13 July, 2014

Smells Like Camp Spirit

My earliest memories are set in North East, Maryland, where my dad worked at a riverside conference center called Sandy Cove.  We lived in staff housing briefly while our own house was being built, so we often ended up walking down the road to the main hotel building and joining dad for dinner in the big dining room.

Meals were buffet-style and afforded me a singular opportunity to be an individual and make my own decisions based on my own convictions.  Two guiding principles in my life circa 1993 were A) that shrimp were reprehensible and should only be considered for consumption if breaded and fried; and B) that croutons were the only reason to spend any time on the salad bar.  So I would typically arrive at the dinner table with a plate of shrimp, proceed to eat all the fried breading off of them, and then shove the offensively fleshy pink curls off onto a greedy sibling.  Next I would move on to my bowl of croutons.  Just croutons.  In a bowl.  Maybe some bacon bits too, but mostly croutons.  Having enjoyed Carbohydrates Two Ways, it was time for dairy.  I made my way to the dessert station and carefully selected the eclair with the best chocolate-to-pastry ratio.

(I have never been a very competitive person, but in the area of Early Cellulite Reserve Accrual I was a stealthy overachiever and you all have a lot of catching up to do.)

18 May, 2014

My Father's Acre

Twenty-two years ago my father claimed an acre.  My parents designed a house to stand on it and express the kind of life they hoped to live.  In one corner of that acre they planted a garden, and a solid third of that garden was devoted to tomatoes because Dad said so.  As someone for whom "tomato" essentially meant "abhorrent," I never understood why three different types of tomato were necessary or even existed.  I have vivid memories of walking begrudgingly across the yard on a summer Saturday morning to pick and bag all the tomatoes that were ripe.  This had to be done before I would be allowed to go play.  The tomatoes were warm from the morning sun.  They were unpleasantly soft; shivers of disgust tingled through my fingers and up my arms.  There were bugs crawling on the thin red skin.  This tomato love affair was something I could not begin to understand.

Potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and green beans also wrestled their way out of that tough earth, despite the fact that all the good topsoil had been removed when the old farmland was parceled out years before.  The pumpkins were downright unruly, reaching their vines beyond the border of the garden and weaving themselves through the fence, finally settling to the ground so the actual squashes grew in the neighbor's plot.  The potatoes were my favorite; my Aunt Dianne would come to visit from Philadelphia and would teach us how to make really good potato salad from scratch.  She was a classy broad, a city woman who had spent years traveling the world as a buyer for department stores -- but she was at heart still a mid-westerner, the descendant of emigrants and farmers who had a fierce work ethic and good, simple, straightforward tastes borne of earning survival.  That potato salad was good because we made it ourselves.

Our neighbors to the right, the Bakers, would mow their lawn every week or so and then, per an agreement with my dad, would empty the lawn mower bag over the fence into our yard.  We would then haul the grass clippings across the yard and down to the back left corner of the wildflower field, where Dad had designated a compost pile.  The grass was warm and steaming.  It smelled -- oh, it reeked -- but this was a thing that would help our garden grow, and this was one way Dad could teach us that work and routine are a part of flourishing, even if the work is smelly and delays play time and mostly produces tomatoes.

The older I get, the more I think about the fact that someone broke ground and tilled earth and planted and watered and waited and prayed in order for my life to be possible.  Someone made the decision to leave home (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany, France) and be the stranger, to struggle through the humiliating process of learning a second language, and to decide where his descendants would be born.  A lot of daily labor and daily uncertainty -- work, routine, and risk -- formed the basis of what is possible for me.  By no means have I inherited my father's partiality toward tomatoes, but may I grow more willing to work in a way that is infused with hope, patience, and borderline-obsessive delight in their result.

09 May, 2014

Seven Sisters

Stars are born, stars will die,
but they've told the same stories 
since the very first night.
They've told us of a hunter,
they've drawn an endless drinking cup,
they've painted wide in southern skies
a glowing cross for pilgrim eyes.

I have watched them rise and fall,
I've read the silver tales -
but there's one I love best of all:

The Seven Sisters standing close
singing joy into the sky;
windows in the dark
letting glory shine through.

A constellation firm in place,
the glowing net for all my cares
recites a Maker's power
on the nights I need to know
that someone looks on me with love
and that beauty can outlast
all the wars we wage.

I have watched them rise and fall,
I've read the silver tales -
but I love the Seven Sisters best of all.

09 November, 2013

Picture Day

Thursday was picture day at work, and I bothered to curl my hair.  Normally I'm a basic ponytail kind of girl, but when one's image will end up on the company website, one wants to make a bit of an effort.

But I shouldn't have bothered, as it turned out, because the Red Line -- even on a good day, the arch-enemy of anyone aspiring to be punctual -- was single-tracking between several of its busiest stops during the morning rush.  So instead of making a quick and easy transfer at Gallery Place-Chinatown and riding two stops to Farragut North, I found myself channeling the noble sardine on an increasingly packed platform, "hmph!"-ing and aggressively staring down the arrivals board with everyone else.  But after about ten minutes and with no train even listed on the board, I realized that I could probably walk to work in the same amount of time it would take to wait for a train with room for me.

So I glibly set off, beginning my journey at 9th & G Sts NW.  My sunny, "what-ho, world!" attitude was significantly diminished after about 6 blocks, when I realized that I was sweaty and flushed, and my hair was the visual definition of frizzy.