"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: New York times

still here . . .

beautimous garden for blog postI don’t know when I started to read obituaries regularly. Maybe it was when more people who were younger than I am seemed to be dying. The other day, a little video appeared on Skype made by my daughter M. and her two-year-old daughter, Josie. In it, they faced the camera and Josie, in her little voice said to her Mom, “not here?” “not here?” meaning we weren’t coming on the screen. It was a charming vignette and one that is relevant here because I think we all think about when we’re “not here” anymore.

In my writing, one of the themes that recurs is that the superficial trappings of fame are not necessarily what defines a life’s worth of living. In fact, I think it’s just the opposite. For example, I know of so many interesting stories about families who disperse as though shot out of a cannon, siblings who live and work in South America, Asia, Washington and New York City. I remember one family whom I was able to observe because the daughter was a good friend when we were both freshmen in college. I never saw a woman and a man so love in with each other as her parents seemed to be, all the time, in spite of raising a household of rebellious, independent, artistic teenagers. Just the way they looked at each other in the dusk by their swimming pool was so much more intense than Hemingway ever managed to convey.

There was another family who lived up the street from me when I was in junior high school. These parents were cold and formal, but the kids, who were my contemporaries, were wild and curious, unconventional and also gorgeous to look at. One of them went to South America and lived most of his life there; the middle son volunteered for the Marines, served a bunch of terms and then lived in Japan where he met his wife and now live in a simple cabin near Puget Sound and work as fishermen. The youngest, a daughter, changed her name and embarked to Alaska of all places where she taught herself how to play the HARP! which she takes onboard with her when she flies to perform at concerts in the rain forests of Brazil!

So you see, it’s not just people who are heads of things (lettuce) or invent things or are culturally visible who are worth mentioning. To me, there are far more interesting and inspirational lives out there, full of pathos, tragedy and illuminating joyousness. Here is an obituary of Mott Green, about a rebel with a cause who did it his way whose obituary appeared in the Times this week.

It seems to me that people’s lives are worthwhile in many small ways, whether or not there’s a fancy obituary written about them. Maybe I’ll come up with how to capture these characters in this phantom book I keep thinking is just around the corner that I will sit down and write in three weeks. Or maybe, I’ll just keep doing it right here, little by little, at least for the time being until I figure it out.
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lemon poppyseed . . .

. . . lemon poppyseed pound cake in the pan

. . . lemon poppyseed pound cake in the pan

I was looking for something to have after dinner while we watch the first game of the Bruins-Blackhawks Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight. There have been times when I have reminded G. how fortunate he is that I am one of those wives who actually enjoys watching action movies and sports. Typically, we watch the Red Sox, then the Patriots, less often the Celtics (there’s something off-putting about them) and the Bruins when they put up a save like that seventh game playoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs, trailing by 3 goals in the 3rd period, tying the game and then winning in overtime. I mean, c’mon, I may be a fair-weather hockey fan but I’ve been loyal watching them beat the Rangers after the Toronto thriller, then the Penguins as the underdog team in a shutout, four games to zero! Now, we have at least four games more to watch. It’s hard to visually follow a hockey game I think–but it’s fun to watch when they win. And they have been doing that rather well, lately, barring Campbell breaking his fibula and out for the rest of the season. Since I’m usually knitting something, it’s a good combination while watching sports on TV.

So back to making the pound cake, I had the TV turned to a channel showing repeats of “Bones,” the forensic mystery cum romance which is surprisingly fun to cook by. I followed Melissa Clark’s recipe from the Times today. I wondered how many readers would know how to zest two lemons (using a microplane) but no matter. Mixing turbinado sugar and fragrant lemon zest with my hands felt really wonderful, it turns out. Adding eggs, buttermilk and then olive oil? was, well, surprising. I dutifully buttered and floured my wonderful cast iron white porcelain Le Creuset loaf pan and put the cake into the oven to bake for an hour.
lemon poundcake with flowers

As the loaf cooled, I slid a sharp knife around the edges of the pan and after a tap, the cake came out beautifully. I sliced about a third of it for G. to take next door to his mother and brother when he goes out to tune this afternoon. And of course, I couldn’t resist sharing a slice with G., just to see how it turned out. It was really delicious, a crisp edge, a moist crumb with true lemon flavor sweetened just enough.

Hope the Bruins win tonight! If not, we can still console ourselves with slices of this luscious lemon poppy seed pound cake! Thanks, Melissa Clark!

“sweet spot” . . .

DSC_0720Since it’s Sunday, I was reading the New York Times, one of my favorite pastimes, and came across an interview in the business section with Kon Leong, CEO of ZL Technologies about what he seeks in people who want to work for him. Concluding the article is his definition of what a “sweet spot” in life is:
” . . . the intersection of what you’re really good at and what you love to do. If you can find that intersection, you are set. A lot of people would kill for that because, at 65, they’re retiring and never found it.”

I thought about that and am glad that G. embodies someone who is living in his sweet spot. He tunes and restores pianos and is good at it. And he loves it too (he’s right now typing out bills and appraisals which he hates to do, but even with that, he loves what he does.) For over twenty-five years, I was really good at directing project management in biotech start-ups over and over again. But I didn’t love it. It was too rife with politics, power struggles and stress. I’m grateful for the opportunities and I’m also glad it’s behind me.

Now that I’m retired, I am loving doing what I’m really good at doing: cooking, keeping house, knitting, playing music, watching TV, reading books and magazines. It’s okay to love what you do, even if it’s mundane, repetitive and, well, not written about in the New York Times! I’ve always been curious and interested in learning new things especially now that I have more time to do it.

To each their own. We’re lucky if we ever find it. Some of us are already doing it without even knowing it! And it’s especially sweet when you do notice it!

no matter what . . .

I hope that I am not boring you with themes and ideas that I pick up from reading the New York Times. Today, there is a beautiful article about creating gardens in very small spaces. It came along at just the right time because I looked around our place early this morning and thought to myself that there’s just too much to take care of. But after I cleaned off the kitchen countertop and put away the stacks of books and other reading material that seems to accumulate overnight while I am asleep, I thought it over again.

While I pondered whether or not to look for a canary to keep company with the lone singer that I have left and after watering the money plant and the gardenia tree next to it, plucking the spent blossoms, I watered the orchids on the shelf beside my computer set-up and marveled once again at the longevity of these flowers. Take a look here at the white orchid, for example–which has been gracing this space for seven months!

On another note, there are boxes of old photographs that need to be consolidated together, a task that I have been avoiding because we all looked so happy and well at the time before misfortune ran into us later on. But I think every family has this up-and-down phenomenon in their midst, don’t you? The thing is to put them in their proper place (the past) and take some photos in the present. The cast of characters sometimes changes and all that we know is that while we don’t know what the future will bring that we will persevere and enjoy our lives.

To quote the aforementioned NYTimes article, the urban gardener says,

“I think two people can live well no matter what and no matter where. . . the idea is to take pleasure in life, and be willing to be pleased.”

simple pleasures . . .

Here are some simple pleasures that I thought about this morning:

a. getting a good night’s sleep in spite of the current heat wave

b. listening to my canary sing while I am checking email

c. making a breakfast smoothie that tastes like a milk shake because of the frozen fruit: fresh banana, frozen peaches, frozen blueberries, almond-coconut milk, pure synergy powder, handfuls of fresh spinach

d. reading the New York Times newspaper

e. knitting a sweater for myself from sumptuous Noro Hitsuji multicolored yarn emulating the design of a sweater I could have purchased but decided to knit instead.

f. coming upon a deep brown Lopi pullover vest that I had knit and forgotten about while I was looking for larger size needles to make the sweater described above.

g. cooking rose-colored chioggi beets that I bought at the farmers market in Northampton yesterday which are hard to find with their striated pink flesh and delicious sweet flavor

h. making an open-faced fresh peach pie, gathering up the sides of the pastry like an European tart and sprinkling with cinnamon, nutmeg and coarse sugar

i. looking for a red agate canary to join the part goldfinch canary and finding a few possibilities within an hour’s drive from where we live

j. taking a whiff of the blooming gardenias on the small tree that is flourishing despite the heat

k. watering the gigantic “money plant” that is pushing up against the ceiling and now has decided to thicken its trunk and limbs instead

l. brushing my hair, liking the color and being glad I am growing it out (the length, not the color!)

m. watering the garden

n. looking forward to talking with my daughter to see how she did on her chemistry test

o. wondering how my other daughter is doing with my granddaughter on their daytrip to Versailles

p. glad that Jeremy Lin is going to Texas where he’ll get a shot at realizing his destiny rather than being put on an expensive shelf with the Knicks who treated him badly last season

q. making Lapsang Souchang tea in the morning so it’ll be iced for dinner

r. finding a patchwork design jacket on Etsy for little money that reminds me of my youth that I can wear next week to have sushi on Newbury Street with a new acquaintance

s. a perfectly cooked soft shell crab tempura at the Osaka Restaurant in Northampton yesterday

t. corn on the cob from the farmstand for dinner last night that had good flavor and was also tender

u. yellow-red rainier cherries in season and available at $3.99 a pound at Market Basket in Oxford

v. finding a Shell station in Northampton and getting 30 cents a gallon off gas by using my Stop and Shop card

w. watching reruns of “House” on TV in the middle of the afternoon while I knit

x. glad the power is still on and the air conditioning works

y. picking flowers from the garden and enjoying them indoors as well as out

z. knowing that I am in the right place at the right time.

an ordinary life . . .

twice pan-fried noodles with grilled teriyaki chicken

This morning, I read an article called, “Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary” in the New York Times. What a relief to find that there are others who point out how skewed our culture is towards defining personal success. All we seem to hear about are prizes or “wins”: the Olympic qualifying heats that are broadcast multiple times on TV; the Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prizes, Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, the Oscars, Facebook IPO, Guggenheim Fellowships and the Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress. An example cited in the article was a student who was a “straight-A, piano-playing quarterback.”

Sure, it’s okay to recognize achievement. But the emphasis by the press and our culture on landmark accolades can make the rest of us think, “What am I, chopped liver?” The answer is, nope, even if you aren’t Nora Ephron nor written books, articles, movies and directed movies that everyone recognizes, you can still say something witty and your husband will smile at you while eating dinner, just the two of you .

The NYTimes article focuses on having conversations with your children about success, so that everything doesn’t merit the overused “good job!” when all a kid does is get their fork into their mouth without spilling food. I also think these ideas are valuable for people like us who are baby boomers and beyond in age. For example, when someone retires from thirty-odd years of service in some public domain and is awarded a medal or a service award, that’s nice. But does that also include whether those individuals were generous people with themselves outside of work? You see where this could keep going, don’t you?

I’m not altogether sure of where I stand in all this either. If I were to start making a list of the ordinary things that make up my life, it might include:

a. being adventurous about cooking, and “cooking from scratch,” although last weekend, I had my fill of making homemade Peking Duck wrappers when the coffee cup I wanted to cut the dough rounds out with still had coffee in it and spilled on to the dough. I don’t think anyone noticed if there was the taste of coffee in them after putting on the hoisin sauce, scallions and roast duck, though.

b. being determined and curious: that’s what my husband says are some of my best qualities.

c. being willing to admit to my own mistakes even when it makes me feel bad for awhile. I am always taken aback when people are unable or unwilling to admit to their own mistakes, such as breaking a couple of eggs while carrying the groceries. But, whatever.

d. in the spirit of the article, I could describe myself as a “straight, piano-playing cook.”

Anyhow, I think the Fourth of July weekend is a good time to think about personal independence, and to consider whether it’s possible to release ourselves from cultural ideals that we have to be extraordinary in order to feel worthwhile. Or, as the tagline in the NYTimes article poses, “Isn’t living a life of integrity as praiseworthy as fame and money?”

What do you think?

life and death . . .

The weather has been so graceful lately: a little rain each day followed by sun and soft breezes. The garden is definitely doing well with this kind of cool growing weather. I planted a stand of white iris called “gull’s wing” yesterday along with two bareroot climbing roses by the barn. Today I will mend the trailing strings so that the morning glory plants will have something more stable to cling to as they make their way upwards over the summer.

Today, being Sunday, I have loitered longer than usual, reading the New York Times with my coffee. “Union Rags”, the horse that won the Belmont Stakes by a nose was owned by Phyllis Wyeth, whose husband is Jamie Wyeth, the painter son of Andrew Wyeth, one of America’s uber-painters. Apparently, Phyllis had sold the horse and then bought him back for three times what she had sold him for. So, yesterday was a day of triumph for her, a change of jockey apparently making the difference between winning the Belmont Stakes and placing seventh in the Kentucky Derby a few weeks ago.

Confined to a wheelchair after a car accident long ago, Phyllis Wyeth’s name conjured up memories I had having read about N.C. Wyeth, Andrew’s father, and Andrew’s own turbulent marriage to Betsy Wyeth, Jamie’s mother. Still living, Betsy is thought to have been both a muse and a stern comptroller of Andrew’s art.

Betsy is quoted as commenting that the strict order and control of her homes (in Chadds Ford and in Maine) were a response to the “inner chaos” she experienced within herself. Although known primarily as an illustrator rather than a painter, N.C.’s death along with his grandson, their stalled car hit by a train was described as mysterious, due to N.C.’s amorous crush on the grandson’s mother, the wife of his own son named N.C.

My goodness! all these reflections coming out of a horse race and the dynamics of owners, their lives, families, the intertwinings of generations of intense people leading intense lives. Maybe the chaos that lies within is something many of us experience in one way or another. Some may deal with it with passivity because they are afraid what it might unleash if not tamped down all the time. Others may ignore it altogether, choosing to will themselves into lives bent on pleasing those around them as a way of feeling worthwhile.

I’ve not pleased a whole lot of other people in my life, it seems. At the same time, I feel that I have at least been honest, for better or for worse. Is that what life and death is about? I wonder.

boiling an egg. . .

Most mornings, I have been making green smoothies for breakfast. I’ve been drinking them for about two months or so. Into my blender goes some almond milk, pomegranate juice, a fresh banana, a good handful of baby spinach, some green algae supplement called Pure Synergy and either frozen mango, peaches or wild blueberries. Blend it all up and drink while I begin reading the day’s New York Times newspaper.

Then, if I feel like it, I’ll boil an egg or two to round out my breakfast. I’ve always wondered how to do this in order to get consistent results–a white that has formed, a yolk that is still warm and runny, and Read the rest of this entry »