Saturday, February 18, 2017

Traditions

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???




Monday, January 16, 2017

Just Like Old Times

Patrick and Maggie came home from Austin to run in the Big Bend Ultra. This was their sixth year to participate. Rose's fifth. The three of them ran the 30k. They each got medals in their divisions. Most of all they had fun, running in this part of the world we call home, within a stone's throw of the Rio Grande and Mexico, surrounded by jagged mountains that look like the profile of princesses, indian chiefs, and wild animals. Can it be six years? Can it be that this region is home to us now?

The day before the race I begged, or was that ordered? cajoled? asked kindly? the kids to join me on a pecan pickup. We have four pecans trees on our property. The nuts are abundant this year. I told the kids I believed it to be a sin to let the delicious, buttery source of nutrients rot on the ground. I told them I needed those pecans to use in the bakery, and to feed us. I can live off pecans, toasted in a cast iron skillet with a little butter and sea salt if we run out of all other foods.

Back on the farm we had many opportunities to work together as a family in food harvesting mode. Cherry picking, chicken butchering, corn shucking. Even the barn cleaning maintenance was seen as one of many vital steps that brought our food and income to us.

Typically the chore would start with complaining, grousing, shuffling of feet, and a sudden sense of urgency to clean one's room. Eventually we would find our family groove and the job would lead to bonding and closeness.

The kids are growing and going their separate ways and we have few opportunities to do brutal bonding over big jobs. The sunny day morphed into clouds and mist. We gathered buckets. We put on jackets. We dove in, or rather sank to our knees to gather the many nuts.

The work was steady. We quickly covered a great deal of ground, five of us, instead of poor little ole me. An hour later, the ground was cleared of pecans, and we had almost four five gallon buckets filled with brown gold.

Kids went on about their own business but I heard the call of the backyard, and spent the rest of the day gathering trash, raking, pulling out the old zinnias and sunflowers in anticipation of spring. It felt great. Patrick and I burned stuff. We had one rather dramatic moment when he looked at me, I looked at him, we both looked at the small christmas tree drying out on the edge of the yard, and remembered days of yore on the farm. Yeah, I know we shouldn't have. But it was sprinkling outside, no danger of wildfire spreading, and I guess we needed a little drama in our lives, remembering the crazy bonfires out at the farm in the good old days. He poised the small tree, upright in the firepit and whoosh! The flames soared to the sky in a primal, soul stirring rush.

In a moment, flames were gone, and we looked at each other a bit sheepishly, amused by our need to create a little stir, even if only for a couple of seconds. Too bad Thomas wasn't there to enjoy!

Next day we enjoyed our trip to Big Bend State Park. My parents joined. They came down to watch the kids last year. It was a marked difference, this trip. Their health has diminished. My dad is dealing with the shock of dementia, creeping into our life, stealing away his ability to remember how to drive, to cook our favorite foods, to work certain machines. He didn't feel well. But we managed, and were thankful to be together.

Funny how everything changes and yet some things remain the same forever and always. Daddy can remember stories of watching his grandmother age, curious about what it is like to grow old. He was quite young when she moved in with his family. He can remember childhood moments on the farm. He can remember falling in love with mom. He is very aware when he can't remember. And we are all feeling unsteady, wondering if a diagnosis would offer any stability? Would it help if we knew which part of the brain was clearly functioning? And which one was growing weaker?

We are seeing doctors. Working every health angle possible. And adjusting. I told daddy that I remember how to make his special meals, since he did such a good job of teaching me. Mom is learning to adjust to being the driver, the phone caller, the primary cook. We are learning a new dance. Or is it a very old one? I get this niggling thought that we know the dance, it is stored in our DNA. We might stumble a bit, grouse, complain. It isn't always very pretty, this coming together, scrounging for our purpose, whether picking up pecans, driving to doctors, clearing out uhauls and barns. But it is rich. And nourishing. And embedded in the moments are gleaming diamonds of joy. And love.

Oh, now how in the world am I gonna get those kids to help me shell and pick out so many pecans??? And after the big rain and wind storm, I bet there are another five gallons newly dropped. Tomorrow is another day.....


Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Tide Has Turned

Monday I went to tend the chickens. It is frustrating to tend chickens during the winter months when they molt and pause egg production. Our ten girls went on a three month hiatus. I had to buy eggs for the bakery! For my omelets! Something told me to give a look in the egg boxes.

Sure enough! Eggs! Pink, tan, olive, robin's egg blue. My omelet this week was dark orange colored instead of insipid pale yellow.

Temperatures rose to the 80's. Work kept me from my garden, but watch out! I will be there soon enough.


Friday, January 6, 2017

The Village

Have you noticed how quickly one's body can succumb to a cold or some other crazy virus? I did hard manual labor at the vineyard for a couple of days, so thankful for strong body and healthy mind.

I was good tired, and thankful. Sunkissed, receiving the blessings from being out in creation, etc, etc. As I drove back down the mountain to take my dad home and get to work in the bakery, the exhaustion felt different. I stopped to get some fuel for the truck and fuel for the humans. All of a sudden, every cell in my body seemed to cry out in agony. When we got back to Mom and Dad's house, I was shivering with cold, alternating with hot, stinging waves. So strange.

I drove myself home, fell into bed and barely got out for 36 hours. It felt like I would never walk again, let alone work hard in the vineyard! The girls brought me tea, glasses of water. I tossed and turned, flipped and flopped, moaned and groaned.

How deliciously melodramatic, says she, sarcastically!

I was pretty miserable. And thought about how grateful I hope to be during the moments of excellent health. Which is how my life typically is, excellent health, an occasional headache, a cold every once in awhile, but otherwise just fine, thank you.

Too sick to read. Too sick to write. Too sick to enjoy tv.

What a waste, I thought! And loss of work income, since you have to be able to stand upright, and not share germs in the food industry, at least in theory.

Theo called Rose and instructed her to rub my feet with coconut oil and put sliced onions on them. Eww! I wanted to say no, but Rose was so diligently following instructions, I had to submit to the doctoring. Have to say that my room smelled a bit like a pot roast, about to go in the oven...She and Nora brought me drinks. Another friend left chicken soup on the porch which the girls warmed for me. Mom and Dad ran girls around wherever they needed to go, and fed Thomas. Another friend brought me essential oils to rub on my feet (that smell a heck of a lot better than onions, by the way, haha). Another deposited a dish of steaming hot mashed potatoes to serve as cozy comfort.

How loved! How kind are the people in my village. I feel much better today. Able to read a book, wash some sheets and dishes, stand upright for a little while.

I wish for all beings to know they are loved. And to be surrounded by a village, whether large or small, that will lovingly care for each others' needs.

After tossing and turning most of last night, I am hopeful this evening will be peaceful, calm, and filled with deep sleep and nice dreams.

As I lay in bed, so uncomfortable, I thought about Maggie when I went to India back in 2009. She had come down with a cold, and it was terribly hard for me to leave her as my boarding time arrived. I figured that she would be okay, we all suffer from colds now and again. When I got back, she told me her cold turned into pneumonia, and she felt so lonely and sick, when Philip had to care for the little ones, go to work, and tend my farm chores. I was so sad for her, and yet, of course she got through the sick spell, our friend and family doctor treated her and she was soon brand new. But, oh, how lonely she was, during those miserable, surreal hours.

Many people have to endure significant pain and illness, and do it alone. That makes me sad. I hope I will be awake and mindful enough to help when I can, and that others also will see how valuable their offerings are. Soup. Mashed potatoes, home remedy advice, rides, love. Doesn't have to be a big deal. Just listen to your gut, follow the instinct. I have this feeling that each of us has some special gift to offer, if we humble ourselves and just do it.

On another note, it certainly got cold last night! High seventies plummeted to the teens. Never fear, warm weather is near. In another day or two we will return to the sixties and seventies. Perhaps I should take the hens out of my yard and put them back into their yard? They have been scratching happily for bugs, grass, whatever they could find. Remember, we do live in Texas and it is time to think about planting onions and greens. Perhaps this weekend I will start some plant babies in the greenhouse. Seed packets are catching my eye, I think I better pay attention.

On another note, feeling sick can often feel like depression. When lying in bed, miserable, it is quite easy to think one's world is horrible, one is a terrible friend, daughter, mother, worker, business owner. Isn't that silly? Is it just me?

I continue to practice telling myself that just because I feel something doesn't make it true.

Well, I am rambling with no direction. I think I will shut this twenty minute session down and go pull out the seed packets.






Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Last Night I Ate a Double Cheeseburger

Today I didn't feel nearly as guilty as I shoveled wood chips into the back of the truck. Delivered them to the vineyard. Shoveled the mulch onto the row of vines. Went back to the Recycling Center and loaded another big pile of wood chips, then unloaded it again.

In fact, I am tired, sore, especially since I also loaded up a few wheelbarrows of rocks and began to patch a couple of washouts on the vineyard road. Seemed like the perfect use of my time and burger energy.

After those chores, I worked, row by row, vine by vine, checking on the little shrubblers, irrigation emitters that frequently get blocked by the mineral build up. I rub off the minerals, twist the little buggers, and work hard to ensure each vine gets the chance to drink.

The air was mild, the wind lay low. I saw a giant scorpion scamper as I shoveled up his rocky home. I told him sorry to be a bother, but he was gonna have to find another place to take a nap.

The vines are going dormant. They don't feel all the way asleep. We have had some real cold snaps, but it takes some time, since we also have intermittent days of seventy plus degrees that keep the blood flowing. I need to do the harsh pruning, but they are not ready yet. In another couple weeks? Early next month? We will work as a team, the owners and I. If we were to prune before the plants went dormant, it would put the vines into shock and they might die. Being dormant means that all the life energy is down in the roots, and we can do our work which will allow healthy growth systems once spring arrives.

Seems like when I was in church work, a lot of talk went on about pruning during hard times. About how it was all for the good.

And yes, pruning is necessary if we wish to see fruit. Hard pruning. Eliminate what looks like almost all the vine pruning.

That said, something is niggling at me. Like maybe there are times we justify harsh actions, call it pruning, comfort ourselves with the hope that the amputation will lead to greater fruit yield.

What if some amputations are amputations? What if we sit, watching our friends or family members bleeding, hemorrhaging, and think that it is all for their good, thank god for the pruning, and wow, what fruit to come...when in fact, what they (maybe we) need is emergency care, binding up of wounds, time to rest, in a quiet place, until we heal or at least adjust?

Hmm. I want to think more on this topic. And hope that I will be careful and mindful. I don't think our creator is an unkind deity, lopping off our vines, indiscriminately. At this point, it is easier for me to think of God as the great, big, mysterious "more" than we can imagine, out there, in here, all encompassing. Not the old man with a white beard flowing, sitting on a big throne.

I love these days of tending the vines as they put themselves to sleep. The leaves are gone, the laterals are twisty, curly, cursive scrawls. When pruning is done, the curls will be gone, all become shorthand. It requires a great deal of faith. After this summer, being constantly behind, feeling like I would never catch up with the tying and trimming, I have a lot more faith. Those vines know how to grow! Especially when we feed them and water them and the sun continues to shine.

By the way, I have two lovely windrows of compost working away. We will sprinkle it, toss it, make compost tea out of it for foliar spray.

I almost listened to a lie I told myself yesterday. Just for a few minutes I started to believe what I was feeling. It didn't take too very long to remember the truth. I had to remind myself several times. The cheeseburger was a hug to myself and it felt great. My son's friend made it for us. I got one for my dad and one for a girlfriend. It didn't fix anything, kind of like a bandaid. They don't fix anything permanently, but there is a place for them! And for yummy, juicy cheeseburgers. Especially when doing hours of hard, farm labor!

Tomorrow, a half day shoveling mulch, a half day working in the bakery.

For now, time to take an ibuprofen and crawl into bed, clean, thankful, and happy for the 20 minutes writing challenge! Tomorrow makes two weeks! Do I have to stop? Crazy. How about 21 days? That would be a bigger challenge. And a good way to incorporate my former practice back into a current practice.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Rest in Peace, but not like it sounds.

Happy New Year!

I was away from internet and computer for a few days, and still managed to keep up with writing, the old fashioned way. In a journal.

I wrote out intentions, thoughts, review of my year, hopes for the next. Frustrations, desires, recipes, lists.

The rest of the time I read books, poetry, hiked, sat, watched birds, meditated.

Maggie contacted me on Friday, hoping I would meet her at the home of our old friends. A mom and daughter silent retreat.

Not perfectly silent. We each stayed in separate houses. We met once a day, midday, shared food, visited for half an hour, then went our separate ways.

I hiked down the river, found a giant cave shelter, walls covered in pictographs. I sat and chanted and meditated, and the quiet time went so quickly! It was quite different than meditating on a cushion in my bedroom. I breathed, I listened. I felt the breeze and sunshine upon my skin, the rocks under my seat.

I imagined and laughed at myself and felt guilty for being away from my family for two nights.

The stars were bright at moments. A soft rain fell at others. Chilly nights turned into short sleeve days. I drank coffee, ate simple food brought from home.

Temptation to work keep tugging at my sleeve. My intention to rest gently, kindly reminded my work ethic to take a back seat. My new years eve was not spent in fancy clothes, with sparkling friends. Well. I had sparkling friends! The canyon walls showed off their multi-colored splendor as they watched the sun go down. Canyon wrens called and laughed and I sipped my champagne and breathed, enjoying the feel of a soft fuzzy sweater all cozy over tshirt and worn out jeans, a pair of slippers warming my tired feet.

Instead of thinking grand thoughts, I enjoyed sitting, watching, just being.

At times I felt my shoulders tense and my face harden into worry. I remembered to breathe, to offer my muscles the gift of a moment of rest.

Two places on the property offered momentary, infrequent opportunities to check text messages, but not email. I tried to slip back into fix-it mode a time or two, thinking that if I were a good mother, daughter, sister, friend, I would navigate and orchestrate a few circumstances. An impossibility out there, on the edge of a canyon wall, in the middle of nowhere. At some point I surrendered, and sure enough, the world survived.

I loved the gift of the tiny butterflies, floating along the rough ground cover that passes for grass. The scent of the desert flowers was better than any perfume I know. A gray fox down below, wandering along deer paths, heard me sneeze. He laughed. Or was it she? And tried to find me. And couldn't as I was far up above. I loved how his lush tail whisked back and forth and plumed behind like a flag. What marvelous coloring, a gray that blended in perfectly well with his surroundings. Deer pounced back and forth in the wild yard, skittering and scattering when I stepped outside to watch the stars. Dozens of vultures roosted in river bottom trees and along the top of the bluffs across the river. At one point, I walked back to the main house to launder my sheets and noticed I was walking in the shadow of dancing vultures. It felt magical. Those wonderful creatures help with a lot of dirty jobs yet seem to have a bad reputation. To be so unattractive, they are gifted with grace and coordination. Their weaving shadows surrounded me on my patch. It was interesting.

I wanted to come home and be with my other kids. Maggie and I were on our own and yet the side by side solitude was very comforting. I laughed when I saw the giant stack of books she carried along for her mini retreat. I wonder who she takes after??? I hated to leave her. And the quiet. And the refuge of wild, desert nature.

Home is good. I love my bed. My kitchen, bathroom, other children, and parents, animals, friends, computer. The Christmas tree is still up and it feels comforting to sit in my library with candles and tree lights flickering.

But I will remember my little mini retreat. I hope to take that restful energy with me into the new year. To remember to pause and care for myself when needed. It is my responsibility. When I care for myself, I can care more effectively for others.

Silence and nature restore my soul.

Going back to work today was hard, and took some revving up, but thanks to that getaway, the wherewithal was there.

day whatever, can't remember now, trying to keep up with the discipline.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Just Do It

Okay. I am back again.

And totally bored with writing. Perhaps I need to get out in nature tomorrow for some inspiration.

The idea is to practice. I do not have the goal of wowing anyone with amazing words of inspiration. The goal is to write. Sit down and write. I remember back in high school I took a journalism class and helped make the yearbook a couple years. We carried around our cameras to snap shots. Our teacher would often tell us it is necessary to take hundreds of photos to find the one true piece of art that captured a moment.

Hundreds. Maybe even thousands. The idea was to get out there and shoot. To practice with lots of apertures, levels of shadow and sunlight, to just do it. Kind of like cooking.

I started a marvelous course early this year on happiness. I went to see a counselor for a few visits to work on a couple of areas. Depression related to the weather, the loss of a couple of significant girlfriends, spiritual stuff, relationship navigational help. You know, the stuff the average middle class person has to deal with at various points in life. Along with helpful EMDR sessions, some wise words suggesting what i have been going through is fairly normal, and homework that involved meditation, she recommended a course on Coursera called "A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment."

It was great! Okay, when I started to feel happy again, I quit the class. Perhaps in the dark days of winter I will pick it up again!
What I am getting around to is that one lesson was centered on mastery. The professor cited studies done that show one needs about 10,000 hours to reach mastery in most subjects. 90 minutes a day for 20 years or something like that. As I listened to the professor, I thought about how certain things in the bakery require less brain effort than others. I have over twenty years experience, learning to work the dough. I don't always get it right, I still have fails, especially when I introduce new things. But the basics, well, they are pretty consistent, unless other variables get in the way. And at this point, I have seen enough to typically catch the variables. And at least recognize them. After twenty years.

The lesson brought to mind the sage advice from the high school journalism teacher. I thought of my mom and her painting, and piano. It isn't effortless. She still puts in hours of work each week. Well, she did, before they moved here. Now a broken arm (daddy) and a pulled, torn tendon and boot (Mom) and new home, adjustment, etc. has wrecked her schedule. But it will take very little time to regain lost ground, after the decades of constant practice.

Sometimes we only want to do when we can do well. When we can shine. When we are inspired.

It is rough, not just rough, but occasionally humiliating to show the rough stuff to the world. It is hard to be vulnerable enough to let someone else see the practice sessions.

Philip used to talk about how valuable baseball was to help one learn to live a rich and full life.

Haha! I tried to see it, and since I was sort of a Yankees fan, due to my Oklahoma dad who loved Mickey Mantle, I pretty much got the drift, even if a full nine innings felt like torture to me.

He would call up batting averages for different players spanning decades of baseball games. How do people store that information and then be able to recall it???? He would marvel, saying that batting in the 300 range was fairly normal. Which meant they would miss 700 pitches for the 300 they would actually hit. Or something like that. Baseball taught a person how to fail, and not give up, since there was much opportunity to fail. It was expected. No one got it right all the time.

Why do we think we need to get it right all the time?

I certainly have an issue with crappy, mediocre output. Whether in my gardening, my housekeeping, my parenting, my baking, my writing, whatever.

It makes my stomach clinch to think of a job poorly done.

I do many things in a half-baked, get it done fashion. I am a widow, a single mom with five kids, a son with special needs, some parents and friends and family in my community, animals, a business, etc, and consequently, like millions of other men and women in the world, to get anything done at all, I have to surrender a lot of quality and perfection.

But the things I care about, the food, the parenting, the writing, these things occasionally leave me feeling quite anxious when I consider I am not working and performing in what I consider an excellent fashion.

For this reason, the blog is a good medium for me. The idea is to practice. Not to edit, perfect. Just get those hundred photos shot. Knock it out. Knead a few more thousand loaves of bread to find out what the good ones feel like. For my mom, get the paint on the brush. Again. Sit down to the piano. Again. And when the whatever emerges, the photo, the loaf, the column, and it is good, may we recognize it. And be willing to keep on allowing mediocrity as our practice. Even great big, giant fails.

A thought comes to mind.

What if the practice is the whole point anyway? What if reaching excellence serves little purpose, but a daily practice helps me to remember who I am? I guess that is worth it.

Well. The timer went off twenty minutes ago.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Creamed Spinach and Steak are a couple of my favorite things.

Tuesday evening.

Thomas and I went over to Daddy's house. We grabbed Theo to join us. She brought an eggplant and some fresh shiitake mushrooms. I carried over heavy cream, onion and a big bag of fresh spinach. Daddy had steaks thawing out on the counter. Theo chopped up the eggplant, I found a red pepper in the fridge and we sauteed the eggplant, onion, garlic, mushrooms, red pepper with olive oil. I melted butter in a skillet, gently sauteed garlic, added a ginormous glug of heavy cream, let it simmer for a few minutes, salted it, threw in some cheese, more cream, and then as much raw spinach as would cram into the pan. I stirred and stirred. A slug of dry vermouth would have been divine, but as I have none at the time, we didn't miss it too much. As the spinach melted into the creamy cheese, I added more. And more. And more. Generous with the black pepper. Let the whole thing bubble and meld, then placed a cast iron skillet on a different burner. Daddy seasoned the beef with his favorite, Montreal Steak seasoning. I threw steaks onto the pan, cooked to a medium rare, and we sat down to a carnivore's delight.

The plates were colorful, the conversation sweet as Daddy shared stories of his growing up, when his mom would make the house full of kids and cousins, and other assorted relatives, 100 biscuits a day, to go with a big bowl of oatmeal, and warm milk, straight from the cow. He mentioned the size of the can used in the making of those biscuits, but I can't remember right now. As big as his hand could spread! Oh, I can imagine the smell that greeted the nose of those young siblings as they marched back to the house after doing their chores. Mmm. And jars of jam and preserves and fruits and all sorts of things in the pantry preserved from the garden. I was happy to have baked eight biscuits for my kids this morning!

He mentioned his work in the fire station, and how he would be elected head chef of the station, making meals for his colleagues who would stay the night in the bunks, at the ready to slip on their bunker boots in a flash when the lights came on, activated by a dispatcher. They would slide down the pole and head to the truck, ready to serve as EMT's, or help in accidents or house fires,whatever duty demanded.

We ate so much, I am quite full right now.

After doing the dishes and visiting for a bit, we hugged and kissed goodnight. Thomas and I drove Theo to her home, then I dropped Thomas at his. The air is pleasant. I thought about taking a walk, decided to put on my nightgown and write instead. One new discipline at a time, please!