Monday, March 20, 2017

We Keep Changing Things Up

As many of you know, St Patrick's Day is a pretty huge family ritual day for our family. The Irish roots run deep and it seemed like a way we could touch our heritage.

And no, not by drinking green beer under a leprechaun poster! Years ago I found a lovely picture book about St. Patrick written and illustrated by one of our favs, Tomie de Paolo. Back in the early homeschooling days, we cut out potatoes into stamps with three leaf clovers and celtic cross. We made a green and gold tablecloth out of an old white sheet. Said tablecloth is still in existence, but we forgot to use it this year. Every year we would invite stacks of little friends over for a big tea party, with cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, fruit, of course loads of homemade soda bread and jam, the special porcelain tea cups, followed by family dinner of corned beef and cabbage. Every year we would read aloud the story of St. Patrick, one of our heroes, and be grateful for his life.

One year we even took our feast and table cloth with us to Big Bend National Park, all the way from Ft. Worth, our home at the time, and celebrated in the Chisos Mountains, savoring our hot tea in the cool spring mountain air.

The past few years we have had kids go different directions and to tell the truth, it always felt a bit painful as we tried to reinvent this tradition.

This year, I was busy at work when I realized I forgot to buy corned beef. Never mind. We had soda bread. We took it and a bunch of fresh brussels sprouts to mom and dad's place. No tablecloth...But we sauteed cabbage with onions and bacon, probably more irish than corned beef anyway! Rose went to the garden with Dad and they picked a huge bowl of kale which I sauteed with garlic and olive oil. A bunch of buttery leaf lettuce and ruby red radishes for salad. We sat at the table, thankful, plates filled with nutritious, beautiful green stuff, grown and prepared with love.

What more could we wish for?

Seemed pretty awesome to me. But for goodness sake! Next year, please help me remember to carry over the tablecloth!!! And for Daddy and Thomas's sake, we had better cook some potatoes!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Few of My Favorite Things

We ran away to Big Bend National Park for a few days this spring break. A site near the Rio Grande, great views of Sierra del Carmen in Mexico and the Chisos Mountains to the west. Shorts weather, a bit breezy, perfect for sleeping outdoors.

The coyotes yipped and screamed in the not too far distance. The remote paths and roads were crawling with visitors from all over the world. Sometimes we locals get a bit impatient when we have to deal with traffic jams in the middle of our special place. Then I think about all those people, enjoying the amazing outdoors, breathing the fresh air, especially all those college kids. They could be sitting in their dark apartments in the city, faces glowing in blue white isolation. Instead, they are climbing, delighting, exploring, sharing days with friends, making real connections.

For years I have had to fight to find desert solitude. Planning, preparing, phone calls, just to get everyone squared away so I could find the space to breathe by myself.

This year I rushed down to the park a day early to prepare base camp. Kids weren't ready to go, they wanted to meet me next day. So did my parents.

No problem for me! I carried down food for two armies, got situated, watched the full moon rise, felt crazy nature energy, read books, slept late.

They all trickled in the next afternoon, we worked together preparing a giant meal. My dad and Rose sat and helped me scoop out seeds from a couple dozen jalapenos. Then they filled them with cream cheese and garlic. I grilled them and some venison fajitas. Along with plenty of red peppers and onions. We made a giant bowl of fresh pico de gallo, see recipe below. Tortillas warmed on the grill, filled with good things. Mom took pictures and breathed inspiration for future paintings.

A hike down to the Rio Grande, rock skipping, rock throwing over to Mexico (Thank God no one has gotten around to putting up a wall yet!) and a sunset that cast pink and lavender glow over the universe as we knew it.

Plenty more fun, but by the next afternoon, everyone decided to go their separate ways. All of a sudden, I found myself alone. And I didn't even have to work for it.

I gave half a thought to going back home to work. Camp site was reserved for two more nights. I decided to stay.

It felt weird.

Not being alone. I have no problem with the quiet.

What felt weird was reality sinking in that my kids are growing up and moving on. They like to go camping with their pals. They enjoy their time with me, but it is as it should be. From me they learned to love the Big Bend, now they love to show it off to their friends.

I get this inkling I won't be fighting so hard to grab some solitude. I get this inkling I will have to fight hard to make family campouts happen. It is a battle worth fighting.

We made some super sweet memories. I enjoyed some time in my healing place and read three books plus quite a bit poetry. Managed to get back home and fit a week's worth of work into four days and still work in my garden.

Tradition. How many spring breaks have we enjoyed in the Big Bend? I don't know, but it feels right and good, no matter what flavor or constellation.

Pico de Gallo, my dad's recipe

*one onion, minced finely. Any onion good, but a red onion is super yummy
*two or three tomatoes, chopped finely
*one or two jalapenos, minced. Here's a little secret: when you shop for jalapenos, we have noticed that the ones with a blunt end are less spicy than the peppers with a pointed end! Why don't you test our hypothesis?!
*juice of two limes, or more, to your taste, we love lime!
*two or three cloves garlic, minced
*one bunch cilantro, chopped finely
*salt to taste

Stir together, try to wait until flavors blend together. If you can. We find that we have to taste for salt, for lime, and before you know it, half the bowl and half a bag of corn tortilla chips has disappeared into thin air!

Friday, March 10, 2017

We Have Everything Inside of Us, even when things look wintery and barren...

Oh my. It has been so warm, the fig trees have leafed out. Baby figs are so adorable. To think, all winter long, those leaves and figs were tucked in nicely, well-hidden in the smooth, gray branches. Seeing them, exposed, vulnerable, makes me worry a bit. A hard freeze would definitely do them in. If I were well prepared, I could cover the large trees with giant tarps, and put a little lamp or something underneath. That might help protect them.

No freeze in the near forecast. Fingers crossed.

Dreaming of Ginger Figgy Tarts in the bakery.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Record.

Evening before last I planted a bed with Provider green beans. An heirloom variety supposedly good for germinating in cooler soils. And planted another bed with danvers carrots. The wisteria are in full bloom and the air is perfumed by the old fashioned scent. I am tempted to take the olive tree and the lime tree to their summer positions on the gazebo, but let's be real! We are in the high desert and frosts hit intermittently until early May. So I know some of my gardening is a gamble, but with sheets, thermal cloth and crossed fingers, plus some global warming trends, I figure a bit of a gamble isn't going to cost me so much.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Medicine. Good Nutrition.

Yesterday I didn't have to go into work until noontime. That left me some morning choices! Clean house, work on paperwork, or garden.

Yes! I made the right choice!! Spinach, tatsoi, arugula, chard, some herbs, a few tomatoes and one jalapeno, stuck in a warm microcosm part of the backyard, as a gamble.

I felt more energized and happy than I had in a long time. Energetic enough to take a two mile walk with Nora, cook dinner, and then clean the kitchen and mop the filthy floor.

Growing food is good for my soul. I am grateful for the window of opportunity.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Happy Bouquets Decorate My House Again (On why living in far, southwest Texas is a good idea for me)

The wisteria, bare branches, a bit scraggly, throw out buds and flowers, in defiance. Defiance of what? she asks. The red bud, stuck in between bare limbed, scraggly pomegranate and naked Rose of Sharon, brags flamboyantly, hot pink buds glowing in the backyard.

Spring takes me by surprise, every year a wonder. Just about the time I think I can bear the dark of winter not one day longer, she gently takes me by the face, turns me around, reminds me, indeed, signs of the resurrection are all around. The red catawba grapevine I planted last spring, along with the two champagne grapevines (not for champagne, but for adorable, tiny little grapes) are now unfurling their bright green leaves. Chives in the herb garden are standing up straight, letting me know they would love to be sprinkled on some deviled eggs. Hens are back in business, thank goodness! Each day I am happy to receive their payment for room and board in a basket of pink and tan and robins egg blue eggs, which will feed me omelets and will make cookies for the bakery, and pound cakes for girls.

I don't really feel like smiling on the outside. But my insides are quite thankful for the friendly seasonal reminder to keep moving forward.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Must Be Spring?

The other day I found a perfectly lovely nest, nestled in the vines I was pruning. Silvery strands of weeds, golden grasses, shredded grocery store plastic bags, all gently woven together into a transitory sculpture that gave me delight.

I called Theo and Rose, we paused our labors for a moment to smile.

A few days later, we continued our work, pruning the vines before bud break. Theo called my attention to a painted bunting, perched on the fence. A few yards away, a large flock, the village, fluttered and danced. I was surprised to see so many of those little gems. They must be journeying from their warm winter holidays. I wonder where they summer?

Tuesday I drove home at dusk from my journey to Odessa for a six month check up with the oncologist. When back, I poured myself a glass of wine and walked around the backyard, feeding the chickens, fixing their fence from foxy marauders, watered some plants. Dozens of vultures swirled and swayed in the evening sky, colorful sunset, dusty air refracting the pink and gold. I called Nora out. She joined me and we sat in the swing, feeling warm and calm.

One night last week I drove home at dark. Something swirled and rolled in the middle of the street. As I grew closer, the headlights revealed a couple of foxes, in flagrante delicto. They were so involved in their moment of delight, they didn't move from the street until I was right upon them.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


For years, I prepared a Valentine's feast for the family. Once we had a few kids and an injured mother in law to care for, it seemed torturous to consider going out for dinner date, facing the masses on a greeting card manufactured holiday created to feed the consumer machine. We love French bistro food, so I decorated the table with tablecloth, candles, the fancy china and silver, cut out red and pink hearts, and lovingly prepared steak, true pommes frites, a salad and queen of sheba cake, a divine, ground almonds and dark chocolate confection.

Philip and I would share champagne and red wine, and it felt like true love, offering the gift of myself to the kids and my husband and the addition of a mother in law occasionally. Nothing contrived, or artificial, just sweet tradition.

The frites were a pain to make, the precision slicing, the twice frying, the mess of the stove afterword! But seeing the faces of my dear ones, my true loves, sitting around a beautiful table, made it worth all the work.

Then he died, ten days after Valentine's day.

I tried to keep up the tradition, but it felt like blackness, as the grief would swirl and none of us would know how to be, without his presence there anymore. We kept trying, but after moving here, we tried to change it up a few years. A couple of times we went to a dance in Valentine, TX on Valentine's day. That was kind of fun, but the kids were miserable, because their orbit felt thrown off by the change. They did something with friends one year, and I went camping to Big Bend by myself for a couple of nights, books of poetry and a cooler of good food, hungry for the romance of the solitude in the desert. That was pretty awesome, and felt good.

This year, my parents are with us.

I felt a real desire to bless my family, different flavor, same love, with our old tradition, a few twists. I decorated the table, set out lovely dishes, the real silver, lots of candles. Rose and Nora are vegetarians. Hmmm. Suddenly the steak frites seems like the wrong feast for this family. I made a pasta spinach alfredo, braised broccoli with lots of garlic the way Nora likes, sauteed green beans the way Rose likes, Rosemary slow roasted chicken legs, the way Thomas and I like.

Mom and Dad came over, the six of us, grateful around the table, love and beauty and Beethoven on the record player. Champagne for me and Dad. Pomegranate juice for mom and the kids.

As a gift, I did the cleanup, Frank crooning on vinyl, peace, hope, joy filled my heart. Very lovely memories of days of yore, all the different flavored ones. Philip memories, memories with the good man I dated here, and ways we tried to navigate the old and new, oh, so complicated, but also rich. And now new ways of making memories with my kids, who are quickly growing up and flying away, and my parents, this tender and vulnerable season in their life, joined up with ours, oh, how good!

Sometimes I want to be cynical about romance. Especially in conjunction with manufactured holidays that leave many of us feeling lonely and alone.

But then I change my mind! I want to embrace the opportunity to show love to my loved ones! Why not? Life is short. It is sweet to give my dear family a moment of romance, even if it isn't the kind of romance based on the pure definition involving eros. I just want to offer them a sensuous meal, rich in the senses, have them feel lavishly offered the gift of beauty and good food, a nice scattering of chocolate.

It feels really good to be where I am in life right now.

Perhaps that sounds crazy, when I occasionally offer up cries of lament. A mixed bag.

I grieve the world of politics and the strife. I grieve the pain of many of my friends in their life situations. I grieve our own losses. Perhaps that is why I felt extra thankful this year as we sat around our dining room table and offered our prayer of gratitude. I can't imagine anything else I could have wanted on that day and moment in time.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Get Me Through February

Winds came in last night. Clear sunny days with temperatures in the high 80s abruptly shifted to weather much more suited to my mood. Gray. Mountains shrouded by dusty cold pall. Howling in the trees, leaving me to grab a sweater.

Seems like most of the entire year is one memory, one season, one painful tradition that is no more, leading up to February 25th.

The day that caused such a rent in the fabric of our life, I still don't know who I am.

We find our moments of joy. I have meaning. Purpose. Love of my children, love of my parents. Work that is intentional. Spiritual riches. And a pain that stays under the surface part of the time, welling during those moments when there seems to be a thinness between this world and the next.

I find myself a bit short with people this time of year. Tears held inside by a stiff, harsh face. Work requires double the effort. I feel hungry. Empty. Don't wish to see people. It just wells up, like a trickling spring, the source buried deep down under all the layers.

So. Seven years. Why the hell did we have to have so many family rituals? So many happy moments all together? Such a confidence in the middle of the hard that we would always be there for each other? Even the bad moments turning into times of redemption.

I comfort myself in the belief that the deeper the ability to feel the pain, the deeper the ability to feel joy. I have hope. It grows dim, especially in February, but stays alive, with little breaths of grace that fan the little ember growing pale.

The pain is raw. Visceral. I guess if you have been there, you know what I am talking about. If you haven't, that seems rather melodramatic and you have no patience for me.

I let myself feel love again after he died. Twice. Am proud for making myself vulnerable and open. Now my love is offered to my family. The constant and true. Working to keep my heart soft, even though it is quite tempting to harden off, protecting myself from the inevitable. Every once in awhile a song come on that helps keep me tender. I am thankful for others sharing their tenderness with me. If you get a chance, take a listen to Allison Kraus's song, Get Me Through December. It is lovely.

And never fear, worry not. We have found that when the pain rolls in, if we give it a name, honor it, it doesn't wreck near the havoc as when we try to ignore it and pretend he isn't in the room. Speaking it out seems to lessen my pain several degrees.

How pale is the sky that brings forth the rain
As the changing of seasons prepares me again
For the long bitter nights and the wild winter's day
My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
My heart has grown cold my love stored away.

I've been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow
where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go
I've taken the pain no girl should endure
But faith can move mountains, of that I am sure
Faith can move mountains, of that I am sure

Just get me through december
A promise I'll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again.

No Divine purpose brings freedom from sin
And peace is a gift that must come from within.
I've looked for the love that will bring me to rest
Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest
Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest.

Just get me through December
A promise I'll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again.

I've been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow
where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go
I've taken the pain no girl should endure
But faith can move mountains, of that I am sure.
But faith can move mountains, of that I am sure.

Get me through December...

Sung by Allison Kraus, written by Fred Lavery and Gordy Sampson

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Furies

So much pain. So much fear. So much anger.

I have a lot of acquaintances and many dear friends. They cover the entire spectrum of the political realm, a pretty large spectrum of the religious world, and as far as gender, sexuality, north or south upbringing, rural, urban, sports lovers and haters, well, you name it.

All these people make for a broad, interesting, never boring life.

We all disagree on at least a few things. I realize I am way too left leaning for comfort for many of my friends from church and seminary days. If they only knew I couldn't even vote for Hillary, she is too conservative for me! (Was happy to vote for Jill, sorry not sorry...)And then I think about how I am too centrist for many of my feminist friends, with whom I actually agree on most things, just don't always speak as loudly.

I wish we could all find a way to feel safe enough to be able to express our feelings.

I have noticed in my own personal life that when I feel the least heard, when I feel the most disregarded, when I feel the most marginalized is when my voice begins to rise, my blood pressure pumps, and peripheral vision dims. What to do?

I can run away, find a place where I don't have to ever speak to anyone, see anyone who disagrees with me, oh, wait! I do do that sometimes, haha! But what I have found that seems to work better is to go find the quiet place first.

It is so hard to hear someone else when I feel I am not being heard. Gosh, it took several years of marriage and quite a few counseling session for Philip and me to learn how to take turns. We learned to recognize if the voice begins to rise, there might be something deeper underneath the disagreement that is connected to some kind of deep pain or shame. We learned to show each other compassion, and while we always found something to disagree on, the kids will tell you that sometime in 2003 we quit fighting. And what is funny, around that time, probably because I felt safe and secure, my politics began to evolve in a direction they always leaned but I was too afraid to go, being in a fundamentalist, southern baptist ministry.

Philip's politics evolved in the opposite direction. We laughed as we would drive to the polls to vote, knowing that we cancelled each other out. And felt safe, respected, loved, and understood.

And wondered how it would all shake out as the kids grew old enough to vote!

I am sad to hear that there are violent protests happening after the inauguration. I am sad to hear so many people write shameful things suggesting that it is time for Obama and his wife to go back to Africa. Wow. It is all bad. It makes my stomach churn and my heart pound. So many of my dear friends are thrilled about this turn in American history, and I and many others are concerned and discomforted by the fact that a racist, misogynistic man who delights in sexually assaulting pretty women, and whom we cannot trust to follow through on his promises is now in office. He is a loose cannon, and the fact is, in a nation as divided and afraid as we are, it is only logical that two rather extreme options were the only true options on the ballot this year. And yes, I realize that many of my friends did not vote the man, but voted the party, and I respect that, even as I disagree.

I trust that as things shake down, life won't go quite as horribly as we fear with this new captain at the helm. I trust that we will wake up, and find that violence begets violence, and peace begets peace.

Perhaps if a few of us will take time to listen, which is VERY hard to do!!!, we might hear the underlying pain that is the reason behind the extreme positions. I am not saying we need to sit down and shut up. Merely offering the thought that pausing to hear the other position might give us some understanding and a way to stop some of the violence. Because hear me well, there are many acts of violence being perpetrated this week and no windows are being broken as a result. Verbal barrages, demeaning, harsh, mocking criticisms can be very devastating, and do nothing but fuel the fire. And I confess there have been moments when, shamefacedly I have to admit, I have been one of the perpetrators...

Oh, how I regret the times I was too hot to listen. Sometimes it seems so unfair to have to be the grownup. But if not me, then who?

The winds are howling and seem to be the perfect backdrop for the howling of millions of people right now. Howling in pain. Howling in fear. Howling because of injustice, because of pride, because of money, because of lost love, lost dignity, lost time.

Oh, please, Holy Spirit, you mysterious, wondrous, inexplicable force, help ME to be a light, to be truth, to know when to speak and act and when to sit down and pause. Not sit down and shut up, but sit down and breathe.

PS in a short bit, the girls and I are going to join a sister Women's march up Hancock Hill. Will try to figure out how to copy my FB post, which stirred up quite a bit of dissension and anger, surprisingly. How is it that everything tied to women happens to end up with violent discussions on abortion and baby dismemberment???