Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Veggie Prep

It's that time again, ladies and gents. Memorial weekend is upon us. It's time to dig in the dirt. Of course, I'm getting married in an entirely different state this summer, so I don't have as much time to invest into a garden as I might like. Fortunately for me, I have this amazing friend named Carla, who just so happened to move into a house a few roads down. In her backyard, we will be gardening together.

Tonight was breaking ground night. I brought over my eight year old and the gardening tools I got for Christmas from my mom. She brought all the neighborhood children and a very giving neighbor with the equipment and know-how. The garden in question was, until a few hours ago, a pair of overrun flower beds. Carla, myself, and ten of the neighborhood children attacked the weeds with relish. It was something to see, all those kids excited to get in the dirt and do a bit of hard labor. We talked about the soil, bulbs, the benefits of spiders, and the hindrance of grubs. A good time was had by all, and at the end of it all, we had a prepped garden. Now all we need is the plants.

I'm thinking tomatoes, eggplant, kale, zucchini, cucumber, lettuce, all the usual suspects. Carla has her eye on collard greens, watermelon, strawberries, and corn. I like the community of it, how our little garden managed to bring people together. Another summer of vegetables is on the way, and I for one am looking forward to them and the time I'll get to spend with Ms. Carla and her daughter, who celebrates a birthday this week. (Happy Birthday, M!)

Monday, May 21, 2012

On Your Mark, Get Set...Write

Coming out of the MFA program, my primary concern is in finding an agent and getting published. (Though, I still haven't sent anything out to any lit mags. I may become the Emily Dickinson of the American novel-in-stories.)

I never considered the other concern I now find myself having. The thing is, I just finished a book, and while I celebrate that fact, the next inevitable fact presents itself: that means it's time to start another one. Not only do I have zero ideas in the way of novel-worthy concepts, I also find the prospect of starting anew on another three-year minimum venture not just daunting but utterly unimaginable.

At graduation, the former and future heads of the program gave good speeches as to the important task: keep writing. Then, they gave us beautiful bound (I assume faux-leather) notebooks with the program logo on the cover. I generally agree with this statement and, frankly, also can't imagine a life in which I am devoid of writing. At the time, I thought, "yes yes, of course I will write and write often." This is easier to say than do, especially with a full time job and the prospect of whoring sending my current novel out for potential publication and representation, not to mention the June wedding plans and knitting fixation. And of course, it's spring, so I have to take time aside to re-remember the chords for another summer of acoustic family bonfire jams, now that I don't get to practice as consistently as I'd like. (I almost have "American Pie" back in the playlist, which is no small feat, as it has a wide variety of chords, as well as variations of those chords. There is no simple repeat to remember. It's anarchy.)

Add on to all of that the fact that staring at a blank page with no idea of what to put on it and it all equals me sitting at my desk with a word doc open, watching back episodes of House. Sometimes I'm also knitting. Meanwhile, that leather-bound tome sits empty and weeping in my desk drawer. I keep telling myself to snap out of it, and then I tell myself that when I'm ready to write, an idea will come and I shouldn't go all panicky about it.

It amounts to this: I'm in the post-MFA place. It seems like each MFAer goes through it. You know that the degree doesn't equal establishment into the profession, but you have these grandiose ideas of all that you'll accomplish by the end of your three year emersion into the creative writing world. Really, the degree is a starting point, not an end point, and I need to get back up on the horse and show that I'm one of those people who keep going. I'm one of those people who work hard. I'm one of those people who keep writing.

For now, I'm not quite in the mindset to jump back into a book-length project. Sometimes a book feels like too much. I took book breathers during my MFA. Two springs I spent focused on poetry instead of my fiction. It allowed me to cleanse my writing palette so to speak. I think maybe that's what I need now, so my current writing plan is this:

I'm going back to the roots of my writing bug. I'm going to take that leather-bound notebook and, just like when I was in high school, I'm going to take it with me and I'm going to write in it. Short thoughts, fun quotes, poems. If I'm lucky, I'll start writing down ideas for potential novels. I've never had to work to be a writer, but I'm going to work hard to stay one.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I totally get it.

Lace knitting. I get it. You spend hours tackling a chart, having to tink back two rows at least a dozen times before you're through, but like child birth, some of the pain fades when you hold that gorgeous creation in your hands. You made it and it's beautiful.

The veil is done. However, I'm not unveiling it (ba-dum bum) until the wedding. I cast off that last stitch though, and the whole thing floated off the needles. Wider than I thought, so that it billows in folds as a veil but also will work quite well as a shawl once the wedding is through. It will have a second life, which is good. It's too pretty to only use once and it took way too much time to make.

I was with my niece when I finished the veil. In fact, the two of us were sitting on my parent's family room couch, me knitting, her watching me knit with fascination as she talked about all the washcloths she will make when I teach her to knit. (She's really just too cute for words sometimes.) The veil did its magic on her too. Twice, she insisted I drape it over her shoulders, so she could do a spin and a twirl and feel like a princess, as lace shawls are wont to make a girl feel.

The niece is going to be my flower girl, and I decided then and there exactly what she needs as a gift for being in the wedding party:

Oh, lace knitting, you have sucked me in. Hers will be a bit smaller, I think, and I'm using a different, simpler pattern, called Eliinas, so I can get it done without constant chart checking and tinking. I only have a month in which to get it done. (Am I insane? Could be...)

For the first time in the history of my short knitting career, I also have two wips (works in progress) on the needles at the same time, both in similar states of completion, because before starting the flower girl shawl, I had already made headway on my son's giant scarf. I'm calling it the Not Quite a Circus Scarf, in honor of the chunky acrylic yarn in the circus colorway he almost insisted I use.

It's huge, this scarf. I have plans that he will be able to fold it over for double thickness, but if it ends up too heavy, I'll have to frog it and start it over with less stitches at the cast on. I hope it's not too heavy.

The scarf is a nice thing to pick up when I want some mindless knitting to relax with, so I'm not going to feel bad about breaking my one wip rule. If I only have lace knitting, I might go quietly mad. In other words, I do get it. Lace knitting is a thing of wonder, but sometimes, I just need a break from all those yarn-overs.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Throwing Things Together and a New Faux Chicken

When it comes to cooking, I'm the queen of throwing stuff in a pan and having it taste good. What I lack in technique, I apparently make up for in instinct. Just as I am the designated pancake flipper in this house, I am the one who makes the impromptu meals when nothing in the kitchen seems to add up to one full dinner. I am the Macgyver of the pantry.

The routine is pretty set at this point in my employment. I come home and dinner is usually waiting or in the process of being finished. I do little, but there have been a few nights when the cupboards were on the bare side a la Mother Hubbard. At such times, I do what any superhero would do. I rip off my outer layer of clothing, revealing my secret identity. (Then, I put on a more sensible outfit because I'm messy.)

Here are two end-of-the-pantry meals I've cooked up lately:

Option 1:
This one is my vegetarian version of the chicken and mushroom rice my mom used to make when I was younger. It involved chicken stock, minute rice, chicken pieces, green beans, and canned mushrooms. The chicken stock contained a fair amount of MSG, which my mom can't tolerate very well, so she either avoided eating this particular meal like the plague or she suffered the inevitable MSG headache.

I cooked up some rice (2 cups, I'd wager. That's what I usually cook up.) Then I searched the cupboards. I needed the obvious ingredients. What was more, I needed something to use instead of the chicken and stock.

Butter and Green Bean Mushroom Stir Fry (no MSG required)

The ingredients for this will be rough because I didn't stop to make note of how much I threw in while I was throwing, but all of said ingredients come from cans. This means, if you put in one can and it doesn't seem to be enough, add another one.
Ingredients List
French Cut Green Beans
Cream of Mushroom Soup
Butter Beans
Water Chestnuts
A pinch of miso

Stir fry it all together in a saute pan and hey presto! Dinner is served.

Option 2:
This is a variation on a recipe I learned a few years back, in which zucchini gets peeled lengthwise with a veggie peeler all the way around until you hit seeds. This leaves thin strips of zuke that resemble liguine. Then, you can stir fry them up and add your favorite pasta sauce. It's the no carb pasta of champs.

Of course, I like carbs and find that as a veggie, they are just plain necessary to provide me with adequate nutrition. So here's a few Italian 50/50 of faux pasta and regular.

Whole Grain and Zucchini Pasta Stir Fry

3 small zucchinis, peeled as indicated above
whole grain pasta (enough for two servings, give or take)
pasta sauce (about half a jar)
1 tomato, diced
a handful or two of kale (mine was frozen and crumbled)

Stir fry it all together in a saute pan and once again, food.

I served this one with Gardein's faux crispy chicken tenders. I have to say, not bad. The man tasted them too and said that he thought they tasted more like real chicken than any other veggie meat product I've tried to date. Unlike some brands, this one is a mix of soy protein and seitan. This, of course, makes me want to get my hands on some 100 percent seitan all the more. 

What's more, they have seven grains and are vegan-friendly (no eggs, no dairy). I'd recommend them, but they are a little pricey. I got mine on sale half off and that put them only slightly cheaper than a boca-type product. Overall, though, thumbs up.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Five Years in the Making

Five years ago, my friend Michelle called to tell me she was driving the turnpike back to Toledo from the Cleveland area. While driving, she saw an Amish girl sitting in the passenger seat of a passing car, and she wondered why. Then, she told me to write that story, the story of the Amish girl driving on the turnpike. I thought about that Amish girl for months. Who was she? What was she doing? Michelle had no idea what she had started up in my mind. It was the beginnings of what would become my first completed novel.

Of course, I wouldn't write a word of it for another year, when, upon finishing my Masters in Literature, I would find myself mostly unemployed, save for a part time adjuncting gig two to three times a week that was almost an hour away. I was not meant to have a literature degree. I loved reading and still do, but I didn't enjoy tearing a great work of literature apart to stare at possible meanings the writer likely never considered. I hated analyzing a poem one word at a time. I wanted to appreciate as a whole. I didn't want to examine and dissect like some literary surgeon.

More than that, I wanted to create. This was no small feat with a kindergartener to provide and care for, so I'd set small goals, writing between nine and noon, before he got home. My dear friend Andrea gave me prompts and I would have a day to a week to write up a story based on whatever came into her head and send it back to her. It was enough to keep me in practice and it gave me a small portfolio with which to apply for an MFA. In one of these prompts was the beginnings of the Amish turnpike rider. I got the first page or two of another two stories based on a prompt requesting me to write a story entitled "Escar-ago-go." Inspiration comes from many places.

I found out I got into my MFA program a few months after a lot of heartache and grief entered my life. As a teacher, I became afraid of my own students. The world stopped making sense. It seemed hostile suddenly and I wrote to find some sort of answer. I wrote to keep the world at bay, and so, we moved. I started my program, took the bits that seemed to be leading somewhere, and fleshed them out into stories, connected with one common thread. A novel but without having to write it as a whole. I wrote it in segments, separate but somehow they started to connect, all of them circling the same themes: my fears, my confusion, and oddly, a lot of snails.

I finished one draft of each story, twelve in all. Then I revised them once, twice, a third time. I presented them as my thesis, got approved for graduation. I revised them again. And then again. Last night, exactly 17 hours ago, I finished it. My book is done, and all the heartache that went into making it, well, it might be healed a little. The world is still a scary place, but there's good in it too.

Did I need to write a novel to understand that? I'm not sure, but it feels pretty great, accomplishing it. It might never amount to more, and that might be okay. Of course, if it ends up published, all the better.

I just finished reading a novel-in-stories that one of my professors said reminded her of my book. She thought I'd benefit from reading it and I think she was right. The book is "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout. Ms. Strout actually visited my school a year ago and I'm sorry now that I was not able to attend (parental obligations come first). I got out of Olive that same feeling that I have now post-book, that the world doesn't make sense but is no less wonderful because of this. Horrible things happen. Life gets in the way and runs out before you notice it's passing you by. But the little moments, they matter. The triumphs matter. Five years ago, I thought about writing a story and this morning, I had a finished novel.

"It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet."

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Yarn Clearance!

Jo-Ann's is moving locations. What that means: store-wide yarn clearance. Not that I need any yarn. I have an overabundance, though much of it is also clearanced, mostly acrylic, from my days of grad student poverty (they seem so long ago already). This clearance, I was a bit more picky. I was out for wool (or wool blends).

My first want: some good sock yarn. I have yet to knit a pair of socks and I really want to try my hand at it. I stumbled upon this variegated skein of sock ease:

Also, these pretty skeins of sensations, two of a pinky variegated bamboo and ewe and two of a blue/green variegated wool and nylon blend:

Finally, my son picked out a collection of brightly colored chunky wool blend skeins for a scarf he's been wanting. It took a lot of coaxing, but I finally talked him out of the variegated acrylic yarn whose colorway was aptly entitled "circus."

I already got some cotton on clearance from Herrschners, whose catalogues began showing up in my mailbox a few months ago.

As for works in progress, the veil is almost complete. I love the look of it, but I'm losing my patience with how much attention it requires. I pay attention to five words in a conversation and soon enough, I'm frogging back a row from some simple error at the beginning. If I'm lucky, I notice the error before I finish the row.

I started in on the scarf tonight, because I needed a mindless knit to counteract the weeks of veil knitting. I'm using a broken rib and so far, it's looking good. The gage is 9 stitches to an inch, so it moves a lot faster than the sport weight I've been working with this week.

Chunky weight yarn is a thing of magic.