Be kind and generous with yourself

Recently my mother and I were on an email chain with a dear friend who is (hopefully) at Battle-of-Yorktown-status in her own journey through a serious illness. By this I mean that the last major engagement has more than likely been fought and won, the commander pissing in a hidden cave somewhere, not daring to show his face, but it’ll take a while for the news of victory to reach the outlying provinces and so there will more than likely be minor skirmishes and bummers throughout the colonies for the next little bit until armistice is declared and earthworks abandoned in favor of picnicking. This absurd off-the-cuff metaphor brought to you by your friends at Growing Up In Colonial Williamsburg™. Onward.

This dear friend is a real person. The kind of woman who is totally authentically herself at all times and has a sort of luminous power that she carries everywhere like a torch. She is a bringer of light. And she was telling us that this whole thing has made her feel… not quite like her old self. I answered that we’re never our same old selves, only who we are in the present and that there is a strength there. But my very own ever-lovin’ mama up and responded with this…and I quote:

What I now know for sure is that these extremely difficult (unasked for and definitely unwanted) experiences that show up in our lives provide us with an opportunity, if we are very brave and stand up to them, to become expanded versions of our previous selves. It’s the tempering of our minds and bodies as a result of going through hellish times that can introduce us to our most authentic selves: stronger and more resilient than we ever knew we could possibly be.

Also, it’s been my experience that the sense of fragility and feeling unmoored that arises when we have no choice other than to accept how much isn’t (and never was) in our control that helps us to become more compassionate of others because even though everyone’s story is unique to them, nobody makes it through life unscathed.

Be kind and generous with yourself in all things and try let it all unfold without undue worry. You are doing great.

And if that isn’t something to hold dear to your heart always and re-read in times when one feels at loose ends in the chaos and terror of the universe then I don’t know what is. This is an opportunity, dear ones, to stand up and be brave. Live with compassion. And in all else, be kind and generous with yourself. You are doing great.

*Those are also mama’s hydrangeas up top. They’re seriously like 15 feet tall.

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Wild Geese

 

WildGeese

Just this time last year the world was frozen and deeply, softly, quietly covered with snow and Ann Marie was here, snowed in, I hoped, forever, but really only for a few days. We left the embrace of the woodstove and went out to the spring-fed pond, a small park nestled in a deep valley, to stretch our legs and rosy up our cheeks and be like children or wild animals for a hot second and revel in the just-being-outsideness of it. We went when the sun was getting long in the sky, that slanted winter light that—even if just for the single minute of 4:36-4:37 pm in February—is richer than any Provençal golden hour, perhaps made even more precious by its fleeting gilt. The little park has miles of trails, most of them impassable in the snow, so we just took the one that circumnavigates the pond—spring fed and running, but frozen solid nonetheless. Cold. Out on the ice, 30 or so wild geese sat all facing the same direction in the sun, like chess pieces, utterly still, utterly silent, and we could see them through the trees from our various vantage points around the water. As time passed, the sun gilded the ice, the snow, the geese, covered in that thin winter gold. We made it almost to the very end of the loop, around towards the back of the pond, immediately opposite the setting sun, at that exact moment that it began dipping under its ridgeline, the bones of naked trees stark against it, that all at once and definitely by some mysterious and ancient signal the geese took off in a collective rush of feathers and, once they reached altitude, put their harsh and joyous cries out into the stillest cold. AHHHHH. Time goes, wonder stays, this year it is lush and green instead of still and cold, but the geese still call overhead, wild and mysterious and constant like the sound of the high lonesome trains in the distance, and I am always reminded of this, from Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese
Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

What we need is here

IMG_2488

As the months pass quietly, ever-quicker, and the light went slowly, slowly, slowly, and then all at once to the fireworks of the thick-lit 3pm sunset into early, hushed dark, as family ebbs and flows out of our house like a warming tide, as small, fancy parcels intoxicatingly marked perishable and hand-hewn boxes of tiny lovelies ready to be gifted land on our porch as tokens of our far-off loves, and as we just polished off the last of the ham…Just this quick and quiet thought on need, want, and gratitude:

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

– Wendell Berry

Yass Kween

2015.4.20queencenterIt’s been a whirlwind spring full of adventure and blossoms (and yowza is it summer already?). Tales of THUNDER to come, but in the meantime, a little shout out to my girls in Shangri-La who we thought requeened themselves last fall and now we have proof. In short (just to blow your mind if you don’t know too much about bees/love Shakespearean-style epics): a beehive always knows how their queen is doing. Much like in any period drama, a small scrim of bees called the “retinue” surround the queen at all times and groom her and feed her and generally worship her. Only a few bees at a time comprise the retinue and they swap in and out so many bees have a chance to get close to the queen. Once the bees closest to the queen have swapped out, they then are able to send the pheromones of the queen to every ladybee in the hive in a complex game of telephone, so that every bee in the hive knows exactly what the queen is up to at all times. This is super important to all bees, as the health (and fertility) of the queen is necessary to the hive’s survival. If something happens to the queen, the hive can immediately tell. If the queen dies, if she gets squished by the beekeeper, if robber bees kill the queen, if her pheromones start to get weak, if the queen is just getting old, the hive will know. A very strong and intuitive hive (disclaimer: beekeepers are infinitely desirous of anthropomorphizing their hives. I do it, like, one million percent) will get the sense that their queen is failing and they will pick a part of the hive where the current queen seldom goes and they will start grooming a replacement to overthrow her. I put this Shakespearean cloak-and-dagger impulse in italics because it is truly incredible. Various factors (brood pattern, queen cells) led us to believe that we had this exact “re-queening” situation in Shangri-La last summer. Like her sister queen in our other hive, the old queen in Shangri-La had a red mark on her, so the only way to be sure that the hive had, in fact, re-queened itself, was to spot a new, unmarked queen in her place. This spring, we saw her, in all of her huge, beautiful, un-marked glory. Proof. Proof that these crazy divine bees know what’s best for themselves and proof that (on however small a scale) by keeping bees we are helping the species overcome the obstacles that we as humanity have set up for them. She’s in the bottom right corner, with a shiny exposed thorax (where a store-bought queen would normally be marked) about twice as long as the worker bees and surrounded by cells of larvae. Long live the Queen.2015.4.20QueenSideAnd in case you have trouble spotting her, here’s an image with an arrow:QueenArrow

A Bird in the Hand

IMG_0768Yesterday morning, just as the kettle began to rattle and sing for coffee, a bird came into the house. A little sparrow, a melodia, a song-sparrow, the kind with the delicately tiger striped tail feathers, the kind that came in the house last time when we had the downstairs window open all day to run the wire for the new antenna on the roof facing into the mountain shadow so Sweetheart and I could watch Jacques Pépin on the free PBS channel whose mascot is a dancing paper bag (oh the thrill of our bear muffin lives!), the same kind that Nipsey the cat caught in his mouth in 2.5 seconds like a jungle beast, the kind that Sweetheart liberated from the cat’s mouth while I squeezed shut my eyes and hopped in a circle almost crying saying “please fix it, please fix it” (and he did, the kind of bird that lived), you know, that kind of bird. In the house. He made a few mad circuits of the dining room and kitchen as I wildly shut the cat out and opened all the windows and doors and gently and firmly intoned “Bird, Bird, this way, this way”. The bird does not answer to Bird. The bird landed on the windowsill of the last closed window, sat there, and let. me. pick. him. up. I held the bird, with no birdlike tremor, just a tiny and soft warm little parcel, how brave, in my gentle paw for only as long as it took me to open the window, the screen, and set him on the porch in a patch of shade. I did not take his picture, for he was very real. He sat there, very still for a very long worrisome moment, and then took a deep breath and swooped off into the hedge. They are singing right now outside, the song sparrows, their wonderful looping and cascading trill, call-and-response. Is one of them him? The bird who I held in my hand? I do hope so.

Bear Muffins

We are all creatures of habit, or rather to say, humanity loves a ritual, or maybe that’s just to say, I love a ritual. The ritual of the bath, the ritual of the fire in the woodstove, the ritual of making sure we soak in the wood-fired-hot-tub every new and full moon (that’s a new one over here). Sweetheart and I aren’t always together, he travels frequently, we spend some time in NYC, we are out in the world, honestly, more often than not (where I try not to get freaked out by the disturbing lack of rituals in place when, say, one is eating boiled peanuts for breakfast in the lowlands of Mississippi… breathe sister, for this is the world and it is glorious). When we are together, though, two snug bugs in our old farmhouse, our days form a pleasantly worn pattern like the sound of a foot-treadle sewing machine, in and out with our carefully calibrated daily rituals of acknowledging beauty (which, let’s be honest, are mostly just about food and when to have it). We have long loved the ritual cup of tea in the evening, before bed, with generous spoonfuls of our bee’s honey put right in the hot water to melt off the spoon. We try not to be too precious with the honey we harvested last fall (it’s good for the soul + body + sinuses we say!), but it still feels insanely indulgent to actually eat it. And, since we can’t abide caffeine at the late hour (and because I grew up drinking it when Mama would enact a similar ritual of fixing it and reading to us while we drank it before bed ONE CHAPTER ONLY NO MATTER HOW MUCH OF A CLIFFHANGER IT IS), we drink Sleepytime Tea. Waiting for it to steep the other evening and looking at the iconic box in the pantry, it occurred to me, we live the life of the Sleepytime Bear:sleepytimebear With his cat, who flops, laid out like a hot breakfast on his worn-in oriental rug…IMG_3325 And his roaring fire…IMG_2215 His strange window full of jewel-bottles and plants…10684104_563492667088815_1013671846_n and his radio, and his cotton night gown, and his club chair, and his basket full of antlers or whatever. I mean look at him! The Sleepytime Bear knows what’s up. Basically, he’s our aspirational life model and we. are. nailing. it. Except for one thing… when I mentioned the startling similarities between the bear’s sweet set up and ours, Sweetheart said: Yeah, but he has muffins. Well, damn. Indeed he does.sleepytimebearcloseup We decidedly never, ever have muffins. BEAR LIFE FAIL. Luckily/fortuitiously/as if she could read our bear-minds, the next day, Mama sent me this muffin recipe, which employs chickpeas, almond flour, and olive oil in lieu of butter and white flour and has a healthy kick of cardamom and lemon (one of our/the bear’s probably favorite flavor combos). Once made, they have now and forever been named: Bear Muffins. Enjoy, and keep on living the life like a bear, one ritual at a time. bearmuffincloseup

Bear Muffins

adapted from the CIA

1 3/4 cups chickpeas (1 15 oz. can), drained and rinsed
Zest from two lemons
Zest from one orange
The juice from those lemons
The juice from that orange
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, yolks and whites separated
2/3 cup whole wheat or regular flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tsps ground cardamom (I love cardamom, so I keep upping it every time)
1/3 cup almond flour a handfull of sliced almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar (I use sugar in the raw or demerara)

—Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray (or flour them or line them with cupcake papers).
—Purée the chickpeas in a food processor until smooth.
—Add the lemon and orange zest and juice, olive oil, sugar, and egg yolks. Purée until smooth.
—Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and half the cardamom.
—Stir in the chickpea mixture, then add the almond flour.
—Beat egg whites until they hold semi-soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter.
—Break up sliced almonds with a knife and combine with sugar and the rest of the cardamom in a small bowl. Set aside.
—Scoop batter into muffin tin.
—Sprinkle each muffin top batter with some of the almond-sugar-cardamom mixture.
—Bake 12–13 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
—Let cool and then gently knife each muffin out of its tin.
Makes 12 muffins. I usually double this recipe to make 24. Cause they’re delicious and you know that’s how the bear would roll. Because the frothiness of the whipped egg whites will fall if left to sit, if doubling, it’s best to bake two muffin tins at once if you have them.

Things I didn’t even tell you

findsHoly Moly, fizz bang oh gee oh wow here we are January, the new year fresh and slick and new and bold and damp and chilly and begging us for a little introspection and respite, a rest from the rest (which I think technically means DOING), the ever-so-slightly-longer twilights an invitation to remember what takes me by surprise every year, the full-against-the-skin feeling of Spring that you get when you can finally sleep with your windows open. But I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s still a long ways away. Darling Rav reminded me today of our joint resolution, the one that we made hand in hand last year at midnight in Cleveland, just the two of us in the fat falling snow drinking bubbles out of impossibly tiny pink glasses. Not a New Years resolution, per se, but a general resolution buoyed by January’s optimistic fresh-startness. The resolution is one you might hear a lot around here: Just Say Yes. Say Yes when it’s easy, Say Yes when perhaps you ought to say No, The world needs more Yes. The world also needs more of this polaroid of me and sweetheart on a ferry in Delaware three days after our wedding. polaroid

Just sayin. This year has been an incredible one for the yes-saying. The doing. The VALHALLA of it all, the grabbing onto the reins and holding on for dear life (which is dearer every moment). And in light of it all, in the trying to do and breathe and live it all the most, I just feel like there are just SO many things I haven’t even told you. For example: did you know Sweetheart and I bought a 1978 tow-behind 13 foot Scamp Travel Trailer for our Honeymoon?scamp

We used it as a photobooth at our wedding. Then we took it on the road. It’s amazing. Details… to follow? Also, did you know: if you get married some people will give you money as a gift? I didn’t know this and was incredibly surprised. But lo and behold, after our wedding we had a small nest egg and that we wanted to do something awesome with it (like, not just pay our bills with it). So, we bought a special Japanese woodstove and a 300 gallon tank that you use to water cattle and built ourselves a wood-fired hot tub and put it back in the woods by where we got married. I don’t have a good picture of this because we only soak in the witching hours of night by the light of the moon (or the fairy stars of the disco ball that our dear Jay hung in the forest for our wedding before he up and married us). But here’s a dark picture of my very pink post-soak feet in Rav’s hobbit shoes and my tie-dyed bathrobe and my so-curious-he’s-blurry-cat (or maybe that’s bigfoot):woodfiredfeet

Also also also, I made fire cider, a crazy herbal remedy that made my mouth sweat but cleared my sinuses, and I made boiled apple cider syrup, and I made gold leaf oyster shell salt cellars, and also also also did you know we harvested FIVE GALLONS of honey from our bees this year? And did you know (unrelated to the honey harvest) we also lost one of our hives? And I sprained my ankle and got a new pair of work boots and gloves. And I fell in love with my littlest cousins. And my oldest cousins. And Sweetheart and I dressed as Annie Hall for Halloween. AND BONIN’ (which is its own story). And I also learned how to shoot a bow and arrow and how to fix a trailer hitch and how to make a flower crown and how to smoke a turkey and how to wire a battery and how to make ramen from scratch and how not to stall out driving a stick shift at a boite diabolique aka toll plaza (ok I only kind of learned that) and how to order a crepe and how to navigate using a baguette and how to cook piquillo peppers and how to get to South Carolina the slow way and how to sell smoked trout and how to pour txakoli from very high into a glass and how to bone a chicken and how to make peach jam and how to tie dye and how to bless a day and how not to cry when you’re singing in someone’s wedding but it’s just so everything you cry anyway but how to hide it pretty good I guess and how to replace studs and rebuild a floor and just how damn good the movie Mannequin is and how to light a menorah (not all at once, one candle each day) and when to plant a peach tree and how to show up and how good my people are and how to do a medicine card reading and consequently that I need to get my frog buns submerged into water every day if at all possible (see: wood fired hot-tub) and how to stay on the chair when you’re actually in a horah dance (knowledge never to be needed again) how to really shuck an oyster and how to write wedding vows that are so true and electric they make your heart swell up to bursting with pride and fierce passion and how to try and live that way forever and and and… Well I guess I’ve been saying yes. Success. Here’s to another year of it. And. I’ll try and share better, yes?