Saturday, October 31, 2015

Winter is coming

Golden leaves overhead filter sunlight onto my face; brown leaves underneath cushion my bottom from the chilly earth. I'm sitting under a tall oak tree, nibbling carrots from the farmers market across the park. A couple of squirrels run frantically nearby. One stopped just a moment ago to collect the nub of carrot stem I'd tossed aside. He looked at me with warning in his eyes, like "Why are you sitting there? Don't you know winter is coming?!"

The farmers market bustles this morning. Mobs of people wearing fall jackets and riding boots with necks wrapped in decorative scarves tasting apples and yogurt and mushrooms. The air feels crisp yet charged with a frantic energy. We're all stocking up for the winter, saving squashes and Brussels sprouts and jars of pickles, but also turning our faces into the sun at every turn. We need to store it up. Just like the squirrels. 



Winter doesn't fool around here so as October wanes we all scurry: Play more outdoors, spend time with your friends, preserve and store as many fresh fruits and veggies as you can, find your boots and snow pants and down coats. We know that as Thanksgiving inches closer, so does the snow and bitter wet wind. And the darkness; tonight we set our clocks back so tomorrow it will be dark around 4:00. (That's so hard for me.)

It's okay though. Seems to me a fair trade for summers and falls as glorious as these. We earn these beautiful clear-sky days over months of harshness. Mother Nature wants to be sure we deserve August in Maine!

My family approaches our one-year Maine-iversary and I feel particularly pensive and grateful this morning. This move may have been the bravest thing I've ever done, we've ever done, and it's changed us as individuals and as a family in large and noticeable ways. Mostly for the good, I think. We had to put every bit of faith in God and in one another to pull us through huge unknowns. And we've found out how to find joy in simple things and everyday moments. 

In coming weeks, I hope to write more about how we've grown and learned this past year. But for today I'm soaking in this fall air and basking in this sunshine. 

God is good, y'all. And Maine is, too. 





Sunday, October 18, 2015

All I can do is soup

A friend is going through something pretty scary and terrible right now -- a health situation about which most of us would say "Oh, that's my nightmare" -- and I haven't been able to figure out how to help her. I mean, I pray for her and listen to her and cheer for her, and I try to run interference when others ask too many (or too few) questions about her condition. But I feel like there's not much I can physically do to help. When someone you love is sick, don't you want to just wrap your arms around them and will the sickness out of them? I do. I want to use the power of my love to pull the illness out, like that big guy in The Green Mile. Alas, I can't do that, not ever, but certainly not this time. This time it needs more than hugs.

The air today is crisp in all the ways you'd imagine fall in New England should be: chilly and breezy and sparkling with sunshine. The leaves on our trees are just about at their peak color, which means the air around them glows. There's something about the light in autumn, isn't there? It comes at a different angle or intensity and everything looks sharper, more vibrant and urgent.

This is the kind of day you want to breathe in, absorb, bottle. I walked around the West End around mid-day, noticing people with hands shoved deep into pockets, scarves wrapped around necks, walking just a bit more quickly than usual. Winter is coming. (This line is as foreboding here as it is in  Westeros, let me tell you; the biggest difference, so far, is we don't have White Walkers to contend with.) It's already snowing in Caribou, ME, and Stowe, VT. And as I burrow deeper into my coat collar, I am thinking of my friend, impressed with how she is adapting to her new normal. Every day must challenge and frustrate and embolden her, yet she's taking it as it comes. Mostly I am thinking about her freshly bald head, imagining how unusual this cold air must feel on head-skin that's always been covered by a blanket of hair.

I suppose winter takes on a whole other level of foreboding when you're dealing with radiation treatments and the uncertainty of your prognosis. I don't know how to help my dear friend, but as I walk through town today it strikes me: Soup. I can cook soup! I can't cure cancer, but I can provide nourishment and warmth and a delicious respite from take-out food. I can pour all my wishes and love for her into a pan, simmer it a while, and meditate on how blessed I am to know her.

When I get home and start gathering my ingredients, I realize most of what I'll use to make the soup has connection to our mutual friends: Potatoes from one friend's family farm. Carrots from our friend who bought too many at the farmers market. Kale that I picked out with another friend, laughing about the way Zippy eats raw kale out of the fridge like a bunny. As I scrub the potatoes, I pray over them. As I peel the carrots, I sing. And of course as I chop the onions I cry (but this doesn't count as special because it happens every time).

I'm putting together  a Portuguese kale soup that my father's mother used to make for us (a recipe that Dad and I have simplified over time because who really has time to make homemade stock and boil dried beans?). As I brown the linguica, I think of my Vovo and aunts and cousins, invoking their blessings and love, too. I taste the salty cured sausage and transport to the warmth and laughter of my father's kitchen as he prepares linguica at every family gathering; it's hard to come by linguica in New Jersey so Dad hoards pounds of it in his freezer. He saves it only for special occasions, but I can find it every time I go to the market in New England.

Finally, I pour a little extra red wine in the soup and inhale as the alcohol cooks off. One of our favorite things to do together, my friend and me, is try new restaurants and enjoy good wine and food. And we laugh, oh we laugh.

I love to cook but don't do it often enough. Not like this, anyway. True cooking is an act of love that my family generally takes for granted. They turn up their noses at most of the new dishes I offer, so I tend to get into a rut, preparing only the stuff I know they'll eat gladly. Cooking Trader Joe's mahi mahi burgers or stir-fried chicken is not fulfilling, though. It fills our bellies but not our hearts. This soup is really the only tangible thing I can do for my friend this week. I can't take away her tumor, but I can peel and cube and sautee and stir, measuring carefully but tweaking here and there to add richness and complexity. I hope this soup warms my friend's belly and makes her smile. More than anything, I hope it fills her with the love and healing I've poured into it ... along with the extra wine.