Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rhythm and Ritual

I live now in the land of one season (sort of- there is a subtle shift here from season to season, a change in the quality of the light, that I have come to appreciate). I am far away from the dramatic unfolding of each year's annular change from the bleak of winter to the birth of spring, from the heat of summer to the autumn's harvest. That rhythm mirrored the pattern of a year of childhood- back to school, a time of industry and activity, matched the busy-ness and preparation of the fall; the winter, cold and monotonous, was conducive to the rote and predictable day to day; spring revealed a feeling of newness, of having transformed, a new self ready for the freedom of the summer, the browning of the sun and then that sense of urgency once again come fall.
The urgent feeling of possibility and a fresh start is never stronger with me than at back-to-school time. January first has nothing on September even now, years  later and thousands of miles away. So I'm reminded today of a favorite art teacher, an amazing woman really, who treated jaded and vulnerable teenage students of art as true artists, shared the limitless realm of creativity within the confines of a windowless public school classroom. She gave her students respect and compassion, created rituals of art-making and enforced the importance of daily practice. Most importantly, she melded a passionate seriousness with a sense of joy and magical possibility. At the end of each month she made sure to remind us, angst-y teenagers all, not to forget that on the morning of the first day of the next month we were to each make a wish on waking, before our feet touched the floor. Though I don't hold much stock in wish making these days, this simple ritual has stayed with me throughout the years. Despite myself I think of my teacher, the morning and then the month ahead, and half-ruefully, I wish... Perhaps in the morning you will too?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Manic Monday

The last few days have a been a bit of a jumble. Little One is (I think) starting to teethe, or at least going through an especially tumultuous growth spurt. She continues to be a delight during the day (albeit a very drool-y, finger-gnawing one!) but during the night she thrashes around, escapes her swaddling (or baby straight-jacket as we've taken to calling it) and cries or whimpers at least every hour. For the most part she sleeps right through all of this activity, but I, unfortunately, cannot say the same. All this is to say that my brain is not cooperating with coming up with a cohesive post for this evening, so I thought I'd go with a little list of things I'm thinking about in my sleep-deprived state...

I borrowed this image from the recipe's site- my batch did not last long enough to take a picture
Cupcakes: I made a batch of these coconut heath bar bits of divinity yesterday for our group meditation. They were quite possibly the most delicious things I've ever made (if I do say so myself). I recommend trying them out next time you have a sweet craving (I topped them with this super easy chocolate buttercream just to really go overboard).

I loved Jan Brett's books when I was a child- does that excuse stealing this image?
Town vs. Country: I've been feeling torn recently between the vibrant activity and diverse possibility of city life (where we're at now) and the slowed down pace and connection to the natural world of more rural environs (where I'm from). I'm constantly weighing the benefits and drawbacks of both for our family and what I want Little One to be exposed to. No decisions are being made just yet, but the questions are definitely brewing...

Women in the Veda: This has been a longstanding area of interest for me (really the role of women in all spiritual and religious traditions), but my upcoming retreat has me fully enmeshed in research of this particular vein. My Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy by the brilliant Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore arrived recently and has occupied every spare moment I have to sit down with a book. I'm discovering an interesting mix of (seemingly conflicting at times) ideals and ideologies that have got my mind spinning (though a bit slower than usual!).

Art-making with children: Before dedicating myself to teaching meditation I worked in an arts enrichment program teaching visual art, drama, and yoga to elementary school students. I loved it and look forward to creating art with Little One and her friends as soon as possible. I've been especially inspired since discovering The Artful Parent (I think I've read nearly every post while nursing recently! Such a beautiful process-oriented approach and projects for even the very young have me so excited to introduce Little One to the world of creating that I so love (and starting a toddler art group!).

Of course, for me this also brings up the many (many many many) projects I have begun personally... Rather than feeling frustration or regret though (as has been the norm at times) I'm actually feeling inspiration more than anything. I know I can't take on or finish everything, but that that little spark of creative energy is still there in this somewhat exhausted state is quite reassuring. That spark is what I'll be relying on to get me to the next post here!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Women's Work

This mama can multitask!
I've been immersed, recently, in the planning of a meditation retreat for women that I am running in just a couple weeks. The necessary but not always that much fun logistical planning and organizing has occupied my day time (well, at least Little One's naptimes!), and study and research of material for discussion has kept me up late at night. As I've mentioned before I teach a technique of meditation that is derived from the Veda- texts of wisdom, philosophy, and science from ancient India. As one of only a few western female teachers of this practice, I've long wondered how women have fit into the tradition historically. It is easy to find stories of and works by male sages, but what of their wives, mothers, daughters- women who surely must have had wisdom and knowledge of their own to pass on?

They are there I've found, not always the loudest voices, but strong and smart examples of enlightened women from an ancient civilization- and an inspiring precedent for mindful women of the present. There is Gargi, a philosopher and writer whose fierce intellect and rigorous curiosity confounded one of the most renowned male sages of her era.; Maitreyi,  who renounced material wealth in favor of spiritual enlightenment; and Mandalasa, the queen who sang to her son to teach him the eternal nature of the soul and consciousness. There are many others as well, but perhaps most inspiring to me (and a bit daunting to consider) is this verse from the epic Mahabharata:
The teacher who teaches true knowledge is more important than ten instructors. The father is more important than ten such teachers of true knowledge and the mother is more important than ten such fathers. There is no greater guru than mother. (Mahabharata, Shantiparva, Chapter 30, sloka 9)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Late Summer Gazpacho

We haven't had too many truly hot days this summer here in Venice thanks to the beautiful Pacific breeze, but today is just warm enough that I don't want to spend too much (or any) time around the stove. My solution for a delicious, fresh, simple late-summer dinner- gazpacho! I make no claims of authenticity here, but I do guarantee a yummy, wonderfully improvisable dish that, though it does need a couple hours to chill, is easily thrown together in just a few minutes. I'll tell you how I do it and you can have fun playing with your own creation. I don't really measure anything with this recipe, but taste often to adjust the seasonings and level of spiciness- if you're serving a group of people, I'd err on the side of less spice then serve with hot sauce or diced habanero peppers for everyone to add on their own. Also, this recipe serves about 8 portions for a light dinner, but even if you're cooking for a smaller group it's great to have leftovers for the next day's lunch- I think the soup tastes even better on the second day actually, the extra time chilling really brings out the flavors.

For base (all spices are to taste):
5-6 tomatoes chopped roughly*
2 (14oz) cans tomato juice*
2-3 cloves roughly chopped garlic
1 roughly chopped red onion
chopped chives
cumin seed
fresh basil
cayenne pepper
about 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
 *if you don't have enough fresh tomatoes and/or cans of tomato juice you can also use approximately 3 cans of no salt added diced tomatoes (I've done this in a pinch and the result is still delicious).

Puree all ingredients in blender. Taste then adjust spices according to your taste. Once you've got a base you're happy with add any or all of the following (or anything else that sounds delicious to you):

3-4 diced tomatoes with seeds removed
2 peeled, chopped cucumbers with seeds removed
1 chopped red pepper
1 chopped green pepper
2 stalks celery chopped with leaves removed

Chill for at least 2 hours then serve in chilled bowls and garnish with fresh parsley or avocado (or both) with some nice, crusty bread on the side.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Simple Oatmeal Raspberry Bars

I wanted to bake something easy and yummy to take to the awesome Moms' Group I attend most Fridays and this simple recipe was perfect- it used ingredients that I always have on hand and was fast enough that I could throw it together in the short amount of time between when I woke and when Little One did. I originally found the recipe here but have adapted it over time-- for my version you'll need:

I need to work on my food photography skills.
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (feel free to use all one type of flour; I've discovered that I like the slightly heartier taste that using half whole wheat flour provides)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup rolled oats (I used steel cut oats today as it was all I had and the result was a bit too crunchy for my taste- though everyone else enjoyed them)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup applesauce (unsweetened is best, though if sweetened is all you have you could reduce the brown sugar by 1/4 cup)
1- 1 1/2 cups seedless raspberry jam to taste (any kind of jam or preserves will work here, but if you are using raspberry look for seedless-- I wanted to use an organic kind I had on hand and it tasted great, but the seeds gave it a bit of an annoying texture)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional, but why wouldn't you?) *

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x12 baking pan. In a large bowl mix together the sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, and oats. Cut in the butter and applesauce until there are no large chunks (the mix will be quite crumbly). Press 4 cups of the mixture into the bottom of the baking pan. Spread jam to within 1/4 inch of the edge of the pan. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top of the jam then add the chocolate chips if you like. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the crust is lightly brown at the edges. Wait until completely cool to cut and serve or else risk a crumbly, gooey (but still delicious) mess.

*I realize all my commentary makes this look less than simple, but I promise, this is as easy as baking gets-- well, besides Mark Bittman's sublime, addictive no-knead bread recipe-  but I'll let you discover that on your own.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

I never expected to be raising a child in Los Angeles. Actually, I never really expected to live here at all, but life is funny and I've made more than a few big leaps into the unknown in my time. For me, this city has been an ever-changing panorama of fortuitous, almost cosmic-seeming connections against the vast and sprawling chaotic backdrop of civilization on the end of the earth.

I'm sure I will write more about the complex love I have for this city, but for tonight one beautiful facet shines particularly bright. Los Angeles is a land of transplants, wanderers, dreamers and orphans drawn here seeking fame, fortune, escape, and other ephemeral and intangible pleasures. The sense of hovering on the edge of something-- the continent, the big break, a breakdown-- is always palpable. Some are driven crazy by it, but for others a fierce and fast bond is forged. I fall into the latter camp and am blessed to be a part of an ever-growing tribe of creative, conscious individuals. We have friends here from around the world, each building something-- a theatre company, a business, a school, a family-- and it is this unity in diversity that comforts me, that brings joy to this unexpected home. A favorite quote, one I wrote inside a journal that I carried with me through perhaps my most uncertain and volatile times, seems particularly apt:
 So Oz finally became home; the imagined world became the actual world, as it does for us all, because the truth is that once we have left our childhood places and started out to make our own lives, armed only with what we have and are, we understand that the real secret of the ruby slippers is not that "there's no place like home," but rather that there is no longer such a place as home: except, of course, for the homes we make, or the homes that are made for us, in Oz, which is anywhere and everywhere, except the place from which we began. (Salman Rushdie)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. " Abigail Adams

I can't let the day go by without noting that on this date 90 years ago the 19th amendment to the constitution- guaranteeing the right of women to vote- was finally passed after decades of struggle by thousands of brave (if you have never heard of Alice Paul, you must click here) and determined women. I'm grateful to be a beneficiary of their work and hope that all women can continue to work together until true equality for all is achieved-- for ourselves and for the world our sons and daughters will inherit.

"It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance... and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process." Henry James

I've always  been a dedicated and passionate reader. My connection to the characters and events in books and their authors has, at times, surpassed my connection to the more immediate world around me. As a child, peers mocked me as I read constantly-- at lunch, on the playground, on the bus, under my desk if the teacher's lesson did not hold my interest. Fortunately with my nose buried in another world I was blissfully unaware of the scorn.  In that magical time of freedom, possibility, and ignorance of the judgement of others I fancied myself quite the writer and artist-- in fact, I outlined my future careers as a trifecta of A's: I would be a successful Actress and Artist in my youth, then as I aged become an Author, recounting the stories of my eccentric and interesting life.

This was how it was until the hyper-awareness of adolescence set in. As it tends to do, puberty and all its awkwardness struck with a force for which I was unprepared. Confidence, arrogance even, in my abilities gave way to supreme doubt and the desire to blend in. Where once I was eager to show off my creative endeavors, I withdrew deeply, harshly judging myself and what had come to seem silly projects and aspirations. I went so far as to destroy stories I had written and paintings I had completed (a practice not at all without precedent it seems) so embarrassed was I by their juvenile nature. Where before this phase the books I read inspired me to create my own, during, and for a long time after, they became imposing and untouchable monoliths. Each writer whose voice I treasured, every story in which I became invested, convinced me further that everything I had to say had already been said, and much more eloquently, by the masters I most admired.

This blog as I've mentioned is my attempt to maintain joy in the process- of living, mothering, and yes, finally, writing. I became a bit distracted yesterday (you'll notice there was no new post) as I got wrapped up in reading other blogs I like and researching some new ones. Old doubts and comparisons filled my head- this one looks prettier, this one is funnier, this one has 10,000 readers...

Fortunately, through the practice of meditation, I've learned, slowly, to step outside these habituated patterns of self-critical thinking. Mothering, as well, has given me the opportunity to think often about the practices and perspectives I want to model for my daughter. I thought about the way I will counsel her when she comes to me someday with the same self-doubt I was experiencing. Of course I will offer nothing but encouragement and the advice to let go of comparisons for the sake of the process of creating-- and I realized, if I want her to take me seriously (or better, to not have to go through that kind of self-doubt) I have to live what I speak. So after a day of inner conflict, re-inspired, re-committed, I am back and aim to continue on for the sake of the process once again...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Super Easy Berry Ice Cream

I came out of a much-needed meditation this evening with an intense craving for ice cream (for those of you who know me, this is not unusual). Fortunately for Father's Day Little One and I gave my husband an ice cream maker (he loves ice cream even more than I do so this was not a completely selfish gift). Usually I go for slightly more complicated and time-consuming custard based recipes, but today I needed my frozen sweetness now. I improvised the recipe and worked with what I had on hand, but the result was pretty delicious so I thought I'd share...

For about 1 1/2 quarts you'll need:

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups frozen berries (whatever you fancy will work; I used Trader Joes Organic mix of raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. You could use fresh berries instead but they must be chilled- if they're at room temperature you'll want to puree them then refrigerate for an hour or two before blending with the other ingredients or else the ice cream will be very liquid-y)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch salt

In blender combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Pour into ice cream maker following manufacturer's instructions. Because I used frozen berries the mix was pretty close to ice cream consistency before I even put it into the ice cream maker so if you don't have one you could probably just put the mix in the freezer for an hour or two and then enjoy, though it will get a bit hard. If you do use a machine you probably won't have to churn the mix as long as you normally would since it is partially frozen to begin with. Enjoy!

Magic Number

Little One is 108 days old today! I'm not typically one to go in for numerology and the like (or counting days for that matter), but the number 108 and its significance to so many traditions and belief systems has always fascinated me. I was familiar with a few of the allusions to the number in Vedic traditions-- for example: there is a belief that each individual has a spiritual family of 108 other individuals; the Upanishads, Sanskrit stories and philosophical texts on the nature of existence and consciousness, are often numbered at 108; there are 108 beads on the mala, or prayer beads, used in various eastern faiths. Also, 108 figured often in the wild puzzle and madness that was Lost. I did a bit more research for this post and discovered that:

*The distance between the Earth and moon is 108 times the diameter of the moon and the distance between Earth and the sun is 108 times the diameter of the sun.

*In Hinduism each deity is believed to have 108 names.
Map of Ayurvedic marmas

*In Tibetan Buddhism there are believed to be 108 obstacles, or impurities, to be overcome on the path to nirvana.

*In Ayurvedic medicine there are 108 marmas, or vital points, on the body.

*108 suitors covet the wife of Odysseus, Penelope, in Homer's Odyssey.

*A baseball has 108 stitches.

 *In 1961, Yuri Gagarin, the first man is space, completed an orbit of the earth in 108 minutes.

*108 is a Harshad number- a number that is divisible by the sum of its digits. Harshad comes from the Sanskrit word for "great joy."

So I don't know exactly what all of this means, but the nerd in me loves finding patterns and coincidences. Also, in spending far too much time thinking about this one number I realized that at 108 days out in the world, Little One is almost exactly one year from the date she would have been conceived! Harshad indeed!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shameless self promotion follows...

This blog does not exist to try to sell anything I promise! However, as I have a forum (and am not inspired to do any real writing at the moment) I figured it couldn't hurt to link anyone who is interested to the little shop of organic cotton baby onesies I designed (though on the site you can order the design on adult clothing or tote bags as well).  You may like to check it out if anyone you know has/is having a baby. The idea came purely out of boredom while Little One was going through a growth spurt and doing nothing but nursing- luckily my computer is small and I've become quite skilled at multi-tasking while feeding her! Anyway that is all the advertising I will be doing... Happy Sunday everyone!

A Vaccine for Stress?

Sitting on an airplane recently I passed the time reading Wired and its fascinating article on the nature of stress and the search for a cure. Because of my teaching I was very familiar with the specific process of the stress response and its potential long-term deleterious effects, but I was interested to read about the evidence that the stress response is more dangerous over time to people who feel they have no power or importance in professional and social hierarchies. The article closes with an almost despair-inducing observation: "We tell our kids that life isn’t fair, but we fail to mention that the unfairness can be crippling, that many of us will die because of where we were born."

To combat this inherent unfairness the scientist the article focuses on, Robert Sapolsky, is in the process of researching and developing a vaccine-like treatment for the stress response. This goal is noble, I think, and I am fully supportive of any breakthroughs that can improve the quality of life for people in need. However, and the article touches on this as well, stress is a societal problem. The existential despair of individuals who feel they lack power or significance comes in large part from a society that does not value individuals in and of themselves. It is compounded by the emphasis on material acquisition and financial success. The fact that each person, no matter their social, economic or professional status, is a fully conscious, whole and unique individual with a specific role to play in the universal drama of life as we know it, is rarely recognized.

The upside to all of this is that each of us actually does have more power than we realize and we don't necessarily need a vaccine to awaken it. For me, meditation provides a brief glimpse of the calm, quiet, vast nature of consciousness as a whole-- the ultimate antidote to existential despair. Creating something,breathing deeply, sitting quietly in a beautiful spot in nature or amidst a seething throng of fellow humans may be the answer for you. Try it all until you find what works and when the time comes to speak to a child, our own or any other we may interact with, perhaps we'll be able to offer a bit more wisdom than "life is unfair," and in so doing, help change the future of our society for the better for all.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"[...]all the golden land's ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you're alive to see[.]"

When I was 13 I was in love with Jack Kerouac (that's his quote from On the Road above)-- or at least my imagined idea of him- from many reports he wasn't exactly the catch I envisioned . He grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts close to where I was raised in New Hampshire yet managed to escape to a life of adventure, iconoclasm, and prolific creative output. I devoured his novels, intoxicated by his heady stream of consciousness writing and counting the days til I could begin my own nomadic wandering.

With Jack on my mind my husband, Little One and I recently took off on a road trip of our own. Dear friends of ours were moving from LA to Portland and asked if we would drive one of their cars north. They have a daughter of the same age as ours so we knew it work out well traveling caravan-style and following the babies' schedules. While not exactly Kerouac's benzene-fueled thrill ride (double lattes and acai energy drinks were our drugs of choice) the trip was a soul- (and belly) nourishing adventure-- a reminder of the importance of the journey over the destination.

We took it easy on the trip, stopping often to feed the babies, change diapers, stretch legs and enjoy some delicious off-the-beaten track meals. A few highlights if you find yourself hitting the road on the Pacific Coast anytime soon:

Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream in San Francisco: handmade unusual ice cream and sorbets; everything from signature flavor "Secret Breakfast" (bourbon and corn flakes) to Szechuan Strawberry. Sal Paradise would approve.

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse near Mendocino: we stopped to stretch our legs and walk the dogs and were amazed by this working lighthouse on a cliff below which seals lay on the rocks. There are several charming Victorian houses, picnic tables and trails to walk along. We saw deer grazing in the tall grass and played in a field of dandelions with the babies.

Restaurant 301 at the Carter House Inn in Eureka: somehow this lovely restaurant did not mind that we arrived at nearly 10pm dressed in hoodies with babies in tow delirious with hunger after hours and hours on the road. The wine list alone made us dizzy. We had to eat in shifts (mamas fed the babes in the beautiful parlor while the papas ate, then the papas took over so the mamas could enjoy) but I would go to far greater lengths to enjoy steak like that again.

The Carson Mansion in Eureka: we passed by this bit of Victorian grotesquerie while we went in search of dinner after a very long drive. It looked haunted and inviting at once against a starless coastal sky.

Jamison Park
in Portland: the spot to be with kids in PDX. There's an awesome water feature and Cool Moon Creamery for ice cream right across the street.

Of course these are just suggestions and I know when we do the trip again we'll find all new hidden gems. The road trip is the perfect living metaphor for how I want to live and what Kerouac enlivened within me years ago: the knowledge that the journey is the thing-- being awake and open to every new place and moment, not attached to where you wind up, but alive to everything you see and feel along the way.

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth...not going all the way, and not starting.” (Buddha)

Beginnings are a challenge for me. Too often I have been overwhelmed by the scope of a project, the potential for failure, the imagined criticism of others and allowed myself to remain frozen at that first step, first brush stroke, first word typed. The ultimate experience of this came as I was anticipating the birth of my daughter. I sat in my very touchy-feel-y, super-supportive childbirth preparation class tasked with creating an image of my greatest fear about birth. In an instant I realized that birth was not the thing I feared. Not the pain, the power of it, the helplessness to a process beyond my control-- no, that was purely physical, that I could handle. Instead I had a moment of utter panic as I realized that my deepest fear was of failing at motherhood, the ultimate project, the one that will last the rest of my life. A thousand scenarios played out in my head, a hundred thousand doubts followed.

Besides mothering my other role in life is as a teacher of Vedic meditation. I teach people a practice designed to provide experiences of deep inner rest in order to better prepare them to adapt with grace to all the pressures of everyday life-- in other words to decompress daily to allow for a more present, moment-by-moment awareness of each day. As each day for me is also a practice to live what I teach I was humbled by the depth of the fear that I felt in awaiting my daughter's arrival.

While I can't say it has disappeared completely, in the 106 days since Little One's arrival, that fear has subsided. An infant is the purest picture of in-the-moment awareness. She may wail as though her heart is broken in one instant and beam the brightest smile in the next. To take it all in does not allow too much time for worry for the future or regret of the past.

My intention for this blog is to share some of what I am learning, to stay focused on the process of mothering, teaching, learning, creating and to have an ongoing discussion with all who share this path.