Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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.

love (and happiness) like ribbon

the author's

the author’s

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 myself thinking of it as a metaphor for almost everything. But certainly love. And thus happiness.

Who can be happy w/out love? And I’m not talking about ‘true love,’ or eros. Or even agape. Like ribbon, love comes in all shapes, sizes, colours, finishes… There’s shiny ribbon; there’s flocked ribbon, there’s the fuzzy fringed ribbon I put on my grandniece’s present. Besides the passion of the beloved, or belief in the divine, there is philia, friendship. And storge, love of family. All different kinds of love.

The most important love I can imagine — at least as a Buddhist (and I realize that this is not true of other religions) is self-love. Because if I can’t love me knowing my own faults, my own reasons, my own secret vulnerabilities then how on EARTH can I love you? The Golden Rule is meaningless w/out strong self love.

Buddhism stresses self-kindness, of course. Metta — lovingkindness — is to be turned inward as well as outward. It’s a version of Christianity’s Golden Rule, but easier on the self (which far too many current religious leaders seem to believe we should go back to flogging). The Dalai Lama even says, Why would you disavow your happy life? There’s this idea that where you are is where you should be. Now: what good can you do from there? And why beat yourself up doing it?

This really is the kind of stuff that fills my head as I stand at the kitchen island, wrapping presents for each of my loving (and lovable!) family & friends. I have this feeling it’s what Thich Nhất Hạnh means when he says that everything — everything — can be meditation, if you do it right. So that’s what I’m trying to do these days: see Buddha nature all around me.

Including in the furls of bronze & gold & scarlet ribbon. Neatly wrapped around cardbood spools, awaiting a moment to beautify foil paper for someone I love.

Previous Posts

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 »

the curse of the holiday meltdown
All the ornaments are on the tree. The newest riff on the family tabbouleh is chilling, waiting for us to taste-test it after the flavours meld. The three packages needing mailing -- well, the ones that have arriv

posted 6:43:01pm Dec. 11, 2014 | read full post »


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