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Tag: savoring summer

summer’s dalliances and a hodgepodge of other curiosities

some thoughts on summer attention: 

carrying a tray of napkins, forks, and knives out to the summer porch the other night, i noticed a silence. a new silence. the cicada, my favorite understory of sound signaling summer starting to close, had gone quiet. instead there were crickets, only crickets, relatively placid compared to the frenetic energies of the cicada, who are mortally pressed for time with only 24 hours to wake, procreate, and succumb. 

summer’s waning, i thought. and, darn, i missed the last chirr. 

(turns out the day it was quiet was a day less than 80 degrees, and the next day when it warmed up, they were back again. makes the pair of amateur entomologists who dwell in this old house think that maybe the ‘cadas had snuggled under their blankets, put their fiddles and strings in a case, awaiting a day with a little more burn in the air.)

straight off, it made me think of a glorious essay i’d read some months ago about paying exquisite attention, paying such exquisite and fine-grained attention that one is attuned to even the moment the cicadas cease their clattering, silence their love song. i’ve searched and searched all week for that misplaced essay, and can’t find it anywhere (maybe i too should call in the FBI for a search of my basement storage room). 

but even without the essay in hand, it still made me pause to think hard about those barely perceptible miracles that constitute the whole of each day. and made me construct my own litany of things worthy of my attentions: 

the moment in spring when the grass sheds its winter brown and slips on its verdant green.

the moment the nestling takes flight.

the moment the monarch emerges from his cocoon.

the moment the wedge of moon fades away in the dawn.

what if we were to notice? what if instead of numbly whirring through time we slowed to adagio and drank in even a half (or a teaspoon) of the everyday dose of miracles and wonders? what if even once a day we counted one thing we’d otherwise not see, not hear, not sense? what if we awoke to the mystery that’s animating every minute of every hour, day after day, year upon year? 

isn’t to see, isn’t attention, the first step to devotion? wouldn’t our life be infinite unfurling prayer if, as often as we breathe, we were awake to blessing?

have you noticed the day when the tomato turns just the right red for plucking?

have you heard the first or last note of the cardinal at the dawn or at nightfall? the moment when silence gives way to sound, or sound to silence?

have you noticed the firefly turn off its blink for the night? 

have you noticed the someone who’s hoping you’ll sit down and listen to one of his or her stories? 

the summer is fleeting, it’s begging we notice….


wee bouquet

summer dalliance: i’ve a thing for little bouquets; always have (ever since my mama taught me to pick lily of the valley or daffodils for the teacher, wrap them in wet paper towel and then a sheaf of aluminum foil wrapped tight into a baton). i love to pluck blooms from wherever i traipse in the garden or alley, and tuck them loosely into jars or pitchers or wee tiny vases. i find the gatherings of color and form, petal and leaf, tickle my fancy. so i pluck and i tuck with abandon. and then i scatter my abandonments all over the house. 


book news: hardest task of the summer for me, far harder than scanning pages for blips and bloops, was sending off queries to authors whose work makes me tremble it’s so dang good. i was instructed to ask these legends to read my book, and send back a few words of kindness, a thing in the book world called “blurbs.” it was an instruction that trembled me. but the task, now completed and turned in to my editor, might have taught me a thing or two about being brave. and the kindness of pure strangers. i can’t pull back the covers on what they wrote (not yet anyway), but i can tell you to whom i will forever be grateful; most especially to: Pádraig Ó Tuama (the poet, peacemaker, and host of Poetry Unbound from OnBeing Studios), Scott Weidensaul (ornithologist and best-selling author of Living on the Wind and, more recently, A World on the Wing), Bill McKibben (environmental activist and legendary author), Rabbi Rami Shapiro (poet and podcast host who wrote skeins of prayer in our synagogue’s prayer book), and Mallory McDuff (another environmental activist and author of Love Your Mother: 50 States, 50 Stories, and 50 Women United for Climate Justice). equally kind, though they wrote back to say their plates were too jammed, include terry tempest williams (brilliant essayist and conservationist), susannah heschel (scholar and daughter of the late great rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) and margaret renkl (a New York Times columnist who often writes about things i’ve been thinking), belden lane (theology professor emeritus and esteemed author), and fred bahnson (brilliant essayist). a few, who shall remain unnamed, never wrote back. oh well. the kindness of those who did is what will glow into the evermore…..


reading nook:

technically, i’m between rounds of page proofs which gives me time to indulge in my rabbit-hole school of reading, which this week has lured me into the writings and poetries of molly mcCully brown, a brilliant essayist and poet born with cerebral palsy who writes unforgettably about her intractable and ever-changing body, and who makes us think hard of the miracle of mobility, something we might take for granted unless we too were faced with a flight of stairs or an ancient cobblestone lane that kept us from the places we so longed to enter. somehow i’d never before known of sigurd olson, called “one of the great environmentalists of the twentieth century,” who wrote of the boundary waters, the northwoods, and the surrounds of lake superior. he won the john burroughs medal (the most esteemed prize in the world of nature writing) and made me think i just need to read my way through the lifetime list of winners. i’m beginning with The Singing Wilderness, described as the most poetic of his nine published books. on its back cover, it’s described as “an essential antidote to the trials of modern life.”


what’s cooking:

i find myself dizzy with summery sides from the vegetable patch this summer: corn, tomatoes, cukes, purple onions, frondy fennel (the crunch with a tassle), basil, basil, more basil. doused with vinegars, olivey oil, lemons, limes, oranges, and now a curious new douser: chili crisp, a sauce that’s sweeping the country, straight from the kitchen of Tao Hubi, owner of a popular Guizhou province noodle shop in China, who began selling her famed homemade chili sauce under the name Lao Gan Ma (found at whole foods, and, yes, on amazon). apparently the summer’s salady hit is nothing more complicated than tomatoes tossed with a splash of rice vinegar, a glug of olive oil, a pinch of flaky salt, and a generous spoonful of the magic sauce. it’s the gist of height-of-august deliciousness. and it’s called chili crisp tomato salad.

here’s an amazing twist on plain old green beans…

Side of Beans (Green):

from The Cordony Kitchen (Amanda Cordony is an Australian food stylist and recipe inventor, and she’s amazing!)Cook time: 4 mins | Prep time: 5 mins | Serves: 3 (as a side)

Ingredients
2/3 cup green beans – top and tailed
3 Tbsp + 1 tsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves – minced
1 orange – zest and juice
1/4 cup of raw almonds – roughly chopped
 pinch of chili flakes

Garnish:
Mint leaves, olive oil

Method.
1.
Get a frying pan on medium to high heat with olive oil. Place your beans, garlic, orange zest, orange juice and sea salt. Stir for 2 minutes.
2. Take off the heat and sprinkle in the almonds and chili flakes.
3. Serve and add mint leaves, olive oil, salt, and pepper.


so those are the curiosities of the week, as i get back to proofing later this morning. thanks for indulging my gazetteian tendencies these past few friday mornings. i believe only one more week and then i send off the proofs to the printing presses, where they will whir off the presses and onto real pages….

what are the curiosities and wonders that strike you at august’s peak? and what will you notice that you’d otherwise miss?

p.s. happy height-of-august birthday to our very own hardshell aficionado and keeper of wisdoms, karen the wonder woman, whose birthday is any day now, though i don’t know which….

when summer starts to run away…

the tangle that is my plot of runaway vines

in which we continue in gazette-ian style, with bitlets and chunks from the week that’s just whirled by…..(as i roll toward end-of-summer editing deadline, the gazette affords the chance to gather up bits in between long hours of proofing pages and rethinking the occasional passage. the other big job of the summer is sending off queries to authors whose works are the high bars i reach for, including unproofed copies of the manuscript, humbly asking if they’d be willing to, ahem, read the whole darn thing and send along a few words, aka “blurb” the book. it’s a task that makes me tremble, but a dear friend reminded me to channel eleanor roosevelt, she who implored that we do something each day that scares us. and so i’ve been eleanoring. results: forthwith. but for now, a few bits from the week…)


trying to be tomatoes

if one’s farmer plot is in any way a mirror of one’s soul, i’m in trouble. my tomatoes are tangled with my cukes, all of which have invaded the raspberries. the thyme has up and died. and the dill is dangling on what’s left of a skeletal spine. you know it’s bad when a friendly neighbor who regularly ambles down the alley inquires if she might apply her know-how to your tangled mess. that’s how it is here in suburbia: even your back plot is subject to scrutiny. you can’t hide your agrarian mishaps under a cloak of anonymity, and you sure can’t pretend the plot is not yours. all of which has prompted me to clean things up out there, save what i can, and assuage my ignominy. i suppose i could chalk it up to occupational hazard, one that comes from stuffing your nose in a book––especially a book of your very own making––rather than digging into nightly rounds with clipper and twine. 

it might just be that we’ve slammed smackdab into the dervish days of summer, when the heat is on high and the humidity’s higher. maybe the thrill of new growth has expired, and i let too much slide. or maybe the vines had a mind of their own, stayed up late in the night scheming how to outrun me. 

the worst problem is that for all their tangled overabundance they’ve overlooked their original job: they’re flunking the fattening drills, wherein those delicious tomatoey energies plump up the wee little orbs that, according to instructions, are supposed to turn from green to amber to red. and plumpen all the while. instead, i have clusters of nouvelle orbs, orbs the size of a miniature overpriced grape, when what’s intended is a candyland red (a proliferous cherry tomato) to pizazz your whole mouth. or a cherokee carbon (an heirloom slicing tomato) a good knife might sink into. 

i suppose the lesson my old plot is teaching this month is one that comes with double dose of humility. daren’t think that any old soul can muscle a trowel into earth, and make fruitful abundance appear. seems i should have gotten to work earlier on, nipping and pruning my runaway vines. perhaps it was a latent stinginess that kept me from cutting; not realizing the ancient truth that less almost always leads to more….

no matter the original sin; looks like i’ll mostly be bulking up on tomatoes the time-tested way: standing in line at the real-farmer’s market. where those who tend this blessed earth know bible and verse how to get vines to behave. 

in the meantime, my scant bits of herbs are being put to work morning, noon, and night in a panoply of summery sides. see below for the latest iteration of cooking with mint. 


when commonplacing is a way of being…

it’s a habit i can’t seem to curtail: an insatiable appetite for spotting and plucking fine little bits––poetries, wisdoms, epiphanies. as if a schoolgirl equipped with bottle of glue––might you remember those glorious clear glass bottles of amber-hued glue, with the pig snout of a pink-rubber slit-top through which the amber glue oozed?––i snip and i paste into my virtual scrap book, endlessly turning and filling the pages.

here are just a few of the snippets i’ve gathered this week: 

from Karen Armstrong’s, The Case for God:
Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (as he explained to the court that condemned him to death) Plato’s Apology (i like knowing that no less than the old philosopher ordered us to pay close attention.)

“Socrates once said that, like his mother, he was a midwife whose task was to help the interlocutor engender a new self.” Plato, Theaetetus

Buddha to curious Brahmin priest (at end of Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God): “Remember me as the one who is awake.”
––
Thoreau’s journal, August 6, 1853
“Do not the flowers of August and September generally resemble suns and stars?—sunflowers and asters and the single flowers of the golden­ rod.”


this week’s reading:

finished karen armstrong’s The Case for God; started The History of God, but switched to Joseph Campbell when my brother told me he was reading Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine (on order from my friendly librarians). whilst i wait, i’m diving into campbell’s Thou Art That: Transforming the Religious Metaphor. i find it an especially lovely thing to read in tandem with someone you love. and reading alongside my brother david is an act of pure love. he has one of the deepest classical bookshelves i’ve ever known, a harvest from his years working with a rare book collector. a beloved cousin sent a magnificent copy of james farrell’s Studs Lonigan, and it’s about time i commit a few of those lines to memory. recounting the tales of a south side irish punk, it’s a book whose every sentence i can hear oozing through the faint brogue of this beloved and quixotic cousin. and for dessert, i’m indulging in all the john burroughs i can get my hands on; Signs & Seasons, and The Gospel of Nature, is where this latest trail of burroughs begins….


Smoky Eggplant Salad With Yogurt and Mint
By David Tanis, NYT
YIELD 6 to 8 servings

sumptuous is the word that comes to mind for this. i was intrigued by the smokiness, and the joy of spinning an orb of eggplant atop the flame. i made it for Shabbat a few weeks ago, on a night when i was grilling salmon (we have fish for almost every Shabbat, a testament to our Jewish Catholicism, or would it be our Catholic Judaism?) and i swore i almost levitated off my chair. i happened to have a years old bottle of pomegranate molasses in the fridge, and thank heaven the label specifically assured “will keep almost indefinitely in the fridge.” i took my molasses at its word. could not be easier. nor more delicious. 

INGREDIENTS
2 pounds medium-size eggplants
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1⁄2 cup plain yogurt (i used nonfat, cuz that’s how i am and that’s what i had)
1 teaspoon crumbled dried mint (i used fresh)
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses, optional
1 tablespoon roughly chopped mint, for garnish
1 tablespoon roughly chopped parsley, for garnish
Red pepper flakes, for garnish 

PREPARATION
Step 1
Put the whole eggplants on a barbecue grate over hot coals. Turning frequently, cook until the skin is completely blackened and charred and eggplants begin to soften and collapse, about 10 minutes. Alternatively cook them directly on a stovetop burner or under the broiler. Set aside to cool. 

Step 2
Cut eggplants in quarters top to bottom and carefully separate the flesh from the skin with a spoon or paring knife. Discard the charred skin. Chop flesh roughly with a large knife or in a food processor and put it in a fine-meshed sieve to drain excess liquid. 

Step 3
Transfer eggplants to a mixing bowl. Add salt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, yogurt and dried mint. Mix well, then set aside to rest for a few minutes. Check seasoning and adjust. 

Step 4
Put mixture in a low serving bowl. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses, if using, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped mint and parsley and a pinch of red pepper flakes. 

and that, dear friends, is the jumble of the week. is summer running away from you? how are you trying to catch it??

at our house, summer’s runaway is punctuated by the rat-a-tat-tat of early-august birthdays all strung in a row: my long-gone dad; my beloved brother; sweet blair; and teddy who turns 21 on monday. how in heaven’s name did that happen, the joy of my heart, the answer to my wildest prayers, for all of these heavenly years??? happy birthday, all you beautiful souls. xoxoxox

welcome to summer when the school bell doesn’t clang…

the welcome-to-summer sign i used to tape to the back door, welcoming home from the school year two dearly sweet boys

used to be i’d know it was summer because the cascade of papers to sign suddenly ceased, and the calendar miraculously uncluttered, and boys in the morning no longer groaned. used to be i’d know it was summer cuz something sparkled in the air, and i’d wait at the sidewalk outside the school with all the other parental units, and i’d replay some version of the last-day-of-school from my own long-ago days. i’d do not unlike my own mama had done: make grilled cheese, a decidedly not-packable school lunch; head straight to the library to sign up for summer reading; clang the bell on my bicycle to make sure it was ready for the rides just ahead (the ones down our dead-end lane that wiggled through woods and that was, in effect, our playground).

but this week it came to me only vaguely while downward dog in the garden (pulling some weed, not practicing zen). it was noontime-ish, and the street was more filled with chatter than is usual. i saw a few kids stream by sans backpacks, with that face of liberation that’s fairly unmistakable. and then, before i had a chance to ask, the adorable just-post-first-grader across the street came barreling down her driveway, arms waving like windmills, and she announced to anyone listening (mostly to the upside down me) that it was the last day, and she was going to get ice cream!

so, welcome to summer.

back in 2008, when my boys were six and fourteen, i wrote here on the chair something of a summer manifesto, or maybe simply a wish list. as is my wont, i spelled out the few things i hoped to commit to, the ways i intended to savor the season of indolence, of plenitude, of que sera sera.

my list for “slathering yourself in summerness,” wasn’t too long, and these were a few of the things i promised to make of my summer: go to bed with all windows wide open. wear summer pjs. fall asleep to nightsounds.

wake up, start all over again. only scramble it up. do something brand-new each day. something you always wanted to do, but couldn’t find the time for back in the days when lost mittens had to be located, and snowboots mucked up the hall.

the world back then didn’t scare me as much as it does now (or maybe i just don’t remember), so maybe it matters even more now to squeeze every drop of summerness, of savoring, from the rind of the day. “these molecules of the ordinary,” as cookbook writer nicole taylor recently put it (in this new york times article on cooking for juneteenth), can be, beg to be, made into moments of unbridled joy. to be lifted from the humdrum and unnoticed, into the sacramental.

i think of my friend mary ellen, no longer here, who so savored summer, who strapped on her roller blades, cut back her work days, and jollied her way from june to september. she was prescient and we didn’t know it. her summers were numbered; each one counted more than we knew.

i seem to have flung myself into summer, into this reprieve post-book-editing, by playing in the dirt. i’m outside all day every day when there’s sunshine, and even for bits when it rains. by the time i waddle to the backdoor, my clogs caked in mud, my arms scraped and fingers torn from whatever obstacle the garden’s presented, i all but need a tub to climb into, one right at the door.

i find healing out there where the bumblebees buzz, and the stems and the leaves reach for the sky. i’m away from the news, and i can pretend the world begins and ends where my ferns do their unfurling, and the cardinal belts out his evensong arias.

but even my sanctuary isn’t without its assaults. yesterday, i found out there will soon be a six-foot solid cedar fence cutting off the light and the breeze on one side of our yard, the side that happens to run along our screened-in porch, where the light and the breeze have always been essential to the magic. i tried hard not to cry. but then i came in the house and the full-throttle sting hit me: no more dance of the sun beams just before dusk, as the dollops of pure golden light all but ignite where they land. no more taking in the sweep of green as far as my eye can see. i suppose i’ll dig a new garden, hard along the fence line. and i’ll fill it with plants that delight in deep shadow. the woods are filled with them, at least the parts where the sun doesn’t find its way in. i’ve known for years it was coming, so i tried to be brave. but deep down inside it hasn’t stopped throbbing.

i was going to make a new list here, one filled with summer promises. but maybe i’ll keep it to this, the simplest version of prayer: dear maker of sunlight and breeze, help me to savor, every succulent drop of the indolence and plenitude synonymous with this one holy summer…..

what will you promise yourself to do with this one incoming summer?

where summer begins

it’s inevitable. ever since we ripped out the rug that wanted to be a putting green, tore down the faux attic, and hauled in the wicker chairs someone abandoned in the alley, the room where summer begins, middles, and ends is here where the concrete floor is cracked, the wicker threatens to unravel, and the old paneled-door-cum-dining-table wobbles. and makes a balancing act of every breakfast, lunch, or dinner plate. 

apparently, i like things off-kilter, a bit rough around the edges. at least when it comes to my definition of summer, where the living is unstructured, unbound, and on its own sweet time. 

we’re back home from faraway land, hipsterville USA where the summer is launched with the naked midnight bike ride, held under the full moon of may — and every month, and every season thereafter. we don’t launch the summer thusly here; far as we get is kicking off our shoes, but it’s official summer nonetheless here in WickerLand, where we don’t wait for the solstice to get things underway. 

we call this “the summer house,” and only because that’s what the long-ago realtor called it, and we’re not ones to shake things up. of late, i’m trying to take to calling it the summer porch, because that’s a wee bit less confusing. but, either way, what it is is a screened room attached to the garage, and surrounded by my storybook garden. it’s storybook because i imagine it to be a whole lot prettier than it really is, but what’s the point of imagination if you can’t put it to good use and your own personal advantage every once in a while. i’ve got vines climbing up both corners and a white pine that’s trying to reach the sky. birdhouses dangle and perch from just about every angle. and a brick path meanders from the back door to here. and meandering is everything, don’t you think? 

it’s more or less an inside-out bird cage, only i’m the one inside the screened-in cage and the birds flit wildly on the outside, not minding me at all. they flit and flirt, squawk and warble and feed each other worms right before my eyes. 

ever since we unfolded ourselves from all the hours on the airplane and in the speeding taxi cab the other evening, i’ve been sinking deep into the velvet folds of summer here in the corner of the world i call home. there’s something about this summer — the ease of it, the at-last of it — that feels hard-won and worthy of the wait. 

it promises to be summer unedited. the college kid has a job hauling sail boats at the beach, which by any measure is quintessential summer. the resident architecture critic is gearing up for his first triathlon, and i am up to my elbows in the verb that for me is synonymous with summer: garden, as in “to garden.” really, that means i am yanking weeds from their misplaced scatterings, but regardless of the specifics, it has me out with spade and rake and once again employing imagination. and occasional consternations: while we were away some furry someone feasted on every luscious leaf of my fledgling black raspberry, but my faith-testing with its fellow blackberry paid off and what for weeks was nothing but a bare-naked stick in the ground is now sprouting its own itty-bitty leaves. 

once again, my farm — aka raised bed of herbs, tomatoes, cukes, and now two berry bushes in waiting — is where the summer gospels are likeliest to be preached. lessons in resilience, in patience. in careful and doting attentions. all enfold all the holy wisdoms i might need to carry me through june, july, and august. 

it promises to be a redolent summer. a summer unlike any we have known in our sweet lifetimes. it’s one for relishing all the simple joys, the ones we refrained from all last year: picnics with friends. shared potato salad even. easy comings and goings. dashing to the store for one more pint of raspberries, and a sack of peaches too. 

summer without a mask (only around the duly vaccinated, that is). summer slow and easy. summer with a pinch of relish.

it all seems sweeter now. sweeter than i ever remember. 

sweet as the slump soon dripping down my chin. 

speaking of slump, here’s the recipe: (with thanks to marsha of low country carolina for reminding me how delicious it is…..) (i think i leave this recipe here every summer; oh, well!)

Blueberry Slump

(As instructed by a friend bumped into by the berry bins; though long forgotten just whom that was, the recipe charms on, vivid as ever…)

Yield: 1 slump

2 pints blueberries dumped in a soufflé dish (fear not, that’s as close as we come to any sort of highfalutin’ cuisine Française around here….)

Splash with 2 to 3 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice 

Cinnamon, a dash 

In another bowl, mix:

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 stick butter, cut into pea-sized bits

{Baker’s Note: Add a shake of cinnamon, and make it vanilla sugar, if you’re so inspired…(I usually am. All you need do to make your sugar redolent of vanilla bean is to tuck one bean into your sugar canister and forget about it. Whenever you scoop, you’ll be dizzied by high-grade vanilla notes.)}

* Spoon, dump, pour flour-sugar-butter mix atop the berries.

* Bake at 350-degrees Fahrenheit, half an hour. 

(Oh, goodness, it bubbles up, the deepest berry midnight blue. Looks like you took a week to think it through and execute. Ha! Summer in a soufflé dish. Sans soufflé….)

* Serve with vanilla ice cream. But of course….

Tiptoe out to where you can watch the stars, I was tempted to add. But then I quickly realized you might choose to gobble this up for breakfast, lunch or a late summer afternoon’s delight. In which case a dappled patch of shade will do….*

*from the pages of good ol’ Slowing Time

where do you begin summer?

and speaking of summer, two very very very beloved friends of the chair are back-to-back birthdaying in the days ahead: sweet amy of illinois (the very description long ago that introduced me to her), who dwells along the banks of the mighty mississippi, and nan of my heart….happy blessed days to the pair of you. xoxox

a short bit in praise of laze

i might have had you there at short, the adjective for brevity, synonym for “this’ll be quick; over in a jiffy.” perhaps you heard a sigh of exultation as your cognitive wheels sputtered and spilled out a soft hallelujah. not much to read today. oh, joy. (too lazy here even for exclamation marks, when a simple dot of ink — the period — will do.)

today, amid the incoming heat waft, the plumes of furnace-fueling Fahrenheits rolling in across the prairie, building steam as they leap the Big Muddy (the mighty mississippi, among the few rivers whose spelling wove its way into my girlhood jump-rope ditties), we turn our collective attentions to the myriad ways the month of hot july invokes slo-mo, stalls us to the lower-grade velocities: we amble to the garden, plonk our toes atop the wicker settee or into the water’s edge, set a spell in the summer porch, toss back fistfuls of inky-bursting berries, dawdle under the stars, lose track of day and time…(and make the most of ellipses while we’re at it, the original non-committal punctuation, the one that trails off into whisper, allowing any sentence to unspool at its own sweet idle…)

in celebration of indolence (lazy‘s grown-up fancy twin), a short list of praises:

sleeping till your eyelids — or the window shades — flutter open. determinedly silencing the bells, whistles, radar tones, and radio blares that dare to launch you into yet another full-on, get-it-done day.

making no plan for the weekend beyond the turning of pages.

cicada song, the rising reverberations of the hollow belly of the male bug the old latins called “the tree cricket,” from the superfamily Cicadoidea; perhaps a noxious noise to you, but to me it’s a lullaby i sink into every summer. a sound not unlike the endless sawing of blocks and blocks of wood, it’s a song that indeed puts me in a mind to saw my own endless strings of zzzzzzz’s.

sauntering the farmers’ market, guided only by whatever bounty stirs your fancy, leaving home any iteration of a grocery list (yet another domestic harness by which we are too often, too tightly bound).

pinching off fistfuls of pungent basil leaves, stuffing them into the maw of the countertop wiz-master, along with cloves of garlic, chunks of parmesan, and rivers of the fine green olive oil, and, presto, calling it a pesto (aka the unction of choice for any summer feast).

speaking of which, here’s a little video that inspired my presto pesto trials most of yesterday afternoon, interludes of herbaceous joy amid yet another afternoon sprawled in my window perch, up amid the serviceberry boughs where my turning of the pages is accompanied by duets of robins getting tipsy on the fattest, purplest berries just beyond the windowpanes.

and here, if you’re too lazy to click on any hyperlinks, the read-along version of summer’s long-awaited green and chunky goo, the one best slathered on anything that dares to cross your platter….

food52’s best basil pesto

Makes about 3/4 cup

Prep time: 5 min 
Cook time: 3 min

  • 1/4 cup raw pine nuts
  • 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/2 ounce)
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 5 loosely packed cups basil leaves (from a 2-ounce bunch)
  1. Set a small strainer over a small bowl. Combine the pine nuts and 4 tablespoons of oil in a small pan set over medium-low heat. Swirling occasionally, toast the pine nuts until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour the pan’s contents into the strainer. Let nuts cool completely.
  2. Once the nuts are cool, combine them and their oil, the cheese, garlic, salt, and remaining olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped, scraping down as needed. Add the basil leaves and pulse just until the pesto becomes smooth, again scraping down if needed. Use immediately, store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks (though, the sooner you use it, the better-tasting it will be), or the freezer for up to 3 months.

and, poof! there you have it. a short meander through the delights and surrenders of a day — or even a weekend — spent in unbridled serendipities. a necessary antidote to madness. most emphatically amid pandemic.

how do you define lazy?

p.s. all this laziness comes at the end of yet another wrenching and tumultuous week: putting boy 1 on airplane, bound for a big cross-country move and, alas, a bar exam that — unlike dozens of other states — illinois is insisting on holding in person come the start of september; and boy 2 found out that only freshmen and sophomores are now slotted to return to campus in the fall, a decision that means — among many other things — he has to give up the dorm room he considered one of the best in the leafy little town of gambier, ohio, a room in an old stone manse, a room complete with leaded glass bay windows, peering down a wooded hill, in the great company of his best coterie of college comrades. all in all, given the horrors that abound, these are not by any measure trials, but they wrench the heart nonetheless, and after months of this, our heart walls are somewhat thinned….

summer’s saturation point

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there comes a moment, maybe it’s late afternoon when the whir of the cicada rises to jackhammer loud, maybe it’s standing by the bins of tomatoes at the farmer’s market cradling just the right red orb in your palm, maybe it’s sinking your toes in the sand as it cools by the minute at nightfall, but sure as can be, there comes a moment when you know — up, down, and sideways — that you’re in the thick of surround-sound super-saturated summer.

and this is the moment to make the most of it, seize it, lick the juice of it off your chin, bury your toes a little bit deeper, turn the page and keep right on reading: dinner can wait.

this is summer. summer is this.

especially the summer when every ounce of you is counting down. when you wake up knowing how many days there are. how many weeks till you pack up the wagon, and whisper the holy-garden-angel prayer*. (* the prayer that was born when little ears in the back seat behind you were certain the one to whom you were reciting allegiance, the one to whom you petitioned, was none other than “holy garden angel, protect us.”)

especially in august.

so here we are: time for your summer’s checklist.

have you sliced a perfectly ripe, perfectly juicy giant green-striped tomato? a caution-yellow one? one with a fanciful name (cherokee purple, green zebra, Mr. Stripey, montserrat?) and even more fanciful pings to your tastebuds?

have you unfurled a beach towel in your own backyard, flung yourself onto your back, and counted the stars?

have you plucked the sand from in between your toes?

have you lost an afternoon deep in the pages of a hot-burning summer’s read?

have you carried home so many bulging bags from the farmer’s market that the welts in your arm lasted till noon?

have you wished even once that this day — or this hour, or moment — would never ever come to an end?

have you fallen asleep to the nightsounds rushing in through the screens? along with the breeze that tickles your toes?

have you plunked yourself in your favorite perch — maybe a tree house, maybe a cushioned ledge by an upstairs window — and done nothing more arduous than watching the world go by?

have you grabbed a fistful of mint from the garden, rinsed it under the faucet and watched it float in a pitcher of ice, water, and sliced wheels of lemon?

have you stayed up late, and gotten up early, just because you can’t get enough of these summery hours?

have you whispered a prayer of undiluted glory-be for this moment, the blessing of being alive for one more summer?

maybe now is the time….

and here, just because, is the summeriest recipe i’ve stumbled upon in the last string of summery days….(p.s. it’s the dressing that launches this over the moon…..the summery moon, but of course…)

Arugula, Watermelon and Feta Salad 

Yield: 4 servings 

Ingredients: 

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice 

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 cup minced shallots (1 large)

1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

6 cups baby arugula, washed and spun dry
1/8th seedless watermelon, rind removed, and cut in 1-inch cubes
12 ounces good feta cheese, 1/2-inch diced
1 cup (4 ounces) whole fresh mint leaves, julienned 

Directions: 

1 Whisk together the orange juice, lemon juice, shallots, honey, salt, and pepper. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking constantly, to form an emulsion. If not using within an hour, store the vinaigrette covered in the refrigerator. 

2 Place the arugula, watermelon, feta, and mint in a large bowl. Drizzle with enough vinaigrette to coat the greens lightly and toss well. Taste for seasonings and serve immediately. 

what’s on your summer’s checklist?

postcards from summer: a poem, a “cake,” and three very fine books

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sometimes in summer you merely want to dip your toe into the puddles. or the very cold lake. a little of this, a little of that. summer, it seems, is by definition the season for idling. no deep exertion needed. nor called for.

and so this week, with our old house bustling, and me trying to squeeze in any minutes of writing time i can muster, we bring you a little of this, a little of that: a poem, the “world’s best” no-bake upside-down cloud of sweet summeriness, and a roundup of books for the summery soul.

first, the poem, a quiet one from mary oliver, who is something of a patron saint of this old table. one that will rustle something deep inside, perhaps, and make you think thoughts you might not have thought ever before…

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun’s brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can’t hear

anything, I can’t see anything —
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker —
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —
all of it
happening
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

From West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver. Published by Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston. Copyright 1997 by Mary Oliver. 

oh, mary, mary…

“let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine….”

in fact, that might be all the morsel you need for this day. a morsel that’s as much a prayer as a poem, in my book. truth is, the poems i love best are the ones that work as a prayer: spiraling deep down under the hard shell of the everyday numbness, stirring, rustling, awaking the sleeping bits of the soul. the bits that long to be fed, plumped, removed from their starvation diet.

“let the immeasurable come…”

have you felt the immeasurable of late, did it touch the buckle of your spine?

and because i promised, here’s the summery treat we made at our house this week. especially since our house is filled this week from our beloved friend jani from munster, in germany. jani was here five years ago, when he was 12. and he and i sat side-by-side every morning, making our books. he will be 18 next week, and he is here, working downtown, taking the train every morning and night with dear blair. we are feting him with all things americana. he claimed this, “the best dessert in the world.”

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best no-bake upside-down dessert in the world* (*so says jani)

1 box belgian buttery waffle crisp cookies

2 – 3 cups whipped cream

vanilla extract, a dollop

1 pint fresh raspberries

1/2 pint fresh blackberries

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

you’ll need a loaf pan, lined in plastic wrap.

stir vanilla (or almond) extract into your bowl of whipped cream (psst: i used cool whip).

this is all about layering, so begin with a few plops of whipped cream at the bottom of your loaf pan.

IMG_9495next, lay down a row of belgian buttery crisps. press gently into the bed of whipped cream.

add a layer of whipped cream, dropping in dollops, and smoothing with a spatula.

add raspberries and white chocolate chips (or dark chocolate chips, or almond slices, if that more emphatically tickles your fancy).IMG_9496

begin again with your belgian cookie brigade, then whipped cream, then more berries and white chocolate chips. repeat one or two more times, till you’ve reached the tippy-top of your loaf pan. then begin your berry art. i made a flag, or an impressionist rendition thereof…..have at it.

cover with plastic wrap, and tuck in the fridge for eight to 12 hours. theoretically you flip the stacked loaf onto a serving plate (thus, the plastic wrap lining the loaf pan), but i didn’t think about that when i went with my flag, so we served flag side up, and jani didn’t seem to mind. there were two slices left for the very next day. and jani proclaimed it even better after its long night’s nap in the fridge.

***

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and finally, as promise, the latest roundup of books for the soul. my latest assignment from the chicago tribune. this time: Islamic Jesus, Jewish holidays, and exquisite poems infused with Chassidic sensibilities.

so there you go. do as summer insists: savor these lazy days. and if so inclined, tap out your thoughts to the question above, the one about the immeasurable. or share your favorite no-bake summery sweetness. or the books whose pages you’re turning these steamy days of july….

summer’s clubhouse

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when i was little, summer commenced when martha hackney and i would take to the woods. or the cardboard box cupboard. a boggy wood stretched between our two houses, complete with babbling brook, and stepping stones, and a pond we named “green,” because it was carpeted in teeny-tiny french knots of muck. if we’d inspected with magnifying spectacle, we’d likely have noticed they were lilliputian lily pads, perches for froglets the size of half your pinkie. once in a while, we’d stretch out on a log and inspect. and try not to plop in (for that would certainly lead to tuberculosis. or worse. so we feared in our nine-year-old minds).

i can’t remember a summer in which martha and i did not devote every waking hour to the construction of one of our clubhouses. the woodsy variety. or the ones where we spent hours upon hours with scissors and glue and snippets of fabric, and leftover rolls of wallpaper, too. and boxes. boxes by the boxload. we upholstered. we carpeted. we strung make-believe lights. we made resplendent rooms for our miniature dolls. we daydreamed the day away, hands smudged with glue.

perhaps those are the roots of my summer-y inclination to tuck away in a spot that’s away from it all. under a willow tree might be ideal. but i’ve no babbling brook near this old shingled house where, more often than not, i’m the one in charge of flipping grilled cheese and stoking the fridge. so the clubhouse i call my own is the one at the end of a short winding walk, a brick walk that leads from the house through the garden to the slapping screen door. there, just inside, is a steep-ceilinged room, one with a fan that undulates the summer’s breeze. and old wicker chairs, ones i once scooped from the alley (yes, i did; rescuing the flock from unseemly demise), tucked to one side, while an old wobbly door, perched on four legs, now makes for a wobbly table.

IMG_7681we call it the summer house, for that’s what the real estate lady once called it. it’s a name with far more pizazz than really it musters. if you don’t mind a rip in your screens, if flaky paint from the chairs doesn’t bother you, if a teetering dinner plate doesn’t ruffle your feathers, well, then, we have a room for you.

IMG_7682this week, in a week that might be labeled “intensive care” (for the task of the week was intensively caring for one un-done heart), it’s the place to which i skittered away. i carried my load of summer reading. i settled my bum in the old wicker seats. and before i could turn a single page, i was wholly absorbed in the magic of that odd little place. a mama wren flitted in and out of the birdhouse (she was tending her thimble-sized brood, delivering wren-sized delectables on a quarter-hourly basis). a cardinal paid me no mind, heralding the dawn, and later, the twilight.

a place to escape is a critical place. a place that, perhaps, no other season so offers. but summer, after all, demands it. promises it. it’s the one time of year when you can stretch out your legs, cross your ankles, and know you’re doing your duty: you’re summering. however you define it.

for me, summering is a verb with pages to turn. it’s sipping slowly from tall sweaty vessels of lemony water. it’s slapping away mosquitoes, and keeping watch for the firefly. it’s taking time out and not feeling guilty. it’s feeling like friday afternoon stretches for days. it’s relishing: a balsa wood baskets of berries; fat spears of asparagus charred from the grill; a book i don’t want to end; daybreak with a hot mug of coffee; mama wren enchanting with her motherly duties; nightfall with a flute of prosecco.

it’s the one time of year that begs us to savor the succulence. to consider the high art of nonchalance and lull without purpose. it’s the deep down knowing that if you’re turning a page, staring into the distance, or keeping watch on a wren, you are more than doing your job. you’re inhaling the whole of the blessing, the one that now is upon us: welcome to summer.

how do you define summering? and what’s your tucked-away spot?

summer starts here lemonade

dizzy…in summer’s high tide

anemone bee

it’s a hum and a buzz you might mistake for a gnat — a gnat with a megaphone maybe. there i was, minding my morning’s business, not too far from nodding anemones, and the buzz dazzled past me, caught my attention. i looked up, and saw that i stood amid a whirling flock of zaftig bees. velvet-bellied bees. bees doing what bees do best, bees doing what i too am inclined to do this time of year: wriggling their whole fat selves into the depths of late summer’s bloom, gulping down thirstily, mightily, drunkenly. the bees in my garden are dizzy with late summer’s bloom.

so am i.

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maybe it’s the urgency of catching up. i lost a week or two there in a fog. maybe it’s that summer’s been shaved by two weeks, here in the land where high school can’t wait. all i know is i can’t quite sate my late-summer’s hunger pang.

i stood there watching that bee. watching her rub up her belly, sink down low, into the golden rods of anemone pollen. i too wished i could make like a bee and slather myself in every last speck of summer’s late bloom. there’s an unbridled zest i saw in that bee, a zest that felt familiar. the unbridled part is the part that i longed for. and that’s what i love about being outside. about paying attention to the world in my garden. the bee skittered from one pollen-painted pin cushion to another, and then onto another. her flight path zigged and zagged and bumped into leaves. she didn’t seem to mind, not one little bit, that she was basically flying in circles, delectable circles. circles that filled her belly with the one niblet she lived for: the gold dust of summer’s unquenchable thirst.

for anyone gathering notes, the wide-bellied bee offered instruction: hesitate not, she seemed to insist. the hour is now. the pollen is swelled. the high tide of summer won’t wait. you’d be wise to roll in it now, to lather yourself in every last succulent drop.

point taken.

to study a bee, to chart the shift of a shadow, to tiptoe into the midnight in search of a shooting star, these are the lessons that unfold under heaven’s dome. this is the ancient and timeless curriculum of paying attention. this is poetry lived.

this is the quietly whispered prayer that fills me every time.

and this is my mid-august to-do list (inspired by my velvet-robed instructor):

  • pluck heirloom tomato. sprinkle with kosher salt. sink teeth in. catch drizzle with tongue.
  • ditto peach (minus the salt).
  • snip a morning’s round of black-eyed susans, or whatever the late-summer’s garden is inclined to share today.
  • take a seat in the midnight theatre, with one last showing of perseid’s meteor shower on the playbill tonight.
  • savor the twilight hour, as nightfall tiptoes in sooner by the day, reminding us that sunlight fades, and so too, summer. allow the periwinkle light to peak your knowing that the soft edge of day — of each and every day — is a gift to behold, especially as it wanes.
  • drink in the afternoon buzz of the world’s loudest bug, the Magicicada (mistakenly referred to as “locusts”), a herd with a walloping vibrato that tips the scales at 110 decibels, or about as deafening as a mad-dashing chain saw. oddly, perhaps, the cicada tympani happens to be my favorite song of latter-day summer.
  • curl up, all alone, in an old wicker chair, and, for as long as the day allows, deep-breathe the last of summer’s sweet pause (school — high school, no less — starts bright and early next wednesday; and for the soon-to-be teacher in this old house, it’s monday at 8 bells, when he’s due to glide into the classroom. so long to summer, indeed).

how will you savor your last hours of summer?

and a p.s. for the star gazers among us: i was among those staring into the heavens last night, wishing upon a star that i’d get a glimpse of one of perseid’s meteoric chalk streaks across the night slate. alas, it was not to be. clouds muddied my night watch. august 12 is the height of the late-summer show, when our dot on the globe spins into the whirling nightlights. there’s one last chance tonight, as the curtain falls, to catch the last gasp of the august light show.

p.s.s. correction above: i’d mistakenly launched into typing “he” and “him” in writing of my busy bumblebee, without circling back to check why i’d done that. i was wrong, and i’ve corrected my ways. apologies to the worker bumblebees who are decidedly hard-toiling she’s. 

that moment when…(and this summer more than ever…)

summer feets

all week i’ve been feeling it. that moment that best can be likened to the glorious fraction of time when you’ve been out in tippity teetering heels all night, when your toes have been practically yelping in protest and the bones in your feets have been threatening to cut you off at the ankles, when every ounce of you wanted to wriggle out of this unnatural state of constraint, but you had to make like a grownup and prance around in footwear that does its best to topple you, and sometimes makes you chew on your cheek besides. but then, finally, the night and the torture come to an end, and there in the dark, and practically running, you round the bend, you lurch toward the door and you begin the release for which you’ve been throbbing: you scrape the toe of one pointy shoe against the penned-in heel of the other, and you kick the darn foot-clamps clear across the kitchen.

you stand there, for a minute or two, just drinking in the feel of your bones falling back to their pre-ordained order. you listen to the flow of the blood trickling back to the tips of your squeezed-colorless tootsies.

you savor the long-awaited rush of relief. the busting-out-of-whatever-bound-you.

which, pretty much, is how it feels around here. more so than in a very long time. because summer in this old house has arrived with a groundswell of holy hallelujah. boy one is finished with college. boy one is hanging around. boy two just finished with grade school. ergo, this is a summer that comes with a full ladle of finish. and, perhaps, an extra-deep dollop of purest enchantment.

this is, more than any summer that i can recall, one of those moments when the hours make like salvador dali had at them. they warp into stretched-out proportions. they expand, not contract. they breathe. and sometimes, like sunday afternoon when my firstborn and i plopped into old wicker chairs and stayed there for the better part of three hours, they stand perfectly utterly still.

i am, in this seasonal opening act, indulging in time. i am whirling, deep down inside, in the rarest of joy, the feeling that somehow i’ve cupped my hands, sunk them deep in a font of holiest waters, and come up spilling; splattering drop after delectable drop.

i’m not worrying, for heaven’s sake, about what’s for dinner, i’m not looking at clocks. (though i am watching ice boxes magically empty, and i am setting world records for laundry.) i’m feeling the lumpety-thump of my heart when the sound of the footsteps comes down the stairs at times when i’m usually alone and the house is usually silent. like a kid on christmas morning, i’m peeking through cracks in the door at two sleeping boys with no need for hurry.

maybe i love it all the more because i know it won’t last. and not only because i’ve been around the block enough times to know that, soon enough, the days will be so hot and so sticky we’ll all be wishing for igloos. and popsicles will seem a sensible breakfast.

maybe it’s all the sweeter because i never imagined we’d all have one more summer together. i hadn’t pictured four cereal bowls plopped on the table, each one blanketed in warm-from-the-field farmer berries. i hadn’t imagined the windows rolled down in the old station wagon, and me and my boys blaring the radio, wending our way to no particular anywhere. i hadn’t considered boy upon boy curled up on the couch, arms and shoulders entwined, words of brotherly wisdom being imparted in whispers.

for now, it’s one fleeting drink-it-all-in suspension of time.

we’re back to the place, and the moment, when the letting loose rubs you all over. like a terry cloth towel before it’s worn thin. it’s that magical interlude when the season is new, when we’re just on the cusp, and everything is raw and deep and our pores are wide open and we’re guzzling it down. right in here, in this opening act of summer’s production, the season of so few cares, we’re hard at work simply savoring.

and this particular summer it comes with a brand of relish that i’ll never ever forget.

this just might be the summer whose frames i’ll play and replay till the last gasp i breathe on this earth.

well, goodness gracious, i got a wee bit sidetracked — make that a lot sidetracked — here this morning when my ferocious jungle cat (he who seems to be showing off in recent days, proving to any and all that he might be old but he ain’t over yet) carried into the house — into the very middle of the family room’s old persian rug, mind you — a still-wriggling, but-not-for-long critter, clutched in the sharp-toothed grip of said hunter cat. i let out a yelp, as is my usual inclination, and hip-hopped in circles till i got the duo to skitter back through the rip of the old screen door. it set me to quaking for a few minutes there, and then i needed to settle back in to the rhythms above. and, oh goodness, the wonders of summer took on whole new dimensions. 

and in further keeping with this slow-time summer, i’ve just spent the last hour plopped on the post-college kid’s new navajo rug, chatting about his early morning adventures procuring yet another job. normally i fidget till i hit the friday-morning-publish button, but not today. today i know that all’s in due time. and if it unfolds slowly, it’s all the more glorious….

finally, before i go, a most blessed birthday i wish for my beloved friend cecilia and her forever love, gary, who serendipitously and marvelously share the same birthday. this is a big one for ceci, a day of more than usual import. i send love and prayers in double dose.

so before i sign off: what do you savor most at the start of this laid-back season……

welcome to summer