Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Muh-Muh... Ode to My Cat

On the Friday before Christmas, sometime shortly after I left for the office, Mattie the cat met her demise.

Being hit by a car was a surprising and violent end for this skittish, needy and endlessly person-oriented animal. She fled in fear from any footstep (It's not about you Mattie...). She drooled on me almost daily. She used her jaw as a front-end loader to scrape up heaps of cat food, and inevitably barfed it up later, barely chewed. She meowed at me, constantly. I had to periodically stop talking back to  her, when the meowing really got out of hand. (Hreh, hreeowww)

She was fat. Small head, very round body. She got thin (well, thinner) in the summer after we moved to the new house, because she got more running and hunting in. But in preparation for winter, she had packed the weight back on. I referred to her as my keishke.

Mattie was equal parts endearing and annoying. If nothing else, she had a strong dose of personality. And she loooooooooved us. (reference the drooling). It was impossible to sit down without her jumping in your lap. Every pair of slacks I own has the rents and snags to prove it. Every night, she draped her chubby little self over my shoulder or my hip, and purred and drooled her way through the night. In spite of myself, I loved her back, as much as she loved me.

We invented all kinds of amusing adventures and stories. We have a special voice for her. (Um, so anyways... everything ends in questions?...) In our imaginary world, Mattie started a ladies' gym called Narrow Miss. The first location was in Burnips. She went on to run a temp agency, and to take contract work as a receptionist and business identity specialist. She was superb at coming up with funny names for companies. (Omer Goodness, Mattie speaking)

Mattie understood the give and take of relationship. She loved us no matter what. She let us know when she was unhappy (pretty sure she's behind the poop-storm we came home to after our vacation), but in the end, it never changed the look on her face when I stopped to meow back at her.

She's in the ground now, under a favorite tree. I'll plant some catmint there in the spring, when I remove the pine boughs we used to cover the bare earth.

Her companions miss her. Pips, cat roommate of almost 11 years. Gribby, her first idol. Kevin, her nemesis and object of fascinated affection. Me, her cat-mom and favorite lap.

Update, 12/31, my birthday... found a few more photos of the dince-rat (pron. dynse - rate, inspired by the fact that she was small and somewhat mattie-rattie).

Monday, December 5, 2011

The humble sweet potato

Meatless Monday Gnocchi

Another tasty vegetarian meal to celebrate meatless Monday.

For the gnocchi:
  • 6 sweet potatoes
  • 1 russet
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. parmesan or similar cheese, grated
  • salt
  • nutmeg
  • cayenne
  • all-purpose flour
  1. Roast the potatoes and cool until they can be handled. Remove the skins and press through a ricer. (I use the one that came with my Grandma's Kitchen-Aid. Old-schooler, but it works.) Mix the potatoes together and form a well in the center.
  2. Beat egg with cheese and spices. Add to potato mixture (pour into the well) and gently fold together using a rubber spatula. 
  3. Generously flour a work surface, and your hands, and working with a handful of dough at a time, roll it into a rope and cut into bite-sized pieces. 
  4. Roll with a fork to score.
  5. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat and freeze. 
Once they are frozen, portion onto quart zip-lock bags. They store nicely for several months.

To prepare, boil 3 quarts of salted water in a large pot. Add the frozen gnocchi to the boiling water, and leave heat on high, uncovered. Gently stir occasionally. The gnocchi will rise to the surface as they cook. When all are on the surface, boil gently for a little longer (a minute or two at most). Drain.

For Meatless Monday Gnocchi:

  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi
  • 1 lb. arugula, washed and spun dry
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • pecans
  • salt
  • pepper
Prepare gnocchi as above.
  1. Heat olive oil in a 10-inch saute pan over medium-low heat. Saute garlic until it turns the color of straw, and sticks together. Add pecans, and saute lightly for a few minutes, until aromatic.
  2. Add the arugula in layers, salting each layer as you add.
  3. Stir together until arugula is tender (only a couple minutes).
  4. Drain as needed (sometimes will be quite watery, depending on the arugula, and may need to be pressed to remove excess liquid).
  5. Push arugula to the side, and add the cooked gnocchi over medium-high heat (augment oil if needed), stirring occasionally until lightly browned.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with grated cheese or a balsamic vinaigrette. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Elusive contentment

Life is imperfect, stunning, complicated. The way we live it is up to us, and I believe we have choices to make about what "normal" means. Contrast this against the daily pressures of deadlines, billable hours and my own insecurity. Against the reality of an economy that requires income and functions on commerce.

I suspect that I want to change the rules that define life in our time.

I envision a connected life, based in personal relationships to people, food, land. Work that is tangible and meaningful—related to my survival and well being. The time to be thoughtful. The practice to be prepared. A heady dose of creativity and intellectual stimulation. I imagine a world that I want to live in. I know it is attainable, but I don't know how to get from here to there.

I want to reduce my frustration with the life I have.

And that frustration stems from a few things, some easier to control than others. Some of them require others to change their behavior (hard). This is about changing my own behavior (still hard, but easier.) And here is a problematic behavior of mine: I don't enjoy the trappings of the life I have, because I want to change them. As a result, I am ill-prepared to fully live this life. I don't have the right tools for the tasks at hand.

So here is my experiment: attention to gratitude, contentment and presence.

Living the life I have, with as much integrity as I can
  • Gratitude: I am thankful for the life I was born into. My family worked hard, and my sister and I had opportunities that gave us the foundation for success. Education, travel, parents and grandparents, enough independence to learn something on our own.
  • Contentment: The life I live now is hard in many ways, but it's a pretty great life. I'm not hungry. I have enough to share. I work for and with people whom I love and respect. I live near water, and I have room for a garden. I have our farm up north. I'm in love.
  • Presence: This is the life I have. I can shift it toward the life I want, and I should. But I also need to allow myself to live this one. Create the routine. Find the boundaries. Stick to them. From clothing, to exercise, to cooking, cleaning, reading and writing (those are as much hobbies as they are chores, don't laugh), I need to do more than survive. I need to be present in all aspects of my life: creative, emotional, intellectual, practical, and professional.

I think being present is the hardest one.

For a long time, the professional part of my life has had all the attention, mostly because it felt the most required for survival. I've been successful, but I've been aware of the cost. Perhaps I am only beginning to understand what it means. This is the hardest one, because it means wrestling my job into balance—time and attention. This is the hardest one, because it means learning the difference between service (paying wholehearted attention to the needs of others) and presence (not sure how to articulate that one yet, but I know it's different).

Wish me luck. If you have good advice, let me know.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Whatever you're meant for

I have been thinking a lot about what my next step in life will be. I work too much, laugh too little, and spend far more time managing projects than I spend living my life. This is not what I'm meant for.

But what am I meant for? If I could do anything, what would it be?

1 - I'd farm. I'd grow food for myself and my family, and I'd cook it into beautiful celebratory meals.
2 - I'd write. I'd capture the small moments, the insignificant ones that seem like they are mundane, but are really perfect little miracles.
3 - I'd listen. I'd read, wonder, research, and see where it all took me. I'd be just fine with open questions.
4 - I'd practice. Music, meditation, languages, all of it.
5 - I'd share. I'd have dinner, wine, coffee with friends. I'd make new friends. I'd cherish old friends.

Simple desires, seemingly so little to ask of life. Where do I go from here?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Meatless Monday

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Every Monday, Kevin and I go vegetarian. It's a small, simple way to be intentional about what we eat, and how it affects the world around us. Last night: Pantry pasta and chick pea salad. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

What I learned today

I love the people I work with. We operate like a family, and for the most part, we're a pretty functional one. I'm grateful for what I learn every day. Today was a zinger. Here's what I learned:

I define collaboration as co-creation. Sitting side by side, working fluidly, letting go of ownership and boundaries, to make something that couldn't be made with any of us alone. I think it's a better result. It's certainly a better experience.

Feedback and subsequent iteration is not enough (for me). This mode of "meet, then go away and create, then come back and get feedback, then go away and create" is inefficient, and feels rife with opportunities for misunderstanding. And, it makes it hard to get the right feedback at the right moment. To have a removed reviewer, the designer has to explore something to great depth, to realize a concept almost fully.

Unfinished work feels bumpy and uncertain. It can easily inspire fear and doubt in a removed reviewer, and defensiveness or frustration in the creator.

Not everybody wants to, or knows how to, be a co-creator. It takes invitation, shared expectations, and full commitment of trust in each other. We have to give up our attachments, and be open to the unknown discovery, the unpredicted innovation. There's a lot of uncertainty there.

What I haven't learned is how to work with the in-between. How do I figure out where and when to engage the various people who need to have input—because they have a significant stake in the outcome—when their definitions of collaboration fall in so many places along the continuum of co-create to review-and-iterate?

How do you do it? Where do you find your community of practice?

It's hardly poetry. But it's what was on my mind as I close my day and turn to the business of the rest of my living. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Remarkable things

The most remarkable things
are often tiny surprises.

Quick intakes
of breath, the lungs' equivalent
of a glimpse
through a window,

A stare thought
to have an inappropriate length,
lost in pondering.

A new nest,
the size of a soup spoon's

Every moment holds
a possible miracle. Every blink
may reveal
the dream that steals
on the softest feet
the quietest fog.

These remarkable things rush
past, bubbles on water.

Our charge is to collect them.
their character,
savor, share, remember.

Many of you have asked to see my poetry. I have not written for pleasure in a long time, though I think in verses often. It is photographic and involuntary. 

I have no idea how to read my own poems, nor really where they come from. I'm certain that they are both lovely and terrible, but here they are. Ephemeral, works in progress, incomplete. Probably embarrassing, but I don't know any better, and frankly, I don't really care.

For me, poems are a protest. A refusal to lose the things I hold dear. A memory. A moment cherished, and shared. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wonder and gratitude

When you make Michigan your home, you get a lot of practice waiting for spring. The seasons are inexorable, impassive, totally beyond our control. It's why I love this place, why I returned here to live, why the mitten will always be my home. I'm from here—it's inexplicable and deep-rooted, my love and belonging for this place.

The seasons are part of what makes it home, and the thing I've always been most homesick for when I've left. They shape us. The light, the shape of the clouds, the wind—these as much an emotional barometer as they are signals of the season to come.

Late February has finally given way to March, and despite the enduring cold, early light and green sunshine have brought us to the edge of hope. We've entered into the time when we count the signs of spring.

  1. The first robins have appeared, fat and rosy and early morning is filled with the song of birds. Voices I have not heard for months, and had forgotten the smile it brings.
  2. The crocuses and snowdrops are blooming, unexpected splashes of color nestled in the sheltered corners of the yard, half-hidden beneath last fall's leaves. The sedum and tarragon on the porch are beginning to sprout, and the mums and daffodils are starting to come up in the garden. 
  3. The last patches of snow are receding, and we all hope (even though we know better) that we'll not see more ice and snow til next winter. We're tempted to put away our winter coats and boots.
  4. The first seeds are planted and watered, nestled on the back porch and in the dining room. I am dreaming of summer's fragrant herbs, the buzzing of bees, the bursting flavor of the first tomatoes.

It's good to be here. To have made it through the last week's ice and rain that made the body recoil and the mind recede to some dark inner place. To have now seen the other side of March's cruel wind, the snapping of the bare trees, the dripping and freezing. 

Spring is not here yet, but the sun's promise and the stirring of growing things lifts my heart. That I might share that sense of wonder, that my gratitude may be like warm light on the earth.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

No-thank-you helpings: baked beans

My grandfather was not a cook. Grandma was the one who spent Sundays in the kitchen amidst steaming pots and pans, producing the ubiquitous pot roast Sunday dinner. But Grandpa knew how to be an appreciative diner. He knew how to give compliments, and he knew when to get out of the way of a hurried cook. Grandpa would run to the store at least twice a Sunday to pick up things that Grandma thought she had and didn't, or had forgotten in her Saturday shopping.

Every once and a while, Grandpa would venture into the kitchen on his own. He had a small repertoire of things that he made for himself on the in-between times, or when Grandma wasn't home. They were exclusively things that he loved. And one of those things was Boston baked beans.

I thought baked beans were possibly the most disgusting things ever. A vegetarian, and an angst-filled teenager, the cold syrupy consistency of the sauce from the can, with those floating globs of bacon were enough to make my skin crawl and my throat close. I truly abhorred the maple-syrupy smell of them.

Eighteen years later, my grandfather has been gone for a long time now. His honest blue eyes, and his mild pink skin. His heavy glasses, his thin gray hair, his big hands with the gold wedding ring are well-loved memories. His smell of after-shave, Dial soap, and boat engines and lawnmowers lives only in my imagination.

In honor of my Grandpa, and on a whim, I decided yesterday to give one of his favorites a try. I can't stomach the canned variety, but I've got simmering in the oven right now my first pot of Boston beans.

  1. Salt pork, bacon and finely chopped onion in a cast-iron pot over medium heat until the fat is rendered.
  2. Add in a pound of beans (soaked), 2 tbsp of hot and spicy mustard, 1 1/4 tsp of salt, 1/2 c molasses and 9 c of water. Bring to a boil.
  3. Once boiling, cover and place in a 300-degree oven.
  4. Bake for 2 hours and stir. Bake another 2 hours, or until beans are tender.
  5. Add 1 more tbsp molasses and a dash of cider vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

So far it smells great. Here's to it, Grandpa. Life has taught me to be more charitable. To love even the humble baked bean. Maybe I inherited a bit of your English manners after all.