butter

It is the time of butter. Lots and lots of butter. It starts with Thanksgiving dinner, the rubbed turkey lovingly rubbed with butter, pie crusts, the mashed potatoes, baked squash, and accompanying green vegetables, all heavily laced with butter. I wake up now in this space before the holidays thinking about all the baking I want to do, the cookies to be made, the butter that needs to be lovingly bought and used to produce these things I love to make.

I didn’t reveal to my parents the other night that the impromptu meal I had prepared, including the homemade apple tarts, actually contained two full sticks, a half pound, of butter. My father and I chatted about the pros and cons of salted vs. unsalted butter as I loped off generous pats of salted butter to add to the squash baking in the oven, to the onion potato chicken filling sautéing with some spices in a pan on the stove, and again to the spinach sherry sauce that would get poured on top at the end.**

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I told him that I only used unsalted butter to bake with, but in all honesty, it’s habit, and I’ve always been told unsalted butter is the ‘sweet butter’. Dad pulled a box of the salted out of the fridge and showed me how it is labeled ‘sweet cream butter’ and then how the box of unsalted doesn’t do the same. He was genuinely curious. It is genuinely confusing. My Albanian grandmother (dad’s mother) used only unsalted butter for everything. Makes sense you can always add your own salt to temper the taste. It is the spirit of the butter with or without salt, that coats and binds and makes everything taste better. After a little research this morning, I learned that salted butter has a longer shelf life. Unsalted butter might just be fresher, and that’s good enough reason for me to make the choice. And it doesn’t mean that salted butter won’t ever make it into my meals. I just feels good to have a baseline, a clear voice for how something will taste.

I have come to appreciate the baseline of dawn beginning to fill the sky each morning, the infinite and endless variations of light, dark and color that can signal the start of a new day. Dawn is always awe-inspiring. It is particularly beautiful at my parent’s east facing home, looking out over one of the magnificent finger lakes of western New York State.

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When I gave the ‘trunk show’ presentation on Sunday, I found myself talking about voice in relation to my quilt-making. Seeing so many of my pieces all up on the wall together in such a generous accommodating space was a thrill. Standing back and taking it all in at once, even I could see, finally, objectively, that there indeed might be a unifying voice informing the work.

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I shared about inspiration and context from which each of these quilts came, and in each case I could point to where the spirit of the quilt was able to emerge from spaces in between pieces of fabric, between blocks of assembled pieces of fabric, and even in spaces between quilted lines. And like the butter that binds flavors together, that spirit has its distinct individual flavor but becomes completely subservient to the context it has become part of.

It was a fun hour, and I was rewarded at the end when one woman looked right into me and said, “I can feel your joy.” End of story!
**Harvest Squash Bake

2 small acorn squashes, cut in half, seeds removed
2 medium potatoes, skinned and diced (small, pinky nail size)
1 medium/large onion, finely minced                                                                                          1/2-3/4 lb. chicken breast, small dice like potatoes
Handful fresh parsley, minced
10-12 oz. fresh spinach
Dry sherry
Tarragon, salt & pepper
4 oz. (1 stick) butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Find baking dish to just fit squash with a little room left over, oil the pan, arrange squash so they are snug up next to each other. Put a pat of butter in bottom of each. Bake for 15 minutes while preparing stuffing.

Sauté onion in two tablespoons butter in a pan large enough to hold both onions and potatoes comfortably. When onions are translucent, add potatoes, chicken, and a splash of sherry, a few shakes of tarragon, parsley, some salt & pepper. Sauté for a few minutes until potatoes begin to sweat and cook and are coated with sauce. Turn off fire and cover.

Turn oven temp. down to 400 and bring out squash. Fill each half with filling. If there is leftover, mound on top and let extra bits fall over if necessary. Bake for another 20-30 minutes until vegetables are all fork tender. Turn off oven. In the same saute pan, add remaining butter over medium heat. When just melted, add spinach in bunches and stir until all wilted. Add sherry, salt & pepper to taste. Evenly distribute mixture over baked vegetables and and place pan in warm oven until ready to serve.

Makes 4 servings.

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eternal return

Today I drive west into the very familiar territory of western New York State. The car will be loaded with a dozen and a half quilts, two dogs and an overnight bag. Tomorrow I will present a ‘trunk show’ at the Schweinfurth Museum in Auburn, where one of my quilts is hanging as part of their current ‘Quilts Art Quits’ exhibition. In the quilting world of speakers and programs, a trunk show indicates that the speaker will be bringing actual samples of quilts in addition to her presentation. The pile of quilts now folded on the table spans twenty five years.

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There are so many stories embedded in each piece, energy of a lifetime woven into each design. I’ll talk a little about this, and about my nearly finished manuscript ‘Meditations of a Quilt-Maker’ that weaves many of these stories together. About how composing a quilt for me, captures the creative spirit of composing a life.

Taking each one down off the wall this morning, shaking it out, running my hands across each surface, and gently folding in preparation brought me back to this truth. I realize now how significant it is to have actual quilts in hand to share, how important it is to feel the soft visceral quality that can emanate from a something made with time and love. I sit here now surrounded by the stark bare walls that I began with here in this new home two years ago. It feels like an eternal return. A blank slate again that at the same time contains everything that is precious and truly colorful. Filling the walls with my quilts has felt like the most natural thing in the world to do. Not from vanity or even expediency. But from that place inside that yearns for another glimpse of the core in me that I keep coming back to.

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It was a sweet Thanksgiving this year, prepared for and celebrated here in this home, shared with just a few, but no less significant for the heartfelt thanks we each expressed for being right here where we are. Returning today to the part of the world that always evokes home for me in the deepest way feels right too. I will visit with my parents, drive roads I could drive with my eyes closed, except I will be soaking up the familiarity with eyes wide open, celebrating this return too.

After my presentation I will return home to the view of a world that greets me each morning, another kind of eternal return, always different, infinite combinations of light and dark, always potent and full of promise.

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I wonder if I’ll put the quilts back up where they had been living these past few years. Maybe it is time to fill these walls with something altogether new.

making change

I was out with the dogs on leash at 7:10 this morning. Almost balmy warm after a day of rain. The burning bush and bittersweet flamed in the early morning gray.

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The thought was to just walk the roads. Just give Yogi and Nora a change in routine to appease their agitation this morning, wondering if was an after effect of this recent full moon that has had Yogi awake and whining incessantly at 4:00 each morning. Or if he has just gotten into a habit that needs to be broken with some sort of change.

The thought of keeping them on leash for an entire time outside is new. Walking on leash has always just been for getting to or returning from the woods. I could feel my mind closed to the idea of actually walking in the woods with their leashes on. It would be too hard. But as we approached the end of the dead end road that offers one of the many entrances we take into the woods, I couldn’t turn around. The dogs weren’t pulling like they could, weren’t making my decision to just continue onto our woodland path a difficult one at all.

We walked a short loop through a section of the woods I love, on leash. It was most likely an actual road at one point in time, now soft and spacious with the downed leaves that unified the ground. At this early morning hour there was an accentuated hush. Yogi and Nora indulged my many stops to just take in the stillness and beauty that seemed to be saying, yes, making change is good. Everything was so familiar from our years of walking this path path together, unattached and untethered. I can always see them and their way from a distance.

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But maybe being here working together can work too.

Beliefs about being with the dogs and giving them what I thought they needed might be able to change because of this one conscious shift in routine. We can adapt. My rigidity about thinking the dogs had to have their off leash time with me in the woods each day to be happy dissolved. With winter approaching, it felt good to have some options.

Making change seems to be the issue. I have felt the stress of post election shock at just how much of an issue it is and to what lengths some might go to make it happen. Clinton was my choice for change. In the wake of so much despair over the reality of Trump being elected, I am trying to listen to other perspectives. I think making change is tricky. There is a logical way to approach it with known outcomes and there is an intuitive way to approach it without known outcome. I think about Ben who will probably never be able to make actual monetary change in an typical way. His brain just can’t do it. And yet, he makes brilliant changes in his life, changes that make a difference to his health and well being and relationship to others, every day because he wants to. There is no filter to what he feels. What he thinks and feels is completely transparent, supported, and respected. It is a different kind of logic that can only work if we are all open to it. He’s not wired for shutting down and hiding. I need him in my life to remind me of how important this is to having authentic dialogue. He needs me to support him maintain his motivation to live a productive interdependent life. We need each other.

A few days after the election I felt inspired to try to get a selfie photo of me and Yogi.  But he was having none of it and ran off to his beloved water to romp.  I turned instead and saw myself in the light of the moment on the path we were on and snapped.  The change that happened for me that moment was in really looking at myself as I know others see me, instead of some limiting belief I have of myself that routinely prevents me liking any photo of myself.

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The political divide that lives in this country lives in my own family. There has been very little communication between us since the election. Not because we don’t love each other, but because we do love each other. The divide is very deep. I finally sat down and wrote to them, my Beloved Family. And in doing so, I realized I could also be speaking to the family of citizens in this country I love and belong to. So I share this letter here too, in the spirit of opening to a new way….

Dear Beloved Family,

After days of reading and watching and listening and feeling the shock and dismay I know we all feel for one reason or another, I am finally able to try to clarify where I am with the election and the reality of a country divided.

I realize I’ve been lucky to have so much time and space to give to this. Having the ability to step back and make the choice to take it all in and truly listen is also a product of the choice I have made to live the way I do. I realized today that I have to stop apologizing, if only to myself, for my way. I have stopped thinking I should be doing more or thinking differently. I have stopped thinking I am a lesser human being because I do not have a life partner or live with a conventional kind of community and social life. I want to start asking questions and having real dialogue. We are a family divided politically and like what is happening in this country, I fear that love, while most critical on the road to acceptance, might not be enough. How an authentic dialogue can happen is still unknown to me, but at least I can start with sharing with you what I believe right now, knowing all too well that changing a belief, and the ability to change one’s mind, can happen in a heartbeat.

I believe in connection. I believe that connection with other human beings, with the Earth, and with my self all hold equal value.

I believe everything I do is work, whether I am writing, baking bread, making a quilt, making a home for my dogs, designing a building, or being a conscious human being. I’m lucky enough to be paid for some of it. I don’t take that for granted, and I don’t apologize for the privilege that my education and family support has provided me that allows me to make the choices I do.

I believe in personal responsibility. For my health, for my growth, for my ability to contribute to the world I live in in a positive way, and for how I treat other human beings. It pains me to think that there are so many in the world that are so defended and traumatized from life experiences that taking this kind of responsibility is impossible. All I have to do is look at Ben though and know that it is possible to overcome disability and take that responsibility, to the best of your ability, if you are motivated.

I believe that how we do relationship with others begins with how we ‘do’ family.

I believe that taking personal responsibility will always be in relation to something bigger than me or mine. I also believe in that dark night of the soul place that would have me make the choice between ‘me’ or ‘them’.

I believe in our constitution and the freedoms of this country. I believe it is a more complex world than when this young country was established and that a middle ground is possible between the protection of individual freedoms envisioned back then and the protection of our society at large now.

I believe that there is great deep seated fear, amongst both women and men alike, to women having the same power as men.

I believe that talking about what we don’t like or what we are afraid of can be a self fulfilling prophecy if that’s all we talk about.

I believe in being the change I want to see.

I believe in seeing the other side of any issue to the best of my ability, giving benefit of the doubt, and in never making assumptions.

I believe that the consequences of giving someone like Trump the voice to unleash the horror of white supremacy and acts of terror, unchecked, become the responsibility of every American to deal with right now, whether you voted for him, or Clinton, or didn’t vote at all.

I believe in listening and being open to change my mind. This is so hard though, and I am the first to admit how stubborn I can be. But I believe with all my heart that this is most productive thing I can do as a citizen of this country, and of this world.

It’s been a tough year for this family. I hope we can continue to find creative ways to keep sharing despite the gaps and the distance.

I love you all so much.

Kathy

today

There is water flowing again. All it took was a few inches of snow followed by a few days of rain to create a small but visible stream, precious sound and smell of this form of gold.

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Seems fitting today, Election Day, the day of standing clearly and confidently with a way of thinking and living, that something as essential as the abundant flow of clean brilliant water might make its presence known.

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