And we're back

hot cocoa

After turning on twinkle lights most evenings and listening to my Christmas mix on Spotify for approximately six weeks, the holiday season has burned out like the pine-scented candle on my coffee table with no wick left. This happened to several candles, by the way. The shift is most severely felt when the boxes come out of storage once again. Stockings are folded, ornaments rolled back into crinkled paper, and the whole house just feels so empty, at least for a couple of days. 

And we're back. Another year, another round of resolutions, another chance to take a deep breath. The post-holiday clean-up almost feels like redecorating without buying new furniture, no? All the goodwill towards clean slates and starting fresh without the price tag of new chairs or rugs. (I'm one to talk, though, because last year we actually did buy new furniture. A sprawling blue couch with a chaise on the end that I don't regret for a minute.) But I digress.

The holidays were a mix of cozy and crazed, which was to be expected. Although thankfully, there was far more cozy to be had, thanks in part to still being on maternity leave, not traveling, and having an infant to snuggle with at all hours of the day. Between hosting Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's meals, hanging out with Henry, plus working on my new project (!!!), there was rarely any time to wander through the house wondering what to busy myself with. On the occasions I was able, I made sure to take advantage of Henry's long naps. 

Sometime in the middle of December I made Smitten Kitchen's hot chocolate mix, which was a very good idea indeed. And when the baby rested, I warmed milk on the stove and whipped cream. I even managed to sit on the couch for a solid 15 minutes to read a magazine. I can't even talk about my magazine pile right now. Let's just say these opportunities leave me feeling very relaxed and accomplished. 

Hopefully you're not completely sugared out from December, because as far as I can tell, winter is still here, and hot chocolate is still very much worth making until sometime in March, I would guess. 

peppermint hot cocoa

Oh, and just to keep it real, I should tell you a story about Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve reminded me of the day I lost my keys. It all started out very Christmas-ey. I spent most of my time in the kitchen prepping baked ziti, Italian beef soup, and meatballs for Christmas Day. We took a break in the afternoon to meet some of our friends nearby, then I came home to keep working away. A few minutes into washing dishes, our drain started clogging up. The disposal would suck down water then spit it back into the sink. Eventually it started to drain, but painfully slowly. This was around 6 pm. Thankfully a nearby drugstore was still open, so Andrew went out for Drano, which dashed my plans to turn on twinkle lights and sip on hot chocolate before dinner. 

We managed to get by, but it meant avoiding washing dishes as much as possible. It also meant eating our Christmas lunch from paper plates. We layered the soup bowls three layers thick to keep them from warping, and picked at my mom's delicious salad with plastic forks. 

I tried to remember that celebrating the meaning of Christmas did not hinge on whether or not I pulled down earthenware plates from the cabinets, but I wasn't the happiest of hostesses at the beginning. It turned out to be a wonderful day, of course, but I certainly had to talk myself into letting go of the table setting I had planned on. 

Such is life. To close on a more uplifting note, give this poem a read. It certainly reminds you of winter's magic. And do make yourself a cup of hot cocoa sometime this season, too.

Deer Fording the Missouri in Early Afternoon

by Kevin Cole

Perhaps to those familiar with their ways
The sight would not have been so startling:
A deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.
Perhaps they would not have worried as much
As I about the fragility of it all:
Her agonizingly slow pace, the tender ears
And beatific face just above the water.
At one point she hit upon a shoal
And appeared to walk upon a mantle,
The light glancing off her thin legs and black hooves.
I thought she might pause for a while to rest,
To gain some bearings, but instead she bound
Back in, mindful I suppose
Of the vulnerability of open water.
When she finally reached the island
And leapt into dark stands
Of cottonwoods and Russian olives,
I swear I almost fell down in prayer.
And now I long to bear witness of such things,
To tell someone in need the story
Of a deer fording the Missouri in the early afternoon.

-from the literary journal Third Wednesday

Living With Poetry | The Peace of Wild Things

We sold the bookshelves before Henry was born. The big, dark, wooden things were with us since the beginning of our marriage, sitting side by side in our first living room. Now we needed space for the crib and changing table, plus whatever else a baby required, and installed three white shelves along an empty space on the wall to accommodate our books.

In quiet moments I stand here looking at my row of poetry, reading the spines before reaching to pull a book down. I bring Ruth Stone, William Carlos Williams, and others to the couch and sink in, opening first to the dog eared pages I had marked, to see what was once important to me, what moved me.

I consider it a successful day when I’m able to brew and drink tea in the same sitting. It doesn’t always happen this way. When Henry sleeps I have several choices. To curl up on the couch under a blanket. To make granola or curry or muffins, sometimes tea. Occasionally I fold laundry.

Today, poetry.

Henry wakes in the living room, grunting as he does. Soft, guttural sounds while he blinks his eyes open and raises a fisted hand in the air as if to ask a question. I scoop him up and bring him to the changing table where we’ve put a toy monkey in the corner and Henry coos at him and reaches for his leg, smiling in anticipation.

We move to the couch and I prop him up against a pillow, then pull a book from the wicker basket, The Little Engine That Could. I hope Henry is like the blue train, the one who is kind and helpful and determined. I tell him this, then we continue sitting together in silence while I read Wendell Berry.

The peace of wild things. It turns out to be a very needed poem, because when I go back to the computer fourteen people have been shot in San Bernardino, 30 miles from where I grew up. I don’t know how to explain this world to my son or what he will think of it when he is old enough to ask the hard questions. 

For these times, Berry instructs us to go into the woods, by the still water. Except I am not near a forest. The ocean, though nearby, I do not venture to. Instead I sit next to my son on a soft couch and we read together. And the quiet afternoon goes on.

The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

How to Work Your Lunch Break Like Frank O'Hara

Living with Poetry is an occasional series where we explore how poetry infuses our everyday lives. Catch up with past features here.

The subject of working and writing brings up two important issues: how to best utilize the lunch break to your creative advantage, and how to eat well.

This might not come as a surprise, but most writers have day jobs, sometimes in entirely unrelated fields. If you’re one of them, consider yourself in good company in the ranks of those like Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Frank O'Hara, who found time to write during the confines of the work hours they kept.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Poetry for Professionals, John Coleman writes how poetry can teach us to infuse life with beauty and meaning. “A challenge in modern management can be to keep ourselves and our colleagues invested with wonder and purpose. As Simon Sinek and others have documented, the best companies and people never lose a  sense of why they do what they do. Neither do poets. In her Nobel lecture "The Poet and the World," Wislawa Szymborska writes:

Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like “the ordinary world,” “ordinary life,” “the ordinary course of events” ... But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world.

Frank O'Hara understood that "the ordinary world" was full of inspiration. While on his lunch break from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, O'Hara often composed poetry from fragments he observed in this brief hour. His collection, "Lunch Poems," chronicles many walks around the city.

It's my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.

-from "A Step Away from Them"

This might seem like a list with no apparent cohesion, but when you consider the circumstances under which the poem was written, it flows. As a reader, you are following O'Hara through Manhattan, seeing what he sees. As a writer with a busy day job, O'Hara used his lunch hour wisely by observing the world around him, collecting lines for poems, and composing them on a park bench.

A lunch break is your time. Whether it’s twenty minutes or one hour, you can accomplish something creative. Bring a book, take a walk with the intention of thinking through a creative rut you’re in, pull out a notebook or sketchpad, type up the draft that you hand wrote the day before.

Now, when it comes to eating well during your lunch break, that’s also an issue worth discussing. Especially if you’re planning to use your creative juices, you’ll need to stay energized (think healthy ingredients like avocado and whole grains, rather than empty fast food calories).

Have you read Lunch at the Shop? It’s a slim little cookbook celebrating the enjoyment of the midday meal. Peter Miller makes lunch every day at his bookstore in Seattle, and this collection of 50 simple recipes makes me want to do the same.

In our current bustle, lunch has been overlooked. The bulk of lunch has been sourced out to stand-up counters and takeout platters, wrapped and rolled and packaged, and it is now mostly a pass-through, of time and food.

Peter continues to explain how when you take control of your meal, you are "simply taking a part of the day back into your hands, making it personal and pleasure. The food will be better, the stories more interesting, and the day considerably more distinct."

Cheers to that.

Lunch looks different for each of us. The point is to at least give the meal some attention, in whatever way makes sense for you. And if you need a little inspiration for your lunch bag, here are some great ideas:



Things With Avocado*
*Because avocado is always a good idea!