Tuesday, July 31, 2012

dream of summer evening

Late summer evenings,
Rocking chair on the porch, white paint peeling
A sticky neck from the day’s humidity
And storm clouds on the horizon.

The big old maple tree out back
Where we played when we were kids.
Heavy with our secrets
Heavy with our stories,
And our lonely secret summer love.

Rain on the roof above
Beneath the red and navy quilt,
Squares soft like skin

We had a dock.
It was summer.

two ladies

I met two ladies this morning that ride the same bus as me.

One is tall but petite, fragile.  Red matte pumps and a red leather purse, a modest navy pencil skirt with matching sailor striped top and navy blazer.  She has a tight, curly haircut, natural nails, and always wears either red or pink lipstick.  She reads Anna Karenina on the way to Salt Lake.

The other woman is stockier, a shoulder-length blonde haircut.  She wore a blood orange cardigan over a white button-up blouse, with a heavy necklace the color of robin's egg.  Fake nails and dainty pink lipstick.  Her husband died, so she went back to school, got a PR degree and is now working for the firm that made Mitt Romney famous.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Life Aquatic (with 8 Carters)

So sometimes you just need a little more super-hero in your life.  Like when we all went scuba diving and gave ourselves scuba super-hero names.  (Recommendation: if ever, ever, ever you get the chance to learn how to scuba, DO IT.  It's amazing down there.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Game-Changers: Adam & Erik

I know some pretty cool people.  Like my long-time friend who learns rare Welsh and Spanish dialects, recites essays by memory, and hikes hidden coastlines.  Or an acquaintance from five years ago who learned the stars, bought a sailboat, and sailed from California to Fiji.  I know an editor of presidential biographies, a squirrel expert in Kazakhstan, women who have started education initiatives in Africa and created websites about healthy body image, and many, many international and local philanthropists.

In other words, I am surrounded by people who are actively bringing goodness into this world.

And then there's these two kids: Adam and Erik.  Adam studies law and is one of those people who is always looking for ways to make people happy. The hardest I've ever laughed was over a cup of hot chocolate at Denny's with him. Adam=interesting conversations, promises of adventure, kindness. Plus he looks like Christian Bale. As for Erik, as far as I've seen, he has every earthly skill known to man. He writes poetry, makes music, does art. I learned how to make cinnamon-sugared almonds from him. Erik makes friends everywhere he goes.

And you'll never guess what these two dynamos are doing. Yep, bicycling across the country for a good cause.  Here's what Erik writes: 

You would never know it just by looking at him, but only a few years ago my 5 year old nephew Jeffery had an open gap where his upper lip should have been. Even with the gap Jeffery was all smiles as a baby. It has taken numerous surgeries including having an artificial palate literally nailed into his mouth. There are still future bone grafts that will be needed to create a permanent palate. It took Jeffery longer than most children to talk because he had to get used to a mouth that changed with each surgery. All the surgeries, speech pathologists, and doctors' visits come at a heavy financial cost. Fortunately for Jeffery, he was born into a family where those costs could be covered. 

Every three minutes, a child is born with a cleft. Not all of those children have the same resources as Jeffery. 

So Erik and Adam founded PennyChange International and set out today to bicycle 1,700 miles, from Wyoming to New York, to raise money for kids with cleft lips and palates.

Pretty cool, I'd say.

Anyways, check out their webpage, share this post on facebook, maybe donate a few bucks if you can. (Come on, what's a couple of bucks when there are two guys with beards bicycling across the country for children??  ...Just sayin.)

Meanwhile, I'd love to hear about other people who are doing cool things to bring goodness into the world. If you know about any such things, post about them below so we can all enjoy!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pesto: A Story of Basil.

As this is the week of mourning my dead basil plant, it’s only fitting I explain where my love for basil came from.

That’s where.
(Well, Italy and Chicago.)

In three brief snapshots:

After riding all night in a train hot and sticky, next to Italian men in tanktops, we pull in to Naples.  Naples is on garbage strike that week.  = Piles of garbage and angry people everywhere.  And it’s hot hot hot.  We decide to find an internet café to get directions to Pompeii or find that pizza shop Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in Eat Pray Love.  We wander the whole city, backpacks and everything, and we’re hot and we’re tired and we’re hungry.  Every internet café is closed.  Every. Single. One.  In the whole city.  (There are only two, so I guess our odds weren’t super good to begin with.)  In frustration, we throw our hands up and decide to grab some pizza from a little place right next to the train station before getting back on our train and heading to Rome.  Naples?  Fail. 

We duck into the pizza shop, and the waiters and pizza throwers behind the counter shout “hurrah!” and welcome us in.  The air’s cool and clean and the waiters are falling over each other to make us laugh, saying funny things, mocking us, batting their dark eyelashes. 

Then we see it—pictures of Julia Roberts on the wall.  We’ve found it—the Eat Pray Love pizzeria.  Legendary.

And out come two plate-size pizzas, steam rolling off the cheese and the sauce and the crispy soft crust.  And in the middle, one large basil leaf.

Those pizzas saved Naples.
Nay, they exalted Naples.
Naples?  Perfect.

To shake off the effects of a somewhat disappointing and rather rainy weekend in Florence, we chose the Cinque Terre to unwind for some days.  In Vernazza (one of the five (cinque) villages (terre)), we got freckly.  The first night, from a man as handsome as any Italian ever was, we ordered a pesto (pesto’s main ingredient: basil) pizza and ate it on the dock at sunset.  And then did so every night thereafter.

In Chicago for a writing conference, Laura and Natalie and I were faced with walking through near blizzards to get to the presentations we wanted to attend. We wanted good, warm food and quick, but none of us being familiar with the streets of Chicago, chances of finding such were looking slim.  Then we found it—a little corner soup and sandwich café.  I ordered a panini with (you’ll never guess) basil.  Those sandwiches very well may have been the only thing keeping our essaying fingers from freezing right off.

So in other words, basil saves lives.

And so I give to you a recipe for pesto, which was my favorite way to use my (former) basil plant.  R.I.P. Basil.

¼ cup walnuts
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
half teaspoon salt
half teaspoon pepper
half cup Parmesan
3/4 cup olive oil

Blend the nuts and garlic in a food processor for 30 seconds. Add the basil, salt, and pepper. Slowly add the olive oil and blend until smooth. Add the Parmesan and blend for a minute.

I eat pesto on pasta, sandwiches, pizza, ice cream, or breadsticks.  (Just kidding about the ice cream. Although I would not be opposed to trying a basil-flavored gelato.  Maybe basil-lemon or basil-raspberry?) You can also mix the pesto with mayonnaise for a good sandwich spread.

(To use later, store the pesto in an air-tight container in the fridge or freezer.)

Buon Appetito!

Monday, July 23, 2012

music monday

1. "Oh Henry" (The Civil Wars)
written in the mountains of Salt Lake City

2. "A Corps Perdu" (Gregory LeMarchal)
Gregory LeMarchal battled cystic fibrosis. He passed away in 2007 of lung complications.

3. "Mercy" (Dave Matthews Band)
the band's newest song woot.

writer's block (fear of the blog part 2)

The month of July is characterized by two things for me: 
1) a solid week of listening to Christmas music.
2) fear of the blog. 

Last July, I experienced "fear of the blog."  Symptoms included constantly thinking about what you could write about, halfway writing a dozen posts, never publishing any of them, and then feeling bad for being such a lazy writer.  All of which is bad blood for writing. 

And this July, true to form, in addition to listening to the Pandora Christmas station (it's a good one--I recommend it), I have been dreading and dreading and dreading this little space of internet cloudpuff I've created. 
It comes down to this:

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not." (Ira Glass) 

Thanks Ira.  And yep, I know it's not that good.  I have big dreams of writing and photographing and being "artsy" or whatever (not to be confused with being hipster), but lately, when I write something, I can't bring myself to hit that PUBLISH button when I see that it is less than all my grand scheming had imagined it would be. 

So I shelf it and think, "Well, I'll come back to it tomorrow and really polish it up."   

Which I never do, of course. 

Sometimes wanting things to be perfect is just too heavy!  I need to stop expecting that of myself.  Ira says I do too:

"But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.
"It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 
Oh and John Talbot said something similar when he told me to relax about my thesis. I was stressin about how in the world would I convey all the *brilliant* discoveries I'd made in researching this literature?! There were too many and they were too vastly and intricately connected to explain them all in one thesis!  The work of literary study is a constant awakening to an enormous and sublime network of ideas and meaning.  How could I convey that in one measly little paper?  He said I didn't have to.  My audience hadn't had two years to think through all the minute details of the project, and hence wouldn't know they were missing out if I were only to share one small sliver of my research.  It'd be new to them and mind-blowing and all those great things.  

I forget that sometimes--that when other people read my writing, it's all new and fresh to them. They haven't been living in my head for all the minutes I spent creating it. They didn't see what I'd dreamed the thing to be, and hence have no idea if it fell short.  How can they be disappointed when it's all new to their eyes?  Hence, I say any movement towards creation is good, because even if the creation ends up weaker than you'd hoped, you still brought into existence a thing pointed in the direction you are aiming for, and hence you inch yourself in that direction as well.

And most important, as Bryce, a fellow literary person (not hipster either), said:
The most important thing is that you keep writing.

So for all those of you artists (aka: everybody) who have ever been overwhelmed by just how far your creations are from what you'd dreamed they would be, here's a little lighthearted post to break the bad karma and bring in some good fresh air.

This lighthearted post shall begin like this:
Everything went wrong this weekend.  (Annnnd I'm apparently being loose with the term "light-hearted.")  First, the camera store screwed up my order.  Second, my sister killed my basil plant.  (Believe me, this is more traumatic than you might think.)  Then this morning I ruined my new dress (boo), the road to my house was blocked off, and my cousin jumped off a rock in our backyard and broke her leg.

I know these aren't devastating things (well, all except the basil. (jk, jk, the broken leg was pretty bad)).  But the stink of it was mostly just the futility of the whole weekend.  You know, where you set out bright-eyed in the morning, ready to slay dragons and build castles, but then you can't get out the front door without some silly little thing going wrong.  That's how all weekend felt.

So here's the happy part: while said cousin was in the hospital getting her leg fixed, I got to babysit the two younger cousins, ages 3 and 4.  We raced HotWheels and talked on pretend telephones and I explained to them what a cast was and wrapped their legs up in a bandage to show them how it worked.  And I realized, you know, someday when I have kids, I'm gonna like it.  And I'm gonna be a rockin mom who plays HotWheels and paints fingernails and builds blanketforts and goes on jungle expeditions in the backyard and sings lullabyes every night.  So you better be excited little kiddies who are coming my way someday.  Because I'm waiting for you and it's gonna be F.U.N.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

the Caribbean

I got to spend the last week in the Caribbean with my family.
Lucky lucky lucky.
We drank too many strawberry daiquiris and cherry fizzes
swam until our fingers were white and shrively,
and spent hours and hours in the sun, sand, and surf.
Here's some pictures from the first few days.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

just watching the fire take the mountain

From my porch tonight.

If yours was one of the 500 homes that were evacuated in the last 24 hours, what would you take with you?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

To a Great Man: Andy Griffith died

I just read that Andy Griffith, star of The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock (two of my all-time favorites) passed away today at 86 years old.  Who doesn't wish we all could live a little more of a Mayberry life? Great man, great television, thanks Andy.  I'll be whistling your theme song all day.

Monday, July 2, 2012