Friday, October 30, 2009

Fast, Easy, and Tasty (and Healthy)

When men reach their sixties and retire, they go to pieces. Women go right on cooking.
-Gail Sheehy

Once upon a time, I was talking to my mother on the phone. We were chatting about this and that and the topic of dinner came up: the Big question: what to have? I personally think it is one of life's hardest, although sometimes I do pretty well thanks to almost daily cravings for certain foods guiding the way.

This particular day, I had come up with an amazing little menu for what to have for dinner. My mother mumbled something halfway apologetically about having some plans for soup. She finished up by saying, "I just don't love to cook like you do, you know?"

Well, I don't either, I quickly informed her. And beyond that, I certainly could see how she had had to cook for years squelched much inspiration and joy she had for cooking. My father is a firm believer of eating at home, always, so my mother had dinner on the table pretty much every night of the year for God knows how many years (a lot) and still cooks daily for my dad. Add to that that we all had our little, and big, eating whims and you really have a nightmare on your hands.

In my situation, I have the luxury of enjoying cooking because I don't have to deal with picky eaters, Patrick and I like to eat out (not very often anymore, but certainly more than my parents), and Patrick works away from home pretty regularly. When he is away, I will often make a big pot of soup and eat it for dinner for days. So easy. Cooking for me is fun because I don't have to make a big production of it if I don't want to. And often, I don't.

In this vein, I discovered a dinner the other night that turned out really well and was really easy, I hope this helps make someone else's evening a little more relaxing:

Pasta with peppers and sausage
Start pasta water to boiling
un-case one, sweet turkey Italian sausage, saute and crumble
When mostly cooked, add half a jar roasted peppers with some of the juice to deglaze the pan
cut peppers into whatever size you want, you can just chop them in the pan with your stirrer
Add cooked pasta and a little pasta water and cook it all together for a few minutes
Season with salt and pepper (I always season last) and viola!

You can add lots of variations to this: I sometimes add sliced garlic and onions to saute in with the sausage. Fresh herbs and lots of parmesan cheese at the end also seem like a good idea. Red pepper flakes might be amazing addition if you are not feeding too tender of palates. This is a great go to pasta dish for a quick and easy dinner on nights you don't feel like cooking.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

From the Mouthes of Babes

Last night I was putting Babou to bed. I had just finished reading to her and had turned off the light and we were having a cuddle. She wasn't quite ready to sleep yet and so we were talking about important stuff like the moon and how hard it is to see when there is a ceiling in the way.

She looked thoughtful for a moment and I thought she might be drifting off, instead she said, "mama, you're my best friend!" I gave her a squeeze and told her she was mine, too.

She was still thoughtful looking and continued, "and daddy, I LOVE daddy!" I agreed, and we talked about how much we loved her daddy and all that we loved about him.

Still, she continued, "and Nana, I have two nana's and I LOVE my nana's!" I said yes, that she does indeed have two nana's who she loves dearly and who love her dearly. Feeling satisfied, she then drifted off to sleep!

Monday, October 26, 2009


"'From a Neurological viewpoint, it's a revolution for the brain when you have a child," says Michael Merzenich, a pioneering expert on brain development at the University of California at San Francisco. "It is life-changing in the sense that you are presented with physical, mental, mechanical challenges - forty nine disasters to take care of at once. It's an epoch of learning and brain-induced changes, because everything matters so much...I don't think there are a lot of better things you can do for your brain than have a child."'
Quoted in The Mommy Brain by Katherine Ellison

Katherine Ellison presented last night for our Mamas Writing salon and I am already a chapter deep into her book, The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood makes us Smarter (which is pretty far for this slow reader). It is fascinating and a refreshing take on motherhood and the changes it incurs in women. It is also well researched and easy to read, both an extra boon! I will let you know how it was thoroughly once I finish.

The writing salon ended a very pleasant but busy week filled with lots of writing (I know SO much--too much--about tomatoes now), visiting (got a visit from my brother-in-law Military Man although Babou took him over fairly quickly),
hiking (complete with the excitement of snakes and beautiful views),
and an adventure out to the coast to visit an old friend and see her new art exhibited. Babou had her first oyster at the art show and caused a mild stir. A photographer asked to take pictures of her first try capturing her tentative first bites. He then strolled off missing her spitting it out after some thoughtful chewing only moments later!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One Day at a Time

God give us the grace to accept with serenity the things That cannot be changed;

Courage to change the things that should be changed;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

-Reinhold Niebuhr

A beautiful fall morning greets me and I am hoping for a better day today. Yesterday was a tough one, Babou stretching me to my limits. Such a sweet girl, really, but yesterday she was decidedly impossible. Not wanting anything but lollipops (and consequently eating very little all day long), wanting only to wear her brand new ballet shoes hopefully into mud puddles (nonnononono), not wanting me to read to her and then desperately wanting me to read to her, asking me to go away and then desperately wanting me to come back. I felt like some odd puppet being controlled by this two foot tall, devious she-child.

My philosophy is to always give her lots of attention when she is being cooperative, polite and Friendly, and to simply redirect bad behavior and not give her too much attention. I think sometimes any attention, either positive or negative will oftentimes fuel a behavior.

Yesterday it was very hard to maintain a calm exterior and not take the bait and give her lots of negative attention or put her in the backyard until she straightened up (which is what I really felt like doing)! I was so mad inside, calm as a cucumber on the outside.

It took a toll though and I was very tired by the end of the day. But I made it and she seems to have a new attitude today, as do I. The heirloom research is going well and I am finding it really fascinating. All these plants have lived such lives, traveling so widely, sowing their wild oats, so to speak. It is easy to delve into such rich histories and discover they are so like people themselves.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Morning

To fill the hour, that is happiness.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

The weekend is over and a new week has begun. I spent the majority of my weekend cleaning out the backyard, hauling piles of limbs and leaves and weeds and have a nice skinless part of my finger to show for it (rubbed clean by the cutters). My backyard is not even that big! Babou was very helpful, carrying Babou-size clumps and always letting out a big sigh after having heaved them in the pile!

My plan was to clean it out AND plant it for fall, but that was a bit overly ambitious, I found. And Babou's patience goes only so far.

Today is a rainy day so I will be working on indoor stuff today. Writing projects, some cleaning, a library trip for Babou complete with puddle jumping along the way, and other errands.

I am trying out a new recipe tonight, in line with my not too strictly but mostly vegetarian diet: polenta and balsamic glazed radicchio. I will let you know how it goes. I was thinking it would be a nice enough dish for company but want to trial run it first. Radicchio is not my favorite, but I think this may be a way that it could be very tasty, a good balance with the polenta and a little sweetness from the balsamic. We shall see!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Odds and Ends

To me, there are three things we should all do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it, if you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week ; you're going to have something special.

-Jim Valvano

The week is already mostly over and, as I am reviewing my goals for this week, I see that I still have a lot of work to do and that my days went in many different directions other than anticipated.

We had our first real rain this week and, consequently, when Patrick needed new boots for work, everyone was out. In a fifty mile radius. I know this because I drove all around, much to Babou's dismay, loading and unloading her until we finally gave up. But, it has stopped raining and boots will come in so we shall persevere.

Sleep has been an issue this week. Babou has decided she really likes to sleep in until about eight in the morning. Then, if she takes a nap in the afternoon, I literally have to hold her down to get her to sleep at a reasonable hour. Otherwise, she won't sleep and the cycle continues. So I have been trying to wedge her out of bed at earlier and earlier hours. And yes, those would be my precious early morning, getting things Done hours. Sadly enough.

I often fall asleep holding down Babou until she "gives up." As soon as I do, my little in utero wee one wakes up and decides it's play time. I have an eerie feeling that that is the way that things are going to be now for a long time. I am adjusting to that fact.

So the upshot is that I have not finished the writing project I had slated to complete this week. I am writing plant descriptions for my brother-in-law and his wife who are starting a gardening catalog/heirloom plant company. I really need to finish it so they can move on with their catalog and so I can get it off of my shoulders, but will just have to keep on.

My garden is in need of some fall cleanup and planting. More on that later as I try to get my garden to produce over the winter.

Looking out my window this morning, there is a soft fog all around us. The kind that will likely burn off to sunshine in the afternoon. A cup of coffee buoying me, I think about my "to do" list and am so grateful for my life. Although motherhood is challenging and it is hard to keep balance, I feel so grateful that my "to do" list is filled with such nice things like gardening and writing, baking apple pies for Patrick's lunch, and time with Babou. And, of course, all the other not so nice things, like Cleaning Out the Refrigerator, for instance. But really, I am so thankful to have an amazing daughter, amazing husband, wonderful family and friends, and a soft fog and warm cup of coffee to begin my day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why I Write

Here is the piece I had been working on. It still needs work but I cannot look at it any longer so I will let you look at it instead! Ha!


Why I Write about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.

-Anne Lamott

Becoming a mother is one of those things that is almost impossible to prepare for, one of the few experiences in life that changes you instantly: one day you are not a mother, and the next day you are.

It happens so fast you wonder what happened, exactly, suddenly flung into new territory without a road map. While nothing can really prepare you for the labyrinth of this life transition, it does help to have tools to light the way. The tools you use are as individual as you are, the only requirement for the job being that they work. Yoga, girlfriends, books, therapy, martinis, or some combination of all of these, or more, may work for you. What I have found works for me is a writing practice.

When I say practice, I mean practice in a mystical sense, almost religiously, as a sort of devotion to myself. I also mean it in an athletic sense, for it is a type of mental athletics for me, a way in which I practice knowing my thoughts, a way of keeping up with myself as I change. I would not consider myself a writer, although I aspire to being one, but I write every day, as a tool for understanding myself. I write when I do not make sense, especially when I don't make sense. I write when I am not politically correct. I write and then I throw the writing away. I write to release myself from myself.

Writing has always been a part of my life, a way I could dependably clear my head and slow my speeding thoughts. A way I could savor life by slowing my experiences to the pace of my pen. My writing life began early, by being home taught. Diary writing was part of our cirriculum. By keeping a daily journal, my sister's and I learned about spelling, vocabulary, and grammar. It was consequently an impersonal recording, mostly of the days events and highlights; mostly of what we had for dinner.

I had always had a hard time communicating my thoughts into words. As a child, my thoughts fluttered by as feelings rather than words, a shorthand that I understood but that did not translate well into speech. As I grew, I practiced slowing down to sculpt words out of my feelings, whole paragraphs and chapters and books of feelings with no punctuation.

I practiced translating my feelings into words and soon writing became a habit and my journal more private, it's contents evolving to record my interior experiences. I still included what I had for dinner, but this time in much more lavish detail.

And then I got busy, and life whizzed past faster than I could write it. My twenties were filled with major life transitions and experiences happening in rapid succession, leaving little time for introspection.

Motherhood was the catalyst for my return to writing. I found myself laid completely bare after the birth of my daughter, a tabula rasa. My whole perception of life had changed overnight. My whole perception of myself changed overnight. Even my nervous system changed, going into a consistent state of high alert.

Becoming a mother was a very difficult transition for me. I stared at myself in the mirror. I looked how I felt: different. I wondered as I stared, who this woman was, what she thought about things, As I felt my internal compass shift its true north, I wondered who I was now, trying to fit into a new mold as scratchy and uncomfortable as an ill-fitting turtle neck. Feelings of suffocation and aloneness blurred my vision.

In order to make sense of my jumbled inner landscape, I once again turned to writing. I asked myself questions and waited for answers to come. And waited. I persistently faced the sound of my own silence, my own distance from myself.

I persisted in hopes of not only discovering my voice again, but in also discovering a new career. Writing seemed the perfect work for a stay-at-home mom. I struggled with this new concept of myself, of my life. I wondered how I looked to those looking in on me, wondered again who I was now, and where I would go. I still want to write as a career, to be published, recognized; to be heard. But I now recognize how important writing is to me on a fundamental level; that it anchors my very being. I may not fully know who I am now, or where I am going, but I do know that all along the way I am writing myself into being. And perhaps that is most the important part of the journey.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From the Mouthes of Babes

Babou's Alligator smile with Auntie Katrina and her real smile!

The other day was a long one. For some reason or another Babou had refused her usual afternoon nap and made it happily and energetically through the afternoon. As I put her in bed after her bath, she looked up and me as she snuggled in and said "Mama, I give up." I laughed, my sentiments exactly!

Monday, October 12, 2009


Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.

-Anne Lamott

As I have written before, in my quest to become a better writer, I joined a local writing group called The Writing Mamas. The class caters to mothers and creates a warm, safe place where you can write, share your writing, help one another make contacts, and get published. It is perfect for me right now. The class acts as a support group, creative outlet, and infuser of inspiration.

It is a good place to hone your skills by getting critiqued in a gentle way. I need some help in this regard although it seems I am only pointed in a direction. I think I need to work on my sentence structure and on my style. It is one of those things that is only half-taught, as far as I can see. I keep looking for books to help me. I am currently reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I am thoroughly enjoying, but it seems more catered to fiction writers and I am trying to work on nonfiction articles and essays.

I want my writing to flow better. It is amazing how much work goes into a piece of writing. It never fails to leave me in awe, after I read something simple and elegant, realizing how much the author must have worked shaping her thoughts into elegant paragraphs. That is what I am striving for in my writing: simple, elegant and clear writing still voluptuous with feeling and imagery.

In any case, I am inspired and hopeful and enjoying those feelings. I know they are fleeting and that the most important thing is to be consistent. Consistent, moderate effort seems to be the theme of my thirties, an anecdote to the all or nothing of my twenties, and hopefully the underpinnings of a modicum of success in my forties. At least that is the way I am looking at it now.

I am going to work a little more on the writing for class last night and will publish it here tomorrow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Wild Week

In spite of the cost of living, it's still popular.

-Kathleen Norris

This week has gone a little unsmoothly, you could say. Things have not fallen into place as I had hoped. For instance, my tire was found flat the morning I took my sister Katrina to the airport for her return flight. I had to drive backwards up a one way street between traffic so as not to completely warp the tire (I live on a series of one way streets and the gas station is half a block upstream, if you will.) Flat tire inflated enough to make it to airport on time, thank God.

Patrick burnt his eyes welding and was in excruciating pain all night and most of the following day. I was up the whole night grating potatoes and applying them as poultices over his eyes, along with ice and cold wash clothes. He healed, thank God.

Patrick's bicycle was stolen off of our front porch for the second time. The first time Patrick had seen the person who had stolen his bike nonchalantly riding it around town. Not so nonchalant after having Patrick chase him down the street. The bike was returned, as it had been stolen, in the middle of the night. This time, we were at the park swinging Babou and throwing the ball for Loco O when Pat motioned me over. He pointed out a guy sitting on the grass patiently scraping the stickers off of Patrick's bike! Patrick went over and confronted the guy and, after much back and forth, Patrick got his bike back. Again.

I had my halfway doctor's appointment for the baby and all looks good. I am so excited to meet our newest addition that I almost wish we were having it tomorrow, and then I remember I have to go through labor and am glad it is still won't be for awhile. I am due February 24 and we are waiting to find out if it is a boy or a girl. It's one of life's best surprises!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Day to Remember

Believe me if all those
Endearing young charms
Which I gaze on so fondly today
Were to change by tomorrow
And fleet in my arms,
Like fairy gifts fading away
Though would'st still be adored
As this moment thou art
Let thy loveliness fade as it will
And around the dear ruin
Each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself
Verdantly still.

It is not while beauty
And youth are thine own
And thy cheeks
Unprofaned by a tear
That the ferver and faith
Of a soul can be known
To which time will but
Make thee more dear
No the heart that has truly loved
Never forgets
But as truly loves
On to the close
As the sunflower turns
On her god when he sets
The same look which
She'd turned when he rose.

-Thomas Moore

Two years ago this afternoon, ten years one month and one day after our first kiss, my husband and I drove silently up the California coast. Liquid gold late afternoon sun glinted through the window as we drove, suspended in the moment. We were on our way to get married; an impromptu, sunset ceremony.

We had planned on getting married and had our marriage license but had been unable to coordinate times for a courthouse ceremony. Synchronicity influenced events and Patrick unexpectedly got the weekend off, my friend Gabriella's step-mother - an non denominational minister - happened to be in town and free. One of my other friends happened to be in town from the Bay Area painting in a local Plein Air festival. And her sister happened to be a photographer and lent my friend her camera.

We stood on the beach, my mother, Babou, and Gabriella's father standing nearby.

Gabriella's step-mother drew a circle with sage, enclosing the three of us,

and the ceremony began. We pledged our vows, centered and unselfconscious,

with the sun setting behind us, waves lapping near our bare feet.

As we parted from our closing kiss, we were surprised by the sound of clapping.

So immersed we were in our circle and vows we had not noticed the other beach goers watching from a distance. The cheering continued, as well as much well wishing, and we happily, giddily walked to a little picnic table near the beach. There we had our quickly pulled together sunset picnic of baguettes, cheese, fruit, and champagne. Gabriella's father toasted us, and we watched the perfect evening turn to dusk.

Looking back on that day, I realize that although I had always thought I wanted more of a traditional wedding, that the wedding I had was actually the perfect wedding for me. We were so in the moment, so unselfconscious, so focused on our words and what they meant, so focused on each other. We were able to take our vows in a way that meant so much, in a way that really was a union, a blending of two. Our marriage, the blending of two very different people, has allowed us both to become more authentic and balanced versions of ourselves. We both felt the change, everything was the same and yet completely different. A golden evening that will last forever in my memory.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day Two and Company

I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.

-Benjamin Franklin

Day one down, we are now on day two. This is good, a little hard getting used to the new schedule and I am tired, but I will get used to it. And I'm pregnant, tired is fairly normal.

I feel good and hopeful. I am also re-starting the morning pages, a tool I have used off and on from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. It is a full twelve week program that I have never been able to really do but I have always tried to do at least the morning pages. Maybe I will get motivated and do the whole program. I have heard from friends that it is quite life changing/enhancing/directing/motivating.

Ok, well I must get on. I need to finish an anti-foodie (I know, I know, me write an anti-foodie piece? Well, you will understand when you read it), and the inspiration and flow is flagging so I have to just, as Ann Lamott would say, get my really shitty first draft out of the way. So maybe not finished, but started.

Then I need to do some home stuff, yard work, week-wacking, some extra house cleaning, and food shopping. In anticipation of guests that I am so excited about seeing. Today one of my oldest and closest friends is coming to visit, fresh from a month long trip to Indonesia that I haven't heard enough about. I went to Indonesia in my early twenties and have always wanted to go back.

Katrina, my brilliant, busy sister is arriving Saturday morning and I am almost hopping inside to see her. Yes, weird, but that is how I feel. She will be here till Monday and then my mom arrives Sunday to stay till Wednesday! And I have my writing class on Sunday and hopefully my article will have evolved past it's shitty first draft into a gleaming, publishable piece to have reviewed.

And I think I will make some zucchini muffins to really get the bed and breakfast feeling going. I found a good, basic recipe the other day, and with a little creative license, made them my own: cardamom, sun dried cranberries, and slivered almonds!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Self Discipline

You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit according to hours and seasons.
Kahlil Gibran

I have been thinking about this childraising/time to yourself/something for yourself conundrum.

And thinking...and thinking.

I think that there are different times in one's life that offer unique experiences perfectly suited towards growing in various ways. Every phases of life presents both obstacles and opportunities.

For instance, when I stopped working and started a family, I decided that the new phase of my life would be a perfect time to explore my more creative side. That side I had had little time for really, between school and work and then more work. Even the writing I did get to do at the wine magazine was very constricted and uncreative due to the editorial content. I had never had a real opportunity to discover my voice, or my creativity.

I thought motherhood would present the perfect opportunity for reclaiming my more artistic side. That being creative with my children, seeing through their eyes, and experiencing their unstructured concept of time would reconnect me to my innate creativity that dwelt, I intuited, in a more playful part of myself long buried.

But I found myself instead putting my old attitudes into my new life. Trying to structure time too precisely, or letting it go entirely. Never really enjoying the moment because now I was focused on a new to-do list that never ended. The list may have changed, but my attitude had not: grimly going down a to-do list or worrying about the lack of order in my life and overcompensating. And still, fun and creativity coming last, if at all.

I thought what a perfect opportunity to finally do what I had always wanted to do: become a writer. Hopefully make that my new career. But I find myself, day after day, filling my time first with my hopelessly mundane, and certainly un-fun, "to-do" list.

So I have decided, in all of this thinking, that my wish to become a writer will never happen unless I do it, every day. As though I am already a writer, treat it as a career, as a job, and hopefully, in so doing, it will become just that: a job and a career.

In order to do that, I am going to start putting myself first, literally, in the morning. By putting writing first in my day, I will always do it. I will structure my time, but not confine myself either, blending the lessons of flexibility and fluidity that motherhood has taught me with my older, more rigid attitudes about life and work. My focus will be less on perfection and more on production. Making writing a regular part of my life, on a daily basis. A consistent, regular mental purging, if you will.

I think I will be able to relax and enjoy the rest of my life more, knowing that I am taking care of myself as well as my home and family. If you lose yourself, you have nothing to give. It is that elusive balance of maintaining oneself in the face of life's demands, a paradox no one is immune to and a balance everyone requires. Here is to each of us finding our paths and, most importantly, walking them.