Ice-Cube Zen

I hate being late. I’m pretty sure this dates back to a childhood obsession with “people pleasing” that has carried over into my adult world. Not that there’s anything wrong with it; it’s nice to show up on time — professionally speaking, this is a bonus, and I think when you’re a dinner guest or meeting a friend, promptness is a courtesy we all can appreciate.

The thing is, I’m realizing that my race to get out the door is inhibiting my ability to live in the present. This is a goal of mine, now that I am in a transitional life phase (that sounds ominous; it shouldn’t).  With all of my children no longer children and living primarily on their own, I find that the mental energy I expend during most days centers around work and…work. Again, this is good — from a professional standpoint, I’m being productive and I like to feel as though I’m accomplishing something (again, the people pleasing rears its sometimes ugly head). But the days are whizzing by, and I’m realizing that there is a real peace and satisfaction in sometimes doing and thinking nothing. Well, not nothing, but nothing of consequence.

In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh offers practical suggestions for how we become more mindful. One of my favorites:

“While washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes, one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.”

It’s been more than a decade since I first picked up the Zen master’s seminal work, but for some reason, this passage has stayed with me. And I was reminded of it today as I was filling the ice-cube trays.

In our house, this is a job usually reserved for my husband. I can’t give a good reason as to why, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that, well, he just has more patience than I. There are 6 trays in our freezer, and emptying and refilling them all at once takes — oh, I don’t know — maybe 3-4 minutes. In my world, that’s 4 minutes I could otherwise be accomplishing something. But today, armed with a renewed commitment to living presently in the moment, I filled the trays. And while I was filling the trays, I thought of nothing else but filling those trays. Watching the small cavities gradually transform from empty to full was gratifying — A little nugget of momentary peace.  I’ll take it.

Baked Rice Pudding
This dish, in addition to filling your belly with warm, sweet satisfaction, offers good practice in mindfulness and patience, as it requires some babysitting, a little extra TLC, if you will. But oh, it’s worth it.

4 c. Whole milk (more as needed)
⅓ c. Arborio rice
⅓ c. Sugar
1 T Unsalted butter
½ Cinnamon stick
1 t. Vanilla extract
Zest from one orange
Fine sea salt
Optional: ½ c. dried fruits such as raisins, currants, cherries, etc.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish.

In a saucepan, combine the milk, rice, sugar, butter and cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Pour into the baking dish and distribute evenly. Bake, stirring with a wooden spoon every 15-20 minutes — this is where the patience part comes in — until the rice is very tender and has absorbed most of the milk, about 1.5 hours.

Remove from the oven and stir in vanilla, orange zest and a pinch of salt (*if you’re adding dried fruit, this is when you’ll want to do that). If the pudding seems too thick, stir in additional milk until you have achieved desired consistency. Spoon into bowls, and enjoy! (makes 4-6 servings)

–Adapted from Comfort Food for Williams-Sonoma (Oxmoor House, 2009).


Mid-Life Lessons from my Children


“Let that be a lesson to you.” How often have we parents said this to our children? In those “teachable moments,” it’s the phrase we use to drive the point home. As the parent of young adults, however, I realize now that I am the student. Their wisdom comes from an honest world view that is opening my eyes to important life lessons I wish I had known a long time ago.

In the Sanskrit English Dictionary of Monier-Williams, the word “sage” is described as a derivative of the Sanskrit root rsh, meaning “to go, to move.” Tārānātha identifies this as “one who reaches beyond this mundane world by means of spiritual knowledge.” So, yes, I’d go so far as to claim my children as having the qualities of the great sages.

Let’s just say I believe my kids are far more evolved than I, but I am the happy beneficiary of their unabashedly pure — and “real” — outlook on life.  For instance, I am learning from them that who we are really isn’t at all about what we look like or what we do. Rather, we are becoming every day, a process that has nothing to do with the above and everything to do with: being vulnerable; having heart; having courage; dreaming big; loving even bigger; and being okay with everything just as it is.

It’s a tall order. Lucky for me that I am a willing student with (hopefully) a lot of life left in which to learn. Of course, we never really know, so for today I’ll just be sure to pay close attention.

Homecomings…and Goings

IMG_0818My oldest child returned home from a two-month job out west last week. Her stay here will be temporary, as she is preparing for a new adventure in yet another part of the country and will be leaving again in just a few short days. It’s hard saying hello again, knowing that more goodbyes are imminent. These grainy sands of time just keep slipping through my fingers.

There is still one child home, and he turns 18 this week — the age at which one is considered a legal adult in the U.S. Old enough to legally work, participate in contracts, vote, marry, give sexual consent, and join the military.So in truth, he is an adult; there are no more children at home.

We have a tradition in our family that when one celebrates a birthday, he/she is treated to breakfast in bed. In a happy surprise, the almost-adult told me he wanted to stick with tradition and be feted in bed with a big old breakfast! I’m figuring this might be my last opportunity, so I plan to make it memorable.

Of course, for me they’re all memorable. Burned in my memory in fact. Every breakfast in bed; every birthday party; every celebration that ever was. Hopefully, the “kids” share those memories. Maybe they will think of them (and me), even as time between homecomings becomes longer.

photo (21)Lemon Blueberry Muffins
I love these muffins for their sunny, lemony taste and for their incredible fluffiness — made possible by the addition of a few special ingredients. These will certainly be on the menu for Spencer’s breakfast in bed.

3 c. flour, plus 1 T. for dredging the berries
4 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 t. lemon zest
1/2 c. butter, melted
1-1/2 c. sour cream*
1 c. blueberries

*(Sometimes I like to mix 1 c. of sour cream with 1/2 c. of crème frâiche.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line a 12-well muffin tin with paper liners.

In a mixing bowl, combine 3 cups flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Create a well in the bottom of the bowl for adding the wet ingredients.

In another large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and melted butter.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients; mix until combined and then add the sour cream. Lightly mix again but do not over mix. Toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon flour and fold into the batter.

Divide the batter evenly into each cup in the prepared muffin tin.

Bake for approximately 22 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
(recipe adapted from Kelsey Nixon, Kelsey’s Essentials.)

Season of Missing


This gallery contains 1 photo.

It’s cold here on the east coast.  There is a biting wind outside that elevates the notion of “chill in the air” to something otherworldly. Although I am a December baby, these frigid months are especially hard for me, now … Continue reading

Plant Your Roots, and Watch What Grows


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Today is December 1 and in 29 days I will turn 50. Here’s me in Atlanta, Georgia, just six months shy of my 4th birthday. Not much has changed since then (though I do miss those white patent leather Mary … Continue reading

The Best Medicine


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My 19-year-old daughter is home from college, recovering from a tonsillectomy, and I couldn’t be happier. Not about the tonsils, mind you; I hate seeing her in so much pain. But with two kids out of the house, and one … Continue reading

Change is Gonna’ Come

The other day, I took my two dogs on a detour from our usual walk around the neighborhood. It was one of those unseasonably mild late-Winter days, so I grabbed the opportunity for some extra time in the sun and a much-needed dose of Vitamin K.The dogs responded just as I expected them to. As soon as we veered off our regular course, Kirby put the brakes on and Sable blithely took off for parts unknown.

A little more background about my dogs: This is Kirby. He is the wise old man. Sweet as sugar. A few months back, we learned he has cancer. The worst part of pet ownership, the inevitability of having to say goodbye, is now staring us in the face.  But he is strong and he is here, and we are grateful for every day.This is Sable. She is a whirling dervish. Too smart for her own good and always looking for the party. She keeps life interesting.So, my furry kids behaved exactly as I expected them to in this new situation. Kirby, wisely cautious, needed extra encouragement and coaxing from me before reluctantly venturing ahead. Sable, wearing her moxie like a badge of honor, scampered well ahead of us, never bothering to look back.

It got me thinking. Change is about the only thing in life we can count on. It’s inevitable. Yet for many of us — for me, perhaps for Kirby too — adapting to change is a little like wading through jello. Let’s just say it’s not easy. But change is gonna’ come. Bet on it.

In my family this is a big year for change.There will be many milestone events celebrated: graduations, a wedding, new jobs, perhaps moves to other cities. These are the happy transitions we will record with photographs and stories to share for years to come. No doubt there will be many unanticipated changes too. Truth is, we never know what the future holds, only that if we weather the shifting tides together, the ride is likely to be a little less bumpy.

Winter Vegetable Soup
Thinking about change made me hungry for something warm, soothing and grounding. This Winter Vegetable Soup, an adaptation of the recipe by the same name from the Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook, was just the ticket.

2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
4 t. fresh ginger, minced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 medium rutabaga, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 bunch of beet greens (I used these because it was what I had in the frig; any greens will do)
2 T. tomato paste
3-1/2 c. low sodium chicken stock
freshly ground pepper
1 T. sugar
chopped parsley for garnish

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and rutabaga and cook until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 7 minutes.

Stir in the potatoes, greens and tomato paste, stirring to coat. Add the stock and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.Once the vegetables are tender, add the sugar, season with salt and pepper, and garnish with the chopped parsley. Enjoy!

Valentine’s Day Redux


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I spent Valentine’s Day sick in bed with a stomach bug.  And I didn’t even have the benefit of overdoing it on chocolate first. That’s okay. The holiday, as I understand it, was first established to honor early Christian martyrs. … Continue reading