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.

14 October, 2013

House Beautiful (Not the Magazine)

"It's like being at home and on a holiday at the same time, if you understand me." - Sam Gamgee, upon arriving in Lothlorien (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

What does the word "hospitality" bring to your mind?  Maybe you think of comfort-food casseroles and church potluck committees, or maybe you recall sterile hotel rooms. Those are all good things, but I can't help but think that the meaning of hospitality is broader than casseroles and more intimate than an industry.  It does include meeting material needs like shelter and nourishment, but also a heart attitude that is ready to listen and ready to play a part in the bigger picture of an individual's sojourn through life.

09 October, 2013

Always On Time

One of my earliest memories occurred when I was no more than three years old.  My big sister Emily, my brother Chip, and I were strapped into car seats in the white Dodge minivan, being driven around on errands by an adult who shall remain nameless. :) One errand was to drop something off at the home of some church friends. Since she would only be at the door for a moment, our driver told us to wait in the car.  As she ran up to the house, the van suddenly began to slowly roll backwards.  The car was in park, but the emergency break wasn't on.

I remember feeling terrified (By age 3 I'd already perfected the ability to immediately assume the worst case scenario).  I remember thinking that the van was going to gain speed, plunge down the driveway and straight into the trees in the distance, and we would die.  We started screaming.  Emily climbed out of her car seat and jumped into the driver's seat, pushing buttons and turning the steering wheel, trying to figure out how to stop the car.  No success.

29 August, 2013

Picture Picture

I have to admit a big "low brow" weakness in order for any of the following to make sense.  My Daily Web Routine includes a stop at People.com's (I knowwww, I know...) roundup of celebrity fashion highlights.  Most of the time I'm cringing at the parade of sartorial experiments, but sometimes there is actually a dash of good style inspiration to be found.

This week I was speed-clicking through the slideshow because, honestly, none of the pictures were compelling me to do anything but speed-click.  But then I got to this picture:

Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

31 July, 2013

To Bridget, who cannot cook, but who we love

There is a short list of things in this life that hold sway over my willpower like Kryptonite.  It consists of things like Doritos, elephants, anything or anyone British, and cooking shows.  I've been watching too many cooking shows recently, leading me to buy rhubarb on an impulse, simply because I saw it in the produce section and thought, "Oh! Those Brits on UK Masterchef sure do love their rhubarb.  Obviously I should buy some."

With rhubarb sitting in the fridge awaiting a purpose, I made plans to have my friend P over for dinner last Friday.  She offered to make this summery cocktail and I brashly planned the rest of the menu.  I wanted to make something slightly spicy to play off the sweet cocktail.  I also wanted to somehow incorporate the rhubarb into dessert.  And I wanted the whole menu to be gluten- and dairy-free, since P is trying to avoid those in her diet.

My plan:
Cucumber coleslaw (substituting butter lettuce for cabbage and omitting chili flakes)
Fresh cantalope
Rhubarb compote with vanilla sorbet and toasted coconut crumble (loosely inspired by this)

Considering that my dinners are fairly cheap and simple these days, I have to admit that I was feeling incredibly inspired and creative as I set to work.  However, the results were more on par with Bridget Jones's blue soup than with a Masterchef victory.

23 May, 2013

Echoes

This one great act of love was shouted at us two thousand years ago, and still we catch the echoes.  In the mother whose children's names are written across her forehead in wrinkles of concern, we hear an echo.  In the father working well past the point of joy because he is a provider -- there is an echo.  When the neighbor gives out of his own want to help a stranger pay a debt -- another.  When the spouse forgives seventy times seven, you hear it again.  Lean in, because the echoes don't always ring so loud after two thousand years, but they are there.  Trace each note back to the source and you will find the breath that brought a world into being calling out its new start.  And in every echo, hear a new start.


08 May, 2013

Haiku. Praising Spring.

One of my coworkers is also one of my oldest friends.  We met when I was nine and he was...perhaps fifteen?  He was (and still is) a musical prodigy, a skilled dancer, a nuanced actor, but above all, kind to everyone.  Kindness and an infatuation with "the true, the good, and the beautiful" are perhaps the two things I will always associate with him.

Almost every single day he arrives to school, puts his things down, and heads to the communal computers and printers in the next room.  He is hell-bent on starting his day with a bit of beauty before everything else interferes, and his kindness involuntarily drives him to make sure the rest of us do, too.  He returns to our office a minute later and walks slowly from desk to desk, holds out a white page and leans in to quietly ask, "Care for a poem today?" like a waiter offering appetizers, on the house.

Yes, we always care for a poem today.  They give us something to laugh about or something to contemplate, the soft inhale before students arrive and sweep us into the next seven hours.  The poems are always good, but these are some of my favorites.

The Trees -- Philip Larkin
The Sirens -- Richard Wilbur
A Slice of Wedding Cake -- Robert Graves

...And sometimes he shares his own, like this one:

"Screw teaching, " I say.
From now on I only write.
Haiku.  Praising Spring.

06 April, 2013

Annescroft

Annescroft
This house is hard to find.  It rests beyond the end of a twisting, narrow country road in Olney, Maryland.  The modern paved road through the neighborhood runs by the back of the house, so that the front entrance isn't obvious from the road.  Massive trees that once lent a statuesque grandeur to the approach are now literally falling down, some branches chopped off and others held up by supporting straps.  Four "dead" cars with flat tires sit in the driveway next to two that appear functional.  The present owners don't seem to have invested very much effort into the house's facade; I can only hope that the interior has seen better care.  There is no sign to distinguish it from any of the other farmhouses in the surrounding area, but I know its name.  My family keeps its name alive because we are part of its story as it is part of ours.  My great-grandfather built this house.

05 April, 2013

Stamps in My Passport : Where to Stay in Italy

If you're planning a trip to Italy, there are several paths you could go down when it comes to lodging.  Which one you choose will depend on your priorities.  Budget?  Location?  "Authentic" experience?  Comfort?  Security?  Sometimes you can find all of the above in one place, but don't count on it!  For our trip last year, Carrie and I came up with a patchwork of lodging situations that reflected our hopes and priorities for each location.

04 April, 2013

Stamps in My Passport : Eating in Eataly

Italy is a mecca for food lovers.  For me, one of the most overwhelming aspects of our trip was simply deciding where to eat!  We only had a limited number of meals to consume, and a seemingly infinite range of options for each meal.  Here are some the favorites we landed upon.  Of course, different factors go into everyone's list of "favorites"...I expect there's even better gelato to be found in Rome, for instance, than that at Tre Scalini; but eating their gelato on a textbook perfect spring evening, with music floating in the air and smiles all around, it seemed pretty hard to beat.  All that is to say, take these suggestions as suggestions, and feel free to drop any additional recommendations in the comments -- I'd love to have new leads to track down if I ever return to Italy!

03 April, 2013

Stamps in My Passport : Italy

Exactly a year ago, I was exploring Italy for the very first time and thoroughly enjoying it -- cultural highlights as well as cultural idiosyncrasies   There's one thing you should know before traveling to Italy.  Well, there are many things you should know, but especially know this:  Don't expect sparkling customer service.  Italians do many things well, but "speedy service with a smile" is not a given.  Check that need at the door, and embrace any ensuing mayhem.


13 March, 2013

The Light That is Earned

Yesterday I had The Talk with my 12th grade girl students.  --No, not that one; we had The Thomas Kinkade Talk.

Even posthumously, Thomas Kinkade and his art are incredibly divisive.  My students presented a pretty fair cross-section of common responses.  Some found his work to be beautiful, idyllic visions of places they would love to live.  His images calm them and give them peace, happiness -- sometimes, escape.  "I love that he wanted to bring people hope."  Others reacted against his work as saccharine, overly-sentimental images of places that exist nowhere in reality and seem to make no acknowledgment of the brokenness we see in the world.  "They're too perfect."  Some felt slight indignation at his workshop system or at the seemingly arbitrary attachment of Bible verses to his sweet cottage scenes.

JMW Turner, The Fighting Temeraire
Interestingly, this discussion arose from our study of JMW Turner and John Constable, 19th century landscape painters with opposing styles.  Some students loved the swirling drama and atmospheric haze of Turner's work; others sighed in appreciation of Constable's attention to detail and scenes of stable rural life.  Someone mentioned Kinkade as we looked at Constable's work, and the floodgates opened.

Kinkade's work is a very thought-provoking topic because it helps us sift through what we actually want out of a work of art.  The answer can be surprising.  Do you want art to give you a vision of the way the world could be, the way you want it to be?  Does such art fully respond to the question your heart cries out in response to the life you see around you every day?  Or -- do you want art to be "raw," honestly acknowledging the reality in which we must make our way?  Do you want the swirling skies and the troubled faces, the dark clouds encroaching on the verdant hills?  Or is there a third option?  Do you want both?  Are the little cottages or the beams of sunlight that do survive all the more beautiful and desirable precisely because they have survived a storm?

 Kinkade's painted world showed no signs of sadness.  No evil ever penetrated his glowing kingdom.  A peril-less place needs no saving.  Its light stands in contrast to nothing.  Give me Constable, whose people still had to walk under a storm cloud or two.  Give me Turner, whose suns emblazon the sky with a simultaneous terror and glory so recognizable.  Give me the light that is earned.  Give me the peaceful final chapter that stands firm beyond the tumult, whispering its ending into the howl of every storm that must precede it.  I am learning that it is good to behold them both, because without the one I cannot fully appreciate or desire the other.

04 March, 2013

The Same in the Rain or Snow (Sisters)


Recently I got to visit my sister, her husband, and many dear friends over in Sweden.  I suppose family ties or an undying passion for winter sports are the only things that would prompt most people to visit Sweden in February.  It is dark, and grey, and cold.  But for me, it is somehow nonetheless an extension of home.

It has been almost a year since I've taken an international trip, and there is a restlessness pent up in my very bones.  I can't wait to be with my sister again, my oldest and best friend.  I also look forward to the challenge, excitement, and lessons inherent in international travel.  They begin long before I even reach my destination.  Days of transit are days of listening; simply waiting to check in for the flight I am surrounded by languages I don't know.  I strain my ears, wishing I understood, but also somehow savoring the fact that there is still so much in the world that is unknown to me.

26 January, 2013

Look to the Land

"If you would find yourself, look to the land from which you came and to which you go." - Stewart Udall

One of the many reasons I love international travel so much is that I am so curious about my own heritage.  I am hungry for knowledge of the places that shaped the people from whom I'm descended - German, French, English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Danish, and that rumored-but-unconfirmed "drop of Spanish royalty."  I grew up jealous of people born in Europe; I coveted their deep-seeded ties to the land, to place names, to the traditions that enchanted me as a child growing up in the New World.  Their histories seemed so much longer than mine.  The first time I flew to London and saw the green fields of England opening up beneath me, I felt more truly at home than I'd ever felt in Maryland, the setting of my formative years.  How could that be?  I still can't explain it.  All I know is that it persists, this aching beat deep in my soul, the urge to go and to see and to know.

And yet I always find myself back in the Washington, DC area.  Not quite as poetic or fairy-tale-ish as my surroundings of a year ago, but it has been quietly reminding me that it runs through my story, too, as I am likewise entwined with its history in small ways.

Last summer -- fresh off my most recent European adventures -- I spent a Saturday strolling around North East and Elkton, Maryland.  They were my childhood stomping grounds, the setting of all the great quests and battles and romances and mysteries of my youth.  I hadn't been back to properly explore them as an adult.  A walk down North East's Main Street was surreal; my sole vivid childhood memory of that street consists of getting painful brain freeze from a smoothie at the cafe.  The cashier chuckled at me.  Now I was there as a tourist, a shopper, a diner old enough to order and pay for herself.  I overheard a shopkeeper proudly proclaim to another customer that "Oh, North East is famous for a lot of things; we've had 'Hoarders' here..."

North East, MD has a few claims to fame...
Black raspberry, in a cone, with chocolate jimmies
My travel buddies and I stopped at the Wayside Snack Shack for some ice cream.  This was a precious place to me as a child; we drove by it frequently but hardly ever got to stop and partake of the creamy, sugary wonders hidden inside that beige hut with the inflatable ice-cream-cone on the roof.  Now I strode up to the counter (finally tall enough to see over it) and confidently ordered black raspberry, in a cone, with chocolate jimmies.  Just a sublime as I remembered.

Little House on the Cul-de-Sac
Masterfully navigating the winding, woody backroads of Cecil County without losing a SINGLE DROP of that precious ice cream, I made my way to the most important stop of the day.  My favorite childhood home, lovingly remembered as "The Elkton House."  There are plenty of houses in Elkton, but ours was THE.  It sits on a couple acres of what was once farmland.  When the land had been parceled out all the good topsoil had been removed, much to my dad's chagrin; so intent was he on having a healthy green American front lawn that he paid us to dig up any rocks hindering the grass's growth.  10 cents a bucket, 25 cents for a wagon, as I recall.  It was a boring and dirty job, but I made up stories as I worked.  As a child I read so many books about pioneer families, young girls growing up in big snowy woods or amid endless rolling hills.  I liked to look beyond our yard to the old white farmhouse on the distant ridge -- no more than a mile away, but a daunting trek to my young eyes -- and imagine that I was one of those girls.  I loved winter nights in the Elkton house.  Everything around us seemed so expansive, the sky nowhere so sapphire as it was here, the stars nowhere so bright and ancient.

Is the house smaller now, or am I bigger?  Whose fault is it that passing years warp the familiar?  Of course, it belongs to someone else now and is tailored to someone else's life.  Nonetheless, I still felt a swell of pride and ownership upon seeing it again; it's rather remarkable to realize that a home exists on that particular corner of the earth because my parents decided it should.  They chose the plot, they designed the house, they dreamed this life for their young family.  Something exists there that didn't before, because of my parents.  In their way, they shaped the history and the possibilities of Elkton, Maryland.

We had to leave that house long before we would've liked to.  Sometimes it seems like it was all a dream.  But it was worth it.  I think that is the lesson I've gleaned from the Elkton Years, as I've thought about them since; no matter how long or short a time you spend in a place, it is worth the investment to make a home there.  It will change you, it will form a habit in you.  The habit of making a home is a legacy I'm grateful to receive from my parents, and one I don't have to travel very far to find.



02 January, 2013

Junko & Crumb : The Greatest Show on Earth

When I was 8 or 9 years old and my brother Chip was roughly 7, we had a dynamite act.  If not the first or only, we were definitely the greatest roller-skating comedy duo in the world.  We had a pretty slam-bang show, complete with theme song, prat falls, and high-speed chases -- all on wheels!  We were the top-earning stars of our basement theater.  We called ourselves Junko & Crumb.  To this day I don't know why those were our stage names, and I don't quite remember which of us was Junko and which was Crumb -- but it doesn't really matter.

We've since grown up a little bit and retired the roller skates.  Chip is doing grown-man things like becoming a dad and teaching himself to brew his own beer, and he thinks it's a little weird that his sisters habitually break into song at any moment.

01 January, 2013

Baked Brie Redux

Good morning, sunshine!  You might be reading this from your couch, having just popped two Advils because you enjoyed a few too many beverages last night...Or, you're joylessly eating a bowl of something decidedly flaxen and naturally sweetened, because you're participating in America's collective goal to lose weight in 2013.  The following may be a tempting indulgence post-hangover, but it will not help you meet your health goals.  To the former group I say, "You're welcome."  To the latter, "I'm sorry..."