Saturday, February 20, 2021


The garden is full of tiny blossoms, and I wish that I could invite you over to enjoy them with me. Everyone must be positively sick of hearing about the thing we have been dealing with for nearly a year, the invisible yet conspicuous menace that has changed everything in our daily lives. This week marks the beginning, for us, when we discussed the very real possibility of quarantine, when we took inventory of our disaster preparedness supplies, and considered what we could need to last, isolated at home for two weeks, or six months, and we laughed at the idea of that scenario. It seemed too improbable, and possibly too horrible to comprehend, a pandemic going on for more than a season. We were mindful, but now it is almost as though we were envisioning something that would be simply a long campout, an unfortunate misadventure we would soon laugh about, and be happy to have made it through with only some inconvenience. Now, we punctuate every conversation with phrases like, wearing mask, safely distanced, before COVID, tested, and I wish we could... And the losses, the setbacks, the disappointments, grief, and frustrations have been far more grave, challenging, and lasting than we imagined. I wish we could have managed all of this more capably, with more concern, and care. It's been a long year.

Even though I am full of wishes, full of concerns and empathy, and somewhat weary of protocols and limits, I cannot say it's been all bad, or particularly hard for us. We have, undoubtably, been uniquely prepared and suited for staying home, keeping busy, and feeling comfortable. For one thing, we are prepared... it's been years since I first put Alex in charge of our emergency preparedness kits, and other measures. He has kept us in good shape for earthquakes, evacuations, zombies, and other scary things! And then, all of our hobbies, and sometimes idiosyncratic interests, have been a tremendous help for us, and for our community, and have provided many, happy distractions, and opportunities for fun, for engagement, and celebrations. Even ideas and plans we made with other purposes in mind, have lent themselves fittingly well for these new circumstances, like widening the driveway, adding more seating, and improving our space for getting together outside. We have been fortunate... we count ourselves lucky, in friends, in resources and ideas, in patience and flexibility, and imagination.

I wish I could see my Mom and Dad, safely, as easily as we did before. I am so glad they are managing well enough, that they have each other, and Netflix, good humor, and their cozy home. I wish Maria could go to school, as we imagined it would be, as she hoped she would enjoy. I am very thankful that her teachers and classmates can still participate, safely, in classes, and lessons, in clubs, and activities, mindfully and patiently doing all things possible to keep safe, and not spread the virus. I wish there was no injustice, indifference to global issues, cruelty, ignorance. I am heartened by the outcome of our national election results, by the tone and endeavors of the new administration to be kind, to act progressively, openly, and for the good of all. And I am renewed by my community, by the stories of kindness and generosity, of ingenuity and good faith that happen every day, in small gestures, and big movements. I am reminded that we have a beautiful capacity to do good, to share and inspire, to lift each other up, and I hope that we see more, do more, to spread these gifts we have, through compassion, with love, for all. I wish we could sit close together and eat focaccia, smell these tiny blossoms, laugh, and cry, about the year, and soon, be happy that we made it through. Very soon, I pray.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Aesthetic Boards

In my teens I hung up posters on a bedroom wall, momentos like ticket stubs, theater programs. Then, I switched to filling albums or binders with ephemera, inspiration, photographs, love notes, magazine clippings, stickers. They were reminders of what I had done, and what I hoped to do. I loved when my taste, and hopes, or what I wished could be my taste, aligned with real experiences. When I discovered Pinterest, all of the pleasures of creating moods, being inspired, gathering and sorting through ideas, words, images, colors, and pretty things, reminded me of those albums and scrapbooks, of poring over magazines, looking for the one or two articles or objects that I liked, or wanted, or dreamed of, then clipping them out, and pasting them into my own book. Digitally, there is so much more to see and share, and it's all there at the *click* of a key. I compare it with curating a magazine.

When Maria was very young, I would often comfort, distract, or amuse her with a special Pinterest Board I curated just for her. I call it Just to Make Maria Smile. If we were stuck in a boring situation, I could pass her my phone, open to the Board, and she could safely browse all of the kittens, and bunnies, the teacups, and poems, the natural wonders, places, and philosophers. Some nights it was like a bedtime story, and we would snuggle together and re-visit favorite images, of places, of possibilities. When Max started school away from home, and was struggling to adjust to dorm life, I suggested he visit Pinterest, as a calming distraction, when he didn't know what else to do. I had boards of things I'd been curating, subjects, and themes that made me think of him, that I wanted to share with him. Not only did he take to it, but by following him, I discovered more about his interests, the things that make him laugh, comfort him. He still adds things to his Pinterest Boards, which we all visit from time to time, mostly for the jokes and memes.

Now, Maria is in high school, and has had her own Pinterest account for some time. We still share images that make each other smile, but this week, she shared something new, but really not so new... aesthetic boards. I know them as mood boards, or the literal cork boards pinned with notices, reminders, momentos and images. And I was reminded that I made one for a swap with a Peter Rabbit theme, and it was meant to share with my partner an idea of things I like, favorites, and such. I enjoyed making it, curating the images, distilling an idea of what I like, and realizing that it meant thinking, in part, about who I am. It was an interesting exercise, and I have meant to play with it some more, but haven't. Maria has been making many of these aesthetic boards, initially for the Dungeons and Dragons characters she and her group, play. They include original, and found art, clothes, scenes, objects, symbols. Collectively, the 3 x 3 grid creates a whole image, and mood that represents, even evokes, the character she is representing. Recently, she has begun to build aesthetic boards for people she knows, and herself. She showed me the D&D boards, which are a lot of fun, and communicate so much about both the characters, and their players, especially in Maria's hands. She has a knack for distilling the qualities and motifs that reveal the personality. Then she showed her latest aesthetic boards, and I was really captivated.
This is Maria's aesthetic board. Without looking at her, it's like seeing her, seeing into her dreams, her hopes, finding beauty as she sees it, the places in her heart. It feels intimate, true, and personal. I feel privileged, and fortunate, to see all of this that makes her happy, that inspires, and represents parts of who she is. The next one she shared with me, she made for her friend, Amira.

Of course, I know Amira... not so well as Maria knows them, but I see Amira in this board. I know they love pineapples and Miyazaki, that their bedroom is tropical yellow, they draw, and sign, and watch Steven's Universe. Another layer of what Maria composed, and she shared with me, is in the order of the images... pink, then yellow, and blue, like the pansexual pride flag. And the I love you ASL sign, is also like the game, a character, Paul played at with them when the girls were much younger. (Nuh-nuhnuh?)

Maria showed me another, one she is just starting. "Can you guess?" she asked, holding up her iPad. There were only three images in the grid, so far, and already, I could see, "It's Bambi!" Then, I wanted to see me... that is I was curious to see how she sees me. It feels like a unique, divulging way to have one's portrait made, like it could be a collage of what I project, and how she relates to me. I knew was asking for something personal, intimate. I don't make it into many photographs, and the narrative about who I am, the one in my head, is critical. I can't deny that the wish and hope to be seen at my best, through love and mindfullness is irresistible.
She shared this with me, this morning... her aesthetic board of me. I am floored. It's all familiar, yet revealing. It speaks of things I strive for, wish for, reach for, both on the ground, and in my dreams. It feels like one detailed portrait of me, with innermost, unspoken details, composed of many things, and feelings, that I both guard, and wear on my sleeve. It makes me feel pretty, inside, and out. I want to quash the idea of vanity, which just now reared its mean head, like a tiny troll, drawing its breath and preparing to lecture me on the sins of pride, conceit. What is the opposite of vanity? Because, I would like to know... what is virtuous, or worthwhile, about making oneself small, self-effacement, if I lose sight of what I have to offer the world, what makes me move, grow, smile? On the surface, I see the things I like, but the board also shows me the best of what I am comprised of, strive for, and that's a view I struggle to recognize, honor. Maybe some people are comfortable in their own skin, know themselves, but I am not, do not. I have tried to not to take up too much space, be a bother, look in the mirror, for as long as I can remember. There is a momentous gift in what happens when someone listens to you, sees you, knows you, and then takes the time to reflect back to you, the kindest parts of what they see, what they hear, or feel. So, when someone takes your photograph, or writes you a love note, when they reveal what they see you as, positively, unconditionally, not for the sake of inflating your pride, but to share the good, the joy, the bits you have displayed, intentionally, or quietly, I think that is something like a transcendent embrace, a sacred expression of love. I cannot deny that I am honored, even healed, and certainly inspired to see this part of me, and to know that I have managed to project some good. It makes me want everyone, that needs some confidence, some love, to have their picture taken, a poem written, an aesthetic board made by someone that sees them, and loves them, because it feels wonderful.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021


On our daily bicycle ride, there is a spot where we ride beneath some large pine trees. They're growing in a landscape barrier, where the road ends, and another housing development begins. The long branches of the pine trees hang over the sidewalk, creating a canopy of pine needles, large, round pine cones, and dappled light. In a literal sense, it is about thirty feet of sidewalk, traffic barriers, a dry and overgrown easement, a kind of cobbled solution for diverting car traffic, and not particulary inspired. Figuratively, it is fairway to a moment in a forest, on a journey, through a glen, into a woodland. The transition makes me mindful, take notice, feel expectant, yet if I timed it, I don't think it takes more than 4 seconds to ride through. In 4 seconds I can take a deep breath, notice whether more pinecones have fallen, look out for the wild fennel that grows in the scrubby part, note when children have left a skateboard, or ball, or have been building something in the dirt. In 4 seconds I can recall the pine trees that grew in the front of our house on Weekend Villa Road, when I was 6 or 7. You could walk up to the tree, whose branches arched from the trunk, up and over, creating a hollow dome, with a brown, fragrant carpet of dry needles, deep and cushiony. It was a perfect hideaway, personal house or fortress. I always expected magical, fairy tale events to happen when I was beneath that pine tree. Nothing ever did happen, no fairies, no talking rabbits, or tea parties, but somehow I didn't lose hope, or feel entirely let down. On our bike ride, for a moment, I revisit that same anticipation, and hope... here is a place where I might be witness to something special.

Suddenly, it seems, the trees are full of sun-bright pollen cones. They're so cheerful looking, they could be decorations for a celebration, or a delicacy we should harvest, and serve on small floral plates, with honey, and cheese. On this part of the ride, we are moving downhill, picking up speed, but yesterday I stopped to take some quick snapshots, to share, and remember.

Janece wrote lots of comments on some of my blog posts, including yesterday's, the one about baking quiche, and crostata. How I love comments! "I do wish I was more of a kitchen dabbler and experimenter. I enjoy it once I do it usually, but I'm always stopped by the idea of mess and dishes," she shared, and I loved how it made me immediately recall something. About 2/3 of the way through preparing 4 quiches, boiling eggs, and imagining a big jam pie, when I was pulling out yet another bowl for chopped veggies, or was it the sauteed ones? Anyway, I winced a little. The counter was at maximum capacity, eggs were simmering in a pot, the sink was filling up, and I was not sure I was adding enough salt to the quiche mix. And how about dill? Do I add dill to quiche? I was 100% mindful that, whatever my intentions are, however hard I try, I almost always make a mess. I have better habits. I have learned solid truths... like use a larger bowl, or pot than I think I will need, because it almost always saves me from spills. By the way, I forgot, or ignored, the larger pot rule, yesterday, and the price I will pay is having to scrub the stovetop. I could almost pass out and feel like I died, if anyone pops over when I am in the middle of Creating (or "living," as I call it.) I have managed to internalize shame and embarrassment about messes, but not the singleminded pursuit of fastidious domesticity. But, I decided to share some hard truths about what happens when I "dabble and experiment," and I posted some damning evidence on my IG stories. I reasoned, I could be temporarily, ephemerally open, transparent for 24 hours, you know, keep it real. The weird thing is, sometimes embarrassment makes me feel like I could pass out, disappear into the floorboards, but often as not, it makes me laugh, and feel perfectly imperfectly human, and creative.
Okay. These are pretty bad. If no one comes out and laughs with me, I will take them down in 24 hours.
After I make a big mess in the kitchen, I like to go upstairs and make a big mess with my sewing box, or as I like to call it "living." It's moments like these when I am keenly, gratefully, aware that I am a very very very fortunate woman. I have needles and threads, and pots and pans, eggs and dill, I have ideas, dreams, and time to play with all of it, and there is not a lot more I want, except more time, and the chance to share all of it.

Ah! A poem just came to mind, and I could not ask for a better finish to this post...

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better To paint a picture, or write a letter, Bake a cake, or plant a seed; Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time, With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb; Music to hear, and books to read; Friends to cherish, and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair; A flutter of snow, a shower of rain, This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind, Old age will come and it’s not kind. And when you go (and go you must) You, yourself, will make more dust.

by Rose Milligan

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Do You Say Crostata or Gallette or Jam Pie?

Our hens are motivated and ambitious in the egg department. I shared eggs, and will share more. I boiled eggs, and I can share those, too. Then I got everything together to bake quiches. And this is not a recipe, sorry, but even I wish I would write something down, because I make this up as I go, everytime. Hey, it's eggs, cheese, pancetta, leeks, spinach... what could go wrong?
I made one of the four vegetarian, for William. They were super yummy. And, the bonus is I don't need to do anything for lunch today, nor tomorrow. Besides having extra quiche, I had a lot of extra pie dough, so I decided to improvise on another creation... something with jam. For as long as I can remember, going back to the little house on A Street, my mom let me play with the extra pie dough (she's always been a phenomenal pie baker.) My favorite thing to do was to cut out circles and add a dollop of jam to the centers. Over the years they've evolved, and I think of them most at Thanksgiving. Sometimes they are really too messy for pictures, and stick to the pan, but I don't care, because it's the little bite of nostalgia that I am after. They feel like a gift that comes from almost nothing... dough scraps and tiny teaspoons of jam, sometimes whatever was left at the bottom of an almost spent jar. Now, Maria makes them, which makes me happy... it's a gift to see something enjoyable shared, and passed down, to be a witness to generational connectedness through traditions. Well, now you have the backstory on our little jam pies... this time I imagined one big jam pie. I spied a new jar of Bonne Maman raspberry jam in the pantry, and scooped into a bowl, to mix with a spoonful of cornstarch. I rolled out the dough, put it on a parchment lined baking pan, and spread the jam in the center. Then I raised the edges of the pie dough to contain the fruit, brushed the dough with a beat egg yolk. Maria asked, Are you going to sprinkle the egg yolk with sugar? That would look pretty. Yes. Good idea. The quiche were coming out of the oven, and in went our big jam pie!
I forgot to mention the little cut-outs. I should have looked for a heart shaped cookie cutter, but the tiny tree one was readily available. I was worried the jam would be too sweet, and so the extra dough was dotted around, as trees, to balance sweet and savory tastes. Then I remembered the last bit of cream, from quiche baking, and I whipped it up, with a tiny bit of sugar, but again, mostly thinking to offset the sweet jam. Ok, I know it came out funky looking rustic, but the taste was every bit like the tiny jam pies I love so much!
(Of course) I shared it to Instagram. It's such a simple dessert... another simple and gratifying dessert! We are two for two. I called it a "tart-pie-raspberry treat," but Kristina Gill calls it, "Crostata in Italy... gallette elsewhere!" Kristina Gill is a cookbook author living in Rome, so she would know! If I closed the dough over the filling, I would call that an empanada! What fascinates me is food and culture, food and regional specialties, and food that is universal, that coincides, in many places. Like how there are flat breads, unleavened breads, almost everywhere... naan, tortillas, pita lavash, chepati, frybread! Or fermented foods, like cortado and kimchi, pickles, and sauerkraut, giardiniera, to name a few. And the granita, too! I grew up with "raspados," and later learned about shave ice, in Hawaii, which I think comes from Japan, but I don't know, maybe Hawaiians climbed Maunakea and brought down snow and sweetened it! It's all so fascinating, so compelling, the stories of food, of trade and exchange, of distant, yet simultaneous development of recipes, processes. I am vibrating... all of this, and even knowing that I am barely touching the surface of this, that there is so much more to learn, explore, taste, literally, figuratively, is very exciting. I feel so fortunate to be living in a time when the stories are more accessible than ever, when I have many opportunties to participate, and engage, learn, share.

Monday, February 15, 2021


"Make an Italian inspired dessert:" Maria's Culinary Arts assignment this week. She watched a cooking program that featured several Italian cooks, each preparing different frozen confections, including sorbets, and gelatos. I know I posted about serendipity, only yesterday, but it happened, again, and I love it when random things occur that reveal themselves to be interconnected. I wonder... do events simply happen, and we draw connections out of will and desire, or are they truly meant to align themselves, meaningfully, inevitably?

Max and Maria joined me in a flurry of cleaning, and decluttering. Me, in the kitchen, mostly washing a lot of pots, pans, bowls, and Max in the livingroom tidying up, and putting things right, and Maria doing good and necessary odds and ends, like taking out garbage and recyling, clearing off the dining table. When there was a nice clear patch on the counter, Max brought my Christmas gift from the family, out of the livingroom... and I admit, the beautiful red manual juicer looks much better in the kitchen than in the livingroom. I think it's time we give this a try, don't you? he asked, patiently, yet intently. Max, is my angel of reason, of observation, and order, a gentle minder about many things, including when the sausages are soon to expire, whether we've made plans for dinner, do the cats need attention, or whether one thing or another is necessary, called for, ready. Without his nudging, I might have waited until next Christmas before giving the new toy a try. Bambi uses our food processor almost weekly, and I had only just used it for the first time after almost ten years. It seems I am always going to be a little too slow to make good use of things... it's not a lack of appreciation, but perhaps too much admiration for things just as they are. The juicer, sitting near where the Christmas tree used to be, made me feel lucky, admiring, happy, merely looking at it. I am often reminding myself to put things to use, to stop saving these treasures for a special occasion. I seem to be both intimidated, and too much in awe, of nice things.

So, I sent Maria out to the garden for any citrus she could find, and she returned with an armful of blood oranges, from our tree, Marceline. Max washed the fruit, and Maria turned to her phone, for recipes that might work for the class assigment. She thought maybe a sorbet, and I asked her if she'd heard of granita? And her answer was yes, they prepared that in the video. We are big fans of shave ice, and raspados, and this version, sounded like something we would love. First, we would need juice!

I had a juicer. I remember when I got it... Mother's Day, 2009. That was a gift we tried out right away, and loved! It got lots and lots of use over the years, until this year when the little form that holds the fruit disappeared. We could order a new part, but... heck, I don't know why we haven't done that! It would seem our pandemic addled brains are simply super-saturated with too many other things to figure out? (Oh. Geez. That was easy. Someday, I would like to talk to a therpist about how many years it takes to regain one's brain and processing capabilities after a concusion and collision trauma.) Where was I? I fell into infatuation with this manual beast of a juicer, and was the lucky recipient, at Christmas, and as much as we love(d) our little Krups, this new toy is super cool! We all took turns setting orange halves on the cone, and bringing down the lever. There is something satisfying about levers, about the brilliance of physics, and simple mechancial actions. We had bright red juice flowing, and plenty for Maria's granita recipe.

Maria added enough sugar, not a syrup, but straight, granulated sugar mixed into 3 cups of juice to sweeten the tart blood orange. She made the choice to keep the tartness, and only sweeten it a little. Then she poured this into a baking pan, and took it to the freezer. For five hours, every hour she broke up the freezing juice with a fork. Even after the second hour she was really happy with the results. The timing was brilliant, because we were finishing our dinner, when it was time to bring out the finished granita. Maria had eyed all of our cups and bowls, looking for something special, something to feature the beautiful red of the granita, and to highlight Valentine's Day, not too big, nor too small, and she served us her granita in milkglass teacups, which was a very pretty choice. So, is there some serendipity in all of this, or am just enarmoured of looking for attachments? The fruit in the orchard, the new juicer, the dessert assignment, the Valentine red... I suppose it's all the same, whether random, or crazy-random-happenstance, but somehow life feels a little sweeter when I imagine there is magic and fortune just waiting to be noticed, celebrated.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Chatting Away on Valentine's Day

A rosy posy rat, with her circle of flowers, and a tiny bouquet, all painstakingly stitched on an old and very thin handkerchief. I began with the ratty, and I thought two strands of floss would be too much for the fragile fabric. But it would have looked better with a double strand. By the time I got to the flowers, I felt more daring, even making French knots, and those longer knots, with the floss wrapped around the needle many times. If I never do anything with it, the handkerchief might not tear.

I'm not sure what use any of these creations are. And I still haven't learned to think up a plan. For instance, the moon was going to be a floral wreath. I drew a circle, then thought of the moon, and made it a crescent in the circle. Then I thought, it could still be filled up with flowers, and I made one little criss-cross base for a rose, something I'd seen on Pinterest. I didn't bother to study how the roses were made, and my first criss-cross was all wrong for their method, but I was reminded of simple twinkle stars, and filled the moon up with more stars. The floss is palest blue, and looks silvery. On Instagram, an artist acquaintence (I should say friend, though we haven't met, yet. We did share a Zoom call, and we are collarborating. So, yes, I should say friend...) My friend, Lola Argemi was painting in her IG stories, accompanied by Debussy's Clair de Lune. I loved the serendipity of the moment, me in California, stitching moon light, and her in Mexico City, painting to Moon Light. I added the words in chainstitch... Clair de Lune.
It finally rained. Truly, I mean finally. It's been a dry winter, and it's frustrating to see rain in the forecast, and then see the days reduce from 3 to 1, from 1 to none. I've been hand-watering all the seeds I sowed in anticipation of showers. I was out on the bedroom balcony, where I paint, and where I do weekly cardio with BounceBhangra. And, by the way, me doing a cardio class is one of the single most unexpected, surprising, out of character activities of the year, and possibly of my life. Diana and I coax and encourage each other, and she even got me a shirt. Somehow, I am hooked... probably because these guys make it so fun, so free of pressure, and because no one can see me. Wow... I am really far off topic, again. I was on the balcony, getting ready for a Cardio Party, when it started to rain. I was worried about the rain blowing into the room. The sky was dark, and there was even the whistling sound that comes from real storms. I love watching the sky and distant views from this room. The rain stopped as suddenly and dramatically as it began. The sky was clear in no time, and the sun was shining immediately, making the dripping wet branches glisten, even looking as though they were covered in icy snow.
I stole this picture of Muta from Janece's IG stories. Muta is looking particularly handsome, irresistible. Yesterday, Janece and Paul shared a driveway breakfast visit with us. And at one point Maria carried out each of our kitties so our friends could see them. Two of them, Sakamoto and Feynman, were the new kittens when lockdown began, almost a year ago, and Cairo they've known very well since he was palm-size. It's strange to realize what we have been managing, how we have been living, for the last 11 months, and hard to sum up all the ways we have been missing out. I miss so much. And yet, something else... I am too comfortable retreating from the rest of the world, and in many ways, I feel anxious about what back to normal will mean.
The other day, I came across some of my ratty paintings. I have every interest and intention of getting back to painting, especially because I have the collaboration with Lola to work on, (or play at?) I am no good at delegating my time for more than one or two things. I start reading a book, and only sleep will let me put it down. If I am stitching, I want to go until I see it all done, before the vision can slip away. And, then there is the weather. Painting is all set up on that balcony, but it's cold out there. I can sew from my bed, cozy, safe, warm. I put the rattys back in the drawer, and grabbed the cross-stitch box, to bring outside for our distant driveway breakfast. The box already needs tidying up, again. But it's got just a bit of everything, and while we sat around campfires, Geoff, Maria and I, with Janece and Paul, I began making flowers... the roses I first attempted when I ended up making a starry moon. And I kept going. Back inside, I continued listening to Lord of the Rings. The party of nine, less Gandalf, has come through Moria, a sad chapter. I stitched on, and soon we were in Lothlórien, recuperating with the People of the Trees. It was soft and hopeful there, in spite of the path ahead, and I thought of Galadriel's gifts, especially the grey wooden box, with earth from her orchard, and a single silver, nut from a Mallorn tree. I kept going, stitching, until I fell asleep.
No one's asked for eggs. I sent our friends home with some, and they can have more, if they'd like. What I should do is start making quiches, and freeze the ones we don't eat today. And, maybe I should be a Valentine Egg Fairy, and leave gifts at friends' doors! Happy Valentines Day! Make an omelette, with love!