I really should be a more judicious gardener.
Our house came with two raised planting beds—each the size of a bocce court—in the backyard. I start out every spring with an overload of enthusiasm, planting and fertilizing like a madwoman. As I’m digging away, I picture strolling out the garden every evening and serenely harvesting a variety of delicious, homegrown veggies for our dinner.
My plans don’t always work out. The first year here I decided to grow basil. I had no idea how much to plant, so I figured 36 would be a good number. I soon learned, of course, that basil grows like crazy—and that three dozen plants are way too many for anybody not supplying a restaurant. I spent that whole summer making pesto, and wound up delivering giant basil bouquets to my friends. I’m pretty sure the guys at the garden center are still laughing at me over that one. (more…)
My eight-year-old daughter spends more time upside down than right side up.
Cartwheels, backbends, flips…and then there are the handstands. I’ve got footprints on every eye-level wall in this house. I feel like I’m living in a gymnasium.
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. As a pre-schooler, Anya’s favorite activity was shimmying up the inside of a doorway with her hands and feet. I’d walk into a room to find her hanging out up at the ceiling, suspended like a spider. We almost lost a few babysitters over that one.
She’s also quite the escape artist. Anya was the only one of our three kids who managed to climb out of her crib (her older brothers being too lazy and/or rotund to free themselves). Another time, her dad and I made the mistake of walking out the kitchen when she was in the high chair; within minutes, she had slithered out of the belt, motored across the table and was literally hanging from the chandelier. Naturally, she hated to be confined; I had to muscle her in to her car seat every day. After one mighty struggle I looked back to see that–while technically still buckled in–she’d unlatched the entire seat from the car, effectively turning herself into a human projectile. (more…)
My sister Gabby is the original Spice Girl.
When I got married, she gave me a hideous wall-mounted spice rack for the sole reason that it contained 36 essential spices that I absolutely “needed” for my kitchen. Her intention was that I toss the ugly rack but keep the jars to stock my cupboard. And here I thought I was doing so well with just salt, pepper and garlic powder. Who knew?
Gabby’s obsession has only gotten worse over the years. She’s a foodie, and has grown into a serious spice snob. Take, for example, my favorite spice: cinnamon. My sister is only too happy to explain the difference between what most of us know as cinnamon–the spicy and sweet cassia root from Vietnam–and real Ceylon cinnamon, which has citrusy overtones that are great for baking. There’s also pungent Chinese cinnamon, which delivers an eye-opening pop of flavor. She’s got them all—ordered in artisanal quantities at great cost from a specialty purveyor. And that’s just one of dozens of spices on her shelf.
Along with changing how we cook and enjoy food, spices have an amazing history. In a world where almost everything can be found on the grocers’ shelf, it’s easy to forget how rare and prized spices once were. Medieval Europe’s appetite for cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cumin and other exotic flavors inspired the exploration of Asia and ultimately the world; the rise of the great Renaissance city states in Europe; the founding of America (Columbus was searching for a Western route to the Spice Islands); untold advances in shipbuilding and cartography; and several wars for control of trade routes and territories. Indeed, it may be impossible to overstate importance of spices in shaping modern civilization. (more…)
I loved my fourth grade teacher. It was 1976, and Ms. Andrews was the coolest thing in my world.
Until then, my teachers had all been kindly schoolmarm types. Not Ms. Andrews. She was young, with long black hair, giant hoop earrings, and plenty of eyeliner. She wore fabulous clothes—elephant leg pants and jumpsuits in bold, primary colors. Her appearance alone commanded our attention. And she was fun; if we were good, she’d move our desks aside and give us Hustle lessons.
But Ms. Andrews was more than just a pretty face. By fourth grade, I had moved through five elementary schools. I was the perpetual new kid, always uncomfortable, and unsure how to fit in. Ms. Andrews guided me through that challenging year; she helped me sort out the complexities of making friends, and encouraged my love of reading and writing. She steadfastly refused to accept anything less than my best work, and even let me drop off missed assignments at her house. So even though I can no longer recall the name of that school (we moved again at that summer), I will forever remember Ms. Andrews.
Over the years, my kids have been blessed with a handful of these memorable teachers. While they’ve never been the new kids, they’ve had their challenges, even in our beloved neighborhood school. My oldest is a bit quirky, and it takes a special individual to understand and inspire him. The teachers who do are dear to my heart, and I’m thrilled when one of my younger children lands in their care. Last year, we said goodbye to our beloved first grade teacher as our youngest moved through her class. There were tears all around. (more…)