Archives for the month of: July, 2014

Walking through that same stationary store a couple week’s back I didn’t want to walk out with just one postcard. I saw cute bags that were made out of a light paper-like plastic to hold pens, pencils, or any small items. I looked up and saw colorful socks with different sayings on them. This photo here is the pair I bought. They say it all!

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I haven’t posted an update on what I’m reading lately. I was just going to include the last two month’s, but then I thought I may as well post what I’ve recorded and finished to date, since it’s not that many. I get so excited about books, and I love seeing and hearing what others are reading too.

There were a lot of books that I started and didn’t finish, that I hope to come back to at some point. I’ve only listed the books that I actually completed and remembered to record.

JANUARY
Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen – Mary Sharratt
-I rang in the New Year reading this book. I was captivated by this story based on the life of the mystic and saint, Hildegard Von Bingen. I had no idea going into this book how much it would take a hold on me and how invested I would become with the characters.

7/29/14 – I listen to the classical radio station everyday at work and when I hear a piece that really speaks to me, I write it down. I heard an angelic song coming through my speakers, and when I clicked to see who the composer was, it was Hildegard Von Bingen. It was the first time I’ve heard her music. Listening to her gave me goosebumps.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
-There are numerous classics on my list. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this one. I loved every minute of it.

Read this! Hand picked favorites from America’s indie bookstores – Hans Weyandt, Editor
-How could I resist this one!

Voltaire’s Calligrapher – Pablo De Santis
-This was an interestingly strange sort of mystery.

Thousand Cranes – Yasunari Kawabata
-This was a beautifully told story centering around a tea ceremony and the subtleties of human nature. Beautiful and sad. It made my heart ache.

FEBRUARY
Kokoro – Natsume Soseki
-I can imagine how this story about a young man who befriends an older man that he calls Sensei may not be for everyone. The story made me contemplate how it must have felt being Sensei and all that he had to keep secret from his wife and how he couldn’t live a full and true life. When I came to the last page, the last words, I felt a deep sadness.

The City of your Final Destination – Peter Cameron
-I think I came across this book from one of the books on books. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a book about love, through and through.

MARCH
Yes, Chef: A Memoir – Marcus Samuelsson
-I like watching Chef Samuelsson on the food show, Chopped. This book was featured on my book a day calendar–I couldn’t resist. It gave me a peek into his life and what it’s like trying to make it as a chef. This was a treat to read and gave me a more rounded perspective of just who Chef Samuelsson is and where he came from.

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
-What a wonderful piece of literature. I actually started this in the spring of 2013 and finished it this year. I sped through the first half and for some reason set it aside until March of this year. This is a book that I will reread in the future.

APRIL
James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl
-I missed Dahl in my childhood, so I have some catching up to do. Delightful, of course!

MAY
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

The Chaperone – Laura Moriarty
-I was whisked into the story of Louise Brooks and her chaperone, Cora. The story and characters came alive for me, and there was a surprise that caught me off guard; it made the story that much more interesting.

Philosophy Made Simple: a Novel – Robert Hellenga
-I mostly enjoyed this novel, but had mixed feelings. I had favorite parts.

The Cats Table – Michael Ondaatje
-A story about a group of boys that form a friendship on a ship bound for England. I felt as though I was along during this adventurous ride across the ocean. Beautiful writing.

Supermarket – Satoshi Azuchi
-I remember being in the library searching through the A’s to see if any titles caught my attention. This was one of them. Who knew that I would be so enthralled by a work of fiction about the workings of a Japanese supermarket, but I was. The characters drew me in, as well as the internal struggles, and the relationships.

JUNE
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
-What a fun adventure this was!

Terms and Conditions – Robert Glancy
-This is a witty novel with plenty of black humor. It fit my mood when I found it. I finished it in one sitting and found myself laughing a lot and thinking how clever this book was. I loved it!

The Apartment – Greg Baxter
-There isn’t much that goes on: A nameless man and a woman he met search for an apartment. I was drawn into the language and the bits of insight throughout. As I neared the end, I felt the story sneaking up on me. I appreciated the subtlety of this short novel.

Dying Words – K. Patrick Conner
-I don’t remember where I first learned of this book, but it’s been in my Kindle as a sample for a while now. Graydon Hubbell, somewhat of a curmudgeon, is an obituary writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. He finds out that he has cancer, but wants to work for as long as he can. A touching novel with a good amount of humor to balance it out.

JULY
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Muralami
-I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Kafka on the Shore, so it was a great surprise and absolute treat when the story hooked me. I thoroughly enjoyed the parallel stories and how they came together. This was a magical book that had a little bit of everything.

The Writer’s Afterlife: A Novel – Richard Vetere
-An entertaining story that writers will especially appreciate.

whirring fan spins above
one last sip of tea–
the day has begun,
yet it begins again

The morning began with a grey canvas, a hushed tone–
inviting color. As the day progressed, the clouds unrolled to reveal patches of blue. The grey clouds became white.

This afternoon the sky has opened, fluffy clouds amble by. I hear a squirrel running this way. I look up. He stops. He’s searching for treats, rustling through the leaves. And then I hear another. After some time passes, I continue walking. Dragonflies whizz by. I stop, standing still enough to see them hover. They zoom on by. I continue walking.

**

grey sky
a blank canvas
swirled in a splash–
green trees

**

grey sky–
a blank canvas
waits for you

**

grey sky
nature’s canvas–
look! do you see!?

Yesterday on my way to work, I admired the grey morning clouds. I tried to capture the moment in a haiku as I was driving along, saying the words to myself. When I got to work, I jotted the beginnings on a yellow post-it note. I wasn’t satisfied.

I stepped away from my desk because I needed my caffeine–the decaffeinated version–I went down to the coffee shop and waited in line to order a decaf mocha with whipped cream. As I waited in line, I looked out the window and saw a woman that made me think of myself. There was something about her side profile–the look on her face and the glasses upon her face that made me think that could have been me. That then got me to thinking: What would it be like if I met myself? Would I get along with myself? Would I bring out the best of myself? In general I feel that I’m a nice person. I’m easy to get along with. But, there are times when I have those excitable moments as I like to call them. They mostly happen if I feel that I’m being attacked or disrespected in some way. The person who gets to see every single side and mood of me is hubby and he is so good about knowing how to navigate the waters. Sometimes I can be explosive. The other person who recently was able to press my buttons was my uncle. In that case, I let him get the best of me. I know how he is and usually I sit and listen, but it got personal, and I reacted. It always takes me a few days and sometimes weeks to feel centered again when I allow myself to get upset. And when my uncle through back at me, “You’re just like your mother.” I was slightly stunned. Those words hurt and they stuck. He told me on one occasion that what he likes about me is that I’m like my mother in the sense that as he put it: “You don’t take crap from anyone.” Yet, to those that don’t know me, I can be timid and am very quiet. If someone says to me, “You’re so nice.” I always try to remind them that I’m human and have my moments. I like being honest and I like being who I am, though sometimes I’m not happy with my moments of excitability.

To those words that stuck…I think they stunned me because they were true and because I have seen more of this aspect of her in me as time goes on. I’ve always known it was there, felt it, seen it, acted out. But rather than try to push it away, I work with it as best I can. I’m similar to my mother in certain ways, and at the same time, I’m me–I’m different than she. Together we are whole.

This feels good to get this out without too many details because it’s been digging at me. I know that my uncle can be very difficult. He does most of the talking and it’s often negative. I have to remember that he’s from a different time and he is still my elder, even though we are both grown adults. But it can become so terribly draining to be in someone’s presence whose view of the world seems so tainted and out of date, who often puts women down and says to me, “no offense to you.” But there is offense. I am a woman, and I think that gets in the way. I don’t respect his negative views, but I have to respect his freedom to think how he likes. He’s 82 and he shows no signs of changing his views.

It’s odd that this has come out of me on this day, where I’ve turned another page in the year of days. I received a nice greeting from my brother. And maybe it was his words that made me feel guilty in some way–guilty because I wasn’t able to remain calm and compassionate with my uncle. My mind has a way of making small things big and I think this is one of those instances. I need to let it go and begin a new day.

Tonight on our way home from dinner, we stopped at Target because hubby needed to get something. I didn’t need anything, so I moseyed on over to the books–just looking. I was about to turn toward the picture books just for fun to see what’s out there and what I saw filled me with such a tender feeling.

Little girl, three or four
with daddy
sitting on the
bottom shelf of
the children’s section,
both reading their own books.
She turns a page, engrossed.
Daddy switches from reading on his iPad to
taking a photo of his darling little girl reading her book,
then both
side by side again.

**

This made me think of another precious moment that I witnessed back in May. I was walking past the park on a lunch break and I saw a little girl with beautiful dark chocolate skin. She was with her father and younger brother. She was running, and as she ran her braids swung back and forth. I watched as she chased the yellow butterfly, running and running and giggling–a part of me was running along by her side. That was the highlight of that May day.

I love the smell of fresh cut grass. As I cross the street, reach the other side, the grass at the park takes hold of me, causes me to sit a while. I then see three birds playing tag with each other, circling the young pine trees; a mother pushing her child in a stroller; crepe myrtles with pink florets in bloom. I inhale the fresh scent of grass, breathing in and out, feeling grounded and connected to the day.

“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”
–E. E. Cummings

I don’t feel complete unless there is laughter and smiles in my day. Even on days when I’m feeling cranky, am unreasonable, and shout because my moods have taken the best from me, I can count on laughter setting me right.

A few days ago I wandered into a stationery store. I didn’t wander aimless, though. I had a simple mission to buy a single postcard for hubby. I had told him that I had seen it when I was searching for other postcards. I described it to him and he said why didn’t you get it for me? I shrugged my shoulders and told him that I wasn’t sure if he’d actually want it. Now he has it.

Ever since childhood I’ve adored stationery stores. I remember when my mother would take me for tea and a sweet pastry after ice skating practice or one of her doctor’s appointments. After seeking her permission, I would wander over to the stationary store just across the way. I would look through all the stickers, turning the stands in search of the perfect set. I collected them. I had a book full of wonderful stickers of all kinds: stickers that sparkled and glittered; puffy stickers; hearts, bears, flowers–all sorts. I don’t remember her ever going into the store with me. I would run back and ask her if I could buy some stickers. She didn’t give in right away. She might take a sip of her coffee, ask me if I really needed them, and she would end up pulling out a few dollars from her purse and hand it to me. I ran back as quick as I could and I would return giggly–happy to have new stickers.

There were other stationery stores too. It wasn’t always stickers. Sometimes it was miniature calendars, pretty paper, pens. But always, she stayed outside in the car unless we were at that one breakfast shop where she could wait inside. She was dying, and as the cancer progressed, she was in pain more often; but as a little girl these realities register in the mind differently.

I realize, too, that my mother didn’t like being home, even if no one else was there. She preferred being out and about. As the cancer took its toll on her, these were some of the ways that we were able to spend time together, knowing that her life was drawing to a close. So, I see now that she not only needed me as her little rock, but that she also relished the last moments that we would share–and those moments I remember with the core of my being, with joy, and a hint of sadness. But what would life be without both?

She was serious and angry a good part of her later life, but right now in this moment, I can remember…I hear her laughter and see her smile, and it fills my soul with blue skies, sunshine, and the happy chatter of birds.

This week has been about trying to find my cooking groove. I’ve gravitated toward already prepared meals over the past several months, only truly preparing a home cooked meal on the rare occasion–or at least that’s how it’s seemed.

I hope this week that I’ve broken this spell and I’m able to stay inspired about the next meal that I will prepare.

Monday, I went to an old standby: a sort of beef and vegetable stir-fry served with saffron rice. I try not to serve red meat more than twice a week, but this is one of those dishes that is so delicious, I could eat it almost every day!

Tuesday was chicken day. I must confess that I don’t particularly like working with chicken, and unless it’s well seasoned or has a nice sauce, I don’t like eating it much either–well, fried chicken is the exception. I love fried chicken. I don’t usually buy mayonnaise, but I was craving sandwiches to take for lunch for a change, so I bought a small jar. As I was looking for the expiration date on the jar, I noticed a recipe for chicken using the mayonnaise. I think of Paula Dean. I remember vaguely that she used to put mayonnaise on everything. The recipe was simple and sounded like it would be tasty. I mixed together the mayonnaise with grated parmesan cheese, garlic salt, Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, panko breadcrums, and lovingly spread this all around the top side of the chicken breasts. Into the 425 degree oven it went and 20 minutes later dinner was served. We had mashed potatoes and cauliflower on the side–my new favorite way to have mashed potatoes–and I sautéed finely chopped mushrooms with garlic, olive oil, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and a splash of white wine; and a simple green salad with thousand island dressing. The chicken was pretty good. I forgot to season it directly, and although the crust gave it great flavor, I think it suffered from lack of seasoning on the meat itself. I couldn’t believe I forgot the most basic rule of seasoning.

Tuesday night I pulled out my recipe box–the one that holds the handful of “My Great Recipes” cards that I still have from when I was just a young girl. I used to have a large box of these recipe cards, but damn me for getting rid of them during a move–that at the time I didn’t think I would like. But, I still have the ones I deemed worth to stay. So, as I was flipping through the cards to figure out what to do for Wednesday’s dinner, a plan formed in my head.

Wednesday’s dinner would be planned around making use of the leftover potato and cauliflower mash. I had come across a pork chop recipe and I LOVE pork chops! It wasn’t a complicated recipe by any means, but see, I’m a visual person and I need images to inspire me to cook and to provide ideas or to jog my memory to cook meals that I’ve prepared but forgotten about. Tuesday night, I had already come across a recipe for pineapple muffins, so I knew I wanted to bake those too. I modified the pork chop recipe a bit by adding in some additional veggies in addition to the called for chopped tomatoes and garlic. I added zucchini and spinach. I quickly browed the chops (I did remember to season the chops), set them aside, then added white wine and garlic to the pan, scraping any brown bits, and let that reduce a bit. Back in went the chops topped with the chopped tomatoes, zucchini, and spinach; that simmered for about 45 minutes. We skipped the salad Wednesday night since we had plenty of veggies and tasty pineapple muffins. I must say I’ll need to work on the muffin recipe, but they were still pretty good, despite the bottoms getting stuck in the paper cups. So we were essentially easting muffin tops, which cut back on the calories, I imagine.

I don’t have a plan for tonight’s dinner yet. I’m sure something will come to me.

I forgot to mention that I love listening to music while I cook, and it has been a reggae week. Reggae calms me and gets me into the perfect state of mind, causing me to pause and dance while I cook.

Yesterday, at the end of my workday, I wasn’t ready to go home yet. I had been meaning to go to Barnes and Noble and browse around, so that’s where I headed. I miss the independent bookstores that have closed one by one. And one day, I imagine, we will only have the option of buying books online.

Once inside the bookstore, I took a look at the new books; many I have seen at online review sites or heard mention of. I wasn’t feeling especially pulled by any. I wandered over to where the notecards, notebooks, and art supplies are kept, just past the business section and the bargain books. I skipped the business section and went to the bargain shelves and tables. I saw a visual book that teaches you how to learn the keys of the piano. I thumbed through it, slightly wishing that I knew how to read music, to understand and enter music at its language gate.

I saw another book on introversion that caught my fancy. There was a Baudelaire quote inside that I saw when I flipped through the pages–it spoke to me. I took a photo of the book, so that I can see if the library has a copy. My favorite place to get books these days is the library and second hand stores. I have a stack checked out right now and recently took back a few stacks. They come home with me, and of course, they don’t all get my attention, but they are what I’m interested in at that moment that I bring them home; some hold my attention all the way until the end, while others serve as inspiration in the small spurts of time I’m able to give them. It seems the library books are the ones that get read all the way through; my own books stay in their shelves or stacks looking back at me, patient, waiting for me to pull them out. They have a home, and I would say it’s permanent, but that would be a lie–nothing is permanent–an ancient truism, one that I try to remember.

While I was down in this section, my eyes were drawn to the “Buddha Board Mini” sitting on the shelf. I picked it up and saw that it was a small drawing board. You use only the brush, the board, and water to create your image and then poof, it disappears after some time. It actually evaporates. On the box it says: “Master the art of letting go.” Another reinforcement of the impermanence of life. I kept turning it in my hands, wanting to buy it; instead, I made a note. Maybe later.

Part of me only wanted to browse. I wanted to refrain from buying anything; and I always feel guilty when I buy new books and “stuff”.

I looked at my watch. I had just a little more time to browse before I should leave, pick up dinner, and head home.

Upstairs, there was more new fiction and the rest of the fiction. I browsed. I was starting to feel like I wasn’t going to find anything that I wanted. I don’t know if I was looking for something in particular or just trying to relax, allowing my mind to lose itself. I don’t know what I was expecting. Was I expecting something? I wasn’t feeling energized. I was beginning to feel tired. I was only in the B’s. I saw a book that I jotted down for later, then I went to see if there were any astrology books I might not have. There were only a handful, nothing new or interesting to feed whatever mood led me around the store, as if searching for something, yet not searching for anything at all. Since I was in the spirituality section, I quickly scanned the other titles. I saw the Four Agreements, which I have stowed away in a box somewhere. I might have to dig it up. Then I saw a book of meditations by Don Miguel Ruiz’s son. I noted the book in my notebook.

I made my way back toward the escalator, but stopped quickly at a shelf with a reference book that stood out to me for its size and title. Noted.

Down I went, back on the main floor I was about to exit, when I went over to where I thought the writing section was. I didn’t see it; instead, I was standing in front of the self-help section. I did a wide scan with my eyes, not really feeling in the mood for a self-help book. My eyes were drawn to a book that was facing forward, like someone had pulled it from the shelf and not put it back, leaving it there to be seen. I looked away, continued scanning, then I looked back and picked up the book. The cover was black, a photo of two small red flowers at the bottom right corner growing out toward wet stones. I felt calm looking at that cover. “Wabi sabi” written in white lettering somewhat in the middle of the page. The words were familiar in an unfamiliar way. Where have I heard or seen those words before, or have I?

The full title: Wabi sabi: Timeless Wisdom for a Stress-Free Life. I flip this beautiful book open, read the inside flaps, and learn about the author. I’m intrigued. In reading her forward and looking through the book, it seems this is her meditation on her experience and practice with the concept of Wabi sabi, a Japanese concept.

While I was flipping through the book, I landed on a quote by Robert Frost at the top of page 31: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” I smiled, my internal voice agreeing, ‘yes, that’s right. So simple, and yet…’

As silly as it may sound, I think the quote sealed it for me. It made me take that book and keep flipping through it and re-reading the table of contents–my curiosity, the beauty of the book itself, and my love of wisdom…it was the book that found me that day.

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