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I’m here. Just not HERE. Click on over to see the new pad.

I know y’all thought I ran off to Sundance and never returned. Thought about it, but nah.

Instead I’ve been bouncing around. I mean Bouncing. Around. In the real world, but also here. Which is why I am no longer here, in this spot, and I’m now OVER HERE, in that spot. There are a few glitches, but it’s all working sort of maybe okay. So that’s where I am, for the time being, in my very own domain, at

Cleaner

Plate

Club

Dot

Com

Stop on by. I could use some help unpacking, frankly.

New year, full hearts

A new year. 2010. Four days in already (and very happy birthday wishes to you, Mom!).

Christmas passed in a blur — we went out west with Blair’s family to go skiing, a skill I’ve learned only in the last few years, and not especially well. Learning to ski, it turns out, is rather like learning to knit: awkward at first, and there’s always something more challenging to tackle than the thing you just mastered. You fumble and you fall, and you start again, knowing that if you can’t laugh at your mistakes — at yourself — you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Then somewhere along the way you develop a sort of physical memory for it, so that you can think a little less, worry a little less, as you move forward.

There are plenty of differences, of course. There is, for example, that whole potential to snap your legs right in half with skiing. Still, though. Similarities exist.

I was glad to be out there, but equally glad to leave the glitz of the slopes at the holidays, and return to our humble life where the house smells a little too much like dog and almost everything is tattered and worn. Home. Now here we are in 2010, whatever it brings.

Once upon a time, I celebrated the kind of new year’s where the only possibilities for the next 365 days seemed to be good ones (these, of course were the years that I met the new year with a bottle of the cheapest champagne in the store, guzzled until it came foaming out of the sides of my mouth, and all the talk was about who we’d kiss at midnight).  When one reaches A Certain Age, though, one begins to greet the new year with a little less heady confidence, a little more humility. It could be the year we get fit/work less/make a million/lose 15 pounds/get organized/quit smoking/smell the letters/appreciate loved ones more. Or it could — we know this by now — be another kind of year altogether. We make our resolutions, praying fiercely that this isn’t the year that tragedy befalls us, that despair or darkness closes in.

This past summer, I went to see an outdoor music festival at MASS MoCA, an old industrial mill complex-turned contemporary arts center.  One of the musicians was Josh Ritter, who sings one of my favorite songs of all time: To the Dogs or Whoever (it’s the first song you’ll hear on Ritter’s web site, and it’s totally worth 3 minutes of your time). That night, he played another favorite song, Empty Hearts (#13 on the same site). It begins:

So save all of your light
for those who can’t sleep at night
and who can’t even sing to their shadows…

The song contains the refrain, “Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart, with an empty heart. Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart.”

That night, as we stood in the courtyard, surrounded by a labyrinth of looming brick buildings, Josh Ritter played that song, and the audience sang along. At one point, almost all of the musicians stopped playing, and all one could hear was the several hundred people  in the audience repeating the refrain. Over and over again, they sang it — Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart, with an empty heart. Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart — until I began to understand why the song is titled with a plural. Empty hearts.

I grew up going to church, and I’m a semi-regular attendee at Sunday services even today. And I’m telling you: what I heard that night —  hundreds of people calling out in a single voice, singing against an empty heart — was as much a kind of prayer as anything I ever heard beneath the steeple.

2010. Twenty-ten. Let’s approach this year, whatever it brings, with full hearts. Let’s genuinely save our light for those who can’t even sing to their shadows. Because here we are, in 2010, dancing on this one small planet together.

Here’s Ritter singing this song in another live concert, this one in Central Park with the New York Pops. It’s not quite the same effect as being there, but it sure is a good song:

Happy new year to you.

Crazy-good carrot souffle

Bright orange: not the easiest color to photograph.

This recipe isn’t mine. Not mine at all. It is, however, really good. We’re talking slap-my-knee-and-call-me-Pappy!-type good.

This recipe comes courtesy of Beth, over at Expatriate’s Kitchen (and she is giving away a book on drinking, yo!). Beth is my co-author on our as-yet-unnamed book project (due out fall 2010). This recipe will be included in the book, and I offer it here as kind of a sneak preview, a window into the 272 vegetable-laden pages that will follow less than a year from now.

Sake’s alive, Beth has some kickin’ recipes up her sleeve.

This dish is so tasty. It is sweet and warm and completely comforting, and it features one of the few ingredients that can still be found locally, in this, the coldest of seasons: carrots!

What do you call an elephant with a carrot in each ear?

Anything you want; he can’t hear you!

Carrots rock the vegetable world. They offer copious amounts of vitamin A as beta-carotene, which is associated not only with great eye health, but also cardiovascular health. Beta-carotene also appears to contain anti-cancer properties.  Carrots are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins K and C as well as B vitamins, and are a great source of fiber.

A guy walks into a doctors office with one carrot in his ear and another up his nose. He says: ” Doc, I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”

The doctor looks at him  for a while, and finally says “I know what’s wrong with you!”

The patient says “Really? What?!!”

“You’re not eating right!”

This is one of my favorite carrot recipes of all time: carrot souffle, with a touch of orange flavor. I made it this week for a potluck gathering, and it got raves. My mom made it for Thanksgiving and it earned raves. At the end of my book-writing deadline, when my butt was plastered to a big rubber ball and my back hurt and my eyes were dilated from staring too much at the computer, and the sun was disappearing and the world was growing colder by the second, this is the one dish that I craved, the one dish I would get off my rump to prepare happily.

It’s officially a side dish, but one can also see it peering boldly into the “Dessert” end of things, waving with familiarity to the pumpkin pies and sweet potato pies and baked figgy puddings and the fruit souffles. In other words, it’s kind of dessert. But you get to call it part of dinner.

The wise man says: mother who cooks carrots and peas in the same pot is very unsanitary!

The fact that is so delightfully sweet is why I am surprised that my own daughters refuse to eat this carrot souffle. Merrie has it in her head that she just doesn’t care for cooked carrots in any form. And once my child convinces herself she doesn’t like something, that, apparently, is that. As for Charlotte, well, she just doesn’t eat. As I have mentioned before, Charlotte lives on love, Elmo, and Annie lyrics.

So I make it,  I offer it, they refuse it, and I eat it. All of it.

Until one day, when I left a fresh-baked dish of it on the stovetop and didn’t announce what it was. The top of it was baked golden brown, with just a slight crust to it. The kitchen, I thought, smelled glorious. Merrie wandered into the kitchen, then was silent for a while. Suddenly she burst into where I was working.

“Mom!” she exclaimed, with a giant spoon in her hand. “That stuff you made is SO GOOD.”

I lifted my eyes in surprise.”Really? You think so?”

“Yes! It’s DELICIOUS!!”

“Huh,” I said. (Now here comes what they call a strategic mistake). “That’s interesting, because that’s the carrot souffle I’ve made so many times and you’ve refused to eat every time.” (and that, right there, was my strategic mistake. I should have said nothing if I wanted her to eat it).

“Really?” she asked. It was her turn to be surprised.

“Yeah.”

“Huh,” she said, considering the situation carefully. “Well, um maybe I only liked it a little.”

From “DELICIOUS!” to “I only liked it a little” in a mere three seconds flat.

Whatever, kid. That just there’s more for me.

What did one snowman say to the other snowman?

“Hey, do you smell carrots?”

Ingredients
2 1/4 lbs. of chopped carrots (about 16 medium carrots, or 8-9 very large carrots)
2/3 cup sugar
4 tbs. flour
3 tbs. plain low fat yogurt
3 eggs
2 tbs. melted butter
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. mace (or nutmeg)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. orange extract

Steam carrots until soft. Cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place carrots in food processor. Pulse until pureed. Add the other ingredients, pulsing as you go. Run food processor until all the ingredients are well incorporated.

Spray a souffle dish with cooking spray. Pour in carrot souffle batter. Bake for about 50 minutes, until inside is well-formed (an inserted knife should not come out gloppy and wet).

Try not to eat the whole dish while it is still steaming warm from the oven. After all, you might want to save some for dessert.

Carpentry for Women part II: who we are

This is part two of the rather absurdly lengthy six-part series about my carpentry for women class at the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vermont. If you missed part I: Arriving, you’ll find it here.


There are nine of us in the class. In no particular order, we are:

  • Jory, a school social worker from Vermont, a hiker and gardener, mother of a college-aged daughter.
  • Ilona, a recent Smith graduate, former ultimate Frisbee player, student of an international boarding school, and classical guitarist, working now in an office job in the green economy in Washington DC.
  • Donna, a nurse from Central Massachusetts, a motorcyclist, who dreams of building a home closer to her two grown sons.
  • Alexis, a middle school art teacher and ceramicist who recently purchased five wooded acres of land in New Hampshire, where she plans to build her own timber-framed strawbale house.
  • Theresa, a former financial executive from New Jersey, a single mother whose children have grown. The day after her youngest child got a job, she quit her corporate job working for real estate developers, to move to Philadelphia where she will study urban planning.
  • Sarabel, a free-spirited employee of the Farm School in Western Massachusetts, a nonprofit that provides overnight, back-to-the-land experiences for children.
  • Cindy, a retired diplomat of the United Nations, now splitting her time between Vermont and South Africa.
  • Sasha, quiet, a 30-ish newlywed who works with youth, who is moving to a new city the day that class ends, and starting a new job two days later.

Then there is me: mother of two, wife of eleven years, semi-professional writer, striving to do more for myself.

I count the number of students who appear over 35, and under 30. The class seems split evenly — something that brings me no small relief.

IMG_5298

We have two instructors, both professional women carpenters. Patti drives a silver Ford pick-up truck, is partial to Long Trail beer, and carries a guitar in a case emblazoned with bumper stickers, one of which says “Practice conscious acts of solidarity and organized resistance.” In her spare time, she rides motorcycles, plays folk festivals, has a radio show celebrating women’s music. She wears a scruffy T-shirt and a worn Yestermorrow baseball cap over her short hair. She stretches her muscled legs in front of her as she describes the 11-year process of building her own home.  At one point during the week, she will tell us she does, in fact, own both an iron and a blowdryer — both are in her wood shop, used exclusively for carpentry.

Lizabeth — there is no “E,” though I will spend the week stumbling over that — is direct and wry, a former Peace Corps volunteer, simultaneously petite and  rugged. Her long hair swept up casually, and she wears a T-shirt that says, “Don’t Panic: Go Organic.”  Lizabeth explains why she became a carpenter in a single, short sentence: “because my dad was a sexist.” Continue reading ‘Carpentry for Women part II: who we are’

The house that Ali built

More thoughts on caprentry…and on Vermont…and on my sunburned shoulders…and on my blisters…and on power tools…and on the kind of woman that chooses to spend a week’s vacation in the woods, swinging a hammer and cursing like a sailor. More of all of that to come. For the moment, though, I offer this photo, of a not-quite-complete shed that I helped build — me! —  and that was built entirely by people without a Y chromosome.

Great week, folks. Great, amazing, exhausting, badass kind of week.

Women made this. I made this.

Women made this. I made this.

Just one sentence

You know how sometimes you fall behind? Like, maybe there’s something you need to do. I dunno, something small, an it’ll-take-ten-minutes sort of thing?  Could involve updating something, a blog, maybe. Something. And yet you don’t do it? There’s no reason, and you’ve never had trouble before. You just don’t ever seem to get to it? Ever?

It’s not that there’s nothing to say. There might be plenty to say. Of course there’s plenty to say; there’s always something to say. There’s good stuff, heartbreaking stuff, fungus, polenta, all of it. And you want to write about it, you do, all of it, and sometimes you even lie awake composing things in your head. But then morning comes, and you get up and somehow just don’t have it in you anymore. You look at the computer and think, “nah.”

And it gets to the point that you are looking at your computer like a dangerous object, moving around it cautiously, like if you get too close it might just explode or shoot darts into your eyeballs.

And maybe one day you go to an anusara yoga class, a place that is difficult enough to go, what with all of those open-hearted people twisting themselves into pretzels and bending themselves in ways that, I’m sorry, are just not possible. But you go, and the instructor there talks about change, and the possibility that in a single instant, you might be radically different than you were before. And you are open to that possibility, you would like to be radically different in an instant, so you try it. Blink. See? Radically different! Poof! Just like that! Except it is not true, you are still you, exactly as before, and you are still not doing the things that need to be done. And while the instructor talks about embracing radiance and rooting your feet, and sweeping your tailbone and rounding your kidneys, and curling your shoulders around your heart, and hollowing your armpits, and extending your thighs and bringing your palms together, you cease thinking, “none of this is anatomically possible,” and begin thinking, “I’ve got to do that thing! I’ve just got to do that thing!” And then all of the pretzel-like people with the right yoga clothes and open hearts sense the dark, swirling mess that is your heart and your head, and they toss you out of yoga class, right on your ass, because, let’s face it, you are nothing but an imposter. A yo-poster.

And creatures are born, and creatures die, and it rains and rains and rains and rains, until all of New England is submerged in water, and people start wondering whether perhaps we should have started that ark already. And still, you don’t sit down and do that thing.

And finally, you start thinking, “one sentence. That’s all you need to do is one tiny little sentence. Just something. Because otherwise it will be nothing. And if it is going to be nothing, you need to decide that it is nothing. Nothing can’t just happen, it needs to be a decision.”

It is time to decide. Will you do this thing, will you write something? Or are you done? Decide. Are you a man or a mouse?

You are neither, of course, but one sentence, if that’s all it is, seems possible.

So one sunny Saturday, on what might be the first sunny day of the half-gone summer, with your husband and children at the playground, you finally sit down, thinking, “one sentence. Just one. That is all.”

And you sit on your sofa, everything quiet save for the hum of the refrigerator and the ticking of a clock, a cup of coffee by your side, and you take a deep breath. Then this is what you write:

The cat did not have rabies.

Downside of country living? Rabies woes

So, Merrie got bitten by a cat. We were at someone else’s house, and Merrie went into the barn, where she found a cat. Cats are furry, and despite all my warnings to the contrary, to Merrie’s mind, furry = wants to be pet. The cat sat still, tolerating the petting for a while. Then, when Merrie didn’t expect it, the cat sank its teeth into her skin.

It was a hard bite, the kind that leaves deep marks, though it didn’t appear to break skin. Maybe one puncture. But still small enough that it didn’t really bleed, or barely. So…no big deal. Right?

Still, to be safe, I asked my friend if the cat was up to date on its shots. “I think so,” she said. “It’s a neighbor’s. We just took it for a spell.”  But she was almost sure it was up to date. Really, positive. Almost positive. She would check.

(You know where this story is going, right?)

Alas, the cat was a year overdue for its rabies vaccine.

Rabies is a bad disease. It’s a viral infection of the brain, always fatal. It causes all sorts of things you’d never want to have happen: paranoia, terror, hallucination, paralysis, panic, delirium. Awful stuff. The name, rabies, is the Latin word for “madness.”

Another thing to know about rabies: once you start to show symptoms, it is always, always, too late. By the time you find out you have it, you’re as good as gone. It’s not a disease to mess around with.

And another: it’s not difficult to transmit. Even a scratch from a rabid animal can do it.

One more: the only way to know for sure if an animal has rabies or not is to euthanize it, then cut its head off and test the brain. Continue reading ‘Downside of country living? Rabies woes’

What I did on my summer vacation, by Ali

Okay, so summer is just begininning. But I have been traveling, with limited internet access along the way. This is why you have hear neither hide nor hair from me. (Fear not, beloved worriers: all is well).

First, we went to New York City for a handful of days. This was delightful. Stayed at the Marriott in downtown Brooklyn, which was only just being built back in the day when I called myself a Brooklynite. At the time, it seemed like a crazy idea. A Marriott? In the middle of Brooklyn? But it was lovely, well-appointed, centrally located. And filled with people who apparently didn’t think it so crazy after all.

We did all kinds of things. Dining out, the Ellis Island museum, funky little shops. At one point, we went to the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights, and Merrie took photos of the New York skyline with my camera:

Photo credit: Merrie

Photo credit: Merrie

I got to visit my sister’s light-filled, Pottery-Barn-esque office:

That is my sister in the background. She is yelling at children. It turns out that light-filled, Pottery Barn-esque offices are not the place for high-energy children.

That is my sister in the background. She is yelling at children. It turns out that light-filled, Pottery Barn-esque offices are not the place for high-energy children.

Also on the trip, I got to meet my new friend Oscar.

Oscar might need to go on a diet. He is HEAVY, dude.

Oscar might need to go on a diet. He is HEAVY, dude.

(if you weren’t around in February 2008: yep, it’s real).

Merrie and I had been watching Project Runway, and we made a trip to Mood Fabrics in the fashion district, the place where designers. We also wandered through the city imagining outfits inspired by the random things that we saw — one of the tasks of Season 2 (and if you watched that season, please don’t give away the winner, for we still don’t know). Anyhow, we wound up snapping lots of photos of things, and my camera is now filled with dozens of pictures like this: Continue reading ‘What I did on my summer vacation, by Ali’

Rest in peace, dear Fishy Fishy

fishy fishy graveLet’s say you have a seven year old, and you allow this seven year old to get a fish.

Let’s say your child was elated the day you bought this fish, a bright blue betta in a little plastic container, the kind of container that might have otherwise held a $3.90 serving of fish soup from the local Chinese takeout joint. To make the fish feel at home, you purchased a little floating piece of bamboo and some pink glass stones for the tank.

Let’s say this fish was no more affectionate than your average fish, that it swam and moved its fins and ate pellets of fish food and didn’t do much else. But somehow your child adored this fish; she talked to him and cooed to him, fed him and fretted over him and loved him profoundly.

Then, let’s say it dies, and your child’s heart is broken. Continue reading ‘Rest in peace, dear Fishy Fishy’

Postcard from Vermont: happy spring

magnolia1

It’s spring, yo. Just like that, in a mere day and a half, we went from having no leaves on the trees to having great bursts of green, like powder puffs, unfolding from trees. Warmth is in such short supply in New England. Winter lasts, and it lasts, and it lasts. And then suddenly, over a weekend, everything changes. The air smells rich and earthy, songbirds chirp in cacophony, and fields and lawns — which the day before might have been dull and matted — are suddenly technicolor bright.

It does a heart good. I tell you, it does.

Earlier this winter, after everyone in this house had been sick, off and on, for weeks, reader Anna commented to me that she suspected my family and I were not getting enough vitamin D. It was the lack of sun that was making us sick, said Anna, bringing us down so we had no fight to give to the germs. I was out in the sun this weekend, feeling the warmth go through my skin, seep into my core, and I thought, she’s right. Anna was just so right.

Sun, soil, blossoms, birds, bugs, bees. It is like waking up, like spring cleaning for the soul.

Elsewhere, there is much to worry about. Such an imperfect world is ours, with our potential pandemics and our economic tumoil. But it doesn’t feel that way today, not as the kids scramble around the backyard, finding snakes that have emerged from dens to warm themselves in the sun, not as peonies push their way up through the dirt, not as lilacs and bleeding hearts prepare to open themselves to the sky, not as I load seeds and soil into the back of my car, ready to get my hands dirty.

Oh, it is good, spring is. So good. Happy warmth to you.


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