Fond farewell to February. To winter weather advisories and sleet pelting the window panes. To slippery sidewalks sprinkled with salt, umbrellas in all shapes and colors lining the church entrance. To a bright pink sweater under Kay's red coat, tied with the orange wool scarf knitted by Diane. To the school musical, Dancing for a Difference, college deadlines, basketball play-offs. To shortbread hearts dipped in chocolate, bakery boxes lined with a white doily and tied with string, to white frosted cupcakes decorated with a cherry juju heart. To pink envelopes in the mail, sweetheart roses, sweet messages on the machine, construction paper hearts brought home from school. To love and all of the ways we mess it up and valiantly try again. To love that has us floating on air and that which feels like plain old work. To putting our heart into it every single month of the year. March on!
Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
What can your day be but excellent when it begins with cold lemon souffle for breakfast? Well, not exactly, but this organic yogurt could be the next best. I bought it based on the cheery kangaroo and the cool container (this is what people in advertising do - labels cast spells on us!). Creamy key lime is Key West in a cup. Non-fat pineapple coconut is a pina colada, sans rum and paper umbrella. Lots of other great flavors left to try. And the nutrition numbers are good! The other numbers are good, too: it's not the cheapest yogurt on the fridge shelf, but I'm figuring that if you add a banana and a handful of almonds, you can still get your morning glory on for little more than a dollar.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Today begins the season of Lent in Christian life, a period of solemn soul preparation leading up to the celebration of Easter. Some people give up chocolate, chardonnay, coffee or CSI for 40 days. Others add a daily time of prayer, meditation or service. You won't hear a more wonderful or discerning voice in the wilderness than Barbara Crafton's in Living Lent. It's daily bread for the journey from winter to the hope of spring. From Ash Wednesday to the glorious promise of Easter.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
This one goes out to the heavy hearted, the troubled hearts, the brokenhearted. In short, to all of us, either right now or at some time or another. To the people standing in mile-long lines, resume in hand, to interview for a handful of jobs. To the scared and lonely, those whose health is on the line, whose relationships have cratered, who just can't see a way out of the darkness. If you're one of them, I'm sending you all the love I know how to give. And please send me yours, so I can better deal with the things weighing on my own heart and be a light to others. This is what we're called to do, for heaven's sake, here in the month of love and always.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
One of the brightest spots in late winter is the arrival in grocery stores of Florida strawberries, displays looming like a mirage as you wheel your cart toward produce. These are the real deal. Juicy, sweet and, above all else, fragrant, the true test of strawberry goodness. Some of the very best come from Plant City, Florida. Specifically from the Wishnatzki Farms. Specifically from the hometown of one of our biggest high school football rivals. Could I have ever imagined that these good strawberry people would one day literally wrench me from the jaws of winter? Certainly not while sprawled over the roll of white butcher paper with other Kiwanettes on long ago September afternoons, painting banners bearing inflammatory statements like 'Stick it to the Hicks!' Banners our team would tear through when running onto the field. Banners full of giant painted berries with garish green caps. We ate them by the flat down there at the height of growing season. In some seasons of life, you have to eat words, too.
Friday, February 20, 2009
There's a simple reason why a book wins the Caldecott medal: because it's stunning. In honor of the 19th century illustrator Randolph Caldecott, the American Library Association gives this award annually to the most distinguished American picture book for children. I would go so far as to say that the 2009 selection, The House in the Night, is the kind of book that, when you finish reading it, you must sit in quiet reflection while your thoughts catch up with your heart. The cumulative story/poem by Susan Marie Swanson is deceptively simple. The perfect words are perfectly paired with Beth Krommes' wondrous black and white etchings with their brilliant spots of yellow. Together, they illuminate the beauty and mystery of the night world, both in nature and in a love-filled home.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
"Poems are other people's snapshots in which we all see our own lives," said the wonderful poet Charles Simic. Here are some other mostly contemporary 'photographers' whose snapshots might easily find their way into your heart: Ted Kooser, Barbara Crooker, Stanley Kunitz, Christina Rosetti, Yehuda Amichai, James Hearst, Maria Mazziotti, John Ciardi, Linda Pastan, Li-Young Lee, Carl Sandburg, Wendell Berry and, of course, Mary Oliver.
Monday, February 16, 2009
The ride to Monday night basketball practice takes us down a pretty little street we used to know well. Our first house was there, a 1,200-square foot Tudor cottage, built circa 1943. It had a screen porch shaded by a fig tree and a bay window for watching the world go by. A certain pajama-clad somebody used to hold on to the back of the flowered couch, watching the yellow 'cool buses barrel down the street in the morning, one after another. And wait for a brown Buick to turn in the driveway at suppertime. The day we moved in, Coma from next door came up the sidewalk carrying a peach pie made from scratch. Besides true love, she taught me everything good there is to know about growing old.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Not to get too personal, but how's your love life? Not in a romantic relationship kind of way or how many matches you've gotten on e-Harmony, but in a love (of) life kind of way. There's said to be a positive correlation between people who love a lot of things about life and how loved they feel by life. These are the folks who fall in love with learning Italian, with sewing pillows, with caring for their family, with forlorn looking dogs from the pound. With raspberry jam on toast and the Three Tenors. With teaching third graders or college students, with growing roses, with homemade bread, with juicy book jackets, with the neighbor's sweet cat. They fall in love easily, they fall hard and they fall often. And they inspire us to love this funny Valentine of life, too.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Rather than passively waiting for a floral delivery to arrive at the door, or a Whitman's Sampler to appear, take matters into your own hands as the day of love rolls around. Roll up your sleeves. Roll out some dough. Just the meditative, buttery-scented act of baking this quintessential Silver Palate recipe will make you fall in love with life all over again. Isn't that romantic?
3 sticks sweet butter, softened
1 c. confectioners' sugar
3 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Cream butter and confectioners' sugar together until light.
2. Sift flour and salt together and add to creamed mixture.
3. Add vanilla and blend thoroughly.
4. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper, chill 4-6 hours
5. Roll out chilled dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Using a heart-
shaped cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Place cut-out cookies on
an ungreased cookie sheet and refrigerate 45 min. before baking.
6. Preheat oven to 325º
7. Bake for 20 minutes or until just starting to color lightly.
Cookies should not brown at all. Cool on a rack.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.
The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers -
all show up at their intended destinations.
The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.
And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.
- Thomas R. Smith
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
More on marketing. Luzianne is running a neat campaign, endbitterness.com, that makes the connection between roasting coffee beans that aren't bitter and a mission to make the world less surly. The concept could have been executed on a bit deeper level, I think, but is a really nice idea all the same. It even features a $50,000 donation divided among 5 charities chosen in an online vote. Especially charming is a radio spot that's basically just happy sounds of children playing outdoors. Makes you feel like you're on a playground at recess. Before you understood bitter to be anything but the pink medicine you had to take for an earache.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
One of the nicest things about working in advertising is the chance to dream up an ad for friends who have a wonderful small business and are trying their darndest to keep it thriving in the current economy. Ted and Debby Todd at The Blossom Shop provide beauty in the world. Whereas Arkon and I use words and images to convey a message, they say it with flowers. And with love.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
On a day that carries the tiniest hint of spring on the breeze, this poem says volumes in a spare, beautiful way. It speaks of hope and faith and the good people who encourage us in difficult times.
You said, take a few dry
sticks, cut the ends slantwise
to let in water, stick them
in the old silver cup on the
dresser in the spare room and
wait for the touch of Easter.
But a cold wave protected the
snow, and the sap's pulse beat
so low I felt no answer
in myself except silence.
You said, winter breaks out in
flowers for the faithful and
today when I opened the door
the dry sticks spoke in little
yellow stars and I thought
- James Hearst
Friday, February 6, 2009
Don't you love a love stamp? Little pieces of art that dress up the commonplace, utilitarian envelope. To possibly say what you may be too reserved or just plain scared out of your wits to say on the note inside? They're relatively inexpensive, as well: a mere 42¢ for a first class send-off. Regardless of postage, wouldn't each valentine mailed technically be a special delivery? And is it true that if you affix any kind of stamp upside down, be it hearts or flowers or Elvis, that it means 'I love you?' Such are the mysteries of the month of love.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Laurie McGuire Richardson makes the best scones in the universe. I've eaten more of them than I can count while sitting in her sun-dappled kitchen. Bursting with blueberries, they're so cheerful and light and perfect that you almost cannot get enough. Luckily, though, she also paints them. And lots of other beautiful, endearing, everyday things like bicycles and clotheslines and front porch chairs that make you remember what you enjoy most in life. My first-ever art director, Laurie quickly became a forever friend. There's a show of her work opening at the Providence Gallery this Friday evening, with a reception from six until nine. Drop by for a visual scone. And bring your appetite for art.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Such a sunny and unseasonably gorgeous Monday. More like Memorial Day than Groundhog Day. Could the weather forecast have been right, a 40 degree dive and sleet by midnight? In souperbowl speak, the best defense is a good offense. Or is it the other way around? Whatever, we cannot take weather like this sitting down. We should stand, instead, at the kitchen stove and stir up our very own stockpot of sunshine: a simmering batch of homemade tomato soup. It only tastes like it's full of cream, so it's healthier than you might think. And easier to make than you might imagine. Perfect paired with pumpernickel croutons.
The Best Tomato Soup
1/4 stick butter
1/4 c. olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 tsp dill
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano or fennel seeds
2 28-oz. cans of whole tomatoes
3 tbs tomato paste
4 c. chicken stock
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar
1. Melt butter in olive oil over medium heat.
2. Add onion and herbs and cook until golden.
3. Add roughly chopped tomatoes and paste.
4. Simmer 10 minutes, uncovered.
5. Whisk flour into 1/2 c. stock, add to tomato mixture.
6. Blend in remaining stock.
7. Simmer 30 minutes, uncovered.
8. Puree with an immersion blender.
9. Season with salt, pepper, sugar.