Balancing

I stand in the doorway and try to balance on one leg—first the right, then the left. I’ve been instructed to do this by the physical therapist who is helping me regain strength and balance after my hip replacement last fall. I breathe evenly, let go of the door frame, focus on one spot, and …wobble. Try again. And again and gradually a degree of stillness descends and I stand for 20 seconds, 30, more. I end by planting both my feet and standing tall with arms raised overhead breathing deeply and rooting into the ground.

How do I find that balance point internally? Pausing. Resting. I try to meditate and my mind flits and darts and swoops. Even my body won’t be still—I scratch my nose, shift my posture, stretch out my achy knee.

I go for a walk, try to still my mind and just notice, listen, see, smell, and for brief moments I’m there, in the moment. Signs of spring are everywhere. Sap buckets on the maple trees. Crocuses and snowdrops blooming. Trees beginning to show buds. Most of the snow is gone. Light lingers later in the day.

Home again, on the couch, computer in my lap, trying to write. The living room grows dark around me. The cat visits briefly, an ice pack chills my achy knee, I pause, let one moment flow into the next. No words for now.

stand in the doorway, balance, touch down, and balance again.

Small comforts

“I was thinking about comfort—how we comfort ourselves,” I said to a friend over Saturday morning coffee. “Small things. A favorite sweater. Comfort food. Friends.”

“Does it work?” she asked.

“A little. For a moment.”

Our talk had veered, as it often does, toward the perilous state of the world, each of us relating things we’d read in various news sources. I’d also been talking about difficulties at work and how I was starting to feel burned out from dealing with it all.

Small comforts. A silk scarf that once belonged to my friend Fran; a soft, warm Alpaca scarf that Mary gave me; colorful, dangly earrings from Trish; a pair of blue earrings that my sister and I chose together at a crafts gallery near her home in England. Each time I look in the mirror or touch the earrings or scarf, my friends and sister are with me.

Or I’ll wear a sweater that I knit one long cold winter, my only successful attempt at knitting a garment for myself. Whenever I wear it, I think of my mother who taught me to knit. The sweaters and afghans she made warmed us for years—one of her afghans still does wrap me on winter evenings.

Comfort. Taking care. Resting. Coming to center. This week, I committed to spending time writing in the morning rather than dropping immediately into news and Facebook. To honor this I’m sitting at the dining table, looking out at the chilly winter landscape rather than sprawling on my couch as I do most mornings. I pause frequently, staring out at trees, sun, blue sky—nothing moving, no breeze, no birds for this moment although they’ll come eventually. Still. Quiet.

My posture shifts. Elbows rest on the table, hands clasp together, chin rests on hands. I’m not religious but there’s comfort in this posture that’s old and familiar.

Tomorrow, I’ll meet my friend again for another Saturday morning coffee date. We’re both walking through our days with anger, frustration, fear simmering just below the surface and these feelings will bubble into the conversation. But we’ll also check in, buoy each other up.

I might say that crocuses are starting to poke through the leaf mold in img_0647front of the house. Or describe the snow castle that neighborhood kids sculpted out of the dirty pile of snow on the corner. I’ll tell her about the guided meditation we followed in the meditation group last Sunday, one of Tara Brach’s meditations for quieting the mind, the suggestion to “Make yourself at home in the flow of the present moment.”

The flow of the present moment. We breathe in, breathe out, let go, keep going.

Snow has been falling all day

I often resist winter, both psychically and physically. I go for a walk and feel all my muscles tightening up as I hunch into my coat, shoulders raised against the cold. I run errands and penguin walk across icy pavements. I grumble and complain about the cold and the dark and the sleet/snow/freezing rain. February can be especially tough with its first slight hints of spring—stronger sun, a change in bird call—overwhelmed by repeated storms.

I wrote that first paragraph earlier in the week, intending to post something on Wednesday or Thursday. But then I saw the news about Elizabeth Warren being silenced—my senator essentially being told to sit down, shut up, stop making a fuss. The news rendered me speechless. Ironic, eh?

A post about winter seemed irrelevant and I couldn’t think of anything to post that would add to the conversation. Then I remembered this image, which was conceived by my friends Paul and Fran over ten years ago in response to the flag becoming more and more a symbol of unquestioning patriotism.dissent

Embrace democracy, it says. Such a positive action. Every time I look at the news, scroll through my Facebook news feed I get riled up. But I can’t spend every moment with my shoulders hunched and mind spinning.There’s work to be done–phone calls to make, letters to write. Pay attention, I tell myself, stay informed, question, act when and how I can. Embrace.

Today, it’s snowing. Yesterday I bought apples at the winter farmer’s market and brightly colored primroses at the garden store. This morning I had breakfast with friends and drove home as the snow began to fall. It’s now 3:30 and snow has been falling since 10 a.m. The cat has emerged from her duvet nest and is curled in my lap. I have a mug of hot chocolate on the table next to me. Birds flit to the feeders, my next door neighbor pulls a sled loaded with two grinning toddlers bundled in bright parkas, the primroses glow against the snowy scene out the window. 

Thinking about my mom

This winter I’ve been wearing my mother’s nightgown. Loose and soft, it flows along my body to mid-calf. I don’t know why I brought it back from mom’s house after she died over 20 years ago, although I do remember feeling sad and hurt when I saw it tossed aside at the end of the estate sale. I usually don’t wear nightgowns. My typical winter sleepwear is a silky long underwear top and flannel PJ bottoms but ever since my hip replacement operation this past fall, the nightgown has been my bedtime garment. Practical, comfortable, comforting.

I’ve been thinking about mom a lot over the past weeks and months, wondering how she would have responded to a woman running for president and to the final outcome of the election. I hope she would have supported Mrs. Clinton, although I’m not sure she would have, and I know she’d be horrified by Mr. Trump.

I thought of her when I recently donated money to Planned Parenthood. She regularly gave them money because she believed in access to women’s health care, including access to safe abortions. When she was a young married woman she’d supported two friends through recoveries from illegal abortions. She felt strongly that no woman should have to go through that.

My mother was a housewife and homemaker, a staunch Republican until the first Iraq war pushed her to vote for Mr. Clinton. We had some tense discussions when I was in my 20s because she thought my feminism was disrespectful of the choices she’d made, the life she’d led. And although I declared that I DID respect her, on some level she was right—there was an edge of dismissal in my rejection of her chosen path.

There’s a lot of my mother in me and much more to say about her and about us. But for now, just this musing as I sit here on the couch with the nightgown layered over my flannel PJ bottoms for morning warmth and I look out at blue sky and the beginning of a chilly February day.

And this is the challenge…

Five in the afternoon on a rainy, chilly late January day. The day began with freezing rain and sleet layered an inch deep. I worked from home today, which helped me get a tedious task done, but has left me feeling restless. I do some dishes, make hot chocolate, settle back on the couch with the laptop. My living room is warmly lit, dining table cluttered, trees barely visible out the back window against the quickly darkening sky. Running in the back of my mind is a list of tasks not done—bills to pay, a resume to update, a sympathy card to write.

This morning I heard the scrape of snow shovel on pavement and looked out the window to see my next door neighbor and his 2-year-old son shoveling my front walk, the 2-year-old bundled up in fleece, and a wooly hat, and boots, bashing the icy snow with his shovel. A kind gesture—snow shoveling is not recommended for someone with a newly installed hip.

img_0630Just a few days ago, on a warm, sunny day, I took part in a local march and rally that echoed and supported the Women’s March in Washington. An exhilarating day. Throughout the day I stayed in touch via text and email with friends and family around the country doing the same thing, marching, rallying, representing.

Today my Facebook newsfeed is filled with dire reports about executive actions; Cabinet picks; presidential temper tantrums; requests for phone calls, letter writing, donations. I want to act, keep the momentum going, and at the same time I feel overwhelmed, heartsick, deeply afraid. The exhilaration of Saturday fades.

I stand outside, stretch, breathe deeply in the cold, damp air. Daily life goes on. I work and remind myself that the work I do, even the tedious tasks, benefits children, brings kindness and respect for learning to the classroom. I connect with friends near and far. I welcome kindness and look for opportunities to give in return. It’s not enough but it’s a start.

And this is the challenge, isn’t it? To stay grounded in our ordinary lives, to hold on to hope where we can find it, to build out and up from there.

Silence and connection

Sitting on the couch looking out at evergreens and gray sky. The microwave beeping at me to let me know my oatmeal is ready. The cat sitting on a chair staring at me, telling me she’s ready for any food I might pass her way.

I hear the furnace blower forcing hot air up through the vents, the microwave letting me know breakfast is ready, a car passing by. But there are no other voices, except the cat’s occasional cry. No radio on, no music. There have been times when I’d get up in the morning and turn on NPR or a morning talk show on TV. But these days I crave silence in the morning. Later, after work, I’ll turn on the TV or cue up a video, tap into Pandora, call up a friend for a long rambling chat. But mornings, I want to just be. To wake up slowly, let my mind drift, let the world emerge. I told myself I’d let writing percolate this week, but the bubbles are rising slowly, without much energy.

What’s one word you carry from the weekend? the Facebook post asked. Community was the first word that came to mind. Weekends are when I spend time with my friendship community—routines of contact that weave a strong web of connection—Saturday coffee with one friend; errand running and conversation with another; time spent standing on the town common with another, taking a stand about the doings in Washington; regular phone calls with another friend. Casual, ordinary, essential.

Our conversations touch on dailiness, the rough grain of our lives, the many small ways we get by, the moments when we thrive. Updates on friends and family members, commiseration on politics and the state of the world, shared strategies for coping or resisting or venting, new streaming videos to watch, books to read, movies to see. At times the talk meanders into deeper territory—a health fear, the indignities or frustrations of getting older, a wondering about purpose, about calling, how to live in our messed up and beautiful world.

And writing this I see that the connection and the silence feed each other, that each gives me a different kind of strength, and that both are essential, especially in these difficult and contentious times.

Soup and Singing

Last night for supper I made Lentils, Monastery Style a favorite recipe from Diet for a Small Planet. These days I access the recipe on my iPad having long since lost the paperback copy of the cookbook that I first used, back when I was in my early 30s. If I still had the paperback it most likely would have gone the route of my other cookbooks from that era, the Vegetarian Epicure or the original Moosewood cookbook—spines broken, pages falling out, favorite pages so stained it’s getting hard to read them.

This is a simple dish—lentils, broth, onions, carrots, tomatoes, some seasoning, a surprising dash of sherry at the end and a sprinkling of shredded swiss cheese in the bottom of the serving bowls. I also add garlic because soup needs garlic and this time I added some turkey sausage.

Every time I make it I remember the first time I made it in the small kitchen of the Maynard Road apartment. It was a Sunday afternoon and friends were coming to make music—Pam with her fiddle, Beth with her dulcimer, Wil with guitar and mandolin, and me on guitar and dulcimer and penny whistle. We all sang, some of us managing to pick up harmonies, others holding tight to the melody. We’d pick and sing and then eat and pick and sing some more. We kept to this routine for a year or so and then got together less and less. I’m still friends with these people but we come together in different ways now.

But every time I eat this soup I’m back there, in that living room, snow on the ground outside, the sweet and savory goodness of the soup, its simple ingredients that blend to yield rich flavor, our voices and instruments blending as well.