when life gives you lemons


oh, i was brimming with insight and optimism; i took time off from running, gave my injury time to heal, and spent those precious extra hours with my son, marveling at all the things were learning together. things were really starting to look up last weekend when i finished a ten-mile long run that left me hopeful - if not confident - for a return to my former athletic glory. but this stubborn tendinitis had different plans and my injury has since flared up with a vengeance. now i'm back to square one, with no running in the foreseeable future and all this free time on my hands again.

so, the other day, when i found myself lying awake at 6:30am with two and a half hours until work and an energetic boy jabbering away in the room next door, i took august with me outside to enjoy the late summer morning. we won't have too many more of these, i simultaneously hoped and lamented (both hoping for my injury to heal and lamenting the end of the season).

still dressed in pajamas, we walked out with our bare feet in the dewy grass, around the side of the house to our vegetable garden, and there they were: three fat and gorgeous yellow tomatoes, bright as the morning sun. they are called lemon boys and if that isn't the universe sending a message then i don't know what is. you know what they say about life when it gives you lemons, don't you? make lemon boy tomato salad!

so here it is: a simple recipe to remind us that even adversities can be fruitful and there are moments every day to be savored.

there isn't much to this salad, just five ingredients: tomatoes, peaches, basil, burrata cheese, and balsamic reduction. now, i usually shy away from recipes that have specialty ingredients because a) they're usually hard to find in regular markets and b) as much as i appreciate good food, i have a hard time spending the extra buck. that said, even though you may not have heard of burrata, it's not as exotic as it may sound. it can be found in the cheese section of most grocery stores and at a price that is comparable to it's less creamy cousin, mozzarella. it is a fresh italian cheese that is soft and buttery and it totally makes this dish. take the time to look for it at your local grocer, it's worth it!


1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tomatoes, cut into pieces
2 peaches, cut into pieces
6 ounces burrata cheese, cut into pieces
freshly torn basil

the balsamic reduction is the most "laborious" part of the preparation. i put that in quotes because all it really means is that this step just takes a bit more time than the rest, but not necessarily more work. pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan, heat over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. once it's rolling, drop the heat to low and let it simmer, swirling the pan occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to about half of the original amount (15 minutes, maybe). that's it. then remove it from the heat and set aside. the hard part is done!

while the balsamic is reducing, place the tomatoes and peaches on a platter or plate, top with burrata chunks and torn basil. drizzle the balsamic reduction over the salad and BAM! a happy little salad that tastes as rich and sweet as these dwindling summer days.

buon appetito!

mysteries and miracles


it was over a shared breakfast of fresh fruit and coffee last sunday, that i flipped through foon sham's portfolio brochure while my mother told the story of how they met years ago. they had shared a workspace together one summer an artist's workshop and became quick friends. but that's my mother for you. she is the kind of woman who not only tells her life story to the person next to her on line at the grocery store, but is so charming that that person feels at ease to do the same. anyway, foon and my mother were particularly well fit for friendship because of their mutual artistic obejctive that centers around recyling found materials from the environment, such as fallen trees.

as she went on with the history of their friendship, veering from one story to the next (as my mother is wont to do), i paused at a series of drawings he did back in 2009: swatches of wood revealing cross-sections of various types of trees, each laid on white paper with lines of graphite extending beyond their boundries in continuum. as impressive as the intricacy and imagination required to complete these drawings is, i was almost more fascinated by his use of negative space - like he left the viewer to figure out the rest.
elm 15.5" x 23.375" wood and pencil on paper

yew 16" x 24" wood and pencil on paper
weathered beech 15.5" x 23.375" wood and pencil on paper
i got lost in those nagative spaces thinking about my father's cancer. it's over six years now and i realize
i write about him a lot, but i'm still trying to figure out his death. maybe it's my long, drawn-out way of grieving (i didn't cry the day he died, which now that i think about it, may have been a more effectively cathartic coping mechanism) or maybe it's my inquisitive nature that always demands an exact answer and squirms at abstract thought. what ever the reason, his passing so young still is and i think, always will be one of my life's greatest mysteries.

my father was inquisitive by nature too. he asked a lot of questions. some people thought he did this to challenge their intelligence. one friend once told me he felt like he was "being grilled" during a casual convesartion about civil war history. really, my dad just loved to learn. he found every opportunity to be a potentional one for learning. so, yes - to settle darwin's debate - my inquisitive nature was definitely nurtured by dad's.

anyway, among his many lessons, my father often repeated one in particular. it was with regards to our actions and the choices we make: you are a tenth generation marylander,  he'd begin our family is like a chain, each generation is a link on that chain. it is your responsibility to forge a stong link that will not break the chain. your actions determine its strength. i am, of course, paraphrasing, but that was the gist of the speech i heard at least a dozen times. when i looked at foon's drawings i thought of that family chain too.

chain links, tree rings.

dendrochronology  is a study of dating based on the analysis of patterns of growth rings in trees. scientists can date the time at which tree rings were formed, in many types of wood, to the exact calendar year from a simple cross-section. tree rings are the result of new growth, with each ring representing one year; the outside rings, near the bark, are the youngest and most tender.

here is when my thoughts go to august. i realize i write about him a lot too. i'm fifiteen months into motherhood and still fascinating by everything i am learning from my son. he is and i think, always will be one of my life's greatest miracles.

in a review of foon's work, one art historian wrote "drawing on his intuition and intellect, he approaches each design with fresh curiosity and play, while maintaining an open attitude toward outcome throughout the creative process. renewal and conjoining underlie a diverse body of work that is increasingly architectural and metaphoric in nature. these themes boldly affirm that disparate entities can form a dynamic partnership. trusting the universe to yield its secrets in small, unpredictable increments, the artist continues to express and inspire wonder..."

mysteries and miracles: disparate entities indeed, but a dynamic and essential partnership.



here is the key to the house. in the house burns a light. in that light rests a bed. on that bed waits a book.

"boo[k]!" (the k is silent) he shouts upon seeing said book waiting on the the basket next to the bed. then, up onto tippy toes he reaches for it before walking over to me and repeating the word, only this time as a command. [translation: read!] so i sit down cross legged and he slowly backs up into my lap. the house in the night. we go through it a couple of times every day, each time telling a different story. it's a beautifully illustrated board book with so many details that you could go through it hundreds of time without telling the same story twice. sometimes it'll be all about the night sky: how the sun shines on the moons face (and what a pretty face she has, i seeee youuuu luna!) and about counting as many stars as we can - which usually leads to an interlude of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - before the next page turns. other times it'll be about the bird: how it soars through the dark, getting smaller the higher it flies and about it's song (that i then whistle and august squeeks in imitation).
the book was a gift for august - a souvenir from my trip to minnesota earlier in the summer. it was my nephew's favorite book and came highly recommended not only by claudin, but by the clerk at the bookstore who was proud to tell us that the author was a st. paul resident. i had no idea it'd be such a hit considering that at the time, most of the books in our house had been either chewed or torn beyond recognition. we're past that phase though and now books are for reading. i'm not sure where he got it from, but these days august loves to read. he'll flip through books to pass the time in the car or sometimes, when he's out of sight and i go through a brief moment of panic because it's so quite, i'll find him sitting in the dog's bed reading.

i was never a big reader as a child so i know he didn't get it from me. nope, the "reader" in our family was my older sister, the so-called "middle child" (she was the third in our five). she was the only one that really took to my father's passion for reading, just like claudin and i were the only ones to take after his love of running. come to think of it, we each seemed to pick one my dad's passions to share just with him. my brother: his dedication to service (from eagle scout, through the ranks to army ranger) and my oldest sister: his devotion to family (almost entirely inspired by Fiddler on the Roof, TRADITION!)

while i wasn't the [independent] reader my sister was, i did read a lot of great books when i was a kid - i just read them with my dad. he loved literature and it was something he held onto even when everything else in his life was fleeing from him. having children gave him the excuse to read all the stories he had always wanted to read. so when we were growing up and all the way to middle school, he would read to us before bed. some of my best memories come from those nights we stayed up late reading j.r.r. tolkein or c.s. lewis with claudin and i on either side of him, our heads resting on each of his shoulders as he read aloud.

i remember after one particular late night in which we had stayed up well past reasonable sleeping hours to read one more paragraph from the culminating chapters of The Hobbit. with just a few pages left, it took a tremendous amount of discipline from my father to close the book. but it was very late on a school night and he had a strong sense of responsibility. the next morning though, he woke us with the same excitement he was about to bestow: you don't have to go to school today, we're staying home to finish the book! we spent the early hours relishing the last bit of Bilbo's journey back to the Shire and i don't recall what we did the rest of the day (i think, maybe, we rented the cartoon on VHS?) but i'll never forget the time my dad let us play hookie. ever since then i decided that when i had i child i would do the same. with time and maturity i grew to appreciate books and now i've got the same enthusiasm that my father had for reading.  especially now that i have a child of my own - i get to read all the books i never read on my own: Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe... august and i will discover all those books and more. and maybe i'll even let him miss school a few times too.


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