Archive for July, 2008

Romantic mural

While Matt was gone backpacking, I decided our new bedroom needed a little something over the bed.  I didn’t want to hang something–I already had a series of hangings on the other wall near the bed.  I began to think about a mural, a little one.  I was inspired by the little scenes painted by limonana.  (actually, I don’t know if hers are big or little, I use “little” to mean, “charming, and I like them.”)

My style of drawing and painting is very different from hers, and I’m a bit less talented, but I wanted to do a little scene from our courtship. When we began dating, I was getting ready to move 1,000 miles away.  We liked each other, a lot, and I was falling in love with him…but we weren’t sure if it was the “mature and thoughtful” thing to do to begin a new relationship that would have to be long distance for the first year.

We began the M and T conversation by phone; I was in a lovely city park with friends, trying hard to be charming, convincing, serious, and convey to him that I believed we should try this.  Slowly, my phone was dying.  I sat on a park bench while evening fell, wondering how the conversation would end.  At some point, Matt asked, “Where are you [in the park]?”  I said, “On a bench, by the tennis courts.”  And suddenly there he was, walking towards me.

We finished our conversation in person, side by side on the bench, as darkness fell and the fireflies came out.  We had decided to walk into this new relationship with our hands open, grateful and willing.  It was one of the best evenings of my life.

Taped off and sketched; I filled in the grass and trees first.

Close up of us on the bench.  It was tricky to figure out which way our legs should go. And his arm is around me.

I had to go buy brown paint for his head/hair.  I use cheap acrylics, most of them from the Dime Store I’ve had for years, and inexpensive kids’ brushes.

Finished.  I used the balls of my hands for the middle green part, because I wanted there to be lustre around us, as if we were giving off light.  You can just barely see some of the fireflies by the largest tree.

Close up of the finished mural.  You can see many fireflies.







My paint palette.  (It’s the bottom part of a cracker container.)


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Ahh, the lazy summer Saturdays, with time to peruse recipes and the farmers’ market…  Can you tell I’m on summer break, and successfully finished Greek?

Saturday, we began gathering goodies for our first party in our new apartment, a housewarming on Tuesday.  I also found some fresh corn, lettuce, bunches of fresh herbs, and squash blossoms. I’d recently been noticing squash blossoms at various markets, and had seen some recipes for stuffing and frying them.  Basically, they are flowers.  You remove the stamen and pistils, and then stuff them with any tasty mixture.  I used yogurt cheese and pesto.  After preparing a simple batter, you dip each in the batter and fry them.  

I found the stamen and pistils strangely sexual.  Having focused on the Victorians for some of my graduate work, I knew that in the past, young ladies were not allowed to sketch or discuss the sexual organs of flowers.  I found that silly, until yesterday, when I peeled back the delicate petals and found my first stamen poking through, upright and confident.  I might have blushed.  All of the blossoms but two were male.  

How odd to be treating flower blossoms like a food, stuffing the blossoms and twisting the orange petals closed.  They were delicious. 

I found a beetle in my head of lettuce as I washed it tonight, in preparation for lunches this week.  It’s reassuring, in a way, to have such fresh food in the most urban of environments.  Currently, the herbs are all in vases on the dining table, in water and waiting to be cut, minced, and pureed on Tuesday.

Recently, I’ve been making entire lunches out of fresh corn and sliced tomatoes, with a side of yogurt cheese and balsamic.  I try to sit down and actually eat, to focus on the luxury of fresh, organic food, and to notice these seasonal flavors.

Coriander, parsley, and lemon basil


Did you know there’s one strand of silk for every kernel of corn in an ear?


Squash blossoms, pre-stuffing.


Stuffed with cheese and pesto, and fried.

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“Get into the boat. Go across the lake. There will be a storm. You will not die.”

– Gradye Parsons

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When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.

-Mark Twain

There is a woman in my class and she makes me see red.  Actually, it’s a combination of emotions: anger, guilt (because she is genuinely fond of me and can’t seem to tell that I don’t like her), and anxiety.

Here’s how she works: in various classes I’ve had with her, she is confrontational with the teachers and other students, she hijaks class discussions and bullies the professor, TA, or other students into letting her do so, and she refuses to simply wait, or be patient, or not say anything…strategies many of us use so that the class can move forward.  It’s a kind of self-centeredness that drives me crazy.  Also, I have only had one professor with her so far that can “handle” her, so often I have the added discomfort of seeing a professional I admire and respect lose control of the class.

Last summer, she bought a textbook in addition to the one we were using and routinely interrupted the teacher to ask why we were being taught _this_ way, and why we weren’t being told _this._  It was embarrassing, to watch the young, female teacher struggle with this powerful student, capable of stopping class for her complaints.  Eventually, this classmate of mine began e-mailing the class with complaints about the teacher, including charges of anti-Semitism—I absolutely could not allow this to continue, and forwarded them along to my own advisor.  The charges were unfounded and could have de-railed this young teacher’s academic teaching career.  Not to mention that the e-mails were petty, gossipy, and destructive.

Last summer, I found it incredibly difficult to concentrate in this class–the confrontations between the student and the teacher made me anxious, and I just felt it was unfair and ugly.  I had a hard time focusing, and just thought my classmate was being awful, and couldn’t stand sitting near her in class.  Again, she never read this from me, and so continues to greet me with much affection–which makes me feel guilty and two-faced for disliking her so.

Tonight she began again.  It’s so bullying–the way she forces the teacher to stop the lesson to address her odd complaints.  She was also refusing to go along with the lesson, and would hear reason from no one.  Several gracious people tried to answer her; she responded by waving her hands in front of her face and rolling her eyes: “I’m not listening to you.”  I tried to explain to her, to talk to her so that she would feel answered and stop, but she just refused, and continued in her unreasonable line.  I heard my voice get very tight and angry with her; my heart was racing and I was beginning to feel anxious.

So I left for 25 minutes.  When I returned, she was _still_ going.  I was surging with anger.  And anger is not an emotion I’m comfortable with.  Even an hour after returning from class, I felt wound-up, and tense.  

I know part of my discomfort with anger is that it isn’t a “good girl” or “nice” emotional response.  I’m judging myself harshly when I feel it coming, and that adds to the inner tension.  I admire my girlfriends who can be righteously angry or indignant when appropriate. In fact, I’ve benfitted from it.  What does one do, though, when one’s  body is charging with anger, and there’s no real action one can take?

For the short term, I can choose not to sit near her, and try to let her actions be removed from my inner space.  I can draw, in my mind, a safe boundary around me.  But what to do about the surges, and the wanting to do something to stop her?  Those are inappropriate, I think.  I wish there were a simple solution. Maybe I’ll just write choice swear words over an over again in my notes…

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Oh, the blog

One of my dearest friends in the world recently started a blog. We are separated by a thousand miles, and so my eyes filled with tears when I began to read her words: her _voice_ was so clear to me, it was so, so Amy.

I have a few blogs that I read every day.  They are funny, sweet, home-spun, and often inspiring.  Most include amazing photographs.

Here is a run down of my favorites: http://luckybeans.typepad.com/ http://leafstitchword.wordpress.com/ http://amysahba.blogspot.com/ http://kathkarol.blogspot.com/ http://belladia.typepad.com/crafty_crow/ http://thescentofwater.typepad.com/

One thing I realize, as I read these every few days, is that seeing the words and images of others gives me a kind of modern-day comfort and strength. Sometimes, it’s possible for me to get too wound up in my own thoughts and worries–the tasks at hand, the immediate goals, the me-focused worries that can distract me from several essential truths.

First, we are part of community. The community of saints, of writers, women, worriers, thinkers, professors, illiterate–the images and words that sometime come to my mind and heart align with the experiences of others, long before me. The idea of community is essential in both my faith and my academic work. How neat, and appropriate, that I would also find it on my shiny little white laptop.

Also, and this is so obvious: I’m not writing, studying, taking pictures, or worrying in a vacuum.  There’s just so much comfort and inspiration in hearing the words of others.  It’s good for me.

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I thought it would be hard.  And, actually, I don’t know if I think wet paper towels take up that much space in landfills, compared to discarded electronics, plastics, household appliances…  If I keep the same chairs, trashcans, and lamps throughout my life, and only buy used or secondhand furniture, isn’t that more important and saving more room in a landfill than paper towels?

But I digress.  I do want to give them up.  They are a needless luxury in my mind–they represent money I would rather not spend on something disposable, and the luxury to use and throw away something every day.  I have been trying to eat out less, make my lunches at home, and eschew plastics generally.  If dishtowels and rags were good enough for my grandmothers, they are good enough for me.

So it’s been working.  I bought a bunch of old towels (second hand), and some cool new “Untowels” from an Etsy.com dealer.  The Untowels are like super-absorbent washcloths, and specifically intended to take the place of many paper towel-like needs.  I’ve been doing pretty well.  So far, for cleaning, I use the Untowel–first a wet, or one with cleaner, and then a dry to wipe clean.  By the dish drainer, I keep one for “clean” tasks (like wiping down a wet but not dirty counter) and one for “dirty” tasks (like wiping up spilled food.  I use a dry dishtowel to dry the counter, or to dry food, even salad greens and fresh herbs.

At first, I only really missed a paper towel when reheating something in the microwave.  Until I remembered that waxed paper could also work for that.

I’ve been really thinking about consumption a lot lately. I think this is partly because I’ve been reading lots of Apartmenttherapy.com’s Re-Nest, and partly because we’ve just moved into this new apartment, and I have realized how much unnecessary stuff I accumulate, and how much I throw away.

I’ve even been considering not registering for new wedding china and silverware.  I mean: we _have_ dishes and silverware…it’s second- or third-hand, and not patterns that are pleasing to me.  But–that’s such a lot of consumption. If we register for eight place settings, that’s dishes that were made somewhere else, shipped here, packaged, unpackaged, and repackaged.  Once purchased by our guests, they are packaged, wrapped, and shipped again.  And then we have to somehow get rid of the dishes and silverware we’re already using.  Sigh.  It doesn’t seem very good stewardship of the gifts I’ve been given, and of the resources that are available to me, but not everyone.

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I went for a walk earlier this evening.  Simple.  

I’m alone for the next eleven days or so; Matt is away backpacking in Colorado.  Since we’re in our new apartment, I have to figure out what to do with myself, living alone.  The closest I’ve been to living alone was my time at Oxford, but since I had two close friends in the same hall, I wouldn’t really call that alone.

So I putter, I clean, I arrange things.  Last week, I hung curtains and framed photographs: eminently satisfying.  But this week, other than working on my Greek, I really don’t have anything I need to do.  It’s easy to get sucked into watching television, even though we don’t have cable–PBS has some suck-you-inable shows.  I also find that watching television just makes me feel more alone.

In contrast, the walk this evening made me feel very alive and connected to my neighborhood.  Along the way, I was intent on collecting stones for a Sunday school project tomorrow.  Maybe that slowed my pace, or focused my gaze, but I started noticing more natural things than I usually do.  At first, I was concerned that I wouldn’t even find any stones here in the city.  

Boy, was I wrong.  I found many, of all sizes and levels of smoothness.  I also found some amazing pieces of fallen, dappled birch bark.  And I noticed  that the leaves have already begun to fall–gingko leaves were scattered along the sidewalk at various points.  And the light this evening had that yellow glazing to it that comes with autumn.  I suppose we have had the longest day of the year (here’s to you, Daisy Buchanan), so we are turning toward the dark now.

I walked through a park–it was filled with people.  A beautiful girl played the guitar alone in one corner of the park.  Families played volleyball and badminton.  Young mothers held their toddlers’ hands; young men walked their dogs along the paths.  It was good, really good.  I was filled with a gushy kind of love for this neighborhood, for this city.

It wasn’t even hot out; there was an amazing breeze. A few times I saw the blinding gold light on the Hudson–I looked as long as I could stand and then turned blinking away.

I did find enough stones, and two pieces of good bark, and bought a bunch of daisies on my way home.  I made a small bouquet, and put it in an old glass chutney jar, rescued from recycling. A sweet evening.

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