Welcome to Tools for the Journey!
In an effort to give you a broad overview of what this blog is all about, I have reposted my first four posts here for you to enjoy. Thanks for visiting – I hope you will come back often — and please sign up to receive my new posts via email!
As it happens, I’m participating in “30 Days of Writing” led by Tyler Knott Gregson and Andréa Balt, from writeyourselfalive.org It started this morning. Imagine my amazement when I poured my second cup of tea, logged in, and encountered the writing prompt for today:
“Reflect over the past 10 years of your life and write the decade- younger YOU a letter, as if you were catching up with an old friend. Include 5-10 life lessons learned so far that you would share with this younger version of you.”
The moon is in the seventh house!
Here’s mine…What about you???
Have been thinking about you a lot lately. There are so many new things going on. But first, you were right!
Remember all that reflecting you did just after your surgery? I know that was a hard time and looking for new models and metaphors was really important. Then you did all that work figuring out what you wanted to do with the next part of your life. I actually still have some of your notes from that time. You said that you wanted to do the counseling, leading, training work you loved, make things, and—when the time came—be a cool grandma.
The best part of all is that you are a cool grandma! Grammie, actually. Kenzie is seven and Taylor’s almost five. They’re great! And they love reading and making things with you.
You’re making lots of things these days, too. Quilts, mostly. The bed kind and the art kind. You’re even learning to bead the one in progress now, which is working much better since the new glasses arrived! And it might go to a huge show. The girls love their big girl quilts and drag them all over.
Also, you’re making food. Soup stock. Lots of it. The real kind with bones boiled for hours and hours. Black-eyed peas for everybody at New Year’s. And you’re learning sprouted grains and cultured veggies. And Kefir. You’re even writing a cookbook!
In fact, you’re writing a lot again. It’s really another way of making stuff. At the moment, there are two books in progress. Then there’s the whole web site and blog thing. Bet you didn’t think you’d ever go there!!! It’s exciting! (And more than a little chaotic!)
You’re doing the same work, too—just differently. Coaching clients. Not so many. Some really interesting hypnosis stuff around health issues and surgery prep that feels significant.
There have been some challenges. Mom and Dad died. I’ve had knee surgery six times. Many days have been hard. They’ve also been a real push to keep re-evaluating where I’m heading. Just like you taught me!
In fact, I’ve learned a lot! We really don’t know “if it’s good news or bad news!” They left out quite a few important things in nursing school and seminary. Going with Alice down the rabbit hole is scary—and thrilling! “Retired” just means you get to be the boss. Kids need all the love and encouragement we can give them! And food is a really, really important issue.
Michelangelo said, “I am still learning!” And collecting tools for the journey along the way. That’s what the little quilt means. I’ll tell you all about it next time. For now, it’s time to swap the laundry around, walk the dog, and get back to the beads.
You did good!
Take a deep breath, please.
Take a deep breath, please. That’s right. And another. Now, allow yourself, in whatever way is comfortable for you, to be led into that imaginal space where each path leads to many layers of meaning.
Perhaps, as you walk along, you can feel the sun on your face, and the dust between your toes, even as you notice a quilt, tattered at the edges, and faded just a bit, drying on a split rail fence. Bits and pieces of calico and homespun cloth, cut and pieced just so, form patterns as old as the ages.
Oddly, quilts can form maps of the future as well, for, as the story goes, they were used as signposts on the Underground Railroad. Signposts on the road to freedom.
This was a myth I did not know until I was long grown. Oh, I knew the tales of Harriet Tubman. I knew scraps of the saga of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But I, white, Swedish, Scots-English, educated, affluent, main-line, mid-Western/Floridian that I was raised, had not imagined that bed linens, those icons of country décor, had once marked the road from slavery to freedom.
Hidden in Plain View, by Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, tells the story. Here I encountered symbolic meanings of quilt blocks I had thought merely pretty or quaint or hard to sew. Here I discovered that knots used to tie quilts could be mileage markers along the way. Here I learned the word, griot, “an African term for community storyteller and keeper of cultural heritage, history, and stories”, and knew I wanted, with every fiber of my being, to be one.
And here, most importantly of all, I read these words: “the fugitives needed to break their mental chains as well as their physical bondage. Yes, the fugitives needed to put on new clothes and use external disguises; however they had to also change inside… Freedom demanded internal as well as external change.”
This quilt holds stories of some of those changes in my own journey. First, it is a reminder of one of those things that are so hard to say aloud. Mama wasn’t always right! She meant well, though telling everybody that I was the smart kid and my sister the artistic kid was no huge favor to either of us. I was 40 years old before it occurred to me that it was actually possible to be both smart and artistic! The fact that this was clearly going to be an art quilt—instead of the kind that keeps kids warm—added to the pressure!
You see, this was a challenge quilt. Keepsake Quilting announces challenges a few times a year. There are size limitations and lots of rules and specific fabrics that must be used. In this case, all solid fabrics. No Kaffe prints or dots or batiks here. All solids. Very scary! And yet, I signed up.
To make a long story less long, what grew under my hands turned out to be this sort of Amish blend with strong overtones of Gee’s Bend and notes of Gwen Marston’s “liberated” quilters. It begins in the center, with a nine patch within a nine patch.
The blue and green frame is known as a monkey wrench block. According to the Underground Railroad tradition, slaves who saw a monkey wrench quilt knew that the time for escape was drawing near. They were to gather the tools they would need for the journey. Both actual tools and inner ones were required.
The heart is one of those tools. This heart is my image of the wisdom of Jungian analyst and keeper of the old stories, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, who calls together the “the tribe of the sacred heart—many of us scar clan. Still standing. Still dancing.” It is a strong tool, indeed, for one with knees scarred over and over with attempts to still stand!
Strips surround the center in a log cabin block, symbol of the home that calls to each of us.
Then there is the green and purple checkerboard, nine patches again. Very decent and orderly nine patches! Square and even and nearly identical. The way we are “supposed” to be. Pretty colors, and appealing in their own way, but static.
The triangles inside the rectangles are my favorites. Celtic spirituality legends claim that wild geese are a symbol for the Holy Spirit. My wild geese blocks are “liberated”, as newness often is.
And then the stars. Nine patches full of the energy of the universe, tugging us to “follow the drinking gourd” in the direction of our most free selves.
Stories are tools with the power to change lives. There are many ways to tell them.
Take a deep breath, please. That’s right. And another. Stretch a bit if you need to. And remember the quilt hanging in the light on that split rail fence. It’s a map to the future!
Shopping in the parking lot!
While much of America is buried under a thick blanket of snow, here it Atlanta it’s wake up every day and find out if it’s winter or spring time! I prefer spring, myself, and spring it has been for a couple of days. Sunny. And still quite cold for shopping in parking lots!
Most of our local farmers’ markets are closed for the winter. One intrepid farmer, however, runs a pre-ordered delivery service. This system would have amazed Elsie, my farm grandmother.
Born in 1891, she spent her life raising six kids, two orphaned nephews, all the vegetables on the farm, and large flocks of chickens, geese, and turkeys. The birds were her income.
In her (much!) later years, Elsie determined that computers were to be avoided as they would tell you things you didn’t want to know! I don’t disagree. I do, however, do a fair amount of hunting and gathering by logging on to the Heritage Farm web site, choosing my food, and shivering in the cold while Greg fills my bags with whatever riches there are to be had. Credit cards accepted. I can see the look on Elsie’s face now!
Here’s the bounty from a recent trip:
Gorgeous, fabulous, amazing, teeny, tiny turnips and carrots, greens and feathers still attached! Just between us, turnips aren’t my favorite veg but these were so young they tasted like apples and felt like radishes. And they were really cute!
Also, some lovely, grass fed and finished, very local lamb chops. Teeny, tiny as well. (An equally fine steak, maybe a ribeye, would work, too. Roughly the same cooking times.)
You’ll also need: good, organic olive oil, salt and pepper, possibly some extra greens, the best balsamic vinegar you have, and a skillet—preferably cast iron and well loved. I used both a good, gray Celtic salt, and flaky Maldon for finishing, as well as black pepper and ground pink peppercorns. Try Zingerman’s for fabulous balsamic options. (If you don’t have an iron skillet—the safe, original non-stick—now might be a time to get one. Lodge is a good brand.)
Remove (thawed) chops from fridge and let them come to room temp. Put them where the dog really can’t reach them! Drizzle both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 400 F.
Heat skillet at about one notch below screaming hot on your stove, till shimmering. Add a smidge of olive oil. Sear the chops 1-2 minutes on each side until golden brown and crisp. If they’re thick like these, sear the edges, too.
Place skillet in oven for somewhere around 6-8 min per inch and a half of thickness. We like rare to medium rare lamb. Chops should still feel soft-ish to the touch when pressed in the thickest part.
While lamb is roasting, wash your veg. Chop, if necessary. I left these whole. Wash and cut some greens into fine ribbons and set aside. I used a combination of the baby turnip greens and romaine lettuce.
When the lamb is done to your liking, remove chops to a platter and rest at least 5 minutes, preferably up to 10, covered loosely in foil. They’ll continue to cook a bit more.
Put your hot skillet back on a medium burner and add the root veg into the pan drippings left from the lamb. Stir fry to crisp tender and turning golden brown. Salt and pepper. Just as the lamb is finished resting, add your greens and toss quickly to barely wilt. Remove to platter with lamb and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. A little goes a long way. We’re talking 5-6 drops of something nicely aged.
Check seasoning. Finish with a bit of flaky Maldon and maybe some crushed pink peppercorns, if desired.
Winter will end!!!
It’s 4:15 am, in the midst of the 30 Days of Writing challenge I joined and the very early days of blog writing. I’m curled up in one of my quilts, sipping tea and scribbling recipes. Recipes which are not, by the way, related to the writing prompt for whichever day this is! It’s worth pondering why.
When my first granddaughter was born, just before I turned 50, I noticed a surprising thing. In the midst of making baby quilts and packing glass baby bottles for the trip across the pond, I began to get an inkling that things were changing inside me. Suddenly, things that had been sort of philosophically important to me for years began to seem more urgent. This tiny person, this wee image of my son, this huge new spark of love in my heart had to grow up in this world. And if we’re honest, this world could use some work!
I began, a bit tentatively at first, to shake loose the voices of the way we’ve always done it. That left me searching for some how could we do it better voices. The family elders were not universally pleased! But there are some serious health challenges in my family and, so, I began to learn.
Household chemicals and personal products—the least toxic I can find or make.
Laundry hanging on the front of my house to dry. (Many days I can’t get to the back!) And, yes, Grandma, no unmentionables!
No tissue paper in shopping bags. No paper appointment cards. Recycled paper towels. Sorry, Mom!
Well, you get it…
The garden has been considerably more challenging. No sun out back. Veggies in the front. Organic veggies. No Roundup! And this year, because the ground keeps getting farther and farther away, serious raised beds. The neighbors are adapting. And the tiny lettuces and collards are persevering through freezing nights in Atlanta. There’s even some cilantro out there!
Food, it seems, is a central issue for me. Food as health, as joy, as a huge economic and environmental factor. Food as memories and as a path to confidence for the mini women in my life. Food as a way to make a difference.
I’ve found many teachers, and I’ll pass them along as we go. First, Marc David who claims, in The Slow Food Diet, that no matter what food we eat, we should choose the highest quality version of that food.
Quality, he explains, means any or all of the following: real; fresh; organic; gourmet; lovingly crafted; homemade; locally produced; heirloom varieties; nutrient dense; low in human-made toxins; grown and marketed with honesty and integrity; tasteful; filled with true flavor, not virtual ones that mask the absence of nutrients and vitality. Quality means that care and consciousness permeate a food, and that the food itself has a good story to tell (44-45).
The biggest thing I’ve discovered is that we have to feed the family we’ve got! In my case, that involves a gluten-free, diabetic husband who likes same-ness. A former vegetarian turned omnivore (me) who likes difference and is still trying to address pain, inflammation, and mobility challenges which have often left shopping and cooking on the difficult to impossible scale.
My daughter-in-law and girls are vegetarians who eat fish, eggs, and dairy but no meat and there are cardiac concerns in the family. My son is a serious foodie. The girls eat real food. There’s just no predicting what or when! (Though olives are generally a good bet!)
And my dog may have allergy issues.
I grew up with a mother who strongly believed that everybody eats the same thing, everybody eats everything on the table, holiday menus never change, and, surely, the vegetarians won’t mind a little canned chicken stock in the casserole. We’ve had a few challenges!
I now cling to the notion that none of them, blessedly, have starved yet and they’re not likely to do it today! Also, the Pilgrims don’t care what we eat! When everybody is around my strategy is to get good, clean, high quality stuff, put a bunch of it on the table, and let everybody choose. Kind of like tapas! Also, I plan for at least a couple of things the girls can help make. They’re much more likely to eat those. (My not-quite-5-year-old ate 3 lobster tails at Christmas!)
Bill and I scale it down. Lots of veg, some (mostly) unprocessed carbs, and often a shared serving of meat or some fish. About 70-80% of what we eat at home comes with no ingredient label. Food that is what it is. We’re making progress!
For now, though, it’s a meditation CD until morning!