My Mother was a fabulous baker. In an attempt to keep her here with us, to keep her lovely visions of Christmas alive, I have stepped into her apron and kitchen, dug through her massive collection of recipes and wielded her wooden spoons.
To almost no avail.
The spicy rocks are mud pies. The gingerbread bars are under done. The stollen is a complete disaster, with its 6 hour intensive effort and all 5 loaves in the trash. The singular saving grace are the thumbprints, as yet unfrosted because that part makes me nervous.
There have been tears and laughter and texting with a culinarily-superior cousin for advice. There have been lessons learned; do not over blend the cookie dough, no 2 ovens are the same, yeast is ruined if dissolved in water above 110 degrees. And my love for raw batter has remained unchanged since childhood, yet my body can no longer process such gluttonous intake.
There may be the requested rum balls still to come. They require no oven, so I cling to slim hope they pass muster. Aside from them, I am done. Spare time has run out and I have had enough success at failure for one season.
The past is truly the past and the sweetness of memories will have to do. How lucky am I to have so many of them with a Mother who loved to bake.
what if, despite the season of light and joy, you feel such sorrow and grief?
freely feel the sorrow, the grief.
pray in whatever manner you do.
know your prayer makes a difference.
channel your grief to help another in need; there are so many in need.
if your grief is for people and circumstances afar, make a difference for some one close.
bake and cook with more soul than ever.
visit your elderly neighbor.
call, even if it's inconvenient.
make a shelter for feral cats.
donate money where ever you feel compelled.
give no advice, just listen.
make more time for those you love.
to act, right where you are, is to keep goodness alive,
is to stave off your own helplessness,
is to keep lit the candle of hope.
yesterday afternoon i heard on the radio of a christmas concert. it started at 4pm. it was a concert my mother and i had hoped to attend. with no thought to anything else, i got dressed, put on her ring, spritzed her perfume over my head and went.
arriving at the church, i scanned the seating options and decided immediately on a very small pew tucked against the far right wall. i simply wished to be alone and inconspicuous while listening. the church filled, 2 ladies sat behind me and every one else chose to sit in the center sections.
this was the concert of the chamber choir, vocalis. a choir committed to performing a cappella music of all eras. i had never heard them before. as the choir filed in, they walked up the 2 outermost aisles. they did not, however, take the stage. they stayed in the aisles and turned to face the center sections. the end of the choir line stopped at my little pew, with a petite brunette facing away from me.
the director suddenly raised his arms and the men began to sing what i instantly recognized as chant music. 11th century plainchant to be precise. immediately, my heart felt squeezed. i have listened to chant via mechanical means for years and years, never in person. certainly, never up close. and then, then, the petite brunette opened her mouth and the sweetest soprano sounds flowed out of her and without warning, i burst into tears.
i found i could not stop for the entire song. and the horror of only one crumpled tissue in my purse. eventually, the choir made it to the stage and i managed to dry my face, hoping i was still inconspicuous. then, they sang "silent night", my mother's favorite song, and my cheeks were wet again.
after intermission, the choir filed in through the altar doorway. thank goodness. but no. a few songs in, and with not a corner of the lone tissue to spare, once again they filed down the aisle. once again the petite brunette turned her back to me and pierced me with her voice. my tears fell to my lap. one of the men in the choir was watching me. alone and inconspicuous was done.
i have known that music has the power to rearrange our very cells, to change our vibration and to heal. i believe a collective of human voices, singing certain notes, can alter lives for the good. now, not only do i believe, i know. because many hours later i can still feel the effects within me of the collective songs they sung. it feels uncomfortable, yet nothing short of grace bestowed.
with her ring on my hand and the songs in my heart, the next phase of my healing has begun.
Tea is a daily repast for me. Even in the height of summer. But it takes on an urgent need as cold weather draws down and the holidays gear up. My favorite teas, bar none, are hand crafted organics from Bellocq.
Never mind that I'm related to 2 of the geniuses behind this savvy company, I would worship these teas regardless.
By the end of our horse power weekend, for me, it was all about the Shire draft horse. And wouldn't you know, not only are they renowned for their gentle attitude, the people that own Shires are salt of the earth. Gentle, welcoming, devoted, passionate. Horse people that welcome non-horse people like me with open arms and knowledge to share.
Lisa and I went from petting Shires at the full-immersion-event of Equine Affair to interacting with them in their home pasture. How was that possible?
Simple as that. I asked the fully-available owners of Isaac, Gene and Vicky McCaffrey, (of the 173 acre Ox Kill Farm outside Albany, NY) if they ever accepted visitors. Their answer was a quick "yes" and "we'll see you tomorrow." Not only did the McCaffreys welcome Lisa and I into their home and offer us lunch, they gave us a full tour of their working Shire and cattle farm. What a gift. What a gracious, glorious gift. The information they freely shared was vast and filled with enthusiasm. I instantly wished I was their neighbor.
There is no telling, yet, what 4 days steeped in horses will bring to me. There has been too much information and new experience to fully take in. Slow digestion is called for. But intrigue has been ignited. I have dreamed of horses 7 nights in a row. I can tell you, though, these horses are healers. I am less sad than I was before meeting them all. Perhaps horses will show me the way home.
i do not exaggerate when i tell you, 2 hours on a november afternoon in massachusetts altered my life. there was my forever-friend, lisa, who made the discovery of blue star equiculture farm online, there was me, fascinated and nervous, and there was pamela. gracious, welcoming, passionate, wise pamela. she is head madam of the horse farm, and sports a rainbow aura like few i have ever encountered.
blue star equiculture is an organic farm that rescues, rehabilitates, offers retirement and long term care to horses in general and draft horses in particular. blue star cares for an average of 30 horses at a time~ some drafts come from the carriage trade (all have been well cared for prior to their arrival at the farm and have maintained wonderful conformation from doing the job they were bred to perform!), some drafts arrive when owners can no longer financially care for them, some when owners face terminal illness, some are thankfully rescued from slaughter.
pamela and her vast crew of horse-loving volunteers, along with veterinarians, an equine dentist and ferrier, have devoted themselves to making a compassionate difference in the education and care of drafts. they believe the draft horse is a national treasure, without whom this nation would not have been built. they believe we owe it to these working-breed horses to give them meaningful jobs and purpose. to honor what we have bred in to them~ the need to move, pull, earn their keep and interact with humans.
what pamela did for me, unawares, was give me an instant and lasting appreciation for these creatures that have occupied my thoughts and dreams. in casually bringing lisa and i out amongst the herds, calling each one by name, offering pets and kisses, she melted away my natural fear of horses and confirmed my instincts to seek out the largest horses for the gentlest encounters. she gave us more knowledge than it was possible to process all at once and she gave it with a wide open heart.
i cried when we got back in the car. because there were no words to express the joyful overwhelm of 30 horses and a woman who knows her mission in life.
lisa an i have agreed, and pamela concurred, we are going back. the calls of our hearts say we must.
there are times when windows open and you must pass through. even if you don't know where they will lead or why exactly you need to drop everything and follow the cracks of light suddenly seeping through your ordinariness. most times, in following the cracks of light you become flooded with sensations that stand on the very edge of definition. in your natural tendency to name everything, you think you might be able to label the sensation joy. perhaps rapture. certainly bone-deep delight.
these windows seem most inclined to pop open when you have a hunch and no expectations. when you can be fascinated by the simple cracks of light and need nothing beyond that shimmer. when you hold the nonsensical notion of draft horses in a small pocket of your brain, for instance, and hold that notion for years, not having the foggiest clue what these horses can mean to an ordinary and recently painful life, you might suddenly, inexplicably find yourself on the cusp of a pasture teaming with 30 drafts. the chain on the gate becomes your window and dreamlike, you are led directly into the thick of the herds.
despite having held these hulking beasts in a corner of your brain, you are very uncomfortable with horses. you describe yourself as afraid of the equine culture. but you let the chain slip off the gate, let the window open and do something about it. you trust. and to your speechless surprise that trust is rewarded as the white ambassador singles you out for a greeting.
you hear the woman in charge of the herds yell to you, "that's iron mike" and you swear another voice piggy-backs hers and says, boldly, "he is a representative of the archangel michael." but you can't be quite sure because you aren't all that familiar with angels, yet you decide to believe it on the spot because the horse is a shire, after all, and quite possibly the largest, most gentle creature you've met.
he sways you past your fears in an instant with his easy manners and over-sized head waiting to be rubbed. you feel something within you shatter, dwarfed as you are in front of him. you pet him and thank him and leave the shards of your fear in the manure. you go forth and walk amongst the herds, flanked at times by 16, 17, 18 hands high horses, your heart having found some peace and a home.