about changing my mind

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationship. Wondering about how to change my mind where relationship figures into the uniqueness of my particular life. It’s no small thing. There have been so many years where ‘relationship’ occupied the arena of human family, friends, and intimate male partners. Deep patterns have formed. Some have lasted, many have not. Living alone now accentuates where these patterns have led. Where I mostly feel gratitude for being able to live the way I do, there are consuming moments of doubt and fear and judgement of the choices I have made, feeling both resistance and acceptance of the way I am.

Watching the birds in their relationships to each other has been fascinating. The chickadees are by far the most numerous and most present. Their flight patterns from tree to tree, perched on a limb surveying the two feeders to choose from, swooping in for their seed and quickly swooping out create a field of energetic arcs and swings across this place that is their dance floor. They work alone. There are rarely two on the feeder at one time. The moment one lands, the other takes off. It is a very specific kind of relationship that speaks of always being part of a large flock but acting alone.

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So very different from the blue jays and starlings. These creatures arrive in pairs, or groups of pairs. There will sometimes be three or four starlings crowded into the feeder together. They settle in and stay awhile.

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Unlike the chickadee that takes it’s food to a private place to eat, these birds finish their meal, together, before taking off. And unlike the chickadee that is seeming fearless, not moving even as I get close, the starlings take flight the moment they sense my presence coming. My relationship with each of these birds is curious. I can relate to both. At the moment I resonate more clearly with the chickadee. I want to change my mind about the starlings. They fascinate me too. I want to get closer. There is a lot to learn by being with these birds.

My relationship with Nora is also no small thing. She is so alive, so present, so clear. It’s taken me a better part of these two and a half hears with her to learn that I can’t will myself into this relationship, any more than she can will herself into it with me. But my goodness, not for lack of trying! Pushing against each other’s boundaries is a daily activity and yes, I am the human, she is the dog, but in the end, does it really make a difference? I struggle to find that place in our relationship where I can let her be her naturally wild energetic self, free to run and explore, and at the same time, create the safe context where this can happen. We were in a good rhythm for so many months, her sitting obediently at the open door until I said ‘okay’, following the established safe path into the woods, aware of each other as we did our dance of call and recall to reinforce the safety net, Nora learning to follow me when I said ‘this way’, always coming back to the safety of the door we left from, off leash while still so close to the road. I thought we had it down, this established pattern that served both of us. And then last week she decided to follow a different path that took her out of our established loop and put her, from my perspective, into harms way. No amount of anxious calling brought her back. There was a part of me that knew she was just fine, she knew where she was, where she was going, and how to come home. But she was crossing the road, she would be engaging strangers in cars because that’s what she does. When my calling became anxious, I also knew there was nothing I could do but walk calmly, call her back from my heart, and trust.

The dilemma now is how to re-create that context of safety that will serve each of us in our relationship. I’ve had to change our pattern. We now walk on leash to another path in the neighborhood that leads to a much deeper section of woods to explore.

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We stay out longer. This seems to be what we each need. I miss our old pattern. I resist going down into the woods and brook and path I so love by myself, without Nora. Leave the house on foot and leave Nora behind? I’ve had to change my mind about the disappointment I’ve felt in this change. Perhaps it is time for me to experience walking this path in a new way.

Then of course there is my relationship to certain foods, smile. Most recently it is with sardines. I have discovered that I love sardines. It took me awhile to get here. I’m not sure where the resistance came from. I remember watching with fascination and disgust years ago when a colleague would eat an entire tin of sardines for lunch, right out of the tin. There was no precedent for this disgust. It’s not as if I had been force fed sardines as a kid and hated them. I have always just had this strange aversion. What changed my mind was learning about how healthy this food is, the level of protein and omega-3 is high for so few calories, even when packed in olive oil. I finally bought and tried them. I have now decided they are delicious. I love everything about them, that they are sustainably caught wild in the ocean, that they are a small fish and have had less of a chance of taking on anything toxic, I even love the little tins they come in. I prefer the packed in oil kind that have been lightly smoked. On a piece of fresh baguette with thin slices of daikon radish. With a bowl of carrot ginger soup.

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A perfect combination of warm, primal, earth, spice, simple, color, crunch and melt in your mouth.

It seems like changing your mind can be a good thing.

ice

These last few weeks of winter have been all about the ice. A little snow, then rain, then plunging temperatures. The cycles of freeze thaw create lots of illusions, keep me off balance. Even with grass showing through on the way to the woods, I enter wearing crampons. Thin and thick and sculptural and granular, the ice is always there. It forms new edges for snow to collect in the water.

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It begins to cover as a thin crust like the top of a creme brûlée, transparent still to the flow of below.

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Then it eventually thickens and forms deep slabs of protection for the precious resource that we can no longer see. The thickness becomes a kind of still support, a way to safely move from one side to another on foot, across an otherwise impassable expanse.

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I went on a first meet/date with a man a few weeks ago during a particularly cold snap. We decided to meet at a lake located between the two of us, to ‘walk on water’ and enjoy the gorgeous sunny cold day. He actually went to check it out before we met, assured me there were men out in the middle ice fishing, dogs running after a sled, activity to indicate there was an adequate layer of ice to support us. I arrived with my crampons and he arrived with a sled. As we started to walk I suspended whatever disbelief I had that this was a good idea. I was charmed by his seeming confidence. Within minutes he spontaneously suggested I get in the sled and he would pull me! My insides jolted awake. I politely but firmly said no. We kept walking, noting the group of men in peripheral vision making a party of their fishing expedition, watching Nora dash off ahead, chatting lightly but with the caution of unknown. It wasn’t until we were literally out in the middle of the lake when we heard the first ‘crack’ of an almost invisible and impossible sound given the clear and adequate thickness of ice we were walking on. It spooked him. He admitted that he had never done this before. With thinly veiled bravado, he turned and suggested we walk back to shore.

Where he got the idea that being pulled across a frozen expanse in a sled might be fun, or even romantic, is a curiosity. Why he thought I would trust yielding to him after just ten minutes rather than to the energy of flow below the ice that I have felt all my life is even more curious. It’s amazing what you can learn about a person in a very short period of time. Whether it was his intention or not, I felt rushed.

One of my favorite movies is ‘Being There’ starring Peter Sellars. I am always amazed at that scene at the end of ‘Chauncy Gardner’ with cane in hand, walking on water, of doing what is thought to be impossible. He breaks through the illusion that his slowly simple direct way of perceiving the world is some sort of personal limitation. Everyone around him is able to realize something dramatic and important about how they participate in life. His gift is the ability to simply state the obvious.  He has no need to rush, or to feel rushed, about anything.

This past weekend was a spring teaser, balmy sixty degree temps and warm sun. The thick slabs of ice along the edge of brooks have now been pushed aside by the flow asserting itself once again.

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It is an intoxicating sound, the rush of flowing water.

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Water moving so fast that it has become impassable once again without obvious intent.

 

I made chocolate macaroons** when I got home. Seemed like a good way to celebrate feeling the flow in such a joyous way once again. After months of not baking much of anything, it felt good to indulge where I go when I want something sweet.
This version is Martha Stewart meets Bob’s Red Mill. Chewy, intensely chocolately, easy and gluten free.

**Chocolate Macaroons

INGREDIENTS

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3 large egg whites
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp of salt

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.
Beat egg whites and salt until almost stiff.
Pour melted chocolate into a large bowl; add cocoa, sugar, coconut, egg whites, almond extract. Mix with your hands until well combined.
Dampen clean hands with cold water. Mound 1 1/2 tablespoons mixture into a loose haystack shape on lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture, arranging macaroons 1 inch apart.
Bake until just firm to the touch but still soft in the middle, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheet on a wire rack. Store in airtight containers at room temperature, up to 3 days.

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made just for me

I was writing an email to my mother yesterday, attaching photos of a poncho I had just finished knitting. I love this poncho, simple stitches with soft warm yarn, space to improvise and add my own blocks of additional pattern and color to what was designed to be a solid color piece.

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I shared with her that this time I actually made something for myself. We had talked about this over the holidays, noting that that just about everything I have ever made, except maybe for those first clothes as a teenager, have always been gifts, things made for another’s body, another’s home, another’s life. Searching my archive of all lovingly made things confirmed that this poncho, made just for me, is indeed a historic event.

Not surprisingly, the night before was the monthly new moon gathering of women friends in the area. After a delicious pot luck meal and a short meditation, we sat around our hostess’s dining room table making valentines….for ourselves. Another first. I was frozen for a few minutes contemplating the vast array of papers, old calendars, pictures, and fabrics to work with. Me making a valentine just for me? There wasn’t much talking at first as we all reached for various things, testing the waters, letting go of all ideas of what a valentine for the self might look like. Eventually an easy banter began. As if each of us had been able to slip into a space that could reflect back how love might be received. Once there, it felt like automatic pilot, scissors cutting, needles sewing, paper ripping, pens writing, bottles gluing.

Looking at my valentine made for me now, I feel the grip of awe I sometimes feel when I look at one of my finished quilts, the “where in the world did this come from?”

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It’s not just an image, but a series of images formed into a three dimensional object. It is constructed in a way that invites a peeling away of the layers. It holds in its center a tiny cootie catcher which is filled with simple messages of love. Simultaneously, I look up and out at the quilt spread out on a table in the next room, which in the past week, I have fallen in love with all over again.

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I had to wait a long time for inspiration to come, to lead me to join together two unfinished pieces that wanted to be finished. There is a density of color and movement now visible in a way I can actually receive and feel.

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It moves me. It inspires me to keep exploring what is here. Grateful. Humbled by just how significantly I had to wait. Thinking of the scene in the woods that day, of catching a veil of snow through the trees and sun that signaled passage into the mystery again…

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I open my Valentine to me. Remove the glistening red ribbon, fold back the lace encrusted folds of a triad to images that also move me, food and mandalas and hearts combined.

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The tiny cootie catcher beckons play. Smile.

On this Valentine’s Day,  it offers messages from this heart of mine to yours, “You are Joy”, “You are Beautiful”, “You are True”,

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the woodland realm

Walking into the sunlit woods felt magical in the hush of fresh white that was still even clinging to the bark of trees after our first real snow Friday. I shared a moment from my time there on Facebook.

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I loved a friend’s comment of just three simple words, “The Woodland Realm”.  Yes, exactly.

There’s not a whole lot to say here. Walking in the woods the past three days has continued to evoke a strong sense of being not just in the woods, but in the ‘Woodland Realm’. The character of this otherwise familiar place has been transformed by the brilliant white of sun brightened snow in contrast to the shadows of tree trunks and the edges of dark stones peeking out from the caps of snow on top. I always thought my love of skiing came from the thrill of being on a mountain, the vastness of cold air and sky surrounding me. But now I know it is this, this feeling of how snow transforms and distills the essence of a place so keenly that you can get drunk on it. Each day I snap pictures, desperately trying to capture the primal essence of these woods that has become alive yet again after such a dull dormant period of brown death.

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My appetite has been voracious in these past three mornings of bright sun and anticipation of getting back down to the woodland realm. Favorite breakfast so far has been the tacos made with a layer of garlicky white beans (a la Marcella Hazan, from fresh soaked organically grown white beans) heated up in a small skillet, two (local) eggs cracked on top and all steamed together in the pan on medium heat with a lid. I put two fresh locally made organic corn tortillas in the toaster to warm and crisp. Fetched the bag of sprouts just grown here on my own table, some organic greens (ok, bought these at the coop), and the last bit of homemade zucchini salsa canned this fall with vegetables from my local farm share. Divided everything evenly between the two tortillas, rolled them up and ate with relish.

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Crunchy and savory, the spicy sprouts and mustardy salsa balanced the soft kick of the beans and garlic. Somehow even the taste of egg and corn came through too. A true breakfast symphony. Complete with Mmmmmm’s and Ahhhhhh’s.

This meal falls into the ‘culinary realm’ of great taste and satisfaction. It’s not just a mixture of what are otherwise typical ingredients found in a grocery store, packaged and preserved in an unknown location. It’s the magical combination of sustainably grown ingredients that deliver source energy in a direct and primal way.

looking

This first week back in New England after sun filled days in the Caribbean has been so gray. No spectacular sunrises. No colorful illuminations of the hills as the sun sets. Intermittent brightness throughout each day only to be dominated by dull warm clouds blowing through again. The contrast from where I have just been,

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to where I am now

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is a big one. Walking in the woods is now a monotone of form and color and I realize I have started looking, looking for what I can usually see right in front of me. I am looking for beauty.

Of course as soon as I realize this, my senses open in a different way. Wondering if looking isn’t just seeing with an added expectation attached. I laser in on the smallest ray of light glinting off the now meager crystalline remains of ice and snow.

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It is a slow process, this looking. Very different than the speed at which something can be registered when encountered and demanding to be seen. Finding the light is key here. Even if I can’t actually feel the warmth in the smallest ray of this light, I feel the warmth. That’s when beauty appears, deep inside, timeless. It’s like those famous credit card commercials, ‘price of a cup of water, $2, price of a walk in the woods, $50, seeing beauty in the most mundane of subjects, priceless.

I am so starved for seeing beauty that I relish even the scrub of a carrot, removing the rich earth it has been sheathed in since being pulled from the ground, to reveal a crisp satiny orange freshness.

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So beautiful! I am even aware of how I am responding to photos of men when perusing the dating site I currently participate in. What a process. Always looking for the light and beauty there, I realize for me it is always in the smile. Looking at a photo with no smile is like looking at the gray in the woods, there is simply no light showing, nothing to prompt me to see, or look deep inside. Noticing that I want to skip over the profiles with no pictures. Here too I am forced to look for the beauty in whatever words are offered. It’s hard to trust the words without some form of light. But light can come, even here, in the form of discernment that trust in the beauty of what is being offered can develop and be seen.

Coming into the kitchen however, there is always an opportunity to easily see and feel the beauty I crave. Even a routine chicken dinner can feel like art, elevating the process of cooking a simple split roaster into an event that involves the heft of my large cast iron skillet large, lots of thickly sliced onions, fresh lemon, dried lemon balm from my kitchen garden stock, some poultry seasoning, and a bowlful of the bountiful vegetables that are always on hand these days. The skin side of the chicken wants to be browned before being set on the fragrant bed of onions to finish cooking. Seasoned chicken (skin side down) and onions

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go into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 375, flip chicken over to onions, and spread vegetables, lightly coated with olive oil, to fill the pan where sizzled chicken has left a hint of delicious fat. Add more salt and pepper, a little water, and the juice of a lemon squeezed over it all.

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Bake until everything is fork tender, about one hour more for the 2-1/2 lbs of chicken. The unexpected discovery of this meal is the way the onions carmelized into crunchy blackened delights around the edges of the pan.

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So good. Beauty here is in the moments of the process like, ‘ooh, I can use the onions under the chicken to cushion the exposed fleshy part’ and ‘hmmm, I wonder if I will be able to taste this fragrant lemon balm’, and ‘ah, what a great composition in the pan…’

I guess a week is the charm. Today is bright blue sky and penetrating sun. It is so clear I can even see into the floor of the forest again.

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Now I’m thinking that looking might actually be necessary. It might be what we need to do, in the absence of obvious beauty, to find trust and acceptance with exactly what is there. Or it might simply be the otherwise humbling path of seeing into a depth, deeper than we think we know.