washing the dishes by hand

Ben and I arrived for Easter weekend at my parents home in the Bristol Hills of New York with the bright sun, spring temperatures, and signs of new life everywhere. We have been walking back in the open fields of grapevines discovered on the neighbor’s land when here three weeks ago after Dad broke his leg. He’s just home now after three weeks in rehab, still has three weeks to go without bearing any weight at all on his leg. There have been some adjustments to my parent’s home that makes it easier for him to move and transition with a walker. We are moving through the days together to see what next little adjustment can be made. Adaptation at it’s finest.

Ben and I have been taking our walks with cameras in hand, snapping away at what fills our visions and souls.

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Ben is fixated on the little ponds of water everywhere,

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me on the undulating sweeping landscape,

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where landscape meets lake.

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We have fun out here together amidst the smallest signs of spring making themselves known.  The green coming up under the brown is barely there, but it is there. The little streams that need to be crossed carry the lifeblood for this growth.

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The delight I feel at seeing this tiny yellow flower emerging from the floor of the woods is unbounded.

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The visceral quality of ritual renewal that marks this time of year is simply and perfectly felt in this landscape. A year ago I would have missed this.  I would be walking the paved roads surrounding the landscape instead, the immediacy of this experience would have been lost to the restriction of curbside viewing only.  In the space of a year, I have come to appreciate how taking a step back can be so rewarding.

I anticipate returning to the house to prepare the beautiful leg of lamb (usually my father’s job, he directs me to the exact way to stuff this locally and sustainably raised piece of meat with garlic, smile), peel carrots and potatoes, and lead the dance of roasting, steaming, boiling, mashing, and assembling that will culminate in our celebratory meal together. To clear the decks and make space for these preparations, I must first wash whatever dirty dishes are in the sink. By hand. Smiling as I think that it has been almost a month now since my father has been in the kitchen, that he is the only one that knows how to finesse the sophisticated assemblage of buttons on his new dishwasher. Dad loves the job of loading this new fancy machine, keeping order in the kitchen, putting away the dishes when clean. There’s simply been no reason for my mother to learn the new buttons. So we washed dishes by hand the first week he was in the hospital and rehab. After I left, my mother just kept washing the dishes by hand. Now, upon my return, we commiserate at how much we actually enjoy this warm hands in the soapy water ritual. We still haven’t asked Dad how to work the dishwasher.

It’s like paying the credit card in full each month. Once it is done it is done. There is no waiting or worrying about what remains unfinished, if only for a short time.  There’s none of that waiting for the dishwasher to be full before running it, and then waiting until it is actually finished after long cycles of wash and rinse and dry, waiting for it to cool down, waiting for the right moment to empty it. Washing the dishes by hand is a form of instant gratification, of doing a job in a way that signals completion in the moment, making space right away for what is behind it without the pile up of too much that can signal overwhelm.

Some are quick to remind me that washing dishes by hand might actually use more water than what is used by a dishwasher. That a dishwasher frees up time for more important things. But I know that it is possible to be efficient and economical with water in a hand washed operation. It is possible actually to use very little water. Just one basin filled with warm soapy water and the scrub of a hand held sponge can wash a lot, followed by an equal amount of clean water to rinse. It can indeed be a very gratifying experience for the sustainably conscious.

The washed dinner dishes are now piled up on the counter.

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Nothing else will happen here until they are put away.  Multi-tasking isn’t possible this way. It’s another kind of stepping back in this modern fast paced world. Washing the dishes by hand is another ritual of renewal I think, being able to celebrate movement from one place to another this way, slowly and consciously making ready for what is next…

seeing red

It started this morning with the smoothie. An odd assortment of things went into the magic bullet, the last of the frozen red raspberries, a half of an avocado, a few heaping tablespoons of vanilla yogurt, a scant handful of granola, a scoop of Vega chocolate protein powder, the last dribble of cranberry juice at the bottom of the bottle, some water. I was fully expecting a brownish green concoction. What emerged from the bullet was this,

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mounded in the glass and begging to be eaten with a spoon. The gorgeous delicious pink was strength of red making its presence known amongst the otherwise muted assemblage of brown and green.

The full moon has been working on me the past few days. Fitful nights of sleep with dreams full of anger and anxiety. This morning I couldn’t shake disturbing dreams of being thwarted, the sense of anger lurking behind my otherwise accommodating way. It kept pushing through, kept wanting me to see it, where it lives in me even when I think it doesn’t. This is so humbling, so painful when it happens. Typically, I can hide from Anger by letting tears of sadness dominate. But when the tightness in my chest, the insistent unwanted memories, and the unexplainable anxiety appears, I know Anger is close. And I need to face it.

What is that expression that describes so succinctly, a feeling of anger? That I am ‘seeing red’?

Sitting on the meditation stool at the pond today was cathartic. Sounds of wind, trickling water, and a visible presence of life under the surface of the water had both me and Nora paying attention. I took in the beauty of the ripples on the surface,

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and eventually was re-directed to the shore where Nora was beckoning for her aquatic companion to surface.

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It was hard not to see the red there.

I’ve passed this abandoned vessel every time I walk this path, aware in a ‘oh, there is a decaying red boat at the edge of the pond’ kind of way that doesn’t really register the physical reality of what is there. But today it draws me in.

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The red is so red! It is peeling and beautiful and I see abstract paintings and bursts of anger at the same time.


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I walk further down the path with Nora, aching to settle back into the stability of green and brown again.

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The fact is, it isn’t any one specific thing that has brought me to this place. It is so many things. It is a litany of things. It is a history of things that have been systematically buried for too long. I have simply reached a tipping point. I realize it doesn’t serve to isolate any one thing and vent in that direction. I realize that seeing red right now is just a state of mind I need to respect, and find a way to release with some semblance of grace if I can. I approach the giant purple mushroom that has been there for weeks now. I bring the camera lens down close, and snap. It is a grotesque photo, like a brain spilling blood. Somehow the red in the purple dominates in the picture and I am revolted by it, immediately delete it. Continue walking in the balm of brown and green. My eye is caught by a log I am about to step over. The bark is gone and the smooth surface of wood is presenting me with its beauty, and now all I can see is art again, snapping one close up after another. I cross over the log, lookand smile, there it is again.

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Red. A beautiful expression of some aspect of the wood releasing something.

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And with it, I release my red too.

fluid body

After days of warm sun and springlike weather, there is a last gasp of snow this morning. The birds are in a frenzy at the feeder already. I find myself anchored in place at the window, watching and feeling the swooping fluid movements of these creatures, enjoying the colorful display against white background. A cardinal is in the feeder sampling the suet there. As I step toward the window he swoops away to the branch where she is waiting. I actually see him put his beak to hers, offering her a taste of what he found.

I’ve been taking small video clips of the moving water all week. The sound has been intense, full of force and purpose and joy. The number of little waterfalls even in my small brook are tenfold. I too have been wanting to offer a taste of what I find here.

It is food for the soul, this sound and smell and feel of fluid body reminds me that it is from here, this flowing undifferentiated way of energy moving like water, that I can move like the wind, willy nilly, to a new place without too much effort. I can walk through an opening in the stone walls framing the path, spirit free to discover what is in the other side of the light beyond those trees. I can stop for an indeterminate amount of time to listen to the wood trush singing in the wind. I have the strength and support to just stay with the intensity of simply feeling so much.

I just happened to watch the movie “The River Why” last night. Smile. Though primarily a movie about fishing, there is scene after scene of moving water in big rivers, the sound and the feel evoking this week’s findings. There is a scene between the protagonist and a philosopher in which the philosopher says, “I believe in the rivers of living water. I believe in the soul of that water.” He also says, “fishing is nothing but the pursuit of the elusive.” What a great metaphor for following flow, energy, prana, life force. It can be felt, it can be followed, but can it really be captured? Making these clips of the water feels like fishing to me. I think I am capturing the essence of something.

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Even with the bright sun, the wet soggy earth under matted down leaves of yesterday was crunchy solid again from an overnight freeze. Walking along the river, the sound of the rushing water from the past week now seemed muted, as if slowed by the desire to return to ice. Air currents registered on the surface of pond in the woods just one day before were now buried under a thin layer of ice.

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How quickly this transformation happened. I liked the firmness of the barely frozen earth again that allowed me to walk at a brisk pace, to the rhythm of my purpose toward a determined goal to get to the top of a particular crest. I also noted that the way I was moving was very different from the day before in the soft wet earth. The fluid filled ground had slowed me down, required my body to find balance in a more specific way. The presence of the water flowing so freely kept me aware of my relationship to the earth. It triggered a more natural embodied presence in kind. It reminded me of how good it feels to resonate with my fluid body.

Hiking deeper into the woods with temporary firmness underfoot, I remembered that I only have to engage ‘pit of the belly’ to feel fully rooted in fluid body again. My yoga teacher refers to this second level of the practice of mulabandha as “a powerful magnetic pull into personal core. The pit-of-the-belly both draws life force into itself, and emanates intelligence from itself.” (For fellow yogis, here is the link to my teacher Patty Townsend’s wonderful essay about Mulabandha http://wp.me/p3vfZm-bVeBE). I’ll never forget the day many years ago when I felt the truth of this during a simple walk around the block with the dog. Like riding a bike, after much practice, the transformative feeling of powerful awareness in this sacred place in my body simply kicked in. I have never walked the same since. There’s no going back now. Not unless I want to purge myself of all that feels good and strong.

It can seem counterintuitive, to embody support within when there is seemingly support outside underfoot. However, when I find my stability and commitment deep in this belly space, the rest of me, including my mind, becomes free. My ‘will’ no longer propels me forward. Instead, movement comes from the delicious feel of my fully committed body in desire. I imagine this is exactly what a committed stream of moving water toward a fall feels like too..

Nora and I are just back from our walk to the pond. And it has transformed once again.

knitting through

I’m on my third knitting project since December. As I sat through the short dark days of winter, I knit. Knitting through whole seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, Blue Bloods, and The Good Wife. Knitting at my father’s bedside as he recovers, through hours of potential worry and anxiety. Caught in the momentum of steady soothing rhythm and the touch of soft vibrant yarn, I knit. Each project has compelled me to pick it up and finish the patterns that need to be finished. My friend Joan was here visiting this weekend and told me her sister likes to time her knitting projects. I thought, to finish or be done with a thought pattern, a feeling, or even a creative project, continual adaptation and acceptance is required. Is it useful for me know how long this will take? Is it an illusion to think that fixing a time frame will yield a specific result?

It’s like setting boundaries. If I set them, does it guarantee a behavior in another I desire?

I’ve been knitting my way through Nora’s anxious behavior, her jumping in response to any new arrival in a room, her barking loudly for inclusion in a conversation. It is distressing to some, but mostly I observe Nora being seen and accepted and managed beautifully by so many. Still, I worry that these behaviors overshadow her sweetness, her particular brand of devotion, her beautiful presence. It reminds me of Ben’s need for attention from a particular classmate when he was in third grade. It was the beginning of our understanding that Ben had a problem with boundaries. The more this person ignored him, the more outrageously he would attempt to get her attention. It got him into trouble. He still struggles with impulse control. And yet as I watched him playing basketball this weekend in the Special Olympics finals, I felt the confidence of his ability to focus on the ball appropriately,

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his brilliant and persistent way of playing defense, letting his opponent know he was there but maintaining his own space at the same time. I am so proud of his achievement.

I knit through the feeling of this pattern, thinking of my role in it, how to act appropriately, how to continue to help, how to control both the behavior and the anxious feeling that rises in me as a result.

The energetics of these kinds of dynamics are not lost on me. What is reflected back is often something I need to see in myself. Creating a context for safety is hard. It is a hard realization that clear firm boundaries and a kind of clear detachment are required. Knitting through my own anxiety helps me consciously settle into a safe place in myself and feel this detachment, not as isolation, but as love. Knitting through a tough feeling is a way to center and balance. Right brain and left brain weaving together through the heart into the hands. When I am knitting, Nora settles with me.

I’m nearing completion of this latest project, a boldly patterned shawl in soft muted brown, pale yellow, and rich pink.

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As I sat and knit this past weekend, Joan made friends with Nora. True friends. Joan somehow knew just what to do, how to be with her, even had Nora sitting in her lap at one point.

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Joan is also a mother of a child with special needs. She has worked through many of the same patterns I have struggled with. We had a great time walking in the woods together with Nora on a beautiful sunny day. She got it. How much Nora can be safe to be exactly who she is in this setting, how easy it was for all of us to relax and have fun here together.

I don’t know how long this current knitting phase will last. I have bags of gorgeous yarn left and many more projects in mind. I have fleeting worry that it is taking me away from my art, from other ways of connecting with life. But it is fleeting. Peace from knitting is so much stronger than the worry. There’s no need to put a time limit on this.

change

It’s day six of waking up to the beautiful morning sunrise at my parents home in the Bristol Hills above Canandaigua Lake in NY.

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The mornings are a little more relaxed now that my father is settled into a nearby rehab facility to receive the support he needs to regain independent movement. He fell skiing last week and broke his femur. Eighty three years old, he is one of the most active people I know, skiing just about every day during the winter. The break was a difficult one, requiring sophisticated surgery and now, a lengthy recovery. I have watched him settle into his condition with grace, looking downright presidential even just two days after surgery,

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Sitting by his side all these days, negotiating and advocating within a well meaning but burdened medical system, can be exhausting.

Nora has found her favorite spot on top of my parents low back couch where she can gaze out the large window. The hair on her back is up, her tail is wagging, she is quivering now as she watches the fox cross the field, same time as yesterday, this lone creature traverses the same path across an expanse of field beyond. It’s been hard not being out in the woods with her every day like we do at home. Typically when we are here visiting, I take her out on long walks with the leash, but it just isn’t the same. This past week, my mornings have been filled with the silence of waiting for the phone to ring, to hear my father’s morning report of the night, then gathering things and heading in to be with him for the day. So Nora has been getting the short end of the stick. After a few days of this, something had to give and we finally headed out for a short walk down the neighbor’s driveway toward the woods. Normally, we just walk the length and turn around to come back. But this time, we veered off on a path, typically not visible in the summer, which led us into the bowels of hidden fields that lay beyond.

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Gorgeous vineyards framing a large open field and woods on both sides.

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That first morning of discovery there had been a dusting of sugar snow the night before,

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and with the bright sun, it was stepping into the world of ‘Iroquois Nation meets Tuscany’ that has always resonated for me in this land.

Today I realize that finding this kind of space in the landscape is a form of safety for me. Safety in the open land that allows me to simply follow Nora running free, visceral and inviting. I suppose it is always possible that something could happen to mar this feeling, to change my relationship to life through this space. Like Dad injuring himself while participating in something he loves like skiing. Shit happens. Change always happens. The potential for being led to a new place never disappoints.