Summer 2014 will go down in my mental history books as the summer when: Tim and I drove a friend's beat-up truck to East Nashville so we could load my old roommate's queen-sized mattress and box spring, strap it in…
I’d eaten at Tim’s approximately two times when I started to sense a theme. When that guy makes a salad, he makes it a particular way. Maybe everybody does this? Over the following years and months, I’ve eaten this same basic salad with him alongside grilled cheese sandwiches, at fancy dinners we’ve thrown for friends, during Sunday night barbecues, on lazy weeknights and in many spaces in between. I’ve eaten it so many times with him that it’s truly become our salad, the one we always make, the fallback, the standby, the one we’re calling The House Salad, with Cucumbers and Tomatoes.
Tim and I live in the downstairs of a 1940s-style house; I may have mentioned this before. If you walk into our living room from the front porch, you see built-ins around the fireplace, stuffed with the combined libraries of 20+ years of separate lives: a few textbooks, many novels, the guidebook and accompanying tapes for a ‘How to Speak Italian’ course. For the first few months we lived together, the mantel between these shelves was completely bare; December brought a $5 fresh pine wreath from Aldi, which we left mounted weeks past New Year’s; we finally threw it in the fireplace in February, planning to watch it burn, but it’s still sitting there. In its stead are perched a giant canvas engagement shot, a few framed prints and a wooden letter “M” I spray-painted white in a few Pinterest-driven weeks last winter.
Besides the ottomans and the rug, everything in this living room is either from our previous apartments or hand-built by Tim; that’s true in most of the house. The leather couch: from his old apartment with two other guys. The coffee tables: my former nightstand and Tim’s former filing cabinet. As we usher you through to the dining room, we’ll give you the biographies of the entertainment center (built a few weeks before the wedding), the dining table (finished in those days when I was in Chicago making wedding favors) and the buffet (brought to our house just after we got rid of our first Christmas tree).
It’s a small and cozy two-bedroom, just the sort of place you’d think of when you think young newlyweds. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in charm, with beat-up hardwood floors, painted but paneled walls, white crown molding and natural light brought in through lots of windows—at least one in every room.
While you’re sitting at the table, we might tell you how last summer when we toured apartments, this place was last in the long line of possibilities we looked through and, by far, the best. I’d kept a list back then, with all the things we’d hoped for in our future home: an extra bedroom, a garage, windows in the bathroom and kitchen. This place had every one. And sometimes, still, we can’t believe we live here.
After we hand you your plates, piled high with baby spinach and roasted peaches and goat cheese, we might whisper that we’d stay forever if it weren’t for the smell of smoke filling our bathroom lately or the strange phenomenon we witnessed when our neighbor removed items from our trash can and took them to his backyard (!), or the growing desire we both have to plant a garden and, to watch it grow.
We talk to you from the kitchen, a white, 100-square-foot galley-style space with gray laminate countertops and a floor our landlord laid before we moved in (chosen primarily, we think, because it’s the cheapest kind they sell at Home Depot). There’s a white stone bowl with red tomatoes to the left of the sink and a handful of peaches set beside it.
Tim and I cooked together when we lived in different states and would visit for quick weekends; we cooked together when we lived in Nashville in different houses and traded dinners at his place or mine; but now, in this little house, we cook together constantly, swapping tasks and sharing chores for every meal.
I wipe down the counters one last time before we join you at the table, and Tim reaches into the fridge, past spinach and Pecorino and yesterday’s zucchini fritters, to grab the water pitcher, which, we apologize, is for some reason, the only drink we have on hand today.
Around the table, sitting at mismatched chairs beneath a vintage glass chandelier with cobwebs on it, we look at our plates, like we do most nights, and they’re as colorful and full as any from a five-star salad course in town.
With you, we give thanks. Because if any part of our simple, newlywedding life is mature and adult-like and settled, it’s not our careers or our furniture or our savings plans—in truth, we’re more likely to buy extra produce than new stocks—sitting before the spread before us, enjoying it with you, we know, it’s this, the way we eat.
I know I could write this post about our holidays—our first Christmas traveling to both Ohio and Chicago; our first year of giving gifts as a couple; our first Christmas stretching between two families because we are our now our own. I could tell you about all the food we ate—the amazing, high-quality, enjoyable meals of homemade braciole and fork-tender pot roast and filet mignon kabobs. I could tell you, the way I’ve told Tim, how humbling it is to be outgiven, the way we were by both our families, who generously, thoughtfully gave us with gifts far beyond our needs or expectations.
But the truth is, the only thing that keeps coming out when I try to write this post is something much more simple, something much less interesting or profound. It’s the thing I can’t stop thinking about lately, the reasoning behind purchases and lunches and a fridge stocked with greens:
I love salad.
I know, I know, this isn’t the kind of revelatory factoid you want someone to drop on you at a dinner party. It doesn’t provoke much response or invite lengthy discussion. Salad is boring. What’s there to say about it? We eat salads before we do something interesting, like, say, have a chicken dinner. Yet nonetheless, I love it, I really do. I love the way I feel when I eat salad, particularly afterwards, so light and refreshed and, I don’t know, clean. I started craving it in the midst of our holidays, probably when my digestive system was so overloaded with back-to-back-to-back delicious meals that it didn’t know what to do with itself, and I’ve had one almost every day since.
And lately, there’s been one ingredient in particular I’ve been especially loving on my salads: pomegranates. Tim showed me how to harvest the seeds—arils, they’re called—and our local Aldi sells them for less than a dollar a piece, so we’ve had pomegranates on our salads like routine.
(Our method, if you’re curious, goes like this: cut off the tip of the fruit and carefully slice four or five indentations, top-to-bottom around, as if you’re cutting it into wedges. In a bowl filled with water, separate those chunks under water and pull apart the seeds. Everything but the seeds floats to the top and can be discarded; the water can be strained. Once you get the hang of it, it takes 10 to 15 minutes. And in the end, you have a bowl full of juicy red jewels to enjoy.)
On Sunday, for our weekly dinner with friends, which this week fell on New Year’s Day, we brought the salad pictured in this post, one that combined pomegranates with sweet satsumas and thin pieces of red onion.
I love how colorful it looks, how reminiscent of other seasons, the kinds filled with flowers and farmers markets, and I love how it pairs different flavors and textures: crunchy pomegranate seeds that burst into juice, sweet citrusy satsumas, spicy red onions.
Oh salad. There’s just nothing like it. And while you could say it’s just that crazy salad love talking, after three helpings, I could have had more.
Somewhere in the midst of the last two weeks—nestled right in amongst planning a wedding, looking for a place to live, climbing (up ropes! for my first! time! ever!) at Cummins Falls, watching fireworks, meeting and spending time with the very lovely Joanna and Brad (and feeling like we’ve been friends a long time), attending a Vitamix party, getting my car’s brakes fixed, and making two batches of coconut macaroons—I hit a pretty important milestone:
For those of you who’ve been with me on this entire journey, you’ll know it’s something worth celebrating, which is exactly what I intend to do with this post: as of this month, I’ve been self-employed for an entire year.
Milestones have a way of making you think about things, if you know what I mean. You look back, you look forward, you compare where you are with where you’ve been, with where you thought you’d be. A year into something, you have a better perspective than you did two months in. And so, a year into working for myself, I say this more confidently than I could last summer: the last twelve months have been pretty amazing and truly a gift.
It was because of self-employment that I could move to Nashville, right in the beginning of February, without needing to quit one job and find another. It was working from home that’s allowed me to take trips back to Chicago almost every month since then—a rare blessing when living far from your family. And while it’s true I make less money than I did in my office job, I’ve still had every need supplied. What’s more, I’ve learned (and am learning) a lot about dependence through this variable income, things I didn’t know I needed to learn—and while I might not have chosen to learn them this way, I’m thankful for them, too.
During the first ten months of the last twelve, there were times when I felt the insecurity of a changing income, sure, but overall, I saw amazing things happen, and these things helped me grow in trust: when one client would leave, another would come; when one project ended, another would start; businesses approached me with work. I’ve told so many people, I had known it was God providing for me when I had regular paychecks every two weeks; but in this new lifestyle, I’ve really felt it.
The last couple months, though, have been stretching in an entirely different way, as work has slowed down and my income along with it. I’ve prayed. I’ve been tempted to worry. I’ve prayed more. Then I’ve been asked to give and, in faith, I’ve tried to open my hands, albeit grudgingly, and I’ve realized how much I still need to learn about trusting God—my provider when I have money to spare, but still my provider when I think I don’t.
Looking back at the last year and all the blessings and struggles and lessons it’s brought, I’m hit with the same things you’re probably hit with when you reflect on the last year of life or, marriage or, work or, something else. I’m thankful.
I’m thankful for the providence that’s brought me up to this exact point, today, where I sit, rich in time and rich in love, loving working from home but willing to return to an office. I’m thankful for the sovereign hand that’s been overseeing this whole process, overseeing me, using all of these things for good.
And I’m thankful for how looking back makes me more excited about looking forward—to whatever the next year will bring.