Empty Baskets

This weekend we received a letter from our friends at Tecolote Farm. (For years now, we’ve been grateful recipients of their organic and imaginative vegetable baskets, delivered all spring and summer to our front stoop.) I imagined it would be their annual call-to-action, with details on this year’s pricing and delivery schedule, but instead I read that Katie and David and their team are taking a sabbatical, for the sake of themselves and their land.
Needless to say, I’m bereft. It’s because of Tecolote that we understand the beauty of eating locally and within season; that I learned to cook mustard greens; that our daughters love arugula and beets. When it’s basket season, we step out of our rut and appreciate the surprises on our table each week. We spend less time at the grocery store. We make gazpacho. I like to think we glow a bit. This spring, we’re going to have to go it alone – hit the farmers’ markets and try to recreate the bounty for ourselves. We’ll make do, of course, but Tecolote will be sorely missed.
It got me to thinking, though, about letting ground lie fallow, about recovery, about that little pause in between inhale and exhale when things go completely still.
I think about how my family delights in those occasional Sunday mornings or Wednesday afternoons when things stop spinning – no birthday parties, no home repairs, no take-home work. We come together restfully, reflect on the day or the week, play cards, curl up on the couch and hum. 

And teaching – those semester breaks that always seem to arrive the day before I’ve been completely wrung out of energy and inspiration. 

And writing – I am not a steady-as-a-clock artist, writing for four-hours-every-morning-of-my-life-so-help-me-god. There are months when I’m awash with ideas, and driven – absolutely driven – to get them down in ink. Other times, I chastise myself for being less than attentive to my work.

But in my own defense (and yours, if you can relate), I think there are periods of our lives as people or parents, writers or wives, when we are depleted and stuck in cycles of less-than-optimal productivity. My own inclination is to try to pick up the pace when I feel like that, kick it in gear, snap out of it. I wonder what would happen if I did the opposite.
Katie and David say that their soil needs nourishment and their irrigation lines need repair. That just sings to me as I move through this first month of the new year. Today I am healthy and energized with a new project in hand. Tomorrow or next week or someday in March, things will be different. To sustain myself now and then, I need good sleep, long runs and vitamins. But I also need to sometimes lay fallow, quiet, still. 

We all do.

Research Redux

My very astute husband discovered this weekend, while poring through some of my research material for that budding work-in-progress, that the acknowledged expert in the field LIVES IN AUSTIN, TEXAS, as do we. Is that lovely serendipity, or what? 

Now I just need to load up on enough knowledge and courage to give him a buzz.

The Truth about Research

research n. to travel through
I’ve dreaded dipping into the deep well of research for my new book project; it’s been years since I’ve been a proper student and most of my recent manuscripts are about the length of your average footnote.
But I’ve literally been dreaming this story, so I had no choice but to jump in.
Well. Lemme tell ya. I took the leap, and I didn’t drown. I didn’t even choke. It’s… refreshing!
Yesterday morning I mailed a revision of one of my picture books to a waiting editor (I like to think she checks her mail for it daily), and then ensconced myself at Austin Java with my laptop and a cup of decaf. I hooked into their wireless, started swimming and didn’t come up for air ‘til noon.
You would not believe the discoveries I stumbled upon. Everything from a new surname for my protagonist to the exact date of the most pivotal plot peak in the piece. I even hit upon a working title!
And here’s what felt most titillating to me. I set out with expectations of dry, grueling, academic research and instead I find myself on a journey during which “all will be revealed.” That may sound a little woo-woo to you, but honestly it’s as if I’m discovering the truth of the story rather than figuring out reasonable details to make up.
And isn’t that the kind of book we love – one that feels true, through and through – regardless of how preposterously fictitious it may be? If I can hang onto that sense as I move forward, I just may have a crack at writing the kind of book I’d like to read.

Poetry Friday…

… puts me in the mood to read Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman. 

I often tell my students that when editors say they don’t want rhyme, they mean they don’t want BAD rhyme. THIS kind of rhyme is delicious.

I love reading this book aloud; it’s another gutbuster.

“…Creamy oatmeal, pots of it!
Homemade bread and lots of it!
Peeling apples by the peck,
Mrs. Peters was a wreck!

She wiped her brow and heaved a sigh;
Another year was passing by. 
In fact, she realized with sorrow,
Her birthday would arrive tomorrow!
Drearily she shook her head
And wearily went up to bed.

She thought the children had forgot
Her special day — but they had not!
At crack of dawn they all began
To carry out their secret plan:
Mrs. Peters would be fed 
A birthday breakfast in her bed!
A breakfast made of all the food
That kept them in such happy moods…”

And that’s when things really get crazy.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Flakes float down as big as pie plates. Ice mimics each vein of each leaf on the Asian jasmine. The back deck is a skating rink.
Every ½ an hour or so, runny-nosed daughters and neighbors rush in, hungry and chilled; we pop hats and gloves into the drier so they’ll  be ready for the next jaunt out.  
The weather folk are calling it ICE STORM ‘O7 (read with a threatening boom) but heck, I just call it vacation. Mind you, I’m posting from AUSTIN, TEXAS, where we’re more accustomed to burning our hands on the heat of our steering wheels.
The delight of this unfamiliar weather – keeping us home together, reading and cooking, taking baths, playing cards, and did I mention reading and cooking? – it’s enough to shake up the most routinized among us, it’s a new new year.
Our 2nd grader’s science fair project suddenly entails freezing a whole variety of liquids in an ice-cube tray – outside, on our front porch! Nobody’s trying to fry an egg out there today. Her dad (who “should” be at work) has fresh pizza dough rising in the kitchen and his guitar is freshly tuned. My semester remains un-started. Even our 12-year-old dog feels frisky.
We are ill-equipped, to be sure. Our fleece jackets, so toasty most Texas days, seem pathetic, even doubled up. Our shoes are porous and slippery, and our windows and doors don’t seal like they ought to. The highway department reports hundreds of wrecks and the Blockbuster shelves were stripped of everything but the crankiest videotapes yesterday by noon.
But we ignore the bluster, crank up the cocoa to a full boil and sing, I swear, more Christmas carols. ‘Cause why not? There’s a bright white light in the air and it’s winter, even in Texas.