Tuesday, April 28, 2009

the silence [i] keep from [my] head

I try to look happy and somewhere in my heart I must actually be happy for them, but mostly I'm the same kind of jealous as every other summer of my adult life when the engagement announcements come pouring in. I just learned that one of my oldest friends is getting married. I think I knew him when he was three years old. It's hard enough to believe that we're so much older and that I think we should all be so much more experienced, so much further aged than we are. And then the childish tears well, the whiney phrase, "not fair" finds use, and the pacing begins and I can no longer look around the elephant in every room. I think to myself, "well, wouldn't it be nice..."

This time it has very little to do with someone else being in a place that I am not - metaphorically speaking. Instead it has everything to do with the volume and obstacle of oceans and continents, this goddamn war, the lushness of spring versus alien deserts. We've talked about "taking the plunge" but...a voice is a delay is a phone call is lacking. This is neither the time or place and that is precisely the notion that throws me off balance. Life on pause is worse than life remodeled, is worse than living like the hours are mine. I can lose myself in a frenzy of recipes and organic vegetable seeds and cold brewed coffee and local eggs and manual mowers and prayers and mantras and clean plastics, but only until I remember:

I want him to come home.
I want him to come home.
I want him to come home.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

it's the sound of the unlocking and the lift away

For unknown reasons my body awoke at 10 after 6, and I have to confess that I was really excited by the prospect of sitting on my side porch, newly cleaned and organized, while sipping my coffee in the quiet of a Sunday not yet writhing. The big, debuting sunrise had passed and given way to wild tangerine rivers of stringy clouds that burned off quickly as the sun took its position in the daytime sky, but really, I'm so estranged to such a thing that I'll take the leftovers and be happy with them.

Somewhere far enough off that I had to focus my ears and wait for a second listen, a rooster crowing set my heart to longing. My chicken dreams have been put on hold for stronger desires to travel, and waiting to see what Uncle Sam has up his sleeve for the end of the year. There are reasons aplenty to explain why now just isn't time for chickens, yet that rooster crowing from who-knows-where thumps at the bruise. Everything works out and my life right now needs to maintain freedom - to bend, to move, to be my part of the Army plan.

Traveling is currently more critical anyway. As I contemplated the ramifications of literally pulling out my hair and those of quitting grad school, I also grabbed frantically at anything that would make my academic life worth living. Last semester me and my big dreams had proposed a month long road trip paired with an independent study in travel writing, which sounded great but ran into some logistical issues that made it less appealing in the end. I had dropped the idea and had conceded to the normal class schedule and my first free summer in quite a while. That was before the academic crisis occurred, which ultimately brought me back to it for modification. Dad and I have been planning a smaller scale road trip to Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC, and so the familiar thought halted me one day like a child suddenly consoled for no reason. He and I will be back before June starts up, leaving the rest of summer wide open. I stopped by my non-fiction professor's office to get the angst off my chest and to ask her about the independent study again, under different circumstances. Talking to her was helpful and she agreed to throw together this elixir of a summer course. I'm still mostly at the drawing board weighing possibilities but a drive up coastal California, from Los Angeles to the Sonoma Valley is in the lead. And not to be outdone, Mom suggested a short cruise to Mexico just yesterday. It won't be like a summer backpacking Europe or India or Vietnam or Africa (all dreams), but it will be a wealth of opportunity and a reason to write, as well as a reason not to lose my hair at the hands of stress and frustration.

The container garden takes up the same cause as the chickens would - abandonment - although I'm pretty sure there is an easy solution, some kind of garden variety life support that I just haven't yet found. I've looked at a number of "irrigation systems" and yesterday I found some Plant Nanny's at a local shop downtown. The only problem there is the requirement of wine bottles. I have eleven large pots and each of the Nanny's terra-cotta stakes requires a wine bottle filled with water. Between now and mid-May I would be hard pressed or consistently annihilated to come up with eleven empty bottles.

Save the absence-induced possibility of sun scorch, the garden still aims for success. Now that it is written pests will probably descend upon my tender sprouts like plagues of locusts. But until then, they are growing in leaps and bounds, and while I feel like The Ignorant Gardener, last night talking to Dad about my thriving promises of fruit, he commended the knowledge I have somehow found room for and managed to cram into my already over-taxed headspace. I, however, will likely continue to describe my forays into veggie cultivation as "gardening by the seat of my pants," at least until next year when I hope to be the reigning queen of tomatoes, squash and peppers.

With that and the sun securely positioned, I need to go heat up my coffee and do something relating to school today. As much as I keep hoping it will, that final paper is not going to write itself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

happy earth day!

I kind of always thought of the "Green" movement as hype, until it showed itself as Addiction and swept over me. Things I've either consciously or sub-consciously changed for the better since January (in no specific order or rank):

  • purchased a reel push lawnmower against everyone's advice, which really only made me want it more. Even Baby Girl gets her eco-mow on:
  • started walking to classes that don't cause me to walk home in the dark. My neighborhood is...pseudo-sketchy.
  • recycling
  • organic container gardening
  • baking instead of buying: bread products, crackers, protein bars
  • not running the heat (unless it's so cold inside my house that I cannot feel my feet)
  • organic skin products (make-up, lotion, homemade toner)
  • and just now as I brewed my first cup of coffee in a long time, I thought to myself, "I can do this another way..."

Monday, April 20, 2009

what IS the what?

The rain knows to fall and the earth knows to drink, and while I watch the natural course of things course on, I can't help noting my envy of the little birds, whose genus and species I cannot cite, that scuttle along the damp grass and glossy asphalt. They have very few responsibilities and very few quests to conquer. Yet I feel oddly at peace sitting here in the back doorway watching them carry on, the just-cut grass, listening to the dribbling rain fall from disjointed gutters into puddles that slowly erode the yard and driveway, and feeling the cool, heavy air enwrap my bare toes. For this contentment there are no questions only the desire for endless amounts of it, a lifetime of uninterrupted moments of stillness, and the reminder of light traffic that I am not alone.

I stopped into the office of a professor I had last semester to grasp at a last ditch effort to prevent me from quitting. I'm not happy at all with where I feel like this masters program is going. And I wanted someone to say something that wasn't practical. I wanted someone to use words like "energy" and "spirit" and "meaning." She had been trying to plan a trip to India for the summer, had done the research and found flights, but she couldn't buy the tickets. She said that something inside of her kept her fingers from closing the deal. In the end, she decided that she hadn't really wanted to go to India and wound up booking a trip to a Caribbean Isle instead. She said that sometimes you just know, and that I needed to find what it was that I wanted to gain. "What is the what?" she gently asked. I folded in on myself and wrinkled my face in a dire effort to keep from crying. Is this English program my India?

This is where The Staff Sergeant, in his sweetest, feigned exasperation, would sigh, "so many questions..."

At twenty-five I don't expect to have the whole of my lifetime mapped out. I don't expect to know every detail, recognize every nuance eloquently relayed, have it all figured out. But it bothers me that the further I climb, with plans of enhancing my future, the more blurry my vision becomes. I want to be a writer and I don't even know what that means anymore. I feel like grabbing it by the limp ankles and wrists and heaving it into my growing pile of lifeless, romantic ideals. I feel like cursing the stars for bestowing me with a world of passions and talents that do not provide a salary.

All that I know for certain is that it needs to mean something, my purpose here on earth, something more than watching the gray-blue clouds shuffle beyond trees like foamy waves - with direction. I could sit here with the company of deep-indigo irises and my sweet pug loyally by my side. I could sip strawberry beer and be in awe of all that rises up around me, but I believe they have names for people like that, and really my need for answers would eventually move me.

a little like heaven

I don't even like peanut butter cookies, but these babies tested my will. As I vacuum sealed them, acutely aware of the Pavlovian effect occurring inside my mouth, I had to remind myself of the happiness they would bring to The Staff Sergeant. I only had one but it was memorable enough to warrant the need to share this (whole grain) recipe, along with my minor alterations.

Peanut Butter Chews

1 c. smooth peanut butter
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 lg. egg
1/4 c. water
2 T. honey
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. lightly salted dry-roasted peanuts, finely ground in a food processor (I used 1/2 c. steel cut oats intsead)
added: 12 oz. bag peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. LIghtly grease 3 baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

Cream PB, sugars, egg, water, honey, vanilla, baking soda and salt in a med. bowl, beating until smooth. Add flour and peanuts (or oats), beating until well combined. The dough will be very stiff; an electric stand mixer is the best bet here.

Drop the dough by Tbsp's onto baking sheets. Press the top of each cookie with a fork, flattening to about 1/2 inch thick. Dip fork in cold water if it starts to stick.

Bake cookies, reversing the pans midway through (top to bottom, bottom to top), until they're very lightly browned, 11 to 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer them to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

the span of my happiness...

...is from my kitchen to just beyond its back door, and then all the way to the other side of the earth where a soldier keeps my heart safe with his.

working toward the upgrade, a few bedrooms and some acreage. We all have dreams that breach the hold of Ben and Jerry's and Rachel's Yogurt, though they are few. Roll call: (from left to right) sweetie tomato, sweet pepper, straight 8 cucumber, beefsteak tomato

Wild irises, the complementary Nature Feature. And all along, I swore they would be tulips (evidence of my not-so-green thumb).

The teens: patio tomato and his entourage of marigolds, lavender, echinacea, chamomile, marigolds pulling security, the zucchini squash - we'll name him Flash, lazy sweet onions, a few more marigolds, and my little runt of a summer squash. [it's really obvious that this has become too much a part of my life, right?]

English muffins - Maiden Voyage. Rating: 6 out of 10. Better luck next time. Less wheat flour, more of something that will keep them airy.

I'm seeing how long I can go without buying wheat/bread products. It's all a part of the same itch needing to be scratched. On Sunday morning my mom called at 9:30am, asking about the "little homestead." While she mocks because she thinks it's cute, I am realizing that in all of my other lives, I never would have been gardening at 9:30am on a weekend or any other day for that matter, nor would I have been contemplating the right recipe for English muffins because I refuse to buy them. (well, I take that back, there was that one time.)

I'm turning into her. It's really quite frightening.

On the agenda for sometime this or next week: another attempt at a sandwich loaf, tortillas, and wheat thin crackers. And this weekend, the seedlings spread their wings and test out the real world that lies on the other side of window sills.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


...are our "thing." Some couples travel or participate in extreme sports together but the thing that we most love to do is wring every drop of rest and relaxation out of Sundays. I used to sleep in with him but as deployment got nearer, I started not being able to stay in bed past 8am. And since PT calls him into work really early every other day, save Saturdays, he doesn't want to budge before mid-morning and I'm okay with that. So if I get up early I do my thing until the day draws him out from under the covers, and if we both sleep in...well, you know.

We almost always make breakfast together, which is one of the most critical elements of our Sunday experience. Before he moved to The House of a Thousand Males, he would wow me with the most incredible omelets filled with whatever was left over from our week of dinners. Omelets being one of my culinary weaknesses, I am always fascinated by the taste and presentation he can produce, and yet he always thinks I'm humoring him when I tell him that he'll forever be the omelet maker of this couple. We brew up some coffee, sit leg-to-leg on the couch and find something mindlessly entertaining to watch until we're finished. My coffee is always hardly touched because I'm one of those one-task-at-a-time eaters but it will wait for me on the corner of the coffee table until later.

Later comes when we decide it's time for lunch or errands or both. I will heat up the morning's brew to take along and without fail I will spill it in his truck. There is an ill enforced ban issued on open containers in The Monster (truck). He will grab whatever is in the back - a dirty t-shirt, sweats, the occasional paper towel - to treat my havoc and he will roll his eyes and comment in a humorously exasperating tone. Then we leave down his street for an army supply store or the book store or Walgreens or the range. Maybe we'll see a movie or rent one, and eventually we find our way back [home is a relative term]. I'll make dinner, he'll tell me it's amazing, then we do homework or watch a movie or he packs for the next thing.

There isn't a thing that makes this routine special except that it taps into a kind of normal that only shows itself on rare occasions. The Army keeps life in a perpetual spin. Sundays are anchors in a constant barrage of anything-goes.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

i saw a modest dream, the kind that can't speak up

There is a story to tell, though it hasn't found its way through me yet. It hasn't formed the words clearly enough. They are still unfolding and forming into cohesive groups as I type. I work in phases like my father - life becoming a series of desperate love affairs quickly burning down the wicks that bore them until there is no more fuel. Maybe that's all this is too, a thing to keep me warm at night, an exciting idea whose end is deliciously unknown. Or worse perhaps, this is my True North.

I am a product of a swarm of things, but as my dad reminded me the other day, "I guess you can't take the country out of the girl." Part of me cringes and withdraws from those words, the part that still lusts after a tiny, 1000 flight walk-up in Manhattan, the bustle, the peace-like-waves of hurried traffic, the need for human life tucked closely around me. And yet time and time again, no matter what my heart is most currently fixed on, I arrive at the question: Why are my loves and inclinations unprofitable desires? Ah, the prompt.

[and as I proof what's written so far, I can see a difference in my headspace, that I like very much]

Let me tell you about the limbs that grew before me. My mother. One of my earliest memories is picking peaches with her before I tortured the tree with my need to climb it, and it died and rotted. Making cobbler in the kitchen with brown perpendicular linoleum rectangles and her hair, curly. She would spend what seemed like days in her gardens, always in that lavender terry-cloth get-up, shorts and tube top connected, slender work gloves and sun visor. In those memories her hair is also curly. Her bounty would be bright roses and okra, bell peppers, tomatoes, summer squash. Cooking the harvest promoted such blissful Southern staples as fried green tomatoes and fried squash, and fried okra for that matter. And when it wasn't gardening season I would still watch her move in the kitchen. No matter how many hours in the week she worked, dinner was always relatively homemade. As I got older she developed an affinity for figs, and soon we had numerous fruit bearing trees growing along the chimney side of the house. She made preserves, although I can't recall this being an intensive process, so there may not have been bundles of them. Nevertheless, this was very normal in my existence, not critical or praised like faith from the stem or from the hands, but performed like rituals with great reverence and joy.

My late great aunt, Mom's side. Influenced by The Depression, she developed a need to horde, cultivate and feed. Another dated memory is being put in a highchair hooked to a diner table in her self-named restaurant. She manned the register and the kitchen simultaneously, along with several acres of row gardens heavy with everything: grapevines, cherry trees, vegetable plants, nuts, fruits, leafy greens, etc., etc. And canning was an event, a near daily event. I still have jars in my pantry waiting for the right rainy day to make peach pie with her filling, and green beans that rival anything store bought. She did it all even until the end. After a partially paralyzing stroke the walker accompanied her garden work, and the kitchen was never empty of something earthy and quaint in its conception, but radiantly and perfectly full of Home. She served humanity from the ground and from humble hands.

These are the only ones that I know or have known. I hear that my mom's mom was quite thrifty as well, and my dad's mom had the chickens that I want now. Maybe he's right. Maybe some things are so vital to a person's make up that they can't be denied. This somehow seems to edge up awfully close to a vast pondering of the meaning of life. My "mother in law" asked if I expected the economy to get bad enough to warrant all of this simplifying, which caused to me to look at my motives. The economy was never behind it. I answered that part quickly and with ease. That explanation is a part of the story that hasn't quite formulated. There is something crucial feeling in watching a seed grow or kneading dough that will become the foundation of sandwiches, and in knowing that if all the world fell down around us, I would, in some small capacity, be able. And besides, it's in my blood. This, whatever it is becoming, feels like faith and purpose, like joy.

Friday, April 10, 2009

a place for everything::everything in its place

I can't believe it's already Friday. Another week down is a good thing both in deployment terms and in grad school terms. This semester has been far less magical than last and less inspiring and less motivating. I've dragged through it because I had to, much like the days that he has been gone. The day he left I lived through the coming months in big bites, overwhelming concepts that drew my stomach up into my throat and left an empty chasm where it belonged. I felt like crawling out my skin in the most desperate and panicked way. Looking back, that seems so long ago, but then again, we're already on the other side of all my enormous measurements - seasons, semesters, length of daylight. And for most of the time that I've powered recklessly through British Romance poetry and fallen asleep without his arms around me, I've been surprisingly okay.

I have found little things to occupy my mind and stories that I've gathered to color all the hours. Though one of my biggest fears was learning to live on my own, misery-free, I've come to love most of it. There are times, like yesterday when I really do wish that he was here, but not in the cry-myself-to-sleep way, more in the he-knows-how-to-shoot-big-guns way. Not that I don't...

...but he's better.

I pulled out of my driveway en route to the post office and to the vet. I backed out, righted my direction only to see three police cars pulled haphazardly onto the curb of my street, three doors down. Lights were flashing, a few cops were coming around the corner, an obvious exit from the premise, and a stand up gentleman stood cuffed behind the trunk of the closest vehicle. This falls into the "ignorance is bliss" section of life. I felt much more settled not knowing that a criminal lived on my block. I'm making double sure that the doors are locked and that every outdoor sound is over-analzyed and that I sleep with one eye open.

In other news, the garden project continues to prosper. The back-up patio tomato (the one not grown from seeds) and the homegrown zucchini squash, along with my window box of sprouting spinach and romaine lettuce all found homes outside yesterday. They're growing up so fast! My herbs are nestled in a sunny corner of my porch and the poppies continue to explode into thread-thin stems with miniature leaves. Inside my summer squash and sweetie tomato have just this morning shown through the soil, and I'm still giving the sweet pepper and straight eight cucumber a chance to do the same.

It's safe to say that this endeavor has become far more involved than I ever expected. I awoke in the night to a mild thunderstorm and thought briefly of running out in the rain to bring their pots inside. I kept seeing visions of disrupted root systems and disturbed onion seeds, over-watered failure, etc. Luckily, for the sake of preserving some dignity, I stayed curled up in bed and let Mother Nature induct them into Her realm without me. Using a calming mantra I talked myself down from pathetic actions - they are Hers, not mine.

Monday, April 6, 2009

greetings from a dreary Monday

There isn't much to tell and maybe I'm also extending my break from blogging because I can. But again, not much to tell. With things spicing up in the world and a completely screwed up switchboard system, my levels of anxiety are on a steady climb. I've gotten a series of about five calls in close to two weeks that have amounted to a lot of brief words before an automated operator hangs up prematurely. In under 10 minutes, with warnings that your talking time is quickly expiring, there isn't much that you can feasibly say, except to make sure you squeeze in an untimely "I love you," because that's what matters most. Even though we have spoken, we haven't really gotten to talk, no e-mails either. The sparse communication is just now starting to wear on me, and the shift from sunny 70 degree days to sleet and rain and resurfacing Winter coats, and my stuffy nose and general feelings of gross. But before Winter stopped in for one last hoorah, everything was pretty swell.

The weather has been beautiful. I spent a good part of this last weekend with the doors open, completely relaxed, tending new sprouts and day dreaming long evenings that will be spent on the porch with my soldier, sipping wine for me, beer for him. Though those days are still a long way from right now, it's pleasant to think of them, to be able to think of them as that much closer.

I almost went through the transplanting process while the sun was out and the days were ripe for potting plants, but this Blackberry Winter was looming on the horizon so I waited for possibilities of frost to subside before chancing my seedlings' exposure to the elements. Just when I had given up on my tomatoes, a tiny sprig of green showed itself, and I awoke this morning to find that my zucchini was busy pushing up through soil all night long. This from-seed business doesn't sit well with my total lack of patience; however, if all goes well, I'll be a veritable produce stand by June or July. I'm still mulling over chickens, although I picked the breed and have glanced over coop designs. I keep coming back to the anchor they would be. Who the hell am I going to hire on to tend chickens if I travel? Am I really ready to be that tied to home? Questions that still need to be reasoned with before I seal the deal.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My latest distraction

This book: Made From Scratch

is doing very little to deter my desire for a coop of these:

And while the topic of such things is already on the table, here's my spinach-in-the-works:

And a peek of chamomile: