Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Favorite Place, and Zucchini Pesto

I've been reading student applications, in preparation for their arrival on campus.  By the time they reach me, the applications are almost like ancient history, snapshots of a distant past one year ago when applicants shone their shoes, put their best foot forward, combed their hair, turned their faces at just the right angle for the camera.  Still, they bring that history with them, much as they might want to reinvent themselves, so it's useful to know.

The questions on the Common Application haven't changed much over the past two years (though I see they're different this year), and as I read the applications, sometimes I wonder how I'd answer these questions if I had to write a college application now.  I suspect I'd find the process daunting. Too many places to fall short.

Which seems particularly obvious to me when it comes to this question: "Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?" What seems, on the surface, to be a perfectly innocuous question about tranquility is much more devious, of course, because contentment isn't necessarily peaceful; the essay demands that you demonstrate readiness for college in your choice of content (not the description of the place, of course, but the part that's about you) and proficiency in writing.  Lots of students use this question to describe their experience in competitive athletics, or in some kind of work "flow" in a lab or as they're reading.  So what does it say about me, I wonder, that I'd chose my CSA farm?

I am content with my family, too, when my daughter wriggles into my lap and tells me she's going to cuddle, or when my son tells me about his day, interrupting his stream of consciousness every fourth word with "mom?  and mom?"  But sometimes it's hard to quiet my mind there.  When I'm home I'm often thinking about other things I need to do, lunches to pack, schedules to manage, dinners to make, grocery shopping to do, laundry to fold.  Books I ought to read.

But the CSA is different; it's the one place where time stops for me.  I may be in a rush when I get there, and in a rush when I leave, but when I'm picking up vegetables, being present is effortless. I'm always, without fail, astonished by the view, the green hills that roll away to the horizon with other farms and silos and houses with acreage.  It's one of the few places where I stand still.  Sometimes, if I'm there at just the right time of day, the air is thick and bright with butterflies above the rows of zinnias and sunflowers.  As I pluck the cherry tomatoes from their vines-which come in every imaginable hue from red to yellow to purple--sweet juice bursts their skins open in the heat.  Why is it meaningful to me?  Because being present is difficult sometimes, and I'm grateful for a place that reminds me to do so even after I've left.  Because the other CSA members who've come to pick up their shares, people I've met and people I've never met, essentially share a garden and a virtual table: we are an instant and real community, which offers its members a sense of belonging with no strings attached.  My farmer greets me by name and with a broad smile.  I know the origins of my dinner, digging my heels into the soil that nourished the plans that produced my beans.  I feel connected, and quite literally, grounded.

I'm fairly certain that's not good enough for a college essay.  I wonder what the admissions committees would make of me, the me that would write that essay now.  I wonder if they'd wonder if I ought not to be applying to an ag school, or to a Buddhist monastery, or to a culinary institute, instead of to a university.

Or maybe they'd think I'm an artist, a dreamer, a lover of people, someone who cares about sustainability and nourishing the body and the spirit and the local community.

I like the second picture better.

Zucchini with Pesto

Combine in a food processor and process to a rough paste:

2 c. loosely packed basil leaves
1⁄2 c. grated Parmesan
1⁄3 c. cashews
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled

With the machine running, slowly add:

1⁄2 c. olive oil, or as needed

If the pesto seems dry (it should be a thick paste), add a little more olive oil. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Use immediately, or pour a very thin film of olive oil over the top, cover, and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

When you're ready to serve the dish, julienne the zucchini (I have a brand new fancy mandoline that some friends got for me to do this). Saute briefly until just crisp-tender, and toss with the pesto to warm. Serve with fresh ripe tomatoes, a crusty bread, and whatever else yells summer.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

(It's Not About the) Costume

On Thursday, I signed N. up for dance class.  She has been begging me to find a class for her for almost two years now, since we had to leave the "mommy and me" dance class we attended briefly when I returned to work.  She has collected hand-me-down tights and leotards and ballet slippers and tutus of all colors and persuasions, and can often be found flouncing around the house in one or the other of them, alternately performing something like "Waltz of the Flowers" and "Flashdance." When one of her friends' mothers wrote to me and offered to take N. to class along with her own daughter this year, I felt like the universe had just laid me a golden egg.

Truth be told, I'm excited about this, too. I have fond memories of my own dance school (when I'm not thinking about the clique of girls who terrorized me for being pudgy or awkward or bookish or not going to school in town), and this one is just like it: old school, no monitors to watch the class while you wait for your child, twice a year parent observations, black short-sleeved leotards and pink tights ONLY, please (of course, not in our hand-me-down pile), and seriousness about the study of the art.  I wish I could go, too; my body aches for that kind of movement sometimes.

My daughter is also excited.  I keep reminding her, because she really is a little fashionista sometimes, that it's not about the tutus, that it's really about the dance, about becoming an athlete, about learning a whole new language.  She seems to understand; I hope she understands.


For part of our honeymoon, my husband and I took a bike trip through Umbria.  The trip consisted of  a series of 30-40 mile rides through some spectacular countryside, with stops at wineries and fabulous restaurants, supported by a van that would bring you snacks and carry luggage (and you, if the need arose).  I remember being worried, upon our arrival in Perugia, that we were about to be upstaged by expert riders. That we weren't prepared for this.  And when I saw the other family get off the train with their own bikes with clip-on pedals, bags of gear, and their own personalized helmets, I nearly cried and gave up before we even got started.  But we pretty quickly realized that it was they who were outclassed; that they'd probably bought half of that stuff the week before their trip, which was why it was all so pristine.  By day two, one of the four were riding in the support van, one of them was biking alone miles behind us, and the two teenagers had lost the route (presumably on purpose, so they could make out with each other uninterrupted).

It was an important lesson, though one I find myself re-learning with embarrassing frequency.  It's not about the costume.


It goes for writing, too, doesn't it?  It doesn't matter if you have sharpened pencils, or if you've mastered the art of post promotion through social media.  It's not even about being published, or having been published.  The writers are the ones who are writing, practicing their craft.  What matters is that you put your fingers to the keyboard, and come as you are.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

#Microblog Monday: Unfamiliar

(With apologies to those of you who get squirmy about feet, because I know there are people like that out there...)
So, this happened this weekend, courtesy of N.:

N. loves nail polish.  Fingers, toes, doesn't much matter.  Last week it was blue with sparkles, but she really wanted pink, because her friend L. had pink.  For $0.99, I figured she could have pink.

I never wear anything polish, never mind hot pink toenail polish, but I couldn't resist her when she asked if she could paint my toenails, too. I doing a double-take when I look down at my feet.  Aaaah! They're pink.  Aaaaaah!  They're still pink.  It's disconcerting.

But also sort of fun.

Have you ever done something that made you look unfamiliar to yourself, temporarily?

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is?
Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

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