Word Sketches

One day I just started writing.  A magazine editor had casually said he found it hard to keep his short pieces down to 400 words, and that made me think.  400 words seemed so few, but it’s enough to say something clearly and cleanly.  So I wrote short pieces with exactly 400 words.

I had always been intimidated by writing, and afraid.  I attached too much importance to it and recalled the Freshman English professor who scrawled “BORING!” across a writing assignment in angry red letters.  They were probably actually tired, bored red letters, but they imprinted on my brain and glowed for another 24 years.

Instead of setting out to write something important, I decided to write like I sketch.  I remember art teachers instructing us to free up our hands, keep moving, catch the essence and general form.  “All right – 2 minutes!  Don’t be too precious!”  So I studied my subject, and the charcoal stick in my hand quickly recorded the shapes, the angles, the curves, light and shadows.  After a while I disappeared, and so did the distance from the subject.  As my hand moved, I felt the weight of the breast, the cold porcelain of the pitcher, the juice of the orange and smooth bumpiness of the peel.  I wanted that feeling when I wrote.

Quick sketches with watercolor, crayon and colored pencil

I have my own method.  First I type a word or two in bold letters, centered on the page.  My subject or still life.  That provides the structure and focus.  Then I just type.  Don’t get too precious.  No heavy editing – just a little erasing here, blend a little, correct the line slightly.  I just keep moving and record what I see and hear when I think “bread” or “bird” or “shell”.  Pretty soon I’m not thinking too much at all.  I just think of each piece as a little sketch, capturing a thought or a moment or a feeling.

When I drew, I had a hard time knowing when to stop and when to say something was good enough.  Sometimes those first bold lines were the truest, capturing the first impression with freshness and clarity.  It helped to have a limit and know that it was play, not a Rembrandt masterpiece.

Now when I write, I don’t worry where it will end up.  Each piece I write is like a message tied to a balloon and released into the air.


Cherry Bliss

I first tasted rainier cherries many years ago and rediscover them every summer.   This cross between the Bing and Van varieties dresses up any plate with its blushing rosy golden hue and the taste is sweet and complex.  Rainiers can be pricey, but they’re only available for a short time and you can find them on sale this time of year.  Even at full price, I think the pleasure is worth every penny and cherry love is a pretty harmless vice.

Blushing and Beautiful Rainier Cherries

Thrill-Seeking Co-Pilot Looking for New Opportunities

My heart raced as we rounded the corner and nearly collided with a skater.  Dodging cars left and right, we swerved and continued down the middle of the street as bystanders looked on anxiously.  First  we nearly back-ended one car, and then had another tailing us with a space a little bigger than a playing card.  It’s a crazy life, but it’s my job.

Am I a stuntwoman?  A Nascar driver?  No, I’m just a parent instructor putting my life in the hands of a 15-year-old with a learner’s permit.

The first two times around, I outsourced the responsibility of teaching my kids to drive to a local driving school.  Every week I dropped them off for class or behind-the-wheel training and went out for a leisurely trip to the bookstore or the mall.  I did supplement with practice drives and tried to make it challenging. I purposely chose a neighborhood with plenty of stray dogs, elderly ladies crossing the road and kids playing ball so that we could test both skill and brakes.

This time, we opted for the online parent-taught program because it was flexible, practice time was scarce and the price was right.  But the risk/reward ratio was also pretty high and my nerves and vocal cords were shot at the end of each driving session.  I’m sure I’ve shouted more than a few expletives that have conveniently slipped from my memory, and I’ve probably also permanently damaged my daughter’s self esteem.

Daughter #3 turns 16 tomorrow and the end of an era is over.  We’ve made an appointment at the DPS for a driving test and I’m pretty sure she’ll pass with flying colors.  No more “Student Driver” sign in the back window to encourage fellow drivers to honk in exasperation or avoid our car, no more sudden stops on yellow lights or nighttime highway terror.  Insecurity has been replaced by confidence and she’ll go through one of the few rites of passage we have left – getting a real license.

It’s the last time around for me and I’m not applying for driving instructor jobs anytime soon.  But I’ll miss the thrill of the road with a new driver behind the wheel.

Peas on Earth and Texas Caviar

Every Saturday morning I visit our local farmers market, and my favorite vendor is the one specializing in Asian fruits and vegetables.  Many times I’ve spotted something unfamiliar and had no idea how to prepare or cook it.  So I ask the growers for tips, do a Google search when I get home and – voila! – an instant food adventure!
This week the guy recommended purple hull peas.  Maybe because they were the most expensive thing he was selling, or maybe because they were great.  I suspected the former, hoped for the latter, and bought a bag along with my eggs, zucchini and all the rest.  I did a quick search and found a fellow blogger, cook and Texan Jill McKeever and her Simple Daily Recipes site.  “How to Cook Fresh Purple Hull Peas – SUPER FAST” seemed like just the ticket.  So I pulled out the pressure cooker, piled in the peas and a few other ingredients, cooked for 4 minutes (yes, only 4 minutes!) and let it cool.  It was super fast, super easy, and delicious!  Purple hull peas taste something like black eye peas but just a little milder and the quick cooking and slow cooling means they hold their shape and texture but are tender and have a nice gravy/sauce.  I always cook enough for leftovers and these are destined to become Texas Caviar.  Here’s a quick and easy recipe.


  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 medium-size red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • 1 cup cooked purple hull peas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn, cooked lightly and drained
  • 1/2 cup medium picante sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice


Stir together all ingredients in a large bowl, cover and chill, stirring occasionally, for 8 hours. Serve with tortilla chips or as a side dish.

p.s.  If you don’t feel like Tex Mex, you can substitute Italian dressing for salsa + cilantro + lime and it’s just as good!


I really want to see the movie Brave.  A typical Disney story about a daring princess, it looks something like “Pocahontas Goes to Scotland” in the IMDB write up:

“Set in Scotland in a rugged and mythical time, “Brave” features Merida, an aspiring archer and impetuous daughter of royalty. Merida makes a reckless choice that unleashes unintended peril and forces her to spring into action to set things right.”

Being a Disney flick, I know it will have superior animation and a stirring soundtrack, but that’s not all that appeals to me.  The story calls to me at a time when I have 3 brave princesses of my own, making choices, taking risks and discovering who they are.  It’s not always easy as they travel to distant countries and face challenges or just have to deal with the overwhelming array of university choices and make a life-shaping decision.  My role tends to be supporter, advisor and coach and those responsibilities come easy when I’m cheering on my daughters.  But there’s the flip side of letting go.  Listening thoughtfully and knowing when NOT to give advice.  Disconnecting and realizing that these young women are becoming independent adults and facing a different world than I did.  Encouraging them to fly but not pushing too hard because of my own longing for adventure.  I’m not always good at the balancing act.

We’re all growing and changing, and we’re all being brave.  Here’s to impetuous women dealing with any kind of peril.  The difficulties shape us and keep us sharp.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a fun movie with an all-star veteran British cast.  Although India isn’t at the top of my bucket list, the exotic setting is an interesting backdrop that appeals to my adventurous spirit.  I liked the balanced mix of engaging stories and humor, and appreciate the fact that older characters have some vitality and depth.  Dev Patel provides a youthful contrast to the “highly experienced” cast and steals the show with some great comic moments.  Besides being entertaining, the movie is also a social commentary on some of the issues that elders face such as financial insecurity, disconnection and a changing society.

Highly recommended!


Summer Playlist

Spending hours in a car is never my idea of fun, but Daughter #3 volunteered to make a playlist and I loved hearing new music and getting to know unfamiliar artists.  Every trip has ended up having a new soundtrack.  Summer 2004 in Andalucia was the chill out music of Cafe Del Mar and Borrowed Heaven by The Corrs.  France 2005 was when we discovered Coldplay’s X&Y.   Other journeys had other themes or were a blur of different favorites.  This summer’s favorite tunes are a tie between Riverside (Agnes Obel) and Hold On (Sbtrkt).

What are your favorite road trip tracks?

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