Itself taking form

salad days“More nornge” Lucas says, chin dripping juice, pointing to the pile of oranges on the kitchen counter. “More nornge, tree nornge.” He bites each slice clean, then places the peel gently, lovingly, into the line of sunny crescents he has built along the edge of the table.  “Pees more nornge.”

L eats oranges


He eats them, and stacks them, until I cut him off.


l and harmonica L and harmonica

I play a piano chord, C major, per Jacob’s request. “Now, Lucas!” he says, pointing to Lucas, who complies and begins blowing haphazardly on the harmonica. Jacob layers himself in, turning the volume up on his kid-sized electric guitar so that his strumming becomes amplified, the loudest of our three contributions. “I want us all to make this song, but only I will sing,” Jacob instructs me firmly. I cease asking my cowboy to take me away, and instead listen to J attempt his current best lyrics.


(If someone had told me we’d have such a country fan on our hands … well, he still loves Eddie).


Later, clicking together Legos, he says “Listen. This is the rhythm from our song.” I have a surge of recognition – not of the music, but of the feeling. I too can sometimes hear an entire song in a single beat.



“I think I could eat this whole grapefruit. Is this a grapefruit? My body is telling me I should eat the whole thing. I’m going to eat it all. I’m going to eat them all and they are the biggest grapefruits. I’m stacking them into a mountain. Mommy are these grapefruits?”


They are not grapefruit, not exactly – they are oroblancos. Jacob builds his mountain, and then we supreme them to build our lunch, a sparkling rainbow of citrus segments tucked in among peppery cress leaves. Lucas climbs into my lap to steal more nornge, while Jacob remains devoted to his oros. I am left with scarlet-kissed blood oranges, and a smile.



san gregorio

On a recent trip to a favorite beach, we found washed out stairs and a ranger blocking the road. “Try a few miles south,” he said, eyeing the boys. “If they like building, anyway.”


At San Gregorio, we take a moment up on the bluff to gaze down on all that has been built here. Sturdy forts with thick crossbeams and careful construction dot the upper reaches of the beach, decorated with twisting spires and the occasional old tire.


Down at the edges of  the water, beyond the sea of driftwood, there are teepees with their long poles driven into the wet sand, rickety lean-tos, simple stacks of wood for resting on while you contemplate the vast Pacific. These structures sit cheerfully, watching the waves, seeming not bothered in the least that they won’t last through the next high tide.

IMG_1547 san gregorio

The guys gaze rapt for a few moments, then bend down and start gathering wood.

san gregorio

IMG_1491 Lucas


I take pencil to paper each evening, looking at calendars and to-do lists and schedules, sketching the plans for the following day. It’s a calming exercise, though in some ways a fruitless one.

salad fixings

Once, a long time ago now, Kyle and I had dinner with some friends in Seattle. They were newly married like we were, and she was starting a graduate degree in green architecture. “The strangest thing,” she said over dessert, “is how you see that real buildings – just like the models you build in studio – have places where the pieces don’t quite fit right, where there are glue puddles or strange bumps, and you have to adjust everything, just slightly, to get it right.” In other words – your perfect plan and your perfect building, while related, are actually neither identical nor perfect.

You see, then, why I think of this.


boss list

Jacob has taken to making what he calls “boss lists” in the mornings – I flush with equal parts embarrassment and pride as he writes up his plans for the day. I’m touched by how much my own routines inform his sense of time and place – touched and also terrified. Our influence as parents is so often invisible, and I worry these lists between my fingers at night, wondering if they are iceberg tips that hint at something huge and deep.

IMG_1704 IMG_1641

But when he writes “Beach” and “Pick oranges” – his four-year-old scrawl is gaining confidence, and I love that these are his certainties. About the frequency with which he includes “vacuum” … well, I suppose we all need some sort of scaffolding to get the real work of our days done. I will pencil in San Gregorio again, for tomorrow.



I know that architecture is life; or at least it is life itself taking form and therefore it is the truest record of life as it was lived in the world yesterday, as it is lived today or ever will be lived…So, architecture I know to be a Great Spirit.      — Frank Lloyd Wright



Watercress and Winter Citrus Salad
This salad makes me think of time away and rejuvenation and spring – perfect in these wintry weeks. It’s a simple salad, nice and light, but filling enough to make a good lunch if your portion is large (and your wee ones don’t steal half your fruit!). The citrus is juicy and barely sweet, the cranberries are tart and chewy, the watercress is peppery and fresh, there is a little crunch from the almonds and the bright dressing ties it all together with just a kiss of sweet and sour and herby.

Watercress is one of my favorite greens (and always makes me think of The Trumpet of the Swan). It has a clean, peppery flavor that can be gentle or quite assertive – I love it with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of honey. Yes, honey! You’ll see. The brightness of the cress is matched by the citrus, and the gently sweet, slightly floral oroblanco really shines here, if you can get your hands on some. But any citrus is welcome, other than a harsh grapefruit, which wouldn’t do competing with the slight bitterness from the greens. We went with oroblanco, blood orange, and our own backyard oranges (which have an excellent tart-tangy sweetness and are of annoyingly unknown variety).

Avocado is wonderful here if you have it, by the way. We didn’t, but next time we will.

This amount is perfect to serve one hungry adult as lunch, or a less-hungry adult and two children as a snack.

2 bunches watercress
2 cups supremed citrus segments (or just peeled and sliced, if you like)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup unsweetened dried cranberries (whole berries if possible)

Juice from one juicy lemon, plus additional lemon juice or vinegar as needed
1 teaspoon honey
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
Leaves from three stems of lemon-thyme, chopped through once or twice

Combine the watercress and citrus, mixing gently.

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients, and taste. Adjust as needed with more lemon juice (or a little dash of vinegar) or more honey. It should taste balanced, but more tart than sweet (the sweet juices from the citrus segments will be adding themselves to the mix when you dress the salad). Drizzle your dressing over the greens/citrus, and mix gently.

Plate your salad, and sprinkle cranberries and almonds over the top. Garnish with a few whole sprigs of lemon thyme leaves, if you’d like.

16 thoughts on “Itself taking form

    • Hi Tea! It’s an amazing place right? I never went there as a kid, but I do have fond summer memories of building with driftwood at beach on Whidbey Island, if you’re looking for something similar in your new neck of the woods …

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