iowa

ON MY MIND / 7

CRSo much on my mind right now. So much. I still feel like I'm catching up on emails and readings after a couple of weeks out of the loop. It was nice to have space and Just Read Books (three whole books in two weeks - oh how I love being away), but it is good to be home and working through some online finds too:

* So much love for this charming bit of humour - it made me laugh out loud quite a bit.

* Portrait of a Marriage in Wartime was about the best thing I've read in a while. Lily's blog is one of my all time favourites, her writing reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver in some ways, maybe her love of the environment, and the way she writes with so much heart and humanity, the way she writes about the details. This was a beautiful picture of a relationship and the different worlds we find ourselves in.

* A little walk my friends and I are hoping to do before Christmas (because obviously I researched bushwalks based solely on their proximity to the Woy Woy fish and chip shop).

Eating: A Manifesto, because I am someone who makes NO APOLOGIES for how much I like to eat and what I like to eat, and I'm sick of other women feeling inclined to. A good friend recently reminded me that potatoes are an 'empty carb' and I wanted to punch her in the face. Let's all just eat and be OK with it.

* My friend Willy wrote a lovely piece about Growing Up in Utopia, or Fairfield, as it were - a pretty special town in Iowa I fell in love with a few years back.

CHAI

MUG GREENAs the weather gets cooler and the nights longer (if it's dark, it's night in my book) I find I'm drinking a whole lot more tea.

I love English Breakfast and of course Earl Grey, but after a few amazing months living in India when I was 19, I've been all about chai. I smiled at every train stop and every market stall in Mumbai as soon as I heard the familiar chant of 'CHAI, CHAI, CHAI'. I really can't get enough, and aside from my dear old friend Surya who makes an amazing brew, nothing since has compared.

But I spent a week in Paris the year before last and happened upon Kusmi Tea. I found their store is in a sweet lane way in the Marais, my favourite part of Paris, and it was so good I bought a box to take home to Jordy (who is also chai-happy after a few weeks in India himself). We rationed the tea bags for a good month back in Sydney before they ran out. And since he is working hard planting apple and pear trees in the depths of Iowa right now, I decided to order a box online to surprise him. As you might imagine, he was pretty damn happy about it...

* Image via Pinterest, I think originally from Beklina's lovely range.

CHRISTMAS EVE

MULEMuch as I miss my loved ones, it’s nice spending Christmas with someone else’s family and experiencing all of their traditions. Jordy’s family puts on a European seafood feast every year on Christmas eve. Aside from the spectacular food, I love that the three days prior are spent mostly in the kitchen, shelling prawns, cleaning squid, preparing octopus and shucking oysters – for me joy really is in the making. I spent two hours at the sink on the 23rd, shelling prawns, smiling at the snow in the fields beyond and listening to Christmas carols with Jordy’s mother. It was a pretty lovely way to spend an afternoon. And since I love to bake, I put together a favourite strawberry cake the morning of Christmas eve, with a little help from Jordy and Bing Crosby. By the afternoon, once the cake was baked and the dishes done, Jordy insisted we get outside in the cold and have a little fun. And my goodness, we really did.

Jordy’s family have an enormous property outside of town where you can see for miles. Last summer his brother Jesse planted apple, pear, cherry and peach trees which thankfully look good, their second winter in. There is new ground set aside for a greenhouse and tractor shed, an icy creek and some very frosty dams at one end, and then nothing but fields of prairie grass and thick snow. It’s actually one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

RIDEAnd one of the best ways to see it, I have to say, is screaming around on the back of a four wheeler at 40 miles an hour. I squealed and laughed and clung on to Jordy’s back as my hands slowly froze up and my thighs raged against the cold wind rushing towards us. It was exhilarating and amazing and probably my new favourite pastime. They also have a thing called a ‘mule’, which is kind of like an off-road golf cart that seats up to five and can go on all terrains. Jesse raced it up hills and along the bank of the river, across patchy fields and through banks of trees, branches hitting the sides and snapping beneath the tough wheels. I was terrified and cold and couldn’t stop smiling.

HOLY SNOW

WOOD SHEDI thought the snow looked amazing from the train, but it is nothing like the depth and bite of walking deep in the woods at our friend’s tree farm, a few days after it has all settled. I was so excited about the whole business, stomping and jumping and squealing with delight the minute we got out of the truck and my boots started crunching the white underfoot. I’d layered up, wearing near everything I own, so was super warm, and was pleased with my new Hunter rainboots, which I thought would keep me dry. And they did, but keep me warm they did not, in spite of three pairs of socks (one being wool). They are rainboots, but not snow boots. We hiked about the property for over an hour, up hills and down (enough to warm my little toes, thankfully), over fallen trees and brambly bushes, all buried under piles of snow. Every footfall was deep and soft.

TREE SHINE

SMILESWe came across a creek, and, much to my dismay, the boys skimmed clear across the frozen parts, not worried that it cracked behind them. I made a firm decision to brave it, and not whine and fret as I might usually, and was across the first part and scrambling up the bank, my gloves wet with snow, before I even knew it. I felt confident and daring and so on the way back, at a slightly wider point twenty minutes later, I had my shining moment. Screaming as I made the first step and heard a gaping crack, I leaped and skimmed and just a few moments later was in the arms of Jordy’s friends, laughing hysterically. Others took a fall, one got rather damp, but I’m told my crossing was the most majestic, and that the ice cracked and broke apart moments after each step like I was in a film. You might say I walked on water. It was terrifying and by far the most fun I’ve had in a very long time.

JORDY* Friends by their wood shed / house - the cosiest and sweetest thing I've seen in a long while. * A little of the winter wonderland I can't stop sighing about * Jordy making a safe crossing

IOWA

SNOW TRAINI’m writing this from the train, somewhere between Illinois and Iowa. Jordy is in the dining cart with his friend Evan and his uncle. They’re playing cards and drinking beer. I’ve been sleeping on and off and I just woke up to snow. Snow as far as I can see outside the window, a blizzard actually, that the driver expects to delay the train considerably. I don’t mind at all though, not a bit. I couldn’t imagine a nicer way to drift through this storm. I’m seeing the mid-west for the first time – it’s a whole other America, all wide streets and quiet towns, neat houses and wheat silos, covered in white as they are. I’ve never known this kind of snow, deep and thick and lasting for days. I’ve only known Adelaide or London snow which falls once every five years and promptly melts, save a few muddy patches here and there. This snow is everywhere, blowing in the wind and resting on trees and cars and houses and schools. I can’t imagine living here, like this, between these white spaces. The ride is only 5 hours or so, and we bought Italian sandwiches from Jordy’s family’s favorite place in Chicago. We had fresh mozzarella and prosciutto and San Pellegrino orange sodas and watched the city drift by, disappearing into white.

I’ll probably fall asleep again soon enough, but for now, the carriage quietly rocking and the sound of the occasional train horn is beautiful. And all this white.

ROAD OF PLENTY

MAPI bought an oversized map of America a few months ago. It’s all muted colours and wriggly lines, and sits on the wall by our bed. I ordered it online, so I can prepare for our roadtrip. Our being Jordy and mine. He is American, so has a first-hand idea of the distance between California and Iowa, having driven it time and time again. Iowa is where he grew up, and California is where he calls home. I, on the other hand, know vaguely my Carolinas, and the specifics of Manhattan, but not a whole lot in between.

Having pinned it to the wall and opened a bottle of red, my first words were: ‘Texas is big’. Overwhelmingly so. This coming from a girl who grew up at the bottom of Australia; the stretch of nothing above and beyond Adelaide is enough to make your eyes water, trying to focus on a town or landmark that isn’t dusty or red. But still, Texas seems dominant.

We live in a very small studio in Sydney and I can glimpse the map from where I sit now. And there’s Texas. I have to squint to find Iowa almost every time.

We’re not actually going to Texas, though, as we head out on this road of plenty. It seems an omission, but of the fifty states and my twelve weeks approved annual leave – already a stretch of my boss’ patience – something had to give. And that something was the great expanse between the seas.

We have our sites set on the East and West, mostly. New York because we could think of no better place to start our journey. New York for me will be about bagels on the Lower East Side, and bikes in Central Park. I like the dispalys at the Natural History Museum and the cheap beers in Brooklyn. It will be three years since I met New York, three years almost to the day, and I couldn’t be happier to close the distance.

From New York it will be onwards to Washington DC and our fill of culture and history and democracy. We will walk the halls of power at the White House, or at least the touristy bits, and exhaust ourselves with Smithsonians, having only three days to master this heritage we have inherited (albeit vaguely filtered, on my part).

On the road again we head south to what I think and hope to be an absolute picture of the good life in Charleston and Savannah. This part of the drive pleases me and I want to take it slow and notice the change of pace as we skirt the Appalachian Mountains and find that dappled coast. I want a few days of calm and iced tea, of sitting on porches and long afternoons.  Some quiet, before things get loud and we head to Nashville and Memphis, straining my lungs singing out just as hard as I can to Hank Williams, and scratchy old Woodie Guthrie recordings I’ve prepared. I hope my man is ready for his share of Johnny Cash and Elvis and beautiful Dolly’s Coat of Many Colours. After all this singing, we wind our way down the Mississippi to New Orleans herself. I’m reading Tennessee Williams and Kate Chopin in preparation, and dreaming of wild trees and sweet whisky and hoping it all tastes as good as I imagine. The idea of beignets alone pleases me. That I get to have them for breakfast seems like a whole other kind of wonderful.

From New Orleans we will fly out to California.  California, I all but sing. I’m longing for this state like a memory. Like I know its dry hills and salty waters. As it is, I’ve hardly been, just five slow hours at an airport terminal a few years ago, sometime before sunrise.

My California is thought out of John Steinbeck novels and watching Gene Kelly films with my grandfather on sick days. Mostly, though, my California is from Joni Mitchell songs. Some people grew up going to church on Sundays, their family in neat rows on pews hearing sermons. I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell on Sundays, all the windows open and my family singing and cleaning, gardening and reading, and always taking their time with breakfast.  Because of Joni I can hear the harmonies of the Ladies of the Canyon when I cook. I feel the heartache and joy of Blue in my romances and in embarking on these travels, feel especially inspired by Hejira. I’ve known all the words to her songs since I was five, but I find as I go through life I hear her voice and poetry echo not just in my head, but in my experiences. She is a familiar choir of truth, wisdom, strength, humour, vulnerability and kindness. She is what I am drawn to and what I am drawn by at the same time.

California also happened to be my man’s hometown for the years before I met him and I want to see his Silverlake, and the sprawling expanse of city from Griffith Park. I told him I want to wander the Rosebowl Flea Markets and the very last tip of the Santa Monica Pier. He says OK, but that there’ll be a lot of freeway in between. He is going to feed me $3 fish tacos from a food truck, the best I’ll ever eat apparently. Food trucks aren’t a thing in Sydney, so I take his word for it.

From LA we will follow the coast south, to a sleepy town called Encinitas that appears to me, out of photographs, as a world of bougainvillea and old houses on clifftops. Houses built just to put windows between everyday life and the wide stretch of ocean. Here we will spend Thanksgiving with family and friends. My first ever Thanksgiving. I sigh at the very idea of a holiday about family, home cooking and gratefulness, three things I hold above almost all else in life.  I feel excited to not only meet the people dear to him, but to share a table with them. I have an idea that we will all take turns remembering the things we are thankful for, as we pass roast pumpkin and red wine. I hope I’m right.

With our bellies and hearts full, we head north. North to San Luis Obispo and the dreamy scape of Big Sur and Monterey. My 17 year-old-self will be dreaming of Kerouac as we follow this romantic coast. Kerouac and Steinbeck again, because I can never seem to get enough of his words. I read and re-read and take it in all anew, each time wondering how he managed to write such a place, and such characters and humanity and hard work into the lives it held.

We’ll wind our way through Napa and lower Oregon slowly, so I can see the redwoods and sequoias. I’ve poured over National Geographic images and read museum-like descriptions of their majesty for years, but nothing will compare to the glory of their height and breadth in person. Years ago, when I was last in New York, I’d been told there was a sequoia cutting at the Natural History Museum. Late to meet friends I was wandering from room to room, glancing sideways through halls and hoping to catch a glimpse of it. I rounded into one room and the golden light from the reflection on the rich wood and the sheer size of the hollow actually took my breath away. I was humbled. The idea of miles of these on end, towering and firm to the ground as we drive north makes my heart flutter.

I understand the Oregon coastline is rough and grey and nothing short of spectacular. I of course know it only as Goonies-country, and will be smiling at every cliff and stormy beach like a 12 year old. As December continues and the temperature drops, we head further north, through Portland. I have friends in Portland, old and dear friends. Friends who make wine. Pinot noir and cold climate wines that my man and I happen to love.

To Washington state and Seattle and another old friend, an old friend of Jordy’s who happens to be pretty damn sweet. I know nothing of this town but I have a feeling he and his lady will paint it at its best. As a girl who’s grown to 31 with hardly a glimpse of snow, I worry about the cold and the wind off the sea in Seattle. This is to say nothing of our flight to Chicago, the original windy city, as it were. But we’ve only a few days there and then it’s on to Iowa and the small town of Fairfield for a white Christmas. I’m so happy to see the town where my man grew up and meet his oldest friends in the world. It’s a whole town that believes in quiet and spending time with your thoughts. Or without them, I suppose, which is a much harder thing to do.

For today, though, still in Sydney’s early spring days, my thoughts are entirely what boots to pack and what to read on the plane, where I left the list of addresses to send postcards home to friends, and whether I’ve lost any pieces to the miniature Scrabble set my aunt lent me.

Just a couple more sleeps till we fly…