Tendrils of hope

Gorgeous little blooms

Hello there!

There is something so spectacularly beautiful about the tenderness growing in the garden. The wateremelon, squash and pumpkin have all sent out these fragile, curling twiny arms — searching for something to cling to.  The blooms are cantalope orange and stay open only in the early morning, recoiling as soon as the sun gets too high.

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At the community garden, the okra is blooming and I cannot pick it fast enough.

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I handed out another five bags full yesterday, along with a collection of recipes. I intended to keep a few for baking today (throwing them in with zucchini for sweet breads) and completely forgot.

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The watermelons at the community garden are thriving with irrigated water.

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And thankfully the solarization is working. These plastic sheets act like microwaves, zapping everything trapped underneath and skillfully killing Bermuda grass without a drop of chemical. We’ll use these as future plots refugee families interested in playing.

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Really, what Monday is complete without seeing a field of okra?

{Might be the weirdest sentence I’ve ever written.}

If you live in Phoenix and want to help out this fantastic community project — we’ve got a workday planned this Friday and could use your help.  Leave a comment and I’ll contact you with details!


Speaking of Faith: International Aid

This week’s Speaking of Faith discussed one African’s view of foreign aid. Specifically, Binyavanga Wainaina is angry with the way Kenyans have been portrayed in international media and how Africans in general are thought of as poor, dying orphans. He said:

“We can save you from yourself. We can save ourselves from our terrible selves. Help us to Oxfam the whole black world, to make it a better place.

We want to empower you. No, your mother cannot do this. Your government cannot do this. Time cannot do this. Evolution, it seems, cannot do this. Education cannot do this. Your IQ cannot do this.

No one can empower you except us. And if you don’t listen to us, our bad people, those RepublicanToryChineseOilConcessioningIanSmithing racists will come to get you: your choice is our compassionate breast or their market forces.”

My travels and work experience in Africa have given me a chance to see the ugly and the beautiful of foreign aid. I’d say that as an American, I look back on some of my gawking behavior with embarrassment. I should have known better than to have taken that photo, at that time, full-well knowing the shock of the horrific situation was exactly what I was trying to capture. I’d say this podcast gave me time to think a bit more about how to help others without exploitation and how aid can be destructive.

Our conversation group this morning was lively. I enjoyed listening to another PC volunteer’s experience in an Asian country as an English teacher. Additionally, two others discussed how aid to the US under similar circumstances would leave them feeling incapable of caring for themselves.

I think foreign aid has great room for systematic improvement. Like anything else with political and religious implications, it can become a terrible mess and cause more problems than it solves. Without intense and committed involvement from the community at stake, nothing can be achieved long-term. The one side to this conversation I missed was spirituality. Faith and charity go hand in hand. What are faith-based-organizations doing well in Africa? What are they doing poorly? How do people with the best of faith-fueled intentions have to say about this topic?

SOF is continuing the conversation about aid in the developing world. It will be interesting to see who else speaks up.


Cut Yourself a Slice To Go


August, I won’t miss you. Let’s be clear — it’s you, not me.  By the time you show up, I’m a cranky mess and by the time you leave, I’m beyond battered. This year you didn’t even bring monsoons. Do you know how much I look forward to those afternoon showers? And this visit  even that was too much, you sticky, miserable beast.

Your older sibling September is really much sweeter. She brings cooler winds on morning runs, a sun that sets a bit quicker and birthdays for the two men in my life I adore most. (And let’s be honest, your sister October is really my favorite for entirely selfish reasons: pumpkins, a hint of autumn, the return of sleeves and socks, and a chance to dress up and eat candy by the handful.)

And so, Ms. August — I bid you, the skyrocketing air conditioning bills, fleeting makeup, running with my Camelpack, getting sick in yoga, watering the garden two times a day, excessive heat warnings and having no mojo to cook real meals all adieu. (Although apparently I have enough energy to pour plenty of whine with my cheese.)

Okay, okay. There was some good:

August 2009

August, this doesn’t let you off the hook. Perhaps one day, when I have a bbq and a pool and a family to enjoy the evenings outdoors with, I’ll reconsider. In the meantime? I’m happy to see you packing your bags. Feel free to leave some rain before you go.


Spoon Full of Sugar

Today is the 45th anniversary of one of my favorite movies of all time — Mary Poppins. Oh, sing it with me, “Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down… in the most delightful way!” If you haven’t seen this movie lately, it’s worth a trip down supercalafragalisticexpealidotious lane, snapping your fingers the entire way.

Love that red ribbon

Makes me think of the islands

Summer joy

Remember her amazing carpet bag full of tricks? Or when she brews up a strong wind to blow away all the other nannies so she can arrive on the doorstep as the only choice? Who doesn’t want to have the power to get rid of the competition? Or the confidence to pull out a measuring tape only to know you are just right exactly the way you are. If you’ve seen 500 Days of Summer, the blue bird scene — one of my favorites — is directly lifted from good old MP. Oh, that Mary. She really was practically perfect in every way.

Wonder and magic to all,


A Nudge of Encouragement

pumpkins and squash

It’s really Finny’s fault I started gardening. She’s always showing what she’s growing, cooking and eating and my goodness — it is incredible. I thought I could do the same, nevermind she lives in the Bay area and I’m in the desert. Thankfully, after several years of poorly researched attempts, this is getting easier.  And it seems I’m not alone.

Squash blossoms

According to my latest copy of Real Simple:

19% more Americans are growing their own fruits, veggies and herbs in 2009

54% of households grow their own food to save money on groceries

$70 spent on planting a food garden can yield $530 worth of produce per season

Before -- the dreaded rocky plot

Before -- ROCKS

There is a rectangular plot of land between my home and my neighbor’s. When we moved in, it was grassy, with a gorgeous tree in the center. Unexpectedly, the lawn crew decided to cut down the tree and place rock over the grass. My neighbor John and I discussed the state of this nonsense earlier this week and decided a winter garden would certainly make more sense. (Don’t tell our HOA.) I put a plea out for bricks yesterday on Facebook and within three hours had a trunk full, thanks to a sweet couple from church.

After -- lined with brick

After -- dirt and fewer rocks

Several hours, and countless shovels of gravel removal later, I have a $6 garden plot — spent on compost and manure. Granted, there is nothing yet planted, but the list is long for winter vegetables. This is a great planting calendar, if you are living in the desert and interested in doing something similar.

Happy pumpkin plot

I think using the earth we have at hand to grow good food makes more sense now than ever. Plus, gardening falls in line with all my other newly acquired domestic skills. If I can do it, so can a trained monkey. Now, what to plant?


Constant Construction

Under construction...

My faith journey is quite a bit like sewing — a bit of perceived progress here, a bit of seam ripping there. Your comments to Sunday’s post about the “Novelist as God” have spurred me to once again consider what I believe and why. I’ll leave it to poor or rushed writing, but I absolutely did not mean to infer that I don’t believe in the Bible. For the first time in my life, I’m regularly reading the Bible and trying to understand the foundations of my faith. That said, I lead a life of social justice-fueled faith — one where everyone (and I mean everyone) is loved by Christ. Everyone is eligible for forgiveness. Everyone is expected to treat each other with kindness and great love in return. I am incredibly lucky to have found a church that promotes and supports this way of thinking.

So, when the authors of the Bible say that I’m not equal, I bristle. One commenter astutely said the Bible isn’t politically correct. So true. The politics of the time were completely different. Can you imagine sharing your husband with your sister and raising your children together in one giant tent of disharmony? Leah and Rachel did, loving and envying each other their entire lives. Or sacrificing your first-born? Or wandering the desert for 40 years? (How about 40 minutes? I think I’d be exhausted.)

The truth is, my view of the Bible is no more right or wrong than anyone else’s. Faith is completely personal and my relationship with God is too. There are several tenants of faith I’m currently working on, including humility (not my strong suit), obedience (ever tried fasting? Not easy.) and not being judgmental. I’ve got a long way to go but I’ve yet to meet anyone who had it entirely figured out. That’s the beauty of this journey — it’s never-ending. We get to keep searching for understanding and meaning in a relationship with God as long as we are willing. It’s like one of those around-the-world plane tickets that never expires. Each new arrival is a land of exotic appeal with both happy and sad lessons to be learned.

Books that have changed and encouraged  my view of faith include: “The Red Tent,” “Lamb,” “The Alchemist,”  “Love in the Time of Cholera,”  “The Poisonwood Bible,”  “Blue like Jazz,” and what I’m currently reading, “The Irresistible Revolution.” I’ve got “Velvet Elvis” sitting on my nightstand ready for the next read. (And while we are talking about media and things I need to change? Oh, this move to cable is slowly sucking my brain dry. I can actually tell you quite a bit about the Kardashian sisters and why I like them. Time. To. Unplug.)


Sweet Summer Treat

Fig jam/spread

I love grocery shopping at ethnic stores. One of my local favorites is the Baiz Market. They have some of the best Middle Eastern food in town and aisles full of the most exotic ingredients you could imagine. The first time I visited, there were families preparing for a religious feast and very happy at the gaggle of skinned goats hanging in the deli. I was a little startled. I’ve seen a wide variety of butchered animals in African and South American travel, but goats with their little eyes watching passersby was a new one. I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten goat. Llama, yes. Guinea pig? I’m afraid to say, yes.* Rabbit, etc? Of course. But there is something about the garbage disposal nature of goats that makes me wonder how good the meat could be?

philo dough

The spice aisle, however, was nothing short of delightful. Racks of cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne and even those that don’t start with C were screaming for my basket. I ended up coming home from my latest trip with two large jars of fava beans, similar to those I enjoyed in Bolivia, and a giant jar of fig jam. I love figs. The trees are beautiful, the fruit is succulent warm off the tree and the flavor tastes like honey bees made out with flowers. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with those preserves.

Melted butter

A little melted butter, some phyllo dough and a generous portion of fig jam =

Easy fig tart

A wonderful summer tart. We had this for dinner last night with friends and it was excellent! Three cheers for shopping outside of the conventional lines and for trying new spur of the moment creations in the kitchen.


* Llama and guinea pig are delicacies in South America. When I was working there, I often didn’t have the choice to ask what was on my plate. Instead, I got to enjoy a beautiful meal prepared with great sacrifice (which the children hiding under the table enjoyed by the sneaky handful).

SOF: The Novelist as God

I listened to this week’s Speaking of Faith podcast twice because the idea of authors creating a new perspective of God and faith through novels struck my fancy. I’d never considered how literature influences spirituality — how a novelist’s relationship with faith shines through in his/her work — whether the subject is a bodice ripper or chick lit. In sum, a person’s faith is always reflected in his/her daily actions.

This got me thinking.

The author interviewed for the piece, MaryDoria Russell, wrote “Children of God” and “The Sparrow.”  She describes herself as an agnostic Jew. She was raised in the Catholic church and later converted to Judaism when pregnant with her first child. Today, she feels like God may or may not be there, but Judaism is the closest answer to a faith that makes sense for her. The title for her second book came from Matthew 10: 27-31:

What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

In other words, Jesus is saying — go out and do good works in my name. You are going to be treated poorly. You’ll need to suck it up. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Russell goes on in the podcast to say that if there is a God, he created man because he loves to tell stories. And that all stories are dependent on where you decide to start. She describes the Bible as a series of stories that are generational and depending on where you want to begin, you see the characters as good or evil, wronged or with justice. As a novice writer and a Christian, I find all of this fascinating. I’ve never considered how vast expanses of time certainly influence the outcome of characters through generations of family, etc.

She also says that if there isn’t a God, man created one because we love to tell stories too. While I don’t doubt God’s presence, the story-telling aspect is so true. I know some Christians and Jews feel the Bible (and Torah) were written by God, using man as a conduit. There are too many human flaws in the Bible for me to believe this — namely the way women are told to be quiet in church and to always submit. I’ve got no problem with being obedient to God but I’ve never been terribly good at keeping my mouth shut or blindly listening to anyone’s direction, especially in church.

Questions for the week:

1. Have you ever read a book (novel) that changed your view of faith?

2. Do you have a favorite faith-driven story? (I am very fond of both Esther and Ruth)

3. Do you think this is all a bunch of crap? I can take it, I promise.


Abe Darby are My Favorite Flowers, Speaking of Roses




For Rosie

Rosie had a stupid thing happen — her purse was stolen this summer when she was on vacation. We met  in Denver soon after the incident. When she lamented her new handbag had just arrived before she’d taken it on vacation, I knew good karma must soon be returned. She’s a sweet woman with a witty, spicy blog and it would be easy enough to send a little love her way.  Voila.

Is it the fancy handbag she’d carefully ordered? Nope. But it is made with her in mind and that’s something no sweatshop can say.

As for that contest earlier this week? The three winners, randomly selected, are: Trish, AmiS and Holly. Email me your addresses and I’ll get your baby bags in the mail!



Chevroleg Bag

My friend Chris asked me to make him a Chevroleg bag months ago. I’ve been dragging my feet because it required going to Ikea, which is the equivalent of REI or Costco for me — $100 at a minimum seems to disappear on purchases that really don’t make sense. (2 gallons of shampoo? Really?) Without letting myself get distracted by the pretty fabric or section of plants, I  tucked shopping resolve in my pocket and came out with one of these $.99 blue bags. The plastic is heavy enough that it won’t fray and you can sew it with a regular sewing needle. Yet it is light enough that it makes a perfect cycling bag.

Chevroleg Bag

Chevroleg Bag

On this version, I added a small interior pocket for keys and change, per request.

Chevroleg Bag

Chevroleg Bag

Chevroleg Bag

I used velcro to attach the pocket so he could pull this out when going into a bakery after a long ride. I’ve ridden with Chris before. He’s a great athlete who loves his croissants too.

Chevroleg Bag

And so, you see the humor in lining the bag with a recycled flour sack.

Chevroleg Bag

Also, in contrast to the tutorial, I “splurged” and spent $5 on a clasp and webbing for the handle. We’ll later modify the length to his build and add an additional back strap to balance the weight of the bag.

Chevroleg Bag

I left the front Ikea webbing because it’s perfect for a carabiner key ring.

If you are looking for a couple sources of fabulous creativity, I ran across two lately that I think are bad ass:

1. Larissa’s appliqued messenger bag (thanks Ellen for sending this my way!)


2. This spectacular use of recycling and sewing for the home. How great is this swing? I am going to do this one day for my future backyard.

The beauty of the blog — sharing and inspiring!