Friday, March 26, 2010

Finding God in Crate and Barrel

Does my title sound shallow? Hopefully you think the opposite when I explain. I find God in lots of places, but often I’m pretty sure God’s shopping at Crate and Barrel.

Everyone needs an inspirational place, I think. Somewhere they can go and feel like everything is just right, perfectly peaceful and just the place they can go to rejuvenate, reflect, contemplate, and brainstorm.

For my friend Tim, this place usually involves a good Miles Davis song. My sister finds it on the side of a mountain. I myself have been blessed with a few inspiring places. Most can be found in nature, like in Central Park or my childhood camp. And I don’t have to explain those to you, because almost all of us feel a higher connection with the universe when we are in a natural spot God seems to have made just for us. But can I tell you one of the places I feel most connected?

Crate and Barrel, 650 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022

I used to design and dress windows on Fifth Avenue, so I was in the neighborhood a lot. Sometimes I would sneak in to breathe some Crate and Barrel air for a few minutes before my time at work. Sometimes I’d tell my husband to find me there if we were meeting each other in the neighborhood for dinner. This is not to say that I think Crate and Barrel is the end all be all of good design. Not by a long shot. But there is something to say for being surrounded by the haven of aesthetic beauty in whatever form you can find it.

Usually I could be found in the corner of a vignette upstairs, sitting on a comfy sofa, feeling at home in an orderly space with everything in its place, pretending for a moment to have the life that matched the drapes or upholstery. Sometimes I’d brainstorm or journal. Other times I’d just sit and hear what the universe had to say.

My husband and I recently were forced, by Divine intervention I have yet to understand, to move to Connecticut- something I haven’t mentioned yet in this blog because I think I’m still coming to terms with it. Saying it out loud makes it real you know. And typing it, well… that’s about as definite as it can be now, isn’t it. I miss so much about New York. Life in Connecticut is 180 degrees in the other direction and I find myself mourning a piece of my city every day. Today it’s 650 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022: Crate and Barrel, where God does all of God's shopping and stops occasionally for a visit on the sofa.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tofu Terrific

Like many people, as a result of our family’s shrinking budget over the last year, my husband and I find ourselves getting creative in the kitchen. Anyone who supports organic and local food knows that buying responsibly can also sometimes feel like buying expensively. In addition to our local coop, my husband and I shop at Whole Foods, a great store we more often lovingly refer to as Whole Paycheck. It’s been a challenge this year to continue to purchase the products we want, and part of our newly found creativity in the kitchen has taken the form of vegetarianism. While eating tofu, beans, and other non meat proteins is cheaper and certainly better for the environment, we still love our meat and occasionally partake (which makes us something the Food Network calls “Choositarians,” although I’m not sure how technical that term is).

While we’ve eaten a lot of foods deemed “vegetarian” by American culture for a long while, tofu is one we admit we’re just starting to tackle. It has recently found a larger and larger place in our lives, much to our happy surprise. We’d had it plenty of times in restaurants and others’ homes, but we never considered ourselves to be FTCAOCPECE (Future Tofu Chefs of America and Other Countries for the Purposes of Environmentalism and Cost Effectiveness) material.

Being a tofu eater is something I never would have expected as a youngster growing up in the Midwest. My idea of soy back then was the oily soy cheese found on top of a chicken patty in our school’s cafeteria. If you’ve ever been to an all-you-can-eat buffet in the middle of Iowa, you know that the largest food group is meat/gelatinous “salads.” Okay, so that is encouraging a stereotype... but it's a pretty good stereotype. Where I grew up, meat is not only essential to the meal, it’s the main part. Tofu was not only not eaten in the household I grew up, but it wasn’t exactly looked upon favorably, either.

Fast forwarding (or rewinding, I’m not sure which since I was just flashing back to childhood, but am now talking about yesterday) to last night, I made the yummiest tofu lasagna after I found some hints online. Thought I’d share, because the results were great. Note, you also need a really great sous-chef, like mine pictured here:

My sous-chef, linebacker baby Jonas.
Unfortunately, he tries to cook with his feet as much as his hands.

I bought a package of extra firm tofu (which even at Whole Paycheck on the east coast only costs $1.99), which I then crumbled up into small pieces; it looked like something between feta and ricotta cheese. Then I mixed an equal amount of ricotta into it. At this point, any ravenous meat-eating bystander would think it was a whole bowl of ricotta cheese, the tofu is so disguised.

Tofu is great because it soaks up the flavors of food around it. I put some garlic salt (depends on how big of a lasagna you’re making, but I put in about a teaspoon) and chopped up basil into the ricotta/tofu mixture to give the tofu a flavor to absorb. (I like the flavor of tofu alone, don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t quite go with lasagna, so you sort of don’t want it to be the main flavor.) If you don’t want to do that, I just suggest using a very flavorful tomato sauce in the lasagna. The rest of the lasagna I made the same. Layering noodles and cheese and veggies/sauce, etc.

Yum! I totally recommend it! But remember, a good sous-chef is key!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Adventure Begins...

As you might imagine, preparing for a major cross-country move and complete lifestyle overhaul is quite time-consuming. So, while I have had many experiences over the last few weeks that would qualify for the heading of "adventure" I don't have time to write about any of them!

Instead, I share with you some of the joy I experienced at my "cousin's" wedding tonight. My mom's friend, my "Auntie Cindy", has been a part of my life for 18 years. And so have her daughters, Katie & Kelly. Tonight, Kelly was finally - with the aid of lawyers and friends and lawyers who are friends - able to marry the father of her son and the love of her life, Alejandro.

To my darling Kelly and the wonderful Alejandro, Congratulations. I wish you a lifetime of love and happiness.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Creative Mission: Photography

This past weekend the family and I headed over to Hisingen, a part of Gothenburg that lies across the harbor. I'd been there recently with a friend, walking along the water, stopping for lunch here, then coffee there... It is filled with gorgeous views, and I knew that I had to go back with my camera and take some photos. So Keith and Elijah came along for my indulgent ride and we had buttloads of fun. Yes, buttloads.

I am by NO MEANS a photography expert. In fact, we were well into our walk when my husband - also not an photography expert but someone who has at least read the camera info booklet - suggested I put it on manual mode. Me, thinking I already had, was confused. Awkward! Ever helpful, Keith helped me out and on we went.

Despite my novice status, I really enjoy print photography, and have wanted to pursue it from behind the lens for a while. My camera is Nikon D40, which has received rave reviews both practically (think Consumer Reports) as well as from people in the know (somewhere - I don't know where - I read that it's the best DSLR to start out with; has lots of bells and whistles, but isn't overwhelming; just the right amount of camera). I'm still figuring it out, but I'm having fun with it.

The theme of my pictures focuses on bursts of color. The first time I went I was particularly struck by the contrast of colorful buildings against the super-blue sky. This time, I kept an eye open for any stab of color that penetrated my view.

Click on the photo below to view my slide show, and please - let me know what you think! This is my first creative endeavor with my camera, and I'm pretty sure I can only improve from this point.

Click on the picture for more!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Jonas by Any Other Name...

So my single largest creation also happens to be the one I’m proudest of… my five month old son, Jonas. And as any parent knows, the creation process of your firstborn is a lot of work, to say the least. Ask me how it’s going in another 18 years.

My husband and I were married seven years before having Jonas. Now, although this is totally untrue, we like to joke that we waited so long to have him because we couldn’t decide on a name. The process of naming our babe was an arduous one, to say the least, and was one of hardest parts of Jonas’s creation…. You see, sometimes (and especially with a child) there are elements of something you create that you have no control over. In the case of Jonas, we didn’t choose his sex, or what he would look like, or when he’d make his grand entrance, or even whether or not he’d be healthy. But the one thing we did have control over was his name.

You may be asking yourself why I’m talking about names on a design blog. (I’m sure my husband is right there with you.) To me, giving someone a name that will last him the rest of his life was about the most artistic undertaking I have ever had. And that is how I approached it. I took it seriously, and put a lot of thought into it. (So right now you’re saying, “Seriously? And Jonas was the best you could come up with?”) To me, a name says a lot about the respect you have for the thing you’re naming, but also a lot about yourself, your taste and judgment. In addition to having something that could be spelled relatively easy, I wanted our child to have a name that I not only loved enough to hear for the rest of our lives, but one that was unique, and special only to him.

Maybe I have a complex when it comes to names… You see, I married into the Johnson family. I suddenly went from a googlable (yes, I just made up that word, but I’m pretty sure you all know what it means. See how good I am at naming things?) person with a unique last name and two middle names, to one of about one thousand Cheri Johnsons in the US. To boot, after getting married we had so many problems with identity confusion that the IRS did not recognize for three separate years in a row that I had paid my taxes. After trying time and again to clarify my two middle names, my old maiden name, and new last name, I ended up having to again (I did it once when getting married) legally change my name on my social security card to resolve my supposed tax fraud problems. When I went down to the social security office to straighten out the situation, the heartless girl at the desk could not figure out how to enter more than one middle name into her computer screen, so she simply erased one of them with the click of a button, telling me it was impossible (despite the fact that my old SS card in hand showed two middle names)! Since the original four names on my birth certificate, I have legally had four different combinations of names, all for the sake of legal clarification rather than my desire to change my identity. So can you blame me if uniqueness was important to me for whatever we were about to name our baby Johnson?

The catch in this story, of course, is that I was not the only one naming our child. My husband somehow thought he had a 50% claim on names, too. And there is where the complication started. From our first days of marriage, my husband repeated over and over that he wanted a Jonas so he could have a baby with a theme song (referring to Weezer’s My Name is Jonas). It was actually one of his better suggestions, considering he liked extremely common, boring names. (I won’t give you any examples right now, as I’m sure there are many a person I could insult right now with that list!) I vowed I would not have a baby whose name fell on the top 100 Baby Names of the Year list. I had some great suggestions, like “Guinness” and “Cyber” and “Lemon”… hey, if a celebrity can name a baby after a fruit, so can I. (And in all honesty, I have met a Strawberry and a Raspberry, both named that way since birth. Compared to those, Lemon is a sweet name!) Why should only a celebrity be allowed to be creative with a name?

I am a name person. (Have you figured that out by now?) Some people dream of their wedding their whole lives. I was never that girl. I barely remember what my flowers looked like. But- and I will admit this even though it makes me a total dork- I have had a list of baby names since I was in early elementary school. Although the list has evolved (thank God- “Horseshoe” does not have the nice ring to it I once thought it did), the fact that I love names and their meanings and origins is undisputable.

I will spare you the back and forth. Let’s just say we then debated for 7 years of marriage, 9 months and six overdue days of pregnancy, and twelve hours of labor later, when Baby Johnson made his first appearance and we discovered he was a boy. After all of that, I tiredly caved in and gave my husband his choice. I agreed to Jonas, a name in the top ten on the list of 2009 baby names. To even things out, we gave Jonas a unique middle name after a place we had lived and loved for four years: Bronx.

A few days after our little Jonas Bronx Johnson was born, Kurt came out of the bathroom one morning and said, "I just thought of something randomly while I was in the shower... Isn't the original settler of the Bronx named Jonas?" We rushed to the computer to confirm, and sure enough, Jonas Bronck was the first landholder in what's now the Bronx... What's funny, though, is that we not only inadvertently named Jonas after the founder of the Bronx, but when we looked up the founder's name, we found out his middle name was... "Johnson"! Jonas Johnson Bronck. So much for being original.

What was far worse, though, happened when we took Jonas to church for the first time the next week, and one of the men standing next to us overheard our new baby’s name and said, “Oh. That’s so funny. My friends just named their baby Jonas Johnson, too!” Sigh.

We went back home, to a new apartment we had just moved into. During a daily field trip to the mailbox with Jonas, my husband met an older lady with a thick European accent. They started chatting, which I’ve found happens often when you have a cute baby in tow. When she asked his name and my husband said Jonas, she said, “Oh! That’s my son’s name, too! It means John in my country.” John. Could we have a more creative name? Double sigh.

I admit that at first I found myself sometimes embarrassed at telling people my son’s name because I felt bland saying it. I felt like it reflected something lazy or homogenous about me. Like I had made my own little masterpiece, and then didn’t care enough to follow through on the name. But here’s the thing I’m slowly learning… Jonas is not my masterpiece project made out of a recipe or a set of instructions. There is no finite list of ingredients required to make a Jonas.

Jonas is a creative masterpiece that is evolving. And he’s not only mine. He’s a collaboration of both my husband and me and, eventually, the hundreds of other people that will touch his life in the future. It’s a much more fun way of creating something, really. We don’t know what the end product will be, but we can see the evolution already taking form as we add the pieces and watch them grow.

Jonas has grown into his name. And I have grown into it, too. In fact, surprisingly, I now count it to be one of my favorite words. As sure as I am that my baby would be as sweet by any other name, now I can’t imagine calling him anything else but my Jonas.

Now I’m off to listen to some Weezer

Monday, March 8, 2010

the hills are alive once again

Last week I had the most wonderful pleasure of singing in a choir for the first time in I don't know how long. My friend invited me to join her in her newest choir (because she sings in several, of course), a group of like-minded ex-pats that convinced a very passionate Swede (I didn't know there were any of the sort) to conduct them on Thursday mornings.

I grew up singing. I grew up singing because I wanted - no, needed! - to be the next Amy Grant. In case you're not familiar with either the Christian Pop/Rock scene or the scandalous Country Music scene, know that Amy swung through both with gusto, was gorgeous, and I was determined to be her BFF. Seriously. I joined her fan club, "Friends of Amy", otherwise known as FOA.

I grew up singing in any choir that would let me in, excluding my 6th grade choir that I resigned from after a nasty run-in with the choir director. All I said was that no one wants to sing a song about hats and he gave me detention. If I'd known it would strike such a personal chord with him, I would have rephrased.

My singing days went the way of the wild once I left high school. In college I was too shy to audition for any groups, presumably stemming from my horrific music competition incident. I took voice lessons with a true professional throughout my middle and high school years. In preparation for the MACSI - later changed to ACSI - yearly arts competition, my professional voice coach and I labored over an Italian classic that I have since banned from my memory. In our lessons, I like to think that I achieved a certain reign over the piece. I really threw myself into the Italian. I loved the idea of speaking another language, and since I was far too undisciplined to master anything in my German class, memorizing songs in other languages was as close as I was going to get.

On the day of the competition, I dreaded the moment when I would have to stand up in front of all my peers and belt out my masterpiece. The confidence that adorned me in the privacy of my lessons did not join me in public settings, and I felt naked. When 2:15 finally came, I nauseously made my way to the front of the room and handed my music to the judges. The accompaniment began, and I came in as appointed. Things were rolling along at a mediocre pace until about half-way through when all the Italian left my brain. I had no option but to improvise. But -- with what? As all the Italian I knew was in those lyrics, I dug into my last resort: spaghetti sauce. I rolled together my Prego's and Ragu's quite nicely, and my have thrown in a dulce de leche, figuring Spanish is close enough to Italian. When it was over I knew I would not win; and yet, I could not help but feel rather proud of my MacGyver move.

Fortunately for me, this Thursday morning choir is not comprised of professionals, neither of the musical nor the spaghetti sauce variety. It's mostly a bunch of middle-aged women looking for a way to express themselves, sometimes in Swedish, sometimes in German, sometimes in English. The high notes are a bit flat, and at least one is - quite frankly - tone-deaf. But we laughed together and sang the best we could, and it totally threw me back to my creative youth.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Makeover Shows… I Admit It, My Guilty Pleasure!

So before my soapbox somehow sprouted legs and walked over to my last blog, I was talking about my art show and the theme I was given of transformation and healing. I’ve continued to think about transformations since my last blog entry... It’s really not that hard to find examples of transformation all around us. Americans are obsessed with transformations, I’ve decided. And this definitely includes me.

Take TV, for example. Make-over shows dominate television and transform everything from clothing to houses to body parts to pets! It is a guilty pleasure of mine. I admit it. I love seeing a good home make-over show. In fact, I don’t even need to see the whole show. I just need to flip it on for the last five minutes, where the viewer gets to see the clips of the before and after images.

I am obsessed with seeing the before and afters. But I’m wondering if that’s because it makes everything look so easy. Maybe that’s what I really love about make-over shows. (Because if I’m honest about it, half the time I see the transformation and say, “I could’ve done that better!”)

My obsession is starting to make me think I need to work on recognizing the work required to accomplish true transformations. Transformations look so easy sometimes when you’re watching the last five minutes of a show. And therein lies my on again-off again obsession. While those last five minutes give me a sense of empowerment that I, too, can make transformations, I resent the fact that it misleads people into a misunderstanding of how much work or money or knowledge it takes to accomplish true change. That’s why I’m going to have my own show someday called, “Cheri Does Half a Project.” Anyone interested in watching??

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Artistic Adventures of An Ardent Amateur: Risking It All

It’s truth time, D&L readers! I have been talking around this subject for the past several …forevers… and now it’s time to come clean: I’m moving back to New York City!

What’s that, Reader? Did you say, “Why?” Well, I’m so glad you asked. I’m moving back to New York City for a number of reasons, most of them hopelessly complicated, but almost all of them artistic in nature. One among them is the opportunity to pursue theatre again. Acting being my greatest artistic passion, I live with a constant craving for the community and chaos of a theatrical lifestyle. New York City is also a great place to find artists of every stripe, and consequently, a veritable gold mine of Llamas, so I’m also moving back for the environment. And I’m moving back because there is unfinished business for me in Gotham, both personally and professionally. And I’m moving back because somewhere, on a level of my brain miles below my subconscious and nestled in my deepest, most private and profound places, I simply know I have to do this.

So this week, in an effort to advance my artistic adventures onto the next stage, I quit my job.

EEEEIIIAAAIEEEE! I QUIT MY JOB, YOU GUYS! I resigned. I gave notice. I walked away from a respectable, steady, reliable wage and decent health care benefits, to move to New York in the middle of a global economic crisis.

And don’t think I don’t know about the economic crisis, People. Seriously, everybody I’ve told about my decision has said something along the lines of, “But don’t you know the economy’s bad right now?” “Holy Moly, Captain Obvious, I, in fact, have been living in a cave in the Missouri hills all this time and had not heard of this phenomenon! An economic crisis, you say? But surely it has not resulted in …unemployment! [Gasp!] It has?! People are having difficulty finding work? And now I have given up my safety and security in search of an artistic dream! I'M DOOOOOOOMED!"

Or something. But, actually, can I tell you a secret, D&L Readers? Lean in close now...I don't really think I'm doomed. In fact, I think I'm going to be ok, no matter what happens. Furthermore, I think I'm going to be better off in the long run - in the sitting-in-the-nursing-home-looking-back-on-my-life run - if I do this now than if I let my life slip by and stand passively to the side. If I leave my safe, stable, nice but unfulfilling job and go in search of something more, I think I'll be a slightly more stressed 20-something and a significantly more satisfied 80-something. Seems like a fair trade to me.

So my adventure this week: risking everything to follow a dream. Three weeks from today will be my last at my current job. Four weeks from today I set off for New York City. And the adventure continues...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Herbal Expressions

I've always stumbled upon unique job opportunities that seem to be just a perfect fit for me. Several years ago in Boston I had the most fabulous pleasure of working for Esther, a truly amazing carnation of woman. I don't say this lightly; do you know anyone that has hosted catered her own daughter's wedding, for 400, in her backyard?

By day she was a school nurse, where she tended not only physical ailments, but emotional, relational and spiritual ones as well. She would come home after a long day, telling me stories of her interactions with her quixotic teenagers. "You know what I told her, Kate? I told her...." and it would be a mini-epic filled with passionate admonition, wisdom-packed words, and love. So very much love!

But, this was just her day job. When she came home, she was ready to "create", as she would tell me most every day. Esther wasn't a painter, a sculptor, or a writer. She was a whole other kind of creator, one that worked the earth to produce herbs of all sorts, then using these herbs to construct culinary masterpieces and herbal remedies of all kinds... shampoo, perfumes, spice blends, healing salves and so, so much more. She harvested the fruit from the trees in her yard, trees that she had her boys plant when they were rebellious teenagers, the hard work serving as penance for their fighting and misdemeanors. (How brilliant is that?!)

I could go on and on about Esther, and perhaps one day I will; she deserves it. But I've been thinking of how she's influenced me this past week, and I think her love of herbs has taken hold in me. Recently, I impulsively signed up for an on-line herb course entitled "Advanced Women's Herbs & Aromatherapy". Why I thought I had time for this when I am barely cranking through my doula studies (not to mention the millions of other things that have fallen by the wayside) I don't know, but when I saw it being advertised it just grabbed me. I've long been a fan of herbs, although primarily in cooking. I remember when I saw fresh herbs for the first time, having been accustomed to the dried variety for the most part. It was amazing! The scents of fresh basil or cilantro completely infiltrates my body, making my taste buds go into overdrive; I think they also get the creative juices flowing.

While I was pregnant, I started investigating a few herbs for their physical benefits, and liked what I discovered (obviously, should this interest you, please do your own research and discuss with your health care provider). This course seems to be a perfect "next step" in my herb journey. I am so excited to attain new knowledge and, hopefully, put it to good use. I imagine that as I move into working as a doula, knowing about herbs will only enhance the ways in which I can help my clients. But I also expect that this will open up my avenues of creativity, simply giving me a new medium to create with. And in my mind, I'll always carry with me the spice of Esther, and all that she created.