centerpiece – 3

My father walked into the house Thanksgiving Day, newspaper in hand, shaking his head with a look of amazement on his face. “Feel how heavy this is!” he exclaims. It was shocking to discover how much additional advertising was stuffed inside. When extracted, it was easily two inches thick. A brief conversation followed about the extreme nature of it all, the advertising, the shopping, the mania of getting a deal and something for nothing, stores even open on Thanksgiving Day to entice and stimulate commerce as the sacred activity it is in this country. When did this happen?

I cherish days when there is middle space to traverse before getting to this kind of extreme, the kind of space that allows enough time for integration of what I have before considering what more is needed. Awareness of being in middle space comes in many ways. With this holiday, it has always been the day after Thanksgiving, a whole extra day to just be. The gratitude of the day before and the enthusiasm to return to the rhythm of life after is always accentuated by the shape of what happens in this space.

Awareness of this space appears in the third of the centerpiece series.

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The density of detail of the piece being celebrated becomes even more prominent simply by virtue of the green space it shares an edge with. With this composition formed on the wall, I begin to see the middle space in the details of things out in the woods as well, amazed at the variety of order and beauty that can be seen when traversing the middle space of a view to the detail it leads to…

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I had a lovely outing with my mother the day after Thanksgiving. The land in and around the Bristol hills where my parents live in NY is glistening with just enough snow to create sculpture with every shadow and driving through the small towns and dormant fields feels good. We make a few stops to local artisan shops and a food market devoted to products locally grown and/or produced within sixty miles. This also feels good. The associations of the day and the holiday spent with family and friends has come to a close, and I will take the energy and inspiration created in this middle space home to continue with the work that calls…

centerpiece – 2

I like to think of Thanksgiving as the centerpiece of all holidays.  It transcends religion, and politics and creates a context for gratitude that feels universal.  At the core, Thanksgiving is simply about being in the center of something, whether it be family, friends, a community of strangers, or amidst the wonder of the natural world in some way.  Given the time of year, and especially this year on the east coast, Thanksgiving also signals a time of gathering around fire for warmth as well as the cooking of the celebratory meal.

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The transformative nature of fire stays close to my heart all year round, but is particularly strong right now.  This next quilt in the series honors the fiery potential of the power this element has to destroy and at the same time, when contained, to gather…

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Happy Thanksgiving!  Grateful for All of your Presences and for being able to share mine with you!

centerpiece – 1

My new quilt series began with three random hand pieced constructions I had made over the past few months. Inspired to make something during the long weeks of packing up and making the transition to a new home and life, I set up a makeshift design board with batting and dove into a composition that featured two of these three pieces. Finished in just hours, I set up my machine with the intention of sewing it all together before moving. But I never did. It was carefully pinned to the batting, folded, and packed on top of one of the many quilt supply boxes getting moved to the new house.

I’m not sure how it happened, but within days of setting up my new studio and putting the composition back up on the wall, I realized something had already shifted and I was seeing everything differently.  The piece was holding the energy of my last days in the house I said goodbye to and while it was a neutral kind of feeling, I wasn’t feeling any joy from the attempt to bring these two pieces together into a composition

While unpacking I also found several other randomly hand pieced constructions which I laid out on the table to consider. They were each so unique and beautiful in their singularity and I found myself playing with pieces of fabric just lying around to extend the frame and the view of them being part of something bigger.

It all happened so fast. Turning to the design board and removing the entire bottom half of the composition there to expose just one ‘centerpiece’ at a time changed the entire focus of the design. But even a centerpiece is part of something bigger just by virtue of being a ‘center’ of something. I spent a glorious afternoon re-making this piece, set up my machine and with the confidence of knowing I was ready, sewed it all together.

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It’s no coincidence that exploring and absorbing the beauty in my ‘new land’ has had an effect on how I am seeing things these days. Am I taking pictures of what I take on any given day because of where my heart is in relation to a quilt in process? Or is the flow of design in the studio influenced by what is framed in the camera lens that day?

No doubt it is a wonderful tangling of these two things…

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adaptation

I went to my favorite kitchen supply store the other day in search of specific items to use in my new nifty range with the dehydrator option. After much time spent researching and reading about best practices for dehydrating food and how best to adapt products for use in the oven, a very clear picture formed in my mind of exactly what I should be getting and pleased that I would be bypassing the purchase of yet another machine to do the work I was intent on doing. The hidden agenda of investing in a more economical solution lurked behind the intent. So imagine my chagrin at discovering that not a single one of the things I came to this store to purchase were available here. The kind clerk pointed me instead to the dehydrator machines for sale. He ignored my irritation and frustration (smile) and proceeded to show me what the store did have to offer, such as stainless steel drying racks and perforated ‘Silpain’ silicone sheets that can be used for baking anything. I resisted for awhile while weighing and measuring the alternative of going somewhere else, or of buying the clunky machine that would become yet another single use thing to find storage space for, and finally selected two racks and two of the silicone mats, and went one more time to stand in front of ‘the machine’ only to realized that the total of the items I would be purchasing actually would cost more than the machine. The clerk magically appeared in this moment to catch my despair. He calmly suggested that the items I selected actually had multiple and long lasting uses, how could I go wrong? He gave me a brief education on the merits of the Silpain silicone sheets and the sense of it all sunk in.  I was sold. And even if the reason for being able to shift in that moment wasn’t necessarily clear, being able to recognize and accept that moment was. Feeling confident and full of promise now, I went on to select something I had been functioning without for too long, a small 4 cup Cuisinart food processor to replace my 12 cup master model that died too many years ago. Then went to the food coop where I do my shopping to get some dates.

All this to make the crunchy raw buckwheat granola I have been craving.

A friend shared a package of GoRaw Original Granola when visiting last year and I loved the simplicity of this living food made with buckwheat groats**, flax seeds, raisins, and dates. Discovered that a small one pound bag of this granola costs about $12.00 in the store. Found a recipe online thinking I would make my own version. Went to the store and bought a big bag of organic buckwheat groats. Never made the granola. Moved the two full jars of groats with me to the new house and have now decided it is time to actually use them. After checking out the recipe which includes buckwheat groats, flax seeds, walnuts, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, sesame a seeds, dried fruit, apples and dates, realize everything is here, I can substitute cashews for walnuts and all I need is dates and a process for properly dehydrating the whole thing.

Which brings me back to arriving home with all my new equipment, and dates, to begin making this granola.

Let me say out of the gate, this is a commitment. The actual recipe I used can be found at http:/www.smallfootprintfamily.com/raw-buckwheat-granola#ixzz2fZma73zi. It is not for the impatient or quick fix. No, it is a process that sucks you in and takes a minimum of fifty six hours to complete.  As a new companion for a few days, it invites experimentation and consideration,  and adapting to the rhythm of the days it is visiting.

I follow all the directions for soaking and sprouting the buckwheat grouts.  After hours of soaking they ooze a glutinous discharge and there is a certain satisfaction to standing at the sink with the soaked grouts in a colander, hands plunged into the slippery mass, swishing clear water through to cleanse and invigorate.   I do this at least three or four times during the soaking and sprouting period.  Next is soaking the nuts and seeds, and for making the apple date cinnamon purée to hold everything together. Lay the perforated silicone mats on top of the racks, a perfect fit!   Spreading the batter, I am pleasantly surprised to see half of what is in the bowl also spreads perfectly on one mat to the desired 1/4″ thickness. Both loaded trays go into the oven for the first round of drying.  And the ease just keeps going. Every step of the process feels streamlined and meant to be with these new tools I have just bought, as if they are saying to me, “You have no idea just how adaptable we are!”   A day and a half later, I have perfectly dry granola, crunchy and delicious, totally gluten and oil free. A half cup in a bowl with some yogurt and a splash of maple syrup? Divine!!

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I am once again left with the feeling of how completely free and inspired I feel after simply adapting with what is there instead of thinking something else is needed or has to be different. Haven’t I already been writing about this for years? But here I am, still catching moments of resistance, and still reveling in the moments of joy that come when all flows beautifully, just for letting go…

Nora has provided some inspiration here too. It is hunting season. For all us dog people living in the country this means never leaving the house without a brilliantly fluorescent orange garment of some sort for both dog and human. It’s not like I waited to the last minute. No, stores of all kind were sold out of any medium sized dog vest that would fit Nora weeks ago. In desperation I bought both a cowbell and a human vest and cap thinking I would figure something out. Each time we get ready for a walk Nora stands patiently while I wrap this vest around her svelt body and endeavor to pin it snugly all in place. Each time it is a different arrangement, a different fit.  Then comes the harness, onto which I attach the bell. If I don’t get the leash on and out the door quickly after this, she runs around in frustration rubbing up against the couch trying to peel this ridiculous makeshift getup off.  But the minute we get outside all is forgotten and even the crazy ringing of the bell as she races around in the woods off leash doesn’t deter her from her usual enthusiasm. I stand at the bottom of a small hill and look at her in a moment of repose and realize yes, even Nora can adapt and feel the joy of letting go and adapting to the moment….

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**(A good source for information about the merits of buckwheat can be found here….http://whfoods.org//genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=11

 

limits

During our Skype call last night, my daughter Molly suddenly says, “Mom, I want to tell you about the dinner I made for myself tonight!” She is grinning through her entire description of sautéing just enough vegetables for one, improvising a simple sauce while cooking some noodles, then sautéing everything together with some added shredded chicken from a cooked piece she had leftover in the fridge, emerging with a satisfying and yummy one pot meal for one. She punctuates a few times with, “just like you do Mom!”. Big smile. Of course I am sitting there listening to her satisfaction of creating a perfectly proportioned meal while still feeling very full, maybe even overly full, from my own one pot creation eaten that evening. I share with her what I had made in my cast iron pot, half a chicken breast and a drumstick floured and browned in some olive oil, a small cut up onion added, then two medium potatoes and two medium carrots cut in large chunks, some canned plum tomatoes and their juice, a generous pour of the Malbec sitting close by, salt pepper and dried basil, bring to boil, cover and simmer until the meat falls off the bones. In the generous amount of sauce created, I add a small handful of lemon pepper pappardelle, cover again and let everything finish cooking to mingle, filling the house with comforting aroma.

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A simple chicken stew to remember. Certainly enough for two. But I push past my perceived limit and surprise myself by eating every last drop. I am full, but surprisingly not too full. Still, I am watching myself getting ready to judge myself for the quantity I just consumed.

It is a feeling I remember from earlier in the day out in the woods with Nora. Moving at a snail’s pace, noticing that this is what seems to happen when I get here, each step is heavy and aimless. So different from the months of morning walks in the woods with Nora earlier this year that were characteristically filled with the energy of body moving vigorously. Now, I walk a bit, slowly pick up a few dry sticks to put in my bag, sit on a stone by the brook, watch Nora romp, and soak in the beauty around me. I see a potential photo to take everywhere my eye lands, frame a few, take a few.

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What is the limit of pictures of trees and rocks and water that I can take? Clearly limitless. I realize each day will require a slightly different fill, and with this awareness, now allow myself to snap away. I wander further than usual, all the way to the stone wall that marks the edge of my property.

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My heart is so full! It is all so much to take in, this expanse that is an extension of my living room. I feel the limit of this fullness, and consciously, continue, to allow for more. Now I am looking through the layers at the edge of the property to one of my neighbors, just barely discernible,

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And then though the layers that separate me from my own house.

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Wandering back toward the brook, I find myself in a clearing that no photo can capture the feeling of. I am surrounded by trees and the sound of water in a perfectly protected and private center. Disorienting because it is such a big space! I don’t have to gather, document, see, or do anything. I can just be here. I stand still for a few minutes. Recognizing that my limit for being here is short in this moment, I continue on with the resolve to come back and occupy this place more fully.  Smile.

Shining light on the practices that nourish, whether it be with food or silence in meditation, I see how pointless it can be to have a preconceived notion of what a time or limit should be. This only brings judgement along for the ride.

When following the heart, there is no limit…

trust

I’m having a trust issue with Nora and it’s kind of breaking my heart. I’ve watched all the symptoms of her anxiety over the past year, but I didn’t really get it until now. For reasons I’ll never know, Nora is easily triggered into a kind of frantic behavior that manifests in feral like behavior, excessive jumping or the extreme alternative of always staying just out of reach. She presents herself for touch infrequently in these periods which then triggers me into a weird shame that it is my fault, whatever I am doing or not doing is all wrong, and she is rejecting me. Then six nights ago she never came upstairs and chose to sleep on the couch downstairs instead of the end of my bed as she has been doing every night faithfully for the past year. Oh the heartache!

But this isn’t about me. It is about her, and helping her learn to trust that I will always love her and keep her safe in the way she needs. This is my opportunity to practice patience and persistence. And to ask for help.

When it became clear I was facing an entire day away from home shortly with no resource for help with Nora, I set the intention for establishing a support system. Driving my new route home I had recently seen a sign out of the corner of my eye for dog day camp and boarding. Next day on my way into town I watched for the sign, drove up to an impressive facility that clearly had large enclosed grounds for dog play, and a large indoor training room. I was told they weren’t used to walk-in’s in this out of the way location and the owner would call me to discuss what I needed.

I went home and waited for over a day for the call. Interestingly enough, in that time the reason I needed to be away for a whole day was cancelled. So when the owner of the facility finally did call, my motivation for help had shifted. With skilled questioning on her part, and without the immediate need for boarding, I was able to get right to the heart of my issue of Nora’s anxious behavior. We talked for 45 minutes and made an appointment for me and Nora to meet her at the facility the next day.

I intuitively knew what was coming. I knew I would be told I needed to create a container of safety for Nora in a way she, the dog, could understand and trust. That in my desire to have this wonderful new land and context for her to be ‘free’, I might need to consider just how wild this new context is. It is beautiful and sacred without question. It is also home to wildlife that is unseen and unknown. Especially in the dark of night and early morning. After several weeks now I am all too familiar with the feeling of the wildness that lives out there and clearly Nora feels it too. She will race down to stand at the edge of her new learned boundary in the pitch dark barking into the woods. The new invisible fence serves a really good purpose, but only in a limited way, and I am having to adapt ways to accommodate Nora’s needs in the dark in other ways. Fear of what can come through the fence from the other side has settled in.

So, adaptations are being made outside which are not too difficult. It’s the adaptations inside that are challenging. For the same reason I avoided the perceived trauma of ‘ferberizing’ my young kids at bedtime, I have avoided effectively crate training Nora. Marking clear boundaries with resolve has never been a strong suit for me. But I left that appointment with knowing it was time, not just for Nora, but for me too. I was given simple clear instructions for how to work with Nora in order to establish trust. I cried the whole way home for the relief of it all, knowing I can do this.

So, it has begun. Needless to say, Nora is a little confused at my new resolve, but even after two days I can see a difference and my heart is singing again in this commitment to better my relationship with her. Even with her new freedom, I can see what she needs is engagement and variety and fun. She can self entertain by running impressive figure eight’s at an astonishing speed in the meadow. She spends an inordinate amount of time with her nose in the grass finding grubs. But having the run of the meadow by herself eventually only serves for a short period of time before she finds a new place to dig another hole.  Smile. Really, these holes are so deep and she does it so fast, it takes my breath away.

Or she’ll focus her attention to the exact place we enter the woods together

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and begin communicating with whatever is out there. The barking feels more like a call to connect rather than a warning. Instinct or boredom?

Our time in the woods together continues to be a clear time of bonding and mutual respect and I love to watch her engage so intensely…

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We are also exploring the new neighborhood on leash with her new harness and collar. We practice together the simple things that the help of a trained eye have taught me. We will begin training classes again in a few weeks.  I cherish Nora’s freedom and instinctive feral ways. But mostly I cherish her and will hold my intention for her to know what it feels like to engage without anxiety. I know now that there is room in an open heart for tough love too.

 

elemental

I’m sitting outside at the picnic table at the edge of the backyard meadow, facing the bright full sun, wearing my serious polar fleece jacket that has the nylon layer inside because the wind, even if not as shockingly strong as it was yesterday, is still moving air and grass and trees and sounds swiftly in this cool morning. It feels so elemental, so basic and rich and deeply satisfying, and I find myself reflecting on how this character of elemental has flowed through the past twenty-four hours…

Up before first light this morning, sitting with the first cup of hot coffee in front of the fire, lights and sewing machine on and illuminating the work I am anxious to get back to, I realize I am craving bread. I typically don’t keep it in the house unless fresh from a bakery or my oven. The craving is big enough to get me out of my comfortable rocking chair to look for a basic biscuit recipe, find one immediately in one of the many Moosewood cookbooks on the kitchen shelf, grab the bag of fresh whole wheat pastry flour just purchased, mentally substitute the recipe’s call for buttermilk with the heavy cream in the fridge, and turn on the oven to 450. Halving the recipe, it doesn’t take but a minute to whisk together 1-1/8 cups flour with 1/2 tablespoon baking powder, 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, & 1/4 teaspoon salt. Make a well in the center and add 1/6 cup olive oil and 3/8 cup cream. Stir with a fork until just mixed, turn dough onto a floured board, gently knead 5 or 6 times, roll to 1/2″ thickness, cut out rounds. Re-roll the leftover to get a couple more, seven biscuits total. Bake about 10 minutes until golden brown.

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It’s not even six o’clock in the morning and I’m eating delicious hot biscuits with butter and a smear of my favorite Chevretine goat milk feta cheese. Smile. It occurs to me this craving is no coincidence. I had fallen asleep re- reading the process for making Levain starter in one of my favorite bread baking books called ‘Bread Alone’ by Daniel Leader. It’s been years since I’ve made this bread, but I’ve just purchased a half share from a local group called Pioneer Valley Heritage Grains CSA and have begun imagining all the fresh flour I will be able to make. Something about being able to make bread from flour so close to the source is inspiring and exciting.

As is the time spent in the immersion of making of a new quilt. In my new studio space I am surrounded by baskets and cupboards full of the fabric collected for decades, now all at my fingertips and easily accessed for use. Thrilling! After a full day working the design yesterday, I knew I would want to get up and sew it all together as soon as I could. Tummy now full of warmth and satisfaction, I do just that. And it’s always a good sign when the ease of construction matches the ease and balance I feel in the presence of a finished composition.  I began this piece on the wall of my previous home, now transformed on the wall of my new home…

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Then the sun comes up and it’s a breathtakingly beautiful morning. Nora and I get out for the first foray into the woods, never too soon to get out again even after numerous visits there yesterday in the bright sun and whipping cool wind.  As usual, we spend a lot of time at the water’s edge…

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Each trip into the woods now is with a bag to fill with dried branch wood that is on the ground. Now I am collecting wood!  Another satisfying activity that has purpose and meaning. I literally can’t start a fire without this kindling kind of wood. Like the elemental flour for making bread, like the basic stock of fabric and thread stored and ready for use, these beautiful branches, now dry and ready to be of service, snap into lengths that I can fit into a bag to carry back up to the house. Three bags full already, I imagine filling a room with what can be collected before the snow flies.

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It is time to leave the sun and wind as the morning begins to move in other ways now, with work calls and laundry and more unpacking to do. But having already danced with flour and fabric and wood in the sacred place of my desire makes it easy to integrate these other necessary activities into the rich web of the day…