Ode to Snow

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Brighton Ski Resort, Utah

Winter is a time for contemplation. Everything takes a little longer to do. Food must be warmed, layers must be compiled and worn, windshields and sidewalks must be scraped and shoveled of ice and snow.

Whether you are in the midst of knee-deep snow yourself or whether you only dream of it, I invite you to listen to my new snowy playlist on Spotify while indulging in some wintry reading (sources cited) and photography (all by me) below. Enjoy.

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Laramie, Wyoming

“Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.” -From Mark Strand’s “Lines for Winter”

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Southern Wyoming

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.'” -Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

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American Fork, Utah

“Everything is flowing — going somewhere, animals and so-called lifeless rocks as well as water. Thus the snow flows fast or slow in grand beauty-making glaciers and avalanches… While the stars go streaming through space pulsed on and on forever like blood… in Nature’s warm heart.” -John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra 

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Steamboat Springs, Colorado

“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land…” -From Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man”

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Centennial, Wyoming

“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.” -Truman Capote
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Steamboat Ski Resort, Colorado

“A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air, and hover downward with uncertain flight, now almost alighting on the earth, now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.” -Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

Love and warm wishes to all from the wintry American West.

My Summer Reads

I love that it’s summer. Seriously. Laramie is gorgeous right now – colorful, sunny, lush, and comfortable. The highs in the summer here reach the highs 70’s, low 80’s (Fahrenheit, duh), which is room temperature in the South. If that doesn’t make you want to come visit us, I don’t know what will!

I have a lot I want to read this summer, but I’m optimistic that all the time spent in airports and camp chairs will provide me with plenty of time to read. So, since there’s enough time left for a summer reading list, let’s do it. Here are the books I’ve read, the ones I’m muddling through, and the ones still out there, waiting.

Books I’ve Read:

SummerSisters

  • Summer Sisters by Judy Blume is a bestselling novel for a reason (maybe the #1 of which is that it’s by Judy Blume). It’s hard to put this thing down. The narration follows the development of the protagonist’s best friendship with an enigmatic girl over the course of many years, from middle school to adulthood. Chapters alternate narrators, though the longest and most in-depth passages are in the protagonist’s voice. The friendship culminates in a dramatic and tragic end. A fun but intense read that’s perfect for summer!
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a memoir by Rebecca Solnit, a prolific California-based activist and writer. I have my sister Libby to credit for giving this book to me for Christmas. Part memoir, part essay, Solnit explores her obsession with the natural world alongside history both personal and official. One of my favorite passages: “Gravity is about motion, weight, resistance, force, the most primal experience after all the touches on our skin, of being corporeal. And so it may be that gravity is a sweet taste of mortality and our strength to resist it, a luxuriating in the pull of the earth and the pull of muscles against it, in the momentum the two create, and in how close you can cut it, just as sex for women has the twin possibilities of procreation and annihilation.” Another bit of Solnit wisdom: “…teenagers imagine dying young because death is more imaginable than the person that all the decisions and burdens of adulthood may make of you.” Lots of good stuff in here, written in beautiful prose. I especially recommend this book to those who fancy themselves writers.
  • Modern Romance is a nonfiction title by Aziz Ansari, a comedian, which delves into the world of dating after the introduction of online dating and hookup apps like Tinder. With the help of sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Ansari looks specifically at dating cultures in America, Brazil, Japan, and Iran, and features many conversations he’s had with both couples and single adults about the process of  finding a mate. I listened to this audiobook via Audible.com and, as it was narrated by Ansari himself, I recommend listening to it over buying a physical copy. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research presented in this book, though I still enjoyed Ansari’s quips, jokes, and funny anecdotes as expected. Let me tell you- this book made me SO GRATEFUL that I am not single right now, yeesh.
  • IntotheWildI finally read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Well, to be precise, I listened to it. My favorite parts were actually not about the protagonist, Chris McCandless, but about the other ill-fated adventurers to whom Krakauer compared him. I’m on this Western lit kick, and this got me started.
  • I received a copy of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling from Birchbox for making a purchase over, I believe, $35. In case you don’t recognize the name, Kaling is a comedy writer and Dartmouth graduate who worked on the American version of the NBC show “The Office,” both as a writer and actress (in the role of obsessive, crazy, and beautiful Kelly Kapoor). She now writes and stars in her own show on network TV, “The Mindy Project.” She has recently come out with a new book, Why Not Me. This book is often laugh-out-loud funny and, as a young woman, it’s very encouraging to hear about Mindy’s early struggles as a hungry, poor New Yorker, and her rise to success.

I’m Working on It:

  • That Distant Land: The Collected Stories by Wendell Berry: I’m listening to this on audiobook via Audible.com and it is perfect and beautiful and moving and sometimes funny too. The stories follow average people in a small southern farming town over the course of several generations. Many of the same characters pop up in different stories, though each has a separate narrator. Beautifully woven together. I love listening to it on long drives and while walking Abe or doing chores. I might just have to buy a paper copy when I’m done listening, for future reference, of course.
  • angleofreposeAngle of Repose is a novel by Wallace Stegner, one of the great American writers, by whom I’m still ashamed to say I have not read anything. This is a continuation of my desire to read more Western American literature, since my education in North Carolina was so heavily steeped in Southern literature (rightly so, I think). This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, which should be enough description alone but, if you need more, know that this is another generation-spanning story featuring one family, as seen through the eyes of its aging historian narrator.
  • I am very slowly making my way through Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems, not because I don’t thoroughly enjoy them, but because reading them all at once is like trying to make a meal out of caramels- sensationally overwhelming. And kind of stupid. If you’re thinking to yourself, “I should try to read some poems written by people who are actually still alive,” then look no further than Jack Gilbert (and Mary Oliver, below). Unflinchingly honest and beautiful language are characteristic of these marvelous poems, which will remind you why you knew somewhere, deep down, that you loved poetry.
  • Mary Oliver’s New & Selected Poems, Vol. 1 has been sitting by my bed for about a year because I’m slowly making my way through it and back through it again like a trail through a wood. Oliver’s poetry is just spectacular. Each word is in its proper and most beheartidiotautiful place. She writes of everything this world is made of – feathers, sky, water, fire, skin, mist, lily petals – and writes it into life.
  • My Heart Is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart: I know, I know- my Goodreads account says that I’ve already read this one. The truth is, I started it long ago, lost it, and for several months had no idea where it was, and I was tired of seeing it on my list of “Currently Reading,” reminding me of what a loser I was. My Heart has since been resurrected in my house (I think it was living on top of the piano), so I return to this abdominal-muscles-achingly hilarious collection of essays. Rothbart has been featured on NPR’s marvelous storytelling show “This American Life,” and with good reason. Give this book to the macho guy who thinks he’s read enough books to quote Hemingway every time he orders a drink. It won’t make him any less of an insufferable nuisance, but it will force him to acknowledge your (and Rothbart’s) awesomeness.

And, Still on the List:

  • FindtheGoodFind the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende
  • Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
  • A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
  • Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder
  • Healing Yoga by Loren Fishman
  • The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

As you can see, I’m trying to make up for lost time with Wendell Berry. Last, but not least…

Can’t Forget the Cookbooks:

  • Plenty by Yotam Olenghetti is one of the most gorgeous cookbooks I’ve ever seen. This is enough of a reason to buy it, yes? Olenghetti is a world-renowned chef and restauranteur in London, but he is originally from Israel, and his recipes are often thus inspired. All the recipes in this book are vegetarian, but not in that boring let’s-use-tofu-to-make-this-dish-suitable-as-supper kind of way. Olenghetti himself isn’t even a vegetarian, but he values using seasonal produce and making it taste GOOD. If you abstain from meat, this book is a necessity.
  • SheetPanSuppersI was more excited about Sheet Pan Suppers by Molly Gilbert before I got it in the mail. Silly me, I thought the “Suppers” in the title was indicative of the types of recipes this book would contain. Alas, only about a fifth of the recipes are full meals. The rest are appetizers, breakfast/brunch, dessert, etc. That’s not to say they’re not good, though. I’ve made several of the dishes in this book, including the cover (using salmon instead), and they’ve impressed me with how hands-off and simple they are. Plus, pulling a colorful, well-roasted dish out of the oven is always an awe-inspiring experience.
  • Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy & Wholesome by Virginia Willis was an impulse purchase. I think I read about it first on Food52. Willis is a genius- these recipes are healthy takes on everything you know from your Southern childhood (or from watching the Walton’s – no, that’s just me?). So far I’ve made biscuits, peach cobbler, collard greens, and fisherman’s stew, and they’ve all been pretty much perfect. If you’re sensitive to the vinegar or the ham normally hiding in restaurant collards, the recipe in this book will make you happy. If you’re a human being, the recipe for peach cobbler in this book will make you happy.

I’d love to hear what you all are reading this summer, or what’s still on the list. Any recommendations? Obsessions?

Love to all.

Holi in SLC

In order to live in Laramie, sometimes you just have to get out of Laramie. That’s what my friend Amy and I did last weekend – five and a half hours of driving to Salt Lake City, another five and a half back.

The descent into Salt Lake is as gorgeous as it is dangerous with its winding, steep, unsuspecting interstate. On our way in we passed a suburban that was flipped on its side – yikes!

From the mountains you make your slithering way down to the valley of Salt Lake City, a bowl surrounded by snow-capped rocky peaks. We couldn’t believe how green everything was! (So much so that we spent like a half an hour just sitting on some grass in front of my friend Sara’s apartment before she got home.)

We first went to 9th & 9th, a cute area of downtown with shops and restaurants, and lots of tulips and lilac and other furiously blooming and good-smelling things. Amy had to finish a paper, so we found a coffee shop with Wifi. Amy, who is gluten-free, was ecstatic over her discovery of that coffee shop’s gluten-free doughnut.

Ladies & gentlemen, Amy's first doughnut in 3 years

Ladies & gentlemen, Amy’s first doughnut in 3 years

With Tallie and Sara’s input, we decided on a Cajun restaurant for dinner, which ended up being an excellent choice, even though I forgot my leftovers on the table. (Sorry, gumbo! You really were delicious!) They had an amazing beer selection and a darn good artichoke dip. Also I’m pretty sure you can never overdo paprika seasoning. Put that stuff on EVERYTHING!

The next morning we slept in on Kyle and Tallie’s marvelous air mattress and had a late breakfast at Whole Foods, where I acquired a box of blueberry muffins and some dried mango. Walking around the store, I exclaimed to Amy, “Look! None of the produce is wilted or sad or moldy!!!”

Since we were in a large city, obviously I searched Google Maps for some nearby thrift stores. We ended up at this amazing store called Home Away, which was packed to the brim with refinished antique furniture, little painted lanterns, amazing kitchenware, and old window panes-turned-picture frames. I’ve been searching for a nice but inexpensive end table to sit by our front door in the living room to collect items like keys, wallets, sunglasses, and mail. And I FOUND IT.

Ta-da! Planter from Walmart, tray from Mom

Ta-da! Planter from Walmart, plant from local flea market, tray from Mom

I’m probably more excited about this than I should be, but it’s really given the room some personality. Of course Matt’s first response was literally, “Aah! More knick-knacks!” His second response, if you’re wondering, was, “This thing needs a new coat of paint.” Anyhow, the whole store was very reasonably priced; I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the SLC area.

After our little shopping excursion, we leisurely made our way to Holi, which is a Hindu festival of colors celebrating the coming of spring. You’ve probably seen photos of it or heard about “color runs.” The tickets we bought for the event paid for our admission, a meal each (delicious Indian food!), and several bags of color – aka dyed and scented cornstarch.

The "before" picture

The “before” picture

Throughout the day there were free yoga classes, since the event was hosted by the Krishna Temple, and live music from kirtan bands, MC Yogi, and other groups. At one point a singer lept off the stage and indicated with body language (I don’t think he spoke much English) that I should grab the back of his shoulders. SUDDEN CONGO LINE.

Since the event was alcohol-free, many of the attendees appeared to be highschoolers eager to hold hands away from their parents’ watchful gazes. It was pretty adorable.

One of the performers

One of the performers

Andy Grammer performed a couple songs and reportedly filmed his music video for one of them there as well. I think I was the only person in the crowd to not recognize this man, or any of his songs, likely because I don’t listen to the radio. But hey, maybe I’ll be in a music video! As I screamed to Amy in the crowd, “OHMYGOD I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE ON MTV!”

I also ended up crowd-surfing at one point?

So many colors lalalaaa

So many colors & pretty background mountains

So that was fun. It took me a little while to find Amy afterwards.

We alternated between dancing and eating, two of life’s most marvelous experiences. The Krishna Temple makes a mean mango lemonade! We also wandered over to the yoga area and practiced our handstands. A very sweet new teacher, about our age, led us through a nice flow.

There are children in the tree behind me

There are children climbing the tree behind me

The Sanskrit name for the pose above is janu sirsasana (pronounced “jah-noo sheer-shah-sah-nah”), one of my favorites!

Amy getting some free love

Amy getting some free love

It took us a while to wash all the powder from our bodies, which had turned a kind of gross brown color instead of its cute original patches of neon pink and purple and yellow. I explained to Tallie that we had to wash the shower after showering. Amy’s hair still looks kind of green today.

After returning to our somewhat normal appearances, we spent too long in Trader Joe’s, basically the best place ever on the planet.  It is the happiest grocery store you will ever encounter. Though the closest one from us is in Boulder, CO, I have stocked up at Salt Lake City’s location the past few times I’ve visited. This means lots of coconut oil and gummy vitamins, obviously.

We made tacos for dinner at Kyle and Tallie’s while Kyle made some delicious margaritas, Sara brought over her adorable dog/jackrabbit Porter, and we stayed up talking (mostly about climbing) until way past everyone’s bedtimes.

Naturally the best way to end a weekend like this is with a 5.5-hour drive home through brown sagebrush prairie, relentless wind, and dazed truck drivers (the speed limit is 75, people!).  Up in Laramie, we’re still holding out for spring. My optimism lies in my sprouting zucchini and sunflowers – but don’t worry; they’re still in indoor trays. We’re supposed to get some snow on Thursday, but maybe the weekend will be nice. I think I got enough vitamin D last weekend, even through caked layers of cornstarch, to last me for a while, though.

Much love & adventure to all!

Firsts

I was jamming to this song (“2080” by Yeasayer) while cutting up some shallots the other night. I’ve always misinterpreted one of the lines to be, “It’s the first spring some have seen.” (These are the real lyrics, if you’re interested.) I prefer my version because it reminds us that spring is special and beautiful, and that some of us are experiencing that wonder at nature’s beauty for the first time.

When my little brother Sam was four or five years old, I was visiting home during that season’s first snow-shower. Sam had his nose and the palms of his hands pressed up against the glass door, staring out at the falling snow in disbelief. It had snowed in years past, but he’d been too young to remember.

“Sam,” I said. “What’s that?” I pointed outside.

“Snow!” he cried.

“What’s it like?” I asked him.

He rolled his eyes at me and, as much as a four-year-old can sound exasperated, said with a sigh, “I don’t know.” As in, how should he know? I’d figured he would answer with something like, “wet,” or “cold” – something he knew about snow without actually having experienced it, but instead he was perfectly honest. He knew snow when he saw it, and that was all he knew about it but, as evidenced by his nose on the glass, he was eager to learn more.

And who wouldn't be eager, with gorgeous snowy trees?

And who wouldn’t be eager, with gorgeous snowy trees?

I think many of us value first experiences to a certain extent, new parents especially: first smile, first steps, first word, first day of school. There are new experiences for us adults to celebrate too: first car, first home, first vacation, first international trip.

While listening to that Yeasayer song, a reading (The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele, chapter 6) I’d been assigned as part of my yoga teacher training occurred to me, and a particular passage of that reading, about letting go, or non-attachment, which is also an important tenant in Buddhism (I’ve found that Christians tend to refer to this concept with the terms “idols” and “idolatry”). The idea is this: if you’re spending time, energy, and effort regretting a past action or experience; holding onto some false conception of your identity; or even something that makes you sad – a poorly ended friendship or missed opportunity – what you’re really doing is taking space away from any  new opportunities, experiences, or adventures that may come your way. If I continue to beat myself up about a bad breakup, I’m keeping myself from fully enjoying all the other relationships in my life. More concretely, if I hold onto every single pair of shoes I acquire, pretty soon my closet won’t have any more room for even lovelier heels and flats and boots and sandals that may come my way.

Children are able to have so many new experiences so easily because they are spacious and eager to fill their shelves but, as we grow older, we must learn to make space and part with our pasts.

[Don’t worry, I still keep all my prettiest shoes.]

Love to all!

Playlist for Fall

Happy Fall, everyone! Leaves are changing, the breeze is suddenly crisp, there are pumpkins lining the front of every grocery store…

My sister Libby, with leaf.

My sister Libby, with leaf.

One way I like to commemorate the new season is with music. Music motivates us. It inspires us. It invokes memories. It helps us fall in love. It makes us want to shop at Anthropologie. (No? That’s just me?) I had a neighbor, back when I was a kid, who always cranked up 80’s music and strapped on knee- and elbow-pads to clean her house. Playing music can help you get through mundane chores like driving or washing the dishes.

That said, I’ve created a little Spotify playlist to commemorate the season. It has a little bit of everything: bluegrass, folk, rock ‘n roll. If you have Spotify, you can access the playlist here. If not, feel free to look up all the songs on YouTube or iTunes; I’ve listed them below.

  1. “Wrecking Ball,” by Gillian Welch – sort of Americana, heavily influenced by traditional American folk tunes. Amazing, very personal lyrics. I’ve been listening to a lot of her lately.
  2. “In the Night,” by Basia Bulat – folk-y too. My little sister Libby and I saw her open for Pickwick at a little music venue in NC. She’s Canadian and known for performing with an autoharp.
  3. “She Moves in Her Own Way,” by The Kooks. You’ve probably heard this song before. It is fun and dance-y!
  4. “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” by Paul Simon. You’ve definitely heard this song before. Never fails to get my toes a-tappin’.
  5. “Easy Come Easy Go,” by Great Lake Swimmers. One of my favorite bands, with a song that makes you want to drive through curvy mountain back-roads with the windows down.
  6. “Down to the River,” by The Duhks. So many Canadians! Some of the verses are in French, which is unexpected and fun in a bluegrass song. Matt put this song on a CD he made me when we first started dating.
  7. “The Fade,” by Megafaun. A great NC band that’s been making music for some time now. Banjo!
  8. “VV,” by The Cave Singers. I love this album! Great band out of Seattle.
  9. “Gardening at Night,” by R.E.M. Probably my favorite band (thanks, Mom)! An oldie, but a goodie. This song reminds me of an article I read about guerrilla gardening, where activist gardeners plant flowers and edible plants in urban areas under cover of darkness. Take that, The Man!
  10. “Let It Ride,” by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. Ryan Adams hails from NC as well. He is now better known as Mandy Moore’s husband. Bluegrass-influenced, his first albums were released with a band called Whiskeytown.
  11. “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” by The Smiths. I know, I know – I pulled it from the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. So unoriginal. But it’s The Smiths!
  12. “Orpheo Looks Back,” by Andrew Bird. I promise I was listening to this song before Chobani used it in their yogurt commercial! You’ve got to love the female backup vocals, the pizzicato violin in the style of a mandolin or guitar, the nonsensical lyrics…
  13. “Like a Rolling Stone,” by Bob Dylan. One of the few CDs Matt keeps in his car stereo is a Bob Dylan one. We listen to this song and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” a lot while driving to go climbing.
  14. “Lovesong of the Buzzard,” by Iron & Wine. From a great album. This song feels like a good Tumblr profile, or like a pop-up Free People store in a field. Yes?
  15. “Sweet Jane,” by The Velvet Underground. Also from Matt’s first mix. Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here.
  16. “Domino,” by Van Morrison. It’s hard to make a good playlist without at least one Van Morrison song. Just try listening to this without bopping  your head. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Feel free to share some of your favorite tunes for Fall in the comments. Get groovin’!