A quote from Barry Lopez on Earth Day


img_20151023_091040656_hdr.jpg“I know of no restorative of heart, body, and soul more effective against hopelessness than the restoration of the Earth.”
― Barry Lopez, Helping Nature Heal

A quote from Albert Einstein


img_20151023_091722892_hdr.jpg

“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”–Albert Einstein

The Comfort and Simplicity of Scrambled Eggs


wp-1458087904294.jpg
Photo by Kary Schumpert

Let me first say that I love to cook.
However, there are times when I don’t want to cook. There are times when I can’t think of anything to eat that will taste good. There are times when I feel exhausted after a full day of work and school and can’t face the kitchen. There are times when I haven’t given myself enough time to make a healthy and satisfying meal. There are times, like when returning from vacation or a visit to see family, when the refrigerator is almost empty. There are times when I am sick that making a meal seems almost impossible. There are times of grief or worry when food doesn’t seem like it will soothe my empty and knotted stomach. It’s in all of those times and more, that a pan of scrambled eggs does the trick.

I have eaten scrambled eggs with a boyfriend on the brink of a breakup, but we needed a timeout from a long emotional discussion to get sustenance. I have eaten scrambled eggs in the middle of the night, coming home after a late concert, music and crowd noise still rumbling in my ears. I have eaten scrambled eggs over a camp stove, my dear college friend working her magic in the early morning while we held a long overdue friend reunion in Savannah, Georgia. I have made scrambled eggs with curry in an effort to use up pantry ingredients and to excite my palate. I can remember cracking open eggs and beating them with a whisk at the age of 9 to surprise my mother in bed for her birthday. Scrambled eggs have been my first and last meals in most of my homes, easy to prepare and with few dishes or utensils to wash when everything was packed for a move.

There’s a simple beauty to scrambled eggs that I love. While making an omelet requires skill and a practiced flip of the wrist (read Julia Child’s memoir or watch her old cooking shows, she refers to endless practice), scrambled eggs need very little expertise.

Place your skillet or pan on the burner. Turn the heat to medium. Use your favorite method to avoid a sticky mess. I will use a splash of olive oil, or coconut oil, or a small bit of butter. Break open some eggs directly into the pan to save on dishes. Mix them up and break the yolks with whatever utensil you happen to have on hand. I like mixing in a little bit of milk and grinding in lots of black pepper. Hardly ever do I add salt. Scrambled eggs can become more with the addition of some vegetables or even crumbled up leftovers. My favorite, though, is still straight up scrambled eggs. Leave the eggs alone for a just a bit. They will start to cook and gain their scrambled shape. Use your spoon or spatula to stir and break up the eggs. Slowly run your spoon through the pan. Just when you think the eggs are not quite ready, turn off the burner. Let the pan of eggs set over the last bit of heat. Remove the pan from the burner. Everyone has their preference for how they like their scrambled eggs, but the magic of scrambled eggs is that they all taste wonderful. Scoop into a bowl or a plate and dig in to the warm haven.

20160314_175643.jpg
Photo by Kary Schumpert

Scrambled eggs are the perfect food for those inept or afraid of the kitchen, and yet, they are ideal for gourmands and foodies. They are wonderful as a celebratory dish, a comfort food, the food of deep feeling, or the careless afterthought in a long day.

Scrambled eggs are great when nothing else tastes good. Scrambled eggs are superb when you want minimal effort and maximum benefit. Scrambled eggs are down home food, and yet, when paired with a glass of wine possess a simple sophistication. I am fully convinced that the eggs in Dr. Suess’s classic Green Eggs and Ham were scrambled.

“And I would eat them in a boat!
And I would eat them with a goat.
And I will eat them in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good so good you see!”
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess (1960)

In one of my favorite movies, Last Night (2008), there is a beautiful scene of a young married couple who went to bed angry in a fight. They wake up in hunger and heartbreak to make scrambled eggs together. After eating eggs (made in an incongruous saucepan), they go to bed happier and no longer in discord. The spoiled Lady Mary of Downton Abbey, while she needs a lady’s maid to dress her and ahem put a necklace around her neck, is able to whip together a pan of scrambled eggs and pour glasses of wine, in a momentous scene in season four, episode six. She admits, “I can scramble eggs. That’s about it.”

A few days ago, when I got the call in the middle of the night from my older sister that my dad had died, I cried and went straight to the kitchen. A skillet of scrambled eggs cooked in my bewilderment and grief, with my salty tears seasoning the batch, was the first thing I had been able to eat in a couple of days. It brought me back to all the other times I have prepared scrambled eggs and it made me think of my dad. No master in the kitchen, his repertoire was small:  blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies (all from baking mixes), but he made a pretty decent pan of scrambled eggs.

Scrambled eggs are my go-to. A few days ago, they provided a routine and sustenance in the middle of the night. They reminded me of my dad, of love and life. Last night, I scrambled up another batch, poured a glass of wine, and wandered out to the patio. In that moment, enjoying the light of a spring evening, I wasn’t sad. That dinner was about life, and all the light and love that falls into it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Life

What makes a life? How do we live? What do we do? How do we love? Who do we love? How do we react?


DSC_0197
Photo by Kary Schumpert.

What makes a life? How do we live? What do we do? How do we love? Who do we love? How do we react?

 

Today, I am thinking about a life. It’s the singularity of one life, of one person that preoccupies me today. I can’t find the source of the quote, but the simplicity of the following slays me:

“We all have a birth day and a death day. It’s what we do in between that matters.”

It’s cliché that we only seem to consider the significance of our lives when something happens like illness or an accident, or when someone we love is facing their own mortality. Sometimes it’s a stand-out milestone like the birth of a child or the passing of a birthday that inspires us. A few years ago, reuniting with a new-old friend and the sizing up of my own life inspired me to want to live significantly and deliberately and truthfully and spiritually and fully.

It’s not that I hadn’t wanted to live significantly before, but somehow, something stuck that day. Long-term change began. What was it about the friend? What was it about the day? It wasn’t illness or facing my own mortality, but it was a sunny spring day in early April, nowhere near the new year or my birthday. How are things different? How do I measure significance? It’s difficult to say, but there was a shift. There was a sliver of time, a moment and somehow things have been different ever since.

Mostly the differences are internal, perhaps not even perceptible to anyone but me. Thoughts and feelings are different. How I react is different. I have not reached enlightenment, but there is growth. The questions are there. Worry is there, but now I switch out of it. Feelings of insecurity are there, but I switch out of it. Financial struggles are still there. Daily joy in small things is still there. Love is still there. Delight in teaching is still there. Daydreaming is still there. Yearning is still there. Still, everything is different.

Even with the perspective of that change, there are days like today. There is a family member and illness. Today, I am worrying and thinking about mortality and the significance and ordinariness of a life. I think the beauty of our lives is that they are both significant and ordinary, with events both big and small, with actions both selfish and selfless. I think of family, my life, and those I love. I am listless and jumpy from the caffeine in my coffee cup. Today, I ponder that internal change and I measure the progress of my heart, of my life.

The significance is how we treat others. The gift is the ability to love. It’s how we smile to strangers. It’s how we open the door for someone. It’s how we give up the seat on the bus. It’s how we let someone cut in line. It’s how we react to sickness. It’s how we treat our spouses. It’s what we do in pockets of time. It’s how we admit we are wrong. It’s how we behave when no one is watching. It’s how we react in crisis. It’s how we are in the midst of mundane. It’s how we forgive when no one ever even knows. It’s how we respond to disappointment. It’s how we give thanks. It’s the sum of a million moments. It’s the realization of impermanence.

It’s the grace we give others. It’s the grace we give ourselves. It’s the decision made over and over again to find peace and be that bit of peace in a crazy world. It’s the knowledge that we will make mistakes and cause heartbreak. It’s knowing that we have a responsibility for our own big and ordinary lives.

It’s the realization of impermanence.

It’s a moment. It’s a life. It’s love. In that, there is everything.

Bananas Into Bread (Waste Into Place)


1453315883175.jpgI love baking. I love making ingredients into something more. I love measuring and mixing. I love the transformation and magic that the hot oven gives to a pan of raw batter. If you think about it, we are all a little liked baked goods. We are changing and moving and living. We are raw and unrefined.

Despite my love, I bake much less than I used to do. I have cut lots of sweets and sugars from my mouth and from my kitchen. However, I believe in balance and dislike restriction. Now, I celebrate when I whip out the flour and sugar, and share the results with friends or save a portion for the freezer.

One of my favorites to make and bake is banana bread. I love it for simplicity and ease: no kneading or rising necessary. I love it for the familiar taste from childhood. The recipe I use is a flashback to both my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens. While it’s not a recipe invented in our family, it comes from a well-worn cookbook that both my grandmother and mother referred to often. My recipe card, stained and wrinkled, is copied directly from that book, The Southwestern Cookbook. It’s a compilation from various women of the southwest who shared their favorite recipes.

img_20160120_175344207.jpgBanana bread, though, is more than just delving back into a familiar recipe from childhood. I love it most that it takes “overripe” bananas, ones that might be thrown away in another household and turns them into something glorious. We all know the saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I think the adage should be rewritten as, “If life gives you overripe bananas, bake banana bread.”

Outside my kitchen, I have spent my entire work life talking about and convincing others that waste is not really waste, but something misused, mismanaged, or misplaced. The banana bread loaves of childhood become food and fodder for a lifelong mission. The kitchen, for me, becomes refuge and retreat. It becomes the source of creation, and a place to make sense and order. Baking requires a strict adherence to a recipe. Little improvisation can occur, or it ruins the alchemy and magic. If you don’t measure properly, or mix too long, or don’t watch the time, a golden loaf of banana bread becomes a non-edible brown brick. Even looking for opportunity in mistake, at most turns that brick into a doorstop.

The recipe calls for two to three bananas. I eat bananas almost daily, and in my weekly shopping trips, will often pick up a few extras, more than I could possibly consume in a few days. The surplus, once brown in my fruit bowl, I throw into the freezer, peel and all. Then, I pull them from the dark recesses for the star ingredient in banana bread or as the base for breakfast smoothies.

The rest of the recipe is simple: sugar, some flour, eggs, lemon juice, butter, and baking powder. If I have nuts, I use them, but most often leave them out. I have revised the recipe when I baked for a vegan friend. Otherwise, I stick to the standard. It helps when you take the eggs and butter out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature before they get mixed into the batter. The mixing is not difficult, a rubber spatula or wooden spoon will do the trick. All the ingredients fit into one bowl, so there are not many dishes to wash. It makes enough for one loaf, filling a loaf pan that I bought at a thrift store in my first year after college, or the glass Pyrex one that I got after my grandmother died.

The recipe says that the bread bakes for an hour and fifteen minutes, but usually it takes more like forty-five minutes to an hour. That gives me enough time to wash the dishes, wipe counters, and make a pot of tea. Pulling the bread from the oven is like reaching into bliss. The smell of bread, the light whiff of bananas is the right amount of scent, without overpowering the kitchen.

Using a butter knife to loosen the bread from the edges of the pan, and then letting the loaf cool for a few minutes before dumping it onto a plate leads to intact bread. Sometimes, though, I get impatient or I forget and then I have a crumbly, piecemeal loaf. No matter, a warm slice with a cup of hot tea is perfection. It can be dessert or a piece can serve as part of a quick breakfast.

While it may not be “healthy,” this banana bread is part of my past, my present, my future. It’s a lesson in thrift and a discovery that good can come from what others consider waste. It’s a favorite, a ritual, an analogy, a story.

Lessons I Learned Last Year


DSC_0191
Photo by Kary Schumpert

It’s mid-January, and we are well into the new year. Before I fully let the last year go, I wanted to sit down and think about what I had learned. What did you learn? What did you help someone else learn? What lessons do you keep re-learning?

Here are the lessons that I learned last year.

You can do many things if you write down your goal, make a plan, and follow the plan.

Sometimes, you have to be brave, even in the moments of greatest fear.

Always, always be honest and be kind.

Moving can take as long as you give it. Two hours, two weeks, two months.

Getting rid of belongings takes time and you must be open to the possibility of lightness and freedom.

A boy and his dog can be irresistible.

Your actions, words, silence, and body language are always noted by others. What you don’t say or do can have a much bigger impact (negative or positive) than what you say or mean.

Asking for help is the only way that someone may know you need help.

Keeping in contact with friends is the way to have friends. Send texts, make phone calls, make plans, and say yes.

Crying can be the greatest release.

Make a list and/or take pictures of the people, places, things that you love. Return to that list and those pictures when you need a reminder.

Move beyond the self. Make time and space for others, even when it is not always what you want to do.

Fake a smile until it becomes real.

You can be a in rut and not even know it.

Think about where you put your money, your time, your thoughts. These are your priorities, whether or not you think they are.

Right now is the best time.

Be aware of how you treat yourself in your thoughts and words.

Stopping to breathe and count to 10 can make all the difference between peace and discord.

Be open to change even when it is scary and unknown and disconcerting.

The help of friends and family can make all the difference.

Sometimes you are completely on your own.

Think about the things that you feel you have become overly attached to:  coffee in the mornings, a person, a glass of wine at night, a piece of chocolate, a phone. What can you do to lessen or rid yourself of that attachment?

A marathon is a long, long distance.

Paint your toenails or find a cosmetology school and book a cheap pedicure for a pick-me-up that can last for weeks.

A road trip can be the best way to find yourself.

Completion can bring clarity: finishing the race, writing the last word in an article, saying goodbye.

Cooking a meal you love and sharing that food can be the best way to break the ice.

A glass of iced sun tea on a hot day is heaven.

Digging in a box of worms can bring you peace even when you are anxious, nervous, and blue.

Never underestimate the power of five minutes.

Starting small: one sentence, one half of a lap, one half pound, one smile, can lead to big things: a book, a marathon, 50 pounds in weight loss, day-to-day joy.

When you are feeling smug and sure that you have found the answers, beware that you’re about to get buried in uncertainty and a million questions.

Being alone does not necessarily mean you are lonely.

Sometimes opportunity comes to you when you least expect it. (I was offered a full scholarship for a writing retreat that I had delayed for almost two years because I couldn’t afford to go, and I never asked if there was the availability of a scholarship or financial aid.)

Taking care of your body and mind and heart are things that you will always be grateful for.

Remember the beauty of the people who picked you up and do that for someone else.

Sometimes there are deep meanings in seemingly superficial and simple words.

Pray, breathe, meditate.

Running, swimming, repeating a sentence over and over can be ways to pray, breathe, and meditate.

Usually we are disappointed because of our expectations.

Letting go is easier said than done.

Look up at the moon. You can always find it, even in the midst of city lights.

Go to the library for books, community, and solace.

Learn the difference between flexibility and submission.

Stand up for yourself, even when it is the most difficult thing.

Growth happens in the cracks and in discomfort.

We can become addicted to our own pain and sorrow.

Butterflies in your stomach mean you care.

You can be deeply attracted to someone, but that does not mean they will be attracted to you.

You can say the words “I love you” and even have the joy of hearing those words returned, “I love you, too,” but it doesn’t mean that the sentiment is the same.

You can say that you are ready to ready to share your heart and your deepest being, but you may not really be ready.

You are the only one who can create your own happiness. It doesn’t matter whom you love or who loves you, you are the one.

There is magic in waking up to a new day.

Keep learning and loving.