29 May 2009

This morning...

I sure do enjoy mornings now, when these are the first sights I get to see...something new to discover every day.

27 May 2009

Spring harvest.

"In order to live off a garden, you practically have to live in it."
~Frank McKinney Hubbard

This quote is becoming truer everyday, as we find ourselves less and less at the grocery store, and shopping more and more at local farms, or eating produce from our own back yard. But I'm finding that the joy that comes from harvesting enough vegetables to make an entire crunchy, colorful salad, from our very own back yard, is worth every bit of work. We spend every day doing some life-giving work in the garden - removing the endless sprigs of grass from our raised beds of lettuce, or untangling English ivy that loves to twine itself around every square inch of the yellow trellis. And I have found that the care we put into it only makes the arugula taste spicier, the tiny pole beans sweeter.

Here are two of our largest "harvests" so far...what delicious salads they made!

i spy 2 basil leaves and 2 pea pods!
and a variety of lettuce
- "craquerelle du midi" romaine
and a cook's mesclun mix - mmm!

more lettuce including a cute baby romaine
and our first 3 squash,
which we actually sliced with a mandolin
and ate raw in a salad

a closer look at the red orach

For a garden-fresh salad, all you need to "dress" them is a simple vinaigrette:
3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tbs. vinegar (my favorites are Sherry Vinegar & Apple Cider Vinegar)

A small dollop of Dijon mustard, if you prefer a creamier dressing

Sea salt & black pepper to taste

Whisk it all together, or shake in a glass mason jar, and pour over the fresh greens. Delightful!

26 May 2009

First pool day!

You know I love swimming, summer, and all the memories that it brings. Memorial Day is the official beginning of summer in my book, and we rung it in this past weekend with brilliant sun, juicy watermelon, and even homemade banana coconut ice cream. Does it get any better?

My dear friend Amy Claire has been visiting for the last week, so she, Steven, and I headed for our friend's private backyard pool for a leisurely afternoon. I armed myself with body+soul magazines and my Anne Lamott book, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

I talked to my dad, and he said their Memorial Day in New Jersey was very much the same - the weather was warm and balmy, and the Madison Community Pool parking lot was packed. Of course, he reported that my mom was one of the few brave ones to enter the chilly waters. After 42 years of the same tradition, that wasn't much of a surprise!

Here are some photos of our day...

water babies!

my hottie husband in his new swimming trunks
and greta looking at him adoringly, as usual

i guess amy felt left out, so she brought her imaginary boyfriend

juicy texas watermelon with fresh lime squeezed on top.
my mouth is watering just typing this!

greta loves reading body+soul


25 May 2009

Barbie-sized things.

One of my absolute favorite things about growing up is how much my mother humored me and fostered my crazy imagination. I'm sure every day was something new for her - "Oh dear, what has Christine come up with now?"

"Hello, Dawn," I would say as I descended the stairwell into the dining room. That was how my mom knew that I was no longer Christine but my imaginary alter-ego named "Kim." She would carry on a conversation with Kim as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. Mysteriously, Kim would always ask questions about me such as, "So, Dawn...how has Christine been doing on her chores? Has she been good lately?" and then disappear before my mom could lift her head up from the vegetables she was slicing for dinner.

This explains a lot.

There was also the instrument I invented called the "Konoto," which was really just a hardcover "I Can Read" book with "strings" drawn on the cover and then held in my arms like an autoharp. {Do you remember "I Can Read" books? Oh how I loved Frog And Toad!}

But some of my most memorable "toys" were all the everyday items that were "Barbie-sized." That means they were just the right dimension to be life-sized in Barbie world. For example, the little plastic white stand that sat in the middle of a hot cheesy pizza from Rocco's. These, of course, became Barbie end tables for my living room setup where a hot pink and black zebra-print scarf was the rug. And how about the wooden toothpicks with red, yellow, green, or blue fuzzy tips that held sandwiches together at 42 Main Delicatessen? Barbie torches, or sparklers for a 4th of July celebration, of course.

Now, as a grown-up, I'm proud to announce that I have Barbie-sized produce in my garden! Teeny inch-long squash, and baby green tomatoes that will soon be juicy and bright red and difficult to hold in one palm. My favorite of all has to be the baby pea pods. You can stare and stare at the vine for several minutes before you see them, and then all of a sudden your eyes adjust, and you realize that adorable mini pea pods are hanging everywhere! We are definitely going to get more than a single cucumber this year; in fact I'll soon show you what we've already harvested. In the meantime, I'm enjoying each and every stage of growing things.

It's not easy to tell in the photos, but not a single one of these veggies is more than an inch long...

yellow squash - if you click to enlarge it, you can see that the surface is fuzzy!


pea pod



green bell pepper

sweet peas - these aren't technically veggies but they remind me of four little girls in dresses on their way to kindergarten

On with the imagination! We are never too old, I say.

10 May 2009

Reading and writing: 2009 so far.

A few evenings ago, I stood at the stove holding a spatula, tossing around a beef stir-fry without even looking at the pan. Why? Because in the other hand, I was holding a book about two inches from my face, reading it so intently that my lips silently formed each word.

Then, I burned the poor garlic, and that is when I knew: I have officially become a reader. Not just one who reads books from time to time, but one who devours books and views them as treasures, who won't let certain ones out of her sight, and who has allowed the love of books to infuse her entire being.

More evidence of this fact: I returned from the airport on my way home from Nashville. As I began to unpack my luggage, there was a moment of sheer panic. Where was my copy of Bird By Bird? It wasn't in my backpack, and it wasn't in the bedroom. What would I do if I couldn't find it? I didn't want to replace it. I didn't want just any copy of the book. I wanted my copy, the one I had victoriously uncovered after a scavenger hunt-like search at the used book store, with the yellowing dog-eared pages and the bug splat on page 32. And then I found it - it was there, under that stack of mail on the coffee table. Phew. These are the types of neuroses you find yourself dealing with, once you have become a bona fide reader.

Yes, I've learned a lot about myself over the past five months of this Year of Reading and Writing, ever since we said goodbye to TV and sent the DISH box away with the mailman. As the unfortunate stir-fry episode indicates, I find myself wanting to read morning, noon, and night. I wake up early, make breakfast, brew a French press of Enfusia, and read. Pull up a chair by the vegetable garden on my lunch break, and read {and get a suntan}. Read after work until dinnertime, and sometimes read before bed until sleepy eyes just won’t read anymore.

Today, it’s sublimely sunny with a perfect periwinkle sky and the quiet hum of summer coming soon. My bronzed shoulders are a testament to the many hours I have spent reading outside recently while sitting in the iron patio chair that has been dragged to the back of the yard so I can observe the vegetable beds over the edges of my book pages. This exact spot is where I made it to the last page of my 9th book of the year, Blue Like Jazz, another memoir. Although I like to think that my reading interests are eclectic, I've noticed I keep gravitating back to memoirs. I am more than inclined towards them; I am fascinated with the details of other people’s lives. And not as a means of escape, because so far, I cannot say that I would really want any of their lives as my own. But I find a little bit of myself in Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Sue Monk Kidd. And then I discover other worlds I’ve never explored, perspectives I’ve never seen.

Book #10 is Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, the one I feared had been left on the airplane. In the intro, she says that writing teaches you to pay attention. “Writing motivates you to look closely at life, as it lurches by and tramps around.” And I would say the same about reading…because reading other people’s details makes me notice my life details more fully now, like the azure tint of the sky through my kitchen window at precisely 7:02pm every night. Or the way the spring wind rustles through grass like an invisible hairbrush – back and forth, back and forth.

As for the writing, well, it's a slow process. I do desperately want to write a book about my own life’s details, to tell my stories. But I find that there are so many stories, so many details, so many memories to revisit. Anne Lamott says that the writers she knows “all ended up just the tiniest bit resentful when we found the one fly in the ointment: that at some point we had to actually sit down and write.” At this point, all I have is a handful of incredibly disjointed "chapters" that end abruptly in the middle of a thought, such as "and I loved it" and "we were a little family." These are what Anne Lamott calls “sh*tty first drafts,” and I love her for it.

The writing has been therapeutic though, and more than anything I know I’m working on my writing by all the reading I’m doing. To be a good writer, you must first be a good reader – I firmly believe this.

Another revelation? Taking time to read and write has plunged me deeper into a life of simplicity. I say “plunged” because that’s how it felt – one Saturday afternoon I was happily curled up on the couch watching Giada At Home, and the next moment the TV was quiet and dark and useless except for viewing The West Wing episodes on DVD.

But then, a beautiful thing happened. My thoughts began to change. I started to be more content with my own life. I started to feel a pleasant naïveté with pop culture, not wanting to be bothered by the latest ads or another product that I somehow needed. Ads just annoy me now, to be honest. The more I've eliminated extra stuff, the more I just don't want them in my life anymore. Instead of watching shows about people cooking, I’m cooking more {even though I sometimes burn the garlic}. Instead of watching shows about fake relationships and dramas, I’m a part of my own, real-life relationships more. I realize how much I used TV to escape, to disengage with my own life. Reading and writing helps me to re-engage with my own life, rather than escape from it.

On Good Friday, we went to a friend's backyard pool in an opulently wealthy part of Dallas where shade trees are 100 years old, and sparkles of light are cast through their branches onto expansive bi-weekly manicured lawns. The pool was a natural deep blue, with flagstones surrounding it so it felt kind of like a natural swimming hole carved out of a mountain. I dipped my toes in the water and then reclined on a small strip of flagstone until I was nestled between the ornamental grass landscaping and the edge of the pool. The late afternoon sun shone on my face, forcing new freckles to pop out across my nose. In that spot, I finished Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies and knew that the book had changed me forever. Toward the end, Lamott reminisces about her own mother as she looks over old photographs from her imperfect childhood. And something was sparked deep in my soul at that moment, so much that I had to pause, and put the book face-down on my chest. I surprised myself when I said aloud, "I know for sure now that I want to be a mother" - right there, on Good Friday, laying on my back on the flagstone of someone else's back yard.

That is the power that books have, to stir those places that are somehow buried or unseeable. That is why I'm a reader, and that is why I will be a writer some day.

I must have this painting.

It's breathtaking.

It reminds me of days upon summer days of swimming underwater, one of my favorite places to be in the entire world.

The artist is Carolyn Rekerdres, who I actually met through my husband's training studio, The Movement Dallas.

Oh, I can't stop staring at it...