Wednesday, September 30, 2009

don't miss a thing

There is a time when the seasons are changing that you can feel both of them at once. A crisp autumn breeze while the sun beats down on you, heating up the pavement. Leaves falling around you while the bees and butterflies visit the leggy Lantana plants in front of your house. The smell of fresh-cut grass mixed with the sound of leaves crunching beneath your feet. Today was one of those days. This morning, my baby girl woke up in a toddler bed, jumping up and standing on the mattress yelling "mommy!" when I walked in the room. She had slept all night in the bed just like a little girl, and then when I sat down next to her on the bed - like my mom used to do with me - she crawled in my lap to nurse. She's a baby and a child all at once, and it's both magical and a little bit heartbreaking to witness.

We've been talking about switching out the crib for the toddler bed for a while. Dora has thrown herself out of the crib twice. Once she hit the chair by her bed and once I dove in to catch her, like my old softball days at second base. In both instances, her fall was broken, but she still hit the floor. I knew that the change was imminent, but yesterday when Brian and I met for lunch I was still surprised when he said he'd put up the toddler bed. When Dora and I came home from school yesterday, I took the crib apart, unable to shake the image of myself putting it together over two years ago, my big round belly between me and the red wooden posts.

I have always resisted the change of seasons when summer becomes fall. I probably picked this up from my mother, who loved summertime and also hated to see the winter coming. As we walked around the block tonight, I realized that if I would let go of my sadness about summer ending, let go of my apprehension of the cold and gray that comes with winter, I could actually enjoy the fall. I could be one of those people who say "I love fall" and actually mean it. I've probably been cheating myself out of enjoying the season because I'm so focused on what we're losing. You know that saying, about life being what happens while you're making plans. It's true that it's so hard to live in the present - especially when you're hung up on the immediate past or future.

When Dora toggles between babyhood and childhood, it's like I'm witnessing time standing still, overlapping between the past and the future. I see those glimpses of babyhood and I try to pay close attention, wondering if that's the last time she'll look at me like that. About a week ago, she started pronouncing "milk" correctly, saying the "k" at the end instead of "t". We all said "milt" because she said it, and now she says it right so we probably have to let that go now. I know she needs to learn the right pronunciation, but I hate to see her baby words go, too. One day I put her to bed in the crib, and the next, she's in a toddler bed. It's probably for the best that Brian just did it one day, because I'm not sure I ever would have.

I know that I am blessed to witness every day I have with Isadora. Some days I can't believe how lucky I am that I get to be her mother. I wonder why God chose me for her, how Brian and I could make someone who is so completely perfect in every way. I don't believe its a bad thing to think fondly of the past - in fact, I think remembering our past is an essential part of who we are. But I also think I really need to make the effort to live in the present - to relish Dora's new ability to pronounce words, to rejoice in her singing and dancing, even if she's lost that baby wobbliness that I love so much, to smile at her inquisitiveness and ability, allowing myself to wonder if she's actually a genius. It is so easy to get caught up in work and schedules and life and pets and chores, so easy to waste away every evening with Dora on those tasks when we should be sitting down together working on her bear puzzle. She plays wonderfully by herself, and sometimes I have to take advantage of that, but I also have to take advantage of the fact that she and I have every night to ourselves, to focus on each other and play with reckless abandon. So maybe it is fall - summer is over, winter is on the way. But the air is crisp, the leaves beautiful, the sun still warm. Enjoy it! Hold hands with that baby girl and check out the fall leaves - live in the now and keep an eye out for those glimpses of babyhood and childhood overlapping. To borrow some words from my friend David Dhoop - I don't want to miss a thing.

Monday, September 28, 2009

salmon roasted in parchment with shallots and dill

There is no question at all at this point. It is definitely fall. I'm hopeful we'll have a few more glimpses of summer - the last flowers of summer blooming on my hill, days that get warm enough in the afternoon to feel the sun heating your face, evenings that stay light a bit later than dinnertime. But, the air was different today - cool and crisp. The sky was an impossible blue, the shadows were long. The leaves on the maple across the street are not just turning, they're starting to fall. Down the street the bees are still working on the goldenrod, but the geese are flying overhead, too.

I hate to see summer end, because I'm a hot weather fanatic, I love getting a tan, and summer produce and fruit are some of my favorite foods in the world. I enjoy fall - if it were not followed by winter I could probably be one of those people who "loves" fall - but that is a bit of a stretch. My cooking at this time of year begins to metamorphasize along with the weather, and that is something I love in spite of the signal of winter that it brings. Root crops, apples, squash and pumpkin all start to take on more important roles in my cuisine. Taking advantage of the remains of summer's bountiful harvest and preparing it in a hot stove - less tolerable in summertime - is another change. It's cool enough out that a plate of roasted vegetables and fish doesn't overwhelm us with heat, but it's warm enough that it can still feel like a summer meal, paired with a crisp white and enjoyed with cricket song as our entertainment.

There are many versions of this classic approach to roasting fish. I first learned this technique from my brother, who I believe learned it from one of the Moosewood cookbooks. The beauty of this preparation, aside from the flavor, is its flexibility. There are literally endless variations to this approach. Take advantage of what you have on hand - herbs, vegetables, seasonings - and pair it with whatever beautiful piece of fresh fish you can find. I ventured outside of my locavore leanings tonight with a piece of wild Coho salmon, but mountain trout would be equally delicious here. I paired this with roasted and marinated green beans, crusty bread, a sliced apple, and white wine. Oh, and cricket song, of course.

salmon roasted in parchment with shallots and dill

1 3/4 pound salmon fillet
1 Tbs butter, sliced thin
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 - 2 Tbs fresh dill, finely chopped
1 - 2 Tbs white wine
2 wedges lemon
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 415. Place a rectangular piece of parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet. Rinse salmon fillet and place lengthwise on parchment. Season with salt and pepper. Spread slices of butter over fish. Sprinkle with thinly sliced shallots and chopped fresh dill. Drizzle with white wine and squeeze two lemon wedges over fish. Bring two long sides of parchment together over fish and roll together to form a tube over the fish. Fold over each end a few times to seal off an envelope of parchment around fish. Roast for about 15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

zoom zoom

When I'm driving around Asheville, I find that I'm thinking about my friends, family, acquaintances, former coworkers, even old boyfriends. Anytime I see a car in the color, make, and model of that owned by someone I used to know, or a such a car that was once owned by someone I still know, it's like I'm seeing that person. The other day I saw a dark blue Mazda driving up Hazel Mill Road and I thought, "there goes Maria" - never mind the fact that (a) Maria doesn't live in Asheville and (b) Maria doesn't drive that car anymore. It's funny how there are certain cars that have come to symbolize certain people - and that symbol often outlasts the actual ownership of the car. It makes no sense to think that someone I used to work with at the law office or the ex-boyfriend I broke up with over 9 years ago or the neighbor I lived next to in Ohio is driving around Asheville. Somewhere in my brain, though, car ownership gets frozen in time along with all those other memories rattling around up there, and I find myself waving at strangers because I think I know their cars.

I was wondering the other day if this is something that only I do, or if this is just part of the human condition - at least in the industrialized world. In Tibet, do 30-something women think of their teenage ex-boyfriends when they see a guy on a black horse with a white blaze? Perhaps. Or, maybe this is just another oddity of mine - one of those unusable skills like being able to remember the plotlines, stars, and titles of movies for which I have only seen the trailer. I was wondering this the same day I thought I saw my friend Maria driving her old blue car. I was on my way to pick up Dora from school. I'd been sick all week, finally feeling up to a trip to the gym, where we were planning to meet our friends Aurelie and Clara. I tried to entice Dora about the trip to the gym by mentioning that Clara would be there to play. As we drove back into the setting sun on Patton Avenue, we settled into line behind a red pick-up truck. "Clara truck!" yelled Dora. It took me a minute to decipher what she was saying, and realized the was pointing to the truck in front of us. Though it wasn't actually Aurelie and Clara, it was a red truck, the same color and almost the same size as the truck they drive. I knew then - if nothing else, the oddity of mine was at least hereditary.

I am now contemplating getting a new car. The car I'm driving now is about to pass a mileage benchmark that signals an expensive but necessary preventive maintenance repair. I have to decide if we want to make that investment or move on, and it's a much more complicated decision that you might think. For one thing, I do like this car, and I get to run it on biodiesel which is really important to me philosophically. It has some things I don't like - it's automatic, for one thing - but it also has a sweet sunroof and a turbo that really kicks on the highway.

The other thing this car has that complicates the prospect of getting rid of it is memory. I have always attached sentimental value to vehicles. Even as a kid, I remember feeling sad about cars "dying" - like my parent's mustard yellow Volvo station-wagon, in whose un-airconditioned backseat I rode on countless trips to the Outer Banks. That car would keep running after my dad turned off the ignition and took the key out. What a great car.

My first car was also mustard-yellow - a VW Dasher - a tank of a car that had power nothing. When it died on my last trip back from school in Iowa, I was truly heartbroken. I cried as we drove away from it at a Volkswagen dealership in Indiana, comforted only a little by the fact that the replacement car, a used Honda Accord, had been purchased from someone who also owned a Dasher. I had seller's remorse when we traded in my maroon Golf for the silver one I now drive - we had fallen in love in that car, driven it home from our wedding, taken it on our honeymoon. It was the last car my mother and I had ridden in together. It was time to let it go, but it broke my heart anyway.

The silver Golf I drive now carries within it the biggest memories of all. It was our first big purchase in Asheville, and we drove it around together carefree and in love, driving out to Bent Creek with our bikes on the roof rack. We drove it around Asheville looking for a home to buy, a tiny flashing light riding around in my belly with us. Brian drove me to the hospital in that car, our doula behind us snapping pictures, me breathing through the pain and cursing the bumps. Why oh why, I wondered, was my usual speedy husband driving so, so SLOW? I was in labor for God's sake! A few days later, shocked by the August heat after days of frigid air conditioning, three of us walked out to that car to drive home. It was no longer a car for a couple of people in love - it was a car for a family. Brian drove us home the same way we went to the hospital, me turning anxiously back every few seconds, hoping the bumps weren't causing injury or worse to my precious perfect newborn. We mused over our new baby's name as we drove up the hill from Amboy to Haywood. Will she get teased with that name? Will the kids say, "Isadora is a ____"? In that car, I became a completely different person. In that car, I became a mother - anxious and scared and exhilarated and in love and, eventually, a new, more scattered but also deeper version of myself. The rear-view mirror of that car was transformed along with me - becoming a window into Dora's world, from helpless infant to babbling baby to willful, talkative toddler.

It's not possible that a single car can contain all of these memories - it's not rational to think that something inanimate like a car can somehow be a symbol of something larger. But there is a part of me that fears that letting go of the venue in which these things happened is letting go of those events in a way, too. Dora's getting bigger every second - she's in the other room sleeping right now, growing and changing while the crickets hum in the dark. This might be her last night in the crib. She's thrown herself out of it twice now, and needs to transition to a toddler bed. If I let the car go, too, isn't it just one more step away from her babyhood, one more step away from being able to hold her close, breathe her in, be everything she needs just as myself?

I don't know what to do about this yet, but I do know this: I have never before taken a lot of time when choosing a car. There's always been some emergency, or some sense of urgency, in the decision before, and I've always felt a little uneasy when making the purchase. I've always ended up happy - crying when you sell a car is probably a sign that you liked it - but I've never started out feeling like I was 100% sure about the new car. Knowing me, I'm not going to feel 100% sure the next time I buy a car, whether its now or later. But this time, I'm giving my internal high-pressure used-car salesperson a vacation. I'm comparing fuel economies, I'm weighing options, I'm making my list of deal-breakers and checking it twice. This is a big decision I'm making - it's not just my car I'm choosing, it's my environmental impact, my statement to the world, my instantaneous identity to anyone who sees me driving it. It's the place where new memories will be made - new versions of myself created, new songs sung, new sights seen. In all likelihood, it's going to be the place where three become four. It's no small decision, so I'm taking my time, and hopefully, I'll do it right.

Zoom zoom, my friends. Zoom zoom.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

getting what you want

You don’t always get what you need when you need it, but sometimes you do. Other times, you don’t even know what you need and then somehow what you need finds you anyway.

I met my husband 8 years ago today. It was 11 days after September 11, 2001, when the world felt chaotic and troubled, unstable and unclear. It seemed like we were all trapped in one of those glassine phone booths with papers flying around us - everyone was trying to find something to grab onto.

I was not affected in the way that many others were by 9/11, in that I do not know anyone who died or was injured that day. I watched it unfold on TV, from the safety of my small town in Athens, Ohio. I viewed it with the same disbelieving horror as so many others, listening to hours and hours of coverage on NPR hoping it would somehow help me understand how this could happen. I remember Noah Adams’ voice cracking as he read a transcript of one of the calls from flight 93. I sat in the living room of my parents’ home, all of us in stunned silence watching far too much footage of the Towers collapsing.

I did not lose anyone I knew that day, only a piece of myself - the part of me that was always a bit afraid to fly but did it anyway. I spent countless hours imagining the experience of the people on the planes, much to my own detriment. I haven’t flown since, a battle I hope is not yet over.

I had kind of sworn-off men when I met Brian - I was coming out of a long relationship that ended badly, wanting to focus for once on my own needs and charting my own course. I almost didn’t join my friends who went to see a band play at Casa Nueva that night - it was a Saturday night, I’d already had a long day. I had just started a new job, was in that place where your new coworkers are still people you’re just getting to know and your old ones are friends you miss and need to see regularly. But, for some reason, I went. And, as they say, the rest is history.

We got engaged on my birthday two years later, and were married 6 months after that. It was a wonderful time - full of excitement and newness and passion - and one of great challenge as well. We didn’t live together until we were married, a decision I still believe was right for us. Our first year of marriage saw us through some great upheaval - graduate school, my mother’s illness and death, decisions made about career and future. There were times when I truly wondered what I had been thinking, and times when I felt so incredibly happy I didn’t know how I could ever be happier.

Having a child certainly threw a wrench in things, more than either of us could have imagined. While we both love Isadora with an intensity that is overwhelming, we also have both seen our marriage change in ways that have not always been happy. The process has taught me that, like everything else in life, marriage is cyclical. There will be ups and there will be downs, and the one constant is - must be - each other. I’m sure that having a second baby will throw everything out of whack again, but I hope we have learned some things in the process of becoming parents to Dora that will help us through those challenges.

In spite of the challenges we’ve had, I can think of many, many times that I was so, so happy that Brian was the one by my side. Of course, it is easy to think of the difficult times that he has seen me through - losing my mom, battling my own internal demons, changing relationships with other family members, helping friends through difficult times. When Dora was about 4 months old, we thought she might have a seizure disorder. She had a few strange episodes that no one could explain. She had to have an electro-encephalo-gram - a very non-invasive but still disconcerting procedure. I cannot imagine having had anyone else stand by me while I lay next to Dora on a hospital bed, her tiny head covered by a cap with hundreds of little electrodes and wires protruding from it.

I can also think back on many happy times that I have shared with Brian, for which I am eternally grateful to have had his companionship. Marriages of friends, graduation from my master’s program, the purchase of our first home, vacations at the beach. There are the small things, too, which have been wonderful - our shared love of pets, Seinfeld, giving each other back-rubs every single night. Brian understands me in a way no one else does, and we share a sense of humor that, when we remember to call on it, softens the darkest of moods.

On Sunday, we went to one of Dora’s little friend’s birthday parties. Dora was very, very excited, because she and this little boy are attached at the hip. It is really charming to see that, even at 2 years old, children can develop an intense love for others outside of their immediate family. We joke around that they might end up married, and, honestly, they do have quite a thing going. The party was at High Flight Gym, downtown, where the kids could really run around and get the energy out - perfect for a rainy day.

The gym has a pit full of foam blocks next to a trampoline. Brian and I and some other parents were lounging in the blocks, watching our kids jump in next to us. Dora liked standing on the edge, counting to 3 (or 5 or 10) and jumping in. After all of those jumps, a bumper on the edge of the trampoline designed to protect little heads had slipped, and Dora jumped just a bit too close to the edge. We both saw her hit the side, but she was out of reach of both of us, wedged almost out of sight between the edge of the pit and another parent whose back was to her. It seemed like we were moving in slow motion to get to her - she had that open, silent grimace that precedes a loud scream.
Brian got to her first, picked her up and held her close, as I ran towards her. Usually we don’t over-react to injuries but this one seemed worse somehow because we saw her alone and scared for a moment.

As I got closer I could see a dark spot on the back of Dora’s sweet little head growing darker - her head was bleeding. Head wounds notoriously bleed A LOT, and this was no exception. It took me a few seconds to gather my thoughts for what to do - grabbing a wad of paper towels and ushering Brian into the bathroom. It all turned out fine - the bleeding stopped quickly, one of the other moms is an urgent care doc and took a look at the wound, deeming it not a big deal and not needing stitches. In less than 10 minutes, Dora was back with her friends, tearing around the place in spite of the blood stain on the back of her shirt. Still, I cannot think of anyone I would have rather had holding my sweet girl at that moment. I didn’t know what we were going to do when I saw the blood - I imagined stitches and hours in the emergency room. But, I did know one thing - my girl was safe in her daddy’s strong arms, and no matter what else happens, that is just what I needed right then.

Wedding photograph courtesy of Denise McGill. Color photograph of Carrie and Brian courtesy of Sam Girton, Easter 2005, Athens, Ohio. Flower photograph and black and white family photograph courtesy of Kendra Stanley-Mills.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Dora got a haircut yesterday. Brian took her to the Westside Barber Shop, where she sat in his lap to get her wispy blond hair trimmed, then (against our better judgment) got to enjoy a watermelon DumDum while Daddy got his haircut. Rushing between a morning meeting and a working lunch, I listened to a phone message from Brian, him whispering in the background, prompting Dora to tell me about her haircut. Like many other things in my sweet girl's life, I didn't get to be there for her haircut because I'm a working mother.

This week at work was more stressful than usual, with lots of meetings, requests for more work, and changes to scheduled next steps that I didn't anticipate. From a twelve hour day on Monday to working at home in the evening on a few other nights, long after Dora was asleep, it was a long week. It is not easy being away from Dora all the time, but it's even harder when the work is stressful and the things I miss are so cute.

The weather is definitely changing, giving me that sense of urgency I start to feel at the end of summer that makes me want to get out and enjoy every bit of sunshine left. Yesterday I promised myself that after a hard day at work, Dora and I would come home and do something fun outside. When I was out at lunch, the sun had come out and the rain had stopped, and I hoped the nice weather would continue. But, by the time I walked out of my office, blinking in the afternoon light, the clouds were starting to gather. Turning onto our street coming home from daycare, we felt the first raindrop fall through the open sunroof. Our outdoor playtime was not to be. Instead, we had snacks - grapes and Gouda - and watched some Muppies while waiting for Daddy to get home.

This morning dawned gray again. Today I had the opportunity to take photographs for my friend David's website. I shot all the art for his recently released album. I was really happy with how that came out, and apparently he was, too, because he asked me to take more pictures for his website and upcoming promo materials. We met at a coffee shop, taking advantage of flattering window light and the diffused cloudy sky. The group accommodated all of my requests - climbing on rock walls, squeezing into tight corners, while I stood on tables and chairs. It was fabulous, and I think we got some great photos out of it, too.

It was, technically, work, but it felt different. After we left, I felt energized. It had only taken a few hours, but I felt great - creative and happy and excited to see how the photos came out. I found myself comparing this feeling to how I feel when I get home from my current job - tired, grumpy, thankful to be employed but often unhappy with how stressful my work can be, and frequently questioning whether its really the best way to spend my time away from Dora and Brian.

I did a quick interview at the end of the photo shoot, to get some ideas for the text of the website. My husband, who is also one of the musicians in David's band, commented that he loves being a musician, but because it is also how he makes his living, it can be difficult to always enjoy what he is doing. It's hard to balance doing what you love as your career, he said, and to stay passionate about something that is also your source of income.

I know this is true, and also know that it is easy to glamorize things when you are only on the periphery. I look at my friends who are stay-at-home moms with a bit of jealousy. I know, I really do, that what they are doing is NOT easy - staying at home with your children is work, too, and the kind that is often unrewarded. I completely respect that challenge and how meaningful it is. I know others who work part-time, and that sounds like it would be great, too - but I also know that the loss of income and the challenge of scheduling can make that hard to manage as well. That being said, it would be great to come home from work with that energized feeling I had today, so that I can feel it is a bit more justified to miss the milestones like haircuts and Kindermusik.

The time apart is made all the more difficult by the fact that milestones seem to happen almost every day. Dora is talking so much now, she says a new word almost every day. She's learning to sing now, knows how to count to ten. Giving her a bath tonight, I couldn't believe how big she is - stretched out and splashing in the tub, almost touching the ends. I'm just trying to hang on to all of that, because like all of the other stages she's gone through it seems to be flying by, kind of like the summer. Brian said the other day he'd give just about anything to have 10 minutes with her back when she was tiny, just to see what she was like, remember her little pink tongue sticking out, her big blue eyes so watchful and bright. I admit it is almost impossible to remember her like that now, and I wonder where the time has gone.

Perhaps it is the fact that these moments are fleeting that makes them so wonderful. I am certainly thankful that I have the opportunity to reflect on them, and to record them in a meaningful way. Things are not perfect - my house could be cleaner, my job could be better, our debt could be lower - but I am so unbelievably lucky, so blessed by all of the love and beauty in my life. Maybe what I need to do is work harder at carrying the energy I get from all of that love and beauty with me to my office, letting it take up some of the space the stress and papers and emails now take up. And I also pledge to keep seeking out ways to satisfy my creative spirit - through this blog, with friends who let me participate in their creativity, with my girl, snapping photos of her latest milestones, haircuts, and cupcakes - for there is nothing sweeter than that.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

peanut butter wonderfulness

I really love cookies. I don't really think I have that much of a sweet tooth, but I do absolutely love baked goods of all kinds, and cookies are my favorite. I love making them, eating them, reading cookie recipes, etc. This week I made some absolutely wonderful peanut butter cookies. Although none of the ingredients came in our CSA box, I did purchase the jumbo free-range, hand-gathered eggs that I used from Blue Hill Farm at the North Asheville Tailgate Market. I love the eggs from Blue Hill Farm, but you have to get to the market early to get them - trust me, it's worth it to get up early on Saturday to get these eggs!

I also used whole wheat flour in these cookies, as well as chunky natural peanut butter. Most peanut butter cookie recipes call for smooth peanut butter, but I personally like the crunchy texture you get from using crunchy peanut butter. I made these cookies late at night - I apologize for the poor lighting in my photographs!

peanut butter cookies

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup crunchy natural peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375. Sift together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, cream the sugar, butter, and peanut butter until light and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix until well-blended. Gradually add the flour mixture at low speed until mixed. Chill for about 30 minutes. Drop rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased baking sheet and flatten with the tines of a fork that have been dipped in sugar. Bake for 10 - 12 minutes until golden brown. Cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack.

Peanut butter vanilla ice cream sandwiches anyone?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


This morning I woke up to the sound of a tree being cut down in my neighborhood. It was a strange morning - I overslept, mired in strange dreams about Dora going to jail, me realizing her monkey and night-night had been left behind in her crib. I woke up feeling awful because of the dream, and then finding that a tree was going down in our neighborhood made it all feel worse.

I told a friend that it felt like witnessing a murder - watching the limbs being stripped, then the trunk cut down. A living tree being felled just seems like a defenseless creature losing it's life. I talked to the tree trimmers (murderers?) at lunch, asking if any other trees would be cut down. This particular tree was right across the street from our house, providing afternoon shade and glorious fall color in deep reds, oranges, and yellows. No, he informed me, they would only be trimming the other trees. The tree they cut down had many dead limbs, he said, and was a safety hazard. Regardless, there is an emptiness in our neighborhood now.

Growing up, we had an impressive old Oak tree on our property. We estimated the tree was over a hundred years old. It stood majestically at the top of the hill above our house, full and round and casting a robust shadow in the summer. Our donkeys would loaf under it's sturdy branches in the summer, in the fall it would turn a beautiful rust-brown. In winter it's outstretched arms would scrape against the cold Ohio sky, bare limbs rattling in the wind. This was really one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen.

We lived in the foothills of the Appalachians, with hot humid summers that included impressive thunderstorms. During one particularly intense windstorm, I stood in the kitchen by our double sliding glass door, looking up the hill at the huge old Oak tree. The loafing donkeys had retreated to the woods, waiting out the storm in their own wild animal way. My dad walked into the room behind me just as the old Oak gave way to the hard wind, slowly, painfully creaking to the ground, it's huge powerful limbs crashing into the dirt, it's giant stump turning up to the sky. It was, easily, one of the most horrifying scenes I have ever witnessed, and remains so to this day. I remember all of us collectively gasping at the sight of it, unable to believe that the centerpiece of our home had, in a matter of seconds, been reduced to a pile of twigs. I felt sick inside - all of us did - and we all grieved, even cried over, the loss of that majestic tree. It was a terribly sad moment, but I suppose it was better to see it felled in a natural way that to have had to cut it down at some point due to disease or decline.

A few months ago, our neighborhood in West Asheville got hit by a really terrible thunderstorm. Dora was at daycare at the time, I was working, and Brian was at home. He said it got so bad he considered going into our scary dirt basement with the cave crickets. After the storm, we walked around the neighborhood, shocked at the destruction that had barrelled down on houses just a few doors away from ours. There were lots in our neighborhood that lost almost all of their trees - tall white pines, maples, cherries. One woman's fence was destroyed by her white pines, another family's house was pierced by a falling branch. Another neighbor commented to me that the loss of all those trees was just the natural order of things, that pines are weak and fall in storms when they're ready to go - kind of like tree suicide, I guess.

We all joke around the office about "killing" trees when we print out too many copies of something. In our house we recycle everything, and I can't stand the feeling of something recyclable being tossed into the garbage. Trees are, of course, a renewable resource, and we live in an area with so many trees that our air quality is impacted by the volatile organic compounds they release. It's not as if, at least in our neck of the woods (pardon the pun), one tree cut down in the neighborhood is going to cause major problems or result in some species loss. But, it still felt like a sad day to me, to see that tree go down. I'm a tree hugger, through and through.

I spend a lot of time worrying about the world - worrying about the climate, the animals, air and water quality and quantity, what the future holds for my girl and her amazing little friends. I try my best to make decisions that don't harm the environment, but there is so much more that I could do. It's literally on my mind almost all the time, and the guilt from decisions that I know could be better is sometimes paralyzing. I believe that we all have a responsibility to do everything we can to take care of the earth, be conservative in our use of resources, do what we can to repair our damage.

I hope that my choices are making a difference, and that it's not too late for us. Sometimes Brian and I talk about the state of the world and we can get very negative - feeling like there are way too many people who just don't care burning through the resources like there's no tomorrow. My argument when we get really low like that is that humans have overcome many seemingly insurmountable things - we ended slavery, we gave women and people of color the right to vote, we championed civil rights, we closed the hole in the ozone layer. As I heard a commentator on NPR say yesterday, the people who wake up every morning in the White House are African American! If we can do these things - right some of these wrongs - surely we can save ourselves and our planet. I have to believe this, for my baby girl's sake, so that I don't get so discouraged as to think my actions don't matter. Nature is ingenious, too - ingenious enough to create a storm strong enough to topple an ancient tree that we humans didn't know was ready to return to the earth, recycled into nutrients in the soil. Together can't we make this right, can't we start making decisions for the good of all instead of the good of ourselves? As Obama would say "yes, we can". I hope Dora can say "yes, we did".

Monday, September 14, 2009

the sun gets in your eyes

Today I drove 8 hours for a two hour meeting. The last time I did this trip I said I'd never do it again, but I did. What a long time in the car that is. I listened to Morning Edition and All Things Considered, I marveled once again at the shuffle feature on my iPhone, I listened to podcasts of The Splendid Table and KCRW's Good Food. I called a friend to say happy birthday and to tell her I love her. I listened to the hum of the road and my own thoughts. In eight hours I could have driven halfway to my friend's house in Muskegon, Michigan, or to the beach, or to IKEA and back, or to my dad's house in Ohio. Instead, I drove to and from Raleigh, with the sun in my eyes in both directions.

My brain traveled at least 8 hours, too. It's pretty amazing the thinking you get to do on a long drive. I thought about other road trips I've taken - recent ones, like the three trips I made to Ohio in July to help my dad before and after surgery - and ones further back in my past - like the incredibly long drives between Athens, Ohio and Decorah, Iowa, where I spent my first two years of undergrad. Decorah was like the frozen tundra to this Appalachian girl, and I drove there and back in my 1980 VW Dasher. That car was a tank - it had alternator problems so we had to push it, a lot, and the thing weighed a ton. It didn't have power anything, didn't have a horn, only a couple of the doors worked. I loved that car though.

I thought about my marriage, my relationship with my husband, how we met nearly 8 years ago. We met 11 days after September 11th, when it seemed like the world was completely chaotic and different and frightening. I thought about my little girl, and having a sibling for her, and whether or not I feel ready for that. I thought about the new camera I'm about to get, and about how totally indulgent and fun and new it is to shoot pictures purely for the purposes of illustrating my writing. It is so wonderful to let my mind wander to things I want to write about, and to imagine the photographs I want to take to illustrate it. It's like brain candy.

I had some moments where I was so incredibly tired while driving, I called my husband just to stay awake, and got to hear Dora singing the theme song to The Muppet Show. I had lunch with some colleagues, whose camaraderie is, in fact, one of the things that actually keeps me in my job. I had some moments that felt very sad and desolate - stopping at a gas station in the middle of nowhere (sort of), watching a guy pay for gas with a pile of change that included a lot of pennies. I relished the beauty of Coldplay's Viva La Vida while barreling up Old Fort Mountain, the yellow glow of sunset peeking out from behind ominous gray thunderheads as my wheels hugged the curves.

I wonder how long I would have to drive to come up with all the answers. Because we all drive so much, we can do so on autopilot (scarily, you can even drive in autopilot mode on Old Fort Mountain). You can enjoy the scenery, or listen to NPR, or marvel at the web like patterns of thought your unbridled brain creates, and all of a sudden it's an hour later and you've missed the I-40 bypass around Greensboro. I feel as though there is so little time in which I can really concentrate on just thinking - or concentrate on nothing enough to allow my brain to just do it's thing - that the only time I get some really solid thinking in is on a car trip. Perhaps that's why I feel so exhausted right now, because my brain has finally gotten the workout it's been looking for.

Driving home tonight, thinking about things I wanted to write about, I found myself wishing there was a way to write while driving (now that really is scary). I find that if I can't get my ideas down right away, they stagnate or mutate into something else, and the original idea is lost. If only I could write anytime the thought came to me, I wouldn't lose these ideas. At lunch, my friends and I were fantasizing about passenger rail from Asheville to Raleigh. How incredible would it be to sit down, hook up the laptop, and relax for a few hours, all on the way to the two hour meeting? Facebook and snacks, my friend Josh joked. Just like work, I replied.

Although I'm exhausted and ruing the resources wasted by my travels today, I'm thankful for the time I had today to think. If I want to be truly creative, my brain has to have some space to exercise. That open space is just as important as the time spent hammering out the words on the keyboard, like the way the empty space in the frame is as important as the subject of the photograph. So, although it would probably increase my efficiency and protect some of my unique ideas from extinction, I'm thankful there isn't a way to write while driving, and thankful I resisted the urge to use the voice memo function on my iPhone to record my thoughts aloud. I'm so tired of driving I-40 from Asheville to Raleigh, but it's familiarity is a blessing when some good thinking time is needed. It's a good reminder to me to seek out that kind of intellectual open space on a regular basis, and to resist the urge to always be doing something. Viva La Vida, indeed.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

lemon-thyme potato salad

Many of Dora's little friends are turning two right now. We've been going to a lot of birthday parties lately, and I can't think of a better way to bid summer farewell than celebrating all of these fabulous two-year-olds that we're fortunate enough to know. Potluck birthday parties are great and a lot of the birthday parties we've attended recently have been potluck-style, Dora's included. I just don't have the time or energy to put together a meal for a huge group of people these days, and fortunately everyone seems to understand.

I love going to potlucks because I get to focus on one dish and make sure it's really delicious. We have an abundance of potatoes right now from our CSA, so for this weekend's birthday party I made a lemon-thyme potato salad. It was very easy and quick, and tasted like a grown up version of the picnic standby.

lemon-thyme potato salad

1 pound small new potatoes, scrubbed, rinsed, and halved lengthwise (quarter if large)
3 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 - 2 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbs fresh rosemary leaves
1 Tbs fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set the potatoes in a steamer basket over boiling water, cover, and steam for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender. While the potatoes cook, combine the garlic and olive oil in a large bowl. When the potatoes are tender. drain and immediately transfer to the bowl with the garlic and olive oil. Toss the hot potatoes gently with the garlic and olive oil until coated. Let stand about 5 - 10 minutes. Add the fresh herbs and lemon zest, season with salt and pepper, and stir again. Tastes great at room temperature or chilled.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

this is a story about love

What is it about Garrison Keillor's voice that just makes me feel so nostalgic? Every time I hear Prairie Home Companion on the radio, a part of me wants to turn it off. It's almost too hard for me to listen to that show now - partly because his monologues are always tinged with sadness, making you laugh one minute and cry the next. But it's also because hearing his voice takes me right back to my childhood - to Saturday evenings in my parent's kitchen, crickets chirping outside the screen door, sitting around the table after dinner. Public radio was a huge part of my childhood, so certain things about it take me right back there - the theme song to All Things Considered, the voice of Noah Adams, the monologues of Garrison Keillor.

I have been thinking about my childhood a lot the past few days. I had occasion this week to visit two different bookstores - searching for the perfect gift for a friend. I was looking for a birthday present for my friend Kendra, hoping to find a nice book about crafts, creativity, making a business from your artistic hobby, or something along those lines. I had in mind what I wanted, but I looked and looked just to be sure I was picking out the right thing. I went to two bookstores, flipped through numerous different books, and ended up buying at the second bookstore the first book I had picked up at the first bookstore I visited. Perhaps there is a lesson I should be learning from that.

I was struck by the large number of really nice, hip, beautiful, interesting books about crafting. When I first got into knitting, I invested a good chunk of money in a small collection of knitting books, buying all of the exquisitely beautiful books I could find that had fun or beautiful (or both) patterns in them. That was several years ago, and it seems like the number of books of that nature has increased exponentially during that time. There were books on sewing, knitting, crafting recycled materials, creative family projects, "green" sewing, knitting for babies, knitting for pets, sock creatures - and on, and on, and on. As I flipped through the books, many of them written by thirty-something women, I felt at once energized and a little discouraged. How can there be a place for my creative voice in this sea of women who've said, "I'm sick of this job. I think I'll publish a book on how to knit baby hats" and gone on to be successful? Are there any original ideas any more? But, I also thought, "if she can do it, can't I do it, too?"

I ended up buying two books - one for myself and one for my friend. For my friend, I purchased The Handmade Home by Amanda Blake Soule. For myself, I purchased Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross, even though I know the projects are too advanced for me. I love the ideas and aesthetic in the book by Soule, and found myself visiting her blog with the same sort of cringing adoration I felt flipping through all of the beautiful craft books at Barnes and Noble. Her blog, her ideas, her photos - very beautiful. It made me feel like my little blog, read, as far as I know, only by my friends, is pretty small-time. I can't imagine how one gets the kind of following she has - nor can I imagine how one goes from writing a blog to publishing two very beautiful books, or how it is that she is able to have the lifestyle she has that allows her to pursue her every creative whim. It makes me just a wee bit jealous, honestly. In Weekend Sewing, Ross provides a little background information on herself - she grew up in Vermont, in a one room schoolhouse where she and her family spent their days all cozied up and creative. Ugh, I thought - if I ever did get to the point of writing a book, what kind of a quaint little bio could I have! One room schoolhouse, my foot! If I'd had that kind of upbringing, I'd be a successfully published author, too!

But then, I thought about it some more, and it dawned on me - I did have that kind of upbringing. I mean, it wasn't a one room schoolhouse, and we didn't have the kind of winter you get in Vermont, but I really had such a wonderful childhood, with a house full of books and music and art and creativity - it's no wonder all those crafty books pique my interest the way they do. It's no wonder Garrison Keillor makes me get weepy.

I grew up in rural Southeastern Ohio, on 20 acres of land in the foothills of the Appalachians. My parents were a 1980's version of "back-to-the-landers", a decade or two later than most and not completely off the grid. My parents were married in 1959, my brother was born 10 years later, and I 6 years after that - so they were able to have some adventures on their own before settling down with us. I have a lot of memories of being outdoors - playing with pets, "helping" my mom in the garden, exploring the woods. We grew a lot of our own vegetables, many flowers, fished in the pond out back, raised chickens, ducks, rabbits, and donkeys. We made dandelion jelly. My mother was an artist - woodcuts, paintings, stained glass, random-weave baskets made from honeysuckle and grape vines gathered on our property. My father still prints hand-set notecards and broadsides on antique letterpresses he inherited from his father. For years my parents gathered all of these products to sell in various ways - at the Farmer's Market (way before Local Food was a movement), on consignment in art shops and galleries, at art shows, and at an annual holiday art sale organized with other artist friends. My mother was a prolific letter-writer - I have vivid memories of her writing letters at our kitchen table after dinner, a cigarette, unfortunately, balanced in her left hand as she wrote. She always said she was really left-handed, having been forced to become right-handed in the days when left-handedness was discouraged. I like to think that Dora's leftyness comes from my mom.

If I could change one thing about my childhood, it would be that my mother not be a smoker, because if that were the case, she would still be here with me - to answer my questions, to help me believe in myself as an artist and mother, to see the amazing perfection that is my daughter. Other than that, I honestly wouldn't change one thing about the way I grew up. It was a wonderful experience - something I surely did not realize at the time and something that, even as an adult, I don't always appreciate as much as I should.

We moved to Asheville 8 months after my mom died. It was so hard to leave, and so hard to stay. Athens had become a place with so many memories and ghosts, I had to get away, at least for a while, to focus on my marriage and try something new, to see what was out there for us. I love that we live in Asheville - it's home to me now and the friends I've made here mean the world to me - but I miss Athens, too. I miss it and I want to go back, and then when I'm there it doesn't feel right, either. It's like the urge to change the station when I hear Garrison Keillor's voice - there is a part of me that doesn't want to go home and face what is no longer there. I spent 28 years getting used to seeing my mom in my childhood home, seeing her in the pews in the church I grew up and was married in, in the garden where I dug around in the dirt as a child, at the kitchen table writing letters after dinner, marking my height with a pencil on the wall in the kitchen. In the 8 months I lived in Athens following her death, and in the 4 years since we moved here, I have not gotten used to her not being in those places. It is going to take a lot more than 4 years and 8 months to get used to her not being there. In fact, I don't think I'll ever get used to it. I think I'm afraid that if I get used to her not being there, I might forget all those wonderful memories I have. It's like I have to keep those images alive in my mind to try to keep her close to me. It's easier to do from a distance - I can sort of pretend she's still there, sitting at the table after dinner listening to Garrison Keillor. But when I'm home, it's not so easy to keep the images vivid - the house is different, everything is different. And I know in my heart, even when I can picture her there, that she isn't sitting at the kitchen table listening to Prairie Home Companion any more - and she never will be again. That is why, really, that I want to change the station when I hear PHC come on - because I know there's one less devoted listener on the other end of the transmission.

I'm starting to learn that the process of writing is not something you can control. You can start out in one place, with the intention of saying one thing, but by the end of it you're somewhere entirely different. Sometimes the thread of what you've written is easy to pick out, and other times it's more difficult to find the line that connects the beginning to the end. I guess it's like life, in a way, where memory and reality get all tangled up, and we try to find the common thread that ties it all together. You end up somewhere you had no idea you were heading, and it's nowhere near as simple, beautiful, or crisply defined as it is in all the craft books at Barnes and Noble or Malaprops. What is the common thread? Is it art, music, beauty, nature, God? It is all those things, I guess, but most of all, it's love. It's imperfect, honest, doing-the-best-we-can love. It's loving our kids, our spouses, our parents, our families, our friends, our earth, our pets. It's loving ourselves. It's remembering that it's just as important to love the living as it is the dead, and that we don't need to apologize for any of that. It's loving our past and our present and our future, and remembering that all of those are just as beautiful as anyone else's experience, whether or not the book about my experience is on the shelf of a great bookstore or residing in my mind. It's remembering that my experience matters, whether I have 9 followers on my blog or 9,000, and that writing it down is half the battle no matter how many people read it.

So there, self-doubt. I love myself, so you can just stop what you're saying right now.

And mama, I love you, too, so so much, and I always, always will.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Without really planning to, I fell into this pattern of posting a recipe, then a narrative, then a recipe, and so forth. I had sort of a back-log of recipes to enter for a while, because I was shooting pictures of every meal I made for a while. In the past few weeks, though, I've been more rushed in the kitchen, or the recipes I've photographed have looked beautiful but not really tasted good enough to share.

First, I tried adapting a Martha Stewart Food cookie recipe, substituting shredded yellow squash for zucchini. They tasted ok - but not good enough to go around telling other people to make them.

Then, I purchased a book called Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. I am really excited about this cookbook. It is not really recipes, but ratios for all kinds of things - crepes, pancakes, muffins, cakes, cookies, breads. It gives the basic proportions, from which one can improvise in limitless ways. It's really pretty cool. I'm the most excited about improvising baked goods, because I love baking - more than cooking, really - and because usually even the tiniest variations in baked goods have a big impact, or don't work well, etc.

So, I tried making oatmeal raisin pecan cookies using the Ratio cookbook. They came out pretty good - but, again, not perfect enough to share with anyone. One great thing about them, though, is that I toasted the pecans before using them. That really makes ALL the difference!

I'm going to keep trying with these cookies - but tonight, I must be honest. I have no recipe to share with you - just photographs of my funny cookies. I promise to keep trying, and when I get something good enough to share - you will find it here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

happy accidents

I had to sign an incident report when I picked Dora up from school today. This sounds like a big deal, but it was just because Dora fell on the sidewalk at school, scraping up both of her knees enough that they were bleeding. Because they had to provide "medical" care to her, I had to sign a form acknowledging the incident. I'm sure it's stressful for the teachers to have to tell parents this kind of thing, but I just smiled - Dora had two band aids on her knees. I'm sure she was THRILLED about that, more than anything else. The teacher said she didn't even cry - just pouted, and was indeed very happy when she got her two band aids.

After we came home, we had dinner, walked the dogs, and waited for someone to come by our house to purchase Brian's old bike that I have advertised on Craig's List. Brian bought the bike not long after we met, when we wanted to start biking together. I don't remember doing much biking other than on vacation until we moved here. When we moved here, I didn't work for the first few days we lived here so that I would have some time to settle in. I can barely remember what things were like then - no baby, fewer pets. Brian didn't have a job yet - we were totally broke. We lived in a different house, drove different cars. We spent a lot of time wondering if we'd made a huge mistake. We asked our cable installer, a young, hippyish dude with lots of hair, where to try out mountain biking. He suggested we try Bent Creek - and our interest in mountain biking was born.

We are not gear-heads at all - just regular folks who like biking in the woods. We struggled through trails together, slowly advancing to harder and harder trails as we got more comfortable and confident. I was always a slow rider, but Brian was happy to wait for me. All summer long, we'd throw the bikes in the back of Brian's truck after work and on the weekends, drive out to Bent Creek, and blow off some steam. It was great - a beginning to our simple, relaxed Asheville life.

Brian eventually got a job - a couple of them, in fact, including one in which he met a young French woman named
Aurélie, whose American husband was a singer in a band looking for a new keyboardist. Brian's steady gig - playing music with professionals and making real money, not a cut of the door - began thanks to Aurélie. Through the band we met other friends - some who became my closest friends in Asheville, a group of other moms with whom I spend a lot of time, and whose children are wonderful friends of Dora's now. It was a happy accident that they found each other working together, and I will always be thankful to Aurélie for helping us in that way.

GIven all that's happened since we moved here and started mountain biking - friendships made, houses purchased, new family members (both human and animal) - it's not surprising to me, at least, that Brian's old bike represented some significant memories for me. I suddenly felt a twinge of sadness tonight, waiting for some stranger to arrive and take the bike away. I felt some sadness, too, at the thought that I hadn't asked enough for the bike. I was amazed at how many people responded to my post - the bike is terribly damaged from a run-in with a parking garage roof - yet many, many people wanted to buy it.

I went with the first person who responded, out of fairness, although I started getting annoyed with him because he asked SO many questions about the bike. He arrived on time, walking up on the porch and introducing himself, revealing to me the French pronunciation of his name which I had read in his emails as the American name Oliver. I showed him the bike, he gave me the proper amount of cash, and we chatted briefly. I asked where he was from - France. I asked if he lived in Asheville, wanting to introduce he and
Aurélie so they would both know another French person in Asheville. He and his wife live in Greenville, though - he had driven over an hour to buy the bike. I showed him a little tin of French cookies Aurélie had given me recently, we talked a bit about the area she is from.

Chatting with this stranger from a place I have never visited, who speaks a language I unfortunately do not understand, I found that my sadness about selling the bike had dissipated. Instead, I had found myself in a happy accident - selling the bike, probably for less than I should have - to someone who could really use it. He's making it into a bike for his little brother - so I guess the bike is going to France. How exciting for it! It just felt right - somehow paying forward the kindness my husband received from a stranger from a place we've never visited when we first came to Asheville.

One of the great things about being a parent is rediscovering the world with them, through their eyes. Being with Dora reminds me to notice the sky, the last day lily of the season, the kitty in the yard, the sunflowers down the street. Being her mom helps me remember to be on the lookout for these tiny moments of beauty. Being Dora's mom helps me remember to appreciate accidents that yield surprisingly happy results, that remind us of our connections, and how kindness can be returned not just in a direct reciprocation, but by passing it forward as well.