Tuesday, 28 December 2010

In the Absence of Much To Say

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 13 of East of Eden, by John Steinbeck:

"Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may be have trooped by faceless and pale. And then -- the glory -- so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.

"I don't know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economies, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused.

"At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?

"Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness likes in the lonely mind of a man.

"And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammerblows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.

"And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost."


Laura xoxo

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Spot the Canaries in Southern Italy

Last Saturday night my husband answered the door to welcome our guests wearing his own homemade version of Madonna’s cone bra – instead of cones he wore protruding plant pots covered in glitter. A rural Madonna. After the initial shock it seemed the guests warmed to him. The idea was Italian-American and we were hinting at the theme of our first wine tasting – wines from Southern Italy.

It was the first time I’ve entertained (along with David) for 12 people around a table, and I felt my inner Mother Mitzi came to life as I spent the whole day buzzing about in preparation. However I did feel the benefit from all the planning ahead as an unexpected calmness arrived just as the guests did. A good group of people makes all the difference. Your little mistakes won’t be held against you. The effort, the act of making something for someone, giving to the people you care about and whose company you enjoy, is what tops the cake.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, "You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do."

One tasty by-product of our efforts was a handmade pesto (courtesy of chef Nigel Slater) with watercress. The recipe can be found here,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/hand-made_pesto_with_64346. With a borrowed pestle and mortar I crushed these ingredients into a green nutty sauce to be mixed with warm pasta. I supplemented the pine nuts with cashews to save on cost and traded the parmesan for grana padano and this recipe became a keeper, and justification for buying my own pestle and mortar!

As far as the theme of the night, Southern Italy, in addition to these 4 wines we sneaked in two from Tenerife, (a Spanish Canary Island) and hence, the title. Our guests had to decide which two were the oddballs among the bunch. Several of our friends were hot on our tail.

It occurred to me that quite of a few of the elements of the night formed a heart-warming convergence of people we’ve met, places seen, and experiences had. We served an Italian wine made the Negroamaro grape, a type of wine we first tasted in Rocco’s restaurant in Corfu. Rocco and Hilary introduced us to this wine from Rocco’s place of birth – Puglia in Southern Italy. My dress for the night – a thrift store treasure dug up in Kannapolis, NC from Value Village – was used for the whopping second time, being first worn (by me) at the Halloween party in 2009 thrown by some much-loved friends. (Thank you Amanda & Sarah for giving me a reason to buy that frock and bestow upon it an extended life). David’s bra incorporated flowerpots, giving a due nod to gardening and my father-in-law who has supplied me with a surplus of pots for my endeavours.

This time, I did manage to finish the night without showering anyone with liquid from improperly opened bottles. Hooray!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Dusty Keys & Sun Drop Cake: Another Trip Home

Last Saturday night, I sat around a table with a belly full of chili, cornbread and Sun Drop pound cake. Like every November 7th, it's my Daddy's birthday; dogs are smearing cold noses on the door and daylight savings is distracting us with colored leaves before his elusive exit. I see him now: creeping down the hall, pointer finger to mouth, careful not to wake his sleeping sunlight mistresses. But there we were in the sunroom, tissue paper and candle wax leaving evidence of year 57, a year I hope to walk with half my dad's bouncy step. Through the windows we could see the bonfire he built at dusk, settling into cherry wood embers, asking quietly for more fuel.

I stood up to stretch. My mom and my friend, Vanessa, were knee deep in childhood stories, adding a tear or two to the pile of tissue paper and dripped wax. (Anyone who knows my mother, knows she could coach the heart out of a light pole.) I looked at my dad in the midst of all this estrogen and had to giggle. What a man!

I relocated to the living room, where our old piano sits and uncovered its keys. Growing up, piano lessons came once a week, and I associated this spot with stress, with making my fingers do the right thing at the right time. I knew if I played The Entertainer loud enough, my hard-of-hearing grandmother would come into the room, bend her knees a bit like she saw them do on the Lawrence Welk Show. I loved to see her dance. And I knew she loved a chance to listen.

But this night, I laid my stiff fingers over the keys and remembered their sounds: together, separate, in a row. Like the words I gather when writing poems, I realized that each sound has infinite potential when pushed by emotion. And this wood and ivory piece of potential had been sitting quiet for too long. However many songs I'd memorized sitting there, I'd never sat there with their sounds to make something new.

I see it now: a brisk walk up my stairs, a cup of green tea and honey, warm light in the corner, a keyboard. Maybe it's my Winter project, a reason to stretch my creative landscape. Year 25 isn't too late or 57, for that matter. Maybe Daddy will take up dancing while I play. A little girl can hope.

xx Corrie Lynn

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Finding Breath in Winter

For several years I have wondered if I may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, but then I relax and back away from the hypochondriacal tendencies and into the warmth of a cardigan and fleece blanket. Next I invite my cats onto my lap for communal warming. I want to think it is the ebb and flow, the seasonal turns our human bodies must obey, or as my yoga teacher would say, the yin and yang.

The summer makes us slow with its heat, while the winter calls for a brisk walk or turning over earth in the garden to churn our muscles and give our bodies the warmth that is so plentiful in summer. Winter is contemplative, to summer’s humour.

In the spring I felt like a newborn, plump with desires for the year, plans. After my defrosting I was aglow with the sentiment that blooming was ahead, progress, long hours of sunlight. Of course, the days again will shorten and the green things float back down to the ground. The leaves provide autumn its palette with their color change and eventually become food for the worms underfoot.

It is now the end of October, and I recently bought a new raincoat to bridge the gap between late summer and early winter. It hasn't yet seen many days because the cold arrived too soon and a heavier covering is required. Nearly everyone you meet mentions the return of “dark nights” (although they come around each year they are still a phenomenon which must be spoken of). My green-fingered endeavours have proved a modest success. I have potatoes, petite onions, a few bulbs of garlic among other things. The parsnips are still pushing underground waiting for the frost to bestow flavor. Some things have flowered early and others have flowered late, flowered for longer than expected, or not flowered at all. I have learned that next year I won’t be so calculating in my attempts. I will lean more towards experimentation without a fear of failure. Most of the time, things find a way to grow.

In these next cold months instead of giving in to moods of melancholy, I will empathize with the snow crocus bulbs. Having just been planted they rest beneath the surface, in waiting, and in spring I will monitor their (my) peep above ground, a harbinger of beauty to come.

Let me introduce you to Georgie (right) and Axle (left). Friends since infancy.

And a few of the many local sheep. I'm afraid I can't tell you their names.

Stay warm!

xx Laura

Sunday, 10 October 2010

What Lucy Built

There's something about standing in an empty, curtainless house, catching light in all directions. An old house, one that used to hold things I now use in my apartment: tea cups, vases, bedside tables. The one where my mother first learned to bake a cake, my grandmother made dresses, my grandfather sold gas and candy to driversby. Two store front windows later framed Mammaw's sewing machine and my mother's wrought iron bed. We'd park in the gravel and skip up the side walk. A yellow jacket once stung my cheek upon opening the screen door. The place still smells of moth balls and Red Man tobacco. It's something like home.

Being there means dreaming back and forth, wondering what will be of this house and if it will include me. Regardless, in my mind, I trim the shrubs, plant gardens, paint the shutters green. I sip coffee on the side porch and the trees wave sun and shadows over my face. They are old and have seen three generations sit there and throw wishes into their branches.

It's common to get caught in the future. In our minds, we run sprints to the end of the present and crank our necks trying to see what comes next. Whether the impulse grows from excitement or boredom, we miss out on the fruits of the moment, which reminds me of a lovely poem by Wendell Berry.

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Before I left the house that day, I pulled the low-hanging light bulb string and climbed the stairwell. In one of the small bedrooms, stacks of hat boxes lined the walls. I ran my finger through the dust coating one of them and opened it to find a fine, fancy hat adorned with feathers and black netting. Naturally, I put it on and walked over to the abandoned vanity. There, in the dingy reflection was Mammaw's hat sitting on my head five sizes small. And naturally, I missed her and her little head in a house begging to be made a part of someone's present. But mixed somewhere in the rustling trees and floorboard creeks, Berry's words soothed me: What we need is here. What we need is here.

xo Corrie Lynn

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A Declaration of Affection: My History With Tomatoes

There aren’t many things in this world as beautiful in their simplicity as a plump and fresh, homegrown tomato. I remember being a young’un, my parents fretting that my premature acne was due to the acid I was consuming via tomatoes. I must have been eating a lot of them. I still eat a lot of them. I still have the odd outbreak of acne. (I don’t really think tomatoes are the culprit). I am letting them off the hook.

Tomatoes have a fair claim to being one of my favorite foods. Lucky them! Let us be grateful to tomatoes for their versatility and their privileged position in the fruit vs. vegetable debate. Isn’t it nice to be fought over? Caprese salad, warm pasta bolognese, fiery arrabiata, the list marches on, just as tomatoes seem to in the months they bless us with their presence. It is sad the season must end, as it is about to. At least they are happy to be frozen in sauces and soups for winter.

Tomatoes and me? Our history is far reaching. Obviously the reference to acne is probably the beginning, and soon came Newman's Own spaghetti sauce, and then I remember having thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes, by themselves. Those slices grew tired of being solo and soon asked to be sprinkled with salt and black pepper and sandwiched between slices of Merita white bread, sealed with a very generous portion of the best mayonnaise in the whole wide world! (Oh Britain you are missing out when it comes to Duke’s). It wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of culinary creativity but what utter pleasure!

As I grew, so did my taste buds and I soon discovered the splendor of freshly made salsa. It must have been the joy at receiving a basket of warm and glistening tortilla chips at the Mexican restaurant in Concord, North Carolina. The one across from Applebee’s and beside Harris Teeter. Is it still there? If not, rest assured the memory is. The accompanying salsa was blended, a smooth cooperative of its integral parts. From smooth salsa beginnings I now tend to prefer it chunky. I like to see what things are made of.

I later made the jump from larger than life, fleshy tomatoes to cherry, roma and their plentiful cousins - petite nuggets of flavor gold. Small things sure can pack a punch!

And here I am, tonight, trying to make sense of the large numbers of tomatoes that have arrived from my Father-in-Law Bill's allotment (the quarters of his gardening mojo). I decide to take a hint from a simple pizza sauce recipe. I skin medium-sized bowl of tomatoes in hot water and chop some garlic to fry. After a few minutes I add the tomatoes to the softened garlic and let it simmer for a little while then add some fresh basil, a little salt to taste and a little extra water if necessary. To such an undemanding recipe I would toss in one more portion of goodness - some grated hard Italian cheese, like parmesan or pecorino. (And giving credit to the Mexican restaurant I like this one smooth and blended).

Your heart will be warmed, I promise.


xxx Laura xxx

Thursday, 9 September 2010

We Needn't Be Anything but Together

Time together falls through our fingers, but always leaves us something to hold. We take our bodies from the routine, from the actions we're told to do, and do what we want with the ones we love the most. We sleep in or wake early, and wake not to a rush, but to one another and the chance to catch the crisp of summer morning. We meet the cusp of Autumn when the sun's gone and citronella illuminates the laughter of good and old friends-- a sound not heard enough.

I'm always overcome with inspiration when Laura comes or I go to her. The cinnamon red of a sunset walk, the drizzling rain at Daddy's wood shop, the holding and comparing of hands-- who's got whose? The past ten days have once again proved rejuvenation with the changing backdrop of the Outer Banks to the Yadkin Valley to our very own dogwoods and pines. While we grow and are growing into our adult selves, we irresistibly enter our bubble built with giggles and silly voices. The best parts of us never grow old (we are learning).

So shall we let the homemade pizzas, Sanderling sightings, Italian grapevines, washcloth lessons, Swan Creek cartwheels, chicken stew, and Blueberry Yum-yum sink into our toes as we take our post vacation steps.

And to satisfy your viewing pleasure:

Sunset at Atlantic Beach

Sipping Vermentino, resting our eyes on the Brushy Mountains

Enjoying the chicken stew in Swan Creek

A cute couple of pizza makers!

A circle of good and old friends.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Bike Rides and a Big Pot of Beans

Recently, I've learned a couple of things. One: if you make a big pot of beans, plan ahead. Heaven knows how you'll react when your tastebuds tire of the usual partnership with rice. And two: when a good friend visits, she may yank your perfectly capable (neglected) bike out of storage, lather its chain with canola oil, and bump along next to you down the sidewalk and onto lakeside trails speckled with Canadian Geese. Prepare your face for lots of grinning.

So, first thing's first: beans. One morning, I spent precious before-work-minutes consoling the beans before their eight hour soak. "Don't worry when you get plump. It's just water weight!" They seemed reassured and off to work, I went. Days later, after lunches of beans, couscous, and salsa failed to excite my palate, I rummaged the internet for a veggie burger recipe, and hurried home with mushrooms, green and yellow onions, garlic, and cumin to add to my squashed beans. Later, I was throwing patties on hot oil like a frying pro and my apartment took on the smell of the State Fair. However, my burgers didn't firm up like burgers should. I figure an egg will do the trick, next time. So tell me, dear readers, what would you do with the leftover beans? And please, don't say, "Stuff them down the disposal."

And secondly: my dear friend Amanda was passing through Raleigh one evening with her bike in tow. We unlocked my storage closet and carried the bike that once carried me in college from class to class into my living room. The real world (in its time-guzzling way), had worn hard on the bike's mojo, and its resuscitation ensued. Helmets strapped, tires pumped, and little-kid-anticipation engaged, we hit the road. And I tell you, no matter how concreted, how polluted, how humid-- every place is prettier on a bike. There are no windows to roll up, no volume to control, no gas to pump. Only low hanging wisteria vines to dodge, Canadian Geese to weave through, and people (yes, people) to smile at, talk to, or pass over a piece of bread to throw at hungry ducklings.

So let me ask you this: what possession in your closets could you carry into the light and give a little mouth-to-mouth? Paint brushes? Kayaks? Potter's wheel? Sometimes it takes a good friend to push you into new territory, but really, it's just important to make sure what you own, you use, and also that what you own, doesn't own you. I say this loudly to myself as I consider airing out the tent I don't use enough amongst mountains I don't see enough with the people I could never love enough. Sappy enough?

Time to eat more beans!

xxx Corrie Lynn

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Building A Nest In Goldfinch Barn

Perhaps my art professor was right a few years ago when he hinted that my work was too literal. Today I lusted after a cream mixing bowl in a department store, a bowl with little birds dancing around the rim. I promptly sent a text message to my sister expressing my alarm at this new heartache (at the same time emitting faint yet audible puppy dog whimpers). Five minutes before the bowl incident I was surreptitiously photographing a packet of notecards adorned with what? Birds again.

A little while later I was told I was nesting.

This is only a few days after my unbridled excitement following a forage on the internet for a new duvet cover. I found one, after many months of sporadic searching, one which totally fit my current temperament. It has a sky blue background, with blouzy pink and red roses, to follow many seasons of solids and stripes.

Perhaps it is all due to our entrance into a new era. Not pregnancy. A new era in our conversion of a stone barn into a comfortable place to dwell.

Four years ago we decided to move an hour inland and upland from the North Sea coast. We purchased a farm building attached to a cottage after recognizing the potential of the place. Our thoughts were - put some work in and give the structure a makeover. “Some work” became an understatement. Our barn, christened Goldfinch Barn, was a stone shell ready for a renaissance.

Presently we are able to see a little luminance at the end of one heck of a tunnel. Hence the time is ripe to laugh about some of the conditions we have lived through, by choice. There was a time when we had black walls, covered in a damp-proof membrane of sticky tar. This was not inviting and was definitely not a wipeable surface. Nonetheless it was great mechanism to trap free-flying cat fur and feeble insects.

For several years I lived without a sink in my kitchen and for even longer I have slept in a room with no natural light. I suppose it’s no surprise that friends/family staying over have said they’ve enjoyed the best night sleep in ages. (It is akin to sleeping in a cave). Now the windows are slowly opening and ushering in the beams of sunlight, some of the surfaces are easier to wipe and the rooms are beginning to ask for visitors.

So yes, it is a new era of floral prints, color charts and the delicate final touches, and I am the dancing bird.

Our kitchen, in the beginning, black walls and all, but hey, we still had a nice refrigerator! (And a vacuum cleaner!)

And now, black walls buried, protecting us from the ingress of horizontal rain.

xxx Laura

Monday, 26 July 2010

Warm Legs in the Workplace

If there's anything I've grown fond of in the working life, it's break time. We don't have a water cooler, but those of us that choose, pull chairs into a circle with a snack, a sigh, and usually something to say. Conversation ranges from Justin Bieber's hair to the writing style of Elizabeth Gilbert to the best place to eat tacos, and usually I'm staring deep into whatever it is I'm knitting: washcloths, Ipod holders, a leg-warmer.

Yes, a leg-warmer. Just one. It was a trial run, an excuse to use all my scrap yarn, and a way to satisfy my co-worker, Clay's, incessant requests for a way to warm up his leg. After months of resisting, I took to the thing, trying to make the best of clashing colors and varied textures. This is what's fun about making something for the first time: you're both a participant and an observer of a brand new thing that probably won't be your best work, but at least you'll learn what not to do next time.

Like the first time I made a hat for my (at the time) boyfriend, I used too thick needles and too much yarn, and by the time I'd sewn the seam, the hat could've fit on a buffalo. So, I took out the seam and doubled it up. Luckily, he saw opportunity in the handmade gift and exclaimed, "I've never had a hat with a pocket before!" Oh, young love.

The day the legwarmer made it's debut, workers emerged from their cubicles to gawk and chuckle at the new addition to Clay's leg. No one could walk past without questioning his fashion, and he defended it with practiced sincerity. Soon, though, it got hot (as it does in the South), and the legwarmer began its hibernation in the desk drawer. Clay swears he'll wear it when it gets cold, but I'm not holding my breath. One, because the summer's heat is squashing any memory of winter, and two, he'll be much too cool to wear it once his book comes out in November: http://www.amazon.com/Greyfriar-Vampire-Empire-Book/dp/1616142472. (You're welcome, Clay.)

Until then, I'll just sit in the circle, learn about Lady Gaga's latest attire, and add some indigo to my burgeoning washcloth.

xxx Corrie Lynn

Saturday, 10 July 2010

It Was Greek To Me...

"Could you tell me what the 'Big Beans' are please?"

"Ummmm.. They are Big Beans. In a tomato sauce."

" Oh ok, thanks."

He kindly brought me two beans (big ones) to try.

For a bit of soul restoration, a change of scenery can work wonders. I (along with my hubbie) spent last week on the northern tip of Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, in a small apartment in the fishing village of Kassiopi.

How refreshing to amble down a main street and your eyes not meet the McDonald’s logo, or ASDA (Walmart). Instead you pass Agathi’s where Agathi herself is knitting in her chair, her handiwork draped and stacked and hung all around and her loom over in the corner. The loom is put to work in the cool and wet winter months. For now Agathi’s hands are moving like fire and on this day she is knitting baby booties (Glimpse into the future CL?).

For a treat to our taste buds we did some internet research and sought out recommended eateries. Quite of few of the restaurants and tavernas presented you with a little appetizer on the house after you took your seats. One of the most memorable was at Vitamins Taverna in Nissaki, where along with bread they served an olive pate of sorts. Neither of us are enthusiastic olive poppers but this dip was very persuasive and a helping hand across the bridge to olive adoration. I asked what the ingredients were, and with a reluctance our waitress (one of the daughters of the family owner) said a blend of dark purple olives, sundried tomatoes, garlic and little vinegar (although I’m sure I could taste a little wine). This one will really test my el cheap-o handheld immersion blender.

Although in Greece we did try our local Italian restaurant, just around the corner from our apartment. It was an absolute delight. Having only been open for 5 weeks, the chef Rocco and his English partner Hilary, welcomed us with open arms carrying homemade bread, aioli and chopped tomatoes with garlic. Quickly we learned of their worry that their first weeks in business hadn’t resulted in the numbers of customers they had expected. It could be due to fewer tourists as a result of the economic climate or maybe because their status as new kids in town just might mean it takes time to establish their reputation. Either way, they sincerely deserve to be successful, because Rocco’s food was simply beautiful and their hospitality as warm as their pizza oven.

Here are few photos of the plant life in Corfu.

This one was taken near the highest point in Corfu - Mount Pantokrator.

Lemon trees near our apartment.
A few others which to me were eye candy.


xx Laura

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Behold-- The Hot Camel!

I never knew my body could crave a camel. The yoga posture, that is. I've never met a real one, but I wouldn't expect to crave them either. Although I just learned at the Field Museum in Chicago that their humps are filled with fat so if there's no food for two weeks, they'll hang tight. Life's tough in the desert, but humps help!

The camel in yoga basically stretches your body into a heart-exposed slingshot and a series of sensations tend to take place: anxiety, anger, fear, nausea, loss of control, and the occasional surge of elation. I've yet to feel that one. You start out standing on your knees shoulder width apart, your feet behind you about six inches apart. Place your hands on your lower back (or butt) and slowly stretch your upper body up, then back. Find the floor with your eyes and stay there for a bit. If this feels okay, then grip the outside of your ankles with your hands and pull your body forward, like a slingshot. Fight urges to retreat, crawl into a ball, or run into the lobby for air conditioned therapy. Oh yeah-- all this is done in a 100 degree room, populated with sweating bodies and a gym sock smell.

My yoga instructor treats the camel as the posture mecca of the 90 minute series. "All the postures lead to this one," she often says, "Just let your body feel whatever it's feeling. It's temporary, remember." She reminds us that in everyday life, we slump, we cross our arms, we literally shield our heart. This pose does everything to leave this precious part of us vulnerable, exposed, free, causing the slew of emotion to pass through. I like to think of it as an emotional (and physical) oil change. Soon, we've exited the camel and fall into a child's pose. Gravity presses on us as we tremble towards breath and familiarity.

Days later, I'll drive down the road or sit at my desk, stiff and solid, and feel my body's whispers for a Pigeon, an Eagle, or a Rabbit. But it's when I find myself steps into a new frontier: reading my poetry at an open-mic, tackling a new responsibility at work, or making a tough phone call, I think of the camel.

I let fear wash through like a flash storm, give the twists in my stomach time to undo, and pry my heart open against its own impulse to hide. Thank you, Camel. You make me want to cry, but thank you.

xxx Corrie Lynn

PS. This is not me.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Pretty (and) Grotesque

Last Halloween we threw a party for the kids (Matthew, Joseph & Rebecca) and to tease their imagination we made shortbread fingers with fingernails made of blanched almonds, fruit punch full of floating frozen hands, and tactile mystery boxes of oozing jelly eyeballs, slimy maggots and wiggly worms.

In my real life, however, I was pleasantly surprised the day I found a dead rabbit’s eyeball lying solo on the kitchen floor, staring up at me. It made a change from the leftover kidneys and other unidentifiable innards that my graceful and sleek grown up kittens leave scattered in dark corners and also in plain sight when you wake up in the morning and when you get home in the evening.

Rabbits (young and old), pheasants, a kestrel, mice (all varieties), moles, voles, rats, a HARE (!), blackbirds, a swallow, pied wagtails, a hedgehog and I could go on. I can’t say they’ve ever brought me a fox, or one of the young Shetland ponies down the road, but who knows? I wouldn’t put it past my most intrepid cat, Axle.

It comes as a shock when a person of the town or suburbs hears of these things, but when your reality is a life in the English countryside with a dog and three young cats, it ain’t all wildflowers and frolicking lambs. I heard my work colleague complaining about a rat in her garage, in near hysterics and thought to myself, “Honey, you ain’t seen nothin’.”

Should I feel pity for the ill-fated rabbit or mole? My mother-in-law is a bona fide sympathizer - the shortened life, the terror the animal must have felt when feline jaws clamped around its neck and the sunlight faded into darkness. I suppose I just think, hey, it’s life. The Circle of Life!!! (as sung by Elton John with Simba in mind). Or maybe I am playing out in my own imagination a scene in which my cat Axle, as Simba in training, hunts on the African plains.

Frankly I do not understand those who squirm at the sight of spiders or other “creepy crawlies” because these creatures are harmless for the most part and the fear (in my humble opinion) is irrational. Ants can carry at least 10 times their own body weight, and we as humans are afraid of insects? Get over it! My young niece Rebecca was mesmerized by the sight of my cat Axle chomping his way through a rabbit. She could not take her eyes off the act despite her mother’s attempts to lure her back indoors. Perfect illustration of a child’s insatiable curiosity. Simultaneous attraction and repulsion. Or perhaps she just wanted to witness a scene that was beautifully grotesque.

Of course the hour of day and your mood can affect how you react to such things.

It is not always so beautiful to be greeted by a headless rabbit on a 3 am journey to the toilet.

Welcome to my world.

Sort of reminds me of Nemo...

xx Laura

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

I'm a Home-Hopper

I've become the Snow White of insects. I chat with ants as I chop celery, make silent deals with slugs intent on sharing my shower, and knock politely on the cupboard's door before barging in on what some nights sounds like a mouse parade. We've all been there once or twice, especially those of us that enjoy the quaint characteristics of residing in what's stood against time. It is likely we'll all reckon with the critter kingdom.

On a less grimy note, I am moving to a new apartment, one that was built with insulation and uses electric heat. Imagine that! When you've gone without what most people (Americans) have, you recover the original appreciation for the discovery/invention of that thing. Like a dining table, for instance. I will have one (although small and shoved in a corner)! I hope to sit there when I'm done eating and do all sorts of things that can only be done at a table (solitaire, scrabble, draft a blueprint).

Needless to say, things like new apartments are ripe with hope. They wait around the next corner doing excited dances. But, I must say, in the old place, the place I still live, I've learned how to be okay with the uncomfortable reality of a drafty winter, how to not let spider crickets send my blood bolting when they hop like popped corn from my next step, and how to walk calmly past the carpenter bee, who hovers outside my front door because his front door is a hole drilled in my roof. I'm not sure what these skills have prepared me for, but I can hope they've added a cornerstone to my character.

I can also hope Snow White will stay at the old place so I can get some rest.

xx Corrie Lynn

PS: Here's my mom, me, and a lovely shadow in the old place.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Intangible Heirlooms

Gardening has got a hold on me.

At the end of my day I now say hello to my plant children and ask them how their days have been. I have joined my local horticultural society and am looking into horticultural distance learning courses. My "to read" list is awash with books about plants not to mention the fact that the local library's stock of books on the subject is half checked out by moi! I am reading Laeticia Maklouf's The Virgin Gardener at present which gives any new green finger little projects that will really set you on your way.

Over the past few months the seed packets have quickly accumulated while the free space on my windowsills has notably diminished. Last week I had to rein in my bubbling excitement when I received a cutting of my father-in-law’s lavender to grow on, sending me down the path of propagation. And finally, Alys Fowler, the gardening heroine of many and her TV show on the BBC called “The Edible Garden”…what an inspiration. She shows you how to fit tasty produce in a small space together with beautiful foliage, and on a budget to boot! Here are their blogs.



It seems that through time, space and memory I have been handed an heirloom, which is defined on dictionary.com as “A valued possession passed down in a family through succeeding generations.”

As I wait for my seeds to germinate and cuttings to take root I am accompanied by my parents and grandparents and the lessons thus far learned from Alys and Co. I can feel them looking over my shoulder. They must have felt the same things. Like me they must have wondered if the wonder would melt away into the mundane and usual. Oh how I wish I could plop my current self back down into that desk in biology class.


Here are some photos of my progress.

My purple sprouting broccoli (x 2) is becoming acquainted with the outdoors and its first night under the moon was quite cold so currently I am concerned.

My thyme plants are showing personality in their movement towards light, being turned every which-a-way and developing at different rates.

My onions have shown bravery after a few late frosts.

Lemon balm is desperate to reach the heavens and proves that plants want to grow!

Salad leaves are having a bad hair day and impressing upon me discontent in their position on the windowsill. (Unless an expert can tell me otherwise!)

xx Laura

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Yodeling with Merle and Wylie

Last weekend I sat on a grassy hill and listened to Wylie and the Wild West at Merlefest. Black locust petals rained in white waves at the wind's whim. It was their early arrival, a triumph for the year's honey harvest. Wylie yodeled and moved his long legs in a smooth cowboy way across the stage like it was his own Montana porch. I was knitting my second set of baby booties: red, white and blue ones, with musically enamored attention.

My friend, Tony, leaned over to ask, "Do have dreams about knitting?"
I smiled, aware of his subtle way of calling me obsessed, and answered, "No, I don't think I have."

Two mornings later, I awoke with vivid images of a sweater. One I'd made in my dream. A cream color with a sheen, a loose lacy pattern. I didn't remember how I did it: the arm holes, the neckline. These are things I don't know how to do. I should've taken notes from my dream self. She has much more vision. All I remember is the way it felt, how perfect it fit. I will thank Tony for nudging my dreams in the right direction.

But about the booties: upon the successful completion of one, I stayed in stride and casted on again for the start of another. The bamboo needles were no longer straight lines. They had contorted to the weight of the yarn, and I thought I had gotten used to their slight bendability when one quick purl snapped the needle in two. It felt as if my Popsicle had fallen off the stick on a late August afternoon. Who knew the needle would break?
Tony saw my look of shallow devastation and said, "You have a Swiss army knife in your bag. Just sharpen it and make do with a shorter one."

I knew he was right. I could make do with what I had. But I decided to put the knitting away and give my attention to Wylie and the great big sun, who was coming through the trees, and the wind, who threw confetti on the big sea of us who came there to leave the unfinished alone and give yodeling a go.


xx Corrie Lynn

ps. Here's Wylie in true form. Check him out: http://wyliewebsite.com/.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sharing Wine in Weardale

Meet Axle, one of my three cats. Although he doesn't drink wine he does live in a place called Weardale, like me.

On one Saturday a month for the last six David and I have attended wine tasting evenings with a group of 11 locals. We were first invited by our neighbors who have been attending for a few years and because another couple had just quit the group they kindly saw fit to invite us along.

Our friends in the group assure us we are learning, even though it doesn’t seem so, not yet anyway. When the night begins you are eager to learn and your scribbled notes are coherent, your handwriting unyielding and legible. You taste a few white wines and then a few reds. As the hours pass discipline is sneaking out the door, your limbs have loosened and you realize that actually, the company, the conversation, the laughter – these are the treasures. And then, suddenly you realize that your notes are being scribbled on the host’s table and the dog begging beneath the table is actually licking in between your toes! (Perhaps an exaggeration…)

I have never actively tried to develop my palate, beyond cooking and trying different edible and drinkable substances. During one of the first tastings David was convinced he could taste cat urine in one of the wines. I quietly discouraged him from saying that out loud but he indeed did share and it turned out to be a sign of a certain white grape!

Due to the fact I am a novice my natural reaction is to sit back and listen, keeping my impressions to myself for the most part. I do regret this because as I loosen up as the night passes and the comments flow I am reminded that being open when you are inexperienced does enable the learning process and speed things along.

I will now share one of my crowning moments.

On this particular night the plans had changed. Usually one person in the group hosts the evening supplying the wine and food with a theme to the wine tasting that you try and guess throughout. The host for the night called in sick so there was quick scramble and we all were asked to bring a bottle of wine and something to eat and show up at the alternative location. I brought a bottle of Prosecco (one that I had been given at Christmas) and looked up what kinds of food this might be paired with because I had no idea. A pasta dish was hastily prepared.

All started well with an appetizer of cod roe on toasted baguette slices with a glass of our first wine. Since we usually start with a sparkling wine (Champagne or otherwise) it was decided my Prosecco would be second taste and I was assigned the duty of opening it. Most were settling at the table including myself. I stood up, removed the wire surrounding the cork and before I realized what happened the cork flew like a rocket at maximum speed across the room with the loud “POOF” you would expect. I was mortified. Face blood red. There was a brief silence and without being aware of my actions (David told me it appeared as if I had taken aim) I had turned to the left with the bottle in hand and suddenly the Prosecco, being determined to cause further embarrassment was spraying out in an arch and directly onto the head of a lady named Pru. The arched trajectory of the liquid reminded me of playing with a hosepipe on a scorching summer’s day. The trouble was I had bathed Pru in wine on a cold English winter’s night. She had arrived late after having a rushed and stressful day and sat down to what should have been an effortless and jolly evening. I then shampooed her hair in Prosecco.

I could not have been more humiliated. The good news, however, is that we were invited back. That could be, of course, just to see what I would do next.

-- Laura

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Tuesday Nights

For two years, Tuesdays have been long. From 8 to 5, I work at the Library for the Blind, assisting patrons with various talking book needs and come home to eat quickly, change into comfortable clothes, slip my jingle tap shoes in a bag, and reenter the car to meet Ron, my 66 year old clogging partner. We travel across nearly three counties in rush hour traffic. He drives while I sometimes nap or knit, but there's always conversation. Ron has been living in Raleigh his entire life. He has watched the planting of strip malls and belt-lines, the infiltration of new ethnicities living next door. Ron could be a cynic. He could spend the 45 minutes complaining to me the hassles of watching things change, memories die. But he instead tells me he took scrap bread to the lake today to feed the ducks and met a nice young boy catching his first fish. We listen to pop music and swap stories of our weeks. I give him advice on healthy eating, since his recent heart problems. He shakes his head at whole grains and broccoli. He asks of my love life. I shake my head at the slim pickings.

We reach Atwater Farms, the home and retired dairy of fellow clogger, Don. There's a one-room wooden building, built for the special purpose of dance, tucked behind his home and garden plot. Once inside the building, the open windows frame lovely moving images of grazing cows. I also feel tucked away, protected, here. I am reminded where I am from, the constancy of surrounding countryside. I rest my eyes on what the window frames. I hear the taps jingling on tapping feet. I turn around when Pam, the team mother of sorts, says to me, "Come give me a hug, sugar dumpling!" As she squeezes me, I forget what lives outside this very space.

Finally, we get to dancing! For those that don't know, there are a lot of variations of clogging. Some people always start on the left foot, some on the right. Some cloggers use jingle taps, some use regular tap shoes. Some kick high, some aren't so sure. Within the community, this causes tension and disagreement. I say, any dancing at all is better than none! And if anyone is interested in such an old folk dance, they should be encouraged to learn, regardless of the particulars. For me, dance is the purest form of feeling free. It provides a euphoria of sorts, but only if one feels comfortable. To have a community especially for dance is special because you grow in relationships as you grow as a dancer, making the impulse more organic. May I just say, holding hands with people of all shapes and ages while dancing freestyle in a circle stretches my smile to greater territory each time. I am so thankful for these people.

I never sleep on the car ride home. Sometimes I ask Ron to stop at the grocery store so I can pick up a couple things for the week. I take him through the fresh produce section. I pick up an avocado.

"What's that?" He said.
"An avocado."
"It looks like a hand grenade. What do you do with it?"
I laugh. "You can use it to make guacamole or just put it on sandwiches as a spread or topping."
"I don't eat anything I can't pronounce," he says. We are in the check out line at this point, with a lady in front of us.
"Well they say it's good for women's reproductive organs, so you might should give it a chance."
"Oh! No, you didn't!"

We all laugh. I've forgotten by this point how I'm usually in bed by this time most other weekday nights. Ron drives me back to my car. I get home and put away my groceries, thinking of a healthy meal I could get Ron to eat next week.

When The Seed Was Planted

I don't recall seeing many photographs of my grandparents' garden or rose bushes. When I was seven I didn't realize that the plunge of my hand into a metal tin filled with cool, grainy bird seed or my grandfather, a teacher, lifting the tarp on the compost heap with an explanation on decay would somehow become a memory that I would call upon as inspiration at the age of 27.

These days I am cultivating a nascent "green thumb" which I believe is rooted in these early experiences and is also an attempt to keep my dear grandparents alive in my memory. The mental images may be faded and blurred around the edges but I will make new ones which are vivid and distinct! I am lucky because presently in the UK there is a glut of media attention being paid to growing your own vegetables and making simple and beautiful food using your own home grown ingredients. I am a novice at best yet already there is so much joy to be found in watching my little plants grow!

I am starting small, being restricted in terms of climate (living in an exposed and hilly spot) and time (with commuting to a full-time job and renovating the stone barn we are living in) but with enthusiasm I am nursing some herbs along into what will hopefully become my own little aromatic herb garden!

Even this morning when I came down downstairs, before even turning on the kettle for a "cuppa" I felt it necessary to check the progress of my seedlings, wondering if they might be thirsty or if today they would lodge a request to move to a sunnier post.

Here are my little ones about a week ago, some thyme and lemon balm.

Onwards and Upwards may they go!