Exclaim & Murmur »

Masthead header

The Nieceling Turns Four

Four years ago in March, I was reeling from what had been a terrible year. My worst year, actually, in which everything- my job, my living situation, my long-term relationship- had all just crumbled, a horrible orchestral crescendo of awfulness. Then came the death of a beloved little girl, a child I was quite close to and loved dearly. She succumbed to cancer days before her fourth birthday, then my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and then I just fell apart. I quit everything and left the country in an attempt to find my way back to the land of people who were not miserable. I did return home three months later, but it was primarily because my niece was about to make her appearance and I wanted to meet her. ASAP. Fresh from the womb. I needed something to look forward to and she was it.

So then you can understand why she’s pretty special to me. When I see her, in addition to the fact that she’s my niece and is tremendously sweet, I am reminded of what she brought with her arrival. I still see the light that sparkled up during a pretty bleak time in my life. In fact, those two words- regardless of my own experience of her arrival- are ones I think that everyone would agree are accurate descriptors of her. Light. Sparkle.

This is a four-year-old with a bigger imagination than anyone I’ve ever met, who, after spilling a little bit of water while getting herself a drink, looked down at it and said, ‘I put some water on the floor for when I turn into a kitty.’ Of course. It was all planned out! She is precocious and chatty. Her favorite colors are ‘pink, purple and sprinkles’. Even more than those things, she is full of love and joy. I think she’s quite a peach; I wish everyone could meet her.

I wasn’t there for her birthday again this year, but it is really important to me that she knows just how much I love her. Love, of course, doesn’t have to be demonstrated by a box of goodies wrapped in pretty paper, but (aside from me moving in to their spare bedroom so I can give her big hugs on the daily) it may be one of the best ways at the moment. I wanted to send something for her that she would open and immediately think “WOW! I AM SO SPECIAL!” because, wow, she really is. Nothing says party-in-a-box like sprinkles, a feather boa (her mom might kill me for that particular shedding piece of merriment), balloons, a birthday wand, and a big load of confetti. Am I right?

More like this:

April 1, 2013 - 10:08 pm

Haley - It got here yesterday and she loved it!

April 2, 2013 - 9:51 am

Emily - YAY!

Meatless Monday … Through Sunday

What was intended to be a four week post-holiday spree of meatless eating has turned into an ongoing conversation that frequently includes this phrase: ‘So, are we vegetarian?’

Spoiler alert, we are not, not really. We order meat sometimes when we’re at a restaurant (read: steak burrito at Chipotle yesterday) and will happily eat it if someone else has cooked for us (read: we don’t want to be those people, the ones with the fussy diet that makes everyone feel anxious about having us over) but at home, we eat a lot of vegetables. And we eat at home 90% of the time, which means bring on the baby spinach.

I never thought I, a midwestern barbecue chicken enthusiast, would go for months without having beef or chicken in my refrigerator. I truly did not, much in the same way that I don’t anticipate ever dying my hair platinum blonde or attempting to grow the worlds longest fingernails. It’s a surprise to me, is what I am trying to say, but I like it. I like surprising myself. I like the challenge of finding new recipes and adapting the old ones. I like the way I feel healthier.

I also like offering myself meat at the grocery store to make sure I am not deprived by my idealism. Here Emily, I said, how about that tasty-looking wing in the deli section? Want one of those little guys? No? Okay, maybe next week.

Now, after three months and nearly 60 new recipes, O and I have some stand-out favorites. The quinoa would be worse with ground beef in it, I swear it’s that good, but don’t forget the avocado! The eggplant dish… well, anything with baked fresh mozzarella is a winner in my book. And the cold orzo salad is perfect for the warm spring day that I keep waiting to arrive. And speaking of springtime, Punxsutawney Phil, I am coming after you, you lying scoundrel.

1. Smitten Kitchen | Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella
2. Milk Free Mom | Vegan Quinoa and Sweet Potato Chili
3. Stay for Dinner | Minter Orzo Salad with Chickpeas & Feta

More like this:

March 27, 2013 - 9:53 pm

Jinger - I’ve always kind of been meatless but like you guys, I won’t turn it down. And I love a good steak! But here’s a recipe I think you might like for a lunch option. I’ve made this a few times now and will often double the servings to last the week. It really breaks up the monotony of my usual lunch meat options (really the only time I ingest some meat).


March 27, 2013 - 10:05 pm

Emily - I LOVE this. I was at the grocery store today, silently bemoaning the fact that I can never think of a quick lunch if we eat all of our leftovers. Problem solved. These look so good.

March 28, 2013 - 7:55 am

susanne evangelista - hah! i think you should work on the fingernails, i’d like to see you blog that 😉
we have been factory farm meat free for almost 2 years and it’s not hard! we didn’t eat a ton of meat before, and it’s easy to find awesome veggie meals! good for you guys, i treat meat as more of a delicacy (we will be having it for easter!) because good meat is expensive!
also, the pitas were very fluffy! go for it and tell me what you think!

March 30, 2013 - 1:53 pm

Emily - You should post more of your veggie recipes! I am ALWAYS looking for new ones. Pita is on the deck for next week!

April 1, 2013 - 4:18 pm

Haley - Love your food posts! Just pinned all three of these…

April 2, 2013 - 9:50 am

Emily - I have a bunch to post this week, too. I finally get to give you recipes after trying basically everything on your Pinterest : )

book // food // decor // + more

Many of you have probably seen the ‘something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read’ series that a handful of bloggers do on a regular basis. Bleubird is the first that comes to mind. And while I like these posts, it just doesn’t quite fit what I want to do in my own home-blog space. First, I am no fashion blogger- scratch the ‘something to wear’ column. Second, I don’t really ‘need’ much, so scratch that, too. After several failed attempts at rhyme, this is what I’ve come up with: a book, a food, a piece of decor, and then one more thing. Things I like. I enjoy the last category particularly; it leaves me feeling less hemmed in, more free to roam.

Book. I’m currently reading this for book club and am finding it a page-turner, a fun read.

Food. My sister told me that the pudding I posted about here is vastly inferior to this recipe and I took her word for it. No regrets. It’s so good.

Decor. This reminds me of our new sheets. Too matchy-matchy? Maybe, but I am a sucker for a birch veneer tray.

+ More. In search of a summertime replacement for my beloved bonnet, I ran across this on my friend Maggy’s pinterest. Love.

More like this:

March 28, 2013 - 7:57 am

susanne evangelista - i gotta try the head wrap on bad bangs day.
and gone girl is everywhere! i declare it a sunshine spring day at the park read!!!

March 30, 2013 - 1:53 pm

Emily - I am afraid of cutting the bangs, but you’re right- they can always be pulled back with a wrap or something.

I agree wholly with your Gone Girl proclamation!

April 1, 2013 - 4:16 pm

Haley - Since when are you in a book club? Fun!

April 1, 2013 - 10:10 pm

Haley - Also: If you pick out fabric or a scarf that you like, we could totally make that bandana headband on your next visit!

April 2, 2013 - 9:48 am

Emily - Since, oh, last week. Our second cousin who lives in town invited me! It WAS fun.

April 2, 2013 - 9:52 am

Emily - Yes! But, I don’t know what kind of fabric. Does it have to be stretchy?

April 2, 2013 - 12:59 pm

Haley - No, it doesn’t have to be stretchy.

Three Brief Scenes


// noon, a Monday //

Them: Hello, thanks for calling Groupon. How can I help you?

Me: I was wondering about available travel dates for the Costa Rica trip. I need to leave on May 18th or 19th from New York and-

Them: So sorry. The only departure date remaining is May 24th.

Me: Oh. Nothing for the 18th, huh?

Them: No. Definitely not. Absolutely not. I am obnoxiously certain there is not. Let me put you on hold for 53450 hours while I confirm that, though.

// the minutes tick by while I listen to music with birdsong playing loud loud loudly in the background //

Them: Well, I can confirm that there are no available departures for that day. The best I can do is get you there on the 18th for an extra [emphasis on the unpleasantness of this inevitability] fee. So sorry. Please consider Groupon for your next trip!

Me: Alright, well, that’s too bad. Thanks. How much is the extra fee, by the way?

Them: Fifteen dollars, ma’am.

You’d think they would actually try and sell these things, right?!


When we decide to halt the progress of the accumulating grit O’s bike carries in from the street, we have to call over to our friends across the courtyard. We don’t own a vacuum, people. I don’t think we qualify as real adults.


Driving, driving, driving to Ohio. We pass by a sign that says Scranton, PA, and decide to take a detour through the downtown area and check it out. I am a number one fan of The Office- have been since I first heard Michael explain how he grilled his own foot in a George Forman grill- and so Scranton is a Destination.

‘I can really see Michael Scott living here,’ I say. Continuing, ‘it really looks like a perfect place for him.’

‘Um, you do know he’s not real, right?’

More like this:

March 25, 2013 - 9:03 pm

Ashley - I hope you played The Office theme song in your car as you drove through Scranton.

March 25, 2013 - 9:50 pm

Emily - I didn’t (FAIL), but it’s playing in my head now after I read this.

March 26, 2013 - 5:40 am

Candice Torrey - I did the same thing once, when I saw the Scranton, PA sign. Also, the Steamtown mall is real. So is Lake Wallenpaupack. I shrieked. Tried to get a picture with my phone while driving. Very dangerous, I know. But that’s how I live.

March 26, 2013 - 5:45 am

Emily - One, I love this. Two, I can see what time you posted this and geeeeeeeee whiz. EARLY.

March 26, 2013 - 3:38 pm

Maggy - HA ha. I can’t believe all that for a $15 charge. They should definitely lead with that.

March 26, 2013 - 9:45 pm

Emily - They were 100% prepared to hang up the phone without even telling me! Cuh-razy. But I can’t complain too much because $15 = we’re going to Costa Rica.