Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Restating what I said in my last post, I have some catching up to do here. Despite my good intentions to blog regularly, the busy-ness of May threw an interesting conflict onto my Path. I wanted to blog, but I also felt committed to being fully present with our houseguests and the things we were experiencing together, internally and externally. While I love my extended online community, I know that it can also serve as a distraction. So, for the past few weeks, I participated in the gift of unplugging and attending. Not only have I enjoyed every minute of it, but I’m also enjoying my return to the regular rhythm and routine of my life, feeling renewed and recommitted. More posts, photos and poetry are on their way…

Before I launch into my travelogue, however,  I want to share the unexpected delight of a First Date. No, I’m not stepping out on Jeff, but rather I’m reaching into a long-neglected part of my own soul. As a California-trained psychologist, I have long admired Julia Cameron’s work, and have adopted bits and pieces of her Artist’s Way program into my life. I value my practice of writing Morning Pages, but I have always resisted the whole idea of Artist Dates, especially since moving to England where I’ve struggled to maintain my independence. I had promised myself that I would make a serious commitment to the practice as my houseguests departed and my life settled down a bit. And on Monday, it happened. I hugged my friend goodbye in the Green Park tube station and headed towards the British Library. I had seen an advertisement for a Writing Britain exhibit at the British Library, and my newly empowered Inner Writer suddenly felt an irresistible urge to spend time with her Tribe. Bemused, I went along for the ride.

The exhibit was amazing and, for me, transformative. An ambitious visual display of Britain’s literature through the centuries, it was organized by Setting and Place, rather than the usual structuring by chronology and genre, and therein lay its brilliance. Having travelled from one end of Britain to the other these past 13 years, I can understand this structuring, can feel it in my body as well as see it in my mind’s eye. Stepping through the portal, I was swept into British landscape, from its Magical Realms to the Dark Satanic Mills to the Wild Places, Waterlands, and Cockney Visions, meeting new faces and familiar authors, on their own terrain with their friends and characters.  JK Rowling was there, her handwritten manuscript looking plain, ordinary, and infinitely accessible as well as magical. Chaucer, Dickens, Austen, Burns, Woolf, du Maurier and a host of others made appearances and contributions, each drawing on their visions of the landscapes around them. Their greatness, I realized, lay in their willingness to put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard) in order to tell their stories. Just that, combined (of course) with amazing talent and perseverance.

Two things happened for me… first, I felt these authors take on a new realness, encouraging me to follow their lead in writing for writing’s sake, in writing to give expression to my own vision and voice, without holding back. Second, I felt welcomed into some invisible Literary Circle, invited to step beyond the curtain of mystique that I had previously experienced as impenetrable and forbidding. I could hardly wait to sit down with my Kindle and my keyboard. I left feeling in love and on fire.

I am reading. I am writing. I am home.

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With the New Year comes the need to tidy away the decorations and clear the piles of accumulated paper off my desk in anticipation of returning to the post-holiday real world… I’m sure everyone reading this knows the feeling all too well! For the first time in a long time, I feel ready to reach out, to become productive once more.

I’ve been using crockpots extensively lately, and the obvious metaphor seems particularly appropriate. Just as our dinners have been simmering in the background, so has my energy and creativity. With our unusually cold December weather, our roads have been too icy to bother venturing out, so we lit the woodstove, gathered up some good books and settled in to enjoy the cozy warmth… and it has been bliss!

I figure we have enough food to last us another couple of days,  but then we really are going to have to head to a grocery store — and with another snowstorm predicted for Thursday, stocking up sounds like a pretty good idea! Meanwhile, I want to share my crockpot inspiration with you, both in link and book form, as well as my pirated and tweaked version of a traditional New Year recipe.

One of the reasons why I’ve never let myself fall in love with, or even use, my crockpot is that it seemed so unhealthy. Most recipes instruct opening cans and mixing processed foods. Yecch! I knew there had to be a better way to do it, but the general lack of imaginative guidance turned me away. If you’ve harbored the same dim view of these dated old kitchen appliance, I have good news! In 2008, Stephanie O’Dea set herself the challenge of cooking in her crockpot every day for a year…. and over the course of the year, she blogged faithfully and fell well-and-truly in love with both her crockpot and her own creativity. She has generously posted every recipe on her blog but the whole recipe collection is now available in real cookbook form in Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, published by Hyperion Books.

As Stephanie is busy having a new baby this month, I’m hoping she won’t mind that I’ve pirated one of her recipes to share here.  I give her full credit for inspiring the delicious smells now emanating from my kitchen! Black-Eyed Peas are a new year tradition in southern states, where it is considered imperative to eat them on New Year’s Day to bring luck for the coming year. I missed the January 1 goal by a few days, but the idea of a good bean-y soup sounded so good and wintry that I decided to use what I could find in my shrinking larder to make my own version to serve to a friend who is coming to lunch tomorrow. May the Gods of Luck overlook our bit of delinquency… Enjoy!

New Year’s Soup

  • 1  can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed or 1/2 cup dried peas, soaked overnight and drained (I only had canned beans on hand this morning)
  • a carrot or two, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced or chopped
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 1 large or several small cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1/2 – 1 cup sausage meat, cooked and drained or several sausages cooked and sliced
  • 2-1/2 cups (625 ml) chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp each dried marjoram, oregano, chili flakes
  • pinch of dried sage

Measurements refer to standardized (American) cups and teaspoons. Mix all ingredients together  in a small crockpot and cook on high for 8-10 hours. If you only have a large crockpot, scale the recipe up. And feel free to use what you find in your kitchen; this is a perfect place to be creative!

Using an immersion blender, blend  briefly so that the soup becomes slightly creamy from the beans, but not smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, put a cup of soup in your regular blender or food processor, blend, then return to the pot. Stir well before serving.

In coming posts, I will be writing about the inspiration I’ve found some of the books I’ve been enjoying during the quiet inward months since I last blogged. Sometimes I just need to let myself simmer along undisturbed for a while, and this seems to be especially so as autumn winds down towards the dark depths of the winter solstice. I honour the descent that comes so naturally at this time of year, and love the fertile nature of this deep season.

I loved 2009 — for me it was a year of great adventure and personal accomplishment, but I’m looking forward to the coming year and all that it holds…May 2010 be a year of happiness and creativity for us all!

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