Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Different worlds, but so be it. Live and let live. I certainly had the pleasure of getting all dressed up and dancing with people I haven't seen in 10 years. And I got to escape an especially frigid Chicago winter for almost a week.
On day one I was feeling pretty smug. An arctic chill had settled over most of the rest of the country, but there I was in my swimsuit, catching a little sun and watching boats go by along the Intracoastal.
But by day three I was aching to see my breath again. There's just something not quite right about walking around bare-legged in January.
This got me thinking: vacations are great, but even sweeter is an appreciation for where you've put down roots. Sometimes it borders on breathlessness for me. This hasn't always been the case. Those flights back to Kansas during grad school always carried with them a healthy dose of dread. Where I'd traveled was always slightly better, for me, than what I was about to return to. Not so these days, and that makes me feel like one incredibly lucky duck.
So to Florida I say, bring on the seasons . . .
Trade in your palm trees for pines and barren maples.
Give up your freeways for bike lanes or subways.
Banish those year-round outdoor pools for water that's ice-capped
all winter long.
Holy bejeezus, it's good to be home.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
You know what they say: people end up looking like their dogs.
I don't totally agree, although my mother (with ancestry north of Warsaw) calls Inez an "old Polish girl." As for me and Inez, our dispositions are probably more similar than our looks: occasionally mistrusting our own kind, craving peace and quiet. Music is best at low volume . . . and for god's sake enough with the fireworks.
It's been almost three years since John opened the front door and found her there, just sitting, as if to say, "Here I am. What took you so long?"
In darker moments, when I find myself wondering if life might have been better had we moved just two blocks east, on the other side of the dividing line between relative harmony and persistent unrest, I realize: if not for this house with this porch on that particular night, someone else would have ended up with this sweet and complicated beast of my heart.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Our kitchen is big, but awkward: a walrus of kitchens. The sink is a good ten paces from the oven, and counter space is a series of squares about the size of cutting boards. We stack our coffee mugs and juice glasses to fit the cabinets. And our single window lets in limited light because of the way Chicago houses are sandwiched into their lots. We could hand a cup of sugar across the gangway if we had to. But we work with what we have.
This is fitting, because cooking, for me, has its roots in conservation. My maternal grandmother ran a French restaurant for decades. French chefs, for all their extravagance, are masters of thrift. They believe in using everything that can be used. The lowly garden snail is a culinary treasure.
My mother worked for a Head Start program in Cincinnati. I remember visiting those sites as a kid, watching as she hoisted giant bags of rice or rolled oats out of the trunk of our car and into the facility kitchens. She still talks about teaching a group of struggling women how to make a fruit salad out of a single apple, orange, and banana (a recipe that often made it to our table as well).
It's no surprise, then, that I lean toward what I call the "empty larder syndrome": having very little in the pantry, but concocting something lovely from what's there.
Last week it was an apple crisp, made from 11 mealy Braeburns that'd been sitting in our fruit bowl for several weeks. We combined it with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream, and I was in the ether.
This past weekend, as John slept off a nasty flu, I rummaged through our refrigerator and found 6 individual bags of bread ends. Nothing fancy: just garden-variety supermarket whole-wheat. I also had a box of frozen spinach squirreled away-- left behind when my folks moved from Chicago to Maine--and a container of mushrooms. Cracked a few eggs and broke out the hand mixer. Voila: the savory bread pudding we ate for Sunday dinner:
Sunday, January 13, 2008
This kind of thing used to be pretty common around these parts, but life has calmed down considerably these last few years, and we've settled in to loving our house, adoring our neighborhood, and feeling grateful to be in a place that actually offers, well, a sense of place. We walk home late without thinking twice about it, and we laugh together in the morning when we realize we forgot to lock the door last night.
Now it's a different kind of comfort: an indoor comfort. It's a continued love of house, street, and neighbors, but a sense that we should hurry inside when we get home: not linger too long, keep an eye and ear on the street, and make sure--contrary to my inner Luddite--to have a charged cell phone on hand when heading home from the el after night classes. There's the protective stance we adopt when well-intentioned co-workers ask about these crimes, and wonder out loud how we can stand living where we do. Aren't we afraid?
To some extent, yes, we're a little bit afraid. It's the city, and these things happen, but they're happening awfully close to home these days. Bullets can miss targets. Neighbors' kids get tempted into gangs. And a pall is cast over our otherwise exceptional community. So we're saddened, too. Saddened to see and feel tragedy in our midst, saddened to discern what the police are really saying when they chuff, "Ma'am, no need to worry. This has nothing to do with you."
But we also persevere, cleaning up the litter, calling police when yet another nearby building gets tagged, and delighting in the fact that the local tamale vendors are still out there, in sub-freezing temperatures, and in spite of recent catastrophes, selling tamales verdes con pollos four for a dollar--made fresh in their kitchens throughout the previous night--a scarce two blocks from home.