Friday, January 4, 2013

Sweetness and Light

Look who I spotted bringing in the new year! I'm tentatively calling this a female Black-chinned hummingbird, although the juvenile male looks similar. Since we have hummingbirds nearly year round I ought to get to know them better, which might just be as far as I get in making a resolution for 2013. I'm overcommitted as it is. Birdwatching -- no, let's be honest: bird noticing -- would be a peaceful diversion and help me feel a little more connected to my shared habitat. I'm open to a little of that as I search for sweet sustenance in this dry, dry place.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Halved, Wholly

Summer kept its grip on the valley well into November, so that autumn was a mere mention before winter (such as it is) arrived in Phoenix. My finals wrapped up in time for a bit of Christmas busyness this week: some shopping, some baking, and best of all, apple butter. It's as close to a tradition as we have, something that comes with the cold weather and makes the house smell like heaven. I hope when I'm long gone my children will know that apple butter was my love language when I didn't know what else to say.

About four Granny Smiths, some Galas, a Fuji for good measure--all washed and ready for chopping. I'm a creature of habit by habit: I halve apples from pole to pole, then quarter, then eighth, before tossing them in the pot. But with my daughter in the kitchen I suddenly remembered the delight of an apple sliced across the equator, the hidden star, the realization that comes from knowing every apple you've ever seen had such a silent treasure. So I showed her. And there it was: delight, marveling, the dawning realization. It was all that I'd hoped. We kept a couple halves aside to use for printing on paper, but they dried out overnight and lost their smooth surface. The stars, however, became more pronounced, the rigid seed pockets holding their shape while the flesh drew back. The tiny pores that circle the star opened slightly, creating an effect like fireworks or exclamation marks.

There's so much beauty right in our grasp, yet we go on, oblivious. Not just oblivious to what's there, but confident that we know all there is to know. I'm not taking this story anywhere in particular, but it's starting to mirror where my faith is at these days. I don't want to give up what's familiar, but I need to see it in a new way. I know there's treasure inside. I know that it's sustaining. I know it's a language of love, that it nourishes and soothes. I want to see the star that points me to the beauty of the universe. I want more, but not more. My friend and mentor Herb Brokering once reminded me, "In a little is a bunch." I need to get back to that kind of thinking for a while and reclaim the true and simple.

As we turned back to cooking, my daughter kissed the apple halves she held before adding them to the rest. It was right and meet so to do. What is a sacrament, if not the holy placed in our hands?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Simple Pleasures

Sunshine, a breeze, and a view: Natalie has it figured out, yet I resist! This need of mine to have the other is so persistent. I imagine a different life, different circumstances, a fantastic mélange of all my favorite people and places and music and food. I drove up to Flagstaff a couple weekends ago and knew as soon as the highway climbed out of the valley that this road trip was long overdue. Phoenix rising is the end of the story, but there's all that heat and ash and dying that takes place first, and then takes place again. It's stifling. Perhaps I've said it here already but I remember staring out my kitchen window in Taiwan, stunned by the events of my own life, wondering if the Phoenix was afraid of fire. I knew there was nothing easy about the road ahead.

Maybe that foreknowledge is what still lingers. I stepped into the ring expecting to go the full nine rounds, and while I'm grateful--no, proud--that I've managed to stay on my feet this whole time, I have to admit that I'm a little unsure what comes next. I see more challenges on the near horizon, and I continue to look over my shoulder waiting for someone to question the decisions I've made. Artie would tell me to identify the hazards, and frankly haters from my past don't make the list. So step one: face forward.

I have a cozy home under blue skies, a big shade tree out front and a garden whose quiet welcome makes up for its lack of bounty (one limequat and counting). I know nice people. I have kind and clever children. There's food on the table and gas in the car, and sometimes I get to meet a kindred spirit in the course of my work or studies. It's also true that I feel alone, and stuck, and I'm pretty sure I dropped my compass about five miles back. I spent years mastering how to make the best of things, but now I hesitate to get back on that particular horse. It was hard to know when to get off it last time. No, that's not true. I knew exactly when, but then I felt stupid for staying on so long. I need to leave all that behind. Step two: brush it off.

I'm a full-time student and a full-time mom. My house is cluttered and my guitars and art supplies are gathering dust. I don't do things perfectly but I am trying new things and trying to make up for lost time. I'd love to know what I'm supposed to do, what would make me happy or bring some sense of security. I should be wrapping up my degree about this time next year, but then what? I want to find my niche, the place where I make a difference and find satisfaction in my work. I still feel like a kid, imagining all the things I might be, not sure which paths to pursue. Time is running ahead of me and I'm reaching for the baton but never quite getting close enough to grab it. So I panic. Step three: breathe. Exhale. Don't try to measure the air around me. The next breath will take care of itself.

Tomorrow I'll take my blanket out to the grass and curl up with Natalie and a book, listening to the birds and the breeze through the leaves. I will move forward, but I need to spend a little more time in the now so I can leave it on good terms. No regrets.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


April already, and over a year since I've posted. It's not for want of something to say, but rather for the need to work through some stuff on my own. I have been traveling the kind of path that takes all of one's attention, the kind where the dangers are subtle but sincere. I'm not done, not sure the day will come when I announce, "I've made my way through!" -- but there has been progress.

Phoenix is a hard place to land: a friend's comment reminded me that I was excited to be here when we first arrived, and I had to dig deep to recall that feeling. I'm trying. And no, it's not the heat. It's just a foreign land in ways that I didn't expect, ways that keep it from feeling anything like home. So I wonder what that means, where home is, where it went, why I feel it behind me always but never in the here and now.

My little black-chinned hummingbird friend here is a welcome sight in the mornings. I'm tempted to draw some analogies about his need for fuel, the energy he must burn while hovering at the spout, the way his life is so tautly woven of two inseparable strands - he eats to live and lives to eat - and how my own efforts seem to chase their tails in much the same way. Instead, let's just look at the beauty of the creature. Winter is over. It's spring, when newness comes in waves, when winter is suddenly done (done!)... and when I can begin to hope that maybe that day will come for me after all.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Winter in the desert

Arizona's had the coldest February days on record this year. Two weeks ago we had days that didn't break 44º, with nighttime temps in the 20's. I know it's no blizzard, but for Phoenix that's pretty cold!

I used to say winter was my favorite season. I liked that it was the down season, the one that ended a year and then brought in the next, gave nature a pause, started the wheel turning all over again. (I also like sweaters and boots and stripy socks. Winter was just my thing.) But years in the tropics have changed me: my blood is thinner, my hands feel stiff, I can't seem to get warm. I was fine in jeans and a breezy blouse last summer when the mercury was hitting 115º, but I'm at a loss now when it's barely above freezing in the mornings and I'm supposed to get out from under the covers. Really, who wouldn't rather stay cozy and cocooned?

Today was warm, so perhaps the coldest days are behind us now. Chinese New Year marked the beginning of spring in Taiwan a couple weeks ago, and this change in the weather feels a little familiar. Like the Taiwanese, I too will dress according to the calendar and not the thermometer. Will I jinx it if I say I think it's spring?

I'm going through some big transitions, have been for a year now. I'm not sure where winter falls in these seasons of change. Was it those last few months in Taiwan, when I was on the verge of crazy and wanted to stay under the covers until sanity returned? Was it after we landed, the lull between leaving one place and settling into another? Or the fall, once the transitions could be named and outward changes could begin to take root? Perhaps the whole year has been a kind of winter: the passing of one year to the next takes but one stroke of the clock at midnight, yet don't we feel it coming, mark its happening, and then spend weeks adjusting to the new year? And then how soon are we saying, February? Already?? Where has January gone? I can hope for time to pick up speed just a bit now, for my own spring to take hold and new growth to emerge from under the loam.