11 November 2015

A good week to be an English major

Last week was a good week to be an English major in my world.

First there was Word Week, an event that Hallmark hosts every fall, organized by the Writing and Editorial community, in order to celebrate and venerate the craft of the writers and editors. We showcase our own skills and talents and we invite guest speakers to come enlighten us on their particular work. And each year I come away from Word Week with a keen appreciation for the work that my colleagues and I do.

Then, I left Word Week and headed to OKC for the weekend to attend homecoming at my alma mater, Southern Nazarene University. I typically don't attend homecoming but this year the school is honoring the Division of Cultural and Communication Studies so I made the trip down. Back when I was in school it wasn't called that; it was called the English Department. But nowadays the school has an entire division devoted to modern languages, literature, mass communication, and graphic design.

Since the homecoming focus was on the English department and our ilk, and since Word Week had just wrapped up at Hallmark, I found myself ruminating on all of us in that department - the storytellers of our day; the hard working word people wielding our rhetorical powers for good, not evil.

The writers and editors, yes, but also the broadcasters and bloggers ... the translators and interpreters ... the lyricists, the poets, the playwrights ... the advertising copy writers, the graphic designers ... the debaters, the PR folks, the speech writers and lawyers ... the professors and the presenters ... the VPs of corporate communications and the heads of foreign languages departments.

We are the ones who see the stories that others miss. Or we write the stories that others need to hear. We are the observant ones that find the patterns, the analytical ones that make you think. And the funny ones who make you laugh. We are the ones who ask the unanswerable questions and who don't shy away from trying to answer them. We are the ones that tell the narratives that help people find their place. We are the ones that make sense of a senseless world and find beauty in the darkest moments; we process the confusion and smooth out the rough spots and bridge the gap. We are the ones who write your greeting cards and who write the things you share on Facebook. We are the ones that write the songs, sermons, poems or prayers. We are the ones that know that just the right well-crafted message can make all the difference.

Everyone has the same set of 26 letters to work with. But we are the ones, the alchemists who take those same 26 letters and make some magic.

From the commercials that go viral for all to see ... to the blog posts that only a few people read - writing that matters is everywhere. Maybe we don't sign 4 year contracts for 80 million dollars, nor will we be welcomed home with a ticker tape parade and 800,000 attendees. But we know how hard we work and we know how important it is that we celebrate our skills.

Here's to all my fellow word people. Thank you for what you do.


03 November 2015

Halloween: the Colorful and the Contemplative

Halloween - 2015
Halloween is a little bit of a high holiday around here. I have been really getting into it since we moved to Brookside and since the girls have gotten old enough to love it. This year's preparations have been underway for a while.

Honey offered to make the Halloween costumes for the girls (certainly not the only time recently that my mom has brought Halloween to life) - a rainbow fairy, sometimes called Brite Rainbow, for Julia and "Clara Caterpillar" for Clara (from the book by the same name). The costumes were superb and I could tell that the girls felt like a million bucks as they embodied their alter egos. "I'm a cabbage caterpillar!" Clara declared many times with a winning grin (a frightening costume for all my farmers, I'm sure). And Julia with her rainbow fairy wand, abracadabra-ing everyone and everything. Because rainbows give you powers. Obviously.

We carved our pumpkins weeks ago; they had long since been consumed by decay and squirrels by the time the actual day arrived. But we've been decorating the house in other ways since early October. Ghosts in the trees and skulls on the mantel. We are slowly building a collection.


pumpkin carving
We're also talking a lot about Samhain these days, not just Halloween. Samhain (pronounced "sah-win") is a Gaelic festival (October 31 - November 1) that celebrates the changing of the seasons. Many of our modern Halloween traditions are rooted in Samhain traditions (for example, pumpkin carving came from making lanterns out of turnips with faces carved in them). Samhain also focuses on gratitude for the cycles of life, death, and rebirth.

altar or memorial

Sergio's recent interfaith work (and his familiarity with Day of the Dead traditions) spurred him on to create what in Mexican, Catholic, or Pagan tradition would be called an altar. You might also call it a memorial. This year felt like the right time to bring this element into the mix. Not only have we lost several close family members in the last year, but the girls are old enough to know about these losses and are certainly old enough to talk about them.

Having pictures of our loved ones out for us all to see was a wonderful reminder. And the beautiful white display that Sergio created was a striking spot of clarity and calm that encouraged a pause and a moment of contemplation. Halloween goes hand in hand with All Saints' Day (November 1 on the liturgical calendar in the Episcopal church - a day to recognize those who have gone before). In Day of the Dead tradition (as well as in the Jewish Yarzheit tradition) you light a candle as the spirit of your departed loved ones returns for just a moment. As we discussed each photo with the girls, we brought everyone back if only for just a moment. 

Halloween day arrived and we had way too much to do, far too little time, a major distraction threatening to spoil everything, and a hell-bent determination on our parts to have a fun Halloween party despite it all. Miraculously we pulled through. Friends and family gathered and we joined the entourage of little ghosts and ghouls and Annas and Elsas all traipsing up and down the sidewalks of Morningside. We came back home and put Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin on for the kids, and we ate chili, taking turns handing out candy at the front door.

There's nothing like a Halloween party to infuse your life with delight and to entice you to be like your children who don't have to try very hard to be happy. After the revelers had all gone home (or fallen asleep on the floor next to a pile of legos), I began cleaning up and discovered a drawing that Julia had made in the early morning when Sergio and I were far too preoccupied with worry and concern to have a clue what she was doing. It is a drawing of a rainbow (not surprising these days; she does a lot of those) but this one came with a caption. Some days we don't have to try very hard to be happy. But there are other days when we need all the rainbows we can get.



08 October 2015

Complex Choices



“The more we know about our food system the more we are called into complex choices.” 

- Barbara Kingsolver





Wow! What a great experience and a fascinating conversation. I was so honored to be included in the discussion on the environmental impact of our food choices today on KCUR’s Central Standard. I learned a lot from the other guests, Tim Crews of the Land Institute and Mykel Taylor from KSU, and I appreciate the way that their specific perspective on agriculture really enriched my own take on things.


It is so true that we face very complex choices as Barbara Kingsolver says. And isn’t it fascinating that choosing what food we eat - which is such a personal decision - necessarily involves so many other people? But I hope that as individual consumers we can find a way to do a little bit at a time - to not bite off more than we can chew, if you will (pun intended). As we pay close attention to what kind of negative impact our choices have on the environment, I think we can also look for ways to have a positive impact on the world around us and on our KC community. Buying from local farmers means choosing to support the people who are taking good care of the soil and the land in and around KC. You can also keep more food dollars in our community rather than sending them to far-off companies and marketers and other entities. These are positive environmental and economic impacts.


As Mykel Taylor suggested - there may not be just one thing that will solve our problems. There might be a variety of solutions to address our great strain on the earth. I'm glad to know that there are groups that are laser focused on finding solutions for the parts of the system that they can impact. And I hope that the KC Food Circle can inspire folks to focus on what they can impact most directly - which is - what's on your plate.

Or bowl as the case may be. And speaking of which, here's my bok choi soup! 

BOK CHOI SOUP
I posted it once before but when I made it again last night I included lemongrass, which was a very nice touch. I also like to add a fresh garnish along with my sriracha. At lunch today I had scallions - tonight when I eat this soup again for dinner (because it's just that good) I'll add some very finely chopped radishes. I made a big batch of it last night since last night was CSA pick up night so I have plenty of soup to keep me going.

Baby Bok Choy and Garlic Soup

Ingredients:
7 c veggie broth
4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 piece of ginger, peeled
*a stalk or two of lemongrass! Hard outer leaves removed and just chopped into a few long pieces - remove before eating the soup.
handful of brown rice (between 1/4-1/2 cup; PS this is a great recipe to use up leftover rice)
1 kohlrabi or turnip, peeled and chopped
1 lb bok choy, trimmed and chopped
salt to tast
sriracha or other hot sauce, to taste
1-2 eggs
garnish with fresh scallions and or radish and or mint

Instructions:
Boil the vegetable stock and add the crushed garlic and ginger and lemongrass in a big pot. Let that simmer over low heat for about 5 minutes.
Add the rice and kohlrabi (or turnip); cover. Simmer for 20 minutes (unless rice was previously cooked.)
Add more broth if you need it and add the bok choy. Taste and season with salt and sriracha.
Cover and let the bok choy cook down - should only be 5 minutes or so.
Ladle a small portion of the broth out into a bowl and add the egg(s). Stir vigorously with a fork and then pour it all back into the pot. Give the soup a good stir and serve.


01 August 2015

Chez Panisse

I don't really have a bucket list, per se, but if I did, eating at Chez Panisse would have been on it. I can't even remember when I first heard of Alice Waters or her trend-setting approach to food. But once I read the book Alice Waters and Chez Paniesse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution, by Thomas McNamee I knew I had to come. So when we started planning a trip to San Francisco, I started planning a jaunt over to Berkeley.

We opted to go just a few of us adults to Chez Panisse rather than all 9 members of our traveling party (including small children who I'm sure would have left a lot of crumbs to be scraped up by the crumb scraper).

It ended up being a lovely outing for me, my mom, and Tyler. We ubered over the Bay Bridge, saw a tiny bit of actual fog (finally!), and arrived right on time at the unassuming restaurant where we were greeted by a peace sign fashioned out of innumerable heads of garlic.

We ate in the café upstairs instead of the restaurant downstairs which is a prix fixe menu. In the cafe we were able to order a la carte which meant a chance to sample a variety of options.

What struck me about the entire dining experience - the food, the wait staff and host, the decor and music and even the wallpaper - was how simple and unassuming it is. Very straightforward and clean, without gimmick or frills, without complication or distraction. Very plain. Refined, I suppose. But also delicious (the food) and inviting (the ambiance).

first course
chilled beet soup with yogurt, chives, and dill
fattoush: tomato, purslane, cucumber with mint and flat bread

second course
pizza with wild nettles and sheep's milk ricotta
grilled eggplant with garlic cream, Provençal tomato, stuffed squash blossom with tapenade, and mesclun salad
hand-cut green noodles with Elliot Ranch lamb ragu, marjoram, hot pepper, and Parmesan

third course
blackberry sherbet with Zee Lady peaches and an ossi die morti
summer berry shortcake with mascarpone
Ruby Grand nectarine galette with vanilla ice cream



12 July 2015

Radish Salsa

Michael Pollan would have us believe that we are a nation more obsessed with cooking shows than with cooking. And I think he's right to some degree. But I'm proud to report that my hours and hours and hours of watching Chopped is not for naught because it is on that show that I first heard about Radish Salsa.

Radish Salsa!

I jotted that down in my mental notes back in the winter when I was watching that episode. Now that radishes have been abundant and I've had my fill of my all time favorite Radish Sandwich, I decided to try this salsa at last.

I googled it and used the first recipe I found because it was a Mark Bittman one, so I thought it was reliable. Also, It was 6:00 when I was googling and I and my children were hungry so I wasn't about to go researching a bunch of radish salsa recipes and variations. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Mark Bittman's is nice and simple and makes a large portion - I made a much smaller portion, went easy on the crushed chiles in the hopes that the girls would eat it and wouldn't find it too spicy (ps: they did NOT eat it but Julia did tell me, unprompted, that she thought it was beautiful).

This salsa was the perfect high pitch accompaniment to go with the low tones of the Golden Summer Squash soup I made for dinner into which I added beans and lots of smoked salt. The soup was earthy, the salsa was bright. It was such a delicious combination that all my exclamations and exaltations while I was eating it convinced Julia to try the soup, even though she had initially refused it. And even though she never did try the salsa, she happily ate two full helpings of soup. I credit the salsa for that.


RADISH SALSA
from Mark Bittman

Radish Salsa
Makes: About 2 cups
Time: 30 minutes
Radishes are a classic salsa ingredient in Mexico, and the technique—mixing a vegetable (or fruit) with onion, an acid, chiles, and fresh herbs—is downright common. 
2 cups chopped radishes, like daikon, red, or a combination (about 1 pound)
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh chile (like jalapeño or Thai), or to taste, or hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Put all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly.
2. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more chile, lemon, or salt as needed. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to a day.

11 July 2015

The Odyssey

I really hope I can convince Sergio that we should name our van "Homer." 


About a week ago we became a two-car family. This is something we've been scheming for a long time. We held out as long as we could, enjoying our one car status for 11 years; especially enjoying our no car payments for 12 years. Having just one car was simple and clean. Well, maybe the car wasn't always clean. But the having of just one car was clean. You know what I mean. Anyway - it was very simple before we had kids. 

It has become increasing more complex with the addition of two children as well as (let's not blame the kids for everything) the addition of a number of extracurricular activities on the part of me and Sergio. In the last two years we would occasionally think, wouldn't it be nice to have two cars. But those moments were few and far between and not worth a car payment to solve when - with a moderate amount of planning ahead and some dependence on friends and public transit - we could get by just fine. 

This year we reached our transportation planning capacity. Not only did we run out of ways to solve our limited transportation hiccups on a regular basis, we also decided we would prefer to be able to travel in large groups on occasion. Whether it's grandparents visiting or cousins (out-of-town ones and in-town ones) - it seems there's often a good reason to seat 8 people in our car. 

Enter: The Honda Odyssey. Ours is a gently used 2013 LX model that still, if I'm honest, feels like a rental. A really nice rental. I still can't quite absorb that it's actually ours. Even though we've already smudged up the clean floor mats and learned how to work all the fancy doors, I'm still adjusting to A) having such a nice car (our other car is a fantastic, but quite minimally appointed Honda Fit) and B) having two cars. 

This morning I took Clara in the van with me one direction and Sergio took Julia with him in the Fit in another direction. These were short trips and we weren't apart that long, but this was perhaps the first time that we've split up like that. Maybe ever. The four of us are together a lot and, what's more, the girls are together a lot. So when Clara climbed into the van she asked where Julia's carseat was and said to me, sort of sad-like, "I can't talk to my sister?" Having two cars will be an adjustment for all of us. 

But a good adjustment. Last week, when I told Julia we were buying a minivan, the very first thing she said was, "you mean my cousins can ride in our car with me?!" She was delighted. 

And that's just what they've been doing as we've been tooling around town together as a family - especially this week - cousins, aunt, and Grandma Joyce visiting from Mexico, Sergio and the girls and me. It's nice to be able to all be together. 

23 June 2015

Old Friends and Fathers - a weekend in OKC


The hilly part of Kansas. Not that you can tell. 
Many months ago my friends from high school and I decided to gather from all four corners of the earth (and by that I just mean Boston, New York, Kansas City, and Oklahoma) for a mini reunion. (We have been friends for 20 years now. How is that possible?) We didn't intentionally choose Father's Day weekend as our timeframe for this event. But I'm glad it worked out this way.

The road to OKC was long - as always - but the drive was well worth it. At the end of that road was a very happy Honey & Papa, a couple of delighted cousins, some very dear old friends (and some new babies to meet!) ... and quality time with my dad on Father's Day - a treat not to be overlooked. 

On the way there, Sergio was able to get in a little early Father's Day affection when we stopped on the turnpike to get our wiggles out and the girls tackled him with a hug. Also en route, Julia whispered to me, "Mommy - you picked a good guy to marry." 

And of course she's right. 
Getting our wiggles out and our hugs in. 

mini harvest at my parents' house

Old friends. We are very old friends. 

my dad and me circa 1996

11 June 2015

Time Travel

I have been reading about Time Travel in this week's New Yorker. (Look at that - I've capitalized time travel. That's funny, isn't it?) Creative perspectives on the notion of time travel, I should say. In many of the pieces I'm reading, the authors contemplate going back in time to retrieve or capture something that has since been lost. Isn't that always the essence of going back in time? Something was lost and you can get it back fully - maybe even enjoy it more this time. (And maybe that's what's empowering about the possibility of going forward in time - that you would experience the future but would return to your now and relive it with new eyes, retrieve it.)

So I began imagining what I'd like to go back in time to retrieve or relive or repair. Did I imagine reliving those ecstatic milliseconds when I first laid eyes on each of my babies? Or did I want to retrieve a few extra moments of summer when I was a kid when there was nothing to worry about except mosquitos and sun burns? Did I want to go back and correct my major gaffes from college? Or prevent some painful mistake that can't be unmade, some words that can't be unsaid or some bell that can't be un-rung?

No. None of the above. Strangely, I imagined going back to the early part of 2012 (yes just 3 years ago) in order to retrieve the pictures of my Baja California sailing trip before they were mysteriously deleted from my iPhoto. I had 176 pictures from the spring of 2010 when I was pregnant with Julia and we made this once-in-a-lifetime journey; I came home from that trip more pregnant than when I'd left and \ I spent the rest of the year gestating, giving birth, and caring for an infant, therefore I never did much with my pictures except put them on Flickr. Last summer, I went to look for them again and discovered they were gone (they were deleted from Flickr, too). They were digitally wiped completely off the face of the earth never to be seen again. Even - ironically - Apple's Time Machine could not retrieve what was lost.

Using my time travel to get some pictures is - obviously - a failure of imagination (which has become a chronic problem for me, I'm learning). Perhaps someone less fixated on loss than me might have had their priorities in line enough to imagine going back to the actual sailing trip itself. Now there's an idea.

Time travel would allow me to relive the smallest details of that once-in-a-lifetime trip ... like that moment when I stood on the front of the boat and did yoga in the dim light of the clear night. Or to that moment when Sergio finished slicing a mango in its peel and splayed it out so the square straight edges of each piece jutted out into the bright sun. Or the day we went for a swim off the side of the boat or the day we all hunkered down in our berths because the waves made us nauseous. Or that day we took the tiny boat to land to eat at a restaurant and got soaked in the process. Or that moment when we found the barbed or serrated, double-edged tooth of some sea creature and Sergio held it up so I could take a picture while he invited us all to imagine how painful it would be to get this tooth stuck in our arm (thanks, Sergio). Or to that moment when we came back to land and I took the longest, most luxurious shower of my life after having taken nothing but a few 60-second showers here and there over the course of 5 days.

But lest we think I'm totally short sighted in asking the time traveling genie to get me back my pictures (mixing metaphors - sorry), let's consider this. Consider that by using my time travel to retrieve pictures of my trip, I was - in essence - asking the genie for more wishes. Because what do I do when I look at pictures? I go back. Whether it's the picture of my kids from last night when they were being memorably cute or a picture of me as a child doing something I don't even remember doing, it's always going back. It's always a retrieval process of some sort.

...

After wishing to have my Baja California pictures back, I began to treat that sailing trip as a forever lost thing. But I decided to change my stripes when I realized that some of my most favorite moments from that trip were never even photographed - doing yoga in the moonlight for example - and I remembered, as my wise mother would say, that it's not a forever lost thing; it's a forever gained thing.

Indeed so many of the things I most want to remember in life are not only not photographed, they are unphotographable. Like the smell of my grandmother's roses. Or like sneaking up to the crib late at night in the dark and quietly reaching in to put my outstretched finger into my baby's loosely furled fist and feeling the soft warm palm of her hand while she squeezes her fingers around my finger and stays deeply asleep.

There are no pictures of that. But it is mine. And I time travel to it all the time.

05 June 2015

Red Day

Yesterday after school I asked Julia if she had a good day. She said she had a "red day." I asked what that meant and if that's good or bad? (I was thinking she was channeling Holly Golightly and the "mean reds.") She explained that a red day is a bad day.

So I asked what color she would use to describe a good day (green) and if this is something they do in school (no). I thought it was a Montessori thing; I'm still not sure on that. She wasn't very clear. But I went on to ask her about what other colors mean and here is the full roster according to Julia ...

thinking about the rainbow
red - bad day
yellow - slow day
green - great day
blue - dancing day
orange - fast day
purple - not listening day
pink - listening day







This week was difficult. For me and many others at Hallmark under the dark cloud of layoffs. As we each waited to hear our fate, we all had some yellow days. Once we got our news, it felt like our days were orange. Some people had red days and some had green. And for 165 people who are embarking on something new, the next few days and months will probably cycle through any and all of those colors - the full rainbow. It's hard to say goodbye to coworkers and it feels strange to feel the company shift so much again for those of us that remain employed. One thing is for sure: Hallmarkers are empathetic people. It's what makes us good at our jobs. The outpouring of support that I have witnessed this week is nice to see. I think there have been some good pink days.

Last night we had so much rain and a very loud thunderstorm, too. As if we need more rain. (I'm quite sure that the clouds are having some purple days and are ignoring our requests to lay off with the water works already.) The rain is making for some really, really red days for our farmers. Many will suffer great loss.

I would like to think about hope instead. The rainbow after the rain. There are no promises. But at least the sun is shining today. Maybe soon we'll have a blue day.

31 May 2015

Mema's Birthday (observed)

Today would have been my grandmother's 94th birthday. She passed away in February. She is always in my heart and on my mind. She was 100% amazing.

I continue to remember #arliememagandy on Instagram
All day long the girls and I have been singing "Put me in your pocket" - which we do pretty often anyway. You can Google it and listen to a few other folks sing it. But if you want a real treat click here to listen to Mema herself singing this to my aunt Joy last year on the cusp of Joy's relocation to Colorado. How I love to hear Mema's voice. I'm so glad Joy captured it.

Tonight when the girls took a walk with Sergio they sang the song again and he texted me the following dialogue...
Julia: Do you want to sing it again?
Clara: No.
Julia: But it'll make Mema so happy in heaven!
Clara: Ok.

And on top of all that sweetness, Julia also suggested that we sing Happy Birthday to Mema and we did. That felt really nice. I never expected my toddlers to help me grieve. I had assumed it'd be the other way around.

...

About 10 days before Mema passed away, we decided to go down to Oklahoma for a last visit, not knowing how much longer she'd have. When Sergio and I were debating when to go, he suggested that we go quickly urging "every moment is precious." He meant every remaining moment and he was right. But the truth is, every moment was already precious. I am beyond fortunate to have had Mema in my life.

I will forever be grateful that Sergio's spontaneous "let's just go to Oklahoma this weekend" suggestion overruled my penchant for scheduling things way in advance. We visited that last weekend in January; I spent an entire day simply being with Mema. I sat with her. I held her hand. I listened to her sing - so many hymns and all of them about Heaven. Every moment was precious.

On that Sunday we had to leave and that was the hard part. When we said good bye we knew it was Goodbye with a capital G. And even though we all knew that it was her time to go (even Mema knew it), it didn't mean my heart wasn't breaking. I stood on the threshold of that room, reluctant to put one foot in front of the other, to step out of that sacred space. What do you say when you know it's your last goodbye? We had had one final tea party that morning - the girls sharing their little cheerios with Mema. And when Mema starting saying "I'll meet you in the morning," which is a reference to Heaven, Julia piped up, "Mema! We won't be here in the morning! We're going home!" And we all let out a tearful chuckle.

That night when we got home we discovered we'd left the heat off in our house and the temperature in the house was 49 degrees. By bedtime it had only risen to 50.  When I put the girls to sleep I told them that as they're falling asleep they should think about how much Mema loves them. Julia said, "I know how much Mema loves me. A lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot." Then I snuggled Julia and she felt cold so I asked if she wanted another blanket. She said, "maybe I want my quilt [which Mema made for her] because my quilt has Mema's powers in it. And if I sleep with it it will put Mema's powers into me and then I'll think, 'Oh yeah, that's what it was like at Honey and Papa's! I remember Mema!'" Yet again, my small child shows me the way. 

Mema really was an example to us all and a treasure. And she did have powers you know - Mema the superhero, as Tyler put it. Given how frail Mema was there at the end, that notion is funny. But I think we all know it was truer than true. Her super power was love. No matter how frail she was at the end, she had a powerful pull on all of us.

That room where Mema died - it was the "sunroom" at my parents' house - was bathed in light and love and that was the image I carried with me back home as I waited for another 5 days before I got the news that she'd passed away peacefully early in the morning on February 6.

...

Last night I had some friends over, one of whom was celebrating her birthday, also on May 31. She requested a chocolate cake - so I made her a chocolate cake but I also made a big double batch of Berry Dumplings in honor of Mema's birthday. Now it occurs to me that that'll be a great way to celebrate Mema for years to come. She always did love celebrating and remembering with food.

A few days before Mema died my mom texted us all to say that Mema had woken from a dream and asked my mom if she wanted to eat pie with her. (Mema is generous with her pie even in her dreams.)  We all texted back and forth imagining which pie she must have been enjoying in her dreams. Mama Taylor's chocolate pie, perhaps? Or Mema's pecan pie? Or her famous pumpkin streusel?

Wouldn't it be nice to sit down with Mema for pie just one more time?

27 May 2015

Memorial Day (or Too Many Funerals)

#arliememagandy 
In the last two years I have attended more funerals than I can ever remember attending. Which is to say not that many but more than usual. The tally is four. That's four funerals since Memorial Day 2013. (Four funerals and a wedding, actually.) I keep thinking "that's too many funerals" and then wondering what is the "right" number of funerals?

Perhaps these circumstances are unique because three of the funerals I have been to are those of people who were too young to die. (But what is "old enough?" And where did I get all these strange rules and limits? As if matters of life and death ever play "by the rules." We hold up our ideals anyway.)

This year we spent Memorial Day with Beto and Lindsey, our dear friends and, oh yes, family, too. They are freshly grieving the loss of their sweet son Beckham. Their pain is unbearable. But their spirits are indomitable. It was so good to be with them.

Next month I will get to see my friend Ricki Lea who, in the 9 years that her son battled cancer and in the 21 months since her son died, has always impressed me with her fortitude.

My aunt Jetta would have been 63 earlier this month. This year on her birthday we had not mentioned to the girls that it was Jetta's birthday. But out of no where, Clara said, "I just saw Jetta! Driving that white car!" We chose to pretend that Clara's vision was real.

In February, I attended my grandmother's funeral; the days surrounding that event were what I called a Mema Memorial Bubble. It was more sweet than it was bitter, to simply remember and relive. I think of her so often, especially now that the flowers are in bloom and her birthday nears. She would have been 94 this weekend.

Just today I caught Clara playing in the other room and singing Put Me in Your Pocket - incorrectly but sweetly. Julia chimed in with accurate lyrics and they both carried on singing.

We are all thinking of those who have gone before.

Put Me In Your Pocket (click through to hear Mema sing it)
Put me in your pocket so I'll be close to you
No more will I be lonesome and no more will I be blue
And when we have to part, dear, there'll be no sad adieus
For I'll be in your pocket and I'll go along with you.

20 May 2015

Getting Ready for Urban Grown


I'm really looking forward to the Urban Grown tour this summer! The girls and I went two years ago and we had such a nice time. The first time I went was 2009, back before Cultivate KC was even called Cultivate KC! Now the organization is celebrating their 10 year anniversary, and I was asked to write a piece for their Urban Grown newsletter that went out in March. Here it is...

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Ten Year of Local Food 
By Emily Akins, Kansas City Food Circle.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED HERE

This year will be my 10th season with my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, which was my first step down a long and winding path of amazing people, delicious local and organic food, and incredible connections.

Along that path I found out about the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, which was renamed Cultivate Kansas City in 2011. I signed up to take a class at Whole Foods, taught in part by Katherine Kelly, co-founder of Cultivate Kansas City, which included a farm tour of what is now called the Gibbs Road Farm. By then I had already begun working as a volunteer for the KC Food Circle, a non-profit that connects eaters with local, organic, and free-range farmers and was beginning to find my way around the great resources available in Kansas City. And I had already learned to appreciate where my food comes from.

When I heard about KCCUA’s Urban Farms and Gardens Tour I decided to sign up to help. It was winter. The days were short and the vegetable crispers in my fridge were empty, but I began meeting regularly with the amazing volunteers who were planning and preparing the 2009 Urban Farms and Gardens Tour. Before I knew it, it was a hot summer day, the growing season was in full swing, and I was driving around from farm to farm helping to keep the tour running smoothly. I was also enjoying my opportunity to learn about urban agriculture. I went to small farms, large farms, urban farms and backyard farms. Each one provided a wealth of food and information.

I wasn’t the only one who responded so positively to the tour. It has grown each year – as I think much of the local food movement has in Kansas City. With the KC Food Circle, we’ve seen a steady increase of farmers and eaters who want to become part of our organization, and great support from our volunteers and our community partners like Cultivate Kansas City.

I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed food so much in the years since my first season. And I inadvertently became much healthier. I hadn’t set out to eat more whole foods, but buying directly from our local farmers encouraged me to do so. I think this makes my family and me healthier but I also think it makes our community healthier.

This is the beauty of food grown so close to home -- I know the people who grow my food. They have taught me how to store, prepare, and preserve all the delicious produce that comes to me fresh from their farm every week. I can even visit the farms and see with my own eyes where my food comes from. Best of all they have provided me with confidence. I know that their sustainable farming practices both enrich the earth and make for delicious, fresh produce. And I know that each crop and each farmer and each urban farm is enabling Kansas City to grow stronger every year.

I am excited to see the growth that has already happened in Kansas City and I am even more excited to see where Kansas City will be in the next 10 years as more farmers farm, more eaters eat, and as the efforts of Cultivate Kansas City continue to fill our urban core full of delicious food.

###

Here are some of my favorite pics from the Urban Grown Tour in 2013. All the pics are HERE.















11 May 2015

Mother's Day

Me and My Mom - about a week after I became a mother
First and foremost, here's to my mom. She taught me everything I need to know to be a good and happy person. I know that is no small feat and I know that not everyone is quite so lucky.

I will share here the tribute that I shared with the friends and co-workers who were all gathered at my mom's retirement party earlier this spring and who all seemed to be in agreement about what a remarkable person she is ...

Mom is patient, Mom is kind.  
She does not envy. 
She does not boast. 
She isn't proud.
Mom does not dishonor others, 
she is not self-seeking, she is not easily angered, 
she keeps no record of wrongs.
Mom does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
Mom always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. 

And secondly, here's to my babies. I couldn't have imagined a more delightful pair. They are distinctly amazing, each in their own lovely way. I am grateful for them every day.

My first born on her first day - Julia - 9/19/10
My second born on her first day - Clara - 8/17/12
Here I will share the wonderful way that Julia made me feel better today. I had promised to speak to a small group of college students today, but hadn't realized it would interfere with the Mother's Day event at the museum that I'd wanted to take the girls to. I was feeling guilty (mom guilt!) that I'd chosen to do a bit of work instead of being with my little family for that brief window of time, and on Mother's Day to boot. Then Julia asked if I wanted to hear a Mother's Day song. She sang the first line... "Mothers. They're so good. They help people - even strangers they don't know." And without even realizing it, Julia made me feel much better about my decision to take time out of my Mother's Day to help a few people I don't even know. Thank you, Julia. You have no idea. 


Happy Mother's Day


My first Mother's Day - 2010
My third Mother's Day - 2012
My fourth Mother's Day - 2013

all the mothers and all the daughters - 2014



05 May 2015

Visit from Honey and Papa

Last weekend my parents came for a long awaited visit. Since my grandmother moved in with them two years ago, they haven't been able to visit us as often as before. The girls (and let's be honest - me too) were ecstatic for them to come.

They arrived about an hour earlier than I expected so we were all minding our own business - the girls were having a kazoo marching band around the house - when I saw their car pull up. I told Julia to look out the window; when she saw that it was them, she squealed loud enough to break glass.

Breakfast with Honey and honey.
The dance class. It's a small class. 
Reading the New Yorker with Papa and wearing new
"Owl Be Up Late" jammies, a gift from Honey.
And it was true.
They were up very late each night - too excited to sleep. 

We packed the weekend full ... we visited the farmers market (love me, love my farmers market), we observed Julia's dance class, we visited the art annual, and we gardened - oh, how we gardened. 

We ripped up a strip of grass on the side of the yard
(and by we I mean mostly my mom)
and replaced it with a flower bed, rose trellis,
and transplants from my grandmother's rose garden.
There was a lot to tend to, here in the freshness of spring and the newness of this moment in time. It had been such a long time since their last visit.

A weekend together is never enough - no matter where we spend it.


26 April 2015

"I am doing the best I can."

Julia and the small clay globe she made at school for Earth Day.
She also learned the following song sung to the Farmer in the Dell tune ...
We love the Earth, our home -
Its oceans and its trees.
We eat the food and breath the air,
(inhale deeply)
So no pollution, please!


Several things coincided with Earth Day this week: one was the Table of Faiths dinner sponsored by the Greater KC Interfaith Council and one was AIDS Walk KC.


I celebrated Earth Day by increasing my understanding of watersheds during an informative presentation by the Blue River Watershed Association and by watching a striking film called “Chasing Ice,” which follows the work of James Balog as he tracks and photographs the rapidly melting glaciers that are the dead canaries in our coal mine earth. The long list of contaminants in our water and the startling statistics on how rapidly our climate is changing motivated me to redouble my actions, even as they also left me feeling discouraged. Will I and my efforts really make enough of a difference?

A few days later, on Saturday, I attended AIDS Walk KC for the first time in my many years in this city. I was so moved to see so many people gather for the same cause. Many people walked in memory of those they’ve lost; others walked simply in solidarity. Each person there put a drop in the bucket of support. It is a bucket that needs filling and that can only fill one drop at a time. 

In my mind I went back to the night before Earth Day, to the Table of Faiths dinner that Sergio and I attended. During the closing remarks, Reverend Kelly Isola invited everyone in attendance, which is to say people from a wide variety of faith traditions and people who represent a broad spectrum of religious expressions, to “do the thing that is yours to do.” Which, of course, means different things for different people.


I decided that maybe the things that I do - the actions I take to combat hatred or environmental degradation - are the things that are mine to do. And maybe it doesn’t matter that they are small. They are mine and I am compelled to do them.


Maybe it is my job to be a hummingbird ...





19 April 2015

Stinging Nettle

"Stinging Nettle" - such an "Eye of Newt" kind of name


This is stinging nettle. It's a wild edible, I suppose, although you can't eat it when you find it in the wild. I didn't actually find it in the wild myself - I found it at the Eat Local and Organic Expo. It was my farmers who found it growing wild on their farm. I bought it out of curiosity.

It's stings your skin when you touch it (hence the name) but it's safe to eat if you cook it first. ("Really?" I asked the farmer. "Really?" Sergio asked me when I told him. "Really?" You might be asking yourself.) Really it is.

I followed this recipe which instructs you to steam it for 20 mins, which I did and which takes away the sting. This site also says that nettle puts kale and spinach to shame. ("Really?" I wondered, having long since been convinced that kale is the "valedictorian of vegetables.")

Low and behold it is rich in antioxidants. I wonder, are all those nutrients cancelled out if I cram my stinging nettle into a hot mess of eggs and cheese? Even if it's local/organic/free-range eggs and cheese? Maybe. Maybe not. But it tasted good. The recipe worked almost perfectly apart from the fact that I don't know how to make an omelette; any shortcomings of this dish were due entirely to my ineptitude. The stinging nettle was great. Spinachy-tasting in the omelette, though it gave off the most complex minty-potato-ish kind of smell while it steamed.

I wondered why it is I've made it this far in life and haven't learned how to make an omelette. I guess it's because I don't like them all that well.

But I liked this one for sure.

Looking forward to the leftovers tomorrow.


Stinging Nettle Omelete (or Omelette?) 

01 March 2015

"Looking back, looking forward: Ten years of local food"

This article appeared in Cultivate KC's newsletter, Urban Grown, in March, 2015 in anticipation of their 10th anniversary. Happy Anniversary, Cultivate! 


This year will be my 10th season with my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, which was my first step down a long and winding path of amazing people, delicious local and organic food, and incredible connections.

Along that path I found out about the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, which was renamed Cultivate Kansas City in 2011. I signed up to take a class at Whole Foods, taught in part by Katherine Kelly, co-founder of Cultivate Kansas City, which included a farm tour of what is now called the Gibbs Road Farm. By then I had already begun working as a volunteer for the KC Food Circle, a non-profit that connects eaters with local, organic, and free-range farmers and was beginning to find my way around the great resources available in Kansas City. And I had already learned to appreciate where my food comes from.

When I heard about KCCUA’s Urban Farms and Gardens Tour I decided to sign up to help. It was winter.

The days were short and the vegetable crispers in my fridge were empty, but I began meeting regularly with the amazing volunteers who were planning and preparing the 2009 Urban Farms and Gardens Tour. Before I knew it, it was a hot summer day, the growing season was in full swing, and I was driving around from farm to farm helping to keep the tour running smoothly. I was also enjoying my opportunity to learn about urban agriculture. I went to small farms, large farms, urban farms and backyard farms. Each one provided a wealth of food and information.

I wasn’t the only one who responded so positively to the tour. It has grown each year – as I think much of the local food movement has in Kansas City. With the KC Food Circle, we’ve seen a steady increase of farmers and eaters who want to become part of our organization, and great support from our volunteers and our community partners like Cultivate Kansas City.

I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed food so much in the years since my first season. And I inadvertently became much healthier. I hadn’t set out to eat more whole foods, but buying directly from our local farmers encouraged me to do so. I think this makes my family and me healthier but I also think it makes our community healthier.

This is the beauty of food grown so close to home -- I know the people who grow my food. They have taught me how to store, prepare, and preserve all the delicious produce that comes to me fresh from their farm every week. I can even visit the farms and see with my own eyes where my food comes from. Best of all they have provided me with confidence. I know that their sustainable farming practices both enrich the earth and make for delicious, fresh produce. And I know that each crop and each farmer and each urban farm is enabling Kansas City to grow stronger every year.

I am excited to see the growth that has already happened in Kansas City and I am even more excited to see where Kansas City will be in the next 10 years as more farmers farm, more eaters eat, and as the efforts of Cultivate Kansas City continue to fill our urban core full of delicious food.