Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beauty as Spiritual Practice

The Sacred Ordinary is on pilgrimage for the next 40 days.

You can come along on the journey at:  Beauty as Spiritual Practice

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Going Away and Coming Home

When your shirt gets a stain, you should take it off and apply a product called Stain Stick.  If the stain is really bad, people who know about these things will have solutions.  Solutions in which the shirt can be soaked to regain its original fresh quality.

That's what Mel and I did recently.  We soaked ourselves in a solution of surreal aquamarine.  We took our eyeballs out of their crusty grey sockets and dipped them in three shades of diamond-studded Carribean blue.  We filled our ears with the sound of lapping waves and chiming tree frogs.

In Antigua our room had no clock.  We told time by the rising and setting of the sun.  We knew it was breakfast time when we heard the distant clatter of plates, lunch time when we smelled fish or lasagna, and cocktail time all day long.  No duties were required of us, and the only reason to leave a beach chair was to get another book to read.  (or another rum drink)

Antigua is a meditation on color.  We gazed on popsicle blue, snow-cone blue, Paralandra blue, the not-to-be-believed blueish green famous from 1970s backyard swimming pools.  Purple-throated hummingbirds drink from red bougainvillaea blossoms.  Yellow-throated warblers sip from our orange juice glasses.  Little lizards lounge with us in the sun, and mango trees bear fruit in the middle of the cemetery.

Unlike Dorothy in Oz, I do not want to go home to Kansas.

When we return to National Airport, our ears are clogged and we're struggling at the late hour to understand baggage claim directions.  It's unnaturally cold and the car must be found from a distant lot.  I am desperate to get to bed by 2 am on account of early morning appointments.

Then the usual route home shocks me with beauty.  We drive past the Washington Monument, and Memorial Bridge's brilliant night view of the Jefferson Memorial.  Kennedy Center is mirrored in the Potomac River, and we pass our beloved Washington Cathedral.

I'm surprised more by the gentle joy of familiar street names.  Upton, Macomb, Van Ness.  The sweetness of knowing that Jeanne, Linda or Andrea live in the houses we pass, and contentment as we park in front of the stone and stucco house with red numbers on the door, and come home.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Monkey Bowl

I knew I'd find it eventually.

The monkey bowl is tiny - the perfect size for a spoonful of nuts or maybe three olives.  Nine years ago I bought it for my mother.  It was the perfect present for someone surrounded by a lifetime of precious chotchkies.  She could have a little snack from it while reading.

The monkey theme is imbedded in our mother-daughter psyche.  There used to be a photograph of my teenaged mother in short pajamas.  Her long leg is exposed, and she's holding a toy monkey - the same one I played with as a four-year-old visiting grandparents.  I stared at the picture, trying to discern if this person, as I had been told, used to be a child.  I wish I still had the monkey and the beguiling photograph.

When the time came to empty my mother's house, I painstakingly combed through several lifetimes of cherished items, separating them into things to donate, share or keep.  The monkey bowl came home with us, along with four carloads of albums, dishes, tablecloths, candle sticks, lamps, rugs and many many plants.

If you would like some plants, I will arrange an honorarium in my mother's memory for each one you take.  Attic items are also available.

I have an Attic Rule, that is sometimes kept.  Every time something is brought to the upper story warehouse, something must be brought down for charity.  When I manage to bring down an armful of things I am promised a good karma day.

Today I climbed the steep stairs to get the tea kettle for our trip and the hat box caught my eye.  The only reason for hanging onto this old fashioned box was out of deference to its journey from my grandmother's Ohio attic to my mother's Maryland one.  I didn't want to break the chain.

When I peaked in the box, I found a straw hat that might be nice at the beach.  I pulled out the hat and found, safe and sound, the sweet monkey bowl, which had traveled safe and sound to its Veazey Street home.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Drawing Part Two

This morning I stacked dishes on the drainboard.  Along with the dormant orchid was a tower of coffee mugs, blender parts, salad spinner, coffee carafe.  I didn't put any of it away because it looked marvelous as it was.  A still life of exposed roots, cutting board and cups. 

Beginning this January I'm doing a small sketch most days.  I've wanted to do this for a long time, but had a list of reasons not to.  (I suck at drawing.  I'll do it in the summer.  It's a selfish way to spend spare time.  People will think I'm insane.  Um.  Paper and pencils are expensive.)

Then I came up with a list of reasons to draw:

  1. I want to.
  2. Lorna says sometimes we need to do those things we do badly in order to become whole.
  3. I want to create a sketch diary of my life.
  4. I can't figure out how the camera on my cell phone works.
  5. I want to draw as spiritual practice.
  6. I want to become so good at drawing that I can learn to paint.
  7. And fill my home with beautiful paintings.
  8. And sell them.
  9. And become famous.
Some of these are more compelling than others, so it took the last one to give myself permission to draw.

    10.  Analyzing angles and perspective would exercise my aging brain.

I feel increasing creakiness in my gray matter.  Words that won't come.  Forgotten names and places.  An event my husband swears happened years ago.  Instead of doing Sudokos or learning Spanish I will map out distances, observe shadows and learn shading.  Drawing will be an anti-dementia investment so that my family will have fewer years of chin wiping and nursing home visitations. 

I will combine Cerebral Core Work with Spiritual Practice.

Today I'm sketching a wedge of cheese and practicing gratitude for all I have, offering prayer that no one goes hungry, animals will not be mistreated, the earth will not be poisoned with pesticides and humans will not deform the atmosphere. 

I give myself permission to do all of this with a #2 pencil and scrap of paper.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Christmas Future and Existential Questions

I used to feel that I was going to live to be 100.  After all, some people live that long.  I eat right, exercise, and have not only loving relationships but good cholesteral.  I thought I might go back to school.   Get a PhD in something other than music just so I wouldn't end up being 92 and bored.  But I don't like writing papers, following teachers' instructions or writing checks for $200,000, so I reconsidered.

Then my father died of a heart attack at 72 and my mother died of lung cancer at 69.  They both had non-smoking, low fat, good exercise life styles.

I'm 52.  It's possible I have 20 years more to live.  or 17.  or 40.  or 1.  Maybe I have just this month or just this minute.  It makes a difference!  I like to plan ahead.

I like planning ahead so much that at any given time our refrigerator has two weeks worth of menus posted under a magnet.  Menus carefully designed to use the fresh produce from the refrigerator, rotate frozen items, and follow up with specific leftovers.

Just this morning I made my shopping list for Christmas Black Cake.  That would be for Christmas 2012.  I called La Cuisine to determine if they will have glace cherries and citron in the summer, or if I should stock them now since the fruit traditionally marinates in rum and wine for six months.  This recipe comes via cookbook author, Laurie Colwin, who writes,

"There is fruitcake and there is black cake, which is to fruitcake what Brahms piano quartets are to Muzak.  Its closest relatives are plum pudding and black bun, but they are mere third cousins twice removed.  Black cake, like truffles and vintage Burgundy, is deep, complicated, and intense.  It is light and dense at the same time and demands to be eaten in a slow, meditative way."

None of this answers my Big Existential Question about how long I will live and how to plan my life, but I certainly hope to make it to next Christmas!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

There is an unofficial theory that how we spend our time on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day will set the tone for how we spend the year.  i.e. eating healthy black eyed peas on January 1 encourages good eating habits.

I've long ago ruled out noisy parties and hangovers.

This year's 48 hour menu includes:

Loving Family and Friends
Nice Food and Drink
Toasty Fire
Challenging and Rewarding Work
Books to Read
Yoga and Walking
Giving and Receiving Gifts

Can housework wait until 2013?

How are you bringing in the New Year?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best Books of 2011

The Sacred Ordinary Best of 2011 Reading List. 

These books were not published in 2011 - they are just the most splendidly written books that I happened to snuggle up with during the year. 


I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
Here if You Need Me - Kate Braestrup
     Moving recollections of the author's sensitive work as chaplain during search and rescue operations for the Maine Warden Service.
36 Views of Mount Fuji - Cathy N. Davidson
     An armchair visit to Japan through an American writer's eyes.
Making Toast - Roger Rosenblatt
     A writer/grandfather accounts family life after the unexpected death of his daughter.
Broken Vessels - Andre Dubus
     see July post:  The woman with one and one half legs
Meditations from a Moveable Chair - Andre Dubus
     ditto above
Truth and Beauty - Ann Patchett
     The story of her unusual relationship with Lucy Grealy


Room - Emma Donoghue
State of Wonder - Ann Patchett
Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese


The Field - Lorna Cahall


The Writing Life - Annie Dillard
Unless It Moves The Human Heart - Roger Rosenblatt
The Memoir Project - Marion Roach Smith