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How Not To Eat Artichokes

Not too long ago, I was out with one of my best friends Toni and we were reminiscing about when we first met and some of our first "couples dates" after she and her husband (one of my husband's best friends) moved to the PNW from the east coast. Here we were: The wives. We were all in our mid-20s and during those early, post-college couples dates, we were both tentative and eager to like each other.

It was perhaps our second time meeting up for dinner when the artichoke incident occurred.

Matthew, my husband, was working in Lake Oswego, a wealthy Portland suburb and the city directly north of the city where we grew up. I believe that is why we ended up at a new and swanky restaurant in downtown Lake Oswego that night with our new/old friends. Time has erased who ordered the artichoke, but someone ordered an artichoke for the table as an appetizer and when it arrived, it sat in the middle, a giant flowering artichoke, its leaves splayed out, steaming.

I’d never seen an artichoke before that wasn’t already in a dip or preserved in a can, so, I had no idea how a person was intended to consume the beast. However, despite the fact that I’d never eaten an artichoke before, I decided I’d be the FIRST person to tug free a leaf, dip it in butter, and get to eating.

You must imagine the sheer confidence of me: At a table with newish friends, at a restaurant we could barely afford, voraciously tearing into an appetizer that I had no idea how to eat.

It will come as no surprise to learn that I didn’t just suck the tender leaf and scrape off the bottom, no, I popped that whole leaf in my mouth.

I chewed and chewed and chewed, keeping a neutral face as I attempted to work the tough outer petal into a pulp. Had I waited, I could have observed all three of my dinner companions tug their own petals off the artichoke, scrape the tender underside of the artichoke free, and discard the leaf altogether. A leaf I was still chewing, mind you.

Out of sheer mortification and unyielding stubbornness, I ate that whole thing down and debated about eating my second petal the same way, so I could claim that eating the leaf was just a thing I did. (Oh, yeah, my family eats that part, I guess.)

I can’t tell you if I ate any more artichoke, but I can tell you that no one mentioned it. If Michael and Toni gave me some questioning look, I missed it, and Matthew didn’t quietly lean over and say, “Why’d you eat the appetizer first if you were unsure how to eat it?” And I would have just shrugged, artichoke leaf stuck in my teeth.

But none of that happened until ten years later when new friends on a second date turned into old friends on vacation together, and Toni admitted that she had found my brazen wrongness a bit odd at the time.

Matthew remembered a few details I did not: He remembers picking the fanciest restaurant we knew close to our apartment to impress our cool friends who lived in Portland. He remembers waiting specifically for someone else to eat the artichoke because he was not one-hundred-percent certain of the protocol and that my sheer confidence tricked him into thinking that maybe I was right or maybe there were two ways to eat the artichoke.

Haha! Nope! Gotcha, sucker!

Somehow my young brain thought that admitting I didn’t know how to eat thistles correctly was going to damage someone’s opinion of me MORE THAN attempting to casually choke down a leaf for five minutes.

I wanted to feel smart, strong, and cosmopolitan because that is what I thought successful women looked like, and I thought successful women knew how to eat fancy appetizers. And I think we can all appreciate how inane that is.

Looking back, it’s easy to see a naïve and scared young woman who was most petrified of being seen as young and stupid…when, in fact, I was quite young and stupid. (That’s a cycle of life we can all relate to on some level…the realization of our own ignorances and blind-spots and our gratefulness that we survived it or have people in our lives who forgave and made room for our growth.) I’m kinda glad to be leaving my 30s behind soon; but no matter what, I’m ready to embrace the next stage, and learn all new lessons.

Of course, in ten years, I might look back on these words and cringe and think: yeah, okay, you don’t even know what’s coming, lady! Which is 100% what I would say to the stressed-out 29-year-old Shelbi starting her book blog in January of 2010, who still had time to sew in the evening for hours after her baby fell asleep. I’m glad Shelbi from ten years ago is captured on that Around the World in 80 Books blog—it works as a time capsule. That Shelbi isn’t this Shelbi…I’m so glad I’m not.

I have lived and experienced more life: more joy, more anger, more panic, more love, more pain, more laughter, more and more. I’ve learned lessons. Sometimes the hard way. Sometimes the really hard way. And that world isn’t this world. Time moves differently now.

I’m thankful for these ten additional years of my life and for the people who grew up with me. Because to be loved through moments of brazen wrongness is humbling. Growing-up with people can be hard, and we are never done, but may we always have good people by our side to help when we need to be corrected, redirected, or taught how to eat artichokes.


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