Picking up a pen…

Who doesn’t love going to get the post and finding a letter or a card, or even better, a little parcel from a friend or family member that you were not expecting? There is something so lovely about knowing that someone took the time to sit down and tell you just a little something about their day, or what is happening in their life at that moment. There is also something really nice about receiving something tangible and real – a piece of paper that they have touched that is now in your hands.

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February is International Correspondence Writing Month or INCOWRIMO. I have decided to participate this year. So what does this mean? It means that I am committed to writing one letter or card every day for the entire month – that’s 28 cards or letters to people I love and care about (though I am sure that this number will also include a few letters and cards to people in Washington DC expressing my displeasure about a few things too!)

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Letters really do have the power to change history. Just a few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast about something or other and it included a story about the passage of the 19th amendment to the US constitution that gave women the right to vote. I won’t spoil the story for you, suffice it to say that a letter to a young legislator from his good old mum played a pretty critical role in women in the United States having the right to vote! If you are looking for more inspiration for writing a good missive, check out some of these famous correspondents. My favorite – Edward Gorey.

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I will keep you posted (get it?  posted?  haha!) on my progress! In the meantime, who would you most like to receive a letter or card from today? Is it me? Let me know (by mail, please!)

Love, Ave xox

Damascene lentil soup (Shourba Addas)

There is no food quite as good to me as food from the Levant. In 1999 – 2000 I spent a year living in Damascus, Syria (where I met Mr. Peach, in fact) and soon after arriving found the most amazing restaurant – Al Shamiat. My roommates and I would go to Al Shamiat at least four times a week after class for lunch. Everything they made was simple but delicious and I have spent the last decade and a half trying to recreate the flavors that I found in that little hole in the wall.

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One recipe that I was able to approximate pretty easily and early on was their yellow lentil soup or Shourba Addas. This golden, creamy soup is filling and delicious and could not be easier to make. Plus, kids (at least mine) love it which makes it a good go-to for a winter’s day, or as a quick after work supper. What’s especially nice about this soup is that it is thick, seeming like a blended soup, but there is no need for that extra step – after about 40 minutes of simmering, the lentils turn into a gorgeous emulsion all by themselves.

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I hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and keep an eye out for other Damascene recipes on Olives and Peaches – helping to keep a few of the delicious traditions of beautiful Syria alive seems the least we can do right now.

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Ingredients

3 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 small onions (or one large), diced
1/2 tbsp of turmeric
400g/2 cups of split yellow lentils, rinsed
2 bayleaves
2 ltr./8 cups chicken stock
Juice of half a lemon

To serve – lemon wedges, pita chips and chopped parsley

Method:

1. In a heavy pot, melt the butter and add the olive oil to prevent the butter from burning.

2. Add the diced onions, stirring occasionally. Cook until translucent and tender.

3. Add turmeric, stirring to coat the onions so that they are a beautiful golden color and the turmeric is fragrant (about 1 minute)

4. Add the rinsed lentils, stirring well so that they are coated in the butter, onion, turmeric concoction (about 1 minute)

5. Stir in stock – this can be done all in one go, no need to be delicate.

6. Throw in the bayleaves. Go on. Throw them.

7. Bring to the boil and then simmer on low for about 35 – 40 minutes or until the lentils are completely tender, and have lost their shape and the soup is thick. Give it a stir every 10 minutes or so – lentils can sort of sink to the bottom of the pot and if you aren’t paying attention, burn.

8. Serve piping hot with some chopped parsley as garnish and pita chips and lemon wedges on the side.

Getting organized as a working mum

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I can always tell when I feel like things are spiraling a bit out of control in my life because I do one of three things.  I watch makeup tutorials on you tube (thanks Kandee Johnson and Pixiwoo!); I buy cosmetics; or, most frequently, I watch videos and look at photos of planners and notebooks on youtube and/or instagram.

It does seem weird I suppose to find other people’s organizational systems comforting in times of stress.  But I do.  And right now I am in one of those points where I am looking at these sites a lot and trying to get my own systems for keeping work and family life under control geared back up again. 

This year it’s been particularly tricky to feel on top of things because not only did little Felix arrive in February, but we also had a house fire that left us living in temporary accomodations for five months while we managed an unplanned renovation to our house (not something that one would normally do with a 3 month old!).  This, with going back to full-time work and just adjusting to life with a baby again has really put the old coping and organizational skills to work.  Oh yes, and did I mention that Mr. Peach is now making a career transition too?!  Oy Vey!  

Through all of this I have learned some things that have helped me to find a modicum of balance as a working mum of two small kids.  

(1) Write things down – I have the memory of a flea these days. I think it was better before babies, but I can’t remember.  I have to write everything down. Everything. I feel like my life is lists, but even though the lists can get long and complicated, it’s better than forgetting things.  It does require that you look at the list again after you write things down though.  Guess who learned that the hard way…

(2) Write things down in one place (two at most) – This seems obvious to me now, but having spent years and years writing things on little scraps of paper and in different notebooks, its become painfully clear that you need one place to write things down. Having one central place for everything, makes it much easier to stay on top of things. I think I first came across this idea from the flylady website (many years ago), but have since sort of adapted what I do a bit.  Now I use a hybrid “control journal” (which sounds dreary to me) and bullet journal which works very well for me as I use it for both work and personal stuff.  

(3) Make it pretty if it helps – I like my notebook or planner to look nice. Having my book be visually appealing is weirdly important to me.  But I am not the only one.  I know this for a fact because there are so many people out there that do incredible things with their planners and bullet journals.  If you need inspiration just search for #bulletjournal on instragram and you will be amazed!  

(4) Review your lists on a monthly, weekly and daily basis – After reading Getting Things Done by David Allen I have really adopted the idea that regular review of your lists and priorities is the lynchpin to any system.  Without reviewing what you have done and the next steps for you to make progress on any of the 150 projects you have going on in your life, you will quickly find yourself discouraged and lost, and all the work you put into keeping your lists is wasted.  

Plus, if you are someone who is able to come up with long-term goals, you can use your monthly, weekly and daily planning sessions to really ensure that the things that you are focused on are what is truely important to you and where you want to be headed.  Goal-setting is something that I am trying to do better on myself, so if you have any recommendations of books to read or things to try, please let me know!  

(5) Recognize that your life cannot easily be divided between work and family – this has been a big one for me as I have eased back into work. While it would be nice to think that there is “work time” and there is “personal time” unfortunately, that’s just not the case.  I find myself scheduling doctor’s appointments and work and writing emails while I am rocking a little one to sleep.  That’s just the way it is.  But having everything in one place, using a system that works for me and is responsive to this reality makes me feel less terrible about it.

(6) Planning is self care, but you need to plan FOR self care too – As a mum, whether you work outside the home or inside the home, I have come to realize that the entire family relies on me for just about everything.  My state of mind, health and well-being has a direct impact on my lovies.  For that reason it’s critical that I do what you can to stay sane – from having a book that helps me feel like I can cope managing everyone’s stuff, to making sure that I have time for contemplation, and exercise (well, I am working on this part!). For me, planning is self care in that it makes me feel a little more like I can balance all of the demands on my time, and also helps me to ensure that I make time for myself where I can so that I can really be present for my family the rest of the time.

What do you do to stay on top of things?  I totally geek on this stuff, so please let me know!

Love, Ave

Orchid you not!

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I am a relative newcomer to orchid fandom.  For most of my life I felt that orchids fell into the category of “things that grandmas like” and that they were next to impossible to keep and care for.  Then I was given an orchid or two, and I fell in love with the longevity of the blooms and the beauty of the plants as well as the flowers. 

I, by no means, consider myself an orchid expert at this point – rather a novice with aspirations for orchid greatness at some point (probably when I am, in fact, a grandma). That being said, there are a few things that I have learned about orchids that I feel compelled to share.  So here  are eight tips for orchid care that I wish I had known years ago:

  1. Don’t be afraid!:  For many people, myself included, orchids at first seem intimidating and overwhelming.  I found myself wracked with anxiety about how to care for these plants that have a reputation for being finicky and difficult.  How often and how much do I water?  What kind of light do they need?  What bedtime stories should i read them?  In response to these and many other questions I turned, of course, to my mother, who over the years has managed to successfully care for dozens of orchids.  In fact, she runs an orchid orphanage of sorts, growing and caring for orchids that she has been given, that she has bought, and even some that she has found on the streets of London, tossed in the rubbish bin by the bus stop.  Her advice: “don’t be afraid.  The very worst that can happen – you can enjoy the forced blooms that made you buy the orchids in the first place and then you kill it.  Your anxiety about the plant isn’t helping you or the plant, so just stop it.”  Point taken.
  2. Pick your orchid wisely: The choice that you make when you initially purchase an orchid is critical to your long-term success in having it flourish and re-bloom for you later on.  A wonderful woman at my work who is the most amazing, self-taught flower arranger gave me this advice:
    • Look for a plant with bright green leaves – they should be thick and full and a healthy bright color.
    • Look for a plant with lots of bright green roots.  take the orchid plant out of the decorative pot that it is in in the shop and look through the plastic inner pot. how do those roots look?  do they look thick, firm and healthy?  Avoid plants that have lots of brown or shriveled roots – these plants are not doing well.
    • Choose a plant that has more than one stalk if you can, and one that has several unopened buds.  In the right spot, all of these buds will open and you may have several months of beautiful blossoms to enjoy.
  3. Make sure you have a good containers for your orchid: Orchids do well if they are in a clear container.  Not always the most beautiful option, but they photosynthesize through their roots and so any way that you can get more light to their roots the better.  You can find special orchid pots online.  I use sort of plain plastic ones because, let’s face it, we’re looking at the plant and not the pot.  imgp0257
  4. Water regularly but not too much: Orchids need to have well moistened orchid medium every ten days or so.  After repotting my orchids recently,  I have taken to giving the plants a really thorough soak, running cool water over the roots for a minute, then leaving the pot in a bowl of water for about 30 minutes so that the growing media can get really wet.  After draining I put them back in their little spot.  They seem pretty happy with this so I try not to overthink it.  
  5. Put them in a good, not too sunny, sunny spot: Orchids like indirect, bright light.  They do well placed near our south facing windows. They do well some distance from my mum’s west facing windows.   
  6. Keep out of the way of clumsy people (including me): Obvious.  But let me tell you, my otherwise charming husband has an amazing ability to knock over my somewhat top-heavy orchids.  Disaster!  One plant had leaves broken (I tried taping the pieces of the leaf back together – you will be shocked to learn that that didn’t work well!), and another had the stem with the blooms snapped right off.  Suffice it to say, try and put your plants some place where they will not fall victim to such terrors.  Almost as soon as I wrote this, I knocked my most lovely orchid over.  No breaks, but isn’t that always the way?fullsizeoutput_cf5
  7. Don’t throw away the plant once the blooms are gone:  A lot of people dispose of their orchids once the blooms have faded assuming that a forced orchid won’t re-bloom easily if at all.  While it can be a challenge to get your orchids to re-bloom, with a little patience, many plants will reinvest in blossoms.  My mum has had some orchids that have bloomed more than once a year, every year for 15 years!  Don’t throw the plants away – learn to love the thick waxy leaves which are beautiful in their own right, and enjoy watching as the plant makes decisions about how to invest its energy – new leaves, new blooms, who knows?  Either way, they are lovely!
  8. Be patient: Finally, patience is the key.  It might take a little while for your orchids that were forced to bloom in green house to be ready to bloom again.  Love them, care for them – they will probably reward you.