Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Performing Arts

The other night the Crowley Theater and Marfa Live Arts presented a program by the Performing Arts Japan program. "Minor Musics Japan."

The drive to Marfa is only 26 miles or so west of Alpine. You leave our little valley and go through a few miles of jaggedy mountain teeth, a few bends in the road, and if you are truly lucky, you will see a train with multicolored cars meandering eastward on the train tracks north of the highway.

Occasionally I find myself driving over to Marfa because my eyes need a treat. A distraction.

This Sunday early evening I found myself driving over because of ancient ties. Well. Not too ancient, but somewhat related to my personal past.

I lived in Japan with my late husband and little baby Thomas back 21 years ago. I don't have the opportunity to speak Japanese much these days, but the things I learned in a Japanese kitchen still influence my cooking on a weekly basis. And the heart skills I learned from studying Japanese Tea Ceremony for two years definitely influence my spirit, even if I don't make special tea as often as I like.

You never know what kind of avant garde program will be thrown our way via the innovators at Marfa Live Arts.

I guess I figured it wouldn't be "Sakura" on the playlist, but was ready for anything.

After greeting a few acquaintances, I found my way to a folding seat in the middle of the audience. The lights dimmed and the group of performers approached the stage. Maher Shalal Haz Baz opened with a group of local performers. I am acquainted with a few, but didn't know they could play so beautifully. The pieces were largely improv, very jazzy, and whimsical. I laughed frequently.

After the guest performers left the stage, the group played another piece or two. Proof of their goodness lay in the buckets of giggles and chortles that erupted from the younger part of the audience. The pieces were highly symbolic and meaningful, but the best part, they were funny! Perhaps they weren't really that deep at all. Perhaps the artists wished to inspire giggles and laughter, and the children in the audience got it.

The next performer was A qui Avec Gabriel. Aki was the performer and Gabriel her accordion. The first thing she did upon taking seat in her chair on the stage was hug her accordion, more sweetly, tenderly than a child. She and that accordion danced, performed, spoke volumes as her songs resonated through the hall. Perhaps the music wasn't to all tastes. But to me, it was like a walk through a museum, so many senses were touched as her hands moved spiderly up and down the keyboard, then more like little birds, and her feet danced up and down like a fairy.

Her voice was so lovely, I wished she would not stop her singing. I couldn't even understand if she were singing words or just intoning decorations like the flight of a butterfly. Her red hair swung and it was like a part of her instrument.

Yes, at a couple of points, I began to grow quite sleepy, I think I was coming down with some kind of bug and was tempted to go home, but thankful I didn't because the show got even better!

Che Shizu took the stage. A group of four folks, playing improv folk, in Japanese. A drummer, two guys on amplified guitars, and a woman, playing some kind of electronic violin sort of instrument and a piano.


I don't think I realized how hungry I was for art.

This performance reminded me. And filled me nicely.

Some of the pieces were lovely. And right about the time you might settle in to thinking that this was cool, otherworldly, but not that far out music, they would turn you on your head. Or rather, turn their instruments on their head. Or turn themselves on their head. Which they did on one of the most moving pieces I have ever seen.

At one point, it seemed like someone let a few very ADD kids out on to the stage, as they played around with their microphones, their instruments, the drummer even started to play whistles with his nostrils! And then the picture became clear. A guitarist took the panel off the bottom of the piano and began to pluck out a song, upside down. Another guitarist played his guitar with a violin bow. The drummer played himself, his shoes, his chairs, his drums, his whistles. The beautiful lady, with the resonant voice walked around, looking, listening, and then joined in the piano duet from the keyboard side.

I wish I could review this performance justly. My words fail me and I must get kids to bed.

But this piece moved me so deeply, I had to at least pencil in a thought or two. I felt inspired. Encouraged. Motivated to open my eyes to the different ways that surround me.

These performers were in Los Angeles, here in Marfa, on to Detroit, and then to Brooklyn.

I was tired, and didn't really feel like getting out alone on a Sunday night. Walking around the loop and watching a dvd with the kids would have been more relaxing. But I am trying to practice being single. I have plenty of friends I could call, but there seems to be something rich and good about getting out on my own. Scary. But okay.

And while this might not be everyone's cup of "green tea,": I was filled deeply. And thought about the songs from each of the performances well into the night.

PS Sakura is an old Japanese folk song many kids can play with one hand on the piano. But not at all like any of the pieces that were played this Sunday evening!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Black Eyed Peas and The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Occasionally I offer a giant pot of soup to customers on bakery day.

This past week I was inspired by the sight of several pounds of dried blackeyed peas in the pantry.

Also inspired by forecasted cool front.

When Holly and Stevie were here we took a giant homegrown chicken out of the freezer to roast for our feast. At 7+ pounds, we truly had a feast, especially knowing said roast was raised here on our property. Holly did me the favor of making a couple of gallons of chicken stock out of the bones.

We froze the stock and it came in handy for our stew this Thursday.

Perhaps you don't have homegrown chicken stock in your freezer, but any kind of stock will do fine, even canned veggie stock from the supermarket.

Here is the recipe:

Blackeyed Peas and the Red Hot Chili Peppers

in a large soup pan saute
1 diced onion
2 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 TBSP olive or coconut oil

When the onions are almost translucent, add
3 or 4 cloves crushed garlic
1 red sweet pepper, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 red or green jalapeno, sliced
generous pinch of salt
1 tsp cumin seeds
crumbled up bay leaf

stir and continue to saute over med hi heat as veggies release their moisture and spices release their fragrance.

I would probably add another glug of olive oil, but that is just me... use your judgement.

add one pound of washed and picked over blackeyed peas,
1 c dried red quinoa
1 or 2 c. crushed tomatoes
chicken broth, water, veggie broth

Bring everything to a rolling boil. add a glug of Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar

Turn heat to medium, let everything cook until blackeyed peas begin to get tender. If the water/stock begins to evaporate too quickly, add a bit more so nothing burns on the bottom.

In a separate pan,
saute one cubed zucchini in a smidge of olive oil until lightly browned around the edges. Sprinkle with just a pinch of salt.

The stew should be getting nice and thick. Add the zucchini and one bunch of chopped fresh cilantro. If you like, add a cup of frozen corn or can of hominy. Taste the stew for salt and pepper. If you like it a bit more spicy, add some crushed red pepper flakes and cumin powder if you like. Simmer the stew for another 20 minutes or so. Enjoy with corn muffins, fresh peasant bread or tortillas.

By the way, the forecasters were correct! We have been enjoying temperatures in the 50's, cozy evenings with windows open and fluffy comforter on the bed. Cuddly kitties and a taste for hot tea. And warm stuff.

PS a funny picture: I was scurrying around the yard on bakery day, seeking eggs for pound cake. There were a few in the coop. More over under a little brush pile. And one, fresh from the chicken, outside my kitchen window, up in the greenhouse. Talk about FRESH EGGS!

I love my chickens. Free Range means easter egg hunt on a regular basis.

Monday, September 8, 2014


Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my surgery for uterine cancer.

Isn't muscle memory weird? My head told me that I had great reason to celebrate! Whew! Thanks to modern medicine I am cancer free, healthy, not terribly wealthy or wise, but a wiseacre, at times.

In church yesterday morning I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to God, so grateful for healing, for all the support we received, for a litany of goodness. We have been very blessed in our life. I am surrounded by friends and family who have my back.

But off and on over the weekend, I kinda felt like crying.

Muscle memory.

My priest suggests that it is very important to acknowledge this muscle memory and take it to our healer.

If we don't, it might ooze out or explode out in ways that we don't wish.

For me, these kind of anniversaries make me wish for a bit of solitude. I don't really feel like baring my soul to every soul I meet, so it helps to have some margin for silence. Tears flow easily, so I make sure to have room to cry. There are times I wish for a comforting friend, but often it feels better to sit on the swing by myself, write for a few minutes, name the feelings, then jump up to get back to work.

So this weekend, I cooked a couple of nice meals to share with the children. I took myself on a date, bicycling to the theater to watch a movie (100 Foot Journey) all by myself. I took a nap, both on Saturday and Sunday! I had a quiet walk with the dogs and a neighbor.

I remembered how frightening it was to receive the diagnosis. I remembered how scary it was to wait on the operating table, wondering what the results would be. I remembered how much it hurt to get an IV put into my dehydrated arm, and thinking that I was such a wimp for being scared, all the time fighting the deeper fear of what might become of my children should the doctors find the cancer advanced.

Throughout the mix, feelings of optimism, fear, faith, guilt, gratitude, pain, hope, anger and love swirled around like soup in a pot.

As you know by now, I was one of the lucky people with a great diagnosis. Cancer was in its early stages. A total hysterectomy plus removal of cervix and ovaries seemed to completely remove the cancer. I see the oncologists every three months and they laugh at me because of my busy, hard-working schedule and good health. I pray to be the woman mentioned in Proverbs 31 who is clothed in strength and dignity, able to laugh without fear of the future. I wish to be that example for my children.

And yet, moments like the anniversary this weekend remind me I am not quite there. I usually have to cry a little before I get back to laughing. I have other friends who are dealing with much more severe diagnoses than mine. Their children are younger than mine. I pray. Others pray. We hold each other up, sometimes spiritually, sometimes metaphorically, and sometimes in each other's arms.

This weekend we had a long spell of clouds and rain. Temperatures in the 60's and 70's. The perfume of wet pine needles and creosote ministered to me. The heavy blanket of clouds comforted me like the beautiful blue prayer shawl Susie Mason knitted for me after Philip died. In fact, I snuggled up with that shawl at nap time, windows open, raindrops fallings, and felt deeply covered by prayers, echoes of hugs, love.

I know that in our culture we are told to move on. To forget about the past and shake it off and slap a smile on our face.

Nice idea, but I find that listening to my heart and my body not only moves me to deeper gratitude, but it also leads to deeper compassion toward others. And once I acknowledge whatever the memory is, I seem to be able to bounce back, get to work, and move on more energetically and happily. Which is what I had better do right now! Empty boxes surround me in the bakery from a large shipment of ingredients that came into the bakery on Saturday afternoon. The paperwork needs to get filed and the fourth load of wash needs to go onto the line or into the dryer. And where did I set that cup of coffee???

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sweet Companions

Yesterday we celebrated Nora's 11th birthday. A few years ago, we prayed earnestly for a friend for Nora. The move to Texas was hard on the kids. She was lonely and missed her teachers, her friends, her room, her bed. Her wild barn cat that ran away, didn't really even live with us, but she loved Malt O Meal and dreamed of a day he could be her very own lap kitty.


There must have been 11 kids or more racing around the backyard, jumping on the trampoline, shooting bows and arrows (until I saw them and asked them to put them away to avoid a trip to the emergency room!).

Screams and shrieks of laughter echoed as I worked to orchestrate a meal out on the grill.

The early friends decorated the birthday cake with mounds of zinnias and sunflowers picked from the backyard.

I am not exactly the queen of kid birthday parties. I hide out, cook, and let them entertain themselves. Which they somehow figure out how to do.

Thomas must have smelled the bbq as he wandered over from his apartment to join us. Another friend and her little ones hung out.

What a gift to see one's children surrounded by pals who love them.

It was delightful.

Eleven seems to be a real transition year. Are they still kids? Preteens? Too cool to run and scream and leap and jump? Well, thank goodness, not too cool yet. But after seeing four other kids pass this point, I know that her days of childhood are limited. I grab cuddles every single time I can. Funny, seems like the older ones are circling back around and are a bit more appreciative of hugs and kisses on the top of the head than they were a year or so ago.

I love seeing the kids grow up. Even if it tugs at my heart. Nora is so different from me. She is tender. Sensitive and quiet. Quite organized. Well prepared ahead of time. Rarely late. Quiet.

But then...I see her confidence grow. She knows herself and knows how to ask for what she wants. In a household full of runners, she has chosen karate. She hasn't milked a goat like her siblings. But she now feeds and waters the chickens and gathers their eggs. She is a writer.

I used to love having her sit on my hip during church, her sweet little voice tenderly singing into my ear.

Nora. Tallest girl in her class. Beautiful dear Nora.

Happy birthday!

Oh, an aside~ after party, last bit of icecream and cake, I went for my evening walk, quite late. I felt a bit alone as I headed out the door.

All of a sudden, the waxing half moon greeted me from the sky. Quite relaxed, leaning on his back.

And then an assertive breeze blew up and wrapped me in companionship for the rest of my walk. I felt so surrounded! It was somewhat magical. When I reached the last quarter of my journey around the loop, the moon went his different way, or so it seemed! Actually I made the turn up our street, knowing the moon was behind me. But the breeze continued to warmly wrap me up for the last hundred yards. It felt so companionable, I had to go to the backyard and sit on the swing for a few minutes. Couldn't make myself go into the closed up house. Even with all the windows open and curtains billowing, there is nothing like being cozily tucked in by a gentle breeze.