A few notes: October 2017

A little more than a year ago, I started a new job, taking the helm of a well-established but fragile nonprofit agency dedicated to ending family violence.

Someday I’m going to write about the experience; but today isn’t that day. Today I have something else in mind, keeping with the theme of sifting and sorting through history, moving forward, conscious of time as a limited resource.

The thing about starting any new endeavor – such as a new job – is that it’s always disruptive, and in unpredictable ways. Take exercise, for example. Adding a 30-minute walk into every day requires finding that 30-minute slot. Easy solution: wake up 30 minutes earlier.

Except that it isn’t just the 30 minutes for walking, but also the 10 minutes to get dressed to walk. And the morning walk disrupts the morning coffee and breakfast and family routine; so all of that has to adapt, too. Nothing is as simple as it first seems.

Starting a new job is more than a substitution of work. It’s a true disruption – good, but disruptive. For me, the routines of cooking, exercising, and writing in particular have all gotten out of kilter.

So, deck fully shuffled, a little more than a year later, it’s time to get back to a few essential basics. Like writing regularly, possibly with a different editorial calendar.

I thought we might start back with a general round-up, apropos of nothing in particular:

About last week.

I loved the comments and conversations that sprang from last week’s post about, among other things, continuing to sort through my mother’s belongings. It prompted a great car conversation with my kids about what they want to happen with all the stuff (a long time from now) when Bernard and I die, or at least what they think they want, right now, from their teenage view. (Upshot: My son doesn’t really care, other than that he’d like to have some of Bernard’s ski stuff from Santa Fe. My daughter wants to go through everything. “You know how much I love sorting through boxes,” she said.) So, we continue to evolve.

Then, because this is how things work, I stumbled upon this timely treasure: The Museum of You Does Not Have a Gift Shop. All good food for thought. Also, should you continue to worry, my kids will have heaps of archaeology through which to discover us, whether or not we try to leave things that way. Especially books; so many books.

Speaking of which…

Good reads.

I pre-ordered and then plowed through Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel, My Absolute Darling, after hearing this interview with Scott Simon. I’m still thinking about this book, though I can’t summon the right word to describe it; some combination of disturbing and fantastic. It’s certainly deserving of all its good press, but heavy enough that you’ll want to have a good antidote on hand. That, for me, is almost always a detective novel. The Reykjavik murder mystery series by Arnaldur Indridasen, Department Q series by Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Jorn Lier Horst’s William Wisting books are current favorites (Nordic noir phase).

Other than books, a few articles worth the time (particularly the one about Lulu the dog – read that, if you haven’t already): The Art of the Dinner Party, How the Elderly Lose Their Rights, Lulu the dog flunked out of CIA bomb-sniffer school because she just didn’t care. And this HBR piece from last year (but oh-so-relevant): Resilience is about How You Recharge, Not How You Endure. And this August gem from The New Yorker, which I  printed and posted so I can re-read it regularly: Carol’s Closet: Clothing for Adult Women.


Yes; I’m still at it. In fact, I’ve rearranged all the furniture in our house so I can #artharder with family and friends, supplies close at hand, ample working surfaces available while keeping the kitchen table clear for dinner. Because family dinner and art-making are both important.

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I’ve taken some of my favorite cyanotype botanicals and produced a 2018 calendar, along with a perpetual calendar (or, as we call it, a birthday calendar), and some note cards. They, and the original art, are all in my online store, Larksome Goods.

What else I’m writing, right now.

(Other than end-of-year fundraising letters and board reports)

An essay about teaching my son to drive. A story about making cyanotype prints. And  another about the experience of writing text to accompany (weakly, I’m afraid) some magnificent photography by my college friend Winky featured in Marcus Hay’s online magazine, curio.

Related: John Grisham is on a book tour, and he’s pairing up with different authors in each city, along with independent bookstore owners, hosting panel discussions about writing. In Memphis Grisham was joined by terrific Hampton Sides, and their lively talk featured some great take-away lines. Here’s my favorite:

“A thousand words is a good day; 1,500 a great day; 500 an OK day.”

[Habit, as Philip Pullman offers, has written more books than talent.]

[Another great Grisham line: “The first thing I told Matt Damon was, ‘you can’t fake a Southern accent; don’t even try.'”]

Speaking of things I might someday buckle down and write…

Family dinner.

“I liked it sometimes,” my daughter said recently, talking about some of the crazy dinner experiments from the period when I thought this might be a blog about dinner, and then I started a second blog about dinner, and then I went haywire trying to write a book about how making dinner makes things haywire.

In this year of challenging schedules – juggling work and carpool and teenagers and dogs – we’ve fallen back into some very bad dinner habits involving all-too-frequent take-out pizza and frozen chicken strips. Last time we were in this kind of rut, the parents pushed for change. This time around, our children are clamoring for greater variety – even if they don’t like the end results. This is a good problem.

Last week’s winner-dinners included pork chops with celery and almond salad (the salad was particularly good, and it kept well for a day or two afterward), and a delicious 50 pound lasagna that Bernard and my son made (hours of father-son kitchen time!) while I drove home from a Knoxville cross-country meet with my daughter (hours of mother-daughter car time!). Since it finally turned cold (or at least cool) here, I kept the kitchen (and us) warm with a simmering pot of Ina Garten’s tried-and-true Boeuf Bourguignon.

This week I’m going to revisit another old Ina Garten favorite, Parker’s Fish & Chips. Bernard has a hankering for chicken curry, which will also be a good excuse to make this cilantro-mint salad. Leftover salad will go with some basic black bean burritos. The experiment of the week will be this Peruvian roasted chicken.

And with dinner, a sip of wine…

The quest for <$20 wine.

A years-ago birthday present from a friend was three months  of membership in Joe’s Wine Club, a monthly wine subscription from my favorite neighborhood liquor store. After the first three months, I was hooked; so I’ve been a member ever since. The selections are interesting, reasonably priced, and intended to inspire a bit of exploration.

I started keeping a list of all the wines I like, to help guide future discovery. I know enough about wine to describe what I enjoy, and that’s really as much as I want to know.

Recent wine club winner: Shooting Star Aligote (the “other white” from Burgundy – though Shooting Star is from Washington state). It’s a perfect weeknight wine, meaning it’s “… undemanding, like easygoing comedies rather than Ingmar Bergman films,” in the words of Eric Asimov, whose fall 2017 “20 Wines for Under $20” is a handy list to keep.

Final note.

In early spring, Bernard brought home some lettuce plants, which he carefully planted in several containers on our front steps and along the front walk – the walk that borders what should be a well-manicured lawn but isn’t, because we’re not yard people.

Anyway, the lettuce was delicious, and after we harvested the first heads, several plants put out second sprouts that all went to seed because the weather got hot.

Growing now in the tiny strip between the walk and the weeds? Yep, a volunteer head of romaine.

Lucky us, even with our ratty looking yard.

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Food | Week of October 30, 2017

Parker’s Fish & Chips

Chicken Curry |Cilantro-mint Salad

Black Bean Burritos

Peruvian Roasted Chicken with Spicy Cilantro Sauce


  1. Way behind you but have been decluttering closets/drawers so Michelle won’t have to say “What was Mom thinking?!”


  2. I’m excited about all the books you have suggested. I am always on the lookout for something new and tantalizing! It sounds like you have your creative juices in full swing. I envy you.. my life just does not allow that at this particular moment. Maybe some day.. *sigh* and now I’m starving! All of those wonderful dishes sound yummy!
    Have and awesome Fall Jennifer! ❤


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