Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chillin' with Julia

Yesterday evening I sat down with Nora to watch a couple of episodes of Julia Child and The French Chef. The kids got me the collection of her PBS shows a couple of Christmases ago.  What a gift!

I used to rent them from Netflix and we would lie in bed, watching Julia chop and stir and we would laugh uproariously.

With all the cooking shows available now, I think we take for granted people like Julia Child who premiered the whole idea.  Can you believe they recorded her shows in one straight shot!  No pauses.  No editing. As she was showing us how to make crepes last night, a bit of the batter fell onto the electric stovetop element and I believe it caught on fire!  The steady stream of smoke grew, but Julia just kept on talking, swirling her crepe pan.  For an instant, the camera caught a glimpse of the flame, then moved upward, keeping the element out of the viewer's eye.

It was something, watching her work, making good food accessible to the average gal or guy who enjoyed tinkering in the kitchen.  As she stuck her spatula into the bowl of the moving stand mixer, and the spatula was flung across the kitchen, she chuckled, but hardly slowed down!

Watching Julia Child, black and white, in her dated kitchen, makes me feel better.  I ALWAYS learn something new.  But one thing I wonder, how did she stay so skinny?

Nora and I watched Julia make crepes, with roasted apples, with orange butter, and of course the inimitable Crepes Suzette.  She poured cognac and orange liquer with abandon, and they flamed accordingly.  I think I have to start making crepes.  Spelt crepes.  Buckwheat crepes.  Perhaps tonight Nora and I can watch Alton Brown teach us the art of crepe making.  Think any customers would be interested in Taste and See crepes?

We also watched the croissant episode.

I have wanted to make croissant in the bakery for a very long time.  I read a great article in Cook's Illustrated last year, detailing some techniques that help make the perfect croissant.  Julia seemed to make it a lot easier than CI.  Perhaps she had access to better butter.  CI suggested that it is important to use a  high fat butter, like Plugra, to get the best results.  Julia said that the key was pounding the butter, to make it malleable and to make certain there weren't lumps.  As Nora and I watched her slam the dough onto the marble slab, repeatedly slamming it down, picking it up, slamming it down, to develop the gluten strands in the dough, and as we watched her beat the frozen butter with a wooden stick, Nora suggested that someone very angry invented this dish!  If that is the case, isn't it wonderful that something so amazing can come out of a temper tantrum in the kitchen!!!

When Julia took the platter of finished croissants into her staged dining room, sat down with the newspaper and her cafe au lait, I determined to perfect the spelt croissant.

I then put myself to bed with a book, and the first thing I read was a quote from The Sword and the Stone by T.H. White:  "The best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn."  There is quite a bit more to the quote, but I especially loved that part, and was thankful for Julia Child and her producers and the people who believed in her mission, who made it possible for her to help me and many other people learn something in the kitchen!

I will let you know how things go.  Maybe it is time to add a thing or two to the bakery agenda.  Maybe I need to shake things up and be a bit more creative.  Good medicine?  It is either that, or I break out the credit card, ditch the kids and head to Paris for a few days.  Which is where you will find me, if I am suddenly AWOL. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Good Grief

For those of you who like happy little blogs and by accident wandered over here, perhaps you might want to quickly excuse yourself and find the way out!

While this blog is entitled "the land of milk and honey" I s'pose I should reiterate that in my experience, the Promised Land, the good place we live in, is occasionally a trail of tears.  A good world.  A beautiful world, but touched by sorrow and loss.

These days I am thinking about death a lot.  Kind of hard not to when our community has encountered so many tragic deaths over the last few weeks.  We had a funeral mass at our little church last week for a prominent lawyer who was killed in an auto accident.  He was a friend to many in our little town.  I also found out last week that another of my customers, Bevery, died.

She was such a vibrant personality!  Petite, but fiery like a pistol!  Always wore a big ole cowboy hat, as is wise in a land of powerful sun.  Along with the hat, bold and beautiful agate jewelry.  And I always saw her with a lovely wide skirt with pretty belt.  And boots.

She gardened vigorously.  Cared for her mother.  Studied health, nutrition, was full of information.  She would come in for milk and honey bread, and bring huge bags of garden goodies for trade.  We ate many wonderful meals last year from the work of her hands.  I don't know much else about Beverly, except that everyone seemed to know her.  That she was strong.  Full of opinions and laughter.

Her departure has made many people sad.

I will miss her intermittent popping in the bakery.  Hearing her tell of her gardening journey here in Alpine and down south.

I imagine there are many people out there who are still grieving the loss of their young friends who died in different auto accidents over the winter here in our little town.

I am tempted to avoid the painful topics.  Tempted because I know how uncomfortable it makes people to hear about pain.  About loss.  I mean, how many times have you heard someone in their loss for words stumble along and try to get people to be happy and think about how much better off the dead are?  Well, no kidding.  It is the person left behind who is now left to pick up the pieces and walk forward, despite the pain

It is frightening to look at pain face to face.  Would be easier to run away and play dead, numbing oneself to emotions that are not fun.  But the other day, as I felt loaded down by more emotions than seemed possible, many of them  not terribly  nice ones, I consciously decided to give myself permission to feel.  To be whole.  Complete.  Even if it were a little rough around the edges.  Okay.  A lot rough around the edges.

Most of us have experienced deep loss at some point or another.  If you haven't yet, you will, unfortunately, that is, if you ever let yourself love.

I am finding that it is important to take a little inventory of emotions periodically.  You might find that certain seasons have a profound affect on you.  The most important losses I experienced all took place in winter.  January and February.  My father-in-law and mother-in-law, with whom I was very close, both died days apart, in my presence, last of January, first week of February.  My late husband died end of February.

What you might notice is that your body will tell you about your loss before your mind.  There is something about the cold that used to invigorate me that over the last several years makes me feel sad.  Muscle memory of those days of deep  grief.  There are times I handle the loss memory better than others.

Trying to stuff the grief, telling myself that enough time has gone on, I should really get with the program, doesn't seem to do much but compound the pain, causing it to ooze out in most uncomfortable ways.  Calling it what it is, saying out loud to a friend that I feel sad diminishes the bad feelings.  In the middle of the sad, sharing memories and stories of the deceased love one also helps me to release some of the agony.  I was going to use the word "pain" again, thinking that "agony" was too harsh a word for the context, but could we please call it what it is?  That kind of pain IS agony.  

Another thing that has helped me tremendously is to share with the most safe friends some of the hardest things I have to deal with as a result of my loss.  Sometimes people want to focus only on the good stuff, which is great, but the truth is, loss hurts, on many different levels. There is a part of us that will cry out for acknowledgement, perhaps in some unhealthy ways, if we don't call it what it is.  For some reason, our culture calls this wallowing.  I have found it to be a wonderful way to acknowledge the truth.  The practice in the Bible is called lament.  After Philip's death I spent hours and hours in the Psalms.  What a relief!  Some of the best grief therapy.  I felt less alone as I read David's poetry, hearing the anguish as he cried out his heart to God.  I felt less crazy.  I didn't have to feel that my pain and anguish meant that my belief in the goodness of God was lessened.  In fact, the more I cry out to God when I hurt, the more I feel comfort and the more my beliefs are strengthened.

It makes me sad to think that some Christians are afraid of admitting how much they are hurt over a loss, because they are afraid it will indicate doubt in the goodness of God.

Just keep in mind that it is important to share your pain with a trusted friend.  One who will not try to "help" make you feel better by just thinking of the happy things.  Sometimes in the middle of a surge of grief, a listening ear is the best medicine.  It helps to be reminded that we are not crazy for feeling sad over loss.

If you like to write, writing is a terrific tool.  Some grief therapist suggest writing letters to your deceased loved one.  I haven't ever done this.  But I do have conversations with Philip sometimes.  I have also had chats with my in-laws and grandfather.  Sometimes I even give myself permission to say hard things, like how difficult it is to be a single parent, how I hate having to raise the kids without Philip, how I wish the kids had all four grandparents, how sad I am that they don't get to take drives and walks with their great grandparents. I wish they could hear stories from my paternal grandparents, see my grandpa at Thanksgiving show off his fake leg, as he kicked the football!

Experiencing deep grief makes some of us very sensitive to the loss of others.  This is not a weakness.  It is a gift to share compassion and understanding, as we grieve the loss of friends and even strangers.  The ability to sit and hear the pain of someone else, offering them acknowledgement is huge.  After Philip's death, the harsh words of reality from my young widowed friends were oddly comforting.  They told me that the pain was real.  That it lasted a long time.  That it would hurt for years, in some regards, forever, but that I would survive.  When they hugged me and told me that I would again feel joy, I believed them, because there was not one ounce of sugar-coated feel-good baloney in a single word they said.  They taught me that to say "I am sorry for your loss" is about the best thing you can say to someone when you don't know what to say.  If you have to say anything at all.

So, when the grief hits, what to do?

Call it what it is.  Admit, to yourself, and hopefully to a safe friend, that it is not crazy to hurt deeply over loss.

Remember the loved one.  Share some of their stories.  Share some sweet memories.  Maybe even share some hard memories.  It might help more than you think to share out loud the situation surrounding the death of your deceased loved one.  Were they sick for months?  Was it hard being a caretaker?  Did you have a fight with your son right before he died in a car accident?  Just remember to share these vulnerable moments with someone who is a trusted, safe friend, who will not rush in to try to fix things. We were so blessed to be in a place near a grief support group, sponsored by an area hospice group, with a licensed, professional therapist leading, offering tools and guidance.  And most of all a safe place to share stories as we all worked to find a new normal.  Check it out, if you can find a similar group.  Scary to walk through the door the first time, but oh, so healing.

Most important of all, be kind to yourself.  Exercise helps my body and mind function the way they were meant to function.  When I feel most miserable is when I drag myself to the door and go for a walk.  But there are times when it is okay to give yourself permission to take a nap.  Or sit down to read a book.  But pay attention.  If you are unable to get yourself up to go to work most of the time, and the rare nap becomes a continuous nap, it is possible that your deep loss is affecting the way your neuro-transmitters are working, and a visit to your family doctor could help give you some more effective medical tools.

Giving myself a chance to see a beautiful, or grandiose scene in nature helps me also. Seeing something way bigger than me or my problems helps put things into a better perspective.  If you are patient with yourself, you will probably discover things that help you feel nurtured and comforted.

I hope for us all, each of us who have moments of feeling like we should wail, feeling like we are burdened down with grief and loss, would be able to say like the poet, David,

"You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever."  Psalm 30:12,13

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday, trying to bring some exercise into the routine

Today I restarted my walk around the loop training regimen.  A little over two miles.  We live kitty corner to part of the golf course.  The route takes me out our carport, past the old hospital that is now a church, around the defunct nursing home, up the hill, with country club on one side and pretty homes nestled against the mountain on the other.  I had been walking and jogging most days until late fall, early winter when I got strep throat.  I thought the exercise would help me combat winter/holiday blues.  Well, let's just say we will have to try again next winter to see if it will work!

A giant buck stood in the breeze as I made my way up the hill.  His twelve points were pretty majestic.  He seemed very well fed, thanks to the green grass on the golf course.  Made me wish for a big venison steak.  Until I thought of all the toxins they probably put on that golf course!

A few minutes later I was well past the clump of deer and enjoyed the peaceful sound of wind blowing through grasses.  And then wind blowing through agave plants.

So calming.

For a second I wondered if I should be like the other walkers and joggers, tuned into their tunes, earbuds stuck in ears.

But only for a second.  That minute of hearing the brush of air through agave and grass was the best music I have heard all day.  Well, that and the sound of the crickets peeping their song in the tall grass by the bridge over the dry creek bed.

I think I will try to remember the sound of the grass and the crickets as I bake tomorrow.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Clifford Kocher-Rest in Peace

I don't remember the first time Cliff came into the bakery.  Was he on his bike?  Or with our friend Janie?

I do remember he liked the spelt milk and honey bread.  And more than that, the spelt pound cakes.  And spelt chocolate chip cookies.

As with most of my customers, we would strike up a conversation if there weren't too many other customers around keeping me busy.  I recognized his accent and discovered he was from New Jersey, like my late husband, Philip.  He spent his career working for Mars, the candy company.  We would share stories about how few people realize New Jersey is a beautiful state.  How sad it is to see it get overcrowded and too expensive for living.  How we both sure do love the big open mountains here in the Big Bend Region.

Before too long, there would be a dribble of customers coming in, letting me know that it was upon Cliff's recommendation.  He told everybody he knew to come buy my bread and cakes and cookies!  He was living a very simple life, in his early retirement.  Didn't have a car here.  Walked everywhere.  Or bicycled.  Volunteered at the food pantry in town.  Helped at the library.  Did this and that for a couple of churches.  Did landscaping for his church, all at his own expense.  And would bring his cash and buy as many cookies, pound cakes and bread as he could afford at the time.

Sometimes he would come in and tell me he was getting ready for his periodic hike around the Rio Grande, in the Big Bend Ranch State Park.  He would buy up the pound cake and chocolate chip cookies and tell me that would nourish him on his hike!

I really don't know much about Cliff.  I never saw him outside the bakery.  We never spoke for hours.  There were others in town who were his close friends.  Who shared holiday dinners and long hikes.  But when you see someone almost weekly, when you know they care deeply about the success of your business,  and ask about your children, you feel like you have a friendship.  It may seem crazy, but the sweet friendships I have with my customers is a very powerful thing, and makes it worth the effort to get up in the morning.

So when Janie came into the bakery early one Tuesday morning, when Holly was here, tears in her eyes, I knew something was wrong with Cliff.  She told me he was planning a New Year's hike, as per his usual.  He was a very experienced hiker.  Not new to the area.  He hadn't come back when he said he would.  His rental car was found abandoned.

We cried.  Knowing that a week out in the desert, especially with the cold and snow, meant that he was probably long gone from this world.  There was a search.

As I worked in the bakery, I spoke to Cliff in my head.  Told him how glad I was that he crossed my path.  Let him know how thankful I was for his dedication and support of my business, not to mention all the other little things and big things he did to serve a community that had not brought him up, or even been home to him for long.  At some point, I think I did a little stomping about, mad at God and circumstances, mad that no one knew where to search, that perhaps he was injured and in pain, suffering before his death.

A little voice, Cliff's voice, came to me, telling me that his last view was absolutely beautiful.  As most of you know, I have a pretty powerful imagination, so don't think I am losing my mind.  I don't know anything about the spirit of a human, even though I believe we each have something that makes us us.  Something that can't be seen under a microscope.  Something that goes away when we die.  I am okay with hearing someone's voice in my head and not questioning, as those voices never tell me to go jump off a bridge! or hurt anyone!

I heard his voice, could feel his smile, and my stomping mad calmed down, and peace came.  With it grief as I pondered his absence in our town.

Days later our mutual friend came and told me Cliff had been found.  Leaning back against a couple of rocks.  She said he looked as if he were alive, sitting down to enjoy the beautiful view.  He had fallen from a cliff, we had that big snow, you remember?  He had a broken leg.  I hope he did not suffer long.

There will be a memorial service for him today.  I don't think I will be able to make it.  But it was important for me to remember Cliff to you.  I am glad he came to Alpine to enjoy his retirement.  I think he made the most of his life.  He gave much to others.  He had a hearty appetite for Spelt Pound Cake and Spelt Chocolate chip cookies.  Many of his new friends here in Alpine and the area will miss him greatly.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Let There Be Light

Three days ago the days grew longer.

Yeah, yeah, you scientists out there will try to educate me, reminding me gently that the days are not growing longer, but the daylight hours are increasing, and have been since late December due to the way the earth spins around the sun on its axis.

But to that poetic part of my mind, or rather heart, the day was longer, the sun shone brighter and gave me some hope that everything just might be okay.  And it was so distinct, so different than all those other days over the past few weeks, I had to take note and write it down.

I don't get outside in the same way I used to on the farm.  There is no Coco to  milk.  No goats to check.  No ewes about to drop lambs.  No chickens asking to be let out.

However, my bakery is walled in by windows to the north, the west and the south.  I get amazing views of sunrise and sunset and the glide of the moon through the sky.

This morning the sun rose significantly later than this baker.  But when she did, she sent out banners and carpets of red and gold.  Even the far mountains to the west blushed pink and purple as they witnessed such a gaudy entrance.  The kids and I were sufficiently impressed as we left the rising dough and the paused mill to run to the school.  (Well, I hope you don't think we ran by our feet!  It was by car lest anyone get terribly impressed.)

Temperatures are causing me to dream of gardens instead of woodfires.  Not that I miss woodfires for the most part.  It is hard not to associate the woodstove with lots and lots of work.  But cold weather really does a number on me, emotionally, and as the sun comes out and the temperatures reach the seventies, I feel like raising my arms up to the sky in an act of worship.  Well, to tell you the truth, I think I did that the other day.

I have so many blog posts written in my head, about digging up buckets of rocks in my future garden plot, feeling hopeless and depressed and excited and hope-filled all at the same time.    I wish to tell you about seeing three of my kids run in the Big Bend Ultra 10k, and how great that was.  About Indian Head and petroglyphs and mortar holes and cell phones.    I wish to write about dreams and love and grief and parenting and farmer's markets and my customers. I kind of want to write about the many deaths that have come to our little community, via auto accidents, hiking accident, cancer.  Not to mention all the deaths  in our larger world community.  Each of those deaths leaving me reeling and trying to catch my breath.  But today, I must get back to the work that brings in some cash that helps to pay the bills.

And as I work, with the door open, the short sleeves on, I will be grateful for the light.  And pray that the Light will shine in all our dark places today.  Not just mine, but for those of you out there who are feeling a bit cold also, waiting on your springtime to arrive.