When a Meal Becomes a Work of Art

This year, I gave my husband the gift of an Italian cuisine cooking class at a local cooking school for his birthday. We spent the evening creating a meal of white bean tapenade smeared on crostini, porcini roasted beef, and bianco risotto cooked in saffron and vermouth. Together we sliced and diced vegetables for the radicchio fritelle, and quartered strawberries for the crowning glory of the meal, a mascarpone torte with prosecco berries. It was every bit as wonderful and full-bodied and delicious as you might imagine.

On the drive home, I asked my husband what he thought of the end results of our labor…

Join me at Grace Table for the rest of this adventure in art and eating Italian.

Bread and Wine: A New Year’s Eve Tradition

*Photo courtesy of (in)courage

I fell asleep at 11:53pm with a Harry Potter book nestled into the pillows beside me, the spine still gripped in my hand. My husband snuck into the room and snapped a photo of me sleeping in my New Year’s Eve party wear—a sweatshirt, pajama pants, and tousled hair—then he shook me awake. To celebrate…

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Bitter Turned Sweet: A Reflection on Lent

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I eat sweets. A lot. Sometimes, I skip a meal and fill in the blank with cookies or a slice of cake. I believe pancakes and waffles and bananas are simply a vehicle for the main event: a generous helping of chocolate chips. I eat a little something sweet to the taste after every meal. There is no scenario in which I deny myself dessert, unless someone tries to fool me with a piece of fruit. If there isn’t sugar involved, I’m not interested.

What I mean to say is, I like the taste of something sweet on my tongue. Usually this comes in the form of chocolate.

….

My husband and I have been arguing. The days begin to melt into one another with the heat of our exchanges. He would tell you it’s me, and I would tell you it’s him. Together, we are volatile, flammable, the kind of couple all the temperament and personality books suggest should re-consider a relationship together. Unless you’re in too deep, and then they suggest making the best of it. Needless to say, I had to stop reading these books early in our relationship because it was too disheartening.

We are opposites in every way, so when joined together, we make one well-rounded person. We are almost twenty hard-won years into our marriage, and we are still waiting for the elusive “easy” years to arrive. The arguing is nothing to worry about, truly, but the words dripping off our tongues leave behind a bitter taste to the one who speaks them and to the one who receives them. My husband asks, “Why can’t you just be sweet?” I might ask the same question.

I gave up dessert for Lent. I miss the ritual of deciding what will accompany my book and cup of tea each evening. I miss the visceral pleasure of something honeyed and pleasant in my mouth. I have felt the lack of sweetness on my tongue for fourteen days and I will feel it for twenty six more. Everything I eat is salt and spice and bitter.

As I participate in my broken and small way, in the suffering of Christ during this season, I can’t help but think about how much of the sweetness of life has disappeared for me. After moving back to New Jersey, nearly three years ago now, the edges of life are pungent and burnt by reality. I no longer live the “dream life” of an American ex-pat in Europe, I live “real life”, where sweetness must be found by scraping the bottom of the pie dish. In the past, I have relied on tasting the sweetness of life in order to let it drip from my mouth in words to others.

I have called this time a wilderness experience, a long drink of bitterness from the waters of Mara, but I wonder if it’s actually my real life. Maybe what I call wilderness, is really the promised land and I can’t get past the giants to taste of the milk and honey. Perhaps the hard parts of my marriage are actually just marriage. Perhaps the bottom must be scraped to taste of the sweetness.

I long for the confection, the honeyed. But I am responsible for putting these on my tongue, for holding them there until they turn every bitter thing into something sweet. For Lent, I gave up dessert, but I can dig deep to the bottom of my own soul and still find something akin to sweetness. The giants I see here are really my own shadow. This life is one of milk and honey, and I must open my mouth to receive it.

The Story of Us

IMG_5289 via kimberlyanncoyle.com

Most of you have already moved on from Memorial Day weekend, but I’m still recovering. My husband and I spent hours upon hours in the garden–planting, moving, watering, lamenting the fact that one of us believes holiday weekends are for work and the other of us has the gall to believe they’re for fun and relaxation.

As you may have guessed, the lamenting belonged to me. My husband believes lamenting, much like relaxation, is a waste of time and effort. Time and effort should be spent in the pursuit of a diy project that will inevitably require 23 trips to Home Depot. And at least as many to the local garden center.

I assure you, I never expected this to become the story of my life. I never expected to find myself in dirt up to my elbows, never expected the sore back created by the constant curve of my body towards the soil, head bowed against the sun. I didn’t anticipate the long conversations regarding the merits of begonias vs impatiens. Or my well versed plant knowledge for deer resistance. For watering strategies. For the release of ladybugs to control the aphids.

Next week, we will celebrate nineteen years of marriage, and the story of our life together continues to lay open pages full of surprises. The chapters we spent living in Europe? Never saw those coming. The three kids with their father’s sense of humor and my flair for the dramatic? Longed for, planned for, but the arc of their story is a wild ride to some unknown finish. The home with the never-ending birdsong and the horse farm behind and the knock-out roses that go on for ages? The loveliest, most unexpected surprise of all.

It feels like a dream sometimes, like it isn’t possible to squeeze this much happiness into one married life. And then the kids forget everything we taught them, and the flies rise up in the garden like a plague out of Egypt, and we see nothing eye to eye, and I lose my mind, and he goes through a funk, and the dreams we counted on and planned for never write themselves into paragraphs and pages.

That’s when real life gets Real. And the joy returns as we revisit the surprises, the unexpected, the dreams we never knew we had that somehow found their way into the story of our nineteen years. Because even when it’s hard, any story, even a bumpy one, is better than a book without the two of us holding hands across the pages.

On skipping parties for pre-marital counseling

coffee shop via kimberlyanncoyle.com

The show Friends premiered the year I got engaged. I slipped on a diamond ring at the end of my freshman year in college. I was still one year away from embracing my second decade–a year away from a birthday with a two in front of it. I had no business thinking about marriage at that point in my life, but like many good, christian girls of the early 90’s that’s where this good girl was headed. Rather than spending my college years making the kind of girlfriends that last a lifetime, I spent those years obsessing over wedding gowns and flower arrangements. Rather than girls nights and mani-pedis and late night study sessions, I spent my evenings debating the merits of duvets vs bedspreads with a boy/man whose only interest in the topic focused on what might happen beneath them. My kids asked me recently if I attended a lot of my friend’s college parties, and I said of course not. Parties? I was too busy with premarital counseling.

In a word, it was ridiculous.

During those years, I watched Friends faithfully with my fiancé turned husband every Thursday night. We each stretched out on a blue floral hand-me-down sofa, me surrounded by my pharmacology and physiology books, him surrounded by the dog and a bag of Dorito chips. Like any twenty-something, I enjoyed the show, but it bore no resemblance to my real life. I already had the end result each of these friends longed for–a forever relationship with a significant other. For most of my early twenties, I cut myself off from everyone and everything other than college, my second-hand home, and my fledgling marriage. I had no gang of friends or Central Perk or cool apartment in Manhattan. I had night shifts at the nursing home, schoolwork, and a husband desperate to understand what to make of a wife who until recently, still considered herself a teenager.

When I heard the hoopla over Friends making its way to Netflix, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it. It felt even more out of step with who I am now. But, I interrupted my regularly scheduled programming to watch an episode while running on the treadmill. Then I watched another and another. After making my way well into season two, I realized that the first time I watched the series, I entirely missed the point. (This is the story of my life. I missed the point of my entire second decade.) I thought it was all about reaching an end goal, about biding your time until the right romantic relationship came along to sweep you off your feet and carry you into your “real” life.

It turns out, Friends is not about the end goal, it’s about the journey. It’s about knowing where you belong and surrounding yourself with people who belong there too. Sure, real life happens in marriage and parenting, but real life also happens with roommates in cool Manhattan apartments. It happens around foosball tables and cups of coffee and staring across the balcony at the weird neighbors. I thought I’d given up my chance on this kind of friendship when I traded it in for a series of terrible jobs and an early start at motherhood and marriage. But, I think I might be wrong about this assumption.

After watching a number of episodes, I see the appeal for a generation of twenty, now forty-somethings. I know I’ll never have the apartment or the coffee shop with a velvet covered sofa in Manhattan. But, I’m increasingly curious about how I can incorporate the bigger lessons of friendship and belonging into a life deeply committed to my kids and my marriage. I want to explore what this might look like in reverse, while bringing the best parts of my very authentic, very conventional, very happy life with me.

………….

This post is one in an ongoing series of essays on home and belonging.

Have you watched the show? What was/is your experience with this kind of friendship?