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That is the title of a song with music by Michel LeGrand and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The melody is gorgeous. The lyrics haunting. The “music” here can be actual music, or it can be a symbol for other things: one’s interest in a job or career, one’s dedication to something, one’s enjoyment of where one lives, how one lives, the music of friendship, of marriage. Or one’s enjoyment of daily life.

I turned sixty-seven this past May. I have a full and wonderful life with people I love and who love me, be they close by or afar. I am engaged in a creative pursuit, which I choose and love doing. I have a dog that is loving and affectionate, protective and fun, and she is a fabulous companion. I am in good health. So, what I ask, do I have to be cheesed off (dissatisfied) about? Nothing really. But when life goes along for enough time, usually years, in the same groove, it becomes a thorn in the flesh (pain in the butt), and I need to change something. I have, in the past, changed residence, which has been wonderful and done the trick. While beginning my life anew in another location does have its exciting side, I am ten years older than the last time I did that. The thought of going through all my clobber (personal belongings) and packing it up does not appeal at all. So, how do I sort it out (solve the problem)?

I reinvent myself.

Not completely for that takes more imagination that even I possess. But in whatever ways that interest me. An obvious choice is to change one’s thatch (hair). And I have. Nothing draconian. I am letting it grow a tad longer so that I can gel the hair and finger it about differently, changing directions, fashioning more movement. Relinquishing my hold on uniformity—which in itself is a whacking great (big) reinvention!

I have been choosing diverse clothing. Sweaters in colors I previously have not been drawn to such as a taupish-cocoa, and sable and fawn side by side. Styles new to me. The long cardy (cardigan sweater) with flowing lapels and no buttons. Never have I worn a cardy that cannot be secured against the cold! And long-sleeved tops that zip diagonally across the bodice and turn an open neck into a mock turtle. I purchased a new pair of berry-red eyeglasses in a shape I haven’t ever worn, and are they ever fun!Sue#4

All of these changes have served to put some spark back into my daily life.

Of course, learning a new language is always stimulating! I have studied Spanish, French, and Italian, and am at various levels of fluency there. My new linguistic passion, however, is—in case you have not noticed—British Slang (Informal speech) and hence all the perhaps unfamiliar words and explanations in parentheses. It is SUCH FUN to try and work them into conversations without appearing daft (silly, foolish) or acting like a berk or a prat (stupid person), and, perchance, to affect the appropriate delivery, chic accent and all!

Can your daily life use jazzing up a bit? If so, what can you do to make that happen?

If your life is jazzy enough, felicitations, and have a whale of a time (enjoy yourself)!

 

Physical space.  You know the space in a room.  The space on a wall.  The space in a refrigerator.  The space on a counter.  

A region between.

An area set apart.

We’ve all heard people say, “That’s just wasted space.”  But is it?  Wasted?

Or is empty space simply being space? 

My reflections on this topic are not new.  But they have been reignited by my trip to Abiquiu, New Mexico, an hour outside of Santa Fe, and my tour through the home of Georgia O’Keeffe.  I love the spaciousness that abounds in her paintings, her sculpture, but I was not prepared for the spaciousness she created in her living area.  I don’t know why.  I guess I thought the way she lived day-to-day in her house would be different than the world of her artistic genius.  Wrong.  The woman lived her art.  Lived that simplicity, that elegance, that “less is more” principle.  And it is: more room to move, more air to breathe, more space to see what is in your view.

I am a person who values space for its own sake.  I think that’s why I moved to the southwestern United States.  Northern Arizona.  Wide open spaces.  In my home, too, I like open spaces in a room, a refrigerator, on a wall, a counter.  But it seems hard to achieve.  I don’t know why.  Consumerism?  Many areas of interest?  Needing things close at hand?  Wanting to remember travels with mementos, wall hangings here and there?  Whatever the reason, things accumulate, and I am always trying to pare down. 

However, since my visit to Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and the museum in Santa Fe that bears her name and exhibits her work, I have been newly inspired to create some of that space in one room in my house—my writing room.  So, I removed six wall hangings, including a large whiteboard and a bulletin board, stored them away, puttied and painted over holes and scratches. I cleared off the tops of bookcase, antique secretary, and table.  I had brought home two 11×14 prints of originals I viewed in the current exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and The Land, for which I bought two lovely frames to compliment the images.  I framed the prints and hung them: Pedernal with Red Hills on the wall above the antique secretary, Black Place, Grey and Pink in the center of the longest wall, which has no furniture against it.  I took a larger print, 22×28, that I bought about four years ago at the O’Keeffe Museum, Abstraction Blue, to the local framer and am having it done simply in white.  I’ll hang that on a corner wall across from Black Place, Grey and Pink.  And that’s it!  The other three open spaces on the walls will remain just that—open spaces. 

Of course, I have furniture in this room: couch, writing desk, aforementioned bookcase and small antique secretary, and three short tables.  However, the efforts I have made to clear away stuff, and create open space have transformed this room!  I get such a sense of peace when I enter.  And it remains no matter where in the room I sit, or stand, or lie.  Of course, O’Keeffe’s art is an essential aspect of that peace.

It doesn’t take much to open up your space.  Inspiration and vision.

Thanks, Georgia!

 

Nothing Better

“I feel like it’s time to clean out,” I say.

“You mean like a cleanse?” He says.

“No.  I mean like closets,” I say.

That’s what started it all.  About six weeks ago at Mountain Dove Chiropractic I was on the table; Dr. Marc Viafora was adjusting me.

“A cleanse could be good.  Change the chemistry in your body. Three days.  Do juices.  And if you need to eat, eat fruit and veggies,” he says.

I certainly wasn’t going to do a cleanse.  Didn’t need it.  Didn’t want to interrupt the love affair I was having with cooking and eating great food.  So, I didn’t.  The thing was that I had been eating red meat, potatoes, sweets, raw tomatoes, peppers–all things that I usually avoid because they exacerbate the arthritis I have in several places.  But, I was having such fun!  Until…

A month later, with pains and aches in my neck, shoulders, low back, left knee and right elbow, I decided to give the cleanse a try.  My partner was going away for a week, so on departure day I started: two days, I said to myself, two days will be good.  The first day was hard: I drank delicious organic Apricot Nectar, ate sweet and juicy Utah peaches, figs, and watermelon, but by noon I was dying for tortilla chips and white bean hummus!  More juice and a green salad.  Dinner: dying for a dish of pasta with Marinara sauce!  Nope, cooked haricots verts, skinny green beans that I love, dressed with oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, and salt & pepper (maybe I wasn’t supposed to have that, but I did) and they were delicious!  I made it through the first day, and I had energy to spare.  Slept like a baby, long and deeply.  Woke up the second day so hungry.  I’m eating today, I said to myself.

But I got up and felt so incredibly good physically and mentally that I decided to give it a go for a second day.   I had cleaned out several times the day before and could really feel the difference: unclogged.  So, I resumed my cleanse.  It was easier this day.  Not thinking about other food much at all.  Made a smoothie of pineapple and peaches with a little water for breakfast, cooked some beautiful red beets to add to my haricots verts and zipped through the day.  Felt great, had tons of energy, and, again, slept like a baby.

Third day:  okay, I can do this three-day thing, I said to myself.  And I did!  Same regimen of food and juice.

By the fourth morning I had lost 3 1/2 pounds, had NO aches and pains anywhere, and felt better mentally and emotionally than maybe EVER.  Holy moley!  This was a miracle!

I introduced grains into my diet gingerly for the next few days: polenta first, then couscous, then rice.  Kept on the fruit and veggies.  Added some rice chips and eventually beans.  It’s been two weeks now, and I still feel great in all ways!  I tried to eat a chicken breast without skin and got a little indigestion from it.  Might have ruined myself for meats!  Oh, well.  For my A+ blood type, I should really be a vegetarian in order for my system to function best.  I read that a year or so ago but refused it.  Now, I feel the truth of that from the inside out and am going with the flow because there is NOTHING BETTER than feeling this good!!

Rock on with your glorious selves!

Love,

Susan

Pasta PuttanescaInsalata PanzanellaI really do love to cook.  For others, for myself, for the joy of watching a delicious meal come together.  There are those times when I want to spend half the day preparing a succulent feast, and I do.  But lately, I have been more drawn to simpler preparation.  Maybe it’s the heat of summer in the high-desert, which changes the kind of food I want to eat and the time I want to spend getting it all together. Whatever the reason, the result is a flurry of quick, easy, and delicious one, or two-dish meals that satisfy every bit as much as the more complex and elaborate servings.  Here are two selections that satisfy me completely with only a tossed green salad to complement and refresh.

Now, remember to put on some music to cook by.  I have just discovered Renee Fleming, so am cooking to her CD’s: Renee Fleming, a selection of gorgeous arias from Puccini, Massenet, Bizet, and more; Renee & Bryn, Fleming and Baritone Bryn Terfel singing great songs from hit Broadway shows: Sweeney Todd, Woman of the Year, Phantom of the Opera, The King & I, and more.  Pour yourself a glass of something, even bubbly crisp Pellegrino with a lemon twist, and enjoy yourself!

PASTA PUTTANESCA (In the red plate above)

This is a fairly well-known dish that can take as long as you want it to for preparation.  I have done the longer, making the sauce fresh in the pan, letting it simmer for an hour or more, but this is the short version, which depends totally on finding a pre-made pasta sauce that I really like.  I hadn’t found one until I tried Cost-Plus World Market’s line of sauces.  They are quite good and the texture is closer to what I want in a red sauce than others I have tried.  So, first off, go to World Market and get a jar of their Marinara Sauce.  If you don’t have World Market where you are, find a jarred Marinara Sauce that you like a lot and substitute that.

Again, this recipe serves one.  For more, make the appropriate additions.

Into a medium-sized non-stick frying pan, pour one-third of the jar of sauce.  Add a tablespoon of chopped capers, a handful of pitted Kalamata olives roughly cut in half, and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper (to your taste).  On low heat simmer it for as long as it takes to cook your pasta, stirring regularly.

This is typically made with Capellini (Angel Hair) or Spaghetti.  This time I wanted something different so I used De Lallo Tortiglioni #20, which is a bigger version of Rigatoni, so if you can’t find Tortiglioni, use Barilla Rigatoni.  Bring a good sized pot of water to rolling boil, add a dose of kosher salt and cook the pasta according to package directions.

Drain the pasta and put into pan with sauce, tossing until fully blended.  Then, pour it into a lovely bowl, or plate, and sit down and feast!  A good red wine that you like is a wonderful taste to incorporate into this meal!  I like Antinori Santa Cristina, a Tuscan Sangiovese, mmmm.

INSALATA PANZANELLA  (In the blue & white bowl above)

This dish was born of La Cucina Povera, The Poor Kitchen.  I love it because I have always, even as a kid, mopped up the salad dressing in the bottom of the bowl with French bread!  This dish is a great way to use bread that has gotten a bit hard but that you don’t want to throw away.

In a large wooden salad bowl pour three tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (good green oil!), one tablespoon of good Balsamic Vinegar (I have used flavored: pear, orange, raspberry, as well as the real stuff from Modena), 1/2 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon of pressed fresh garlic, two dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a good pinch of sea salt.  Whisk it all together until it’s well-blended.  This is the famous salad dressing of my longtime dear friend Faith Winthrop.  Thank you, cara mia! (dear one!)

Cut or break up the leftover bread: a crusty loaf of some kind-French baguette, Italian batard, sourdough dinner rolls. CRUSTY is the key.  Place the pieces of bread in the bowl and toss with the dressing, making sure all are coated well.  Add sliced tomatoes and/or avocado if you wish.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at least an hour.  The longer the better.  Garnish with fresh Basil leaves or Italian Parsley.  Eat it right out of the bowl and sip a glass of whatever pleases you.  I enjoy a glass of white: the French Vouvray, or a good Sauvignon Blanc that isn’t so dry it makes my throat hurt afterwards!!

Bon Appetito, Amici! (Friends!)

Love,

Susan

Today’s the day.  Wednesday.  My friend and I get in the car and head for Flagstaff to pick up my Toyota Highlander, which is receiving a new fuel reading apparatus at the dealership.  We plan the day around the 11:00 a.m. ready time; we hit Kohl’s Department Store first for a big sale with my additional 30% off coupon; then, we go to Barnes & Noble for a scrumptious hot chocolate in the cafe and some delicious perusing of the books and music.  We arrive at the dealership at 11:05.  My friend has a 1:30 appointment back in Sedona, so we need to leave here by 11:30 to give her time for lunch.

I go in to the Assistant Manager, who is a lovely, competent, considerate, and kind woman, to let her know we’re ready to take the car.  The atmosphere is charged with business and overwhelm.  I say hi; she says hi, without her usual sparkling grin.  I say she looks stressed.  She says it’s been a day already.  Other car owners are standing around waiting to drop off, pick-up, learn the fate of their vehicles and how much it’ll cost them.  I sit in the chair in front of her desk to secure my position.

She says that the mechanic is putting on the second new part now, and it will be ready in a few.  Ten, twenty, thirty minutes go by.  My friend comes in from the parking lot worried about the time.  I explain.  She hits the restroom and goes back to the car we rode up in.  Five minutes later the Assistant Manager comes in from the work bay and tells me the people at the parts place have sent them the wrong part.  Mouth open, I stare at her, stunned.  “So it’s not fixed?  ”

“No.  Maybe tomorrow.  I’m so sorry,” she says, with more than a little trepidation–remember, it has been a day.

I laugh, say okay, and stroll out to the car.  I tell my friend that we can enjoy a lovely ride home together.  She looks at me dumfounded.  I explain.  And we head home, munching delicious fresh rice cakes and yogurt sauce from New Frontiers Deli Case and laughing about the whole plan, which has gone awry, but afforded us a beautiful drive and a great time in Kohl’s and Barnes & Noble.  Something we would have done anyway, car repair or no car repair.  Something we may just do again on Friday morning when we really do pick up the Highlander.

The moral of the story is this:  I could have, and would have in the past, gotten mad, bitched about coming all the way from Sedona for nothing, taken it out on the Assistant Manager–who was kind and faultless–heaped more stress on her, and turned my experience into a negative, anger-charged affair.  But, I didn’t do that.  I remained joyful, grounded, flexible, and grateful, and showered that on the Assistant Manager, visibly lightening her load.  Instead of storming out of the place I gave her a warm hug, said thanks, told her to hang in there and that I’d see her soon.  It felt so much better than the other thing!

What helps me stay grounded, joyful, flexible, and grateful is a prayer, one of several, that I say every morning.  It is a prayer written by Marianne Williamson and contained in her gorgeous volume entitled Illuminata, published by Random House.  I will quote  a few lines from Morning Prayer:

Dear God,

I give this day to You.

May my mind stay centered on the things of spirit.

May I not be tempted to stray from love.

The prayer goes on and is glorious.  It’s how I start every day of my life and it makes such a HUGE difference in the way I experience everything.

May you go into this day centered in spirit and not be tempted to stray from love.

Love,

Susan

Retrieving Joy

I slept poorly and felt sorely from the spontaneous hacking away at the huge green bush that obscures my view of the ridge, the mesa, the lightening storms, the action!  Realized early today that if I were to retrieve some joy,  I must do things that were fun.  No forced or burdensome activities.   Took a hot shower that assuaged the soreness, went to the park with my doggie, did a crossword puzzle!  Then, I decided to cook and use all the veggies that were ripening too fast, to waste not, to give this food purpose!  Orange, yellow, and red tomatoes: cherry, Roma, and heirloom.  Calabasita, a pale green sweet zucchini-like squash from Mexico.  And the leaves of spinach that were still dark green and firm from a too-large box the rest of which was going bad. Six Baby Bella mushrooms.

I put out a large skillet and swirled it a couple of times with extra-virgen olive oil and put the fire on low.  Then, I chopped three cloves of garlic and, after the oil was gently heated, added them to the pan, cooking on low for two minutes to golden only. Having cut up the tomatoes, in half for the cherries, in quarters for the medium-sized; the mushrooms in quarters, I added them to the pan and sauteed them on low, stirring frequently.

At first, I thought I would add the calabasita and spinach to the tomato-mushroom mixture, but it all looked so beautiful: yellow, orange, red with a splash of the earthy mushrooms, that I decided not corrupt it!  So, I put out a medium sized skillet, oiled and gently heated as above and added three more cloves of chopped garlic, cooked on low for two minutes.  Then, I added the sliced in quarters calabasita and sauteed, stirring frequently.    Added the stemmed spinach leaves in the last two or three minutes and folded in until cooked.

The time for sauteeing will be determined by your preference, from a snappy al dente to a tender with a crunchy skin, to a well-blended and softer form of texture and taste.  I vacillate among these, but today I was definitely in the mood for well-blended and softer, so about 45 minutes for the tomatoes and mushrooms, 20-25 for the calabasita, then only a few for the spinach.  Besides, the perfume filling the house was so intoxicating that I wanted to savor it as long as possible.

When the veggies were cooked to my taste, I toasted a couple of slices of French bread that I had in the house, lay them on a plate and ladled the tomato mixture on one, the green mixture on the other.  A sprinkle of kosher salt on each to taste, a glass of  Santa Julia Malbec from Argentina, and lunch was moaning good!  I will get a fresh loaf of crusty and superb Rosemary Sea Salt bread from the Wildflower Bakery later today and have the veggies again for dinner (yes, it tasted THAT good!) with this best of all breads!

And, now I am energized, pain-free, well-fed with healthy food, and sharing it all with you!  Gotta love that.

So, when you need to eschew the forced and burdensome do something creative, be it cooking or something else, that is fun and nourishing to your body and soul.

Love,

Susan

Summer used to be my favorite season: trips to the seaside or Lake Tahoe, sunshine, the beach, shorts and tank tops.  But these days, I dread summer.  In the desert, even the high-desert, it is oppressive: biting gnats swarming every time I go outside; fires blazing too close to my home, humidity in July and August that saps my energy.  I retreat into the cooling arms of my home’s blessed and much appreciated air conditioning.  The shades are drawn when the sun’s heat starts penetrating through the windows, and it becomes a cave-like existence.  I love my private time, my uninterrupted daily life, but this takes it to the extreme and, after a couple of months I feel isolated.

It is now monsoon season in Northern Arizona and lightning and thunder crack and roll around the heavens, frequently without forcing a drop of rain, but last night we had a tremendous storm!  Rain pummeled the roof, the windows, everything for hours!  It was thrilling.  And this morning I took a walk in 64 degrees of fresh, verdant, cloud-streaked valley, meeting several friends and neighbors.  “Susan, isn’t this weather beautiful?,” one neighbor says with a huge grin on his face.

“Oh, yes,” I say, “And only two more months until fall!”

“Yes, I’m with you there!” he says.

Another friend, her eyes sparkling, “Wow! How gorgeous it is this morning!  The rain was extraordinary last night!”

Another, dressed up and ready to go, “Did’ya hear that rain?  Maybe we’ll get another one today…” she says scanning the sky.

I arrived home feeling joyous and grateful about something as ordinary–yet impacting–as the weather.  Feeling re-united with friends, community, the outside world.  And excited to tell you about it!

Julia Cameron says that taking a walk can clear your mind, your heart, your attitude, your anything!  Can inspire you to begin a creative endeavor, to find solutions to creative blocks of any kind as complex as the ending to your novel, as simple as what to make for dinner.  I find it to be true.

Take a walk all for yourself as soon as you can!

Love,

Susan