a random bolting brassica
on long, twiggy branches
spring doesn’t come subtly
when its color is yellow
“And the point is to live everything”… a short phrase from Rainer Maria Rilke (again), Letters to a Young Poet:
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
And try to love the questions themselves.
Do not seek the answers that can not be given you
Because you would not be able to live them
And the point is to live everything.
The daffodils on the backyard terrace outside are in full bloom, it’s time to enjoy them before they get brown. At least the daffodils in the shady spots next to the mailbox are still green sprouts, so there will be more pristine yellow spurts of color yet to come. I noticed the crocuses poking through the ground next; it’s still very early for gardening but I have an itch to pull out the last remnants of the fall garden (carrots, anyone?) and start planting arugula, lettuce, cilantro and turnips. And someday soon, to plant out the beginning shoots of flowers started in our mini-greenhouse milk jugs (pictured in photo).
In the sunshine this afternoon, I swept out the sun porch, in preparation for pleasant hours reading, writing, quilting, and just thinking, coffee or tea cup in hand. For me right now, this comprises “living everything.” (well, in addition to cleaning out the refrigerator in pursuit of the rotten smell) To be fully present with all of my senses, with the sunshine and gentle breeze, in a moment of peacefulness and rest, is the perfect Sunday afternoon.
I think the key to living well is to balance the sacred triad of Being, Becoming, and Doing. Well, maybe saying that it’s “the” key is premature, maybe I will have another “the key” in a week or a month or a decade from now, but I do believe strongly that devoting a part of our selves, our lives, our time and energies, to all three of these ways of living, will lead to a calm, contented sense that life is being lived to the fullest, engaged, not wasted.
Being is now, in this moment, the one that just passed and the one that followed swiftly after. To sit still and know. To know whatever it is that we do know. To know that we are here, we are loved, we belong, we have purpose. We are feeling the sentiment of the moment: the joy or sadness, laughter or tears.
Becoming is the feeling that we are working toward something. To be human is to need to work toward being better, stronger, smarter, higher, more complete. To need the feeling of making progress in our quest to become the people we have set out to be, whether it’s a career identity or a familial role or a new skill or hobby. We all need to feel that we are stretching and growing; that we have a goal in the distance toward which we reach.
Doing is, well, “doing” something. How do I describe “doing”? I know it when I am in the midst of it, “doing” the laundry or the dishes; preparing for class or struggling to learn a new tap step. Engaging life by raising my hand and jumping up to say, “Pick me! I’ll do it!”
Sometimes the days of our lives are organized exclusively around only one of these three: Being, Becoming, or Doing. I think that even though that is necessary in some passages of life, it’s detrimental to our selves to let one of the three over-run the others. When this happens, we need to step back and reorganize our time and our activities to bring some semblance of balance and meaning back into our lives.
Here I am at 40, for one more month, and this is the wisdom I have gained through many years of letting Becoming or Doing run roughshod over my life. Through all of these years, I have asked myself, “What is the meaning of life?” and the answer I came up with in my 30s was: The meaning of life is to live.
Perhaps I am adding more nuance to that equation as I continue to ponder but then I re-read Rilke and I feel in good company. After all, “the point is to live everything.”
We had another ice and snow event this week, shutting down school for multiple days again. In spite of this, our backyard daffodils have begun to bloom; these same daffodils that were poking their green shoots up through the earth 2 weeks ago, the last time our world stopped for snow and ice.
It really seems ridiculous to see flowers in the snow. Winter and spring together? for a couple of days at least. Is there supposed to be some deeper meaning to this? To be a writer is to have a gift for seeing and drawing connections; making everyday observations in the natural world into broad metaphors for life. But to me it is enough sometimes to say, “Look what I saw.”
The snow and ice were beautiful. Because I live in the South, where this weather is an infrequent nuisance, these moments make me catch my breath and sit down for a minute to take it in. I know in other, colder climates, where people prepare for winter with snow plows and mountains of salt, the presence of snow and ice is a normal fact of life in winter. But here, knowing that it will all be gone in 2 days, as long as I stay patiently inside and wait for sunshine, it’s lovely.
I’ve been thinking a lot about patience lately: patience for sunshine to melt the ice on the streets. Patience with my quilting project as I sit and put in stitches, knowing that the finished project (only baby-quilt-sized!) is still several hours away. And in a broader sense, patience with life, and patience with myself. I like that oft-quoted passage from Letters to a Young Poet where Rainer Maria Rilke encourages this patience that allows one to wait expectantly for what will come next in life without discounting what is present in life today. “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart,” he says, “And try to love the questions themselves.”
Last night I tried a new recipe, courtesy of “Wednesday Chef” Luisa Weiss, who wrote a fun book called My Berlin Kitchen, part memoir, part cookbook (well, mostly memoir, with recipes as an added treat). Chapter 10, “I Fell Hard and Fast,” ends with Poulet Sauté à la Paysanne Provençale, a “rustic braised chicken dish,” which ended up being quite delicious. You can find the recipe in her book or on various food blogs where others have tried it. My point here is that the second ingredient is:
“one 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces (2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and 2 bone-in breasts each cut in half crosswise; save the wings and backbone for stock)”
To be honest, I had never prepared a chicken like this before. I don’t buy chicken often, but when I do, I generally buy exactly the cuts that I need for a specific recipe. Or I roast a chicken whole and then tear apart the pieces and pick the meat off the bones. So this little foray into chicken butchery represented an entry into new territory for me.
Actually, it wasn’t that hard. I did manage to cut off 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and to cut the breast section into 4 pieces (probably not using official technique, but still). Within a matter of minutes, the chicken had moved from my cutting board to bowl full of pieces waiting for salt, pepper and flour. And yes, today I did make chicken stock from the wings, the backbone, and whatever other miscellaneous pieces were still on the cutting board.
The surprising part of all of this was how satisfied I felt about using an entire chicken: purchasing the entire bird, cutting it up, selecting which parts went into which pan, dealing with the leftovers myself. I had not expected to be so pleased with myself for being able to cut it up in the first place (although I must admit it wasn’t all that pretty). It’s a rather small accomplishment so the level of satisfaction seems to be a little out of proportion to the size of the task. And then the added satisfaction of making use of the whole bird itself was another little surprise.
All this to say, I love reading, I love reading about cooking, I love trying new things that I have read about… and the whole process helps me feel alive, and yes, empowered. You are lucky that I did not take any photos of my chicken, before or after. But I did want to close with this photo of the vanilla that I made last fall, just in time for the holidays, again following the directions of a food writer / blogger / book author. This time it was Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by “The Tipsy Baker” (Jennifer Reese) who extols the benefits of doing certain things at home, including making one’s own vanilla extract. Again, a simple enough task, providing a disproportionate amount of satisfaction relative to the size of the task.
The snow is melting (or mostly melted) and we are getting back to Life as Normal, which in Atlanta is Life Without Snow. I missed my chance to take a photo of the daffodil shoots on the backyard terrace, creeping up though a layer of dead leaves, surrounded by pristine whiteness. It was quite calm and beautiful and I spent several hours reading or puzzling or sewing, looking up periodically to check that the hillside really was still covered in white.
Today the hillside is back to the montage of dead brown leaves that we affectionately call “mulch” and I am reminded again of my resolution to dig up all of the obnoxious monkey grass. Speaking of resolutions, it’s been a three day snow holiday from the routine of life. Meaning that I did not go to work or dance class or stick to my personal schedule. I can’t claim that I needed a break from my life, as it were, but in the natural order of things, a snow day functions like hitting “Pause.”
So here is what I did accomplish, aside from the jigsaw puzzle that we finished and the book that I read (My Berlin Kitchen, a cooking memoir, which I always find tempting… the best combination of personal narrative, cooking stories, and recipes… yes I do read cookbooks for fun)… I did put Noshin’s baby quilt together! Last week we chose colors together, and a design based on one of the baby quilts in my sampler pile. This is the basic pattern that she chose:
It kind of looks like a snow day project, doesn’t it? Here is the quilt today, waiting patiently on the chair where I dropped it last night before bed.
It may be a few weeks before I finish the quilting itself. The different stages of these kinds of projects definitely come with their own energy. The Design phase is a fun but nerve-wracking puzzle: do these colors really work together? Is this going to be beautiful? The Assembly phase captures my attention in a different way, needing to watch that the pieces are square, that the seams line up right. (And how perfectionist to be?!) The Quilting phase is the more contemplative part, sitting for hours with the thimble on my third finger, pushing the needle up and down, moving the hoop from one block to the next. Some good time for thinking, winding down from the day, listening. So here we go for quiet quilting time.
It’s January, the New Year has come, the traditional time for self-reflection and goal-setting. I’ve made my Resolutions and I’m sticking to them: Dance more, Remember birthdays, Drink green tea, Celebrate. No resolutions about losing weight or getting a new job or saving more money, those elusive goals that can be reinstated every January as our “new” aspirations for the year.
I’ve been thinking about those things too, though… health and fitness, work and finances. For me personally the biggest question marks this year are in the World of Work. I think I have accepted that I am not a Career Woman. I’m not climbing the corporate ladder or worried about the glass ceiling. However, I do reflect regularly on matters of vocation and avocation; wanting a marriage between what I can bring and what the world needs. A niche, perhaps.
If I stand outside and look at my current life, I see a collage, or a jigsaw puzzle, or a quilt!? The pieces of different shapes, sizes, and colors complementing one another. Work, projects, interests, relationships: these four categories sum up my life in roughly even portions. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s me.
The one thing that dawned on me just the other day, the amazing epiphany that I am still contemplating, is that even in thoughts and decisions regarding the World of Work, I have to be myself. Just that. There are so many things that I could do, maybe even a long list of things that I should do, and I do want to accomplish (perhaps a small) subset of that. I do believe in the rightness of contributing and of striving to live up to one’s own potential. But in my heart, what I know is that I must be myself.
I am still figuring out what that means, and what shapes and colors I will add to the quilt of my life in response. But maybe the pieces will come to me, as I dance, create birthday gifts, and drink my green tea.
My friends Julia (a jewelry-maker and Paideia parent) and Kisha (a party designer) convinced me to participate in this year’s ArtVisions holiday art sale at Paideia School. Parent volunteers are turning the Paideia Gym into an art gallery, open this weekend, 10-5 Saturday and 12-5 Sunday. (Paideia is on Ponce de Leon between Fairview and Oakdale.)
Here is a sneak preview of the baby quilts that I submitted for the sale. Artists get 60% of the sale proceeds and the school uses the other 40% in support of the visual arts program. (I’m an artist!!???!)
All of these baby quilts are lined with cotton/polyester backing and quilted by hand by me (in the past month). They range in size from 3′ by 4′ to slightly larger. The pink one is square and approximately 3.5′ by 3.5′. And yes, I am happy to make you a quilt in whatever size and colors you prefer (prices will vary).
I had a lot of fun quilting this past month. But I am happy not to be quilting today. Happy Friday! Have a nice weekend :).
*** photography by Eyeonmedia ***