the yard

In the evenings, I pause in my chores to take the cat on a supervised trip into the back yard. She’s proven time and again she can’t be trusted not to jump over the wall and go walkabouts—which, we suspect, is how she got lost from her previous owners. She does so love the back yard. She’s quite insistent on going out there, fussing and whining until I relent.

I always relent, because my dirty little secret is that I go out there as much for myself as her. Min makes a great excuse. I love to to feel the wind in my face, listen to the birds, watch the gloaming slowly overtake the leaves of trees and plants, golden and syrup-rich. It’s serene, one of the few things in my life right now that fills me up rather than takes away.

So as I sat in my serene place last night, I thought—mostly in a peaceful way—about letting go of so many layers of things. Letting go of fears, letting go of needless guilt and worry, of giving it up to the inexorable ebb and flow of the universe. Not give up on life, you understand. Still in there, still fighting the good fight, just reconciling myself to the fact that the universe will always have its way in the end, no matter what I or anyone else does. What I needed, what I need, is to give up the illusion of control, to make peace with that.

We’re none of us helpless flotsam in the grand old river of the universe. I truly believe things travel along with us, keeping us in the free-flowing stream as long as possible, as much as possible. Little markers of hope and fellow-feeling, sometimes larger things that buffer and stand guard. At times, the smallest things can bring the largest upwelling of hope, allowing us to float free. I don’t know what these things are, where they come from, wouldn’t care to define them in narrow human terms, but they are there as long as we allow them to be. We can’t be protected forever. Nothing can be. Sometimes we’re going to smash into rocks, sometimes we’re going to dip below the surface. Sometimes, when the time has come, we’re going to drown. It’s the nature of the journey. It’s easy to be philosophical about all this when I’m in my serene place. Difficult when I’m having trouble treading water.

From the perspective of my usual chair last night I tried to think of some better way of treading water. I wondered if, along with the illusion of control, I also had an illusion of receiving help along the way. I looked at a patch of ground near the bird bath where a few days ago I’d moved a brick that had been overgrown with moss. I saw a little face, tilted to the side, peering back at me from the fringe of the moss, just before the precipice where the brick had nestled. One little arm was raised as if she swam hard against the pushing tide of moss. I was far enough away to wonder if she might be an optical illusion, a trompe l’oeil composed of bits of leaf matter, blossoms, and hope.

I got up and drew close. There was a face, and a tiny arm, a small ceramic figurine lodged into the ground. When I pulled her out I saw she was a little fairy maiden, sitting on a leaf, resting one elbow on a thimble while the other, the one she’d been swimming with, rested on air where she’d broken off something. She had quite an Alice in Wonderland quality to her face, but I don’t recall ever owning a piece of garden ceramic with such a whimsical girl. I’d swear she hadn’t been there when I moved the brick. My hand was right there two days ago, but I didn’t remember seeing her. Clearly, she’d nestled amongst the moss a while because she was partly embedded in the soil, leaving a hollow when I pulled her free. The moss had surrounded her as it had the brick. Perhaps I’d been too distracted at the time and hadn’t noticed her, or…

I looked up at the faces hanging on the garden wall. Flora and Ivy smiled serenely back at me. Green Man looked grumpy, as always, but I wouldn’t absolutely swear there wasn’t a twinkle in his eyes. Probably the gloaming. Magic things always happen in the heavy, rich light of twilight.

It seems like I spent the whole day yesterday cooking.  I didn’t, but I did work for my food.  I got a late start to the market, about 2, but got some luscious short ribs.  As soon as I got home I had to start chopping veggies and garlic, dredging and browning ribs, sauteeing, then adding everything to the pot with the broth.   We had a couple of cups of homemade beef broth in the freezer, but I supplemented it with Swanson’s.  I ain’t proud.

Then I could rest up for an hour and a half while everything bubbled away (about 4:30). I cleaned up the worst of the kitchen mess, then went to sit out in the back with Min and read a little.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, as I said yesterday, the first we’d had in awhile.  Today’s another fine day.  I enjoyed sitting in the sun.  (And my apologies to those of you enduring a late in the season snowstorm.)

About a half hour before serving time I added some sliced shrooms to the pot, then got the wheat noodles on to boil.  If I do say so myself, the meal was worth all the work.  Just delicious.  Below’s the recipe if you’re interested.  I got it from and modified a bit.  It wasn’t all that hard, just a lot of prep work up front, but no more than if you made this in a crock pot.  I also use more onions and garlic then is called for here because I’m a barbarian who likes to punch up the flavor, and I may have added more celery and carrots as well.  Okay, so maybe my wrist got a little heavy on the wine, too.  I also added the mushrooms in the last half hour of cooking because I like mushrooms in stuff like this, dammit.

Smothered Beef Short Ribs

  1. 1/2 cup olive oil
  2. 4 pounds beef short ribs
  3. salt and pepper to taste
  4. 1 cup all-purpose flour (I use wheat flour as it adds a really nice dimension to the flavor)
  5. 2 cups chopped onions
  6. 1 cup chopped celery
  7. 1 cup chopped carrots
  8. 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  9. 3 bay leaves
  10. 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  11. 1 cup red wine
  12. 8 cups beef stock
  13. 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Season the ribs with salt and pepper to taste and dredge them in flour. Fry the ribs in the oil in small batches, adding oil as needed, to sear the meat. This should take 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Set ribs aside.

In the same pot, add the onions and saute for 2 minutes. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 1 more minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and then stir in the garlic, bay leaves and thyme and cook for 1 more minute.

Deglaze the pot with the red wine, scraping up all the bits on the bottom. Add the stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer. Add the ribs and continue to simmer for 2 hours, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the parsley and serve.