Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Edition: Have Your Health and Crave it Too!

Homemade Mango Chutney
Do you ever just really crave Indian food? I do, they have vegetarian eating with flavor down to a Science. I just found this mango chutney recipe and am considering it for Christmas gifts this year. I know I know, its July, but when you’re due on December twenty-eighth, it pays to think ahead!

· 2 cups sugar
· 1 cup distilled white vinegar
· 6 cups mangoes (4 to 5), peeled and cut in 3/4-inch pieces (See How to Cut a Mango)
· 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
· 1/2 cup golden raisins
· 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
· 1 garlic clove, minced
· 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, whole
· 1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes (hot)
1 Combine sugar and vinegar in a 6 quart pot; bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.
2 Add remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until syrupy and slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir occasionally during cooking.
3 Pour into clean, hot jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace; close jars. Follow jarring procedures or just eat it up!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back On-Line: and the Dangers Thereof


Well I miss the internet. I was really trying to embrace being disconnected—enjoying the true cabin-feel in this home. But now I really miss it. I miss writing to you all, I miss being fingers away from information, news, weather. I have been trying to keep up with my writing even without internet which is why you will be getting these last two posts at the same time, but it makes me feel anxious to not actually be updating three times a week like I’m used to doing.

I haven’t been terribly successful at the writing this week. These two posts are all I’ve done. I want to be working on my short story but ignoring half un-packed boxes is even more difficult than ignoring half packed boxes and it’s hard to feel creative when you can’t locate a toothbrush, the dish detergent, or a clean pair of underwear. I’ve been busy.

So I have been disconnected since Friday now. Of course I do have my blackberry and I was trying to rely solely on that to at least keep up with emails and a bit of news and information scavenging. Then I made the mistake of mentioning to my good friend Vanessa that we probably will not have a landline in this house and will be relying entirely on our cell phones.

So an hour later I get this article from her about the dangers of cell phone use in pregnancy. I read the title: Cell Phone Use in Pregnancy Linked to Behavioral Disorders, and then began the typical routine I repeat every time Vanessa sends me a new tidbit of groundbreaking research: I grimaced and growled and stomped around the house kicking empty boxes (usually I kick whatever junk is on the floor). The second part of the routine is generally where I sit down and read the article and have my parenting routine, my diet or my ideology changed before I read the last line. This is how I have given up fluoride in my toothpaste, began eating full-fat dairy again, stopped using plastics, and have even begun considering EC for young infants.

But my cell phone: how dare you? These fetuses today, it’s not enough that I’m giving up alcohol, caffeine, sugar, deli meat, unpasteurized cheese and Advil, no, she wants my cell phone too. What’s next my laptop? Because that is, of course, where my mind went next: what could possibly be in a cell phone that’s not in a wireless laptop? Maybe I should just move to a cave and wrap myself in burlap and eat only organic grubs and apples until the baby is born.

The article made some good points and openly admitted that women who have used cell phones should not feel panicked about their children, many women who have used cell phones when pregnant have not noticed any behavioral issues with their children, and more research still needs to be done. But it’s rather compelling. Cell phone use seems to increase a child’s likelihood of having a behavioral disorder twofold (similar to the risks of smoking while pregnant but not quite as high as the three fold risk of drinking while pregnant). I’m not sure if this article makes me want to give up my cell phone or take up smoking.

I mean who can really tell if it was mommy using a cell phone when she was pregnant, the cigarettes she smoked, that glass of wine she had at Christmas time, or the over-exposure to television that we start the minute a child is out of the womb, or the sugar-loaded, processed foods that are marketed fiercely to children and toddlers. Or maybe it’s just good old fashioned environmental pollutants. Really it could be anything couldn’t it?

But I’ll link the article here for your perusal; of course once you have the information, you’re responsible for it so proceed with caution.

It’s good to be talking with you again by the way!

Out of Minneapolis


Well we’re here. By god I can’t believe it but we’re here. I am surrounded by boxes and partially torn apart cupboards and half-arranged furniture, but we’re here and I’m looking out over the lake. The wind is blowing fiercely through the ancient trees, which are whipping around at the top like women dancing with scarves. The wind is whistling and sounds like a ghostly howl, much like the sound of loons which we fell asleep listening to last night.

The weekend was busy and wonderful. We moved all day Sat. It took fifteen adults and two movers with a giant truck to get all our worldly positions out of South Minneapolis. There was rain on and off all day. We sweated and hustled and cleaned and wedged boxes and small pieces of furniture into every corner of the two trucks we reserved. The grandmas tidied and brought food for us to eat at the next house.

As people gradually ran out of steam during off-loading, they trickled in to fuel up on pasta salad and sandwiches. Some of us motherly sorts wandered around and fed bites of sandwiches to our stronger, more enduring counterparts who were still sweating their way on and off the truck. We didn’t get everything inside until three that afternoon.

But here we are and it’s silent and wonderful. All we hear is the breeze off the lake by day and the crickets and loons by night. When the corner of my eye catches a glimpse of the sun waving and twinkling in reflection on the glass, I still reflexively think that one of our many neighbors is walking a dog or herding kids past our window. It takes a moment to realize that I am looking out over a half acre of rolling grass and not the busy corner of Chicago Ave where our lives seemed on constant display from every room in our house.

I went back to the Minneapolis house yesterday, to finish cleaning and to pick up those mysterious straggling items that belong in no box, and as I gathered my things to leave, I took a moment to survey the open emptiness of the home that sheltered us for seven years. When we moved on Saturday, two close friends asked if I felt emotional about leaving and (as a plane tore through the air at mach seven, just feet above our heads) I answered honestly: no. But as I stood there in the echoing living room, noting all the changes we had made to the place over the years, I was overcome with a feeling of gratitude.

I felt grateful to this house for keeping us warm and dry and insulated from the noisy air and streets for all these years. I felt grateful for all the memories Ryan and I have made here with each other, our friends, and our families. How many late nights did we sit up talking politics, tuning our moral compasses by glass after glass of wine with our friends here in this very room? How many parties have been here? How many barbeques, movie nights? This is the house we moved into after we got home from Spain, engaged. Where we lived as we planned our wedding had Twila; where I first got it in my head that I should be a writer. I suddenly felt grateful for all these memories, all these formative life events. I felt grateful to Ralph and Averill for building this house fifty-plus years ago—when it was the only house for blocks—and for selling it to us below market value because they liked us and wanted to sell their home to someone who would appreciate it.

And we have. This home was perfect for us. My hope is that our new home will feel just as perfect for even more years, events and memories.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Feeling Zen

It’s not a secret to most people that I graduated from high school five months pregnant. The lesser known fact, which is just rich with irony, is the fact that I will be attending my ten year high school reunion (drum roll please)…five months pregnant. I really just added this up today with an old girlfriend of mine from high school as we finished taping some boxes shut and headed out for lunch. I will see all the people I graduated from high school with in the exact same condition I was in the last time I saw them. The humor is not lost on me.

As Monica of Friends said when she ran into an old flame with a pair of pantyhose and lacey underwear clung by static to the back side of her coat, “God knew I was going to see you tonight and saw an opportunity.”

Life really is more humorous than we give it credit for—or maybe it’s that most of the humor we encounter involves our own pride and self-image and we are not willing to laugh at the truly humorous. Its unquestionable to me that God has a sense of humor. If we were willing to laugh at ourselves more, we could be on the inside of some of her most divine comedy gold. But we just take ourselves so seriously, don’t we?

I experienced the most harmonious synchronicity this morning in my car. It was like a string of harmonious events in one car ride that left me with the biggest smile I’ve had on my face driving maybe ever—usually driving makes me crabby.

All I did to invite this synchronicity was to slow down. I wasn’t in a rush on my way home from lunch—in fact I wanted my daughter to fall asleep in the car so I saw driving intentionally slowly (have you ever noticed you can’t really lengthen a trip even when you drive ten miles an hour?) So instead of rushing in front of the guy who was waiting to pull out of the gas station to make sure I made my light on Nicolette Ave, I slowed way down and waved him into the intersection. He happened to have a gap coming the other way and was able to make his left turn (no small task on Nicolette). Instead of giving me the Minnesota polite one-hand “how” wave, he pointed at me directly, I mean right between the eyes and gave me a thumbs-up. It caught me so off-guard that I grinned in spite of myself.

I felt so good after that that I stopped to let a mother and her three small girls cross even though they weren’t quite to the corner and needed an extra moment to gather together and grab hands. The mother gave me an appreciative nod and exhausted smile as she towed her little herd to the safety of the other side. The littlest duckling-of-a-curly-headed girl grinned and waved her appreciation.

Then just blocks from home, feeling rather Zen and harmonious with my environment, my community, I paused for a tough looking youth with ipod buds in his ears and a cell phone in his hand—madly texting, he barely seemed aware of my presence but knew instinctively to stop and wait—trying to cross Chicago Ave can take all afternoon any of us neighborhood folks know. But I stopped too and just waited. It took him a minute to catch on and when he did he strolled out seeming very blasĂ© about the whole thing. But just when he was almost passed my car, he glanced up and flashed me a peace sign. It was almost enough to bring tears to my eyes.

This experience is the only explanation I can give for why I feel great today. I am not stressed even though we move in one day. I feel good and happy and peaceful. I’m smiling a lot and enjoying even the fact that I am typing in the middle of a pile of boxes and dismantled furniture. The last thing to leave this house will be my laptop and our lone wireless router. I feel like working on my short story right now. Julia Cameron would say I should do my three pages now, even before I finish packing. Well, we’ll see.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Attack of the Human Doings

Well at least its feeling more like summer now; though truthfully I don’t mind those cool windy, wet nights. That’s just my style. I love rainy days too. It’s like the sky telling you to just take it easy today, to stop rushing around and “doing” and just be, just relax and enjoy the sound of rain and the cool wetness of the clouds. And since we’re on the topic of coolness: since when does it cool off at night in Minnesota in the summer time?

I remember growing up without an air-conditioner (I mean not even a window unit) and lying in bed until midnight, three am, with the window wide and nothing covering my naked body but the thinnest of sheets, just praying for that first cool breeze to break the sweltering stillness of July. Sometimes it was early morning before it came. Sometimes it didn’t come at all and hot night gave way to yet another hot day.

So, I don’t know, maybe its global climate change, maybe it’s just cyclical weather that goes back to before my birth, all I know is it makes for great sleeping.

I sent my manuscript on Friday. It is finished and sent. It feels good to be done and somehow anticlimactic. I’ve picked up The Artist’s Way again after several weeks of it being buried under a stack of magazines in my nightstand drawer. It just so happened I had left off on chapter eight, Recovering a Sense of Strength. In it, Julia Cameron talks about our society’s obsession with completion (how ironic) how we value finished product much more than the artistic process of working on our art. How true this has been for me. All along I felt myself just wanting to finish—just to be able to say I wrote that first book, I published that first book. Publishing: the holy grail of new authors. Just to say you are published establishes legitimacy in our own eyes—maybe in other’s eyes too, though I have to say, most people are just as amazed and supportive about the fact that I write, that I am a “writer,” that I am actually pursuing an artistic career. I think people admire that because there is a small part of each of us that wants to be an artist of some sort; or at least wants to create art.

Which of us didn’t give up something we loved when we were in high school or college—that rock band that was really going to make it, those paintings we were never that great at but loved doing, those poems, those pencil sketches, that one play that made you feel like you were really alive?

But then the grown-ups of the world convince us that art is great and all but you’ll only really enjoy your art if it’s a hobby—then we get into a “career” one that will pay the bills but doesn’t allow time for hobbies.

I think I’m digressing. But I’ve been feeling the pull of our busy society so much lately—and as an “accomplisher” by nature I totally buy into the pressures of needing to “do-do-do.” I once saw a bumper sticker that said: We are Human Beings; Not Human Doings. I thought that was quite good but not true anymore. We are human doings—we don’t even feel alive, or at least not valuable or important unless we’re doing something all the time, maybe that’s why our culture doesn’t value the elderly like other cultures do---they’re not as productive anymore.

Anyway, if it weren’t for the piles of clothes and half-packed boxes, I could really go on pontificating about this stuff all day. But as it is I must go and get some things accomplished!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Weekend Edition: Have Your Health and Crave it Too!

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
This just sounded so good to me today. I think my body is asking for protein in delicious and creative vegetarian ways—yes chicken is definitely out!

1. 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup roasted red peppers
¼ teaspoon dried basil

1. In an electric food processor, combine garlic, garbanzo beans, tahini, and lemon juice.
2. Process until the mixture is smooth.
3. Add roasted peppers and basil; process until the peppers are finely chopped.
4. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Transfer hummus to small bowl, cover and chill until you are ready to serve.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Fear of Finishing

Ten days until the move, two days until I mail my manuscript. I think its done, the manuscript not the house of course. The house isn’t even close to packed up. But to the manuscript, I haven’t made a change in three days. I keep opening it and looking at it and not doing anything. I just have cold feet. Is it really ready? Can I just not see the glaring errors and flow issues because I’ve looked at it too much? Is it really time to print?

Arg! I just don’t know; I feel frozen. I am putting off mailing until the absolute last day to mail and for what? I’m not doing anything to it. I feel like I want someone else to edit it again, someone else to be on the hook if it doesn’t get accepted.

What I’m not finished with is the short story I plan to attach to the end of it. But being that the short story was the editor’s idea, I think that can go later. Did I mention this brilliant idea? I think it’s rather brilliant anyway. The owner of Tapestry books who I have been conferring with was helping me to shape my long-term goals as a writer which, I admitted, include writing in genres other than non-fiction on the adoption topic. I want to write fiction.

So he suggested I think of how to cultivate that goal even in this first project by perhaps attaching a short fiction story to the end of the non-fiction manuscript. Brilliant, I thought. So I am working on it. I picked a topic relevant to my non-fiction book and started writing. Its been wonderfully fun.

The thing I love about fiction is that it tells itself. You don’t have to painstakingly remember the details and try to get them all on paper in a fashion that’s enjoyable to read. You just have to get those first names, those first images and details out on paper and then the story starts to unfold; the characters begin to develop and reveal themselves to you, the author. It’s magic, really.

Okay, so now I’m going to stop blogging and reread my manuscript one more time and say a little prayer that it is done enough and good enough.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The End for Chicken

I am quickly approaching the end of my relationship with chicken.
Do you ever eat meat and get the clear and distinct feeling that you’re eating flesh? The texture of chicken this pregnancy is starting to feel slippery and slimy even AFTER it’s cooked.

I roasted a whole chicken the other night; it was my first chicken roasting attempt. That’s not true, my sister’s boyfriend had helped me do it the week before and I was delighted by how easy it was.

I didn’t know then that he was doing all the "heavy lifting" as it were.

I didn’t know then that holding a whole chicken and rinsing it and patting it dry feels suspiciously like holding a wet baby over the sink: the bones under the skin and the fat sliding under my fingers—it was almost more than I could take.

Then you have to rinse the cavity—ha! This would have been difficult for me when I wasn’t pregnant and queasy. By the time I was toweling the headless thing dry, like a helpless little child, I was ready to give the poor thing a proper burial. But I persevered and roasted it and carved it and…tried to eat it. I don’t know if it wasn’t cooked enough or if it was the intimacy we had shared during our pre-dinner bath, but I felt completely disgusting taking bites of it.

It may just be hormones or it may have been this experience that caused me to compulsively pull the chicken slices from my chicken and pesto melt at the café where we had lunch yesterday. Plain pesto on bread has never tasted so good.

For some odd reason, red-meat seems totally acceptable to me. The brisket and rib basket from Famous Dave’s the other night tasted like manna from heaven. I didn’t have a care in the world as I ate my weight in beef. But really, have you ever seen a beef cow? They’re not actually big, doe-eyed Holsteins like you see in the movies, they’re these real hairy beasts: huge and obviously bred for beef with thick brows and angry looking faces. Not that they deserve to die any more than the small, passive mamma cows but apparently they don't hold the same childlike innocence that my poor naked chicken did. Go figure.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Weekend Edition: Have Your Health and Crave it Too!

Grilled Peppers, Onions and Potatoes

Well I was going to feature my favorite summer salad with chilled potatoes and green beans but that will have to wait. We had a barbeque yesterday with some family and some friends and a good friend of mine prepared this amazing side dish that I am still snacking on today and have to share with you all.

3 or 4 whole bell peppers (red, yellow and orange)
2 large white onions sliced into very thick slices
1 lb small red skin potatoes, sliced
Coarse Sea Salt and Pepper
Olive Oil

1. Boil the potato slices until tender, drain, salt and pepper to taste and set aside
2. Meanwhile, grill the whole peppers and the sliced onion over high flame until thoroughly cooked, even slightly blackened
3. Slice the onions into even smaller slices and add to the potatoes
4. Remove seeds and stem from peppers and slice thinly
5. Toss all ingredients with a glug or two of olive oil and serve

Seriously, that’s it and its delicious!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Where's the Cabernet?

Life is good. My daughter is letting us sleep past 6am, the weather is sunny and cool, I can move again after my three mile walk around Lake Calhoun yesterday, and my manuscript is within inches of being finished. I just need to add a couple recipes to my resources chapter, edit one more time, and finish the short story I’m including at the end. Things are moving forward.

Twila has been so patient while I’ve spent the last several days writing. I’ve tried to get friends and family over to play with her and take her to the park as much as possible, and we break up the writing time with games, cuddles and bike rides around the block but she has also been a champ at entertaining herself while I write.

Of course I did come around the corner to find her cuddling with a bottle of wine on the couch—do you think this is a problem? We stopped storing wine in the wine tower when Twila discovered she could effectively empty the whole thing in ten seconds flat, sometimes with bottles landing on each other on the way down. And when I got pregnant, we pretty much stopped buying wine all together. I see now that Twila never forgot her love of the bottle.

We bought some cheap bottles again when we wanted to stage the house for showings and, of course, we put them in the decorative wine tower—right at Twila’s eyelevel.

When I asked her what she was doing with the wine bottle she said, “Shhhh, my baby’s sleeping.” And then in a tone that sounded a little too familiar, “Do you think you could be quiet so you don’t wake her up?” When I continued to stand there, staring in disbelief, she turned her head exasperatedly and sighed, “Mom, could I just have some alone time?”

Well what can you say to that? My daughter wants to lay quietly on the couch while I sit and type at the table. Can a mother complain? So she’s cuddling (and possibly nursing) a wine bottle—is that so strange?

That night when Ryan got home I told him what a great helper Twila had been all day: following directions, helping me clean-up, playing quietly. Then from the other room Ryan called, “Hey Melissa, why is there a bottle of cabernet in the crib?”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Motherhood Strikes Again

I hope everyone had a great 4th of July this weekend. I am realizing that being a mother has made many of the simple joys of quaint tradition noisome and interfering.

I used to love staying up late on July 4th, listening to the festive ‘pop-pop’ of neighborhood kids discharging fireworks at close range. What’s better than drinking beers on the porch and lighting whizzing, barely-legal, sparkling crackers in the grass, and waiting for it to get dark enough to see the famous Minneapolis display? When Ryan and I were younger we lived in the Churchill, a high-rise on the river in downtown Minneapolis. Oh the fourth-of-July parties we had there! From the thirteenth floor you could literally see them launch the fireworks from Nicolette Island from one of our two balconies. Who needed sleep?

I guess being pregnant, and a mother of a three-year-old, tends to dampen the festive mood slightly. I kept looking at my watch as I swatted gnats in the open field by our house. “Do they have to start so late? I’m sure we could see them just fine now!” All I could think about was my daughter who needed to get to bed and how close to us those bottle rockets were being launched. And of course I’m pregnant so iced water in a jar is the new drink of choice for holidays, somehow just not quite as celebratory as a good old fashioned New Castle or Corona with Lime. But enough of my curmudgeonly ways.

I am actually in delightful spirits today as I have been given the opportunity to submit my manuscript to Tapestry, Online Books, which has just this summer launched an indie publishing company. So this week is my week to edit, edit, edit and try to make it really, really good. I’m submitting it for review, next Friday. Yaay!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Time to Play

I know I should be working on my manuscript—my most recent draft is almost finished. I am in striking distance and I can’t seem to just sit down and finish it. Maybe it is the busyness of summer, maybe the pregnancy or the impending move, but I just can’t seem to complete it.

I want to complete it. I want to finish this project. In part because I feel it’s ready, in part because I want to have permission to put my focus on a new project; this manuscript has been a labor of love lasting over three years.

I keep looking forward, trying to placate myself with the notion that after the move, I will be able to settle into my writing. When I have my writing office, then I will be productive. Will it make a difference?

Each day feels fuller than the last. My sink is full of dishes, my calendar is full of obligations, my table is full of bills, my daughter full of ideas and games that must be played with me. What happened to all that empty time I had when Twila was first born? Life felt so free. Having an infant was not the time-consuming job I had been prepared for. I enjoyed long mornings sipping coffee and holding my baby, slowly tidying the house throughout the day with an infant strapped to my chest.

I remember those first visits to my birthdaughter nearly ten years ago; Sandy’s house was pristine, coffee made, soft music playing, a quiet little bundle in her arms. The scene is in stark contrast to her home now, always loud with the noises to two boys and an adolescent girl, arguing, playing, watching TV, talking on the phone, games strewn about, and toys out of place, projects under way.

Will life just get more chaotic the older my family gets? Will I have less and less time as my kids have more and more to do, or want to do? I find myself wistfully looking forward to the distant future when I am a mother of teenagers who scurry around and don’t want every moment of their parents’ attention. But then I’m sure I’ll desperately miss the days when my daughter wanted nothing more than for me to find her under the blanket, or have me sing with her and spin in circles on the front lawn.