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tying up the heart songs

October 18th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

I look around the table at the women gathered there and I’m caught, just a bit, by the warmth and authenticity sitting with me. I feel blessed, and caught up in the moment of our conversations, of life and marriage, parenting and food and everything in between.

It’s chilly, and clear, but the wind is gusting hard against the old patio doors, making them rattle and throb in the gale. It is October, after all, and no one came here expecting to sunbathe and swim. We knew we’d find bare trees and dry brown grass, and everyone brought slippers or warm socks. Several people came with thick blankets to help ward off the chill of an October night.

But at this moment, no one is thinking about the cold hard wind outside. Because when you gather eight women who are all passionate about food, amazing things happen and we lay it out before us, gazing at the repast with gleaming eyes, exclaiming over the sight. We pour wine in to glass jars and pull up our chairs. Fragrant soup simmers and there is never a break in the conversation as we segue from one topic to the next, easily, like we’ve done this all our lives. Several of us have only met, just today and the moment the cabin door opened and the laughter swept in from the yard. But we know each other, as old friends, regardless of how much face time we’ve had. It’s inherent, this tribe. We have a bond and we just know, in our hearts that we belong here.

Outside the cold bright day turns to a brisk and clear night. There is warmth inside those rattling glass doors that the chilly Autumn night can’t chase away. We sit over homemade salsa and tortilla chips, freshly made bacon jam with crackers and toasted bread, deeply flavored roasted nuts. The promise of warm soup hangs in the air, and there is more bread, delicious and healthy salads and the conversation that feeds us, on and on, an endless succession of nurturing topics, filled with appetizing laughter.

There is more wine poured, glass jars clink on the table and plates come out. Bowls are set near the stove and a ladle dipped in to the pot, drawing forth a steaming amount to smell, while quiet smiles play across faces rich with anticipation. There is no one in this room who isn’t wholly in love with food, passionate about it in every way; who loves to feed others, who lives to share the bounty. They are kindred, these women, these beings that I love. There is a depth to the emotion that runs further than I could have imagined. Food sustains them, and they sustain others with it, through emotions, and heart songs and old glass jars. Through fragrant bread studded with herbs, through kicky salsa that dances on your tongue. Beyond the crackers, and the tortilla chips, there isn’t a processed item in sight. We love our food in exactly the way it should be; freshly and lovingly made.

The darkness outside is impenetrable now, and the dishes are cleared and washed. We slowly move to the sofa, the comfy chairs. Blankets are drawn over full tummies, feet pulled up and tucked under for warmth and yet the conversation never stops. No topic is exhausted or drained from our lips. Now there is dessert, and coffee to give us a brisk resurgence, but soon the home brewed beer is brought out and we taste, slowly sipping, loving the results. It’s close to midnight before we admit defeat and stumble sleepily, happily and with stuffed tummies and hearts, in to our beds.

The morning is more clear sunshine and sustained winds, a humming furnace and sleepy smiles. “I slept like a rock.” resounds from every mouth that appears, eyes relaxed and dreamy, arms wrapped tight in a cocoon of contentment. The coffee pot bubbles and we slip easily into conversation, watching out the windows to a morning rising bright and clear over the lake outside. Breakfast, again, is a dizzy array of fresh baked quick breads, creamy scrambled eggs dredged through with colorful vegetables, the ripest and juiciest pears and apples plucked fresh from the trees only days ago. We’re quieter, more relaxed. We smile and need no reason. We just are; in the moment, right here with our tribe, right where we need to be.

With a sigh, we rise and clean and organize and pack and hug and hug and hug again and laugh and wander across the crunchy leaves to the waiting cars, calling out, again, a goodbye, a thank you, smiles so wide that it seems to split our faces right in two. I close the door against the battering winds and face the empty cabin, the incredible array of foods they’ve left for me to enjoy. My heart is full, the song played out with a few last fading notes to a silence that feels rich, yet forlorn.

They’ll be back again. This much I know.


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one evening of change

January 20th, 2010 | 22 Comments »

I’m exhausted.

And I didn’t expect this feeling at all, this sense of such accomplishment, a profound feeling of gratitude coupled with a sneaking sense of…..I don’t know, shame, I think. Last night I had the phenomenal privilege of being a part of something that went to my very core, as a blogger first, but also as a person, and a child of God. I don’t talk about that faith here, not much at all, but last night it was profoundly stirred up and I need to address it. All of it was good, just so you know.

This post isn’t about food, nor does it contain a recipe although it will contain a few ingredients needed for vast humility and sheer humbleness. There will be links to bloggers in Minnesota, a wide net that’s been firmly cast. If it doesn’t interest you, I won’t be offended if you click away.

But last night, yes. It started at a restaurant, a dimly lit back room that quickly filled with 40 bloggers from Minnesota covering all walks of life. Organized with aplomb by Melissa, of The Marketing MaMa, it started racing through Twitter way back in early December and I signed on. Because that’s just what you do when opportunity knocks. The door opens and you walk through. Although I’m not so sure I walked. I think I was forcibly thrown, but in a good way. So good that I couldn’t even sleep after it was all over, despite my physical and emotional exhaustion.

I was excited for the event, but being that I am slightly introverted, also a tad nervous. It was helpful to walk into the room and be recognized immediately. It surprised me to hear fellow bloggers gush their appreciation over what I do. I was humbled to hear their thoughts on my blog, my recipes and photos, to hear them say “I’m SO glad to finally meet you!” and see warm, engaging smiles all around. Bloggers are like that. We may not share the same passion for our content- the Moms who blog vs. the people who are enraptured about food vs. those who eloquently talk about kitchen sciencebooks, holistic health, personal motivation and so on. But we all share the same gene that compels us to sit at our computers and forge an online presence, to follow others through Twitter. To connect. Bloggers connect and then when we finally do meet face to face, it’s like meeting a best friend you never knew you had. It’s impossible to stop talking. And thankfully our mouths can work as fast as our fingers.

(me on the right, then clockwise Melissa, Jen, Liz and Molly)
photo courtesy of Jen

I knew in my heart that this event was going to move me, in some way, and I still am not certain of outcomes or potential, but it’s there. Seeds have been planted and the trickles are only beginning. I am filled with the possibilities, even if I’ve just made new friends and connections. It was apparent that something big was in the works. Forty people just don’t come together, these days anyway with crowded schedules, young children and busy-ness, on just a whim and a promise. People look for gatherings that have significance and although I know we could have all sat in that restaurant for hours chatting, exchanging cards, ideas, web strategies, blog template ideals (that old Blogger v. WordPress option never fails to rear its head) but we had a bigger goal and that was to do volunteer work for Feed My Starving Children.

Back in December when this whole idea was born, and the volunteer aspect of it sealed, no one could have predicted that we would be specifically packing meals for the earthquake ravaged people of Haiti. What happened to them was so awful that it’s beyond words or feelings. Knowing that the 64 boxes of food we put together was going to land among the shattered buildings and broken population of that country made the outing that much more meaningful. Listening to the tutorial at the beginning of our shift there, and seeing the photos of the children that the meals ultimately help and it was all I could do not to break down into tears. I’d heard of this organization for years but I’d never gone. I have no idea why. Now I can’t wait to go back. One member of our group, Trish, posted the most profound entry that tells the tale better than I could ever imagined. She simply nailed the impact of what we were doing.

We stood together in groups, and scooped portions of food into bags, while upbeat music played in the background and dance moves were practiced. It was noisy and glorious, but somewhere along the way, the impact of it all landed inside me with a thud. There were the images of poverty that we’d seen, and the ones I knew about in my head but refused to acknowledge. There was the long-playing tape of my own financial stresses, something my husband and I have dealt with now for more than a year with no end in sight. Yet, it all came together in it’s own earthquake of awareness in my mind, and with the knowledge that I, as an inhabitant of one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, I am monumentally rich and prosperous compared to those who would be receiving this food we were making, and none of them- NONE- would ever even know the tiniest fraction of comfort that I do every day. For them, one scoop of food was a lifesaver, a means to stop the tears of sorrow. And for me, I cry about the economy and my inability to land a job to help alleviate our ongoing financial stress. We sometimes can’t sleep at night because of it, but I can go to my cupboards and prepare a meal, and I’ve gotten really damn good at making something from the most meager of ingredients, and I usually can eat three times a day without fail. I have experienced hunger but I have never, ever been starving. I have never known my body to devour itself as a means of survival. I have struggled in my lifetime, I have known dark times and long periods of my own poverty, my own lack of nutritious food, and I’ve been an unhealthy skinny girl due to it all, but I have never been swallowed alive by my own body in a last ditch effort to survive. And I’ll never even come close to that, ever.


And I stood there, in front of these ingredients, trying hard not to be repelled by the smell of the chicken powder, which was making me think of Rice-A-Roni. I was imagining the children that would be served this and thinking that they probably didn’t care, that it was likely they felt joy and excitement that a meal was being given to them and here I was, trying not to breathe too deep. Although I participated in the laughter around me, my heart really felt like it was breaking. I felt ashamed of myself, ashamed of the way I pity what I perceive to be inadequacies in my own life. I have so, so much; we’d left food on our plates at the restaurant, and I thought of the food items at home that I sometimes throw out. And I recalled all the complaining I’ve done about our own situation and the anxiety of it- or at least what I think of in terms of anxiety; the means I’ve gone to stretch our food dollars to cover the entire month. The meals that are simple, but nutritious and whole. I can work miracles in the kitchen. But my life, and my comfortable home and furniture, functional clothing, proper shoes, the heat and air-conditioning, our vehicles….it’s all luxuries that people in half the world can only dream about, if they even can envision such a thing.

Then we all gathered in the warehouse for a photo.

And as we dispersed, I saw several members of our group praying over the boxes of food we had created. And I walked away. No wonder I couldn’t sleep last night. I was being stared in the face by my own shortcomings and it wasn’t all that pretty.

My perspective has been monumentally shifted and I am grateful for the process. I alone could never have accomplished such a thing as the events of this night. I alone couldn’t have pushed myself into such discomfort. I could have never shown myself such levels of extreme, from the highs of connecting with these amazing people, meeting the faces behind the Tweeps and blogs and personalities I’ve grown familiar with, to the crashing lows of feeling so much shame over my self-imposed fret when really, my life is pretty amazing in comparison. And I’m glad not to be the only one who came away with a renewed perspective, a sharper focus. Forty hearts came together and gave selflessly and although it broke something in me, it also started building something else. And I’m thrilled to be a part of it. That door opened and I had no control over how mercilessly I was pitched through it, but thankfully it was hard enough for me to be able to stand up and take notice.

Thanks everyone…..you’ve done far more than you can imagine. I hope this is the first of many gatherings.