Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lentils. Yes, Lentils.

Hands up people:  who plans their meals a whole day in advance?  So as not to repeat a certain foodstuff, or to overload on another? Oh yeah.  Me neither.

Yesterday morning I had steel cut oats for breakfast - the kids had already eaten & gone by the time they were cooked, so I could've had a portion for four if I wanted.  For lunch I made lentil salad for a friend of mine, to balance out the crusts of grilled cheese that we were 'cleaning up' after the kids. For dinner my mother in law cooked a dish that was Torbjorn's childhood favorite - lentil stew on brown rice, topped with peanuts and raisins.  (What this says about my husband?  Whole 'nother post.)

Let's just say my system is feeling remarkably.... clean today.  But the point of this long and detailed report of my overly-fibrous diet is to say I'd do it all over again, I love the lentil so much. The salad yesterday was made with the tiny pitch-black "caviar lentils" I'd found at Trader Joes,  and their texture was perfect alongside exquisitely ripe avocado slices, some arugula leaves, and a sprinkling of goats cheese on top.

A salad - why not.  Let's pretend that snow isn't on the forecast for Friday.  Let's pretend that the freezing  rain that'll probably arrive instead won't knock all the beautiful cherry blossoms off the tree, and let's imagine the spring really is on its way and the days of huge salads in plain white bowls, eaten while bathing in the afternoon sun on your front porch are right around the corner.

Let's pretend I didn't just cross a new threshold into middle age by telling you about the fiber in my diet.

Crunchy Lentil Salad
from Jeanne Lemlin's Quick Vegetarian Pleasures

1 C lentils, picked over and rinsed (do not use mushy red lentils or big green ones. Use Puy lentils, or those caviar ones I mentioned.)
5 C water
1 bay leaf
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 carrot, minced
1/4 C finely diced red onion
2 T minced fresh parsley
1/4 C fruity olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove (pressed or minced)
1/4 t dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh minced, my preference)
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt & pepper to taste.

In medium saucepan, combine lentils, water, and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, 15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but still crunchy.  Stir occasionally.  Pour into a colander and discard the bay leaf.  Drain the lentils very well, and let them sit 5 minutes or so to be certain all teh water has drained out.

Place lentils in serving bowl and gently stir in the celery, carrot, onion and parsley.

Mix together the olive oil lemon juice garlic, thyme cumin salt and pepper.  Pour onto the lentil mixture, and carefully toss.  Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How Simple is Simple?

This weekend I got my chops busted on Facebook for the following phrase:  "So often, simple is the very best answer.  Simple."

I had no great agenda behind my statement - it was actually prompted by the joy of a quiet Friday night, instead of the hectic one I'd had planned.

But a friend chose to see this as a political statement - or at least to respond to it that way.  He posted a link that suggested that choosing to live simply implies a willful ignorance of the inequities and injustices of the world.   (The actual specific politics of the link he posted can be tracked down on my Facebook page if you're really interested.  But that tangent is beside the point.)

Here's the thing.  The conscious pursuit of simplicity in one's life has nothing at all to do with ignoring all that is seriously screwed up in the world.

On the contrary.  The pursuit of simplicity - living with intentionality, with a focused discipline on reducing distractions - is surely the only way we can consider the situation of those less fortunate with any meaning, any consequence.

By choosing to live simply, I choose not to purchase, acquire, and consume in the manner that my culture seems to think I should.  By choosing to live simply I spend less time focused on the lifestyles of those who contribute [not much] to society and spend more time focused on the lives of those who bring Quality to mine.

I don't mean to preach.  I didn't mean to preach when I posted the simple statement on Facebook.  But neither do I like to be misunderstood on a matter that is a core belief.

Intentionality. Conscious existence.  Stillness.  These are the things that allow me to live meaningfully.



This little rant was written for Stream of Consciousness Sunday, which I stream-of-consciousnessed about last week. 


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

right now, redux

Last week I posted a beautiful quote from Kathleen Norris (you can check it here), about the meaning gained from sharing what's saving my life right now.

Her thoughts travelled along more theological paths, whereas mine tend to get muddled when considering matters of the Divine.

But as I am feeling especially muddled these days, I thought maybe I could share with you what's saving my life right now, in the most visceral and earth-bound sort of ways.

Daffodils.  I've told you how I feel about yellow, generally, but these cheerful blooms get a pass all of their own.  Daffodils save my very sanity in the dark days of March, when the cold winds persist and the grey clouds scud aggressively across an afternoon sky.  Now, in the final days of March the daffodils have triumphed - have seized entire hills and trumpet their victory good-naturedly for all passers-by.  They secure the territory for the tulips to follow, and summer's wildflowers after that.

Norwegian chocolate.  I don't have much of a sweet tooth - not for chocolate anyway. Never really struggled with the temptation of cocoa goodness in the cupboard.  (And before you roll your eyes at my goody-goody-two-shoe'd-ness, please never put a bag of gummi bears in front of me.  You'll won't see them again.)  But right now we have our beloved Farmor visiting, and she brought with her the Real Deal.  Norwegian chocolate, I feel compelled to tell you, will put you off Hershey's for life.  I have been replacing my lost endorphins with a whole other sort of rush:

Grace notes.  This is a tricky little phrase, sadly co-opted by Hallmark too often, but one originally intended to catch all of those small moments that add up to a joy-filled and deeply grateful life.  Grace notes this week include:

  • finding my handmade Valentines still in my husband's driver side door - he keeps them to read in traffic. <cold, hard heart melts here
  • Listening to my 3 year old assure me that Go Fish was "God's favorite game."  
  • Having same child warble Everybody everybody wants to love... Everybody everybody wants to be loved.... oh oh oh... oh oh oh to herself in the backyard swing. When asked, she'll tell you 'oh, that's our family song.' (for the official, non-toddler Ingrid Michaelson version, check here)
  • 10 magically quiet minutes where everyone plays outside in the sunshine, and I have the presence of mind to think - this.  this is saving my life right now.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Game changers

I'd kind of cooked up a goal for myself this year: flush with the thrill of my big race in October, the girl who'd never run longer than a 10k decided she could run a half marathon.  And yes, the dither implicit in that first sentence is intentional - I was torn between the couch potato I'd been for so long and the runner I really believed myself to be.

Late one Tuesday night in February, I had the registration form open for the Frederick Half Marathon.  I completed all the fields, but chickened out when it came to making the payment.  (Because honestly, spending the $80 is what makes it real, isn't it??) I chose to just leave the window open.

Wednesday morning 6am found me warming up at bootcamp, as I did every Monday Wednesday and Friday.  After a flat-out sprint, 6.25am found me hobbling along the baseline of the gym, painfully aware that my goals might suddenly be changing.

When I surveyed friends about treatment for Achilles injuries, the answer was unanimous:  GET THE HECK OFF IT.  DO. NOT. USE.

That first week, my goal was simply to stretch and ice it daily, so certain was I that it was a minor hiccup in my training plan.

After 7 days' rest, my goal was to do a slow easy run, just to ease back into things.   Twenty feet down the street and I knew I wouldn't be running for a long time.

After 14 days' rest, I finally called the doctor.  My goal was simply to find out when I could run again.

At the podiatrist's, he cheerfully ventured a guess that I'd probably ruptured it to some extent, and ordered an MRI.  More waiting.

A week later, the MRI completed, I waited nervously for the Official Diagnosis. More cheerful:  no rupture! he enthused.  Just some serious tendinitis.  But when, I wanted to know.  When can I run?

Five weeks he said.  A walking cast for five weeks. A huge, ungainly and extremely inconvenient walking cast.  If you're serious about healing this thing, he said, you will wear this for five weeks like it is the hottest accessory this side of Paris.  

So now my goal is this:  to run,  someday. To wrap my head around a season of healing, instead of a season of training.  To view renewed strength as success, as a different way of crossing the finish line.

Sometimes, goals are game changers.  Sometimes, you have to be ok with the goal itself changing.


This post is submitted as part of Peter Pollock's One Word at a Time Blog Carnival, this week on 'Goals'.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Five Minutes inside My Head

So I've been stalking this person's blog for a while - Fadra, her name is.  I only know her from Twitter, and her blog when I actually go ahead &, you know, click the link.

So I've been stalking.  And she does this thing, Stream of Consciousness Sunday.  And I think to myself, I can do stream of consciousness.  Why don't I do more stream of consciousness? I  mean, isn't my blog Stream of Consciousness Day EVERY DAY?

This distracts me from Fadra's blog.  So, I stalk her for yet another week.

Today, I found myself stream-of-consciousness blogging all day long.  Fits & starts, beginning rants but never finishing them, thinking 'oooh this would be perfect for Stream of Consciousness Sunday, a post on a blog which I stalk but never comment on.  A little creepy, yes, to be crafting posts for imaginary friends?  Yes, yes it is creepy, in case you were hesitating there.

So tonight, I decided, I can do stream of consciousness.  But - stupid move - I made the tragical error of checking out other people's streams of consciousness before I typed out mine.  Clearly, there are people in the world who have much less polluted clogged up stagnant body-of-water streams than I.  My stream of consciousness is pretty much one of those estuaries coming straight out of the Purdue plant and directly into the Chesapeake Bay, all cram packed full of toxic chemicals and chicken feathers.

So.  There you have it:  my maiden voyage into the putrid, occluded stream of consciousness of NilsenLife.  Better luck next week chums.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

right now

There was a fabulous shout out for NilsenLife in Maryland Family Magazine today (along with so many other tremendous bloggers, such as Carabee and ScaryMommy.  Go check it out!)  You'd think I would've had a shiny new blog post up and ready for the torrent of new readers that might turn up. (If, you know, they're not completely put off by the homeliest blog in town.)

As ever, your erstwhile blogger has 783 good reasons why it's been quiet around here.

This week I'm working on a project that I so want to get right - precisely because the project has nothing to do with who wrote what, and everything to do with reaching hearts and minds.

Generally when I pile that kind of pressure on myself, I have to plan on a few days of complete paralysis.  Total deer-caught-in-the-headlights. Any attempt, any group of three-words-I-string-together starts to look funny, badly written, not the right idea.

When that hits, and all that flows from my fingers to the keyboard starts to look wonky and wrong, I have to walk away.  I leave the keyboard, and visit other authors who seem to have reached a detente with language - who find lyricism and fluidity in both syntax and ideas.

This week I've been reading Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, and Barbara Brown Taylor.  They write about faith - the lack thereof, the search for, the practice of.  This particular paragraph (in Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World) caught my attention yesterday:

Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama.  "What do you want me to talk about?" I asked him.
"Come tell us what is saving your life now," he answered.  It was as if he had swept his arm cross a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground.  I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone.  I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church.  All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on.  All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves. (p xvii)

For a blogger-type person who is writing her heart out in an attempt to stay lucid, to be intentional, and mother with love and grace?  This is no less than a reassurance, a call to action, and a mission statement all at once.

So now I'll get back to writing: writing to figure out what is saving my life right now.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ugly. Beautiful.

Ugly.  I went to bed last night in an ugly ol' mood.

My fingers were pruney from wringing out sopping towels, hauling wet rugs, and hoisting soggy cardboard archive boxes from our flooded basement up to the front porch.  The rain came down, the floods came up, and the Yellow House on the Hill got WET.

My possibly-ruptured Achilles tendon throbbed. As I mopped I ruminated over the podiatrist's cheerful diagnosis, and managed to work up a nice little storm cloud of anxiety about the inevitable negotiations with the insurance company.

My ever practical husband hauled load after load of dampness out of the basement and onto the front porch, draping wet rugs over my cute white rockers and the newly painted woodwork.   Our neighbors have tolerated all manner of junk out there on the front porch (including a refrigerator - a serious renovation low point).  Right now though, this version of ugly takes the cake.

So yeah.  I went to bed mad. Mad that again we are the trashy house with rugs draped on our front porch, the house with crumbs on the floor and piles of paper all over the kitchen and a counter that no one will wipe up but me.  An ugly house.  Ugly.

At 5.45 this morning, the first headline to catch my eye on my iPhone was "praying for Japan."  I checked the news, and as the story unfolded, my complaints of the night before began to feel very small indeed.  My eldest watched the stories with me, and asked over and over if our house would float away like those houses on the screen.  No, I said.  No.

There might be water seeping up between the floor tiles.  Our tax documents from 2003-2006 might be sopping wet.  But today, we will not be watching a wall of water descend upon us and sweep the unwiped counters and rug-draped porch right back into the sea.

We are all limited by our perspective.  The horrific stories continue to pour out of Japan, to run across the digital ticker tapes at the bottom of my screen, and suddenly my home, my life, and my small family are so very beautiful.


My prayers are with the people of the Pacific Rim today.


Oddly enough, I cooked up this post before I checked in on The Red Dress Club today.  Guess what:  their prompt is a piece that finds beauty in the ugly.  Synchronicity strikes again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

You say 'Future' like it's a good thing

I'm a worrier.  A black belt, Ninja-class, expert worrier.  So when it came to making a long-term career choice, motherhood seemed to be a perfect fit.  If we were pretending that motherhood is a corporate career just like Human Resources or Call Center Operative, we might say that mothering is a synergistic connection to my core worrying skills. 

Both mothering and worrying are extremely future oriented.  All about what might happen.  She might be an actress/comedian, she might be an "actress" complete with satin knickers and bunny ears.  He might be a rocket scientist, he might sit at home on my couch knocking back energy drinks called Rocket Fuel.  That one might fail the math test, thus proving the theory that she's being failed by the school OR, worse! she might ace the math test, thus proving to her teacher that your concerns are completely unfounded just like she'd said they were in such a patronizing sort of way.

You hear the phrase tossed around a lot around graduation season - you've got your whole future ahead of you! When Whitney Houston crooned "I believe the children are our future"she said it like it was a good thing. 

But here's the thing: when a worrier thinks about the future, it's not a healthy thing.  Nope.  The very best thing for a worrier is to forget the future is ever going to happen.  And, actually, my kind of people have to forget the past too, because worrying about what's happened, and what that means for - you got it! - the future, well...

It only leaves one place for people like us:  the right now.  Right now is when we see the magic of growth in our children, without wondering what the growth will lead to.  Right now is when we can treasure the smell of a toddler head, nuzzled under your chin and waking up from a nap.  Right now is when we can marvel at the grace with which your eldest carries herself, somehow conjuring a sense of self that your 'helpful corrections' and endless criticisms surely did not generate.  Right now is when we can openly, honestly and without [much] irony say thank you to our spouse for scrubbing the toilet when you know it's his least favorite job in the world.

The future.  Its promise is a heady thing, and the privilege of waking up to it daily is not something I take lightly.  But for someone like me, with a proud genetic heritage in the art of worrying, I will take my eyes off the future and live fully in the Right Now.


This post is submitted as part of the One Word at a Time Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock.  I gather the other contributors are looking at the future like it is a good thing.  Which is a good thing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Go Deep

BIG NEWS:  Y'all, my tea leaves were totally right.  I WON!!!!   So watch this space for big changes coming up.  In fact, it'll be a different space altogether, but whatevs.   In the meantime, I'm thinking if I get a shiny new blog it might be a useful thing to get in the habit of, you know, actually posting on it.

As it's Friday, I'm linking up with The Red Dress Club again.  Their prompt:  Water gives life.  It also takes it away.  write a post inspired by one or both of these statements.

In honor of katdish's giveaway, I'm reposting a guest piece I did for her last summer, on water and suspension in its depths.  


The water simmers in the summer heat, so when you wade in, the first few steps through the murky pond water feel uncomfortably swamp-like. But just as you reach the point where your feet lift off the muddy bottom, you begin to feel the delicious swirls of cool dark water, mixing with the squelching mud. You strike out for the middle – alternating strong crawl strokes with sneaky head-just-above water breast stroke – until you reach the very center.
Far away you see your grandfather squinting out at you, wondering if he should call you back, but he seems content that his twelve year old granddaughter knows her limits. The powerlines hum and crackle overhead, and the heat shimmers over the treeline of the mountains around you.
Once you are as far as possible from the shore, the trick is to jackknife your body and dive straight down – past experience tells you you won't quite get there, but still you try, diving down…..down…..down until you reach the icy currents near the muddy bottom.
Underwater, the sting of almost-freezing temperatures assaults your toes, even as you look up and see the rays of hot July sun pierce the green water above. It feels like hours, spent diving and floating, floating and diving. Snatches of conversation drift out over the water – someone asks the grandfather if he isn’t worried, worried about the girl floating in the water all the long hot afternoon. No, he laughs. No – that girl knows exactly where she is.
At twelve you haven’t grasped the the symbolism of suspending yourself in the depths. At twelve you can’t articulate the magnetic draw of the water – the elemental appeal of submersion. But what you do know at twelve is that you have struck out on your own – you’ve been given the freedom to go to the depths, with unwavering confidence in your ability to return to the surface.
Perhaps an indulgent grandfather had no way of knowing the profound lesson he taught that day. But never once has that swimmer entered the water without remembering the day she was allowed to go deep.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Berkshire Cottage Room

It was a room in which everything about us would change.

When we moved in the walls were a vivid amethyst, sponge painted with a glittery silver on top. Many weekends were spent finding the exact shade of parchment - not cream, not beige - the color of expensive stationery, of empty pages.  Stroke by stroke the non-color erased the purple, painting in reverse: layer by layer the room became a blank canvas.

Just as I have doodled on every page of every notebook of my life, I doodled on these walls too.  Careful khaki-colored stripes, then freehand curves, winding along the baseboards of the entire room, up over the painted door, down under the low window, in and out around the old fireplace.  I laid my growing belly on the floor and painted sideways, as I couldn't reach around, sitting up. If its a girl, I said, I'll paint little ladybugs in all of these stripes.  So many months, it seemed, until I'd know if I needed to learn how to paint a ladybug.

A mullioned window looked out over the long green gardens, and it was through the divided panes I spied sunshiny faces of daffodils peering up at me, welcoming all of us to the little cottage on the corner. Through the drafty glass I watched the plum trees along the street bloom - early in February that year - as if they understood that this year everything would happen quicker, ahead of schedule.

Red and white gingham swagged cheerfully over the five feet of window.  I wondered if a boychild would take issue with the cheerful gingham, with the swags, and figured I might have a few years to figure it out.  Eighteen months later, as we prepared to leave this room, this cottage, only then would I realize that the gingham had never been hemmed - never quite as prepared as you think.

The scrubbed pine floor always seemed to glow, even on the rainiest days.  Covered by a big square red rug, a giant Dala horse embroidered in the middle, they never felt cold - it was as if the old floorboards had absorbed the warmth of a hundred years of sunshine, of the many layers of varnish, of the abrasion of the sander we used to take it all down to bare wood.  We had no idea that it would become so critical to know which of these boards creaked and where, how many minutes of our lives would soon be spent tiptoeing over the floorboards, out of the room.

A rocking chair, unfinished oak - a chair I'd insisted on over all of the plush enveloping gliders that were storming the market.  All of Berkshire had been combed for what I thought was a simple request - a plain wood rocker.  Maybe if I'd known how many hours I'd spend in it, how many songs would be sung, how many tears would drip onto a tightly swaddled, tiny body... maybe I would've gone for a bit of upholstery.  The beauty is in the not-knowing.

A tiny wood bookshelf filled the unused fireplace, stocked with Good Night Moon, The Runaway Bunny, and Moo Baa La La La.  How could I know how much more time I'd spend sticking the books back on the shelf, instead of reading them?  That of a room filled with educational stacking blocks, beautifully neutral stuffed animals and a Babar pull-car, the biggest attraction would be pulling those books off the shelf?

Baskets of tiny onesies, tiny diapers, wet wipes in bulk.  Bigger baskets of receiving blankets - white, red, yellow.  None that would commit us to a life of pink or blue.

Giant Babar posters hung on all four walls, inviting us to adventure, to reading, to worlds where an elephant certainly could rule a kingdom.  Babar in a hot air balloon was always my favorite: the one across from my rocking chair.  Babar and I might've flown away at any second, away from this squalling package of sweetness.

It wasn't finished, wasn't ready, wasn't perfect, when my strangely beautiful changeling made her debut, five weeks early.  Welcome to this family, I told her, where nothing will be perfect or ready or finished - where the story keeps unfolding every day, and we have to unfold with it.

I never got the ladybugs painted on those walls.  But to this day, she is my Ladybug: a name earned so many months before she came to live there.


This post was written for The Red Dress Club's Tuesday Memoir feature.  

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