The Last Week

Yesterday afternoon, I was standing in my backyard, chatting with a friend who had come over with her kids to swim because of the wilting, oh-there-you-are-summer heat and humidity. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a yellow jacket went kamikaze on me and dive bombed into my eye with such force, I stumbled. He stung me, at least once, while I did a frantic little dance and tried to swipe him off my eye socket without getting my hand stung. (But my tongue wasn't hanging out, and there were no giant teddy bears, so at least I didn't look completely ridiculous.)

I immediately ran to get an ice pack, which helped both the pain and the swelling. But because the sting was right below my eye, I've still got some residual puffage. You probably wouldn't notice it if you glanced at me. But I notice it. The right side of my face is swollen and today the bags under my eyes are right up in my eyes. My vision is slightly compromised and my skin stretches taut when I smile and it's all mildly uncomfortable.

It makes it hard to focus on what's right in front of me, because I keep focusing on the distraction.


This is the last week of summer. My kids go back to school next Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. The first day of school is one of those looming dates, you know. It's so big, it can't help but cast a shadow on the final days of vacation. And my brain, blessed be it's geeky neurons, is already in September, sorting out schedules and signing the kids up for fall classes and events.

But this is the last week of summer, the final hurrah of my favorite season. Outside, the sun is shining, and the pool beckons. There are still several lazy, hazy nights worthy of ice cream runs. I have many grill-worthy meals in my fridge: carna asada, Greek chicken kabobs, cedar-planed salmon. We still have to visit the Minnesota State Fair and squeeze in a few more afternoons at the lake.

I don't want back-to-school to puff up into my vision and crowd out what's right in front of me.

It's mildly uncomfortable. My inner planner squirms at this stay-in-the-moment crap when there are to do lists to be written, options to discover, calendars to be aligned. It's hard for me to focus short instead of long.

But I refuse to let the swirling, stinging things distract me from what's before me right now. So if you see me squinting the next few days, it's probably not the bee sting. It's just me, trying to stay here, in the last week of summer, where my kids laughter and the clink of ice make a swollen eye no big deal.

Snuggle Time

Every afternoon this summer, between 1:30 and 3:00, I scoop Kieran into my arms and give the signal to the other kids that means "Screen time! Now! Do whatever you want as long as you're quiet!" And I walk down the hall to Kieran's room and pull the blinds in his window and I turn on a small fan in the corner and I click on his bedside lamp. We read a book and I say, "You know what time it is now?" And he grins and says, "It's time to SNUGGLE!" And I click off the light and burrow under his construction trucks quilt, and he puts his head next to mine on the pillow and sucks his finger and puts his other hand on my face and we both sigh and take a nap.

Every day. Without fail. A nap.

This has saved my life this summer. Corey's traveling, per normal, which means I'm solo parenting four kids this summer, all day, 24-7, without help, by myself. (I know that's redundant but the point needs to be emphasized.) I am a little rung out, honestly, with all the bickering and the cruise-ship-directoring and the constant cleaning up in the kitchen. ("I just made lunch. How can you be hungry again?") It's good, don't let me steer you wrong. I love these lazy summer days and I love being around my kids, most of the time. But it's also depleting, this constant parenting. So to have a daily break, when I can lay in a dark room and hear nothing but the gentle swoosh of a fan and the deep breaths of my sleeping three-year-old next to me? To have an hour every day to drift off and rest my body and my mind? It's the hinge in my day. It's when I reset, refocus, refresh. It saves me.

What's saving you these days?

I Don't Have Wine Glasses But I'm OK With That Now

The panic hit as I stood balanced on a kitchen chair, peering into the black recess of my kitchen cupboard.

I was hunting for wine glasses, when I remembered: I don't have wine glasses. I have chubby water glasses that I pretend are elegant stemware. When it's just me drinking Two Buck Chuck with dinner, it's easy to live in delusion. But that night, I had friends coming over for a dinner party. Smart friends. Talented friends. Friends who can cook and tablescape and make witty jokes. Friends who undoubtedly have wine glasses in their own kitchen cupboards, and who probably drink something more sophisticated than Charles Shaw Pinot Grigio.

What was I doing? My heart started to race. Had I lost my mind? Did I forget I have four kids underfoot 26 hours a day? Did I think my friends wouldn't notice the tumbleweeds of dog hair that drift from under the sofa, that they would think my lack of fresh flowers more laissez-faire than lazy? Did I imagine wine glasses are some sort of frivolous accessory to a dinner party? Might I serve them wine in sippy cups?

Then Shauna Niequist slapped me across the face and chuckled a little at my shocked expression and said, "Get a grip, woman!" Or she would have, had she been standing in my kitchen. Because she knows this particular dilemma, and she is always reminding us that parties aren't about perfectionism (Get thee behind me, Pinterest) and food is about more than flavors.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table is Shauna's newest masterpiece. (Have you read it yet?) Like the rest of Shauna's books (Bittersweet and Cold Tangerines, for the uninitiated), this book is a collection of essays about living and loving and learning to grow. But this book focuses on all my favorite things: food and fellowship and how bread and wine are as common as the sunrise and just as transcendent. Naturally, I love it. Each chapter includes a recipe and a story surrounding it, and several of the recipes have become regulars in my line-up already.

But her stories are sweeter than her blueberry crisp, and they sink right down to your spirit, and lay out a feast for our souls.

On her purpose for writing the book:
What's become clearer and clearer to me is that the most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God's presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table. The particular alchemy of celebration and food, of connecting people and serving them things I've made with my own hands, come together and are more than the sum of their parts. I love the sounds and smells and textures of life at the table, hands passing bowls and forks clinking againt plates and bread being torn and the rhythm and energy of feeding and being fed.
And a story about how perfectionism wants to paralyze us and steal our joy:
I cohosted a party, and one of the things I brought was frozen meatballs. I love to cook, and I was planning, of course, to make them from scratch. But it was too much for me, too much time and energy I don't have in this time of the year. [She's writing about the holiday season in this chapter.]

And of course no one cared. That's the lesson in this for people like me who sometimes get wound up about doing things perfectly: 90 perfect of the people in your life won't know the difference between, say, fresh and frozen, or handmade and store-bought, and the 10 perfect who do notice are just as stressed-out as you are, and your willingness to choose simplicity just might set them free to do the same.
Ah yes. There it is. The face slap that helped me stop the freak-out the night of my dinner party.

Choose simplicity. It sets people free.

So I grabbed my chubby water glasses and set them on the table next to the inexpensive white dishes from Target and the chartreuse paper napkins from Ikea. And then my friends came to the door, with fresh flowers and dishes to share and we marveled over each other's contributions to the meal.

Dana finished the sauce for her homemade pasta while we uncorked the wine and drooled a little over the flourless chocolate cake.

And we sat down to a feast in every way.

Because the quality of the wine isn't measured by what you pour it in, and food and friends are about more than the table before us.

Here, Taste This : Green and White Bean Tuna Salad

I've taken a bit of a break from Here, Taste This the last six weeks, mostly because summer always seems to begin with a mad boil in June and doesn't settle down to a slow simmer until August. (Did you see what I did there?) It is not, most assuredly, because I haven't been cooking or have nothing to say about food. Because summer cooking is the good stuff, my friends. The best. It's simple and savory and the produce is so fresh, I practically waltz in my kitchen with each fragrant peach and plump tomato before I hack them to bits and eat them at the counter, juice dripping down my chin.

Today, I have to share with you my new favorite summer salad. We've eaten a lot of take-it-with-you food lately, because Connor had two baseball games a week in June and July, and games are always right at dinner time. So we would pack a picnic to eat next to the dug out, and pray an errant foul ball didn't head our direction while dug in. (You see what I did there.)

This salad features fresh green beans which are easy to pick up at your neighborhood farmer's market. The other ingredients come from your pantry, which makes it especially simple. I serve it with wedges of fresh melon (cantaloupe is my favorite) and maybe some whole-wheat blueberry muffins. And save some leftovers for lunch the next day. This salad keeps, which makes it a keeper. (You see what I did ... never mind.)

Green and White Bean Tuna Salad
adapted from Everyday Food

1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 can (15.5 ounces) cannellini beans, sometimes called white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 can (5-6 ounces) solid white tuna, drained and broken up

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a roiling boil. Cook the green beans in the water until bright green, tender but still crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove beans and rinse them or submerge them into cold water to stop the cooking process. Lay them flat on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet to dry.
2. In a large bowl (feel free to use the bowl you want to serve the salad in), whisk together the white wine vinegar and olive oil to make a dressing. Season well with salt and pepper. (I like to use kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, because they are easier to see.)
3. Add the dry green beans, cannelloni beans, onion and tuna and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

1. I know I touted farmer's market green beans for this salad, but honestly, I just as often use the packages of haricot vert you find in Costco's refrigerated section (or, as my kids say, "the cold room"). Bonus: They are so thin, they take even less time to cook, and they are so delicate, I don't need to cut them into 1-inch pieces. We just fold them over with our fork to get them in our mouth. (Or slurp them in if no one's looking.) (Keeping it real, folks. Keeping it real.)
1. The original version of this recipe calls for the addition of thinly sliced pepperoncini, which I never have on hand, so I've never added them. But if you want to kick it up a notch, it's a good suggestion.