Sighing into spring, and school

Golden now, not grainy-gray, the quality and angle of morning light has definitely shifted in the kitchen. Come 5:30 a.m., I hear returning songbirds chipping and chirping outside my urban bedroom. It is spring again–and still–despite the almost-blinding gusts of snow that assaulted my windshield after dark the other night.

Winter sunrise over the hill

Winter sunrise over the hill

I think about going back to school and sigh, just a little. This will be a challenge. Normally spring is the time students think about freedom! if not the short burst of spring break, then the long open opportunities of summer. Instead, I am picking up books, “screwing on my thinking cap,” as some obnoxious teacher once pantomimed. Ouch.

I am also intrigued, excited, curious. It’s like sleep-away camp–not that I ever attended, just read descriptions in books and heard about it from friends. Supposed to be new kids to meet, a whole lake to swim in, lanyards to twist and knit. In my case, other interesting grownups, a lake to walk around (still too cold for swimming), forest paths and a labyrinth too and a healthy cafeteria: physical and mental growth to be had everywhere.

My problem is that very persistent A+ student who hangs on the edge of my mind, like a bully taunting from the field beyond the playground, Yeah, just try stepping over here. You’ll see what happens! Loser!

She/he interjects comments as I read my Kripalu Yoga textbook. Sometimes I am pulled in by the resonating philosophy, so I forget that voice; sometimes I sigh yet again, frustrated by my more recent midlife difficulties with memorization. Perhaps because I am creating new neural pathways along with the information, undoing old patterns of self-deprecating reaction, my mind has rebelled: This is too hard! I’m not cooperating!

I go into the yoga room and look at the book, the diagrams. Deep breath. I speak the pose names as I stretch out and position myself–

–on the belly, pelvis firmly anchored into the earth, arms and legs lifting up and behind me: I whisper “Nav-asana,” and think Naval, like a boat on the water, floating with waves of breath….

Kneeling, then flowing back over knees-wide-apart, arms reaching forward on the floor, Garbh-asana, Child’s Pose–I am garbed in the freedom and openness of the child-mind and child-body, I take what rest I need, when I need it.

Bala-kik-asana, Crane: a one-legged pose of balance, arms hovering, the staccato Ks remind me of the stick-legs of a bird in water.

Like a boat--or a dock--water softly lapping, the feel of Navasana

Like a boat, or a dock:  water softly lapping, the feel of Navasana

Ah, there, that’s a reason you do yoga. Space for creativity, not pushing and grunting along, not cramming yourself into a place that doesn’t fit. By its very definition, yoga is about expansiveness, room for yourself, who you are, at that moment.

Unwinding my body in Spinal Twist (Matsyendr-asanahow to remember THAT one?) I exhale and think: Snow flies yet spring comes. I can’t remember things, I can remember things.  Just because I suffered last time I learned, doesn’t mean I have to again. In fact, the intention is to do it differently now.

Welcoming carving on the Emma Willard School  "Alumnae Chapel"

Welcoming carved face on the Emma Willard School “Alumnae Chapel”

I enjoyed a marvelous Easter/post-Spring Equinox holiday with a colleague of mine. We tromped through cemeteries overlooking the Poestenkill and around the Emma Willard School campus, deserted on a Sunday; snacked on huge pink slices of watermelon radish with cups of hot tea and maple sugar; worked on individual writing projects while the local whole chicken stuffed with crumbled sausage, butternut squash and kale baked in her oven.

We took a first-course interlude of salad: more radish, avocado, walnut, mesclun and vinaigrette.

Spring salad to tease the appetite

Spring salad to tease the appetite

I sliced sweet potatoes into fries. Her least favorite chore for the day, the knife-work was a job that didn’t feel like drudgery to me at all; I hummed as I chopped along.  That’s something I am watching for in my future earning-a-living, ways of spending my hours that I so enjoy they don’t feel like “work.”

My companion rubbed coconut oil, cinnamon and a little rosemary on the wedges before oven-roasting them. As we tapped our keyboards in the living room, the smells of dinner intermittently tickled our noses and then slammed us lusciously when we re-entered the kitchen in search of more tea.

When all was ready, we ate until satisfied and no more, heaving happy groans nonetheless, and deliberately leaving some food on the plate to wrap up for later.  Sips of tart cherry juice with seltzer served as dessert, accompanied by more writing time.

Paleo stuffing and sweet potato fries

Paleo stuffing and sweet potato fries

Ahhh, we sighed, a holiday that wasn’t (as is typical) about overstuffing our stomachs or our schedule. As the day meandered, so did we; we took seriously our choices but made them only as we went along–Want to walk more? Turn this way or that? Whoops, the chicken isn’t done; oh, I see why it needs more time, ok, we’ll write for twenty more minutes.

She’s a future yoga teacher too, and we’re both applying the lessons on the mat to daily life: sometimes grappling, sometimes serene, knowing serene-plus-grappling is actually desirable.

Yes, I told her, I joke a lot about breaking into a sweat learning to love my life.

But ease is what I aspire to:  ease within challenges, like strength and lightness in a yoga pose, grounded in the earth and yet buoyant, willing to move and respond to the wind, and not let go of connection to who I am in my core.

False starts, shifts in weather, don’t indicate that spring won’t come. How days-off were acknowledged in the past doesn’t define how I celebrate them now.   I will allow myself to be not-so-good in school and not worry.

All of it will be delicious.  Especially the more I stand in each moment, Right Now, swaying and trembling perhaps, but over and over returning to curiosity, determination tempered with compassion, and gentleness toward myself.

Warm spring sunrise

Warm spring sunrise behind budding tree

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To Clean is To Wander is To Meditate

Clean colors of evergreen against the snow, Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center.

Crisp colors of evergreen against the snow, Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center.

A few hours ago, my hands were barely able to curl around a knife in order to butter a bagel for dinner. Even now, it’s not easy to grip and flip open the laptop, and type. I plan to do an hour of yoga later, but along with achy wrists, my knees are sore from kneeling on the kitchen floor–not brush-scrubbing; I don’t have Cinderella fantasies–just wiping and rinsing, wiping and rinsing, the layers of dust and dripped food from Christmas and New Year’s and daily living.

And vacuuming–I seem to have lost, or never owned, the extension arm to my vacuum, so the bare-floor attachment clicks to the end of the hose and requires an up-close relationship with the floor to maintain contact. I did manage to squat part of the time but often the angles were too awkward to maintain. Hence the bruised kneecaps and cramp-y hands.

Tools at hand! my vacuum

Tool at hand, back together for the rugs.

It was time. The apartment needed cleaning way before the holidays, but since I had December guests coming, including a large, sweet, and very fuzzy dog, I only disinfected the bare minimum before their arrival, and left it at that.

Until this week, when it couldn’t be put off any longer.

When I thought about each room and how many things needed to be moved in order to de-grime properly, my old surgical aches came back–a wonderful indicator that I need to approach from a different mental angle.

I used to be very list-driven. The lists always started out long, and even as I circled jobs-done, more got added, seeming to approach infinity.  Now the inventory is general: “clean kitchen, clean bedroom, clean front room, clean dining room.”  I wander from space to space, trusting that the big job will get done through all the little jobs I feel called to do.

The question I ask: What will make it enjoyable, and let me do something I’ve secretly really wanted to get to? 

The speed I go, even with the compulsion to rush, since there’s so much to do? Slow.  And when panicked? Even slower.

Yup, house cleaning as meditation.

Today’s answer as to what I secretly want to do?  Put on my bed the new blue and white batiked duvet cover from Ten Thousand Villages. Well, have to change the sheets and sweep the floor first. Doesn’t that feel good, crisp sheets and plumped pillows? Oh, but I have to dust all the surfaces before doing the floor!  All right, leisurely pull every piece of jewelry off the hanging organizer, wipe the hooks and smile over the beads, the iridescent bangle, which earrings went with the sparkly outfit, for that delightful community dinner on Christmas Eve–and for the raucous snowy romp with the dog on January First….

Objects hold memories and I remember, as I handle them.

A bit of feather-down, fallen into snow at Dyken Pond.

A bit of feather-down, fallen into snow. Remember the snowy walk?

Another answer to the question about what brings joy for me today: organizing all the snowshoeing gear, after drying my trekking poles.  Ok, better stack the grocery bags to go out to the car, which reminds me–start the shopping list.  There’s the camera–upload the photos from the latest walk at Dyken Pond, where I got the gear wet in the first place. And wasn’t it a great walk?

A third job to bring relief:  moving the red chair into the front room, exchanging it for the reading chair, whose awful green checked cushion at last gets covered with a deep purple fringed blanket. Vacuuming the dining room wasn’t so bad, I can finish this quickly and after moving the chairs, pull out different candle holders–look, there’s the battery charger I’ve been missing!

All day, for days, I’ve wandered and somehow along the way become motivated to do the hands-and-knees cleaning that has now transformed my living space.

Finally, all those wonderful negative ions have been moved around, along with my belongings. I learned last year how to rearrange photos and sculptures so I see them again, how to shift the tchotchkes endowed with history and stories so I recognize and appreciate; after sitting in the same-old-same-old spots, my eyes would no longer be caught and would pass over them–along with that slight layer of dust that faded everything.  Now I’ve cleaned the dust, I’ve re-seen the objects, all is new again.

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Now I can see the art glass tray, the ceramic lotus, the dried flowers still bright with pink and yellow.

A confession: the bathroom only got a quick wipe down, and it will take a couple days to really scour the kitchen.  But wood is glistening and lights shining brightly, surfaces are clearer and paintings placed in new positions of honor.  A votive flickers in the window.

Tomorrow morning as the tea water comes to a boil, I’ll do more smaller-scale wandering in the kitchen:  washing dishes, wiping down cabinets, reading recipes. I’m cleaning, I’m dreaming, I’m wandering; I’m meditating my future life into being.

The rhododendron blooms are already set January 8th; they need only wait for spring.

The rhododendron blooms are already set here in early January; what does that say about being more ready than you think?  about not needing to rush? about trusting in Spring?

Winter Solstice At Home, with Rice Noodles

Curried chicken, one of my childhood comfort foods, over rice noodles.

Curried chicken, one of my childhood comfort foods, over rice noodles.

I’m having a hard time settling in this week, as winter holidays come and go, approach and recede, as personal and national losses do the same.

So I go to the kitchen.

The hills and bare trees and apartment roofs that stretch to the east bear witness through the windows. I write as I do my little jobs–if I think of them as little, building like snowflakes into larger things, they are easier to begin.  I jot down thoughts, recipe ideas, insights that spring on me like the birds who dive past.  Sunrise glows dimly through the clouds.

Since the rest of the world feels sad and chaotic, I create order in my corner of it: there are the clean dishes dried and warmed by the gas stove pilot lights. Now to stack the mixing bowls by size and slip them into the cabinet, organize the post-Cookie Party baking pans, and ponder which ingredients are to be used up next out of the freezer and fridge. Here’s the softness of a purple dish towel, water splashing everywhere while I clean the last of the teacups, and that final step: wiping down the counters and sink, sweeping the floor. Now to the cooking.

**

Frozen chicken thighs started me off, and some of the Community Garden string beans I had managed to harvest and de-string and freeze before my last visit with J–and a rock-solid jar of cooking juices, added to each time I’d roasted or baked chicken since June. When defrosted, the glass was golden-full of olive oil, salt, floating bits of garlic, Pappadew sweet piquante pepper seasoning, and chicken fat.

The broth blended with milk and sautéed dried onion on the way to my mother’s Curried Chicken sauce. The original recipe appeared decades before curry was a household word in the U.S., in Redbook, or Good Housekeeping, or some other 1960s ladies’ magazine; I’m sure they promised an exotic meal, able to be put together in 30 minutes or less, conveniently utilizing leftover cooked poultry.  Originally the sauce was served over rice (red-boxed “Minute Rice” in Mom’s kitchen) mixed with dried parsley, always with a side of canned pineapple chunks.

But horrors!–the bag of brown basmati rice (standard in my interpretation of the dish) was empty, and so I hurriedly dug through the cabinets to find rice noodles, purchased for another, more modern curry dish–Thai coconut and Kaffir lime.  Since the comfort-food sauce was almost finished, I quickly boiled the noodles like a wheat-based spaghetti, and they turned out to be a wonderful substitution.

After eating, I walked into the rest of the apartment where chores awaited patiently: the end of year budget, memorabilia to be sorted, work research and networking to be initiated.  I brought in the sense of order from my clean kitchen and home-cooked meal, lit a candle, later burned some incense, and calmly did small parts of huge projects.

I drank tea, cried about tragedies, and thought about some joys as well.

Candle and tea, for the shadowed afternoon.

Candle and tea, for the shadowed afternoons.

Later in the week I wanted to use up the rest of the dried noodles, so I hot-soaked them and then stir-fried with a jarred Pad Thai sauce I’d bought for “some day when I wanted Thai but didn’t want to order out or cook from scratch.”  I managed to employ this sauce, the rice noodles, about ten frozen raw shrimp left from Thanksgiving appetizers, some eggs and broccoli and aging celery, even had salted peanuts hiding behind the dried pasta; only had to buy fresh cilantro and bean sprouts.

I trust that if I eat up all the food I have, there will be more.

Shrimp pad thai, with crushed peanuts and cilantro leaf.

Shrimp pad thai, with crushed peanuts and cilantro leaf. Oh, and broccoli and celery and bean sprouts. And a little egg.

This week, in the spirit of being empty, I even skipped a writing deadline, deliberately watching the clock tick down and observing my reactions. The piece I wanted to submit just wasn’t ready yet, so I didn’t force it.  I trust that it’s stewing inside me, and I’ll know it’s ready, if I keep close watch on the pot.

So instead of indulging the A+ student, I hiked for hours along the Niskayuna Bike Path, on the last sunny afternoon predicted for a while, then hunkered down for the blowzy day on Friday.

I trust there will be other opportunities in my writing life; that missing this one won’t be the end of me.

Almost-official-winter reflections in the Mohawk River, along Niskayuna Bike Path

Almost-official-winter reflections in the Mohawk River, along Niskayuna Bike Path

I conversed on the day of solstice with author E.P. Beaumont (http://epbeaumont.com).  E.P. describes late fall as “the end of things, the beginning of things, a gateway time, where the gates to the other world are wide open–and remember the other world includes The Past, as well.”  This is a time for processing, meditating, mulling. It reminds us of other darknesses that will inevitably come, and trains us to hold on to the memory of light and lightness, which will also inevitably return.

Though deeper cold chills the landscape and bits of snow flew outside this morning, winter solstice has come and gone and the days increase, even if imperceptibly for now.  I will continue consuming my culinary caches, making order, making messes, identifying my life’s work through my daily work. Lighting candles and cooking noodles.  Drinking tea. Trusting I carry my peace and emptiness with me, into the darkness, as I seek the growing light.

The list of cached freezer food grows shorter.

The list of cached freezer food grows shorter.

Mom’s Curried Chicken Recipe:  Saute 1 1/2 tsp curry powder and 1 TB instant minced onion in 3 TB of margarine. Remove from heat and add 3 TB flour, 3/4 tsp sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp ginger. Stir until thickened. Add 1 cup milk and 1 cup chicken broth. Put back on heat and bring to a boil. Simmer one minute, Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup cooked cut up chicken, 3/4 tsp lemon juice. Serve on top of rice mixed with parsley flakes.

I usually double all the ingredients, thoroughly mix in more flour than recommended so the sauce will be thicker, and whisk the roux incrementally with the liquids, before heating, to avoid lumps. This time I also added 32 oz of cooked Community Garden green beans along with the chicken. And more chicken than recommended. Of course.

Shrimp Pad Thai. I used a whole jar of Thai Kitchen Pad Thai sauce, and followed the instructions on the label for stir-frying 2 eggs first, then the shrimp, then the sliced veggies, mixing in bean sprouts at the end, topping with crushed peanuts and cilantro. I followed the directions on the rice noodles for hot soaking, then stir fried them with the sauce, again per the Thai Kitchen label. Nice and easy….

Saving Food/Wasting Food

Kitchen window, cup of tea and colored glass

Kitchen window, cup of tea and colored glass

Last week’s blog did not get finished or posted–all because I made an inedible pot of soup.

In a hurry; measurement ignored; ingredients tossed together; forgot to break up the frozen chard so instead of tasty green bits, slimy strings floated; didn’t realize the pinto beans had been freezer burnt by a crack in the container until they were already in the stew; frugally used up an open beef bouillon concentrate, but the whole thing tasted too dark and earthy, not savory.

Finally I admitted to myself that beef base just didn’t work here, and neither did anything else.  Staring at the congealed mess in the stockpot: How did I come to make this lousy food? 

Fear. The word bubbled up, like the greenish-brown liquid in the pot.  It’s fear. 

A discussion before Thanksgiving at a local barbecue restaurant prompted this reaction. One friend had grown up in an Italian family, but not one that stuffed him like a manicotti; plenty to eat, but no forcing, “take however much or little you want.” Therefore, few food issues emerged afterward, and he is able to enjoy a bit of protein, or a bit of sweet, knowing pretty instantly when he might be over-eating. My other friend grew up with nutrition from the pantry at her church, sometimes shamed by charity, and sometimes sending back food that was so unpleasant her family couldn’t accept it, for others more desperate than them. Later food allergies made meal preparation tedious and very limited.

I grew up with meals measured out carefully, only intermittent seconds or extras, and desserts strictly regulated–even though the cupboards and Frigidaires were full, a practice dating from the blizzard-on-the-farm days of my mother’s teenager-hood. We had enough, but the equal-sized and small portions of meat, starch, vegetable, fruit, though nutritionally well balanced, usually tasty, and not bad looking on the plate, combined with later skirting with poverty during grad school days to create an enduring sense of scarcity, and lack of knowing what my body actually needed and craved, aside from “more.”

After sharing our stories, we three studied our plates and take-out containers in shock, individually mulling over alternate universes–What would it be like to live with his relationship to food? With hers? With mine?

Weeks later, this led to my realization and then extended thoughts about fear, as I stood over my unpalatable potage, but a different fear interrupted–about meeting the Friday writing deadline. All this thinking is taking too long!

Then I remembered the book I’ve been slowly reading lately: Sarah Susanka’s The Not So Big Life, wherein she says some very cogent things about Running Out of Time and  Attachment to Outcomes.

With a sigh, I went back to page 36. Susanka reminded me to not make the end product the goal, but rather the process; the process of figuring out what I wanted to say, the process of understanding myself–that was the goal.

The A+ Student in me got sent to a time-out, to cool her proverbial heels for a week, and I lived my life and read my book and wrote pages and pages about my childhood and young-married life, and my relationship with food.

J's crazy-cats keep me company.

J’s crazy-cats keep me company while I write and ponder.

Now multiple essays are emerging, all linked by a challenge I’ve set for myself.

Don’t worry–it’s not a challenge that will cause the A+ Student to come roaring from her room with fangs out and lists streaming behind her. It’s just a challenge to gently help me and the A+ Student identify what ideational platforms I’m standing on, where they come from, and ask:  Are they true? Are they helpful?

So…I now take a vow to clear out old food, to undo the feeling of scarcity in my eating life. No more stuffing the freezer and shelves with food because I am worried about not having enough. 

In fact, I am going to “spend down” my supplies. I will buy the fresh things necessary for daily use, or specific ingredients to make something fun or follow a recipe, but no more stockpiling. If a food item is past due, or icky, it’s gone. After cooking, I can put an extra portion away, but will share it or eat it within a short period.

Reminding myself: it’s one person for many meals, little amounts of food, not like when I was cooking for a family of four, which with teenagers makes it more like six, and their friends, plus leftovers for the food needs that will come a few hours or a day later– Whoops, better cook for eight or ten.

Homemade pizza with a big family used to mean two 9 X 12 cookie sheets. Today I eat one piece, with salad and fruit. Lasagna in the past? Twelve pieces for today, twelve pieces for the freezer, regardless of the future texture. Who cared about that? It was speed, availability, and quantity!  Nowadays, lasagna is layered with vegetables, a delicate sauce, fresh cheeses, and no more than two or three servings over several days. Yes, life is different and the action I’m taking will be accompanied by meditating and writing.

A list is posted now in my kitchen, what’s kept cold and what’s kept frozen and what’s kept waiting in the pantry, along with a few lovely potential recipes.  A month of this, and the new year has a chance to begin fresh and open.

How will it feel to have emptier cabinets, an almost empty freezer?

***

Approaching frozen containers was too daunting after the soup fiasco, so I started by opening a can of sweetened condensed milk whose “best by” date I can’t even admit to.  It tastes fine, the texture is merely thicker and the color more caramel than usual, and I am using it instead of the standard turbinado and milk to lace my morning tea. It’s beautiful in J’s cat-covered mug, and stirs up nicely. A good start, I say.

Next week the menu includes Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese, and a side of My Personal History with Commodity (Government) Cheese. Soon to come: Phyllo Chicken Pot Pie accompanied by Women & Preparedness; Losing Books and the Purpose of Stuff; a dessert of Poverty, Pie, and the Possibility of Blizzards.

See? I tell myself. There’s still fullness, and not just of food.

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Creamy and filling, the tea with sweetened condensed milk–whose time had finally come!

 

Washing Dishes

Today’s view from the kitchen window

There the pile sits in the morning kitchen: water glasses with lip marks and fingerprints; small plates smeared with food, accompanying utensils splayed over them; tea cups and travel mugs with rings of dried milk and sugar; plastic leftover containers, greasy lids akimbo.

Usually it doesn’t feel like an onerous chore. But a not-unexpected sadness has come to nest in my house this fall.

I know that when you lose someone, like I’ve lost J, you revisit your other deaths, especially those you have not finished mourning. You acknowledge and examine the loss of friends, places, homes, relationships, belongings, patterns of behavior, certainty.

That is the work I am doing.

Part of the floundering has included a scary disinclination to write, choosing entertainment over introspection, an old habit I thought I was done with. I haven’t felt like cooking. Or even cleaning up after the take-out.

But then I remember J half-joking, half-begging: With these lungs, I may not be able to vacuum or dust, but I can still stand here and wash a few dishes. Just let me do them!

A little bleary-eyed, still in slippers and ‘jammies, I set up the water boiler on the counter, fill the empty ice cube trays and put away the clean dishes washed a week ago.

Another voice from the dead, Great-Aunt Helen, whose legs were heavy and painful, fingers mangled by arthritis: This is my house and don’t you touch those dishes!

But Aunt Helen, we helped make this mess, and you must be tired after baking cookies and Mahogany Cake–and cooking brisket and dirty rice. It will be so much easier for us to clean up.

We’all are gonna sit in the screen room, have some Dr. Pepper, and listen to the night sounds. Leave the dishes ‘til morning! When I wash ‘em up tomorrow, I can take as long as I want and relive all the arguments, and the jokes, and the silliness. I know you mean well, but I want to remember the good time we had while dirtying these very dishes.  No arguments; it’s settled.

So today at the sink I pay monk-like attention to details: the sound of the tea water moving toward a boil, then the smooth matte surface of robin’s egg and gold stoneware plates in the sink, essential oil of lavender soap bubbling my hands.

I remember the phone conversation with a fellow writer while I drank the Earl Gray Cream out of this Shakespeare Quotes mug, and commiseration with an out-of-work friend accompanied by Russian Caravan in that blue flowered cup.

Having reached temperature, the water in the boiler is poured over loose Truffle black tea, bits of dried coconut and chocolate chips visible. Back at the sink while it steeps, I revisit Lad Nar over garden green beans here, the half sandwich left from a writing session at Professor Java’s there, and an apple-farm Honeycrisp purchased in September after a sunny bike ride along the Mohawk River, sliced carefully onto a blackberry colored plate. Washing, rinsing. Washing, rinsing.

October ivy

Outside the window, ivy reddens on my building, the green ivy opposite just barely blushing yet. Rain pelts the cars rushing by and students grind wet gravel underfoot as they hurry to class. Up the hill, willows and maples and birches and oaks are all changing color at different speeds.

I scrub to get every bit of scrud off a pot, rinse it thoroughly in hot water, then place all the dishes one by one on the gas stove so as to be perfectly dried by the heat of the pilot lights. When ready, there will be the satisfaction of putting each plate, each mug, in its own place once again.

After the fixtures and counter are wiped down and dry, I pour a cup of tea and finally, finally make the frittata I planned a week ago.

It consists of: freezer spinach overdue for use, a teeny green pepper from my garden (one of five whose existence completely surprised me two weeks ago), four ounces of muenster cheese, half a white onion, a teaspoon of salt, some crumbled dried sage from another friend’s garden, a pinch of nutmeg, six local eggs, a couple tablespoons of flour to thicken. Out of milk, haven’t gotten myself to the store, so I just steam all the veggies in the microwave, keep the liquid, and stir it all together with a tablespoon of butter chopped up.

I bake the sun-yellow concoction in a greased oval pan in my convection toaster oven at 375 for 15 minutes. With puffy browned edges, eaten off a pretty green plate, the frittata tastes of warm kitchens past and present, meals present and savory meals to come.

Tomorrow morning I will make tea and wash these dishes, too.  No arguments; it’s settled.

Mind-Out-Of-Time: Writing, and Teapots

My teapot from J, tucked behind an electric kettle, another teapot, and a locally crafted mug,  on my early morning countertop.

I miss talking to J about my writing life.

This afternoon I will concentrate on writing, I’d say.  I’m deliberately ‘concentrating on,’ not ‘working on’–no more of the furrowed brow that ‘work on’ entails.

She’d laugh.  I used to have that furrowed brow, too; hell, look at my wrinkly forehead.  J would talk about the struggle to get to her drawing, even with new chalks and paints around her, how daily chores and her own busy mind pulled her away from something she’d never had time for, yet couldn’t quite get to, even now.  She’d encourage me to keep going, and I’d tell her more.

When I give myself over to writing, or create space for it, then I can relax and play. It’s what I call Mind-Out-Of-Time, what I sometimes think heaven is or would be: you are so involved in something that clock hands move unnoticed, you look up and the afternoon light is bending across your desk and you gasp–how long have I been here?

Mind-Out-Of-Time comes also when I choose to immerse myself in how life looks and feels, tastes, sounds and smells. It comes when I give myself permission to be right where I am, at that very moment, open to pleasure even in the midst of pain.

So I think of J, steeping tea in her beautiful cobalt blue teapot, when I came to visit six months ago. Napkins in hand, she danced oxygen tubing between pieces of furniture as I carried the prepared cups and cookies to the front room. We laughed about how, on our last big trip, she’d pulled her portable oxygenator, nicknamed ‘Fred’ after her father, all over the up-and-down hills of downtown Vancouver.  Fred sure got a workout, didn’t he? Took care of me just like Dad did.  We discussed once again her wish to die at home.  She asked after my teapot, a twin of hers, which she gave me when I moved away. Every time I make tea in it I think of you, I told her.

Two weeks ago, her caregivers still made English Breakfast in her blue teapot; she rested in the home hospital bed, I held the mug, she sipped sweet lukewarm liquid with a straw.  During the moments she was awake, she rolled her eyes sardonically, joking with only a few words about the little yellow curlers in her hair that looked like baby corn; I teased her back about how she finally got us all to wait on her hand and foot, and more seriously, how much we loved doing it.  As she drifted into medicated rest, she murmured about death, it will be pleasant; it will be pleasant. See you on the other side.

After the memorial service last weekend, I wrapped up the cobalt blue teapot in crinkly paper, to deliver it safely to her chaplain, someone who’d shared tea with her every Wednesday for many years, someone whom I suspect also understood mind-out-of-time with her.  I took one of her mugs and packaged one for yet another friend.

This morning, kitchen lights reflect on the curve of my round teapot as rain drips down the apartment windows.  Cars splash black puddles up into the air outside.  J’s goldenrod colored, cartoon-cat covered mug, full of toffee-chocolate-hazelnut tea, sits beside my keyboard.

Guess what.  I’m still talking to J about my writing life.