Thoughts on Literature, Food, Faith and the Subversive Power of Living Small

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner
Fools Crow by James Welch
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

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posted by Charlotte at 9/27/2003 07:39:00 AM


Moving to TypePad

I'm looking at moving over to Typepad. Go check out the new layout and let me know what you think ....

LivingSmall at Typepad

posted by Charlotte at 9/24/2003 08:00:00 PM


Busy Busy Busy

My day job is in one of those crunch cycles, so no blogging for a little bit because my head is cluttered with the technical details of running telephones over the internet. Back next week ...

posted by Charlotte at 9/23/2003 06:49:00 AM


The End of the Garden

I pulled up the tomatoes this afternoon. All day it looked like it was going to snow, and there I was out there in the backyard in a sweater and my down vest. I figure, if you've got a down vest on, it's time to harvest all those green tomatoes. (Plus, I have to go to San Jose for business next week, and my brother was afraid he'd kill them all and I'd be mad.) As I was working out there, the weather got even worse, and I had to go put on my gore-tex shell for the first time since spring. I feel a hard frost in our near future.

So, I pruned away at the tomatoes, cutting off long lanky vines, trimming the leaves away in preparation for hanging bundles of vines, with green tomatoes, in my basement (I grew mostly cherry tomatoes). It was kind of fun since I hadn't pruned them -- I was just so happy that they finally grew like weeds that I let them. The Galina and Jeaunne Flamme were all entwined, while the Romas, Gold Nuggets, and Auroras, being determinite vines, were all compact and tidy.

I also harvested the Aci Sviri turkish peppers (from High Altitude Gardens) and hung them with the tomatoes in the basement to ripen. Next year, I have to remember not to plant the peppers among the tomatoes because they didn't get enough sunshine and didn't really ripen.

So now I have tomato vines hanging on the basement clotheslines. It's kind of festive ...

posted by Charlotte at 9/12/2003 04:02:00 PM

Johnny's gone home to June

Oh -- Johnny Cash is dead -- it feels like a loss that should be met with wailing, with rending of garments, with church bells tolling.

While I'm happy for him, because he seemed so bereft without June, I am so so sad for the rest of us. That voice, that gravity, that deep sense that absolute ruin was just a moment away. I think that's what I loved most about Cash, his music doesn't just acknowledge that we can all fuck up our lives beyond repair, but that we are always just a few short steps from that terrible fate. And that it's usually just the grace of God and the love of our families that keeps us from ruin.

I discovered Johnny Cash the winter I lived in Taiwan with my best friend from college. She had just married her husband, who is now a huge Chinese pop sta and we lived in a welter of Chinese pop music. After a few weeks all that tinkling upbeat cheer got to me and I bought a Johnny Cash tape in one of the street markets. After that, the soundtrack of Taipei was Johnny Cash -- he kept me grounded, reminded me what I love about America, gave me courage when I was on the wrong bus and no one spoke English and all the signs were in Chinese.

I have a hunch it's going to be all Cash, all day here in the casa. Rest in peace big man.

posted by Charlotte at 9/12/2003 06:54:00 AM


Ordering a Lamb

Well, I ordered a lamb yesterday. It "won't be ready" for a couple of more weeks, which means it's still out there at the Schilling's ranch, eating and growing and being a lamb. Which not only doesn't bother me, it reassures me. It's a happy lamb. It lives in my neighborhood. It's being raised by responsible ranchers. And it's a meat animal -- that's its purpose, so I'm not sad it's going to die. I'm just relieved to know how it lived.

When it's big enough, about 60 pounds, it'll go off to Big Timber to the slaughterhouse, and then over here to Matt's meats, my local guy to be butchered. Part of what I'm interested in about buying a whole lamb is that I can have some input into how it's butchered. The general practice is to take any scrappy pieces and turn them into ground meat. I don't cook a lot with ground meat -- whether it's hamburger or lamb or pork. But I do love stews, so I'm going to ask Matt to give me as much stew meat as possible. I'm also kind of hoping Matt will let me watch -- I think butchering is really interesting.

And like learning to cook what grows in my garden, I'm looking forward to learning to cook cuts I might not have otherwise. We'll see -- another food adventure.

posted by Charlotte at 9/11/2003 06:48:00 AM


Box of Fish

Yesterday I bought 25 pounds of salmon from a guy on the other side of town. He fished for it himself, in Alaska, and then had it processed, boxed, and shipped home where he sells it out of his house.

I love buying food from the person who actually produced it. I paid six bucks a pound, which seems like a bargain to have one of your neighbors go to Alaska and catch wild salmon.

So in my basement freezer is now enough fish for a year. Clean, wild, sustainably harvested salmon -- salmon that never lived in a pen, didn't eat horrible fishfood pellets filled with antiboitics, salmon that was never turned into a semi-domestic industrial product. Just wild salmon, caught by a guy with a boat.

Next I'm waiting to hear from the people who raise lambs. I'm either buying a lamb, or a 30-pound box of local, grass-fed beef. Then I won't have to go to the grocery store -- I can just shop the basement!

posted by Charlotte at 9/09/2003 07:58:00 AM


Summer is really over

I finally spent some time on the Yellowstone River this weekend --- went boating both days, actually. Unfortunately, summer is most definitely over -- We got rained on both days. Saturday was just sort of gloomy weather, with little sprinkles, and Sunday was gorgeous until the thunderstorm blew up. Oh well -- next year I'll have to try a little harder to get on the river in that short season between the time the floodwaters recede and the weather turns cold.

Saturday my friend Wendy-the-Buddhist, who has just returned from a year's exile in California (they needed to make some money) and I took out her canoe. It was great fun and I got to dust off some very rusty whitewater skills-- which was interesting. I spent a lot of time in my teens and twenties in canoes, and even spent one season guiding rafts in North Carolina -- but compared to that group of whitewater experts, I was definitely in the baby pool. So I tend to think of myself as someone who isn't particularly skilled -- but the skills I do have came back to me, and I was thrilled to remember how much I really love canoeing. Old muscle memories returned, and I managed to keep us out of the snags, upright through a couple of swirly spots with little haystacks, and without scaring either of us to death. It was a wonderful chance to catch up with an old friend, and we saw Sandhill cranes, osprey, kingfishers, red-tailed hawks, a couple of bald eagles, and a bunch of mergansers. All morning Wendy just kept looking a the glorious Absarokas rising above the Paradise Valley and saying "I'm SO glad to be back. I'm so glad to be back."

Sunday Nina and I rented a two-person "ducky," a small inflatable canoe-shaped raft, packed a few beverages and snacks, and did a much quieter section of the river. It was her mom's-day-off present from her husband, who spent a month at Yaddo this summer and left Nina with their two adorable, but high-energy kids. Unlike Saturday, Sunday was a true float -- I think we only paddled a couple of times, mostly just drifted down the river, talking in that way one does with a new friend -- testing one another's judgements about people and situations, sharing things about your life, and just chatting. So we spent a lovely afternoon talking and watching the birds and the mountains float by. And then the thunderstorm came up. The river is peppered with public fishing access sites, some of which are also campgrounds. We'd planned to go all the way to Mallard's Rest, which is where we'd left Nina's car, but when the storm blew up we had only made it as far as Loch Levin. So we pulled over, pulled up the raft, and wound up taking shelter in the outhouse where we called Nina's husband to come rescue us. Which was a funny end to a good day.

This morning is grey and dark, and I'm relieved to discover that my pink office *is* going to be as warm and inviting all winter as I'd hoped it would be. It would be nice to get some rain today for the garden (it rained down valley yesterday, but not here in town), and although I'm a little sad that the garden is coming to an end for this year, I'm looking forward to having a bit more time to get back to my novel, which has been sadly neglected these past few weeks. It's hard to have a full-time job, a garden, new friends *and* get any writing done -- but since for the first time in years I actually have a social life, and a solid group of friends -- a community if you will -- I'm trying not to beat myself up over the book. But it *is* time to get back to work.

And there's a lovely tribute this morning in the Telluride paper to Brother Al. A good man who did God's work in the truest sense. May he watch over us all.

posted by Charlotte at 9/08/2003 07:12:00 AM


Brother Al has Died

When I first moved to Telluride in 1988, Brother Al was still shovelling walks on Main Street. He was an old man, wearing raggedy clothes, with wild hair and a beard to match. He looked like an Old Testament hippie, and I was, frankly a little afraid of him. Plus, I was young and mostly interested in skiing, finding a boyfriend, and taking care of the kids for whom I was a nanny. I didn't really pay much attention to the slighly scary old man who shovelled walks.

But then, like most things of importance, Brother Al came into focus. After that first winter, I rented a tiny mouse house across from town park, this was before they built houses on those lots, so I had an unimpeded view of the river and the bottom of Bear Creek, the glorious San Juan's rising 4000 vertical feet above me. And once in a while, because my house was all glass on that side, I'd be awake early on a Sunday morning watching the sunlight peek over the box canyon, watching the cottonwoods light up, and I'd catch Brother Al preaching on the radio before NPR came on. His mission in life seemed to be reminding us how lucky we all were, how good God was, and how we should share the love. His other mission was supporting KOTO, the marvelous, entirely-volunteer radio station that is the beating heart of Telluride, and when Brother Al appeared on my doorstep raising money for KOTO, who could not give him a check?

Eventually, once I learned that despite his slightly wild appearance, Brother Al was a good guy, and like everyone else in town, I looked forward to seeing him on snowy mornings. He'd stop, say hi, and look at you with those wise old kind eyes, and if you were a hungover idiot kid who had gone home with the wrong guy the night before, Brother Al's kind eyes were just the benediction you needed.

He was a good man, and despite the small comfort in knowing he died on his way to his pulpit, the world feels like a slightly less golden place this morning knowing that Brother Al is no longer with us.

His obit is here.

posted by Charlotte at 9/03/2003 08:38:00 AM


Summer's Over

Summer appears to be, rather suddenly, over. The temperature dropped early this week, and this morning my (highly unreliable) thermometer reads 50 degrees. Highs have been only in the 70's and with the light rapidly receding, well, I'm not feeling hugely optimistic about all those green tomatoes out there. We had hail on the solstice, and here at the end of August I would estimate a hard frost is only a couple of weeks away. The challenges of short-season gardening. Sigh.

posted by Charlotte at 8/29/2003 06:59:00 AM


Granny Got A Brand-new Hip

My 93-year-old grandmother had her hip replaced on Monday because she wants to ride again. It's been three years since she could sit a horse, and since riding is her greatest joy, she willingly went in and let them, well, cut her leg off and put it back on again. (Although my cousin Jason tells me that her old horse, Ben, died last month. He swears he's not buying her a new horse, but I have a hunch there will be one in that barn soon.) And since she's 93, they didn't want to risk putting her under, so they did it with just an epidural. An epidural! That means she was conscious -- which I have to say, really kind of freaks me out. May I be so brave. Tough old bird, that one.

So, she comes out of surgery Monday evening, and she wasn't supposed to have anything to eat or drink, in case of complications I suppose. But did this stop her? No -- she demanded cake. I want cake! she said. And because she is my very formidable grandmother, they brought her cake, and ice cream. Because what's not to celebrate when you're 93 and just got a new hip and the surgery went well.

As we like to say here at LivingSmall -- Everybody likes cake!

posted by Charlotte at 8/27/2003 07:23:00 AM


Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches

It's that time of year -- there are ripe tomatoes in my garden, which means, it's time for BLTs. Because what's the point of a Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich that isn't made with a real tomato -- a tomato grown locally, a tomato grown to ripeness and juicy perfection? A BLT made with a supermarket tomato is a travesty. It isn't a BLT at all, it bears the same relation to a real BLT as silicone breasts do to real ones. It is a Bad Thing.

Whereas a real BLT, made with a real tomato -- a ripe, red (or yellow) oozy juicy tomato is perfect. On white bread. Always white bread. With, if you're lucky enough to live here, Matt's Meats own home-cured bacon, and Hellmans/Best Foods mayonnaise. And lettuce out of the garden as well (although it's a little past its prime, and getting bitter).

And, if you're really a lucky person, this BLT will instantly transport you back to an island in Lake Tomahawk, in northern Wisconsin, and to memories of Mr. Kennedy's big old Cris Craft boat with it's deep-voiced motor. Because if you were a lucky kid, and got to go out in that big boat and do a little fishing (the amount of fishing being in direct proportion to your height, because when you're very little, fishing is excruciatingly boring), you also got to go to Mr. Kennedy's island and have a Shore Dinner. Which was BLTs made with bacon, deep fried in an entire bottle of Crisco Oil in a big cast iron pan over an open fire. On white bread, with big old beefsteak tomato slices, some of which Mr. Kennedy would shake salt on and hand to you directly, telling you it was a tomato cookie, and you'd never heard of such a thing but because he was enormous, and had a deep voice, and knew everything, and because you always felt absolutely safe with Mr. Kennedy, you ate them and said how good they were (and you weren't being polite, although you were a polite child. Tomato slices with just a little salt are very good). And later, after the BLTs, and some real cookies that Mrs. Kennedy made and sent along, and after you'd watched Mr. Kennedy scour out the cast iron pan with sand and re-bury it like hidden treasure, you got to go back across that great big Northern Wisconsin lake in the beautiful wooden boat the color of iced tea, the wind whipping across the bow and the grown-ups hollering conversation at one another and the boat would bounce up and down across the waves with an absolutely even rhythm and all would be well in your little-kid world.

Which is why it's worth the wait every year for a good tomato. Worth not sullying a perfect memory with a bad tomato.

posted by Charlotte at 8/24/2003 01:16:00 PM



Over the weekend I renovated my office .. it is now a deep, bright, wonderful raspberry pink. The trim and the ceiling are bright white, as is the new desk, and the shelving (although I painted the cardboard backings for the shelving units the same pink as the walls). There's a sort of spiffy-looking track light that gives me these dramatic pinspots and the whole thing looks like something out of a magazine. It makes me inordinately happy to be in here, which, since I work at home and spend most of my time in this room, is a good thing.

The other wonder of this office is that there is now enough space for my various writing tasks -- that is, there's shelf space and I can see what I'm working on. Before, this office pretty much "belonged" to my Cisco work, and I was wandering around with my novel and various book review projects in little baskets, working in the kitchen (which I like) or in the backyard, or in my tiny pantry/library. Now it feels like I can put Cisco away when I'm done for the day, and get to my real work. I'm very happy with it -- although I can't say how much I hate painting, but at least it's done now.

The only other thing going on here is a lot of vegetable processing. This morning, while it was cool, I roasted a huge jelly-roll pan of quartered zucchini, drizzled with olive oil I'd whizzed up in the Cuisinart with basil, oregano, parsley, mint and garlic from the garden. I'm going to freeze them for later ... also roasted up some eggplants, which I'll probably just eat for dinner, but it's still getting hot here in the afternoons so if I can avoid using the oven, I will. Later today, I have to do another big batch of chard ... it's getting very tall out there. And yesterday I went down the block to the boarded-up house with the eight cherry trees in front and poached a big batch of sour cherries -- they're fabulous. I may have to go back for another bunch this afternoon ... I made a clafouti (inspired by Julie at The Julie/Julia Project and I think I didn't take the altitude into account and didn't quite cook it long enough ... it was a tiny bit sludgy. But the cherries tasted great ... that wonderful red taste ... in the best possible way, the cherries tasted like a Hostess Cherry Pie. Yum. We ate it while watching Queer Eye For the Straight Guy with our friend Maryanne last night.

I have to say, I pulled up my writing log yesterday and was appalled to see that I've only worked two days this month. This is horrifying. Between the garden and the house repairs and the manic summer social life here, I'm getting nothing done. Which is worrying because I had planned to have a draft of this book by year's end, and unless I stop sleeping for the next few months, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

Oh, and the forest fires are sort of under control. At least the wind has shifted direction, so the smoke isn't so bad today. But the whole damn state is on fire.

posted by Charlotte at 8/20/2003 09:50:00 AM


The Burning Season

Sometime in the night I realized the wind must have changed, because through the gurgling of the swamp cooler I could smell smoke. It's disconcerting to smell smoke in your sleep, and I might have been more worried but that even asleep I knew there are two large forest fires in the area, and the smoke just means the winds have shifted.

And this morning, it's true. The air is a hazy apricot and the usually-clear outlines of Livington Peak are a soft grey. There's a big fire behind the peak -- 300 acres by last afternoon's paper, and another one north up in the Crazies -- that one's 800 acres. There are a number of smaller fires scattered all over the area, and several really large ones -- Glacier's still aflame. That's what happens when it doesn't rain for 51 days and we get lightning storms.

The fairgrounds are full of tents and guys from all over the west who are smokejumping for the summer. It's been 100 degrees every day and I'll be spending this smoky hot weekend painting my office ... it's a small room, but there's a lot of trim in there. But I shouldn't whine, at least I'm not parachuting into a fire ...

posted by Charlotte at 8/15/2003 06:46:00 AM


Freezing the Harvest

Meg, over at Meg's Food and Wine Page blogged this week about the plethora of fresh produce she encountered on her weekend in the Hudson Valley, and how this time of year what she eats is largely dictated by what's ready to be eaten (and how rare this necessity has become in a world where we're flying apples from New Zealand for out-of-season produce) ... at any rate, her post is much better than this summary so just go read it.

But Meg's post got me thinking about my summer here with my garden -- yesterday I picked two huge baskets of chard and processed about half of it for the freezer (the other half I took to our local soup kitchen, which handily, is about a block and a half away). I also experimented with freezing some zucchini (which I have doubts about -- I think the texture might get all weird but we'll have to see). Right now, my days are dictated by the garden -- yesterday's experiment with zucchini came about because eight zucchini came ripe at the same time, and I can't eat that many. And even if the texture does get a bit mushy -- after growing my own produce I'm becoming increasingly wigged out by a zucchini that was picked somewhere in Mexico and then put on a truck and hauled all the way up here to Montana. How long has that zucchini been dead? How many people have touched it? How much fossil fuel did we expend getting it here? It just seems irresponsible to me -- and since I have both the space and the inclination to garden -- I'd like to try to eat as close to home as possible.

Which brings me to the other thought Meg's blog inspired -- the idea that what's available can determine what we eat. That is, we eat what's close, fresh, in season (or that we can preserve) instead of expecting to eat everything all the time. This isn't a new or original idea -- Alice Waters has been bludgeoning us all with this idea for years, and much of the slow food movement is also predicated on eating local, traditional fare. But for me it's led to some new foods -- chard and beet greens for example. I've discovered I like cooked greens -- and although I always sort of vaguely liked them, they weren't something I bought in the store much. But having grown them, and having encountered how prolific they are, I now understand how recipes like Italian Chard pie developed. If you grow chard, there's a lot of it, and you start thinking of creative things to do with it. Personally, I'm planning to use a lot of my greens as filling for ravioli (once the weather cools down and I can bear to make pasta). There was a terrific commercial ravioli I used to buy in the bay area that was called "Italian vegetable" -- it had chard and carrots and onions for the stuffing, with some ricotta of course. And I also see a lot of white bean soups with lovely greens happening this winter. Maybe it's because I like to cook to begin with that I find this interesting, to experiment with those things that will grow here, and see what I can make from them. (Of course, I should probably be putting that creative energy into my novel, but a girl's gotta have a hobby now, doesn't she?)

And since they delivered my new freezer this morning, I now have someplace to store the summer greens, the local meats I buy at the Farmer's market, the wild salmon we scored last winter from the brother of the guy who owns the Murray Hotel and who fishes in Alaska. Plus, I think it'll be really nice in the dead of winter, when the snow is falling on my fallow raised beds, to go downstairs to the freezer and pull out a bag of chard, or gai lan, or beet greens, to eat a little bit of the summer that's gone by.

posted by Charlotte at 8/08/2003 03:34:00 PM


Rest in Peace

James Welch has died.

I only met him once, years ago, at the very first Art of the Wild conference. He led a workshop with a participant we'd been really worried about -- he was this older man from Alaska who had, to our enormous alarm, sent us the entire manuscript of his novel, and it was typed. During the months we were planning the conference, we worried about losing the thing, since it was clear it was probably his only copy. So this gentleman appeared, and we scheduled his workshop for the end of the week with Jim because the other problem was that the book was terrible. It was a long, cliche'd story about an "Indian Princess" -- and the man was so nice, and we'd become so fond of him after a week in workshops together that none of us wanted to hurt his feelings. And Jim was amazing ... he very quietly, and with enormous dignity told this man that the book was terrible, and that he could do better than these kind of cliches. This is a really difficult thing to tell someone, and it's especially difficult to deliver this kind of news in a way that a student can hear, because, of course, one's ears fill with white noise when you hear the news you'd been repressing -- that your work is terrible. But Jim Welch pulled it off, and we all sat around that conference table watching him with awe -- he was so kind, and so respectful, and so tough with this sweet older man who had written this awful novel. It was the kind of thing that only someone with a very big heart can do.

I'd heard at a party this summer that he was very ill, that the lung cancer had really taken a lot out of him and that he was a shell of his former self. But he was still funny, cracking dark jokes about how we're all only going out of this life one way. And then this morning, in the paper, comes the news. His big heart gave out.

If you haven't read his work, go now to the library or bookstore. Fool's Crow is my favorite, and one of the most astonishing books I've ever read. He was a wonderful writer and a good guy, who will be sorely missed.

posted by Charlotte at 8/06/2003 06:41:00 AM


Lurid Soup

Beet Soup! It's so gorgeous that it is right up there with the Oxford Magazine Music Issue. It's a soup that will make you do the snoopy dance all over the room. It's absolutely fuschia (which, by the way, is soon to be the color of my office), and tastes good, and generally is just so beautiful that it will make you happy.

Now, I was a beet-a-phobe for a long time. It was those nasty pickled beet slices you'd sometimes get as a kid -- the ones that leak nasty canned pickled-beet juice onto the perfectly innocent other foods on the plate. But then I discovered the wonder of roasted beets, and started making Laurie Colwin's great beet pasta ("weird, but good"). Now I really like beets a lot, and this soup takes my beet-madness to a whole new level.

Here's the "recipe":

Take equal amounts beets and potatoes (I used about six smallish beets from my garden and one big potato cut into chunks) and put in a pot. Coarsley chop an onion and smash a few garlic cloves. Cover with chicken broth (or in my case, 1/2 chicken broth 1/2 water as my stock was pretty strong). Add some salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until the root vegetables are tender. Get out the immersion blender and blend to a gorgeous, dark-raspberry puree. Taste for seasoning. Serve with a big dollop of sour cream and chopped chives (some basil is also good).

posted by Charlotte at 8/04/2003 09:53:00 AM


Some days it pays to listen to your horoscope.

Yesterday my horoscope said something to the effect that I should stop being so determined and dogged and take the day off to do nothing. Did I listen? Of course not. I had it in my head that I had to pull everything out of my office closet, build shelves in there, and paint the whole thing so that next weekend I can paint the office itself (and build more shelves and put in the new desk and lighting -- a whole trading spaces makeover). Now is there any actual schedule here? Any schedule, that is, other than the one in my head that says now is the time? Of course not.

But did that stop me? Did my total exhaustion stop me? Did I not spend the day swearing under my breath while cutting shelves from plywood, sanding them, painting them, cutting brackets from pieces of 1x2, screwing them into the closet wall, painting the horrible old-dirty-apricot interior of the closet a nice clean shiny white? Did my grumpiness, which I should know better than to ignore, because it usually means I'm not paying attention as closely as I should because I don't actually want to be doing the task in front of me, stop me? No. No no no no no.

Should I have listened to my horoscope. Yes.

Because at the end of the day, the shelves are all an inch too short. They won't work. I have to do them again.

So today I cleaned up all the construction and decided the most ambitious thing I'm doing is making some borscht (how hard is that? boil beets, potatoes, onions and a little garlic, then puree. Add sour cream. Borscht.) Oh, and I might finally read Seabiscuit because I saw the movie last night -- and despite the fact that there is far too much of the human story and not nearly enough horse, it's still pretty good if you like sappy horse movies.

posted by Charlotte at 8/03/2003 12:13:00 PM


Eating Close to Home

Our little farmer's market is on Wednesday evening and tonight I didn't buy flowers, because I finally have enough things blooming in my own yard that I can fill the vase under my grandmother's portrait myself. However, I did buy green beans (because the caterpillars got my bean plants before they could get off the ground), and new potatoes (which I think I'll plant next year) and gorgeous, fragrant fresh garlic. So tonight's dinner is pasta with the first zucchini from my garden, with hot pepper flakes, fresh garlic, and basil and mint from the garden.

I don't know how I'm going to go back to eating produce that's been on a truck after this. And it's not just me -- the dogs each got an egg with their breakfast this morning because my brother decided his eggs are too old. We've become so accustomed to fresh eggs from our neighbors that the old eggs go to make the dogs all shiny.

I also bought a jar of black plum jam from a lady who'd set up a card table and was selling veggies from her garden, jams, and beautiful pies. Beautiful hand-made imperfect delicious pies.

posted by Charlotte at 7/30/2003 05:19:00 PM


There are no answers here ...

I've had a slew of emails from sweet readers of this blog lately who seem to be under the impression that I've managed to figure out some answer to the ongoing question about how to live, how to live small, how to live in peace and happiness.

So I thought perhaps it was time to go on the record. I don't have any answers. I don't think there are any answers to that particular question. Like everything else that's really important in life: love, faith, art, politics -- the key term is process. It's all a process. We never actually get there. We just keep groping our way toward an elusive goal.

My brother and the Nice Girlfriend and I were discussing the whole issue of living small the other day and she just laughed at me (in a nice way) "You live larger than a lot of people I know. When you want something you just go out and buy it!" Which is true. I was hot -- I bought a swamp cooler. I needed a privacy fence and so I waited until I got an infusion of cash, then hired people to build it (instead of building it myself, or with my brother, which would have been bad because we would have had a big fight, and probably wouldn't have built a very good fence). When my powerbook died, I bought a new iMac, and I spend far more money than I probably should on books. It's all relative. Because of my good corporate job for which I get paid by California standards, I make a lot more money than most people in Montana. Hence I'm living large. However, when compared to my trust funder/yuppie friends in Bozeman who live in the big houses on the big lots in the big subdivisions (that used to be hay farms), I live small. (Quel horreur, I only have one bathroom.)

Here were the choices I made about moving here that were small: I bought an old, small-ish house in town that needed to be fixed up. Small choice #1: I wanted to recycle a house and garden that already exist instead of building a new one, because, well, I think there are plenty of houses out there already. Also, as a single chick with no kids, I don't need enormous amounts of space. Small choice #2: I wanted a house in town because the virus of the 5-20 acre "ranchette" is destroying what little is left of the West -- they impede wildlife migratory patterns, and are a blight across the land. And I didn't want to contribute to that (and I thought I'd be lonely out there all by myself). Small choice #3: I bought an inexpensive house with a mortgage I can conceivably pay off in my lifetime.

All of which means that the LivingSmall Project #1 now becomes climbing out of debt. And there's plenty of debt to climb out of -- like most Americans, I've got more credit card debt than I should, and then of course there's that hefty student loan -- getting a Phd was very expensive. But by choosing a small mortgage, and by moving to a part of the country where my money goes a little further, I'm hoping that in a few year's time, I can be debt-free. And if you don't owe money, you have many more options in life ... including writing full time.

My model in finding a home I can afford and putting down roots someplace is Gary Snyder. I studied with Snyder at UC Davis, and got to hang out with him some, and he's the happiest artist I know -- it was Snyder and Jim Houston who both told me, long ago when I was just beginning to write that the task was to find a life that will allow you to get the work done. So -- it took ten years, and a big fat dose of good luck, but I found a job that I can do remotely, that pays good money, and that leaves me time to write, and then I found a house I could afford, in a community of people who like and support me, and I seem, slowly, to be getting the work done.

And that's the only answer I might have for anyone, and of course, it's not an answer, it's a question (with an embedded quote, at that): how are you going to build the kind of life that will allow you to accomplish your "real work"?

posted by Charlotte at 7/25/2003 07:45:00 AM



It rained last night! Glorious thunderstorm about seven o'clock ... with some actual moisture content as well -- big raindrops falling on my garden. Glorious thunderstorm which cooled everything off a little, broke the relentless heat wave a tad, and has left my gardens looking perky and refreshed.

I missed thunderstorms when I was in California. There are many nice things about California, and many people like the mono-weather. It's dependable. It's reliable. You rarely have to worry about what the weather's going to do, because if it's May-October it'll be sunny and dry and if it's October-May it will probably rain. Oh, and you might have morning fog. When my grandmother moved to Burlingame in the 1930's she says her house got very dirty because she kept waiting for a rainy day to clean. And it seemed a shame to spend a perfectly beautiful day cleaning when you could be out playing golf or riding. But here, we get afternoon thunderstorms, which I love ... and since we're not actually in the mountains here in Livingston, but up on a bench sort of looking over the mountains and out toward the plains, you can see the thunderstorms coming. Then they do, and the air changes, and it just feels like everything's going to be a little bit better for a while ....

posted by Charlotte at 7/24/2003 06:44:00 AM


Heat Wave Continues

It's still hot here in Montana. Ninety-five to one hundred every day. The mornings are pretty nice still -- it's usually about 65 or 70 when I get up, and doesn't really get hot hot until about 1:00 or so, but after that, it's over. Too hot to think, too hot to move, too hot to do anything but hide in my house with my portable swamp cooler. Which I feel bad about. As a kid I was always being dragged out of whatever cool corner I'd found indoors, where I was happily reading a book, and thrown outside, having been told that it was a beautiful day and I should go out and play. (Sometimes, especially if we were at our grandmother's house the variation was "go outside and play and don't come back until it's dinner time.") So, as an adult, I've been feeling very guilty about spending so much precious summertime indoors, but it's just too hot out there to do anything. (The tomatoes like it though.)

The big solace is an afternoon dip in the river with the dogs. They've become absolutely obsessed with retrieving tennis balls, this, after years of dissing the retreive by the older of our two dogs. I think it's sibling rivalry; the puppy is maniacal, and very good at retrieving all the way -- that is, actually bringing the ball to you and not just dropping it somewhere in your general vicinity. It wasn't until the puppy came up with this skill that the older dog showed any interest, but now, toss a ball out into the current of the dropping-but-still-mighty Yellowstone, and out they both go, swimming like champs, swimming so hard their front ends rise from the water like motorboats, and after a brief scramble for the ball, the big dog usually gives it to the puppy to bring in, and then they stand there, with that maniac dog look, just waiting for you to do it again. So, in the heat of the afternoon, we've come up with a variation, which is I stand waist deep in a big eddy and throw the ball, then while they're retrieving, I take a little swim. Confuses them a bit, they're not sure what I'm doing in the water without a clear goal like a ball to retrieve, but we all get wet, and cool off, and the evenings are much much more pleasant.

posted by Charlotte at 7/21/2003 07:39:00 AM


Love my swamp cooler

I can think again -- the portable swamp cooler is a gem. Holds about 5 gallons of water, has a big old fan, and cools the house down just enough ... because it just evaporates cold water and blows the slighly cooled air into your room, the swamp cooler doesn't have that harsh refrigerated edge to it that air conditioners give off. And it's pretty energy-effecient since it's just a big fan with a water pump. It's 95 outside, and currently 79 degrees inside my house. This I can live with. Now I can think.

posted by Charlotte at 7/18/2003 02:02:00 PM


Weather is hot, Blogging is slow

I am not a hot weather gal. One of the things I loved about living in Telluride all those years ago, is that it was almost never hot (not at 9000 feet, it wasn't). However, it's hot here in Montana. High 90s by midafternoon, and since the sun doesn't set until almost 9:30 -- it stays hot. Now, I realize this isn't someplace really brutal like, say, New York City (where I sweltered away two summers of my 20s, too poor to afford a summer share, just sweating in my tenement), but nonetheless, the thermometer goes up and my brain shuts down. I'm off to Bozeman today in search of a portable swamp cooler ... should I succeed, I'll try to give you all a summary of my recent reading -- I've read a bunch of good stuff lately, and have been meaning to blog about it.

posted by Charlotte at 7/17/2003 10:30:00 AM


Rodeo Wrapup

I've been meaning to blog about last week's rodeo, but it needed a little time to sift its way through my consciousness (that and there was a big fat literary party last week that kind of threw me off my center for a few days -- those things always make me feel like Sally Field at the Oscars -- I still can't believe the French editor had read my book, had remembered it, had liked it-- of course, it would have been nice if he'd published it, but perhaps when the next one comes out).

So anyway, the rodeo. It was, without a doubt, the wildest rodeo I've ever seen -- and I've been to a lot of rodeos. The stock was incredibly rank -- the bawling calves kicked themselves loose and invalidated most of the calf roping, the steers mostly either stopped short or outran the ropers and bulldoggers, the bucking horses (both bareback and saddle bronc) defeated the vast majority of the riders, and the bulls allowed only one or two successful rides per night (yeah, I fess up, I went all three nights). The bucking horses were completely out of control -- climbing the bucking chutes, going down on the riders (and often coming back up with them still on). In one case, after going down on a rider, then stepping on him hard coming back up, a bucking horse managed to elude the pickup riders long enough for them to get the hurt cowboy out of the ring, then as they were herding this still-bucking horse out of the arena, it somehow managed to flip himself backward over the gate by the buldogging chutes, nearly landing on the cowboy he'd just hurt and the two paramedics who were treating him (the paramedic was quoted in the local paper as saying "I ran one way, and my partner and the patient ran the other). The ropers were all on that end of the arena since their event was next, and it took 15 or 20 ropers two whole minutes to catch that horse. Two minutes is a long time when you've got a freaked-out horse with its bucking strap still on running loose.

And then a horse broke his leg. It was terrible. The ride was clearly all off from the beginning, and then the horse landed and its right front leg bent the wrong way and came back up with the leg dangling and the whole arena got really quiet. The pickup guys managed to get the rider off, and get the horse calmed down, then a swarm of guys who must have come from the bulldogging chutes got him to the ground, strapped him to a gate and carried him into the trailer. They took him out of the arena before the local vet put him down. The whole thing took maybe three or four minutes. There's nothing you can do with the image of a horse's leg dangling like that. And as much as I love rodeo, and as much as I know that animals get hurt all the time -- as much as I know that a horse can break a leg in the pasture, or the show jumping ring, or when you're out on a trail -- there's a culpability in knowing that that horse, that really really rank horse, broke it's leg for our entertainment. Unlike the many cowboys who got the shit kicked out of them over those three days, that horse couldn't choose to be there -- and that's where it seems, we're collectively responsible for that broken leg.

And then the rodeo went on, and a 41 year old guy was in the chutes, and that horse came out and that man did the most impressive piece of riding I've ever seen. The horse nearly went down twice, and shifted directions at least three times -- this was not the buck-buck-buck-buck rhythm a rider hopes for, this was utterly unpredictable riding, and that horse wanted that guy off him. And that guy, that old guy (not in regular life, but to still be riding bucking horses at 41?) kicked into some other zone -- it must have been sheer muscle memory and he rode that horse. It was astonishing. It didn't in any way make up for the horse with the broken leg, but it was one of those moments where you see someone perform some amazing athletic feat and it reminds you why people do these things at all.

And that's what I mean by the wildest rodeo I've ever been to. All sorts of things happened, most of which were pretty much out of the control of the human beings involved. There was that one moment where that older guy got up there and rode the wildness, but he wasn't controlling it, he was just somehow synched up with it for a few seconds. As much as I'll always feel partially culpable for that horse with the broken leg, I'd also hate to see rodeo get too tame, too safe, too tidy. It's like having predators here to deal with -- it sucks that I can't hike alone because there are grizzlies and mountain lions and wolves, but it's important that there are things out there bigger than we are, and that we have contact with them. Thoreau's dictum was "In wildness is the preservation of the world," a phrase so opaque that it has fueled a thousand doctoral exams (including mine), but it's what I'm arguing for here -- leaving some wild space, some space unmediated by regulations designed to protect us from disaster, some space in which the truly wild ride can occur.

posted by Charlotte at 7/13/2003 12:21:00 PM


Breakfast of Champions

The garden is in full swing -- no tomatoes yet, but plenty of greens. Yesterday I harvested chard, radishes, carrots (about 4), gai lan (chinese broccoli -- like broccoli raab but the chinese version) and a lot a lot of lettuce. It's all lettuce all the time here right now.

I bought a Foodsaver vacuum sealer the other day and so I spent much of yesterday morning washing, blanching and freezing veggies. My next big home purchase is going to be a freezer, but I'm waiting for the used appliance store on the other side of my alley to get a used one in ... used freezers go fast up here where people hunt and garden. Anyhow, I spent the day packaging up greens for future use, and then this morning I made stir fried gai lan with scrambled eggs for breakfast. For some reason, it just starts my day off right if I can have a big bunch of greens with garlic, and an egg scrambled in the middle of it all.

Here's a "recipe" --
Crush a clove of garlic with the side of your knife and mince. Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a skillet, add garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper. When the garlic is sizzling but not brown, add greens of your choice (this morning it was blanched gai lan). Add a pinch of sugar and a light sprinkle of soy sauce and cook until the greens are tender. Meanwhile, lightly beat an egg (or if you prefer, an egg plus an extra egg white). When the greens are almost done, push them to the outer edges of the skillet and pour the beaten egg in the center. Scramble the egg and when nearly set, mix the greens in. Eat with leftover rice warmed in the microwave, or a piece of toast. Go off into your morning feeling like Popeye.

posted by Charlotte at 7/10/2003 09:04:00 AM


Lions and Tigers and Bears

Well, we didn't see a bear up in Suce Creek last evening, but we did come across a mountain lion. We'd had a nice hike; I was with my friends the Campbells -- and had been talking a lot about bears, since Bill is the guy who has spent so much time filming them. Had our bear spray with us, but with four dogs, and general conversation, we weren't really worried. After we got back to the trailhead, we grabbed a picnic table in the campsite -- a really nice one up in the trees, a lot of brush around (which now doesn't seem like such a great thing)-- and proceeded to enjoy a little early-evening beer and cheetos. We were hanging out, the dogs had been exploring around and were all back, flopped around the picnic table when all of a sudden they all leapt up and started barking. There was something in the brush, although we thought maybe the folks who'd left their horse trailer at the trailhead were simply returning. The dogs were very excited, and we called them back and made them sit while Maryanne stood on the picnic table to see if she could tell what had them so worked up. We couldn't see what it was, but the dogs continued to sit and stare fixedly into the brush for five or ten minutes, and so, since we were done with our beers anyway, we packed up and headed back to the cars. Bill and Maryanne were in the car ahead of me, and I was sort of spacing out listening to the radio when I noticed they'd pulled over ahead of me on the access road. Turns out, they'd seen the lion -- it had run alongside the road for about 50 yards, then crossed over. Bill and Maryanne lived in Africa for a long time, and Maryanne was very funny -- "I didn't know they were so big!" she said. "It looked like an African lion." Then she turned to me and said "No more hiking alone for you." Which is kind of a drag, because I love hiking alone, but I think she's probably right. And on the other hand, I also love living in a place where I'm not the highest thing on the food chain. So, time to find a hiking buddy ...

posted by Charlotte at 7/06/2003 11:17:00 AM


Take Back the Flag!

Okay Lefties, it's time to take back the flag from the Right -- why should only horrible righ-wingers fly the flag on holidays like the Fourth of July? What could be more patriotic than dissent -- has anyone read the Declaration of Independence lately?

So yesterday I went out and bought a big flag, and flew it from my porch. It looked swell, especially with the Tibetan Prayer Flags that always fly on the top of my porch. Festive, Patriotic. (While we're at it, let's take back "patriotic" too.)

posted by Charlotte at 7/05/2003 08:10:00 AM


Rodeo Week in Livingston

Fourth of July is a big week here in Livingston -- the rodeo comes to town, there's a parade, and everyone I know seems to be having parties. Friday night was the Art Walk, or Art Swill as some of us have come to refer to it -- the whole town strolling up and down the street stopping in art galleries and drinking too much cheap art gallery wine. It was one of the first nice warm summer nights, and people had their party hats on.

Then last night was a gorgeous potluck barbecue outside of town, views of three mountain ranges (Crazies, Absarokas, Beartooths) with music provided by the old rancher from next door -- he had a great old electric guitar with one amp, and his buddy played the accordian, and they were really really good. It was one of those events that are so swell -- good food, nice people, old ranchers playing music, astonishing scenery and great weather -- that we all just sort of stood around being grateful and happy in one another's company. (Plus, my friend Scott McMillion, who wrote
Mark of the Grizzly : True Stories of Recent Bear Attacks and the Hard Lessons Learned
reassured me that I probably won't run into a grizzly up in Suce Creek where I like to walk the dogs. Which was good, since I've been reading all the grizzly books and had gotten a little freaked out. I'm glad they're there -- I'll lobby for more space for them in a heartbeat, I just really really don't want to surprise one and get mauled.)

Tomorrow night is Canada Day at Margie's, then Wednesday is the parade and the rodeo kicks off for three nights. And I love rodeo -- I know, I know, many people object to rodeo but I love it all -- mutton busting, roping, barrel racing (my aunt was a champeen barrel racer and has the buckles to prove it), and yes, bull riding. If I can find people to go with me, I'll go all three nights.

So, if we survive all the festivity here at LivingSmall, we'll let you know all about it.

posted by Charlotte at 6/30/2003 08:44:00 AM


Eating Local

We have a little local farmer's market - when I moved here last fall it was pretty much just one good vegetable merchant and a lot of crafts. Well, they've done a great job getting new vendors, and Wednesday there was a local family selling their own pork, raised naturally without hormones and allowed to roam outside. Mr. Miller told me they started because they thought the local 4-H kids were paying too much for their weaner pigs, so they raised some weaners, and then when the weren't all sold, well, they were in the pork business. So I bought some pork chops.

Next to them was a woman with a card table and a couple of coolers selling lamb. Now, I am a big fan of lamb, if I had to choose just one meat, it would be lamb. Her lamb was a little expensive, but well, it was raised just up the road and as I've written about before, I'm willing to pay a premium to buy meat that I know where it was raised, and more importantly, where it was butchered (over in Big Timber, at the processing plant). So I bought some lamb chops from her. She also told me that if I need anything during the week just to call, she's got a clothing shop in town ("Ewe and Me" wouldn't you know) and there's a freezer in the back. Which is good because I think leg of lamb is almost the perfect summer barbecue meat. So, I took her card.

I also bought some gorgeous baby turnips from another local gardener with a card table, and found out that the reason I have little bugs eating my garden is that the brassicae family just has trouble around here (chard, kale, broccoli, etc...). It's not a tragedy -- things are growing -- they just have little holes in them.

So, last night I had turnip greens cooked a la Julie/Julia (saute some bacon, add a few hot pepper flakes and a big shot of chopped garlic, then the greens. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth, 1/2 cup vermouth, a couple of big pieces of lemon rind and cook until done -- in this case, about 40 minutes. Yum Yum), some rice, and a delicious local pork chop on the grill ...

So that's my little tale of local dinner. I ate well. My neighbors made a little money. And we didn't spend petroleum reserves trucking stuff all over the country.

posted by Charlotte at 6/27/2003 07:47:00 AM


Summer Snowstorm

Not here, but over in Yellowstone and up on Beartooth Pass ... the pass is closed because they got 18 inches over the last two days. Glad I didn't take the Wall O'Waters off the tomatoes ... it's just been gloomy and rainy down here, which is a mixed blessing. The plants love the rain, but it's been so cold that the beans and zucchini are having a hard time getting off the ground. It's supposed to warm up later this week.

Not much happening in the garden right now. The lettuce is coming up really well, as are the basil seedlings. The beets, Chinese kale and even the parsnips have sprouted, and I have a lot of radish and carrott seedlings going on out there. The cucumbers aren't doing so well ... too cold, I guess. They've pretty much all died. The first set of flageolet beans also keeled over, so I reseeded and also seeded in some Chinese long beans.

As for flowers, most of the peonies have bloomed and they're all a gorgeous fuschia color. I love peonies and am so happy these aren't white. Come fall, I'll have to move them since they're plunked right in the middle of my front lawn, one on each side of the walk. I want to do a cottage-garden sort of bed down along the front fence (four-foot chain link, sort of ugly but very practical) and I'll move them when I put in those beds. The roses along the south side of my house also bloomed -- they're very old white rugosas, and while I thought they were going to be boring, they're actually very pretty. I want to underplant them with a later-blooming dark pink of some sort, perhaps some more Terese de Buget. Again, next year.

It's clearing up a little this morning, so I'll have to go out and see what's been going on out there during all this rain.

posted by Charlotte at 6/25/2003 07:12:00 AM


Solstice Hailstorm

Well, summer came in on a wave of dark clouds, thunder and lightning, a litte hail, and two days of steady rain. This morning my brother came over and said the Nice Girlfriend reported ice on her windsheild when she went to work, so I went out to check and it looks like the only things I lost were a couple of plants that got dried out last week when it was hot, and didn't like the flip-flop to cold weather. Oh well, it's Montana after all, things are going to run hot and cold.

posted by Charlotte at 6/23/2003 07:16:00 AM


"You mean in America they eat dead fish?"

This question was posed to my friend Wendy when she was in China adopting the darling Scott. Wendy had been describing something to one of her Chinese hosts about eating in America, and this woman just couldn't believe that we bought fish dead in the grocery store. Who knows what you're getting if you can't see the whole fish -- how can you tell how fresh it is if you can't see the eyes or the gills? Better to buy your fish live, out of a tank, like sensible people, no?

I got thinking of this because my garden is ruining me for regular vegetables from the grocery store. How long has that zucchini been dead? What's with that lettuce -- it came all the way from Mexico and now I'm supposed to eat it? What am I going to do all winter (I sense experiments with cold frames ahead)? I know, again with the Swiss Chard, but it's up and ready to go and having never really been a fan of Swiss Chard before, it's a revelation. Cut it, carry inside, rinse in cold water, cut up and sautee with a little garlic until it wilts, add some chicken broth and a little wine and let simmer while the chicken cooks on the barbecue. Yum. Fresh greens from my very own backyard. And if you grow it yourself, you can eat it young, when it's a little more tender than those enormous leaves you see in the store.

Speaking of greens, I went back to Seeds From Italy and ordered some more greens -- some lettuces, a radicchio/chicory mix, and nice Bill McKay who runs the site sent along a packet of an escarole-like lettuce. I can't say enough about these seeds -- the arugula was fabulous, the basil is coming up really well (and I've had bad luck with basil in the past -- which is odd as it's supposed to be so easy), and I'm looking forward to more authentic Italian greens. Plus, he sends along some good cooking tips as well. Great site, great product, nice guy. Go check it out.

posted by Charlotte at 6/18/2003 10:14:00 AM


Requiem for a Bear: R.I.P. Number 264

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about watching our friend Bill Campbell's documentary Season of the Grizzly on Animal Planet (I'd give a link to the blog entry, but Blogger seems to have decided this morning that all of my archives are unavailable. I'll have to work on that.)

Bill followed bear Number 264 for almost a year and got amazing footage of her and her cubs (although, according to Shannon, the Yellowstone bear biologist who lives two doors down from Bill and Maryanne, Number 264 wasn't a very good mommy, she kept losing cubs to male bears and accidents). Apparently, Saturday night someone hit Number 264 with a car -- she darted into the road, which she was wont to do, and someone hit her. (This alone seems like a good enough reason to me to get rid of all the damn cars in Yellowstone -- put people on trams. Also in Yosemite.) Now, I can't imagine what goes through your head as a driver when you realize you just hit a grizzly bear. It's not a deer. You can't get out of the car and go peer into the ditch to see if it's alive. I mean, you wouldn't want to be anywhere near a wounded grizzly bear. So then what? I imagine the mad scramble in the car through all that literature they give you when you enter the park -- the map, the newspaper-like thing that tells about events and recycling -- where's the damn number for calling someone about a wounded grizzly bear? And why can't I get any cellphone coverage?

At any rate, the authorities did come, and hit her with the tranqilizer gun and took her to Bozeman where xrays showed she'd broken her back. They euthanized her early Sunday morning.

It just sucks on so many levels. The fact that we've got cars in the middle of their habitat, and idiot people like the one mentioned in this article who think these aren't wild animals so it's okay to go up and touch their cubs, the fact that we've so reduced our actual wilderness that we've got grizzlies being run over by cars ... it's ridiculous.

So, in memory of Number 264 -- go check out Doug Peacock's
Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness
, or Scott McMillion's
Mark of the Grizzly : True Stories of Recent Bear Attacks and the Hard Lessons Learned
, or for a fascinating philosophical meditation on the meaning of wilderness itself, there's Jack Turner's wonderful book, The Abstract Wild (a book I can't say enough good things about, a book that rewards re-reading).

posted by Charlotte at 6/16/2003 08:10:00 AM


A Plug for the Ruminator Review

The latest issue of the terrific Ruminator Review arrived the other day and I've been devouring it. This issue is devoted to "Cultivation: Rural Lives, Global Issues" and contains interviews with such thinkers on the subject as Gretel Ehrlich, Verlyn Klinkenboorg, Scott Russell Sanders and Maxine Kumin. (This issue also contains a small review of a childrens' book by yours truly.)

One of the unexpected pleasures for me of moving to this small town in Montana is how interested people are in food, in the origins of their food, and in eating close to the source of production. People eat a lot of meat here, but it's meat that is known, that is, it's not strange meat from the supermarket, meat that comes from who-knows-where. I was at a barbecue this weekend discussing how oddly comforting I find it to wander into Matt's Meats, our local butcher shop, and see a pig up on the back counter, Matt himself taking a look at it before cutting it up. It's the kind of sight that would have totally freaked out most of the people I work with in California, but I thought it was curious and interesting. The only startling thing about the dead pig was how raw his eye socket was, but of course, you don't want any hair on your meat, and eyelashes are hair. But there it was, a nice small-ish pig, and Matt was taking the time to examine the cavity, and about to start cutting it up, it wasn't being sped through some horror-show of a factory abbatoir being hacked at by frantic workers. This isn't the kind of discussion you can have a lot of places, but you can here, and you'll also get a lot of good info about buying a freezer, and about butchering and keeping wild game. Like I said, people eat a lot of meat here, but it's meat we know.

And then there are vegetables. It's early yet, but Deep Creek Gardens is harvesting, the Farmer's Market is starting up, and I'm learning to like Swiss Chard because it grows really well in my garden. I've discovered how nice young Swiss Chard is, picked straight out of the garden, sauteed with a little garlic.

Anyhow, if you're interested in these sort of issues that are central to the LivingSmall experiment, the Ruminator Review has some great essays, reviews of a lot of interesting books on the subject, a few of which I had to go order myself (as if I need an excuse to order more books).

posted by Charlotte at 6/11/2003 08:19:00 AM


Breakfast of Champions

Not to sound like an Alice Waters clone, but my breakfast these past few days has been local farm eggs (1 yolk, 2 whites, extra yolk makes dog very happy -- it's good to share), scrambled with some arugula out of my garden and eaten over toast with a little goat cheese crumbled on top. It's so good that yesterday, when I was out of eggs, I found myself cranky that the local natural foods store (which always makes me grumpy because they seem way more concerned with supplements than with food -- eat real food people!) was still closed, as was Matt's Meats where they also carry local eggs. So I had to settle for diner breakfast at Martins, which was fine, it's always the same, which is what one wants from a diner. But this morning, there are eggs, there is arugula straight from the garden, there's a happy dog who liked his extra yolk, and glory be, there's even a nice steady rain falling on my garden.

Vacation in the backyard was a spectacular success. My yard is really coming together ... I mowed and weed-whacked the other day, and despite never having been a lawn person, I was quite pleased with how nice it looked. Although I'm sure lawn-purists would criticise the diversity of plant life that makes up said lawn -- no weed and feed for me. If it's green, and mostly grass, I'm happy. In fact, this fall I'm going to seed with Nichols Garden Nursery's Dryland Ecology Lawn Mix which contains a mix of grasses, clovers and some tiny wildflowers like chamomile. I like a mix in a lawn, and anything that will allow me to mow less often is a good thing.

Eventually I'd like to get rid of much of the lawn and replace it with perennial beds. Now that the fence is up, I have a long bed to work with, a bed that unfortunately, thanks to the happy workers' feet is sort of a tabula rasa, but six feet by thirty is a fun space to think about. I'm hoping the big scarlet poppies and the iris will recover, but if not, well, I'll just plant some other fun stuff. And for the back corner, where the sacred rhubarb grows, I'm thinking about raspberry canes, and asparagus -- things I've been wanting to grow but which I don't have room for in the regular garden.

But for now, it's back to the day job, back to trying to make progress on the new book, back to watching, miracle of miracles, things grow in my vegetable garden (gardening is good for those of us whose faith in things working out okay wavers ... you put in those seeds, nothing happens, nothing happens, and then there are sprouts, sprouts that grow into real things. Amazing.)

posted by Charlotte at 6/10/2003 07:54:00 AM


Summer Vacation in the Backyard

I have this week off from my Cisco job, and I'm having an old-fashioned summer vacation ... it feels just like when school let out and you'd get to hang around the house for a few days doing nothing (we went to camp every summer for eight weeks, which was wonderful, so I never had enough time to get really bored with summer, a week or two at each end lying around the house reading books and eating popsicles was usually plenty for me). They finished my fence yesterday afternoon, and I am now free to hang out in my own backyard, in fact, I'm typing this from the table underneath one of my apple trees. It's astonishing what a difference a little privacy makes ... the fence was hardly up when, despite the racket from the air compressor, nail gun, and five people building a fence in my backyard, I began to feel myself really relax. I wish I was the sort of patient soul who could have put up with poor old bored Betty next door, but it's incredibly nice to be able to hang out in my own yard without feeling like I'm the entertainment for the day.

So, as part of my vacation-at-home (which, considering what the fence cost, will probably be the first of many), I went out and bought a bunch of fun summer books, including three by Jamie Harrison who lives here in town. I'm not a mystery fan, but these are great fun ... especially as Blue Deer, the town in which they are set, is a very thinly veiled version of Livingston. Plus, Jamie is both a fabulous gardener and a cook, so there's food and plants and local gossip galore. They've been the perfect summer reading ... check out the Current Reading section for links ...

posted by Charlotte at 6/03/2003 10:28:00 AM


Rhubarb My Rhubarb

Not only did I get a vigorous rhubarb patch when I bought this house, I got a rhubarb patch with history. Apparently, mine is patch semi-famous in the neighborhood for its sweetness. Several people have pointed out my rhubarb patch and commented on this. But the true defender of the rhubarb is Betty, my 80-year old neighbor who comes running out of her house, screeching with alarm should anyone stray too near the precious rhubarb. Apparently, Betty has been coveting my rhubarb for years, and two or three years ago when the dear departed Mrs. Warnick was in the hospital, she agreed that since she was in the hospital and wasn't going to be able to can, that Betty might as well take some rhubarb. As I heard it "she had everyone and their neighbor over here in that rhubarb patch." So now she's barred from my rhubarb, which means I was going to have to do something with it because it'd be a shame to just let it go to waste.

Betty and her daughter Rebecca have been known to provide a running commentary for everything going on in my yard, which is annoying, to say the least. And which is why there is a crew of adorable twenty-somethings in my backyard today digging postholes, and why next week I'll have a glorious six-foot privacy fence. But this morning has been characterized by several rounds of squawking over the property line, and I've had to go get Steve, who lives across the street, and who actually owns the property next door to me, which since the lot lines split back and front, has one house on the alley with Betty and Rebecca in it, and one house on the street with a family who shall heretofore be known as the Clampitts. Hence the fence.

So, knowing the fence guys were coming, and since the rhubarb patch is on the property line, I cut it all the other day, and yesterday I made rhubarb-ginger jam. I checked with the Fannie Farmer cookbook for some general jam guidelines, and then just sort of made it up as I went along. I cut up the rhubarb, and threw it in my big stockpot with about 3 pounds of green grapes left over from this weekends Birthday Barbecue for the NG's 35th. I also added about a pound and a half of strawberries that were getting kind of old, and a package and a half of leftover candied ginger that's been kicking around the back of the fridge. Then I sliced up two big pieces of ginger into coins ... probably about eight inches worth of ginger root, and stirred them into the slowly softening fruit mixture. The cookbook said you were supposed to measure everything carefully but the proportions looked like about 1:1 fruit and sugar, so I dumped about 2 pounds of sugar in and let it all cook down until there was no watery stuff on the top anymore. This took a very long time. Then I canned it ... I followed the directions carefully and sterilized everything and even boiled the full jars for 15 minutes (10 minutes plus 1 minute for every 1000 feet above sea level). The seals all popped down, and I put labels on the jars, and this morning I had toast with a little goat cheese/creme fraiche mixture topped with Rhubarb-Ginger jam. It's not terribly jammy, more the consistency of apple butter, but it's lovely and tart and just a little gingery.

posted by Charlotte at 5/29/2003 01:10:00 PM


New Blue Bike

I bought a blue bicycle for forty bucks yesterday -- it's perfect. A Schwinn Collegiate -- a blue "girl's" bike with a front handle brake, three speeds, a big wide bouncy seat, and a coaster break. It's much like the bike that was so fatally wrong that I was taunted all through sixth grade, but now, as an adult, it's perfect. What I wanted was a bike I could ride around town, and which was old enough that no one would ever ask me to go mountain biking on it (don't like mountain biking. I've never seen the point of hauling a bike up a mountain in order to go screaming down -- call me a nerd, but I like to walk. I like to look at flowers and pretend to identify birds).

This morning my brother came by to pick up the dogs for their morning walk down at Mayor's landing, and I followed them on the bike. A perfect ten-minute ride through the cool early-morning streets of Livingston, yellow morning sunlight streaking through the trees that have only recently leafed out. The Yellowstone's running at flood stage, so as we walked the dogs around the park we watched big logs go screaming downstream toward Big Timber. Then back on my perfect blue bicycle, back through the leafy morning streets with all the kids heading off for the last few days of school. A nice way to start the day.

posted by Charlotte at 5/28/2003 07:33:00 AM


Blooming Lilacs and a Runny Nose

I have fifteen-foot-tall lilac bushes running down one side of my property line, and they're gloriously in bloom this morning. It's not eight yet, and the temperature is a balmy, sitting-on-the-porch-in-shirtsleeves sixty degrees. The sun is shining. The grackles are searching for bugs in the grass by the street. The puppy is lounging on the wicker sofa next to me.

I love my life.

Yesterday, I put the garden in. Such an old-fashioned phrase. I planted five varieties of tomatoes, and put their protective green wall-o-water hats on them. Since I started them indoors way back in March, they're pretty tall, so I buried them deep where those early leaves can become nice sturdy roots. I also planted a couple of Italian melon plants, and an Italian eggplant, also in the wall-o-water hats. I can't say enough good things about Seeds from Italy where I bought the melon and eggplant seeds, as well as arugula and basil seeds -- the basil and arugula are coming up great guns, and this morning I had a little toast with goat cheese and fresh arugula out of my garden for breakfast. (Just writing that gives me a squidgy feeling, how precious, but on the other hand, something cool is happening in America when the goat cheese is local here in Montana).

I also built pea trellises out of copper plumbing pipe -- they look really nice, and I'm looking forward to them turning nice and green. The soldering iron the hardware store guy sold me didn't work, so I just threw in the towel and put them together with some nice thin strips of duct tape -- it looks just like a weld from afar, and it's not like I'm running water through them. So, I've got two kinds of peas planted, some haricots verts and some French flageolet beans. Its starting to look like a real garden out there, not just a bunch of big wooden boxes filled with dirt.

And my nose is running. I don't know if it's the lilacs, or the trees leafing out, or perhaps the drifts of hair my two dogs and one cat are shedding all over the house, but since I really hate the drugs they give you for this stuff -- they either make me sleepy and stupid or so wired I can't see straight -- so I'm just wandering around my lovely yard with a box of kleenex. It's not that big a deal, really. Who cares about a runny nose when you've got forty feet of blooming lilacs?

posted by Charlotte at 5/23/2003 06:50:00 AM


Reading Lolita in Tehran
This is one of those books that people tell you is really great, and you think "yeah, yeah, a book group in Tehran ... sounds interesting." I don't know where we all got the idea that this book is about a book group of the sort we know here ... a sort of hen night where a bunch of women get together and after a desultory discussion of the book at hand, retreat into drinks and gossip and general social activity.

This book is not about that kind of book group. This book is about women who are reading for their lives.

Azar Nafisi returned to Iran on the cusp of the revolution to teach at the University of Tehran. Like any junior professor, she was filled with excitement and anxiety, but bit by bit, she found herself hemmed in by a revolution that forced her to wear the veil, that arrested, imprisoned and murdered her students and colleagues, that closed the universities, that "made me irrelevant."

I'd been reading along thinking of John Ashcroft and Bush, of the "Patriot" Act, and Homeland Security, of the sheer impotent rage I felt as I heard Bush say this evening on TV that the new bill to clearcut the forests so they won't burn is "just common sense" when Nafisi recounted this anecdote: "Khomeni had asked a leading political cleric, Modaress, what he should do when an official in his town decided to call his two dogs Sheikh and Seyyed, a clear insult to clerics. Modaress's advice, according to Khomeni, had been brief and to the point: "Kill him." Khomeni concluded by quoting Modaress: "You hit first and let others complain. Don't be the victim, and don't complain."

How does one fight these sorts of bullies? Clearly this is the motto of the current administration, and like Nafisi, I too have retreated into the sanctuary of reading, of gardening, of keeping my head down and hoping I can outlast this bunch.

Which is where reading and writing fiction comes in. Nafisi gives one of the most cogent arguments I've ever read for why fiction matters. Fiction matters, she says because "A novel is not an allegory ... It is a sensual experience of another world. If you don't enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won't be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel." And empathy is exactly what ideologues seek to repress. In discussing Lolita with her students, Nafisi "mentioned that Humbert was a villan because he lacked curiosity about other people and their lives, even about the person he loved most, Lolita. Humbert, like most dictators, was interested only in his own vision of other people. He created the Lolita he desired, and would not budge from that image."

I could not help but think as I read this book of the ways the right wing has bullied their way into the seat of power, by declaring that their dogmatic beliefs are simply "common sense," and that anyone who doesn't agree with them is not an "American." I don't know what tools we have to fight ideologues -- I failed miserably at exactly this task in graduate school, and I fear that I don't have what it takes to fight this fight on a political level either. I'm just an artist, and I have my family/social novel I'm working on ... but what if I'm working on this while the call is going out to put us all in veils, while the arguments are being made that we shouldn't mind, because after all, it's just taking your shoes off to get on an airplane. Why are we all being so unreasonable? Isn't this, after all, for the greater good?

posted by Charlotte at 5/21/2003 08:04:00 PM


Blog in Progress

I loved my old template, but alas, with my new laptop, I can hardly read the text ... it's a very faint grey and my poor eyes were having a terrible time with it. So, for the next couple of days I'll be fussing with the template. I know, change is hard ... but after my Powerbook died on me last week, I'm in that state where one must get used to a lot of computer change all at once. That said, I must admit I love my new iBook -- it's so tiny, so compact, so light. It reminds me of my beloved Mac 180 laptop, a warhorse of a machine upon which I wrote my first novel. This one has the same "I can sit on the floor and type away" appeal -- but unfortunately I have to change my template. Be patient. Like everything else, it will evolve.

posted by Charlotte at 5/20/2003 07:56:00 PM


Snow on the Lilacs

Good thing I didn't plant the tomatoes on Friday, when the sun was shining, when it was 70 degrees and my apple trees were blooming and the lilacs were this close to opening. Good thing because today it's snowing. Snowing like winter, big fat wet flakes falling outside my window, two inches on the lawn, and the poor lilacs are all bent over from the load. Everything will be fine, this is expected, it's Montana after all, and although the official last frost date was yesterday, the 17th, everyone knows that if you put your tomatoes out before Memorial Day you're just asking for it.

And I have to say, I'm enjoying a snowy indoor day. This week was a little much. We had a raucous night Tuesday watching the debut of my friend Bill Campbell's documentary, Season of the Grizzly, on the Animal Planet, and wound up on the porch in the glorious late evening light eating outdoors and drinking far more wine than we should have. Wednesday was the opera in Bozeman, Aida, which was fabulous -- really. They bring in singers, and the orchestra was terrific, and the music was so good that the local kids' goofiness as dancing girls and extras was charming and not annoying. But it's a long opera, and it was 12:30 before I got home. Then Friday was the Fur Ball -- the Humane Society benefit, which was fun and all, but I am not an extrovert by nature, and by Friday night I was getting tired and grumpy ... So a snowy spring day where I can curl up inside with last week's NY Times, with George Eliot, with Reading Lolita in Tehran, and try to refill that creative part of my brain so that tomorrow, when the new iBook comes to replace my dead PowerBook (totally crapped out on Thursday -- but the local guy got it to come back to life long enough that we think we can get my data off it), so tomorrow, despite the day job, and the garden chores that need to get done (I'm planning pea trellis made from 1/2 inch copper plumbing pipe), I can get back to the novel. Get back to the novel with a clear head, get back to the novel like a person who has had a day off.

I went outside a while ago and cut an armful of snow-covered lilacs. They're in a tall vase below the portrait of my grandmother in my now-perfect living room. It's funny, the Proustian-memories some things bear. My dad's birrthday was yesterday. For a while when I was a child, my parents had a farm northwest of Chicago, and there was a sort of lawn-courtyard formed by an enormous ring of lilac trees. And every year they'd bloom in time for my Dad's birthday -- I don't know whether he actually did really love the smell of lilacs, or whether it was one of those things I got in my head as a kid, that Dad liked lilacs. I remember cutting armfulls of them, and taking them down to his office in the old guest house by the road. Later, after my parents divorce, things got a little weird at the farm, we'd go out on the weekends and stay in our old house that now had almost no furniture in it, but the woods and the creek and the pond and the lilacs were always the same, and we loved them the way only little kids can love a piece of ground. So here it is, the middle of May, and I'm back in a part of the world where there are lilacs. Happy Birthday Dad, I'm thinking of you as the lilacs warm up inside and spread their scent all over the inside of my little Montana house.

posted by Charlotte at 5/18/2003 10:37:00 AM


The Perfect Yellow

My living room is now the most perfect, Provencal, mustard yellow ... actually the color is called "Golden Pollen." Since this is an old house, there are beautiful old oak moldings and window trim in this room, moldings that remind me of my grandmother's farmhouse in Illinois (sadly torn down now, but it was really getting pretty unsafe), and against the yellow paint, they look even warmer and more lovely than they did before when the room was painted in 25-year-old flat off-white paint. And with a coat of fresh paint, the, shall we say, topographical element of my old plaster walls isn't quite as noticeable. I like to think that the bumps and cracks and craters make it look old, European, Provencal or Tuscan ... yeah, that's the ticket.

But I forgot how horrible painting can be ... it's not like on Trading Spaces or Changing Rooms where they blithely walk in and start painting the walls, because on those shows they don't seem to do any prep work at all. And let me say, the two days of prep work sucked. There is nothing creative or interesting about washing the ceiling and the walls with TSP. There is nothing creative or interesting about sanding down the many many cracks in the ceiling that you've spackled and getting horrible wallboard and joint compound dust in your eyes. What's with that stuff? Forget the 100 feet of plastic I used to cover the whole room and seal it off from the other three rooms that constitute my house, I keep finding little pockets of wallboard and joint compound dust in odd places.

The next project is my office. I've picked a dark, raspberry magenta, which my brother thinks is awful but his Nice Girlfriend and I think will be swell. The ceiling and trim will be bright white, and I'm going to build bookcases for the back wall (2 tall, one short in the middle), and I ordered the tricky bits of the desk from Pottery Barn which I'll top with a sheet of MDF, or perhaps a hollowcore door (which might be handy for running cords). The office is going to be tricky, as the walls are full of cracks and I have to build shelves in the closet, and the closet needs to be painted, and I need a new light fixture, and and and and and and ... so I think I'll have to hire some help. Of course, in a small town like this, hiring help tends to be seeing when my friend Robert, who is a brilliant fine art painter, but who is going through a rough patch because the economy sucks and no one is buying gorgeous oil-on-metal paintings, paintings that are just abstract enough that you can keep looking at them and looking at them, paintings so beautiful that if I didn't really need a privacy fence for the south side of my property I would have bought one with the tiny bit of money that came through when Dreamworks renewed my movie option, but alas, I need a fence. But Robert is great fun, and needs some money, so I'll wait and see what his schedule is like, and hire him to keep me company and paint my office a fabulous dark pink, a pink that will glow like the inside of a jewel box, a warm rich color for a cool northern room.

So last night, after pulling the masking tape off, and rolling up the plastic, and seeing how totally beautiful my room is, I had the Darling Brother (thanks for doing that second coat on the ceiling for me, I was running out of gas) and the Nice Girlfriend over for the usual Sunday night Family Dinner -- roast chicken, potato gratin, and salad. The NG had another tough day with her Ex ... and although we don't want to violate the NG's privacy over the internet, let's just say any day your Ex comes in while you're gone and takes the bed, well, it's not a good day. So we had roast chicken, and a little wine, and sat in the living room and admired it, and all tried to look on the bright side. Her house is coming together, my house is coming together, she and the DB are coming together (downside, this makes the Ex so angry he takes the bed) but the upside is we all had a nice dinner, and sometimes a nice dinner in a pleasant room is enough.

It's a year this week that I came out here and decided to go ahead with buying this house. A year ago this week that I took measurements and started dreaming that this might be possible. I never thought I'd have my own house. I never thought I'd have a room like this, where the furniture and the walls and the artwork all go together and don't just look like they were assembled out of random parts. I never thought I'd find a nice town like this, where I can have both the quiet and solitude I need to get the work done, and good friends, a social life, a community. I am deeply deeply grateful.

Now, I have to stop obsessing about paint colors, and go back to the novel for another week.

posted by Charlotte at 5/12/2003 06:59:00 AM


Spelling for a Cure

There's a woman in town who has cancer. Since she's your basic writer/musician/storyteller, and since she lives in the good old USA where if you don't work for a big corporation you're hosed, she has no health insurance. And now she has cancer. So what did the good citizens of Livingston do?

Had a spelling bee.

A spelling bee that put the local writers on the spot. So at seven o'clock last night, there they were: Elwood Reid, Tim Cahill, Thomas Goltz, Diane Smith, Alston Chase, Jim Liska, and a bunch of other people who I don't know yet because I haven't been in town very long (which I'm assuming is also why I wasn't also put in the spelling hot seat). "Kristie the Wordsmith" and local singer and bartender Mike Devine (who looks like he could be in ZZ Topp) were the judges, and our very own Scott McMillion was the MC. They used the official spelling bee rules, and so one by one, all these writers got up and took their shot at words like "tetrahedron" and "lieutenant" and "calliope". It was great fun, with much bad behavior and drinking and some very fine spelling. There was a calcutta, and silent auction and dancing afterwards and Deb Corbett, who the benefit was for, was well enough to sing with the band ... and she's good. So we all threw our tens and twenties at the problem, knowing it probably isn't enough, and knowing that it isn't going to solve the larger problem of living in a heartless nation that is perfectly willing to let people die from diseases we know how to treat because it's more important to have a for profit health care system, a system in which a few get rich at the expense of people who are sick, because of course profit is more important than not letting people die, so some people volunteered to spell, and the rest of us came, and threw our little tens and twenties at the problem because really, what else can we do?

Now, although I'm glad I didn't have to spell in public, I must admit a tiny part of me was ... not jealous exactly, but feeling that my tiny career was perhaps a bit more tiny than I'd like it to be. Not that the phone call I got a couple of weeks ago from my editor's assistant informing me, in the nicest way possible, that my book is going out of print and how many copies of the paperback would I like to buy, had anything to do with this. Nor did seeing Elwood up there, who is about my age, and who has published three novels, and a book of short stories and who writes screenplays and magazine articles, have anything to do with this creeping sense that perhaps I'm, well, slacking. And then this morning, in the SF Chronicle, there's Jane Smiley saying that for this book she limited herself to one page a day, seven days a week, instead of her usual two or three pages (seven days a week).

And so I pulled up my writing log this morning (yes, I keep a log. It's the only way to stay honest about these things), and gee, look at that, I haven't worked on my book since ... I'm ashamed to say ... April 22, which is over two weeks ago. No wonder I don't have three novels out. Shit. Time to get back to work. I'm determined to have a draft of the whole thing by the end of the year, and although blogging, and gardening, and obsessing over paint colors for the inside of my house (and dreaming of how beautiful my dark-pink-and-bright-white office is going to be) and going to dinner parties with potential suitors, and going to spelling bees, and training the dogs, and working my pesky-but-lucrative day job are all worthwhile activities, my real job here is to write this book. Whether anyone wants to read it is another story, but it's my job to write it. So, if I'm not blogging as often, think good thoughts for me, send good wishes that I'm here in my little front room producing actual scenes and pages and characters who are alive and living through interesting dilemmas.

posted by Charlotte at 5/04/2003 01:06:00 PM


Music Madness at LivingSmall

Music-- I'm in a music zone. I am not one of those people who buys CDs on a regular basis. In fact, I'm one of those annoying people who plays the same CD over and over and over again -- which is one of the many reasons it's good that I live alone.

However, every year when the Oxford American Magazine Music Issue comes out, I wind up buying a glut of CDs, and this year, the Music Issue happened to coincide with both the death of Nina Simone (go, right now, and read Jeanne d'Arc's brilliant piece on Nina Simone here), and new CDs by three of my favorites: The Be Good Tanyas, Lucinda Williams, and Roseanne Cash. And then, while wandering around looking for CDs by folks like Steve Earle, Will Kimbough, and The Blind Boys of Alabama, all of whom have great tracks on the Oxford CD, I also happened to stumble across a couple of other astonishing things, like this CD from Willie Nelson: Crazy, the Demo Sessions. Oh my oh my -- Willie and his git-ar, just the two of them, without the terrible overproduction that too often makes him sound campy. And as a die-hard Patsy Cline fan, it's wonderful to hear Crazy and Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow in these stripped-down versions. So, add that to the stack. Yikes. This is not living small at all.

So, after coming home with this ridiculously large pile of CDs, it became clear that I had to re-organize my CDs in order to fit them all into the allotted space. I had organized them by subject -- Alt Country, Jazz, World, etc ... but due to space considerations, I decided to put them all in alphabetical order. I know, I'm beginning to sound like a real music wonk (if you think this is bad, get me started on how my library is organized), but there's a point here, really. The point is the marvelous juxtaposition that alphabetizing them created. Who would have thought of Sinatra and Springsteen if it wasn't for their proximity in the S drawer? Coltrane and Shawn Colvin? Dinah Washington and Gillian Welch? And although I have that sort of icky feeling one gets after spending too much money, it was on music, which like books and art, is inherently good because without support, all of us in the arts would wither up and blow away. And it's probably my CD consumption for most of the year. And I have a new outlook on my old CDs, so there's a whole new world of 5 CD combinations to explore. For a person like myself, who gets stuck in musical ruts, this is a boon. And as a technique for LivingSmall, it kind of works ... that is, by giving one a new perspective on the stuff one already owns, it makes it kind of new again, interesting again.

Plus I have a whole bunch of new, soulful, wonderful music to listen to, music that will filter down into my writing, music that just makes every day here in my little house so much better, music that makes me turn off the TV because it's just better to be sitting in my living room listening to great music and reading a book.

posted by Charlotte at 4/29/2003 08:45:00 AM


Another Day, Another Garden Bed

Woke up this morning to sunshine, which was welcome. Although come to think of it, yesterday was sunny, it was just intermittently snowing and hailing through the sunshine. But this morning, blue skies and happy dogs. A good way to start a Sunday.

Planted one more raised bed today. The plastic sheeting over the raised beds seems to be working quite well. This morning when I went to shake the puddles off the two existing beds, I discovered they'd frozen overnight. But underneath, carrots and arugula are sprouting, and the shaky-looking transplants I put in last week are looking more sturdy every day. It also seems to be really warming up the soil in there nicely. Today I planted another raised bed with kale, golden and early wonder beets, Yu-Tsai -- which looks like Chinese spinach although the package tells me it's actually rape, yellow Gai-lan, which is sort of like a Chinese version of broccoli raab, and parsnips. Watered it well, covered with semi-clear plastic, then sat on the comfy lawn furniture and read last week's New York Times.

posted by Charlotte at 4/27/2003 03:48:00 PM


A Perfect Rain

We've had two days of perfect spring rain. No downpours, just soft, soaking perfect rain. For those of you who don't live in the West, it's important to remember that we only get 14.5 inches per year, on average, and the past couple of years we haven't even gotten that, so the general mood is one of deep relief and nascent hope for a good season this year. Here on my little backyard farm, the pathetic-looking chard and parsley plants I transplanted on Monday are looking good. They like real dirt. They like soft rain. They're looking kind of perky, and the chives are looking good too. I planted the first of my raised beds on Monday -- one has parsley, chives, chervil, two kinds of arugula and cilantro (and will get thyme and tarragon later, the oregano is going in a container because it's so invasive, and I have tons of mint already in the front flower garden). The other bed got spinach, mache, frisee endive, carrots and those lovely long French breakfast radishes. I covered the beds with a sheet of plastic, to make a sort of cold frame, although the rain's been so great I've only been covering them at night in case of frost. With this lovely rain, I think I'm going to plant a bunch of the wildflowers that don't like to be transplanted, since nature seems to be cooperating and keeping the ground damp. It's spring, and the world is puddle wonderful here in Montana ...

posted by Charlotte at 4/24/2003 07:45:00 AM


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