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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

tea with Grandmother (and others)

holiday tea with grandmother's small tea set2Tea is a friendly drink. It doesn’t jazz you like coffee. I can have it in the afternoon, for instance, and still sleep that night. :) And if — like me — you’ve collected/ inherited/ been given tea wares for many years, it becomes a kind of time travel, as well. And today it was its own early holiday present from people who love me.

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Let’s start with this tea tray. It’s my mother-in-law’s aluminum tray, one of my favourites. I feel very grateful to have it — she served many a treat on it over the years. The cloth on it is my mother’s, one of her many linens I inherited. The ruby glass plate is Mother’s, as well. She bought them piece by piece — we didn’t have much  money then — from the Avon lady. (They were always called ‘the Avon lady,’ when I was small.)

The small tea set my Grandmother Britton painted herself. With her own hands! And then fired it in the small kiln that took up way too much room in the kitchen (and made it hot as hell in the summer). It’s covered with blue forget-me-nots, as much of her early work was.2011-05-30 13.42.57

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I have two other tea sets painted by Grandmother, both given to me to make up for my father refusing to let me have my grandmother’s china set. Even though Grandmother specifically asked him. “Mama,” he said, “I bought that set for you to paint. It’s mine.” Grandmother was horrified (& pretty mad, as I recall), and gave me this small tea set. And when I married, Aunt Ina gave me another, and my mother gave me hers. It was a good trade. :)

The cup is one my nephew (by marriage, actually, but I love him as dearly as my blood nevvies) gave me last Christmas. It has a bee on it! The tea was brought from India by the mother of a former colleague — now a dear friend. Probably the only two things on the tray I bought are the cookies and the spoon. I could have put my own baby spoon (in my mother’s Rosepoint pattern, now my pattern too), that Aunt Leona had engraved w/ my name. But every day needs a different spoon, and today wasn’t a Rosepoint day. It’s more an 18th Century day: simple, traditional, plain & elegant.

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You can see that tea today — totally by happenstance! — carries on its fragrance the stuff of memories. Spending long weekends — even weeks — at Grandmother’s house in Turley. Playing dominoes & Scrabble (she always cheated). Eating her applesauce cake.

Mom’s trabirthday teay sometimes held savouries — cheese-stuffed celery for the holidays — and other times sweets — Dad’s amazing fruitcake (I happen to LOVE good fruitcake). While the ruby glass reminds me of my mother, and so many holidays when she used her large set of plates, goblets, serving pieces, acquired over several years. The tea, the cup… New memories and dear connections continue to be forged. Family expands, and friends grow only dearer.

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I suppose other people drink from cracked mugs and don’t care. Not me. I make a tea tray even if I’m still in my pjs. I want to start my morning with order & beauty. Even when I worked, and drank huge mugs of tea on the long drive to work, I began with a tray. Laid with a cloth. Fresh boiling water, and loose tea. Poured into a strainer, set in a big glass mug, which I warmed with boiling water. Then warm the car mug, and pour the sweetened tea & milk into it.

So in addition to the oasis of calm a tea tray offers, it establishes a point of stop. breathe. relax. And that’s such a bonus in today’s busy lives. When was the last time you sat down and thought about all the people who love you? And ate cookies & drank hot tea while feeling loved!2013-01-26 14.04.19

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You don’t need your beloved mother-in-law’s tray, or your mother’s embroidered tea cloth from Hong Kong. Or even wonderful tea. You can place a pretty paper napkin beside a cheerful mug (maybe with a bee on it!), and steep a teabag in boiling water. Honey from a teddy bear squeeze bottle is just as nice, in its own way, as Demerara sugar cubes and a silver scoop given you so long ago you forgot whose present it was.

Try it. It’s probably just the moment of mindful self-love you need today.

 

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meatloaf and dishes and errands and family…

2010-11-25 15.06.38This kind of holiday doesn’t just happen… Nor does a big-ass tree, replete with crystal icicles, the last remnants of childhood ornaments, and a couple of true heirlooms. And the gifts beneath, wrapped in foil and French ribbon, sprinkled w/ tiny ornaments & feathers.

Nor do holiday cards, or recommendations for colleagues, or even breakfast! It all takes time, energy, and sometimes they’re in short supply.

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Despite how much I enjoy my friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers on the bus, I’m actually an introvert. I need huge quantities of ‘down time,’ as we call it in my nuclear family. Meaning: time to putter over the plants that look so lovely behind the table.Time to feed the birds outside the window. Time to drink tea & just be. Even, when I make the time, time to meditate.

Needless to say, this is NOT the same kind of time as the time it takes to put the holidays on. The time to make the main dish, and whatever sides are my responsibility. Time to set the table, set out the serving pieces, etc. Time to make the initial list because w/out a list I’m kind of like Tom Hanks trying to talk to a basketball… And then, of course, there’s actually doing the things on the list!

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But you know what I’ve learned, doing this for many years? I’ve come to see that the prep is the gift, really. It doesn’t show — the best gifts often don’t — and it isn’t flashy. And ideally, no one should even THINK about what you did to get ready. Because if they do, they might feel like they should have done something else, something ‘more.’ And that’s not true. But when I’m cooking, or choosing dishes, or even listening to holiday music while I make up multiple lists, I’m thinking of all my family. Of the upcoming holiday time together. It’s enough.

I’m also learning — slow, but sure — that enough is a wonderful word. I am enough. What I get done is enough. And this lovely upcoming family holiday, filled with preparations where I think of my sons & DIL & grandson & nephews & nieces & sisters & EVERYONE coming to our house…? It’s also just right. It’s enough.

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Happy Bodhi Day!

bodhi dayToday is Bodhi Day, or Rohatsu ~ the celebration of Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment, the transformation of the man into the  spiritual teacher we know as the Buddha.  I’ve written elsewhere about Bodhi Day, here and here. But it bears repeating. :)

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Because we all need a wake-up call. We need to remember how ephemeral life is, how transient both pain and joy, and pay attention.We need to remember that we can do this. And that ‘it’ will never come again, in the same way.

It seems a bit disingenuous to note, once again, that everything passes. And that a certain sadness underlies much of life. It’s a human state of mind, this suffering — Proverbs 14:13 details it  lyrically: Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness. Buddhists call it dukkha — not exactly sorrow or suffering, more like the ‘heaviness’ Proverbs  references.

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So Bodhi Day is a time of celebration — someone got beyond this. Not a god, or a demi-god, or an angel or anyone divine. A guy. And that means there’s hope for me. Which in the middle of a chilly grey day, when the sun seems like it might well have gone to sleep for the winter, is a warm & lovely thought. Snow is everywhere, and the birds are puffed to the point of beautiful absurdity. But spring will come.

Hence the wake-up call idea… It’s so easy for me, this time of year, to whine about my 1st world problems: putting up the tree is a hassle with arthritis… shopping for stuff they might not even like… cooking… wrapping… All in the middle of my everyday life. But this IS my everyday life — this moment, this day. Today, it’s going to be working on holiday cards, something I do in part as payment forward: I LOVE receiving holiday cards. But addressing them, and making sure the addresses are correct and finding pretty stamps? Hmmm… Not so much. :)

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I’m going to wake up to the little enlightenments that now & then wing through my days like bright birds. If, as Thích Nhất Hạnh says, we  pay attention to — are mindful of –what we are doing, then small daily tasks can become amazing: the feel of warm laundry on a chilly evening, taken from the luxury of a dryer that works. The oceanic whisper of a dishwasher, once loaded and turned on. Even the crisp white path a mop makes over a grimy floor, or the cool sweep of sheets shaken over a bed. Each of these will never come in the same way again.

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Those ordinary moments  don’t even take into account the incredibly beautiful moments to be found in the most meagre of days: the way my grandson smiles when he wakes up after a nap preceded by howling for an hour. :) The kerfuffle of feathers when birds vie for the feeders outside. And what about a note from an old friend? An unexpected e-card, complete with Advent calendar?

This is your life. And today, Bodhi Day — Rohatsu, if you’re Japanese :) — is all day. So go ahead — streeeettttch… And wake up!

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Remembering Nelson Mandela, and his shifting place in American history

mandela quote 2The world will miss Nelson  Mandela. A man who saw that forgiveness was as large a part of revolution as upheaveal. A man who brought good to a nation riven by wrong. A man who was not afraid to love his enemy, and to do good to those who hated him.

I doubt if many under the age of 40 –possibly even those much older — know that the American government for many years labeled Mandela and the African National Congress (the anti-apartheid party in South Africa) as terrorists. A designation begun under President Reagan, it wasn’t until George W. Bush’s presidency that the label was revoked, in 2008.

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Various religious leaders (Pat Robertson & Jerry Falwell, notably) argued that the ANC was a Communist-sponsored organisation, bent on taking South Africa into the Communist party. And names still familiar to American politics — Dick Cheney & Grover Norquist, for example — also took the easy way out on apartheid, falling in line with Reagan, whose own party split over the issue.

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That fascinates (and saddens) me. How easy it is for us to label the need for systemic changes as anti-government. When blacks in the American South rebelled againstmandela quote the horrific acts of violence done them, and the Jim Crow laws instigated in the wake of the Civil War, one of the many labels affixed to their rebellion was ‘lawless.’ When the laws connive and conspire to do human beings injustice, how else may justice be served?

You would think that Americans — citizens of a city founded in a revolution, by war against a standing government — would understand this. But power dislikes being questioned. Reagan, for instance, was against  sanctions on South Africa, a stance that led to Desmond Tutu calling that position ”immoral, evil and totally un-Christian.”

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Today, as the world faces so many evils — both within and outside of America — it’s important to remember that this great leader we mourn, this man of compassion and integrity, was for many years labeled a terrorist in the US. A Nobel Peace Laureate, a man who figured out a way to work with an apartheid government to undo its policies…this man was on our terrorism watch list for more than 20 years. This man who argued that education was the best weapon against injustice, that poverty was NOT ‘natural.’ That love was stronger than hatred.

mandela quote 3How many similar mistakes do we make each day? As individuals, listening to bad advisors? As individuals, refusing to take the time to look up credible, unbiased research on news and policy? As members of groups and families and even governments…?

Nelson Mandela has been one of my personal heroes for many years, as he is for millions of people around the world. And when I look at people in the future, I will try harder — for his sake — to look beyond someone else’s labels. A good way, I hope, to remember him.

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