I used to bake bread.

Really, I did!

Delicious, perfectly textured, yeasty, golden brown bread in gorgeous pottery loaf pans, scenting the house with a hint of heaven.

I loved the process.

Planning. Checking the pantry. Checking the calendar. Doing the math on mealtime.

I loved the mixing. Measuring just so, even though that’s not my usual thing. Everything in just the right order. (It matters!)

A bit of help with the kneading from the magical mixer. My shoulder singing its gratitude.

Mostly, I loved what came next.

Rising.

Helped out, according to the season, with a light bulb or an ever so slightly warmed oven.

Alchemy in my kitchen!

Then, what bakers refer to as punching down, which always struck me as a bit more assertive than necessary. The heel of one hand pressed into the puffy dough, deflating it before my eyes.

And then, hand kneading. Just a bit, with a smidge of leftover flour, silky, elastic dough on the way to loaf pans for more rising.

Baking, next of course. Fragrant. Comforting. And the torture of cooling.

Actual eating, almost (but not quite!) anti-climactic after a day of music for all the senses.

Take. Eat. Ritual as much as anything.

I used to bake bread.

And how my grandmother used to bake 40 loaves a week on a wood stove will remain a cosmic mystery for me!

Now, though, I am in a season apart from eating bread. (And pasta and most grains. Except for a bit of rice with really good sushi now and then.)

It’s not that I no longer appreciate them.

It’s just that I feel a lot better when I don’t eat them. I’m more mobile. Less limited.

These are great things!

Greater, perhaps, than actually eating the bread.

Oddly, the baking of the bread is still with me, even though only in my memory just now. In some unexpected way, I am changed by the bread I have baked.

By a commitment to the best ingredients I could get.

By finding time for an art form.

By rolling around in the process with all of who I am.

Do I have questions?

Well, yes. Conflicts, even, some days.

For now, though, I’m appreciating.

Appreciating what I learned baking bread.

Appreciating how I feel when I choose, in this season, not to eat it.

This is not an “all or nothing” kind of experience.

Instead, it’s something much harder.

An experience of making room for the many things that are true, even when they don’t always go together very well.

Harder, and still more helpful, I think.

Where have you had similar experiences?

What have you learned?

What difference might it make in your world?

I used to bake bread.

Bread is baking me still.

A Blast From the Past

In 1968, I lived with my parents, a younger sister, a springer spaniel and a golden retriever, in a west-side Chicago bedroom community called Wheaton, Illinois.

I was in the 4th grade while we lived there,  and then the first half of 5th grade.

Wheaton was a tiny town most known for a college made famous by Dr. Billy Graham. (And some fairly well-known relatives on my dad’s side.) There was a quaint downtown area, a couple of blocks square, with a commuter train stop.

What I didn’t know then was that, in the days when Dr. King was killed, leaders of the Civil Rights movement were helping black families settle in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods right there in Wheaton. A child of one of those families went to my school.

What I did know then was that I’d been the new kid often enough to be concerned for that particular new kid.

It would be reasonable for you to wonder why this story is rolling around in my head this day.

Perhaps it’s simply lack of sleep from last night’s bone broth marathon.

More likely,  it’s Turner Classic Movies’ showing of the movie, Yours, Mine, and Ours, complete with Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda and a young Tim Matthieson, who grew up to be John Hoynes on The West Wing.

Yours, Mine, and Ours was the first movie my sister and I were ever allowed to go see by ourselves. It was 1968.

The movie theatre in Wheaton was a tiny, vintage sort of establishment, just next door to a popcorn vendor, who claimed a space half the width of the adjoining alley. It was really, really, really good popcorn, complete with actual butter.

Mom and Dad dropped us off one afternoon with money for popcorn and for the pay phone when the movie was over.

Given the amazing fact that we were almost exactly the same ages that my girls are now, I have more than a bit of trouble imagining that felt safe even all those years ago.

I’m also oddly glad it did.

The news these days doesn’t exactly sound like Yours, Mine, and Ours. 

It didn’t sound so much like that then either.

So, tonight, I watch old movies while perfectly dry brined chickens roast in the oven with some basting help from Bill, and pray that the news will be better and the fires will stop and all the kids will be welcome and love will prevail.

Afterall, we’ve been working on it for a long time.

It may be time to work harder.

 

 

Good Enough!

I remember the Sunday before the first Gulf War began. Much of the world–the portion I want to be part of–was hoping and praying that bloodshed would somehow be avoided.

I was not only hoping and praying, I was also preaching in a tiny church in Tennessee.

In a time when there was really nothing to say, I put it all out there. Everything I had. It was terrifying.

The parts of my internal process that my friend, the fabulous artist and author, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, refers to as inner critics were having a field day.

Who are you to think you have something to say?

What difference could it possibly make to hope and pray in the face of war? 

What if you piss somebody off?

My inner critics clearly did not realize that when 11:00 Sunday morning (or in that case, 10:00) rolls around, the one in the long black robe has to have something to say.

To be fair, the inner critics mean well.

In many ways, they’re either mimicking the things they heard and believed when we were growing up, or they’re trying to keep us safe.

Though often safe in the sense of overprotected and voiceless which isn’t really safe at all.

My inner critics have been jumping up and down again in these days, perhaps urged on by the many requests for prayers on Facebook countered by folks raising questions about whether hope and prayer actually help people facing wildfires and hurricanes and earthquakes and poverty and violence and threats to civil rights.

Who are you to think you have something to say?

What difference could it possibly make to hope and pray in the face of all the overwhelming news in our world? 

What if you piss somebody off?

It seems that the inner critics haven’t learned a lot of new stuff recently!

And, those are not totally unreasonable questions.

They are, however, the questions of comparers and perfectionists and they are not our most resourceful questions.

For now, I’m sticking with SARK:

Good enough is the new perfect!

You, and I, and all of us have something to say about the needs of our world.

Spelling doesn’t count.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the Oxford comma or not. (Well, it might, but not in this moment!)

And, as somebody once printed on a T-shirt, speak your mind even if your voice shakes.

That’s how we teach our kids. Yours. Mine. All of them.

And whether you believe in hope or prayer or positive energy, I’m counting on the notion that enough of us doing it together does make a difference.

As for pissing people off, if you speak your truth, you probably will. But a whole lot more folks will stop and wonder if they might just be able to speak their truth, too, since, afterall, you did.

Words work. Art works. Soup works. Running a post on Facebook to see if anybody knows anybody who has a horse trailer available to help rescue horses near Sonoma and Napa works too.

Listening also works. Sitting with the pain. Staying in the room.

Hugs work.

Money certainly doesn’t hurt, sent carefully to the people who really need it.

The counselor and coach who live inside me, wrestling with the inner critics, have taught me many things.

One of those things is that it’s entirely likely that the words I’m writing in this moment are the words I need to hear.

When you remember, though, that many of the things I need are things we all need, it’s not such a bad way to go.

So, for this moment, I’m sticking with Susan.

Good enough is the new perfect.

Welcome to the club! Let’s go make a difference!!!

 

 

 

 

 

What makes you ask?

You know how you don’t know what you don’t know until you know?

I’ve been thinking about that today. The story started a while ago.

A client walked into my office one day, and asked what I knew about Feng shui.

“Um, nothing,” I replied. “What makes you ask?”

It had something to do with a major disagreement over the color of a sofa.

I was admittedly relieved when we moved on to other things.

I was also curious. I don’t tend to be fond of things I know nothing about.

So, a trip to the bookstore later, I began reading about ancient Eastern schools of Feng shui.

It has to do with space and energy and intention. Also numbers and colors and compass points. Suffice it to say that there’s a whole lot to learn.

Here’s my favorite part: According to the Feng shui gurus, it takes a great deal more energy to ignore, avoid, or sublimate the things in our worlds that aren’t working for us than it does to fix them.

It recently came to my attention that I’ve been ignoring/avoiding a few more things than might be optimal for my health and creativity.

Thus, some intense days of sorting and releasing and rearranging and, if all goes according to plan, making some things work better.

There have been moments when I’ve felt buried under the stuff of old visions. I mean, what is a person who happily wears the same two pairs of earrings about 363 days of the year doing with heaps of earrings that used to be trendy but turned out to only make noise or get caught in favorite sweaters?

Fashionable briefcases that won’t hold my laptop, let alone my beloved sketchpads and markers?

A silver lame’ phone clutch my phone won’t fit into?

Really cool shoes that haven’t been comfortable since about 4 knee surgeries ago?

I’m tired. There’s more work to do. And, oddly enough, none of that really has much to do with the motivation for this whole project, which has more to do with keeping the dogs and me from going nuts that it does with how many purses I need to own.

Progress has been made, though.

Along with a reminder that progress is often messy.

And another reminder that this is what we might call a first world challenge.

We’re not talking survival.

We’re talking enhancement.

We’re talking energy.

Energy set free to do the things I feel called to do.

Some of which, every now and then, help other people do the things they feel called to do.

Which, ultimately, helps us all to thrive.

(Though the trash collecting folks may not be thrilled, come Monday!)

Through it all, there’s been a quote running through my head.

Have nothing in your homes which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

These words come from William Morris, ironically another author, artist, and activist, associated with the British Arts and Crafts movement.

Take a deep breath, if you’re inclined, and imagine what that might be like.

Have nothing in your homes which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

If we’re being really honest, we have quite a way to go at our house.

I’m delighted, though, that I have reclaimed my commitment to getting a whole lot closer than we have been.

For me it means less stress. More freedom. And actual horizontal space here and there.

I have a birthday coming up next year. One of the ones the world thinks should be earth-shattering. I’m kind of looking forward to it.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on getting closer and closer to the vision William Morris shared with the world back in the late 1800’s.

Where does that vision fit in your life?

 

 

 

 

The Power of This Moment

It is 2:22 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. In my world, it’s blog time. Usually editing. Maybe hunting for art. Fine tuning sorts of things.

Today, there is only Natalie Goldberg’s advice to writers. “Write what’s in front of your face.”

What’s in front of my face today is probably much like what’s in front of your face.

A lurking threat of tears.

The mass killing in Las Vegas. The hundreds upon hundreds wounded. The thousands dealing with trauma and grief.

The millions more of us caught somewhere between absolute shock and not.

Ditto, hurricane victims. Floods. Fires. Earthquakes.

Not to mention toxic water and global warming and starvation and war.

The innocence so many of us were raised with.

“We are Americans/educated/comfortable/insured/religious people… We are safe”.

Clearly, it’s not true. It wasn’t true then either.

It was just easier to pretend.

Easier when we didn’t carry all the stories of the whole world in our pockets.

Easier when we were not bombarded with 24/7 news.

Easier when we thought the news was true.

Today, however, our huge world is shrinking. We are neighbors with more people than ever before.

I think that’s worth remembering.

It feels terrifying in the sense that it appears to give “them” more power.

It also gives “us” more power.

You and me.

Power to choose how we spend our money and who that supports.

Power to choose how we vote.

Power to speak out.

Power to choose compassion over entitlement.

Power to do good where we can.

Power to teach love rather than fear. Tolerance rather than hate.

Power to make art and live love.

It isn’t easy. It never has been.

And, as my dear friend Henry Close would say, “If you’re not depressed some of the time, you’re not paying attention.”

All any of us can do is feel what we feel.

And do what we believe.

The only moment we have is this moment.

It’s time to teach our children well.

As is often true, Kleenex may be required.

 

I missed the equinox!

 

I missed the Autumnal Equinox this year. I was in Florida, still trying to get my friend busted out of intensive care, which is no place to know what light and dark are doing.

Today was the official first day of fall at our house.

Date brunch!

Our home away from home, The Corner Pub. Just in time to get a table on the patio.

It was 70 degrees, with the brilliant blue sky that only happens at this time of year, spot on at 12:30 pm.

A favorite springy rocker outdoor chair.

Baskets of grilled chicken wings, hot, fresh and delicious.

A mellow Chardonnay.

A sweet doodle-ish service dog who wanted to be friends. Especially with the pocket in my denim vest where the dog treats live, just for events like this.

A bit more practice than I would have liked, sending love to the yellow jackets flitting around the table. It’s a growing edge for me. And a reminder that it’s Epi-pen season again.

A few quiet minutes to plan the winter garden, plot on the weeds, and get everybody on board with the next steps in my soup extravaganza.

Then, a huge freight train trundling by. It reminded me of Taylor when she was little, waving at a similar train in the same place.

And then I saw it! A shipping container bearing the swirly signature of an unknown grafiti artist…”Bernie” in bright red, white, and blue paint.

While two little train fans cried because there was no caboose.

Good times, now and then…

]

My Favorite Kitchen “Gadget”

Last night, I dreamed about soup.

There’s a reason for that and we’ll get there in a few minutes. For this morning, though, I fixed my first cup of lemon tea and pulled a quart of mixed pork and chicken broth (Brodo misto, if you’re feeling Italian!) and a quart of “veggies and meat for soup” from the freezer for lunch.

This particular lunch plan, however, began somewhere “in the way back machine”.

Years and years ago, at an outlet mall in north Georgia, I bought a stock pot. A massive stock pot. Stainless steel. The gallons-upon-gallons size. Complete with a spigot at the bottom so you can drain the broth off  without having to lift the whole thing when it’s full.

It is, without a doubt, my most prized kitchen “gadget”. And it just got even better.

It seems my friend, who is recovering from a major brain aneurysm, needs soup.

Let the record show that I made a couple of  gallons while I was in Florida. Now, according to a phone call last evening, we need more.

I’m honored. And a little blown away.

I’ve been making soup for quite a while. Good soup that starts with really good bone broth. It’s an oddly creative process for me. Alchemical, even.

I love the scent of simmering broth in the house.

I love the process of honoring the beings who feed us by using all the random bits to make food for as many meals as possible.

And, in this moment, I have a sense of coming full circle. Of why I’ve been learning broth for so long.

Today, calls to local farmers and artisanal butchers.

Freezer inventory.

Farmers Market lists.

I have three varieties in mind.

We need a lot of healing.

Onions and garlic. A bunch of both. Fresh bay leaves and thyme. As many veg as possible.

Roast chicken carcasses, plus necks and feet and other healing parts.

Halibut broth imported from the west coast, because I’m still learning this one. Delicious and healing.

Years ago, I bought a magic wand in a mystical sort of store in Black Mountain, NC. It’s a useful coaching tool but it doesn’t seem to make soup.

Somehow, I never imagined that this would be my particular magic.

It seems to be me. A gift.

And yet, not just mine.

Each pot of my broth is midwifed by sustainable local farmers. People who believe we can feed ourselves and our neighbors, and support the planet.

I still remember the day I bought my first pasture raised local chicken, standing in a parking lot behind an anonymous sort of box truck, maybe 10 years or so ago. Complete with a hug from the farmer!

It was kind of a scrawny little thing…no growth hormones there!

And, compared to the supermarket variety, it was pretty expensive. I decided to see how far I could make that chicken go.

When I was growing up, a whole chicken was one meal for our family of four. Sadly, necks, hearts, gizzards, and most of the bones ended up in the trash.

My experimental farm chicken wound up being the protein in 13 entre’ servings of delicious, clean food before I decided it was ok to quit counting and just be amazed.

Most of that was possible because of a stock pot.

I was hooked!

I’ve had many teachers along the way. I’ve even become one of the teachers!

My third book, Let’s Boil Bones…Grammy’s guide to bone broth and other yummy things! is available in Kindle books, with the paperback due out this fall.

For today, a bowl of leftover soup. Broth. A bit of pulled pork from a local event. Good, southern-style green beans. Some cabbage and a few tiny Bunapi mushrooms. Roasted cauliflower saved from dinner last night. All served over a bowl of finely shredded romaine lettuce, which is a great way to add healthy bitter greens and texture to soup. (Arugula, collards, turnip greens, etc. all work, too.) Spritz with a bit of fresh lemon juice and finish with good sea salt as desired. A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes would not be amiss.

Love, hope, and healing in a bowl!