the calm before the storm

Waking up in the wee hours, still dark, and the silence is defeaning.  I realize I am waiting to hear the sound of the wind and the rain that is expected now, as predicted by the vigilant weather watchers of the past few days tracking the course of hurricane ‘Sandy’ as she moves in from the shores of New England.  I am remembering this time a year ago, when the silence was interrupted by the sounds of crack and tear of the dismemberment of tree branches letting go to the weight of unexpected snow and ice.  And how much trauma this caused for all of us, the trees and humans alike.  And now I am thinking about the effects of this trauma, of how the hypervigilance around this new impending storm has been created, not unlike the symptoms of post-traumatic stress I just spent a weekend learning about…

I am grateful for being able to participate in The Veterarn’s Yoga Project http://veteransyogaproject.org/ as a new yoga teacher.  What I have learned is simply profound and profoundly simple.  If we offer a safe, predictable context within which one can garner one’s own sense of control, then it is possible for persons challenged with PTSD to let go, if even for just a brief moment, and remember what it feels like to be calm and abiding in one’s own body.  And as a trained Embodyyoga teacher that honors how life force energy flows through the fluid systems in our physical bodies, I learn that teaching yoga to persons with PTSD cannot be about the concepts or the philosophy that takes for granted that we might already be ‘in’ our bodies, no, I am humbled to consider how just the simple act of taking a full breath into the lungs, of how being able to ‘rest’ for just a moment, cannot be taken for granted for a person who is on safety alert every second of their life, struggling to trust that the ‘calm’ before a storm does not mean the end of life as they know it.

The training ends early so the participants from Connecticut and New York and beyond can travel home safely to make storm preparations.  I now have an afternoon free to stack wood and move porch furniture.  As I work in silence, I notice the impending quiet, the dense gray sky, and the explosion of last color remaining on the trees, appreciating that it may all be gone by the end of tomorrow…

I am curiously calm about what might happen except when I allow myself to consider the effects of not having access to water.  Then the panic rises in me in a way that is shockingly unpleasant.  I lose all sense of perspective and hope in a moment.  A world without access to fresh water?  How in the world can we truly be nourished without water??  Feeling that even filling up the deep plastic tub full of water as a reserve ‘in case’ is futile, I could never ‘save’ enough water.  In my mind, life would be over!!  And then catch my self, take a deep breath, and let the fear wash through me…

As I reflect on this now, I feel the way our watery emotions of love and fear alike, move through our ‘fluid body’ and deliver life force to where it is meant to go.  It is like liquid gold medicine that is beyond value, and trumps all forms of currency as we currently know them.  In this human body, I simply cannot imagine a world without water.  So today, in this calm before the storm, I think of ways to honor this, in my yoga practice, in the soup I will prepare later, and perhaps even by collecting some of the anticipated abundant rainfall that will come, for a reverent and future use….

shifting focus

Ben begins classes today.  And even before the last bag is packed for moving him to his school yesterday,  I feel the impact of this transition for all of us.  It’s hard not to respond to the seizing of my heart.  I feel the interplay of complementary forces as I consider that Ben will no longer be here as my ‘focus’ while at the same time holding a clear and wondrous view of the new space within which Ben will be able to continue to test his wings under the gaze and care of others.  I know the tears are completely natural and have been shed by countless mothers before me, smile.  And so I now consider where the heart of this transition lies while looking out the window to a shifting focus that is happening before my very eyes, as leaves come swirling and tumbling down through the bright fall day…

It’s that blue and orange time of year again, the colors of trees so acutely and almost blindingly accented against the blue sky…

It is the time of golden squash and pumpkin pie.  No coincidence of course that pumpkin pie is one of Ben’s favorites and butternut squash is one of mine.  We’ve been sampling both over this last week of before Ben leaves for his next adventure.  How perfect to be able to throw a goodbye celebration for him featuring lovingly made pumpkin pie (by me) and pumpkin cake (by housemate Elsa).  And to sample the first butternut of the season by slicing it into discs and roasting them in the oven (lightly coated with olive oil in 450 degree oven), served with a light garlic miso sauce (3 tablespoons light miso dissolved in 1/4 cup white wine (or water) mixed with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon each of minced garlic and fresh ginger, 1/4 cup lemon or lime juice, a dash of cayenne and maple syrup)….

Even the carefully removed peels from edges of slabs cut from a freshly picked squash lying quietly in the blue bowl to be transported to the compost pile…

capture my focus.

The leftovers of the squash and miso sauce become the glue and the sparkle to the last stir fry I will make for Ben before he leaves.  The pan gets filled with mushrooms, leeks, fresh ginger, and garlic sautéed until the mushrooms get soft, then add a couple of diced red potatoes, chunks of fresh cauliflower from the farmer’s market, the leftover cup of brown rice, a splash of tamari and a little water, cover and cook a few minutes until everything is just hot and soft, add the miso sauce and squash, turn of the fire and let it all sit until the squash is warm too and the miso sauce still alive.  The flavor of this effort is distinct and mature and delicious, like a fine wine that has the benefit of being around just a little longer….

And now I’m making today’s lunch.  Brown rice cooking in the rice cooker.  Chopping the remnants of leeks and garlic and ginger I’ve got stored in a small wax paper bag in the bin.  Add them to a pan of sliced mushrooms sauteing in some oil, then add the last of the cauliflower, one of the last of the gorgeous sweet yellow carrots, a few coarsely chopped little orange peppers, and some frozen peas with a little water, and let it all boil until the water is almost gone, a few minutes.  Then add some (Thai kitchen) red curry paste, a can of organic coconut milk, and finally, squeeze a half lime into the mix.  Get it all simmering, then turn off the fire and let the magic happen.  I am acutely aware of how much I am enjoying making this meal and I realize that I don’t have to be making it for me and Ben, or me and family, or me and friends, to be completely focused in my flow.  In fact, how perfect that I can recognize and enjoy and even celebrate how much I am going to love eating this meal without worrying whether someone else will too.

And there it is.  Shifting focus from caring for Ben to caring for me.  Such a subtle and simple thing to acknowledge in this time of transition as Ben learns to care for himself too…

another Ben story

I’ve been really distracted the past two weeks.  We have been moving towards the date of our ‘hearing’ to determine what the best path of Ben’s education for the next three years will be.  It is a process that has arisen out of unresolved conflict and no one is happy about the committment of time and resources that must go into following this path that puts ‘us’ against the community that serves so many so well.  Keeping clear focus on the vision of being able to give Ben the opportunity to learn what he needs to learn to be a contributing member of his own community some day is the challenge and has taken every bit of available energy to maintain.  So staying nourished during this process has been as important as ever.  I devote extra time to my yoga practice and I dive into the joy of engaging with all the beautiful colors and textures of this fall’s harvest. A simple vegetable curry of sautéed onions, garlic, fresh ginger, leeks, green beans, carrots, zucchini, butternut squash cubes, broccoli and tofu mixed with a can of coconut milk, Thai Kitchen prepared red curry to taste and a squeeze of lime juice, all served over fluffy jasmine rice.  There is the yummy vegan and gluten free lasagna made with layers of thick brown rice noodles, a homemade sauce of olive oil, garlic, onions, mushrooms, chopped plum tomatoes, water, and tomato paste, thinly sliced discs of butternut squash, zucchini and beets, and chopped lacinato kale which reminds me of how much I simply love food, and how much I have always celebrated my connection to the nourishing and pleasurable qualities of food, and how important it is for me to be in this space as much as possible during these challenging days….

And then for lunch one day an adaptation of a recipe found in a book I find on my shelf  with the title “This Can’t Be Tofu” by Deborah Madison called ‘Tofu and Mushrooms Braised in a Sweet-and-Sour Sauce’ calls to me.   I scan the ingredients and realize I have most everything on hand and can improvise with the rest easily.  My friend Betsy is coming for lunch and I am excited about sharing this with her.  Betsy is one of my first friends when moving to this community over 14 years ago.  And she also has a son with Down Syndrome named Ben!  I don’t think it is any coincidence that when we found our house to settle in a year after arriving, that it would be on the same street with Betsy and her family.  For years it was ‘big Ben’ and ‘little Ben’, smile.  We have shared so much over these years and though our sons are separated in age and in different places in their lives, the bond we all share is strong and true.  While I am preparing the intriguing combination of sauce ingredients of 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons molasses, 1 tablespoon tamari, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 3/4 cup red wine, 2 large pressed garlic cloves, and 1/3 cup water, I think about Ben upstairs working quietly on one of his plays, and hopefully on his list of ingredients for tonight’s dinner!  In an effort to provide some constructive structure to his days while we await the outcome of the hearing process, I realize we can make a whole day out of the tasks that go into planning and preparing a meal and he is excited that tonight he will be the cook and I will be his assistant!

I now prep the vegetables, 1 large onion, diced into thick 1/2 inch squares, 1 large red bell pepper and 1 large yellow bell pepper cut into large irregular pieces, 12 oz. of mushrooms (I use the baby bellas I have in the fridge), 2 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced, 2 cups of fresh broccoli florets, and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro & parsley.  I drain and cut the 16 oz. carton of firm tofu into 1-inch cubes and cook them over medium heat in some grape seed oil in my cast iron dutch oven until golden brown on both sides, season with salt & pepper and set aside.  Betsy arrives as I begin to saute the onion and peppers in a few tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkle of dried thyme, then add the mushrooms and continue to cook for a few minutes until they are seared in places.  By now, Betsy has put the lovely flowers she has brought in a vase and we are now ready to get into some serious catching up.  I stir in the sauce, add the tofu and broccoli, turn the fire to low and cover to let cook for about 10 minutes. Ben comes down and I ask if he has decided what he is going to make for dinner and as if on cue, he unfolds the piece of paper in his hand and beams as he reads off his list to us:  ‘orange chicken’ from Trader Joes, rice, and for vegetables, peppers, mushrooms and onions!  Betsy and I celebrate with him his choices and share his enthusiasm for the day’s activity of preparations ahead.  And I wonder at the ‘coincidence’ of vegetables being virtually the same as what we are about to eat for lunch. Did he smell what I was making for lunch and that inspired him?  I feel there is significance in this flow between me and him, between lunch and dinner and perhaps beyond?  Hmmmmm.   Lunch btw is delicious!!  A big hit.  Served over a mound of brown rice, it is a light and rich sauce gracing the fresh meaty peppers and fitting for a late September afternoon…

Ben and I go shopping later for his dinner ingredients.  First a trip to Trader Joes for the chicken and mushrooms which he selects and pays for himself.  It is Wednesday so we stop at the farmer’s market in town and Ben picks out his onions and peppers and negotiates his wallet once again….

And then it is a fun evening in the kitchen with him.  He is very clear about how he wants to cut his beloved peppers and though I need to guide him through much of the process, his enthusiasm and determination to follow through with the meal is inspiring.  At the same time I am humbled by how much more he needs to learn and the vision of his path comes into view and focuses.   The clarity of who he is and his capabilities couldn’t be any clearer in this moment and I feel the hope rise in me….

Less than a week later and just two days before the scheduled hearing and the conflict is resolved!!  This most important leg of Ben’s journey is now, finally, decided.  He will be attending ‘college’ at Berkshire Hills Music Academy in South Hadley MA for two years beginning October 22!!  It is a big accomplishment, and though the path to this moment has been long and arduous, the spontaneous and unexpected nature of the resolution has left me still stunned and filled with such joy of the promise of what is in front of Ben now…..