Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

three things (among many) I love about this season

via google

via google

1. Music

One of the best things about the holiday season is the music. I have a Spotify Christmas music playlist of almost 500 songs. And there are even more on my iPad! So that would be the first totally non-secular thing I love about this time of year: music. Everything from hammered dulcimer playing very old English carols to the Barenaked Ladies blaring out “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” How can we celebrate w/out music??

2. Food

It should come as noooo surprise to anyone who knows me that food figures in this list. :) I spent the past week cooking — for my girlfriends holiday tea.  My sisters & nieces join women from my writing classes, from my former job, from all parts of my life. And I cook like the crazy person I can be: quiche, panna cotta (tried eggnog this year — success!), hummus (not always — it was a pass this year), four kinds of tea. All the fun accoutrements: the family silver, including the tea service; the ironstone w/ birds & flowers; runners embroidered w/ gold thread. So maybe instead of ‘food’ I should say: ritual sharing of food…?

the author's

the author’s

3. Thinking of my friends & family

Wrapping, for instance: we found pirate ribbon! A perfect ribbon for my nephew (and for my younger son, were he joining us instead of traipsing across the Philippines!). How fun! Trying to find a gift for nieces & nephews I don’t see often, but love dearly. What are their interests? What would they enjoy? We’re not always big on gift cards, although we do those as well. Mostly, I love the excuse to buy presents for people I love, to cook for them, to show them in tangible ways how very dear they are.

I used to feel guilty, as a Buddhist, celebrating Christmas. Not so much while the children were small — I did it for them, and my family, I told myself. But who doesn’t love a riotously pagan tree, lit up against the winter darkness, floating on a tidal wave of gifts? Glittering foil, bright curls of ribbon, stockings bulging with trinkets… Who could resist?? But as I thought about it, the ways in which this time of year has come to be a giving back, a giving to, have won me over from my usual self-doubt.

So as you go about the hectic craziness that is American holiday season, remember that even if you’re not a Christian, and don’t celebrate Hannukah, there are other blessings to the season. Warm, wonderful reasons to rejoice. What are yours?

the other side

WrightSkidmoreFamilyReunionYou will notice, if you look at the picture, a dearth of men. There are the outlaws, w/ the exception of grandchildren, and a cousin. That’s it. Mine is a family of women, mostly. We talk about ‘the aunts’ — my mother and her three sisters — and ‘the sisters’ — my three sisters & me. My grandmother was one of five sisters (and two brothers, but we don’t always even get their names correct!). And that’s just my maternal side — my father had four sisters, as well.

In other words, I grew up w/ a LOT of female input. And about zilch male. My dad worked overseas, and my grandfathers were both dead. There were some uncles, but they weren’t very active w/ little kids.

How does this matter to beginner’s heart, you’re wondering??

It’s hard to get only one side of the story. Which is what is happening in much of America today. When you only see/ hear one side of the story, you can bet it’s … well, one-sided.

My mother’s ‘side’ was that she raised us by herself, virtually. My father was almost always gone: stationed overseas, fighting a war, working for the government. But years later, I began to see my father’s side: cut off from the raising of his four daughters by his job — really the only job he knew how to do. A man awash in girlie stuff, that poor war hero!

Today, it’s black vs. white, rich vs. middle class vs. poor. It’s very hard to believe, if the police look like you, and have always been helpful, that they are verrry bad guys to many many African Americans. If you don’t know how hard it is to make it on minimum wage, you may well think that folks on food stamps are just spongers.

I don’t know when I began to see the ‘other side’ of matriarchy. Which is the ways in which men, too, are done in by the system. Women aren’t the only done-to, done-by. Perhaps it was when I began to watch my beloved. Perhaps it was the birth of my two sons.

All I know is this: if everyone you know looks like/ sounds like/ worships like you? Make new friends. You need to get out more. Because chances are, you only see one side of a very round world.

it doesn’t have to be perfect (the enemy of good)

 

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

Last night’s dinner was brought to you by some obscure soup company. Canned clam chowder, w/ the addition of cracked pepper & white corn. YUM! Served w/ water crackers, & a side of tabbouleh I made a couple of days ago. What my grandmother used to call ‘fixed’ food, compared to ‘cooked’ food.

When you cook, you end up w/ things like roast, or a casserole, or stuff that comes from ‘real’ ingredients. But when you ‘fix dinner,’ you throw things together: a can of clam chowder, the sweet corn. Gussy it up w/ the fancy crackers, the cracked pepper. There’s gelato for dessert, too, which makes it all seem a bit more…polished. :)

I actually LIKE many canned soups, although certainly what I ‘cook’ is better than what I ‘fix.’ Still, where in landlocked Oklahoma am I going to find reliably fresh clams?? Hence the can thing. And I think much of life is like this: what do we deny ourselves, or downgrade, because it’s not exactly perfect? Should I never eat clam chowder again, unless I’m lucky enough to be on the shores where they live?

I’m trying hard to be happy w/ the less-than-perfect. As in: Hellman’s mayo is just fine in tuna salad; you don’t have to make mayo from scratch. Now, if I was making a from-scratch 7-layer salad? I’d probably take the time to make homemade mayo — it makes all the difference.

By contrast, today’s brunch (we eat too late for it to be traditional breakfast!) was ‘cooked': sautéed green onions & tomatoes, a few leftover fried potatoes, a clove of garlic. Beaten eggs poured over, and then cheese sprinkled at the end, to melt in. Again, not fancy. Just good (enough). And that’s just fine. In life, as well as cooking.

I used to tell my students: it’s just school. Not life. And even in life, perfection is almost always the enemy: what comes in nightmares to laugh at us, and mock our best efforts.

Trust me: most of the time good enough is, well, good enough. In all areas. Honest. Ask my grandmothers, who often threw dinner together from what was around. And believe me: it was ALWAYS good.

of waiting, and childhood impatience

via google

via google

As I wrap presents, write out menus, email to find out who’s bringing what to the holiday feast, I can’t help but think of my mother. She was NOT organised, nor was she an organiser. Tell her what to do, and she did fine. But I don’t remember her ever taking on…projects.

We had holiday dinners elsewhere, for the most part. At one of my grandmothers’ houses, or even at her elder sister’s a couple of times. I don’t remember special holiday dinners at our homes — all the many of them we had as we followed my father — or even breakfasts.

Mother never wrote out a menu, to my knowledge. At least not for a party. The one time she told the cook to make macaroni&cheese&applesauce, we ended up with exactly that: macaroni & cheese that had applesauce carefully blended throughout.

I do remember eating out, unusual for my generation. We went to the officers’ club regularly. The one in Bangkok served a wonderful dessert: Coupe Vanille: scoops of vanilla ice cream between two pale & perfect meringues, slathered w/swoops of whipped cream. Decadence in a silver dish.

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

I was an impatient child, probably inherited from my mother, who also hated waiting. I would fidget. She would press her lips together and sigh. Sometimes loudly. I grew up thinking impatience was pretty normal.

Over the years, I’ve learned to make menus. Learned the skills my mother must have mastered eventually, as I know she told various cooks in various countries what to feed us. I learned to cook, as well — but not from my mother. From my great-aunt, and my mother-in-law, both excellent cooks. I even learned patience, on a small scale, but still. It’s a necessary element of beginner’s heart.

Today, as I wait for the two parties that mark this holiday season, and the arrival of my perfect and adored grandson (and his wonderful parents, as well!), I try to remember that patience is another word for anticipation — that lovely tingly feeling of something wonderful juuuust around the corner. And the axiom my old ladies taught me: anything worth having is worth waiting for. Even if it seems to take FOREVER.

Previous Posts

three things (among many) I love about this season
1. Music One of the best things about the holiday season is the music. I have a Spotify Christmas music playlist of almost 500 songs. And there are even more on my iPad! So that would be the first totally non-sec

posted 3:20:02pm Dec. 20, 2014 | read full post »

the other side
You will notice, if you look at the picture, a dearth of men. There are the outlaws, w/ the exception of grandchildren, and a cousin. That's it. Mine is a family of women, mostly. We talk about 'the aunts' -- my mother and her three sisters -- and 'the sisters' -- my three sisters & me. My grand

posted 6:41:49pm Dec. 18, 2014 | read full post »

it doesn't have to be perfect (the enemy of good)
  Last night's dinner was brought to you by some obscure soup company. Canned clam chowder, w/ the addition of cracked pepper & white corn. YUM! Served w/ water crackers, & a side of tabbouleh

posted 12:59:47pm Dec. 17, 2014 | read full post »

of waiting, and childhood impatience
As I wrap presents, write out menus, email to find out who's bringing what to the holiday feast, I can't help but think of my mother. She was NOT organised, nor was she an organiser. Tell her what to do, and she did

posted 9:35:25pm Dec. 15, 2014 | read full post »

love (and happiness) like ribbon
Love is, I think, like ribbon. It's beautiful, for one thing (I adore pretty ribbon!). But it tangles, gets easily wrinkled and needs care to last. At the holidays, when I'm going through SKEINS of it, I find myse

posted 10:21:22pm Dec. 13, 2014 | read full post »


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