Loveliness

I’ve mused on life change and the why’s and wherefore’s connected with it. I’ve shared some of my favorite reads with you. I’ve declaimed on myth-busting and food. I’ve lighted on many a flower in the meadow of my curiosity, started a dialog on every topic that interests me – except one.

Beauty.

I’m astonished I left it so late.

How could something so close to my heart go unmentioned? Perhaps because it touches so deep.

Beauty of sound and beauty of silence.
Beauty of vision and beauty of being.
Beauty of feeling and beauty of knowing.

Like L.M. Montgomery’s character, Walter Blythe, ugliness hurts me. And yet I’ve seen ugliness so profound it achieves beauty.

I love beauty at all scales. Minute, pollen dusted across a lily petal, and vast, the spray of the Milky Way across our earth’s night sky. Trivial, the pattern of my blue and white tablecloth, and essential, the love in my husband’s eyes.

And yet . . . I appreciate beauty in silence more often than I speak of it.

What about you?

Blogging is a sort of speaking. Perhaps that’s why I’ve waited. Having waited, I find the words still sparse. I’ll leave you with a soupçon of beauty from the middle range – nothing startling or deep, merely a classic that’s nearly cliché: freshly fallen snow.

 

photo of newly fallen snow on tree branches

For more photos:
Tree Rocket
Blossom

 

The Reluctant Cook

photo of eggplant dishI hate cooking.

No, that’s not true.

I hate cooking dinner.

No, that’s not true either. Sometimes I love cooking dinner.

I love/hate cooking? I hate/love cooking? What is the truth about me and cooking?

This is it: I hate having to cook.

Making plättar (Swedish pancakes) for breakfast is great fun. I think of my beloved Farmor (father’s mother) the whole time.

Baking chocolate chip cookies also holds my interest. I remember my first solo attempt at age ten – I melted the butter instead of creaming it – and laugh.

Making lacto-fermented sauerkraut is a thrill. Harnessing those miraculous micro-beasties (lactobacilli) to create the best cabbage dish in the whole world is an amazing stretch back through thousands of years of human food prep.

Obviously, I’m a writer! I like my food to have stories.

And when I cook to entertain myself, I love it. When I cook merely to feed myself and my family (and I’m tired after a long day or there’s just nothing good in the fridge or I’d rather be writing) . . . not so much.

I do cook, of course. Not only do I cook, but I give it some real commitment. My mother believed (and believes) that good health rests on good food, and so do I. That’s motivation for cooking on days when I just don’t want to. And I have help. My husband shares the cooking load. In fact, here in the aftermath of my two-year, torn-hip, broken-foot, broken-toe saga, he does more than half. That helps! A lot!

But I enter the kitchen frequently enough. Three meals a day, seven days a week, give us twenty-one opportunities to mess with food. And just a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a way of cooking eggplant that produces an eggplant so mouthwatering that I must share it with you.

It’s so simple that I’m surely not the first to stumble upon it. It’s so easy that real cooks will laugh at me. But it’s so delicious that I want everyone who hasn’t stumbled upon it themselves to taste it. So here’s the “recipe.”

photos of steps in making recipeIngredients

1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
5 plump garlic cloves
2 leeks
6 narrow eggplants

(I know. The veg photo shows ingredients for a half recipe. Sorry about that! Not enough eggplants on hand the day I took the pic! The rest do depict the full recipe.)

Directions

Wash the leeks thoroughly. Cut off the green tops and either discard them or save them for another dish. Cut off and discard the root end. Slice the stalks very thinly.

Peel the garlic cloves and mince them or smush them through a garlic press.

Wash the eggplants and slice them thinly. Discard the stem ends.

Pour the olive oil and then the soy sauce into a largish pot. Heat on medium on the stovetop.

Add the garlic and leeks to the oil and sauté, stirring occasionally.

When the leeks are slightly soft (a couple minutes), add the eggplant and sauté. Add more olive oil (it’s good for you!) if the pot bottom gets dry.

Keep stirring and cooking until the eggplant is thoroughly soft and mushy.

It looks like a brown and gooshy mass. It tastes like seconds, thirds, and fourths!

Serve and enjoy!

 
 
 

More Recipes
Coconut Salmon
Baked Carrots
Sauerkraut

 

We Are Readers!

Some of my favorite reads have stolen upon me unawares. I remember my first encounter with the story: sheer magic! But how did I come to pull that book off the shelf? Select that particular author? I have no idea. The frame surrounding other discoveries grabs more memory.

I’ll never forget the how and why for one such blissful moment – a two-in-one, really, because the adventure brought two books, two authors my way.

I was in New York City with the entire fourth year class of the Architecture School. The two days of touring architectural highlights under the aegis of our professors were interesting and entertaining. I’d seen a lot of those buildings via slide projector in lecture class. Meeting them up-close-and-personal was satisfying. But the field trip came with an unavoidable challenge.

Most of my sister students had at least one friend in the A-school; some, many. I had none. My friends were among the RPG crowd, and they were grad students, or a year older than me, or a year younger, and all were in the College of Arts and Sciences.

So I came to New York friendless. This was no problem during the day while touring. I did have acquaintances with whom to trade commentary on the sights. It was the one night we would all spend in a hotel that provoked my uneasiness.

I’d been assigned to a room with three young women intent on enjoying the night clubs. They were nice enough to me. They were more than nice, actually, urging me to come with them and have some fun, exhibiting none of the social brutality common in high schools. (Who knew college would bring such civility?)

The rub was . . . I wasn’t keen on bar hopping. Yet saying, “thank you, but no,” seemed . . . so anti-social, so boorish, so unappreciative of their willingness to include. I wanted to say no, but I also wanted them to think well of me. And I wasn’t sure which choice would result in a greater sense of loneliness: out with a three friends who weren’t my friends? or skulking alone in a hotel room? Ugh! What a choice!

While I dithered, I got ready for clubbing: gauze peasant blouse in blues and greens with a tassel tie at the neck, woven leather shoes with a low heel (comfortable for dancing), and very tight jeans.

It looked like I was going out with my room mates willy nilly, borne along on the tide of their persuasion. They were sure: of course I’d have a better time with them.

I checked my pockets. Hard to do. Did I say those jeans were tight? I’d stored my money – a fifty dollar bill – in a pocket in the jeans in a dresser drawer in the hotel. Now was the time I would need it.

My pockets were empty.

One of the hotel maids must have done some rummaging while we were sightseeing.

Oh, there was a fuss! The hotel management was summoned. We got no change from them. Silly Virginia girl! Why did you leave your money in your hotel room? My room mates insisted on lending me money – enough for a night on the town. (They’d brought hundreds!)

I declined. There I felt no ambivalence. My college budget was tighter than my jeans. I’d borrowed $10 from each month to have some cash for this trip. I would need the sum remaining to get through the semester. If I borrowed money from my generous companions, I wouldn’t be able to pay them back. Or else I’d be unable to pay my share of the pizza order when I returned to my RPG mates.

The field trip ladies were regretful about my choice, clearly worried I’d be miserable. (I did say they were nice, right? They were nice.) But I was resolute, and they went off to their evening’s delight. I felt . . . relieved.

So, there I was, alone in a hotel room with nothing to do. (I was never a big TV watcher.) But I knew I’d figure it out. What next?

Surely dinner of some sort. My $50 was gone; luckily I had a few smaller bills, change left over from the day’s expenses. I’d noticed two deli’s in the same block as the hotel. And . . . there’d been a bookstore in the next block over! Abruptly my plans for the evening gelled. I was set! Why had I dithered and worried? A reader always has options.

One of the deli’s supplied me with a sandwich in a paper bag, and then I trundled off to the bookstore.

These were the days when bookstores still displayed their wares on wire racks with the book covers facing out. This bookstore, being in New York, had five segments (or more) devoted to SF&F. I was in heaven, browsing and browsing and browsing. Here was happy indecision. Which book would I chose?

After perhaps half an hour, it came down to two. Which should I carry away with me? Beauty by Robin McKinley? Or Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones? I dithered just as much as when faced with bar hopping, but this was a better choice: between two good’s, not two bad’s.

A startling idea popped into my head. Why not buy both? As a cash-strapped college student, I bought my books one at a time. But – I did some quick math – I had just enough money to splurge with a few pennies left over. Why not? I went home tomorrow.

You know how I answered that one.

Which book did I read first? That I don’t remember. But memory is vivid regarding the gestalt. I lounged on my hotel bed, well propped with pillows, munching my sandwich, and devouring the stories. I entered . . . not heaven (this was better than that), but a fairy tale city where three sisters grappled with loosing all their fortune and confronted the adventure that came to them in the cool forested land where they settled. I followed a young witch-boy struggling with betrayal and greatness in the steampunk world of Chrestomancy.

That night alone in a New York hotel room still ranks as one of the best in my life. I’m a reader, and I’m guessing you might be too. Have you ever had an unpleasantness (or a disaster) rescued by a good read?

I was grateful my room mates stayed out til one! I had time to savor both my treasures in peace and solitude. And was happy to greet the returning trio (not drunk, thank you) with good cheer and assurances that I’d passed an enjoyable evening.

In justice to the hotel maids, I must report that they had not stolen my $50. Remember those tight jeans? (I did say they were tight, right?) Apparently I didn’t push my fingers deep enough into my pinched pocket. The money was there all along.

Golden Green

I encountered the basic principle young. Clean up after yourself. No fair making your neighbor put your fingerpaints away. Don’t waste things, time, effort. Not right losing Dad’s favorite flashlight after he lent it to keep the bogeyman away. It was the golden rule: do as you would be done by. Connecting this elementary idea to a larger world view took . . . years, took growing up; but there were mile posts along the way.

A photo from an educational magazine – distributed to the entire fifth grade of Montgomery County – remains vivid in my memory. It depicted a family picnicking on a slope. But the hillside of scruffy grass overlooked a six-lane highway, and the sky was brown with smog. Turn the page and the family had been transplanted to a parkland paradise: lush green hills, a clear stream, shy wildlife, and blue sky. Which would you prefer?

Yes, this was 1970, when environmental concern grew apace. I was an impressionable ten-year-old and wanted to do my part, but it wasn’t clear what part was mine. “Don’t litter” was a big campaign at the time. It seemed overly basic.

My next milestone came in college. The desire to recycle gripped me. Newsprint and glass jars were the only candidates, and there was no curbside recycling. Oh, did I ever want to participate! But how? I didn’t own a car, and the recycling center was decidedly beyond walking distance. I never did figure out a way, but I made a vow: once I had wheels, I’d be driving to that center as often as I had a bin full.

I kept that vow, but feel some irony looking back: the exhaust coming out my car’s tailpipe probably did far more harm than would a small collection of glass and newsprint in a landfill. And humans have since devised more dangerous substances with which to strew our earth home. What happens to the nano particles created in the manufacture of computer hard drives? What about the discontinued GMO corn that made volunteer eaters so sick? It’s easy to become discouraged. It’s easy to focus on smaller areas where we have some power – I can recycle, after all – and lose sight of larger problems in need of complex, cooperative solutions.

And, yet, I always come back to: it’s important to me that I do what I can do, mistakes and all. Perhaps I should have stuck with bicycling (and not worried about recycling) after I graduated with my architecture degree. But the recycling was still worthwhile, and I still do it. And don’t litter – be it apple cores and household cleaners or nanoparticles and modified genes – still seems a motto to live by.

Since then I’ve made other changes. I eat local veggies and grass-fed meat. I clean with vinegar, peroxide, castile soap, and micro-fiber rags. I use soap nuts for my laundry and a drying rack. I’ve switched out my incandescent lightbulbs for CFL’s. I group errands so I can take the car out less. My kitchen is stocked with reusable containers, so that bag lunches and food storage need not involve disposables. Our mower is muscle-powered. Is all this trivial? Misguided? Perhaps. But surely profligate driving, reckless chemical use, and relentless disposing of disposables would be worse.

I’ve even set my sights on further changes. No surprise there, given my proclivity for shaking my life up from time to time! I hope my next car will be a hybrid. (And that one in the further future will be wholly electric! How to place a charging station when we have no garage?) My push toward more bicycle riding resulted in a broken foot, but I haven’t renounced that dream wholly. (The peddling and gliding are too much fun!) I want to weatherproof my home, so I can be one of those folk whose winter needs are solved with the equivalent of a space heater. Perhaps I might even manage solar panels on the roof!

I talk about the solutions I’m trying. I ask what others are doing. I read to learn more. Am I naïve? Almost certainly, yes. But cynicism and pessimism seem a waste of the life and breath I’ve been given. I’ve chosen effort and hope. What about you?

Life Change

It begins innocently enough. I’m there in the library, browsing, and I see a cover or a title that intrigues me. I take the book from the shelf and read the inside cover flap: hmm, interesting. I check the first few pages: oh, well-written and entertaining, too! Okay. I’ll check this one out.

Then I’m home and reading. Wow! Really? I never guessed. Wow! My world paradigm tips sideways or even turns upside down. I feel dizzy and disoriented, but exhilarated as well. I plead guilty to a taste for novelty. New ideas are mind candy for me. “Oh, shiny!” I exclaim.

But newness and sparkliness possess a more difficult facet. Now that I know this (whatever this may be), what do I do? Because action is clearly called for. I can’t sit here, knowing what I now know, and do nothing. Still I hesitate . . . change is rarely easy, and sometimes it’s downright repellant. Yikes!

One change I’ll tell you about next week had an obvious starting point: try Dr. Maffetone’s “Two-Week Test” and evaluate. How did I feel? Was it feasible? Or impossible? Comfortable? What did I learn?

But some changes require more societal support than is available. Others reach tentacles into every cranny of my life, demanding adjustment everywhere. Some just seem so flat-out daunting that I ponder them, actionless, for months (or years) before I know how to begin or where to gather the resources (or fortitude) to start.

But I’m the child of pioneers. My maternal grandmother’s forebears crossed the Atlantic Ocean before the American Revolution. My paternal grandfather left Sweden when he saw that ordinary folk were always discriminated against when up against the local nobility. (He was born in the late 1800’s.) My ancestors sought new ways and new opportunities. So do I.

Voluntary change can be hard, but I’ve found it rewarding and worthwhile. The challenge beckons me, and I respond with: Yes! Just start with one thing, with one day, with one part, and do it differently. The rest will fall into place. Or not. But there will be adventure along the way. Some of the best adventure around. I’m definitely a proponent of “be the change you want to see.”

I’ll be sharing some of my change adventures with you in future weeks. I hope you’ll share yours, too, here in the comments. We can all learn from one another. New ideas, new perspectives, and energizing engagement await us. Let’s start!

Behind the Scenes

It’s fun learning the writing habits of my favorite authors. One is a “just in time” creator – that is, she doesn’t build a specific detail in her story’s world until the plot demands it. Another hears the voice of her muse so strongly and clearly that when logic and the muse collide, the muse always wins. A third outlines her plots using calendar pages, because timing is the essential element in her stories.

Every writer is different. Some write 1,500 words in an hour’s sprint, others feel their way at a thoughtful 200. Some rise at dawn and crank on their stories then; others slumber past noon and write all night. Some draw on their sleeping dreams for inspiration, some on personal history, some from old folk tales (raising my hand here), and some from the quirky intersection of events such as a broken furnace and a children’s game with swimming laps at the gym.

As a writer myself, I take both reassurance and inspiration from my colleagues.
So . . . it’s fine that my own writing speed varies from 200 to 600 words in an hour. Really? Phew! Relief! And writing 5 hours a day is a lot according to the voice of experience. Who knew? Not me! And maybe I should try role playing a difficult scene, if sleeping on it and journaling about it isn’t working. Okay!

As a reader, I respect and revere the titans among the creative tribe. (Okay, as a writer, I do too!) I wonder . . . what genius, what method, what experience gave rise to her brilliance? Will a peek into her habits yield a clue? Will knowing that she sings in the choir or walks around the lake or loves horses afford a view of inspired intelligence at work?

Probably not. The creative process of others often seems opaque to me. But I love trying to espy it in the shadows, seeking fire trails of that magical spark. I love discovering the secrets behind the scene.

It’s true that “the play’s the thing.” It’s the thrill of story that makes me eager for an author’s next book. But glimpses of her life, of her, are interesting. I enjoy author blogs that reveal the thought process behind an intriguing plot, the daydream that birthed a dynamic character, the serendipitous events that yielded a world. I’m guessing that you might too. So future posts will include tours behind the scenes of my North-land tales and through the life experiences that led to the tales. Stay tuned!

Curiouser and Curiouser

Why? How does it really work? Is this actually true? Or is it just a collective illusion we’ve mistaken for truth? I ask these questions, often randomly, but the answers matter to me. Perhaps they matter to some of you too. I’m always interested in digging beneath the conventional, the superficial, and the accepted to learn if something different – opposite? tangential? – lies deeper.

Foundations enthrall me – the foundations of the physical world, those of the psyche, the basis of knowing, the interface between the corporeal and information, the dance between knowing and feeling. I’m fairly certain the questions that draw me most cannot be answered. At least, not yet. Maybe not ever. But entertaining such questions seems worthwhile.

And amusing. I confess to pleasure in the hunt for knowledge. I am a curious monkey. And I thrill in the playground of ideas. I must also plead guilty to being a dilettante. I follow no course of study, but frolic on the non-fiction side of the shelf of new books at the library.

I read about string theory and quilting. The sun and grifters. George Washington and the history of ballet. All of it holds my attention. And some of it is so fabulous, I stray into impromptu lectures to friends and family. Oh, dear! Even you, respected blog reader, will not be immune to my desire to share fascinating morsels. I’ve already finished two posts in this vein for future Sundays. You shall have them in good time!

But, don’t worry. Just as I won’t lay these “who are we?” posts on you back-to-back, neither will I do so with “my curiosity is provoked” ones! Like a savory soup, this blog will be well-mixed.

I’ll close with a pair of questions for you. If you could have one unanswerable question answered – existential, practical, quirky, whatever – what would it be? And, if you collect intriguing clues to the essence of the cosmos and of being, which one fascinates you most?

You!

I’ve been thinking about you, my readers. Who are you? What do you like to read? What interests you? Some of you I know already, and I have answers (or clues to answers) for those questions. And some of you I have yet to meet. Perhaps we’ll encounter one another at a book signing or a convention. I’d like that. Until then, I’m guessing at what you like.

Sometimes blind guesses work astonishingly well. Intuition or synchronicity guides the guesser, and the answer is . . . good! I do have a nudge of inspiration at this moment. But it’s not truly about you, front and center. It’s more of an intuition of what to do next. Which is: trust that you and I have something in common. Perhaps even somethings in common. So I fall back on someone I do know: myself!

I’m going to write a series of posts about who I think you might be. But they’ll also be about who I am. I’m a reader and a writer. I love beauty, and I’m intensely curious about . . . almost everything. I like to introspect. I like to learn new things. And I like to change my life around after a bout of learning. Perhaps you share some of these traits too.

But don’t worry: the posts about you and me won’t be created all in one go. After each, I’ll write a post or two (or more) that I think will appeal to the loremaster or the curious monkey or the art-lover. Process does interest me, but not to the exclusion of content! I hope to have both here.

Today I’m thinking about those of us who enjoyed the appendices of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I was so glad the story had multiple endings: Frodo and Samwise safe in Ithilien, Aragorn crowned king and united with Arwen, the Shire scoured, Frodo aship for the West, and Sam’s “I’m back.” I didn’t really want it to end even then. But it felt right, that ending. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But thank goodness for the appendices! The story was over, but I didn’t have to leave Middle-earth just yet. And I could gratify my curiosity about its history, calendar, languages, and much more. Whatever did happen to Gimli? And was the North-kingdom successfully revived?

When I’ve read a great book, I nearly always want more of it. And yet I recognize that it starts and ends in exactly the right spots. Appendices are the perfect solution for my longing. So I’m an aficionado of appendices. Are you? I’d like to know.

Next week I’ll post about the magic featured in Troll-magic (both that of trolls and that of safer folk) for those of you who like appendices and for those who merely have questions about antiphony and incantatio and theurgia.

In the meantime, consider commenting here. Perhaps we might discuss appendices and our appreciation for them!

(Feel free to ask other questions or to start other discussions also!)