Thursday, March 28, 2013

Aggrandized Oatmeal

On those Saturday mornings when my insistent desire to have something different from the daily granola clashes with my fatigue or laziness, I fall back on a little something I call Aggrandized Oatmeal.

Cook up rolled oats the usual way.  Nothing interesting happening yet.

Top with fruit (chopped apple or pear, sliced bananas, fresh berries in summer, dried fruits in winter) and toasted nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, whatever you have on hand).  Anoint with real maple syrup or honey.  Suddenly the ecru porridge is crunchy and sweet and very intriguing.  Grand, even.  And the whole lively bowl only takes about ten minutes. No recipe necessary.

Afterward I can go back to the couch or stare at the sky and forget the laundry for a while longer, feeling virtuous about breakfast at least.

Luxury and virtue.  A delightful combination for a weekend morning. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

All Process All The Time

Many of the times that I sit down at the keyboard and wonder what to write, what comes to mind isn't a product but the process of trying to write itself.  I don't burst with experiences that must be described, nor stories that need telling, nor fictional characters that I ache to bring to life, nor even a cause to champion. What I seem preoccupied with a good deal of the time is the process of trying to be a writer at all.  Or maybe it's the process of trying to be at all.

This has troubled me for some time now.  For years actually.  Many of them ago I wrote a poem in which I described myself as always budded, never bloomed.  That was sad and melodramatic, but relates to my current process entrapment.

As a writer, I still feel sometimes like an actor who rehearses but never performs, an athlete who practices but never plays, and, yes, the flower who forms a bud but never flourishes.

Maybe I need to get over myself.  Or maybe that's just the way I'm made.  Either way, I am incapable, and I do not use that word lightly, of just doing something without examining how I'm doing it.

When I was a girl I ate my sandwiches in a pattern, taking bites in rows or circling in from the crust edge.  When I eat my cereal now, I notice whether there is a raisin in each bite or two nuts in this bite when there may be none in the next one.  When I wash dishes, I lay them out in a certain order that I observed years ago allows me to fit them in the drainer best.  I never just toss clothes in a suitcase, not even on the way back when a wrinkle won't matter because they're bound for the laundry. My closet is organized by kind of garment and sub-organized by color, light to dark, with  shirts hung sleeveless to long sleeve as well.

OK.  Now I sound like an utter anal retentive, but I'm not entirely.  I do allow small pockets of chaos in my life.  One is under our deck.  Please don't go there if you ever find yourself a visitor, and there will be no pictures.

But that's not the point.  The point is that I wouldn't be controlling or arranging such things if I weren't paying grand attention to how I'm doing them.  I'm always interested in How and also How to Do It Better, no matter what the It is, even just living. Especially that. The motivations, the options, the challenges that arise in the attempt--those are some of my fascinations. I envision how I'm doing a task just as thoroughly as I envision the task results. I'm as aware of the process as I am the product, sometimes more so.  When there's trouble in the workings, how do I not notice?  Right, I can't!

It strikes me now that if I'm so fascinated with how I'm doing writing, I would be more interested in learning how to do it better, when I've said here that I'm choosing to be untrained for now.  I allow myself that contradiction and won't sort that one out today.  Instead I share the news arising from all this:  I decided the other night to just accept that I'm a process person.

I'm not the only one, either.  Many writers that I've encountered are as well.  They help the rest of us by sharing what they experience in their "during," which helps ours.  And apparently we need that help.  Many creative types tell of trouble in the process that must be dealt with to ever get to the product. So maybe process is a worthwhile topic after all.

I think I'll quit feeling sheepish now about being a process princess.  Joy in the process may be all I ever get or the best I get.  I can't control readers or publishers or consumers (well, maybe I can--I just don't want to be a manipulator), but I can enjoy the doing that is mine to do.

I'm still working on that.  Over and over again, evening after evening, trying to choose creating over Facebooking so I'll respect myself in the morning.  If I had it down, I'd be here every day spouting joyous prose with a purpose, sharing poetry with abandon. Until then, if process thoughts are what I have, then so be it.

Wait. If the examined life is the one worth living, then maybe I'm flourishing after all.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The View from Bliss

What's the point
of anything
but love?

Everything else

Everything we can touch

That which we can't grasp
abides forever.

Participating in
the mystery,
being love as
much as possible,

seems the only point,
the only arrow home.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Picture from a blog called Wind Blowing

I drive by some
until they exist
no more.

Who knows if I'll
have another season?

I pull over,
leave the door
hanging open,
gather those odd
chartreusy orbs

like the wildflowers
when I was in love,
running in the
ditch laughing,
arms full,
pollen on my nose.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Idea of Fast Food #4

Today was one harried day, booked solid and punctuated by a sputtering car that couldn't be driven home and gifted wagyu ground beef that I had foolishly allowed to become of questionable safety.  My precious dinner, that restorative of my soul planned with loving care, was threatened.

Then I remembered a good trick for times like these:  the Italian egg sandwich.

I found it on some strand of the world wide web attributed to Giada De Laurentiis. She's way too beautiful to be credible.  Her super easy open-face sandwich is far more approachable.  Especially speedy and useful with leftovers around the house. A slice of crusty bread, a bit of tomato sauce, a near-rind of Parmigiano, a clove of garlic.  Odds and ends really, that become the stars of the plate when introduced to an olive oil-fried egg.

With some dressed greens on the side, a balanced and satisfying meal is on the table in 15 minutes or less.  Now that's real fast food. Or real food, fast. Good red wine and snappy chocolate only made it better.

The car will have to be towed and possibly expensively fixed.  I have to be out of town all day tomorrow if the impending ice storm doesn't imprison us.  Saturday is claimed.  All of no consequence when a good dinner was on the table, and I had my love with whom to share it.  Sitting down to a good meal in a snug, warm house, I was happy anyway.  And quickly.

Italian Egg Sandwich
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 1

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large egg
Salt and pepper
1 slice rustic white bread, 1/2 inch thick
1 garlic clove, cut
1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano
1/4 cup tomato or marinara sauce

Heat the oil in a small heavy skillet over medium heat.  Crack the egg into the skillet. Cover and cook until the white is firm and the yolk is almost set, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile. toast the bread until golden brown. Rub the cut clove of garlic over the toast.  Sprinkle with most of the Parmigiano. Spoon the tomato sauce over the Parmigiano. Top with the egg.  Sprinkle remaining Parmigiano over the egg. Plate and serve.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Tools Chosen and Found

Well, the first month of the new year is well over, and it's time to assess my resolutionary progress, because monitoring helps, according to Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, the authors of a book called Willpower that jumped into my hands at Half Price Books over Christmas break.  In some studies, folks who regularly checked on their behavior or received regular feedback about it made more significant changes than those who didn't.  So here goes.

I planned to:
  • Intervene with action whenever I felt my mood slipping
  • Take a 5 minute calming break in the middle of my work day and at the end if necessary
  • Send a hand written note to one person a week
  • Awake half an hour earlier to allow for more morning self-care
  • Add deep cleaning duties to the weekly schedule
  • Plan two quarterly dates with my husband
How have I done so far?

Being more active, particularly on Saturdays, which had been my most difficult day, has helped my mood control.  I am apparently not meant to sit around too much these days.  Been there; done that; had enough of it.  I slipped a bit last Saturday with a little too much leisure in the morning, but righted myself soon enough.

I have managed my 5-minute calming break at work exactly twice.  Or was it once? Not winning at this one, but then I haven't needed it much.  The whole point is to maintain functionality.  If I have that, I may not need the break.  However, if I do need it, I know, having tried it, that it works and is available to me.  

I have prepared and mailed two notes thus far.  My mother really enjoyed hers. This past Sunday was a weird snowbound day that threw me off, so I forgive myself for that.  Actually, I forgive myself period. I was two for four for January, two more notes than I've written in past years.  I'll just get back to it.

We're still rising half an hour earlier than before and still don't seem to be suffering from it.  I have time to write, stretch, and sit, except for the occasional extra-work-duty morning, which hasn't ruffled me much.  When there's a daily habit, there's always another day to get round to it.  No harm, no foul, no reason to worry. Working so far and very welcome.

I have done a little extra deep cleaning in my zones of responsibility each week and haven't found it burdensome.  This kind of piggy backing is a relatively easy way to add accomplishment without piling more weight onto a full life.  I get the gleam of a truly clean range or sink without dreary hours of effort. Success so far.

As for the dates, I am preparing to book the first of mine.  With next weekend being my birthday, I'm extra determined that we are going somewhere special, of my secret choosing.  Unless the weather trumps my intention, this one is in the old hip pocket. (Promise, honey!)

There are two little changes that I didn't even list, but that have been surprisingly effective so far.  In my efforts to keep my calm at work, I felt led to carry a small stone in my pocket as a tangible reminder of my intention.  It's an amethyst, which is my birthstone, given to me by a friend.  It's smooth and soothing, reminding me of times equally so.  The phrase that continues to pop into my head when I take it into my hand in the morning before I put it in my pocket is: "I remember who I am."  

I didn't plan that mantra.  It just came to me, as they usually do. Without consciously deciding that it should be so, the stone represents the power I now know I have to sit peacefully and let all fuss and worry fall away and become like voices overheard.  It reminds me that I am capable of peace.  I begin to know how to claim it and how to let go of what blocks it. A daily reminder of all that has been powerful.

The other change was locational.  Instead of reading in bed before lights out, we now sit in our living area. It may be a coincidence, but I have slept better since we made that small change, I suspect because I'm physically more comfortable. Reading while propped up in bed was creating tension that cozying on the couch doesn't, which was probably not conducive to relaxed sleep. It's too early to tell yet, but I'm hoping for causality.  I need all the relaxo help I can get.

Over all, not bad.  It's only the first month, but still.  Positive reinforcement works. If I'm a very good girl, maybe I'll give myself a massage. Reward is another effective tactic, according to the Willpower authors.  I'm open to using it and every other positive tool I find, both chosen and found.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The One I've Waited For

I've got an idea.  How about something completely normal after all my carrying on about emotional challenges and life management?  How about a carrot salad?

For years, in a latent kind of way, I've wished for a good one.  Carrots themselves are cheap, abundant, and nutritious, all good reasons to eat more of them.  They are also sturdy enough to stand up to lounging in dressing with structural integrity intact, which is important since we love leftovers and find them quite handy.

Unfortunately, the ones I'd tried were not thrilling.  Some were snappy enough for me but too vinegary for Dave.  Some were flavored unacceptably. Some required that the carrots be cooked first, which was tedious.  Some were composed of shapes that were too large to eat comfortably or stayed too crunchy when raw. I'm sure someone somewhere thought they were good, and we ate them, but not with repeated enthusiasm. Decently edible is not the same as so-good-that-I-could-eat-it-for-days-in-a-row-and-not-tire-of-it, which I didn't think I was requiring until I found it.

I chanced upon my new favorite by happenstance one guys' gaming night when Dave ordered pizza, and I felt the need for a vegetable, preferably of the acidically dressed, crisp variety to balance the fluff and goo of the pizza. I took another go at carrot salad to find the balance I was seeking.

Well, balance in the dressing is one of the things I love about this salad.  No vinegary pucker here, just a mellow zip that doesn't wear out its welcome or leave my lips tingling.  The mustard and honey in the dressing round out the oil and vinegar into a moderate kick that keeps pleasing for days. The original recipe may say to eat the salad soon after its made, but I have eaten it five or so days later (I lost count) and suffered not from quality decline.  Amazing and welcome, perfect for the workday lunch box.

I suppose this was destined to be the carrot salad of my dreams: It's modeled on a French classic, carrottes rappees, and shared by Dorie Greenspan who lives over there. (Those French are so suave and so my weakness.) Her version brings back memories of the first vinaigrette salads I ever ate and loved during my first visits to the continent. They were as strikingly simple as a couture dress and a revelation to me then, after a childhood at table with iceberg lettuce and gloppy ranch or my dad's preferred "French" dressing.

Ms. Greenspan listed some ingredients as optional, namely chopped nuts, chopped parsley, and raisins.  With the crucial dressing being perhaps, I will risk saying, perfect, they could indeed be happily omitted.  But I've used them all, and all are wonderful. The parsley livens up the color as well as the flavor. The nuts add crunch, protein (carrots are nutritious but starchy), and flavor kapow if toasted, which is never a bad option, surely.  The raisins contribute sweetness and a chewy texture, although I do leave them out now that I know keeping it around for days is possible, as they are the one ingredient that looks a little sad after marinating.

We ordered pizza Saturday night.  If I hadn't been consumed by another cleaning attack on my range (It's still January!), I would have made this salad again--and I had just eaten the last serving of the previous batch two days before!

Being lazy---I mean the soul of efficiency--I streamlined the original recipe to suit me.  If you need more detail, follow the link to the source.  Either way, happy eating!

Grated Carrot Salad
adapted from Dorie Greenspan
Serves 4 or more

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup canola, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
1 pound carrots, peeled, trimmed, and grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped, optional
Parsley, chopped, optional
Raisins or currants, optional

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mustard, honey, vinegar, and oil.  Add the grated carrots and the nuts, parsley, and raisins, if using.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator, covered.