Wednesday, March 31, 2010

And Then Chuck Norris Gave Me $5

So, what did the mother melon say to the daughter melon when the daughter melon claimed that she was going to run off and get married? ...
"You cantaloupe!"

Hilarious, right? Okay, how about this one: Where did the king hide his armies? ...
In his sleevies.

Although I wish I could take credit for these, alas, I must concede to the best joke teller of all time, Caroline Dale Kraft (the fact that Mr. Belding apparently came up with the first one and various Centre students - all jealous of Caroline's keen wit and sophisticated humor - have tried to take credit for the second is beside the point). Caroline's her name, puns are her game. Best friends + corny jokes = recipe for a smile.

Additional Recipes On My Mind This Morning...
I mentioned my penchant for interesting wine bottles in last Friday's post. Whereas some might find actually drinking the wine to be the relaxing and entertaining part of the experience, my enjoyment starts among the aisles of reds, whites, and blushes. My basic parameters are price and type - nothing over $20 and typically in the Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, or Riesling section. I like to check out the Kentucky wines first, but I can't say that location is a matter of principle for me. I will occasionally buy South African, French, and/or Australian wines. And, carefully drive them home in my Hyundai Elantra.

Yesterday, these were the two that caught my attention. The red is a 2007 California Pinot Noir. I think it caught my eye because something about the label reminded me of the canvases Mom and Adrienne helped me paint for my house. I like the punch of red amongst the tans, mellow greens, and blacks as much as the unfinished, loose drawing lines that envelope them. The font on the label does not tickle my fancy, but it is not offensively puff-paint, bubble-like either. The white is a 2007 California Pinot Grigio. No deep meaning here; I initially picked this one up because I am in fact the middle daughter. I would contest, however, that I am not in fact a drama queen. Nope, my life has been one linear path of normal. ... Anyway, I really love this label. The austerity of the color and design palette is refreshing and I appreciate the mix of cursive and print (what I typically tend to do). I simply think this "looks like me."

Suggestion: When you find a wine bottle, restaurant, completely unnecessary, but bought nonetheless, dress, that you adore, check out the company website. You will likely find other items of interest, blogs you'll enjoy, causes worthy of your support, and/or captivating images and graphics.

Recipe #2: Foods That You Can't Disassociate From A Memory That Matters
For me, items that fall into this category include: Country ham, Shoney's weekend buffet, Apple Rings from the Burkesville Shell gas station, dorm room pineapple and ham pizza, first apartment peanut butter milkshakes, my mother's homemade bread (I'm going to try to convince her to do a blog entry or maybe even a video soon), Chaney's ice cream.

In Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life: stories and recipes from my kitchen table, Wizenberg artfully explores this very concept, how food can be a tribute to and/or a comforting reminder of a person or experience that mattered. In one of my favorite chapters, "The Best of All Possible Worlds," readers are treated to a story of first love, fantastic food, and the bon vivant lifestyle of a 20 year old American student living in Paris. Wizenberg closes the chapter, "Every now and then, we still e-mail. He usually finds me about once a year, and we swap letters for a week or so. It's always awkward, but still, I'm glad for it. Sometimes I can't help but wonder how things might have been if I hadn't had a return ticket, or if he hadn't been eighteen. For a long time, I dreamed about that bed under the eaves. Some nights, I even thought I could hear our perfectly bilingual children twittering like birds between the rafters. But most of the time, I just bake tarte Tatin."

Maybe we should all spend a little time this weekend, making or buying those foods that represent our own French love interest.:)

Tarte Tatin
Yields: 8 servings

Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
5-6 Golden Delicious Apples
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
About 14 ounces puff pastry

In large bowl, stir together the lemon juice and 1/2 c. of the sugar. Peel and quarter the apples, trimming away the cores such that each quarter has a flat inner side. Put the apples in the bowl with the lemon juice and sugar and toss well. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in an 8 or 9 inch skillet, set over medium heat, melt 4 tbsp. butter. Add remaining sugar, along with 3-4 tbsp. of the lemon-sugar juices. Stir to mix. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring regularly for about 15 minutes (mixture should be smooth, bubbly, and a pale caramel color).

Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add the apple pieces, arranging them rounded side down in a decorative pattern. Arrange a second layer of apples on top wherever they fit, closely packed. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into dice, and distribute them evenly over the apples.

Preheat oven to 375.

Cook the apples over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Every now and then, spoon the caramel over them and press the apples gently with the back of a spoon. Do not allow the apples to get entirely soft or the liquid to turn dark brown. Remove from the heat.

On a floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of about 3/16". Using a sharp, thin knife, trace a circle in the pastry about 10" in diameter. Trim away excess dough. Carefully lay the pastry circle over the apples in the skillet, tucking the overlap between the apples and the side of the pan.

Place the skillet on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the pastry has risen and is dry and golden brown. Remove the skillet from the oven, and let it rest for a minute. Then tilt the pan slightly and look down the inside edge: there will be juice down there. Pour as much of it as you can into the sink or trash can. Then place a serving platter upside-down over the skillet and, working quickly and carefully, invert the tart onto the platter. Rearrange any apple slices that may have slipped or stuck to the skillet.

Serve warm, preferably within an hour or two of baking.

*I plan to try this sometime this weekend. I'll report back - with success or disaster stories - on Monday.*

Recipe #3: Your Younger Sister Dating Someone From a Really Wonderful Family
I came home on Wednesday to find one of the most creative, most thoughtful gifts anyone has ever given to me. Of course, my eyes immediately lit up when I saw the 12 pack of Diet Dr. Pepper. My attention was quickly diverted, however, to the card carefully propped up along the wall of red, white, and black refreshment (forget Mom and Adrienne painting for me - maybe Sketchbook reminded me of an alcoholic DDP). I did not recognize the handwriting on the envelope, yet, it never bothered me that I had locked my door. This is Marrowbone. More importantly, this guest had left me a handwritten card and soda. I didn't care.

I opened the card and immediately thought: "recipe for a smile." Teresa had written a poem on three pale pink post-it notes that embodied the things I narcissistically talk about in pillowbook. I've said all along that doing this blog is an exercise of discipline for me. I do it because it is something I expect of myself three times/week, because I am more inclined to follow through with ideals and ideas once I have written them down, because I feel more inspired in general when I am writing. I would be lying, however, if I said that is not reaffirming to know that people actually read it.

More importantly, though, this gift reflected the values that I attempt to stress in each post: the "little things," "personal touches," "the value of community," "make sure _____________ looks like __________," "family." Teresa's gift was creativity, genuineness, and wit all wrapped in a 15x6x6 cardboard box.

I give credence to the idea that we should know how our friends take their coffee and how they like their eggs. But, I think "knowing their handwriting and they, ours" should be added to this list. I am so glad to know Teresa's. Next week, I hope several others will be reminded of my cursive/print mix chicken scratch.

*By the way, hot with vanilla spiced rum coffeemate (light brown), no sugar; scrambled with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cheese.*

*Title: Andy insists that if you ever tell a joke that flatlines, just add, "and then Chuck Norris did ___________" or "and then I found $5," and you'll find some ounce of redemption."

Monday, March 29, 2010

An Evaluation of Faith

I would be lying if I said that I had a profound understanding of religion. I can’t even offer the standard cop-out statement of: “I may not be religious per se, but I am spiritual.” In all honesty, I’m just not sure what faith means to me. I grew up attending a local Methodist church, a church that will still feel like home when I attend the Easter service next Sunday with my family. I appreciate this sense of community and belonging, a feeling that has withstood moves and sporadic visits just as I respect the selfless work many in the church organize, lead, or participate in. While I do understand and find validity in some critiques of religion – particularly in those instances when religion is used to justify discrimination and violence – I am not, therefore, critical of belief in and of itself. Whether I understand or agree with others’ motivations is irrelevant; as I mentioned a few posts ago, perception frames our respective realities, realities that will inevitably confront one another.

When I have lost people that I loved, the last thing I wanted to hear was “they are in a better place” or “it was their time to go” or “there is a reason for all things.” My reality at that moment was something completely foreign to these well-intentioned, believed and assumed to be supportive, statements. Better for whom? Why “their time”? What good comes from this? Even as I appreciated the concern that spawned these phrases I deemed inopportune, it frustrated me. I really just wanted people to acknowledge that the situation sucked, or even better, to just stop talking. In those moments, and even today as I sit in a rocking chair staring out my window at the Carhartt parking lot, it is almost completely unfathomable for me to think about why young people die, or loved ones get cancer, or bad things happen to incredibly wonderful people. Notions of fate and order and rationality thus hold little weight in my mind a good portion of the time.

With that being said, however, I respect the role that faith can, and does, play in the lives of many. It is humbling to read and watch news reports that chronicle the Mennonite community’s response to Friday’s tragic accident. I have heard no blame or hatred; support has been offered to the truck driver’s family just as it has for the family and friends of the Esh and Gingrich families. The response has, therefore, been one that pays honor to the lives these families lived.

While this sense of faith is not something I can truly empathize with at this point in my life, this incident has given me a renewed sense of faith in my community and more generally speaking, in human kindness. People who didn’t even know those involved have experienced genuine sadness. The commitment of community members to provide and prepare food for those attending the services is astounding. The offering of spare bedrooms to those needing lodging is heart-warming. The amount of people that I have seen come in and out of this parking lot is overwhelming. The distance some will travel to attend these services reflects dedication to a religion, a lifestyle, and a family community. Collectively, these responses serve as a testament to the potential for goodness and selflessness.

In my humble opinion, it does not matter what motivates these actions. If it is religion, fine. If it is a more philosophic notion of truth or goodness, good. If it is because one feels guilty if they don’t, that’s their business. What strikes me as important is that there is some sense that our actions matter; that what we do makes a difference to someone else. It is responsibility, and interconnectedness, and a belief in something more powerful than ourselves. This, I suppose, is my very elementary understanding of faith.

If anyone wants to comment on the role the Esh and Gingrich families played in our community or on the community’s response, I welcome it. Otherwise, I encourage you to simpy keep all families involved in your thoughts.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Look Out Fanny Pack. There's A New Sheriff In Town.

It is a well-known fact that as long as "Bless her heart" precedes or follows any insult, the perpetrator does not have to feel guilty for said spitefulness. It is drinking a big ole glass of water after a 44 oz. DDP. It is relaxingly sitting in Bob and Sheri's Cone of Safety. It's like it Never. Even. Happened.

So, here is my bless her heart for the day: Forget beauty, pretentiousness is in the eye of the beholder. I realize that what's on my mind today may come across as snotty. There may be those (among the MANY throngs of loyal readers) who critique on the basis of hypocrisy. Why is someone who spouts stuff about skipping rocks at Marrowbone Creek, working on a dog fence while wearing cowboy boots, and the importance of buying locally, talking about the artistry of the nationally-marketed Food & Wine magazine? Something along the lines of "she's getting above her raising." I get it.

I'm confident, though, that there are probably more of you who see the pretentiousness in not talking about the beautiful photographs, interesting recipes, and useful information found in this rather folk-hipster publication. To assume that people who live in a rural area - an area stereotyped (both falsely and occasionally for legitimate reason) as backward, redneck, or closed-minded - would have no interest in art or music or wine is the very definition of pretentiousness. It implies hierarchy and superiority, two concepts perhaps considered insignificant in this particular case, but notions that nonetheless have driven acts of racism, paternalism, and imperialism for centuries. We should not assume others' interests or capabilities. We should never settle for mediocrity or the typical primarily because we think others expect or need it. We should simply give others more credit than most of us are typically willing to do.

Okay, now back to why I really enjoy Food & Wine magazine. ...:)
I do not ask for, nor expect, waiters to pour a small amount of wine in a glass so I can smell, swish around, and sample. I would have no idea what I was doing. When I buy wine, I usually base my purchase on which bottle happens to look interesting that day. I don't know which glasses in my cabinet are for white wine as opposed to red. I probably mispronounce some of the wines I have bought and served to others. With that being said, I still enjoy the taste of wine. Reds are my favorite, particularly Pinot Noir, but I also like dry white wines (don't care for the super sweet). I enjoy having a glass of wine with my best friends and talking about life. I enjoy vineyards and wine-tastings. Wine, I suppose, is therefore a little like my cowboy boots - I like the aura it fosters.

The marketing agents for Food & Wine keenly understand this intangible set of emotions. I skim the pictures that portray a beautifully quaint, yet sophisticated, summer party and immediately think "I want to plan a get-together where wine glasses sit on aged barrels, banjo players perform under clear Christmas lights, and guests snack on Grilled Ham and Cheese with Strawberry-Red-Wine Jam." It is as much about inspiring as it is providing information. Now, do I own aged barrels or know a banjo player? No. Could I incorporate elements from the images and articles that make me think and dream and plan into my reality? Definitely.

Here are some of my favorites from the April 2010 edition.

Wine Pairings to Try Before You Die
Wine - Timeless Pairing - Maverick Match
Rich Chardonnay - Almonds - Goat Cheese
Sauvignon Blanc - Lobster - Leg of Lamb
Riesling - Poached Trout - Cold Cucumber Soup
Pinot Noir - Roast Duck - Doritos
Champagne - Caviar - Steak
Cabernet Sauvignon - Steak - Calves' liver
Zinfandel - Barbequed Pork - Chicken Mole Poblano

Sipping Without Spilling
"It's tricky to eat while holding a wineglass, as people repeatedly discover at cocktail parties and wine tastings. Here are three handy solutions.

Plate Clip - Prodyne makes rubberized stainless steel clips that attach to the side of a plate to hold a wineglass. They are more durable than plastic and also look better.

Cocktail Plate - These oval cherrywood plates, handmade in Vermont, are designed with a circular cutout that holds a stemmed wineglass comfortably.

Glass Holster [my favorite] - This nylon strap may scream wine geek, but it allows wearers to hang a glass around their necks, freeing hands for holding a plate, using a fork, or writing notes at a tasting. "

Grilled Ham and Cheese with Strawberry-Red-Wine Jam
Time: 30 min. Servings: 10
Twenty 1/2" thick slices of brioche
1/2 c. strawberry jam mixed with 2 tbsp. of Pinot Noir
10 think slices of baked ham
10 think slices of Gruyere cheese
Softened unsalted butter

Standard grilled cheese directions: Heat a large griddle. Spread 10 of the brioche slices with the jam. Top with the ham and Gruyere and close the sandwiches. Lightly butter the outside of the sandwiches and cook over moderate heat until toasted and the cheese is melted, 2 minutes per side. Cut in half and serve right away.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Good Thing They're Winking. Otherwise, It Would Be Odd.

I hate trinkets. Collecting stuff kind of freaks me out. Knowing that I used to own an assortment of troll dolls and beanie babies disgusts me. Nonetheless, I ordered winking owl salt and pepper shakers last week. Quirky enough to be cute, yet small enough to hide in those instances that I decide they make my kitchen, and me by extension, look weird, these silly little owls just make me happy. The thought of using them to "spice up" the zen feel I was going for in the kitchen, as well as any soups, rice, or macaroni that I put in my Chilly Willy bowls (Get it, "spice up" used two different ways? Hilarious.) is just too much. Oh, the joy that can be found in the completely unnecessary.

Contrary to all logic, however, it is not merely owning a pair of owl accessories that pleases me so. When I opened the priority box in which they so excitedly traveled from Centertown to Lexington, I was greeted with an additional surprise. The 3" tall tanish owls were safely resting on a bed of what appeared to be lavender, rosemary, and some chive-like herb or grass. The cellophane wrapping was sealed with a silver twist tab that also kept the old seed package label in place. A wood pseudo-close pin and two hazelnut candles topped off the tastefully crafty presentation. It really was as though I had received an early Christmas present from my mom (a sprig of fresh holly, decorative pine cones, and beautiful ribbon are the norm).

As you can guess, I didn't buy my salt and pepper shakers off eBay, or amazon, or any of the many websites that specialize in owl stuff. Instead, I found them on the website of a company that happens to be owned by one of my former students: First and foremost, how cool is it that a 20 year old not only started a company, but one that values sustainability, local initiatives, and handmade arts and crafts? Visit the website when you get a chance, but for the time being, here is a brief description of the company: "Welcome to CHANDLERclark. Here we are more than just a store, the vision behind CHANDLERclark is more of a lifestyle. It is about living a good life, or as the French say "Bon Vivant". We believe that living the best life doesn't mean spending large amounts of money or going with big name brands. The good life for us is about shopping locally, being resourceful, always watching to find a deal, demanding quality and being original. In the store you'll find nothing imported or mass-produced. We only carry top quality locally made folk-art, one-of-a-kinds, and home accessories made by some of our favorite designers and artist. We carry unique and interesting vintage and antique pieces, a mix of photography and other curiosities that we find along the way."

The initiative it takes to start a project like this is impressive. I so admire those people, regardless of age, who actually follow through with a vision (Melissa and Dan Holland are a great example - starting their own chiropractic business in Mt. Juliet, TN - opening in early April). So many of us dream, and talk, and maybe even plan, yet allow these ideas to remain dormant. "Perfect time" doesn't exist. These people understand that.

Nonetheless, this isn't necessarily the direction in which I want this post to go (although I definitely think it should be the basis for future musings). I simply want to point out something much more surface-level: personal touches matter. The fact that my owls have a faint smell of lavender means something to me. It reflects thought, and creativity, and time. It is a hand-written letter, it is a dry-erase marker message on a mirror, it is a canvas painted during Turner gal night. If the priority mail package had been sealed with a puppy sticker, I would resolutely argue that Charlene secretly works part-time for CHANDLERclark. Sure, one could argue that touches like these are simply good business practice at best, well-planned ploy at worst;and I don't deny the validity of this (obviously I will be more inclined to buy from this site in the future). Perception, however, is often just as important as reality. If I see beauty and inspiration and forethought, profit margins don't seem as corrupt or heartless as they might otherwise.

I mentioned in a previous post that I hate cliches. Nonetheless, here's one that I can't mess up and that pretty much sums up the point of this entry: it really is the little things. Most of you (actually I hope all of you) probably aren't mailing owls anytime soon, but you are sending birthday cards, or grading papers, or making a copy of a CD for a friend. Make sure the recipient knows that they matter, that the item of exchange, "looks like them."
One of the many reasons why I love Caroline so much. She understands "little things."
How many tire and lube places do you know that have a mural painted on the side? I love this "little thing" so much.

Monday, March 22, 2010

That's Right, I Got It From My Mama

My poor mother has three daughters. This means that in the late winter/early spring of 1996, 1998, and 2007, she devoted numerous weekends to the prom dress search extravaganza. There would come a point when us rather high-maintenance girls would finally give in (only after hours upon hours of trying on...and a ginormous piece of Sbarro’s pizza), “I guess this one would be alright.” Mom, however, would have none of it: “Nope, you’ll know it when you see it.”

I have a particular coffee mug that I love. I love the color….subtle green on the outside, speckled tan on the inside. It’s relaxing. I love the handle…relatively thin and the perfect width from the mug itself. I love the rim…not so thick that I feel like I’m going to spill my coffee, hot chocolate, or apple cider. This is the mug I reach for when I want to feel more settled. This is the mug I would choose if I were going to curl up on the couch and watch a movie with synchronized dance scenes. This is the mug that goes best with morning bagels and handwritten letters from my grandmother.

I really wish I could tell some elaborate lie about the intriguing history of this particular green cup. But alas, both my stupid conscience and waning creativity this morning stand in the way. The truth is, it is neither family heirloom nor thoughtful present. In fact, I think I found this mug on a perfectly ordinary day, in the completely ordinary house ware section of T.J. Maxx.

The only thing that might be somewhat interesting about this mug is that it “looks like me” (keep in mind that I said “might”). When I open the cabinet and see it so relaxingly sitting among the mismatched juice glasses, tacky assortment of plastic cups, and unknown whether red or white wine glasses, I immediately think, “that seems like something I would buy.” I’m not sure if it’s the color, or the shape, or some unconscious connection I’m making between a T.J. Maxx commercial and my own life, but something about this mug just makes me feel good. And safe. And welcomed. The intangible things that both inspired me to move home and that you have heard about in previous posts – the necessity of community, the importance of the local, the peace that comes with being “known,” the comfort and genuine enjoyment of being just “up the road” from my family – seem to be embodied in this mug. It is a tangible reflection of my own tastes just as it is an abstract representation of things that matter.

You already know of my devotion to my cowboy boots. And I’ve acknowledged the hidden agenda in my photographs. I suppose my coffee mug now needs to be added to this list. I think it has a story to tell, a story in which I want to be included. Forget subliminal T.J. Maxx advertising, something more interesting, i.e. crazy, drew me to this special little cup even as it sat on a rather dusty retail store sales shelf. Mom, I “knew it when I saw it.”

Suggestion: Keep those people around who not only notice the mugs, dresses, pictures, and/or items of whimsy that you adore, but who also say,"this looks like you."

Here are some other favorites that I think "look like me":

Probably my favorite piece of furniture in the house.
Don't lie. This makes you happy, too.
I have three corner cabinet lazy susans in the new house. I have shown them to everyone who has stopped by to look at the house.
No joke, I would fight over my chilly willy bowls.
One of the mementos from canvassing in Cincinnati. I especially like the way my floor-length, white housecoat looks in the reflection.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Pretend Sister Sledge is Playing in the Background

First and foremost, academics are important.

Secondly, I am incredibly thankful to have such a funny, loving, and handy family. I love you all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Knight on a White Horse, Never; Jetski Jackie and the Kia Sorento, Yes Please

I apologize in advance if the blogs this week seem a little surface-level (you're probably getting tired of my "but this really means to me"/"perhaps the underlying message is..." introspective nonsense anyway). I am in the process of moving and as everyone knows, this is one of the worst things one can ever do and/or ask their friends and family to go through with them. Whether it is moving a washer and dryer up a narrow flight of wooden basement steps with only one other person and a small dolly (no kidding, I will never, ever do this again), trying to squeeze an already put-together treadmill (the floor model was cheaper so obviously it was a great idea) into a door that immediately requires the prospective runners to then make a 90 degree turn, or pulling a 6X12 trailer with your mother's Kia Sorento so you don't have to put most of your stuff into a horse trailer, the potentiality for tears, yelling, and snide comments abounds. Moving blows.

Anyway, wanted to share some pictures with you before I put things away. Hopefully on Friday, I'll have some updated ones, and a better attitude about moving, to share. Following the pictures, I offer a couple of recipes that I used on Sunday evening. It was my "thank you" to Mom and Andy, two of the delusional packers who so kindly offered their services on Monday.

Roasted Carrots With Feta and Parsley
Serves: 4, Cook Time: 30 minutes (From Real Simple magazine)

3 lbs. carrots, cut 1/2" thick on the bias (I used baby carrots and just cut in half lengthwise)

3 tbsp. EVOO (Adrienne hates it when I use this Rachael Ray acronym; because she is my sister, I will continue doing so)

Coarse salt, freshly ground pepper (to taste)

1/3 c. crumbled feta cheese (Shockingly, Burkesville IGA did not have feta; for some reason though, they did have a Havarti Dill that actually ended up pretty good)

2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (I used dry, but the fresh would've been much better)

Preheat oven to 425. Toss carrots with oil on a rimmed cookie sheet and season with salt and pepper. Roast until caramelized and tender (25 min). Toss with feta and parsley (I put mine in the oven for 2-3 minutes after and let the cheese soften a bit)

Chicken and Rosemary Skillet
Serves: 4, Cook Time: 60 minutes

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1/3 c. dry white wine (I used Elk Creek Pinot Grigio)

3-4 lbs. chicken (I used 5 boneless, skinless, breasts)

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. EVOO

8 oz. mushroom (I used about 3/4 small box of white, button mushrooms)

Mix rosemary with white wine and cover. Refrigerate for several hours. Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper (I put S&P on one side, put that side down in the skillet and then added salt and pepper to the other side). Brown chicken over medium low heat in hot butter and oil. Add wine mixture (I also added about 1/2 cup chicken stock). Cover and simmer 45 minutes or until chicken is tender. Add mushrooms (make sure they are coated in the sauce) and cook an additional 10-15 minutes. Take chicken out first and arrange on serving platter. Pour white wine/rosemary/mushroom sauce over the top. It would look nice if you sprinkled some of the fresh parsley from the carrot recipe or chopped fresh rosemary on top.

* Consider supplementing your chicken and carrots with a thoughtful, hand-written letter or "thank you" note.:)*

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Love in Pale Pink Post-It

My grandmother, Charlene Turner, is a wonderful writer. Her skill, creativity, and sly humor can be seen in her senior yearbook (she was the typist for the Marrowbone High School annual, but she also penned several of the articles - including her Salutatorian message - go Mama) as well as in the handwritten notes she regularly mails to her grandchildren now, some sixty years later. Sure, I appreciate the coupons for dog treats and the "spending money" with which she includes to personalize mine, but it is her words, and the genuine love that inspires them, that remind me how lucky I am.

One of the things I adore most about Mama's notes is that they are typically a discussion of the everyday. She tells me about going to get her hair cut at Phyllis' or about my uncle coming in for a visit or the work she did in her yard that week. Mama isn't saving the world in her letters or in the post-it notes she includes with every gift given (at Christmas, she often wraps even small things individually and includes a post-it about how she just couldn't pass up such a good deal or recommendations for what we should use it for or wear it with). But what Mama is doing in these seemingly mundane gestures is confirming those qualities that anyone who has ever met her must associate: she is unequivocally thoughtful, kind without motive, a willing participant in Turner foolishness, and just simply lovely.

An example:
I received an Applejack Art Partners card from Mama a few weeks ago (proceeds to the Humane Society): There are five dogs on the front, 2 Dalmatians in a red wagon, one black and brown beagle, and two light brown retrievers, one with shoe in mouth. She had taken a pen and written "Willie" on the beagle (Willie's coloring matches this pup almost exactly), "Lucy" on one of the light brown dogs whose sweet face does remind my of Lucy's, and "Tucker" (the name of my parents' Yorkie-poo) on the one with the shoe in mouth (Tucker likes to take Jackie's flip flops - primarily to provoke the Jackie and Tucker really loud, clapping hands chase game). On the two in the wagon, Mama had written "friends." The inside message read: "Hon, a little gas money. Love, Mama"

This card didn't take all day to write, nor did it relay some profound message. It simply made me happy. And this is one of the many reasons that a handwritten note is so special. It reflects an understanding and appreciation of the other person; it is not a facebook blurb that often is said to show one's own humor or opinion; it is not an email that has been written, deleted, rewritten, saved, and then finally sent; it is not a "narcissistic and self-serving" blog entry of one's musings and activities (oh, the irony). Handwritten notes instead seem to be the most heartfelt, the most honest, the most unassuming means of communication. Mama is not writing with ulterior motive or to provoke a "thank you"; Mama is writing because she loves her grandchildren. The real beauty in this though, is that without intention, she does inspire a sense of gratefulness. I love reaching into my mailbox and seeing her handwriting on a typically brightly-colored envelope (that is sometimes sealed with a cute sticker). I enjoy hearing about the goings-on in Waterview, Marrowbone, and Burkesville. I am thankful for the sense of home, and place, and belonging that is reflected in these letters.

About a year ago I found a book on sale at Joseph Beth that you all might want to check out: The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepard.
Here is an excerpt from the introduction.
"But the handwritten note has an intrinsic value beyond its rarity. It's not just an antiquarian curiosity, it's an extremely useful tool. It upgrades a wide variety of messages, transforming "oops" into "Please accept my apology," and "Got the money" into "Thank you for your generosity." Ink on paper is still the classiest way to express the thoughts that really matter, on the occasions that really count. And sometimes it is the only way; your words will carry sympathy and gratitude with a special kind of sincerity when your reader sees them on paper in your writing.
Corresponding on paper lets you elevate the simple pleasure into an art form. And art has always survived technology. A handwritten note is like dining by candlelight instead of flicking on the lights, like making a gift instead of ordering a product, like taking a walk instead of driving. Handwritten notes will add a lot to your life. You can still use the telephone or the Web for the daily chores of staying in touch, but for the words that matter, it's courteous, classy, caring, and civilized to pick up a pen."

Referencing the blog entry a few days ago, I don't want to be a snob and act like I sit around writing letters to everyone I need to contact. Emailing is useful and facebook is fun. I do think, however, that I should hold higher expectations for myself; I should want those who I care about to feel the way I feel when I reach into PO Box 1021 and see Charlene Turner's writing. Maybe on this rather dreary Sunday, we could all put a hand-written post-it note message on someone's computer screen, draw a picture for someone's refrigerator, or take the time to write a letter (after the UK game of course) to someone we love.

* I would love to hear bits and pieces from your own favorite notes or letters. I think it would bring a lot of joy to the thousands of people reading.*

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mini Powdered Donuts on the Banks of the Jersey Shore

I know the lyrics to "Party in the USA" and can sing them (a cappella) as accurately as those from the Fresh Prince theme song. I have text(ed? is there a past tense of "text"?) the word VOTE far too many times over the past eight years. I ruin my chances of seeming demure the moment that I walk into my dentist's office and slyly grin upon spotting the US Weekly or People among the odd, odd assortment of magazines. In a trick learned from my younger sister, I have been known to hide Little Debbie pumpkin face cakes in the one kitchen cabinet my dad rarely explores. The Maury Povich "Who's the Daddy?" shows have captivated me for hours (notice the "s" on the end of that). I promise, I'm going somewhere with this...

Point 1: According to wikipedia, "guilty pleasure" is defined as "something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. Often, the "guilt" involved is simply fear of others discovering one's lowbrow or otherwise embarrassing tastes, rather than actual moral guilt." (and kudos to those of you who picked up on the fact that I quoted wikipedia when discussing guilty pleasures).

Point 2: I have a soda philosophy that might be useful for some of you - it is based on precise science; there is no element of psychosis or delusion involved. The theory goes as follows: If one were to, hypothetically, drink a 20 oz. Diet Dr. Pepper every morning and then said imaginary person follows that deliciously crisp Pepsi product with 40 oz. of water, it is as though the soda was never consumed. Upon drinking 20 additional ounces of water, it is entirely logical to assume that a 12 oz. can of soda is good for the subject. It is the old standard 3:2 philosophy. The more water one drinks, the healthier the caffeine, artificial flavoring, and sugars found in the cokes, become.

This morning I was driving to work, drinking my "water" (winky wink), and thinking about my older sister's facebook status related to her Hostess cake proclivity. I swear, one of the first things that popped into my head was: "well, I bet she eats fruit with the donuts." Voila! Suddenly the donuts become the equivalent of homemade granola. After silently berating myself for being crazy, I regressed once more. My mind took off, "I should create a guide, even a chart perhaps, that would track when I can listen, watch, read, enjoy one, or a mixture, of my many guilty pleasures." (I don't know if I need quotes around the pretend words my mind said.) For example: I can sing Miley Cyrus (loudly) in my car if: I then listen to NPR for 30 minutes and also lie and tell Adrienne that I don't like her MC brand shirt she found at Wal-Mart. Or, four servings of vegetables = one pumpkin face; five servings = pumpkin face while watching paternity results.

Running out of ways to somehow convince myself that there is an element of truth in this philosophy, I started thinking instead about the relative nature of guilty pleasures. I think we probably all indulge in something that an outsider might consider "lowbrow." Yet, we sometimes nevertheless critique others for enjoying something we deem even more embarrassing than our own indulgence. In so doing, we have a tendency to do much worse than engage in the surface-level, the foolish, the insignificant...We become big ol' snobs. This isn't to suggest, of course, that there is not a time for real conversation and for substantial, meaningful action (in fact, I wish we all spent much more time doing these). I would just also argue that passion and/or devotion can alienate interested parties, potential allies, and valuable assets when it is cloaked in condescension.

This reminds me of an interesting book that I think you all would enjoy: David Anderson's, Treading Lightly: The Joy of Conservation, Moderation, and Simple Living. I will acknowledge my bias up front: Dr. Anderson was my economics professor at Centre College. Regardless, however, I think he has an valuable and intriguing voice worthy of hearing. He is a nationally renowned economics scholar and author (and fantastic teacher to boot), yet Dr. Anderson remains humble. One can often find him at Centre's bookstore in downtown Danville, enjoying a tea or coffee, in overalls or jeans and Centre sweatshirts. His writing is academic, but accessible. He is an environmentalist and social justice activist, but consistently frames his ideas with pragmatism and understanding. The primary message that I took from this particular publication is that gluttony and ease obscure citizenship and human potential; we could all be better if we thought more, spent and used less. What Anderson does not do, however, is preach about why organic food, solar panels, bike riding, and second-hand clothes in and of themselves makes us "cooler," "more socially-conscious," or "smarter." Sure, these particular actions are mentioned, but they are included as examples of tangible responses to a philosophy. And it is the philosophy of simple living, not the particulars it possibly spawns, that Anderson seems to argue is significant. Why? Because a philosophy, unlike a rigid list of "to-do"s, is malleable. Simple living may mean something different to each person. We may not be able to practically do all of the tasks that would make this a cleaner, safer, more democratic society (or we may not have the desire), but there is room for small acts that make life better for ourselves or for our communities. There does not have to be a glutton v. snob binary.

And so, naturally, enjoy your guilty moderation.:)

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Shadow of the Eagle...and of Stolen Contraband on the Banks of the Marrowbone Creek

I love my cowboy boots. I realize that owning a pair makes me neither farmer nor cowgirl. I understand that sometimes my jeans look funny both over or folded into them (because I like to do a semi-tight role, circa 1992, and then pull my boots over). I know that I, for legitimate reason, invite critique from heirs of a John Wayne culture, when I put them on with my mom's deep turquoise baby-doll dress because I think it looks kinda cute (weird that I want to wear my mom's clothes? Not a chance. Jackie is as fashionable as she is unselfish and kind). And, if I may speak in purely practical terms for a moment, ice is no friend to the cowboy boot (well, at least not mine, that, while inspiring with their flare of bluish green exuberance, have very little tread); nevertheless, I tramped across UK's campus many a day making Nancy Sinatra proud. With all of that being said, I love my cowboy boots.

Historian Frederick Jackson Turner published a paper in the 1890s that has come to be known as "The Frontier Thesis." Turner's basic point was that westward movement was the key to creating and enhancing democracy. Thus, according to Turner, "the West" was the foundation of American exceptionalism; with land, came strength, both brute strength (which for many [white men in particular], luckily reinforced gender norms) and moral character (the self-sufficiency and work ethic required to "tame" the "unoccupied" area enhanced the particularly "American" democratic ethos). For Turner, then, "the West" was political even as it was mythic - a literal and figurative site of rugged individualism, a theoretical underpinning that helped explain and justify the thorns in American expansion. Removal/killing/assimilation of Native Americans, often unregulated industrial development, discriminatory labor policies (particularly toward immigrant labor), and environmental degradation were necessary to produce the sweet-smelling flower of dominance.

The mythic glorification of "the West" still exists. "Pick yourself up by your bootstraps" remains an American dogma; "Westerns" often romanticize an era that never quite existed; many a farmer has dreamt of cultivating his own plot of land, only to return to an industrial or corporate job in a matter of years; and... I love my cowboy boots. As the sarcasm in the preceding paragraph would suggest, I question the use of emotional thematics, like "democracy," "republicanism" (small "r"), and individualism. They often merely seem to disguise self-interest. However, tending toward skepticism does not mean that I am above subliminal messaging or vacuous rationales. I feel tougher when I wear my boots. I want to do chores on my parents' farm. For some reason, I do feel like a better person. I suppose I have convinced myself that both my brute strength and my moral character are enhanced when wearing my dark-brown, square-toed, suede Justins.

I've noticed that I typically have to write at the end of most of these entries, "So the point is..." (as I've mentioned, I am Curtis Turner's daughter and I like the occasional "for example" or "in other words" tangent). My apologies; I will work on conciseness and clarity. But for the time being...the point is: sometimes a pair of boots isn't just a pair of boots in the same way that a picture is rarely just a picture. There is a story behind them that we perhaps want to tell, an image or message we want to showcase, a reaction or emotion we want to inspire, either within ourselves or among our audience. It isn't necessarily political; I don't think I should feel the burden of Manifest Destiny when I look at my boots that so innocently rest on the brown rug by Mom's back door; I don't think my friend, Ben, should question the legitimacy of his images of Rosine even if those in the Alex Taylor video (from the previous blog)paint a more disheartening picture (at least, on-the-surface). Instead, I think we should consider the "whys" of our choices simply because it makes us think. This is rarely a bad thing.

These are some pictures I took this weekend in Marrowbone while out piddling and enjoying the beautiful weather - all likely the product of a subconscious hidden agenda and snapped while wearing my cowboy boots. ...
Marrowbone Clubhouse - What a wonderful place for community events. If any of you know of a revitalization/development committee, please pass along. This seems like the type of place where ideas are fostered and activities are carried out.
Carhart parking lot - I envision this as a prime location for a farmers market. If you have any ideas, let me know.
This was my pseudo-yard sale find of the weekend. Discovered on the banks of the Marrowbone creek, I think this is going to make a cute herb garden or flower box. This seriously made me so it did Lucy and Willie, who got to ride in the back seat of the Elantra with it.
Remember finding these as a kid, getting excited about coming across a diamond mine that for some reason no one had ever tapped, and then feeling disheartened when your parents told you that it was just a rock? Nope, me either...
Rock-skipping, creek playing extraordinaire.
House across from the Marathon. If any of you know the history or have any information on the design pattern in the square near the roof line, please let me know.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promises

The Name of the Nearest River, stories by Alex Taylor from Sarabande Books on Vimeo.

I was fortunate to have three meaningful conversations yesterday. I consider myself lucky because it isn't odd for me, and I imagine most people, to go through a day or even a week sometimes and wonder at the end of that time frame what I had actually discussed that would matter a year later. Good conversation is underrated, as are those people with whom we share these moments. Glorifying the exception, the new, the reformed seems to come naturally, yet acknowledging the constant or the easy is often buried under "the givens" - they know how I feel, they will be there regardless, that's what friends/family are supposed to do. I try to remind myself, though, that these are merely easy outs. "Constants" - those who more often than not, are the reciprocators in these most "real" discussions - make us better, by example, by conversation, and simply by their presence.

The first of my conversations was with an author, intellectual, university administrator, and perhaps most importantly, a Cumberland County native. When he asks about my family, I know he can actually imagine the sound of my dad's voice as he tells a story (that, while grounded in truth, just may include the tiniest bit of exaggeration) or the welcoming smile that mom wears just as often as one of the many white, button-down shirts in her collection. It's really nice, in a sometimes overwhelming sea of disconnect, self-concern, and/or obligation, to be known. Little time is wasted on the superfluities and more spent on an actual conversation. In this particular case, a conversation of book suggestions, interesting questions, appropriate contacts, and paths less traveled.

This particular conversation of conviction is figuratively played out in the video at the beginning (one shared with me during yesterday's meeting). Alex Taylor, an Ohio County native, is an author and instructor at WKU in the English department. He has a soon-to-be released collection of short stories called The Name of the Nearest River that raises a question that I find fascinating and hope to work through myself: Why do people stay, or in my case, return, to a place that some might consider a caricature of both economic and cultural poverty? His response is intriguing (you can hear about 2 1/2-3 minutes into the video), but I would really love to use this blog as a place to hear yours.

The second and third conversations were with different people - my two best friends who, without a doubt, make me want to be better - but much the same in general sentiment. We discussed how sometimes you can hear something, something that you may have heard a thousand other times either word-for-word or slightly modified, that suddenly inspires you to change or to challenge yourself. A personal example to make this a little more tangible: my favorite band is The Avett Brothers (folk-hipster, bluegrass, rock, indie-they could fall into a variety of categories) and they released a new album last fall called I and Love and You. There is a line in one particular song that says, "Decide what to be and go be it." That line not only resonated with me, but fortuantely, subsumed even the smallest of decisions. I began to evaluate both the seemingly insignificant and the things that, at least at the time, seemed central to my life. For those who may be rolling their eyes, I get it. I know this doesn't sound profound. I know I was, and am, more inclined to see meaning in this simple phrase because I love them so. But, I do think that there is something to be said for seeing or hearing things at the exact moment you need it (and I won't lie and say that I'm a huge believer in fate or things happening for a reason). For me, I often find this in music (Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine is another example: "the less I seek the source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine"), but for you, it might be in art, or poetry, or a story from your grandparents.

I guess the point that I'm trying to make, and the one that I will still find significant a year after these two conversations have ended, is that we should all make a concerted effort to embrace those things that make us think; we should put ourselves in the company of those people who we respect and/or who are doing things we find interesting. We may never be in a position to perfectly model their actions or to follow the path mandated in some creative expression, but I think we can foster those emotions and attributes that drew us to those people and things in the first place.

The second point I am making is that I am grateful for these conversations. Thank you Dr. Grubbs, Andy, and Caroline.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spreading the News In My Vagabond Shoes in Dubre, KY

No worries, I promise to steer clear of any introspective Robert Frost discussions today. Just a couple of odds and ends that I thought might interest those of you who so kindly skim this blog every now and then. Okay, so Leigh and Mom, here goes...

I stopped in Anderson's Grocery this morning just for kicks. Located in Dubre, just a bit before the Cumberland/Metcalfe Co. line, this general store is one I likely have passed thousands of times, yet never ventured in. I don't know the history, I don't know Hazel (I imagine to be the owner - she was the only one in there this morning), and I don't have pictures of old men eating bologna sandwiches and drinking RCs...hence, I don't want to give some melodramatic explanation of how "I walked in and it just felt like home." BUT, a few observations: I like that this pseudo general store still is a post office site; I like that the screen door, the narrow board original wood floors, the old furnace that finds home toward the back of the store, the built-in white wood shelving that still holds canned vegetables, and the cash register that likely has heard many a tale, remind me of my great grandparents' country store; I like that after telling Hazel that I was the Turner daughter who has been away for a while, she asked how Dad was feeling and then told me that I looked like my mom.

Occasionally I get caught up in overly analytical (and oftentimes narcissistic) searches for meaning. Sometimes,though, simple and nice is enough.

Okay, random story #2. I love any kind of bread, my mom's homemade sourdough, artisan pumpernickel at boutique type bakeries, plain white Sunbeam sandwich bread (tangent: I used to love when my granddad, in his light blue, button down, short-sleeve shirt with "Jack" in the sewn oval label, would take a break from work and let me and Leigh get in his Sunbeam truck and pick out a honeybun or fried pie). The wanna-be organic farmer inside of me knows that both honeybuns and non-whole grain breads are unhealthy, but I silence that faint voice fairly easily.

One of my favorites is a good bagel. While I'm not a snob - in fact, I just bought blueberry Lenders at IGA a couple of days ago - I really love doughy in the middle, crisp on the outside, New York style bagels. Calorie watchers and Atkins Dieters, don't even start.

Woke up this morning and decided to try making my own. I found this recipe online at: Word of advice: I've enjoyed doing this and it has been fulfilling to make something I really love in my own kitchen, but it is a day-long process. Don't start unless you have time to let the dough rise (I let mine sit for 5 hours and I only did a 1/2 recipe). You'll find that I've added some everyday tips here and there(which are probably common knowledge for most of you, but I thought I would pass along anyway).

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. dry yeast
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. salt
4 1/4 c. all purpose flour (actually called for "bread flour" - anytime salt and yeast are called for in a recipe, use "all-purpose"... thanks, Mom)
8 cups water, for boiling
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 tbsp. water

* You can also add: cinnamon and raisins, poppy seeds, onions or garlic, sesame seeds, fruit of your own choosing

1. In a small bowl, mix yeast, sugar, and warm water and let stand 3 minutes.

2. Mix 2 cups of flour with salt in large bowl; add yeast mixture. Stir until combined and slowly mix in rest of flour.
The recipe said to spill flour everywhere when mixing.

3. Knead dough on floured surface for 5 minutes (if putting wax paper on counter top, wet the surface first so the parchment/wax doesn't slip...again, thanks Jackie). Dough should be fairly smooth and somewhat firm. Cover and let rise until double Place dough in a greased bowl(use a small piece of wax paper to scoop out tbsp or so of Crisco - keeps your hands clean and helps with consistent coverage - Mrs. Becky/4-H). Anytime you cover in this recipe, whether the dough is in a bowl or on a cookie sheet, spray your towel with a non-stick spray.

4. Punch dough down (if adding cinnamon/raisin, do so now). Divide and shape into 12 balls. (I used a pizza cutter to divide the dough). Allow to rest 5 minutes.

5. Bring 2 qts. water to boil. Make a hole in each ball and pull open about 2 inches, making a bagel shape. Place the shaped dough onto a cookie sheet and cover for 10 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drop 2 or 3 bagels at a time into the boiling water for about 45 seconds, turning each once (turned mine with two forks - the dough is pretty stiff, don't be afraid of messing them up).

7. Drain cooked bagels on a wire rack. Mix egg white and water; brush tops with egg mixture and top with optional ingredients. Place bagels on greased baking sheets.

8. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, turning once half-way through baking (rotate, rather than flip, if using "toppings"). Bagels will be lightly browned and shiny. A little butter doesn't hurt anything (especially cinnamon butter from Mariah's).

Nothing goes better with a homemade bagel than a coke from Anderson's Grocery that has a Nov302009 expiration date.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Counting All My Chickens In One Basket

I hate doing anything halfway. And while I also hate cliches (primarily because I tend to combine one or four, inevitably resulting in a phrase that makes no sense), I choose to describe this as both a blessing and a curse. I find it more frustrating than rewarding to walk 10 minutes when I know I should run 30. Unhealthy in that I mentally demean myself if I don't fulfill expectations of which I know I am capable, I likely am in much better physical shape because of it. Oh, but then the pendulum swings. I also occasionally use the "halfway is lazy" philosophy to justify completely irrational tendencies - Example: if I know that I'll have a piece of coconut cream or apple pie (my favorites) for dessert, eating a healthy dinner seems inconsistent and half-hearted.

This philosophy has somewhat regrettably controlled my attitude toward my graduate work the past year and a half or so. I felt so overwhelmed by the dissertation process and the hoops that one irrevocably must jump through in any graduate program that I just basically shut down. I focused on teaching, on the wheel throwing pottery class that I decided would be fun, on designing the Christmas cards featuring Lucy and Willie, on summer job or conference opportunities that seemed interesting. Actually sitting down and researching and writing was not on my agenda; I didn't feel inspired to run 30, so I didn't walk 10.

As with nearly all of my chosen paths, I continue to look at this one through a charcoal lens. The speckles of clarity, of purity, of "right thing at a particular moment" surely exist. We all reach a point where we need distance, a chance to reevaluate. I've learned that sometimes it is ONLY in those moments where we allow ourselves to figure out if what we thought was so important is in actuality, important. Putting my dissertation aside for a while and subsequently, changing my topic to something less valued in the eyes of some, but essential in my own, gave me a chance to genuinely figure out the type of person I want to be and the type of writing I want to do (it is a tangible expression of a broader philosophical change - but a valid one nonetheless). Those pottery classes, those moments with Luce and Will at the dog park, those chance meetings with people at random events or locations, have made me better. Better in the sense that I feel like now, for one of the first times in my life, I am choosing the life I am living. What I do is not simply the next step in a predetermined process; it is actually what I want. And with that clarity, I feel a new sense of conviction to earn/get/make that life. Although I am not where I necessarily want to be now, I am putting myself in the company of those that inspire me, I am writing about things that interest me, and I talk about the things I want to do (including finishing the dissertation, opening my own cafe and bookstore, having a family in Cumberland County ) in terms that seem less whimsical and more matter-of-fact.

Remember how I described that charcoal lens, though? With any "road less traveled"/"find yourself" process, I think we tend to romanticize the neglecting of responsibilities and expectations. True, I needed a break from school, but did I really need months upon months? I am self-aware enough to know that laziness, lack of inspiration (and even the inspiration to go seek new sources of inspiration), and the half-ass philosophy mentioned at the beginning, simultaneously existed alongside personal setbacks and seemingly inexplicable life events. Yes, some good things definitely came as a result of reevaluation, but would I like to be closer to finishing my dissertation? Of course I would. Sometimes in the midst of "finding ourselves" we need to meander back to the path more traveled; perhaps put our own footprint in it, but return to it, nonetheless.

I say all of this to stress a point made in Vivian Swift's blog on February 22nd. When describing how someone should go about starting an art journal, she recommends drawing one picture of something of interest or telling one story about a particular vacation. This might mean drawing the same teacup 22 times because you think it has an interesting story to tell, or describing the intricate threading of one scarf you saw in a boutique while in some exotic place. Her point is that while these individual messages may not be "the whole story," they will inevitably have the essence of the story you want to tell. They will reflect what you find important and they will be nuanced enough to give new life to a story people have heard before (or even one that you yourself have experienced before). *For example, in describing why I am fascinated with the notion of "community," little things like the Marrowbone postmaster always telling me to "Have a blessed day" (and I think genuinely meaning it) or the careful manner in which she returns change (and without using a calculator), might get lost in a more theoretical discussion of "place" and "identity."*

So, to be clear, the point is: Maybe the occasional off-track venture isn't so bad; maybe "halfway" shouldn't lead to self-deprecation. Take one step in the right direction - start a pillow book, start a blog, talk to your best friends about the cafe you will open one day - and you may suddenly find yourself writing your dissertation.