I am surrounded by boxes, strewn across the living room floor like pennies flung out a window late at night. Forgive the strange similes that only I can understand. I’m a little bit tired.
We’re moving in two days.
Luckily, we’re not going far. No overseas adventures, or cross-country endeavors. We’re not being forced. We haven’t lost our house.
We just want to live on the island, now.
Not that island, the one I have written about here before, although this island is much like that, in spirit and slowness. All the islands of the Puget Sound have this magic to them: green trees, long winding roads, small towns with only stop signs, driftwood beaches, views of mountains, and quiet. We have been longing for it. And this weekend, we will be living it.
I’ve lived on this island before. Those of you who know this area, or who have read my book, will know the name. It’s only a 20-minute ferry ride from Seattle, which keeps the small town open to larger possibilities. When I was in my late 20s, I started my teaching career on this island. I fell in love with it almost as soon as I set foot on it. One evening, driving back to my house in the darkness, I was seized by happy sobbing. I knew this was home, down to my toes. Growing up in southern California, I never felt at home. This was, in my bones, the place I belonged.
I left it, however. It’s hard to live on a rural island when you’re 30, and single, no matter how much you love it. My feet needed to leave, to live in Manhattan instead, and then London, and circle back closer, to Seattle. All those years, my heart yearned for the island, but I still hadn’t found him. I promised myself I wouldn’t move back there until I met the man I loved as much as that island.
Or until I had given up and accepted that I would live in a ramshackle cabin filled with cats.
(This is the point at which the Chef looks at me, raises his hand shyly before my eyes, and says, “Hi.”)
The first time the Chef and I visited the island, to spend the afternoon with my brother, my sister-in-law, and Elliott, we were maybe five minutes off the ferry when the Chef turned toward me and said, “Have you ever thought of living here again?”
That’s when I knew. We’d be living on the island someday.
Something about Little Bean being born impelled us toward the island. City life has been exciting, a constant rush of things to do and restaurants to visit. But once we became parents, we started dreaming of more quiet. We want her to grow up a small-town kid, just like the Chef did. We want her to be familiar with long rocky beaches and working farms, tree swings and blackberry bushes on our daily hikes. We want her to know her neighbors, and be able to ride her bike for the afternoon without us worrying. We want her to feel at home.
We’re moving home.
And so, we’re happy. With the idea. With the life we will start living on Monday morning, when we wake up in our new home.
But moving? Moving takes it out of me.
We’ve been hefting boxes and exhausting ourselves. So much living has gone into our kitchen, and we have been dismantling it, day by day. And mostly, we have been trying to winnow down our possessions, give at least half of them away, because we are not our things. And having a baby means too much clutter, anyway. (She needs her own house.) When I feel a little pull about giving away boxes of books I have been collecting since I was 15, I think about how happy I would be to find a clean copy of the Penguin edition of Anna Karenina at the thrift store. (When am I going to have time to read it again?)
Letting go means we have a cleaner home.
Someone else will feel happy for our things, for not much money.
Besides, I have been opening boxes still sealed with the tape I hastily placed in our last home. They have been sitting in the basement ever since, untouched. What was in one box? Scratch pieces of paper with menu ideas two years old, along with the first draft of my book proposal, a stack of birthday cards, the Cartier pen the CFP gave me, one juggling ball, a letter I wrote to the Chef from Alaska, a pair of scissors, and paycheck stubs. That kind of box. If we hadn’t missed any of it in the past nearly two years, we didn’t need them. (okay, I kept the letter. and the pen.)
So, every day, we fill the car with boxes of books, onesies that now fit Little Bean like she’s the Incredible Hulk about to burst from her clothes, the spare pastry cutter, and more wine glasses than we ever need. Today, some good friends came to our house to tuck every last possession we had decided to cleave away from ourselves and drive it to the thrift store on the way to their play. They took the coffee table the Chef brought into the house, the one he bought at the Fremont Fair and painted black and white like zebra stripes. I always hated that table. (Thank you, Llysa and Andrew.) It feels good to give away.
If only this were putting things in boxes, it would be okay. But to do most of it with Little Bean on my lap as I go through all my books and try to decide which half of them I can give away forever, because she’s unnerved by the mess and the change in things and needs to be close? This move is new.
Top it off that she hasn’t been sleeping, returning to a newborn state, waking every two hours, crying piteously. We have been walking like zombies through the obstacle course of boxes in the living room, trying to figure out what to do for her. This morning, we had confirmed what I had begun to suspect: she has her first ear infection. Poor little pumpkin. All this and being in pain too?
We can’t wait to be in our new home.
And so, food has been simple this week, nothing revolutionary. I’ve enjoyed it more, in a way. We haven’t been prepping a cookbook or dreaming up recipes to share here. We’ve just been eating: roasted chicken legs; millet and quinoa porridge; salads with goat cheese and pomelo slices; pasta salad with spinach and smoked gouda. Sustenance, to help me through the task of reading painful old poems (Oh no. Please don’t ever let me try to write another stanza. I was so bad at it.) and throwing away student papers from 1994 (why, for the love of goodness, have I kept those all these years?). We’re trying to become organized.
I’m trying to avoid this scene that Betty MacDonald wrote about in Onions in the Stew (a book about moving to the same island where we will be living soon):
“.…..I packed. Don carried and drove. I started out very methodically. ‘Books–reference’ I marked on the outside of a carton. ‘Sheets—towels’ I marked on another. ‘Silverware’ another. When Don attempted to help I said kindly but firmly, ‘You had better let me do it, dear. I know exactly what I am doing and I want things to be orderly.’
‘Living room draperies’ I wrote on a neat newspaper bundle. ‘Candles, vases, bric-a-brac’ I marked a carton. Then somehow I began running out of enough of the same thing to fill a box—also out of boxes and newspapers—also out of strength. By the end of the day I was rolling a jar of mayonnaise, a heel of salami and a half-filled bottle of Guerlain’s Blue Hour perfume in my tweed skirt and not even stamping the bundle ‘Perishable.’”
I won’t be surprised if I find a half-wrapped salami among our possessions on the floor of the moving truck our friends will fill on Sunday morning.
Moving, no matter how stressful, does have a beauty to it. I’ve been forced to take quick glances at all the lives I have lived. The young girl in Pomona, with the gap-toothed grin and glasses, red-faced from eating gluten in every picture, and not knowing it. The earnest young college girl, studying hard and always with her hand raised high in the air. The hopeless year after college during the last major recession, working at a bookstore at the mall. The eager teacher, determined to change everything and exhausting herself in the process. A woman in her 30s, walking fast down the streets of Manhattan, drinking it all in. Someone misguided and giving up her life for the happiness of others in a lavish home in London. A woman starting to know herself, returning to Seattle, and a simpler life. The woman born the moment she realized she shouldn’t eat gluten anymore, and everything came alive. The one who met the Chef. A woman in love, then loving more quietly, every moment of the day. Mama.
It’s funny, isn’t it? How we talk about our life as a single unit? I’ve lived five hundred lives already, since I was born in 1966, each rushing to meet the next, and turning away from the last. There have been so many strained stanzas, impassioned dances, and anguished missed chances I am now glad I missed. For years, I have been winnowing, not just my possessions, but my expectations. I love being in my 40s. I love being his wife, her mama. I love this life.
I can’t wait for the next one to begin.
As you can imagine, we’re going to be pretty busy this next week, moving on Sunday, cleaning the old place, and setting up our new home. Forgive our silence, for a bit. We need some time to settle in and feel the change before we can begin sharing it here.
Red Pasta Sauce for a Busy Week
Earlier this week, I threw together a pasta sauce while packing cookbooks and talking on the phone to Tea. Normally, this is not how I like to cook — glancing sideways while watching the pan. Cooking calls to me because it forces me to focus. But we were hungry from cleaning and moving, and I had no time to talk to my friend during the rest of the day. No other choice.
Sometimes food tastes better with less scrutiny. Not expecting anything, I just threw in a pinch of this, a bit of that. (This recipe, therefore, is only the roughest guideline.) When we sat down to eat, the Chef took his first bite, and then said, “Man, sweetie, this is good.” And so, here it is.
The meals I throw together without thinking too much are much better for having good ingredients around the house. Mustapha’s red pepper salt is a blend of Moroccan poivron rouge, piment fort, and fleur de sel. It’s something really special, a clean bite of heat and sweetness, salt that does something far more than what is expected. I’m making all our pasta with a little toss of it from now on.
8 ounces gluten-free pasta of your choice (this one is Manicaretti)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, peeled and fine-chopped
1 teaspoon fine chopped fresh rosemary
pinch red pepper salt (or equal parts hot chile pepper and sweet paprika)
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 sausage of your choice, already cooked and sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
pinch lemon zest
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan
Cooking the pasta. Fill a large pot with water and enough salt to make the water taste like the ocean. A glug of olive oil helps as well. When the water is boiling rapidly, throw in the pasta. Cook it until the texture is just shy of al dente (soft with just a little bite). Drain immediately. Put the hot pasta back in the pot.
Making the sauce. Bring a large saucepan to medium-high heat. Pour in the olive oil. Toss the onions in the hot oil and stir. Cook the onions until they are soft and translucent, yielding to the touch of your spatula. Put in the rosemary and cook about 1 minute, or until the room begins to smell of rosemary. Pinch in the red pepper salt, the nutmeg, and the pepper. Stir until the onions and rosemary are coated with these seasonings. Pour in the diced tomatoes and allow them to cook for a few minutes, or until the liquid has reduced and almost evaporated.
Put 1/2 of the butter in the tomato sauce and swirl until it is all melted. Toss in the sliced sausage and cook until it is evenly heated. Pour in the chicken stock and allow it to bubble and combine with all the other ingredients. When the sauce has reached the thickness you desire, reduce the heat to low.
Stir in the remaining butter and the pinch of lemon zest. Stir to combine.
Put the cooked pasta in the sauce. Stir to coat it entirely.
Plate up the pasta and top with the Parmesan.