Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Gratitude Day

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving (or Gratitude Day as I am moved to call it) and it's a holiday that, for many of us, can be stressful (seeing family, an abundance of food) and awesome (seeing family, an abundance of food.) I'd like to share with you a letter from Marc David, the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. The letter is called "How to Digest Thanksgiving" and I find it to be so poignant. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you have a truly lovely Thanksgiving.

Perhaps you’ve heard this story by now that one of our most brilliant founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, lobbied to have the wild turkey be our national bird rather than the bald eagle. When I think about it, how un-cool would that be to have a turkey be symbolic of all that is American? But Benjamin Franklin knew a different turkey then you or I do today. Indeed, if you’ve ever seen a wild turkey you would surely conclude that it’s a very interesting bird. These creatures are big, kind of clumsy and appear completely un-designed for flight. When they fly, they make a heck of a lot of noise. When they’re on the ground or in trees, they’re whisper quiet. Wild turkeys might very well be the easiest prey for the worst hunters. For the Native Americans and the early American settlers, a wild turkey in sight pretty much meant a guaranteed meal.
Nowadays, the turkey you’ll eat at Thanksgiving can’t fly at all. It has absolutely no street smarts. The turkey companies will birth, harvest and sell millions of these flightless birds in the next handful of days. How times have changed. As I prepare to host friends and family for the Thanksgiving event, I like to search for meaning that can sometimes be overlooked in the holiday chaos. Some of our guests are vegans. Some are vegetarians. Some are carnivores. Some of the carnivores don’t eat gluten. The vegans and vegetarians don’t mind gluten – they just don’t like the dead bird. I assume there will be many different dishes on the table to accommodate the various nutritional philosophies present. Can you imagine a bunch of pilgrims dealing with the same issues?
I’ll admit that there’s a part of me that feels guilty at a Thanksgiving feast. I know there are plenty of people out there who are hungry, starving, and in need. Can I really celebrate this holiday in an opulent way while over 50 million Americans are living in poverty? And how can I celebrate a memorable day that ostensibly recognizes the graciousness of Native Americans who helped save the hungry European settlers while those same settlers have been anything but kind and gracious towards their hosts?
As far as I can tell, we live in a chaotic world. Sometimes it seems that there’s no justice. Sometimes it seems that life just isn’t fair. And it’s a sure bet that at any given time in human history, there are always the haves and the have-nots. It’s a spiritual challenge to be thankful for what we have, while holding and embracing in our hearts the enigma that others in the human family seemingly have far less to be thankful for. It’s a moral conundrum to feast while others about us are in famine.
So this is why the “thanks” and the “giving” in Thanksgiving are so important. Gratitude for what we have, for anything and everything that we’ve been given in this life is one of the most important spiritual nutrients. Oddly enough, it’s not the kind of nutrient you ingest – it’s the kind of nutrient you feed back to the environment. It keeps the gods well fed, and willing to bestow upon us even more.
When my parents and grandparents grew up in this country, they were called “citizens.” Today we are called “consumers.” The word “citizen” implies an active participant. The word “consumer” implies something that spends its life cycle devouring. Let’s just stick a fork in this label called “consumer” and consider it done and over with. Be a cosmic activist. Give thanks. Be gracious. Sprinkle a little bit of humility in the stuffing. Bless the chaos that is humanity. Give some love to the meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Drink the wine. Don’t drink the wine. Feast. Overeat. Go on a diet the next day. Or maybe just eat the salad. Feel guilty. Love yourself. Pinch your body fat. But amidst it all, take just one moment, a personal one between you and the divine, and give thanks for the life you’ve been given.
Warm regards,

Thursday, November 15, 2012

at easter island (a poem by me)

photo courtesy 3191

at easter island

at easter island where the fur of the sandpiper moves in segments
to the wind off the coast of the jetti 
and the docks creak against the bulkheads, supple
from soaking and dried from the salt
I heard you laughing like a child
eyes flickering like sunlight dancing on the surface
of the blueberry water. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Succulent Saturday

Mom and I by the bonfire
Jumbo candy canes, jumbo people!
Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert & Christopher Curtin "Good & Evil" chocolate bar from Eclat 
Succulents that looked like elephant hooves (or dinosaur paws)
My favorite: burnt orange dried Japanese lanterns

On a whim this past Saturday my mom and I decided to venture out to Terrain at Styers in Glenn Mills. As soon as I stepped out of the car and heard and felt my boots crunch against the uneven stone-filled parking lot, I felt an instant calm that saturated my whole being. In fact I was not in the place for more than ten minutes before I started choking up. I felt as though something tightly wound in the center of my chest was beginning to release and unwind and unravel and make its way up into my throat. Hot tears welled behind my eyes, and a glob of emotions wedged itself in my trachea and trapped its fist behind my breast bone. I quickly scooted into the bathroom to pinch a few tears out and take some soothing breaths. Words can't explain the emotions, which is maybe why the emotions came flooding out at the sight of a few bushels of dried Japanese lanterns arranged together just so and the smell of delicately brewed drip coffee sputtering into porcelain mugs, balanced on a slab of chosen wood. My mom looked at me, puzzled by my seeming sadness, and all I said to her was, "it's just so kind here. I am not used to this kindness." Deliberate kindness towards everything - a handful of orange winterberries, a carefully crafted homemade penny candy made to look like a rooster, a burning fire pit, a plaid, wool blanket. Everything my eyes and senses took in was itself a poem - each smell (burning balsam and fir), each sight (a miniature octopus ornament crafted from newspaper), each sound (hunks of branches cracking into ash in the fire pit) and each touch (smooth, cool measuring bowls made of jadeite.) The atmosphere begs you to slow down, to notice (really notice) and to take it all in. The careful attention taken for each minute detail at Terrain reminds me of a quote I read once by my buddy Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.” 
How can seeing a teapot as sacred help us? Well, if we see every single thing (every twig, every keyboard on a computer) as neither good or bad, or less more than or more than anything else than we can apply this same acceptance to the feelings tumbling in our own emotional beings. Jealousy and wrath are as real as tenderness and compassion- and none of them are worse than or better than the other; feelings are not inherently good or bad. They are just feelings. (A good friend often reminds me that feelings are also not facts.) It's what happens when we judge the feelings as wrong, or believe the feelings as facts, or try to stuff them down, or run away from them or control them that we suffer, make poor decisions and end up hurting ourselves or others.

But back to my succulent Saturday at Terrain. We ate lunch at the cafe where we enjoyed freshly baked bread (in a clay pot!) with maple syrup butter and pumpkin salt, butternut squash bisque (which also made me cry), a goat cheese and arugula omelette, and a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie - all washed down with sweet blueberry, vanilla tea. I am sure the waitress thought it strange when she came to the table and saw tears streaming down my face. Perhaps she wondered if it was the soup she recommended. (It was.) But not in the way she might have thought. Moreso it was that, again, I was made acutely aware at a sensual and physical level of the deliberate kindness taken towards the simple act of creating a meal. A kindness that I could taste, that warmed my throat and whole body - and most importantly, a kindness that I allowed myself to take in and fully absorb.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stories, Storms & Speakeasies

Story-telling at Lucas' party
Toes in the leaves !
Cousins <3
Homemade meatballs (Rao's recipe)

Words of wisdom
"We see much turbulence when we are seated in the eye of the storm"

Homemade arugala, mozzarella, artichoke & tomato pizza 
Bridget and I at Andrew & Jessica's wedding !
Speakin' easy at the speakeasy (;

The "Words of Wisdom" in the first picture is quite apropos at the moment as we happened to have just survived a nor'easter-hurricaine-frankenstorm or "apocalypse" if you ask my dad was busy for 3 days straight preparing our house for the end of days. (I told my brother and sister that if the world should end in December 2012, as the Mayan calendar has predicted, I just wanted them to know that our dad is ready.) Unfortunately Sandy was not as much of a tease as Irene (remember this post?), and her bark was actually as big as her bite this time. Thankfully our home house was not hit too bad, but Nana's dock was a bit shaken.  I hope everyone weathered the storm unscathed!