Sunday, December 22, 2013

IN BIRDLAND, THE AIR IS COOL AND CRISP, BUT.... ARE YOU TIRED OF MY WHINING ABOUT THE DROUGHT? I AM. The corn is drying and the beans are suddenly golden. And we never did get that rain that would swell the beans in their jackets. Since I had so much time this summer with my feet up, I got a lot of knitting done. Sitting longer stretches, I got bored with washcloths and started on slippers and socks. Late fall begins our family's birthday season, with a quick succession of parties requiring a quick succession of gifts. I'll be ready, I think.

The slippers are felted, made with odds and ends of leftover wool. To felt a woolen slipper, you wash it in the washing machine. Since my washer doesn't agitate, the felting process is gentler. I have to wash them several times, but I don't have to be as careful. In fact, I just toss them in with the regular wash. Each wash shrinks them just a little, so I wash them over and over until they're the right size. All that shrinking means that when I knit them, they are pretty gigantic. Great big clown slippers. It takes awhile, but you may remember how long I was laid up letting my foot heal from surgery. 
 I finished four pair of slippers, and then, getting the hang of turning a heel, I started with a pair of socks. The slippers are complex, but go pretty quickly. I knit them with great big (size 13) needles, with a double strand of yarn, so you see the progress right away. When I switched to socks, I switched to tiny needles (size 2) and it requires more concentration and a bit more eyestrain. But here's the gift I found in tiny needles and eentsy beentsy stitches: I'm making all this footwear for some very special people, and so naturally, while I'm knitting each slipper or sock, my mind turns to the one who will wear them. With the tiny stitches, I have even more time to think about all the wonderful qualities of each person. As I knit, I nurture warm thoughts, so by the time I'm finished, my heart is warmed as I hope their feet will be.

Somewhere in all the knitting and meditations, I nurtured my curiosity about these special people, and I stumbled onto a question. I started carrying that question to the people in my life. It's kind of a weird question, but that's okay. It bubbled out in archaic language so that's how I ask it: What is your heart's desire?
I usually get the same response the first time I ask: embarrassment and reticence. But I don't let that stop me. Rephrasing the question usually doesn't change the response, but I do it anyway: What is your dearest wish? I wait a bit, in that atmosphere of awkwardness, and then I’ll share one of my dearest wishes. Now, it almost doesn't matter what I share. My wishes and plans and hopes and dreams change every day. Sometimes I'll share an project I have in mind for Birdland: building an aquaponics system, or transforming the whole yard to a path that meanders through native flowers, or setting up a hive of honeybees, or saving the world in tiny ways. Whatever I share, I make sure it is specific and detailed. Then, they get it. They understand my question. Their answers always surprise me, even from those I know very well. The answer itself doesn't even matter. Listening to the answer is like watching a flower unfold, petal by petal, or witnessing a chrysalis in the moments of its opening. As I listen, I glimpse the divinity in each of these people I love. What is your dearest wish? What is your heart's desire? 

Knit in Beauty; Aspire to Peace:
Blessed Be.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Foggy Seattle

IT'S FOGGY IN SEATTLE, AND THE SUN IS JUST RISING. I'm at the airport, waiting to board my plane back to Chicago. Chandra drove me through the dark streets, down the interstate. My oldest knows the way to the airport. It was not that early, 6:30, but the sun is just now rising an hour later. Winter days are short in Seattle.

Our Elegant Feast
Just yesterday we feasted on a rolled turkey breast, brined and herbed the night before. Chandra eats vegetarian on ethical and environmental grounds, but he made an exception for the holiday. Through the magic of technology, we connected with the rest of the family, feasting in Chicago. We each sent photos of our table. On ours, besides the turkey, was a lovely green salad, some artisan bread, and our dessert, a Persian sweet potato pie, like no pie I've ever made. We peeled and sliced the raw potatoes and arranged them in a spiral, like petals on a flower. Then poured over the petals a spiced brown sugar syrup. The crust was a wild experiment. After bragging that I could easily handle the crust, I decided to get fancy. First I thought I'd add cardamom, then I thought, "what about using half coconut oil and half butter?" At home I usually substitute flax meal for 1/4 cup of the flour, but when I saw that we had only bread flour, I also switched in some rice flour, sorghum flour (new to me) and some other kind of gluten free flour. All was fine until the rolling out, when our neat little ball of chilled dough shattered with the first touch of a rolling pin. "No problem, really," I told him. "We'll just do a pat-in-the-pan crust." Since we used a fancy brown sugar from India, the sugar syrup was dark, giving our potato-petaled flower lovely dark tones. We baked the pie and the bread and then had two hours for the turkey roll to slowly roast. "Do you want to go to Volunteer Park?" asked my boy.

Brisk walking kept us warm, and though it was foggy and damp, it was sweater weather. In Seattle most of our walks seem to be uphill. Walking in Seattle on a quiet Thanksgiving afternoon was peaceful. Winding up through the neighborhood toward the park we joined in the holiday spirit. Smells of turkey and sage wafted from various homes. Every block or so, we'd encounter a new delicious aroma. We passed one kitchen window with partly drawn shades to see hands chopping vegetables, the celery and carrots laid out in neat piles.
Pat-in-the-Pan saves the day.
Volunteer Park has lovely, expansive lawns and well-tended gardens. We walked up to the koi ponds. I remembered these lovely round ponds with lilies from my last visit, but now they were empty of fish. Close by is a wonderful round tower of rustic brick. "What's that?" I asked. "It's the water tower. We can go in," said Chandra. And so we climbed the hill to the tower, and climbed the spiral staircase up and up for a lovely view of Seattle. By now the fog had mostly cleared, but still a haze hung in the distance, haunting the skyline just a little bit. We looked out of the arched windows, through decorative iron railings. Then our turkey began calling us, so we descended the tower, the hill, the neighborhood, and returned to our dinner.
light and shadow in the water tower

Back at home it was time to phone the rest of the family. We had been texting pictures of our preparations across the continent. After we set our little table we made a call to Chicago. They had a lovely roast chicken and mashed potatoes, the traditional pie and cranberry sauce. We had our elegant feast. We teased back and forth. They had already eaten; we were about to sit down. "It's not a contest," said Chandra, "but we're winning."

Water Tower in Volunteer Park
 And now, here is my plane, ready to board. It will carry me over mountains and back to the prairie just in time to have a birthday feast with my middle boy, Dylan.

Fly in Beauty; Feast in Peace; Blessed Be.