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Take Back Your Time

The Head of Nimue, by Edward Burne-Jones

“In terms of taking back our time, the first essential tool is saying no. No to our own greed and self-importance. No to the extra work we carry home. No to hearing without listening, looking without seeing; no, above all, to the insistent voice of advertising, which thrives on our restlessness and dissatisfaction, and does everything it can to exacerbate them. A Brobdingnagian NO to all those things makes space for an even more gigantic YES.

My private code for this is to refuse and choose.

We . . . can refuse to participate in the ‘mad race of time.’ We can choose to talk face to face with our friends instead of via email or on the telephone; we can play with our children, now, this very afternoon; we can go off for long walks across the hills. We can turn off the television once and for all. In short, we can rejoice in being one of the elite who actually does have the privilege of choice instead of complaining endlessly about our lack of time.

The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse

Of course it can feel difficult to drop out of the rat race: to stand at the side of the road while our friends and colleagues race on across the horizon. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. In Matisse’s painting, “The Red Studio,” the clock has no hands. We need to find a ‘red studio’ of our own, the studio of our own insistent heart, perhaps, in which to set up an easel or a writing desk, or pull a dreaming daybed towards a broad, wide-open window. It sounds so simple — almost too simple to be worth saying — but slowing down can be a tremendous source of joy.” (Excerpted from World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwan, pp.30-31)

What would you do if you had more time? Find one thing, and then find the time and make it happen.

Beauty Break: “The Parisian” at Tavern On 2

“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” — Benjamin Franklin

The above quote appears on the menu at Tavern On 2, a lovely little gastropub in Long Beach we had the pleasure of visiting for breakfast with a friend one recent early Saturday morning. Franklin’s quote is a worthy motto for, on my visit, it was once more impressed upon me that beautiful wine (or beer) and delectable food are two gifts that truly make life worth living.

Tavern On 2 is a tiny place. It’s got a great cafe atmosphere, with a small patio for sidewalk dining (complete with cozy space heaters that make it possible to eat outside even in inclement beach weather, which we did). Great old red brick walls and high ceilings line the long narrow dining room. It definitely borrows from the classic European cafe ambience and style.

The menu is ecelctic with a decidedly French twist. There is no bar in this little place; however beer, wine, and champagne are served all day. My friend ordered a mimosa, which appeared as a mix of citrus juice in a little carafe and a split of champagne, enabling him to mix the cocktail to his liking. And I was inspired to forgo the (unfortunately) lackluster coffee for a full flute of Lambertini Spumanti, a sparkling rose that paired perfectly with my dish.

And that dish is really the subject of this post because it was a truly lovely beauty break breakfast. So, beginning from the bottom up: “The Parisian” is a thick slice of toasted brioche smothered in a homemade bechamel sauce that would make Julia Child proud — it was perfect and carried just the requisite hint of nutmeg and the right amount of salt to make it truly divine. Atop this bed of brioche were two slices of fried ham, a slice of gruyere, and more béchamel. These layers were repeated one more time and then finished with perfectly scrambled eggs and a fresh sprinkle of bright green parsley. The dish was truly inspired — simple ingredients, put together artfully to make the best of comfort food on a cold, cloudy morning. It was not only beautiful to look at, it tasted magnificent. The sparkling rose — which I would never have typically ordered for breakfast — and a small bottle of Acqua Panna just put the meal over the top for me. For a brief moment, I was transported out of LA to a sidewalk cafe in Paris…….dreamy and so relaxing.

If you’re a SoCal local or happen to be in the area, be sure and stop by Tavern On 2 for a sublime culinary beauty break!

Gifts of Grace, Hope, and Beauty in the New Year

The new year opens with the Feast of the Epiphany (January 8) and the bestowal of gifts from the three Magi to the Christ Child, which calls to mind not only the hope and promise in the gift of a new year, but reminds me that my life is meant to be a gift as well, both to God and to others. Sadly, I am apt to forget this.

I’m not much for making New Year’s resolutions. But I noticed, when examining and thinking back over 2011, that as the year progressed it became increasingly difficult for me to be mindful of beauty in my daily life. Juggling home, job, and volunteer work along with my writing became a whirling abyss of speed and busyness that threatened to overwhelm me. When my life feels like I’m “going down the rails on the crazy train,” beauty eludes me. Giving becomes taking and I know it’s time for a reboot.

Clearly, some changes need to be made in 2012 and I’ve come up with a list that I’m hoping will help me regain my balance and make beauty more prominent.

1. Take Along My Trusty Blanket

I need to acknowledge when things are spiraling out of control inside me and put myself on a time out in a soft, safe place — preferably with my trusty purple blanket. There’s a very good reason why little ones have their blankets, thumbs, and binkies along for the daily ride. I would do well to learn from their example. Paying attention to the inner signs that signal the need for a time out will help me to avoid  becoming a destroyer of the beauty around me.

2. Plan for Extraordinary Family Time

This means two things especially: travel and music.

For Christmas I gave my husband this great book of themed California itineraries. Being that the three of us love the open road and have an eccentric streak that would lead to the moon and back again, I’m thinking this is the year we plan for manageable travel. Maybe we will each pick a trip from the book and try to do one every few months. They’re simply awesome and have adventure written all over them. Two of my personal favorites: the Alice Waters’ Culinary Tour and By the Book: Literary California. Of course, pondering A Burrito Odyssey has many possibilities, as well.

And about that music. . . . well, for Christmas, Santa brought a record player. We have inherited the record collections of both sets of parents, plus some from the grandparents, and we still have all of our own, from our childhood through the 80s. Some of our favorites are old radio theater recordings of The Shadow and Suspense, which Skippy has never heard but which we used to amuse ourselves with long ago when we lived in San Francisco and had an old turntable. Let’s just say we have a lot of records and, until Christmas morning, no way to enjoy them. This is the year of the record player! Skippy is enthralled and says over and over “Records are just so amazing.” Every kid should be so lucky.

3. Make Time to Experience the Arts

I find beauty and joy in experiencing the arts.  Unless I plan I am not exposed to nearly enough of it. The arts help me to keep life in perspective and to remember and enjoy the many ways human beings have been blessed with the gifts to create beauty in the world. This year, I plan to nurture this love by attending plays and concerts, planning museum outings, sitting in at literary salons, and watching art films. It may be in the company of a like-minded friend, relative, or my husband, but I plan to make time for these experiences even if it means going alone.

4. Nurture the Artist Within

“Do something creative every day.” That is the motto of my favorite stationary store where I purchase many supplies. I find I am more attentive to the beauty in daily life if I nurture my own artistic gifts and talents. While the list of things I need to do every day as a wife, mother, and teacher is literally endless, nurturing my own creative life is just as important as any of those things. And I find I am a happier wife, mother, and teacher if I don’t neglect those gifts. I will make time this year to write every day, cook interesting and healthy meals, and plan for and work in my garden — all essential things that feed my heart and soul, but which often go neglected in the mad rush to get other things done.

5. Curl Up More Often With Good Books

Reading relaxes me and feeds my mind and my soul. Other moms ask me how I have the time to read. I always wonder how can I NOT read? It’s easy to feel guilty for taking time out to read, but this isn’t a luxury. It’s a sanity preserver that helps me to maintain my equilibrium. Most often, my personal reading is done in bed and is the very last thing I do for the day. Some people nap; I read. This year, I also want to make it a priority to spend time each day reading aloud to Skippy. When we don’t make this a priority, days and weeks can go by before we get back to our read-aloud. It’s time we both treasure and too soon it will be gone.

6. Appreciate and Learn From the Gifts of Others

My friend, Christina, had the inspired idea for her New Year’s resolution of reflecting on the people closest to her and asking herself what qualities in those people she would like to try to learn from or emulate — this struck me as genius. Everyone has gifts and brings something unique and beautiful to the table. No one currently in my life is there by accident, but for a very particular reason. This year, I’d like to follow Christina’s example and ask myself: what particular gifts and qualities is God trying to share with me through the people whom He has placed on my path? And along those same lines, what is it that I am supposed to be sharing with them?

7. Cook My Way Through France

Many people I know have hobbies or other creative pursuits. Cooking is mine. I love to cook, eat, and feed people. I read a cookbook like any other regular book and I especially appreciate literary cookbooks. For my birthday, my husband gave me two: Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan and The Way To Cook, by Julia Child (both culinary heroines and beloved writer friends). I find that cooking is a good time for me to slow down and reflect, to be mindful of the foods I am using and where they came from, to be amazed at simple tools, to revel in scents and textures and the nearly miraculous transformations that happen when ingredients are brought together just so.  France and especially Paris have been beckoning to my heart with increasingly intensity over the last few months. So I’ve decided to give in to the inspiration, embrace my inner Collette, and embark upon an armchair cook’s tour!

8. Practice Mindfulness Throughout the Day

If I do not make an effort to find beauty, it will elude me. Everything is a grace and everything is bestowed by God for my benefit. I will find beauty in the ordinary circumstances of my daily life to the extent that I am willing to put in the effort to look for it. Brother Lawrence was a simple Carmelite monk who taught the practice of the presence of God in daily life. He writes: “The most excellent method of going to God is that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing people but purely for the love of God. We ought not to grow tired of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”  While it is extremely difficult for me to do, I find I need to redirect my attitude and efforts towards their proper end. God Himself is the author of Beauty and every good thing. It is this mindfulness that will allow me to perceive beauty in everyday events and to receive the gift of beauty He wants to give to me, as well as enabling me to hopefully share that same gift with others. But I cannot give what I do not possess.  It is my hope that taking the time this year to nurture the different things I have listed here will help me to make my life more of a gift to those around me and to the One to whom it belongs. 

Do you have plans or resolutions for the new year? Please feel free to share them here!

Wishing all my regular readers and new visitors a healthy, peaceful, and blessed 2012.

Lavender Lemonade

This was our first experiment with the dried lavender from our garden. If you decide to make this lemonade, use regular “sour” lemons — sweet lemons don’t provide the right flavor profile. Its great icy cold — enjoy!

Lavender Lemonade (recipe adapted from Victoria magazine, May/June 2010)

4-5 large lemons

1/2 gallon water (2qts)

3/4-1 cup lavender simple syrup (see below)

Optional garnish: lemon slices and fresh lavender sprigs

1. In a large, nonreactive bowl, juice lemons (or better yet, use a juicer!) and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a pitcher.

2. Combine lemon juice with water and lavender simple syrup. Stir to blend, add the lemon slices if using, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

3. Pour lemonade over ice and garnish with fresh lavender sprigs, if desired. The recipe can easily be doubled to make 1 gallon of lemonade.

Lavender Simple Syrup (makes about 2 cups)

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup dried lavender

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped, seeds and pod reserved

1. In a medium saucepan, combine water, sugar, lavender, and vanilla bean seeds and pod. Cook overmedium-high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove from heat and cool completely; strain.

3. Pour syrup into an airtight container and refrigerate. Syrup can be stored for up to 3 weeks.

Beauty Break: Lavender Harvest

One of my favorite things about warm spring-summer days is the scent of my lavender as its oils heat in the sun. The light brightens the purple flowers so they stand out vibrantly against the dusky gray-green leaves and stalks and, when I stand close, the scent of the blossoms just floats up and around me as happy bees buzz back and forth, draining each tiny flower. For just a moment, its easy to imagine I’m no longer on the sunny patio of my suburban home, but wandering a lush lavender field in Provence…….well, I can dream, can’t I?

Lavender can be grown quite well in a large pot on the patio or deck.
 
Skippy and I are eager to try some recipes using dried lavender (stay tuned for our adventures with those!), so I harvested quite a number of stems and set them to dry. This is easy to do — simply snip them down low, close to the leaves so you have a long stem to tie up. Once you have cut the amount you want, secure the stems together with a rubber band and hang to dry for about two weeks in a cool spot.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 After the flowers have dried, the buds can be easily culled by running your fingers backwards along the stems. It took me about 10 minutes to cull buds from this bunch. The bonus? Your fingers will release the oils from the buds as you pull them off and will smell divine. Use wax paper to harvest buds and then store them in a sealed container as you would any dried herb.
 

There are many different kinds of lavender — even white! Lavender is a good choice for pots or planters as it is drought tolerant and attracts pollinators — hummingbirds, bees and butterflies are all frequent visitors to ours — and it is relatively low maintenance and easy to grow. But the best thing about it is that it makes a lovely Provencal beauty break with a breath of scented air on a warm summer day…….