Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Just juicy (NOT couture)

One of the good things about a sagging economy (yes, there are good things) is that a bit of common sense and frugality begins to return to people. Suddenly, it's hip to clip (coupons) and out of the blue, magazines and newspapers begin to feature stories on trading services and bartering for goods. Which makes sense, when you think about it; before money got all standardized, trade was a main form of obtaining your necessary goods. It works even when money isn't worth much, and it works with skills as well.

Take this painting, for example. It came together quickly because it was for a friend, but also because I knew there was something for me on the other end. I make things with paint, you see, but my friend makes things with yarn. Which I can't do, unless you count misshapen pom-poms. So, we decided to trade skills, thus trading a finished product at the end. Fun! And how sensible, isn't it?

By the way, this friend also has an Etsy shop where she sells vintage goods and some handmade items. I highly encourage you to check it out here.

(I can't sell prints of this berry painting, because I don't have permission to sell or reproduce the image that I used as source. However, I can paint originals from all sorts of sources. So, if you have a favorite subject or photo you'd like to have rendered as an original painting, let me know and we'll talk.)


On another note, my little family spent a most enjoyable, affordable Saturday at a local marching band festival. Delightful! It's so refreshing and inspiring to see young people working hard to make great music, to listen to the awesome melodies, to watch them scurrying around a football field, and just to be outdoors on a lovely day. This weekend promises cooler temps, but plenty of opportunities to get out there and immerse yourself in your community and nature. Support kids, considering buying something from people with hand-lettered signs, and get some fresh air to boot! It's therapeutic!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

And yet more about expectations

I've been thinking about expectations, and how they shape our perception of—well, of everything.

(I touched on expectations here once before. Here I go again.)

We spent a long weekend in Cape May, NJ, and arrived home this past Sunday evening. It was nice to get away, the town was as beautiful as always, we climbed lighthouse steps and rode in a horse-drawn carriage and visited a Civil War village and ate far too much food that someone else had prepared and consequently cleaned up. It was fun.

But the weather mostly stunk. We knew, thanks to internet weather reports, that an unseasonable cold snap was expected, both here and there. We packed jackets, and rain coats, and umbrellas. And we didn't use them the whole time, but we did use them a significant portion of the time. We squeezed in some beach fun, but we also spent time looking longingly, through mist and raindrops and wind, at the nearly inhospitable shore. I fumed a bit on the drive home, felt sorry for myself, composed various blog posts with silly titles such as 'Scuse Me while I Curse the Sky... (I kid you not.)

Yet, the weekend was nice, and relaxing, and trouble-free. Even the rides there and back weren't bad. The newly purchased used car ran like a champ, we saw mountains, and Amish buggies, and rolling hills with barns tucked neatly within. We neatly avoided Philly at rush hour. Whew.

So what was lacking? Not much. Some sunshine, some warmer temperatures, I guess—I was expecting air temps to match the water temps (upper 70s) as they normally do in mid-September. (The water was great; the air, not so.) And there's the problem word: expecting. I was anticipating a certain type of visit, and we didn't have it. So now I feel disenchanted, disappointed, cheated of what should have been a warm, balmy weekend. But why? We're all humans living on this changeable orb. We know, by now, that weather is not a sure thing in any direction. We know that it isn't always sunny at the beach. Yet still, there's this pervasive feeling of discontentment in my gut.

Expectations can get us into trouble emotionally. If I'm learning any lesson consistently and repeatedly, it's that I need to expect less from life. I need to stop expecting good weather, uncomplicated days, and excellent health. I need to stop expecting people to be good, and thoughtful, and unselfish. I need to remember which world I'm currently inhabiting, and start living with more appreciation for the many times when things actually do go well and I ride the wave of relative ease of living. Truly, for most of us these days, life is pretty easy. We have so many gadgets, countless conveniences, comforts, and abundance, that it seems we've lost sight of the harsh reality that there's still so much we can't control.

Like the weather at the beach.

So, I need to turn my foolish little expectations on their heads. Let's see what that looks like:

I'm so glad that a hurricane didn't hit land while we were there! I'm so thankful that our tire didn't fall off en route and roll down a mountainside. I'm so happy that the horse pulling our Cape May carriage was obedient and stopped at the light instead of rolling through the busy intersection or charging a pedestrian. I'm really delighted that Marcus's slight cold didn't turn into a full-fledged illness with fever and chills. I'm very relieved that no one mugged me because this was one of the few times each year when I actually had cash in my purse. I'm thankful that I was blessed enough to have my own great little family to accompany me on this drizzly escapade.

There. That wasn't so hard, was it? No. It wasn't. We aren't perfect. Life isn't perfect. It's good, but not perfect. And that's okay. I can hope for better weather next time, but I need to steer clear of "why, why, woe unto us."

It was fun. And the last positive spin? All that cold wetness made it much easier to depart on the final day. Here's to realistic expectations, and nurturing a grateful heart.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Joy in, and from, the garden

A garden can be so inspiring, especially on a late summer morning.

I was picking beans earlier today, plucking some peppers, thinning the slightly leggy arugula, and as I pulled each item from its vine or stalk, the plant released a little zing of scent, redolent with the fresh good thing I'd just freed. Around me, birds were talking to each other, a squirrel was threatening some perceived intruder, cars swished past behind the fence, a neighbor directed the driver of a large truck of mulch to the desired spot in his yard. It was warm but not hot, slightly cloudy but not raining, and I was a small part of something so big and wonderful that I could scarcely receive all the stimuli around me.

These little veggies came from our garden. I couldn't resist painting them; the colors were so yummy. And I hadn't painted from real life in a long time—I'd forgotten how rich the shadows, how complex and delicate are the tiniest details in real life. (The veggies are for sale in my Etsy shop.)

And now, for everyone who's grown cabbage that's becoming ripe, here's a simple grilling recipe to use some of it. (We never intentionally grow cabbage because the plants are space hogs, but it seems that each year, we are gifted with a handful of them. I like cabbage, though, plus it's super-healthy...and I discovered that grilling it is fabulous.) You'll see from my recipe that I like to keep things "loose" so that everyone can make the recipe his own.

Grilled Cabbage Potato Kielbasa Stuff

NOTE: You'll need a grill cage/pan/something with small openings to fit over grill)
*red potatoes (4 larger ones)
*fresh cabbage (one small head or part of a big one)
*big hunk of kielbasa, any brand, any style (about 1 pound)
*some olive oil, salt, and pepper

First, pre-cook the potatoes in the microwave; stab them each with a fork several times, put them on a plate, and cook them using the potato setting. If no setting, then on high for 8 or 9 minutes will do it.

While the potatoes cook in the microwave, cut up a big hunk of kielbasa into large, bite-sized pieces. Then chop the cabbage into big pieces, not bothering to separate the layers. (Obviously, don't use the stem or nasty thick white parts.)

When potatoes are done, let them cool briefly and then chop them, skins and all, into big pieces. If they're undercooked, it's okay—they'll finish on the grill.

Now put all the big chunks and pieces into a big bowl and slosh a bit of olive oil into it. Add several bold dashes of salt and pepper and any other seasoning you'd like (no baking spices, though) and then put the whole mess on a pre-heated grill tray. Use a long-handled something-or-other to keep the stuff moving around periodically, turning it, making sure what's on top ends up on bottom and vice versa... About 8 minutes on low/medium heat should do it.

Scoop it all off the grill tray into a big bowl—the same one you used before, if you'd like. Eat it. It's great with corn on the cob, even better if you slice the corn off the cob and mix it into the grill.

The kicker may surprise you: Put a big scoop of full-fat, small-curd cottage cheese on top of the whole thing. WOW. It's fantastic. I can't tell you why it works, but I can assure you that it does.

(This recipe feeds 2 hungry adults with a tad left. Need more? Double it!)

Hey! Have a great rest of the week and weekend! I'll be removed from technology for a few days, but I'll be back next week! : )

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years since

For reasons I can't put into words, I spent some time on YouTube yesterday, looking up footage and sound clips from that awful, awful day 10 years ago.

I felt truly compelled to do so. Compelled because I'd talked with my sister about a story on the news, featuring the recording of a flight attendant calling from one of those doomed flights. The people first receiving the message couldn't quite believe what they were hearing. Attack? Not a test? And then, when it was confirmed, they were all business.

I listened to some heartbreaking stuff on that website. Last recordings from many, calls to emergency operators who began as hopeful lifelines and became instead a last contact, a companion for death. There were a few clips that, after reading the comments below them, I chose not to hear. There are some voices that I don't want to have in my head permanently.

But I have a choice; I can simply click elsewhere. Those people who died had very little choices remaining for them. Burn, choke, or jump? Sit in fear or attack your attackers? Get yourself out or go back for others and risk your own neck?

I will never forget what evil people did that day. I will never become complacent. I don't want to—that's what compels me to listen to the recordings and watch those towers crumple into the ground over and over. I believe that not all Muslims are killers, just like I believe that I'm not represented by the extreme Christian factions who bomb abortion clinics. But I also know that my savior is a proponent of love, and forgiveness. And whomever those people worship doesn't condone that sort of thing for anyone who doesn't share the same beliefs.

They're out there, right now, plotting. Planning. They might even be in your town. Don't become complacent. Don't think that things are different now. Hang a flag, and shamelessly put your hand on your heart when you speak the anthem or sing a song about our country. Pray. Try sincerely to be good and forgive. But do not rest easily. We're not dealing with mere people here; I believe we are dealing with Satan's soldiers.

Vladimir Putin: "We are as dust to them."

Mel: Yes, that about captures it. I'm willing to be dust to God, but not to those bastards.

NOTE: At least Google kindly decided to acknowledge the event, in its own small way, for the first time. FINALLY.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Finally, a new painting

I actually wrapped this up last week, in a rare half hour of painting with my son in the same vicinity. The sweet boy patiently created bug potions in his outside "laboratory" while I finished this lazy lion.

Now the kiddo is back in school and I'm going through that strange adjustment period of sudden silence. I'll figure out what to do with myself in a few days, but for now I'll just wander around in a bit of a haze... and figure out what to paint next.

The lion in my Etsy shop; I'll be turning the image into cards and/or prints when I can pin down the husband to help me with technical specifics.

Seize these last couple of weeks of summer! Consider lying in some tall grass amid dappled sunshine, like this big-maned fellow!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

This IS the something

It's easy to get sucked into the rhythm of our ridiculously high-tech, over-scheduled culture. In summer, so many of our friends are taking multiple vacations, or their children are attending various camps, or they're juggling a busy schedule of work and sitter and grandparent pick-ups. Plus, the weather is nice and warm; no one is stuck at home, staring at a snowstorm. There are festivals galore, crafts and food and ethnicity and music all being featured here or there. The pool beckons, as do museums, and the zoo, and hiking trails, and the library...

There's a bit of pressure to make the most of the couple of months you have: where should we go today? What's in season? What's on the agenda? Have we been to this place yet? Or should we go to that place? Which is closer? More expensive? Do you friends like this one? I heard this one is fun.

By mid-summer, our steam is beginning to run thin. By August? It's pretty much gone, without even a whistle. It's canning season, there's harvesting to be done, and we're running low on both personal fuel and family budgets. August, I suppose, is the month when you come to appreciate the back yard most of all. It's the month when you truly embrace, out of both weariness and comfort, the beckoning sway of the glider. The very glider where you once read stories to your child is where he now reads them to you. The same glider where you witnessed the first hummingbird of the season will be your seat when you soon bid farewell to those hummers. The glider where you've watched the chipmunks run madly to cover, where you saw the hawk swoop down for a defenseless animal. The very glider where you've welcomed countless mornings and evenings, with their rosy pink skies and array of either chirping birds or prowling bats.

That same patio, that glider, that backyard garden, all of them will provide company when you welcome autumn, and a new classroom teacher for your child. All those yard factors will be present, sitting still, while life moves forward without ceasing. They will comfort you with their sameness even as you mourn the loss of other places, people, traditions.

I'm realizing anew that I don't need to keep telling myself we should be "doing something." Sometimes it's good enough to just sit, and talk, and think. That familiar patio and yard are the setting for my son's most imaginative games, for our best and deepest discussions about what he wants to be and do someday. Yes, we reminisce about Kennywood and the beach. But we also share thoughts, and dreams, and secrets. The baring of hearts happens on that familiar (dare I say boring?) concrete and turf. Those are the places where we permit vulnerability, where we face some frightening and honest truths. Those worn seats and paths bring out what is hidden and real and true.

We don't need to always be "doing something." This is the something, this sharing of selves. It can't happen when we're constantly busy. It must be coaxed by languid minds, into the light of well-known, well-loved territories.

It's not too late. Stop doing something. Start letting out the real.