Currently | 05.31.2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

EATING: Strawberries. Lots and lots of strawberries. This week I picked 12 pounds of berries at a farm in Illinois. Since then I've been mixing these red jewels into my oatmeal, making ridiculously good milkshakes, smothering them with greek yogurt, and dreaming of delicate strawberry galettes. Hopefully I'll still have enough left to make my favorite jam.

EXCITED FOR: Pokey LaFarge! Actually this weekend is going to be jam packed with live music. Pokey kicks it all off tonight at the Casa Loma Ballroom followed by the Riverfront Times Music showcase, featuring 50+ local bands. Which basically means the summer of outdoor concerts has officially arrived.

READING: My book club just selected this collection of short stories to read for June. In addition, Gail suggested I read Love with a Chance of Drowning. Both promise to be excellent reads.

MAKING: Now that I've already made my awesome summer music swap, I've turned my attention to some crafty creations. In anticipation of hosting a summer ice cream and Popsicle party I've started making these colorful paper lanterns. (Okay, I've only bought the fancy paper with which to make them, but hey, it's a start.)

WATCHING: This fascinating TED talk is dead-on. I wish we had more conversations like this. Honest thoughtful discussions about desire, relationships, and the dichotomy between the two. The entire talk is brilliant, but I especially liked the last three minutes.

Happy weekend!

Summer Music Swap

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Oh what do you do in the summer time when all the world is green?
Do you fish in a stream, or lazily dream on the banks as the clouds go by?
Is that what you do? So do I!
Dorothy S. Andersen 

Memorial Day is the official start to summer, right? In celebration of longer days and sun drenched picnics, today I'm sharing my latest music compilation (47 minutes of some pretty awesome tunes).  

I have always loved summer. Summer, to me, means bike rides and fireflies. It means lemonade and reading in the grass with no blanket. It means footloose and fancy free, complete with outdoor concerts and spontaneous beach trips. Summer means fresh produce and farmers’ markets. As a kid I remember running through the industrial-sized sprinklers on the golf course behind our house and sleeping on the trampoline under the stars. I sold soda pop to the golfers and earned my 10 speed bike in the process. And summer, of course, always means celebrating my birthday (which, as a kid, usually involved a piñata in one form or another). Simply put: summer makes me happy.  If we were gathered together in my living room I’d serve you some homemade ice cream and we would chat for hours about the songs I selected and why. Instead, I’ll just imagine you lounging in a hammock while reading this.

In the spring of 2002 I had just finished up my last semester of college. I stayed in Logan, UT for the summer in order to finish a practicum and to keep working for the ladies I adored. Of the 10 women I worked for, I was closest to Sharon. I looked forward to Tuesday mornings when I got to spend time with such a remarkable woman. One morning, Sharon started telling me about this new CD she had recently purchased. It was a collection of songs from a woman who had passed away at the age of 33 from cancer, and many of her songs were discovered after her death. Sharon put the CD on and I listened to it while I cleaned or worked in the garden. Eva Cassidy’s voice became my soundtrack that summer. Each time I hear the cover Fields of Gold I am instantly transported back to Cache Valley and my heart soars with affection for that season of my life.

Myth by Beach House and Beach Baby by Bon Iver are an ode to (what else?) the beach! Meanwhile, I’m plotting how on earth to get to the beach this summer.

In the summer of 2009 I was still recovering from a fairly heart wrenching breakup. I ended up listening to Sleep All Summer at least 3,479 times that summer… okay, maybe that entire year. 

If bossa nova (the Brazilian fusion of samba and jazz) doesn’t remind you of summer I don’t know what does. While I wanted to include at least three other selections, but this at least gives you a taste of what a thick sweltering night in Rio with hot Portuguese men might sound like. What?

She Plays Yo Yo With My Mind. It's summer, so yo-yos and bubbles are all the rage. Right?

Sticking with my tradition of including one Sex and the City related song in each compilation Hot Child in the City comes from season 3, episode 15, where Carrie meets a guy who works in a comic book store and still lives with his parents. It also happens to be the hottest part of summer in New York, and as someone who lived on the East Coast for six years I know just how oppressive humidity in August can be.  

As a child I spent many summers in Southern California visiting my grandma. Those trips always involved a day at the beach. I loved swimming in the ocean, but was always aware of the menacing potential just beneath the surface. Generally though, I’d work hard to convince myself that sharks weren’t interested in coming close to the shore on the particular day that I was visiting.

It’s true, I included Going Up the Country in this little mix because of the group that sings it. The week before I was born my mother canned apricots. Last summer I finally learned how to can on my own. I bought all the supplies and went to town. Plus this song was kind of the unofficial anthem for Woodstock in August of 1969. So yeah, it’s totally a summer song.

From the movie (500) Days of Summer I just had to include this song.

And finally, is anyone still reading this long-winded epistle? I hope so, because I kind of saved the best for last. Unless you happen to be like Bob from What About Bob. It’s a risk, I know, but I had to take it. You see, I fall in the camp of a Neil Diamond lover (except when he sings Christmas songs, which seriously just sound gross and should be banned for all of eternity). Anyways, back to the music. During my teenage years my grandpa would occasionally rent a house boat for the entire family and we’d spend a week together on Lake Powell. One summer I invited one of my closest friends and together we had an absolute ball. Our anthem for that trip was America. We’d belt it out at the top of our lungs, patriotic and proud. Hearing it now still makes me ridiculously happy. And really, isn’t that what summer is all about?

Happy listening!

Down on the Farm

Friday, May 24, 2013

Yesterday was cool and overcast so I decided to walk down to our little plot of earth. And this is what I found. Happy plants doing their thing. The chives are on steroids, while the basil is bursting between two tomato plants. We had some of the lettuce with dinner last night and the little cucumber seeds should be sprouting any second now. Something seems to be eating the peppers, so maybe I'll have to fold and put in some marigolds, but otherwise everything seems to be thriving. Are you growing anything this year? 

Today in Pictures

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why yes that's a gourmet restaurant-style salad complete with kumquats, celery, toasted walnuts, oranges, avocados, and Parmesan cheese, lightly tossed with a homemade lemon oregano vinaigrette. All served in the comfort of my own kitchen.

Compiled my summer music mix. Complete with shiny gold dots! Technically I'm 3 minutes over the limit, so yeah, I kind of wanted to include EVERYTHING.

Taught an herb class to the women at church tonight. A couple dozen ladies gathered to learn about planting herbs, cooking with herbs, and storing herbs for future use. Plus I had to tell them about where the word pesto originated from (Hint: see mortar and pestle that I picked up in the South of France). Show off.

Set out samples of pesto, pine nut rosemary shortbread, and blackberry sage jam from one of my favorite cookbooks Food in Jars. Not pictured: lemon, cucumber, mint, raspberry water. (Also not pictured, other food samples that arrived in plastic containers.)

Capped off the night with this parking lot sunset, while class members planted tiny herb seeds in yogurt containers. All in all a pretty good day.

Music Monday: Lana Del Rey

Monday, May 20, 2013

If you've seen The Great Gatsby you have already been introduced to this song. But wow, talk about perfect. Not just the music, the entire film really. I plan on seeing it again. Also, I could easily include this song in my upcoming summer music swap, but instead of waiting a month I'll just let you soak in the raw beauty of it now.

Lana Del Rey—Young and Beautiful


Sunday, May 19, 2013

We write to taste life twice. — Anais Nin

Let me tell you a little story. A couple Sundays ago we had a lesson at church that has lingered with me. It was about journaling. Keeping a record and writing it down. The instructor was well prepared and the room was packed with women. I wasn't teaching that Sunday, but I had a sneaking suspicion the lesson was veering into the territory of an hour long lecture. As I glanced around the room I saw women of varying ages and life experience. We had already sat through two hours of church that day and were rounding the last stretch. The lesson had the potential of a home run or a lackluster finish. As quote after quote was read I kept waiting for the inevitable pause. Hoping for a chance to hear from the other women in the room. Finally, as the teacher asked for quote number six, I raised my hand and told her that while I didn't have the quote she was after I did have something to share. And this is what I said.

When I was young, in my childhood (starting at eight), through adolescence and even during all of college, I journaled regularly. Volume after volume. Journals lined my bookshelves. I wrote about everything. School, friends, family, trips, interests, and life. Mundane things mostly, but I wrote them down. It was a habit. A part of me. As natural as making my bed or brushing my teeth each morning. I worked out problems on the pages of my journals and referenced back to them when faced with difficult circumstances. One time, I must have been 11 or 12, I was visiting my aunt in Southern California and we were at a swap meet, perusing plastic trinkets and antique finds. In my excitement of simply being there I told my aunt and her friend that I couldn't wait to get home to write all about the experience in my journal. They teased me of course, but with an undaunted zeal I quickly responded No, you don't understand, you've GOT to write it down. If you don't write it down it's like it never happened. I was certain my little testimony of record keeping could motivate just about anyone. Then, after college, I entered a really difficult period of my life and I stopped writing.

Just like that.


Something shifted inside me and I didn't feel like I could pour my emotions or heartache or bad decisions onto the pages of a book. Pages that had already carried me through most of my life. I felt like somehow I had let them down and that those blank pages, once etched with black ink would stare back at my face and judge me. That they would see my mistakes magnified and that writing would be too painful, rather than healing. Because I stopped writing, half of my 20s went undocumented. Major life events all but vanished. Which, at this point, you might be thinking, what's the big deal. So what? But that's just it, I don't have that record. It's like it never happened. Sure I can dimly recall portions of things past, but I don't really know what happened; not from my perspective at least. Please don't misunderstand, this isn't to say that my life is so extraordinary, or that I am so important that this is a grave loss to humanity. That's not what I mean. Rather, I believe that I inflicted this loss upon myself. I chose to stop writing. At the time, I didn't believe sharing the hard things would help. But after I opened up and shared this experience during that Sunday lesson, the rest of the women felt safe and started to share their stories too.

In 2009, I started to write again. I started to write here, on this little blog. It felt strange and awkward, like a bird just learning to fly. The format was different, but the intent was the same. Share my stories. Write them down and remember my life in the process. Now here I stand, broaching another season of transition, faced with another difficulty. Over the past week I have teeter tottered about how much to share and how much to withhold. In the end, I choose to be honest.

Last Monday I was terminated from my job. It was a job I loved and one that I was good at. I worked hard for seven months and stretched myself during the process. I liked the people I worked with and felt happy in my position. Then, just like that, it all vanished. Losing your job is much like being dumped. It's embarrassing and smells like failure. Suddenly you find yourself spending daylight hours in public with retired folks and stay-at-home parents. You wonder if everyone who isn't at work is independently wealthy. And then, as if you could forget, your internal monologue starts up again; pestering you for the 100th time What now?

Currently, I'm at the beginning of this. Still processing and trying to sort out future possibilities. For the record though, I have a suspicion that everything is going to be alright.

My Kind of Town

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

We had such a great time in Chicago for our first anniversary. The vibe and pace of urban life set my heart spinning the moment we walked down the street. We took in the city's famed architecture via a boat tour, met up with an old friend for breakfast (Swedish style), saw a show at the Lyric Opera, relaxed in the giant built-in hotel book nooks, and ate our hearts out. And if that wasn't enough, GH also gave me two really special gifts to celebrate the occasion. What a great weekend!
All images by me.

Music Monday: The Head and the Heart

Monday, May 13, 2013

I hadn't planned on posting today, but maybe that's exactly why I should set down some thoughts. Clear aside other troubles and just listen to music. This song isn't new, but I have probably listened to it exactly a million times since I met its acquaintance last autumn. When we lived in Virginia there was a tunnel on the Mount Vernon Trail that I loved biking through. Couples often took engagement photos there and at times it was a sad sort of dank place, flanked, of course, with light seeping out each end. Bright arcs of light that pulled you forward. This song blends all those emotions, propelling you towards it, the sorrow mingled with the light. And if you don't know what to make of this then we will not relate. 

The Head and the Heart —Rivers and Roads 

Friday Favorites: Wedding Album

Friday, May 10, 2013

We got married on a Thursday morning in May, exactly one year ago today. Crazy! I hope what they say about the first year is true, because it makes approaching year two that much more exciting. One of the pieces of advice we received for our wedding was Commitment is sometimes stronger than love... and needs to be. I think of that often. While it's true that no two successful relationships are alike, I have a suspicion that most of them require sacrifice. In the past twelve months I have learned a lot about compassion, honesty, forgiveness and humility and yes, love. The lessons are hard, but we keep going. Because that's the miracle. I'm lucky to have such a remarkable partner by my side, and I look forward to learning and growing together over the years. Today we're off to the Windy City to celebrate. Back with more stories next week.

Our Love Story: Part I

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ken and I met where everyone meets these days. At a corner coffee shop.

Kind of.

In truth, we actually met on He was Geaeslore and I was MirandaWrites2. Honestly though, I never intended to join another dating website. My journal entry from 11/14/2010 reads as follows:

In September, just after I returned from Italy, I decided to make an impulse purchase. It had been awhile since I’d made any waves (or ripples for that matter), in the dating scene. After little foresight or thought, I plunked down my plastic and purchased a three month membership to What? Initially, it was simply an experiment. A place to find good stories and to write about how unnatural and awkward dating is. Something I could laugh about years down the road. So I began my search; trolling through profile after profile after endless profile. I detested the idea of someone making judgments of my character based simply on an image and a few trite interests; all of which, most people, generally put the exact same thing. Go figure. The funny parts I wrote about (averting tragedy through humor I suppose). Needless to say, I had no intention of actually meeting someone online. It wasn’t the right format. It was seedy and strange. It was basement-dwelling-still-living-at-home-with-his-parents and probably unemployed cave dwellers. Which would interest me why? But then I saw one profile with a tagline that caught my eye. It said simply “I’ll converse with you.” And that’s exactly what I needed. I longed to talk with someone. Immediately something shifted. Here was this stranger, someone I had never met, saying that he’d be willing to chat with me. To start a dialogue and break the oppressing silence. I don’t know why, but I believed him.

After exchanging a few emails— Ken’s lengthy epistles followed by my brief responses— I suggested we meet at Buzz Bakery in Alexandria, VA on an early Saturday morning in October of 2010. We hit it off. It was a typical first date (getting to know you questions and such), but I finally was able to come clean about my short virtual responses— I was using an iPhone rather than a computer. As our first date ended, we both left apologizing for having monopolized the conversation for a little over an hour. But Ken asked if he could see me again and I thought that would be okay.

Over the coming weeks Ken took active measures to pursue me. A true romantic, he took full advantage of courting me in a brilliant manner. This included thoughtful intelligent conversations, unexpected flowers, tender hand-written letters, and a genuine listening ear. I knew things were going to be good between us when he let me set NPR as a preset on his car radio. As the months passed, we continued to develop a closer bond by exploring new things together. I introduced Ken to corn on the cob and falafel and eating new foods in general. He introduced me to Harry Potter and Ender’s Game, reading the books aloud to me. When Ken asked me to meet his family for Thanksgiving, after only knowing me for a few weeks, I panicked and said no. Eventually I warmed to the idea and accepted his invitation to spend the holiday in Boston. Through the winter and spring of 2011 we saw each other four to six times a week, logging many miles on I495. We also took weekend trips together (to Warm Springs, VA, New York City, and Orlando). We camped and biked and explored D.C. on weekends, making the most of our time together. While both of us had lived strong independent single lives, suddenly we found ourselves turning into a couple. Entering a relationship that neither one of us really expected.

On September 16, 2011, after almost a year of dating, we both took the day off work and went for a hike at Sky Meadows State Park (a place that had special significance to us). I had thought maybe he might propose that day, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Instead, we enjoyed the brilliance of a crisp autumn morning. As we hiked, turning off onto the Appalachian Trail, I kept stopping to soak in the view and bask in the warmth of the sunshine. I knew Ken had prepared a gourmet lunch for us and was looking forward to that, but as we reached the summit we stopped to admire the view and that’s when Ken started to tell me how he felt about me. He then knelt to one knee and proposed with my great-grandmother’s wedding ring. Needless to say, I happily accepted. We were engaged for seven and a half months before getting married in May of 2012.

Music Monday: LouFest 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Do you know what you'll be doing this September? I do. I do! (Insert humble music brag here.) That's right ladies and gentlemen, the first weekend of the month you'll find me at the 4th annual LouFest. Think of it as the other large-scale music festival that isn't Bonnaroo or SXSW; or something like that. Plus it's right in my own backyard. Can I get a button or something? In case I can tempt you into joining me, here's what you'd have to look forward to. Now who's in?

Alabama Shakes— Always Alright

Local Natives— Tiny Desk Concert

Trampled by Turtles—Alone

Wild Belle—Happy Home

Homemade: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I don't know how you celebrate Cinco de Mayo but my new tradition is celebrating with this OMG dessert.

For years I thought sticky toffee pudding was a super complicated recipe, which means I never bothered to make it. Turns out, I was deceived. What a loss. Last summer, after my Aunt Colleen passed away, my cousin, her son, took it upon himself to scan hundreds and hundreds of her recipes. This was not only a fitting tribute to a great cook, it was a tangible way for those of us who had enjoyed her cooking to continue the legacy by making some of her classic dishes. Thanks to Colleen I made sticky toffee pudding for my first time at Easter. (In a dutch oven, no less.) Tonight I decided to try the recipe for a second time. Using a conventional oven with cute little ramekins.

The trick to this dessert is two-fold. First, undercook it just slightly; not so it's unsafe to eat, but a little jiggly in the center. Second, you simply must must drench the pudding in a heaping pile of sauce, topping that with a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream and a little sprinkle of cinnamon. Divine.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
(serves 8)

1 cup chopped dried dates
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup boiling water
5 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup flour (I used pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon vanilla 
1/2 teaspoon rum extract

For the sauce: 
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 stick butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon rum extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat eight ramekins with cooking spray and arrange them on a rimmed baking sheet. 

In a small bowl, combine the dates and baking soda. Pour the boiling water over the dates and set aside. In a food processor, combine the butter and sugar and process until thoroughly incorporated. With the processor running, add the eggs one at a time and process until smooth. If needed, stop the processor and scrape down the sides. 

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger into the mixture, then use a spoon or silicone spatula to gently fold in the dry ingredients. Stir in the date mixture and vanilla and rum extract. Spoon the batter into the ramekins and bake for about 25 minutes. Longer if you are making one big cake. 

Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. When you the cakes are done, if the tops of the cakes have domed during cooking (expanded above the rim of the ramekin) use a serrated knife to trim and discard the dome, making the cakes level with the rim of the ramekin. 

To serve, pool a bit of toffee sauce in the center of each serving plate. Drizzle the top of the cake with additional sauce. Devour warm. 

Friday Favorites: Best of St. Louis

Friday, May 3, 2013

True, I have only lived in St. Louis for a little over seven months (which doesn't exactly make me an expert), and I have only lived in one city in the Midwest, so I'm not what you might call a local. And if we're being totally honest, we're being totally honest, right?, this place doesn't feel like home. Not yet anyway. However, here is what I have learned about living in the Heartland: Midwesterners are nice. For real. People around here lead good lives and try to treat people right. In a way that's both infuriating and super humbling. (Four-way stops are a bit ridiculous.) Meanwhile I have learned to appreciate a few things about middle of the map living. Here's what I dig about St. Louis so far.

1. BBQ—Not burger and hot dog BBQ, rather, real smoked meat. We're talking moist beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches drenched in tangy sauce. Generally, I don't eat a lot of meat. But when I do, man I want it to be good. Some folks might tell you that Pappy's is the best in town, but two hours waiting in line didn't convince me. My local opinion: go to Bogarts and report back.

2. Thrifting—Wow. Can we talk about granny shop thrift stores? Ri-dic-u-lous. It's easy to go crazy thinking of all the DIY potential of furniture in these places, but sometimes antique malls come in so handy. I mean who doesn't love a good thrift find? My favorite antique store is only open the first seven days of the month, from 7am-7pm. They host a gorgeous holiday open house and I can almost always find something to purchase. Seriously, I want to take you to this shop. Plan your visit accordingly.

3. Free Museums—St. Louis has an abundance of free museums. This is especially handy for laid back weekend adventures. Plus St. Louis Art Museum is opening a sleek new modern wing in just a few weeks.

4. Cost of Living—Okay, this is kind of a given, but I guess folks just don't want to live in a city with astounding crime statistics. Whatever. When we left D.C. our cost of living decreased by about 30%. Which means you can actually afford a house here. And food and clothes and non-matinee movies. Kind of a bonus. Honestly, I'm still delighted by the novelty of free parking. Seriously, people, FREE parking. Weird.

That Vase of Lilacs (Kay Ryan)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

While National Poetry month is technically over (sigh), I can't help share one more poem. Just one. One more reading. One more remembrance. One more fist pump to the power of words. Today I dedicate this poem to my mom. Lilacs remind me of her. I first heard poet laureate Kay Ryan read this a few years ago at the Library of Congress. I was delighted to find someone in Cleveland had recorded a similar reading. Happy Birthday, mom.

A Finger, Two Dots Then Me

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Feelings articulated into words are often difficult. We fumble with letters and syllables trying to construct meaning; trying to understand ourselves and each other. Large questions gnaw the corners of our gray matter and we operate (mostly) under the premise that memory is both a construct of truth and fiction. What I do remember, however, is watching this film in the autumn of 2011. My distinct visceral reaction was immediate. Today, over a year later, I finally tracked down the title of the film and watched it again. Seven minutes of performance poetry, with a touch of cinematic stardust. I commend this to you, dear reader. Watch it. Then, maybe watch it again.


My Bookbloom All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger