Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Yes, And

I’m looking for the recipe for black-eyed peas given me by a southern daughter, for good new year’s luck, and am tempted by another in the Tassajara cookbook with ginger and smoked mozzarella.  Then off into the realms of possibility (and hunger), to thoughts of cracked crab (perhaps with lemon & basil vinaigrette, or lemon-pepper fettucini and a smidgen of minced prosciutto), of Cajun spiced shrimp remoulade or jambalaya (cooled by carrot soup with orange and chervil), or a different use of sausages—cassoulet.  Roasted vegetables with Satay peanut sauce?  Pan-fried haloumi?  My old favorite wild rice salad with watercress and chopped fresh herbs?  My usual quandry, but whatever I end up with, I know, will be delicious.

As for New Year’s Resolutions, seldom kept, I am going to try to change my instinctive response.  Typically cautious, my answer tends to be “Yes, but . . . “  Hedging my bets, tacking a gloomy conclusion onto an initially positive reaction.  Somewhere I read that saying “Yes, and . . . “ gives a more positive spin to things.  I see that it might open up whole realms of possibility that I don’t usually consider.  It may revolutionize my year!  Or at least open new doors—appropriate on the Day of Janus, the god of doors and gates and beginnings, who faces two ways, watches over the start of the new year.

Happy New Year!  Yes, and . . . happy last day of this one.  Another day to savor and enjoy, not least because it's last.  I’m off shopping, to get my black-eyed peas, and whatever seems right to accompany them.  I'll leave that door open too.

image:  The Two-headed God Janus, LiveLearNkTeach

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Blessed and Bereft

I’ve been trying to formulate how at the same time I feel blessed and bereft.  Such riches in this world, at every turn!  But always the necessity of choosing some, and so not having others. 

Either walking to the beach, or lying by the fire.  Sitting meditatively alone, or giving that time to my husband.  Watching shore birds, or being charmed again by A Christmas Carol.  Buying ono (my favorite fish from Hawai’i) or steelhead trout (my favorite new discovery).  Travelling, or settling at home.  Making lavender white tea, or melon oolong.  Writing about the cathedral close in Durham, near Hadrian’s wall, or about the walled Medieval town in Mallorca.  Visiting which?

In every acceptance, rejection.  My heart both full and broken, all at once.

Is this sorrow at all the lost things human nature, or just mine, a Gemini with double everybody else’s yearnings?  I’ve always thought it was a sign that I was premature, a baby impatient beyond waiting to jump headlong into life; and yet I dawdle, poke along, reluctant half the time to move.

I think there’s no answer or cure for this.  Loving it all.  Should I learn to discriminate?  Love some things less?  Have just one preference, one way I like to go?  Every fiber of me says no—I can’t love anything less!  Can’t give up wanting everything; luxuriating in the daily embarrassment of riches in which loss is after all one of the most valuable treasures.

image:  She Who Is

Friday, December 27, 2013


As the year fades away, the days too fade to gray—color all disappearing before light.  I get chilly just looking out.

So here's some therapeutic color by a just-discovered artist to warm the cockles of our winter-weary hearts.

image:  Joaquin Mir Trinxet, I Require Art

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Living Out Loud

“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, 
I, an artist, will answer you:
  I am here to live out loud.”
—Emile Zola

That says it all, really.  A quiet, private person, I’m not good at exclaiming or projecting my voice or being out into the audience.

But like the frescos do, from Knossos or Pompeii, without shouting or showing off, I live out loud.  I make statements through art, through flowers, mugs, hand-painted tiles, knee socks, slouch socks, type faces, herbs or cheeses, oatmeal soap.  I choose this word and not that, heightening my own effect.

And in that is an exclamation.  I am here to live out loud!

image: "Blue Bird" fresco, Neopalatial Period (ca. 1550-1500 B.C.). From the House of Frescoes at Knossos.  I Require Art

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Wishes

May you be joyous, may you be well, may you be at ease with however life shows up.

image:  Provence Mon Amour

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Quieter You Become

The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are things you get ashamed of, because words make them smaller.  When they were in your head they were limitless; but when they come out they seem to be no bigger than normal things.  But that’s not all.  The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried; they are clues that could guide your enemies to a prize they would love to steal.  It’s hard and painful for you to talk about these things … and then people just look at you strangely.  They haven’t understood what you’ve said at all, or why you almost cried while you were saying it.”
― Stephen King, The Body

Coming back from another silent retreat, a summoning of stillness at the winter solstice, I find I still don’t have a lot of words to sum it all up.  I catch myself procrastinating, instead of writing what I want here.  So many important things to say, but I’ve become less and less able to speak.

The quieter you become, the more you can hear.—Ram Dass
The most poignant and important things I found or “heard” on the retreat were two bare trees.  The first, I love with all my heart and want to spend a lot of time with.  It is a kindred spirit, an old soul that offers the best kind of inspiration.  An ancient apple tree, wizened and wise, its branches not bereft of fruit and leaves but perfectly themselves, eloquent with lichen.

The second was another apple, maybe, at another time of year, but in a little garden with a shrine, with strips of paper hung from its branches.  A wish tree (I have looked it up since finding it).  A tree with thoughts and prayers and all those hardest things to say written on paper, tied with thread in the big tree, close to the bone, faded with tears, hung bravely out in the open, small and frail and doomed and limitless.  I hear the messages hung there.  Hear “I’m so sorry, daddy”; hear “I love you” to somebody gone; hear stumbling syllables wishing for cures, relieving cares, touching the core of what it is to be alive and imperfect and heartbreakingly human.  With and without words.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Katherine Mansfield, who writes about walking and looking at a tree and coming back home plus the tree.

That is what I’ve done, again—come home plus those two trees; however unable I am in my own words to say it.

image:  Wishing Tree

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Magical Catalysis

Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.
—Roald Dahl 
Magic is much different than I once thought it.  Not an all-but-impossible thing, rare and hardly ever seen, but things themselves—a realization and appreciation of things in the world we inhabit, the world that inhabits us, magical as any childhood wizardry.

Just one example, from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire:

“The fire. The odor of burning juniper is the sweetest fragrance on the face of the earth, in my honest judgment; I doubt if all the smoking censers of Dante's paradise could equal it. One breath of juniper smoke, like the perfume of sagebrush after rain, evokes in magical catalysis, like certain music, the space and light and clarity and piercing strangeness of the American West. Long may it burn.”

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Guest House

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.


Fun to imagine that the basis for a story or a novel.

Running an inn in Virginia hunt country, with the autumn and early darkness advancing, the woman I am (a verger of the Episcopal church, with airdale terrier named Walter Mitty) welcomes
  • the man who’s hard of hearing, or would rather not hear, a retired astrophysicist who wants to find stories in stars instead of always numbers, calculations [depression]
  • his carping wife, mouth with its downturned corners opening and closing like a carp, nails painted with Cajun Shrimp polish [malice]
  • a curly-headed child, who loves baby smoked clams and Harry Belafonte songs [joy], her mother an actress at the Stratford Festival, Ontario (last summer Alais in The Lion in Winter) [shame]
  • a loan officer with a secret tattoo (anchor, the soul of a drowned sailor; or Minoan swallows fighting) [meanness]
  • a family of thieving Corfiotes with a party rental business, dance floors, tents, glittery Cinderella coach with pony and plumes; linens, glasses, fairy lights [crowd of sorrows]
  • male cook, Athabascan, flashing his knives and reading Schopenhauer [dark thought]

Monday, December 9, 2013

Leg-Warmers and Boeuf Bourguignon

I have my new leg-warmers on, and just had some of Julia Child’s boeuf Bourguignon delivered to our doorstep (as well as soup and salad for tomorrow’s lunch).  So all is well, despite the 40-degree temperatures in our spare room, and despite another Monday.  And here’s my E.E. Cummings for the day—
“may I be I is the only prayer—not may I be great or good or beautiful or wise or strong.”
Those other things would  naturally be welcome too, but I think in the end they come out of the first, if one just goes on in one’s nice leg-warmers and dances to one’s own drum-beat, taiko or calypso or otherwise.

image:  baby leg warmers, cutiepiegoodies

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Grass Is Greener, The Lights Are Redder

We'll go look for a Christmas tree today (not in the fog on a hillside in Santa Cruz, this year), but these are the trees I want!

Thursday, December 5, 2013


I’m trying to distill the year into a single page, for my annual Christmas letter.  Trying to extract the essential.  Going through old posts, reliving the myriad living details, weighing again the losses (childhood house, accustomed place of work, old family friend, time for writing and cooking and being me).

Listening to the Emerson that I have taped outside my cube (despite the edict to keep everything inside)—
“Let us be poised, and wise, and our own, today”—

and learning that I am enduringly myself, despite it all, inside it all.  Like the pink grass that we found on the big island of Hawai’i always growing back first on the lava, or like the waves of busy thought and unrestful emotion that our mindfulness teacher says let break overhead, while we imagine ourselves sitting calmly in the deep, still, underneath waters of the ocean (being the deep waters, the clear, sunstruck waters I picture with that splash of yellow fish), I find the cracks in misery and poke my nose out, curious and stubbornly determined, hopeful beyond hope, and irrepressible.
“a wind has blown the rain away & the sky away & all the leaves away, & the trees stand.”
e.e. cummings
Yes, the trees stand—stand still.

Distilling:  making stiller than still.  Poised at the brink, still.

image: ©Ching Ching — with Galina Deneva, Maria Rosa Juárez and Yehuda Edri

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

To Market, To Market

Sunday’s farmers’ market included more riches for all the senses and stimulus for the imagination:

  • woolen slippers in muted (mulled) colors
  • kittens for adoption finding their children
  • porchetta sandwiches charred on a grill
  • an orange zest scone wrapped in paper
  • tender lettuces bundled into a wooden crate
  • the year’s last tomatoes and seedy peppers
  • little tart apples, some gnarled in interesting ways
  • olallieberry jam to stir into oatmeal
  • wild sole to pan fry for tomorrow night’s supper
  • mole negro tamales from the Oaxacan Kitchen
  • the smell of curry, and of spit-roasting chickens
  • chocolates, olive oils, cheeses
  • the art supply store, brushes and easels

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Peppers, Alcudia Sunday Market

Monday, December 2, 2013


Such treats I have had!  (Such places I’ve been!)

A wonderful Thanksgiving with friends:  candles, sheets of paper taped against the blinding sun in the direction of the sea, reggae and upbeat world beat, photos of their walk up Machu Picchu in the early fall, the New Mexican feast (red-chile-rubbed turkey with cornbread-chorizo stuffing; red chile gravy with sage; cranberry, fig, and pistachio relish with spices and a soupçon of red chile; green chile spinach casserole with cheddar; and New Mexican Gruet champagne, from the winery below Sandia Peak, the watermelon-shaped or -colored mountain with the tram—which I have ridden only once, that with my Spanish class in highschool when we went on to the zoo and I took black and white photos of zebras in the also stripy shade and then we had an Indonesian meal with unfamiliar condiments, exotic in memory too).

Then up to Sonoma, a favorite sleepy town among the vineyards, now discovered.  A perfect lunch, sitting at a sunny little table on the square outside the wine shop—a bowl of spicy black bean soup (black bean with seven spices and whipped goat cheese) and simple salad, tender lettuces and big curls of carrot with lemon vinaigrette; local cheeses (one a heavenly smoked mozzarella) and a glass of wine, some pomegranate-marinated eggplant to scoop up with toasted bread.  And after, deciding to save our visit to the mission for the next day, prowling through a used bookstore with good mystery and history sections and a good selection of cards, and a fun shop with inspired desktop Christmas trees and French linens I’d fill my villa with if only I had one.

And then!  Arriving at the Mission Inn (and Spa), just up the country road at Boyes Hot Springs, we felt immediately well and happy, as if entering a place outside the world.  As soon as we drove in we said “I never want to leave!”  Somehow the grounds just radiated their nature as a sacred healing ground—making you think of mountain sanatoriums (in The Magic Mountain, or Heaven Has No Favorites), and reminding me too of favorite campuses, sanctuaries of learning.

Gorgeous dappled sunlight poured in through the windows of our spacious room, lighting a blaze of Japanese maples and silvery olives.  A stretch of time, hours of well-being.  A headboard painted with a Tuscan country scene.  A wholesome, delicious room-service menu:  foods healthy for every possible diet or preference.  We finally decided on grilled salmon on greens, braised chicken with spinach and wild mushrooms, and an artichoke with hummus.

The next morning I splurged on lemon & cottage cheese pancakes, and then—oh luxury!—still further, on an herbal wrap with deep heat (chamomile, calendula, lavender, and saffron) and heavenly foot massage—talk about never wanting to leave.  I carried away the fragrance of the herbs in my skin, deeper than skin-deep.

The drive back through the vineyards, past the stand where I once used to buy cherry cider, led to a further gracious night in San Francisco, grilled fish and potatoes, brussels sprouts sauteed with ginger and black mustard seed, and then an orchestral treat for the ears (after all of that pampering of all my other senses) with double basses, double choirs, and excellent English baritone.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Outside the Sonoma Mission