made in PT.

I use an exercise mat and occasionally a yoga block. The “Couch to Confident” class has one session where you need a roller, which I don’t have; but you could easily get along through both classes just using a mat. I recommend wearing a close-fitting top, because you spend a lot of time upside-down.

And that’s it! Happy to answer any questions, although I only know what I’ve seen and learned in these videos. 

Image is a screenshot from Episode 31 of 30 Day Yoga for Weight Loss with Julia Marie

What’s for supper? Vol. 267: The ramens of the day

Cozy foods this week! Brussels sprouts! Some fish sauce comparison! Amusing tricks with lemon! The rediscovery of fennel! And more. Come see what we ate. 

Despite my excitement, I didn’t get around to using my new foley mill last week, for applesauce or anything else. We do go to an apple orchard; we did not pick apples from our own tree yet. I did buy a second single-use appliance, though: One of those cast iron apple slicer and peelers that clamps onto the counter and does everything with a crank. Pretty ingenious. 

The kids like to put apple slices on their ham and cheese sandwiches, so this will probably get regular use, beyond just the production of tasty, tasty apple peels

We are really slipping as a family, though. In the past, we would have been knee deep in denuded onions, potatoes, and baseballs,  with little peels of doll heads all over the floor. Now we’re just, “tee hee, I can peel all the apples I want.” We’re slipping.

Hot dogs and chips

An extremely drivey day that started out with a Saturday morning alarm and two loads of cars through the drive-thru flu shot clinic, and kept going like that. Benny had a pal over, Damien cooked hot dogs on the grill, and we had a campfire and roasted marshmallows. I did buy a skeleton. We haven’t settled on a ludicrous display for the year, but we now have two fully posable skeletons. 

Salad with chicken, feta, walnuts, cranberries

Sunday was the day we chose to go apple picking. We’ve gotten pretty good at planning day trips. Damien cooked the chicken after Mass, and we had the kids make their Monday lunches and do their evening chores in the afternoon, so when we got home late and full of apples and smelling faintly of goat poo, all we had to do was eat the prepped food and slither into bed. Truly, the greatest organizational hack of all, though, is to not have a baby or a toddler. Nothing beats it. Also, let people go apple picking in their pajamas if they want. 

I myself wore a sweater and leggings, which are pajamas. As I mentioned, we are slipping. (If you care to see our apple picking photos, they are here.)

The dinner we prepped was salad with roast chicken, toasted walnuts (toast on a pan in the oven for a few minutes or, even easier, in the microwave for a few minutes), feta cheese, and dried cranberries. I had mine with wine vinegar. 

Decent and filling. I feel like there was some kind of bread component, but maybe I’m confused.

Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, roast honey balsamic Brussels sprouts with walnuts

My big secret with meatloaf is only to make it a few times a year, so it doesn’t become an emotional burden. The other thing I struggle with, with meatloaf, is the desire to get cute with it. I want to make adorable little meat muffins, and I know nobody wants that, even though I feel like deep down they would enjoy it. 

Or I start pulling out my silicone pans

or I start felling sculptural, and we end up with meat horrors

Or, not pictured, giant meat boobies. It’s just . . . you give me big hunks of raw material, and I want to create. Anyway, this time I just made three big loaves, that’s it. That’s what kind of month it’s been. Here. Here’s yer meat. 

It’s a serviceable recipe, though, as long as you don’t underseason it.

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I use red wine and Worcestershire sauce inside and ketchup outside, and it has a pretty good savor. It would make good leftover sandwiches, but that doesn’t fit into my current calorie arrangement, so the leftovers are just hulking in the fridge, awaiting their doom. And who isn’t. 

We also had ten pounds of mashed potatoes, which I meant to make as garlic parmesan mashed potatoes

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but I just plain forgot, so they were just plain with milk and butter and salt

and I also forgot how dang long it takes potatoes to cook, so we had supper pretty late.

I also had four pounds of Brussels sprouts, first of the season. They turned out swell, with very little effort. I stemmed and halved them, spread them in a pan, and drizzled them with olive oil and honey, and some balsamic vinegar, pepper and kosher salt, and then – aha! – tossed in a few handfuls of chopped walnuts, and roasted it under the broiler. 

I don’t know why I have two photos of this, but here you are. 

To think that I spent most of my life not knowing about roasted vegetables. You throw a few nuts in there, and it’s almost a meal in itself. Thank you, Aldi, for cheap nuts. 

Banh mi, pineapple

I have, in the past few years, tried banh mi from various places, and mine is the best. It just is. I recommend mine. I’ve also tried making my same recipe with various meats, and it always tastes the same as very cheap pork, because the sauce is just that powerful. 

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I use a lightly toasted baguette with plenty of plain mayo. I put out sriracha mayo for anyone who wants it, but for me, there are enough other spicy elements. Pork, sweet pickled carrots, plain cucumbers, plenty of cilantro, a few jalapeños, and that’s it. It’s just the best sandwich going. 

Here’s the recipe for pickled carrots, which I may fiddle with. It’s a bit sweet.

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I served pineapple on the side because I got confused. It was supposed to be for Wednesday, but I had already started cutting it up, so it was too late. 

I also used a different kind of fish sauce in the sauce this time, and it was just as savory and salty and weird, but the smell wasn’t eye-watering. I mean, my eyes were a little concerned, but they weren’t absolutely streaming. Fish sauce is made by mixing anchovies with salt and then I guess letting it sit in giant fermentation vats for several months, and then collecting the runoff, or something? I haven’t looked into this deeply. Anyway, I’m drinking more. 

Now you know everything I know. The less stinky sauce was considerably cheaper, too. 

Pork ramen

I cleverly timed this so we would have leftover vaguely Asian sandwich fixings from Tuesday to top the ramen on Wednesday. Oh, I’ve got a few tricks up my sl– ope, nope, sorry, that’s a carrot. Damn shredded carrots got everywhere. I’m not joking, it was terrible. 

So we just had a big pot of ramen, and I cooked up some boneless pork ribs in sesame oil and sloshed on a little soy sauce toward the end

and sliced them up. I considered messing around with some garlic and brown sugar, but then I remembered how lazy I am.

Also set out soft boiled eggs, cucumbers and carrots from the previous day, some nori, pea shoots, crunchy noodles, sesame seeds, and all the various sauces I could find that seemed like they came from the right hemisphere. 

I do like this meal, and it’s so easy and cheap. I think the most expensive part was the nori.

Top view. Dive in!








Ina Garten’s roast chicken with carrots and fennel

Damien was in charge of Thursday’s meal, and he went for this spectacular roast chicken and vegetable dish. The chickens are stuffed with garlic, lemon, and thyme, and wow, can you taste it. It’s so juicy and absolutely packed with flavor, not to mention hilarious to look at. 

Hello, lemons! The chickens get roasted on a bed of vegetables, and I think Damien made a separate platter of just vegetables so there would be plenty. I always forget about fennel in between having this dish, and it’s so good. It’s like all the best parts of onion and cabbage, but it takes up other flavors very nicely. People describe fennel as having a licorice-like taste, and I guess it does, but I don’t like licorice (or anise), and I like fennel a lot. It’s just sort of fancy and peasant-y at the same time, sort of elegant and cozy, juicy and crunchy. I don’t know. Don’t even get me started about the carrots. 

This is a very fine meal, very cheering on a gloomy, rainy day. We served it with plenty of baguettes and soft butter to sop up the lovely lemony juices. 

Look at that beautiful fennel, so elegant, so cozy.

Grilled cheese

Finally Friday. Kind of a draggy week. Just a lot of covid tests and . . . I don’t have to tell you, the same nonsense everyone is dealing with. Everything is medium terrible and I feel medium guilty for not managing it better. Whatever. We live to grill another day. My stupid hip is still endlessly healing up from ??mysterious non injury maybe arthritis?? so I’m on day 2 of a yoga program. It’s this one, which is on Amazon Prime, if you’re interested. It’s not too woo woo, and she’s pretty good at explaining what you’re actually supposed to be doing with your parts. Then at the end she’s like “and now we will pray to honor the body” and I’m like “sorry toots, gotta shower and get to adoration” and I boop it off. 


Meatloaf (actually two giant meatloaves)


  • 5 lbs ground beef
  • 2 lbs ground turkey
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup milk OR red wine
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

plenty of salt, pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic, onion powder, fresh parsley, etc.

  • ketchup for the top
  • 2 onions diced and fried (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 450

  2. Mix all meat, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, and seasonings together with your hands until well blended.

  3. Form meat into two oblong loaves on pan with drainage

  4. Squirt ketchup all over the outside of the loaves and spread to cover with spatula. Don't pretend you're too good for this. It's delicious. 

  5. Bake for an hour or so, until meat is cooked all the way through. Slice and serve. 


Garlic parmesan mashed potatoes


  • 5-6 lbs potatoes
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 8 oz grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper


  1. Peel the potatoes and put them in a pot. Cover the with water. Add a bit of salt and the smashed garlic cloves.

  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer with lid loosely on until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

  3. Drain the water out of the pot. Add the butter and milk and mash well.

  4. Add the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste and stir until combined.

5 from 1 vote

Pork banh mi


  • 5-6 lbs Pork loin
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 tsp pepper

Veggies and dressing

  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • vinegar
  • sugar
  • cilantro
  • mayonnaise
  • Sriracha sauce


  1. Slice the raw pork as thinly as you can. 

  2. Mix together the fish sauce ingredients and add the meat slices. Seal in a ziplock bag to marinate, as it is horrendously stinky. Marinate several hours or overnight. 

  3. Grill the meat over coals or on a pan under a hot broiler. 

  4. Toast a sliced baguette or other crusty bread. 


5 from 1 vote

quick-pickled carrots and/or cucumbers for banh mi, bibimbap, ramen, tacos, etc.

An easy way to add tons of bright flavor and crunch to a meal. We pickle carrots and cucumbers most often, but you can also use radishes, red onions, daikon, or any firm vegetable. 


  • 6-7 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 lb mini cucumbers (or 1 lg cucumber)

For the brine (make double if pickling both carrots and cukes)

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (other vinegars will also work; you'll just get a slightly different flavor)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt


  1. Mix brine ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. 

  2. Slice or julienne the vegetables. The thinner they are, the more flavor they pick up, but the more quickly they will go soft, so decide how soon you are going to eat them and cut accordingly!

    Add them to the brine so they are submerged.

  3. Cover and let sit for a few hours or overnight or longer. Refrigerate if you're going to leave them overnight or longer.

Kids and the occult: what’s your policy?

In my post for the Register about the Black Mass that will be reenacted at Harvard, I included this paragraph:

Satan is real, and he is not fussy. He doesn’t care if you are kidding or not when you call him by name. This is why I tell my kids to stay far, far away from participating in anything occult — ouija boards, tarot cards, etc. — even if it’s just a game.  An invitation is an invitation, and Satan doesn’t stand on manners. You may not see Exorcist-style special effects when the Father of Lies creeps into your life. You may not realize anything has happened to you at all, as the rift between you and God slowly gets deeper and wider.

Predictably, someone responded with this comment:

Seriously? Ouija boards? Tarot cards? What other things made by Parker Bros. are we supposed to be a afraid of? Are the kids not allowed to dress up for Halloween? How worried should we be about that Harry Potter fellow?

A fair question.

As with so many other things, we try to find that middle way when dealing with occult-ish things in our family. We don’t want to be screaming meemies who hide under the rug every time someone says the m-word (magic); but we want to make sure our kids don’t innocently slide into something truly dangerous.

There are three categories of things that raise questions:

Things expressly designed to make contact with spirits other than God or the saints or angels. This includes tarot cards and ouija boards – and just because Parker Brothers is dumb enough to put out a kiddie version of these things doesn’t mean they’re harmless. They are explicitly occult, and, as I said in the Register post, the devil doesn’t care if you are just kidding, or don’t understand what you are doing. An invitation is an invitation; and Catholics are, in fact,expressly forbidden to get involved with this kind of thing, so there’s not much to decide. Listen to your mother!

Things which once had or may have had occult or pagan origins, but have changed or been “baptized,” and now signify something else. The gleeful celebration of Halloween, complete with skulls and bats and gore, falls into this category. My husband and I make decisions about these things on a case-by-case basis, and sometimes decide to pull away from creepy stuff for a while if it seems like it’s having a bad effect on the kids, or if it crosses the line into true perversity. But “spooky” is not the same as “occult,” and the Church has a long history of facing death and fear head-on; so it’s entirely possible to be a good Catholic and still enjoy scary stuff. I talk about this in a few posts: Twofer Costumes for the Conflicted Catholic Family;  Do Brains Break the Communion Fast?    and Twelve Movies to Terrify Your Kids.

Yoga also falls into this category. If it’s just exercise, it’s just exercise, and if it calms you down, super — and I think 99% of Catholics who do yoga are doing fine. If you’re trying to find spiritual enlightenment through yoga, though, I’d be wary. The Church has that covered already. Mind/body stuff is weird. It’s not for nothing that the sacraments use materials we can taste, touch, and smell. What you do with your body means something, so make sure you know what you mean!

Things which deal with or discuss magic or the occult, such as the Harry Potter books. Our kids have read and enjoyed the books. My husband and I read them first, to see what all the fuss was about. We decided that, since none of our kids show any particular attraction to dark or occult things, there was no danger in letting them read about magic — especially since it was a story about goodness and love and such conquering evil and darkness and such. If I had a kid who was easily swayed, and showed an unhealthy interest in magic or new age stuff, we’d probably make a wider berth around Harry Potter (and this would be no tragedy, because the books are not exactly irreplaceable in the canon of western literature).

My son recently wanted to look up Harry Potter curses to beef up a game they were playing. So I said yes, but first we discussed how Harry Potter is clearly fiction, but some people take it more seriously than that, and that they can get drawn into dangerous waters, so we don’t want to get sucked in with them. He volunteered that, if he saw anything that looked at all weird or fishy, he’d shut the window immediately (which he actually does).

Dungeons and Dragons (etc.) is in this category, too. Some of our kids play it with other kids who are decent and grounded, and just want to have fun imagining crazy and exciting stuff. I would not let my kids play it with a group of kids who were fascinated by the occult in general.  You get out of it what you put into it.

People who argue that the Narnia or Lord of the Rings books are dangerous are simply not serious people, and when they want to talk about this stuff, I have to go clean out the lint trap of my dryer, because it’s more edifying.  I have, however, noticed a lot of books aimed at middle school girls which tell the stories of wise girls who understand the ways of the earth and herbs, etc. etc., and harsh, suspicious men, especially clergy, want to quash and oppress them. These are ideas which can seep into young imaginations and wreak all kinds of havoc (and they tend to be stupid books anyway), so I’ve asked my kids to stay away from these. Scorn is a powerful teaching aid.


Overall, we keep a sharp eye out, and reevaluate often what we will and won’t allow in the house. And we talk, talk, talk about it, and try to keep a sense of humor. If parents freak out when kids do something that might be wrong, kids will not go to parents for help when there is something wrong. There is a lot of weird stuff floating around, and kids need to be taught a healthy sense of caution, without making them afraid of the dark.

How about you? How do you handle this in your house? Has your thinking or approach changed over the years?