Friday, January 23, 2015

warm white beans

adapted from "Cassoulet" in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

serves 4-6
time: 40 minutes

1/2 onion (or one small onion), finely minced
2 Tbsp butter
2 carrots, finely diced or shredded
2 cans white beans, cannelloni or navy
1.5 qt. (approximately) chicken stock
6-8 oz.  cooked white meat, shredded or minced (chicken breast, chicken sausage, or pork)
salt and pepper to taste
garlic 3 cloves if fresh, 1 Tbsp if minced and pickled, 2 tsp if powdered
1 bay leaf (optional)

For chili flavor:
3 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
cayenne or other hot pepper to taste

For cassoulet flavor:
3 Tbsp herbes de Provence (the important flavors here are rosemary and lavender if you don't have the mix, use rosemary and thyme)
2-3 sage leaves, snipped to shreds (optional)

Do all the cooking in the same vessel. I use a cast iron pot, but a stock pot will do.

Melt the butter over a low flame and sauté the onions until soft but not brown, adding carrots when the onions are nearly soft. If you're using freshly pressed garlic, add it just after the carrots.  On the low flame, this step should take about 10 minutes.

Pour in the chicken stock (some water or dry white wine can be used as well), and turn up the flame to achieve a simmer.

Add the canned/cooked beans, the meat, and the herbs and spices.

Simmer until everything is warmed through and the beans have started to lose their structural integrity. Taste and add more spices, if desired.

Serve with crusty bread or crackers. Sour cream and green onion make a nice garnish for the chili flavor. Tastes great the second day.

Note: If you're starting with dried beans, the rest of these ingredients will stand up to cooking along with the beans. I've done it that way in the masonry oven. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

a glimpse of freedom

Rambling Farmhouse has new owners.

One down, one to go.

Monday, January 12, 2015

on moving

I'm writing this morning from Rustic Lakehouse, where my table-desk and my rollie chair have been placed in their new location by the south window that looks out over the lake. It feels like we have arrived.

This move has brought so many complex emotions.

I feel relieved at having the burden of responsibility for Rambling Farmhouse and its acres taken off my shoulders. The buyers have great plans for the house and the land, and I'm excited to see their beginning.

Yet, although I had already taken leave of the dreams Adam and I had dreamt at Rambling Farmhouse, there is further sadness in this physical parting, and I'm sad to leave the place where so much of my life happened.

At the same time, I'm frustrated at my younger self, who chose not to fight with her husband about the importance of keeping stuff organized and who allowed herself to buy into the "we have enough space, so it's not a problem" line of thinking.

I was very conscious yesterday of having asked the people I love to loan me their arms and backs, their vehicles, and, most critically, their time to finish clearing out Rambling Farmhouse. As we were working it became clear that there was more still there than I had thought, and I am embarrassed by the quantity and content of the stuff I asked them to schlepp for me.

I am so very grateful for their help. Seven carloads of stuff went to Goodwill, three carloads of shelves and  camping gear went to the storage unit, and ten carloads (three of them books) came to Rustic Lakehouse.

I'm grappling with my image of myself as an un-materialistic and non-acqisitive person.

I'm resolved to continue pruning the things that share my space so that the next time I move I can be proud of what I take.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Seventeen years ago, I took the train to Indiana to ring in the New Year with my boyfriend.

He said, "I want a house. If I buy a house, will you come for the summer?"

I said yes.

Over spring break I helped him move in to Rambling Farmhouse.

I can still see it as it was then with the avocado refrigerator and the goldenrod stove, the drop ceiling and the shag carpeting.

"The Brady Bunch threw up in this house," the realtor said.

We set up a Danish modern couch, leather swivel chairs, a pole lamp, and string art. And we owned it.

After that first summer we still loved each other, so the summer after that I moved all my worldly possessions to Rambling Farmhouse, and the summer after that we got married.

He carried me across the threshold. The next year, we carried Anna into this house, and the year after that, Sofia.

And then I carried him over the threshold.

Within these walls I became a wife, a mother, a professional, a widow. These walls have contained my adulthood.

Today begins my life beyond these walls.

The movers are coming to take the heavy furniture to our (temporary) new digs at Rustic Lakehouse. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the girls and I will sort our worldly possessions. Some things we will carry over a new threshold, some things we will part with forever.

Then, I will hand over the keys to a new family, who will claim these walls as we once did.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


This year is the centennial of the beginning of the First World War, and today is the annual commemoration of the armistice that ended that war at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Remembrance Day and Veterans' Day commemorations have been more visible in the media this year as Europe marks the centennial and as the US grapples with issues in the Department of Veterans' Affairs. 

Some of my pacifist friends object to the wearing of the red poppy because of the way the tradition has become almost jingoistic. There is a compulsion to wear the poppy or make public thanks to veterans in social media as though one can not be a patriot if one does not. 

A peacenik myself, I understand the pacifist perspective, but as I was thinking about this today, it occurred to me that those who began the tradition of remembering on Armistice Day remembered not only the sacrifice of those who did not come home but also the horror of war for everyone involved. 

They knew that death for one's country was far from sweet and fitting.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

For me, the poppy, this resilient flower that reclaims the scarred land, is a way to remember not only the valor of all those who have served, but also the horror of what it is we ask them to do. I look forward to the day when we have learned not to ask. 

Photo courtesy AU United Methodists

Sunday, November 9, 2014


For hours after my husband died, the phone just kept ringing. People were returning my, "Hi, this is Kate. Please call me as soon as you can," messages. Each call meant I had to darken someone else's day with my terrible news, and each of these conversations made the horror more real.

In the quiet of the evening, a different kind of call came. Mark had heard the news already and, having processed his shock, called to sit with me. In addition to the tragedy of the day, we talked about normal everyday things, and this was a conversation that reminded me I was still alive.

Then came the best call of the day. When the voice on the phone said she was calling from Gift of Life Michigan's organ and tissue donation program, I said, "I'm so happy you called!" I think she was a little surprised to hear the word 'happy.'

I had known that Adam wanted to be an organ donor. However, that paperwork usually happens in the hospital. I never went to the hospital, and I didn't think to mention it to the police officers who came to the house. By the time Gift of Life called, organ donation was no longer a possibility, but I gave permission to harvest whatever tissues they could. This conversation was a reminder that even death contributes to life.

The woman who called me was the epitome of compassion, but it was still a difficult conversation. It was not easy to give permission for the body of my husband to be cut apart when a part of me wanted to jealously guard all that was left. It was not easy to talk through a medical history that carried with it so many memories.

I did it anyway because I know that donation saves and enriches lives. My uncle lived more than ten years with a second heart. A friend lives today thanks to a live donor's bone marrow. Somewhere there are people whose lives are better for Adam's donation. One young woman wrote me a letter to say that her new knee means that she can ride again.

I'm telling you about this now because Adam was included in Gift of Life Michigan's donor honors ceremony this year. We could not attend, but they sent this:

So many donors. 

So many young donors.

So much new life. 

It's gut wrenching and beautiful.

I hope you'll consider being a donor, too. 

Mark your driver's license, tell your family, swab your cheek. Save a life.

Friday, October 24, 2014

done not done

Recently, a friend mentioned that he was dissatisfied with his work, that his job no longer made him happy, that he was done with it. I was floored. This friend is excellent at his job, and I love my job so much that I can't imagine ever being done with it.

I've heard other friends express the same sentiment: that they wanted to move up, they wanted more, their company had no place for them to go. This craving has always baffled me. There's only so far up one can go before moving from doing a job to management or administration, and those roles require vastly different skills. For days I've been wondering if I'm just weird. I've been teaching for ten years now, and I really just want to keep teaching forever. Maybe I'm just wired wrong.

It occurred to me yesterday, though, as I was mulling over the game plan for getting through another Michigan winter in the country, that I can relate to being done. I am done living forty-five minutes from almost everything. I am done constantly dealing with mice. I am done with drafty windows and insufficiently insulated walls. I am done thinking about gutters and leaves and appliances. I'm so ready to move on that it's easy to resent the things keeping me here. It's so easy to descend into a spiral of complaints and shake my fist at the responsibilities I no longer want.

Just as I was warming up for a solid session of fist-shaking, however, the words 'weed where you're planted' popped into my head. Because Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse have not sold, they remain my responsibility, like it or not, and these responsibilities tie me to this place. If I want to live well as long as I live here, I have to think about mice and windows and walls and gutters and leaves and appliances. In truth if I have any hope of walking away from closings in the black, I need to think about more than just those things. Even while planning for future change, it's critical to be a good steward of the things within reach and to do so with more joy than resentment.

It's a difficult position to be in, done yet not done.