Always present

Contrails in the sky

They crisscross the sky like a gigantic tic-tac-toe game, the contrails of the jets that are too high to see, but there just the same. Because the Verde Valley is right on the fly way, we get traffic from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor to points west such as Los Angeles and points east such as Chicago. That’s a lot of planes!

Although their absence was striking during the once-in-a-lifetime shutdown of all air traffic after the 9-11 tragedy, we don’t often look up and notice contrails. They are just there, visible proof of our busyness as individuals and our affluence as a nation.

Do we take the same approach with the loved ones in our life? Accepted in their continual presence, only noticed and missed when they are absent. Perhaps we need to appreciate more and take for granted less!

Mi taku oyasin
[translation: We are all related.]
~Lakota Sioux saying~

 

 

A friend who is always there waiting

evil eye goat

Have you ever had a goat give you the evil eye? I wasn’t sure whether this one was nearsighted or if there was spinach between my teeth.

Goats aren’t my favorite people, although they are the companions of choice for expensive race horses. Arlington International Race Track near Chicago once reported nearly 60 goats in residence. They’ve tried pot-bellied pigs to be racing mascots, but the horses seem to prefer the goats, hands–err, hooves down.

“While most horses don’t seem to mind the short separation for racing and exercising, if their goats aren’t around the barn with them, it often means trouble. They will pace the stalls, and fail to get the rest they need. They just can’t relax unless that goat is nearby.

“Goats often ride in the trailer with the horses when they are moving from track to track. Once, when a horse was sold in a claiming race, its goat was sent along with it. ‘It was the only humane thing to do,’ the trainer said. ‘A horse that loses its goat is just bereft and actually mourns.’  Christine Winter, Chicago Tribune.

And if somebody “gets your goat,”  I hope they return it before the important race day!

I go about looking at horses and cattle.
They eat grass, make love, work when they have to, bear their young. I am sick with envy of them.

~Sherwood Anderson~

Falling apart and coming together

Out of plumb

This ramshackle house, about to collapse, with not one true-square corner to its credit, is how I wake up some mornings. Out of plumb, not syncing with the world I find myself in. My jokes don’t seem funny, even to me. My cat purrs and bites me at the same time. I stub my toe on the sidewalk edge I have stepped over hundreds of times before.

And then I have to stop and breathe. I’m fine. The world is fine. We will all make it through this life, together.

     Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
                  ~The Velveteen Rabbit~ 

All kinds of mothering

lilac bouquetI am reminded that there is both joy and sorrow in Mother’s Day. Joy, for the present family connections. Sorrow and regret for mothers who are no longer with us.

But it also occurs to me that the primary attributes that we celebrate in mothers: care taking, love, empathy for others, are present in all of us, whether we are women or men, biological mothers or not.

For example, we are mothering when we take care of, and love the tools of our trade. I am reminded of my father, a carpenter and gardener, whose day in the shop or in the field wasn’t complete until all tools were cleaned of mud and grit, polished, and put back where they belonged. That way, he was able to lay a hand on them instantly the next time they were needed. His favorite phrase was, “Take care of the things that take care of you.” He was right!

We take care of and love, other living beings. It goes without saying that I spoil both of my fur babies rotten. They are talked to, coddled, and given the best places to sleep in the bed and on the couch. I, in turn, rearrange myself in the left-over space around them.

But care and attention also extends to the cats next door. One is a gray puss with big eyes, an outside cat with human-parents who sometimes leave for days at a time for work in another town. She’s learned that there’s a fresh water dish and food at my house, at the ready for her in a sheltered area. Her buddy, an orange Tom with a chewed ear, has found a home-away-from-home with two little girls across the street.

We love and take care of both our own children, and others. Watch what happens when a small child gets lost and separated from parents in a large store. Some adult will step up and make sure the child is delivered to the front of the store where a loud-speaker announcement soon ensues, to locate the frantic parents.

We love and take care of total strangers. Once when I was rear-ended on a busy street, I was helped from the car by the guy that hit me! And then strangers were dialing immediately for EMTs. Three burly guys pushed my car out of the traffic lane. We do these things, instinctively.

Where we fall down, sometimes, is closer to home. I am of the opinion that we don’t love and take care of ourselves enough. Sometimes I forget it is a partnership and not a dictatorship from the neck downward.

When I am mindful, I eat what my microbiome needs for nutrition and energy. I exercise, even when I don’t “feel” like it, so that my body gets the stretching and movement that it needs.

But often, when I flub up on a risk that I’ve taken or a venture that’s gone sour, instead of being compassionate with my humanness, I berate and judge myself in the worst possible derogatory terms. I am merciless with my scorn and derision for the failure.

I wonder, why I do this to myself?

Why can’t we be as mothering to ourselves as we are to others?

It’s something I’m working on, especially this very special of days, Mother’s Day.

Red Rock Fever–Falling in love all over again

Snoopy Rock near Sedona, AZMy father was a rock hound, so I developed my love of geology early. He’d bring home a new find and hand it to me proudly.

“This is schist,” he’d announce. Or, “Take a look at this snowflake obsidian!”  His excitement was infectious, and I got excited, too.

So when I moved to Sedona, I felt right at home. There are a lot of rocks in Sedona.  Most of them are red. Most of them have names. And over the years, they have become old friends, familiar and beloved.

At the Grand Canyon, or Bryce, or Zion, the formations have majestic names like Bridge of Sighs or Bright Angel Trail, or El Tovar, but in this red rock country, the names are more humble: Coffeepot Rock, Submarine Rock, Rabbit Ears, Lizard Head, Teapot, and the best of all, Snoopy Rock.

Sedona has a population of only fifteen thousand people, but over three million people visit every year. Sometimes foreign tourists come in tours, not speaking a word of English, but with guidebooks in hand. They’ll collar bystanders on Main Street and point to the page.

“Snoopy Rock?  Where Snoopy Rock?” they demand.

At dusk, sometimes the sun will break out under brooding purple clouds illuminating one red rock formation after another. Amazing, memorable, never the same. It’s a great traveling light show, roaring across the horizon.

From the viewpoint at Airport Mesa, there’s a grand panorama of red rocks. People will start gathering about sunset, just to participate, together, in the magnificent vista.

Some the rocks around Sedona are Hollywood famous: Cathedral Rock was in any number of Westerns. On Highway 179, Bell Rock greets visitors coming into red rock country, looking just like, you guessed it, a liberty bell.

My favorite rock, though, is Slide Rock. I met this great place long ago, when I attended high school in Flagstaff. Back then, our favorite ditch day spot was the apple-orchard picnic ground and slippery red sandstone at Slide Rock.

There, a 30-foot slide of snowmelt water tumbles through a narrow, moss-covered chute dumping sliders into a pool of frigid water. The wise locals wear old jeans, because the chute rips apart ordinary swimsuits with one slide.

Right now, in winter, the red rocks peek out under a dusting of snow. But in my dreams, red rock country is forever summer under a full moon. Then, the red rocks glow white in the warm summer nights. Eerie and unforgettable.

Red rock fever.

 

What you need is a good hug

Angel Food Birthday CakeWhen I was a child, I remember sitting on a kitchen stool, watching my mother fix a  cake for my birthday. As my special day falls in winter, it was often snowing outside, but warm and cozy in the kitchen.

By tradition, birthdays were celebrated with an angel food cake, usually a box mix.

Box cake mixes were invented in the late 40s when housewives returned to the kitchens and men returned from the wars with an appetite for home cooking. And nothing said “love” better than home baking. At first the cake mixes just added water, but the need to add eggs and oil invested the homemaker in the process and allowed her own creativity.

Even though my mother’s angel food cake was a box mix, eliminating the need to crack a dozen eggs and separate out just the whites, it wasn’t a simple cake to make. My mother shared with me many years later that she reserved angel foods for special occasions because they were so unpredictable.

The mark of a good cook was not that you made the cake from scratch (this was the era of the post-WWII housewife, after all) but that your cake didn’t fall or sag to one side, a feat accomplished by carefully running a knife through the batter to even it out and cut through any air bubbles in the batter. A special two-piece cake pan reserved just for angel foods was used.

And the oven temperature had to be just so–not too hot, not too cold. We were given strict instructions NOT TO PLAY in the kitchen, for fear the vibrations would cause the cake to fall. We could peek through the small glass window in the front of the stove door, but quietly–NO YELLING.

When the hand-set timer rang, the cake pan was lifted carefully from the oven using long-handled oven mitts and set upside down on an empty liter club soda bottle. This was the same bottle that acquired a cork-lined nozzle on ironing day to sprinkle the clothes that took all afternoon to iron. But that’s a story for another time.

By the time the cake had “set” my mother usually had three little kids–my sister, brother and me waiting for the pan, because after the cake was carefully cut around the center tube and removed, we got to scrape all the gooey crumbs from the tube and bottom of the pan.

Taking the butcher knife, she would carefully cut around the edges of the cake and lift it out, the tube and bottom still attached. Then she’d make a second cut to free the cake and with an expert twist she’d remove the bottom of the cake pan.

angel food cake frostedMy mother set the cake upright on the special footed plate and cut a small square of cardboard to cover the center hole where the tube had been.

She’d mix a simple powdered sugar and milk glaze, always two coats: the first to capture the crumbs, the second to cover the cake. If it were your birthday you got to pick the color of the icing–mine by choice was always pink. Then came the insertion of candles into the plastic holders saved from one birthday cake to the next, and the long wait until the celebration.

It was the only type of cake my mother ever devoted this time and energy to in her busy life. Although she didn’t know it, her mirror neurons were at work. Making something for another person was the truest form of altruism, allowing the creator to share in the joy of giving. It represented both self-expression and that communication-without-words that moms have practiced for thousands of years.

When my mother died and my daughter left to build her own family, I had thought homemade angel food cakes had disappeared from my life. But recently, on a landmark birthday, I felt a surge of nostalgia and determined to make one for myself.

I found a Betty Crocker angel food cake mix at the grocers, lost among a full shelf of brownie mixes. Then I discovered no store in my small town stocked the proper two-piece tube pan I needed for the project. I had to order it on Amazon!

I no longer had a club soda bottle, since I haven’t ironed in years, but a Diet Coke liter bottle, propped carefully on the edge of the pan sufficed. I didn’t bother with the cardboard square in the middle. But the sweet crumbs inside the cake pan stuck to my fingers as I pried them from the inside edge of the tube pan.

A little extra frosting accommodated a sag to one edge.

I closed my eyes and I was back home, getting a hug in the only way my mother knew how.

What about you? Do you have a special cake that says love and hugs?

Thank you, Kimberly Vardeman, for the great angel food cake picture!