Marking Time On the Laundry Line

In July, 86 degrees feels like a fine enough reason to hang out the laundry. There is a surprising pleasure in carrying out this simple task on a breezy summer afternoon. I find myself walking back and forth across the yard, laden basket in hand, not as annoyed as I usually would be that the fuse in our electric clothes dryer chose peak visiting season to go kaput. The repetition of spinning the drying umbrella, reaching for a garment, then clipping it to the line reminds me that most of the good habits we develop—just like the bad—take time, like learning to appreciate the simple things.

Still, there is something disheartening about the broken clothes dryer sitting dismantled in the basement, as if it were just one more thing in a long list of things that have recently begun to exceed their warranty. I think of it now because when I turn the line, it feels like I am marking time. Six months since my cancer surgery…Six years since we bought Smallpeace…Seven years married…Twenty-five years living in New York! Incredibly in August, I plan to attend my 30th high school reunion. How can that be?

Handling the soggy sheets, I notice some wear and tear around the edges. And when I stretch them across the wire, I catch a glimpse of sunlight peeping through a tiny hole that wasn’t there before. It’s like hanging up a cotton chronicle of my body, and I think to myself: Some of these sheets aren’t even old enough to look so worn. And yet somehow, they just are.

I have women in my life who make a big production out of ironing sheets. I used to think it was a mark of good breeding and fastidiousness, and that one day I would take up the practice myself. What I do instead is to hang my linens in the country air the old fashioned way, and sometimes spray them with lavender oil. It always makes me rest easier. On rare occasions, I actually do take the time to pull out the iron and give my sheets a press. I am discovering that even gently used sheets tend to look better when you show them a little extra loving care.

Laundry

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Peonies: The Floozies of the Garden

I read somewhere that peonies are often referred to as “the floozies of the garden” because of their scene-stealing beauty. These images, captured at blossoms’ peak, are on my desktop, so I can refer to them over and over again and again. I am simply weak for peonies! How about you?

The Passion of Paeonia

Each new
May morning
beauty is flaunted
against the blazing

crimson of the garage
the cool
undergrowth of the dawn
ruptures into a thousand propositions

fastened on extended necks
nodding like flirtatious geishas
as the fragrance wafts
like 12-year-old scotch

from parted lips.
If it is your proclivity
to be seduced
you will pause along the path

as Apollo did, your eyes
confiding ardent yearnings.
But if your heart
sustains within it

the hesitation
that is lonelier than death
it is perhaps more prudent
to be on your way

never turning to look back.
For lovely Paeonia
in all her capricious zeal
will be long gone by the end of June.

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In our town and for miles all around, farmers long ago cleared away fallen trees and wrested out boulders from the soil to plant acres upon acres of apple trees. This was their legacy to their children and their children’s children, to carry tiny seeds or fragile saplings in calloused hands across the fields, drop them into sunny places, traipse back for another, and then another, until an orchard was made.

I do not need to wonder why barns are red when I look at the blossoms on an apple tree.

Have a beautiful weekend, everyone!

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The Impermanence of Trees (and Everything Else)

Call me a Chicken Little, but trees scare me. They grow while you are sleeping, and they can come crashing down at any time. Right now, a sugar maple is lying partially across our roof. I’ve considered leaving it there as proof to my husband that I can indeed foretell disaster, a talent I would not wish upon my worst enemy.  The damage certainly could have been worse. The impact took out our aluminum chimney along with a rain gutter for good measure. At least the tree didn’t fall on our new kitchen, or on us for that matter.

“Why can’t you use your witchy powers for good instead of evil?” B implores me as I nervously pace the property, turning my gaze upwards to the stand of old-growth pines out back. “Maybe we can call in a lumbering company to take them all away,” I say without a hint of remorse. “Let’s not get crazy,” B says. Too late.

Tree removal is expensive, and therefore must be carefully considered on our Smallpeace budget. Oh, did I mention, we just spent a wad of cash having two “unsafe” trees cut down last fall…so they wouldn’t fall on the house!

Thank goodness for the neighbors who drive by and gawk, for they are the ones who usually get the best photos for the insurance adjustor in our absence. Not all of them stop to gloat, mind you. There are the compassionate ones, valued friends who shake their heads in disbelief at our recent spate of bad luck; or good luck, depending on how you look at things. Hey, we’re still here, aren’t we?

Going forward, I will try my best to use my witchy powers for good, letting the chips—and the trees—fall where they may. But like so much else in our lives, anticipating the worst is a very difficult habit to break. All the more because, when I close my eyes at night, I remember the catastrophic health crisis I just survived.

Meanwhile at Smallpeace, life goes on in spite of my hyper-vigilance, as though the next disaster weren’t lurking around the corner, as if lightening couldn’t strike any one of us at any moment! Out on the lawn, my industrious husband is getting busy chopping up the ill-fated sugar maple. We will have more firewood this winter than we know what to do with. Our contractor Jay will come by to mend the chimney. He knows where we hide the key. And eventually, inevitably, all will be put right again.

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Artichoke Hearts with Lemon-Anchovy Sauce

Over the long weekend at Smallpeace, I had a little more kitchen time to devote to slightly more labor intensive dishes, such as Roman-style artichoke hearts braised in olive oil and white wine. Some of you had asked about this dish a few weeks back, so here it is. If you’ve ever been daunted by this delicious thistle, take heart! This recipe is so worth the effort. Plus, artichokes are just so darned pretty.

Artichoke Hearts Braised in Olive Oil, with Lemon-Anchovy Sauce
(Makes 5 first course or side dish servings)

2 lemons, halved
(reserve the juice of one for later)

5 medium artichokes

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup or glug of dry white wine

2 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

3 strips lemon zest

3 anchovy fillets, minced

Flat-leaf parsley for garnish

To begin, trim artichokes into hearts [See photo collage and cleaning directions from SmittenKitchen.com, below]:

Add lemon halves to a large bowl of cold water, squeezing to release juice.

Cut off top inch of 1 artichoke [1] and bend back outer leaves until they snap off close to base (keep stem attached). Discard several more layers in same manner until you reach pale yellow leaves. [2] Cut remaining leaves flush with top of artichoke bottom using a sharp knife. [3] Trim dark green fibrous parts from base and sides of artichoke. [4] Peel sides of stem down to pale inner core. [5] Put in lemon water while preparing remaining artichokes.

When your artichokes are clean, arrange them in a baking dish, cut sides facing up. Add zest and thyme. Pour in olive oil until it comes halfway up the artichokes, and then pour in wine to just cover them completely. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until all the splattering has stopped and the wine has evaporated. The outer edges of the artichoke hearts should be lightly golden.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the artichokes to paper towels to drain. Measure 6 tablespoons of the cooking oil into a small saucepan and add the chopped anchovies. Sizzle over medium heat until the anchovies have dissolved. Remove from the heat.

When ready to serve, arrange the artichokes on a serving board or platter, shower with the juice of the remaining lemon, and sprinkle with sea salt and chopped parsley.

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At Play in the Fields of Forget-Me-Nots

It’s May and I’ve just shoved on my gardening boots, but not before tucking the legs of my overhauls into my socks the way my neighbor taught me to do, to form a barrier against insects. Rain clouds are pressing north and away from us, and as they go, a pleasant blanket of sunshine washes over the lawn. I’m yanking out bunches of wild watercress that have, once again, overtaken our pond—a five-by-five foot breeding ground for bullfrogs, snapping turtles, and other prehistoric-looking creatures. Nosegays of wildflowers, encouraged by the warming temperatures, punctuate the moss-covered rocks with brilliant color bursts.

I recognize the blue blossoms as Forget-Me-Nots—or Myosotis—but I don’t know the names of any others.

The name Forget-Me-Not comes from the French ne m’oubliez pas, and was first used in English in c. 1532. Legend has it that in medieval times, a love-struck knight fell into a river while picking wildflowers for his lady, and was dragged to his death because of the weight of his armor. As he was drowning, the doomed knight threw the flowers to his lover, shouting “forget-me-not!” Needless to say, this story gives these common blossoms a more tragically romantic appearance.

Don’t forget to smell the flowers this weekend!

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A Morning Meditation

Yoga has been difficult post surgery, and it is clear that my practice—like my body—has to change. Until I can find a way to adjust to the physical differences (and stop mourning what I’ve lost), I’m going to have to try and train my internal lense to the sunnier side of the street. Perhaps its my melancholic, Eastern European genes, or the side effects of medication, but positivity isn’t innate in me, so it’s a practice that needs practicing.

The other morning, while meditating, I enjoyed a moment of such blissful connection that I hesitate to describe it for fear of it dissipating like a dream. But when these moments happen, I think it is important to note them, so we can string them together like prayer beads on a mala, accessing their happy effects again and again.

I take comfort in the kinship of all species, but I take particular comfort the kinship of one ornery beast, who on this particular morning only had eyes for me. The unfortunate part about being a human is that we are repeatedly reminded that our lives have an expiration date. My beast—my suitor from another life, my exquisite feline familiar—does not know this, nor does he care. He knows only that he is alive in this moment and adored, absolutely. And really, isn’t that enough?

These are early morning, breezy spring thoughts, as we sit together, cat dander swirling in diffused sunlight. That was the kind of blissful moment it was.

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A Hope-Filled Easter Vision

Every now and then, I forget to look up from the sidewalk while I’m walking. I usually realize this just in time to avert disaster, just when life’s obstacles like to present themselves. Those obstacles make simple happiness seem farther off than it is—like a great distance I am going to have to travel before I rest. Like 135 miles due north of Queens, perhaps?

Sometimes I resent the time I have to be away from Smallpeace, when work or other obligations keep me tethered to the city. But I am glad to have a job to walk to in the mornings, and I sometimes forget that it makes me glad. I thrust on my coat, search for my glasses, come back for my phone, kiss my husband, forget my lunch, and FINALLY trudge down the stairs and into the chaos, muttering to myself. That’s usually when I forget to look up and bump headlong into a wall, or step in dog poop, or trip off the curb. That’s usually when I am reminded of all the things I’ve been missing. Eager to try again, I step back into the blaring traffic, the din of construction, or whatever, head up, listening for quiet, grateful for hope-filled reminders.

Happy Easter weekend, everyone!

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Rough morning

I do not have to be happy.

I do not have to skip on tippy toes
for all eight blocks to the subway, whistling.

I only have to get from point A to point B
with eyes pried open

feeling cracked cement rise up to meet my boot

keeping vigilant

for random signs of life.

Preferably mine.

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Love is in the Air

There are turkeys living down our road. They live there all year round, yet they surprise and delight me every time I walk past Duke’s place. Now that the weather is warming, the gobblers are puffing and preening along the roadside, eager to seduce any and every passerby. They are not picky. Being mistaken for a turkey hen is yet another one of those experiences I’d never had until we came to this place, like seeing bobcats. I imagine that one day I’ll be far, far away—in Ireland maybe, or Spain—remembering those bobcats. I like strolling the length of our road with several randy toms in tow. It’s not exactly the gardens of the Alhambra, but then, I am no turkey hen, though apparently I will do for now.

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