Stomping Fire: Everyday Magic, Day 838

How close to the house? Very.
How close to the house? Very.

I wanted to eat pizza with friends. Instead, I stomped fire. Maybe that’s a strong narrative thread in my life, but in the here and now of a Saturday night, it was simply what it always is: a necessity.

Ken, Daniel and Forest were planning to burn the field near our house, and I emphasize the “near” part of that phrase. We realized, thanks to me ignoring a prairie burn several years ago because I was too engaged in talking with a pal about growing up on a kibbutz, we discovered that when we burn the brome field, native grasses emerge. To reclaim more prairie, burn more brome.

For weeks, the guys, especially Daniel, plotted and planned, assembling a line-up of water sprayers, shovels and rakes, calling people to join in, and rushing to the computer to check wind speeds while also ensuring that the ground wasn’t too damp. Saturday was perfect, they were were sure, until the wind picked up. With a wise county rule that no burning is allowed until the winds are 8 mph or less, it seemed likely no burn could take place. So we confirmed our plans for the most exquisite of pizza (yes, Limestone Pizza, I’m talking about you) and got dressed to go.

IMG_2383That’s when Daniel announced the winds were down to 6 mph. Dinner! I proclaimed. Fire! they proclaimed louder. In the end, like it always does, fire won. I retreated with the crazed dog, who wanted to light things on fire too, watching my guys make a lovely line of fire, fairly easy to do if you wind dry grasses like spaghetti around a pitchfork and drag it.

All was well until I heard the screaming. I couldn’t make out what they were yelling about, except for “Right now!” So I went out to help. The fire had jumped ship, leaping from where it was supposed to do its business in the field of native prairie, which we weren’t planning to burn until April. With daylight fading, and the native prairie very large, we had to get that fire out. By the time the guys accomplished this, it was near dark, and the county also has a ban on nighttime burning.

So I joined them in stomping fire. It’s a little like dancing, but with more desperation. Ken walked in front of me, spraying water at the line of flames. I followed up, stomping on all the droplets of fire. If you stomp hard enough and keep stamping, it’s amazing how much fire you can extinguish.

In the end, they burned half a field, we missed our friends, but there were enchiladas. There was also the satisfaction of making something that got out of control, then saving the day.

Back to the Pool, Whining All the Way: Everyday Magic, Day 837

I wanted to go. I didn’t want to go. I figured I might, but probably wouldn’t, yet just in case, I tossed the bathing suit and towel in the car. It was too cold, I was too tired, and my brain played an endless parade of excuses. So it was no wonder that after getting some groceries, I aimed the car south toward home. The battle in my head got louder, and although “going home” had announced its victory over “going swimming,” some things aren’t over when they seem to be over. I suddenly aimed the car west and drove to the pool, totally out of my way and after extensive justification about why it was better to sit in a comfy chair at home with a blanket and a cup of tea.

After I parked and pushed myself through the hard wind and stinging snow, I continued my barrage of reasons why I needn’t do this, but now, since I’m here already, I might as well swim a few laps. Having not swam much since my medical adventure and still being anemic enough to nap twice most days, it seemed prudent to expect little and settle for less.

Once I lowered myself into the water, all bets were off. It felt, like always, so luxuriously refreshing and silky, so energizing and balancing, so much like home. I swam while singing songs and chants in my head as usual, occasionally playing over that little rants until they dissolved away. I aimed for six laps, then figured I’d do 12. I upped my expectation to 15, and since that was so close to my usual 18 laps, I kept going, stopping to sip from my water bottle on one end, glancing at the clock at the other, and in between falling back in love with the water.

In the end, I pulled myself out, happily worn out a bit and wound up more, after 40 minutes (I swim slow) and headed toward the dressing room. Within a few minutes, I was back outside, the wind, snow and wild bluster even more intense, but it bothered me less. I got to the refuge of the car, turned on the heat and exhaled. I might whine all the way to the pool, but I’m clear-headed and joyful all the way home.

Celebrate This Kansas on Happy Kansas Day: Everyday Magic, Day 836

20110520_1115In honor of Kansas statement turning 154 years old, while Kansas land and sky is tens of thousands of years ago, I offer this poem, and one of Stephen Locke’s photos, also published in our collaboration, Chasing Weather: Tornadoes, Tempests, and Thunderous Skies in Word and Image.

Celebrate this sky, this land beyond measured

time that tilts the seasonal light. Dream the return

of the stars, the searing rise of summer or fast spread

of thunderheads, the secret-holding cedars and

witness rocks that migrate across the prairies.

We breathe the air of those who spoke languages

forgotten as the glaciers. We walk the fields

that once fed the fish of inland oceans.

We turn our heads away from where the raccoon

hid his family from the storm hundreds

of generations beforehand. This rain was once

a man’s last wish, this heat what warmed a weathered

rock enough for a woman to rest on with her baby,

these fossils, love songs of memory and longing

after the beloveds die. This horizon the homeland

of butterfly milkweed oranging in ancient sun.

This creek’s trail rerouted by deer and wild turkey.

This wooded curve the one favored by bluebirds

following last summer south. All we see,

the ghost and angel of billions of trails

through grasslands, the remnant of hard rains

where the grandmothers and grandfathers sang

of weather and loss, wars and births.

The bones of this land and the feathers of this sky

know us better than we know ourselves.

In Praise of Tea: Everyday Magic, Day 835

keep-calm-and-have-a-cup-of-tea-90It started with my grandfather as we watched westerns on the magic black-and-white TV, and he sipped his cup of tea with just a touch of milk and sugar. I was always on his lap, and he always had a plate of butter cookies, the round kind with scalloped edges and a hole in the center that he let me dip into his tea and eat. “Bonanza” blasted around us in the comfort of tea and our time.

By the time my grandfather was gone, and I was scrambling through the thorny brush of my teen years, it was my own cup of tea. Tea with milk and sugar, and when I could get them, those great cookies too.

In college, Kathy introduced me to Constant Comment, which I lived on along with some of my roommates in a big house full of two many women in Columbia, MO. Early mornings? Tea. Mid-afternoon slumps? Tea. Broken-hearted trauma drama processing every nuance into the ground? More tea.

Throughout young adulthood, I was all about the tea. Black tea, herbal tea, freshly mixed blends of peppermint and orange peel tea. Later on, red tea, green tea, white tea, chai in many varieties. Tea for migraines, tummy aches, sadness, menstrual cramps, colds, and to de-frazzle me from the relentless of reality.

After I started popping out the babies, somehow coffee, with its muscular allure, moved into the house, and tea skittered into the background. Waking up was all about getting the coffee into me as soon as possible, which meant I usually drank it iced, and lately, with almond milk, after it was freshly made, strong and dark, with the French press. At the same time, I’ve been collecting tea pots, which, after someone gave me a new tea pot last month, I decided to display altogether in my dining room, thinking perhaps it was time to start using these.IMG_2355

That time arrived from a direction I couldn’t have anticipated. After my blood transfusion a few weeks ago, coffee seems as appealing as rawhide, and I’ve returned to tea each morning, many afternoons too. Early Grey, English Breakfast, Ginger Peach, and even Constant Comment. I’m guessing the blood now running through my veins came from a human who loves tea, reminding me that I do too.

Getting Some New Blood In My Life: Everyday Magic, Day 834

I feel as if I just returned from a trip that entailed sheer cliffs, hair-pin turns, long treks through the desert without enough water, and being lost in nightmared woodlands — because that’s pretty much what happened even if the actual locations were only my house and the local hospital.

Long story short: a week ago, I had an upper GI bleed, and became dehydrated and anemic to the point of telling an ER doctor I would kill for some IV fluids. He granted me my wish along with two pints of brand new (at least to me) blood. After two trips to the ER, a bunch of procedures, and lots of doctor visits to hear what happened and what scary amount of blood I lost, I’m okay and healing, and I’m wondering what it means to have some new blood.

Of course I have a renewed appreciation for blood donors, and for the first time as a receiver, I understand quite viscerally why we need to share the love and the blood in this world. At the same time, it’s astonishing to be wandering around with someone else’s blood helping my own multiply itself, and there’s nothing like such an experience to help me know how much we interconnect.

There’s also something about getting new blood that breaks my being open in gratitude, vulnerability, and, most of all, peace. Yet this is not the peace of all things smoothed and gentle; it’s quite the opposite. I recently read Bernie Glassman’s essay “My Wife Died Unexpectedly Last March,” a short meditation he wrote over 15 years years ago in the months following his wife’s death. When people ask him how he feels, he says, “I’m raw,” and then explains:

Raw is letting whatever happens happen, what arises, arise. Feelings, too: grief, pain, loss, a desire to disappear, even the desire to die. One feeling follows another, one sensation after the next. I just listen deeply, bear witness.

While what I went through is nothing compared to Glassman’s loss (and not a loss at all for me), the jangly peace I feel, rough-edged and tender, resonates with some of what he says about feeling raw, bearing witness. I’ve noticed that after big life sweeps — the loss of a friend or parent, a medical emergency, a long stretch of excruciating uncertainty about something essential to one’s life — land us in this utterly alive place where everything is itself, only more so, perhaps as it actually is but as we rarely see. The vibrant blue of the sky pierces everything with light. The photo of my friend Jerry, which I set up a few days ago in memorial, shimmers with his love for the world. The headaches that roll through me, the sunlight on the fake-wood floor, the quiet tropical taste of the banana, the warmth of the tea — they all stand on their own legs. Even the mouse hotel stuffed chair (what a surprise to lift that cushion), now on our porch awaiting deportation, is what it is after months of depositing a mouse a day in our house for the cats to chase.

It turns out that the new blood is actually a song to awaken the old blood of who I am beneath constructed identities and in relation to all others with a pulse. Now that my own pulse is not skyrocketing well over 140, I breathe in the miracle of healing with gratitude and peace for all.

What Is a Year?: Everyday Magic, Day 833

If 2014 was a mouse, I’d let my cats kill it, and then I would, like I do with all their usual triumphs, pick it up by the tip of its tail and fling it out into the cold, dark night. Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s not any kind of mammal, but just another bundle of time nearing its expiration point. Yet when I think about this year, I land on wocrisis, near-miss, loss, death, outrage, fear, and the most challenging word of all, change.

In the last year, many family and friends experienced game-changing crises, catalyzing moves home or away, job changes, long stays in hospital rooms or short stints in triage, and a whole lot of funerals. Some of the changes or deaths were slow, full of healing, grace, pain, and release. Some were sudden and shocking. Some were utterly surprising although, in retrospect, we should have been it coming.

In my life, I’ve been slogging through the potholes of grief in the last few weeks since my friend Jerry died, and earlier this fall, six people I was a little or a little more close to left the planet. Last spring, there was a heart-shaking showdown between the union and management in my workplace, fueling a binge of insomnia for me. Some of my three children underwent big shifts in jobs, homes, relationships. My mother-in-law has been in the hospital for much of December, and the tunnel through heart issues to greater health and longer life is still very much in play. Some organizations I’m very involved in needed to rescued from the brink. And I’ve tried to be present for dear ones going through some of life’s most excruciating passages.

I’ve also had more than my share of blessing, whimsy, and laughter, including breaking my toilet, delighting in three books coming out, working in discernment and love with students at Goddard College and in workshops, and witnessing great unfoldings of beauty — in the skies, in the faces of people I meet, in the eyes of cats, dogs, and humans. I’ve traveled through Kansas and to Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Michigan (for the first time), Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, and three times to the Twin Cities and back. I’ve gotten too many colds and have eaten too few dark, leafy greens. I dragged a cedar tree into the house and strung it up with lights, capping it with a decorative squirrel. I’ve cleaned the house about 41 times, and even scrubbed the laundry room once. I’ve made and consumed a lot of enchiladas, and taken many naps with cats on my chest. I’ve read some great books, including many of the novels of Ann Patchett and Amy Bloom, and also surely gotten enough sleep, one way or another. I swam many laps, walked many miles, sat many hours on my ass, and pushed/relaxed myself into deeper downward dogs. I’ve also watched a whole lof to movies, aiming for inspiration, laughs (even when wedded to stupidity), and charm.

There’s no way for me to encapsulate any year, particularly this one, which often defied any single word, sentence or paragraph. So often, I’ve felt like I was climbing a roller coaster, and then holding my stomach for dear life as we plummeted down at high speed. What echoes and winds through all of it? Music, even if mostly of the wind. Attention, even and especially at the moments so hard there’s nothing left to do but focus on the immediate. Tenderness, which I keep finding trumps all else when the chips are the down, the storm is upon us, and the pain makes us want to jump out of our skin.

I come back to how the way we treat each other — no matter what is happening and particularly when it’s painful, confusing, and scary — is what matters most. We pay attention, which means listening enough to hear the music of the moment. Then we open our arms, even to whatever a year has been, and with hope, to the next year’s story.

Making Peace with Christmas: Everyday Magic, Day 832

640Christmas has been like the Dread Pirate Roberts for much of my life. Just like The Princess Bride character, it took no prisoners, was illusive but widely feared, and mysteriously changed over time.

Growing up Jewish, I remember cleaning my closet on Christmas, passing the day feeling left out of the party, and of course, going out for Chinese food although we tended to go out for Chinese at the drop of a hat. In my teenage years, when my father married into a Catholic family, Christmas morphed into a combination of agony, boredom, and disappointment, punctuated with lasagna and turkey. With a step-mother who made wielded the weapon of gift inequality (one year, one of my step-sibs got a car, albeit a used car, while I got a blow dryer), my insecurity gained more weight than I did from all the holiday cookies.

When I moved out of the house, I dragged Christmas-as-enemy with me, alternating between being the awkward guest in someone else’s show to trying to ignore the deafening roar of all things Christmas all around. I spent many years cursing Christmas music although, like many people, I have my favorites, and I find much of the music sweet and beautiful (not like the dirges of my people, although, given our history, we have our reasons). I rolled my eyes at tinsel, and got easily pissed off when store clerks told me to have a Merry Christmas. I could recite a well-rehearsed diatribe about how this country was founded on the basis of freedom of religion, and people need to remember that not everyone is Christian.

Yet I’ve also been ferried through some lovely Christmas moments: Midnight mass with my Catholic step-family; playing cards with the children of two beloved professors at the University of Missouri, both of whom insisted I needed to spend Christmas with a family; candlelight church services with the Methodist family I married into, holding up my candle and trying not cry when we sang “Silent Night”; singing alternative lyrics to Christmas Carols with friends (“When shepherds washed their socks at night,” which includes the prayer for the lord to make them static-free). I’ve poured out of buses to carol unsuspecting patients in the hospital, wore red ornament earrings a friend gave me, and even sewed my own stocking, zigzag-stitching my name on it.

Time changes us in ways we can’t always imagine. I find myself now actually tuning into a radio station that plays Christmas music (although I switch stations away from it just as often). I helped Ken drag a cedar tree from the field, then bedecked it with Forest, hanging the ornaments my sister-in-law has been giving each of our children for years. I strung lights through bows of cedar on top of the cabinets. But the biggest change is that I’m no longer hanging on for dear life until the relief of Dec. 26.

I’m not sure how I got here, but I suspect it has to do with having friends of many faiths — a variety pack of Buddhists, Hindus, Hare Krishnas, Wiccans, Jews of many stripes, Muslims, and Christians from Episcopalians to Lebanese Orthodox to Evangelicals. There’s also that perspective we gain over time about what matters, and the pettiness of my old Christmas grudge in a life buoyed by a bevy of blessings: a home, meaningful work, loving friends and family. Given how so many suffer at the hands of war, Ebola, displacement, poverty, homelessness, and racism, why gripe about yet another rendition of “Jingle Bells”?

The Dread Pirate Roberts turned out not to be necessarily evil, but just a guy. Christmas is both just a day and a space for great potential to connect with family, friends, light, and mashed potatoes. When people wish me a Merry Christmas, I’m now answering, “You too,” and taking in all the wishes for merry I can get.