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Posts Tagged ‘life lessons’

strawberry rhubarb crisp

I saw a recent post on Dinner: A Love Story in which Jenny and Andy, the writers of that blog, thanked the folks who have taught them important lessons in the kitchen.

Naturally, it got me thinking about my own kitchen teachers, and I thought I’d write a few thank-you notes of my own.

  • Thank you, Ryan and Amy, for teaching me about the joys of rhubarb in the summertime – and for sending me home with armloads of rhubarb from your backyard.
  • Thank you, Cockney fruit sellers at the Oxford farmers’ market, for hawking your (delicious) wares in rhyme and making me smile when you call me “luv.”
  • Thank you, Jacque and Jamie, for teaching me to whip up a meal out of whatever’s in the cupboards, often topped with a fried egg.
  • Thank you, Elizabeth, for teaching me about the versatile deliciousness of stir-fry.
  • Thank you, Marcela, for teaching me how to tell if a mango is ripe, and how to eat them savory (with salt and lime juice) and sweet (in desserts, or simply cut into juicy chunks).
  • Thank you, Janine and Jacque, for teaching me how to brew real English tea.
  • Thank you, Dad, for teaching me to add a little vanilla to pancake batter.
  • Thank you, Julie, for teaching me to use real butter.
  • Thank you, Amanda Hesser, for teaching me that the key to great scrambled eggs is low heat, real butter and patience.
  • Thank you, Pop, for teaching me to make chocolate chip cookies (and the importance of quality control).
  • Thank you, Neno, for teaching me how to snap green beans, how to cook fresh peas from the garden, and for applying calamine lotion to the chigger bites I got picking raspberries on your farm.
  • Thank you, Molly Wizenberg and Ron Morgan, for two very different but equally perfect scone recipes.
  • Thank you, Mimi, for teaching me to laugh about kitchen mistakes.
  • Thank you to the dungeon guys for eating everything I ever baked for you, with relish – even the less-than-perfect cookies and fruit crumbles.
  • Thank you, Lizzie, for introducing me to the restorative powers of apple crumble with fresh custard (either homemade or from Tesco).
  • Thank you, Bethany, for sharing your love of creative sauces and dressings, and your mom’s homemade peppermint fudge.
  • Thank you, Happy, for teaching me to love goat cheese.
  • Thank you, Mom, for teaching me how to boil water, make guacamole, plan meals, grocery shop, and bake and cook a hundred dishes. And thank you for teaching me that dinner is at the center of family life.

Who are your kitchen teachers? And what important lessons (or great tips!) would you thank them for?

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modern family promo poster season 1

Recently, the hubs and I tried Modern Family, on the recommendation of several friends. We’re not big TV watchers, but we like to have a show (preferably a comedy) to watch together, if we need a laugh in the evenings. As much as we love our Friends DVDs, we were hankering for something new.

After blowing through the first season of Modern Family in less than a month, I’d say we’re hooked.

In case you’re a little behind on your TV shows (like us), Modern Family is a comedy featuring three branches of the Pritchett clan: patriarch Jay and his second wife Gloria; Jay’s daughter Claire and her husband Phil; and Jay’s son Mitchell and his partner, Cameron (along with their assorted children). They all live near one another in California, and they manage to get themselves into an astonishing number of absurd situations in every single episode. (I haven’t heard my husband laugh so hard in months.)

The show centers on the everyday dramas of family life: juggling everyone’s schedules and needs, communicating honestly with your partner, navigating the dynamics of various relationships. There are misunderstandings and fights and a few tears, especially from dramatic teenager Haley. There’s also lots of hilarity: Claire and Mitchell recreating an old ice-dancing routine in a parking lot; Phil constantly trying to be a “cool” dad.

All the characters are great, but we each have our favorites. My husband loves flamboyant, oversensitive Cameron; I’m partial to big-hearted Gloria, with her hilarious linguistic gaffes and Colombian accent (which I love to imitate). But the character to whom I relate most is Claire.

Claire is a stay-at-home mom to three kids, a hyper-organized wife to scatterbrained Phil, a classic Type A oldest child who’s always trying to keep everyone (and everything) around her from going off the rails. She expends an enormous amount of energy holding it together, but sometimes she does break down – either because one of the kids pushes her buttons or because she’s just too exhausted.

In the first episode of Season 2, after a series of crises, Phil says to a teary-eyed Claire, “Don’t apologize. I love you when you’re human.”

That line stopped me in my tracks for two reasons. First, as a person who spends so much time trying to be perfect, I suspect it was what I – and Claire – most needed to hear. And second, I think that line holds the key to the whole show. Family is about loving each other when you’re human.

The Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan – like any family – doesn’t always get along. Everyone’s got rough edges and hang-ups, and they know how to drive each other crazy. Sometimes the mistakes are small, inconsequential – and sometimes they’re a much bigger deal. But over and over again, they pull together and keep on loving each other. Their humanity makes them so relatable – even though, on the surface, my family doesn’t look much like theirs.

Modern Family is a comedy – and I plan to keep cracking up at the crazy scenarios in every episode. But I’ll also keep looking for the nuggets of truth hidden amid the hilarity. Being part of a family is seldom easy – but it is a beautiful thing to love one another when you’re human.

Have you watched Modern Family? (If so, are you a fan, like me?)

(Image from Wikipedia)

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katie memorial church green coat harvard yard
“I sometimes wish I were a morning person,” I confessed recently to a friend. I loved – and embraced – my natural inclination toward being a night owl in college and graduate school, but the truth is that early commutes and nine-to-five day jobs don’t always jibe well with a love of late nights. I like the idea of being a morning person, but I always want to hit the snooze button one more time.

“I sometimes wish I were an extrovert,” he replied.

My response was immediate and knee-jerk: I have never, not once, wished I were an extrovert.

Certainly I have wished I were less shy, more at ease among strangers. Cocktail parties and networking events – really, anything that requires me to walk alone into a roomful of people I don’t know – are among my worst nightmares.

But I’ve always been fundamentally satisfied to live in my quiet, introspective world. I love being a bookish deep thinker, a writer, a ruminator. I love a cozy night in on the couch, with a good book or a favorite TV show and a cup of tea. I have never not wished those traits were a part of who I am.

red journal chai darwins

I have, at times, wished I were taller, thinner, more athletic, more daring. (I do have an adventurous streak – which mostly manifests itself in my love of travel.) And I do wish I could whistle.

But I have never wished I were blonde, male, a party girl, a coffee drinker (I’m a tea addict). I have never not wanted to be a bookworm, or a writer. I’ve always preferred one-on-one nights out (or in) with a friend to loud, large parties. I’ve always been comfortable with a few key parts of my identity.

My friend’s comment got me thinking about the things we cannot change – and the things we sometimes wish we could. Part of me does wish I woke up earlier and more easily. (I’m not exactly cranky in the morning, just a slow starter.) But those other traits – my bookishness, my introversion, my deep love of quiet time alone or with friends – are integral and cherished parts of who I am.

As I settle into my thirties, I find myself growing more and more comfortable in my own skin. (Though I admit I’d like to be more comfortable at networking events.)

What do you wish you could change about yourself? What are the deep fundamental traits you’d never change – even if you could?

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This is thirty-one

katie-sd

I’m thirty-one today. Which means I’m officially settling into my early thirties, trying the phrase on for size.

I have loved being thirty, and I’ve been spending a little time thinking about where I am right now and what I’d like thirty-one to look like. (This post was partly inspired by Lindsey’s gorgeous musings on turning forty.)

Thirty-one is thinking hard, all the time, about the big questions: marriage, money, career, children, where to live, how to live. Thirty-one is realizing that some doors are closed to me, or at least swinging shut – while others are perhaps more open than I think they are.

Thirty-one is buying clothes for the body I have, not the body I used to have, the body I wish I had, or the body that appears in most of today’s fashion catalogs.

Thirty-one is learning to listen to my body and my soul when they cry out (or even whisper) that they need rest.

Thirty-one is learning not to apologize for what I like and the way I am, while remembering to be gracious, polite and adaptable.

Thirty-one is taking a hard look at my budget with my husband, stepping up our student loan payments and our retirement contributions, and also continuing to make travel a priority.

Thirty-one is realizing, in a thousand small ways, that my generation and I are the grown-ups now.

Thirty-one is wearing many different hats: writer, wife, sister, daughter, editor, friend, aunt, resident bookworm. Thirty-one is slowly realizing the impossibility of being all things to all people.

Thirty-one is learning, again and again, to pay attention and soak in the present moment, in all its messy loveliness.

Thirty-one is learning to live with life’s spaciousness and its uncertainty, its jagged edges and its breathtaking beauty.

Thirty-one (as seen in many of the sentences above) is still learning. And loving every minute of it.

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We saw The Fantasticks on our trip to NYC in early October. It’s one of the longest-running shows around, but I’d never seen it and wasn’t familiar with the music. After seeing it, though, I bought the soundtrack, and have been humming “Try to Remember,” the theme song, ever since.

Image from Wikipedia

The Fantasticks is a small-scale show, with a cast of eight (and one of the roles is a mute). The “set” is a curtain, plus a cardboard circle that serves as sun and moon, and a trunk to conceal two traveling bums/actors who pop up when needed. On one level, the story is simply a charming take on the star-crossed young lovers trope. (There’s a wall between their houses, but it turns out their fathers put it up to encourage them to fall in love. Reverse psychology!)

The plot includes a staged abduction (which allows the young “Romeo” to be a hero), several arguments, and plenty of bumbling fun from the traveling actors. The narrator, El Gallo, as wickedly handsome and wryly humorous as Captain Jack Sparrow, spends half his time addressing the audience and half his time acting as chief bandit/architect of the love story.

Part of me is tempted to dismiss The Fantasticks as merely a frothy, whimsical, sparkling piece of musical theatre. There’s a lot of exaggeration and then lampooning of musical-theatre stereotypes (the young lovers, in particular, are so wide-eyed they’re a bit annoying). The dads are highly amusing, with their sly wit and irritable tempers. There’s only a little “real” violence, and all’s well that ends well. Simple, right?

Not quite. The plot’s deeper meaning has nothing at all to do with falling in love, or reverse psychology, or the questionable morality of staging your daughter’s fake abduction. It hides in plain sight, and it only comes to light near the end, when the narrator explains why he pulled the puppet strings to separate the young lovers for a while:

There is a curious paradox that no one can explain:
Who understands the secret of the reaping of the grain?
Who understands why spring is born out of winter’s laboring pain,
or why we all must die a bit before we grow again?

I do not know the answer; I merely know it’s true.
I hurt them for that reason, and myself a little bit too.

El Gallo would never admit it, but he’s a little sad to end up alone, as he has been the whole time. He’s a romantic but lonely figure, riding off into the sunset. However, he’s stumbled on a bit of wisdom, which reappears in the final song and takes on a new gravity after the lines above: “without a hurt, the heart is hollow.”

While I don’t believe in a narrator (or anyone else) pulling my strings like a puppet, I do believe this: sorrow can deepen us, make us into better, braver and more compassionate people. When I was a college student grieving the loss of a friend who had died suddenly in a car crash, one of my professors put it this way: sorrow digs a well inside us.

The young lovers, before their struggle, were sweet but shallow: they needed the separation to make them appreciate one another, and to draw on their own reserves of courage and strength. (After they’re reunited, El Gallo urges the fathers not to take down the wall. One set of obstacles is gone, but others will remain.)

The Fantasticks isn’t a morality tale, and it would be dangerous to view it as a blueprint for life. But these lines about grief and love have lodged in my heart, and I think the show needs this bittersweet reminder. There must always be some darkness to balance the light, a bit of grief to balance out the joy – even in the world of musical fantasy, where anything can happen.

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I’ve got a whole crop of friends who graduated from college this year. Many of them are part of our beloved small group from our Abilene church; they are smart, capable, kind, funny, utterly wonderful people. Some of them have plans, but a few are still waiting, sending out job applications, bunking with friends or family or staying in college houses for a while, crossing their fingers and worrying and hoping. And even those who have plans – for grad school or a first job or internships – aren’t entirely sure what’s around the next bend.

And I want to say to them, and to you, if you’re there: I remember how that feels.

I remember the last few weeks in my college house, after the flurry of tearful post-graduation good-byes, packing books and dishes and furniture, trying to keep Bethany laughing as we worked so neither of us would cry. I remember sending out dozens (which felt like hundreds) of job applications, to places like New York and Nashville and Austin, and walking every day to my student job on campus, because they were keeping me on for the summer, and I sure didn’t know what else to do.

I remember watching Bethany drive away in her yellow moving truck, so tiny in the huge high cab, back to Longview to stay with her folks while she job-hunted. I went into the house and sat in the empty living room and cried. And then I called my friend Stephen, and we went for a Cajun cone, and I tried to drown my sorrows in shaved ice with raspberry syrup.

I remember the tentative first few weeks in my sister’s house, living with one of her roommates and assorted other girls who stayed for a week or a month, and the unexpected joy of Bethany moving back to live with us for the summer, and the two of us relishing our “borrowed time” together. (With Leigh Anne, the roommate mentioned above, whom we quickly came to adore.) We did a lot of worrying and some weeping that summer, but we did far more laughing – and we watched movies and hung out at coffee shops and borrowed each other’s clothes, and held each other in that tender space of not knowing, of in between.

At the end of the summer, I moved in with friends – because I didn’t want to go home (which felt like admitting failure), and I still had no “real” job. I kept sending out applications, including one to a job on campus at ACU, even though I thought I didn’t want to stay in Abilene.

As fate, or God, or something would have it, I got offered that job, accepted it, and spent a very happy year working in the Bible department at ACU, living in my own apartment for the first time in my life, making the odd transition from student worker to grown-up colleague, and laughing at the antics and witty comments of the faculty members I worked with.

It wasn’t the job I wanted to do forever. (I’ve never yet had a job that fitted that description – unless it was being a barista at the Ground Floor.) It wasn’t technically “in my field,” and it certainly wasn’t what I expected. But it was good. So good. And it gave me a year to grow up a little, to stretch my wings in the safe confines of Abilene, to breathe a little and get my feet under me before embarking on the next phase of my life and career (which turned out to be graduate school in Oxford). And the next phase, too, was good.

So to all new graduates, or others, who are feeling unsteady, like you don’t have a clue how to navigate this new grown-up world or use that shiny new degree: I know how you feel. Five years ago, I was there. (A little secret: I’ve been there many times since – and I’ve spent a lot of time there this year.)

But it’s all worked out okay for me, at least so far. I have a job, a wonderful husband, dear friends and family in multiple cities on two continents, and I still get to play with words all the time. Not bad, really, for an English major who spent a whole summer terrified that some or all of those things might not work out.

Where were you five years ago? Is it radically different from where you are today?

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