Saturday, November 30, 2013


“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

And still more gratitude!  I leave my heart ajar, to let in all good and advancing things.  And I give thanks continuously—even when I seem to grumble.

Friday, November 29, 2013

As Long as We Have Voices

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”

—Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
More gratitude for this Thanksgiving week!

image:  Yehuda Edri

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Rather Large Amount of Gratitude

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
—A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Happy Thanksgiving, happy life with such friends in it!

I'm having a hard time finding the words to say just how thankful I am, but will borrow the words below, my favorite poem on the subject, that says it all—whatever can be said.

As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse

I pick an orange from a wicker basket

and place it on the table

to represent the sun.

Then down at the other end

a blue and white marble

becomes the earth

and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.

I get a glass from a cabinet,

open a bottle of wine,

then I sit back in a ladder-backed chair,

a benevolent god presiding

over a miniature creation myth,

and I begin to sing

a homemade canticle of thanks

for this perfect little arrangement,

for not making the earth too hot or cold

not making it spin too fast or slow

so that the grove of orange trees

and the owl become possible,

not to mention the rolling wave,

the play of clouds, geese in flight,

and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.

Then I fill my glass again

and give thanks for the trout,

the oak, and the yellow feather,

singing the room full of shadows,

as sun and earth and moon

circle one another in their impeccable orbits

and I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.

—Billy Collins

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Whatever Floats Your Boat

While I was looking for cupboard quotes to accompany the “From My Cupboard” post (something other than old Mother Hubbard, whose cupboard was bare), I came across a gourmet site called In the Cupboard.  My senses were delighted to find it not bare at all, but full of such imagined riches as assorted bitters—for cocktails or for cakes, poultry seasoning or gravy, even vegetable soup—
  • orange & juniper
  • grapefruit & hops
  • lem-Marrakech (invoking the spice markets of Morocco) 
  • plum & rootbeer (enhanced by purple beet juices)

and then these salts—
  • Guatemalan fleur de sel from salt pans that supplied the Mayan Empire
  • Andes Mountain Rose, to spinkle on brook trout (hand quarried in Bolivia from an ancient dried ocean bed)
  • mesquite smoked sea salt
  • healthy bamboo leaf salt from Molokai
  • chocolate fleur de sel to add to mole
  • lemon flake sea salt harvested from the Mediterranean (good on asparagus, or on the rims of margarita glasses)
  • Cyprus hardwood smoked sea salt, for potatoes or goat cheese
  • salt from a warm mountain spring 10,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andes (for pre-Inca tamales, or a scallop ceviche)
  • briny French gray salt
  • cherry plum salt
  • pinot noir salt
  • rosemary or saffron flavored salts 

And if that weren’t enough, chocolates as well!

I’m going to juxtapose these sensual delights with this delightful picture I just found.  At the beginning of the holidays (the long holiday month), the floating blessings of an old salt or lover of salts, a not-quite-ancient mariner, a seafarer on sometimes inland seas.

image:  Porch Sitting Union of America

Monday, November 25, 2013

So Full of Your Answer

And if you have ready-made answers in your head,
you will not be able even to listen to the question.
You will be so full of your answer,
you will be incapable of listening.

I love the phrase, the thought, “so full of your answer.”

Like an old house full to the rafters with pale, outdated things, things that have served and have therefore been put away to serve again, worn and imperfectly fit to whatever the new circumstances (like the neck and shoulder heat patch I tried to make wrap around my knee last night), too many there for any scrap of wisdom to be found, for any chance of picking up the trail of curiosity and wonder like a neat track in the snow, a glittering small track with only one tipsy or errant line of boots (or four-toed paws), or no track, just the untracked sand or snow.

Listen along the way away from the burdensome clutter, that head and heart already full of answer, and hear Rilke’s perhaps a bird.  Perhaps the calling of a distant bell in its medieval tower on a Tuscan hill, perhaps a lapping, or a slush, a match scratching, a whoosh, a whooo, the rasp of a gutteral “r,” a whispered uncompleted word a halting syllable that makes all consummately clear.

image:  dog footprint, Филип Романски

Sunday, November 24, 2013

From My Cupboard

I imagine serving jerk chicken and rice on Blue Delft pottery, fun juxtapositions (like drinking ice-cold gin from your grandmother’s bone china teacups, the taste of juniper like a kiss by moonlight in a line of caves in a southwest canyon the year before college, and then with autumn coming on heading east with T.S. Eliot’s book of cats from the Paris bookstore in your new washed leather satchel, the silver shaman pin on your flannel jumper strap, your yoga mat rolled around the gift of Je Reviens perfume . . . )

Imagine sitting around an outdoor copper fire pit eating the jerk chicken, so tender it falls off the bone, and spicy on everyone’s fingers, the serious blonde child as well.  The laughter and companionable constellation-spotting, making up daring new groupings of communications satellites and stars.

Imagine that amiable grouping.  Cousins passing through (bringing a children’s book on javelinas), friends down from Mt. Tam, the poet and her little mischief-eyed grandson.  My favorite Norwegian Buddhist, blithely renaming the Big Dipper Lucinda’s Cart, in honor of a homeless woman he admires and the day a week or two ago he helped her retrieve all her belongings, spilled out of her fallen shopping cart over the inimical curb, spilled out in story now across the heavens.

image:  Provence Mon Amour

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Letter to Myself

“Don’t let all of this go . . .”

A letter to myself from summer, setting down my intention from the mindfulness class.

“Don’t let it all reduce itself again . . . “

Keep checking in with myself every single day.  Take a friendly interest.  Bring by a covered bowl of vegetable soup, the carrots celery cabbage calmly chopped, the herbs making my fingers sing with their intensity, their purity of heart.  Go out to spend some time breathing.  Watch a small dog wagging itself silly—the perfect way to be.  On rainy days like this one, set a fire dancing on my big computer screen and read P.G. Wodehouse for a spacious humorous hour.  Make French press coffee; order pears by the dozens from Harry & David to cheer the coming weeks.  Invite friends out to lunch (Korean barbeque; hand-cut Italian pasta; chopped Beverley Hills salad at the quirky Stanford golf course—gorgeous old generous oaks holding court there above the world).  Plan for a desktop Christmas tree with lots of lights.  Listen to roots reggae or plainchant.

Don’t let it go, any of it.

image:  She Who Is

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Adding a Bulldog

Two pleasant surprises this afternoon—a gentle rain (making me long for hot chocolate), and a visit of quails, first ambling through a wash of fallen leaves, then scattering across the driveway as if in a little gust of wind.  It’s been too long since we’ve had either.

Instead of hot chocolate, I made due with a few last bits of chocolate-dipped orange rind.  And I’ve been cleaning out cupboards and drawers, not ready yet to tackle the book piles.  Not ready to let go all of those worlds and lives closed into the pages.

I want to curl up under a thick soft old quilt and read, in yellow lamplight.  I want to make a big kettle of posole, with chili peppers and oregano and garlic, steaming the windows and making the whole house fragrant.  I want to go for a long walk along a ridge like in the old days visiting a friend’s aunt at the Russian River, then come in and sit on woven cushions by a piñon fire, in indigo blue slouch socks.

I’ve been dreaming of bulldogs, whatever that means.  So I would add a bulldog by the fire, like the one belonging to our family friends in Santa Fe who liked to lie on people’s feet under the dinner table, keeping them toasty.

But what instead?  I’ll enjoy the ordered kitchen and the rain, and cook something spicy and quick, since evening’s coming on, and maybe listen to a little Mozart.

Riad Farnatchi #marrakech #morocco
Posted By Rihab Hilal

Monday, November 18, 2013


What I’m considering tonight:  Roasted cauliflower and Italian sausage spaghetti (whole wheat, of course).  The new applewood-smoked sea salt, which I will serve on sauteed asparagus, out of season.  Salmon cooked in a skillet, trying to replicate the fine stuff I bought from the Irish fishmonger on the high street in East Finchley in October.  The picture I’ve just put in an Italian frame, pistachio green with gold highlights, of John and me ruffled entirely by the Pt. Reyes wind.  An old novel by Laurie Colwin which I checked out of the library.  Some echinacea tablets (effervescent) from Boots.  The giant bandage on my finger from today’s mishap with a box-cutter.    How hard it is to type with that.  The Christmas present I’ve found for a friend, The Whole Fromage.  The little horse fetish which needs dusting.  My pile of collage papers.  The bag of spices that I must make room for somewhere.  Postcards of the Roman theatre in Alcudia to send, long after my return.  The need for heaters.  The promise of clean sheets.  The now organized soaps in the pinewood cabinet.  What books I will get rid of.  The Vera mystery series from Northumberland.  The November dark, the chill when we get home, the nostalgic sweetness of limoncello.  Old photos, from here and there.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, St. Francis

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In the Time of Fog

“Mystification is simple; clarity is the hardest thing of all.”
—Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

Fog is not hard, in any sense, except trying to drive through it along a winding coastal road, perhaps after yoga, a day of letting go.

Fog is itself like letting go, like giving in.  A kind of gentle erasure, a forgetting of lines, a loosening of your tight hold on how things are themselves—how they ought to be.

Simply breathing on the window takes the clarity away.  Easiest, after all, to breathe . . . 

image:  Hidden by the fog, Assisi's Basilica, Umbria
(posted by Penelope) — with Atina Sahad
Italy Art and Architecture

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Balancing Blooms

While at Heathrow trying to use up my small change without adding greatly to the burden of my shoulderbags, I was intrigued to find at Boots a bottle (much smaller than my favorite Isle of Islay single malt!) of Bach’s Flower Essences, “prepared according to the original written instructions of Edward Bach in the 1930s.  Wild flowers are hand picked in the English and Welsh countryside.”

As I recalled vaguely from hearsay, “Edward Bach believed his essences captured the positive mood of each flower as he personally perceived it to be.”

In my own bottle—Calmdown! (which I would find much more calming without the excalamation mark)—they are
  • White Chestnut:  calm mood
  • Elm:  joyful mood
  • Beech:  tolerant mood
  • Vervain:  gentle, patient, unassertive mood
  • Willow:  cheerful mood (not the weeping willow, surely)
  • Holly:  loving, gentle, not taking offence mood
  • Rock Rose, Impatiens, Clematis, Star of Bethelehem, and Cherry Plum, in combination:  comfortable, reassured mood;

the flower essences diluted in Wenlock spring water and brandy (!)

I also like that his belief was that the healing powers of his remedies were due both to the flowers and to water memory, early morning sunlight passing through dew drops on various petals, and the drops receiving into them the spirit of the flower.  Light-gathering on a grand scale!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Going Shopping

A few things on my latest shopping list:
  • oregano, Turkish and Mexican both
  • cinnamon from Vietnam
  • a bathroom floor runner in Persian colors
  • Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
  • a silent retreat in December
  • eggs for egg salad for the Met in HD
  • a wall of deep shelves polished with beeswax
  • charms against the coming cold

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

November Angels

Jane Hirschfield, in "November Angels," writes of
“the gold time’s going,
the pollen’s
traceless retreat”—
and all other November poems I find are glum and bleak.

But there is that last blaze of glory in the month; an intensifying, paring down to the essentials—which are surely colors, warmth, and light, hoarded and carefully set out where passersby can take upon themselves what they’ll need to go on.

My November angels have these huge, glorious, richly colored wings, proof against all the storms to come.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Archaeologists excavating the Bronze Age palace of Tel Kabri in Israel say the site's Canaanite rulers used a system of obligation to rule their kingdom.(Archaeology Magazine) 
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to
succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”—Abraham Lincoln
I’ve been thinking about obligation, since I read about that ancient kingdom ruled by it.  It has that sense of higher good, of choice colored by noble intention, lit by the inner light Lincoln mentions—not just the reek of duty and compulsion which (I hate to say) rules my days now.

noun: obbligato;plural noun: obbligati;plural noun: obbligatos;noun: obligato;plural noun: obligati;plural noun: obligatos
an instrumental part, typically distinctive in effect, that is integral to a piece of music and should not be omitted in performance.

What are the distinctive—obbligato—necessary—lit parts of my life?  Loving a classicist, being the caretaker of his spirit; writing my amuse-bouches and not-quite-serious mysteries; traveling to Italy, England, Mallorca, Quebec city; retreats into silence; explorations of the past; stone struck with sun; spices and herbs; drenched colors; a large community of friends; affinity with dogs both met and glimpsed; a kind of pantheism that includes music and trees and the burning of candlelight in gold and glass.  My obligation to these things rules me, elevates me (like the voices in a choir; like the cottonwood cathedrals on the upper Alameda in a Santa Fe spring).

My obligation is to find that quiet (yet fierce) sort of joy in life.

image:  right-hand lute technique, Nieznany

Saturday, November 2, 2013

When Allowed to Drift

I'm looking back fondly on this Mallorcan farmstead (the color of the stone, I think, is part of the appeal), and knowing that I would have started my day with coffee and bread and cheeses and tomato, little pears or the melon with its almost-white flesh, sitting with pen and notepad in a courtyard with balcony and fountain.

I haven't yet reclaimed it in my writing; here has been much too demanding lately.  But there is where my thoughts are, when allowed to drift and find their own course.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Mallorcan Farmstead