Sunday
May102015

Mothers Day (and A+ Zucchini Bread)

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When I think about it, I suppose I have a tradition of posting on Mothers Day. And I say the same thing every year--motherhood is amazing, but mothering is more so.

Joan Halifax is a hero of mine who started the Project on Being with Dying. She's a zen priest and anthropolgist, and when she's not training folks on the contemplative care of dying people, she's training the healthy on how not to be scared of death. She says,

Tibetan Buddhists say that we have all been one another's mother in a previous lifetime. Imagining every being as your mother, practice offering love equally to all whom you encounter, including strangers, creatures, and even those who have hurt you...Thinking of all beings with motherly love is a good reference point when I have fallen into automatic behavior, am feeling alienated, or am having trouble opening my heart.

I think most of us, much of the time, have "fallen into automatic behavior." Stress and obligations push us into that place so easily. We forget we have a choice, moment to moment, about what kind of people we want to be. We forget to be nurturing. And, for myself and lots of women in my world, we really forget how to let ourselves be nurtured.

I tear up when I think of all the beings throughout my life who have offered their motherly love to me. My own mother, who determined she was never going to repeat her own childhood experience of not having enough love. Emily, who makes me Easter baskets, remembers when I have stressful meetings coming up, asks me the best questions, and can handle all my emotions and opinions. Breeze, who took my kids for the night this week and made them bacon on a weekday. (They didn't want to come home.) Jackie, who modeled to me, so many years ago, how to be a feisty mother with dreams. Cristina, who pours out her motherly love on my children. Padre, my dog, who loves me with an undying love even though I yell at him to get out of the kitchen. 

Though I'll never master it, I'm into tenderness lately. This life is far too short to withhold from one another. I especially ache for all the women in my life and in the world who want to be mothers and it hasn't happened yet. Or will never happen. I can't say anything to make that better, but I do know that love isn't scarce. As my pastor said this morning, there is good news everywhere. We're just telling the wrong stories.

So Happy Mothering Day. May you experience someone being tender toward you today.

A+ Zucchini Bread
I haven't made zucchini bread in a long time, and boy was this good. We snacked off it all weekend. It's a combo of several different recipes, and would work well with a gluten-free flour blend if that's your thing. Makes two loaves.

1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. soda
3 Tb. poppy seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. brown sugar
2 1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 c. water
2 c. grated zucchini
1 c. shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
1 c. toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. candied ginger, coarsely chopped
1 Tb. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350. Grease two bread pans.

Combine flour, salt, nutmeg, soda, poppy seeds, and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, and zucchini. Mix wet ingredients into dry, then add coconut, walnuts, ginger, and zest. Bake in 2 pans until tester comes out clean, 45-60 minutes. 

Friday
Apr102015

Lovage and Lemon Guacamole

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Holy crap. It's really spring around here. The lilacs are blooming one month early. I know you won't tell Loretta that I've been stealing them like crazy. (She gets so worried about my transgressions.) Someday, I'll have a lilac bush. Until then, guard yours closely.

We've mowed the back yard which seems to have given us all a new lease on life. We had picnic last night. I mashed up four perfect avocados, but didn't feel in the mood for the chips and guacamole default. So I added a big handful of lovage (thank you, Jesus, for perennials), some finely chopped celery, lots of salt, a big squeeze of lemon, and some spicy celery salt on top. (That's your recipe.) God. It was so good. Celery seems to be enjoying a comeback lately, and I could be the leader of the movement. So fresh, bracing, and crunchy. If you wanted to really go nuts, you could add some feta on top and drizzle a little olive oil.

And some more poetry. In 2 months, Yancey and I will be celebrating 20 YEARS of marriage. I'm not %$*&ing with you. It's true. So there's more to come in this department. I just feel nostalgic lately, and so lucky and grateful to have taken up life with this man that gets me and who keeps trying to get me even when it's hard. And I can hardly stand it when he's walking around here in his Carharts with sawdust clinging to them. Here's something about that....

Stairbuilder

Hard not to love a man
who knows how to build stairs.
He's sitting at the kitchen table
with carpenter's pencil, architect's triangle,
plotting the rise, the tread,
lineal feet of lumber.
I sit across from him
with coffee, books, calendar,
faking absorption in my own business,
distracted with his scribblings,
calclulations, creations,
and after twenty years,
still infatuated with all of it. 

Yancey Ross Lake 2014

Sunday
Mar292015

On Being a Mother for Twelve Years

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Wyatt's 12 today. Which means I've been a mother for 12 years.

You've heard me say it before--there are lots of ways to be broken open. Motherhood has been mine. To be so humbled, to know so little, to feel the absolutely terrifying dependency of an infant, toddler, preschooler, kindergartner, and now to feel the terrifying independence of a middle schooler, and to be in love the whole time. What really undoes me is to remember that every single person walking around this earth was a baby once, all of us born for love, and some of us not getting the total sense of belovedness that makes us whole.

I love you so much, Wyatt. I wrote this for you a few weeks ago.

Walking into Church

It used to be we'd automatically reach
for each other's hands, crossing intersections,
at the park, in the grocery store.
Sometimes, I might have chafed,
longing for the freedom of movement
I had before motherhood.

Now, we walk a foot apart,
close, but not too close.
You allow me to scratch your back,
give your hair a tousle.
It's not lost on me, feeling
shoulder blades through your tshirt,
wet strands of hair curling
around your ears.

But if I had my way,
I'd reach for your hand.

I'd hold it all the way into church,
all the way through
the inner and outermost chambers
of a life that's going to be
full of goodbyes. 

Friday
Mar272015

Meditation on Brokenness before Holy Week

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In the spring sun this morning, I got to walk my dog and listen to a podcast that (surprise) had me crying. By the time I got home, I had composed this in my head to share with you. 

Krista Tippett interviewed Bruce Kramer in an interview titled "Forgiving the Body: Life with ALS." Bruce Kramer died this week, while the podcast was in production, after living with ALS for five years and writing about it. Until this morning, I hadn't heard of him, read his blog, or read his book, but I feel sad that he's left the world. 

Easter's coming up. I stopped having what Christians call an "atonement theology" a long time ago. I don't believe Jesus died because God sent him to earth to die. I believe Jesus was executed because we couldn't handle the love he brought to the world. Just like MLK, Oscar Romero, Gandhi, and other Crusaders for Love. So what's left for me at Easter is not about sin. It's about suffering and about how Jesus suffered simply because to suffer is to be human. He didn't take the spiritual bypass, try to wriggle out of having a body, being connected to his mother, his brothers, his friends, feeling the pain of rejection, hunger, loss, or injustice. He was with it all.

So when I hear Bruce Kramer talk about his suffering, I connect it to this time of year and all the truth and longing there is for us if we open ourselves to it. These aren't all his words, but here's what I'm taking away from Bruce's experience:

Gratitude and Sadness go together. And sadness isn't desperation or depression, but simply being with the reality of what is. When we're most deeply grounded, we often feel, at the same time, overwhelming gratitude and deep sadness. Those are the moments when we know we're really alive. This is what the "flight into light" folks miss. It's not about the power of positive thinking, which won't get us closer to what we crave and need. It's about being with what is, even if it's shadowy.

Our personhood has nothing to do with what or how much we produce. I can't imagine completely losing the use of my arms, my legs, and my ability to breathe on my own. But Bruce can, and he and his wife said they would never go back because of what ALS has taught them about the beauty of life. Read that again--they wouldn't go back! 

Those of us without physical disabilities have no idea what we take for granted and how blindly we stride through the world. Bruce talked about "the look," the look that he used to give disabled people and that he often got in the last 5 years of his life, a look that conveyed, "All I see is your disability, and I need to look away from it." We miss so much! The whole person, the complexity, the profound "hidden wholeness," as Parker Palmer would say, that can be found in brokenness.

Fighting disease and brokenness won't get us anywhere. Accepting them will. This couldn't be more coutercultural. We are addicted to fixing things. We don't know how to ask the questions or live with the uncertainty that will bring us closer to love, to one another, to the most essential things about life. And disease, disability, and catastrophe show this up in us. Only cultivating a receptive interior life will shore us up when we need it.

I feel really humbled even trying to say anything about this. I haven't known these things the way Bruce or some of you have. But still, I want to try. And I want to send great love and tenderness to Bruce's family as they mourn his death, and love and tenderness to anyone, anywhere in the world, who's living with suffering in all its forms. 

I leave you with a favorite poem, maybe one I've shared here before. Christian Wiman wrote this while living with cancer. Yet another soul that knows what it's talking about. 

Small Prayer in a Hard Wind

As through a long-abandoned half-standing house
only someone lost could find,

which, with its paneless windows and sagging crossbeams,
it's hundred crevices in which a hundred creatures hoard and nest,

seems both ghost of the life that happened there
and living spirit of this wasted place,

wind seeks and sings every wound in the wood
that is open enough to receive it,

shatter me God into my thousand sounds.... 

P.S. That's Wyatt and Loretta up there after doing some basketball drills together on a recent evening. Whenever I say goodbye to them in the morning, I am in awe of their presence in my life and how that is both my greatest joy and might be my greatest undoing. The gratitude and the sadness.

Sunday
Mar152015

Twice-Baked Yams with Feta and Hemp Seeds

Twice-baked yams

We just got home from our annual Relax-a-thon with my in-laws in Palm Springs. We had a precious time with them, enjoying being WARM, email-free, and having 3 generations alive and healthy at the same time. I ate mostly cheese and crackers with some Bloody Marys and margaritas thrown in. 

When we got home and opened the front door, the cold house had that uninhabited smell, and of course, the fridge was empty. Grocery shopping today, all the superfoods looked the best--yams, kale, yogurt, nuts. my body and appetite kicking into post-vacation mode. In a classic Sarah move, I made these yams while the kids cooked up their default Top Ramen. Jade, My best friend in high school, used to make fun of me for this tendency even then--coming home starving and delaying my meal for an hour so I could make what I was craving. No handful of potato chips for me. It's an illness.

I've felt like a sponge this past month, noticing things, being quiet, feeling less of an need to spread my opinions (don't worry--they're still there!) and more of a need to honor who or what is in front of me. I've been reading a lot about the effect of technology on our relationships.  I'm becoming convinced that if we risk in relationship by calling (instead of texting) or dropping by (instead of emailing to schedule something 12 weeks in advance), we'll be a lot happier, we'll live longer, and we'll live into the mystery of mutual dependence. It's crazy how our ancestors spent so many years trying to acquire the miracle of hearing one another's voices across the distance and how we're forgetting how to use our voices. Forgetting how to gently ramp-in to a conversation (How are you? How's your sprained ankle? I'm calling to ask for a favor) and then to exit (Nice hearing your voice, I have to get going now). All of that is a pain, yes, but it's in the messiness that the good stuff grows. I'm a big fan of texting and emailing to schedule things, but if I happen to call you instead, it's not an emergency. I just don't want to lose my voice.

And it's that in-the-moment-ness that brings me back to the kitchen again and again. I can't phone it in. It's about putting my apron on, emptying that damn dishwasher AGAIN, wiping off the cutting board, and taking those minutes just to do one thing--prepare a meal. Three cheers for uni-tasking.

Twice-Baked Yams with Feta and Hemp Seeds
I've joined the hemp seed frenzy. I find them a delicious, nutty addition to lots of things. These yams are subject to so much variation! And so much more interesting than the sweet things we tend to do to yams. They don't need more sweetness.

3 large yams
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
small handful fresh thyme, finely chopped 
1/2 c. sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 c. crumbled feta
lots of salt and pepper 
Hemp seeds and more fresh herbs for sprinkling

Poke yams with a fork all over, rub with olive oil, and roast at 350 until just done. 40-60 minutes, depending on how big they are. Let cool.

Slice in half, spooning out flesh into a bowl, taking care to keep the skins intact. Add all other ingredients except for hemp seeds and extra herbs, mashing with a fork or potato masher until combined and creamy. I like to keep some chunks in mine, but you can mash a lot or a little. Taste, adding more of anything to your liking.

Spoon mixture back into skins, top with a little more feta, and bake until warmed through, about 20 minutes. Broil at the last minute. Take out, top with hemp seeds and herbs.