Thursday, April 10, 2014

how we see ourselves

Yesterday I spent a lovely afternoon learning to play mahjongg.  One of my friends has a standing Wednesday afternoon mahjongg group and I was invited to round out a second table.  The group was very forgiving of my very limited understanding of mahjongg.  I've only played mahjongg once in my life about a year ago and had no recollection of the vocabulary or rules. Luckily, this group of ladies was not the cut throat variety of players but a group of friends that used the game as a time to chat.    As we were playing and dealing out the tiles, which is a fast paced activity where everyone takes a turn pulling four tiles at a time to their wall I noticed our hands as we reached to the center of the table.  All of our hands were old.  Even those women who had maintained their hair color, and figures, and style, couldn't keep their hands from aging.  Some hands had pretty manicured nails, some had short clipped nails, some were lily white and some were darker brown, but all were thin to where you could see the bones and our hands were veiny and mottled.  Even the beautiful diamond rings on some of the hands couldn't mask the age.

As play progressed and I became more comfortable with the rules and the pace of the game I started listening more to the conversation than worrying about my next move.  Suddenly one of the women commented "Aren't you always surprised when you look in the mirror and you don't look like you did when you were thirty?"  After a very brief moment everyone agreed that in our minds we are still thirty and the kids are still young and we have our whole lives ahead of us and sometimes we wonder who that woman in the mirror is.  I wonder if when we are 90 we will wonder why we don't look like we did today, and I wonder what my hands will look like.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

While reading "The Over-Protected Kid" in the April "Atlantic" magazine I realized that this may have been the one part of parenting that I got right, although I may have gone a bit overboard in allowing my children freedom.  I used to plop my one year old in an umbrella stroller and send his 6 year old sister off around the neighborhood to take him for a walk.  She wasn't yet allowed to cross the street by herself so the walk was accomplished by staying on the same sidewalk going in and out of all of the dead end courts in the neighborhood and then retracing her steps to get home.  The handles on the stroller were about at her shoulder height and she would barely be able to see over the back of the stroller.  They'd be gone a half-hour or so and I loved the chance to have them out of the house for a bit.   If I did that now I'd probably be arrested for child abuse.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

You know that smile you get when one of your kids just calls you to kill time and chat?  Well, that's how I'm smiling today.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Last fall I was deleting some junk e-mail when I saw a Groupon deal for a weekend at Yogaville.  I'd heard about Yogaville, an asram built in the middle of rural Virginia.  It's been there about 30 years and has good town/gown relations, bringing jobs and even running a credit union for the local area.  I thought for $85 dollars for two nights including meals and yoga practice, this would be an opportunity to do something a bit outside my usual comfort zone.  I put off making my reservations because of the holidays and then the weather and finally I was within two weeks of the coupon expiring.  It was now or never.

The trip
So Friday morning I headed off through the back roads of Virginia.  It was a route that I knew very well. Narrow, curvy, hilly roads that I had driven for years to get to Kentucky to see my grandmother and to get to my son in boarding school.  I could drive those roads with my eyes closed except you can't.  You have to have a good grip on the steering wheel, a good sense of how to drive through curves, and a confidence that I found I hadn't lost.  It was beautiful but changed.  A bit more sprawl outside of Fredericksburg before getting to The Wilderness.  Yes, it really is named The Wilderness. The Civil War battle of The Wilderness was fought here as were some Revolutionary War battles.  This is an area rich in America's early history. Then on through the small little towns, no more than a crossroads, then crossover the Interstate, and deep into a rural area where gas stations still have one pump with the little tabs that drop to let you know your amount and cost, no digital stuff here.  I passed rolling farmland, small little homes, amazing Virginia horse farms, and dense woods.  Some fields were turning green which was a welcome sight given our cold winter and the snowstorm that was yet to come.

I arrived at Yogaville to find a modern complex built around a quad, much like some small little college. Modern wooden buildings - two dormitories on one side, a dining hall and reception area across the quad, and a library on one side and "classrooms" on the other.  They also have some motel-like private rooms available back on a hill.  I checked in and got my room assignment for the weekend.  I was greeted by a middle aged man wearing white flowing pants and top, who looked like his "other job" may have been as an accountant.  He handed my my schedule, the booklet of all the info about Yogaville - it's history, rules, maps, and explanations of the philosophy - and pointed out my dorm.  I was assigned a bunk bed sharing a room with three 25-20 year olds.  I'm certain they were surpirsed to see me there.  I was one of the older people attending for the weekend, not the oldest, but the average age was probably more around 50,  mostly women. 

About Yogaville
You should looked it up here -  In addition to weekend and short-stay guests, it also has long stay residents, some permanent, some in a transition phase where they can stay and do work for the ashram in exchange for a bed and three meals a day.  There is also a requirement that they participate in the yoga and meditation activities.  At the beginning of the recession NPR did a story on how to survive when you lost your job that talked about moving to Yogaville. There were also the scattering of "lost children", those young people who were searching for themselves 1960's style.  And there were the "lost adults" who didn't find themselves during the 1960's and 1970's and were trying again.  Some people were just taking a respite from their lives, staying a month or so to recharge.  And then there were us weekend people. 

The weekend
They call it a "Welcome Weekend" which includes your room and board (vegetarian meals) and yoga, meditation, and some lectures about Integral Yoga and the yogic lifestyle and how to incorporate the philosophy into your normal life. The schedule was busy yet unhurried.  Up at 5:30 am for meditation at 6 am, which was followed by Hatha yoga and then breakfast at 8 am.  Quiet hours - no talking - between 10 pm and 8 am.  Following breakfast you could attend the lectures or do you own thing - there is a coffee shop, a library, and lots of hiking trails. Then at 4 pm you have another hour of meditation, another hour of Hatha yoga, and then dinner.  Following dinner there is a program about Integral Yoga including music and chanting.

On Friday evening I took the opportunity to visit the Lotus Shrine which is an amazing pink and purple circular building in a gorgeous spot on the river bank. On Friday nights it is illuminated and as I drove through the windy road to reach it the view was like something from outer space that had landed there.  It was beautiful but I can only imagine what these rural Virginians thought as it was being built.  I spent a bit of time meditating in the rotunda area and it was a most peaceful, ethereal experience.  You felt but entirely alone yet entirely surrounded by love.  It was like an oasis in the desert but it was an oasis of the spirit.

The end
The schedule repeats each day so by the time I left I'd had at least 4 hours of meditation and 4 hours of yoga and I felt great!  I drove back home, back to reality and an impending snow storm. I knew I could never be as dedicated to my yoga practice as I'd like;  I'm just too lazy.  But I knew I would find a way to put 15 - 30 minutes of meditation into my schedule both morning and evening, and they had also taught me that yoga doesn't have to an hour and half at the gym, it could be 15 minutes of sun salutations and a few good stretches to relieve your tensions and assist your body.  I've been doing that the last few days and I really do feel better.  It also got me in touch with my inner hippie which had been in hiding for so many years.  No, I'm not going to run away and join the ashram, but I do intend to live a more mindful, peaceful life.  Service to others can take many forms and sometimes my service will be to just "let it go" and not try to solve it.

The next trip
Will I go again? I'd like to buy my inner cheapskate will have to wait for another Groupon deal.  And I also don't really want to share this experience with anyone.  My husband knows how much I enjoyed and now he wants to go.  He would hate it and I would feel like I had to keep him happy and entertained and it was be a.w.f.u.l.  My best friends would want to stay in the private rooms and make it into a slumber party and they'd complain about the food in a nice, but complaining way and I don't think they would appreciate the experience in the same way that I did. I think I need to wait a long time so that my enthusiasm is not so upfront and I can sneak away alone.  Not a very sharing thought but .......

Friday, February 07, 2014

they don't make them like they used to

When I got married, many many many many years ago, it was the beginning of the crockpot era.  I got one of these new appliances as a wedding gift and at the time wondered what I was supposed to do with it.   I used the little tiny cookbook that came with it to learn to make bean soup, stew, chili, and a few other handy items that served me well for many years. The crockpot alsoserved my entire neighborhood well.  My good friend borrowed it frequently for teacher soup parties, the crew team used it for chili dinners for the kids, the Girl Scouts had many meals from it.  It wasn't a fancy appliance  but it always worked.

A couple of years ago, for reasons that will never be clear to me, my husband bought me a new crockpot.  At this point we have 1) no children at home and consequently no need for handy, filling, inexpensive meals,  2) my other crockpot worked just fine, and 3) we were no longer involved in activities that required feeding hoards of hungry children and teenagers.  But, his excuse was "This one has a removeable crock."  Yes it does which is totally unnecessary.  The old one had a big warning "DO NOT IMMERSE" as the 'crock' was not removable from the 'pot'  but it was easily washed.

I have tried to cook with this new crockpot and everything turns to mush.  I carefully follow instructions that I have used for years and years and years and they don't work.  Today I tried again.  Beef stew, on low, carefully following the instructions.  It is now mush.  Careful internet research yielded this note:  "New crockpots are often 40 degrees hotter than older ones."  Forty degrees!  For a crockpot that's like 25% hotter.  No wonder everything cooks down to mush - on LOW.  I thought the whole point of a crockpot was a low temperature.  I think if I use this one again I'll just use the 'warm' setting.  I can't imagine using the 'high' setting.  But I think the real solution is to pull my old faithful crockpot out of the cupboard and donate this new one to the thrift store.

Monday, February 03, 2014

"The business of life is the acquisition of memories."

I'm catching up on "Downton Abbey" while I fold laundry.  It has really sunk to the level of a soap opera but it still has a special British charm.  Today I was struck by a comment by Carson, the butler.  I don't actually remember the story line to which it refers. but I was totally struck by the quote - "The business of life is the acquisition of memories".   When it is all over we don't need the china, the sofa, the car, the TV, the house, but we do need the memories of the times with friends, and family, and the experiences of sights and smells and trips which will keep us engaged and entertained and allow us to relive them through our memories forever.  So my goal is whenever I need to make a decision between "stuff" and a memory, is to always make a memory.  Thank you, Downton Abbey.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cauliflower and Leek Soup

As part of my to-do list to cook new things I've been concentrating on soups.  Last year I did a great job of trying new soups almost each week.  This year I haven't been as good at planning ahead and shopping for ingredients so I've just been making meals out of what I happened to have in the pantry and freezer.   Yesterday I had a head of cauliflower sitting in the fridge with no plan so I pulled out one of my soup cookbooks and found a recipe that I had tried and enjoyed last year.  After a stop at the grocery for a couple of leeks I did this wonderful cauliflower and leek soup.  I like it much better than broccoli soup, which I made last week, and it really is a filling dish for a cold winter day.   Also note that my husband hates cauliflower and he actually didn't know that this is made with cauliflower as the main ingredient.

Caulliflower and Leek soup

2-4 T of butter
2 large leeks
1 large head of cauliflower
4 cups chicken broth
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup parmesean cheese (divided in half)
1/4 cup greek yougurt
Pepper to taste (don't need much salt as the broth, cheese, and butter are salty.
Parsley to garnish

Chop the leeks, including the green stems up until they get tough.  I keep peeling back the outer stems to get to the softer inside parts.
Saute leeks in butter until soft - about 5 -  7 minutes.
Add cauliflower florets, chicken broth and cayenne pepper and cook until cauliflower is soft - about 20 minutes.
Use an immersion bender to blend to a creamy consistency.  You can also use a food processor or blender to blend in batches.
Stir in 1/4 cup parmesean cheese and the yougurt.
Heat thoroughy.

Serve with a hefty garnish of parsley and a sprinkle of parmesean cheese.

This can be made ahead, frozen, reheated.  It's very forgiving.  With a nice crusty bread it makes a great winter dinner.