Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Springtime at Home

"Home is the nicest word there is."
Laura Ingalls Wilder

It is the first day of spring, which means that Houston has already trampled on the concept of spring and marched directly into midsummer. It is days like these that I especially miss so many things about dear old Maryland…

So much green everywhere. The greenness of my front yard, sloping downward to meet the sweeping greenery of our gigantic weeping willow. Driving along winding highways framed by carpets of green. Green reaching upwards and outwards, as far as the eye can see.

::Mom’s lattes::
Better than Starbucks. Mild, creamy and faintly sweet. Our long, long talks in the early morning hours before anyone else is awake. 

Airy, spacious, spring-green walls. Coffee pot and tea kettle. My favorite staples always in the pantry: peanut butter, crackers and dried fruit. Countless parties, people everywhere, late into the humid summer nights.

Flowering trees lining both sides of a broad, sleepy street. My neighbor’s award-winning landscaping, a breathtaking array of color as soon as the last frost dies away. Spreading lawns and winding driveways that give off an aura of countryside.

::butterfly bush::
Explosions of purple bloom that overwhelm our back porch, attracting butterflies, bumblebees and hummingbirds.

::swimming pool::
Where it isn’t too hot to lay in the sun and tan away those lazy spring afternoons.

Always a brother or sister nearby to go on spontaneous dates to Starbucks, play lively games of Nertz or Settlers of Catan, cook up delectable concoctions, play catch in the front yard or ride our bikes to 7-Eleven.

Getting drunk on the scent of spring, so sweet and rich it brings tears to your eyes.

::new life::
Nests of blue, speckled eggs. The tiniest bunnies amid stalks of warm grass. Birds. Singing. Everywhere.

Beautiful songs reminiscent of heaven in the joy, the never wanting to stop. Preaching so powerful it catches your breath. Resounding “amens!” Freedom. Power. God in our midst.

Dearest, lifelong besties. The friends you can catch up with and months feel like yesterday. Memories and hugs and so much laughter.

::old stomping grounds::
Parks and highways and stores you grew up in. Everything changes, and yet it is the same. The feeling that you could go blind and be completely at home, for always.

Playing with dad, the brother, the boyfriend-now-husband. Sweating and swinging next to the playgrounds you once toddled in. Places where everything takes you back.

Freshly combed dirt and snow-white lines. The satisfying smack of ball into glove. Whistles and cheers, knee pads and catcher's mask. Spring afternoons hitting, running, drilling. The thrill of gameday victories. Medals.

The recreation of choice at every gathering. Hours in the park with the same group of friends; nets dragged out at birthday parties and family reunions alike. Spike. Set. Dive. The perfect game, the perfect weather.

::Grandma’s house::
The smell of fresh herbs drying. Pumping away on a prehistoric player piano. Grabbing a cold Yoohoo from a first-generation refrigerator. Knitting. Sewing the Civil War costume that won first prize in high school. Baking breads and desserts of all kinds. Feasting on hot beef sandwiches and jumbo shrimp. Exploring the attic and the hayloft. Riding horses, gathering eggs, feeding sheep. Both Grandma’s houses are what storybooks are made of.

With every fiber of my being, I miss Maryland. I crave the beauty, the aliveness everywhere. I long to be home as much as possible. And yet, I bloom where I am planted. I am multi-faceted and educated in a way that only comes from being transplanted into an entirely new culture. God knows what He is doing. And with every visit, home becomes even more the dearest place on earth to me. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Surviving Lent with a Rebellious Sweet Tooth

Confessions of a sugarholic, featuring handy steps to lessen the cravings:

Step 1: Pray. Pray without ceasing. Ask God to curb this withdrawal that is making life miserable for another 16 days.

Step 2: Eat frozen fruit with abandon. Grapes are a personal favorite.

Step 3: Drink gallons of tea with lots of milk and a spot of honey, just this once. I highly recommend Chai. A pretty teacup is an absolute necessity - it makes everything taste better.

Step 4: Find friends who will join you in cultivating a savory tooth. Enjoy cooking and movie nights featuring dishes like Cape Cod chowder, Red Lobster cheddar biscuits and buttery homemade popcorn.

Step 5: Pick specific things to pray about instead of eating sweets. Intercede for those things while at birthday parties, surrounded by ice cream and cupcakes.

Step 6: Adapt favorite dishes for a sugarless alternative. Top decadent, impossibly fluffy Belgian waffles with a strawberry sauce made from reduced berries, vanilla and the tiniest smidgen of sugar to draw all the juice from the berries. Result? Better than syrup.

Step 7: Do strenuous physical activity to take your mind off your cravings. Train for a half marathon, and relish the weightless feeling of a sugar-free body.

Step 8: Repeat sugar fasts as needed throughout the year. They're no fun, but invaluable in practicing self-control and cultivating a healthy lifestyle.

Now, go eat a cookie. For my sake.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Weekend in NOLA

For the 85th time I begged to know where we were going. Nathan refused to budge and even made me close my eyes whenever we passed a telltale road sign. Finally, my internal compass kicked in and I realized we were driving east. To New Orleans. Unbeknownst to me, my love had planned an entire weekend seeped in Cajun culture, complete with sightseeing, live music and more seafood and French pastry than I could dream of.

We pulled up to a breathtakingly beautiful hotel, a white jewel set in the midst of high rises and bustling streets. A gloved, tailed and top-hatted doorman took my hand and helped me from the car. We dumped our luggage in the room and immediately took off exploring, like two five-year-olds racing each other down silent, brocaded hallways. The elegance was magnificent. Heavy draperies, fresh flowers and hand-painted details adorned every inch of the place. We stumbled down forbidden stairwells, danced to the thrums of wedding reception music vibrating through every floor, and feasted on complimentary PB&J and hot chocolate in our jammies.

Every night at 10 pm a bedtime snack of sandwiches, milk and cocoa is laid out in the lobby, and guests have a PJ party.

There was even art on the ceiling!

Such an exquisite elevator

 Our weekend was packed, mostly with food. We breakfasted at a delicious French bakery, where Nathan died and went to heaven over the raspberry tarts.

We spent an afternoon at a fabulous WWII museum, spellbound in a Tom Hanks 4D film that literally transported us into the streets of Berlin. Then it was off to a dinner of crawfish and goat cheese crepes, a stroll through the French Quarter accentuated by spurts of live jazz and the lively bantering of locals at a moonlit market, and unbelievable cafe au lait and beignets at the famed Cafe du Monde. We walked home through Bourbon Street and barely made it out alive, and that's all I'll say about that.

Muriel's for dinner

6 pm, and the party begins.
Perfectly cast musicians.

Nate's beignets and chocolate milk

On Sunday I convinced Nathan that seafood is just as good at breakfast time. Cheddar grits and seafood omelet? There are no words.

He played it safe with steak. 
NOLA's most popular form of transportation

The party never ends.

I love New Orleans. I love the architecture; whole neighborhoods in rainbows of color where no two houses are alike. I love the festivity and the beauty and tradition. I especially love the food. And I love my husband who, after nearly three years, has never let the honeymoon die.