balanced female side

I think the Universe is telling me there is something else I need to pay attention to. I’ve been sitting here since the early hour of Yogi’s first visit to the yard for his morning pee, knitting in hand, now on round three of ripping out stitches back to a place I was last night, unable to advance even one small row from where I was when I went to bed. It is so blatant, finally, this Rafiki-esqe hitting over the head with a stick to wake up and just stop, pay attention. But to what?

I’ve been wanting to write about fear but have been avoiding it. Maybe that’s it. Afraid of admitting how miserable I’ve been with a cold that has clearly turned into a sinus infection and the morning purge of nose blowing and coughing that leaves me exhausted before I’ve barely woken up. The knitting has been a balm for me during the course of this cold. I’ve managed to get some work done, attend to the dogs, do the bare minimum, and then park myself back on the couch with the Hap lace shawl I am teaching myself how to make, and just knit.

Originally it was to be the full square version, and I was pretty far along, well into the multiple rounds of border lace, consciously ignoring the fact that my stitch count was consistently off and that I didn’t really like the colors I chose. I just kept going. Then, just about the time this cold began, I stopped, ripped it all out back to the original triangle, changed the color scheme, and decided to continue with the half version instead. It has been a joy these past few weeks paying attention, making sure the stitch count works each row, watching this piece develop and become something beautiful.

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A few days ago I was finishing up the last border round before beginning the scallop edging. I had already read the pattern and instructions many times and felt the fear of taking on this part which was new and complicated, afraid of messing up what I was so happy with to this point. It was the morning of a big walk with Nora. We were out early. When we arrived at the pond, the stillness was pierced with the most amazing sound, a cross between a frog and a chuckle and the sight of little bobbing heads gliding through the water. I sat quietly contemplating the space between us, watched as the mother of this band of otters would swivel around and look at me, curious too, moving in a little closer for a moment, then leading her little family far to the other side again.

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Nora and I went on to explore a new, barely discernible trail taking us deep into a place I hadn’t been before. An hour later, thinking I was backtracking along the same path to our starting point, I realized I was very lost. Mysteriously, the Gaia GPS tracker app on my iPhone had stopped working. It became a clear and joyous moment of reckoning with my confidence and power. I was’t even a little bit afraid. I simply started walking and knew the path back to where I needed to be would reveal itself. It took some time, but eventually I recognized the feel of where I was in these woods that have become so dear to me, and eventually landed on a path that was completely familiar.

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I was curious about the otter energy that had been with us during this adventure. Reading in my Animal Medicine book, cross referencing Animal Spirit Guides and Animal Speak, I learned that ‘otter’ is woman medicine. It embodies the beauty of a balanced female side that creates space for others, for new energy to enter without preconceptions or suspicions, without fear. It is anchored in the understanding that all accomplishments are worthwhile for the whole tribe. It is playful mother energy, unencumbered in the making of family a priority. It is about sharing power without guile or jealousy. I felt the emotion rising in me as I read it all, the gentle tapping on an exposed pulse of purpose that seemed so insignificant now compared to where I had been. The question arose, what does female power look like?

I think of the portrait of the sunflower I took the other day.

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How each folded back petal is anchored so beautifully in that which it can no longer see or know, but trust will continue to provide nourishment. Maybe that’s the point. Like Nora at her post at the edge of the meadow facing the woods, as if sitting on a throne, unafraid, facing into the unknown woods beyond with calm and anticipation at the same time.

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And then in the next moment she shares her ferocity with Yogi, energetic playing with delighted growls and spirited energy that is met fully by her little brother. It does my heart good to see such abandon and trust.

Maybe the balanced female side is this feeling of simply not knowing, but actually knowing at the same time. Why in the world should we trust like this?  Maybe it is only something we can experience when we stop being afraid of what we think we are supposed to look like or be.

Magically, my fear of taking on the edge pattern of the next part of the knitting was gone. I just started doing it.

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I’ve had to set the knitting aside this morning.

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I’m clearly lost again in the backtracking. This infection isn’t old enough to warrant antibiotics yet and so I guess I need to pay attention. Not be afraid of feeling so crappy. Knowing that I have some time yet to let this infection resolve naturally.

best potato salad ever

I couldn’t resist the young healthy plants I found on the small stand outside the post office in May. Just $1.50 for four starts of yellow squash. They were the deep green of a plant well nourished. I didn’t have yellow squash last year and, why not? I knew I planted them a little too close to each other, felt compelled to allot only one quarter of one bed to these plants. Besides, who knew if they would all take. I didn’t have a lot of luck with squash plants last year.

I am now swimming in yellow squash. The beautiful blossoms just keep coming.

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Every day I bring in another three or four. You’d think I’d be totally sick of it. But I’m not. I’ve discovered the joy of adding yellow squash to just about anything. A few of my favorites so far; avglolemono soup made with equal parts chicken stock and chopped yellow squash simmered together, half the mixture puréed and put back in pot before adding eggs and lemon. Delicious as is or the next night heated up with leftover quinoa and ribboned collard greens added.

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Chopped yellow squash is a great addition to the coconut curries that beg to be made with so much fresh produce, absorbing extra heat if necessary, soft and firm and yielding all at the same time in a dish that can overwhelm if not careful. I made a colorful Mediterranean salad to take to a pot luck the other day of thin mandolin made slices of young firm yellow squash mixed with handfuls of chopped fresh parsley and basil, thin ribbons of red pepper, garbanzo beans, feta cheese and chopped olives, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. But the favorite so far is the potato salad. The best potato salad ever. Inspired by the paper bagful of just picked organic yellow new potatoes found at a local farm stand. Of course any good potato salad has to begin with the potatoes, and oh, there is nothing like the crisp fresh of a just picked potato.

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A kind of altered state moved into the kitchen and took over the process of boiling, chopping, retrieving from the garden, being present with. Overcooked potatoes just wouldn’t do. They had to be just done, firm and yet completely soft to bit. Equal size boiling chunks (3-4 pieces per medium potato) complete with skins were added to a pot of water and the fire turned on. Attention swung to the sweet potatoes in the bowl next to the stove, begging to be included. Just one, peeled and cut into equal size as their white brothers and sisters in the pot. Ah, water beginning to boil, what a perfect time to add some fresh green beans, also picked up at the farm stand, ends removed and cut into bite size pieces, a handful added as water began a rolling boil, the momentum of a stone soup brewing, other offerings coming into view. But I had to wait, hold the vision while watching for the moment the potatoes and beans were just cooked, ready to be rinsed with cold water and left in a colander to finish cooling. Now I could make a sweep through the garden, plucking a perfect, not too big and seedy yellow squash there, a handful of snap peas here, pinching off the tops of parsley and basil to make room for the new growth below. All prepared in short order, squash cut into small chunks, herbs minced, snap peas cut in half, everything added to a bowl with the beans and now just barely warm potatoes, skinned, cut into bite size pieces, and tossed with spoonfuls of delicious mayonnaise, a dream of making fresh mayonnaise floating by, but happy with the creamy organic variety (by ‘The Ojai Cook’) that I was trying for the first time. The meld, that moment when everything gets coated just so, happened after adding a swirl of olive oil to the mix. The final touches, a handful of chopped green Spanish olives, salt and pepper to taste.

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It’s daunting to consider all the possible combinations. Growing up, our family favorite was always made with chopped celery and green pepper, radishes, a little red onion, chopped hard boiled egg and Hellman’s Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip. Up until now, this is how I always made it. How could something so different take hold after all these years? Realistically, there are only a few months each year that it will be just like this, with such fresh out of the garden ingredients. It calls into question the very act of making something out of season, out of rhythm with what is there. What’s the point? Next year, something will change and so will this salad.

It’s like the constellation of the meadow right now. It couldn’t be more different than last year. There is a profusion of Black-eyed Susan’s amidst the Queen Anne’s lace and stalks of high grass. There is a distinctly new patch of something lavender down toward the forest edge.

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I don’t know what it is is. I watch it, take in the sweep against the edge and shadows of what surrounds it. Even the apple trees look different in the meadow this year.

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I’ve made this potato salad three times. Exactly the same way. Feeling the rhythm now that is so familiar, making something soft, adding something crisp and crunchy, dressing with something fragrant and discernably tangy, being one with the freshness of it all, the dance of taste and sensation hanging in the balance. I will be making this all summer, exactly the same way, letting it be that which marks me in this place right now, with the meadow and the dogs,

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all equals in growth and discovery just this way, soon to change again into something altogether different, and the next version of best ever.

the color of rescue

It’s a color that has come into view a lot this past week. Even in the uncharacteristic selfie I took out in the woods,

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wearing my full woodland walking getup, blue jeans, the linen shirt, pink meets papaya, and socks all sprayed to protect me from ticks, and the most recent addition, a hat, also sprayed with the natural Buzz Away I use on my exposed skin to keep the dive bombing flies from mercilessly circling.

The shirt dates me. I let Nora off the leash for the first time in July of 2014. She taught me in short order that day that the woods is where we were to be together in strength. And so began our daily walks, always wearing this shirt. It became, and has remained, my hiking in the woods shirt.  All have to do is pull it down off the rack and Nora knows. Two years strong, this beautiful papaya pink colored shirt has become the star of my uniform.

It’s a perfect color. The color of July and hot summer days. It is a good color on my skin. A color that feels good inside and out. I see it in a lone zinnia in my garden,

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In the froth of fresh juice made from carrots, beets, cucumbers, apples and ginger.

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It’s even been in the sky at night, the heat of summer finding the underbelly of clouds.

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It had been a few days since I was able to get out for the usual 2-3 mile walk with Nora.  I had been irritable, restless and completely out of sync with what was in front of me. Like magic, just one mile in, I felt the balm enter, clarity restored, a stream of inspiration approaching. It’s been two years of coming to know this way of solitude and communion that leaves me restored and rejuvenated every time. My mother had just sent me a blog post of a woman who was sharing about her rescue dog who sounds so much like Nora, and the joy of creating context for that being to find purpose in running fast, to do what this particular dog was ‘built’ for. And where Nora can also run like the wind, I began to wonder what her real purpose might be. Yes, I rescued her. She was clearly traumatized as a puppy and is so very sensitive to touch, in a way that has triggered a depth of empathy in me that was ready to be experienced. I cycle with her in neediness and the distress that comes with wanting to commune with other living creatures, wanting to touch and be touched so much, only to be able to tolerate so little. Then cycle back around to the pure puppy joy that is there when she comes at my call, eager to please and be pleased.

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Yes, I have given her structure and love and as much understanding as this human can muster. But it is she who has brought me into a way of coming into inspiration that seems to manifest most clearly when I am moving in collaboration with earth and wind and water. She has actually rescued me.

The beginning of a new quilt came into view as I walked. Back inside, I went into my fabric stash and pulled every piece I could see that contains the essence of this color

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service

I had my maiden voyage with Yogi off leash in the woods a few days ago. I was going to ease into it, looking for a twenty foot training lead in the store section of where we go to puppy class. The owner of the school and dog day camp Beth happened to be right there and when I told her my intent she smiled and said, “Don’t be afraid, just let him go, he will be fine.” I let this advice in, still not sure. But when the moment carrying the energy of ‘now or never’ came the next morning, I simply let him go. I had a bag of treats in my hand and he knew it. Maybe that’s why, after a brief wild few minutes of racing freedom to try to catch Nora, he came right away when I called and then fell into a trot a few paces behind me the rest of the way. I couldn’t believe it! All these years with Nora racing ahead like a scout and barely ever seen, this feeling of his presence, silently and solidly behind me, was deeply comforting. I speculated. Could this be his genetic predisposition to guard manifesting already? It certainly felt that way. Great Pyr gentle giants have been bred for service in such a specific way, to guard flocks of sheep from all manner of predators. It felt like Yogi had my back.

The next day out I watched more closely. Yogi definitely displayed all the signs of having a mind of his own, veering off into to ferns, running into the meadow before I could stop him,

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getting distracted by a smell,  or Nora chasing him off the trail. But he faithfully came running when I called every time, received his treat, and fell back in behind. And if he took off in pursuit of Nora, he would stop before too long and turn around to look for me. This was fundamentally already so different than Nora, who, on first chance off leash and free, ran huge wild sprints deep into the woods before returning to see if I was actually still there.

And if I had any doubt that Yogi was staying with me because of my exemplary training or otherwise learned behavior, all I have to do is try to take him for a walk on the leash. There is no urging him to follow my lead, it is folly to think I have a chance of making it to the mailbox and back in any reasonable length of time. He has his own tempo and own idea about how the walk will go and sits solidly, not moving, looking up at me with that patient tolerant, ‘oh you really must just give it up’ expression on his face before standing up to move an inch, literally, to smell the next blade of grass. Only after he feels the shift in me to really be there with him, does he began his trot in earnest toward the mailbox.

Yogi may be a breed that protects in obvious ways. But I think he is also here to protect what it means to be in service in a powerfully subtle way too. He is independently clear. There is no telling him otherwise and yet, he is completely present at the same time, even in sleep.

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Being in service needs to be a collaboration after all. We can’t be together unless we are truly together. And we can’t learn from each other unless there is trust and respect for who we are in service with, whether it be another human, canine, animal, plant, natural element, or spirit.

I went to the funeral of a dear man this week who truly lived a life of service. I’ve never met anyone who could ignite the spirit of giving back the way Stan could. He had a way of connecting to that part of me that needed and wanted to reach out and engage others through passion and commitment. He made it fun his way. He did it with integrity. He became a kind of father of the heart figure during all my years in Amherst, through our mutual commitment to various town committees and involvement in Rotary. I realize that intersecting with Stan the way I was able to all those years helped me develop my own path of service as a creative, as a person committed to being a presence in all I do. It was sad saying goodbye. The part of me that has been able to engage so readily in a public form of service has changed. But honoring Stan helped me realize the vision and commitment to being in service has only grown bigger.
I think about the service of plants in these burgeoning summer months. Last year I planted a lot of calendula, an herbal form of marigold that has always been a favorite. The shades of orange, the musty earthy aroma, and the healing capability of just this one plant are so inspiring.

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I filled a jar with the blossoms and covered them with olive oil last fall. After almost eight months of calendula infusing oil, the jar finally called. Within minutes, I was melting beeswax to add to some of the strained oil to make salve. Assorted jars filled with the golden glow of plant potential.

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It is such a simple and satisfying way to bring the essence of something into the light for best use.

The calendula is so prolific that I haven’t even needed to plant more. It has reseeded and reappeared in the garden again, sparking orange passion for another year of inspired service.

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american as apple

I woke up with the urge to bake. It was eerily quiet for a Monday morning, 4th of July, a holiday to be taken seriously and enter into with reverence. I had found a recipe the night before for a sweet potato cake, but somehow the flash of ‘american as apple pie’ wiped that image from the slate. I didn’t have fresh apples. But I had many jars of canned apple slices from the bounty of my beautiful trees last fall.

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Old trees here in Massachusetts. I fantasized that the apple trees that grace this land are descendants from the early days of independent living in this country. When seeds from another time and another world were spread in fertile spirit, to make a new life. Independence Day can mean so many things depending on where you are sitting in life. I was missing my 40th high school reunion and feeling the pinch of not being there instead of here, feeling the lack of independence in this case to travel easily with two dogs in tow, the choice to bring a perfectly happy puppy into our otherwise quiet life here demanding precedence.

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In the kitchen before sunrise, stick of butter softening in the large mixing bowl, I began to weigh and measure ingredients for an adapted recipe that would substitute plain whole milk yogurt for the cream cheese, the jar of already partially cooked spiced apples in lieu of crisp tart fresh slices, finally, oiling and flouring a bundt pan instead of the springform cake pan the recipe called for. I was taking chances, exercising my creative freedom and giving myself permission to fail. During the construction of the batter, I considered this notion of being able to fail. For making a choice that doesn’t necessarily follow the established rules or words on paper and still hoping it will come out the way we want it to. We have the freedom to make a choice without fully taking into consideration a complete accounting of outcome. And if we don’t like the outcome, we have the choice to accept it or not. Not unlike how the Constitution of this United States puts down rules for freedom to make choices, hopefully in a way that allows life to flow the way we want it to. But we never really know for sure do we? It is the protection of that choice that is so very precious.

Fifty years ago I would have spent the bulk of hours during this celebrated holiday with my nose in a book, languid hours spent doing nothing other than flowing with the thread of a story into the promise of a swim or a barbecue or fireworks, rules that have guided the way of this holiday for as long as I can remember. Now, family and friends far flung and me living a solitary life. The rules of the holiday seem very far away and I am left with the purity of my creative freedom. Feelings are mixed. I have to reckon with the melancholy of letting go in order to enter the joy of anticipating something new. There is no bypassing the grief that can surface unknowingly and without warning, for times long gone past.

So I made cake. Fragrant moist apple cake*** that kept me right here and made a memorable breakfast too. On the scale of failure to success, it had all the makings of a full blown success. Even though the use the bundt pan didn’t quite work and the cake had to be extracted in large pieces to be cooled.

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The combination of canned apples with the density of eggs yolks produced a perfect custard like crumb. I recommend eating a piece while it is still warm, with a spoon. I shared it with my friend and neighbor Peggy later as we had afternoon drinks in her art studio while looking at some of her new work. Reflecting on the holiday, she smiled and said, “You know that this is a day most artists typically spend in their studios too…”

Once the cake was known and tasted, I went to work on the new quilt that has taken over my own studio.  It began as an experiment,

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and has developed into a vision of forest in winter. It transports me back to six months ago when the world was white instead of green, except here the memory is still as fresh as right now, for every piece of fabric placed and line of stitching made.

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I really like this piece. I can feel the momentum, also familiar, to push through the work ahead to get to that place I can’t see yet. Eventually bringing me back around to gratitude for having the freedom to see the world differently every single day if I so choose. Happy Independence Day indeed!

 

***Kathy’s Independence Day Apple Cake

Quart jar spiced canned apples, drained

Cream together
1 stick butter
3/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt
1 scant cup sugar

Add 2 whole eggs one at a time, beating well after each one
+ 3 more egg yolks

With dry whisk, combine in separate bowl
2 cups unbleached white (organic) flour
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1-3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well. Fold in apples.

Prepared 9″ pan with oil & flour, or Springform cake pan, or if feeling adventurous, a prepared bundt pan.

Bake in preheated 350 degrees for about 1 hour (toothpick check 50-55 minutes…)