Thursday, February 28, 2013

Four letters in two hours

Posted by Amy Baranski

It's the 28th day of the shortest month of the year and I just crammed in writing four letters in two hours. Two hours that I should have spent doing bills or finishing a few work projects, but I'll just have to find a later time for those things.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of the month is letting go of all the things that don't really matter--even if they seem like they really matter.

When you get down to it most things don't have to get done. Most things can get pushed aside, wallow, languish, and even die. Since bringing my son into the world I contemplate more the things I want to do and spend time mentally eschewing everything else. I'm still working on this--letting go of all the distractions and enjoying the vicissitudes of a life that doesn't follow a societal prescription.

What the hell does that mean?

It means people may spend a good deal of their time telling you what you need to be doing, or questioning what you are doing. Today I'm officially and publicly announcing that I'm not going to get wrapped up worrying about other people's perceptions of my choices. Instead I'm going to spend my time the way I want to for the rest of the year my life. And if that means saying no to people, or invitations, or obligations, in order to write letters then I'm going to do it.

Sure there's a bit of housekeeping to do for basic survival. I'm no idiot. But there's a lot that really doesn't need to get done. I'm on a mission to reduce time spent on the ordinaries of life, so I can spend time on the extraordinary nature of existence!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When you've got so much to say, It's called GRATITUDE

Posted by Melissa Baumgart
There has been a letter I have been meaning to write for a couple of months.  I lay in bed at night, trying to fall asleep, and I compose it over and over again in my mind.  Finally, today, I just did it.  I wrote the Thank-You-Letter-of-a-Lifetime.  I'm not calling it that because I am such a great writer; it's that the thing I am grateful for was so amazing and the times I spent with these people so heartfelt and special, that this thank you letter means so much to me. 

On the topic of gratitude, I have an assignment for a class in Midwifery school:  "Keep a Gratitude Journal.  Write down three things every night that you were grateful for that day."  This assignment was given in January.  I have not written down one thing.  Not one day. 

The truth is, I spend much of my day listening to my inner complainer.  Those of you blessed to know me, get to hear the outer complainer too.  Lucky for you all, I think the outer one is a bit more funny at times.  The inner one is just bitter and self-loathing...which can be funny, if you're into that kinda humor.

But, today I have been thinking beyond the everyday complainer.  Beyond the mundane, houseful of chores, kids always fighting, living in a dark dungeon and walking out to gray skies.  I really have a lot to be thankful for.  I have traveled to so many beautiful places,  I have friends and family that love me (even with all of my flaws), I have three healthy, beautiful children, I have a best friend (my husband) that knows me better than anyone and still likes me, I am in midwifery school.  And I am alive. 

OK, now I am exhausted from all that positivity.  Whew.  But I do suggest taking a few minutes to write that thank you letter you've been meaning to write. Here's one of my favorite songs about being grateful.  Enjoy.

"What's gonna set you free?
Look inside and you'll see
When you've got so much to say
It's called gratitude and that's right"- the Beastie Boys

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Congee - not your average gruel

Posted by Amy Baranski

Maybe it's because I'm friends with Melissa and food is her life. Or, maybe it's because I grew up in the kitchen on my mother's hip, but I'm totally down with sharing recipes on this blog. In fact sometimes I think let's just turn this bad boy into a food blog.

Okay, okay, so food.

The latest newest recipe I've tried is congee.

I first heard about congee a couple months ago.

I know, clearly I'm not well traveled nor apparently well versed in rice dishes. But whatever.

A friend from our birth class invited Bob and I and J-rock over for brunch. (Em and I actually gave birth within 3 hours of each other and her babe was twice my babe's size! How's that for Kismet!). So, Em was in the process of eliminating many many food groups from her diet as her baby seemed to be reacting to whatever was passing through in her milk. We had to find a dish to bring that didn't contain: eggs, dairy, soy, nuts, legumes, gluten, or wheat. There may have been some other things on that list. I offered a fruit salad and cardboard.

I ended up in a heated mess with a pomegranate and a coupla persimmons about 30 minutes before we had to be there. I blamed my husband for the mess.

I digress.

Em offered to make congee.

I looked at Bob.

Have you ever had congee?

The first hit I saw online described it as rice porridge or gruel. Gruel?

We're being invited over for ... gruel?
Okay, sure, whatever, I'm game.

I did a little more internet sleuthing and white lied back a text.

Yeah sure like grits?

Em probably laughed her head-off. She shot me back a one-liner.

Sorta but with Asian fixings.
Sounds great!

I made a mental note to eat a bowl of oats before going over.

When we got there Bob and I discovered that congee is this TOTALLY AMAZING DISH that we - both (get this) LIKE! Its like chicken-noodle-soup-for-your-global-soul. You can dress it up or down anyway you like. Bob takes his simple. I'm an all the fixings type of gal.

I found a recipe for it published in Madison Market Central Co-op's circular. It's easy to make, delicious to eat, and is now one of Bob and my standards. I've even memorized the recipe--something I've been trying to do to get a regular repartee of meals that I can pull out of my back pocket on a dime. (Too many idioms? So what). Mangia!


1 cup rice
6 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
1 pound chicken thighs bone in skin on (or skinless boneless and then you don't have to take them out and shred them)
Hunk of ginger peeled and cut in chunks
1/8 teaspoon (or a pinch of white pepper)
2 teaspoons of salt (or to taste)
Fixings: scallions, cilantro, kimchee (or sauerkraut), fish sauce, sesame sauce, peanuts, soy sauce, or tamari, SIRACHA

Throw the rice, water, chicken broth, chicken, pepper and salt into a large dutch oven or pot. Heat until boiling and the simmer for an hour. Check and keep simmering until it's the right consistency. Shred the chicken (if you've gone bone-in (that's what she said) take it out and shred the chicken then toss it back in). Then serve with all the fixins. Done and done. YUM!

Social Media Shabbat FAIL

Posted by Amy Baranski

There I was logged on and creeping, during that 24 hour Shabbat. I knew better not to "like" anything so that my activity was minimalized. I even tried to remove Facebook from my mobile phone.

Complete lie. I didn't try at all.

I thought: surely Instagram doesn't count I'll go on there. Then, O Pinterest is basically like Bing images I'll just take a peek.

It's a slippery slope.

There I was on Facebook silently stalking everyone's status updates.

But damnit sometimes my friends are B-O-R-I-N-G. And by boring I mean predictable. I get Melissa's point and enthusiasm for moving on with the times, and I'll do her one better - I not only like moving on with the times I like moving ahead of the times. I'm all in favor of early adoption of technology and new media.

But honestly some of this new shit gets so old so quick.

It has no lasting flavor....Myspace? Friendster? Live Journal? I barely remember the first chat room I entered. How long are text messages saved? You can't tie a bow around a stack of text messages and take them out to savor one by one, ESPECIALLY if you've drowned your phone in a Honey Bucket.

Furthermore, are people really who they "update" themselves to be? I could be totally wrong, but my hunch is that people will divulge deeper parts of themselves in a letter Vs. Facebook.

Haven't you ever looked at your Facebook friends and seen a cast of misaligned characters? The one who is always happy, the one with career success, the one constantly down on her luck, the one with the best quips, the one who is earnest, the one with the "perfect" family photos, the second-amendment-wielding uncle who lives with his second wife in an RV? (No apologies Uncle M. you're posts are WACKED).

Gawd I can only image what "one" I am.

Anyway - I was sort of hoping that a month devoted to letter writing would remove the pressures of being on display each and every day (Melissa Gorga I heart you!).

And here I am online again writing about it.

I'll try the Social Media Shabbat again. I will.

And I will write all my letters in the next 7 days.

And then I'll FACEBOOK about that shit!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The BEST Chicken ever

Posted by Melissa Baumgart

I know this month has nothing to do with food.  But my life has everything to do with food.  I love food.  I love healthy food, totally crappy food, junk food, local and organic food.  I love it all.  That's exactly why "losing weight" month is going to be so hard.  Thanks, Amy.

Tonight, I turned to one of my most faithful cookbooks, Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller.  Once again, I made the always spectacular and easy, Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Tarragon.  The spices are unexpected, and I have found even the most unadventurous palate to enjoy this dish.  (Only if you don't tell them what's in it.)

Please make this tonight...and enjoy!

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Tarragon
Adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon yellow curry
6 large chicken breasts, boneless and skinless (about 6 ounces each)
Kosher salt
Canola oil
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoons minced shallot
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 Tablespoon coarsely chopped tarragon, plus 1 Tablespoon
Freshly ground black pepper

Mix together the paprika and the curry in a small bowl.  Season the chicken breasts with the mixture.  (Thomas says to refrigerate for two hours....I did not, since I was in a hurry.)

Place chicken in ziplock bags and using a meat pounder, pound to about a 1/4 inch thick.  (This really gives you a workout! And I never got mine that thin.)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (I used 300 degrees since my chicken never got thin enough).  Set a cooling rack over a baking sheet.

Heat canola oil (or olive oil should be fine) in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  You may need two pans, or to work in batches.  Add the chicken to the pan, smooth side down,  and cook for 2 minutes.  Turn and cook again until golden, another 2 minutes.  Since mine were thick, I left them a few minutes longer.  Transfer to a the rack to keep warm.

Wipe any oil or bits out of the pan.  Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in the pan on medium and add in the shallots.  After 30 seconds, add in the wine, and reduce to half.  Once reduced, turn up the heat and add in the chicken stock.  Boil and cook until slightly thickened.  Stir in the chopped tarragon, any chicken droppings from the pan in the oven,  and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of butter.

Arrange on a platter and pour the sauce over.  Top with the remaining fresh tarragon.

I think of u as the letter writing type

If I were here today, I'd write you all a postcard!  Promise!
Posted by Melissa Baumgart
I didn't mean to come across as a letter-writing-hater.  I have just come to be such a texter and emailer, so much so in fact, that I bemoan even a phone call most of the time. It's just another quality I have added to the "things that suck about me" category.  The list that started sometime before I can recall anything that isn't documented in a family photo book...and that continues to grow.

Actually, when I really think about it, I don't mind moving on with the times.  Just because other people think we should be more like we used to doesn't mean that any of us are right or wrong.  Maybe during "Self Care" month I'll take a long critical look at that list and re-frame the whole thing.  Or better yet, I could re-sytle it during "Styling" month even sooner.

I got a FB message from an old friend yesterday.  A friend that I probably would never call, but love to find the occasional message pop up.  It's not that I don't like her, it's just the phone.  Here's what she had to say:
Hi Melissa, I'm surprised at your dislike of letter writing. Of course I don't know you in these days and times, but in general I think of u as the letter writing type. I have a little stack of letters from you from various points in our journey together and always thought they were nicely written. Maybe it's your swirly writing that makes them seem so effortless. Anyhow, I am enjoying your blog as always. Be well.
I can't believe she still has all my letters.  I never save anything.  I read cards and they go directly in the recycling.  That being said, from the outsider looking into a savers point of view, it was interesting to hear that although I was beating myself up for not being a letter-writer, someone else has a completely different idea.

Who knows what the world thinks of us.  Why not think the best of ourselves?

Easier said than done, for sure.

Monday, February 18, 2013

USPS, it's all in your hands now.

Posted by Melissa Baumagrt
The real deal.
I was avoiding letter writing because I think contextually it doesn't fit into the life I lead.  Letter writing happens in places like Downton Abbey (Cannot get into that snoozefest.  I know I am alone on this.  Give me more Breaking Bad.) or in a cabin out in the hills covered with wildflowers, sipping herbal tea and living a pure life.  That is definitely not happening here.  Purity explodes away from all those who enter through the Baumgart's door.  It's like the rapture in reverse.
(I never read the bible, forgive me if my attempt at religious humor failed miserably.)

I made it past my preconceived notions on letter writing when a friend asked me to write to her on a facebook post this morning.  She was the perfect candidate for a letter.  I miss chatting with her.  I miss her honesty and humility.  She taught me so much about accepting myself as a mom, craziness and all.  We did a lot of hanging out when our kids were little...commiserating and finding the humorous silver linings in each bad parenting moment.  Actually, she still has little ones...she now has five kids to my three.  Yes, she is crazy.  And I totally LOVE her for it.  It was refreshing to write candidly, and in full sentences sometimes, about life and family.  I spent a lot of the time thinking about all the good times we shared; driving for 15 hours in a car to VT with two kids under one year, the way I was always afraid of her cat, the simple look one mom gives to another when all the kids are crying and you can't do a damn thing about it.

My head was swimming with all those memories, but my hand totally hurt.  About three-quarters of the way through the first page I had to incorporate some hand PT into the sentence rotation.

I have to say, while I enjoyed writing the letter, I still really love texting.  Texting is like hanging out with someone a thousand miles away, and feeling like you're almost right next to each other. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Social Media Shabbat

Posted by Amy Baranski

I've decided to start practicing a social media Shabbat--which means that from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday I'm going to unplug from the social networks and devote my time to slower activities. This month will be devoted to letter writing. I asked Facebook friends who wanted me to postmark them a letter this month and I got a whopping 14 responses! Might not seem like a big number but these are letters not just notes, so I need to make some headway and some space for this activity. Hopefully this Shabbat will help me do that. Eventually I'd like to turn this into a technology Shabbat. It's a trendy thing to do but it seems worth while. I'll tell you how it goes. You can read more about this idea in the article The Longest Day...

Okay the sun is setting over the Cascades and so I unplug.

A love letter

Dear February,

You are often regarded as one of the dreariest months in Seattle. It's always, always, always best to vacation to the sunny places in November and February.

But, February I realize you've just been playing hard to get all these years.

Ever since I started planting things here I've seen you in a different light. Today is the perfect example.

February, in just 15 days you've given us rain and fog, dry and cracked winter hands, and a chill to the bone. Even this morning's outlook didn't look promising. But you've also shown us the spears of bulbs breaking through the earth and the vernal buds on the trees that will blossom in a few months time. And today you've given us the gift of SUN!

My windows are open to you, February. Consider that gesture the equivalent of throwing open my blouse. You're not as frigid as you make yourself out to be. I dare say I even like you February. In fact, O month of LOVE, I think I lurrrrve you.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

No Postage Required

Posted by Melissa Baumgart
Today I wrote a letter to ______________.  Sometimes I call it the Universe.  You might call it God or Goddess or something else.  I took it all kinds of hippie style and hand-wrote my deepest frustrations and longings on a piece of lined paper and then I burned it.  I burned all those words and feelings into ash.

I tried to be all spiritual about it as it burned.  But the truth of the matter was, I was too cold and feared burning the whole building down. Plus, I was too worried someone was going to walk by and think, "Now, what in the hell is that crazy lady doing burning something here on the city sidewalk?  Hippie."  Exactly.

Nevertheless, I now sit somewhere between satisfaction and apathy.  Part of me wants to believe a symbolic gesture like that matters.  And the other part of me, well, it just doesn't believe anything matters except the tangible things and actions in life and the intangible feelings we experience in the presence of others. 

Either way, I did write a letter today.  Did you?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dear Old Roomie

Posted by Amy Baranski

The problem with writing letters, especially to people you've fallen out of touch with, is where precisely to start. Does one "remember the time" or explain why they are "thinking of them" at this moment. When there's no business attached it all suddenly feels very contrived, cloying even. And how does one preclude drawing out the requisite "here's what's happened to me for the past 5 years" laundry list of private events?

The particular recipient of my letter is someone who is not on Facebook and a friend I am atrocious about keeping in touch with, although we do manage to send a Christmas card to each other once every other year. I wonder if she'll write back. I can't imagine my letter was very exciting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

No time like the present

Posted by Melissa Baumgart

No time like the present.

A piece of my past was illuminated today.  I saw how my actions and choices, although honorably justified, hurt someone's feelings.  I was watching another interaction, and I saw myself, more than a decade earlier.  It's funny how life shows us glimpses of ourselves.  They are not always welcome, but when we do welcome them without self-judgement, it can be a powerful experience.

I decided to write a letter of apology. 

Thanks for picking letter writing, Amy.

We're Back!

Posted by Amy Baranski and Melissa Baumgart

After a year of changes and falling of the blogging wagon, Good Luck With That is back for a new year.  It will be our 4th year and likely the best one yet!

Here is what we will be up to throughout this coming year:

February:  Letter Writing
March:  Lose Weight
April:  Paleo Diet
May:  Genealogy
June:  Run a Race
July:  Styling
August:  iPhotography
September:  Picnicking
October:  Soccer
November:  Pinterest Projects
December:  Macrame
January:  Relaxation/Self-Care

Realistically, we had to take a long hard look at living a full life AND giving time to the blog.  Amy is a new Mom and Melissa is a full time midwifery student (and Mom of 3).  We decided that we need this.  The blog's purpose is to step out of our comfort zones, to try new things, and above all to give back to ourselves and tap into our creativity.  When you're busy, it's easy to put yourself to the side.  We're starting over - for us.  And we hope that you also pledge to do some new things this year - for you!