Monday, July 30, 2012

I would love to have Plato philosophize any Turner get-together.

"I begin to wonder what I am doing with my life.  Whenever I get disoriented or not sure of myself, it seems I bring my whole life into question.  It becomes very painful.  To cut through, I say to myself, 'Natalie, you planned to write. Now write.  I don't care if you feel nuts and lonely.' So I begin."
Most nights I try to read a short chapter in Writing Down the Bones (Natalie Goldberg's writing how-to) and a few pages in something else.  I'm horrible about starting three or four different books and just picking one up based on the mood I happen to be in that night.  My current assortment includes War and Peace (yes, I'm attempting this again), Michelle Obama's, American Grown, and a lovely memoir/recipe collection titled Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach (I really do love this one. Rosenstrach kept a diary for 14 years, charting dinner selections each night. This book explains both the meals and the memories to which they are inextricably tied.)

But, anyway, back to the opening quote.  These words, which seem reminiscent of the Avett Brother's "Decide what to be and go be it" mantra I try to embrace, are found in Goldberg's "Engendering Compassion" chapter.  I read this a few days ago and have kept it marked, reminding myself that a Pillow Book post was in order.  I hate the cliche "it just speaks to me," but hell, I know no better way to say it.  This passage speaks to me. 

When one thing in my life seems "out of sorts," suddenly I begin to question EVERYthing, even those moments, relationships, and ideals I know to be tangible and honest and omnipresent. I don't sleep well.  My mind is one constant, but yet scattered, debate.  I keep myself busy so I don't have to wallow in indecision and/or prioritize things that I just wish would somehow peacefully coexist without sacrifice.  I do exactly what all sorts of self-help books suggest is completely unhealthy: I get worked up over things that may or may not matter AT ALL in 5 years or even next month. 

And, as a result, I feel both nuts and lonely fairly often.  I tell myself that no one could possibly understand the rationales and motivations in my head and so I just stay silent.  I get scared that I can't commit, that I can't truly give myself over to something, because I'm constantly thinking about at least 60 other things I should be, or could be, doing.  I have trouble picking up a pen or the keyboard because I'm too busy fidgeting.  I don't have conversations that need to be discussed because I figure there's no way to clearly articulate what's in my crazy head.

Occasionally, however, I do have the presence of mind to tell myself two things:
1) Get over yourself, Liza. Everyone struggles with choices. Make one. Do something.  Decide what to be and go be it.

2) I mentioned this to a friend yesterday and my faith in the concept gets stronger as I get older: There really aren't "right" decisions.  There are simply decisions.  We do what we think is best in the moment based on what we know or what we feel.  Will we look back in a year and think, "That was exactly the thing I should have done."? Who knows?  Rationalizing and/or finding purpose in my decisions might make me feel better about myself, but it does not make a particular choice any more "right" in some Platonic, "Allegory of the Cave," understanding of ultimate "truth" sort of way. It seemed right at the time.  That's about the best I can hope for, I suppose.

Just a happy little thought on my mind this morning...;)
Well, it's not a dinner recipe and I haven't put it in a diary, but here is one that will forevermore remind me of birthdays, and matching shoes, and the classic line, "hope Bonnie doesn't poop on the wrapping paper."
Chocolate Cake (via I Adore Food blog)
  • 1 3/4 Cup of all-purpose flour
  • 2 Cup of sugar
  • 3/4 Cup of cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 Teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 Teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 Teaspoon of salt
  • 1 Cup of buttermilk
  • 1/2 Cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 extra large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 Cup of freshly brewed coffee
  • 6 Ounce of good quality semi sweet chocolate
  • 1/2 Pound of butter at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 Cup of sifted icing sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon of instant coffee
  1. For the cake: (12 first ingredients) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
  3. Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
  4. For the frosting:(ingredients starting at chocolate) Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vickie: "I want to see this finished by Monday." Liza: "Uh, yeah, okay."

You know, I like the idea of being crafty much more than actually being crafty. 

My latest plan: Take my great grandmother's quilt top that I found in my grandmother's attic and do the backing myself.  The ladies at the library convinced me that I - the girl who never took a home ec. class; the girl who once got half-way through a latch hook pony rug and decided to quit; the girl who can only sew a button - could tack it.

So, Vickie kindly went to Wal-Mart with me and I purchased $44 worth of supplies: tan sheet, batting, pins, thread.  Now I just had to get started! Oh yeah! This is going to be fun! And, the ladies in the family will be so proud of me for preserving family history! I am awesome!

Two weeks later...
Number of tacks completed: 6. 
When you're being a complete slacker on one project, what's the most logical thing to do? That's right, start another.

This one I've actually enjoyed though.  I knew there was a reason I always took Dad and Coach Price instead of Mrs. Connie and Mrs. Effie. 

Weekend suggestions:
-If you're in the Nashville area, stop by Parnassus Bookstore and hear Vivian Swift (the author of When Wanderers Cease to Roam) at 2:00 pm on Saturday, July 14.
-Come finish my quilt. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

"They make you play the entire keyboard."

"We're 32 and we've both literally watched our fathers die.  Two funny men with quiet wit and warm smiles; two men quite accomplished in their own right; two men who never wanted attention or needed praise.  I am proud to be my father's daughter and I know CDK feels the same.  I'm grateful for our friendship, a friendship that has been, and is, strengthened by the terrible beauty.  I am proud of my friend - her calmness, her strength, her ability to laugh, the way she has sought neither compliments nor attention for doing that which we all should do, but sometimes don't, her ability to be realistic and composed, despite being filled to the brim with devotion and love.  I love my friend and I love her parents. Even in death, they set a standard to which we should all aspire: to have control, to do things quietly and with grace, to take care of one another even in the hardest moments, to understand that dwelling on something will not change it.  I am better because I have known Ted and because Linda and Caroline will always be my family." Excerpt from a journal entry written on July 3 at the home of Linda and Ted Kraft

After Dad died, Caroline sent me an article that has since become an ideological refuge in hard times.  I can relate to, I can recognize, and I have found peace in the "terrible beauty" Mary Schmich so honestly and humbly describes. And, I've shared the article, first published in the Chicago Tribune in November, 2010, on here before. Sometimes, however, it seems appropriate to revisit. 

Love to the entire Kraft family. 

"Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now"
Chicago Tribune, November 21, 2010 - By Mary Schmich
My mother once said something that has played over and over in my mind in the few months since she died, and I hear it strongly as we get closer to Thanksgiving.

"Even the terrible things," she said, on a sunny day in what would be her last September, "seem beautiful to me now."

I rarely saw my mother cry, despite the many reasons she might have, but on that afternoon in her backyard, she cried a little, tears that I sensed were equally for the beauty and the sorrow in her life, and for the recognition that, when it's all done, beauty and sorrow are one and the same.

Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now.

What she was saying that day, I think, was that it's all life. The things that hurt your heart, wound your pride, drain your hope, leave you lost, confuse you to the point of madness. That's life, life with its endless, shifting sensations and its appalling urgency and its relentless drive toward mystery.

What could be better than that? What could you be more thankful for than that?

At Thanksgiving there's a lot of talk about gratitude, a word that has been so merchandized — on calendars and coffee mugs and in self-help manuals — that when you hear it you may want to reach for the hand sanitizer to wipe away the goo.

In the commercial version of gratitude, life is filled with cozy meals, cozy weather, friends and relations who smother each other in hugs and greeting cards. To the extent that hard times figure in, it's only once they've been vanquished and can be toasted farewell with a glass of premium wine facing a perfect sunset.

It's easy to be grateful for such easy pleasures. Who can complain about cozy meals and friends who put up with your annoying behaviors?

But to see the beauty in the terrible things and to be grateful for those moments — that's an elusive art.

I think you have to be old to see how beautiful the terrible things are, my mother said that afternoon, and I suspect she's right.

Maybe we can't see the beauty in the terrible things until we're approaching the final beauty and terror. In other words, death: the ultimate proportion gauge.

Maybe only when you take your last step back from the canvas can you see how gorgeous all those wrong strokes and smudges look when viewed together.

All of the best times in my life have grown directly out of the worst times. What feels like manure often turns out to be fertilizer.

But what I took from my mother's remark wasn't just that good may grow out of bad. It's that the bad is its own beauty.

We all resist what's difficult and painful. We run from it. We curse it. It comes anyway, as inevitable as weather.

Most of us have gone through at least one time in our lives that we would call terrible. Everyone I know well certainly has.

A disease. A rape. A parent's suicide. The death of someone you love. The collapse of a dream. These are things you would never wish on anyone, just as I would never have wished for my mother some of what befell her.

But as we approach Thanksgiving, I'm more grateful than ever to her for the ways she helped everyone around her understand that the hard times make you whole. They make you play the entire keyboard. They allow you to experience the full range of the most basic thing we give thanks for: being alive.

Monday, July 2, 2012

My favorite girl.

Seeing you walk through the library door is my symbolic clay;
a little gap-toothed smile and shy wave can make my entire day.
Despite a few bull-in-china-shop tendencies, you, my dear, have my whole heart,
Your love of pets, admirable; your pet voice impersonations, a lost art. 

I love that you “raise the roof” to Nonna from the backseat of the car.
Lightening bugs don’t stand a chance if you’re given a jar.
Dora flannel pajamas are fashionable year ‘round,
and your voice on the phone just may be my very favorite sound. 

You are assuredly a cowgirl, never crying when you fall down.
And you and Mr. or Mrs. Brown Sugar have been spotted downtown.
Nevertheless, a hot pink bow and painted nails also seem completely fitting,
for the little girl perfectly well-rounded, the one NEVER found sitting.

I think you’ll be a storyteller like your Pa, Curtis Lee,
for your spirit and playful humor foreshadow what is to be.
We hang on your words, awaiting the hilarity surly to come,
and in those fanciful eyes, I find inspiration and then some.

So, happy birthday to the precious girl who literally brightens every one of my days,
the niece who makes me better, the one I love more than I can say.
Although I can’t be there to enjoy the corn and pasta you confidently picked out,
I am thinking of you, and missing you, of which you never have to doubt.