Weekly Roundup

A few things, from across the webiverse …

Behind the magic.

Engines for joy.

Sock diplomacy.

If you need me, I’ll be down this rabbit hole.

The brilliant, the brave Roxane Gay.

Also.

“In Manhattan, two for-profit meditation studios are vying to become the SoulCycle of meditation.” (…) (…)

On the bright side. (Chicago friends, especially.)

Fleeting beauty.

Loffly.

//

Happy Fourth of July weekend, readers. I’ll be spending time with family, bouncing between Connecticut and New York. Also reading this, snacking on this, listening to The Boss on loop, and seeing if I can’t catch a few fireflies.

In parting, wise words from America’s poet—good for all days, but especially for these ones …

from Preface to Leaves of Grass, first edition (1855)
by Walt Whitman

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

Hope your weekend is slow and beautiful.

Schuyler

Book Club: Do Not Become Alarmed

There are certain writers who make me feel … a little bit low. As in, who inspire and illumine but also make me fear that nothing I’ve ever written, or will ever write, has been, or will be, any good.

I am thinking of Claire Vaye Watkins and Karen Russell and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Lauren Groff, and I probably shouldn’t even mention Zadie Smith—because if you consider that she published (published, not wrote) White Teeth when she was twenty-four, then you may not wish to get up again in the morning. Writers who were *authors* by the time they were thirty. Who have been included in some iteration of Granta’s “Best Young Novelists”—and also, by the way, honored as Guggenheim/Radcliffe/MacArthur Fellows. Who, accolades aside, are just so. damn. good.*

One of these writers, whose work I’ve only just discovered, is Maile Meloy. She won The Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize for Fiction at twenty-nine, and has since gone on to publish two short story collections, three novels—her latest, this month—and a fantasy-cum-HF trilogy for children. (NBD.) I tore through two of her books last week in that numbers of days, and just picked up her new novel over at Books Are Magic.** I am very, very excited to read. My own expectations-from-experience aside, Ann Patchett apparently loved it, and I think we can all agree that Ann Patchett knows.

So, THIS is what I’ll be reading next, and if you’re looking something new, maybe it’s one you’ll want to read, too?

A few others for your beach bag, below:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah.
Lauren Groff, Delicate Edible Birds.
Maile Meloy, Liars and Saints.
Karen Russell, Swamplandia!
Zadie Smith, On Beauty.
Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn.

What are you reading and loving (or not) these days? Hope you’ll let me know.

*I realize that all of the writers I’ve mentioned here are women. In part, this comes from that reflexive/reflective communion of womanhood, and I simply thought of them first; there are plenty of dudes by whom I am equally inspired and intimidated. BUT ALSO, there are so many brilliant young writers who are women, writing today; let’s read and celebrate and talk about them. Jonathan Safran Foer has been sufficiently spotlit.

**A new neighborhood bookshop so lovely, it almost makes me want to move back to Brooklyn. Almost.

The Great Zucchini

Growing up, I spent a week or so of every summer at the Shore. Often, this very week—which I know because we’d be sitting in the den, in front of the old tube TV, wondering whether Agassi or Sampras would take Wimbledon that year.

By the Shore, of course, I mean the New Jersey Shore; and if you grew up somewhere between Fairfield and Philadelphia, then you can probably picture the scene. The drive along the Garden State Parkway that, for reasons unclear, may take either two or six hours—and if the latter, will make you question every life choice that has led you to this moment. Counting the water towers. Wondering at the exit sign for Cheesequake State Park. (Not a typo; this is a true thing.) Lunch at *that one* rest stop. The abating traffic, but then, the slow crawl across the Manahawkin Bay Bridge. And finally, finally the island—all surf shops and snack bars and houses just awakened, after spring.

My grandparents had a Victorian on the southern end of LBI that was both very beautiful and very old. A white exterior, with black shutters and a sweeping front porch; a driveway of smooth, pale stones. So many rooms—all, somehow, filled. Indoor bathtubs but outdoor showers (character!). Central air: a thing for other people, somewhere else. There were twelve bedrooms that they had rented to college kids in the seventies (stories, there), but by the time their children were grown and had children of their own, they were ours alone. And in late June or early July, my family and my mother’s siblings and their families would all descend on the house like so many fireflies.

There’s so much from those years that I remember, still. Boogie boards dragged to the beach. Patches of dune grass. The hammock. The mosquitos. Late afternoon bike rides, and skinned knees.

My grandmother’s zucchini bread—wrapped in foil on the kitchen table, waiting for you, for whenever you might arrive.

I keep a small collection of her recipes with me, and there are a few that I always return to—vegetable lasagna, oatmeal muffins, banana bread. The zucchini bread that she made those summers at the Shore, though, is one I’ve left untouched. I’m not quite sure why. But yesterday afternoon, I stumbled on the recipe and got to work; and, without meaning to sound too sanctimonious, if you put one thing into your oven this week, it should be this one. (Good Lord. The smell alone.) I wish I could say that the zucchini came fresh from my garden; but hey, maybe next year.

I hope you’ll enjoy this recipe that, for me, means family and salty air and slow, simple living—summer, in a word.

Ebbie’s Zucchini Bread
Makes two loaves.

Ingredients
• 3 cups flour*
• 3 eggs
• 1 cup canola oil
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 cups peeled (or unpeeled) and grated zucchini
• 2 tsp. vanilla
• 2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 2 tsp. baking powder

Directions
1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease and flour two loaf pans.
2. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Mix until blended.
3. Fill pans with batter.
4. Bake for one hour.

*I used whole wheat because it’s what we keep around the house, but all-purpose should do just fine.

//

Summer Reading

I spent a summer in college working at the local Barnes & Noble, and after failing to make a decent cappuccino, and being just kind of indifferent to the whole cash register vibe, I landed in the Children’s Department. Capital C. Capital D.

The Department was run by a man named Yunes, who was kind and funny and fast-as-hell with his shelving, and if you’ve ever watched Felicity, then imagine Javier. My co-workers were Beth, middle-aged and as lovely as a person called Beth should be, and another college girl whose name I can’t for the life of me remember but who I am certain went to the University of Scranton, because this was 2007, and Jim and Pam still weren’t an entirely sure thing.

Barista inadequacies aside, I was there for a reason. If we’ve ever had a conversation, then you know how I feel about books, and you probably know how I feel about children’s books, especially. As in, that they are magic, or at least the good ones are. And that summer, I single-handedly put Miss Rumphius on the storewide bestsellers list by recommending it to anyone and everyone who asked for something to give to a young child.* Because my own experience with the story had been something special, and has stayed with me always, and I wanted to pass that along.

And so, to the real matter. For parents and teachers and anyone else who sees divinity in a great children’s book, here are a few for the summer. All are stories of gardens, though no two are alike. Hope you’ll enjoy.

Home by Jeannie Baker. 2004. Greenwillow Books.
Flower Garden by Eve Bunting. Illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. 1994. Voyager Books.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. 1982. The Viking Press.
Mr. Carey’s Garden by Jane Cutler. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. 1996. Houghton Mifflin Company.
Weslandia by Paul Fleischman. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. 1999. Candlewick Press.
My Garden by Kevin Henkes. 2010. Greenwillow Books.
The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin. 1999. Charlesbridge.
The Boy in the Garden by Allen Say. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg. 1979. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.
First Tomato by Rosemary Wells. 1992. Dial Books for Young Readers.

*Of which, at twenty-nine, I remain fiercely proud.

Believe This

All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling
work of turning a yard from the wild
to a gardener’s will, I heard a bird singing
from a hidden, though not distant, perch;
a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding
like, Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
Can you believe this, believe this, believe?

And all morning, I did believe. All morning,
between break-even bouts with the unwanted,
I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so
I might later recognize it in a guide, and know
and call its name, but even more, I wanted
to join its church. For all morning, and many
a time in my life, I have wondered who, beyond
this plot I work, has called the order of being,
that givers of food are deemed lesser
than are the receivers. All morning,
muscling my will against that of the wild,
to claim a place in the bounty of earth,
seed, root, sun and rain, I offered my labor
as a kind of grace, and gave thanks even
for the aching in my body, which reached
beyond this work and this gift of struggle.

— Richard Levine

//

Deciduous

There’s this tree in the front yard that I just can’t get over. If you are on the porch, looking out toward the street, you’ll see the trunk rise to your right, shadowing the sidewalk below. It stretches so much higher than you can see, past the bedroom windows, higher. But from here, you count one, two…eleven branches outstretched. Before you there is so much green—leaves crossing the sky, weighing down the branches, dipping low. Among the leaves are flowers—hundreds—pale yellow and green, flecked with orange. On a late-spring-but-let’s-call-it-summer morning, when the air is thick but not still, and the sky is blue and white and gray, all at once, the light will catch between the leaves, and it will hurt your eyes to look.

I’ve called this the “tulip tree” since it first began to bloom, and I turned to my husband and said, “Oh! Those look like tulips up there.” My heart trilled more than a little bit when, on a recent trip to the Botanical Garden, I spotted one of the same; and on the placard were the words, “Tulip Tree.” Liriodendron tulipifera, to be accurate. But.

I’m sitting on the railing, ankles crossed, legs dangling over the hostas, and with every breath of wind another flower falls. The birds are going crazy, and I can’t help but feel that Snow White’s about to drop by, and we’ll all break into song.

I don’t know much at all about this tree—when it was planted; if it needs care; how much longer until that one branch falls onto the neighbor’s truck. But every day, it thrills me. There’s the sense of wonder that comes from the obvious metaphor—of what’s ephemeral and what endures, of how much longer it has lived, and will, than I. Everything it’s seen pass in and out of this house. So many people and stories. I think, too, of Baucis and Philemon, and of how that’s how I’d like to go. All I know, I guess, is that it’s here, and our family is here, too, and that it’s ours as much as a tree can ever be anyone’s—on a mortgage. And tonight, if the rain holds, we’ll sit out on the porch, and have a beer, and watch the sun and the flowers fall.

Notes on a garden, which is to say on a life

You wake up so early. 4:50. The cats. Soft steps and then, closer, a tearing. The curtain above your nightstand. It’s fine, you think. You turn to the right and see that your husband is stirring, will make them breakfast. Small blessings. Ten feet, then—eight, smaller and light. You think of how you like to joke, Practice; night feedings. You feel your husband ease back into bed, the covers tightening across your shoulders, and you turn over again, to the left. Fold into something small. Close your eyes.

You open them and glance at your phone, and it’s already (only) 5:23. You read an e-mail, set the phone down. You’re half-asleep, and your mind is ticking through the real process of awakening—the bathroom, the walk downstairs, the lifting of blinds. And so you do those things. You look out the window as the coffee starts, and there is so much fog. You can barely see past the yard. You rest your eyes there, then. Everything is green. You’ve let the grass go too long, and the flowerbeds need care—pruning, weeding, re-planting. Whatever it is that needs to be done for a garden. (Which is? You wonder.) Your husband said last week, as you crouched over so many tendrils, puzzled, “Isn’t anything you don’t like a weed?” You’re not sure that’s right, but then, maybe.

You make a list for the day. Water the hanging plants (impatiens, not impatients, you’ve learned)—one so withered from the sun, you’re not sure it’ll live; but you’ll hope. Mow the lawn. You don’t linger too long on that. Maybe you’ll pick up the sticks. So many; the rain. Find food for the roses out front. (Something they need, you’ve learned. Something organic.) You look inside the cabinets, see baking powder, apple cider vinegar; you’ll need to go to the store. You will. You wonder why the hydrangeas haven’t bloomed. (They should have, by now, right?) You’ll want to bring something from the garden indoors. A few roses, clipped, in a mason jar. You’ll place them somewhere high. The cats.

6:43. You’re here with your husband, in the kitchen. “More coffee?” he asks, and you shake your head, No. It’s raining again. Maybe the yard work will have to wait, till the afternoon, till tomorrow. You peer into the refrigerator, see carrots, think, I’ll make those muffins again. You’re hungry, after all. Your cats traipse in, sit beside you, look through the sliding glass door. You do, too. The fog is thick but the sky is lighter now—like an elephant? Something like that. It’s so quiet, only the birds. You set down your list, close your eyes, don’t think too far ahead. Just. Here I am, in this house, with the person I love on this still Sunday morning. And that’s enough.

You set out the mixing bowl. Crack an egg. Stir.

For the curious and the hungry:

Carrot Oatmeal Greek Yogurt Muffins
Yields twelve.
Best served with coffee and blooms, preferably au lit.

Ingredients
• 1 1/4 cups all-purpose {or whole wheat} flour
• 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
• 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1/2 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 2 large eggs
• 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
• 2 tbsp maple syrup {or honey}
• 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 cup grated carrot
• 1/2 cup raisins {optional}

Directions
1. Preheat your oven to 350F and prepare a muffin pan by lining the cavities with paper liners or greasing them with cooking spray or oil. Set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until they become slightly frothy before whisking in the yogurt, maple syrup, almond milk, and vanilla. Mix until well combined before folding in the grated carrots.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing gently until just combined. Add raisins, if desired.
5. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups, filling almost to the top.
6. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for ~5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

*Recipe adapted from Amanda’s at Running with Spoons.