Thursday, January 24, 2013

Home Sweet Experiment

Cold. It is so cold. I realized this morning as I fed the horses in the dark at 6 am, and it was 0 degrees, that I was definitely feeling it more than I usually do.  I’ve been worrying about Silk, who is getting older and has arthritis, but she seems to be handling it better than I am. I’ve been wishing that I could bring her into the house to be by the fireplace with me.  Fortunately, she was happier in her stall than I was this morning. The fur under her blanket was very warm, and even her neck and legs weren’t the least bit cold to my touch. My fingers, on the other hand, were completely numb. All I wanted to do was get back inside my cozy house.

Yesterday, a friend posted a thought-provoking quote on Facebook by English writer G.K. Chesterton: "Of all modern notions, the worst is this: that domesticity is dull. Inside the home, they say, is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety. But the truth is that the home is the only place of liberty, the only spot on earth where a person can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. The home is not the one tame place in a world of adventure; it is the one wild place in a world of set rules and set tasks."

I’ve been considering this notion, and while I don’t believe that the home is the only place of liberty or that I live in a world too full of set rules and tasks, I love the idea that my home is a wild place where I can experiment and indulge in a variety of self-devised adventures.  I always wonder about people whose homes look like they are as devoid of personality as a furniture showroom or a photo from a home decorating magazine. My furniture may need reupholstering, and we need to de-clutter, but anyone who walks through the door will have plenty of art and unusual objects to look at that will tell them about this family.  I love to go to someone’s house and listen to the stories that go along with their beloved, sentimental belongings.  Even the word “belongings” has interesting implications of things that are cherished and included as expressions of our personalities.

So while I snuggle by the fire, wrapped in an old Pendleton blankie with my dog curled on the sofa next to me, I like dreaming about making new small expressions of art in my living room, bedroom and kitchen. One of the little gems that I recently added is a round,  red felted rock that sits on the table in front of me.  It has a story behind it, and I love to hold it in both hands, feeling the weight of the stone and the softness of the felt as a way to ground myself.

There are so many things that we do in our homes that offer us opportunities to explore and not get stuck in a rut.  Last night, I cooked Indian food, and the spices smelled so deliciously exotic and added some welcome heat. The other day, I washed the floor with a geranium scented soap from Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day, and it brought the scent of Spring in my kitchen.  I’ve decided that if I’m going to cook and clean, I might as well make it enjoyable. I’ve only got one life. I don’t intend to let it be dull.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Brief Respite

I’ve noticed in the last few days that it is no longer dark when I go out at five o’clock to feed dinner to the horses and close their stall doors. It’s a first hint that we’re heading towards Spring. The temperature has also been teasing us into believing that we are getting closer.  The pasture was like a skating rink for quite a while, as the snow melted and the water froze to ice each night.  Siete got stuck out there on Saturday, and my husband had to go rescue her.  She slipped a few times until they were able to get outside the gate to the dirt and grass.  As soon as she realized that she was on solid ground, the crazy little horse started jumping with all four feet off the ground at the same time, like an equine pogostick.

Now that we are having one day without ice, I have to lead Silk out because she’s decided that she doesn’t like to get her feet muddy. She’s such a lady. The weather forecast calls for some snow and icy rain tomorrow, so this is only a brief respite, but I’m glad to have it.  There are some small pleasures that I’ve discovered here in the heart of winter. I found a little jasmine plant and some primroses at Trader Joe’s, and they are cheering up my kitchen. When I come downstairs in the morning, the house smells of jasmine. Some sweet red strawberries from California are also a treat at this time of year.

Yesterday, I got a wonderful surprise. My friends, Jeanne Betancourt and Manuela Soares, sent me a copy of their gorgeous new cookbook, “Farm Stand Fresh”. It has beautiful illustrations by Jeanne, and healthy, enticing recipes and notes from Manuela. While it whetted my appetite for summer and local produce, I know I can figure out a way to practice on a few of these dishes now to help avoid that January/February slump. A little asparagus and a bowl of strawberries can go a long way to keeping me happy.

“My teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, uses an image I like: "happiness for no reason." When I think of that I think of being at home in one's body and mind, in life as it is. That feeling of belonging is quieter than a lot of the flash we try to experience, but it is ours, not someone else's to give us or to take away. It is steadfast and supportive, unbroken when conditions change. It can flourish in the face of obstacles, it can be there for us when everything else seems to fail, and it reminds us that each moment of life, delightful or painful, is precious.”
—Sharon Salzberg

Friday, January 4, 2013

Separation Anxiety

 Our puppy, Stella, went to a new doggie daycare place yesterday. I feel the need to take her not because I want to spend less time with her but to be sure that she will be happy and safe if I have to leave her there for a day or an overnight or an emergency. The first place I found had too many dogs. There were about twenty each time she went, and the people who took care of her were different each time. They kept telling me that she had separation anxiety and that bringing her more often was the way to make her get used to it.  I thought about how she must feel, with strange, yipping dogs jumping on her and nice but unknown people who kept saying, be brave and get over it.  It didn’t feel like the right way to make my dog feel happy and safe.
    So, with trepidation, I tried again. This new place was highly recommended by a friend who leaves her dog there for weeks while she goes on vacation.  The same people have taken care of her dog for years, and he loves them. The only thing is that the dogs are not allowed to play together. Each has its own separate little room with a bed in it and is taken out every two hours to play in the grassy backyard area for fifteen minutes at a time with one of the “technicians”. So, it’s more like a traditional kennel. I had hoped that our puppy would get some playtime with another dog. Nonetheless, it was noticeably calmer when I dropped Stella off, and she seemed less upset when I left than she did at the other place. The girl who was her “technician” was very friendly, and Stella didn’t mind going with her.
    I got in the car and realized that “separation anxiety” is an animal instinct. It’s no wonder that people have it too. My horses, both mother and daughter, are anxious when they have to leave each other. My daughter has been showing a lot of separation anxiety since the shooting at Sandy Hook, and while I try to not let her see it, I admit that I am also very conscious of my uneasiness recently when she is away from me. When I grew up, we didn’t live in a world where crazy people might kill you when you went to school or the mall or the movies. Our children are feeling a justifiable sense of danger, and telling them to buck up and get used to it will not help them become more comfortable and confident. At the same time, I know that I need to instill in my daughter the ability to be independent and live without fear. Just as Stella needs to know that she will be okay if I leave her for a few hours or a few days, my child needs to know that she has the emotional fortitude to take care of herself wherever she goes.
    Since she was a little girl, I have tried to teach my daughter to be aware of what is going on around her. Many of her friends get so distracted and involved in what they are doing that they live in a little bubble of giggling chatter, oblivious to everything and everyone else. One of the reasons that I like going to New York City with her is that it gives me the opportunity to subtly teach her who and what to be wary of and how to be relaxed and happy while also being aware and careful. She has developed a good “street sense” and is comfortable in unfamiliar situations.  The recent events in our town have definitely shaken her confidence, but the whole world was shaken by what happened. How we recover and what we learn from the tragedy is going to take some time, and we need to be patient and gentle.
    I realize that when someone’s answer to anxiety, whether it be in a horse, a dog or a person, is to say “get over it, get used to it”, my gut reaction is to resent being pushed or pressured. It is never a good idea to resist or ignore one’s intuitive feelings. I am old enough to know that sooner or later, it will come back to bite you in the butt. So what we need is more compassion and empathy and less hardheaded determination in so many aspects of our lives during these troubled times.
    Stella was not as anxious when she came out of the new doggie daycare after her first four-hour stay.  She obviously was very happy to be home with us last night. It’s the same response that every member of our family, two and four-legged, have when we are all together and there is no drama going on around us. It is a gift to have that sense of security and well-being, and we need to do everything we can to spread it around so that more of us can feel it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tree of Life

I was out in the yard with the dog last night, taking a break from a house full of friends and neighbors who had gathered here to watch the passing of time together.  Looking back, I saw our magnificent beech tree, and it looked like the Tree of Life to me.

I have always loved the symbol of the Tree of Life.  Its roots ground us in our ancestors and our homeland.  In the branches are the fruits of our creativity and our hard work, along with the lessons and losses that we learn as we grow. Some of those branches get broken or scarred along the way. And at the top, new life continues to expand, just as curiosity and an endless desire to learn helps the tree open out bigger and stronger as it grows older.

Here’s wishing us all a New Year full of hope, kindness and love. Let’s all take care of each other, so our roots will be nourished and our branches will be full of sweet, new buds.