HOPE

Trapped at dawn in a drop of dew on a wilted leaf;

silent;

tiny;

Stuck at dusk between the pages of a book on dying;

invisible;

ready.

Woven in the motions of a discombobulated world.

Entwined in the cries of migrating birds.

Rapture. Or despair.

Emerging from a grief that will not be silenced.

Rising from the ashes of a soul that refuses to die.

Abandon. Or faith.

Cradled at dusk in the folds of hands joined in prayer;

true;

vibrant.

Born at dawn from the knowing of a voice deep inside;

soft ;

constant.

A FaHm at Thanksgiving

I made an earth-shattering discovery while ironing a pile of shirts, pants, and pillowcases: it is possible to deal with the unpleasantness of life and still be a “FulfilledandHappyme” (FaHm). No, I did not turn into Snow White, ‘whistling while I worked’ and moving the iron gracefully with a big smile on my face: I do not like ironing but I carry the gene. It comes from being raised in Europe and sleeping in pressed cotton sheets. It’s grown from watching my parents (my dad ironed anything flat, handkerchiefs and towels included; my mom took care of the rest, even underwear) produce perfect piles of wrinkle free clothes week after week. The pleasure I take in fresh and crisp garments beats my dislike of the job every single time. It brings me back to the ironing board and, yes, eventually, makes me very happy.

My life is filled with things I’d rather not do: take the recycling out, go to the mall, talk to the assistant principal when my child is misbehaving in school, or take the car for an oil change. It is also packed with stuff I love: baking pecan pie for Thanksgiving, reading a good book, or writing this essay. It’s no big deal to secretly swear while sorting through plastic bottles and egg cartons – it’s over in a few minutes- and the satisfaction of doing my part in keeping the planet clean is undeniable.  It’s been a lot more challenging to hold on to my “FaHmness” when dealing with life’s true crises: my mother’s decline; the untimely death of my niece Myriam. Planning this first holiday season without Myriam is unbearably painful.  Letting the grief do what it needs to do while remaining “fulfilledandhappy” has proven difficult. But does it have to be? Is there another way? Can my passion for happiness dress the wounds? Could the love that I feel and that is now bringing me pain be a gateway to more love, light, and happiness?

The Brussels brownstone where I grew up had a coal heating system. My father, twice a day, would go down to the cellar, shovel the black pellets, carry the heavy bucket to the furnace and feed the fire. He never discussed it but I cannot imagine that his coal duties were his favorite part of the day. Yet his diligence kept the fire alive and kept us all warm and cozy through the winter months. The red coals in the belly of the house spread warmth to every room and was vital to the wellbeing of our whole family.

The love we feel, even when it hurts, feeds the furnace of our inner aliveness. Thanksgivings is bittersweet: we’re all pilgrims bowing our heads to all that we’ve left behind and singing praise for what we have and what is yet to come. Loss and gain, grief and hope, tears and smiles; they’re all part of the feast like the coals are part of the fire. Yes, there is another way. We keep our hearts open and thankful. We leave Snow White to her whistling and we go back to the board of life accepting that even though not all things can be ironed out they can still bring us fulfillment and happiness. We earnestly practice opening up to all our experiences so that in time they may bring new blessings. We join Prince Charming’s “One song, I have but one song…” and we make it a song of LOVE. A “fahM” is first and foremost a being in and for love. And we give thanks for the chance to feel, mourn, and love still, because nothing, nothing is ever truly lost to the wondrous vastness of our hearts.

Coleslaw Recipe

Some of you, after reading my post “If life gives you cabbage…make coleslaw” have asked me for the recipe.

I contacted Chef Central and they kindly gave me permission to share it with you. I highly recommend their teen summer cooking camps!

Colorful Coleslaw – 12 servings (Courtesy of Chef Central -www.chefcentral.com)

1/4 head green cabbage, shredded; 1/4 head red cabbage, shredded; 1/2 cup carrots, grated; 12 oz baby spinach, chiffonade; 1/3 cup onion, diced; 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced.

1/3 cup mayonnaise; 1/3 cup vegetable oil; 1/3 cup white vinegar; 3 TBSP sugar; 1 1/2 tsp mustard, yellow or Dijon; 1/4 tsp celery seeds; 1 tsp (I use 1/2 tsp) cayenne pepper; salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard, and celery seeds. In a large bowl mix the cabbages, carrots, spinach, onion, and bell pepper. Gradually add the mayonnaise dressing while mixing, making sure not to oversaturate the vegetables. All of the dressing does not have to be added, just make sure that when you are done you season with salt and pepper and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

BON APPETIT!!!

 

 

 

A Journey of Many Colors (part 2)

Her lipsticks are kept hidden in an old, faded case underneath the bathroom sink. Glittery pink for glamour, dark red for drama, peachy orange for dreaming; that’s when no one is looking. To the world at large, the message is different: creamy beige for church, soft pink for school meetings, and brownish red for tea with her friends. The smooth multicolored tubes remind her of the candy store next to her parents’  house in the small provincial town where she grew up. What did red candy mean in those days? When she was allowed to buy huge cherry lollipops that would turn her tongue the color of cranberries and tulips. She remembers running and playing in the snow, the frosty air turning her cheeks and the tip of her nose crimson; she was laughing back then. When did the magic of childhood wear off and wash away the many shades of joy and freedom? Did someone tell her one morning, “You are too old to live in this shiny and vibrant world; it’s time you embraced your dark and light grays, dull greens, and dated browns.”? She listened, fool that she was, she got trapped in the mirage of respectability and duty; she became addicted to the reflection of herself in other people’s eyes. The perfect wife, the caring mother, the attentive friend; and a few lipsticks to play with.

(to be continued)

A Journey of Many Colors (part 1)

She has been in the kitchen for hours basting the turkey and preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal: the meat will be juicy and moist, the vegetables, tender and fragrant, the stuffing, warm and satisfying. The gravy will be full of flavor so as to hide the slight overdose of flour, and yet deceptively light, so as to not overpower the delicate taste of the bird. Isn’t it a perfect metaphor for whom she has become? Here she is, a fresh meadow green apron tied around a waist that has thickened somewhat over the years; if she closed her eyes for just a second, if she allowed the tension in her shoulders to ease a little, she would sense the wind of freedom blowing over the open fields, she’d get a glimpse of greener pastures and foreign lands. But the words “Who’s going to wash up?” printed in harsh, gloomy purple letters on her everyday straitjacket ground her in the present, in the tasks at hand. She lives in a world where duty rules, where serving a superb dinner is the ticket to a mock perception of contentment. The sauce bubbles gently and spats the front of her apron; it will need to be washed now.  Dirty, it would talk of the long hours spent cutting, slicing, stirring. Greasy, it would betray the image of the lovely hostess, immaculate, in control, enjoying herself. She reaches for the gravy boat. Its white sheen makes its shape even more appealing, even more inviting. It’s an open door to greater adventures, a call to rediscover the woman she might have been. She picks up the pan and pours the delicate concoction into the dish. She will not be traveling tonight; the ship will leave port without her. She carries the boat to the dinner table and with it her buried hopes of a different self. She takes off the apron and leaves it in the kitchen. She does not need it anymore. She knows her part; she knows what to do.

(to be continued)

 

Just Because

Reaching far and beyond

for elusive answers: death over birth,

pain over joy.

And why the kitchen floor always squeaks in the same spot.

 

Questioning the rhythmic waves

of nature’s cycles: golden leaves, half moons,

low tides.

And the hidden wisdom of planting flowers in the rain.

 

Rejecting the possibility

That all may be as it should be: broken branches,

collapsed hearts.

And the burnt edges of blueberry muffins cooling in the pan.

 

Eventually touching the bitter bottom

where doubt and fear lead the dance: screams,

tantrums, whys?

And the salty mess of my nose running out of control.

Eyes closed…

Breathing…

…the kitchen floor wakes up with the laughter of children,

flowers grow in the misty sunshine,

muffins fill up hungry bellies.

And a nose is also made for smelling…LIFE…as it is.

Life as is.

 

Embracing the knowledge that

comes from knowing nothing at all: spiders are silent, birds sing.

For no apparent reason.

And the undying joy of being part of it all.

Just because.

IF LIFE GIVES YOU CABBAGE, MAKE…COLESLAW!

We learn early on in life that freedom is relative. We come out of the womb into loving arms –hopefully- whose mission is to teach us how to be a good person and prosper. Ice cream is to be eaten after dinner and as a special treat; coloring is to be within the lines and please keep the strawberries red and the bananas yellow; homework is to be done before watching TV, no exceptions. We become dutiful servants of the ‘shoulds’. Our rebellious streak shows up occasionally, quickly tamed in the name of correctness and order. As we grow up we come face to face with that which we cannot control: a grand parent dies, a parent loses her job, a war breaks out not so far away. We become victims of the ‘what is’. We let the pain take the driver’s seat. We lose ourselves in busyness in an attempt to forget. We don’t. And soon we graduate to fearing the unexpected: an incurable illness, an accident, a terrorist attack. We become helpless casualties of the ‘what ifs’.

When I was 9 or ten years old I would watch John Wayne’s old westerns with my dad, sitting on a stool pretending to be riding a horse. I even held a piece of string in my hands in order to curb my mare’s enthusiasm. My father was in love with the United States. American soldiers took him out of a German camp in 1945 and delivered him safely home to Belgium. He never forgot. For him it was truly the land of the free. After graduating from college I moved from Brussels to London in an attempt to ‘free myself away’. I rode a plane and went on to New York a few years later. Here I was, newly married and discovering the country my father held in his heart. Surely freedom would now be mine. I could eat ice cream at any time and raise my own children away from the old ways and rules. But I lost myself in doing things and keeping everyone happy. I fell off my horse half way in the big trek to the new frontier. I was bruised and disheartened: how could one ever feel free?

This summer my daughter went to cooking camp. For five blissful days, she chopped, sliced, braised, fried…and ate. I picked her up after camp and got a chance to taste some of the goodies that she and her fellow chefs had prepared: creamy potato salad, crisp onion rings, tender grilled chicken, and sweet and tangy lemon meringue pie. A large bowl at the edge of the oversized counter intrigued me. “That’s coleslaw’, Victoria said, ‘You should try it. It’s amazing.” I’ve never been a big fan of coleslaw. The pale green and orange shreds swimming in mayonnaise remind me of a drizzly afternoon in Brussels: bland and totally unattractive. “Go on”, she insisted, “You won’t regret it,” I grabbed a paper plate and a plastic fork and complied. The vibrant colors of the veggies took me by surprise. The glorious red of chopped peppers complimented the deep purple of the cabbage; the bright orange of the carrots was dancing with the spinach’s deep shade of green. It was a feast for the eyes; even the green cabbage looked alive. When the first bite hit my palate I was thrown straight into culinary heaven. This was a whole new animal: it exploded with flavor and crunchiness; the dressing resonated with zest and freshness. Far, far from mayo land, my taste buds were enjoying an exciting walk in the sun in an exotic garden. If coleslaw could be liberated from the fear of using new spices and from the limitations of its own ingredients, anything was possible.

Life deals us cabbage, or spinach, or onions. That’s what life does. We do not control the ingredients we find in our personal pantry. But I’ve come to understand that I can control how I orchestrate the work in the kitchen. Like John Wayne in the old west, I’m looking for adventure and order. Like my dad I cherish freedom. My way. It doesn’t matter whether I live in Belgium, the US, or Laponia; I don’t care when I eat ice cream or what color the bananas are. I’m freeing myself through, right now, right here. When I prefer to act out of love or out of the dictate of my heart, I let go of the shoulds. When I choose to feel the joy as much as the pain, I befriend the ‘what is’. When I decide to trust what I know instead of fearing what I don’t, I silence the ‘what ifs’. The coleslaw of our lives will always be coleslaw. But we each have the power to mix the colors and textures for optimum flavor, to whip up a dressing that lifts up the package, and to taste the result of our labor with awe and gratitude for the simple chance to experience life.  That’s the road to true freedom. In and out of the kitchen.