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2013 March

March: Currently

On a WalkFeeling so grateful for all of you and your sweet and encouraging comments on yesterday’s post. Thank you!

Reading this book on the history of Barbie (fascinating!) and this book on the art world. (Odd not to be reading fiction! But I have some more lined up. Excited about this one.)

Listening to kind of a lot of Florence and the Machine. I think the laser gun sounds are absolutely the best thing about this song. Also, the Nashville Soundtrack, which led me to discover The Civil Wars. Amazing.

Packing for our weekend getaway to Ventura!

Loving the cool mornings and evenings, since summer has already sort of descended upon us.

Exulting over the fabric I just bought for quilting.

Knitting preemie hats.

Eating so much cabbage! Bizarre craving, but I’m going with it.

Working on my enormous cross stitch sampler. Finding it oddly relaxing to have a needle in my hand.

Looking forward to fun trips in April and May (Oberlin reunion tickets: secured!)

Writing my book. Loving every second of it.

Loving Lent and all the awesome stuff I’m getting to do. Excited for a retreat with this awesome monk next week.

Feeling really, really, grateful.

On Being a Writer

Business CardsThis is a post that’s been a long time in the making. I have wanted to be a writer ever since I could read. Words have always been a special kind of magic for me, books a portal into worlds beyond my imagining.

In the past year, I have been making that dream come true. After (finally!) finishing my Ph.D., I spent a lot of time trying to decide what was next. My job search was, as is everyone’s, exhausting and exasperating. But then, like a bolt of lightning one afternoon, I came back to my childhood ambition. And I started writing. Really writing.

I am writing a book. It’s about creativity. Well, it’s mostly written already, actually! All eight chapters are finished, and I am just adding in secondary sources and interviews now. I have been doing a lot of research in the last few months on publishing, and my next step is signing an agent. I am so excited! And so deeply, deeply satisfied with what I am doing every day. I don’t know that I have ever felt that before. It’s amazing.

Why haven’t I told you guys about this? Well, the truth is that years and years of constant criticism in grad school left me feeling very shy about sharing my writing with anyone if it wasn’t 100% finished. I still struggle with that, wondering if people will be able to fish out my meaning from the mountains of words on the page. My family, though, has been so wonderfully supportive from the very beginning of this project, when it was just a tiny seed of an idea. Just this week I finally sent a few chapters to both sets of parents, and their joy and excitement and encouragement made me feel like maybe it was time to share this with all of you, you incredibly kind and kindred people, who always make my day with your visits and comments.

Thank you. Thank you for your love and support. And thank you most of all for sharing in the joy and wonder of being alive with me.

Work in Progress: Knitting Hats for Preemies

Precious PreemiesIf you’ve been around for a while, you know that I love to knit. A few weeks ago I learned about this amazing local organization–one of their projects, Precious Preemies, provides hats to hospitals for premature babies in the NICU. The smallest little ones weigh less than a pound, and the hats really help in regulating their body temperature.  I cannot even begin to imagine the things these families must face every day, but I do know that one of them is that the standard-issue hospital hats are far, far too big to be useful. Hopefully this little gift will make just a tiny part of their day easier, and let them know they are loved.

Precious PreemiesI made this little blue hat over the last few days, and I plan to knit at least about ten more in the next month. They knit up very quickly, since they are so very little. I actually kept checking my gauge and the measurements as I went, convinced that my hat was too small. Although it is tiny, this isn’t even the smallest size requested. But it’s the tiniest among us who need the most love.

I haven’t experienced this kind of prematurity in my own life, but I have been so moved by the stories of  the courageous moms who blog about their journeys. They are champions and heroes, every single one of them. I would do just about anything I could to lend a hand of support,  to let them know that someone, somewhere, is thinking of them and sending prayers their way. And so I am knitting away. If you are interested in helping too, the Precious Preemies site has a ton of info, tutorials, patterns, and a gallery of all the hats that have been donated. (Guidelines are here.) Hope you’ll join me in knitting up some love!

Curried Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach

Curried Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and SpinachThis recipe is a special one. My aunt gave it to me years and years ago, when I was first learning to cook. I had just finished my PhD exams, and I was desperate to start eating something other than pie and hummus (PhD exams produce strange cravings). I was, and am, more or less vegetarian, at least in my cooking, so I was pretty ecstatic to see this recipe, chock full of veggies and beans, bursting with curry flavor.

Curried Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and SpinachThe most wonderful thing about it is that it has so much flavor that it doesn’t even need a pinch of salt, so those looking to lower their sodium intake have found a new best friend here.

Curried Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and SpinachWe like to top it with sour cream or plain yogurt and lots of slivered almonds. It wouldn’t be a family recipe if it didn’t involve some crunch. Every time I make this dish, I think of my aunt, and how wherever she goes, there is laughter.

Curried Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach
Recipe from My Aunt Ellen

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp curry powder
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 c lentils, rinsed
2 1/2 c vegetable broth or water
1 medium sweet potato in 1/4″ cubes
4 c spinach leaves (3 oz)
Sour cream or plain yogurt for topping
1/2 c slivered almonds for topping

-Heat oil in large pot and add onion and garlic. Cook until sort, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry powder, ginger, and cumin, and cook one minute.
-Stir in lentils and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Add sweet potatoes, cover, and cook for 10 minutes more, or until water is absorbed and sweet potatoes are just tender.
-Stir in spinach and cook one minute, until just wilted. Top with sour cream or yogurt and almonds.

Stripes and Plaid

Stripes and PlaidHow is everyone doing with this whole Daylight Savings Time thing? Eric and I had a busy night (booking plane tickets, everyone’s least favorite activity), and when I looked up at the clock, I couldn’t believe how late it was. But then I realized: not really! And I felt much better. I doubt that I will have the same feeling tomorrow morning when the sun’s up an hour earlier, but for now I am happy for a late-night burst of energy. Speaking of energy, I think my face is nicely red in these pictures because we took them after a nice afternoon run at the gym. Eric blew me kisses when he lapped me. So sweet!

Stripes and PlaidI love mixing patterns, but I don’t think there’s much that can top plaid and stripes. They’re the holy grail of pattern mixing! Both of these pieces are from thrift stores, and I love them both dearly.

Stripes and PlaidThis necklace is a new find, from my after-Christmas clearance spree in January. I love big chunky beads like these.

Stripes and PlaidI don’t wear gold too often, but when I do, I go for these sweet earrings my mom gave me. The little hexagons spin.

Stripes and PlaidThese bracelets belonged to my awesome aunt. They make me feel classy.

Stripes and PlaidEvery girl needs some bright blue shoes. At least I think so.

Stripes and PlaidHope you all had a lovely and restful weekend!

One Little Word: March

One Little WordOur prompt this month for Ali EdwardsOne Little Word class is to take action–to choose one thing you really want to do this month and plot out the steps to make it happen. I chose quilting as mine, since it’s going to require a handful of steps, and I do really really want to do it. Ali made an 8.5 x 11 template for us to fill in with our plans, but since my album is 12 x 12, I just made my own. I liked putting it together and making it an explosion of color.

One Little WordThe first section is for stating your intentions: what is it that you want to do, and what do you need to do to make it happen? This would work for just about anything, from job stuff to personal stuff to relational stuff. The key is to focus on something that you really want to do that you might not get to otherwise.

One Little WordThe next section is a little calendar, on which you can schedule a few steps. The fabric store is several towns over from us, so I need to plan that in advance a bit. None of these dates are written in stone, but they give me some idea of the time I want to dedicate to this project.

One Little WordThe last part is about documenting your experience and making it part of your memory-keeping process. The reason why my page looks kind of blank now is that I’m planning to sew on some of my practice quilt blocks. It should be much more interesting then! I am so excited about this project, and, honestly, this might be something good to do every month. I had two or three other project ideas in mind (my Istanbul scrapbook, getting to yoga and Zumba), and it took me a little while to narrow it down to this one. I’ll update this page when I get the fabric sewed in and report back on how the project went. Until then, if any of you are taking this class or just making monthly goals, please feel free to share in the comments. I love hearing about your projects and ideas!

Project Life, Weeks 27 and 28, With Bonus Christmas

Project LifeWell, it’s March, so it’s about time I’m getting my Christmas pages up! I adore my Christmas papers and have been waiting so long to use them–long live the snowmen!

Project LifeThis week combines our Christmas in Pasadena and the beginning of our time with family in Memphis. It was maybe the best week ever.

Project LifeThis is the treasure map Eric made to lead me to one of my gifts. Adorable! He even put serifs on the letters because he knows how I feel about sans serif fonts. He is the best.

Project LifeAnd I love that we have this picture of the four of us at dinner the first night we arrived.

Project LifeOur Christmas week involved snow, and also the cutest baby ever.

Project LifeI’m happy that I captured our family tradition of going out to breakfast on Christmas Eve. And obviously, as this sign indicates, I am in the right place.

Project LifeThis was the first time Eric and I got to meet my Besfrinn’s precious baby, even though I talk to her on Skype about once a week. Well, the talking is kind of one-way, but she always smiles at me. 🙂 I was already in love with her, but this just cemented it. She is the sweetest.

Project LifeLove this picture of our stockings by the fire.

Project LifeI made an extra page to document another one of our Christmas traditions…

Project LifeAnd I’m so glad I did. Merry Christmas in March!

What I’m Reading Lately

PrettyI thought it would be fun to throw out a handful of my favorite blogs of late. Will you pretty please leave your favorites in the comments? I always love finding new ones!

Camp Patton. I just found this blog last week, and I’m already in love with it. Grace has three little ones, and yet still manages to blog every day, be totally hilarious, and look adorably fashionable. She also keeps it real, and I love that. As a fellow Catholic, I also love her behavior-during-mass grades for her kids. I am certain that I was once just as squirmy in the pews!

Refashionista. Jillian makes crazy awesome things from thrift store clothes and then donates them all to a charity shop in South Carolina. I have been following her blog for ages, but I am still amazed by the things she does, and inspired like crazy. Also, she’s hilarious, and I love reading about her adventures in Columbia, where I once visited some dear college friends. Art Bar forever!

Our Hearts, Our Love. Kendra is probably the most honest and down-to-earth blogger I’ve ever known. She and her husband just moved last year from Atlanta to the Columbia River Gorge, and I love reading about their daily life with their sweet daughters. Gorgeous photographs, sweet stories. I am always happy to see a new post there.

Elise Blaha. This is the first blog I check every morning, since I know there will be a new post Monday through Friday. I could go on for pages about how much Elise has inspired me, but I will just say this: she’s always making something new or boldly stepping in a new direction. It’s so much fun to follow along. She and her husband are expecting their first baby in June: exciting!

Kayla Aimee. Do you guys know KA? She is amazingly hilarious. I actually laugh out loud at her posts. Her daughter was born at 25 weeks, but she’s a fighter, and she is doing great. She is two years old now, and she makes a lot of contributions to the hilarity. Must run in the family.

So, what do you think? What else should I be reading? Thanks, guys!

Turkish Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant

Red Lentil SoupRed lentil soup is sort of the hamburger of the vegetarian world, or at least it has been for me: endlessly mutable, unceasingly tweakable, and deeply personal. I have made my way through at least ten different versions of it, but this one takes the cake. It’s smooth and creamy, and the eggplant on top is out of this world.

Red Lentil SoupThis is another recipe from our Turkish cookbook, which I am wholeheartedly in love with. I have never met a bigger eggplant fan than Eric, so he is pretty happy too. This is some of the best eggplant I’ve ever had–it just explodes with paprika and mint, and it would be just as lovely atop couscous or pita. I must add, though, that the way it mixes into this soup is pretty divine.

Red Lentil SoupMy parents are back from Istanbul, so now I have their pictures and stories to live vicariously through, and they will likely be going back in July. Lucky ducks! We don’t know when we’ll make it back ourselves, but at least we have this soup in the meantime (and Turkish restaurants to look forward to on our trip to Berkeley in April!)

Red Lentil Soup with Minted Eggplant
Recipe from Leanne Kitchen’s Turkey

5/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 1⁄2 cups red lentils
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1⁄4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
2 tablespoons salt
1 lb 2 oz eggplant, cut into 1 cm 1⁄2 inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 teaspoons dried mint
2 1⁄2 teaspoons sweet paprika
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, to serve

-Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6–7 minutes, or until softened. Add the lentils and stock, then bring to a simmer, skimming the surface to remove any impurities.
-Reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 40–50 minutes, or until the lentils are very soft and have collapsed. Add the lemon juice and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
-Meanwhile, sprinkle the salt over the chopped eggplant in a colander and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse the eggplant well, then drain and pat dry on paper towels.
-Heat the remaining olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over medium–high heat. Add the eggplant and cook for 5–6 minutes, turning often, until golden and tender.
-Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then add the mint and paprika and cook for another 2 minutes, or until fragrant. To serve, divide the soup among bowls and spoon over the eggplant and garlic mixture and scatter with the mint.

What Would You Attempt If You Knew You Could Not Fail?

BoxI swing by Anthropologie every month or so, searching for inspiration, and I never fail to find it. Usually it’s some pretty beaded thing or an elaborate wall display that catches my eye, but this time it was a pencil case. A pencil case with the most extraordinary message printed on top. “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” What a wonderful message to have before you every time you pick up a pencil.

It’s a powerful question, and it has been instrumental in my creative life. I used to shy away from things that I couldn’t do perfectly, or things that I didn’t think I had the time or energy to master. If I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail–that’s true. But I robbed myself of a whole lot of joy in the meantime by denying myself the chance to dabble, to experiment, to make messes and play without the pressures of perfectionism on my shoulders.

It took quite a long time for me to overcome that pattern of thinking, but, oh, the fun I had when I did! I scrawled with pastels and took on hefty projects in the kitchen. I started learning Turkish and knit to my heart’s content. I got a sewing machine and started making necklaces out of buttons and beads. I scoured through junk shops for interesting supplies and coordinated the wackiest of outfits (just ask my friends). Once I got started, I was totally intoxicated, and the breadth of my creative experience is ever-expanding. This year I’ve taken up cross-stitch and quilting. Who knows what next year will bring?

Am I perfect at any of these things? Absolutely not! I suppose in that sense, you could call my efforts failures. But I am having so much fun. I don’t necessarily expect that I’ll ever reach mastery of any of my favorite activities, but there just cannot be any sense of failure there for me because you cannot fail if you are having fun.

There are so many things in life we can fail at. I’ll never be a ballet dancer or a singer. But that doesn’t mean I can’t pirouette around the living room and belt out my favorite songs in the car. Don’t let the notion of failure follow you into your creative life–replace it with a much better F word: fun.

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