Grandma’s House

All I have to do is saute some onions and celery in butter, and my husband salivates.  Get a good meal cooking and baking, and I’m likely to hear, “Smells like my grandma’s house in here.”  More often than not, I hear such a comment when I’m frying potatoes, okra, pancakes, or especially bacon.

While my husband’s sensory recall is triggered by smell, it’s the very act of preparing a meal itself that takes me to my grandmothers’ kitchens and mealtimes.  On weekends when our whole schedule is determined by when and what our meals are, I realize why I associate mealtimes with my grandparents and why my husband also associates mealtime smells with his grandma’s house.

We both come from subtly matriarchies.  Sure, our forefathers were the bread-winners, but it was and is the mothers who keep the home, prepare the meals, provide most of the childcare and tending, and encourage the religious traditions.  Our foremothers have held the family together.  As they’ve passed, so has the golden thread that tied our families together almost imperceptibly.  Even gold over time wears thin.  Time changes things.  People change.

My husband and I are most fortunate to have the memories we do.  Our grandmothers loved and love us unconditionally.  They dedicated their days to make sure that when we were around, they  nurtured us the best way they knew how — through our stomachs.  What could best assure our survival than a full belly?  These queens of the kitchen knew how to make the groceries last for their respectively large families, and I certainly never wanted for food.

I learned so much about cooking itself in the kitchen with my grandmothers, trying not to be in the way.  How to pinch a pie crust.  Learning how to make eight hamburgers at once in two cast-iron skillets on the stovetop.  Shortcuts to make quick desserts for unexpected visitors.  That there was enough time to bake a meatloaf while you were at church.  Some lessons weren’t just about cooking.  One grandmother still had dreams of things she wanted to do.  One grandmother wanted so much for me to make choices that would help me lead a different, and somehow better, life.  Such lessons are hard to understand without the experience behind them, but I honor these lessons still, even if I didn’t heed their wisdom and advice.

The next time I return home later in the day after a morning breakfast that included pancakes and bacon, I’ll try not to turn my nose in distate.  It means we provided for our family.  We are giving our children associations to their childhood that, when they reflect upon it later, will hopefully tell them we cared for them by nourishing them, not intentionally giving them heart disease.  May I have the patience to welcome them into my kitchen and try to teach them as subtly as my grandmothers tried with me.  May I pass on a cookbook to them of their favorites so that they won’t have to labor like my husband in trying to recreate family favorites.  Is there more to taste than simple ingredients?

Our family dynamics have changed.  We don’t always go to “Mother’s” or “Grandma’s” for Sunday dinner anymore.  Our sense of family includes a wide range of friends.  Still, though, our primary focus is our shared meals, the time we spend preparing, gathering and sharing in the kitchen and at the table.

Our grandmas were and are beautiful teachers.

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Shortcuts and Canopy Roads

Darting between errands in a relatively small city, one learns the cut-throughs; there’s more than one way to get from point A to point B.  At five o’clock I’m certainly prone to taking such a route, especially when on my way to a mega-store.

The light was fading, my tummy wasn’t feeling good, and a long weekend was coming to a close.  I didn’t really want to do the shopping that HAD to be done.  I wasn’t particularly happy about being one of the motorists out at rush hour.  I should have been home making dinner, not buying the goods so I could do so.

Just as I was about to reach the straight stretch on the back road, just pass the interstate intersection, I spied a police car sitting in a drive, facing outward, waiting to catch someone like me — someone who thought they might get somewhere a little faster by out-smarting the rest of the drivers and possibly by disobeying some speed limit laws.  I see you, Mr. Officer.  Thanks for reminding me to take it easy; it is the law, after all.  I’ll get to where I’m going safely if I pay attention and slow down no matter which road I take.

So I make sure I’m going 35mph or less and enjoy this little road.  Thinking back to it, I can’t even recall if it has a center line, though I’m sure it does.  There are old farmhouses and pastures.  Barbed-wire fences with trees and bushes.  The trees grow up and over the road, forming what the kids and I call a “canopy road,” our favorite kind.

And there were deer.  Two of them.  Stopped and staring at me.  One was on the road to the right, in my lane, and the other was beside it, just off the road.  I’m sure it’s looking at the van and not me, this mama-looking deer who was out with a fellow doe.  Going slowly as I was, I slowed almost to a stop and mosied by even slower, making sure they didn’t bolt across the way I was going.  “Excuse me,” I said politely, humbly.  After all, this is their woods.  Without our intrusion and given time, our pavement and concrete and feeble structures would crumble aside.  The fauna would continue to grow and the animals to roam.  I am but a guest here.  Please pardon my arrogant intrusion.  Please bless my path.

I realize that in this small stretch of road on which for a few moments I was the only traveller, I went from seeing it as my right to take a shortcut on my all-important mission of saving time and frustration to seeing it as an opportunity and gift to slow down, enjoying what nature offers.

Then, of course, I returned to a busier road, six cars passing before I could turn into the stream.  I made it to the fluorescent-lit mega warehouse for the grocery shopping necessary for a family of six.  I went home to make dinner and then stay up much of the night with four of us working our way through a stomach virus.  The next day, we slept and rested.  One of us didn’t get sick (the older son).  You just never know.

I am pretty certain about a couple of things, though.  There’s a time for everything.  There are blessings everywhere.

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Purple for Preparation

For those unfamiliar with the Anglican tradition, the Church calendar is a circle, a cycle, and it has certain colors for every season.  Naturally, there’s a lovely children’s song to teach the season and the meaning for each.

“Purple for preparation.  White for celebration.  Green is for the growing time.  Red is for Pentecost!”

The four weeks of Advent precede Christmas and its twelve days.  Advent is a time of preparing and waiting.  In that time we ponder the Mystery, the Light, Mary, and the other lessons accompanying the season.

In one of my rare solitary moments, I considered what it is that I need to be prepared for, beyond the religious norm.  What I discover, of course, is that my needs parallel with the lessons.

What needs to be done?  What am I required to do as a member of society?  I have to be counted.  I have to pay taxes.  I have to make sure the family is cared and provided for.  My husband and I do this together, the day-to-day, part-of-society requisites.  We have to follow the rules, even if it results in frustration from waiting in lines or finding businesses to be closed due to holiday hours.  We try again.  We do what has to be done.

What is needed of me?  The children need a more compassionate mother (especially this morning).  They need time and attention, which are hard to provide when one is tired and energy levels are low.  Others need the same of me; truthfully, they deserve the same.  Kindness.  I need this of myself, too.

And what might be required from me in this life?  Am I prepared to fulfill my purpose?  I believe that if I’m still alive, I have work to do for the greater Good.  I still don’t know what that work is, but I sense clues.  Ultimately, every moment is an opportunity to change the world for the better.  This is what makes me an optimist, I suppose.  Take the complacency, anger, animosity, even hatred and replace it with awareness and compassion.  It aligns nicely.

The advice given Mary and Joseph works for me, too.  “Do not be afraid.”  Do the work.  Be present to, for, and with others and myself.  Trust the Mystery and live the Magic.  Goodness is here, in every moment, but I have to be prepared if I want to see it.  I have to be prepared to experience it.  I have to be prepared to be surprised, which ironically I am every time I experience true Grace, Light, and Love.

May we all be so blessed.

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Autumnal Thoughts

Denial.  Longing.  Wonder.  Sadness.  Hope.

In the span of a few hours, these are some of the feelings or emotions or thoughts streaming through my consciousness.  As the daylight decreases, nature tells me not-so-subtly that now is the time to be serious about what I am going to lay fallow this winter.

Mainly I cannot believe fall is nearly complete. Some of the trees still haven’t dropped their leaves. It seems last week the ginkos finally decided to go ahead and let go, but there are still some maples ablaze. This week is Thanksgiving.  I haven’t yet put Halloween in the attic, and I haven’t done our grocery shopping . . . or even made a menu/list.  I’m already seeing Christmas lights.

I long for what I can’t have right now. Leisurely time to cook, to plan, to watch the kids think and grow, to create, to write, to daydream out the window into the dazzling autumn light or through the heavy gray. I yearn to take back all that I’ve taken for granted in the past year.  I long to be.  I’d also like to do everything better.  I’d like to do and get done that which needs to be done.

Yet I’m amazed at all that has passed, all the blessings we have. I cannot fathom the significance of all that is and is to come, and I wonder at how all these pieces will fall into place. There is so much Mystery. . .

. . . and so much suffering. I can’t help sometimes from letting it creep up on me, dwelling on it a bit too long. Whether it be personal, trivial dis-ease or greater, universal suffering, it can catch me off-guard and sit heavy on my heart. This must be carefully tended in these winter months.

As the song and sound of the children’s choir rings gently and beautifully in my mind, I sense the hope that Light brings and feel the cycle moving onward, forward, bringing me with it. Light and shadow and ever-present hope through faith. Unexplainable, really. Beyond words. Now is a time to live into the experience and learn as much as possible. My teachers are everywhere. I kiss them good-night. I listen to their stories. I wonder at them and with them. I laugh. I cry. Always, though, I am learning and growing.

The leaves are falling.
The roots run deep in my soul.
What will spring reveal?

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American Dreams

It used to be baseball and apple pie.  Today one might say it’s an iPhone (loaded with the coolest apps) and a flat screen t.v. with take-out.  But then it really depends on which cultural clique you belong to, doesn’t it?  A hipster and a gangsta won’t have the same ideals, will they?

But there’s more at play here.

It started out as a desire for something better.  A belief that anything would be better than the current state of persecution/poverty/suppression drove people to cut their losses and begin again.  A New World meant new hope.  Leave family.  Cut your losses.  Sever your roots.  Start over.  No attachments.

But if this new life doesn’t live up to one’s expectations, then maybe there’s something else because this life is too hard.  Maybe the West with its Gold will make life better.  Risk it all.  Do it or die trying.  If it looks untouched, it’s now mine.  Let’s lay tracks.  Mark it as our own.

Miracle of all miracles, some do “make it.”  Some live into their dreams and seem to have it all, from a new life, to gold, to apple pie . . . all the way to the flat screen t.v.  Yet, how many do we know who have the appearance and stuff and have peace of mind and spirit?  Do you think it was easy for them if they do “have it all”?

What happens to a plant once you sever its roots?  What happens when you take something that wasn’t yours to take?  What happens when we live our lives without regard to the consequences seven generations from now?

I struggle now with trying to understand how to balance our consumption/desire/pride/greed/fear with balance/peace/full emptiness/love.  Our amazing capacity to be connected with everyone everywhere provides opportunities unimaginable 500 years ago — even 200 years ago.  At the same time, we have capacity to destroy unimaginable numbers — not only people but ecosystems.

At the retreat I was at this past weekend, we were blessed with the presence of Joanna Seibert and Kate Moorehead.  (I highly recommend them both!)  During one of Kate’s sessions, she asked us to think of and then sketch the plant that represented our spiritual life.  I am drawn to trees, so I drew a tree.  Not just any tree.

We have a cherry tree in our backyard that has a massive root system.  From these roots other trees grow.  One of these trees we have let grow because the larger original tree will not live forever.  I used this image.

In my picture  I had a “God” tree with many roots.  Like the cherry tree, a smaller tree grew from one of the roots.  This smaller tree is me.  I have my own roots now and put forth my own branches, but there is a source from which I’ve come.  Even if that source isn’t always visible or tangible, it’s alive within me.  My roots are the gifts I receive from the source and that which feed me.  My branches are the gifts I share by being myself; the fruits I bear are the gifts I give outwardly to others.

What would it be like if the American Dreams became dreams of wholeness?  What if they weren’t based upon escape from reality, indulgence in richness, attaining that which only a few will attain?

Every one of us has a source.  Every one of us has gifts, whether they are from our innocence or our wounds or both.  But we have to care for ourselves and for those around us.  Love your neighbor as yourself. What more do we need to do?  We need to choose.  We need to choose to share that last crumb of apple pie with someone else.  We need to let the visiting team’s fan have the seat beside us.  We need to care for our land, keeping in mind of the consequences generations from now, like the back of the Seventh Generation label says (and I read when doing the dishes).

Fortunately, our roots with God are not solely tangible, and though we might cut them to seek a better way (because, of course, we know what we need/want most), the Love of God remains intact.  We are entitled.  We are entitled to Love, end therein lies a richness everyone can attain.

My American Dream?   Love and Peace.  Now, I have a capitalistic wish-list that I think would be good for my family and me and that I could probably compare to yours.  I’ll trust, though, that I have what I need to do the best I can to manifest love and peace here and now.  Thanks be to God!

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“Bringing the Awesome”

My husband’s birthday brought several meal-gatherings amongst our family and friends.  As our youngest said, “It’s your birthday again?!”

Much love and attention went to my dearest these past few days, and needless to say, the house and yard are looking great.  I am reminded time and again how important it is to take care of ourselves to best care for others.  It might seem like we’re just being annoying, but if something is at the top of our personal priority list, let it be done!  It will help get the other stuff done more quickly and with much less mumbling and complaining.  I’ll try to take that lesson to my next interaction with the kids.  (wish me luck!)

Hubby told his mother that he’s been “bringing the awesome” all the years of his life (which aren’t quite as many as mine).  A friend over dinner last night said that our birthdays are like personal new year’s; you can wish for yourself an abundance of blessings in this, the next year of your life.

Oh, that we could lavish attention and patience toward each other like every day were our birthday, that we felt self-confident enough to live every moment like we were “bringing the awesome” with love and joy.  Indeed, our home is richly blessed with awesomeness.  🙂

“Every day is a gift from God.  That’s why it’s called the Present.”

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It’s Not a Problem; It’s an Opportunity

I once heard it’s good feng shui to have your fridge full of food.  My grandpa always kept his car full of gas.  My grandma always had a pantry full of canned goods and a freezer so full of food you could barely shut it, let alone fit another bag of frozen anything in there.  My mother-in-law usually has at least two of everything, mainly so she can share with the family — thanks to the good deals she finds.

There’s a good fortune there that can easily be taken for granted.  Their ways of being and doing things rely upon being able to sustain them.  They have the resources to do so.  I didn’t realize how fortunate I was as a kid.  I knew others relied on school lunch programs.  I knew there were homeless kids and adults, that even if they had a make-shift home, it didn’t necessarily mean they had electricity or running water.

I also realize the predicament my parents were in, a stereotypical struggle of middle class America.  Keep up with the Joneses.  Make things look well and good, even if the budget is a train wreck.  Pay the medical and dental bills out of pocket; what other choice do you have?  Buy now, pay later . . . if you can.  Don’t let the kids know how hard it is.

Now my husband and I find ourselves living between these two ways of living, and I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t an opportunity to find a resolve so that our kids won’t have to struggle with the same issues.  I feel like my grandparents, who lived through the depression, wanted to make sure they never ran out, that there’s always plenty.  They also felt very strongly about paying for things with cash; buy only what you can afford.  I feel like my parents, who reached adulthood in the 70s, lived fully in the 80s mentality: get what you need (a.k.a. want), taking time to pay it back.  It provided a kind of feast or famine way of life.

Our opportunity, again, is to find what is best of each generation, and I think that relies on us being able to clearly know what is enough.

I heard that it’s best to use the full tank of gas before filling up again.  I know from experience that I feel like I’m not wasting as much money on gas when the tank if full.  (Doesn’t it seem like the top half of the tank lasts longer?)  I know that food does not last forever, even in a freezer.  It’s best to cycle through and actually use it and replace it regularly.  Some staples do last longer when frozen, so saving room for bulk flour, oats, rice and such is smart.  I appreciate credit, too, but unless it can be managed wisely and paid off quickly, it’s best to pay with cash.  Do not live outside your means.  I’m still learning this simple lesson that can be so hard to live.

I also take the opportunity to tell my kids why we don’t eat out so often, why the fridge might not be full of fresh produce, why I cannot and will not pay full price for new clothes and such (unless absolutely necessary).  I don’t tell them to make them feel guilty or ashamed; I want them to know and understand.  I also try to make sure they share in my gratitude for what is shared with us, what is given to us. As a parent, you have to know how hard this can be.

Slowly, we are learning what is enough.  Though it may feel like we’re cutting it close on having enough food and supplies, we do have enough.  We realize how little we actually need to feel sustained and thriving.  Appreciation goes a long way.  A positive attitude does make a difference.  Our time isn’t spent moping about thinking about what we lack or miss.  We have to set a standard for ourselves.  Society’s expectations and norms have proven skewed and unbeneficial.

We have the opportunity to find where the value lies in our family.  We determine what is enough for us, really and truly.  If we need to buy in bulk out of necessity to save $10 and make sure we don’t run out of toilet paper or peanut butter (you have to have your priorities!), so be it.  I have a feeling other lessons and opportunities will follow regarding learning to live sustainably.  Our awareness continues to broaden.

I am so grateful for our abundance.

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Flying without a Net

Have I written about faith before? (Sorry, I can’t help the sweet sarcasm!)  I know I have.  I know I’ve mentioned that faith becomes most apparent when we take the leap from security, routine, and stability and plunge into unchartered territory.  Often this happens when we act on our intuition, trying to follow our hearts, trying to live into what we perceive as our “call.”

Well, my friends, we’ve taken that plunge and have been free-flying for a few months now.  There are a few things we have learned thus far.

  • If you thought you knew how you would react if you “failed,” prepare to be wrong. I expected to be bitter, angry, resentful if we spent all our savings and extended our credit to its outer limits.  Thankfully, for the sake of the family, I’m not.  Also, perception of failure is a tricky thing.  Our greatest success in this venture is probably our change of perspective, our new understandings.
  • Expect most of the growth to be within. As mentioned above, most of the changes we have experience are that of understanding, perspective, appreciation and joy.  Our relationships deepened.  What makes our life most rich has become apparent.
  • Attachments are attachments. Mainly I mean attachments to material things.  We get attached to having the biggest and best, fancy this and highest quality that.  We have to let go of some things, deciding what is best for us individually and as a whole — a whole family and a whole world.    We learn what we can live without, and we learn what is truly worth the effort for quality.  Mostly, we want a quality life; this doesn’t always mean we have a top-of-the-line hi-def t.v.  “Live simply that other may simply live” applies to us all.
  • You never go back to where you were before. Even if our daily routine looks the same as it was six months ago, it’s not.  Even if my husband goes back to a “desk job” (in quotes because technically he’s been working at a desk in his “time off”), he’s going back with his new understandings, renewed or even new appreciation.  Once we’ve attained a new level of understanding, once we know something as true, we can’t un-know something.  In time, I’m sure this new level will open other doors for growth as we continue to learn more about the life we live.
  • Don’t underestimate your time. Be realistic about your needs.  Keep track of the bills.  Know how much debt you’re willing to accumulate, how much money it takes to live.  We’ve not been very good about this, honestly.  The lessons above were learned in enough time that we could have returned to the work status of before, before a financial crisis hit.  Be aware of this.  Give yourself a cushion, and if not, be willing to face the consequences.
  • Take responsibility. We choose our way individually.  If we don’t necessarily have control of our environment and what happens, we have the choice on how we respond.  As in my first point, I thought I would choose to be angry if this business venture didn’t succeed at the rate projected.  When it became apparent that deadlines and projections weren’t being met, I had a choice.  For my own benefit and for the benefit of those around me, I choose love.

These are just a few of the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve taken flight.  It’s been an experience, a defining moment in our lives.  I know that in this past year, I have been pulled, if not called, deeper into my true nature.  Part of the magic of the leap may be that we get a clearer glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like, through the lens of faith and trust.

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Receiving

As mothers we receive lots of things.  The bills, the colds, the art projects, our friends’ recipes, hugs and kisses and each other’s support, if we’re fortunate enough to have a network.  There are all kinds of material and immaterial “things” we take in all day long.  I wonder if that might be one reason moms are usually so generous, volunteering in multiple and diverse ways.

But think of a time when you were really looking forward to something.  A care package from a distant friend?  A tax refund?  Your kids from camp?  How about waiting for a baby’s conception?  News that the tumor was benign?

There’s a tremendous relief, joy and lightheartedness at the arrival, isn’t there?  I want to find a way to incorporate every part of my day as something to be received graciously.  I want to be joyful when I pick up my kids from school rather than seeing it as another errand.  Perhaps all I need to do is be mindfully present, and the joy will lie therein.  Easily said, right?

But what about receiving the overdrafts, the malignant tumor, the death we hadn’t prepared for?  Will receiving those mindfully make them less worse?  As humans, I suppose it’s our lot in life to “take the good, . . . take the bad.”  (My 80s-t.v.- influenced mind plays “The Facts of Life” theme song in my head.)  As mothers it seems we have a significant influence on how our family faces each moment.  How many of us have weathered the storm with an assuring hug and comforting words even as our own stomachs turned and hearts raced?  Of course, I don’t just mean thunderstorms.

Mother, father, man or woman, we don’t always have a choice about what we are receiving, but we can choose how we receive it.  We are, after all, setting an example for our children and all those in our presence.  I can’t help but think that we need to be humble and gracious when receiving life’s blessings, and when faced with tribulations, we can all hope to be honest and strong.  A network of support never hurts, either.

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