Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blackberry Pies and Butterflies

It’s that time of year again—the blackberry patch in my backyard is laden with ripe, juicy berries. These are great eaten straight out of the patch—pick and pop into your mouth (rinse first to avoid insects, no pesticides here), or sprinkle on cereal. My three young men (and one older), however, love them baked in pie. As my youngest son, a recent college grad, pointed out the other day, “Mom, no one gets to taste berries like these!” For sure, the berries you get in a grocery store are a pale second to those we pick straight from our own patch.
            Not everyone, however, appreciates the blackberry. Over the years, a number of people have suggested I dig up my “unsightly” blackberry patch. Just last year I received a citation from our town inspector for the “weeds” in my yard. Needless to say, I phoned the man and dragged him out back to see the “weeds” up close. He rescinded the citation, but nevertheless suggested we blacktop our yard so we could use our garage (well…the man had a point. Because of the blackberry patch there is no way to drive to the garage, but I prefer not to “pave paradise”).
            This year, as I was baking the first of several blackberry pies, and cursing the pie dough (which I detest making, even with my husband’s help), I recalled that my mother, too, used to complain every time she made a piecrust (my niece, a pastry chef, has patiently tried to teach me, but to no avail). Just as I was lamenting this fact (I have looked into frozen pie crusts, but they just don’t taste the same, and many have unhealthy additives), a gorgeous butterfly lilted by the backdoor screen (pictured above). My mother adored butterflies, and since her passing 12 years ago, I have always taken their occasional visits as a sign. In this case, I was sure that my mother was saying, “Keep up with the pies! Yes, it’s a pain to make the crust, but treasure the moment!” In fact, when my kids were little she always used to say, “Treasure this time; these are the best years of your life.”
            I’m not sure about that, as I rather think that any year I’m living is the best year ever (kind of like, as a friend once commented, any flight from which he returns is a great flight). But Mom—and my butterfly visitor—certainly had a point. Instead of complaining about baking pies in 90-degree weather (after all, I do have an air conditioner), why not revel in the joy that blackberry season is here? Why not appreciate the fact that I had the foresight NOT to dig up that unsightly bramble patch when we bought this property—that I had the wisdom to wait and see what would bloom?
            Normally, I avoid sugar. But excuse me while I pour a cup of decaf and cut myself a big piece of pie. Once a year, a blackberry pie made from my own backyard is true cause for celebration. If you happen to stop by, I will give you a slice.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

I Believe...I Can Touch the Sky

Last Friday, I left my house and trekked into NYC at 6 a.m. to take part in the annual Summer Solstice in Times Square (this was my second; I missed last year as I was celebrating the solstice Kundalini yoga-style in New Mexico). When I arrived (with my dear friend D), I didn’t feel quite as excited as I had the first time, but pretty soon the magic of yoga surrounded me and I was flying high. There’s something so fun about doing yoga amidst skyscrapers! It’s just that feeling of "If I can do yoga here, I can do yoga anywhere and in any situation!"
            I know I’m a bit of a yoga nut (and if you don’t like reading about yoga you might want to skip this post), but on the other hand, yoga isn’t just about poses. Far more difficult than doing tree pose or lotus in Times Square, is using one’s calm yoga mind to block out all the distractions. One of my favorite things about yoga (and it’s probably true for runners, motorcyclists, musicians, and anything else that requires concentration) is that it helps you turn everything else off. It’s like a bubble bath for the brain…you just enter your yoga realm wherever you are, and come out feeling fresh, cleansed, and clear.
            Another thing I love about yoga in Times Square is the feeling that the world IS changing for the better. The organizers say that they started 11 years ago with three people. On Friday, 16,000 yogis practiced throughout the day in the Times Square location. That’s a lot of yogis---and it reflects the fact that yoga IS taking over the world!
            Yes, folks, yoga is taking over the world. Peace, love, harmony, commitment, dedication, non-harming, trust, compassion,… are taking over the world. We yogis are good at manifesting our dreams, so you’d better believe it! Sure, there’s still a lot that needs fixing, and plenty problems exist everywhere. But if we can grow from 3 to 16,000 just in NYC, I believe change is possible.
 As the song goes, do I “...believe I can fly?” No, not really. But I do believe I can touch the sky. In fact, the picture below (the brainchild of my friend D) proves I can! 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Thanks for Sharing

Today an unexpected visitor arrived in my backyard. I live in a bustling little town surrounded by highways, so I was a bit surprised to see a deer outside my kitchen window. She didn’t stay long and I don’t know where she went next, but I certainly enjoyed her presence while she was here (I know deer are common “pests” in some areas, uprooting gardens and the like, but for me an occasional visit from the wildlife world is a pleasure). In the past few months I’ve also seen woodchucks and an opossum in my backyard as well as--indoors--an uncanny number of kitchen ants (these, I will admit, I’m not overly fond of). Moths and butterflies are common this spring, as well as the occasional stray cat.
            “Sharing” my house and backyard with animals and insects can be annoying (I won’t go into the details of the spider I found crawling up my leg in my bed one night). Or the squirrel that had settled into my attic (we found him another home). I remember a friend once saying when we first bought our house that we needed to “bring the outside in.” I think she was talking interior decorating with sunlight and plants, not rodents.
            In any case, it seems that all these visitors—some wanted, some unwanted—have been giving me a message of late. And if we can’t share our space with an occasional mouse or fly, how are we expected to share with other human beings? (Who can be just as messy, destructive and irritating as the aforementioned squirrel, if you ask me.)
            It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this planet is just as much mine as a spider’s or to think that I “deserve” a better, brighter, roomier space than say a bear, or a deer or a bumble bee. It’s not really true, though. The deer in my backyard today reminded me of the fact that we are all in this together, and whether we sink or swim depends a lot on how well we can get along with one another.
            I’ll be the first to admit that certain crawly creatures (and some flying ones, such as bats) really push my buttons. But without them where would we be? The animals and insects that have entered my life recently just seem to be reminders that we are all essential parts of a Divinely-inspired universe—whether we walk, crawl, swim, fly, gallop or dance our way through life.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Last week my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by going to a lovely French restaurant. We were sitting at a quiet table in a corner when the waiter ushered in another couple and seated them nearby. I heard the woman mention that it was their wedding anniversary, and unable to stop myself, I blurted out, “It’s ours, too!”
            A few pleasantries and congratulations ensued, and my husband and I went back to eating our meal. But within a few moments, the man at the next table asked where we were from. We asked where they were from. They asked if we had kids. We asked if they had kids. And soon we were discussing all manner of things, from the price of condos in Hoboken to the price of tea in China (well, not really). Though we didn’t exchange phone numbers or highly personal information, I felt an immediate connection to and affinity for these people, though quite likely I will never see them again. And that, of course, got me thinking…
            This month, I’ve been participating in a 40-day meditative practice called Global Sadhana. Basically, it’s an online effort where people from all over the world come together to recite a mantra. The words of this particular mantra are connected to a sutra (a thread, saying, or aphorism) that was given by Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini yoga to the U.S. The sutra is simply: “Recognize that the other person is you.”
            The experience in the restaurant the other night brought this sutra from the heavenly ethers of yoga-land into my real life. It would have been quite easy not to have mentioned that it was our anniversary, too (the fact that I did so resulted in the staff singing to all four of us, a sweet but always embarrassing outcome of admitting such things to waiters). It would have been easy to have eaten our meal in silence, or to have concentrated on our own private conversation (after 36 years, yes, we still have things to talk about besides our children). Or to have considered chatting with the unknown couple at the next table to be rude or intrusive.
            Instead, simply connecting with “It’s our anniversary, too!” led to a delightful interchange. And the experience made me realize that as much as I sometimes feel and believe that I am unique and different from everyone else (as are you) we are also very, very much alike. It made me think about the fact that many times when I’m annoyed or irritated or downright angry with someone, that person may be feeling much the same way about me for some of the very same reasons. It made me think that when I’m feeling afraid to connect, maybe the other person is feeling that way too. In so many ways our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams and even our irritations are reflected in every single person we meet.
            “Recognize that the other person is you” seems simple enough on the surface. But to live with this awareness day-to-day and moment-to-moment is an entirely different matter indeed. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Where Everyone Knows Your Name...

Not long ago, one of my favorite restaurants unexpectedly shut its doors. This wasn’t a high-end place by any means; rather, a sort of neighborhood diner that had been around for decades. The food, service, and atmosphere were basic but the place was a perfect distance from my house. My husband and I could walk there, have a light breakfast or coffee, and then walk home.
            One day, when we arrived at the diner, the doors were forever closed. Although we were disappointed, we knew that for some of the regulars, this change would be devastating. Some folks seemed to literally live at the diner; it was a place where everyone knew your name (and if they didn’t know your actual name, they knew whether you liked milk with your decaf, or rye toast).
            As the weeks and months passed, my husband and I found a new place to frequent for a quick breakfast or lunch. Again, we noticed that certain people seemed to be at this diner all the time. They ordered the same fare. They engaged in the same variety of banter. This was another home away from home for many who wanted to get away from their kitchens and their troubles for a while.
            I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying different types of foods, but there’s something comforting about a local restaurant where things never change. 
            Well, long story short, the other day when we were out walking we came upon a reincarnation of the first restaurant mentioned. Apparently, several of the former employees have opened up a new place just down the block (with a little help from some investors, I suspect). Inside, the tables are brighter, the place is smaller, but the menu is much the same. Sitting inside were the same folks I used to see at the first incarnation, ordering the same fare, visibly relieved and delighted. In fact, things are going so well at the new location that customers (many regulars at the first venue) had lined up out the door and around the corner to get in.
            As I sipped my decaf, waited upon by the very same waiters (who welcomed me like a long lost cousin), I got to thinking about why we human beings like to be known (or at least, some of us do). Having once lived in a small town where I was a newspaper reporter I enjoyed the fact that a lot of the townspeople knew me by name, but I also remember feeling annoyed that I couldn’t seem to go anywhere anonymously, and when I later moved to Manhattan I rather relished the fact that no one knew who I was.
           The bottom line is, I guess we need a little of both. Sometimes it’s good to dine in an exotic location, among people you will likely never see again. But it’s also somehow rewarding to enter a place and be greeted with, “The usual?" Though anonymity has its benefits, "the usual" can be a very fine thing indeed. After all, the usual doesn't have to be a cup of coffee; it could be an embrace, a smile, or a glance that says, "I know exactly what you need."