No Mo’ Avocado

Baby, Food

Nenive started eating avocado around 4 1/2 months of age. It was her first food after rice cereal. It took her a few tries to get the hang of eating it, but once she did she ate determinedly. One day Diane came over and Nenive watched her making a smoothie with avocado, and she (Nenive, not Diane) became unruly and demanded avocado with the belligerence of a *belligerent thing, and Diane acquiesced and fed her avocado.

Avocado was all well and good until I began sharing my bananas with Nenive. While she will happily eat her weight in banana, she now complains about avocado. I tried again this morning to share an avocado with her, which was a generous gesture on my part because I read some enticing ways to prepare and eat avocado in Better Homes and Gardens and I wanted to try one.

But I kept it basic for the baby.

And what did she do when I fed her a spoonful of avocado? First, her face fell, then crumbled, and she actually winced like she was injured. Then she stuck her tongue out like everyone's comedic and exaggerated version of "yuck!" expression. Finally she began to cough, which was both pathetic sounding and worrisome, and I actually wondered for a second if she had a newly developed avocado allergy. She'd probably like me to think so. Certainly she finds eating avocado injurious–but only since tasting banana, the little trickster.

So I trotted out the banana. I could see it in her eyes: mischief managed.

*this was my note to self to insert a good metaphor later. Unfortunately, the only thing that really came to mind was Aunt Marge in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as she drunkenly demands more alcohol (port, I think it might have been). I didn't want to compare my baby to a drunk so I left it to return to, but nothing else has occurred to me…

Oops… tasty! Snap-by-snap recipes from my family

Food

In my Facebook feed there have been these quick cooking videos in which the food item takes only thirty seconds from prep to plate. The ingredients are pre-measured and waiting in little glass bowls which are dumped artfully into mixing bowls and cooking dishes, and with a finger snap a casserole goes from uncooked to cooked or warm to chilled. The videos end with a piece of the finished product on a plate with a long-tined fork cutting a bite and disappearing off screen to an assumed waiting mouth. The caption appears, "mmm…tasty!"

I get so annoyed at the disappearing fork bite and the canned response that it is "mmm…tasty!" Like the audience was waiting for the verdict and is reassured by the disembodied tastebuds as to the worthiness of the recipe. And, as many of the recipes are actually haphazard combinations of cream, cheese, refrigerated pastry, butter, sugar, and a host of prepackaged sweets, it's fairly obvious that they would at least taste good if not be wholesome or original.

Yet I love the video leading up to the "mmm…tasty!" conclusion, with the neatly prepared ingredients and swift concocting, each step shown briefly.

I think I've mentioned my complicated feelings about the "mmm…tasty!" videos to a few people because I get a lot of Snapchats imitating the form, especially from Delaney. I love food posts and food snaps anyway, even when it's Micaleigh showing me despised cilantro or my mother-in-law showing me the fresh papaya they're eating daily in American Samoa, but snaps from friends showing their own "mmm… tasty!" process (or, as often happens for Delaney, "oops… tasty!") are among my favorite snaps to receive.

Sharon's snaps here show the most important part: mmm… tasty! Or, mmm… delicious!

As for her model Cassie, she's recently taken to baking pies 24/7 from what I can tell from the other side of the world. That, or she took a million different photos of the same three pies and just sends new snapchats of the pies each day. She has even started teaching other girls to make pies.

Can't talk about pie baking in this family without mentioning Micaleigh. I didn't find snaps of her pie baking process but I have a nice closeup of a promising looking pie prospect, and some enticing almost stuffed mushrooms.

Austin's snaps are usually of loose-leaf tea, but I can share his method for making a fold over Nutella fruit pocket:

From Noah I have received snaps of him baking bread, making pancakes and making dumplings. What I have saved, however, is a snap from a video of his fry dunking talent:

Snaps from Delaney range from just a funny glimpse into her cooking mentality…


…to the exuberance she has making treats and showing me the step-by-step process, either because it's a treat I love (the loaded croissants) or something she's told me about or just wants to show me.

It's gotten to the point where, when someone starts showing me their kitchen production, I start making screen shots of the mini-drama. And maybe all these snaps are the result of everyone watching The Great British Baking Show?

White Dahlias and Pink Hydrangeas

Plants

We planted these two dahlias April 20. Our neighbor accidentally mowed them over a month or so ago, which set them back (he took out a young peony too and it never recovered).


After losing our flowers to a mower (neighbor claims he can’t tell what’s a weed or not) Garrett edged and mulched around our mailbox as a precaution. Neighbor was also complaining about the wood chips we had in the mailbox area washing into the street in a heavy rain, so hopefully replacing the wood chips with mulch will be neater. 

We just returned from a trip to Knoxville to find our dahlias in bloom, and more on the way. It’s cool that they look just like their picture on the bulb package.


Since this week’s forecast holds days of storms, I figured I might as well rescue these blooms in case a heavy rain knocks them out. Not that we usually have storms when they’re forecasted, but it’s a good excuse anyway. I also cut some hydrangea blooms and paired them in vases. As Garrett helped me greedily harvesting blooms, we encountered more bounty from our yard–golf balls. Four of them: one in the back yard, one in a side yard, and two in the other side yard. Good grief.

Note: I guess technically the dahlias aren’t white…

Harry Potter Doodles

Art

Yesterday, June 26, was the anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The books are my favorite and something I enjoy sharing with my family and friends–especially with my sister Delaney. When I went away to college, I began drawing illustrations of our favorite inside jokes from tv shows, movies, songs and books on index cards for her. Some are nothing more than rough doodles, while others are sophisticated and involved a lot of time, detail and even water colors. She sent me some in return. Recently, she shared a few pages of Harry Potter references I made for her that she has arranged in a binder. Looking at them reminds me of some of the truly amusing and enjoyable moments in the books.

J. K. Rowling writes believable dialogue and has one of my favorite narrative voices, especially considering she writes in third person limited. There is so much humor in her writing, whether it’s kids in the background dancing and chanting “he got off he got off he got off” while two people are trying to have a conversation, or if it’s a case of a dwarf dressed as a baby cupid assaulting Harry and sitting on him to deliver a terrible poem. And then there is the magic of Harry Potter’s world–tables filling with food, candlesticks floating in air, secret entrances and passageways, potions and incantations, flying broomsticks, magical creatures… and, at the same time, recognizable real world issues varying in seriousness from an abundance of homework to murderous prejudice.

I’ve read the books, especially the first five, many times since I was a kid. Over the past two years, I listened to all seven audio books while painting or doing laundry. I was happy to read HP and the Sorcerer’s Stone again last month as I was working on an article for Only In Ark–link here. I like discussing plot holes and inconsistencies with Laney, but such literary weaknesses in no way diminish the magic of the books.

Chihuly at Crystal Bridges

Arkansas, Trip

We spent the day in Bentonville checking out Crystal Bridges’ new Chihuly installation.

1. This has to be said upfront: Chihuly looks like Mad-Eye Moody. No judgment, but it’s worth mentioning.


2. Austin spent the whole time holding the baby and looking for a painting he claimed resembled Delaney. Since Austin was holding the baby, it meant I was pushing around an empty stroller which both gave me a start every time I looked at it and caused confusion among and lost me the goodwill of passersby. We found the painting and he and Garrett agree it looks like Delaney, but I think it looks more like Rose Byrne. 


3. Exhibit attendants constantly took away my water cups (even empty and with a lid, from their restaurant) and bottles, even when I offered to put it in my bag beneath the stroller. Exhibit to exhibit we were divested of the means to stay hydrated on a hot day, and by the time we reached the outdoor Chihuly section we were thirsty and footsore and sought out the restroom, since water fountains are traditionally nearby. Not so! This section is not completed, and the bathroom facility as yet is limited to portapotties. Luckily, bottled water and canned soda were available at $2 each at a sanctioned food truck.

4. Apart from taking our water, the attendants were friendly. One even broke with decorum to yell up and down the exhibit hall that a deer was visible outside on the grounds. The deer was sprinting in jerky movements, not sure which direction to take in a valley beyond our glass walls. It was an odd moment–a woman standing beneath a Chihuly chandelier bellowing in an art gallery, a deer panicking against a serene backdrop, and dozens of visitors, alerted by the attendant, pressed up against the glass taking pictures.

5. The Chihuly exhibit was worth visiting. The tickets were $20 each and we had a time slot but ended up going in twenty minutes early unintentionally. The information presented on Chihuly claims he was hooked on glass-blowing from the time he blew his first bubble. His technique and style differ from other glass artisans in that he doesn’t fight but rather embraces natural influences such as gravity. After he lost an eye in a car accident he gave up actively making glass and instead now directs a team of artists.

6. Chihuly in the Forest was even better, and this exhibit, as I understand it, is available for a longer time this summer than the indoor exhibit.  Saturday nights it lights up for added effect. As we strolled paths with hundreds of other people, taking in surprising clusters of bright glass flutes, it seemed just two things were on everyone’s mind: what about if it hails, and what kind of grass is that. The hail is a real concern with the weather we have had lately, and might have again next week. I imagine both the museum and the artist (or whomever now owns the art) have insurance, but also that Chihuly’s own philosophy of art would accept damage dealt by nature rather than rail against it. As for the grass, there were actually two types, one from sod in open stretches and one from seed around trees and against the walking path and installations. Seed mats had been used in places with good results, and Austin broke into an impromptu infomercial for seed mats.

7. Speaking of grass, there was an installation of a weedy yard with mushrooms and dandelions and crabgrass (“Bad Lawn” by Roxy Paine). It was making a point of viewing so-called “weeds” for their own benefit, a viewpoint I’ve heard before and to which I can be sensitive, even though Garrett and I like eradicating weeds. Garrett said it looked like our neighbor’s lawn. He told me the other day a coworker asked him if we drive around our neighborhood spying on the lawns and he told her yes, which sounds like just a joke but then I realized I tell him when our neighbors mow and report on the type of mower and the mow job. We get a kick out of lawn maintenance… in Bentonville near Austin’s apartment, we drove by a guy mowing his small side yard. An hour later when we passed that way again, he was still there mowing the same tiny space! A few houses down a woman was tackling an overgrown yard with a pair of shears. Looked tough.

8. We ate lunch at the on-site dining hall Eleven. I had chicken tenders (easy to eat while holding a baby) and Austin and Garrett had the special, a chili cheese dog. Austin took over holding Nenive (and then didn’t give her back or put her down, the end) and she stared at his plate while he ate, finally losing patience and grabbing a handful of chili cheese dog for herself. It was pretty cute, and also a brilliant moment of clarity that La Leche League, American Academy of Pediatrics and Dr. Sears all say to look for to indicate when it’s time to introduce foods to the baby.

Moleskine

Notebook

My mother bought me a soft-bound lined Moleskine for my trip to London. The Moleskine journal, according to legend, is what Picasso and Hemingway used to take notes and doodle, and that’s how I use it, too. I traveled in England before wi-fi was prevalent and before phone plans had reasonable overseas rates. I turned off my flip phone when I boarded my departure plane in New York and didn’t turn it back on until three months later when I returned. I relied on a digital camera to take photos, but even then there were many places, such as Westminster Abbey and the Royal Opera House, where picture taking was not permitted, and so I drew instead, or scribbled descriptions of my experiences.

In addition to doodles and notes, my Moleskine contains addresses and phone numbers, a hand drawn 18 month calendar and weekly planner, my reading list and to-be-read list, recipes, Bible studies and prayers, watercolor paintings, movies and concert ticket stubs, Polaroid snapshots and magazine cutouts, schedules, packing lists and outfit plans, shopping lists and meal plans, to-do lists and budget notes, exercise and diet trackers. Sometimes other people make doodles or notes for me, and anytime I’ve been left a post-it note I have stuck it in my Moleskine.

A secondary character in A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I read as a kid, kept what he called a “commonplace notebook” in which he recorded everything. That’s a good description for my Moleskine. People have tried to refer to it as a journal before, but that’s not what it is and I never call anything but “my Moleskine” or sometimes “my Moleskine notebook.” I used to pronounce it the proper way, with four syllables, but that confused people even more, so now I just say “mole skin” as in, “Hagrid wore a great moleskin overcoat.”

Since having the baby, one of the biggest changes in my life has been not writing or drawing in my Moleskine as much as I used to. This is especially tragic because I record stories from my days in my Moleskine, so that means all the sweet moments with the baby aren’t being recorded the way I would like.

Dragonfruit

Food

I did an Instagram thing this week. I spent $10 on a single piece of fruit. 

Although I went into the market solely to get chicken, spinach, cantaloupe, pineapple, strawberries and eggs, as I wandered through the produce section looking for “dills” I spotted dragonfruit. It looks like a fuchsia artichoke, an unexpected natural shade of pink.

The fruit of cacti, dragonfruit is exotic, showcased in the finest edible flower-topped smoothie bowls of Instagram. Three foodies I follow frequently throw dragonfruit into my feed (ha! Here a literal and figurative feed). The flesh of white dragonfruit is a juicy white with black seeds and can be rolled with a melon baller or sliced thinly to form into a rose or cut with cookie cutters into shapes.


The beautiful fruit is easy to prepare: I cut off the top and bottom, slid the knife up the side like a zipper, and then peeled the soft, thick and leathery skin with one smooth motion, like stripping off a glove. Once free of its skin, the dragonfruit resembled a giant kiwi and I sliced it they way I do kiwi. To give if that je ne sais quoi/IG touch, I cut a piece with a heart cookie cutter.


It had no discernible scent and only a mild flavor, reminiscent of kiwi-infused water. For $10 I probably won’t make a habit of buying it, but rather obtain it for special occasions. This time, the cantaloupe, strawberries and pineapple were on sale and I didn’t stop at the Starbucks kiosk, so I figure the expense evens out.

C. S. Lewis and Narnia

Uncategorized

Welcome to the pond at C. S. Lewis’ place, circa 2009.

It’s not clear or pristine and the banks were weedy, and I think I remember mosquitos, but it was still beautiful. Just look at that reflection in it! I was there today in 2009 so the picture showed up in my photo app to remind me. I toured Lewis’ home, including the inspiring wardrobe and the study where he wrote, so now it’s time to talk about Narnia.

I’m not much of a fan of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia. For starters, I don’t like talking animals (unless they be cats–like the cats of Haruki Murakami’s magical realism novels). 

Reading the books as a child, I was scared of Narnia. It is unfamiliar and often brutal. I can’t remember the series’ details, or even the general matter, but I felt uneasy reading them. What I seem to recall: The ship The Dawn Treader visits some eerie Gulliver’s Travels type places and sees the edge of the world… Susan becomes a non-believer and perishes by the end… The Silver Chair was scary, something about being locked in a chair… and I think I remember a massive crazy storm, basically judgment day, at one of the last books.  The Horse and His Boy was my favorite but even it had a feeling of loneliness to it, countries at odds with each other, perhaps? And Narnia forgot about the Pevensie kids and grew fallow and wild.

When I was in the third grade I watched the 1988 version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and hated each of the four Pevensie kids. Either Edmund or Lucy is the worst. After watching the movie in class, we sampled Turkish delight, which was disgusting, making me dislike Edmund all the more for his incomprehensible betrayal of his siblings for the stuff. That year I attended a play version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, heavy on the allegory and produced along with Everyman, and I was in the second row for Aslan’s horrific murder.

It bothered me that the Pevensie kids grew up and lived their whole lives in Narnia, only to return to the real world and be Benjamin Button’d back to kids. Adults in childrens’ bodies–like vampire literature? No, thank you.

Two things I like about Narnia: the Harry Gregson-Williams soundtrack of the recent The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the real life basis of the Pevensie kids. As for Lewis, I like his last name’s spelling and the C. S. part–Clive Staple, if I remember correctly. I liked The Screwtape Letters.

And I like his pond.

White Walls

Home Project

Now we come to a post that pertains to the blog name.

One and a half years ago, Garrett and I bought a house that was beautiful, with tall ceilings and windows everywhere. The house’s only drawback was an odd paint job throughout. Cheesy yellow and bright robinsegg blue in the bedrooms, dark teal and burnt orange in the master bedroom, bloodred basement rooms like a horror movie and a nauseating tan-colored statement wall. We disliked the color in every room, with the exception of the master bath–a sage color. Soon after making an offer on the house, I met a painter and got an estimate. It was more than we wanted to pay, especially as we were making a down payment and looking at other repairs and updates.

At the time, Micaleigh had just begun painting her and Aaron’s cottage in Searcy. She was sending me snapchats of the progress, and I was in disbelief that she was doing it herself and it looked professional. She used terms like “cutting in” that I had never heard before, and I first had to realize that it was a real industry term and learn what it meant, and then demanded to know how she had learned it. She shrugged it off, which only astonished me more. It’s funny how realizing I hadn’t known something flabbergasted me.

Encouraged, I started painting. I found it enjoyable and relaxing, although when I couldn’t work as often as I wanted, I felt stressed about not making progress. Garrett and I had painted four rooms different shades of grey before we realized we actually preferred white walls–I was thinking of Scandinavian design while Garrett was thinking of modernism, both of which emphasize space, light and minimalism. As we are still painting over a year later and sometimes feel tempted to wish we had just hired a painter, I recall that we had originally favored a grey scheme and only later realized we disliked it and preferred white! So it is actually fortunate we didn’t have the house painted.

There are so many shades of white paint, it’s a little strange. I took foldout pamphlets of white shades and tried to match a white paint to the ceiling. I’ve got Behr Beach House White. It’s pretty close but looks best when I repaint the ceiling, too. And, the trim looks peachy offwhite in comparison to the white walls, so I’m repainting the trim, too.

It’s a coincidence that the name of the paint is Beach House White, but it is perfect for us–Garrett thinking of his pacific beaches in American Samoa and I thinking of Atlantic Florida beaches. We have so many houseplants, too, that look vibrant and fresh against the white walls in the streaming natural light. Every time we finish painting a wall or corner white and see the difference, we reflect that we are glad we chose to undertake the endeavor.

Alma Mater, Hail

Uncategorized

Saturday was graduation day at Harding, and this year was Micaleigh’s turn to graduate. Garrett and I hadn’t made a trip to Searcy for a while, certainly not since having the baby, so I was excited to return to what feels like my hometown, full of familiar faces. Every time I’m in Searcy I happily run into people I hadn’t expected to see, in addition to getting to see my sister and Garrett’s family.

Unfortunately, Garrett had to work a 12 hour shift, so I undertook the trip on my own. I already had established a hatred for the routes between Mountain Home and Searcy, but I hated them even more when I had to drive alone with the baby, especially since said baby had broken her month-long Excellence in Sleeping record to limit me to four broken hours of sleep the night before. It was a difficult 6 hour round trip, but a valuable learning experience, as all things are.

Micaleigh had been asked to sing at the 12 pm graduation ceremony prior to her own 3 pm ceremony. I joined her family in a delighted cheering section that slinked in the back of the auditorium to hear her sing. It meant I got to hear Dr. McLarty make the same speech, and jokes, twice, and I got to hear the seven-fold amen and the alma mater twice.

Despite my years at Harding, I never learned the alma mater. In fact, the idea of an alma mater was a source of amusement to me. It’s kind of silly, see. My first exposure to the concept of a “school song” was in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, wherein “the whole school bellowed” an absurd song about “hoggy, warty Hogwarts,” the tune of which is not specified so everyone sings with a different melody (the Weasley twins sing it as a slow funeral dirge, which Dumbledore conducts to a finish). So, yeah, school songs are silly, or in the least, British, which is nearly the same. As for Harding’s song, the dramatic description of the university’s excellence and romantic renderings of its campus create ungainly sentiment. But perhaps that is the purpose of an alma mater: to wax eloquent like a herald or fawning courtier. It wasn’t until I left Searcy but found myself returning for graduation ceremonies and the like that the melody and lyrics of the alma mater began to stick with me the way catchy songs sometimes do. Strangely, as I enjoy singing to Nenive and she enjoys listening to me (bless her heart*), the alma mater has been one that I’ve treated her to. I really only know a few lines, notably “from the foothills of the Ozarks,” and then, triumphantly, “Harding is her name!” Oh, and I can crow “sing the chorus! Sing it proudly! Echoing through the vale!” like Tolkien’s giddy elves.

This is to say, I enjoyed hearing the alma mater twice, and Nenive enjoyed hearing it sung properly for a change.

The seven-fold amen is a special Harding treat, sung at every opportunity. When George W. Bush spoke at Harding, he was the recipient of a seven-fold amen, as was the Duck Commander. It’s sung to send people, especially graduating seniors, on their way. When I say “seven-fold amen,” of course I refer to the song “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” It is a beautiful song and fun to sing, particularly for its conclusion: a winding traipse through a field populated with seven strung out “amens.” It’s very affecting when done correctly, but often people get lost in the amens and kind of bumble through the last few. That’s okay; it’s fun no matter how it is sung–just like the Hogwarts anthem.

Nenive enjoyed our silly alma mater (“hail to thee, beloved Hhhhhhar-ding,”), the epic seven-fold amen, and Micaleigh’s song, “This is the Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde. I’ve had the latter stuck in my head since Saturday, so I imagine Nenive will be hearing me sing it soon–too bad, because all I know of it is the title line, including one (1) key change, and a line that goes “all of my dreaming, scheming and [something] has just begun” or something like that. What else rhymes with dreaming and scheming and fits the context? Keening? Preening?

note to self: ask Micaleigh what those lyrics are

During the ceremony, Ecclesiastes 12:13 was a key verse discussed:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

I love this verse because it offers a simple approach to life, and also because it bears resemblance to one of Benedick’s lines from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing:

Serve God, love me, and mend.

It is delivered to Beatrice, giving her a suggestion for how to move forward after a serious heartbreak.

Between the ceremonies I was able to acquire a few souvenirs: a Harding onesie for the baby, a Bison tee shirt for her cousin Mabel, a HUCOP mug for Garrett and a two-year old catalpa tree. The tree had been grown from seeds from the infamous large tree on Harding’s campus, between the Benson and the art building. It’s a beautiful tree, fifty years old, with large heart-shaped leaves, twisty limbs and clusters of white flowers.


During the 3 pm graduation ceremony, a student was honored for perfect chapel attendance for four years. He had been inspired by a legend on the seat in front of him crediting a student of an earlier graduating class with “perfect chapel attendance, minus one.” The student being honored was given his own seat placard to announce that he had perfect chapel attendance, bar none. The auditorium was crazy with cheering for the guy, and Noah leaned over to inform me that it was his “lord knight.” I neither snorted nor rolled my eyes, because these types of ridiculous phrases are now commonplace from Noah.

I didn’t take many photos because I was typically holding the baby; I had to keep asking people to hold her so I could take a bathroom break. I really missed Garrett. Apart from needing his help, I thought of his ceremony two years previously when I saw this year’s College of Pharmacy graduates crossing the stage. Garrett’s parents, and Cassie, had been attending Noah’s high school graduation that day, but watched Garrett’s ceremony via livestream. They were able to watch Micaleigh sing and graduate the same way, from their computer in American Samoa.

The photos I did take were of a cute moment when Micaleigh’s two baby nieces, Nenive and Ada, gave each other a cursory pat-down; an unfocused shot of Micaleigh a mile away on stage; Noah holding a concerned looking Nenive (the audience’s cheering and applause constantly startled and disturbed her); and Delaney holding Nenive for a stirring rendition of “Doe, a Deer.” All taken during moments when someone else held the baby… and most featuring the baby.


Later, at home, I took pictures of the souvenirs listed above, plus the page of the commencement booklet with Micaleigh’s name and the macarons–oh, the macarons! I never knew I liked them before. In fact, I thought I disliked them. As it turns out, I must not have had any good macarons, because these, made by Micaleigh’s sister Hollie for the dinner party, were exquisite. For the first time in my experience, the French cookie tasted as good as it looked. There were dozens of them in different flavors, and I also learned why pistachio flavored treats is a thing.

It’s a good thing I was limited to four because I could have eaten, um… more than four.

*Note: this is the first time I have used the southern expression “bless her heart.”