I’ve talked about this before, but finding time to be creative is essential to my joy. And by “joy,” I mean “not screaming my head off and breaking things like the Hulk.” When life gets busy, especially at the end of the school year, the schedule leaves little space for new recipes — much less time to just sit in the garden and talk to the plants.
What? You don’t talk to your vegetables? You should.
I’m slowly and painfully learning to let go of the picture of what life should look like. Do you trip over this too? That all the beds should be made daily (Reality: once every 2-3 weeks when I get sheets changed), that the catch-all basket on the kitchen counter is organized and the mail and bills are caught up (Reality: more mail shows up daily), that I’ll get caught up at work (Reality: never. This is absolutely never going to happen), that I’ll feel like I’m getting enough exercise/sleep/sex and not worried about too many glasses of wine/calories/gray hair (Reality: are you kidding me?)
Letting the house remain dusty, the weeds grow one more day and junk mail unsorted gives me the time to sit down with a cup of coffee for a few minutes in the morning, cuddle the pups and knit a couple rows. Or embroider. Or practice the piano in the evenings. And making the time to do these things makes everyone in my family happier. I’m a resentful grouch if I spend all my time cleaning. This house is never, ever going to be wholly clean and organized. I’m working against two teenagers, three dogs, a bunny and the open, beautiful desert nearby — which is also REALLY dusty. And no one in this house needs to be nagged about being tidy. What we do need is to be regularly reminded we are loved.
There is no perfection. This life is messy and busy and absolutely wonderful as is, which I can see more clearly when I have time for the hobbies I love.
My friend Liseanne has a bounty of fruit trees and an incredibly generous heart. Whenever things come into bloom, she shares her harvest. Once upon a time, I had pounds and pounds of key limes that were transformed into pies and frozen juice. This week, it was plums. I took these (super tart) purple gems and turned them into a small batch of preserves.
I didn’t take a photo of the 5 half pint jars this made, but you can imagine. I added brown sugar and all spice to the Ball plum preserve recipe. We included a bit of this last night over pork chops and it was delicious — even the little one liked it. (Win!)
I am so thankful for this community of women in my life who share what they have, whether it be fruit or ideas or support.
My friend Ross, who runs a large homeless shelter in northern Arizona and is one of the most dynamic, loveliest human beings I’ve ever met, is pregnant with her second son. We were invited to go to Flagstaff last weekend to celebrate the addition to their family. Of course, with nothing else on my plate, I decided it made sense to make a quilt in a week so we could take it with us.
Let’s just say, it kept me busy for that week. And it came together well, and Ross was happy.
Giving gifts like this makes my whole self happy. And I cannot wait to meet this new babe.
Taking the bus means I’m walking more, and seeing things from a different perspective. I’ve rushed by this building a hundred times thinking it was neatly covered in road signs.
Walking, I see it is an homage to Arizona’s centennial: 1912-2012.
I am so glad to be in Arizona and working for my state. Politics aside, it is a great place to be.
Do you guys subscribe to Polka Dot Chair? I swear, Melissa’s sewing and quilting tutorials are some of the best I’ve read. Her ideas are fresh, she’s got a cute new line of fabric out, and I’m receiving nothing in return for this glowing review. It’s just honest.
She is creative and generous in sharing her ideas.
One of those recent ideas was a Mickey-themed earbud pouch. It shamefully took me way too many attempts to make this work. I didn’t follow her instructions, which was dumb. Mercifully this weekend, I had a bit of time to finish this and the corresponding tote bag for the Mickey fan in our house.
Another thing Melissa does well is emailing her subscribers. Her monthly quilt block project makes it more than worth it.
When I was 11 or so, a new family moved to the corner house on our street. They had one tow-head toddler who couldn’t say Kelli, so he called me Ki Ki. Soon, another baby boy was on the way. The parents and my parents made fast friends. I spent many, many summer days with tan lines and blood shot eyes chasing those two little boys, and my younger brother, around the pool.
The scent of burning charcoal briquettes immediately takes me back to these happy days. Our parents would grill and lounge in the shade and we would squeal and play and be utterly exhausted by the time night fell. (In retrospect, this was a brilliant parenting strategy.)
In time, I became the babysitter. I’d watch the two boys regularly over the next few years. I loved the brothers like they were my own. I read their favorite books to the point of memorization. I rocked them goodnight and gave them baths. I watched Aladdin on VHS tape approximately 10,000 times. I helped teach them to swim.
In 1994, I left my family (and theirs) to study in Mexico for a year. I was 14 and communication home was expensive. I’d call home on Sundays, and sometimes sneak a call to my dad at work. He’d always accept the charges. It was on one of those calls, when I stood at a pay phone in the foyer of the Mexican high school library, that my dad relayed the bad news. Gently, he told me the younger of the two neighbor boys was sick. He’d been sick for a while and they hadn’t been able to figure it out. Finally, they knew. He had a form of pediatric cancer and was off to Minnesota for treatment. His mom left her job and was living in the Ronald McDonald house.
I cried the tears of a gulping teenage girl whose world view had cracked, and was 1500 miles from those she loved most.
My mom helped watch the older brother, still just a little one, and my parents together kept an eye on their dad, who must have been out of his mind with grief and potential loss. The details of those days and months are not clear in my memory. What I do remember is returning home six months later and the youngest brother was still alive, in recovery, everyone back at home. When I went to visit, I realized that while he was alive, he was still dealing with the repercussions of having cell-altering chemicals and radiation at a tender age of growth. His color wasn’t right for a long time, his skin black and gray. And my last memory of him as a kindergarten student a few years later was one where he used a walker, dragging a foot behind him.
But he was alive!
The years rolled on, and soon the family was off to the Pacific Northwest for work. Their house sold quickly. I don’t remember ever saying goodbye. I do remember feeling like a piece of my childhood was packed in their moving truck, tucked between the towels that always smelled of chlorine and the tonka trucks. During the next 20 years, I spent more than a few hours looking for their family online with no luck.
Imagine my utter shock when about six weeks ago, laying on my mat in silence before a yoga class, a woman leaned her head next to mine and said, “KELLI!”
It was their mother. By sheer coincidence, after more than a decade of living elsewhere, we are neighbors again in an entirely different neighborhood. I hugged her with a ferocity that I think scared us both, and told her through tears how I’d searched for them. How was her youngest son? I asked it hesitantly, wondering all these years if the cancer had come back.
“Oh, he just graduated college. He lives with us! He’s great.”
He is great. That weekend, I got together with their family. Their eldest son, now a PhD candidate in northern California, was home visiting for the weekend — again by chance. We sat and reminisced, and I soon realized that while it was so important to my childhood — the time we’d spent together — the boys barely remembered me. They were more than ten years younger and their memories, of course, were those of little ones: blurry at best. But they did know of our family from the stories their parents had repeated, and I hugged them like an older sister would.
It was, and remains, a wonderful set of coincidences that brought a friendship together again.
I’ve been volunteering at a garden in a swanky north Scottsdale neighborhood. I met a woman through a Junior League event and she asked for some help getting their garden beds started. We planted way, way too much the first time around — but thanks to a great irrigation system, it grew like wildfire.
We pulled the beds clean last week and started over, working coffee grounds into the earth and planting several varieties of sunflowers, which will do great with the impending heat. I love to plant sunflowers for those sweaty July days when I’m desperate to spend time outside. They are low maintenance, good for the birds and good for your soil. They give me something to water without giving me too much to do when it is 100-plus.
Turning over the beds a bit early due to timing of volunteer schedules meant I came home with a bag full of green tomatoes. Also, a bag full of herbs and a bunch of jalapenos. We are going to a Kentucky Derby party this weekend in the neighborhood, so I sent a generous bag of mint down the street for festivities prep. Otherwise, I turned to canning books to figure out what to do and landed on two recipes: pickled peppers, and green tomato chutney.
I goofed up a bit on both, as I’m prone to do the first time with a canning recipe. On the peppers, I did not pack the jar tight enough — as the instructions said. So, there is a lot of brine for little spice, but we’ve been eating them and they are great. Second, the chutney called for brown sugar and I should have known better and automatically cut the amount in half. We don’t eat a lot of sugar and this chutney is delicious and way, way too sweet. It will be good for roasting meat in the crockpot.
And oh, the herbs. OH THE HERBS.
I’m using as much of this as possible this week in sauces and freezing the rest. I love to use lavender in sachets — not to cook with. Additionally, I cut some hollyhocks from the garden for the house.
I loved walking with that class of kids through the garden and talking shop. They asked smart questions and their minds were blown when I handed them tiny pieces of mint to eat. “IT TASTES LIKE GUM!” A Willy Wonka moment.
This weekend I attended a women’s retreat in the woods of northern Arizona. (I have several posts in mind after participating in the intensely emotional getaway.) One of the greatest gems I took away from the weekend was hearing a woman describe her struggle to daily pour love unconditionally into her family — and how she knew she was called to do so anyway.
This has been my unexpected struggle. Let’s have a real, honest talk about being a parent. Whether you birthed, adopted — or in my case, inherited your kid(s) through a relationship — being a parent is every stupid Hallmark cliche. It is the most rewarding job. It is the most thankless job. It is hard. It is sweet. It is agonizing. And you really do feel like your heart is living outside of your body when you watch a 16 year old drive away for the first time and you can’t catch your breath.
(Or I was just having a panic attack. Either way, I still say countless prayers that kid is safe, and everyone else around him is safe, and they are all wearing seat belts and no one is texting or distracting the driver and on, and on, and on.)
Being a “step” parent has not come naturally. Actually, it has been a really difficult. I came into these kids’ lives in their early teens, when our brains return to the selfishness of toddlers, only now demanding spending money and independence, not bedtime stories and candy.
We’re all in this for the long ride of being a modern family — where at events we sit with their mom, her husband, their step-brother and collectively work to entertain his two-year-old adorable daughter. I love these two kids, and yet I’m hesitant to call them mine. This weekend, I was asked 100 times by other women, “Do you have kids?” Sometimes I said, “Yep. Two teenage step-kids.” And other times I stumbled along with “Uh, I’m helping my boyfriend raise his teenagers.” Or “My boyfriend has kids.” I want to claim them. I want to tell everyone who asks that yes, these kids are mine. I do their laundry and pack their lunches and cheer for them at soccer. I tutor in Spanish and bake their birthday cakes and know their favorite bands and how to make small talk about Nickelodeon programs and Disney stars. I know they love Bernie Sanders, so I pay attention to his speeches.
What I don’t want to do is have their mom somehow overhear me calling these kids my kids. That’s what stops me. She birthed them. She is co-parenting them. She is a good mom and I don’t want to step on her toes. I feel like an interloper claiming territory that isn’t rightfully mine.
And when they are in the throws of being teenagers — it is “stupid” to make a bed, and “stupid” to be on time and “stupid” to practice piano — I want to put on my running shoes, grab my dog and walk away as quickly as possible before muttering how they aren’t mine. They are both wholly lovable and entirely annoying on any given day — which I’m fairly certain is the definition of “teenager.”
In those moments of sheer frustration when I know they would be listening to me if I was their mom, anger takes over my control panel and my emotions boil over in hurry. And in those sweet times when they give me a hug unexpectedly or want to spend time together, joy rules. I beam and nearly fall over from patting myself on the back and how well I got this.
It is a parenting roller coaster. It can be scary and make me scream and my stomach hurt, and I just want to be let off the ride. And it can also be the most thrilling, awe-inducing, joyous ticket in town — which, I am now fairly certain is the definition of “parenting.”
Our friend Sagar came over last weekend for dinner. He is quite the foodie, and is intimidating to cook for. (The type of foodie who spent six months working on a croissant recipe until it was perfected.)
So… I over thought this. We ended up grilling steaks, with carmelized onions and mushrooms. We roasted sprouts and asparagus, made some pesto with basil from the garden and made bread. The bread was a multi-day process, but it was well worth it.
Also, there was chocolate whiskey cake. And it was a bit dry, but I loved it.
Add the rest of that whiskey to the party, and it became a partaaaay. It was fun to spend time with Sagar and his pup, Voo.
This project required using both a staple gun and a glue gun. It was fun, and I’m happy with this fabric.
Next up: updating the murphy valences. These should really be called dust holders. I am so thankful Jason is okay with me taking this house apart room by room and adding my sense of style.