crystal gold

We have been hit with a snowstorm here in Massachusetts that is unprecedented.  October 29.  Way too soon for snow, and I didn’t really believe the predictions of 5-6” that ended up actually being 12″.  I also had no idea what kind of damage wet heavy snow at this time of year could do.  It started late afternoon on Saturday.  I went outside three times to shake the snow off my beautiful lilacs with hopes that it would stop soon.  Later that night, I was going to sleep to flickering lights and the sound of limbs cracking….truly an awful sound.  I felt like I was in some kind of science fiction movie, heart pounding to the sequence of unfamiliar sounds. The power went out just after midnight and then the flashes of ‘lightning’ started, brilliant flashes of all encompassing light punctuating the eerie grayish light of the motionless night outside.  I finally fell asleep, exhausted by the vigil, snow still coming down hard, surrendering to whatever was happening…

I wake to brilliantly clear skies and cold. The sun is just coming up and I step out to take in the beauty of the moment.  The gold of the sun coming through thickly crusted  branches of white, the gold at the tops of the trees where the sun is hitting them now,
the gold of the leaves still holding court on branches that haven’t let them go yet.  Everywhere I look branches and whole trunks of young trees have been beaten down by the snow and I wonder at the resiliency and just how much bending and accommodating can happen before there is no ability to bend back….


It is a particularly cathartic day.  No power and no heat and no internet.  Luckily
my range has gas burners fueled by propane so I can cook!!  And it will be something hearty, something that will fill the house with its smell and hopefully fill the space of the
missing heat.  So to honor ‘heartiness’, I pull the heavy cast iron pot off the rack, chop up lots of garlic (3 very large cloves), scrub the skins of three med-large Yukon Gold potatoes and open a can of Italian plum tomatoes. I cover the bottom to the pot with olive oil and put the garlic in.  Quickly chop about a cup & a half of tomatoes and add to the garlic with some of the juice too.  Squeeze in the half lemon sitting on the counter and add the half bag of frozen artichoke quarters in the freezer.   Add salt, black pepper & cayenne pepper to taste.  While this is all heating up together I chop the potatoes into large chunks.  Find  a half can of leftover garbanzo beans in the fridge and add them the potatoes and a splash of water to the pot.  Lid on, and simmer until the potatoes are soft but still firm to the bite.  While we are waiting, Ben and I sit in front of the fire and he is telling me one of his ‘plays’.  Typically based on old Barney episodes, he has evolved these stories to a mythical level that always involve people he loves and some form of magic.  He is pointing to the fireplace now and referring to ‘crystal gold’.  I stop him and ask, “You mean the fire?  That is what you call crystal gold?”  He says “yes, and then the fire isn’t there and it is crystal gold like colors in the sky”, while using a swirling motion with his hand to indicate the kind of fairy dust sparkle that appears when some form of transformation is about to happen.  I am captivated by the feeling evoked by ‘crystal gold’…and realize that it is there in all the pictures I have just taken!  In the absence of the heat of the sun (of the fire)  what is there instead is the golden glow of colors still present in the leaves on the trees reflected off the icy snow in morning sun!!

My son, the prophet.  I love moments like this when the ‘sense’ often makes no sense at all.  Or in this case, when the ‘non sense’ makes perfect sense!

The stew is done.  I fill two plates with fresh spinach and heap generous amounts of piping hot stew on top.  By the time we sit down to eat, the stew is just warm and the spinach half cooked and soft.  The whole house smells like garlic and tomatoes and the  heat of something warm to eat…my version of making ‘crystal gold’  today…

pattern of centering

I have noticed a pattern from the past two weeks.  I will make a stir fry or soup and at the last minute, decide to add a concentration of sautéed greens in the center.  It started last weekend while visiting my parents.  My mother had made a wonderful lentil soup and as it was heating up, I rooted around the fridge, found a bag of greens, and sautéed them in a little olive oil & salt.  When the bowls of soup were dished up, I added a nice mound of greens to each bowl right in the center.

Two days later here at home, I am making one of my lunches to go and preparing a bunch of vegetables to stir fry. Not unlike preparing vegetables for soup, I first rinse the assortment in a colander where the vegetables still retain their individual presences, leeks, squash, carrots, broccoli, bok choy.  I decide to substitute corn for the broccoli at the last minute and notice that when everything is chopped into tiny pieces and all mixed together, this sense of individuality is gone, it is now a blended beautiful yellow orange whole.  And as I go to add the greens at the end, I instinctively put them all in the center and don’t stir them in, just put the lid on, steam it all together, and put it in my lunch bowl to go….

I’ve already made two pots of soup this week and with each bowl eaten, notice that I am still in this pattern of adding the greens to the center.  Yesterday’s vegetable soup was a cleaning out the bin kind of soup, onions, carrots, celery, leeks, mushrooms, bok choy, a delicata squash (including skin), a can of diced tomatoes, a can of beans, some fennel seed, cayenne pepper and of course sea salt.  I alway make vegetable soup the same way.  While the chopped onions (and garlic or leeks or shallots) are softening in the olive oil over medium heat, I am chopping the next vegetable.  I put that in the pot, stir, and then chop the next vegetable and so on until everything is in the pot sauteing.  For liquid, I use a combination of vegetable broth and water and cover the vegetables by about a half inch or so.  Bring to a boil, cover, and then simmer on low for at least a couple of hours.  I usually put the beans and any chopped greens in at the end.  Yesterday’s soup is a real departure from my standard, carrot, celery, potato, green bean and zucchini variety that is the family favorite.  It is a mish mash of stuff,  all kind of mushy too, and so I decide to put it in the food processor and puree it. It is now a gray brown mixture that tastes wonderful but is not at all inspiring to look at.  So out come the greens again, a fresh bag of spinach that I saute this time with some sesame seeds too.  It is amazing the transformation with the center of green.  This is not a natural order of things, man made and even ‘designed’, but the sense of ‘center’ feels as old as time itself…

So I am now thinking about how often we actually do create what we need whether aware of where this manifests or not.  I intuitively have been looking for center and laughing now at how it has once again manifested through the food that becomes nourishment on so many levels, the green symbolic for healing energy of the heart.  I am needing to be centered in my heart.

Heading off to the farmer’s market now, it will be interesting to see what calls to me to prepare as the center of my soup today….


I am getting ready for my walk with Yankee.  It is really cold outside and while I am putting on the second layer for warmth the word ‘birch’ comes to me very clearly.  I immediately think of my favorite white birch trees at the end of the street that greet me every morning at the end of the walk, always silhouetted against the foliage that my house is nestled in.  So I strap on my camera with the thought to take a picture of these trees today.  Step out into the dark chill and frozen crust of snow and realize I have to be careful of black ice and areas of frozen pavement.  Yikes, it is too soon for this, I’m not ready for this covering of white!  Snow in October? I know it is just temporary, it will warm up today and be fall again but in this frosty chill of the morning all I can feel is that quiet desire to go ‘inside’ and hibernate.  To wrap myself and be still.  Then my attention comes back to the birch, it’s meaning in our culture, the symbol for the State of New Hampshire (hardiness), for cleansing of the past, renewal and purification…and how this single small stand at the edge of road represents the beginning, the renewal of day and light for me every day….and the joy of moving into the day that comes with it….

Back in the house and I am focused on the fact that the new boiler is just half installed, they will return today to finish, but in the meantime there is no heat to turn on. I have tenants that come from warmer climates and do not know this kind of cold and I realize I am worrying about them, despite my own adaptability and comfort with the situation, in front of the blazing fire.  And then let go of the worry knowing they are okay and viewing this all as an adventure, a curiosity to be experienced. I realize that having to adapt to something new is actually a form of renewal, there is that moment of fear that needs to be faced and released before accepting the new or unexpected with grace.

I have a collection of birch bark from years of picking up pieces on hikes and outings, and it sits in a pile in my meditation room with no apparent intent for being there.  I now take the entire collection and put it into the fire as a symbol of releasing the unnecessary worrying of a mother that serves no one and needs to be let go of.  Then I see written on one of the pieces the words “I love Kathy”  and the purifying tears of acknowledging the last of my attachment to a past love affair bubble up and are released as well   Oh how rich this all is!  ….marveling at where I can be led to by just paying attention to a single word…birch….

intentional improv

I wake up remembering just a portion of what felt like a lengthy night of dreaming.  I am listening to a rehearsal that is taking place on a stage in front and above me, and I can’t actually see the two people performing.  Then, the ‘real’ actor flies past me and jumps up on stage to replace the actor who is ‘doubling’ for him in practice.  Knowing something significant is about to happen, I rise up above the stage now to the ‘real’ actor puts on the music and begins to dance the way he ‘really’ wants to.  His companion responds and they are now dancing in pure improvisation, nothing held back, their swirls and leaps taking them off the ground and flying through the air like the warriors in the film ‘Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, slow motion defying of gravity and with the feel of knowing they are breaking out of the bonds of what is expected.  I wake exhilarated by this performance.

So I have made my fire in the fireplace and going through the motions of a typical morning. I’ve already forgone my usual walk with Yankee because of the rain. Already, something is a little ‘off’.as I go on to feed animals, wash the few dishes leftover from last night, think about breakfast.   Inspired by the sound the oatmeal, apples & nuts dinner that Julie told me about last night, I begin to think about making something similar.  It is cold and I turn on the oven with the intention of baking something first, loving the feel of the warm oven on a chilly morning.  Some chestnuts!  I prepare a tray and put them in the oven.  I am thinking about how improv is a departure from something known or predictable, something practiced, of the way that Athena, the main character in Paulo Coelho’s “Witch of Portobello” would intentionally dance in a disjointed and unexpected way in order to make space for her knowing to come through.  Kind of like an intentional improv.  So I think about doing this breakfast differently too…chop up some apples and put them in a thin layer with a little water at the bottom of an ovenproof ceramic dish, a swirl of maple syrup, a handful of sunflower seeds, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and then throw a handful of (old fashioned) oats on top and without stirring, put it right into the 400 degree oven with the chestnuts.  When the chestnuts are finished, I eat them piping hot out of the shells while waiting for the apples to bake and as soon as I start to smell that apple pie smell, take it out of the oven.

I eat it while still warm right out of the bowl.  Delicious.  Apple crisp for breakfast!  Unexpected and definitely different.  And I do feel where there is now a crack in my routine, a place for something new to get in…

So I wonder now what it might look like if I approached every part of my day the same way.  With the intention of doing what I typically do just a little differently, staying aware of how ALL of my senses are engaged.  What would that look like?

Time to go get dressed now…this should be fun!!!

trusting the source

I am still resonating with the powerful impact of sharing food in a context of traditional Native American ceremony, how the honoring and opening to the lessons of each food gives such meaning to what is actually being eaten.  Part of the ceremony I described yesterday (re: gathering the seeds) was eating salmon and honoring the indivisible relationship of one community to another and the life lessons to be learned by another species.  I love salmon.  And though it is not indigenous to this part of the world on the east coast of the Americas, we can find it in the stores in plentiful supply, most often ‘farm raised’ locally, or ‘wild caught’ from somewhere far away.  I find I am drawn to the wild caught variety.  It speaks to me of the source of the energy of salmon, of swimming wild and free in the streams and rivers that connects diverse communities to a bigger source in their quest to get ‘home’.  An interesting book called “Totem Salmon:  Life Lessons from Another Species” by Freeman House speaks to the very heart of sustainability being in the ability of indigenous (being of a place) cultures to self-regulate in the form of ritualized practices.  Given the global economy and ability to have food from around the world anytime, I wonder where the rituals of our ‘indigenous’ New England ways actually live outside of our traditional Thanksgiving celebration that honors the turkey that carries with it the energy of family and tradition in our modern American culture.  More importantly, how can I ‘ritualize’  the lessons of the food I partake from other indigenous cultures every day?

I am having a challenging day.  The ground of my own sense of survival and sustainability is being shaken in this moment and I struggle to feel the truth in even my own words.  It is hard to trust anything when in this space.  So I am thinking that it is a good day to ritualize the lesson of salmon and I will go out later and buy some to make for dinner.  Hardly the spontaneous gesture, premeditated even, I know I will spend the rest of the afternoon anticipating making this meal.  And in this I can feel my ground returning.  I feel my attention swinging back around with poignancy to trusting the source and my ability to find it again.  Settled again in the knowing that even ‘swimming upstream’ to find my ground, my ‘home’ today, is part of the flow too…

I am now connected to this energy, and I wonder if I even have to eat the salmon now ! Smile smile.  But I will.  And it will be simple.  Unadorned and without accompaniment.  With the desire to taste and honor the essence of salmon…while trusting that I can swim wild and free and even upstream to find my way back to the source that will sustain me…

gathering the seeds

It is a perfect fall day, cool air, warm sun, brilliant colors, the scent and sound of spent leaves rustling in the wind.  I am standing in a ritual circle on the steep terrain of Stid Hill with eleven others, we are participating in a ceremony to honor the vision of retreat and renewal here in this sacred land of South Bristol New York.  Located on the west side of Canandaigua Lake, I often describe this part of the world as Tuscany meets Iroquois Nation, it is land steeped in Native American history and home of the famous Iroquois League, or the “League of Peace and Power”.  And the topography, nutrient rich soil, and flow of underground water supports the growing of grapes which cover the gently rolling hills, so reminiscent of Tuscany.  So the ceremony we are now participating in begins here at the ‘high point’ and will end down at the edge of lake, the ‘low point’, to honor the most sacred of all elements…water… it flows, pure, from source to source, and so captured in the middle ground of earth, the ‘still point’, to become the source for all living and growing things.

This land is home for me.  It is not just physically where I grew up and where my parents have retired to, it is spiritual home for me.  I never tire of its beauty and always feel its call.  I have lived away from this land for over 35 years, but there isn’t a single time when I return that I don’t feel ‘home’.  And there is a particular road that pulls me into the magic that is there.  I suppose it might be because I have been walking this road, so close to my parent’s home, for so many years that it is just simply familiar.  But I know it is more than that.  Standing at the beginning of this road,

I can feel the hills behind me while taking in the promise of the lake in front of me…as I walk, I get drawn into the farmland surrounding me, the beaver ponds, the bullfrogs, and even the local family cemetery with century old headstones marking the presence of ‘Bezer & Sally’ amongst others.  I know every house and every barn and every fence, not the actual people who keep them, but the energy of the generations that have flowed through them.  And as I near the lake and it comes into view, I can feel the flow there too, of being part of a community that has lived in harmony with this land, moving with and weathering the seasons together as needed to sustain the whole.  And so the vision of creating a place for retreat and renewal here on this very road resonates, carrying with it the seeds of community and sustainability as well…

After blessings and sharing together of the lessons of water (source of life), corn (sustainability), salmon (coming home) and berries (the sweetness of life), we each bring a container of water from above with us to the proposed site.   After more blessings and visioning together, the water is returned back to this middle ground to nourish the seeds of the renewal center project.  We then continue on down the lake which is literally the vessel for all flowing water in the area.  In a final ceremony, we return crystals blessed with intention back to the water and imagine how the energy of our efforts will rain down and nurture as needed.

It is dark now and we sit around a fire together.  I love how this day of ‘gathering the seeds’ ends in the spontaneous combustion of hope and joy and camaraderie.  And even though the days work has been focused on a vision for a specific place on a specific piece of land, I know that this work of ‘gathering the seeds’ is symbolic and necessary for creating sustainable ‘home’ everywhere….

kitchen sister

My daughter Molly and I have just arrived back at her house, a co-op style of living at her college which includes both sharing and stocking of the kitchen.  It is family weekend and after being out participating in some of the campus activities, we’ve decided to have a ‘big’ salad and relax for a few hours.  I am unpacking the food we just bought and getting ready to roast some sweet potatoes and blanch some broccoli for the salad when Diane and her son Brian, also a resident of the house come into the kitchen, arms full of stuff, and clearly ready to do some cooking too.  We introduce ourselves and I settle in at the butcher block table in the center of the room while she begins to go to work.  The banter begins immediately as we move around each other and look for the requisite items needed to accomplish our tasks.  She is preparing her famous ‘beans and greens’, Italian style, like her she says,  a big pot of which she began at home and is now finishing to take to their next event.  I share that I too have a famous beans and greens recipe and then we commiserate on the importance of fresh lemons and garlic and OLIVE OIL, thrilled that our kids seem to have learned the importance of these things too.  We find out that we have both grown up in Rochester and come from Mediterranean ancestry.  Each topic discussed triggers resonance and with a half hour, I am convinced we are kitchen sisters, sprung from the same culinary pod that carries the genes of passion for cooking and sharing and connecting.

The kids are now in the kitchen and I am noticing how much they each cater to each of us, their moms, doing the little tasks we request of them without questions, aiding and abetting and clearly enjoying the energy swirling in the room.  I have assembled a big bowl of chopped carrots, red pepper, artichokes, avocado, kalamata olives, garbanzo beans, broccoli, walnuts and roasted sunflower seeds.  We’ve made a dressing of the fresh garlic lemon juice, rice vinegar and olive oil.  All of this tossed with a pile of fresh salad greens and topped with the roasted sweet potatoes (in 450 degree oven, lightly coated in olive oil).  So good.  Molly and I start to eat and offer it to others coming through the kitchen.  And I can’t help to feel how wonderful it is to witness how clearly the best of this kind of community is now living through our children and the choices they make and the experiences they are having.  They are all enthusiastically sharing how much they like living in this house and cooperatively sharing their lives, and I have to wonder at how the strength of their individual experiences at home which each of their moms in their own kitchens might have filtered through to their experience here….

Molly had an aha moment at one point in the weekend where she noticed how much she was really like me.  She smiled indulgently and said, “This is not a bad thing Mom!” and I celebrate her self-awareness and willingness to see it in a positive light.  It was a good weekend.  And I thank my kitchen sister for helping me see just how clearly the energy of our efforts as parents can filter down through to our children in a proactive and healthy way….