Interior smile

The snow is gone but the cold is back. It was a good weekend. I went to the movies (“Hidden Figures”) and was feted one last time for my birthday (breakfast out and more gifts). I spent two hours straightening my studio and it felt divine (PS, I found 46 collages of SoulCollage material, ready to be xeroxed — I am on a ROLL). We had that lobster salad!

This week, prosaic stuff (speaking of birthdays and AGE): a shingles shot, a cholesterol re-check, and osteoporosis research.

I was told earlier this month that my bone density declined ‘precipitously’. Both doctors used the word ‘severe’. Yikes. I was all set to schedule medical intervention (in the form of an annual shot), until I heard that these meds only make your bones denser, they don’t actually make them stronger. What the fuck is that?

I have always been agile and sometimes, even graceful and athletic. It is really new to gingerly baby step across the ice, fearful of falling.

So, yeah, prosaic. But, I have to say — I can’t wait to watch my TV recording of the epic screw up during the Academy Awards last night. So much for the locked brief cases and CPA-precision, huh?

PPS  Regarding the post’s title, “Interior Smile” — listening to Tim Ferris podcast (author of the Four Hour Work Week), I was led to this wonderful 25 minute meditation led by Tara Brach — she leads the listener to imagine and then feel a smile in every part of the body. Wonderful! Maybe apply after every dose of the news?

Soup and salad


This shrimp, bean, and chicken sausage soup was delicious! Not only does it come together in a hurry, but most of the ingredients are stock pantry and fridge items, meaning it could become a regular in my weeknight lineup. If you’re like me, you keep onions, black beans, and boxed chicken stock in the pantry, as well as frozen shrimp and corn in the freezer. I very often have a four pack of chicken sausage in the cold cut drawer as well because they keep forever and are a good alternative to beef and pork. Cilantro was the only thing I might not have on hand, but thankfully, I did.



There are both black beans and white beans in this soup, but the starring role goes to the white beans — baby white limas. I went in search of these beans while still in SC after an outstanding lunch at Bertha’s Kitchen* in North Charleston. I gushed about the meal on Facebook and a former Charleston resident commented, “Go to Doscher’s Market.” (That would be Donna Hardy of Sea Island Indigo. She ran the workshop I attended in 2014).


Doscher’s Market is an IGA in West Ashley that’s been run by a German family for generations. Part of the secret to their success has been to cater to their customers, who are largely African American. One article I read noted, “there are smoked pig parts representing everything but the squeal”.**

While I looked for the dried beans, K wandered along the seemingly endless meat counter in curious amazement.

Here’s the recipe.

Shrimp, Sausage and Bean Soup
Serves 4

Night before: pour boiling water over one cup of baby white lima beans and leave to soak. While assembling the soup the next day, drain the beans and bring to a slow boil in about three cups of water. I did not add salt.

1/2 onion, chopped
2 chicken sausage, cut in quarter moons
1/2 T red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
28 ounce can diced tomatoes, with liquid
14 ounce can black beans, without liquid
one box organic chicken stock (if no homemade in the house)
1/4 c chopped cilantro for cooking, more for serving

Handful frozen shrimp
1 c frozen corn
And, if on hand, two cups cooked rice

S&P

Saute onions in olive oil, add salt, and once wilted, throw in sausage and red pepper flakes. Stir to coat. Add six or seven cloves of diced or smashed garlic, allow their aroma to rise (about 90 seconds), then pour in chicken stock, diced tomatoes (with juice) and black beans (without liquid). If white beans are done, add them as well. Because the delicious, soupy side dish that I had at Bertha’s Kitchen looked to contain bean cooking liquid, I included some here. I happened to have cooked white rice from the night before, so I added two big clumps. Smash to separate and then throw in cilantro, frozen corn, and frozen shrimp. Cook to heat through, roughly five minutes.

Serve. Add more fresh cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add a few jazzes of hot sauce. I poured my husband’s soup over toasted and buttered, homemade cornbread. With two kinds of beans plus rice and corn in the soup, that’s a little bit of carbo overkill, but not enough to render the dish unhealthy. Mine, I ate as is and it was very good and just as good the next day!

Now on to a spectacular lobster salad. If the soup belongs in the realm of week night cuisine, this one is for special occasions. A friend who parked her car in our driveway for two consecutive weekends brought us a container of cooked lobster as a thank you (she’s from Maine). That container was crammed full with SIX lobster tails. Oh man!

Lobster Salad 

1/3 c chopped red onion
1/2 T fennel
Put these two ingredients in a bowl and cover with boiled water. Soak while assembling the rest of salad.

1/2 green pepper, diced (would have used celery, but was out)
1 T capers, rinsed
2 generous T sweet relish
Couple big blobs of mayo
6 lobster tails, cut in chunks

The mayonnaise, which was probably about 1/2 cup, was slightly excessive. Also, we use full fat mayo in this house but I’m certain substituting a reduced fat version would have worked (but never no fat — gross!)

I didn’t think it would need salt because of the capers, but just a little dash helped. Since part of the glory of this gift was how easy it made dinner prep, I forewent spritzing the salad with lemon just before serving… it would have brightened the flavors nicely, I’m sure.

The fennel seeds were my sister’s idea. She’s a more adventurous cook than I and also had, coincidentally, just seen a cooking program on which the chef asserted that ‘no French cook would dream of serving seafood without fennel’. I was skeptical but went ahead anyway and I have to say that small cluster of seeds added a subtle and nice perfume. Definitely recommend.

Oh yum. YUM!  And there’s enough for Saturday lunch!

PS  When the news gets too unbearable to discuss, too awful in too many directions to wrap your mind around, count on food posts. They are reliably engaging to write and wonderful, constructive distractions.

* Bertha’s Kitchen has just been named an America’s Classic by the James Beard Foundation. The prestigious award is reserved for “beloved regional restaurants, distinguished by their timeless appeal”. Read more in this Post and Courier article.  

**Tim Allen of Rebellion Farm wrote that IGA article. Funnily enough, I’ve eaten pig that he’s roasted. “How can that be?” you ask. Well, he was the farmer who hosted Donna Hardy’s indigo workshop. Well-known Charleston Chef BJ Dennis catered the rest of the meal, by the way. (I didn’t know how illustrious he was until later, when I started to follow him on Instagram). Here’s my description of that meal from 2014. If you do a little research on southern food, you will find interesting and on-going discussion about cultural appropriation, foods of the African diaspora, and lasting contributions of the enslaved to Southern culture. 

Losing things and finding them

Are you a person who loses things a lot of the time or just now and then? A recent New Yorker article by Kathryn Schulz takes a beautiful wander through the topic. Subtitled, Reflections on Two Seasons of Loss, Schulz examines not just the business of losing things, but also what it means to lose our minds and loved ones.

Things go missing so much in this house that I have categories for lost objects, not unlike the childhood game of calling out ‘warm’, ‘cold’ or ‘HOT HOT HOT’. I usually can tell that I’m going to retrieve a lost object before I find it and often sense its general vicinity. Lest you think that gives me some sort of advantage, know this: even a ‘hot’ lost item with a felt sense of place can take DAYS to find.

In my early twenties, my checkbook went missing so often that the bank tellers on North Street rolled their eyes to see me coming. I’ve gotten somewhat better. Medication helps.

In spite of my incapacity, family members are right to ask me where things are, since in addition to being an over-the-top loser of things, I’m a good finder. Is that uncommon? My mother used to call me “old eagle eyes” and ask me to round up her scissors.

When the “where’s my” question is posed to me, it feels like more of an imposition that it might otherwise, because I’m kinetic. Being kinetic means I have to take notes to remember anything and that to find a lost object, I have to move my body. When both boys were home over Christmas, I really enjoyed cooking for them and felt neutral about loaning the car and picking up. But the “where’s my?” routine was annoying.

“Where’s my jacket?” “Where’d I leave the fob?” “Did you move my paycheck?”

I was asked to find things I hadn’t used, touched or seen. Being winter, I’d have to unearth myself from a blanket, heating pad and lap top (that’s two cords and a lot of fabric). My joints hurt sometimes. I’d groan. Then I’d wander around the house, maybe finding their lost thing, maybe not.

Objects can move from one category of lost to another. ‘Fucking vanished’ is a category, but believe it or not, a mutable one. Some things that I could swear after a vigorous, multi-day hunt have been taken by leprechauns do in fact show up. (‘taken by leprechauns’ is a whimsical name for ‘fucking vanished’). It is especially hard when something that feels retrievable shifts into the ‘permanently gone’ category.

Frequently losing things teaches you about attachment, sharpens intuition, and inspires resourcefulness in coming up with substitutes. Humility is involved. But those are topics for another time.

Let’s instead descend into my studio, which is really messy (also a topic for another time). Yesterday when I went downstairs to find some xerox color copies I’d gone to some trouble to make a few months back, I wasn’t sure how readily I would find them. That they were pretty much right where I’d thought they’d be felt like a gift.

There are about forty-five collages ready to be mounted to card stock. Then, at last, they will be SoulCollage cards.

Because I hate to measure and really suck at it, it took a good long while to mount just five of the collages. At five a day, I’ll need eight days to get through the pile. But guess what? After an especially demoralizing day of writing, the task actually satisfied. I took my time. I enjoyed working toward a goal with manageable and discrete steps — so unlike finishing a novel (am I finishing? is it a novel?)


Off to walk Finny, then back to my laptop (wish me a more productive day!)

  • (thank you for posting on FB Michelle ! Even though we get The New Yorker, I might have missed it)

Hail Mary, solicitors, and hope

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Two days ago, when I was editing a published post about the only Catholic prayer I still say and a little about travel by air, the phone rang. It was a persistent solicitor — a number I’ve been seeing every day for weeks. I picked up to politely request my removal from their list while simultaneously saving the post —

and the whole thing vanished. Not just the updates — all of it.

I walked away, resolved not to let negative narratives spin up around the glitch, but also without the energy for a re-do. The negatives arose anyway (was silence imposed because the post was braggy instead of vulnerable? was it too facile with the Catholic rituals? not remotely concerning what is truly and deeply on my mind?)

What IS truly and deeply on my mind?

Yesterday, the wordpress app on my phone seized. Geez! Haven’t I said, I’m not shutting up?

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So by way of recap, here’s a little from the other day — I hope I never stop feeling a sense of wonder about being up in the air and seeing the coast lit up below. I hope the Virgin hears our prayers. I hope Mary’s mercy can guide me to learn more about the complicated landscape of South Carolina. Help me filter history through a tender and flexible compassion.

Here’s one surprise from my recent trip. The most restorative aspect of our visit to Charleston came from a major reduction in news consumption. Not the sun, the 70 degree temperatures, the incredible food or historic sites (though they were amazing, too). It was LESS NEWS.

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For wisdom about the business of balancing duty and lightness, I turn to Rebecca Solnit (“Hope in the Dark”). Even though since November I’ve had a hard time reading political commentary that predates the election, she will be an exception. She wrote:

“Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.”

Giving is an act of insurrection, too. Did you hear about the crowd sourcing that planned to raise $20k in a month for purposes of repairing the vandalized Jewish graves in Missouri? They exceeded their goal in THREE HOURS. Or about the million-plus dollars raised to rebuild that burned down mosque in Texas? Twenty-three thousand people contributed.

Closer to home, my city just voted to be a sanctuary city.

Powerful examples of our collective goodness absolutely abound right now. To stay sane, I really need to pay as much attention to them as I do to the ugly and dark work of the GOP.

  • Photos of Virgin, magnolia tree and house were shot at Magnolia Plantation, SC last week.

Pick any three

How three become a story.

This morning I found a big pile of finished Soul Collage cards in my studio (what can I say? And also, aren’t there more somewhere? And what happened to the two dozen plus color copies ready to be trimmed and mounted? — This is what ADD looks like).

Years of Tarot reading (and now Soul Collage card pulling) have taught me that while within every single card there is a story to be found, with three cards, the story tells itself.

These three narrate a tale of parenting. Happening right now. There’s the young man being launched! Into the mountains, specifically.

After a bit of a fall (Humpty Dumpty) and emergency care (doctors have more skill than all the King’s horsemen).

Now the three of us huddle close, two holding up the third for the moment. Fluid, shared creativity will outsmart that horned and hulking bully. Bye bye big reptile guy!

(Fluid creativity is also what ADD looks like, PS).

The meaning of the dance photo is heightened by the fact that the image came from a glossy Vail resort magazine that I clipped years ago. We were at the resort while both boys were still in high school. It was a really special, once in a life time kind of get away (courtesy of my brother). D. fell in love with the Rockies during that trip.

There are a lot of “launch” cards in my deck. That I picked the one with a snowy mountain range demonstrates how synchronicity informs the process.

‘Nuff said. Much still up in the air. There and here. I have tons of pictures from our wonderful trip to Charleston and need to figure out how to share them. Reconsidering Flickr: yahoo keeps getting hacked.

It’s fifty degrees here. Hotter, I’m told, in Boulder.

Salem and gratitude 

This Quaker burial ground dates back to the early 1700s. I pass it coming and going to my sister’s apartment. I noticed it especially today and not just because the snow made it beautiful. I’d heard a podcast on the drive up about opening ourselves to the idea that in every single moment, we receive the greatest possible gift: our lives. And in the next moment, we receive it, and the next. This had the same radical softening effect of the repetition, “I have arrived. I am home. I am here.”  

This moment is a gift (I’m alive!) and this moment is a gift (still alive!) and this next one, too. Of course, spending time with someone who doesn’t drive, struggles to walk, and needs oxygen most of the time can make a person grateful too (I’m running an errand! In a car! Going into the drugstore on my legs!)

Now that I am no longer paid by the state to act as one of my sister’s PCAs (personal care assistants), it’s easier. I go for a visit. Not to labor. I thought I might mind losing the income. But this is so much better. 

We watched The Wendy Williams Show and priced French presses online. Ate pizza. I bought her wine (a battle I gave up ages ago). And then I left. 

Now that I’ve got a podcast app on my phone and figured out Bluetooth settings for the car, I worry a lot less about the drive. Last summer, really long delays were making me crazy!

This is the exact face my sister’s cat made the day she adopted her. Stink ears, I called it. But the cat’s name was one letter different from my sister’s and she understands scowling at the world. 


Her new PCA is doing a nice job straightening up. For some reason my sister lets her do things that she wouldn’t let me do. 

And tomorrow is another day to write! To walk around on my legs! I am here. I have arrived. This heating pad is the best ever. There is food in the fridge, shows in the queue. A love bug dog shares the couch with me as dark falls. We are not over, America.