STARTING OVER – STEP 2
“Starting over?” he asks, full well knowing the answer, his question merely facetious and playful. “Let’s see,” he says, gaily rubbing his hands together in anticipation of all the activities born of this wiping the slate clean: the pure, unadulterated pleasure he has in going through stacks of papers for dividing into “keep”, “toss” and “file away”; combing through the minute details of years’ worth of bank statements and bills looking for errors; drawers and closets to be cleared out and straightened in a way that reminds me eerily and, I must say, fearfully of my own father on one of his cleaning sprees. I don’t know whether to tremble or to laugh at that odd, disarming glint in his eyes! Crazy eyes? The excitement is palpable in his every word, every movement as he rushes into his office and swings open the door of the cabinet where all of the household files are kept, his only problem is deciding where to start first. He adores the satisfying snap of the elastic band on each cardboard file folder he fills; with the flourish of his marker labeling the contents and his joyous, triumphant shout of “file closed!” he signals one more step taken and I know that he is happy and occupied.
We are on the threshold of a new life, and what better way to begin than to clean up, pare down and start afresh? Take it from me: starting over is much easier when the weight of years of living, collecting and neglect are sorted, organized and lightened. We have done this more times than we are prepared to admit.
The very first time we picked up and went the burden was so much lighter. We had been married for a mere handful of years and were still as poor as church mice. The mover arrived to pack up and load the truck and as he peeked into our tiny 3-room love nest, he looked up at me and asked, “Where is all the rest?” Well, this is it… our meager belongings did not even fill up the company’s smallest van. But no matter; happy we were back in those simple days of hand-to-mouth, living on love and laughter.
From France to Italy then back again and in between we had begun to amass what some would describe as worldly possessions, those objects one teaches oneself to hold dear, cling onto as if life depended on the belonging: furniture, clothing, pretty little knick knacks and gewgaws with no obvious purpose except as things of beauty or souvenirs of events long gone. And even so, we had separated out, boxed up and delivered carton upon carton of old clothing to the local church, tossed out what we thought that we could live without, yet…yet… We had started our long journey of accumulating papers, forms, sheets upon sheets of information and administrative paperwork, proof of our existence; the signs and weight of adulthood; the life of expats, parents, the employed, the responsible: stack upon stack, file upon file of paperwork. Not to mention the books! We had grown from half a moving van to one and a half in a mere seven years and thus did we pack up and move it all north.
Our next re-creation was even weightier yet lighter in that we had severed the shackles and bonds to an old, sad life and unhappy situation. We left behind job, schools, house and darkness and carried our belongings westward to a lighter, brighter place, a new, sunshine-filled home that we could make our own, new and better schools that would motivate our sons and life in the (not-so) big city. Husband spent the next year and a half hammering, scraping, painting, pushing around heavy objects. He went through cartons and files, sent plastic trash bag after plastic trash bag downstairs and out to the dump. He rubberbanded old bills, bank statements and Italian administrative forms into neat, concise, labeled piles and stored them away in shiny new file boxes. By the time he started a new job, the apartment was no longer a demolition site, nor were we living as squatters in our own home. A place for everything and everything in its place… And life went on happily. Husband had, at the same time, rearranged the entire neighborhood as well, having gleefully spent his spare time making phone calls and writing letters to city hall, neighborhood committees, local businesses getting everyone to follow the rules, eliminating the delivery trucks who would line up under our kitchen and livingroom windows every morning at 4:30 and keep their engines running until the shops opened at 7, and pushing the city to send police and clean-up crews to our area more often to take care of the local riff raff. Whew! He loves the busy work, he loves the satisfaction of putting everything into nice, neat, predictable order.
And now back to the old drawing board.
So let’s go through the steps, it is as easy as 1, 2, 3:
Step 1 : As we have already discussed, the first step is simply a matter of decision followed swiftly by a stroke of the pen, a letter signed, sealed and delivered, the closing of one door and the opening of the next. Easy peasy when one has hopes and dreams, ideals and scruples, confidence and just a bit of craziness. And, all of a sudden, one finds oneself alone with spouse, dog and sons and facing the realities of the situation. And time for a little time off.
Step 2 : This is where one gets one’s life in order, physically, mentally, body and soul. Yes, you must be willing to sever the ties to the past and part with certain items that you think that you simply cannot live without. You must learn to slow down, which for some might just be the hardest part!
Now listen and learn:
Relax. Kick back and enjoy your freedom, for the time will soon be upon you when serious thought and planning must commence. Take up a hobby, take long walks in the countryside, paint, draw or cook. Stroll through the city and experience the life of this place you only saw on your way to and from work; get to know the activity that bustles through the streets during normal working hours. Enjoy the sunshine and appreciate that you no longer must spend your days cooped up inside an office under artificial lights. Start a blog, start writing that book, spend afternoons at the swimming pool or outside with your camera. Research your genealogy. Do all those things that the old nine-to-five (or in our case, the old eight-to-eight) forced you to put off. Chill out while you can. One must be totally relaxed, have a mind free of worry in order to move on in all serenity to Step 3. You never know what having a clear head can do to your outlook on life!
Pare it down. File folders, rubber bands and shredder at the ready, be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get down and dirty! Go through your papers, official and otherwise, and toss what you absolutely are not required to hold onto by law or security. 15-year-old medical registration forms or bank cards from another country for a bank account that has long been closed? Receipts for appliances purchased so long ago that you no longer own said appliances? Twenty-year-old phone and electric bills? Baby clothes that no longer fit your babies (who are now in their twenties)? Go on, it is only painful at the beginning. It does get easier, I promise.
Lighten the load. Gather together books never read and lug them over to the closest used bookstore and sell them. Think of all the new books that cash will buy! Dig out all clothes not worn once during the last year…or two, wash them, fold them and carry them over to the Red Cross container. Ah, you will feel not only lighter but better for the anonymous donation.
Go for broke. He may have hung up his suits, cleaned and pressed, alongside the work shirts and silk ties and gone casual, sporting old jeans, ratty sneakers and a sweater but who says that you can’t dress up? All those $300 shoes, beautiful jewelry and lovely skirts that were so carefully saved to be worn and shown off at company holiday parties or cocktail soirées given by the mayor? What are you waiting for and who knows what tomorrow will bring? And who says one can’t get dressed to the nines just for a trip to the market or the post office? Channel your own Eva Gabor on Green Acres or Ginger on Gilligan’s Island… Feel great, look great, you are great!
Sense of humor. Once so sophisticated, stern and respectable, it’s time to let one’s hair down (figuratively for * ahem * some of us) and let loose. Even through the most difficult times and even when one is in doubt, always keep that silly sense of humor intact, laugh often, laugh out loud and surely laugh at yourself. Jump on the couch, run through the house in your underwear, do imitations and watch every silly, crazy, oddball movie that is for rent on the rent-a-movie channel. Just have fun! Oh, and did I mention laugh?
Early to bed, early to rise… used to be our credo. Like the old farm folk that we had become, we were up with the sun and down and out with the sun as well. Many were the evenings that son walked in at the end of his school day, looking for dinner before his friends began showing up to work and there he would find his parents yawning, dog walked, shutters closed. He would roll his eyes and, between disbelief and disgust, he would mock us for being old. “Did you have your soup? Are you off to bed now?” and sheepishly we would have to say “Yes.” Now we revel in the late hours, a second glass of wine in front of a movie. We thrill in the slow, lazy mornings, those glorious grasses matinées, lying late in bed with a book, no obligations, no time card to punch or clock ticking. Only one small dog waiting to be taken out. And even so, Marty is often to be found sound asleep in the sun when we do finally decide to start our day. Ain’t life grand?
Let your imagination run wild. Flip through magazines; watch travel documentaries or food programs; stare at that map tacked up on the livingroom wall. Think of all the fabulous places that are on the planet where you could unpack your suitcases and start a new life! Cultures and cuisines to explore, landscapes and peoples once unknown are yours to discover! Think big, dream far and open up to any and all possibilities. Now is the time for dreaming and you never know where it may lead you.
Get in shape! Take long walks or bike rides (even if the bike is stationary and in front of a dvd). Swim. Plan a weeklong trek or biking trip with spouse (oh, yes, more to come on that!). After years of sitting behind the wheel of a car, at a desk or in front of the TV, it is time to lose that spare tire, thunder thighs and aching back and become the best that you can! Over 50? You will soon start to feel – and look – 30 again! And you will be all the more ready for the next battle and Step 3!
Eat well, eat lighter! In our desire to get in shape and feel better, I have put aside the rich tomato sauce and the heavy layer of gooey cheese that usually adorns our homemade pizza and gone green! Gorgeous, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, nutty grilled strips of tender zucchini, tangy feta, the salty bite of Greek olives and the delicate bitterness of fresh rocket adorn this wonderful springtime pizza. Add the luxury of marinated artichoke hearts, slices of stunning tomates noires, “black” tomatoes, and the snap of pine nuts and the meal is complete. Cool and fragrant, light yet so satisfying, these pizzas make the perfect springtime or summer meal, adorned with the best and freshest of the warm-weather season. Whether dieting, looking for something cool and garden fresh or simply in the mood for something delicious, all that is required is a bit of homemade bread or pizza dough baked thin and crispy or thick and chewy and any of these toppings you desire.
I would love to share this with Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting!
VEGETABLE PIZZA OR FOCACCIA BIANCA
Vegetable-topped baked pizza, focaccia or fried piadina
Pizza will be larger and thinner, a crispy base for your salad and toppings.
Focaccia will be smaller and thicker, crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside like bread.
Piadina, rather than baked in the oven, are cooked like pancakes or crêpes in a skillet on the stove and will be much chewier and can be folded around the topping as filling. The piadine can be made as thin or as thick as one likes. The thinner will be easier to eat rolled up or folded while the thicker will be best eaten flat.
This dough recipe makes enough for about 8 dinner plate-sized thin pizzas or 4 family sized focaccie. I won’t give quantities for your pizzas, focaccie or piadine as it all depends on how many people you are serving, what kind of base you desire (each diner may choose his or her own) or how thick or thin. And as for toppings, I have listed what I craved, what I wanted. You do the same!
1 tennis-ball-sized round of bread or pizza dough per person/ per serving (find the recipe here or here)
Olive oil for brushing
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper
Roasted cherry tomatoes (instructions follow)
Oven-grilled zucchini strips (instructions follow)
Jar marinated artichoke hearts
Handful pine nuts, lightly toasted in a skillet or in the oven
Anything that grabs your fancy
To Roast the Cherry Tomatoes:
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Place about 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ to 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar or a pinch of sugar in a large glass baking dish. Slice a clove or two of peeled garlic and add to the baking dish. Toss the cherry tomatoes lightly in the oil mixture then sprinkle with a pinch of fleur de sel and a grinding or two of black pepper.
Roast in the oven for 20 minutes then turn the grill on and continue to roast until the tomatoes begin to color, just a couple of minutes. Remove from the oven.
Keep the grill lit, raise the oven rack up closer to the grill and prepare the zucchini:
Rinse and pat dry 2 medium zucchinis, trim and discard the two ends of each. Cut each zucchini in half widthwise. Slice each half lengthwise in thin slices and line up on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Lightly brush each slice with olive oil then grill until tender and beginning to color.
Prepare the pizza or focaccia bases:
Turn the oven temperature (or preheat the oven) to 425°F (220°C) – lower to 400°F (200°C) if using convection or fan-assisted.
On a floured work surface, roll out a tennis ball-sized piece of bread or pizza dough to form a very thin, plate-sized disc. Carefully and loosely roll the dough around the rolling pin and lift onto a parchment paper-lined baking or pizza tray. Unroll. Brush lightly with olive oil and dust with a pinch or two of fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper.
Bake for about 10 minutes or until puffed and evenly golden brown (carefully lift up a corner and verify that the underside of the pizza is also golden brown).
You can also make small, saucer-sized, thicker rounds of focaccia. The thicker the round of dough, the longer it will take to bake.
Slide the baked pizzas or focaccie onto wooden cutting boards or directly onto individual dinner plates.
Lightly brush the bottom of a dinner plate-sized skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high flame or heat. Roll out a piece of dough (size depends on how large and how thick you want each piadina as well as the diameter of your skillet) and brush the top lightly with olive oil. Carefully lift the disc of dough up and place in the skillet, the olive oil-brushed side up. Cooked until the bottom side is cooked and begins to color. Flip and cook the other side. Serve immediately, topped with the toppings.