Monday, December 26, 2011
Breakfast. Deep sigh, then another deep sigh. As I reached hungrily for the baguette and Humbolt Fog cheese, I stopped, placed my hands palms up on the table and closed my eyes and took several more deep breathes, in, and out, in, and out. From inside my dominant feeling of being rushed and tired, I suddenly fell head long into gratitude. It surprised me, it usually feels like being grateful, taking that moment to say thank you at a meal is something you do and then you feel. This moment came from another direction, it was as if the gratitude was circling around the room and demanded that I pay attention, pushing my hands to stop, my attention to go to my breathing. It felt like a gift, this cosmic invitation to that warmest, most meaningful of feelings: to be present in the moment.
My breakfast was a perfect meal. Canned peaches from the summer, a cheese that tastes of my California roots, a salad of bitter chicory, bread and water.
Through the meal, the sole moment I was likely to find in the day, the presence of gratitude was enveloping. Beauty and gratitude often travel together. It was in part my determination to have a simple but truly beautiful picnic breakfast that invited such a moment of gratitude. Slapping all the ingredients together into a sandwich and eating while I drove was one option for the morning. It would have been delicious, all the same ingredients, and I would have loved it. But I could not have been in the moment, driving, eating, listening to the radio, going over my to do list in my head. Sitting at the table, making the effort to find a functional, contemplative moment proved more nourishing than I could have anticipated.
Later in the week when Coral got pneumonia and Colby needed to go to the hospital for a strong virus that severely dehydrated her, I kept coming back to that still moment, that surprising day I had gratitude for breakfast.
The Gratitude Breakfast is a reminder to savor the quiet moments, to calm and still where and when you can. It provided me a fond and immediate memory to call on when my stress and concern for my children were mounting. Calm and gratitude are there for us, any moment we remembered, and feel.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
How much of life do we learn at the table? How to eat and chew and swallow solid food. How to use a fork, chopsticks, our fingers, bread and spoon. How to recognize social nuance, the changes in tone, how to elevate and support gaiety and conviviality. How to give thanks, appreciate and be appreciated. We learn how to take our seat, claim our space, walk the balance between being independent, self sufficient and yet part of the collective, the whole.
There is a phase of early toddler hood where the child wants to do everything themselves, even though they can't quite do it yet. And that is why they want to, they must try in order to learn. To master drinking from a glass each human must spill many, many glasses. Part of being a parent is tolerating the time and the mess, the frustration and the exalted satisfaction of learning.
Colby has just entered this phase. I wasn't sure what was happening at first. We sat down to dinner as we always do, the bowl between us, the fork more to my side than hers. We held hands and said thank you and then, her favorite part, our raucous cheers.
I went to feed her the first forkful and she pursed her lips and moved her head away, leaning back in her chair. She is often time consuming to feed, she is never in a hurry, which I enjoy, it keeps us all at the table rather than rushing through a meal. She likes things in a certain order, but you never know what the order will be. She only recently started reaching for her glass when she wants water and that was a huge hallelujah moment, not having to guess, having her tell you what she wants.
I took a forkful of something else and she pursed her lips. Over and over. I was done with my meal by now. Coral then finished. Finally, Colby reached onto her plate, picked up a piece of meat with her whole palm and put it in her mouth. She turned to me with a triumphant gaze and I saw in a lightening bolt of recognition: she wanted to feed herself. She is six and a half. We have never had this moment.
Sometimes she will feed herself but it is more of a "I really want that raisin so I'll pick it up and get it myself" direction of the will. This dinner was the first time she would not eat until she was in control. She had reached a major developmental milestone. Had she been two it would have been immediately recognizable, the turning away, the pursed lips, the refusal until in control.
A very tall child with braids to her waist and missing front teeth, it took quite a while for me to make the connection. My body rushed with adrenaline, my heart filled with pride and the disbelief all parents feel when you actually see your child change before your very eyes.
I put several pieces of food in a row on the table in front of her. She ate quickly, decisively, smiling with her cheeks full of food. She was extremely pleased. Pleased with her ability and I feel like too with her ability to communicate her desire.
That is one of the challenges with a child who is developing outside the time line of a pediatric checklist of milestones. You never know when you are going to see the emergence of a skill, or if you ever will.
At the table I learned something. I learned to always keep my mind open. I learned to look each day at these growing children and say, "Who are you today?" What do you need? What do you want? How do I support you in your path of learning, around this table, in this life we share together? I learned again the beautiful relief in independence, of knowing the child you are raising can in part, or in full, know what they want, and get it.
Friday, December 9, 2011
photo, Coral wearing an apron from Zene
I wear an apron every day. I have about twenty. And all but two were given to me by The Crazy Apron Lady, aka Zene, my best friend. Our friendship started on an oppressively hot day in kindergarten. The playground was a kidney shaped sandbox with a concrete path around the periphery, a track for riding tricycles. There was a bridge over one section of the track, and under that, the sole rectangle of shade. The mornings were cold and all the kids wore knee socks with their Buster Browns. By mid-morning recess, it was scalding. The sand and concrete and sky all a blinding white. I would take refuge under the bridge where the foggy night and morning dew were still trapped in the sand.
Eventually, Zene and I both claimed the rectangle of shade under the bridge. Our mothers were friends and forced us together, and in what may have been our first parallel rebellion, we insisted on not liking each other. Then one scalding mid-morning recess, Zene and I locked eyes and wordlessly, surreptitiously unbuckled our shoes, peeled off our clam-y socks, and sunk our feet into the cool sand.
It was ecstasy. Childhood is composed of so many sensory memories, perhaps because children can be in the moment to a degree that is so hard for us as adults. Or maybe because childhood is full of first times. I remember my first giant, spiral lollipop, at a market in Mexico, it was larger than my face: the feeling of a burning wish fulfilled. Or the first time riding a bike, the first nightmare, the first fancy dress, the first time you write your name in cursive.
Our ecstasy was extremely short lived. The teachers spotted us in moments and we were in trouble. It was strictly forbidden to take your shoes off in the sandbox, probably for a good reason, like broken glass. We duly bowed our heads as we received our punishment: the rest of recess inside the classroom, playing with Lincoln Logs. But we were smiling. The moment of cool, of exquisite relief, Lincoln Logs were a small price for joy.
And that has been our friendship: the pursuit of beauty, exquisite moments, joy. Even if it meant breaking the rules. In high school, while other girls were ditching class to go home and drink Kahlua and watch soap operas, we ditched on the days that were too beautiful to sit inside all day. We were in Carmel, CA. The beauty on a clear, warm day was almost laughable, absurdly, impossibly gorgeous. To the south, rolling green hills dotted with Oak trees, to the west, the glittering, sapphire blue Pacific Ocean. It was impossible for us not to go be in the day, just as impossible as keeping our socks on in kindergarten.
So we ditched. And we buried our feet in the sand again, and felt the sun relaxing every muscle, browning Zene and freckling me. We studied the horizons of our childhood. How the rocks at Point Lobos looked like a dragon laying his chin in the water. How the Pebble Beach Golf Course buildings, sand traps and trees composed to look like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. We walked and collected shells. We took long deep breaths and savored the beauty, we loved life. We took a break from the anxiety and horror of adolescence and high school and were free, like the kids we still in part were.
Now, Zene and I are thousands of miles apart. We no longer ditch to go to the beach, though if we were still there I am sure we would. We no longer dance together after school in the ballet studio for hours and hours a day. We no longer know every thing the other is thinking all day every day. We are still best friends. Every time we are together my heart fills with my oldest, longest sense of complicity, joy, mischievousness, connection, love, hope and beauty. With her I feel impervious to heart break. I feel safe.
Even at this distance, Zene fills every day with beauty, in memories of course, but in the physical as well, through the exquisite collection of aprons she has given me and my girls over the years. Every day I put one on and I think of her. Everyday she makes the moment more lovely and fun. Every day our friendship protects me: the humble apron, the full heart.
photo, crab stencil graffiti found in Ithaca, NY
Craig has been traveling for work for several weeks at a time. He is doing awesome work and we are fairing well at home, but it is hard some of the time. Long nights, lots of chores, two kids, holidays: I miss my partner. I miss laughing together, holding hands, sharing the chores, and taking turns getting up in the night. And his cooking, I miss that too. Though when he is gone is practically the only time I get to practice my own dinners, to see what I have learned from all the time observing, freshen up my latent skills, try things.
I also like seeing what the girls need of me in Craig's absence.
Coral is as moody as anyone, but as with most children, her mood can be lifted in an instant. When she is crabby she asks Craig to "shake her crabs out." He lifts her and holds her upside down and shakes, as if she were a bushel of apples being emptied, and exclaims "look at all those crabs shaking out!" He makes the sound of hundreds of little crab legs scuttling across the floor and shouts out where they are going, "down the heater vent, out the front door, hiding under the chairs!" Soon, Coral's crabs and scowls are gone and we are all laughing. When Craig is gone and I ask her if she is feeling crabby, she shoots me a scowl-y smile and I do my best to hoist her up and shake the crabs out.
One night, when I was crabby, Craig shook my crabs out with this pasta. And in his absence, I managed to pull it off myself on a night that was grey, freezing cold and me and the girls were all feeling a little worn out and crabby. It is joyously good, the essence of sea in the economical amount of crab, the land in the pasta, and the sunshine in the scallions. Enjoy!
As we live in Central New York state, it's a luxury to get frozen crab meat from a small company in Maine. No crabs in the lake here! If this dish was being made in California I'd substitute fresh, live Dungeness!
You will need:
A container of crab meat (look for a company harvesting crab sensibly ie, not trawling)
As many scallions as you like. Green part slivered, white parts quartered length-wise, then finely diced
1 garlic clove, smashed and chopped
3 anchovy filets. Rinse if using oil packed. Rinse and filet if using salt packed (better!)
An avocado quartered and sliced into 1/2" chunks
Fresh mint leaves (a light handful) slivered
Some parsley leaves
Penne or other Italian dried pasta you love
Start a large pot of salted water to boil.
Pour a few glugs of olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, toss in the anchovies and mash with a fork until they've melted into the oil. Add a few grinds of black pepper. Remove pan from heat and turn the heat down to medium. Put the white parts of the scallions and the garlic clove into the anchovy oil and cook until just softened. Add the crab meat and stir to incorporate the other ingredients. Remove the skillet from heat.
By now the water should be boiling, add the pasta to the water and cook until just al dente. Using a spider, transfer the pasta to the pan with the crab/scallion mix. Add a couple ladles of the hot pasta water and mix with wooden spoons over medium-high heat until the liquid is almost all gone. Toss in the scallion greens, the avocado (save a few pieces to put on top) and the mint. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice and toss the pasta some more. Add the parsley leaves on to for a visual element and serve hot from the pan!