Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Signs of spring


Live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, taste the fruit, drink the drink, and resign yourself to the influences of each. 
--Henry David Thoreau

I love having four seasons. I lived on the Gulf Coast for a while, and while there are definitely advantages to having warm weather most of the time, I missed the cycle of the seasons and the sense that time was passing.

And so I try to enjoy each season as it comes, especially since they all tend to be relatively mild here. But this winter has been drearier than any I remember. I can deal with cold, but the days and days of gray wear on me.

So today I was thrilled to spot this little scene next to my front porch. Daffodils!

Spring -- and brighter days -- are on their way!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Winter Yumminess

I hosted my book club this week. We rotate, and since there are about 15 people (all lovely, highly articulate women) in the club, we each end up hosting about once a year.

I took the opportunity to cook up a winter feast of green salad with toasted almonds, dried cranberries and bleu cheese crumbles; Jamie Oliver chicken stew (his basic stew recipe is awesome, and the flexibility of it makes it one of my go-to recipes); and Paula Deen's chocolate bread pudding, which is absolutely to-die-for.

Although everyone served themselves dinner, when it was time for dessert, I sneaked off into the kitchen to fill the bowls with bread pudding and a scoop of ice cream. Women will always say, “Oh, only a little,” and I didn't want them to have the chance to do that. I wanted everyone to feel like they could indulge. So I filled the bowls up with substantial scoops of the warm bread pudding – and was gratified when not one single bowl had a morsel left in it.

There's a time for restraint, but a cold, snowy evening spent with friends sharing a scrumptious dessert is not it!

The one thing I forgot to do in the busy-ness of preparations was take photos, which I must remember to do if I'm going to master this blogging thing. But follow the links to the recipes and I promise you wont be disappointed. (A couple of notes: I added red potatoes, quartered, to the stew to make it a bit more filling since I was serving 12, and I doubled the amount of chocolate chips in the bread pudding. I dont think Ms. Deen would mind :-)

The book this month was March, by Geraldine Brooks, which won the Pulitzer Prize. It's the story of the father from Little Women, while he's away in the Civil War. (It made me want to reread Little Women, one of my childhood favorites.) It was worth reading, although I prefer Year of Wonders by the same author. How someone can write about the plague (yes, THE Plague) and have it come out inspiring and uplifting is a true marvel, but Ms. Brooks manages it beautifully.

I'm reading more lately after a long phase where I didnt make time for it. I read a lot for my job and sometimes forget how nice it is to read for pleasure. Lately I can't get enough. Read any good books lately?

Another question, someone in my book club said every girl who read Little Women saw herself as Jo. Is that how you felt? Were we all Jo Wannabes, or are there some Beths, Megs and Amys out there?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not Ready for the NBA

Watching a college basketball game the other night. One of the players, an extremely talented “big man” with a promising future in the game, had gotten angry and frustrated when things didn’t go the way he thought they should. He talked back to the ref, threw his headband when the coach sat him down and repeatedly contorted his face in anger. And, because he couldn’t calm himself down, he missed shots he should have made.

“He’s not ready for the NBA,” the announcer said. “He shows too much emotion, lets the game get to him.”

“Nope, not ready,” the other announcer agreed. “He’s got to learn to control those emotions.”

It was a theme they came back to over and over.

I couldn’t make a layup on a regulation goal if my life depended on it, but I can relate to the “big man.” I’ve struggled all my life to keep my emotions in check, to hide behind a cool fa├žade when I’m upset or angry.

I like to blame it on my Irish genes, but really I don’t know where it comes from.

“You have no poker face,” a former boss told me.

Another was more pointed: “You have an edge,” she said. Never mind that she agreed the person I’d stood up to had completely deserved it.

Neither was being unkind, or really that critical. They were just giving me well-meaning advice.

I have learned to control the worst of it over the years. I’m no college freshman, and I’ve learned some degree of self-preservation.

But still I often show my hand long before I get a chance to play it.

But what I’ve never figured out is how to care about something without SHOWING you care. The college player can channel his emotions into better basketball, and walk away the clear winner because of it. It doesn’t seem that easy in the “real world.”

This week has been a challenge. Some things have not gone my way; some people with what I call “petty power” have used that power to make themselves feel bigger – and I’ve wound up feeling small.

The trick, I know, is to not let it get to me, to “kill them with kindness” as some of my friends advised.

Doesn’t letting it bother me just grant them the power they’re looking for? And if I can deflect it, brush it off, don’t I get my power back?

Still, I struggle.

I called my husband after one of these episodes. I was angry and needed his calm reason to help me defuse it. “I’m not ready for the NBA,” I said without preface when he answered the phone.

He laughed. I didn’t have to explain; he knew EXACTLY what I meant. I didn’t know whether to be chagrined that he knows me that well, or grateful that he loves me anyway.

I decided on both.

I might never make the big leagues of emotion control, but the more I realize that the way to win is through subtlety and strategy, the better I’ll be.

Of course if I could just get a lucrative endorsement deal, then all bets would be off!

Monday, February 15, 2010

'The Summer Day'

It's cold and snowy outside, practically all I can see out my window is gray, gray, gray. But this poem -- one of my favorites -- always makes things brighter, and reminds me that even gray can be beautiful.

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
                     --Mary Oliver

What are you planning to do with your wild and precious life? What about this one day?