Grateful for a Summer at Home


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.
In the last week, I read a travel memoir, skimmed through an atlas, made a list of cities I would like to visit for weekend trips, and scoured a travel website for tips on my dream journey of a lifetime. However, I have not been outside of my current locale, Albuquerque, in more than three months and I won’t be going anywhere this summer, either. I have a serious case of wanderlust. I was feeling discontented and disappointed that travel is not going to be much of an option for me in the next few months due to budget constraints.

I knew I needed to sit with my disappointment, instead of denying it. After giving myself a little time to deal with this homebound reality, I discovered that mostly I was feeling hemmed in by the seeming lack of adventure in my near future. I was feeling sad, because I had expectations that were different than my reality. I realized that was my problem. When my expectations and my reality align, I am blissfully content and joyful. I was out of alignment. My wanderlust ideals were colliding with my local existence.

Believe me, I am a homebody. I love to stay home and curl up with a good book, my favorite music playing in the background. I love cooking dinner at home and savoring a glass of wine. I love puttering around the house, or enjoying a morning on the patio drinking coffee and watching the sky turn black to pink to blue. I love going to a nearby park with my borrowed telescope and viewing the stars and planets. What usually feels like a cozy option, though, was feeling more like a punishment or a slight curse.  As soon as I voiced my discontent to myself, while making breakfast one lazy weekend morning, I got a little perspective. I realized that I needed to look at my feelings of being chained at home through the lens of gratitude. I made a list of things that I was grateful for, with this idea in mind.

I am grateful that I will have lots of time at home in Albuquerque this summer.

I am grateful that I will get to make a serious attempt at a patio garden this summer.

I am grateful that I won’t be fighting highway traffic or having to share a beautiful vista with countless others.

I am grateful that I have summer employment to fill in the gap of my school-year job.

I am grateful that I live in a beautiful place with lots of hiking trails and biking routes and access nearby.

I am grateful for a summer to concentrate on some spiritual, physical, and mental fitness goals.

I am grateful for health, employment, and contentment with how things are in my life.

I am grateful that I will have extra time to finish a large writing project.

I am grateful that I will have time to complete an online class that I have been postponing.

I am grateful that I have a whole shelf of books that I have been meaning to read over the last couple of years.

I am grateful that I have a few friends who will also be in town this summer.

I am grateful that I will have a chance to put together a budget and plan for a dream trip to possibly take in a couple of years.

I am grateful that I invested in a few books about sightseeing in Albuquerque and New Mexico.

I am grateful that I have a pantry full of ingredients and a shelf full of cookbooks to try new recipes and dishes and share with friends.

I am grateful that I have made a list of some out-of-town-but-still-close places to see and visit this summer.

I am grateful that several museums, that I haven’t visited yet, offer upcoming free and/or discounted entry fees this summer.

I am grateful that I have a good camera to take pictures and find some new angles from which to enjoy my favorite local haunts and landmarks.

I am grateful for a small and cozy home in a gorgeous city.

I am grateful that I am taking initiative to invite friends from nearby towns, who might also be on the same kinds of budget constraints, to come and stay with me.

It only took a few minutes to change my perspective. I usually think that travel does that. However, I realized that the view of home, all of a sudden, looks very lovely indeed. What other parts of life, where there might be discontent, also need a new view through the beautiful lens of gratitude?

 

 

 

Rearrange


Recently, I had a slight rearrangement on my calendar. I had planned to take a weekend trip to southern New Mexico for hiking, soaking in hot springs, sightseeing, and taking pictures. Due to a schedule change and needing to save some money, I decided to stay home for the weekend. I was a little disappointed for postponing the trip, but a couple of extra days at home turned into a lovely adventure and renewal. I took advantage of my time, my spring fever, and my wanderlust to rearrange my apartment.

I should preface this by saying that my current apartment is my favorite place that I have ever lived. It also happens to be the smallest, even more miniature than a studio apartment I dwelled in for a year in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. For one, I love, love, love Albuquerque and New Mexico. Secondly, I am grateful for the tree view, a second floor patio, almost-cathedral ceilings in the living room and kitchen, two cool neighbors downstairs, and getting to live alone. It is home.

Home is where the heart is. Sometimes, home is a loved one. Sometimes, home is an abstract place on the map, because you don’t know where your sense of place is. Home can be where you came of age. Home can be where your family lives. Home can be portable, wherever you pull up stakes on your tent. Home can be an abstract concept while you concentrate on other things.

I have always concentrated on home, in both the abstract and the concrete. I have possessed homes in my heart, in people, and even in my avocation. This little four-room rented home is all I need right now for dwelling.

The rearrangement was a welcome opportunity to look at my place in a new way. Often, the unpacking process is rapid and perfunctory. When I moved in, a year and a half ago, I was juggling full-time work, four nights of school, and staying temporarily at a friend’s house. I did not have a ton of time and I was worried about wearing out my welcome at the pal’s place. Plus, as soon as I unpacked one or two boxes, the apartment was overwhelmed in a flood of newspaper packing paper and the belongings that had just emerged from the containers. I quickly stowed my bookshelves in the corners of the living room and bedroom and filled them with my treasured reading materials. I pushed the edge of the couch against one wall and stashed a splindly floor lamp under the couch’s edge. I assembled my long, modern shelf to hold wine glasses, bowls and plates, mason jars, and collections of sugar skulls, Buddhas, and tea pots. I used my entry wall to hang small crosses and the metal frog hook given to me by good friends to help me find my keys. In the kitchen I turned the blank wall near the fridge into a small gallery of framed family photos. After a month in my apartment, I was finally unpacked. Later in the winter, a dear friend helped me assemble my bed frame and place my beloved collection of art on the walls at strategic vantage points, blessed with his good taste and designer eye. One huge advantage of a small space is being able to see most of my treasured belongings from any point in this lovely little apartment. It also takes very little time to clean it and put things into order.

After more than a year in this place, I loved the space, but felt a faint dissatisfaction with the flow. I have a lot of stuff in a small area and some spots felt crowded and disjointed. When I decorated during Christmas, I was tempted to rearrange, but was a little overwhelmed and just wanted to enjoy holiday ornaments. In late winter, after a couple of sick days on the couch, I had an idea of what I wanted to do to move things around, but didn’t have the energy to begin the effort. My mother visited at the beginning of spring and I told her of my ideas to refresh the space. She nodded her head enthusiastically, but I think my mom would support me in most efforts, even if she didn’t really like my decorating vision.

Sunday, I woke with the sun and decided it was the day to rearrange and reinvigorate the space. I stuck to the bedroom, and made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t go to bed until I had put everything in its new place. In some ways, the rearrangement of the bedroom had already begun when my landlord removed an old heater and installed a new one on a different wall, forcing me to change the spots of my antique flea-market dresser and a vintage footlocker trunk. I moved the bed and desk to different walls and switched out the two bookshelves. It was small and stilting and steady effort, shuffling enough books out of the shelves to render them moveable. I dragged the printer from an awkward spot on my cedar chest to the wire bookshelf, along with my other office supplies and files. I created a little writer nook under the window with my desk arrangement. I felt like a squirrel, slowly arranging my cache until satisfied. All of a sudden, after heaving and sweating and contemplating, my bedroom was a new space with more light and room and much better flow. It was a refresh. That night, my sleep was hard and sound and peaceful.

The next morning, I woke up with energy and excitement at having another day to finish the rearrangement. I turned on the kettle to boil water for coffee and filled the sink in the kitchen to wash dishes. I put away a few mugs and bowls and began the contemplative process of mentally rearranging the living room while I looked on from the kitchen sink. I took out a couple of small bags for donation to my car and then ran back up the outside stairs to perch on the couch and drink the last from my mug. I used my arms to make measurements of furniture and fractions of walls, knowing points on my body and spots in the nubby paint to make more precise measurements than my hard-to-get-to-measuring-tape, which I conveniently discovered in the couch cushions after moving around the furniture. With my body a little sore from the previous day’s bedroom redesign, I thought about curling up with a good book and another cup of coffee, but I gave myself the metaphorical kick-in-the-butt that I needed. I wanted my whole place to match the magic of the bedroom.

I slowly took some stuff out to store temporarily on the patio and unloaded the contents of the tops of two bookcases onto my couch. I lifted the pictures off the walls and placed on the refuge of my freshly made bed. Then I braced myself for the dragging and lifting across thick apartment carpet. I pushed two bookshelves into a corner, and made a reading nook with a lamp and my fairly new turquoise upholstered chair. I tucked the small kitchen table, once awkwardly shoved in front of a bookshelf, into a newly vacant spot and dressed it up with my potted succulents and an old milk vase full of flowers. I dusted and vacuumed and then moved more stuff around to do more cleaning. Rearranging the tiny living room was like moving the components to a tightly-fitting puzzle, every slight adjustment affected another piece of furniture or wall hanging. Plus, the placement of electrical outlets and the heater smack dab in the middle of one wall made for a decor riddle. Finally, though, I solved the puzzle.

I rolled out the rug at an angle, hung a couple of pictures in new spots, and put everything away. The room didn’t get any bigger and I didn’t remove any furniture, but now there is a reading nook, a better place to eat, and more space on the floor to do yoga. The TV doesn’t distract from the conversational placement of furniture, and I can imagine more people coming over to visit. The room felt like the “after” picture in a design magazine, at least to me.

This rearrangement, coupled with a some recent epiphanies, makes me feel new and excited and reinvigorated. All week, coming home from work has been a beautiful welcome. Somehow, household chores feel like renewal, rather than drudgery. I am reveling in this new placement of my belongings, loving the books and seeing the art on the walls as if for the first time. Every place I sit feels cozy and warm and just-right. It feels like light and love are blooming in my home. Funnily enough, while I am enjoying my objects all the more, I feel blissfully okay if they disappeared. It is more about love and light and finding space and grace, both literally and figuratively.

I make plans with two co-workers to have them over for dinner next week. I invite a friend to come over for a cup of tea and a chat. I write this blog entry in my new writing niche. I curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a devotional to have a quiet morning wake up of prayer and contemplation. I stretch in a yoga pose in the middle of the living room. I wash dishes and put away the recycling bin. I drop compost in the worm bin and water the plants. I leave for work with my keys in hand and bag on my shoulder. I plop down on the patio to plant seeds and seedlings for a container garden. I reach for a book and cross my feet in the turquoise chair.

A rearrangement can bring refreshment and rejuvenation. Rearrangement doesn’t have to be about home decor. It can be about letting go of a rigid schedule for an hour. It can be about taking a walk on a different road or path. It can be about inviting someone you love to share a meal. It can be about making a new friend. It can be about not reacting and taking a pause. It can be about writing in your journal about the day instead of drowning in a glass of wine and complaining about co-workers. It is about being brave and taking another chance. It is about forgiveness and letting someone in. It is about finding love for self and others.

What does rearrangement mean for you?

Food Love: Green Chile Cheese Quiche


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Green chile cheese quiche fresh from the oven. Photo by Kary Schumpert.

For many, there are certain foods that bring back lovely memories from childhood. I am lucky to be in that group. There are specific dishes that not only serve as culinary time capsules, but also provide sustenance and comfort in their preparation and consumption. One of my favorites from childhood, and now a staple in adulthood, is green chile cheese quiche.

When I think of this food, I also remember a funny quote from one of my favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally. In a scene where Harry and Sally are quite solid in their friendship,  Jess, who is Harry’s best friend, immediately hits it off with Sally’s best friend. The line he rattles off is, “Pesto is the quiche of the 80s.” So I guess quiche was a big deal in the 70s. Anyway, it has been a staple of my life now well into the 21st century.

I am not sure where the recipe originated. I just have very clear memories of a tattered and food-mottled index card with my mother’s familiar, loopy handwriting. I have made carefully written out several copies of that recipe to give to friends or when someone asked me for one of my favorite foods. I mostly have the recipe memorized at this point and with that time-worn familiarity, make adjustments based on my cravings, ingredients, or dietary needs of my dinner guests.

I can imagine that hipsters might “ironcially” love this dish and I can bet that foodies decry the use of so much cheese and my omission of bacon. It’s one of the recipes that transitioned well from childhood into limited cooking capacity in college (mostly due to a lack of a fully equipped kitchen, not due to the lack for a passion to cook) and then further into my strict vegetarianism (note, I didn’t say vegan) that lasted for all of college well into my late twenties.

Growing up, this dish was in my mother’s almost weekly regular repertoire and I see how convenient and filling this recipe was when she was a homemaker with three growing girls and a husband who worked long hours and also how easy it was to use when she was a busy and harried high school home ec teacher still determined to put homemade food on the dinner table.

What I love most about this quiche is its versatility. It works great for a weeknight meal, paired with a salad and a simple roasted vegetable as a side. It transitions well into leftovers, either cold right out of the fridge, or zapped for less than a minute in the microwave, or served room temperature when left out on the stove top on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It is also tasty as a brunch or breakfast option.

The recipe calls for a bottom pie crust, the only kind I can make. Somehow, when I put my homemade top crust on a pie, it tends to fall apart, or I lack the knack for making it look pretty. I love making pie crusts from scratch and find it soothing to roll out the dough and slowly press it into place in a pie pan or one of my grandmother’s glass Pyrex pie dishes. I will admit, though, when in a hurry, or just being lazy, I will reach for the grocery store freezer option of a pre-made pie crust. Since often two crusts come together, it gives me the freezer choice to make two quiches or to save one pie crust for later.

Last Sunday, I wanted to bake and a windy, chilly winter afternoon only contributed to the mood. I put my favorite Duke Ellington on the CD player and headed into the kitchen. I reached into the back of my small freezer and found the second pie crust from a package that I had opened a few weeks ago. Out of the refrigerator, I assembled the rest of the ingredients. One of the other joys of this recipe is that it calls for my kitchen staple resources, things that I have on-hand even if I haven’t been to the grocery store in a couple of weeks.

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The quiche, right before going into the oven, is raw, yet beautiful. Photo by Kary Schumpert.

My mother’s recipe card calls for a couple different kinds of cheese, totaling about a cup and a half. Mostly I go with less cheese, but I wing it each time I make it. I often just go with what I have on hand, usually sharp cheddar, but occasionally weird choices that only add to the flavor palate. My other favorite part of this recipe is that all the mixing and preparation happens inside the pie crust, so very few dishes are dirtied or used once you have the pie crust, either store bought or laboriously handmade. So, you dump cheese, a bit of milk, a scant bit of flour (as thickener) and stir right into the pie crust. Then I add green chile. My mom’s recipe always called for a small can of diced green chile, but since we moved to northern New Mexico before I started junior high, green chile was in our freezer always. Even in the many years I lived in the Midwest and Colorado, I almost always found a way to get fresh green chile into my freezer to last for the year. You can take the girl out of New Mexico, but you can’t take green chile from her freezer.

Now that I am back in New Mexico, it makes me laugh to think of the efforts to get green chile into my freezer in Minnesota (think airplane carry-on, and substantial amounts of dry ice in care packages sent by my mother and handled by the postal service) or fall weekend trips to New Mexico to get the good stuff in the decade I lived in Colorado. One Minnesota winter, when I needed a new-but-used-automobile, after a car-totaling accident, it was the good excuse to buy the car from my stepfather, also a car dealer, but the major deciding factor was a huge trunk filled with dry ice and green chile. I can think of many years that I drove up and down the very familiar stretch of Interstate-25 in a day or two to get a bushel or more of fresh green chile roasted and then several hours putting small amounts of said roasted green chile into sandwich-sized heavy-duty plastic bags into the freezer. One of my favorite weekly kitchen rituals is to reach into the freezer and grab two or three small plastic bags full of green chile and place into a bowl to thaw in my refrigerator.

Once the green chile is added, crack three eggs right into the pie crust, and stir with a fork to break up the yolks. My mother’s recipe called for the addition of bacon, sometimes she used the artificial bacon bits from salad toppings, but mostly she used the intentional leftovers from breakfast. When I became a strict vegetarian in college and through most of my twenties, I left out the bacon option. Now, while I certainly eat bacon on special occasions (isn’t eating bacon always a special occasion?), I never think to add it to the quiche. The last of the remaining cheese, I sprinkle on the the top of the quiche and then I pop the brimming full pie pan into a preheated oven at 375 F for approximately 20-30 minutes. In the summer, when I make quiche, I bake it super early in the morning or in the middle of the night, so that the hot oven doesn’t heat up an already steamy July day.

This past Sunday, my house was clean and all my chores were done, so I slid the quiche into the oven, set the kitchen timer, and quickly washed the few dishes in the sink from an early breakfast and the quiche prep, then hopped into the shower. I reveled in the hot water, but quickly washed my hair, and shaved my legs. I didn’t want the shower to end, but mindful of my water consumption and also the cooking quiche, I dried off and pulled on a cozy grey sweater, thick black socks, and my favorite navy blue patterned pajama pants. I left my newly-installed apartment heater set to off and padded into the kitchen. I made it just as the timer began to beep. I turned off the oven and reached for my red-flowered oven mitt to pull out the quiche, perfectly set and lightly browned, and plopped it onto the stove top. I dumped almost half a bag of fresh arugula greens onto a white dinner plate and poured a glass of my favorite cheap bottle of Malbec. Then I sliced the quiche into 8 pie-triangle-shaped pieces and slid one onto the plate. I grabbed the wine glass with the full dinner plate and a fork from the dish drainer into my fingers and ventured into the living room.

I hit play on the CD player and Duke Ellington played again from the speakers. I sank into the couch and tucked into the quiche and wine. It’s a comfort food, a simple dish that brings me from childhood into adulthood. The simplicity and cheesy goodness are all I need. Sometimes I share with friends and family, but last Sunday, I enjoyed a warm dish on a windy wintry late afternoon all by myself. Independence or company, a green chile quiche accommodates all. I tasted the bite of green chile and sharp cheddar. I tasted home.

 

Masks

This time of year can really be a metaphor for any time when we hide our true selves. When was the last time you hid behind a facade?


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

Near Halloween, we put on costumes and masks and disguises. However, this time of year can really be a metaphor for any time when we hide our true selves. When was the last time you hid behind a facade? When was the last time you masked your feelings? When did you last put layers and layers (and I don’t mean turtlenecks and sweaters) between you and the world?

Tomorrow, I will put on a pink wig and a headband as part of an easy costume for a Halloween-themed event at work. However, that will hardly be the first or last time that I have put on a costume to hide myself. I have written a lot recently about my state of grief over the loss of my dad, who passed away more than six months ago. I am certainly not the first to lose someone I love. In this time, though, what was most surprising about the rush of grief was the emerging blankets of feelings and pent up emotions. His death brought to the forefront things that I have been squashing under years of dishonesty with myself, or what I had been hiding. The grief, combined with some internal work that I have focused on for the last couple of years, stripped me of my thin skins of disguise. All of a sudden everything bubbled right up to the surface. Now, instead of pushing them down into my hidden core, I identify them, feel them, and let them go. It can be draining and exhausting and freeing, all at once. All the times that I covered things up in white lies to myself are now points of brutal honesty in my inner dialogue. All of a sudden, I have no need for the costumes, the makeup, or the drama. It is a bit life-altering. It is a time of awakening.

It does not mean that I am done with the masks, completely. However, now I can see through my own armor, and often I can see what people are trying to hide for themselves. I am stripping away and coming clean. Sometimes, though, without my disguise, I feel naked and alone and vulnerable. Right now, probably because of this inner work, I am trying to find a balance between working through these veils of disingenuity and opening myself up to others. It helps that I have only lived in Albuquerque a year, and I am still making friends, so I can spend time alone and not feel like I am hiding. I have recently reconnected with a good friend and spending time with this person is tricky, because it’s hard to hide myself from someone who seems to know me better than I know myself. I come home from a visit tired, yet exhilarated. I want to share everything, and yet I know we still need boundaries. I still have a lot of work to do.

I turn to a journal. I whisper prayer. I fold inward and think of how to use this new honesty, this new cleanliness. I find new ways to be. I look for healing. I let go of things from the past. Instead, I focus on right now. I seek sunlight. I dance to the moon as it turns new. I find myself shedding the need to apologize. I write words. I find meaning at every turn. I realize that all we have is each other. I struggle to find love for myself, even as I peel away the dislike. I try to be there for others. I apologize and forgive for the past, but now I move on. I run slowly into freedom. I take off the costumes and shake off the lies, and leave them behind, much as a tarantula leaves behind its molt as it crawls into the new and fragile.

Home Body


At the end of a long day at work, all I could think about was home. The 12-minute drive was just long enough to turn the craving into a yearning. I grabbed my bag and keys, practically sprinting to my second floor apartment, with a half-turn to beep my car doors to lock. I smiled up at my red chile ristra to the left of the front door, struggled with the sticky lock, and kicked off my black ballet flats in the entry way. There was just a hint of fall chill in the air as I quickly shut the door and changed into comfy homey attire of a t-shirt and leggings. Each step through my four rooms gave me pleasure and comfort. I was home.

What is it that makes a place home? How does it go from four walls or four rooms to the sturdy and lovely four letters of home? I have lived in many places as an adult, and in several houses in childhood, and almost every one became home.

In my New Mexico childhood, I loved the green and white house we lived in for a few years with its fortress of trees, a white picket fence, several outbuildings, and wild onions in the side yard. In high school, my mom, younger sister, and I settled into a small three bedroom with a large front porch that became my touchstone in my teen years and during college vacations. We barbecued in the backyard while our dog ran laps, barking at birds and the neighbors, and we held my high school graduation party there. While those houses no longer belong to my family, I still cherish the memories and milestones from those places.

From the age of 18 and onward, I discovered that I could make a home pretty easily. Just about every place I have lived in, I have loved, each for different reasons. College, with life far away from my family for the first time, felt particularly poignant in my efforts to make a home. In the hallway of the second floor of my dorm in my first year of college, I built community and great friendship with many of the women who lived there, some of whom are still among my closest friends across the miles. In the dorm room of my sophomore year, my dear friend Lisa and I hung our laundry from the picture rail near the ceiling and stayed up late into the night sharing stories and secrets while drinking hot tea, or on the weekends when we were feeling clandestine we sipped Kahlua with milk. I moved to a house just at the edge of campus, for part of my junior year, that had a wood-burning stove, both for cooking and heating. To get through the cold Wisconsin winter, I chopped wood in the backyard and savored the smell of wood smoke in all of my clothes. In my last year of college, I moved off campus, and lived in a huge apartment with beautiful wood floors and a hall long enough to rival a bowling alley. It was cheap and quiet and I still remember giggling maniacally while I chased my roommate Susanna down the hall, as we enjoyed the delayed childhood delight of sliding on the floors in our wool socks.

I moved to Albuquerque right after college, and stayed for just a couple of months in a rent-by-the-night-or-week-or-month small studio apartment, spending my first night unpacking and relishing my first place on my own without a roommate. Quickly thereafter, I lived in the Twin Cities for several years, treasuring an apartment for its underground parking space and another for the time that I got to spend and share with two good college friends, Cathy and Myla. We struggled through first jobs and sharing chores and finding our way in the unruly times of our early twenties. In Saint Paul, I fell in love with John who lived two floors above me in a small 11-unit apartment building. We got to know each other while doing laundry and checking our mail, slowly developing into a courtship of shared dinners and beers on the back stoop. He bought a place and we moved into his adorable grey and blue house, my first foray into domestic living with someone I had loved and dated. We stayed together in that house for more than two years, transitioning from a romantic couple to roommates, still delighting in each other’s company. We played bluegrass loudly on his stereo and made pesto and he showed me the joys of grilling in subzero weather and grinding one’s own coffee beans before breakfast. I think of that home fondly and of the kind and goofy and generous man who cried when we said goodbye, as I drove the U-Haul from his driveway to Colorado and new adventures.

In Colorado, after a long and mostly solo time, I lived for several years with my younger sister when she moved back to the United States after a sojourn in Germany. We shared an apartment out of convenience and thrift, as rents went up just as the economy tanked. We possessed the easy comfort and familiarity of sisters, sharing movie nights and long talks, but struggled at times with the frustration of sharing close quarters. When my sister made the plunge from renter to owner, I moved into her spacious two-bedroom condo and found solace in a big room and huge walk-in closet. While she established her home, I made a space for writing and dreaming, knowing that I would be moving on soon. I moved out a year ago, and I love getting her texts as she buys furniture, paints, and makes home improvements.

I moved to Albuquerque just about a year ago and into this apartment 10 months ago, after staying in a couple of temporary places. I look around, hearing the hum of my laptop and the hiss of the tea kettle in the background. I stretch and yawn. I just renewed the lease, and look forward to at least 14 more months in this spot. I know, though, that home is as much a place you love, as it is the setting for your life. Memories, momentos, mornings. They all dwell here. I take a sip of tea. Home, indeed.

 

Hummus and a Sense of Home


wpid-wp-1438293360279.jpgOur senses can serve as time machines. Listening to the first notes of a favorite song can send us back to a poignant moment. Smelling certain whiffs can bring us to special places. Tasting favorite foods can transport us to home or to a sense of coming home to ourselves.

Today is a hot July day. I am packing up the kitchen and cleaning like a madwoman. At noon, I feel hunger pangs. I search in the nearly empty cupboard and I remember my craving for hummus a few days ago. Luckily, I have all the ingredients stocked, and I came across a recipe that is similar to my oft-used one, with promises for ease in making and spice in tasting. Still, I improvise.

I drain the can of chickpeas (or garbanzo beans, if you prefer that term, but they are the same thing) and I flashback to my first year of college. I turned 18, declared myself a vegetarian, stopped shaving my legs, and enrolled in a school where the admissions advertising campaign included pictures of brightly colored canoes and artistic shots of Lake Superior. This New Mexico girl, raised in a home with a kitchen where pinto beans were a constant staple and on the grasslands where cattle raised for beef dotted the landscape, had never heard of chickpeas. I figured life as a vegetarian would be relegated to salads and vegetable side dishes. In 2015, hummus is quite popular in the US and mass-prepared versions are available in small town grocery stores, but not so in the early 90s. My first taste of hummus was on a canoe trip as part of my first-year student orientation. People smeared it on bagels and dipped their carrots sticks in it. Back on campus, in the cafeteria with a celebrated vegetarian cook, hummus had its place of honor in the well-stocked salad bar. It was kind of like Frito-Lay bean dip, but not. It was salty and contained a spicy mix of herbs. Part sandwich spread, part dip, I dug right into its creamy texture and clung to its trap on my taste buds.

In my hippified years of college, I volunteered for and shopped in the small and local natural foods co-op. I stocked chickpeas on the shelves and brought them home in wonder. People brought hummus as a snack to Friday night potlucks and I delighted in the special joys of a pita stuffed with hummus and spinach. I made batches by the tubful, but never quite seemed to replicate others’ tasty concoctions. I added lemon, but missed the subtleties of spice mixtures. I ate the college chef’s garbanzo masterpiece, dipped my fingers, carrots, and even tortilla chips. Finally, I perfected my own version.

If I had a food map of my life, hummus would mostly represent my college time. Few foods bring me back to those crazy and idealistic and optimistic years, the way that hummus does. It was cheap and easy to prepare with a spoon and a bowl. I hauled it on hikes, I made it when I was down to my last three dollars, I ate it at a party while a shaggy boy and I talked of music and poetry. I soaked a bowl of chickpeas when I had no furniture and five feet stacks of books on the floor. I mixed up a batch the night I broke up with a dear love. I mashed garbanzos in an angry furor in a spiritual breakdown.

I graduated from college, but I took the garbanzos with me. Today, I shave my legs and am just  a part-time vegetarian. Now, my shopping lists include both chickpeas and pintos, canned when I am in a rush and full of impatience, and dried when I have grace and make time. Today, I rip open a sleeve of crackers, cut up chunky carrot sticks, and slice a cucumber. I take bites of the veggies and crackers dipped in my warm summer batch. I lick fingers stained with newspaper print as I sneak in a lunch while packing.

I am at once 18 on my first canoe trip, I am 25 in my apartment in Saint Paul, I am 32 hiking with a boyfriend in Colorado, I am 40 and on the cusp of new adventures. I can imagine my grey-white hair at 73 as I mix up a batch for an old college friend coming to visit and reminisce. I am ageless, I am every age. I am me. I am hungry and excited. It is hummus and I am home.