Monday, March 30, 2009

In the moonlight, the color and scent of the wisteria, seems so far away
'tsuki ni tooku oboyuru fuji no iroka kana'
-Yosa Buson (1716-1784)

I learned of this purple beauty after watching the English film Enchanted April. Wisteria and England are intertwined in my mind. When I see this woody vine, I want to brew a pot of tea.

My mother is half-English. There was no prescribed teatime at our house, but once she surprised us with a traditional afternoon tea. My first real one was in Peterborough, England. My cousins marveled at how many sugar cubes I dropped into my cup. Then they laughed as I drowned a scone in Devonshire cream and strawberry jam. I left not a crumb.

The tradition of teatime is no longer in vogue (unless you are like Moby and open a tea shop in Manhattan.) In fact, one English citizen was so concerned that the tradition would be forgotten that he sponsored an "afternoon tea" legacy for the National Trust, England's version of their preservation society. I worked there for a few months after college. Every day at 4 o'clock we sipped tea and nibbled on one of the many gourmet treats from the resident pastry chef.

Aside from the crumb cake, the thing I remember most was the conversation.

You can make tea time even sweeter by making a treat to go along with it. For my solo tea last weekend, I whipped up some date almond biscotti with ingredients I had on hand. You can modify this simple recipe to whatever ingredients are in your pantry.

Image source: Domino Magazine

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Good in Goodwill

(Our dogs get along, so why can't we?)

"We respect a style that can move us away from what we fear and towards what we crave: a style which carries the correct dosage of our missing virtues." - Alain DeBotton, The Architecture of Happiness

If you haven't heard, I'm moving to Atlanta (which makes move number eleven.) I've been living alone in Oxford for the last year and have enjoyed it. I hang pink curtains without protest, obsessively clean without being called neurotic and never have to hear the drone of a television because I choose not to own one.

My relocation to Atlanta presents a situation which many of us have experienced: moving into another person's home. It's terrifying and exciting at the same time. In my case, it's the home of my boyfriend. In the past, I've lived with women who eventually become friends, but either way the emotions of sharing a space are similar.

How can we learn to better live with each other? I read last night that the sharing of a meal is one of the most important ways to nurture relationships between people who live together. I think of many of the meals I shared with Katy, my housemate who recently
married and moved to France. Bowls of pasta and salad provided the canvas for conversation about love, happiness, and dreams. The same goes for Chris, who like me, prefers to stay at home and cook. At home, there's no competition from clanging dishes and loud diners.

Learning to like what we contribute to our homes is another story. At first, Katy didn't love the art I hung around the house we shared, but it grew on her. I wasn't enamored with her futon but it became a cozy place for me to sleep when my bedroom was too cold. We grew to appreciate the things each other loved, and today, I miss her French memorabilia that covered the house.

Alain DeBotton asks, "Why do we change our minds about what we find beautiful?"

The answer: We learn to appreciate another person's contribution to our world. If you don't adore something, see it with a fresh pair of eyes. (And if all else fails, there is always Goodwill.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Anti-Clutter is Anti-Southern

(Clutter is such an unpleasant sight that I will spare you any illustration of it.)

With spring around the corner, there is one thing on my mind: A clean, fresh house.

I am convinced that an orderly home ushers in new ways of thinking and inspires healthy living. Several years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James. In addition to whittling your wardrobe down to a palette of three colors and limiting lunch dates, she stresses keeping a clutter-free house.

Clutter is an interesting word. It's from the Middle English word cloteren which mean "to clot" and its modern usage suggests a state of confusion. The word is often used to convey a state of mind or the condition of a place -- usually the home.

In an effort to avoid clogged -- or clotted -- arteries, we limit the amount of bacon and butter we consume, but yet we don't limit the amount of stuff we put in our homes. In doing so, we thwart the creative process. (Anyone who has ever tried to write at a cluttered desk will understand.) For some, the problem stems from anxiety of parting with the past, but for most of us, it's simply laziness. While there are organizations to help the extreme cases of clutterers (check out Clutters Anonymous), the majority of us just need to get out of in front of the TV or stop procrastinating, or both.

In the South, people have a lot of stuff. Several houses come to mind, and in fact, when the New York Times wrote about one particular southern family, the description of their home is not without the reference to the amount of stuff on their walls, shelves, tables, etc:

If there were a publication called Southern Home and Book, the _______ place would be the editorial template. There’s a big wrap-around porch typical of antebellum manors, and the downstairs hall is given over to floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The d├ęcor exhibits the eccentricity and faded gentility Northerners associate with Southerners; in the parlor, which Ms. _______ calls the “critter room” because of animal-related objects like an armadillo basket and a stuffed bobcat, stands a wobbly-sounding piano, topped by a toy talking monkey.

I think the difference between what these people do -- namely, displaying their collections -- is different than someone keeping every issue of the New Yorker since 1980. (I know someone who does that too.) When a collection no longer has meaning, if it becomes so covered in dust that we can only make out its silhouette, it's time to reconsider the objects in our home. We must ask ourselves if we are we defining them or if they are defining us?

This weekend, in honor of spring, pick a room -- or start small with a closet -- and begin unclogging the arteries of your home.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Dare You to Give Me Lemons

(She wore lemon to colour in the grey night.)

I know the end of winter is near when yellow jonquils push up from the earth to announce spring. They don't stay around very long as they are quickly replaced by bright patches of tulips, then purple irises. Spring also wakes me with a symphony of bird calls outside my window.

Calendars and clocks are wonderful for organizing lives, but sometimes it's better to rely on our senses. If we are simply aware, we will know what's coming next. Give yourself permission to slow down and maybe even lay in bed longer to listen to the birds.

To save the last remnants of winter, I preserved lemons. Lemons are a traditional fruit of the cold weather months, but I like how they allude to spring. You can make preserved lemons in just twenty minutes at home. They'll keep in your refrigerator for up to six months. Enjoy them finely diced and tossed with fresh green vegetables, fish, barbecued meat, and anytime you want an unusual piquant flavor to spice up a meal.

A simple recipe for preserved lemons.

Image Souce: David Lebovitz