Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Sometimes the greatest things happen when we let go of our crutches and face challenges head-on. Oddly, I am put to mind of the experiences I had when I was nineteen, when I went to Russia for the summer to work on an international scientific drilling project near Lake Baikal. We—the two other students who worked in the paleoclimatology lab and me—arrived in Moscow a bit timid and a whole lot of excited. We were to have a two day layover before our flight to Irkutsk, and we intended to make the most of the time, seeing all the sights with the help of our guide Sasha.
Russian Erin - or Erina as I was called :)
On the morning of the first day, Sasha collected us bright and early from the dank and wholly unluxurious youth hostile we had all slept rather poorly in our first night. We had been shocked when the sun didn’t set until near midnight, and then reappeared a little after four in the morning, complete with loud, obnoxious birds heralding the start of the day. Despite our exhaustion (and the mystery-meat breakfast we consumed), our enthusiasm for the day was palpable, and we followed behind Sasha like three adoring puppies.
On a speedwalk tour that would have done Richard Simmons proud, Sasha showed us one thing after the other, zooming past historic buildings, enormous statues, and lovely greenways. For each sight he had a bit of description, some small piece of history or note on the architecture. He even gave us a speed tour of the art museum, squeezed in between grabbing blinis and glimpsing a street bazaar.
As the afternoon progressed, Sasha decided we should see how the metro system worked. With we three bedraggled Americans trailing behind, he ducked into the nearest stations and showed us how to buy the tokens. Popping a few into the slot, he motioned for us to go through the one-way turnstyle. We did as we were told, obediently pushing through single-file. Once we were all on the other side, we turned back to wait for him to follow.
Instead, he held up a hand and saluted us. “Okay, have fun. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.” And then he left.
Just like that.
The second we realized he wasn’t kidding, we tried to find a way to follow, but the exit was on the other side of the terminal, and Sasha had already vanished into the crowd. We looked to each other with widened eyes, identical looks of panic within their depths.
We were alone.
In a foreign city.
With no grasp of the language. Or money system. Or even the laws.
And no contact information for anyone in the whole country. Make that continent.
We had two choices. We could find the exit, hail a cab, and point to the map that had the youth hostel circled on it. We could hole up in our rooms, bemoan the fact we had been abandoned, and forget about the truly important sights we had not yet seen: The Kremlin, Red Square, and Arbot Street.
Or we could strike out on our own. We could pull out the map, try to make sense of the foreign words and pictures, and find our own way. Or… possibly get so lost we ended up with our passport pictures plastered on the side of kefir cartons everywhere.
After a quick powwow, an agreement was reached: It was time for adventure. I pulled out the city map I had tucked into my bag earlier, and we poured over the rainbow of tiny lines delineating the metro system. Before long, we started making sense of the map, matching the queer words and symbols with the ones on the signs in the metro. Once we decided on a plan—two transfers to reach the station nearest the Kremin—we stepped onto the escalator and descended down, down, down into the impossibly deep depths of the metro system. When at last we reached the platform, we could hardly believe the scene before us.
Like an impossibly gorgeous set piece from one of those sweeping old Hollywood movies, the station platform stretched before us in all its gilded glory. Exquisite chandeliers hung elegantly from the high, arching ceilings, their glittering light filling the open space like a ballroom hung with countless blazing candles. Marble gleamed beneath our feet, climbing the walls and paving the ceiling in an opulence unlike anything I had ever seen.
It was surreal, as if we had stepped into a fairytale, lacking only in elaborate costumes to bring the masquerade to life. Instead, ordinary people in t-shirts and business suits flowed past us like water parting around a time-worn boulder in a swiftly moving river. It was oddly hushed, as if they too understood the need for reverence in this unreal place.
We made our way to the train, which was filled to brimming with busy Russians. The smell of undeodorized bodies in the close space was incongruous with regal platform outside the windows. I had never been on a subway train in my life, and here I was on one in the very bowels of Russia, surrounded by people who smelled, looked, sounded, and acted differently than anything I had ever known. I had never felt farther from home in my entire life, from anything at all familiar. When at last the doors opened, we bustled out and headed for the signs pointing us to the next line. We took yet another escalator even deeper into the earth, if that was even possible, then traversed a long tunnel toward the platform.
Again, no one around us spoke, and we silently trekked over the tiled floor, exchanging glances at the strangeness of the place. In the distance, the soft, smooth sounds of a lone flute broke the silence, calling us forward like a siren’s song. The notes were dark and low, purer than any I had ever heard. As we drew closer, the haunting tune grew louder, each poignant note clear and melodic, caressing us like dark velvet on a winter’s night.
It was beautiful, and hypnotic, and I could no more ignore the desire to fill the purple-lined flute case with the flash of silver rubles than I could deny myself the need to breath. He earned his money that day. Thirteen years later, I can still remember that moment as clearly as if it had been yesterday.
The other two platforms were every bit as beautiful as the first, though the styles were different. In one, huge painting drew the eye, framed by intricate stone carvings. The lighting was different here, with large fixtures dotting the ceiling. The other had walls done entirely in mosaics, breathtaking in the grandness both of scale and design. When at last we rode the seemingly unending escalator back to the surface, it was jarring to return to the noise and pace of the city above.
One of the less ornate platforms :)
We spent the day exploring the Kremlin, glimpsing Lennon’s tomb, and marching through the Red Square. We marveled at the brightly colored, iconic roof of the cathedral and pictured the imposing armies that had once filled the huge space. Next we found our way to Arbot street, and were relieve to discover many of the vendor’s spoke English. We haggled for the first time in our lives, buying silly trinkets and priceless baubles alike.
By the end of the day, we confidently strode back through the waiting turnstyles of the subway, willingly plunging into the earth once more. When we finally arrived back to the hostel, it was with a sense of accomplishment. When abandoned by our guide, we had boldly moved forward to explore our surroundings. Because of it, we experienced things we never would have had we stayed by his side, or retreated to the hostel. We had found beauty and wonder in this foreign place, intimidated no more by the strange symbols making up their words. We had laughed, we had seen, we had made memories for a lifetime.
So, what has me thinking on this experience from so long ago? I’ve decided that, for a little while at least, I need to let go of my crutch and move forward. I’m referring to the internet—and the hours and hours that can be wasted each and every day as I interact with friends and writers on the Yahoo loops, Twitter, and Facebook. I always want to be up to date, to know what’s going on in the industry. I spend so much time exploring what others are saying, I’m starting to loose my own need to create. So, I’ve decided that for the next six weeks, I’m going to turn off my wifi for a minimum of 8 hours a day, and go about the business of exploring my imagination. Who knows what sort of beauty lurks there if I never completely unplug and allow myself to find out? My ultimate goal is to finish the revisions for Book 2 a full two months ahead of schedule.
No dogs, no email pings, no tweets or news updates. No sneaking a peak at celebrity gossip or getting sidetracked by funny pictures or facebook statuses. No obsessing about when genre is selling better and why. Just me, my story, and endless possibilities. Wish me luck! (And yes, I will still be blogging as usual)
Click Here for some gorgeous pictures of the Moscow Metro :)
In honor of my recently unearthed memories of Russia, I found a wonderful recipe for blinis—otherwise known as Russian Pancakes. Much like crepes, they can be filled with anything from sweet (berries, chocolate, honey) to savory (ground meat, sautéed vegetables, cheeses). I had a lot of fun making them – and I hope you will too!Click Here for the allrecipe.com recipe :) I’d make it my own except…I don’t want to! They are perfect as presented. My only tip is to use lemon juice for the citric acid. For my experimental blinis, I had a berry and whipped cream version for a post lunch dessert, and a ground turkey with spicy tomato sauce for dinner. Both were equally fabulous, if I do say so myself :)
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
In this day of technology and endless social media, it seems like we are constantly connected to our friends. Between texting, tweeting, facebooking, e-mailing, and calls, rarely an hour goes by that something hasn’t buzzed, dinged, chirped, or vibrated, letting us know such vital details as what our friends had for lunch, what made them laugh, or what evoked a frowny-face emoticon. And yet, in the midst of all this connectivity, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect.
It was this weekend that I rediscovered that elusive thing that seems to been disappearing in our modern lives. The joy of the common get-together.
After weeks of anticipation and planning, five of my critique partners converged on my house for a weekend writer’s retreat. Interestingly enough, though we had been friends and crit partners for a year and a half, I had never even met two of them. In both cases, we hesitantly eyed each other, mentally matching the tiny profile pictures to the stranger before us. And in both cases, we were grinning and hugging within seconds—reunited despite the fact we had never met.
We arrived at my house close to dinner time, and as I flitted about my fantastically renovated kitchen (I swear I shall never take it for granted!), I couldn’t help but smile with joy at the lively conversation and frequent giggles emanating from the girls as they chatted on the couch. There was a vibrancy to the place unlike anything we could feel online, an energy that built as the evening progressed.
By late evening, we had relocated to the screened-in back porch, and the sound of laughter echoing up and down the lake masked even the most robust crickets and toads that normally serenade the night. We talked about any and every thing, frequently busting out in laughter until we were gasping for air. When the clock chimed midnight, we were all holding our aching sides but showing no signs of slowing down.
We talked about happy things, sad things, absurd things, and things that made us go hmm. We pondered the industry, life, love, and the future, while reminiscing about the past and how much we had grown as writers since finding each other. It was two in the morning before we finally headed to bed.
The next morning, we swore to one another that work would be done, and we buckled down to try to help each other tackle whatever was forefront on our minds. One by one we went through the group, listening, suggesting, plot hashing, and problem solving.
By the end of our retreat, I think it is safe to say that each and every one of us felt invigorated, our sense of excitement and optimism renewed. The well of our creativity had been filled to overflowing, and we were all eager to get back to our respective projects and apply all the wonderful ideas and suggestions that had been bandied about.
I’m so grateful for all of the technology that allows us to stay in touch with people no matter how far across the globe they live. Whether half an hour away, half a continent away, or literally half the world away, they are only as distant as a few strokes of the keyboard. But nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the beauty of visiting in person. To see the myriad of expressions flit across their faces, to hear their mirth or sympathy, to feel a conspiratorial hand on your shoulder, or to offer a full on bear hug. These are the things that enrich our relationships in a way no bit of technology ever could.
Be it a conference, a retreat, or just a lunch between friends, I just want to say thank goodness for the original social media: the incomparable, irreplaceable, unduplicatable art of the simple get-together.
Do you have friends online that you would love to meet in person? Do you feel reinvigorated when you attend conferences, or visit family and friends after a long absence?
And for the perfect make-ahead lunch for a group, try my favorite go-to recipe: Zesty Chicken Pasta Salad.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken
- 1 packet McCormick’s Zesty Herb season/marinade packet
-mix packet with 1/3 cup water, 3 Tbsp Olive Oil, 3 Tbsp vinegar
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 2 peppers (red and/or yellow) cut into small pieces and coated with olive oil
- 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup grape tomatos
- small bottle ranch dressing
Mix up the marinade, then divide in half. Set one half aside, and use the other half to marinate the chicken in a ziplock bag with for about 15 minutes. Grill chicken (discard bag and used marinade). Either grill or sautee the peppers until lightly roasted. When chicken is done, let rest for five minutes then shred using two forks.
Cook the penne until al dente. Combine all ingredients in a large Tupperware container, and add ranch to desired taste (I usually add about a half a cup.). Pour the reserved marinade in, cover with lid and shake vigorously. Enjoy either warm or refrigerated :)
Thursday, October 6, 2011
I don’t know who the genius was who first said “It ain’t over til it’s over,” but I got to hand it to him—I think he may have been on to something.
I’m sure you’ll remember my end-of-season gardening wrap-up a few months ago. It was ugly. Really ugly. And the worst of it was, I had tried so hard. Nobody wanted to grow veggies as badly as I did. For two years now (remember this?), I slaved over gardening, building the perfect raised bed, buying the best, most expensive organic soil, tending to my budding plants religiously. I was careful not to over water, careful not to underwater, diligent about weeding, mulching, and fertilizing. I talked to the plants, for heaven’s sake.
And for all my tender loving care, for all my dedication, I got . . . nothing. Zip. Zero, Bupkis. (Now doesn’t that word look funny written out!). Any way you look at it, Mother Nature had given me the shaft. Why, I can’t begin to imagine. All I wanted was a few tomatoes, maybe an herb or two. Was that too much to ask?
Apparently it was.
In udder disgust, I threw up my hands and threw in the towel. That was it. Screw organic farming. Next year, I was going to buy the chemicallyist chemicals Miracle Gro could conjure and I was going to lay it on so thick the freaking dirt would glow in the dark. For now, however, my pathetic excuse for a garden could suck it.
Turning my back on my spindly, fruitless tomato plants, I put it out of sight and out of mind.
Well. Yesterday, I decided the weather was just too gorgeous to be cooped up inside, and took the dogs outside to play. Despite my best efforts, black lab Maggie managed to evade my watchful eye for the three seconds required to romp into the lake, splashing in like a hundred pound duck on a botched landing. Knowing she had won this round, I gave up trying to corral the dogs on the upper tier of our yard and tromped down to the dock for the first time in at least a week—probably closer to two.
And that’s when something odd caught my. Red. Bright, tiny pinpoints of red, peppering a plant in my peripheral vision. I froze. Could it be? Could it really truly be . . . there was only one way to find out. Taking a breath, I turned and looked, and instantly gasped in amazement. My grape tomato plant was positively exploding with fruit!
Pulling my shirt tails up in an impromptu sling, I dashed to my planters and began plucking my bounty. There must have been dozens of them! For every one I plopped in my shirt, I tossed one in the lake since it had over-ripened. And it wasn’t just my grape tomato plant; one, single, brave young tomato clung to my Better Bush plant, offering itself up like pretty little Christmas gift.
I laughed, and danced, and popped the luscious red fruit in my mouth. Success!! In the most primitive way I know, I had done something. Erin plant food. Food grow. Erin eat.
Haha! The circle of life, played out right before my eyes in my own backyard. The moral of the story? Never give up! Never surrender! Success may be just around the corner, so don’t give up yet because baby, it ain’t over till it’s over!
So take heart, my dear Cake Readers. If you are working toward something that you really want: publication, a job, a family, anything—have faith! You never know when the fruits of your labor may come to pass, and all the work will have been worth it :)
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
See you Thursday!