The Life

Peony Season

PeoniesPeonies are my favorite flower. I love how they’re wild but also elegant — the two things I most want to be and secretly (or not so secretly) hope I already am.

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Well, as it happens, it’s peony season, which is a bit like hunting season but without the blood.

On Memorial Day, while shopping for a potluck barbecue, I saw a tub of the most gorgeous peonies standing just outside the market day. Afraid they’d wilt in the car — and afraid that someone would nab them if we brought them in — we (or, rather, I) resolved to swing back after our cookout and pick some up. When we got back there, all that were left were the dregs. Should have bagged those bouquets when I had the chance (and dared anyone at that cookout to try to take them home).

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Teaching Commitment:
Letting Children Quit

 

Kids In Surfboard Laden Car

 

When I was a child I took piano lessons from an older Southern lady who taught me to play Dixie (before my mother put the kibbutz on that), and then moved along to the polka. Needless to say, it was not an auspicious start. There would be other teachers and other music over the years (European classical, mostly, which I like to listen to but don’t really like to play), but my polka years loomed large and the love of piano never took root. I wanted to quit. My mother wouldn’t let me. She feared that I didn’t have any “stick-to-it-iveness,” as she called it, though by then I’d been a gymnast for 9 years, and had proven myself to be a focused and dedicated student. I don’t fault her, really. She wanted me to have the discipline and drive I would need to cut a broad swath through life — something she wanted for me, and that I’d later want for myself. Like parents everywhere, she wanted the best for me — and thought that having me stick it out on piano would somehow play a part. Of course, her other option would have been to simply let me quit.

Conventional wisdom says that sticking it out builds character, but I’m not convinced. Sticking it out builds character if. If we are passionate, if we are talented, if sticking it out, even when it’s hard, helps us toward a longer-range goal. In the absence of one of these “ifs”, it can actually be a good thing to let our children quit. As it happens, quitting builds character too.

Ideally we emerge from childhood knowing how to commit, and what to commit to. Too often, the “what” of the equation gets short shrift.

If we want our children to develop discipline, focus and the ability to stick it out, even when it’s hard, then we need to give them a good reason to stick it out even when they don’t want to. I can only think of three: passion, talent and purpose. 

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The Simple Pleasures Of
A Day At The Beach

Simple Pleasures Day At Beach

Life, or so I’ve ascertained, is about the little things. The big, bombastic things matter too, of course (and, indeed, these are what we tend to take note of), but even in the big moments, the little moments lurk, for what is a big moment but an assemblage of all the little moments that made it so.

I love a triumph like anyone else: the climax at the end of the third act, the summit at the mountain top. But if we focus only on that, we’ll miss most of our lives which, like it or not, consist of the mundane. Of course, the mundane isn’t mundane at all; the mundane is magical. If ever I forget this, I need only lay on my back on a beach just about anywhere in the world and listen to the waves lap the shore, and feel the sun rays kiss my skin. Happiness, I’m convinced, consists in being able to mark moments like this, to take note. This too is a talent. It’s the talent of presence (and if you’ve ever sat fidgeting in a meditation hall, you know that presence is a talent, one we’d all do well to cultivate).

What is it about a day at the beach?

Some early fond memories. Just a sense memory flash: Me sitting in the passenger’s seat of my family’s Winnebego, Midnight Train To Georgia playing on the Winnebego radio dial, my father commanding the wheel. Building sand castles in our white sand, blue water mecca, Panama City, Florida, a.k.a. “The Redneck Riviera,” circa 1973 or ’74. By 1975 it was all over, the family washed out like so many sand castles.

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How To Clean & Season Cast Iron

Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread

Cast Iron One Pot Dinner

Yesterday, I re-seasoned my cast iron skillets. If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, then you definitely ain’t from the South. In the South, where my roots are planted deep, there’s just no good cookin’ ‘cept that you use cast iron.

I’m a Southerner through and through. Though I long ago transplanted myself — first to New York and then to L.A. — Southern roots run deep, which is why I found myself seasoning my cast iron, and thinking about meals eaten in my mamma’s house.

Cast iron lasts several lifetimes (we’ve been passing them down in Southern families for years), well seasoned pan cleans easily and never sticks, and cooking with cast iron even adds some low dose iron to every meal. Southern cooks fry chicken in cast iron, but I use mine to brown chicken on the stove before sliding it in the oven so it can bake. In fact, I love to cook anything in it that can benefit from the carmelized goodness that cast iron imparts better than just about any cookware I know and, unlike close rivals, like enamel coated cast iron favorite Le Creuset, cast iron is super affordable. Treat it right and you’ll be roasting potatoes and whipping up batches of skillet cornbread, and just about anything you can imagine, for years and lifetimes to come to come.

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The Glorious Home Of Designer Gretchen Jones

Gretchen Jones at Home

Gretchen Jones Couch

My not so guilty pleasure is what I like to call “high-end reality,” the phrase I use to justify my addiction to reality shows like Top Chef, Project Runway and, yes I’ll admit it, Top Model. I love these shows because they showcase people who are not only leading with their talents, but leading with their original vision, attempting to put their unique stamp on the world. These shows enrich my life in ways that “low end reality” shows do not. And yes, I dabble in a little of the low-end too I’m currently addicted to the decidedly low-end (with a heart of gold) Preacher’s Daughter), though I find that on the low-end just a dab will do.

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