The speaker, a slight woman with dark hair and the faintest trace of an accent, was talking about beauty. I gazed behind her through wide glass doors at a stunning vista of hilltops and trees, clouds chasing the sunlight through the sky. There was the faintest scent of lavender in the air, and vases full of perfect roses, alliums and hydrangeas dotted the room and the picturesque patio beyond the windows. It was the most beautiful of settings, and beauty seemed a fitting topic.
This weekend, I attended the second Big Traveling Potluck, in Murrieta, California. The word “Conference” seems too sterile to describe this event – I see mental images of gray business suits and fluorescent lights. “Workshop” is better, but is too taxing. There were workshops – writing and photography and packaging darling gifts of food and love – but the weekend as a whole didn’t feel like work. “Retreat” implies withdrawal and quiet. We were not quiet.
Perhaps I’ll just return to “Potluck”, which is, after all, the name given to this weekend by its creators. At a Potluck, you bring something to share, and you partake of others’ offerings. It can create great anxiety – Will my dish be enough? Will it be popular? Will it pale in comparison to the dishes of others? But in the end the act of sitting down and sharing tends to eclipse any fears. After all, what is more communal than sharing a table?
I dislike those recaps of blogging conferences that show fabulous pictures of fabulous things and fabulous people that leave you wildly envious that you weren’t there yourself. There were lovely people and lovely things and lovely food, but I can’t share that with you directly. I can’t bring you to the Potluck with me, but I can share some of what I brought away with me. I can give you a seat at the table.
Beauty needs ugliness to make itself known. The real beauty of blogging isn’t in perfection – in the light and the shoulds and the immaculate food and the gorgeous writing, and the SEO and the sponsorships – the real beauty of blogging is sharing the reality. You may wake up one day and realize that your blog (or your life) don’t really reflect the whole you, but you can change course. Success is defined however you want, and you should celebrate your successes. Give yourself. Share yourself. Be yourself.
I attended the Big Traveling Potluck last year, and I found inspiration and motivation. But this year I feel like I found bits of myself that I didn’t know I had lost. I try, here at The Domestic Front, to reflect the reality. I know you know my life isn’t perfect, my food isn’t perfect (and we ALL know my photography isn’t perfect. But I don’t always share. In that light-filled room, in that most beautiful of beautiful locations, I realized anew that the beauty is most apparent in the imperfections, and the flaws. That this place should be a window into my life, my whole life, with its messiness and its grace. This is my place, my space, my story to tell.
I’d like to tell it to you.
Won’t you sit at my table?
Note: my potluck contribution was these bourbon balls, only I gave them a little extra kick by adding 1 tsp each of ground Saigon cinnamon and ginger, and 1/2 tsp. of ground chipotle. Keeping it real? They were awesome.
So get in the kitchen, pop open a cerveza, and start the party.
2. Sustainable Scarves:
I am totally jonesing for one of these scarves from FashionaABLE. I heard Barrett Oliver, the founder, speak at Big Traveling Potluck, and it was so inspiring. Each scarf is made by hand in Ethiopia by a woman who is a former sex worker and has been given the opportunity to make scarves instead. And each one comes with the story of one of the women who made it, and how she can educate her children, or support her family because of your purchase. Isn’t that amazing? I think they would make a fantastic mother’s day gift, since they’re so supportive of women. I am eyeing the Frehiwot in Marigold. (Hint Hint husband who may read this)
3. La Dolce Vita
I was lucky enough to have lunch this week with the ladies of Vamoos Travel;. If I had some spare dough and some spare time, I would be waiting in line to sign up for one of their amazing luxury culinary tours of Italy. These ladies don’t just plop you in a tour bus and send you to eat pasta in some tourist establishment — they provide all sorts of fantastic experiences, like visiting a artisan who makes Parmigiano Reggiano, or learning to make gnocchi in the kitchen of an Italian grandma. Their next tour is in November, and they only take about 10 people, so they book up fast.
4. A Kick in the Booty
If there has been a little too much dolce in your vita lately, you have to check out the Virtual Bootcamp from my friend Karen at Balance Personal Fitness in Austin. I signed up for the first round (totally paid for, this is not a sponsored post!) and it’s been great. Karen sends me a workout 3 times a week, provides you tube videos to show me proper form, and answers questions and provides support in a special facebook group. It’s a total bargain. Now, if only I could stay healthy long enough to work out consistently (I live with the world’s cutest petri dishes).’
5. The Foodie Finish
One of the loveliest people I got to meet at the Potluck was Lillian of Chinese Grandma. She’s also a great cook – she brought this amazing Roasted Cauliflower to the potluck and I ate TWO helpings (and there was a lot of food). I’ve found during this year of living vegetally that cauliflower is one of the most versatile vegetables, but Lillian’s dish was a knockout.
I have heard that if you spend a lot of time researching in a book, or staring at a computer screen, or focusing on what your hands are doing, you need to stop, frequently, and rest your eyes by gazing off into the distance. Looking at the horizon. Thinking big. Going long. Then you can return to your task with renewed focus and less eyestrain.
I like the metaphor.
Blogging (or “digital publishing” as I will now be calling it) is like this. It’s so easy to focus on the little things – the aperture of your photographs, how to title your posts to maximize SEO, whether Facebook or Google plus provides a greater social media benefit, the best time of day to Tweet. Plus, you’re literally staring at a computer screen. But it’s so important to stop, step away from the computer, and focus on the horizon.
Big Traveling Potluck, held this weekend in Murrieta, California, allowed me to do just that. We were in a beautiful place where the sky was bigger than normal, and you could literally see for miles. And we talked about the big things — motivation, inspiration, creativity, community. The mind’s horizon and the heart’s horizon.
But because the organizers (Maggy and Pam of Three Many Cooks and Erika of Ivory Hut) are, in fact, bloggers digital publishers, they also knocked it out of the park when it came to details.
After we went to New York this summer, we decided to head up the coast to Maine. Ken and I both love New England — he spent part of his childhood there, and we met in college there. I’m a total California girl, but the other place I really feel at home is New England.
Neither of us had ever been to Maine, though I had been fascinated with it since I was a child. To a kid growing up in Los Angeles, nothing is quite so exotic as the Pine Tree State. We rented a darling little cottage with a water view, no cell service, and a lot of peace.
I know I am supposed to be charmed by New York. I know I am supposed to wax rhapsodic about the “energy” of the city, to tell you about the fabulous meals I experienced at Eataly and Eleven Madison Park and this tiny hole in the wall I “discovered” in the Village. I am supposed to be converted to the cult of the Shack Burger and say things like “No place is like New York”.
Well, I’m not charmed. The city is dirty and smelly and noisy and crowded. The weather is uncalled for. Everything is too expensive. And it’s hard to navigate. You literally cannot get a stroller out of the subway without setting off an alarm. In the seven years since I moved away from New York (to, may I add, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States) I have become old and sedate and suburbanized. I can’t hack it in New York any more. So no, I am not charmed.
But I have to visit, because there live my people. My girlfriends from my young married days, who think nothing of coming to a happy hour near my hotel when I’m in town despite the fact that there are an additional eight and a half children among us and most don’t even live in Manhattan (the half is Mrs. Limestone’s daughter to be). My husband’s family – his father and half sister and stepbrother whose kids are my kids’ only cousins. My baby cousin, who has worked in some of the most amazing restaurants in the city. My college roommate, who was living with me when I met my husband, and knew “us” from the earliest days of our courtship. And the godfathers of both of my children.
So I try to find things to love about New York. One thing to love is the laws on gay marriage. The impetus for our trip was the marriage of the Nuni’s godfather (who is one of my oldest and dearest friends) to his partner of eight years. I was Matron of Honor, Nuni was the flower girl. The wedding was beautiful, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Here’s a link to a video put together by one of the grooms featuring the song he wrote for his vows. Aren’t they handsome?
And our family, in Central Park (about 5 minutes before the Nuni stepped in a pile of poo apparently left by the world’s largest Great Dane. We had to throw away her shoes)
Another thing to love about New York is street meat, aka halal chicken and rice, which is sold from carts on the Sidewalks of New York. When I was studying for the New York BarExam, my review course was right near one of these carts, and I would often get delicious spicy, savory chicken with crisp vegetables and fragrant rice for lunch. LA has a thriving street food scene but offers nothing quite like street meat, and my only chance to enjoy it was on my infrequent trips to New York.
I sometimes feel like I’m running perpetually behind. Is it 5:00 already? Is it February already? How am I suddenly six months pregnant? Remember that vacation we took to Paris last July? I never shared it with all of you because I just finished editing my photos in DECEMBER. Expect a post in about April.
The nice thing about being behind on things is that reminders can feel like discoveries. When editing my Paris photos, I found the pictures I took at a wonderful meal we ate in the Latin quarter at Bistro y Papilles. Located in a small wine store, with a different set menu every night, it was the kind of wonderful meals that makes you feel like you’re really in Paris. The menu that night started with a velvety cauliflower soup, served at the table in a big tureen. We were presented with shallow soup bowls that were garnished with a “salad” with lardons, croutons, cauliflower, herbs and creme fraiche, and the hot soup was ladled over the salad. All the garnishes brought a wonderful textural contrast to the soup, and it was one of the best things we ate that week.
The first time I ever went apple picking was my senior year of college. Ken had his car on campus that year — a little blue Ford Festiva, that had been spray painted, and had no air conditioning or radio. We were celebrating one year of dating, still shiny and happy and young and new, and decided to head off into the wilds of Connecticut to pick apples. I wore my appropriate apple picking attire — a red and green gingham shirt, and we discovered the joys of fresh air in an orchard, of plucking apples off the tree, of cold pressed cider and hot apple cider donuts.
After that first year, we went every year we lived in the Northeast. When we lived in New York, we borrowed my father in law’s car, or rented one (we could barely fit ourselves in our tiny Manhattan studio — where were we going to park a car?), and hit New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut to get out of the city and load up on apples. Apple picking was never about the apples — they’re readily available at the Greenmarket after all — but about simple entertainment, fresh air, getting out of the city. And donuts. Don’t forget the donuts.
When we moved to Los Angeles six years ago, I thought my apple picking days were through. Our climate is too warm to have apple orchards — we can pick oranges in our own back yard, but the autumnal fest was lost to me. Until this year. We piled into the little blue car (now, so many years later, a Prius, with air conditioning and an iphone connection), with the Nuni in tow and headed into the mountains, into the “mile high” town of Oak Glen. Nestled in the San Bernardino mountains just east of Redlands, Oak Glen boast six or seven apple orchards, and the crowds that go with them. Continue reading Finding Fall in Southern California
I realize this is the world’s slowest trip recap, but I took all of my photos in RAW, which means I have to convert them to upload them, and OHMYGOD SHOOT ME if I ever do that again. Still, I wanted to share with you a few special moments in London, including an AMAZING meal.
When last we spoke, we had just begun our day in London with a lovely visit to Borough Market. And then it started to rain. And rain. And rain. Undaunted, we pressed on, hopping a routemaster bus to Trafalgar Square, and heading up Regent’s Crescent.
We’ve just returned from Paris. This sentence is one I wish were a more regular part of my life. This post, however, is about London, one of my favorite cities. Due to the intricacies of plane and train fares, we flew through London on our way to Paris, which allowed me just one full day in London, my soulmate city. And even though that day was a very, very rainy one, and we got very, very wet, we pushed through, and introduced the Nuni to the joys of Old Blighty.
We started the day (very, very early, thanks to jet lag) with a visit to the Borough Market, an old Victorian marketplace that has become a gourmet mecca in recent years. We began with a walk across Southwark bridge, undeterred by the drizzle.
My father did not do many of the things dads do. He did not tinker with tools, or fish, or play golf. He did not manage the household finances, or take me to baseball games, or mow the lawn. My dad did crossword puzzles. He read mystery novels, and most of all, he planned vacations.
My dad was a great traveller, which is a particular accomplishment for someone who had the attachment to comfort that he did. For someone who thought camping was a hotel room without a coffee maker, he managed to cover quite a bit of the world (at least, if you saw the world in the way an Edwardian nobleman around 1906 did, which is to say, outposts of the British empire, Europe, and bits of North Africa.) He sailed the Norwegian fjords, saw the Egyptian pyramids, visited glaciers in both Alaska and Switzerland, sunned on the French Riviera, did his Christmas shopping in New York, and climbed the Acropolis. Despite all these adventures, my dad’s most favorite vacations were the months he spent, nearly every summer, renting an apartment in Paris and pretending he lived there.
Every time he was home, he spent all of his time planning the next vacation, whether it was 1 months away or 11. (Never more than 11, natch). He obsessively researched hotels, planned packing systems, and booked airline tickets (and upgrades) well in advance. My mother kept pretty much every other part of our household spinning, but when it came to vacations, my dad was king
This summer we’re planning a trip, to London and Paris, a trip I’ve dubbed the “Mike Wheeler Memorial Tour.” The trip is happening in part to take a piece of my dad with us — he would want to spend eternity in Paris; that is certain. It’s also happening because my father, true to form, had already bought plane tickets and booked a Parisian flat for him and my mother, and those things aren’t refundable.
(London is on the itinerary because Ken and I met there and fell in love there, so we stop in whenever we can. It’s also less expensive to fly to London and take the Eurostar to Paris, especially since Nuni now travels on the trains but not the planes for free.)
Of course, the minute Ken confirmed his work schedule I started PLANNING. I am, after all, my father’s daughter. I began with the planes and trains, then booked the London hotel (we’re staying in the flat in Paris), and moved on to dinner reservations for London (you can use opentable!) and a rough sketch of things to do in London and Paris (both are cities in which I’ve spent a lot of time, but there are always new things to discover).
Once the things are booked that I can book, then I start in on the books. After all, anticipating a vacation significantly contributes to your enjoyment of said vacation, and I must get in the mood. In addition to guidebooks (my favorites are always the Dorling-Kindersley Eyewitness Guides) I start inhaling, essays, fiction, nonfiction, food books and travel memoirs. By the time I actually leave home, I both feel like I’ve been on vacation for a month already and am stuck reading the Twilight books while I’m actually ON vacation.
That said, if you’re planning a trip to either London or Paris, here are some of my favorite related books:
London Travel Guides) The best guidebook series for practical information plus historical background
The Camomile Lawn
Set partly in a country house, this wonderful novel really captures life in London during WWII.
God Is an Englishman
Not all about London, per se, but embodies the Victorian ethos that you still see traces of all over the city.
Notes from a Small Island
This book is about England as a whole, but Bryson, with his trademark wit, manages to lovingly eviscerate all of English culture. Also worth reading is his biography of Shakespeare.
London: The Biography A literary biography and semi-chronological history that really unpacks London from its earliest days.
Based in Los Angeles, the Domestic Front is the home of Kate, a working mom who is low on time but high on life. I hope this site helps you find ways to make your life richer, easier, more beautiful and more delicious. You can read more about me and the site here and feel free to email me with any questions or feedback!