widening the backdrop

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I was listening to an interview with Marie Mutsuki Mockett, author of the book “Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye” on All Things Considered yesterday. It was broadcast in this half hour piece of the show that plays on our local station during the late afternoon, and then that same half hour is repeated later, usually when I’m in my car on my way home from work. I was partially listening the first go round – I heard enough to know that I wanted to look up the interview later and listen more carefully – but then it played again while I was in the car and I connected with her words so intensely that I started to cry in my car.

She talks about Obon – a period where the spirits of the ancestors return – during which there are lantern festivals held in many places in Japan. You can purchase a paper lantern and write down the name of the person you have lost, and you set the lantern onto the water just as the sun is setting. It’s still light, but then it’s dark, and there is this sea of light floating off towards the horizon. And suddenly your focus changes from the single lantern in front of you to the hundreds of lanterns in your wake. She talks about how she initially felt after the loss of her father – how she just wished that her pain could get smaller, shrink somehow. She eventually came to the realization that the pain would not shrink because she couldn’t love him less or miss him less, but that she could open up more to the world around her, and slowly she started to feel like that pain, although it was the exact same size, was a bit smaller in comparison with the vast world around her.

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It was at that moment, with those words, that I could feel it. I could feel the very physical way that my body has curled up on itself for awhile now. I can very distinctly put myself back onto my bed in those first moments of knowing that my niece was gone, and how my body twisted into a groaning knot. I can feel how tightly coiled I was as I sat on the wooden pew at her funeral. I know how we spent that whole long winter retreating into the smallest footprint within our house, clustering together, perhaps without even realizing it. I have the imprint of the chair on my back still from where I sat and cut those evergreen paper branches for hours on end, without stretching. That feeling of tightness is so close to the surface that it can be conjured up quite easily. I told M this as I cut the wreaths and evergreen garlands for the holiday cards this year – just that act of sitting down for an hour with the same green paper and the same orange handled scissors brought it all back, the way our bodies folded in upon themselves, tighter and tighter.

She put words to the way that I’m feeling these days. Like I’m unfurling and stretching in ways that I had forgotten. I halfheartedly tried to articulate my desire to further open and strengthen myself this year in this post. Mockett’s description of that openness was exactly what I was trying to say. I have to flex that muscle a bit to get it working again – it’s been so much easier to say no, to recede, to back away. But I realize that I have to use it, and it feels good to use it. I have to stretch my body in new ways, I have to open my mind to other’s ideas that aren’t necessarily the ideas that I typically hoard and nurture within me before sharing. I have to find meaningful ways to connect to others and do things for others. I’m ready to nurture and care for this little place we call home, and make it stretch a little more to accommodate our growing girls and growing interests. We have curled into tiny corners of our home for so long, and it has waited patiently for us to return to it.

Listening to that piece made me more aware of what is driving my intentions this year – to stretch my body, to craft a home, to open up more in my writing. It has nothing to do with goals of perfection – the perfect body, the perfect kitchen, the perfect blog. It really has to do with openness. Less opening, the verb, but more openness as a practice. Widening the backdrop of this life a bit.

We have to negotiate this world where we know the worst can happen because it has, and the only way to move forward from that point is to let that pain float on an endless open sea with others.

admiring: addition inspiration

Elizabeth-Roberts-Ensemble-Architecture-Fort-Greene-Cumberland-Terrace-Remodelista-07All images in this post via Remodelista 

Project by Elizabeth Roberts Design/Ensemble Architecture DPC

A big thanks to reader Jessica for bringing this project to my attention. She said it made her think of our project, and after reading this article about it, I can see why. It’s fairly common to find modern additions to historic homes and townhomes, but many times the addition houses a new kitchen or a family room, or a combination of kitchen/breakfast/den room within in. I love and appreciate the fact that they maintained the garden level galley style kitchen (although, man, oh man, that kitchen is enormous!) and they opted to make the addition a dining room that connects with the outdoors. They did this because they find that their family spends the most time in the kitchen or around the table, and they wanted those spaces to have a real connection to the outdoors, even in the wintertime.

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The house is narrow – about the size of our house, although our lot is a little wider than theirs. We’ll have a similar condition as the left side – that side of our house is our property line, and the neighbor’s house is three feet away. But we have about 6.5′ of extra garden to the right of our house (and addition), so we have some opportunity for light on the rear and the side (and the big skylight we are planning for the roof connection between new and old).

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Nice Blue Star range. Yum. You should read the whole article though, and look at how huge that kitchen is.

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The rest of the house is impeccable. The have the big white trim, the light gray walls, books, books and more books. I love the part in the article where it states that the architect is “a believer in a serene white bedrooms enlivened by books.” Yes, yes, I agree.

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I really love the linens on this bed too. I wouldn’t mind finding some shams and a throw like these for our mostly white (with a little blue) bedroom.

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I love the way the rooms uniformly incorporate storage behind simple white built-in’s. We’ve done the same throughout our house, and I’ve never regretted a penny we spent on them.

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Thanks again for pointing this out Jessica. M and I are constantly sending each other images and notes and links these days as the wheels are turning. More survey updates coming soon…

good cupcake form

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Last night I was thinking about several things related to food, and to this blog. I’ve made an attempt this month to slowly ramp back up to a more regular posting schedule – even though I’m not really sure what a regular schedule means here. I just know that I’d like to hit the highlights of some of my interests each week – our current house projects, our addition house projects, occasional posts about our family and the girls, what we’re reading, what we’re making, what we’re eating.

I really enjoy keeping track of our weekly menus and talking about them here, and I used to sit down and draw and write out the past week’s menu on Sunday night in front of Downton Abbey. Now we DVR it, and occasionally it’s Tuesday or Wednesday or the following weekend before we get around to it. So I haven’t yet been able to get into the habit of doing it again. Instead, I have this stack of menu notes for the past month on my table, as if they are important to anyone anyway.

Sometimes I can impose a bit too much order onto something that really is just an online journal to me, and I think the randomness works on some level. Eventually I’ll get back into that weekly feature, but even if it’s not posted like clockwork, you can still bet I’m thinking about food. And this weekend, I was thinking about cupcakes.

I posted a picture on Instagram last night of some progress shots of the cupcakes I made for Sunday’s shower. I’ve talked about cupcake making a few times before, and specifically about baking cupcakes in bulk here, here, and here. And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – I really didn’t like making cupcakes until I discovered this little trick.

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You’ll need a large icing bag – this one is an 18″ one, which is large enough to generously wrap over the top edge of my water pitcher, which makes filling it easy and neat (because you don’t want to get any frosting or icing on the top 2″-3″ of the bag or else it “back squeezes” when you use it). And anything larger than 18″ filled with icing gets really, really heavy. I use a large coupler and a large star tip, doesn’t really matter the shape for batter filling.

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The pitcher also makes a good stand for the bag when not in use. If the recipe gives you some guidance on liner filling then use it. (In the case of this recipe it recommended no more than 1/2 full). If you aren’t sure, then take three liners and test fill them with three heights and bake them to see how much they rise. It’s usually worth the extra few minutes to have the rest of the cupcakes turn out right. Piping the batter in gives you a lot of control – I just use a circular motion to cover the liner completely and I can fill each one to the same level with zero drips across the tops of the paper. You want the cupcakes to not dome in the center once baked, but to ideally be flat and stop just short of the liner top.

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That way, once you ice the top of the cupcakes, you can still see the edge of the cake part, and it’s far less messy for eaters to peel the paper off at a party and not be forced into licking their fingers before they go in for the next treat on the table! You can also easily see the whole flavor combination here – no surprises. Oh, except for that pear filling that I added, hidden away under the frosting. I like to keep you guessing.