Getting Schooled

Kid birthday parties are a bitch.

Loretta and I got in a fight making the #$%ing evite. She was trying tell tell me what to do, and I proudly don't collaborate with almost-nine-year-olds! And then Loretta got up early every morning to check the evite and pronounce who was still a "Maybe" and could I call their mom today and see why?

Driving Loretta to school the morning of her party, she reminded me to get the balloons. I got mad and said I didn't need reminding.

She taped a birthday wish list to the lamp over my desk so I smacked into it when I sat down to work.

She started creating countdowns around the house two months ago, which gave me an opportunity to procrastinate planning her party and not think about whether it would be swimming, at home, just girls or boys and girls, invite sent with the dreaded evite or just a text, grandparents too (or should that be separate?), tons of candy or a self-righteous attempt at carrot sticks.

In the end, I was "God-slapped," as Emily and I like to say when we wind up being loved and and taken care of in spite of ourselves. As we were waiting around for the last kids to arrive so we could go on our scavenger hunt, I had a little tiny panic: "Oh no! I didn't think of an activity for this liminal time!" Loretta picked up one of the balloons on the floor, starting batting it around in the air, and that was that. When we were getting ready to trek to the park, I was worried the kids would be cold so I hauled out every extra sweatshirt in the house. The rain lifted, they ran around all flushed, and I ended up holding every coat I'd insisted on. Yancey looked at me and I could see the amused "I told you so" in his eyes.

I'm normally not a worrier. And I really try to practice the idea that I'm not responsible for my children's happiness. That's out of my scope! My job is to consistently love them, live out my values, teach them to work hard and how to make ethical choices. But then the damn birthday party comes along and exposes all my insecurities, fears that somehow my children won't really know how precious they are, and my total ineptitude at going to Michael's and picking out party ware.

What I fell into instead was Pure Grace. If ever there was anything to celebrate, isn't it the fact that your daughter was born? And that she's lived to see another year? And that knowing and loving her reduces you to your fragile Essence everyday?

We adults like to pretend we don't need much, and certainly don't fuss over us on our birthdays! And if we have a party, absolutely don't bring a gift! That's BS.

When I see how much Loretta celebrates herself, without false modesty or self-consciousness, I'm reminded that's how we're all meant to feel about ourselves. And that's how the Divine feels about us! Completely enamored with who we are and who we are becoming.

Gregory Boyle tells a story in his book Tattoos on the Heart that I've read aloud to groups many times. His friend Bill was taking care of his ailing father, and would read him to sleep each night.

Bill would read from some novel, and his father would lie there, staring at his son, smiling. Bill was exhausted from the day’s care and work and would plead with his dad, ‘Look, here’s the idea. I read to you, you fall asleep.’ Bill’s father would impishly apologize and dutifully close his eyes. But this wouldn’t last long...This went on and on, and after his father’s death, Bill knew that this evening ritual was really a story of a father who just couldn’t take his eyes off his kid. How much more so God? Anthony De Mello writes, ‘Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.’

Behold the One beholding you, and smiling. Happy Birthday to all of you.

Date, Avocado, and Quinoa Salad

I told you it was Salad Month. For this one, if you've prepped on Sunday, you can tear up some washed greens into a bowl. (Here's it's butter lettuce, kale, and arugula). Then dice half an avocado over the top and sprinkle some cooked quinoa. (I do mine in the rice cooker with half the amount of water most recipes call for. 1 c quinoa to 1 c water.) Chop a couple dates, add some of the broccoli you roasted when you got home from the grocery store, and scatter some roasted hazelnuts and homemade dressing over the top. (In this case, yogurt ranch, made from Greek yogurt, garlic, fresh herbs, lemon juice, olive oil, and a little bit of mayo.) There is also some rose petal dukkah on there, but that's just ridiculous.

And if you want to keep reading, of course I have things to say that have nothing to do with salad.

I'm on a Rob Bell kick lately, and listened to this podcast yesterday on my walk. He talks about the difference between good and perfect, and isn't that something we all need to hear? "Good" is the word used in the creation poem at the beginning of the Bible: "God saw that the light was good." It's used to describe the whole messy cycle of creation and death, life and the end of life, beauty and chaos. "Perfect" is the term popularized by the Greeks--Plato's ideal, achieving a state where there isn't anything left to improve upon. Yuck! Who wants that? But in our epidemic of comparison, shelter magazines, celebrity culture, and self-help addiction, it's perfection we want sometimes.

Rob talks about birth--how it's the messiest endeavor ever. Full of blood, pain, uncertainty. It's not some airbrushed vignette. As John Kabat-Zinn would say, it's Full Catastrophe Living! It's the torrent of reality that includes the highs, and lows and all the noticing in-between. Cheers to that.

Overflow

Holy, grimy, astounding world,
you make me want to write.

I've been carrying a poem inside all week,
but it can't decide what to praise.

The orange primrose I planted on my porch,
prematurely bright, presumptuous in winter.

The old man in line at the grocery store,
slowly putting his four items on the belt--

Tea, milk, steak, onion, pulling crisp cash
from his billfold with wobbly precision.

Let them be birthed,
all these fledgling poems!

However messy, however unplanned,
however painful or unbearably real.

Holy, grimy, astounding world--
what else can I do but witness?

Salad Mania

Friends! I am very much alive! My site has been under the weather with some updates, and it's safe to say I've been under the weather a bit, too. No colds or coughs, but some sadness and a lot of winter hibernation. In my conversations with friends the last few months, I've discovered I'm not alone. There's something in us that wants the quiet, something that wants, like Jan Richardson's prayer, "to enter the cave/in the seasons of slumber,/to lie down defenseless/in [the] gathering dark." 

When it's hard to get up in the morning and the longest night of the year seems to be cursedly every night, I've got a choice to either numb out (Hello, Netflix!) or to pay even more attention. I haven't numbed out once. Ha! Not true. I'm no Dalai Llama over here. I've enjoyed my fair share of Broad City and Master of None. And my friends are now officially annoyed that I'm a bonafide NYT subscriber. *&#$. Stop with the links already. I have a plan for everyone else's life. NYT Modern Love column? Preach it. 

So when I'm not watching Netlifx, I'm trying. I'm trying to pay attention. To what my body wants to eat, to how much it wants to sleep. To the poetry on my nightstand that, unfailingly, keeps the best company. To crying without knowing why, to saying a gentle (or emphatic) "No!" to invitations that aren't part of my calling right now. I took a three week social media break over Christmas, and I'm not the first to notice that it takes those kinds of extremes to hear our own voices again. George Mumford, meditation coach to athletes, says this about stillness:

“It’s about bearing witness to what’s happening. Just being there and settling back into a state of receptivity, allowing whatever you’re observing to speak for itself and not interfering. We’re always focusing on what’s happened or might happen and very seldom on what’s happening right here in this place and time. But that’s a muscle and you can train it.”

When I opened my produce box yesterday and saw the total riot of color in there...yes. I bore witness alright.

And after the onslaught of sugar during the holidays, it's Salad Time. My biggest tip lately is to make a jar of dressing on Sunday. Don't buy it!! This will take you 3 minutes, you'll know exactly what's in it, and it will taste immeasurably better. Toast some nuts, wash some greens, roast some veggies, try to have some avocados around, and you're set.

Thanks to my sister Naomi for her cheerful work on my site. She's a rock star, I hope she knows it, and I'm so lucky to have had her in my corner all my life. 

And since this is my inaugural post, here comes a poem. That's what happens to me when I get quiet--so much bubbles up. Happy New Year, friends. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, may you be met on the Spirit Highway.

Prayer in Spite of Everything

I won't pretend it's easy, but I'm trying
to give myself over it,
the whole imperfect mess
of being a fixer who can't fix things.

The pantry, once labeled and orderly,
now bulges with three opened boxes
of baking soda, a labyrinth of grocery bags
and stale crackers.
Thank you.

The inbox, bastion of procrastination,
standing in for everyone I'm letting down
and every time I will say the wrong thing.
Thank you.

The dog, with his unwashed ears
and unwalked restlessness
and loving me anyway.
Thank you.

The torrent of mistakes, judgements, 
thoughts, fears, plans, goals,
ideals, regrets, embarrassments
that love to pretend they are me.
Thank you.

The still center I've fallen into once or twice,
the one that shines because of darkness,
the one we only find when we're lost--
thank you for that, too.

Everyday Vinaigrette
Since I never measure anything, here's an actual recipe adapted from my new America's Test Kitchen cookbook, 100 Recipes. Double or triple or quadruple or quintuple this.

1 Tb. wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. minced shallot, onion, or garlic
1/2 tsp. mayo
1/2 tsp. dijon
3 Tb. extra virgin olive oil

Combine vinegar, shallot, mayo, mustard, and 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper in small bowl. Whisk until mixture is milky in appearance and no lumps of mayo remain.

Place oil in a small measuring cup so it is easy to pour. Whisking constantly, very slowly drizzle oil into vinegar mixture. If pools of oil gather on the surface as you whisk, stop addition of oil and whisk mixture well to combine, then resume. Vinaigrette should be glossy and lightly thickened with no pools of oil on its surface. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, whisking before using.

 

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

America's Test Kitchen (ATK) mailed me their new cookbook and asked me to make something. Twist my arm. 

I get loads of solicitations in my inbox, and I say no to 99.9% of them. I don't want to clog your feed with product placements and fake enthusiasm for cookware or food novelties that no one needs. Practice is really the key, not expensive pans or specialty food items. And ATK espouses that so beautifully. I've learned so much from letting those 50 test cooks do the work and then tell me about it!

America's Test Kitchen 100 Recipes has countless gorgeous photos and the rationale behind every recipe. The back page says, "Master twenty recipes in this book and you will have earned the right to call yourself a great cook." I love that. It's not about novelty or creativity. Just getting in the kitchen and doing it. (And knowing a good recipe when you see one. Or letting ATK take care of that for you.)

When I get a book like this in my hands, I'm always looking out for one thing--something to answer the perennial question of family dinner. For me, that's got to fit this criteria:

  1. 30-40 minutes
  2. Kid-friendly (thankfully, that's pretty easy with my kids)
  3. Not a heavy reliance on meat. I tend to use meat more as a flavoring than a main dish, and the more I read, the more I want to eat lower on the food chain.
  4. Bonus if I don't have to go to the store.

This soup fit the bill. And as it happens, people will be eating at three different times tonight (basketball season is upon us), so something that can be easily heated up is even better.

This soup gets its creamy mouth feel from olive oil and bread that becomes a silken puree in the blender. And the croutons are good, old-fashioned full-of-butter cubes of loveliness which I'll need to hide so they don't get devoured without the soup. All it needs is a salad or some grilled cheese sandwiches. Or both, if you don't have to make six trips to the Boys and Girls Club gym.

In this week of giving thanks, it occurs to me how many millions of people might not be in the mood, and how underservedly lucky I am to have a stove to cook on, a pantry that's filled, and a bed to sleep in. It's always cold somewhere, and I hope the love I give today, in the kitchen and elsewhere, warms this world up a little bit. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup
Serves 6-8. Make sure to purchse canned whole tomatoes in juice, not puree. If half of the soup fills your blender by more than two-thirds, process the soup in 3 batches.

 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes
3 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1" pieces
1 Tb. packed brown sugar
2 c. chicken broth
2 Tb. brandy (optional)
1/4 c. chopped fresh chives
1 recipe butter croutons (see below) 

Heat 2 Tb. oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, if using, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain. Stir in bread and sugar. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Transfer soup to blender. Add 1 Tb. oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and remaining 1 Tb. oil. Rinse out Dutch oven and return soup to pot. Stir in chicken broth and brandy, if using. return soup to boil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with chives, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with croutons.

Butter Croutons
Thick-sliced bread works best. Do not use thin-sliced. Either fresh or stale bread can be used. If using stale, reduce the cooking time by about 2 minutes.

 6 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/2" cubes (about 3 cups)
salt and pepper
3 Tb. unsalted butter, melted

Adjust oven rack to upper middle position and heat to 350. Combine bread cubes and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Drizzle with butter and toss well with rubber spatula to combine.

Spread cubes in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Bake croutons until golden brown and crisp, 8-10 minutes, stirring halfway through baking. Let cool on a baking sheet to room temperature. (Crotouns can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.) 

Masala Chai

 

Yancey and I went to Vancouver last weekend for his birthday, and every second was divine. Including the Kashmiri Chai we drank from Vij's food truck in the middle of Olympic Village and the chai from Granville Island Tea, both drunk in the full-on October sun with the man I've been in love with for 26 years. (Nuts. We met on a school bus on his 16th birthday. So I guess the "in love" part is maybe 25.9 years. It didn't take long. Thank you, teenage self, for having a decent head on your shoulders. And thank you, sheer circumstance and fate.)

So when we came home this week to full-on wind and rain, it seemed a good time to make a batch to warm us up and hold on a little longer to our magical 24 hours in Vancouver. I'm not big on the chai served in most coffee shops--too sweet. Making my own lets me add as much fresh ginger and as little sugar as I want. And have some to give away.

I'm really feeling the changing seasons this year, marveling at how it happens despite global warming, despite not receiving an edict from the White House or a buyout from shareholders. We live under the shadow of Mt. Baker, and my favorite bumper sticker from the last few years is, "Vote No Eruption of Mt. Baker!" There are so many things we can't control, so I'm always coming back to what we CAN control. Creating microclimates of kindness around us, asking for forgiveness when we haven't, making the bed in the morning (have I already told you how revolutionary that's been for me?), getting back to people who ask something of us, remembering that we come from love and are born for love. So yes, more poetry. Lots of love to each of you.

Every Year at This Time

In last light, before dinner,
the oak is resplendent
with half-dead leaves,
full of spaces to hold
the autumnul glow.

A cat crosses the alley,
sure-footed on wet pavement,
and kitchen lights blink on. 

The season is turning,
as it does, as it should,
every year at this time.

I'm witnessing it
for the forty-first time,
finding again
that we--me, the cat, the tree--
were made for change,
to shine, let go, die
and be born again.

Spiced Milke Tea (Masala Chai)
I quadrupled this. As long as you're going to the work to grind spices and steep things, might as well make some for later. I store it in quart mason jars in the fridge, reading to be warmed up for a crowd in a saucepan or in microwaved mugs. This recipe is from "Gourmet Today," one of my big Gourmet cookbooks that I treasure. I subbed fresh ginger for dried, and you can use any "plain" tea. They call for loose tea, but I just throw some PG Tips in there. Lipton or English Breakfast would be fine. And I'm sure you could sub non-dairy milk. Serves 4.

10 green cardamom pods, cracked, seeds removed and pods discarded or 1/2 tsp. cardamom seeds
1 1/2 inch piece cinnamon stick
4 peppercorns
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1" piece of fresh ginger, very thinly sliced
2 c. whole milk
3 1/2 Tb. packed brown sugar, or to taste 
1/8 tsp. salt
2 c. water
4 Lipton or PG Tips teabags

Grind together cardamom, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Bring milk just to a simmer in a heavy saucepan. Stir or whisk in brown sugar, salt, spice mixture and fresh ginger. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes to infuse flavors.

Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in another saucepan, add tea, and steep for a few minutes. (I like mine extra strong.)

Add tea to hot milk mixture and strain the whole thing through a fine-mesh strainer into cups or jars. 

Roasted Yam and Black Bean Dip

Black bean, feta, and roasted yam dip

My motto for myself for the last few months has been, "Out of the juicer and into the cup."

I got a juicer for my birthday, and I let everything swirl together in the cannister before I open the cap and watch it splash into a glass. Crazy mixtures of bright things--fresh tumeric, tangerines, ginger, carrots, apples; beets, beet greens, celery, cucumber, lemon. Stuffing all that produce down the shaft, it occurs to me every time that too much input will result in a big mess. And no juice to drink! At some point, all that beautiful, bright juice has to be let out. 

And, as Elizabeth Gilbert says in her new book, letting out what's inside us, unleashing the "big magic," isn't about being a virtuoso in something. It's not about quitting our day jobs. It's about befriending our fears but never, every putting them in the driver's seat. 

For me, one of the clogs in the juicer lately has been writing. The more writing I consume in books--articles, on Facebook--the more I labor under this seductive, false idea that I don't have anything to say. That it's all been said. Wow. That really lets me off the hook. Meanwhile, that juicer is spinning, and the liquid is getting dangerously close to exploding all over the place. So here's to letting it pour out. To my health, and yours!

Meanwhile, if I'm aware, my eyes are always open to the moments and people in my life who are figuring out how to let their juice fill the cup.

My friend, a single mother of 3 special needs kids, has taken in another needy young adult who's been abandoned and needed someone to love her and show her how to do laundry. Another case of that universal reality, that those with the least are often those who give the most.

Our new 4th grade neighbor girl (Loretta is in heaven--girls in the neighborhood!) who, after meeting Loretta, wrote her a card and made her a gift: Can we have a play date sometime? (Ladies, we have a lot to learn from this. Risk. Vulnerability. Letting women know we LIKE them.)

Cristina, who bravely moved to start a new job and listen to her calling even though it meant change and uncertainty all over again. (The silver lining for me, though I miss her terribly, is that my mailbox has been full. My love language, for sure.)

And my mom, who retired from her job of 24 years and knew when it was time to go. I see so many folks who malpractice, who stay somewhere much longer than is good for them and their patients, clients, students, co-workers, customers. I had a party for her, and 50 (mostly) women from the home store she's worked at over the years were at my house. We had a toast for her, and half the room was crying. (Me first, of course.) So energizing to see how she's continually paid attention to and loved those around her, and what beautiful juice has filled the cup.

I made this dip, and I've made it a few other times, too. A few weeks ago, I was on my way home, remembered I had to bring an appetizer somewhere, did a mental inventory of my pantry and fridge, and had this concocted by the time I walked through the door. It turned out to be a keeper. And I love it when that happens.

P.S. Here's a poem I wrote putting fear into the backseat where it belongs.

Get Started

Who am I to do this?
Who am I to find the burning bush,
and then to step closer?
To dare conversation with God,
take off my shoes,
tell the story of deliverance?
You try ignoring
a burning bush. 

Roasted Yam and Black Bean Dip
You could easily leave the cheese and sour cream out of this. If you do that, add a little more lime juice, olive oil or water to the bean mixture to make sure it's smooth enough.

2 cans refried black beans
1 tb. olive oil
one large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 c. sour cream 
juice of one lime
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. (or to taste) chile powder
1 c. shredded white sharp cheddar
1 very large or two medium yams or sweet potatoes, skin on and diced into 1/2"
more olive oil 
2 Tb. interesting seeds (chia, amaranth, buckwheat groats, sesame, poppy, flax)
handful chopped fresh cilantro
1 large or two small avocados, diced

Preheat oven to 375.

Toss diced yams with olive oil and a little salt. Spread out on a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake until just tender, about 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, sauté sliced onion in olive oil until caramelized (or almost.)

In a 9x13 baking dish, mix beans with caramelized onion, sour cream, cumin, lime, chile powder, and salt to taste. Spread evenly into the bottom of the dish.

Top bean mixture with shredded cheese and roasted yams. Bake in the oven until the whole thing is warm and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with seeds, cilantro, and avocado. Serve with tortilla chips.

Hot Chiles for my Hot Firefighter

Chile Crunch

I started making this condiment a few months ago, and we are addicted. When we run out, there's a lot of malaise, scrounging through the fridge for something that might approximate it. Sriracha? Too sweet. Tapatio? Too musky. Chile oil? Not crunchy. So I finally went to Cash and Carry, bought embarassing quantities of the ingredients, and once a week I can be found frying dried garlic and chiles in my wok, Wyatt walking up the stairs and asking hopefully, "Are you making that hot stuff?" He never eats a sandwich without it, which warms my heart.

And Yancey is even more nutso about it, putting it on almost everything. You may have heard that the central part of Washington is engulfed in flames, and Yancey and a crew of firefighers from his station have been sent to help. 3 men died earlier this week, and I'm just heartsick for their families. And for the evacuees, the pets and wildlife, everything and everyone in the path of this insatiable fire. I've been flooded with love, check-ins, and well wishes and have been passing those onto Yancey, and I don't feel worried. I'm not a worrier. But I do feel a deep sense of reality, like the veil has been lifted for a bit and we can see into the nature of things. We are not in control, we're always on the verge of catastrophe, and we'd better learn how to be present to one another now, without waiting. 

And I'm disporportionately nostalgic about things that remind me of Yancey--chile crunch, his tools in the garage, his little pile of keys, receipts, and flashlights by his bed. My neighbor and her infant daughter are without their husband/father for a year because he's been called up to the Army reserves and is serving in Afghanistan. This week is giving me the tiniest, teensiest idea of what it must be like for her, reading the news, checking Twitter feeds, looking for texts or emails. There are millions of people who, for many reasons, know they are on the edge all the time, and I'm appreciating them this week. (Thinking a lot about the anniversary of Katrina, too. For a great window into New Orleans then and now, I recommend my current favorite podcast, Death, Sex, and Money, its fabulous host Anna Sale, and her beautiful series on New Orleans.)

I've been fascinated by some studies I've read about collective trauma, and that part of what saves people is being about to do something with their bodies in the wake of diaster or in the middle of anxiety. That's probably why we cook for funerals and probably why I'm in the kitchen more than normal this week, makiing chile crunch, roasting hatch chiles, making granola, keeping my brain just busy enough and my body connected to the ground. I wish the same for you wherever are. xo

Crunchy Chile and Garlic Paste
This won't taste quite right at first and needs to sit for about 24 hours to let all the flavors meld. So if you taste it right after it's cooled, you might be non-plussed. Be patient. It will reveal itself to you. And it keeps forever in the fridge. 

1/2 c. dried minced garlic (not garlic salt or garlic powder)
1/2 c. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tb. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. salt 
1 c. canola oil 

Mix all ingredients together in a wok or heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5-7 minutes until oil is sizzling and garlic is just beginning to barely turn color. Turn off heat, let cool in the pan, and scrape into a glass jar. Cover and refrigerate.

Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

Brown sugar choco chunk

The kids are at camps this week, which means lunch-making has ensued. This morning's was pretty meager and I found myself scrounging for some Kirkland fruit snacks that I have hidden in the basement. Time for cookies. These are my usual, changed a bit with all brown sugar instead of white, chocolate chunks instead of chips. Yum.

I thought of posting some "let's-get-real" summer photos here. My dried up herbs and brown, bolted spinach on my peeling deck. The damp towels in piles everywhere, the tower of neglected paperwork on my desk. #$*&!! you, Pinterest! 

For the longest time, I had some rules posted on my bulletin board when the kids were younger. One was "Go outside whenever possible" (still the wisest rule I've ever made for myself). Another was "See my world (and messy house) through eyes of love."

Eyes of love. So, I bless you, old fraying beach towel. I bless you, softening once-perfect organic apricot that I should have used for something amazing. I bless you, 6 dozen half-used bottles of ancient sunscreen in 27 different obscure locations. I bless you, shedding dog, who adds 3 hours of housework onto every blessed week. I bless you, turning earth, and your persistence in providing for us no matter what we do to you.

Here's a little poem I wrote about the ordinary things in my pantry. I hope that, somehow, your ordinary becomes extraordinary this week. xo

Prayer of Thanks for Pantry Staples

For the black turtle beans,
hard, a little dusty, even,
half-filling a cannister in the back
of the pantry, and how,
after two hours in the pot,
they are creamy, soft,
warm, salty, filling this family
for a dollar. For them,
and all the daily ways
water becomes wine,
thank you.

And here's those cookies. Don't act like you didn't skip over the damn poetry for them.

Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 cubes (1 cup) unlsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. chocolate chips or chunks 

Mix first 5 ingredients together. Add egg mixture, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir until just combined. Add chocolate chunks, and refrigerate dough for a couple hours (even better overnight).

Form into balls and bake on parchment-lined sheets at 350 for 9-10 minutes, until just set. I like to do little ones, fitting 15 on a standard sized jelly roll pan. 

Great Work is Done while We're Asleep

Hydrangeas

As part of my progressive birthday celebration, Emily made sure there was something in my mailbox on the $#*ing day. That's love for you.

She sent me Elizabeth Berg's Escaping into the Open. I joked to friends this week that reading books about writing is what writers do when they're running from their calling. Guilty as charged.

Elizabeth says,

In trying to reach your reader, don't fall prey to what I call "dead dog in the road syndrome." What I mean by that is that anybody is going to feel terrible if you talk about certain things; what you have to try for is a certain emotional authenticity, an earned reader response. Most of all, remember the first rule when trying to convince a reader of anything: If you don't believe it, neither will they.

And then she really testifies by saying, "I'm sure you've heard, countless times, 'Write what you know.' I would change that to, 'Write what you love.'"

Write what you love. And what I love is people (usually women, in my world) finding each other through the fog of life. Admitting their need for one another, making mistakes, following each other through the years like a rope in a blizzard, strung from home to barn. Elizabeth might say that's the positive equivalent of the "dead dog in the road syndrome." Maybe it's the "dewy rose in morning light," but I love it. 

It was my 8th year at The Gathering, a group of women ages 35-85 who've been retreating together once a year for 30 years (the older ones, at least). There have been deaths of members, spouses, children. There have been coming-outs of every sort. There have been books published, fortunes made, diseases survived, untold successes and failures of every kind. I don't know how I'd get through life without spaces like this, where everything I am is always okay.

It was a crying year for me. Some years it's about rest, some about casual conversation. This one was about feeling the sadness in the world, crying for the racism that bred the massacre in Charleston, and getting down below all that to cry for myself and all the ways I don't love and honor the person I was born to be. It's not about a low self-esteem (God. I don't have that problem.) but about a loud inner critic that nit-picks and thrives on fear and works its hardest to keep me playing small. Sound familiar? Slowly, slowly, release is coming, and this retreat was part of it.

My dear sister-friend Nalani shared this Wendell Berry poem one night, and I had some company in my tears. It reminds us that "Great work is done while we're asleep." There's a grace afoot in the world that isn't about what we do or don't do (though hard work helps redeem us). It's not about staying busy or being strategic or "finding our passion." (An idea that wearies me.) It's about surrender, diligence, and trusting the Earth to do its work. 

Write/do/be/dream/create what you love, friends. Great work is done while we're asleep.

X

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that 
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet, not leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace, that we may reap,
Great work is done while we're asleep. 

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good. 

P.S. These hydrangeas are not from my yard. That's all I'll say about that. 

P.S.S. I'm dedicating this post to my faithful reader Emily Kelly-Peterson, who said to me at The Gathering, "If I see that zucchini bread post come up one more time when I log in, I'm going to go crazy." Thank you.

P.S.S.S. And to the other Emily in my life, what can I say? You're my rope in the blizzard.

For Better or for Ordinary

SF 2015

If you're in a place right now where love stories annoy you, you'd better surf on over to Pinterest. And no judgement here.

Cause I've got one. You know. It's him. It's Yancey. And me. And how we met on his 16th birthday, started dating two years later, got married four years after that, and went to San Francisco last month to celebrate 20 years of marriage. 

I didn't bring my good camera and we hardly took any photos since we were too busy just being with one another. I'd forgotten what it's like to be in each other's sights almost every minute. Glorious. To start a conversation, pick up on or forget it later, have a glass of wine with lunch, sleep in, eat dinner as late as we want, reminisce about our first apartment, marvel at the pure dumb luck of our orbits crossing and the 20 years of intentionality it's taken to keep them that way.

And to still miss and love our ordinary lives at home. The come-and-go of kids and dog, washing baseball uniforms, planning far-off home renovations, dinners around our table with grandparents and neighbors, and the total awareness that, someday, it will be otherwise.

As Bruce Kramer said, it's the gratitude and the sadness that come together. It's been a sorrowful week in Whatcom County with accidents, murders, and house fires. And, unlike our more anonymous Seattle lives, I was connected to two of these in some way or another. That suffering is real, and someday there will be zero degree of separation. But this joy is real, too, this flesh-and-blood, unload-the-dishwasher-for-the-millioneth-time kind of joy, where you look up and think, "All is well."

Here's another poem I wrote about love and the ordinary. Happy Anniversary, babe.

Coworkers

The old bathroom has finally been ripped up,
plumbing moved, drywall replaced.
And now you're tiling, slap of mud,
brick and brick, walking back and forth
in an arc between wall and tile saw,
leaving trails of fine dust,
your carpenter pants crusted with grout.

I'm cleaning the kitchen, as I always
seem to be doing, gathering
the half-finished drawings and dirty socks
our children leave
in their wake.

And we are together
in scrape of trowel and in
swipe of sponge,
in vows of dailyness
falling in brilliant, predictable orbit
around the suns of one another. 

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. 

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

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. 

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.

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. 

In and Down

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I wonder if a food photo will appear here anytime soon.

If I were to be snapping photos, they'd be something like:

Pint of IPA/Triscuits with cheese
Chocolate chip cookies for clients
Pint of IPA/Triscuits with cheese
Brownies for kids' lunches
Pint of IPA/Triscuits with cheese
Chocolate chip cookies for teachers
Pint of IPA/Triscuits with cheese

I'm not apologizing. Just laughing a little. It's one of those seasons when the question, "What's easiest?" has been the loudest.

And one of those seasons when the compulsion to record everything (on iPhone, Facebook, Instagram) has quieted. I've been enjoying just being WITH whatever is going on, just being WITH whoever is in front of me. I've instituted an Internet Sabbath on weekends, and I can't reccomend it enough. To give myself a break from the nudge to SHARE everything has been divine. To rest in my own self, to go "in and down," as Helen Palmer says, instead of being caught in reactivity and externalizing. To trust that everything I need is already present. There's no need to go out and get, to go out and share.

And here I am sharing. I listened to Krista Tippett interview Mary Oliver yesterday. From the first 60 seconds, I had tears running down my cheeks. I've been reading Mary Oliver since high school, but this was the only the second time I've heard her voice. And it was pretty clear she didn't want to talk about her poems. She wanted them to speak for themselves, to stay whole and a little bit reticent. 

The last thing I am is reticent, but, without explanation, here's a poem. I hope you find a quiet place inside yourself this week.

Beginning Meditation

I’m trying. Lord, am I trying.
To be still, to sit in this chair
without books, without music,
without agenda.
To ignore the tree outside my window
and the wind that shoves it
against the house.
Trying not to think about
the tangled wind chime
and how it needs to be taken down
for repair.

I’m trying. Lord, am I trying.
To not pick up the new poems
at my elbow and eat them
like candy.
To look away from the phone’s glow,
the piles on my desk,
the dust slowly settling
on this scrappy self
that fights so hard, every second,
to know, share, produce, achieve,
to not write this poem.

Birthday Lasagne

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Today is Loretta's eighth birthday.

Why does that sound so much older than seven? Looking through photos tonight, I'm struck again by what a happy baby and toddler she was and what a happy second grader she is now. Recently, I watched this amazing Ted Talk where Jennifer Senior (author of the parenting book All Joy and No Fun) gave a rousing rebuttal to this idea that parents are responsible for their children's happiness. She says that's too high a bar to set and pokes a little fun at all the ridiculous parenting books out there that serve as "monuments to our collective panic." If I relax, my experience is that parenting itself is the antidote to all the "shoulds" that dominate us. Loretta wants me to get on the floor and play with her and the dog. If I say yes, I get a lot more fun in my day. If I say no, I still get to watch her do it! And that's fun, too.

More than anything else--vacations, basketball games, priceless photo moments--we get to be in each other's orbit. We get to brush our teeth together (especially since our upstairs bathroom is being remodeled!), argue over whether or not she stole my hairbrush again, do chores on Saturdays, share our imperfect lives together. Parenting is about relationship, not about performance. And for me, it's a relationship that gets me to take myself a lot less seriously. 

Happy Birthday, Big Girl. 

P.S. She requested lasagne for dinner. I've pointed you to my standby recipe.

P.S.S. I wrote this a few weeks ago after bedtime.

Daughter Sleeping

Walking past her room
after bedtime,
covers are tangled,
her hair is fanned
across the pillow,
and she’s finally stopped
asking questions,
doing cartwheels.
In this quiet minute,
the pressure is off
to be a good parent,
be wise, present, or funny.
She’s here,
I’m here,
that is enough.

Grandma's Lasagne
This is the recipe I've been using for at least ten years. Ripped out of a Food and Wine magazine, and everything you want lasagne to be. I swear by the no-boil noodles and never buy the curly kind.

 recipe 

End-of-the-Week Thank You's

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I read somewhere recently that sometimes our focus on gratitude can just be another way of being privileged. "Hashtag blessed" for fame, fortune, and ease. 

At the end of this week, though, I do feel truly blessed. I got out of bed on two strong(ish) legs every morning. I had enough food to make my children breakfast, prepare their lunches, and eat together around our table at night. I got to help my friend Rita by taking care of her sweet, sweet dog, and I miss him now that he's gone. I got to help my friend Meril plan her 50th birthday celebration, coach clients, and have an almost two hour yoga class with Ingela at Yoga Northwest. (Thank you, Jesus, she is NOT your typical zenned-out yoga instructor.) I got to read poetry, write some, and do some PTA tasks. I got to to meet with a dear, dynamic group of friends in my house this morning, and we talked about the things we want to water and grow in 2015.

Right now, Wyatt is at a friend's birthday party, Loretta is holing up in her bedroom, and Yancey is picking out the Star Spangled Banner on the electric guitar we got WYATT for Christmas. (I knew this would happen. How do we get the boy himself interested?!) And, maybe best of all in our little world, both kids won their basketball games this week and I've got some sweaty uniforms to wash. 

Here's one of the poems I wrote this week. May each of you be truly blessed in the coming week--not the annoying Facebook kind of blessed, but the kind that comes from living in reality. xoxo

Coming Home

It just comes down to this--
our stories, so different,
are the same.
We want to be seen
and loved anyway,
or maybe especially.
We want to be moved
by touch, poetry, tall pines,
or the perfect formation of geese
in the winter sky.
We want to come home
at the end of the day,
take off our shoes,
and find that everywhere we step
is sacred ground. 

Living the MLK Challenge

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Every year on MLK Day weekend, I have mixed emotions. 

I usually cry in church on Sunday (that's no surprise!) at both the injustice in the world and my longing for someone like MLK to come preach us out of it. I feel guilty for not planning a service project for my kids like we're supposed to do. I feel guilty that I haven't watched enough documentaries about civil rights, read all of MLK's writings, and been the kind of freedom fighter I should have been since the last MLK Day.

For me, it's sometimes easier to remember Dr. King, to deify him, even, than it is to face my own white privilege and to feel the deep sorrow and anger over the systemic racism that's still running rampant in this country. I cannot imagine how it would feel to be raising a young black boy now. Or to be driving while black.(Or shopping, applying for a loan, or finding a job.)

I imagine what MLK would want is not for us to eulogize him, but to carry on the work he started. Not just to think about the "giant triplets evils of racism, materialism, and militarism" (Wow) on a Monday in January, but in all the choices we make throughout the year. I'm white, and what I say to myself and to other white folks is this: Inform yourself. Take a training, read a book, watch some movies. Believe it when people of color tell you their stories. Talk to other white people about white privilege and start looking for how you benefit from it. Let yourself be sad for awhile about the trauma of racism in this country, and then turn that sadness into resolve. 

My pastor preached on #blacklivesmatter this morning. As usual, I created a giant pile of used tissue beside me. She talked about the story of Zaccheus in the Bible, how he went up in a tree to get a better view of Jesus. And how we, in our intention to understand, see the big picture, or analyze, get up in the tree. (Kind of like this blog post and lots of other well-intentioned things don't involve very much risk.) She challenged us to "come down from the tree." And she passed out copies of this article and challenged us to read it at halftime today. (Seahawks Mania here in Washington.) 

So I'm asking, "How do I come down from this tree?" How do I, as a white person who's bound to make lots of mistakes, make racism my fight? I re-read King's Letter from Birmingham last night. He was writing to white Christian leaders who were criticizing him for moving too fast, for stirring things up too much. About the role of the Church in the Civil Rights Movement, he says,

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust. 

I'm proud of my church this morning for honoring Dr. King, proud of my pastor for saying things that I know are going to make some folks bristle. Or worse. She understands, as King did, our absolute connection to one another, and the vision of Oneness that King fought for:

I can't sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

Our survival, our happiness, our well-being as a species is one "single garment of destiny." Every major spiritual tradition says that the great lie is one of separation--that we are separate from one another and separate from God. We are in this together, and I hope we're closer to experiencing justice roll down like waters. Thank you, MLK, for your life, legacy, and love. We're still trying.

Putting on an Apron in the New Year

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I guess I'm an auditory learner. When I'm walking and listening, things really sink in, become part of me.

Yesterday I listened to this fabulous podcast--Evan Kleiman talking about fat shaming and interviewing some experts on myths about health and weight. I started it halfway through my walk, but kept my headphones in after I came home, finding little tasks to do around the house while I finished listening. I love getting hooked like that.

One of my pet peeves, though the landscape is definitely changing, is that food bloggers and foodie types either completely ignore the issue of weight and health or or it's all they talk about. And I'm just as guilty half the time! When I post a recipe for biscuits or cookies, I neglect to talk about how those things fit into an overall strategy. Or how my kids will just eat the biscuits and ignore the lentil soup and what's a parent to do? So I have to get a few questions and opinions out of my system every once in awhile.

Jamie Oliver, Mark Bittman, and others are starting and having fabulous conversations about this. At this moment in my 40 year old life, I'd chime in with a few things:

There's a reason (besides lack of willpower or wealth) that fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to eat. And it's because there's a giant food industry whose survival depends on getting Americans to purchase packaged, processed food that are cheap, available everywhere, and full of false health claims. Even those "healthy" snack boxes that I see advertised everywhere--why not eat an apple instead? If you're really trying to eat real food and you travel or work a lot, you know how hard it is to find anything besides carrot sticks. And dry, stubby ones at that!

Exercise is a totally separate issue from food. I get outside to stay sane, to keep my muscles, bones, and joints strong. I don't do it to lose weight. In fact, I eat a lot more when I'm exercising! Exercise is a dynamic way I care for my body, but I don't have any expectations that it will decrease my dress size. I used to, but I don't anymore. That took all the fun out of it. And it didn't work.

I'm categorically against letting kids choose their own diets. Sure, if all you have around the house are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, go for it! Otherwise, I don't let my kids choose their own bedtimes. I'm not going to (knowingly) let them smoke or drink. So why would I let them choose their own diets? Of course they will choose sugar and white flour. They're kids! The biggest step is in just NOT STOCKING anything I don't want them to be tempted with. I'm getting closer to that, but I'm just like you--I want my kids to like me. And their meals. 

A lot of people think sugar is a kill-us-slowly toxin. And we should be taking them seriously. I'm not a nutritionist or researcher. But I believe the folks who are, and who are telling us that it's not full-fat yogurt or lack of exercise that's killing us. It's the insane amount of sugar that many Americans consume, often hidden in things like spaghetti sauce and "healthy" juices or not-so-hidden in soda and sweets. Avoiding sweets is a good start (though I'll still make a batch of cookies every Sunday), but the more sure-fire antidote is to cook more often. Which leads me to:

Making simple, mostly-vegetarian food in our own kitchens will save us. The incredibly sobering statistic flying around these days is that the generation being raised now has a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Wow. So there's reason to cook up a pot of beans or cut up some celery. Or learn how to make a couple soups, cook brown rice, and roast vegetables. It doesn't have to be about being super creative, buying specialty foods, or becoming an excellent cook. It's about getting comfortable with a few things that will keep our bodies alive, healthy, and ready for all the work in the world that's calling us. (Mark Bittman's article, The Truth about Home Cooking, is a favorite polemic from 2014.)

If you can't get out of it, get into it. Like I've opined a million times before, get an apron you really like. Find a good way to play music in your kitchen, and organize your things in a way that makes sense. Settle into it and see what happens. It's worth it.

P.S. Kumquats. That's what I'm into right now. This morning, I mixed a Greek yogurt with a little honey, then I looked around for what I might top it with. Muesli, kumquats, pomegranates, dates, and hazelnuts.