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
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The dirt of my dreams. Of my dreams! We're having a thaw -- today was gorgeous, sixty-five degrees, sun shining, a little windy but then again, this is Livingston and we're used to wind. So outside I went, spading fork in hand, to turn over some dirt.
Now my last garden, in California, was a wonderland of clay. Turning over soil was a marathon activity which often involved me standing on my spade, bouncing up and down, trying to wiggle it into the dirt. And my first garden was in Telluride, at nearly 9000 feet with a 45 day growing season and well, very rocky soil contaminated with heavy metals from the tailings pile (I ignored that part. I only grew a little bit of spinach and it couldn't be any worse than just breathing that stuff).
So imagine my joy when while standing outside talking over the fence to my neighbor Paula, I casually stuck my spading fork into the soil and it went all the way in! And I turned over the soil and it was .... well, wet because it's still early spring ... but that magic word, friable, came to mind.
God love Mrs. Violet Warnick, who raised eight children in my (1200 square foot) house and fed them out of that vegetable plot in the back yard. That piece of ground has been tilled and manured and had things growing in it for at least eighty years, and I, somehow, got lucky enough to get to grow things there now. Yee haw.
So, I went to town ... I have one long long bed that is going to be full of hardy shrub roses and hollyhocks and whatever else is tall and lovely and cottage-garden-like. I turned over all the soil in the bed alongside the house, pulled lots and lots of mint roots out, and I'm distracted tonight thinking of all the gorgeous bulbs I can plant next fall.
I realize there's about to be a war on, and there are all sorts of serious problems out there in the world. But frankly, I have beautiful soil. It's warm and sunny here. I have the happy fatigue that comes after doing something good and physical, and I'm dreaming of hollyhocks.

posted by Charlotte at 3/13/2003 06:53:00 PM


Things you can do instead of planning Part Two of your new novel. I finished Part One the other day ... well I didn't exactly "finish" it but I do have a draft that seems sort of alive and is stable enough that I have to stop tinkering with it and go on to the next part of the book. I'm trying not to dwell on the fact that it's taken me almost four years to get to this point, nor to dwell on the fact that I'm back at the edge of terra incongnita, that place where I have to make up a bunch of new stuff. Rewriting is way more fun than writing.

So, here are some of the things a person could do on a Sunday instead of diligently getting out the enormous sheets of paper with the post-it removeable stickum and outlining scenes.

Go to Mass. Hard to feel bad about that one. After all, it is Lent. Our priest was a little shook up, aparently he was felled after morning Mass on Ash Wednesday by an enormous kidney stone, and he choked up a couple of times during the homily talking about how even though we know we are safe in God's love, things can get kind of scary sometimes. It was endearing. He seems like a pretty good priest, and we prayed a lot for peace in the Middle East, and even here in conservative Montana, people seemed really to be praying that we won't go to war.

Walk the dogs. It is very very cold ... one bank says it's 6 degrees and the other bank, a block up the street says it's 4 degrees. The dog park is out on a low bluff along the Yellowstone River, and it's windy. None of the usual characters were out there this morning and the dogs were a little miffed that they got a short walk, but too bad, my fingers were frozen and there wasn't anyone to talk to while freezing.

Read the New York Times. I get the Sunday NY Times by mail, so I actually read last Sunday's Times this morning. I read the Bozeman Chronicle too, but that only takes about fifteen minutes, including Parade and the comics. It's a pretty good paper, but Sunday is distinctly unsatisfying. My friend Hope who lives on a ranch in Colorado and I were talking about how much we like reading the Sunday Times a week late... it takes all the urgency out of the news parts of the paper, and since the Magazine and the arts sections aren't particularly timely, it makes for a very relaxing reading experience. I was especially struck by Judith Shulevitz's essay Bring Back the Sabbath (sorry, it's now in the annoying NYT archive where you're supposed to pay for content). For several years now, I've avoided committing to activities on Sunday. I haven't been consiously thinking of this as keeping the Sabbath, but whether or not I make it to Mass (which was pretty much never in California, thanks to the recent scandals and the enormity of that parish. I guess I just don't like big congregations), I like taking Sunday to be quiet, do some reading, cook something, clean my house, putter. Shulevitz traces how she gradually found herself joining a Synagogue and practicing the Sabbath again, as well as traces the history of the Sabbath in American history. It's good to have some space in the week where you're not all caught up in trying to accomplish anything.

Make a big pot of Lamb and White Bean Stew. Chop up an onion, a couple of carrots, and a couple of celery stalks into dice. Chop up the last of the prosciutto butt that was tucked away in the freezer. Saute the prosciutto bits in oil, then add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the carrots and celery with some red pepper flakes, a couple of cloves, a couple of bay leaves, some of last summer's sage that happens to be hanging in the back of the pantry, and a generous sprinkling of herbes de provence. Smash and peel a bunch of garlic cloves (five or six if, like me, you like garlic). Throw them in with the vegetables. Add 1 cup of small white beans soaked overnight (or a can of white beans, or even unsoaked beans if you didn't think about it in advance). Add the leftover 1/4 bottle of white wine, a good slug of vermouth (for that herbal flavor) and a pint of chicken broth. Add two lamb shanks. Bring to a bare simmer and let cook all day so it fills your house with a lovely smell and plan to eat it while watching Clinton and Dole on 60 minutes.

Stop blogging and suck it up and go try to figure out what these characters want to do next. Even if it is Sunday, nonetheless, it would be good to get this done before another work week begins and sucks me in.

Happy Sunday everyone.

posted by Charlotte at 3/09/2003 12:35:00 PM


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