I've been spending quality time with family the last almost two weeks that I've been back in the U.S. This is the longest I've spent with family (parents, siblings, little 'uns of the next generation) since… summer vacation when I was in college, I think! What's strange is that my family no longer lives in Maryland where I grew up. Now half of them (my parents and a brother and his family) are in Arizona. So I'm in a town and state that I'm not familiar with, and I don't even have childhood friends around that I can reconnect and hang out with.
My main activities have been
- hanging out with my niece and nephew, laughing at their antics and their silliness. They're 3 and 5, and they're a lot of fun to be around. They have such distinct personalities, and they're fun to talk to and play with.
- cooking and baking sporadically. It's always a little weird cooking in someone else's kitchen where the pantry and cabinet contents aren't the same, and the equipment isn't the same. But I'm getting back into the groove. I've made some different cookies (glazed lemon shortbread, pumpkin-chocolate chip). My mom and I made 김밥 (kim-bahp, or Korean nori rolls) for dinner one night. I could eat 김밥 everyday. I love it! We used deli meats, but I usually use Spam. mmmmm.
- experimenting with a sourdough starter that I brought back (shhh!!!) from New Zealand from one of my WWOOF hosts to make sourdough bread. I made one loaf already which was a little dense but still tasty. And I'm now working on my next loaf, waiting for its 12-18 hour rise (till tomorrow morning).
- taking walks and hikes around the neighborhood. The Arizona landscape is so different from my New England part of the world or even the world that I was in for the last three months. Cacti, lots of mountains, brush, sand…
I'm trying to take each day for what it is and to relax and enjoy this free time. And trying to read some books. I'm in the middle of reading Barbara Kingsolver's newest book Flight Behavior. I'm a big Kingsolver fan. I most liked The Poisonwood Bible, a fascinating read about a missionary family living in the Congo. She's a great developer of characters and plot, and I was especially interested in the political bent to that book. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is also great, a nonfiction almost-autobiography written by Kingsolver, her husband, and daughter about their life in southern Appalachia, living off the land. It was really inspiring to read that after Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma.
The latest is about a woman and her family living in rural Tennessee. An unexpected natural phenomenon happens in the hills in their backyard and it totally changes her life (I'm not going to say what it is here because it's just too cool. You should read the book!). She goes from being a young mother and wife who's not very happy with her life to immersing herself in this occurrence and getting a job with researchers who are investigating the phenomenon. Two months after the chain of events begins to unfold, we read, “Two months ago. Impossible. Her world had been the size of a kitchen then. Now she had a life in which…” and Kingsolver proceeds to explain the changes that have expanded Dellarobia (the main character)'s life.
Our world is only as big as the prior experiences we've had– places where we've been, people we've met, information we have gained, food we've tried, languages we've heard. It's amazing how much our world expands as we learn and experience new things. And the size of our world affects how much we really SEE.
For example, before I started recognizing edible plants (herbs, vegetable leaves, fruit trees before the fruit has grown), I just saw green leaves on stems and trunks and branches. So all of that green just looked the same, and I could easily see it as all the same– plants. But now, I recognize, for example, rosemary bushes, basil plants, lavender plants, and on, and a garden is no longer just lots of greenery but is a bunch of different things we can eat. I'm still learning so much about edible greenery, but once my eyes have been opened to the different kinds and colors of even just the leaves, I see garden landscapes with a whole new consciousness.
Travel has expanded my world. But also just taking the time to observe and reflect. Observing my family members. Observing new plants that I don't recognize. Observing the sky at different times of day. Observing my body's reaction to the REALLY dry air. Observing, reflecting, drawing conclusions, adding to my brain's file cabinet of consciousness.