This is what I tell myself when I’m scared and worried, when I scroll through the news on my social feeds and it creates more fear than my body can sometimes handle.
When fear grips me, I focus on the beauty of my surroundings and the people near me. Whether that beauty is the yellows and reds that are showing up in the leaves or the moment my mom steps through the door at 3 am, making it safely home after being gone for two weeks. It’s the beauty that the moment means that holds me together.
This past week I read Aundi Kolber’s book Try Softer. There is so much I want to say about this book but I’ll have to save that for another post. In the book she quotes John O’Donohue:
“Beauty isn’t all about just nice loveliness… beauty is about more rounded, substantial becoming. So I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”
It’s not just about loveliness, it paying attention to the great senses around, me, you, us. I want to live in the depth of beauty of the world around me. Beauty from nature and people. Joyous beauty that stems and grows out of the pain and anxiety of this life.
The beauty of independence and pain that comes from an empty first apartment.
The beauty that comes with staying at home during a pandemic, with people who love you and who let you stay.
The beauty of deep roots in your hometown, blooming where you’re planted.
The beauty of the guitar music flowing down the hallway.
The beauty of late nights driving home with my Plus 1, our eyes tired, night lights shining on our faces through the windshield.
The beauty of an early morning with coffee brewing, the nearness a cold of winter creeping in, hugging against the kitchen window.
The beauty of photos taken on birthdays and anniversaries. When you’re so excited or nervous your hands shake resulting in a blurred, grainy photo of the beauty of the moment.
The beauty of days where you get pizza and a movie and cuddle up with a blanket and rest from a busy week.
The beauty of dirty dishes in the sink because after a dinner that was delicious and left you too tired to clean.
The beauty of a backyard full of family that you haven’t see together in months.
The beauty of working through anxiety slowly, surely, coming home to yourself in the process.
Sometimes the beauty isn’t what it always looks like, but it’s what it means. These are the types of beauty I love and I’m seeking. These are the moments of beauty I’m grateful for.
Getting closer and closer to this beautifulness. Each day I want to come near in search and connect with the beauty around me and the lives we all live together on this earth. I feel as if so many people are distancing themselves from each other due to politics and differences and disagreements of the world these days. This may be on the verge of being cliche, but I think this is where we need to come together the most.
In Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Dead Comes,” she writes of living fully present to the beauty of each person and moment of life. Her final stanza ends this way: “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”
I want to live in a way thats not just surviving or striving or getting by.
Oliver’s gorgeous words here are like a beacon for all of us who want to do more than survive, do desire the abundant life of which Jesus speaks (John 10:10). And perhaps this abundance is not made up of wealth and stuff, perfectionism or business…
but of awareness, beauty, presence, and connection.
This is the beauty I want to seek, this is the way I want to live.
We had two plans to close out the end of summer. #1: camping. #2: visiting a lighthouse and basking in the sun on a sandy shore.
The first was easy, there are plenty of places to camp in the middle of the Midwest. The latter is a bit more difficult. However, there is a place in Indiana where both a lighthouse and a sandy shoreline co-exist: Indiana Dunes in Michigan City.
Michigan City is the only point where Indiana touches Michigan Lake and contains real beaches that were, in my opinion, better than Florida beaches. So on Sunday morning we packed our car, stopped by Jack’s Donuts to get some dough for the road (and two coffee because what’s a road trip without coffee?), and by 9:30 am we started off on our grand adventure north.
The drive really wasn’t that bad and felt way faster than three hours. Most of the drive was through cornfields with wide-open skies. At 12:00 pm, we made it. I couldn’t wait to get to the dunes and see the expanse of lake that seems for a split second like ocean. We only stayed at the beach for about two hours, but I could’ve sunbathed the entire day. As soon as you crossed over the sand hills and saw the lake, wind brushed up against my skin like a nice hug. Although it wasn’t too crowded, we definitely walked aways down the shoreline to get a good spot of the beach to claim as ours — laying down a turquoise blanket on the beige sand. Before we went to the beach, we stopped in town to get chicken wraps for lunch and more coffee-to-go. We ate on the blanket with seagulls inching close to see if we’d drop any chips (we did).
The Chicago skyline could be seen from the shore, a gorgeous silhouette of the skyscrapers which held a bustling city in its grasp. We joked that we did what we called “The Full Chicagy.” This summer, we traveled to both the southern and northern edges of Indiana. In August, we visited a little riverfront town, Madison, Indiana, where the Ohio River is the border between our state and Kentucky. Then this past weekend we traveled as north as we could while staying in Indiana’s borders. Hence, “The Full Chicagy” being when you travel to both edges of the state in the same season. We’re very clever. 😉
Another wonderful thing about Michigan city is the historic lighthouse on the pier. I’ve never seen a lighthouse in person before this trip, and even though it’s no longer a working lighthouse, only there for historic integrity, it lit inspiration inside me. When we walked out on the pier, waves lapping up onto the concrete, splashing us slightly. I couldn’t help but think that it was like a set for a rom-com movie. One where two lovers would be next to each other, walking hand-in-hand towards the lighthouse, sun setting in the distances. I mean that is basically what we did. And it was wonderful. This might seriously inspire me to write something along those lines… but we’ll see where that takes me.
Nonetheless, I think we had a fairly good end-of-summer, hello-fall trip. Caleb told me that as we were walking away from the lighthouse, he felt that summer was wrapped up right then and there. An outro to what was probably the best summer we’ve lived through. A prelude to the rest of what this year has up its long sleeves, which are many more adventures and warm pumpkin spice lattes. That counts as a pretty good trip in our book.
Labor Day has come and gone. The end days of summer are here and already the approach of fall is upon us. Literally, everywhere I look there are captions and comments of fall in social media posts; Target has brought out their sweaters, long sleeves, and pumpkins in the dollar section; cafes and bakeries are serving pumpkin-flavored coffee and danishes; I noticed that there are a few crumpled brown leaves that have fallen in my driveway. I might have partaken in this joyful arrival of the upcoming season; I mean who wouldn’t? 2020 has been rough, the least we can do is stretch out this wondrous fall and make the most of it. It’s the beginning of the end of a once-in-a-generational year, which also means the beginning of a whole new year is to come soon.
Before getting caught all up in what is to come, I have to acknowledge that this summer was some of the best of times, during some of the worst of times. This summer I was in love with a precious human, my Plus 1. Even during COVID, we did so much within the hot mid-months. We laid in the shade in our hammock while staring up at the blue sky, reading books we got from the bookshop down the street. There were nights we threw pillows and blankets in the back of his car and drove to the local drive-in to watch The Goonies and Dirty Dancing on the big screen. There were lemon pastries baked in kitchens. Film photos taken of us and animals at the Indianapolis Zoo during the sweltering heat, masks on with happy smiles underneath. There were drives through cornfields, stops at gas stations to get coffee, state parks where we hiked and found gorgeous sites, where we got caught in the rain. On July 1, in the heat of summer, we went out to a sunflower field and picked blooms that left yellow pollen on our figures and counters. There were nights where we just sat with each other and talked until sunset, which was around 9:45 pm. There were nights we watched movies, both scary (his favorite) and sappy (my favorite). There was a night where we both got so into the movie You Got Mail that we yelled and the screen when Joe Fox wouldn’t tell Kathleen Kelly that he was the person she was emailing all along.
There was the time, when the city started to open back up, where we went out to a fancy restaurant to celebrate the months we’ve spent together so far. We got dressed up and went downtown to eat stake, asparagus in butter, fancy-ass French fries, and a dessert of cheesecake and champagne.
This summer was a collection of wonderful moments that I dare never to forget, even as we move on to fall and winter. I’m writing about these happy things not because we didn’t have any hardships over the summer, but the joyful moments were found amount all those hardships. Even when things didn’t go as planned, we adjusted and went on. We moved to the beat of the rhythm we found ourselves in and found joy in it. We celebrated and made good memories out of everything that was given to us.
It is this year that I will never forget, because even though it was some of the oddest of times, it was also the absolute best of times. And I am forever grateful.
This weekend, my family went on a camping trip. It was one of two plans my Plus 1 and I have to close out the summer. I logged off of social media and took each moment as they came, enjoying the time outdoors with family. I slept in a tent, listening to the hum of crickets and bugs throughout the night. The morning was one I’ll always remember, waking up as the sun was coming over the horizon, 7:15 am, drinking coffee to take the sleep out of my eyes, walking through wildflowers patches, and seeing the moon disappear has the day came into being.
I’m ready for the sweaters and the colors and the chill that fall brings, but before I completely hop on that train, this summer deserved an ode, because these things and even more I haven’t mentioned are wonderful memories, ones I’ll never forget. Happy end-of-summer to you. Here’s to the golden days.
On August 1, 2020, I sat down in a little cafe in the heart of Franklin, IN. With an abundance of coffee and pastries by our sides, my Plus One and I wrote for six hours straight. He wrote a movie analysis and I wrote this, a little reflection on life and lemons. We were participating in a competition, hosted by the Franklin Creative Council, called Art to Finish — a challenge to create something from scratch within a six hour period and in the location restraints of the downtown courthouse square. Six hours seems like a long time, and it is, but that day I was tired and I didn’t have that creative spark that I normally like to have when I sit down for a long stint of writing. Nevertheless, we wrote. Very unexpectedly, I was awarded second-place in the adult writing catagory for When Life Gives You Lemons. Maybe it’s just my inner critique or perfectionism, I know it’s not the best it could be. When I read back through it a week later, I want to add, edit, and polish it up, make it perfected. However, I’ve given it thought and to preserve the challege — the time and location constrants that we were given — I’m posting this here in it’s original form it was created, untouched from that specific day. I’m so greaful for the oportunity to have had six straight hours to do nothing but create something souly from my immagination. It’s flaws and imperfections are apart of it’s story and charm.
When Life Gives You Lemons
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Can a saying be so cliché that it loops around to being original again? I guess it would depend on who you asked, but I’ll make the stretch and say yes, at least for this unusual year. For me, 2020 has been the year of the lemon. Within the past five months, I’ve made more with lemons than I have in all my 23 years. Not only have I made lemonade, but numerous recipes have called for the yellow citrus. Ever since I was little, I love cooking in the kitchen. From baking in an Easy-Bake Oven to creating dinners and pastry dishes in my suburban kitchen, I love the sights, sounds, and smells of cooking. Maybe it is just a way of coping through these times of uncertainty. Cooking and creating bright, zesty dishes to lighten the days at home have been a way to make the most with what this life has handed me.
Lemons are naturally acidic with a touch of tart sweetness by nature. Although the origin of the lemon is unknown, they are thought to have first grown in Assam, a region in northeast India, northern Burma, or China. Lemons have so many uses that they have entered into many cultures’ food and drinks. Juice, peel, oil, and leaves — all parts of the lemon can be used to create bright dishes. Here are the dishes I have made numerous times this year.
Lemon turmeric tea cake – This was my first lemon endeavor. I had been self-quarantined in my home for about 30 days, it was a rainy mid-week day and a pick-me-up was necessary for my mental health. I received Alison Roman’s cookbook, Nothing Fancy, in the mail from Wild Geese Bookshop, a local bookstore in Franklin, IN, in the mail just a few days before and took the opportunity to flip through its glossy pages. I landed on the lemon clad recipe that when baked in the oven, made my whole kitchen smell what I imagine would be the color yellow if it was a sent. Turmeric dotted the counter, lemons rinds were zested, then the fruit was sliced in half and juiced. In with the flour, non-fat Greek yogurt, sugar, eggs, baking powder, butter, and salt a batter thick yet smooth was poured into a parchment paper-lined pan. Before placing it in the oven for an hour, I cut thin slices of lemons and placed them on top of the panned batter then sprinkled it with sugar. When pulled out of the oven, the lemon slices caramelized and the became a citrusy crust. It sat in the middle of my kitchen counter as a symbol of brighter days to come. I cake the whole tea cake in less than two days.
Lemonade – It was a hot, muggy June afternoon when my Plus One and I broke out the stash of lemons in my fridge, sliced them open, and juiced them to make homemade lemonade. It was the first time either of us has made lemonade since we were kids. Using the juicer to squeeze the lemons took me back to the time I had a homemade lemon stand when I was eight, although I had to look up the ratios, of sugar to lemon juice to water. Most recipes I found instructed to boil water and lemon juice on the stove then add the sugar in until it dissolved into a thick paste. In that process, there was the multiple hour wait for the mixture to cool before serving. Being impatient and unwilling to wait hours for the lemonade to cool, we found one recipe online that said you could just add the lemon and sugar together and whisk until the acid from the lemon juice broke down the sugar. Which is what we did, and then we added water and instantly had room temperature lemonade that we could pour over ice and enjoy at our pleasure. It was a perfect way to spend the mid-June afternoon.
Preserved Lemons – In Morocco, lemons are preserved in jars or barrels of salt. One weekend in the middle of July, I decided to bring the salty and sweet citric acid ingredient into my kitchen. Preserved lemons require whole lemons, salt, and then additional elements to add hints of flavor. The lemons are quartered yet left attached at one of the ends, they look like yellow flowers starting to bloom. Each lemon is placed inside a jar until there are so many that the juices start to leak and cover the rinds. With lots of salt added into the acid and over weeks of preservation, the granules of salt soak into the cut lemons through osmoses, they become soft and the juice lightens into a semi-sweet liquid. The salt brings out the sweet flavors and light aromas of acidic citrus. In the end, I fit ten lemons into a 24-ounce Mason Ball jar, piling on the salt between each layer and then adding into it some bay leaves and peppercorns. The next step is to find an original Moroccan recipe for my newly made preservations.
Blueberry lemon pie – My latest creation that has lemons in the ingredients is a blueberry pie. In the cold butter, flaky crust sat blueberries coated in a concoction of flour, sugar, lemon juice, and zest. The tartness of the lemon brought out the deep essence of the blueberries. When baked, the juices boiled out of the holes and leaked onto the top crust. After chilling for 24 hours in the fridge to solidify the juices in a jelly, served with vanilla Häagen Dazs ice cream, the pastry was the perfect way to end a summer night under the stars and comets.
Over the spring and summer, I’ve made many more lemon dishes, but these are just the few that have stood out to me in my endeavor to create with lemons in my kitchen. This year has taught me how to take even the bitter things and turn them into something bright.