perfection & pear skillet cakes

February 26, 2016 | add comment

I measured the flour and spices. I overshot the cinnamon. Hurry, Jecca. Up next, coring and slicing the pears. Faster. I sprinkled brown sugar into a cast iron pan full of melted butter. If this pear skillet cake was going to have a fighting chance, I needed to prep it and get it into the oven before baby Elliot awoke from his morning nap. And that, I did. Success!

Or so I thought.

After about twenty minutes, the scent wafting from the oven went from heavenly, buttery cinnamon sugar to something BURNING. I opened the door and smoke streamed out. The batter was bubbling over the sides of the skillet, sending molten liquid dripping onto the oven floor.

Nooo! How dare this smoke even consider entering Elliot’s fresh little lungs! I threw open the back door to let in fresh air. My husband, Brian, banged open the kitchen window that hadn’t been opened in ages. We set up a fan to send any smoke outdoors, and I tossed a baking sheet into the oven to catch future cake batter drips.

All of this made a lot of racket. Through it, Elliot napped.

The situation was under control, but I still worried about any lingering smoke with Elliot napping mere feet away. So Brian unhooked his swing from the base then carried it from the living room into the bedroom.

Elliot continued to snooze, none the wiser.

During my pregnancy, I had visions of dancing around the kitchen with my baby in a sling. I, happily baking cakes and cookies while my wee one dreamt sweet dreams. Martha Stewart and Mary Berry would come around, peaking through the window with a smile or a wink.

Riiight…

I’ve always found baking to be relaxing. I love taking my time to measure or slice each ingredient. I find tranquility in the exactitude.

But when I have to rush, relaxation goes out the window. Rushing, you see, equals imperfection…and I’m a perfectionist. I miss being able to take my time. Motherhood stole this from me, and I want itback.

Last weekend, I decided my family deserved a homemade batch of scones. I flipped open a book to a recipe I’ve made a dozen times. It’s simple and tasty. But a funny thing happened when Elliot woke up 18 minutes into his nap. I…rushed. I whisked without care. I eyeballed the coconut oil. I looked the other way when short on raspberries.

And you know what? The scones were absolutely delectable because they were made with love. JUST KIDDING, THOUGH. They tasted kinda shitty. They were bland and dry. They were pretty, but boring. They made the perfectionist in me wonder if a mediocre scone is worse than no scone at all?

One of the hardest adjustments to motherhood is the lack of time, or rather the division of time. Maternity leave is wonderful (bless you, California), but I’m not yet used to getting things done bit-by-bit. Life is a snuggly tug-of-war with baby at one end and me at the other. I want to do anything and everything for Elliot, meaning all of those other things I love in life, from writing to baking to crafting, have taken a back seat for a good, long while. I chip away at them during baby naps and in between errands and tummy time. I finish bowls of cereal in the shower. I turn Justin Bieber songs into lullabies (fact).

This is how I spend my days. I’m editing this post with one hand while scarfing down an egg sandwich with the other. It is entirely imperfect, the way mommyhood is supposed to be.

Oh, and the pear skillet cake actually tasted delicious! Perfectionism dies hard.

 

when sleep won’t come

February 3, 2016 | add comment

Rest when he rests, everyone says. But I can’t seem to quiet my mind. I feel overwhelmed with love for our newborn. Guilty for ignoring Lemmy, our Italian Greyhound. Anxious to catch up on emails and laundry and life.

And sometimes I just like to stare at my baby. That face! Those hands! How his arms dance in his sleep, conducting a silent orchestra!

My son Elliot is just a handful of weeks old. All things considered, he’s a good little sleeper. If only I could say the same for myself. Since I wake up for nightly feedings and diaper changes, my husband grants me a precious bit more sleep once Elliot wakes up in the morning.

The problem is…sleep will not come.

I lie back in bed while hubby closes the door and carries Elliot to the living room. I strain my ears to pick up any little noise my baby might muster. Was that a cry? Is he hungry? Is he alert? Maybe he could use some tummy time…

He’s just down the hall, but I can’t see him. Once that bedroom door closes, our small apartment feels like a labyrinth. He could be anywhere!

Twenty or so minutes pass and I get up to refill my water — a thinly veiled excuse to check on my son. It turns out those cries I heard were phantom noises. Illusions of a tired mom. He’s sleeping soundly in his swing, right next to daddy.

Rest when he rests. I remind myself of this momma mantra and I crawl back in bed. But I’m too anxious to sleep. My stomach is in knots.

Elliot and I went everywhere together for nine months. His hiccups and kicks were a secret between the two of us. He was with me when I started reading Moby Dick, when I stopped riding my bicycle, when I puked in the streets of Tokyo. (My husband and I had planned that trip before I got pregnant. Incidentally, my favorite Japanese food was peanut butter toast.)

Now I can’t get used to not being with him.

When I do sleep, it comes in fits and bursts and is riddled with strange, scary dreams.

A dream I had the other night: I’m feeding Elliot with my feet propped up on the kitchen table. My face is a sea of serenity, like the calm, collected mom I want to be. Everything’s dandy until a burly, fantastical creature — somewhere between a wombat and a mouse — crawls out from behind the oven. He has rough whiskers and a hungry look in the eye. Without warning he leaps onto the kitchen table. WTF.

I wake up terrified, a split second before the wombat mouse attacks.

I force myself back to sleep. A second dream takes over. This time, Elliot is swaddled in a gigantic stroopwafel, one of those crispy Dutch treats. He’s more or less a human Choco Taco. Soon a steady stream of syrup begins surrounding my precious little boy. No!!!

Again, I wake up terrified. My chest is sweaty.

I scold myself for not being able to sleep when it’s the one thing I need. I trudge out from the bedroom into the living room, fall into my husband’s arms, and describe my dreams in a mixture of tears and laughter.

My catnap is not meant to be, at least not on this morning when anxiety outweighs exhaustion. At least I have more time to stare at my baby.

All of it…the guilt, the worries, the willies exist for no reason other than love. Love for my little boy and for everything he’ll become. Love is a damn good reason, really. If I can I remind myself of that, I may sleep a little better.

In the meantime, I’ll continue sharing my absurd dreams with you.

 

goodbye, foil bird

October 24, 2013 | 2 comments

Three and a half years ago, I flew from NYC to San Francisco to celebrate my birthday with a few wonderful friends — Naomi, Amy, and Dawn, our host in SF. For my second visit, it was nothing short of perfection…wine country, a breezy picnic on the beach, fish tacos, my inaugural Tartine croissant, and lots of laughter — beginning with the Virgin America flight, on which Naomi and I relocated a fellow passenger’s banana to first class (seat-to-seat texting can be quite fun).

While I was out there, this guy Brian Stegall had been chatting me up from back east. He would soon be heading out to San Francisco to begin a two-month, cross-country bike trip. That weekend, I had been tasked with stealing 30 things before turning 30 that weekend. I didn’t even close (I think I got maybe five, including an old candlestick), but I told Brian that I would hide one of those items for him to find.

I swiped a walnut from Preston Vineyards in Healdsburg and drew a face on it — a mustachio’d man with a long, thin nose. Because he would be hiding outside in the vicinity of hungry squirrels, I wrapped him in foil and shaped it into a bird…sort of a turkey/swan hybrid.

Dawn lived in the Mission, on Albion off 16th Street. My home for the weekend. Just outside her door was a historical landmark sign marking the site of the “Original Mission Dolores Chapel and Dolores Lagoon.” It was an ideal hiding spot. In between either side was a narrow triangular opening, about an inch wide on the bottom.

I used a stick to push the foil bird into the center of the opening, and then I took a photo of just a small portion of the sign. This would serve as the clue. The bird remained hidden for a few weeks. But once Brian got into town, it didn’t take him long to discover the precise whereabouts. Blame the Internet.

Brian and I kept in touch over postcards and phone calls during his bike trip. He carried the bird with him for 2,800 miles and eventually brought it back to NYC, where we started dating. About a year later we moved to San Francisco, and the bird with us. It sat on Brian’s bookshelf, and then later on our bookshelf when we moved into an apartment together, just a few blocks from the Mission Dolores sign.

We would occasionally walk by that sign and peek in to see if anything was hidden there. That’s what I did last Sunday, as we were heading to a store on 16th. I didn’t see anything at first, so Brian told me to look again. Still, nothing. He looked a little confused — almost baffled, actually.

I could see the wheels turning in his mind, but I couldn’t place their direction. He told me that something was supposed to be in there. We kept walking. For a second, I thought he hid a wedding ring.  Talk about a devastating blow! I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to assume the worst. Maybe 15 paces down the block, Brian pulled a ring out of his pocket and asked me to marry him. It was so abrupt. I think I said “yes” before I fully realized the weight of the situation. I did of course, but it happened like that. *snaps fingers*

I hugged and kissed this teary-eyed man, a part of me still wondering what was supposed to be in the sign. A minute later he told me he’d placed the foil bird in the sign, only this time it had a hand-drawn proposal card wrapped in its tail. I melted. First at the idea, and then at the thought of an interloper taking off with the PRECIOUS BIRD! Brian hid it on Friday night, and proposed Sunday early afternoon. Sometime during those 36 hours, somebody discovered the bird. But how? And what did they do with it? Last time it survived weeks without incident. Brian even wrapped it in a little paper bag so that the foil wouldn’t catch anyone’s eye.

I imagine that whoever somehow spotted it thought it was food or drugs. Had they unwrapped the foil and read the “marry me” card, or the “marry him” speech bubble that Brian added to the walnut, they would’ve HAD to put it back. That’s a surefire ticket to hell, otherwise.

This  leads me to believe it was a zombie or a cracked out homeless person. San Francisco has no shortage of either.

I know the outcome doesn’t change, but the sentimental side of me really wants our foil bird back. The night of the proposal, I posted a note to the Craigslist lost and found section. (Side note: It’s difficult to describe the value of a foiled walnut to a sea of strangers.) On Monday night, I and a couple of friends combed the area. The night after that, I posted a couple of fliers on the sign offering a reward for the bird’s safe return.

No responses, save for one spammer on Craigslist, offering irony in the form of lost pet fliers. It gets worse. Brian and I drove by the sign a couple days later to see if my fliers were still up. One of them had been torn down completely, and only the top half of the other remained. Turns out some BART representatives tore the tape off of my fliers, only to hang up their own. I know this because half of my email address was stuck to the tape they used. (Who hangs up fliers without bringing tape? Honestly.)

At this point, more than a week after the bird was last seen, I have come to terms with it being gone. Forever. But not forgotten.

 

superfine fundraiser for japan

April 12, 2011 | add comment

UPDATE: Congratulations and thank you, people and patrons of Superfine on raising $775 for Habitat!

Superfine Fundraiser & Silent Auction for Japan
Thursday, April 14 @ 7pm
126 Front Street in DUMBO

Hey. You there. Heed the info above and frolic down to SUPERFINE this Thursday. All donations and auction proceeds will go to Habitat for Humanity International, specifically their Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Response efforts. Below are some of the goodies that’ll be on the bidding block.

Thanks to the following businesses and indie designers for their donations:

There will also be a donations bucket and a few drink specials, thanks to Superfine.

I have some extended family who grew up and live in Sendai and would love for you to open your coin purse for them and their neighbors. For those who know me beyond the digital landscape, I’m moving to San Francisco in a couple of weeks so consider this a fond farewell too.

Say you’ll be there. ♥

tree of codes and the web it left behind

December 8, 2010 | add comment

Originally published on BBH Labs.

Certain artists are typecast, sometimes by choice. They capture a style so well that it comes to define them. Author Jonathan Safran Foer falls outside of that camp with a chameleonic thud. He keeps us curious.

In his new book, Tree of Codes, Foer does with a physical book what we often neglect in digital—he turns reading into an experience. In showing how a story’s environment affects its meaning, he gives digital storytellers a slap in the face.

Tree of Codes, breaks from the standard book format in two ways:

  1. It creates a new story by tearing apart and piecing together an old one—Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles.
  2. Each page is die-cut to reveal just a handful of words and phrases.

I found the book annoying to read at first, despite its delicate beauty. I couldn’t decipher between the page I was reading and the ones beneath it. It was like a depth perception test following a mug of bourbon.

After sobering up and finding a better technique, I enjoyed the layout. Words hovered in a dream-ridden state. Thought went into each line, each phrase and how it was laid out. Such attention to the UX of reading is tough to find on the web. Foer’s analog approach would be easy enough to toy with in digital. So why aren’t we more playful with narratives online?

Brilliant writing isn’t enough to keep readers happy. Long blocks of copy, no matter how poetic, are begging for attention spans to scamper off elsewhere. In a design dominant field, it’s easy to neglect voice, tone, even punctuation. Or to forget about how each will figure into a broader environment.

Maybe that’s because we get swept up in technology. We use it to tell stories rather than to shape them. The following ideas and executions use technology to influence how stories are read. Bravo! The better ones put UX at the forefront. In doing so, they offer some lessons in communicating creatively.

These concepts and methods fool with language, narrative and technology to entertain. It’s humbling to think that a few pieces of paper and an X-Acto knife can do the same.

When we leave room for interpretation and delight, we can expand the playground for digital fiction. We can turn stories into experiences that are unique to each reader. So let’s stop neglecting the goddamn words. Pretty please?

knee deep in a cranberry bog

October 18, 2010 | 1 comment

I have entered the bog, friends, and I have seen the cranberries. Such redness! So many shades! Reds you’ve never seen before. Purples that look red, reds that look rosy, and each one exploding with a taste so hypnotically tart you’ll think: Moses didn’t part the Red Sea…he was in a goddamn cranberry bog!

No. I don’t work for Ocean Spray. I just love cranberries, and my cranberry harvesting dreams have come true thanks to my new friends at the Rocky Bog in Dennis, Cape Cod. They strapped me (and Jenny and Brian) in some leaky waders (theirs didn’t leak) and put us to work. It was all quite fanastic:

The autumn wind whipped us, but not in a slave-like manner. It was crisp, almost gentle. Once the bog was flooded, the berries floated to the surface. This was thanks to a farmer and his “water beater” which is the machine that plucks berries from their vines.

As we hiked up our waders, those already at work used long rubber tubes to corral the berries. They were cowboys with lassoes, and the berries were tiny and confused ponies. Scattered, no more.

Meanwhile, a semi-truck pulled up next to the bog. That was our cue to enter the abyss, for we had a truck to fill.

We would use our metal brooms to push the berries into the center of the corral. At the center, a long tube, reminiscent of that scary scene in E.T., extended from bog to truck and sucked the fruit up in its path. Near the end of the journey, a machine separated the berries from the vines and gunk.

Our arms grew tired, but encouragement pushed us forth. In the distance, a land-bound Bostonian shouted: Round ‘em up, fellahs! We got hot corn chowdah and pumpkin bread for yah. Just the words we needed to press on.

The berries grew redder throughout the afternoon…so pretty. My waders leaked like an overly caffeinated elephant, but what a day. And now I’ve got some fine cranberry jam in the kitchen.

midwest airlines merges, mathematically

October 6, 2010 | 2 comments

Midwest Airlines is disappearing into the folds of Frontier Airlines. The first sign of this merger was an audible one: the flight attendants’ accent. Good bye familiar, nasel-ridden midwestern voices. Hello news anchor sounds of no known origin.

As a Milwaukee native, I found this change jarring. But the worst was yet to come, as displayed below in my calculation of the brand acquisition:

The equation, broken down, looks something like this.

Step 1: You take the blue Midwest Airlines logo and mix it with yellow, resulting in Frontier’s green color scheme.

Step 2: Multiply the scenario by half a dozen frisky animals (like Larry the Lynx and Flip the Dolphin), imperative to Frontier’s branding and fleet of air carriers.

Step 3: Delete half the cookies and take away their warmth. To explain…Midwest Airlines is known for its signature “baked on board” chocolate chip cookies. Every customer receives two, with melting morsels aplenty. But on a recent Frontier flight, I received one lone cookie—and it was straight out of the cooler. So Frontier has cut the supply in half and ditched the easy bake oven, at least for now. A recent tweet from @MidwestAirlines promises to reintroduce the warm cookies soon.

Fingers crossed.


google encourages meatless monday

July 12, 2010 | 1 comment

This morning, Google delivered to me a reinforcer: Make today a Meatless Monday.

There I sat, ferociously hitting refresh in my Gmail spam folder. I was expecting an email I feared had wound up in Spamville. Patience! my mind exclaimed. But I was too far gone, pummeling my way down Bobby Brown Boulevard.

No new messages appeared. In fact, all that changed on the page were the Google sponsored ad links, which advertised Spam recipes. Each sounded more disgusting than the last:

  • Spam Skillet Casserole
  • Vineyard Spam Salad
  • Spam Hashbrown Bake [serves 8]
  • Ginger Spam Salad [serves 1]
  • Spicy Spam Kabobs
  • Spam Imperial Tortilla Sandwiches
  • Spam Breakfast Burritos [serve with salsa]
  • Spam Vegetable Strudel
  • Spam Veggie Pita Pockets
  • Savory Spam Crescents
  • Spam Fajitas
  • Spam Swiss Pie

Sadly, my click-thru rate for these ads was a remarkable .33%. Check your spam ads, you may understand the temptation.

The veggie entries are particularly disturbing. Also, on the off chance you’re making Ginger Salad I ask that you leave the slimy, matchstick-sized pork shoulder out of it.

If I were bulimic, I’d wolf down such salty treats in (or for) an instant. Instead, I’ll be cooking up some ratatouille to the tune of $7.06 spent at the veggie market. Rather than eating Spam alone in a corner as your arteries weep, join me!

death by BB gun and other silly ways to die

June 29, 2010 | 1 comment

If you were on death row, which would you choose—a firing squad or lethal injection? That’s the question my friend Anna Jackson asked me while riding a Staten Island-bound ferry. We almost died that day. (Not really, but for a time the captain was playing Battleship.)

Anna was referencing the media frenzy surrounding death row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner, who opted for an execution-style sentence earlier this month. When his time was up, he was shot down in the manner of an old western. Some believed Gardner’s choice to be publicity-driven. His only other option in the state of Utah was lethal injection.

Filling people with bullets is a legal form of punishment. Atone for thy sins! Wait, let me just check my calendar…yep, it’s 2010. I did some extensive research on medieval European death practices. The findings, noted below, are more ridiculous than a traditional firing squad. But only slightly.

1. Death by BB gun, your eyes shot out with a Red Ryder
2. Electrocution by hand buzzer, delivered by clowns
3. Tarred & Feathered
4. Tarred & Pleathered
5. Eaten by snapping turtles and cannibalic vampires, both wearing braces
6. Tethered to an ‘80s exercise bicycle in high gear, Ace of Base’s “The Sign” on repeat
7. Dull guillotine and/or butter knife thrower
8. Plastic surgery and a moustache implant to look like Hitler, German voice box included
9. Skipping stoned to death (survival time: 3-5 years)
10. Covered in honey and blown from a cannon into a bee farm

a literary welcome mat

June 18, 2010 | add comment

Dear friends,

For a long time my words were scattered. They drifted, not without purpose but without shelter. And now…they have a home: jecca berta.

I’ve rounded up short stories, feature stories, interviews, web copy, game copy, iPhone app copy, semi-colons, et cetera. Welcome, my darlings.

Have a look around, let me know what you think. Meanwhile, my typewriter keys will continue bitch slapping paper at a frenzied pace. It’s a brutal relationship, though not a new one. Ask any writer. The paper always says “it felt like a kiss.”

I’d also like to thank two fine gents: Zander Brimijoin for designing the lovely header above and the Minister of Technology for his technical prowess and patience with my many questions. Much obliged.

xo,
jecca