Not going anywhere until this little one wakes up…wish I could reach my book. #heldcaptivebyasleepingbaby
View on Path
Not going anywhere until this little one wakes up…wish I could reach my book. #heldcaptivebyasleepingbaby
View on Path
It’s been over a year since Scotty and I settled in south Florida and it’s been a year of adjustments, punctuated by a few melt-downs and little victories. As very close friends can attest, it’s a good thing I didn’t write very much during the first six to nine months of our settling in. Despite the relentless sunshine my outlook was pretty dreary. I could find very little (nothing) to like about our new home. Sure, it was nice to have an apartment that was more than six times the size of our Paris flat. Sure there were things that were more convenient. Yes, it was warm. All these “positives” made me crave the grey skies of Edinburgh, the tiny cosiness of our 180 square foot apartment in Paris, and the ability to walk anywhere. A few trips to the beach reminded me that I’m just not a “beach person” and I would much rather hang out in a city park. Finding quality produce was an exercise in frustration. And I didn’t see beauty anywhere.
Now that we’re beginning our second year here, a fact I can scarcely believe, I think I’m getting a handle on things. There are so many things about this place that I simply don’t understand. Why do so many of the men living here wax their eyebrows? I don’t know why anyone would empty their catheter onto the street while sitting in their car, but I’ve seen that happen here. I don’t know why that other dude was walking around with nothing on but a tank top, old whitey tighties and Crocs. I’m not sure why fraud is so incredibly rampant down here, but it is. I’m also not sure why the county we now call home has the highest HIV infection rate in the country. And frankly, I’m still really not sure why anyone lives here by choice, but I’m learning to just accept that this is a place that’s unique and is now a part of my story. As new friends have said in reference to S. Florida, “You can’t explain it, you just have to accept that it is what it is.”
Outside of the conundrums of culture, Scotty and I have been blessed with an amazing church and a growing circle of friends. Cultivating an attitude of grateful contentment is something I’ve struggled with over the past year but the knowledge that this is where the Lord has us for now is so comforting. Making connections and getting to know people has made all the difference, as it always does. I constantly remind myself that I didn’t like Edinburgh until we started making friends and it makes me so grateful that we were created for community. And so, a year after our repatriation, I looking forward to our next year here. Our little family is growing, there is anticipation, and profound gratitude.
While we were in Edinburgh, Scotty turned 33 and we were able to celebrate his birthday with a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Scotty thought it would be a good bookend to our Edinburgh experience. When we first moved here in 2007 we took a hike up the famous old volcanic crag and it seemed appropriate that we take one last hike up for the foreseeable future.
We’re back from two lovely weeks in the UK. It was refreshing, rejuvenating, and a time to ponder where life has taken Scotty and me. After a year that was pretty draining with its transitions and shifts, our cups were refilled and we’re feeling ready to re-engage after a year of conscious withdrawal. It’s amazing what two weeks of being surrounded by some of the best people on earth, beautiful scenery, and stimulating conversation can do for one’s soul. Today I’ll share photos from the first part of our trip.
Our trip started with a couple days in Edinburgh and then we were off to St. Andrews were Scotty was presenting a paper at a conference. Our trip coincided with two weeks of the loveliest weather we’d ever experienced in Scotland! In fact, it was actually hot. Hot in Scotland. And during our time there, we didn’t see a single drop of rain. Meanwhile in Florida, the rain was pouring down. So strange!
St. Andrews was lovely. Our guesthouse was superb. In fact, if you’re headed to St. Andrews, check them out here. The hosts, Tony and El, were lovely, the breakfast was delicious, the rooms chic. We spent quite a bit of time walking around the little town and soaking in the atmosphere.
I’m headed to Edinburgh and cannot wait! And to celebrate, I had to share this lovely Edinburgh home that was featured on Design Sponge. It’s positively dreamy as you can see from the photo above. Check it out here! Cannot wait to be in my old stomping grounds, seeing good friends, and drinking lots of (decaf) Wellington Coffee!
Whew! It’s been a nutty six months since my last book update. And I’ve been doing quite a bit of interesting reading.
The year started off with required reading for a couple of classes I was taking. In eight weeks I had to read the following books and plays:
Eight weeks of reading nothing but Aristotle, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, and Euripides while in the midst of a very nauseous first trimester, was quite the experience. Aristophanes’s plays are superb and thoroughly enjoyable. Clouds is so entertaining and every time I read it I’m more amused. Reading Prometheus Bound for the first time was enlightening. For some unknown reason I’d missed it in all my reading of Greek tragedy and suddenly literary references to this classic made a lot more sense. I loved the idea of a Greek god sacrificing himself for the betterment of those silly bumbling humans. And the idea that everything good in civilized life found its roots in the gifts of Prometheus was fascinating. I wasn’t so inspired by The Bacchae. This probably had a lot to do with the professor as I found his interpretations to be not only untenable but downright offensive. Isn’t it funny how a professor’s take on something can completely color a piece of literature? Well, this one is wrecked for me and it’s going to be a long time before I return to it and sort it out on my own.
On to the Aristotle. Eight weeks to read, in their entirety, his Apology, Nicomachean Ethics, Art of Rhetoric, and Politics. It was a bit too much, especially as these are texts that require pondering. Thankfully, my college classes in philosophy and classics ensured that I’d had some exposure before this inundation. Ethics was my favorite by a clear margin. Every single politician should have to read this book, as well as every journalist, finance manager, teacher, and person who interacts with other people. But mostly politicians. :-) The discussion on intellect, morality, and virtue kept me busy with the highlighter. Rhetoric was also interesting to me in the attention it pays to the literary forms as well as dialectics. Politics, of course as the classic text on political theory, was fascinating. I realized when I purchased the book that it was the same edition I had in college and I so wished at that moment that I had kept my old copy with all its notes and margin scribbles. This was one of the books that I really needed more time to absorb. The discussions of political systems and cycles was fascinating in terms of the political culture of the world today. With its ever shifting seasons of political revolt and revolution followed by the formation of new governments, Politics showed itself both extremely insightful and pedestrian all at once.
Next up was Augustine’s Confessions. Again, a work that requires multiple readings and time to ponder. Since reading it back in February, I’ve had the opportunity to return to several of the larger sections multiple times and the more I read this book the more it impresses itself on my soul. Take this passage:
“What art Thou then, my God? What, but the Lord God? For who is Lord but the Lord? Or who is God save our God? Most highest, most good, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful, yet most just; most hidden, yet most present; most beautiful, yet most strong, stable, yet incomprehensible; unchangeable, yet all-changing; never new, never old; all-renewing, and bringing age upon the proud, and they know it not; ever working, ever at rest; still gathering, yet nothing lacking; supporting, filling, and overspreading; creating, nourishing, and maturing; seeking, yet having all things. Thou lovest, without passion; art jealous, without anxiety; repentest, yet grievest not; art angry, yet serene; changest Thy works, Thy purpose unchanged; receivest again what Thou findest, yet didst never lose; never in need, yet rejoicing in gains; never covetous, yet exacting usury. Thou receivest over and above, that Thou mayest owe; and who hath aught that is not Thine? Thou payest debts, owing nothing; remittest debts, losing nothing. And what had I now said, my God, my life, my holy joy? Or what saith any man when he speaks of Thee? Yet woe to him that speaketh not, since mute are even the most eloquent. Oh! that I might repose on Thee!”
There is something in this that recalls the best psalms of David. Fantastic!
Once I was done with those classes, I was so happy to have a chance to read for fun. Here’s the winners:
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather was a lovely break from the wordy prose I’d been reading. While not quite as sparse as many of Cather’s other works, Death Comes is a lovely story set in the deserts of the southwest. Her writing reflects the wide open spaces of this setting and it gives the reader room to breath, and space to get lost in the story. Garden imagery calls to mind lost paradises, the characters are all fully human in their goodness and frailty. This book made me want to re-read Cather’s other works.
Booked, Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior was probably the impactful book I’ve read this year. Prior is a book lover through and through and she knows how to write for other book lovers. Tracing the books that impacted her faith journey, Prior makes you feel as if you’re sitting in the best English class you’ve ever been able to take. Whether she’s reflecting on the life affirmations of Charlotte’s Web or the sexual mores of Gulliver’s Travels, Prior is unflinchingly honest in her meditations on how these books formed her soul. One passage that jumped out at me was her reflection on literature’s role in allowing her to understand God. “To respond emotionally to God directly is more than I can bear. So God in his goodness has bestowed the gift of literature. Literature is like the cleft of a rock that God has taken me to, a place from which I can experience as much of the glory of God as I can endure. Great literature allows me, like Moses, to see the back of God.” For anyone who has experienced this aspect of literature, this is a book for you.
Evelyn Waugh’s classic was the choice for my book club and I am so glad! Besides making me miss crumpets and tea, this book brought back so many memories of time spent in England, of a semester at Oxford (no, I did not recite T. S. Eliot in the college quad), of English sensibilities, and all things wonderful about the UK. And beyond that this book really is so much more than a treatise on the crumbling of the aristocracy. It’s both an apologetic and a critique of Catholicism, it’s an exploration of faith and grace, it’s a eulogy for a rapidly fading way of life. I loved every page!
The best thing about Rules of Civility is that its author, Amor Towles, is extremely well-read. The story of a young woman striking out on her own in NYC is a classic but Towles treats it differently and provides a depth missing from most coming-of-age in the big city stories. The references to George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation was amusing to me because that stiff little work by the young future father of our country was one I read quite a lot as a child. I found it fascinating but not to the extent that I was able to build a wonderful story around the idea of someone fashioning their life on these morés. Set in 1930s New York City, this is a book of scarcity and excess, decorum and coarseness, broad worldviews and sheltered existences. It’s a great beach read even if I thought it ended a bit weakly.
I love Ruth Reichl’s memoirs. From Garlic and Sapphires to For You Mom. Finally, Reichl is a superb storyteller. I think that her ability to make people feel at home at her table is part of why she’s such a good writer. She lacks all self-consciousness and simply opens her home and life to you in a way that is authentic and warm. Tender at the Bone is no exception.
I loved David James Duncan’s longer works, The Brothers K and The River Why, so I had high expectations for River Teeth, his collection of short stories. Ultimately, despite some poignant stories, it just does not stand up. There are so many talented novelists who simply cannot flourish as well within the bounds of a short story, and I’m afraid that this collection makes me think that Duncan is one. The short story, one of my favorite genres, is a very difficult beast. It takes immense skill to be able to distill an entire narrative within the bounds of a few pages and this collection left me wanting.
Reading these two popular fiction books at the same time provided a very fascinating study in contrasts. Both are books written from the perspective of a woman, but are in fact written by men. After reading both, I can say that Chris Cleave succeeds and Chris Bohjalian fails miserably. Little Bee sucked me into the story as it’s fascinating and well-developed. It’s set in England and concerns the struggles of a refugee girl and the woman who takes her in. Midwives is the worst book I’ve read in a long time. Poorly developed, awkward, boring. It’s just a must-miss.
Humbolt’s Gift by Saul Bellow is a modern American classic and was awarded the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. Maybe it was all the Aristotle I’d been reading, but despite all the hype, I really did not find it engaging. It took me months to get through and, while I could appreciate some of Bellow’s observations about modern society and the hopelessness of modernity, I didn’t find anything particularly revelatory. Meh.
So, those were the literary highlights, and a couple of low points, of the past six months. On the to-read list is some Agatha Christie, more Amor Towles, and lots of Plato. What are you reading?
I have a hard time with breakfast. Basically since going gluten-free as well as grain-free, I find it a bit difficult to keep things interesting. And my experiments in grain-free substitutes for pancakes and other traditional breakfast fare have met with mixed success at best. Thanks to a bunch of rainbow Swiss chard in my veggie box, I now have a new dish to add to the rotation. And I love cooking Swiss chard because it’s so pretty. Starting you morning cooking something bright pink and green is always fun. And it’s super easy.
Eggs over Swiss Chard
Remove the thick stems from the Swiss chard and finely chop. Roughly chop the leaves, they cook way down so don’t worry about getting them into small pieces.
In a frying pan heat about 1/2 tablespoon olive oil with 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil (if you only have one, just use whatever you have). Add about a tablespoon herbes de Provence and sauté until fragrant and gently toasted. Don’t overcook or herbs will turn bitter.
Next add the chopped Swiss chard steps and sauté over medium high heat for a couple minutes.
Once the leaves are wilted and tender, place on a plate. In the same hot pan, fry an egg. I like mine kinda crunchy around the edges but I realize that many many people don’t so cook it however you prefer. I think that leaving the yolk runny is the best way ’cause then you get all that yummy yolky goodness to mix in with the chard.
Place the egg on top of the chard, sprinkle with pepper, and dig in. And you’ve started your day with a good serving of veg. Score!
If any of you were to decide to drop by unannounced around dinner time, more than likely you would find either me or Scotty standing over a simmering pot of creamy, savory, spicy, yumminess, adding in handfuls of freshly chopped veggies. This is our favorite meal and one we eat at least twice a week, often more. In fact when we were in France you wouldn’t find us hauling back sacks from the Monoprix half as often as you would find me peering at labels in the tiny aisles of the Asian grocery store. I would bring home bags bulging with fresh coriander, long stalks of lemongrass, tubs of curry paste, boxes of coconut milk, and baggies of kaffir lime leaves. It really was in France that I got to know how to use Thai curry pastes in a way that Scotty and I really liked. I’m not claiming authenticity by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t make my own paste (although that’s an adventure I want to undertake as soon as my herb garden actually succeeds in producing adequate quantities), I’ve never taken a lesson in Asian cooking technique, I’ve not even read any recipes on cooking Thai curry. I just knew we loved Thai and Vietnamese curries and decided to give it a whirl. Here’s what I came up with.
First a note on curry pastes. In France I had access to an amazing selection of wonderfulpastes but have not found it easy to find great options since being back in the States. Even a long wander through San Francisco’s Chinatown (I know, I know, China and Thailand are not the same) didn’t yield satisfactory results. The one type of curry I can reliably find is Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste and it’s fine. Not the best I’ve ever had and definitely mild. If you want to spice things up, add 1-2 finely chopped hot peppers to the recipe. If you’re able to find a curry paste you like better, use it by all means.
Thai Coconut Curry
Don’t get too caught up with getting perfect measurements on any of these ingredients. If you don’t like any of the veggies listed, leave them out. Hate cilantro, it’s fine without it. Not eating potatoes, skip them. Don’t have enough coconut milk, it will be fine. Seriously, every time I make this it’s different and it’s nearly impossible to wreck. So if you are worried about getting something wrong, relax.
First, in a large pot melt the coconut oil over medium high heat. Add the curry paste. This is important in opening up all those delicious flavors. Sort of push it around the pan, mixing it with the coconut oil until it gets fragrant. Be sure you don’t burn it ’cause then the flavors will turn bitter. Add your chopped white/yellow onion and spicy peppers if using. Mix in with the curry and cook over medium to medium high heat until onions are tender. Once the onions are tender and translucent, add your chicken pieces. Mix around so that each piece is sort of coated with the curry and onions. Once the chicken is white on all sides, you can start adding
the chicken broth. Add just a little at first, stirring it around and scraping up any stuck bits on the sides and bottom of the pan. Then add the rest of the broth along with the potatoes and green beans. Add in the fish sauce. Yes, it’s smelly and fish but you won’t be able to taste that later but it’s necessary creating a dish with different layers of flavor. When I’ve left it out the curry is inevitably a bit flat.
Bring everything to a simmer and cook for about four minutes allowing the potatoes to begin to get tender and then add in the coconut milk. Yummy! Once the curry is brought up to a simmer, add the red onions and pepper. This would also be where you add the baby corn, snap peas, or other firm veggies you’re using. Simmer for about 5-8 minutes. Two minutes before serving add the green onions and fresh ginger, stirring well to get all that goodness mixed together.
And now you’re ready to serve. This is great over rice, but if you’re lo-carbing it, just skip it. I like it both ways. Serve into bowls, making sure to give everyone lots of veggies, meat, and broth. Top with fresh coriander and a wedge of lime. I always add more fish sauce to my portion as I like it a bit saltier than Scotty does. Once served, squeeze that lime over it and dig in. I like to serve it with cold cucumber slices drizzled with toasted sesame oil and lime juice. Enjoy!