balance

Holed up in the new homestead with the house full of family, two wood stoves firing at maximum capacity in the pouring cold rain, non-stop rotations in the kitchen for preparation of the next meal, while happily working our way through season 1 of the Gilmore Girls, makes for a pretty darn wonderful start to the holiday.

Preparations have included lasagna to put in the oven the night Molly returns home after being in Peru for the past ten months. The sauce: 2 large chopped portobello mushrooms sautéed with a chopped medium onion in olive oil. Then add equal parts prepared tomato sauce and canned fresh tomatoes to match volume sautéing in the pan. Simmer on low with cover on while preparing rest of ingredients. Partially cook one pound of lasagna, rinse in cold water and lightly rub with olive oil. Thinly slice one small butternut squash and one medium zucchini. Rinse and dry one medium bunch of fresh basil leaves. Grate an 8 oz. block of fresh whole milk mozzarella cheese. Let sauce cool a few minutes before assembling. In a 9.5 x 13.5 casserole, begin with a scant layer of sauce, first layer of noodles, butternut squash in single layer, sauce, and half the grated cheese. Next layer of noodles, zucchini and fresh basil, sauce, rest of grated cheese. Layer last of the noodles, spread last of sauce to completely cover noodles and cover with a generous layer of fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Bake in 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until bubbly and squash is soft.

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Twenty four hours following Molly’s arrival the third generation arrives (the grandparents) and a rhythm of gathering food, preparing food, and eating food officially begins. Christmas Eve is the day I always make my father’s favorite kurebies; Greek almond crescent shaped cookies covered in snowy white powdered sugar that my grandmother would make every year at Christmas. The recipe I use is written down from a phone conversation with my father’s older sister, aunt Mona, from the instructions she wrote down from her mother, my grandmother Galata, a classic recipe that includes a demitasse cup full of anisette and a saucer full of sugar, toasted almonds, fresh lemon juice, eggs, flour, and a copious amount of butter. This ritual signals the end of the week of baking cookies to prepare for the holiday…

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The kitchen is truly the heart of this new home of mine, shared openly with the adjacent family room complete with flat screen and five seats for movie watching in the warmth of a new wood stove on one side, to the stair leading upstairs to a wide hall and two comfortable bedrooms, a window to the front yard and street that signals public presence, and most significantly, connected via sliding windows to the large three season porch which frames gorgeous views to the wild beauty outside. It’s amazing how easy it has been to be in this kitchen and truly feel the heart of all that happens. More amazing is how perfectly everyone seems to fill and fit into the generous places here when being outside is not a great option.

A friend recently told me about a book he is reading that has a house inhabited by two witches. The house has consciousness and is “alive”. When it realizes that guests are coming, it will add a room. If there is something that needs safe keeping, it will hide it. At times that something is needed, it will produce it. If it’s unhappy or happy about something, it will show it. I think about how much this story resonates as we have flowed through this Christmas week, through the ease and the bumps and the acceptance that this is where we all are in expressed fears and hurts and happiness and anticipation. Smiling, thinking of the number of times in my life I have been named a witch for ‘knowing’.

The rain finally stops on Christmas morning. Like a miracle, light from the inside, in reflection, begins to move outside….

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By early afternoon the sun is out and we to finally get out into the woods for a walk. As much as home here inside the ever so accommodating house feels complete, I realize in the showing of my beloved woods to Molly that this grand space outside continues to feel like an extension of the living room to me, inviting rest and breath and reflection.

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And the roaring brook that catches the filtered light continues to feel like an extension of the ease of movement from one space to another, balanced, natural and inevitable, with purpose and without agenda.

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My mother gifted me with a whole box filled with her beautiful pieces of pottery, bowls I specifically asked for. Stacked next to the stove, ready to receive the Christmas lunch soup, I marvel at the beauty of these individually crafted bowls as they nest together.  I begin to re-arrange the open shelf that holds the growing collection in order to make room for these new pieces.  It tips towards me and throws the stack of larger bowls I have had for years, rarely used, onto the counter and floor.  The sound of the crash tells all.  The bowls have all broken in some significant way, leaving shards and debris all over.  I slowly pick it all up and stack, and with tears, go to show my mother.  We both start laughing at the same time, recognizing the preciousness of the moment of letting go of something old in order to make way for something new…

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I think, so this is what balance feels like…..

deer tracks

Even Nora doesn’t want to stay outside this morning, clawing at the door to come in only after a few minutes. Everything is covered in a sheet of ice. Cold, dark and just below freezing, the forecast is for rain all day, but up here in the hills in the country this takes in a whole new meaning. I will have to practice a special kind of diligence today just stepping out into the wet cold that includes the slick surface that encases everything. Like driving around at dusk when is not just about remembering to turn on headlights and feel the approaching darkness. It is about watching obsessively for any sign of movement on the side of the road that would signal a deer ready to leap from the forest lined roads to where I live.

Ben and I had a challenging drive home from Thanksgiving with no way to get on route 90 going east from Albany due to a tractor trailer accident and some toxic material being spilled all over the thruway. I really wanted to get home before dark to experience the effects of the holiday storm we missed by leaving before it started. Of course this plan was foiled by the three hours spent exploring back roads in Columbia county of NY trying to find a way home. Finally through it all and now dark, only four miles from the house, the deer that leaped at my car from the left didn’t have a chance. The car suffered extensive damage but thankfully protected its occupants, and I wish I could say the same for the deer. It is such a shock to dance with an animal this way. The shape of that deer leaping into to road will be forever etched in my brain…

So it has been a week of re-adjusting to a rental car and the effects of our first storm here that left a major limb from the majestic maple out front torn off and falling over the driveway. A gracious neighbor had cut back enough for me to drive in, and let’s just say, finally cleared, I have an impressive pile of wood now seasoning for next year.

The re-adjustment flowed into all the other aspects of my new life here in the country. First was letting go of my determination to have a new floor installed in the ‘porch room’ before Christmas and deciding to just live with it as it is until spring. Once this adjustment was made, the work of laying every spare rug on the concrete floor and arranging the furniture became a joy. Only thing missing was the Christmas tree.

The work of re-adjusting slipped into the space normally reserved for getting down to the brook with Nora during the bleak week that followed. Finally on Sunday the sun rose into a perfectly clear blue sky and I couldn’t wait to get out into the snow carpeted woods. But first we drove out into the beautiful morning light to the place that puts out fresh free range eggs for sale in a cooler at the side of the road. After securing a carton of eggs and leaving money in the plastic container, I decided to honor the urge to follow a series of signs for fresh cut Christmas trees. When the path got too confusing, I turned around and headed home, knowing that somehow I would still get led to a tree before the end of the day.

That afternoon, Nora and I have our glorious reunion with the woods. Everything has changed and yet it feels expansively, exactly the same. The path we typically follow is no longer visible through the sea of white. After walking a bit in the general direction we usually go, Nora way ahead dashing around in happy frenzy, I realize I am actually following a simple set of imprints in the snow.

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Not dog. Deer. Leading me on the exact path that brings us to the brook. All these months and I’ve had no sense or sign of the wildlife I know inhabits these woods, no signs of scat or prints left in the sea of leaves covering the ground. And now, just these few simple prints left exactly where I need them, leave me full of the spirit of this gracious animal and the energy that leads me to where I am going. I can now finally feel the connection to the spirit of the animal left at the side of the road, gone from its body but present still in every way. Humbled to feel how closely I had been carrying the weight of the accident all week, it’s now easy to see the energy of responsibility and blame I have attached to having this experience.   With ease, the attachment releases. Seeing these deer tracks is a gift.

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At the brook, we are greeted by both the calm of reflection and the loud roar of rushing water at the same time.

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The water breaking over rocks appears frozen even in its movement. It is all so beautiful as we explore the familiar edges that are now framed in white, and follow the deer tracks back to the path leading home

Settling in the warmth of the porch room that has been heated all afternoon as much by the sun as the wood stove fire, I get a message from a friend with a recommendation for where to get a xmas tree nearby.   Looking it up on Google, I realize it is exactly the place I was headed to earlier, and literally a short flight of the crow over the hill from my house! With the sun now approaching the tops of the trees, I hurry to complete the drive that takes us on steep dirt roads to the tree farm. And in the waning light, find the perfect tree. I meet more new neighbors there and enjoy the camaraderie of now being one of the people of this land I am so drawn to.   Back home, I don’t have to cut a single bit of the trunk or tree to fit it into the base that will hold it inside for the next month. It fits perfectly, leaves but a few needles on the floor, and invites anticipation of the next ritual of adding lights.

porch room with tree