Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving Come and Gone

We had a delightful feast on Thursday; indeed, it's been a good holiday weekend all around.

The festivities started as soon as school let out and Goo arrived not long after.  He stayed until Friday evening, during which time there were many rounds of computer games of various types, mainly Minecraft.  It's like having another kid in the house--he's a great, fun, interesting uncle and they love him so!

Bonus:  he's old enough to help cook!  He actually supervised Sis making the yams and Bud making the from-scratch green bean casserole.  This definitely helped make it a less-stressful cooking day for me.  That, and cutting 8-odd dishes!  In the end, we had:

  • "Texas Trash" chex mix
  • cream cheese with both spiced cranberry and sherry wine jams, with crackers (both jams were Wildtree)
  • turkey
  • gravy
  • dressing
  • oyster dressing (we made 1 1/2 batches of my dressing and then Mama and Bud doctored it with parsley, lemon, bell pepper, and of course oysters)
  • fresh cranberry sauce
  • canned cranberry sauce
  • mashed potatoes (store-bought, Whole Foods)
  • creamed spinach (store-bought--my least favorite dish, could drop it next year)
  • the best yeast rolls ever!!
  • pumpkin pie (store-bought, Michelle's Pies)
  • apple pie (store-bought)
  • a few little pies--pecan, pecan pumpkin, sweet potato, and a luscious lemon (would be good for Easter)
  • I had made "Indian" pudding as well but it wasn't that good--just doesn't work in crockpot
It was so good that Sis lost a tooth during the proceedings!  And a holiday sub Tooth Fairy came that night, albeit a little late . . . .

We watched the parade in the morning and then "Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving" while napping in the afternoon.  Ma and Gong went back to NYC in the evening, while Goo stayed for another day of games and leftovers.

Saturday was a bit different:  we did our annual holiday trip to the British Shop to get mincemeat pies, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, crackers, special crisps (Bud's favorite--favourite?--is prawn cocktail, followed by Worchestershire), Crunchie bars, and other things.  We followed this up with lunch at our favorite German food place.  Because we were tired of turkey.

Today, we're getting back into the swing of things--laundry, cleaning out the dishwasher, a quick grocery run for school lunches.  And I am starting the prep for my baseline colonoscopy tomorrow.  Fun times.  I'm hangry (hungry + angry) and PMSing and so Mama has taken the kids out for lunch, away from me!  We'll watch what I expect to be another difficult and emotional Doctor Who later, maybe put up the outdoor Christmas lights.  

And even though the weekend is ending on a rather mundane note, it was a good weekend.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Of Shells and Sea Glass

My Texas readers will shudder to know that, on a morning that saw the mercury bottom out around 26F, I went to the beach with a friend.  Sure, we had coats, but it wasn't windy so we didn't need hats or gloves, which is just as well, because we communicate in ASL and I feel more clumsy in gloves.

We first had a nice breakfast at a local diner with a great view and then walked around the area talking about the devastation caused in the area by Hurricane Sandy, life on the coast, the cost of beach houses, health, kids, families, Thanksgiving, who she knew in which houses, various businesses nearby, the usual stuff.  She has lived here much longer than I have and so knows more of the local spots.

We ended up strolling on the beach and I told her how we'd found sea glass on Block Island and she started to pick up pieces.  Without really trying, she found 20+ pieces, including some pretty aquamarine.  I found the blue on my own, which was exciting, and one of the aquamarine (which look like white in the photo.)  The whites, greens, and browns were everywhere.  She says she has a huge jar of them, including purple and red, which are rare.  I have only recently become aware of sea glass but am quite enthusiastic . . . even if, in reality, it is garbage that has washed ashore, proof of our damage to the planet.  In fact, I thought that was why they are sometimes called "mermaid's tears," but my friend sent me a link that said that the story went that mermaid's cried a tear for every sailor lost at sea.

We walked for an hour or more, talking about various marine life she had seen, marveling at whelks, crabs, coral, and teensy shells that Sis loved when I brought them home.  We vowed to do it again soon, on this beach and others, plus other spots around town.  We might even seek out the Snowy Owl together.

But, by the time it gets here from the Arctic, though, I don't think we'll enjoy walking the beach looking for sea glass as much.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fall Fun Wrap-Up

As I sit here, beginning to cook Thanksgiving dinner--the dinner rolls (always the first thing I make)  are in the bread machine--I realize that fall has pretty much come to a close.  Sure, Thanksgiving is the culmination of fall, but it really almost fits in better with the holiday season.  Soon, I'll start my annual Advent Activities list.  I can't believe this will be the 6th year we'll done those.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Here is a wrap up of our Fall Fun for this year.

  1. Knitting retreat--see here.
  2. Get out mittens, hats, scarves, sweaters, etc.--finally needed them today!
  3. Change fire alarm batteries
  4. Block Island weekend--yes!  See here.
  5. Indigo Girls concert--yay!  See here.
  6. Vote.  Because the local election and referendum have gotten very nasty.
  7. Trick or treat!!!  
  8. Make a leaf pile.
  9. Decorate a pumpkin.  Does it count that I "zentangled" one?
  10. Yarn!  I'm participating in a CAL, or crochet-along.  Plus the knitting retreat.
  11. Watch Halloween film (is it time for Hocus Pocus?)--we watched Hocus Pocus.  Odd.  Virginity is a major plot line in this kids' movie from 1993.
  12. Scout overnight at Mystic Seaport!!!
  13. Florence Griswold Museum Wee Faerie Village
  14. Make pies--we made a Swedish Apple Pie
  15. Boo gifts for friends
  16. Backyard fire with foil dinners and s'mores--can it count that we did it at Applepalooza?  Might be fun to do this holiday weekend, too, with Goo.
  17. Applepalooza (our family fall open house, with apple desserts):  a wonderful day, even with the flurries!
  18. Pull out quilts and blankets
  19. Nature Mandalas:  a first this year; so pretty.
  20. Church in-gathering celebration:  we took water from our rain gauge, excited that it had finally rained
  21. Make faerie houses:  our first ones circled the silver maple
  22. Comic Con:  always fun, like a big geeky Halloween party
  23. Matilda:  excellent!
  24. Spring Awakening (adults only):  a fantastic evening of ASL and musical theater, in a story about drastic consequences resulting from miscommunicaitons between horny German teenagers and their parents
  25. School Open House:  another year has started!
  26. Prepare Halloween costumes:  We have Black Widow and Link all ready to go
  27. Nature walk or bike ride:  I'm going to count the Sept GS bike ride.

Maybe next year . . . . 
  1. Renaissance festival:  NO, missed it this year
  2. Church Harvest festival--NOPE, we missed this
  3. Russian Orthodox Christmas fair (feels more like Christmas than fall, but it is in Nov.)
  4. Apple picking
  5. piano recital--now in December
  6. Roast pumpkin seeds
  7. Make apple or pumpkin butter
  8. Pumpkin picking
  9. Corn maze
  10. Go to a football game
  11. Amish Friendship bread
  12. Paint pinecones
  13. Tent in the backyard
  14. Make candles or soap
  15. Explore sourdough bread recipes

"Knits and Pearls"* Retreat

Please pardon the centering of the text; I've tried to get rid of the formatting, but it won't go.  So it can stay centered.

I had been looking forward to this weekend since midsummer:  it was time for my mindful knitting retreat.  We picked up the kids just before dismissal and rode together to Copper Beech Institute.  It's part of a large monastery and retreat center, though unconnected theologically.  If you recall, I went to a Zentangle retreat there in February which was a marvelous experience.  

We arrived not long before sunset and they helped me get settled into my room.  Unlike last time when we were all a bit edgy about the separation and newness of the experience, this time they left rather quickly--to catch a showing of the new Peanuts movie (which they enjoyed.)  Indeed, they had a hold weekend planned--Peanuts, lots of restaurants and take out food, Minecraft, kung fu, ice skating, public free skate, origami.  

I had a big weekend planned, too:  a mindful knitting retreat.  I was more focused on the knitting, hoping to expand my skills beyond rectangles to a simple mitten pattern!  And so with my Icelandic Lopi wool yarn and my double-pointed needles, I was ready to learn.

Our Friday evening gathering included the usual housekeeping issues (no cellphone usage in public spaces, how to return used linens on Sunday via the laundry chute, even a discussion of the omnipresent Catholic iconography as full of compassion and sensitivity and in no way connected to the beliefs of the mindfulness institute.)  We did a mindfulness meditation, letting go of attachment, judgment, criticism, expectations, wishes especially with regard to our knitting.  And then we knit a swatch, silently, checking our bodies and breath, letting go of a product or a goal or an end, just knitting to knit.  We felt the yarn, saw the colors, heard the needles, even sniffed the wool--almost all the senses taking in the knitting (I would taste the fibrous stuff as I threaded a needle later in the weekend.  Eh.)

And then we pulled it all out!

I was glad that I had knitted my green Block Island blanket last week, so that my skills were in practice.  I can cast on, knit, purl, knit two together, bind off, and follow simple patterns as needed, not much more.  But I made the mistake (albeit intentional) of admitting I was a crocheter.  "Oh, we'll cure you of that," one said.  Ah, the superiority of knitters over crocheters.  But I expected it and am used to it (in "real" yarn stores, the clerks barely want to help crocheters choose yarn.)  Still, on the last day, another congratulated me, "You're a knitter now."  So much for judgment and attachment.

The evening was spent on our own and I journaled and doodled in my sketch book.  It's so quiet in the monastery, so much solitude and peace.  It's odd after living in a small house with three other people and four furry beasties; even during the day when I'm all by myself, it's not the same--there are chores and phone calls and errands, either to do or ignore.  At the retreat, there was nothing.  

I resolved to wake up early to see the sunrise and set my alarm.

My walk in the woods at 6:30 a.m. was a continuation of the quiet and solitude of the monastery.  I was the only one out.  I found the labyrinth easily enough, though I was convinced I was lost on the alternate wood path just as I spotted it.

Bigger then I realized, more remote, and surrounded by trees, the labyrinth was built in 2007, I think. If you can get to it, via the longer paved path with a short jog through the grass, it is even possibly wheelchair accessible, paved with small gravel as it is and wide and flat.

The sun was just rising, first creating muted pastels and then producing brilliant reds and oranges and yellows.  I watched the sunrise and took pictures from outside the labyrinth at first and then walked the path.  It was a wonderful, focusing, rejuvenating walk.  It wasn't even until I had circled the center  stone circle for awhile that I noticed someone had been there before me:  a novena candle was lit.

I walked back just in time for the breathing mediation with the director of the institute.  As much as I had focused on the knitting of the retreat in my anticipation of it, I got so much out of the meditation; I imagine that my daily practice has been kickstarted.

Then it was breakfast and our morning lesson.  There was so much to learn:  how to split stitches between three needles; how to insure the stitches are not twisted and facing down/away from you so that the project grows down/away from you; what to do if you drop a stitch or a whole needle of stitches (DON'T PANIC!  with non-slippery yarn, the stitches don't really move so you can recover it); how to change color; how to use waste yarn to save space for the thumb; how to easily count stitches on the purl side; how to gather the tops of mitten and thumb together; how to wave in; how to close holes.  I worked on it for hours.  I think I counted 7.5 hours overall for the one mitten.  But I was so excited, so proud, elated, grateful, joyful.  I had learned a new skill.

We broke up a lot of the knitting with stretches, centering breaths, water.  One of the breaths was the alternate-nostril breathing, when I realized that my cold wasn't completely gone!  There was also a cupped-hand/slapping exercise to get the blood flowing, plus one where we twisted back and forth swinging our arms.  There were self-hugs to open up our shoulders, eye exercises because of all the intense focusing, and a variety of yoga poses I didn't know.

I've realized that yoga just makes me sad.  Really, deeply sad.  I even shed a few tears during the morning practice.  My poor body has been so unloved by me and family and friends who criticize it or much more subtly make suggestions for its improvement, not accepting me how I am; it--I?--has been through so much from birth defects and other anomalies (lordosis, scoliosis, low muscle tone, leg differetital), hernia repairs, c-section, herniated discs, tailbone dysfunction, and now emergency abdominal surgery; and it just can't do what so many can do, especially all those stretchy middle-aged white women dedicated to yoga who are pretzeling themselves while I lie prone and alone (yes, lots of self-pity and envy in there, too.)  I always leave yoga feeling sad and down about myself, which is entirely opposite the point so I vowed to skip other yoga sessions entirely.  

So hat evening, instead of yet more yoga, I decided to take another walk to the labyrinth.  It's not everyday you have a labyrinth in the backyard.  As I made my way there, I saw three women from another retreat standing off the path and pointing up, then they waved to me.  I stopped in my tracks in time to see a Great Horned Owl fly from where they were standing, over my head, and in a tree nearby.  And when it took, another one followed.  Two giant, silent, fast, beautiful owls with their little tufty "ears."  Such a gift. So amazing.  I had never seen owls in flight naturally (beyond birds-of-prey exhibitions.)   I was too caught up in seeing them to take a picture; they were too fast for that anyway.

And then I watched the sunset at the labyrinth, the day ending quietly, not in a huge splash of color.  As I walked, I sang Sarah Dan Jones's "When I Breathe in" mediation and Emma's Revolution's "Peace Salaam, Shalom," which I think go well together.  I like to sing.  A few others joined me around the labyrinth later, quiet togetherness.  At first, I thought I'd mind, but I think I actually welcomed the company, even though all we did was nod.  

After dinner, there was a concert.  Girl-with-guitar Kate Callahan came and played many of her lovely folk ballads and songs for us, accompanying herself on guitar.  She also plays a quartz crystal singing bowl, with which she vocalizes and chants.  An incredible sounds!  She did some circle singing with us, which she had studied with renowned singer Bobby McFerrin.  She had one group start a rhythm, the other group do another, and she overlaid it with a tune and lyrics--about our retreat and concert!  Such a gift.

After the concert, as many of us stayed up to knit, as we talked of the music, I offered to teach them the two songs I had sung at the labyrinth.  And I did!  I sang a cappella, alone, in front of other adults; and then most of them were too shy to sing along.  But a few did, boldly.  Singing, I realized (as I've realized before), has so much to do with confidence.  I mustered just enough to sing aloud; I don't think I could do it regularly.

By the end of the evening, I had completed the body of one mitten and closed off the top!  If all went well, I would make the thumb the next morning and perhaps cast on the next mitten to do at home.

So many clouds that I didn't bother to get up for sunrise.  I slept in, read more in Voyager (my current Outlander novel), and then got up to dress, pack up, and clean up my room.

We spent the morning knitting in silence, first complete silence and then with some sacred music.  We could quietly ask questions, as I had to in order to complete my thumb.  We checked in with our breaths and our bodies (especially to combat hunched postures common to knitters.)  

And I finished one whole mitten!!!!!  

In fact, we all finished at least one.

We celebrated over lunch together, commended the friendly and supportive community we had created in just a few days, pledged to continue our mindfulness practice and knitting upon reentry into the "real" world.  I was grateful to the teacher for her knowledge and assistance and patience, to the participants for their companionship and support, the Copper Beech staff and volunteers for creating a nurturing and sustaining event, to my family for letting me go, and for the privilege of being able to attend a retreat and to have knitting as a hobby.  

Then Mama and the kids picked me up.  They met a few of the staff and then helped me fetch my things.  We all walked to the labyrinth together, the kids talking the long path "off road" through the woods.  We walked relatively quietly, joyfully, through the labyrinth.  The kids walked ahead while Mama and I walked holding hands (see, nice wide labyrinth; couldn't do that on Block Island.)   At the center, we placed a little heart that I had purchased at the gift shop.

And then we were off, retreat over.  Back to life, back to reality, as the song goes.  I hope I carry a little bit of the peace and acceptance into the whirlwind of the holidays.  Perhaps this was just the right way to kick off the holiday season.

For next year, I promise everyone mittens!

*That's "pearls of wisdom" and a knitting pun on purl.  The retreat's title and pun, not mine!

Poems read during some of our mindfulness moments:

Allow by Danna Faulds

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado.  Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel.  Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground.  The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.
Surrender by Edmund Leland
I surrender because control creates false security and is an insatiable master. 
I surrender not to give up, but to open up.
Not to let go, but to receive
Not to drop something and have less, but to unclench these hands and make way for more spaciousness that holding on or controlling could never allow.
Sweet conscious choice to surrender.
This is how I choose to live
This is how I choose to love
This is how I choose to dance my life.


Last Days by Mary Oliver

Things are
  changing; things are starting to
    spin, snap, fly off into
      the blue sleeve of the long
        afternoon. Oh and ooh
come whistling out of the perished mouth
  of the grass, as things
turn soft, boil back
  into substance and hue. As everything, 
    forgetting its own enchantment, whispers:
      I too love oblivion why not it is full
        of second chances. Now,
hiss the bring curls of the leaves. Now!
  booms the muscle of the wind. 


Love after Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come 
when, with elation, 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, 
in your own mirror, 
and each will smile at the other's welcome
and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread.
Give back your heart 

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life. 

Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
     purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Home from Retreat

Nice to be home from my mindful knitting retreat so I can bump butts with my big boy (that's me under the afghan.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Of Yarn and Cats

I'm headed off to a knitting retreat this weekend, to which I very much look forward.

So I leave you with pictures of three of our four cats enjoying yarn this week.

The fourth cat, Albus, prefers fleece most of the time, and so is not pictured here.

This is our main yarn-lover, Mojo.  Here he has climbed into the basket that holds his unfinished blanket.
How Mojo usually prefers his yarn, with one ear always out.

Mr. P is learning to love yarn

Another yarn convert.

The most expensive seat in the house--that's artisanally-dyed merino.

Four Poems for Times of Worry and Sadness

These four poems, which appeared in my FB feed this week, have comforted me in the wake of Paris and the like.   The first one, especially, appeared repeatedly on FB, but only form the line "I've been praying," which misses the whole context but still got exactly to the point.

what they did yesterday afternoon 
by Warsan Shire

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me 
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered 

I Worried 
by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot.  Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up.  And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

The Peace of Wild Things 

by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me 
and I wake in the night at the least sound 
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, 
I go and lie down where the wood drake 
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought 
of grief. I come into the presence of still water. 
And I feel above me the day-blind stars 
waiting with their light. For a time 
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

by Martha Postlewaite
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Peace and the Interconnected Web

I forgot that I was the lead teacher in religious education (RE) this week until about 15 minutes before we had to leave, late, for church.

Spirit Play is not the kind of curriculum that you can pull off last minute.

Except I sorta did.

I brainstormed on peace in light of recent worldwide events, namely Paris, but also Kenya, Beirut, and so on.

This led to the story of Sadako Sasaki and the thousand peace cranes, which is a touching story about war, loss, children, action, hope, and, above all, peace.  And origami is a great project with all ages.

That led to the idea of the interconnected web of all beings, our seventh principle.  A yarn web.  This is a standard Unitarian Universalist (and also Girl Scout) bonding activity, as it's a metaphor for connection, interdependence, teamwork, and the like.  Plus, it's beautiful.

So, we started class with our usual chalice lighting, which happens to be Gandhi's prayer for peace:
Gandhi's Prayer for Peace
I offer you peace.
I offer you love.
I offer you friendship.
I see your beauty.
I hear your need.
I feel your feelings.
My wisdom flows from the highest source.
I salute that source in you.
Let us work together.
For unity and peace. 
Mahatma Gandhi

We shared our class Joys and Concerns.  We followed this with a brief metta meditation for the safety, health, happiness, and ease of all living beings.

I introduced our topics of peace and interconnection, lightly, with gentle references to world events because we have very young pre-K kids and more mature 7th graders, and a few in-between.

Then we did the yarn web.  We pulled it, loosened bits of it, stretched it, admired it, and finally dropped it.  Not stressing the metaphor too much.

I retold the story of Sadako and her one thousand cranes.  And they all opted to do origami as their class work, though I also had materials for Tibetan prayer flags.

We all sat around the table with a pile of origami paper and a few books.  Bud and the seventh-grader attempted the actual peace crane, which is a complicated fold.  The littlest girl did several flapping butterflies, really getting the hang of the pattern by the end.  Sis and another classmate folded pinwheels, while my co-teacher folded a tiny pinwheel, impressing us all.

 We talked of origami and other things, enjoying our joint activity.

By the end, both Bud and Sis had vowed to make 1000 of each of their designs, just like Sadako.

And tonight, they were still working on their projects.

Now, that's what I call a successful class--it stayed with them.  Whew!