Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Business

It is only January but we have over three feet of snow out and about our environs.  It is a beautiful sight, the snow sparkling in the mid-morning sunlight.

Living out here in the Snow Belt of Massachusetts, we have been fortunate to receive our winter's blanket in the light, fluffy variety...with the exception of a thin layer of icy glaze about 18 inches down, but all in all it has been managable.  Having lived most of my life in MA, I have adapted to life in snow...snow is Nature's way of making us slow down. Really, is there no greater happiness for kids than having a snow day?  I loved school, but boy did I love snow days...a gift of a great is that?  I remember that feeling...and it is my desire to relive it as often as snow allows.

I find it funny that so many of my "neighbors"...including those beyond the cul de sac, complain when the forecast predicts snow.  I admit, I go into snow storm overdrive when the forecasters call for thunder snow and snowfall rates of one to two inches per hour...I fill up my tea kettle and a couple of large pans of water, just in case.  I find the candles and have wood stacked by th front door, again, just in case we lose power. I bake...bread or cookies...I get some cider mulling...I put soup on to simmer... And of course I go to the store to get life's essentials...milk, bread, half and half, coffee as well as pick up a few niceties like a good Cotes du Rhone, some cheese, charcuterie, a baguette and perhaps some olives...nothing like settling in front of the fireplace with the one you love and indulge in raclette, fondue or roasting weenies over the flames.

I love snow days...and even though I do not have kids at home anymore, I still like to sneak a peak at the school cancellations scrolling across the news report early in the morning.  I get some sort of satisfaction and or justification in nestling down deep in the soft blankets and stealing an extra few minutes of snuggling with my husband, after all, there is no school.   And with no kids jumping for joy into our bed, the snuggles are more precious.

I do feel for the folks who in this day and age and economy, find snow days a pain.  School closings or delays, child care woes, the ends of cleared driveways barricaded by chunks of gritty, grimy road snow thanks to the too tired plowing crews...wondering are they essential or non-essential...sometimes a tough question to ask oneself...all this clouds the gift of snowy days. 

Life around here is really quiet...the sounds of snow are so soft...they lull me into a personal quietness that I relish.  Cocooned in my home with my dog and cat...I am alone with my thoughts (my intrepid husband manuevers the snowplow like a master in order to get to work...for him, working on snow days is great...the pace changes there too...he finds that snow insulates him in the office...fewer interruptions for whatever reasons). In the quiet of a snow day, I make plans for the spring and gardening.  I worry about my family.  I write down recipes for a book I am working on.  I nag myself about my health.  I stroll down memory lane or escape into a good book.  I am pretty sure without the insistence of snow, I would gloss over these opportunities...busy with busy work and going through some sort of motions designed to connect me to the greater world. 

Growing up, my grandfather taught me to appreciate snow for another reason.  He called snow Nature's Fertilizer.  Buppa, as I called him, taught me how to be a gardener.  Gardening is more than just sticking seeds or seedlings in the ground.  Gardening is a year long connectivity to the ebb and flow of life.  Beneath the snow, building up energy to emerge are flower bulbs.  The roots of trees and bushes are blanketed by the snow, protecting them from weather extremes.  Looking carefully, I can see buds swelling on the tips of branches...the promise of prettiness within.  With so much snow, we won't have to worry about a drought this year. And back to snow being fertilizer, well, in addition to containing moisture, it contains all sorts of minerals and as the snow melts, the ground draws in the nutrients, slowly, deeply.  Snow is like a white canvas..., pretty, fresh and clean...prepping our mind's eye for the days when the sun lingers longer and we find the first tips of green poking up into the snow. makes it worth the wait.

I like to think that during this snowy period, people are building up energy and ideas, ready to burst into action in the warmer weather.  This is a good time to reorganize; to reuse, re-purpose and recyle the truck we've spent the last year setting up around ourselves.  Taking the time now, in the quiet of snow, to figure things out will help make the most of the plans and energy in reserve for spring. 

Last night I turned on the post lamps along the driveway, as I do every workday, welcoming Bill home. It had been snowing for a couple of hours, and now the flakes were soft and large. The driveway was blanketed by couple of inches and our yard was quiet...a kind of quiet you could feel as well as hear.  I was set up in my office, ironing a few shirts when movement outside caught my eye.  Entering the snow globe that was my yard were a couple of deer...dark, shadowy figures emerging into the soft glow of the post lamps...they walked gently across the driveway...the snow a sort of camouflage...and quietly, they crossed the powdery snow only to disappear like ghosts back into the woods on the other side of the yard.  I stopped what I was doing and took advantage of this gift of quiet and beauty in the snow.  I was truly happy in that moment, watching the deer.

We've all heard the saying, "When life hands you lemons...make lemonade."  Well, I'd like to add a corollary, "When it snows...make a snow day."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Feeding Time

January is the month of resolutions.  Change this, try that, cut calories, get stronger...and by January 17th most of us have failed at one or more of our resolutions.  According to "experts" January 17th is the most depressing day of the year.  Holiday bills come due, the aforementioned resolutions fizzle, and more often than not, we find ourselves isolated by the cold and dark of winter, stuck in the confines of our own homes.

So I was thinking that a perspective change might help me.  January will always be the time for new beginnings, but rather than resolving to change, why not work on developing that which already exists.  Diets are designed to starve the body...many fads and exercise gimmicks stress the body and hurt it...we are often convinced to buy something to fill a need, a void...the magic bullet that fixes everything.  The only thing that loses weight that way is one's wallet.

This year, I have decided to focus on feeding; nurturing that which exists to develop, to grow, to be more.

My focus is feeding my mind, my body, my spirit and my relationships.

Feeding my mind means reading more, watching less TV, creating and concocting from the resources already contained within.  Thinking more first before acting...there is something to be said for spontaneity, when you are 25, but at 50, research and development makes use of  a lifetime of experience. I admit that as I approach 50, I am a bit chicken to go back to is not that I don't have anything to learn...on the contrary, there is so much to learn!  For real, as I watched in shock and horror at the bombings in Mumbai in 2008, I did not know that Mumbai was some point that name change happened and I missed it.  I don't want to be ignorant...I want to learn, but it has been a long time since I was a real I will find suitable ways to educate myself and to learn from others...but sitting in a classroom, I am not sure about that just yet.  I do plan on visiting museums, aquariums, cultural and social events on a regular basis. I am blessed to live in a community that offers so much...lectures, movies, presentations and some of the best organizations dedicated to learning, from our incredible public library to one of the region's best symphonies...there certainly is plenty of food for thought.  I will be traveling more and hopefully taking a few more calculated risks...that fear thing is a bad habit to break after a lifetime of feeding it...but I will look for those opportunities that will serve to feed my inner explorer.  Right now, I am being challneged to learn to scuba dive...I'll need to hit the books and that lecture circuit for sure!

Feeding my body.  Hmm.  I have struggled with weight issues all my life and probably will continue to do so looking at family history.  But, I am not going to let this diet or that dictate what good health is.  I plan to learn about the foods we grow, the foods we buy and the processes used to create them.  While in France, I learned to respect the products I used in cooking.  I mean, how often here in the US do we buy a chicken with feet and feathers still attached?  How often do we really get our hands dirty selecting our produce and then caressing the fruits and vegetables, and as we clean them, embracing the potential? I lived in a country that produces 324 recognized cheeses...and the French claim that there are well over 1,000 types of cheese...whew!  That's alot of cheese, but it is also a profusion of creativity and potential for feeding one's mind, body and I can assure you, to a cheese maker and you'll know what I mean.

I developed a philosophy that I should try to honor the integrity of our food as God offers it to us.  I appreciate the idea from the farm to the plate, from the hands of the artisan to mine...and I hope my hands will create dishes that respect the integrity of nature's bounty and feed my family and friends.  I will continue to shop more frequently, using the freshest products available.  I find that exploring the markets and food outlets three or four times a week helps feed my creative side.  I may develop a new recipe.  I may research how to use a "new" product.  Recently I bought some farro, an ancient grain, but one that is new to really is an awesome product.  I also tried a prepackaged chickpea product and was not a winner...but I learned and relearned...remember that honor the intergrity of the food to plate...well the chickpeas were diverted to a factory where too many spices, preservatives and funky packaging ruined, in my opinion, a really great little legume. 

As I write this, I am seeing that feeding oneself...mind, body, spirit and relationships are beautifully connected.  I hope that as I focus on one area, I am wise enough to see those connections and be open to explore them and follow where the roots go.

For quite a few years now, I have struggled with feeding my soul.  I have and will continue to be a person of faith.  I was a very involved member of my church until a crisis in the Church led me to a crisis in religion...not faith...religion.  I was really wounded by how my Church reacted to the worst in human behavior and how, as I experienced it, continued to sin and vicitmize the wounded.  My Church wrapped itself up in history and canon law, hid behind infallability and skittered up a hierarchical ladder that further disenfranchised the voice of the faithful.  I decided that my faith and my religion were coming apart at the seams and I needed to attend to one or the other...I focused on faith.  This year, I hope to continue to build my relationship with God and recognize the work, the purpose driven life that will sustain my spirit.  I hope to end each day having made it a little better than when it began...and in so doing being a better person for that work.  St. Therese of Lisieux has always been a model of faith formation for me.  It was her way to dedicate every effort to God and in many cases, she endured pain, frustration and diappointment.  But rather than let these stop her works, she dedicated these endurances to God as well...if my knees are going to ache while scrubbing the floor Lord...then let them ache for you.  It may seem corny, but bad stuff happens to us all the time.  I hope that if and when it happens, I can find God in that moment and direct my discomfort to bring His will to those who suffer even more.  After a year in Paris and attending Mass at Notre Dame, I found that I enjoyed the community but because I had to really concentrate on the readings and sermons as they were offered in French, I really, really enjoyed that inner intimacy with the Word.  I was challenged and fed in a unique way...a private way.  I hope to continue to develop the nurturing Word in my life this year.

Feeding relationships...this focus may prove to be the most challenging of all...after all, you can only control what you contribute to the relationship and respond accordingly to what is reciprocated.  As I had said in my Paris blog, I find myself at an interesting place in my life's journey.  I am a wife and mother approaching my fiftieth birthday.  I stopped my routines short to follow my husband to Paris for a year.  My children are living on her own in Washington, DC, the other , a college student, well on her way to independence.  My networks at home and abroad have been disconnected, reconnected, rewired, dropped...I dunno.  I am back home with few network connections still sparking.  So I am focusing on ways to feed the stream...chum the waters if you will and find the relationships that will sustain me and that I can nurture into the future.  I realize that the bulk of this sustainability falls with me.  I need to make efforts to connect.  I need to be open to others, their ideas, gifts and talents and I need to be glad to have all sorts of characters in my life and pray they want me in their lives too!  So, from dropping a line via snail mail or on a social network to finding the right volunteer work will hopefully build a bridge to a friend.  Examining the relationships with people who are in my life, whom I often take for granted or regard through historic lenses are especially hungry and need feeding.  I need to examine too, what the feed it fodder for growth or the ground fertile or fallow?  I also need to recognize what is valuable and what is extraneous...invest time and emotion wisely. 

I am hoping that by feeding these foci, I become stronger, happier and wiser.  I hope feeding time is lasts a long time.

I am looking forward to seeing you at the table.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

Well here it is 2011.  One year ago, I was getting ready to move into our apartment in Paris.  I was supposed to live there for three years and well...things changed.  Boy, did they change.  For those who may be curious...and for my own amusement, here is last year in a quasi-review.

In 2010, I lived in Paris for nearly a year.  I didn't wear a bathing suit at all in 2010.  I wrote a blog in 2010...about life or something like it in the City of Lights.

In 2010, I found out that I can do more than is expected of me or that I expect of myself.  I found another voice and I spoke another language, haltingly, but I did it.  I learned to live life differently, mostly out of necessity. I found a love and knack for writing. 

In 2010, I lost 18 pounds...only to have the holidays help me put 4 pounds back on...but those 4 pounds are sooo outta here in the next two weeks. 

I lost my sense of humor in 2010...but I found it again when I realized I shouldn't take things so personally.  I have a dry sense of humor rimmed with dark overtones.  In 2010, I discovered am sarcastic, "sardonique" and I love irony.  I laugh when people trip...but honestly I seek to prevent that if possible...but a good trip, slip or stumble gets me every time...must have been my exposure to the Three Stooges as a child and reinforced by all the doggie landmines littering the sidewalks of Paris!

In 2010, I grew a new skin...a new sensibility...a new personal awareness.  Now the challenge is what to do with that in 2011.

In 2010, I learned the art of French cooking and eating..I was in France after all.  Thanks to Julia Child and everyone who expected me to be just like her, I expanded my reading list to include authors I never read nor heard of before...I even read some stories in French! I read cookbooks in French, visited Shakespeare and Co and survived the French markets, just like Madame Child.  I discovered Hemingway's Paris and through his and Julia's eyes, I was just beginning to find MY Paris.

In 2010, I made new friends...some little while friends and some life long friends.  Friends are good.

2010 saw the reiteration of one family member's tradition morphing into my new one...Champagne Thursday!  My aunt, a breast cancer survivor shared the origins of Champagne Thursday with me about 8 years ago.  Having met her 5 year goal of being cancer free, she decided that life was too short, precious, special, not to enjoy good things whenever the mood/situation/opportunity arose, so on a Thursday, she popped open a bottle of Champagne and tah da, a tradition celebrating her life, courage and her strength was born.  Early on in my stay in Paris, I was feeling blue, lonely and a bit overwhelmed.  I had purchased a lovely, cheap little bottle of Cremant de Loire at the Monoprix and I remembered my aunt and lo and was Thursday...and my Champagne Thursdays were born!  I don't drink bubbly every Thursday, but I could if I wanted too...

2011 should be about celebrating any or every day as if it were New Year's or at least Champagne Thursday.  As enjoyable as the wine is, it is not about the drink, but rather the time one takes to recognize who you are, what you are and from where you have is about finding the success in your life, the good news about you.  One thing I did learn in Paris in 2010 is that you have to sing your own song, and be your own best cheerleader.  Support from friends and family is very valuable and appreciated, but if you don't believe it yourself, then the rest is just window dressing. 

In 2010, I learned that I have a pretty good palate and that Andouillette (sausage) is disgusting and stinky. 

2010 ushered in the knowledge that you can take the girl out of the country/Country, but you cannot take the country/Country out of the girl.  I am a Red, White and Blue Bay Stater who loves her little town in the northwest of Middlesex County.  But...I do love Paris.  It is Paris afterall.

In 2010, I tried to be helpful.  I tried to speak to a new person everyday...that was easy as I was a stranger in a strange land...everyone was new.  But, ironically, I was finding many familiar faces in such a short time.  And in a short time, those faces became friends.  Cool what being nice can do for you.

2010 was my year of realizing what I had taken for granted in my life, whether it was my friends and family or my washer and dryer...being absent from the things you know gives one perspective and pause when they are returned to you.  I do not take the blue skies or the birdsong for granted EVER.

It is 2011 and I am happy to be back in my own home.  I recently posted on a social networking site "Here's to joy, love, kindness, happiness and health in 2011.  May you be blessed with good friends, good times, good fortune and challenges that make your life exciting and interesting. Happy New Year!"  This is my wish to you dear reader, but is also a promise I am making to myself.