for the love of winter sushi

It is really winter now. Two weeks of storms, lots of snow, some freeze and thaw,

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more snow. Full moon and partial eclipse, some intense winds, more snow. Risotto, and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. There were a few days where I could get out into the woods with Yogi and Nora just wearing crampons, when the powdery snow was still nestled on branches and the slightest movement would bring it down in a cascade of whispers.

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I went long distance with the dogs those days, the full loop around Eagle Nest to the swamp, along the brook and back. They reveled in the freedom to explore the familiarity of the place we all love to be together

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and I loved seeing the transformation that came with the blanket of white.

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And then it snowed again. This time enough to warrant snowshoes and finally, a foray into my own back woods all by myself. It’s been months since I’ve walked this familiar path, abandoned in favor of deeper woods that could absorb the full energy of the dogs. I was invincible with the snowshoes on, I could go anywhere, every glance a new potential path. And familiar views that welcomed me back.

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Before I left on retreat to St. John I saw a movie I really liked called ‘East Side Sushi’. It is about a Latin born woman who aspires to become a sushi chef, and all the imaginable roadblocks that come with breaking with tradition and aspiring to something new. It is a sweet movie, moving, full of the kind of tolerance and acceptance that can make a difference. So I’ve had sushi on the brain ever since. Inspired, I took a package of nori and a bag of brown rice on retreat and ended up making vegetable sushi for one of the pot lucks while there. Seaweed wrapped seasoned rice was refreshing, and even more so I imagined after the ravages of typical winter fare.

Today’s vision was a strong one. Curried (purple) sweet potato and smoked sockeye salmon, which earned the name, ‘for the love of winter sushi’**. The key was to cook the sweet potato in the spices until just firm, not to let it get mushy. The potato was cut into thick slices and added to the center of the rice with a strip of the smoked salmon. An amazing combination of smoky and subtle heat with firm to the bite and soft. Warm. Today’s stew.

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All it needed was a little bit of tamari as seasoning, wasabi wasn’t necessary with the heat of the curry. With a bowl of steaming miso soup, the perfect supper….

**For Love of Winter Sushi

Sushi rice: I cup short grain brown rice, cooked in 1-3/4 cups water until just done, firm to bite. Heat 1 Tbsp. Rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp. Agave, 1/2 teaspoon salt and add to hot cooked rice in wide shallow glass or ceramic bowl. TOSS together (not sir) with spatula. Prepare curried sweet potato (thick slices sautéed in olive oil, curry, ground fennel, and a little coconut milk until just tender, but still firm). Open package of smoked wild sockeye salmon. Cover nori with a thin layer of rice. Cut each piece of potato to size to lay out a line in middle of the rice. Add strip of salmon. With moist hands or bamboo mat, roll. Slice. Eat.

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our world

I just got home from an afternoon of Special Olympics basketball. The world feels right again. My faith in humanity, in a way of settling into the heart of the game that is being played by persons of all abilities, is always instantaneously restored in this context. Perfect strangers root for the other team when a brilliant basket is made. The sense of us all being in it together, truly and authentically, is what reigns. It is such a relief.

This morning the sun finally rose in full view with the day.

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I can’t remember such a gloomy stretch since I’ve been here in this beautiful place I call home. It’s been a long week of gray skies, sleet, rain, freeze, ice, sporadic snow flurries. So uninspiring that the woods didn’t even call. The dogs were becoming impatient with the dance between inside and outside

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Finally, yesterday, with the Himalayan style cramp-ons strapped to my boots, we ventured out into the ice encrusted world where deep frozen deer tracks, looking like lungs of the earth, were the only hints of life.

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It was a start anyway, to settling into the world of home that I remembered before I went away for retreat. I was so caught up in the rapid fire changes being made at a national level that I forgot that this home for me has already been irrevocably changed in such a powerful and wonderful way by the presence of Ben, and all the people I have been lucky enough to come to know who also inhabit his world.

Ben made me a CD the week he was home for Christmas. He is a master of making playlists and loves to compile special collections for special people in special times. It wasn’t until we were in the car after our week together that he popped his new creation into the car CD player. It began with skillfully interwoven Annie Lennox songs from two different albums, all my favorites, twelve in all. I thought that was it. But when I got back home and was driving into town for the first time a few days ago I turned on the audio and the CD kept going. The song ‘Unwritten’ by Natasha Bedingfield filled the car with its inspiring lyrics, then the song ‘Reflection’ from the movie Mulan, then three Celine Dion love songs. For some reason this entire collection, all powerful songs by powerful women, brought up the emotion I had been suppressing since I came home. Driving along I finally released the tears I had been holding for days. How did he know?

I ejected the CD and found this written on the disc**

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Yes! OUR WORLD, and proud to be part of it.
**Kathy Ford Band, Our World 2017

A Thousand Beautiful Things
Honestly
Wonderful
Bitter Pill
Oh God Prayer
Smithereens
Ghosts in My Machine
Womankind
Sing
Big Sky
Fingernail Moon
No More I Love You’s
Unwritten
Reflection
Loved Me Back to Life
Somebody Loves Somebody
Where is the Love

gentle gentle gentle

And then there is santosha, a yogic practice of ‘accepting what actually is’. That we are human beings, full of weird stuff that can often come into the light in ways we would never consciously summon and would benefit from having clarity about. Santosha is essentially the same as radical non-intereference in spirit, ‘see something for what it is’, but also carries with it the space for action from clarity. When my legs become covered in bug bites like they do the first few days in this new environment, it takes time for me to accept that I am a delicious object of desire for bugs. I keep letting it happen. It takes a few days for me to accept that this is actually happening again, even though I’m not using any coconut oil on my skin now like I did last year, have even been using bug spray diligently. I work through the dismay and puzzlement of why my legs still became covered in flea bites, why I am still waking in the middle of the night to the one or two mosquitoes that are leaving large welts on my knuckles and face and even my feet under the covers. Making the choice to stop the assault required action. Moving to a windier location, or maybe even buying one of the readily available mosquito nets from the shop. All the while watching my resistance to choosing these paths to comfort, as if willing my way to a solution through battle with the bugs might actually work. Eventually the words that come to me when practicing Santosha are ‘gentle gentle gentle’. I don’t have to surrender to these bugs, I don’t have to crumble in despair, I don’t have to fight back to the death. I can gently bring myself back to myself and maybe, just maybe, I can share from this place with others. I can co-exist with the bugs and choose my comfort at the same time. I know, it’s only bugs, not human beings. But it is a place to start practicing.

Practicing with humans in retreat brings its own joys and challenges. There are typical group dynamics that come from fear of missing out or not being fully involved in the social activities outside of class. And then the fun of celebrating gratitude together for this experience we have given ourselves. One of my favorite moments was at the end of the first week when, unbeknownst to the rest of us, many members of the group prepared and performed cover songs with new, retreat specific lyrics. Pure fun.

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My legs are healing. And as it is the second week of the retreat, I was scheduled to switch tents, and it happens to be in a much windier location that the bugs cannot rest in. The wind seems to come from the very water itself. This particular tent feels like something out of Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’, as if the very structure of home is truly supported by the sea.

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I also now have a variety of deet free bug repellent that I use diligently, still determined not to fall back on chemical warfare. Who knows what combination of these things is making the difference. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is making a choice to act to end my suffering. And honor that an action taken might mean very different things to different people.

The tents here at Concordia are eco-tents. Composting toilets, solar electric and hot water. A small refrigerator and cooktop. Solidly constructed frames that are sheathed in protective canvas and screens with zippered flaps that allow a full flow of light and air. Simple and easy. Not unlike many of the apartments I have experienced with daughter Molly in Cusco. It’s certainly not the amenities of first world comfort I have been brought up with. But I don’t think of it as a third world thing either. This feels completely natural. Something to even aspire to and work towards in my modest home back home. The daily walk along the wooden ramp/path that connects us all to each other also connects us to the richness of the deep blue we get to live with here.

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There is a beautiful tree that this path winds around, with the weathered skin of a wise benevolent being who set down roots here a very long time ago.

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There is also a path through the woods that leads us down to the sandy beach of Salt Pond, replete with shimmering aqua water and palm trees and the anchored vessels that remind us that there are many ways to live with the sea.

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Raging winds and rains shook our tent like a rattle last night. The sensation of gently settling into the violence of it all was met with awe, and a little healthy fear at just how destructive unleashed power can be. Gentle gentle gentle still seems to be a good response.

radical non-interference

Last night I looked at the almost full moon through a telescope. There were some light clouds in front of it, but it didn’t matter, the illumination was so intense. I was looking at this giant ball of light up close and it was thrilling to have such an intimate contact with something that is typically so far away. Kind of like those pesky emotions that are typically located too far away from the surface for me to actually feel a lot of the time. When they are able to surface and be seen up close in personal, it can be both thrilling and frightening at the same time.

It’s a bit disorienting being in paradise with the knowledge that back home sweeping changes are happening. It helps to remember that even here in this healing Caribbean context of variables of blue,

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deep flowing breezes, salt water infused air with humidity that actually feels good, blazing sun, easy warm temperatures, episodic rains, and slowed down everything, that I am still in the United States. I am still curiously anchored in the reality that life may be a lot different moving forward.

During this retreat we practice meditation and yoga together every morning. We are encouraged to consider ‘radical non-interference’ to any feeling or thought that might come up during these practices. Not radical acceptance or even radical non-resistance, both of which carry a kind of willfulness to make something happen. It’s not the encouragement to accept something that we might not be ready to accept, but rather an invitation to experience the full range of feeling that is there without interfering, deflecting or trying to change the feeling. This practice creates space for a more considered response. My anger felt at being told, rhetorically and politically by those on the other side of how I voted, to stop whining and get over the disappointment, has room to breathe without being judged. My deep sadness that emerges from a human impulse to want peace can emerge and be expressed in a flow of silent tears without being judged. I pray and watch for the release of any sensation that feels like suffering, both inside of me and in the world I am also part of. Like the storms that can co-exist with the sea and sun,

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I imagine how the storms between us human beings can begin to co-exist without one having to dominate another.

Radical non-interference of what is. It is simple and brilliant and incredibly hard to maintain.

I am so conditioned to want to push for resolution and for what I believe is right that it took two days for me to even remember this expression as it was presented during our first meditation together. We are a group of twenty-five from five different states, from different traditions and different ways, all sharing this important teaching.  In the afternoons while we are hiking or snorkeling or swimming or napping in the breeze, I try to feel radical non-interference here as well, to feel the sheer pleasure of exposing myself to the elemental quality of a place defined by water and flow meeting earth so prominently. No need for radical non-interference here where the vastness of the ocean simply always is.

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Today is an uncharacteristically gray day here. It’s amazing how the landscape of the ocean changes with each cloud that passes.

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I take heart in the light that still brilliantly presents itself beyond. It is a reminder of light I can focus on in the darkness of anything that surfaces.

seven leg journey

It begins with waking up to 5 degrees outside. It’s 3:00 in the morning. I stoke both wood stoves to revive the embers to flames again, use the entire hour before my planned departure to do the small random things that still need to be done, say goodbye to Nora, and begin the hour long drive to the airport. It is a thrill actually, to be driving these dark streets with my high beams, not another soul in sight until I get to the expressway, also quiet and fast at this early hour and yet I still feel the anxiety of getting to the gate to board the plane, even with the extra hours I have allotted, so focused with desire now to get to my final destination. I leave my car at a long term storage place and board the little shuttle bus to the terminal, surprisingly full, an indication of a full and busy airport. It is now 5:15. I’ve met up with two others heading to the same retreat and we promptly board our flight that leaves at 7:15. The first leg is complete.

It’s a short flight to Philadelphia, the brief de-icing on the small plane a nod to the early morning freeze, and we land in a barely perceptible light snow flurry in Philly, fear that we might get caught in the predicted impending storm abated for the time being. It’s a lengthy walk through three terminals along moving walkways to get to our gate for the next flight. The snow has picked up outside. Intermittent moments of panic alternate with reassurance as the door to the jetway opens on time and we are all boarded on the large plane that will take us to St. Thomas. Settled in my seat, I look out to a howling wind and snow. Miraculously, the plane is fully boarded and begins to move. It is 9:55. The second leg is complete.

The plane stops after just a few minutes. Starts up again to the deafening sound of whirring engines. Moves a short distance. Stops again. I justify the tension that is building in me by imagining the beautiful place I will soon be inhabiting. But the intense sound, the overwhelming fumes, the evidence of snow now collecting on the runway take over, and the fact that no one has informed us of the cause of the delay pushes me into a fear that we might not actually be able to take off dominates my awareness. The pilot finally comes to to say we are fifth in line for de-icing, and once we get there, it will be a twenty minute process, and then getting back in the cue for take-off. His matter of fact-ness is oddly reassuring. By the time we get to the de-icing station I am shocked to see it is like something out of a science fiction movie.

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We are one of three very large planes lined up to be serviced at the same time by a man in a hermetically sealed machine that looks like a yellow serpent, moving up down and around the plane spraying and spewing a series of solutions over and over until the ground below is frothing with chemical waste that is both sinister and beautiful at the same time.

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The fumes begin to infiltrate the plane cabin, replacing the jet fuel that had been lingering there for the past hour now. The de-icing is finally complete and the now green encrusted plane is ready for departure.

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It is a full two hours past our scheduled take off. And we finally do, take off, just in the nick of time I’m sure. After a bumpy road to the ocean stratosphere, we coast in the bliss of knowing it won’t be long now. (And where, I wonder, did all that green chemical go?)

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Three and a half hours later we land in 82 degrees and sunshine. It is 4:30 (including the one hour Ahead time difference. The third leg is complete.

We bypass baggage claim and offers of free rum to get a taxi to the Red Hook ferry ASAP. A lively and ride through the windy streets with our entertaining driver Barbara gets us there in record time to make the five o’clock ferry. However we are some of the last to board what is clearly one of their older models, there is no room up top where we can travel with the sea air, and barely find seats amongst the mixed tourist and native crowd on the main floor of the vessel. It is loud and full of fumes here too, just the hint of what is to one to be seen through the scratched windows that are shut tight to prevent the engine fumes from backing in. It is 5:40. The fourth leg of our journey is complete.

The ferry ride to St. John is short. We arrive in Cruz Bay, retrieve our bags and head to the taxi stand that occupies the transition space between the dock and town. The sun is rapidly descending toward the horizon. It is 6:00. The fifth leg of our journey is complete.

The taxi drivers all express some aspect of dismay when we say where we want to go. Concordia is on the opposite end of the island and a long drive that only makes sense when the large open air taxi can be be filled. But it is never filled. We indulge the nice man who says he will take while he eyes the rest of the newcomers coming off the dock with anticipation, hoping for any others who will want to go our way. He doesn’t make us wait too long however, and finally gestures for us to follow him. It’s just the three of us, and he is gracious and accommodating, even knowing this will not be the most profitable trip for him. He even stops at our favorite grocery on the way and asks if we’d like to stop for some provisions. Now he has reached saint status, waiting patiently while we shop. We are so grateful when he delivers us in the now fully dark sky, unloads our bags. He charges us even less than what is expected and of course we simply pay him more for his kindness and consideration. It is 7:15. The sixth leg of our journey is over.

First there are hugs and greetings by other group members who have already arrived. We check in, and begin the arduous task of carrying our bags up the infamous flights of stairs to get to our eco-tents which have been built into the side off the mountain facing Saltpond Bay, only accessible by foot. It is too dark to see the expanse of ocean that will greet us in the morning, but the sound of the surf is strong, the sensuous breeze like a balm for the travels of the day. We have arrived. It is 8:00. The seventh and final leg of the journey is over.

The magic of the morning here never fails. It is a homecoming here too.

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glee bingeing

Ben and I did some serious Glee bingeing during this holiday break, watching two whole seasons from the DVD’s Ben received as gifts. Not that we haven’t already. There were days of watching episodes on Netflix years ago, sitting on the couch together in front of my iPad screen, thoroughly enjoying the charm of a world where anything goes. Season One began in the fall of 2009 and the show ended with Season Six in 2015. It is the kind of entertainmnet that you can watch over and ver, get invested in the characters and the trials and tribulations of show choir, at once both absurd and relevant, funny and poignant, and marvel at the talent of so many. This show has everything, explores every possible social issue that threatens and/or binds us to each other in community. Each episode is some mix of unadulterated ambition, musical history, diversity, ethnicity, high school politics, adult politics, arts versus athletics vs. academics, competition, inclusion, relationships, religion, media, education, poverty, obesity, bullying, disability, surrogacy, homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender, mental illness, tolerance, intolerance, parenting, death, family, divorce, failure, humiliation, success, shock, and miraculously, through it all, just plain fun. Every issue is taken to a limit that invites speculation. Even the character of Becky Jackson, who has Down Syndrome, is cast first as a fallible human being with both desirable and undesirable behavior. The portrayal of her nastiness being born out of a need for survival in a brutal high school environment, seems completely normal.

It is a brilliant production and I wish there could be more. It feels prophetic that this show occupied the space of the Obama years. Party politics aside, I do wonder at the value of having such a rich portrayal of humanness being a benchmark for moving into the years with this next administration. Reminds me a little of Christmas dinner this year, where tolerance reigned in a beautiful way when the subject arose and differences of opinion about the future of this country were expressed. It could have been ugly. It does my heart good to witness where diversity can live in community in an authentic way.

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So for the past week, Ben and I settled into our favorite seats in the warmth of the wood stove and watched an episode or two of Glee at a time, got up for a walk, an outing, some quiet time, or to prepare a meal, and when finished, would come back for more. Our favorite outing was to go visit with Lily and Jay and their baby son Jack. Jay is a musician, Lily a special education teacher and it was great sharing about the brilliance of Glee with them too.

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Making dinner became a ritual Ben made sure to be present for each night. He has some favorites, and it does my heart good here too to witness his enthusiasm for watching and learning. This vacation he was focused on making pasta with tuna sauce**. It was the first thing he asked for after Christmas and seemed to set the tone for the simple meals of delicious winter easy. It is also one of the few meals I have the tolerance for making with primarily processed foods.

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Of course Nora joined us for all the fun, alternatively stretched out in front of the fire and then up to Ben for hugs and kisses.

It was significant as we were leaving to take Ben back to his father’s for the rest of vacation, that the last thing he wanted to do was to say goodbye to Nora, down on his knees in a full body hug. Blessed be.

 

**Pasta with Tuna Sauce, for 2

One 7 oz. can tuna (my current favorite is Genova yellowfin tuna in olive oil), drained
About one cup canned tomatoes with some juice
1/4 cup olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic, finely minced
Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
6 oz. spaghetti
Optional 1-1/2 cups fresh chopped kale or broccoli

1. In a large saucepan that can hold sauce, vegetables and pasta, saute garlic for a moment in hot olive oil, add tomatoes (squeeze whole plum tomatoes by hand, mash diced tomatoes to be more pulpy), cover and simmer on low while water is boiling for pasta. Oil and tomato will separate. Sir a few times to mix.
2. Add pasta to boiling water, cook to desired firmness.
3. Add fresh parsley (and vegetables) to sauce, cover and cook until just soft, just a few minutes. Turn off fire, add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Drain pasta and add to sauce. Mix thoroughly. Turn fire on to high and ‘stir fry’ for a few minutes. Turn off fire and let sit for a few more minutes with cover. Serve warm.

 

forces of nature

Ben captured an image of me with the dogs while practicing with his new Christmas camera. It was a rare brief moment of all three of us in communion. But as soon as I moved even the tiniest bit, the entire scene would shatter and shift into the usual whirling dervish of attention getting behavior. If only I could sit just like this indefinitely, calm and equally loving for the two canine spirits I share my life with.

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I read recently that “life is a balance between rest and movement” (Osho) We three would soon all be separated from each other, on vacation from our usual ways, me on a two week retreat away from home, Yogi staying with my parents in their home five hours away, and Nora holding down the fort here with a new companion/house sitter.

My parents left with Yogi. Ben, Nora and I ventured part way into the woods for an much needed walk after days of rain and being indoors. It was almost balmy, and very slippery under foot in the soggy snow that would turn to solid ice during the anticipated overnight freeze. It was hard to maintain sure footing. We wouldn’t get far and it didn’t matter. It felt so good to be walking alongside the rush of water now liberated from ice, the sound of beauty living in the force of nature.

Walking in the woods with the snow requires cramp-ons or snowshoes when the snow comes to stay for good long while. I’d had only one such walk before the holidays. It took twice as long for me to negotiate the short loop to the pond and back with Yogi and Nora making the first tracks in our otherwise clear path. In this, they too have become part of my world where forces of nature create context for feeling joy.

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Forces of nature are so erratic these days, and I feel unsettled in the anticipation that a heavy snowfall might be followed by rain the next day, and then a freeze.

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Has it always been this way? Is it my yearning for some level of certainty that has me only remembering the long winters of my youth when the snow came and stayed until spring? It feels like a metaphor for the times. Anything goes, even climate change, extremes one day to the next, never any real time for truly resting with what is there before making the next move, or being distracted by the next influx of information.

I’ve been doing this retreat for four years now. In many ways it has become another certain part of my life. We are asked to arrive with an intention for the work we will all be doing together in meditation and yoga practice and fun. My intent is simple this year. I want to re-learn how to read novels again. I watch a lot of movies and old tv show re-runs like ER. I am writing a lot but I can’t remember the last time I actually read an entire novel or short story. I suppose this will require some re-awakening, some re-membering of the pleasure I used to feel as a younger version of myself during undisturbed hours of absorption with the written word. Immersing in fiction in the past always allowed me to stretch my imagination and occupy new terrain. It’s not just about remembering how to engage and stay present with a good story. It’s about acknowledging, perhaps even accepting, my current emotional need for certainty and stability. For so many years now I have satisfied that need by opening to the certainty of beauty that is always there, in the force of nature in every moment.

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It’s like a drug. I want it all the time. I want to feel the immediate multi-dimensional emotional hit of an image that I can capture with a click on my iPhone. The narcissist in me thinks I am seeing this uniquely through my eyes. That this my movie, even if controlled by nature. I don’t know if this is truth or not.

Discovering order and seeing beauty has become the backbone of my story and a kind of certainty I can depend on. Is it still possible to fully open to and truly get lost in another person’s story without losing myself? Perhaps surrendering my current fixed image of self to the emotional guidance of a good book, if only for a short period of time, is exactly the point.