Thursday, January 06, 2022

Hello From The Bird House

Hello, from the goats and chickens! The goats are woolly, and hungry. The chickens have fully recovered from their late autumn molt, thank goodness! They need all of their tail feathers and cloaks, and after they finish their breakfast, I open the gate so they can free range, and find dryer, sunnier parts of the garden. The four bales of straw we aquired have made a good difference in taming the mud, and insulating the shelters. Before the next storms come (not that there are any in the forecast, so far,) I really should order a few more bales. It's a funny little thing about winter, and planning ahead that I always have to be reminded and prodded, because I forget that winter and storms go well beyond Christmas and New Years! Some days, even in January, I can hang the wash in the sun, and consider tide-pooling in my bare feet. Still, there will be more cold, more dampness, hopefully more rain, and it will go on well into June. I musn't let this sunnier week fool me into thinking it's spring!
Hello, from cats. From this cat, Cairo, who knows it's winter, without reading forecasts, or stepping in mud. He knows it's best to nap regularly, and stake whatever cozy claim is available, including laps, arms, sweaters, quilts, boxes, and neatly folded laundry. All three kitties have been exemplary winter kitties. They snuggle, they do long, slow, luxuriant stretches, then coil again, back into round loaves, feline mounds. We find them in baskets, on chairs, even under covers. We find them languid, affectionate, peckish, too.
Hello, from the quiet corners, from my best intentions. I am determined to read. Specifically... I am determined to read books. I read articles, and blogs, poetry, quips, anecdotes, messages, and cereal boxes, but not many books. I listen to NPR, to audio-books, and even an occasional podcast, and later I recall bits and pieces, and tend to say aloud "I read this thing...," but no, maybe not. An ill-effect of that head-on collision is that I couldn't read, not easily, not for any length of time, and it was slow. I'd have to read passages over and over. It's still difficult to focus, to retain things. The effort makes me sad, bitter, too. I turned to audio-books, but for at least 18 months, I only listened to "The Secret Garden," every single night, over and over and over again. Ask Geoff. He could probably recite it. Is this a resolution? It is, of sorts. I resolve to read books, and visit local book shops, and support authors, artists, and heal my addled brain. I resolve to learn to make a pie crust, and enjoy small gifts, do like Hayao Miyazaki, and "be satisfied with the particulars." And thank you, Janece, for pointing that out, on his birthday. And thank you, Anna Banana, for bringing me Pie For Everyone for my birthday.
Hello, from our break, from unstructured time, and following whims, inspecting, playing, and answering our own curiosity. On Monday I asked Maria, "What are you thinking of doing this week?" And she talked about laundry, cleaning, making art, learning to play the ukulele, and reading. She's done laundry. And some cleaning. She's made some wonderful art. On Tuesday, she asked about our old ukes, and I helped her bring them down from the high spot where they'd settled. She claimed one, found a tuning app, and settled herself in her room, where she was joined by a cat. And she studied, and practiced, and applied herself, and strummed and strummed and strummed! By bedtime, she gave me a little concert, You Are My Sunshine was the feature piece, and I loved it. She is a total novice, an absolute beginner, and I say this admiringly, appreciatively. I love that she's taken this impulse and followed through. I hear her strumming, again, just now! She played practically all day Wednesday, too, and late. The rest of us share glances, our eyes look upward, toward her room, then we smile knowingly, appreciatively. Music in the house, again, like when that was Suki's room, and she'd record in the closet, the library, when she'd sing with her ukulele. I am so glad for this school break for Maria, for her to have time, and to be clever and motivated to use it... time to follow an impulse, give something a try, to be curious, and play, to make art, to heal, to dabble, and meditate.
Hello, from our Bird House, inside, and out. We are beginners, old pros, novices, and amatuers, hobbyists, practioners, dabblers. Some have pointed out that we are nearing entry into year three of a global pandemic. It's a sad and weary thing, and too big to entirely comprehend, to account for the many losses, cope with the grief, to grapple with the cognitive dissonance. One year ago we saw our nation's Capitol terrorized and trampled by insurrectionists, prodded by a fool. A year ago, there was hope that we might have a vaccine, that it would come soon, for all of us. And yet, whether it's madness and lies, or progress and endeavor, we are still divided, still contending with wilful ignorance, hate, denial, misinformation, greed, selfish choices. Help me! Help me, Miyazaki, sages, friends. Remind me, again about those particulars, where we can give, and receive, our small gifts, and see the sunlight glinting on the peak of our roof, sit under a warm cat, practice ukulele. "There are so many things we can’t do anything about if we think about generalities. Things won’t go well because there is a huge gap between the generalities and the particulars. If we see generalities from the top of a mountain or from a plane, we feel it’s hopeless, but if we go down, there is a nice road running about fifty meters, we feel this is a nice road, and if the weather is fine and shining, we feel we can go on… Since the people in the community are cleaning up the river in my neighborhood, I join them when I have the time. A human can often be satisfied with the particulars. That’s what I like best these days." ~Hayao Miyazaki
Geoff sent me a little comic. Two characters are seen, one clearly distressed, "Aren't you terrified of what 2022 could be like? Everything is so messed up." The other, intently digging, surrounded by seed packets, a watering can, doesn't skip a beat, "I think it will bring flowers." "Why?" asks the dumbfounded friend. "Because I am planting flowers." Good plan.

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Kitchen Meditation

This is a post about New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day, but I think it's really about the joy of cooking, or kitchen meditation. To begin with, a disclaimer: I am not thrilled about cooking, not like I used to be. I am not making three square meals a day, baking daily, or relishing kitchen time, much at all these days. It has become a chore. That is sad to admit. It's not even that I am obliged to slave over the stove, or feed everyone. We feed each other, really. Everyone takes turns, and we can pick up meals. I am not looking for sympathy, only admitting that after two years(? who knows?)... it's just lost a lot of its charm, which is a shame. I like to cook. So, when the mood hits me, when I recognize the ol' spark of inspiration, it's really nice to step up and enjoy cooking, to feel that mindful intention and process, like a deep, gratifying meditation.

For New Year's Eve, we fell into the rhythm, the joy of cooking. Alex made vegan Swedish meat(less)balls, from scratch. William washed and prepared potatoes, then made a vegan gravy. About that gravy... it's my favorite. Gravy, all my life, I could do without. It didn't matter, but this one is nice, and I ask for it. I fixed the red cabbage that I like, and Max made Shirley Temples, with pomegranate and pineapple juices, and some ginger ale. We had Trader Joe's meatballs, too, and lingon berry sauce. This is the dinner we call "Viking Dinner," and it pairs well with Lord of the Rings, and Dungeons and Dragons, and cold winter nights.

For New Year's Day, I sent out a message to some friends, inviting them to brave the cold night, in exchange for beans and tortillas. I had chicken, prepared for tamales, that I froze. Vaguely aware of the usual list of things I should be doing, things that are messy, or neglected, or simply too daunting, I dove deep, into cooking, into that kitchen meditation, as though I not only love to cook, but it was necessary, essential. I prepared a pot of beans, and minded the heating chicken, checked the seasoning. I prepared a vegan dish, sliced avocados, dished up cheeses. Then I realized we would need tortillas, since I wasn't going to make tamales, afterall. And so I tripled the tortilla recipe I turn to for reference, and I use oil, not butter nor lard. Triple! It turned out to be 50 tortillas that I rolled made, and parheated on the comal! The recipe says it will yield "8 tortillas," but I use less dough per tortilla and roll them out thinner than they suggest. I learned at my Abuela's side. She made them daily, sometimes twice a day. And she didn't use a rolling pin. When I am making tortillas, it's like having an old, beloved film running, as I replay in my mind all of the times I walked into a kitchen where she stood at a table, over a hot pan, open fire. I picture her beautiful wooden bowl, her soft hands, and the dusting of flour on her dress. Her patience, and grace, the matter-of-fact calmness of her whole being comes to me, and I enjoy making tortillas. I enjoy the memories, and her company, the lessons, I had not realized I was absorbing. And. And I am a bit chagrinned to think of being tired of cooking, of the number of times, lately, it's felt too onerous. I never once saw her get take-out, or murmur a complaint. She made us tortillas, she smiled when I asked for a piece of dought to "help;" to turn hard and gray from over-practicing, actually! I feel like I absorbed some of that gift she had, in those unspoken lessons, to enjoy the process, to feel the pleasure of making, and sharing.

We shared a lovely first evening of the New Year. Gordon and Molly joined us, and so did Matt A, and Leslie and Ido. And Leo, out training for track, dropped in for a quick bite and visit. We saw stars, heard owls. Bex shared her new sticker making craft, which is a really fun and easy craft. Alex brought out the Tesla coil he got for Christmas, which is a really neat display on a cold winter night. And we ate, of course. All of the beans, and most of the chicken, all of the vegan dish, and Maria and I were very much thrilled that a few tortillas were leftover, because yum!

I haven't seen/heard a lot of New Year resolution talk. I want to have a special word, an intention, and I would like to have a resolution, something to reach for, improve, learn, but it's also slightly frustrating to think of self-improvement, and striving when the world feels so turned on end. Does anyone else feel the fatigue of 'toxic positivity,' of running in small circles trying to keep our spirits raised, masks on, hopes up? I am still thinking on it. Maybe it will have something to do with mindfullness, or finding my kitchen spark, again. Maybe it will be more pragmatic, like I resolve not to scream, or I intend to keep flossing.