COVID-19, Garden, Meditation

Breathe

I made applesauce recently, using apples from a big bag of a local orchard’s pie mix, small brown skinned heirloom apples, big red apples, crisp apples, soft apples, sweet and tart apples. I quartered them, cut out the seeds and stem, placed the quarters flesh side down on a cookie sheet and roasted them until the flesh was almost liquid and an apple laden scent filled the kitchen. I lifted the skins off the soft fragrant pulp, slid the pulp into a bowl and mashed it into chunky goodness. Later I scattered all the cores and seeds and discarded apple bits into the woody areas around the yard for squirrels and other critters to nibble. On my way back to the house I spotted one squirrel with apple in its mouth hopping away to a nearby shrub. 

I want to live in moments like this, in the feeling of knife slicing through apple, the heft of an apple laden cookie sheet, the scent and sizzle of roasting apples, the feel of warm apple peel under my fingers as I separate peel from flesh, the slight resistance of apple innards against the potato masher, the first sweet taste of sauce. 

But it’s February and winter feels endless, especially this winter almost a year into pandemic restricted life. Gray days are the norm, snow, chilly wind. I’m spending more time than I like indoors, pacing around my small house. This morning I looked out at the snow covered back yard; dried stalks of perennials hinted at the robust, colorful gardens of spring and summer. And I remembered sitting in the midst of those gardens on summer afternoons sipping tea, watching the cat cavort, listening to the birds, watching them thread through the tree tops, and the joy I felt in those warm languid moments. I long to be in that warmth, that light.

Instead, I’m sitting at my desk looking out at watery sun and gathering clouds. Snow is in the forecast. The cat stares out the front window or hunkers down on the screened-in back porch, the closest he’ll get to outdoors until the snow melts. 

In front of me on the desk is a white rock with the word “breathe” imprinted on top. I pause and take a deep breath, then another. I remind myself that fretting and pacing won’t make the snow melt or bring the spring flowers any sooner, that I don’t want to wish the days away. I know that there are pleasures to be found in this interior time—our meditation group, various writing groups, a walk with a friend and phone call with another friend, hot chocolate, a good book, the smell of soup simmering on the stove. Right here, right now, let this be enough. Right here, right now this is ample. 

Christmas, COVID-19, Family

Christmas trees, pandemic, 2020

As the winter solstice approaches, with its short cold days and long nights, I feel a familiar swirl of feelings—sadness mixes with pleasure, contentment quickly turns into restlessness. These feelings are intensified by the approach of Christmas, a holiday that for most of my adult life I’ve greeted with nostalgia and a vague sense of loss. I wrote about this feeling of being homesick for Christmas in a blog post a few years ago. My sister’s death in December 2018 sharpened the edges of the sadness and pandemic-induced isolation has given the season a new twist of poignancy—it’s been tempting to simply ignore Christmas this year. 

In the end I decided to put up a tree, wanting to bring the green and light of warmer times into my home. The first step was twining the string of lights carefully around the tree, aiming for an evenness in spacing that I never quite achieved. “Beauty is in the imperfections,” I kept telling myself as I tugged a strand up here and down there but never closing the light gap on the left side of the tree. 

I sorted through the box of ornaments, taking the time to remember the stories that accompany them—these are a gift from a friend, these were on my dad’s tree when he was a child, here’s one my mom gave me when I first had my own decorated tree in an apartment far from home, a Norfolk Island pine whose slippery branches I loaded down with ornaments and small white lights. 

I lifted out brightly colored discs and balls; several cat figures; a delicate glass hummingbird; a crystal snowflake; a slightly tattered stuffed elephant that my sister had brought back from India; a small trombone, one of the vintage ornaments from my dad’s childhood tree. I hung the ornaments carefully, pausing often to step back and assess bare spots. 

Decorating a tree was a good thing to do in this strange year and yet I felt slightly let down. I wanted to feel more joy in the doing, to bask in the beauty of the lights glowing in a dark room, to feel the grace of light in a dark time, of continuity, of ties back through time. 

I wanted to feel the delight I’d felt as a teen when my sister and I would decorate the tree on Christmas eve, place the brightly wrapped presents, stuff the stockings. I remember how I’d sit in the darkened room with only the tree for light, everyone else asleep, and feel a wordless wonder. But of course that remembered joy and grace came as much from the shared experience of decorating the tree as it did from the tree itself–the laughter and teasing and loving connection, the anticipation of others’ delight. 

And so my pleasure in the solo tree decorating is muted, tinged with an awareness of loss, accompanied by ghosts of my young self, my sister, our family. I’ll keep the tree up until New Year’s day and I’ll sit for a few minutes late at night, with only the light of the tree, and maybe instead of waiting for—and missing—the remembered reverence, I’ll let the light wash over me, let it be what it is today. 

COVID-19, Home, Writing

Making space

I wrote an eloquent blog post in my head while I was clearing accumulated stuff off the dining table a few days ago. The blog post is gone along with all the detritus piled on the table. But maybe, by opening the computer, pulling up a blank document, and putting fingers to keys some of those thoughts will re-emerge. 

The piles had been there since spring. I’d periodically sift through looking for bills or other items that needed immediate attention; occasionally I’d make half-hearted attempts to organize and clear away. But I’d get distracted and abandon the task and the somewhat diminished piles would grow once again until my next brief attempt at pile purging. 

I’ve never been a neat and tidy person; my dining table has often sported teetering piles of paper, half unpacked grocery bags, a few stray articles of clothing. But at some point I’d invite friends in for a meal and the mess would disappear leaving an expanse of oak ready for placemats and cutlery, napkins, plates, bowls of steaming, fragrant stews or soups, cutting boards piled with bread, wine glasses glimmering, candles lit, maybe flowers in a vase, friendly faces, mingled voices. I don’t remember the last time I shared a meal at this table. Last February perhaps?

A major contributor to the mess was a big pile of fabric I’d used to make masks back in the early days of the pandemic. I’d spent hours researching patterns on the Internet, bookmarking YouTube videos of perky mask makers demonstrating their particular approach to cutting, stitching, pleating, fastening. I’d sacrificed an old bra and two unused half slips to the cause, snipping out their elastic to make ear loops. After several failed masks I produced two that I continue to wear. But with many vendors selling well-designed masks online I no longer need immediate access to all that fabric. 

My iron, a tote bag with sewing supplies, and the pile of fabric scraps are now cleared away—the iron is hanging next to the folded up ironing board, the fabric scraps are folded up in a bin under my bed, the sewing supplies stowed near the sewing machine in another room. All that’s left on the table is a small pile of papers to be filed or shredded.  

The empty table seems to be issuing an invitation but for what? An as yet to be discovered art project? A display of family photos and papers to stimulate my writing? A different sewing project? (I could use a new duvet cover.) Who knows when I’ll once again invite friends to gather around this table. 

This isn’t the post I drafted in my mind—I think I was playing around with a theme of “delights that ground me.” And I might write about that some day. For now, I’ll fold up the grocery bag that I plopped on the table yesterday and unfurl a brightly colored cloth. 

COVID-19, Music

Singing together alone

I recently reconnected with a choral group I sang with years ago. We’re three weeks into a five week Zoom choral experience. I signed up for this out of curiosity and as a way to make connections during this viral time. But I was dubious. Much of the joy of choral singing, for me, is the interaction with the other singers, listening carefully to each other as we weave harmonies around the melody, our many voices becoming one. How could I be part of a chorus singing by myself in my little pixeled box?

And we do each sing alone in our houses, muted to avoid the cacophony of variable connection speeds, learning our parts and then singing along with a recording of the song. As with many pandemic adaptations, it’s strange and a bit sad this singing together alone. 

But there is pleasure in the singing, in opening my throat, hitting the pitch, holding strong to my part. And as I look at the other singers in their little boxes, mouths moving, bodies swaying, and sometimes their eyes look up from the music, into their cameras and then into others’ eyes, I can imagine our gathered individual voices blending, swelling, diverging, and merging, our virtual chorus, and it is good enough, for now. 

Here’s one of the songs we’re singing: We Shall Be Known

COVID-19, Home, Writing

Writing feels distant these days

I open the computer with the intention to write but my restless mind interferes and soon I’m out the door where I pace up and down the street or do laps around my yard. My body appreciates the exercise but writing stagnates. I wish I had the cat’s ability to focus. He can sit for long stretches of time staring intently into the shrubbery, not even a whisker twitching as he waits for a chipmunk or vole to emerge. 

Eventually, renewing my resolve to sit with the blank page until words emerge, I go back inside, settle into my comfortable chair, and open the computer. I poke at a piece of writing for a while but then slide over to look at email or social media.

This past week has been especially difficult as the election nears and threats, fear, and anger escalate. Writing about my daily life seems frivolous, and yet it’s what I know. I’m angry and weary–as are most people I know–but I don’t have anything to add to the conversation about current events except to note how overwhelming it can all be. 

I talked about this with some writing friends and felt reassured that writing about my day to day is just fine. It might even be an antidote to the gathering angst. So, throughout the week I’m going to post quick word snapshots, glimpses of moments from my day to day. 

For example, yesterday I was in the front yard looking for the cat who I’d just seen disappearing into the depths of one of my gardens when I noticed the next door neighbors were out in the street taking pictures of their two boys.

I wandered over to see what was up. The three-year-old was just learning to ride a two-wheeled bike. He had such glee on his face as he wobbled along finding his balance point for seconds at a time before needing to plop his feet on the ground. Not to be outdone, the five-year-old demonstrated his ability to ride with just one hand on the handlebars.

He was just about to try riding with no hands when my phone rang. I needed to take the call and the family wandered off down the street. But I was left with the younger child’s broad smile and his joy in the trying and then trying again.