How To Grieve With Challah Bread by Ellabell Risbridger

“How to Grieve with Challah Bread” struck me as a perfect expression of the complexities of family life. Grief and loss. Rituals and remembrances. New loaves braided and baked and broken at the table. All these are emblems and occasions of belonging to the tribes of our birth. — MAB

Eating With My Fingers

My grandfather is dead: I do not know how to grieve. So I make bread.

In the Bible they call bread the staff of life (my grandfather might have liked this: he liked religion), but really it’s the staff of grief. And rage, and guilt. I do not know how to grieve. I am twenty-two: my grandparents had children young, and I thought they would all die old. Older. I do not know how to grieve. I do not know how to grieve my grandfather’s passing, because I barely knew my grandfather. I tried to tell someone “he was like this-” and I came up short: who was my grandfather?

dough challah

He let me eat apple pie for breakfast. He was my father’s father. He was bald. He liked to garden. He was a teacher, and some kind of occasional preacher. He came from a village called something like Jacksondale, which…

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Winter Chestnuts and Other Literary Comforts

Editor’s note: I found this essay about food by literary scholar Sara Davis utterly irresistible, partly because it’s so deftly written, and partly because I’ve been struggling with an essay on caregiving and eating for my book Rest: Finding Rest and Renewal as We Care for Others. Food as comfort, comfort as food: such a theme in my life! And all those questions! How to take pleasure in food without tipping into over-consumption and craving? How to recover from deep dives into old habits? How to love flavors and then let them go? I don’t have any answers, dear friends, except to keep on reading, writing, and renewing.

 

 

Scenes of Eating

I’ve been reading Lolly Willowes, a 1926 novel by Sylvia Townsend Warner set at the turn of the 20th century. The story reminds me a lot of the pastoral 19th century novels I’ve been reading: country life radically contrasted with the city, the smallness of family dramas, the quiet resistance of women in their domestic spheres.

When she moves to London with her brother and sister-in-law, main character Laura (called Lolly by her nieces) is seized by a restlessness every autumn. She finds herself roving and anxious until winter fully arrives and she bleakly resigns to it, and:

She fortified herself against the dismalness of this reaction by various small self-indulgences. Out of these she had contrived for herself a sort of mental fur coat. Roasted chestnuts could be bought and taken home for bedroom eating. Second-hand book-shops were never so enticing; and the combination of east winds and London water…

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The Snowy Winter of 1918, New York, by Childe Hassam

Winter Caregiver Prayer

Dear Winter Caregiver, my Northern Hemisphere sleet-and-snow companion, you sliding on tiny, bouncing, translucent balls of ice in the Stop ‘N Shop parking lot, on your way to collect loaves and fishes for my dinner and yours, may you steer your way through the grocery aisles with my blessing.

In times past, I ran this errand for myself and my loved ones — able to run freely, then, though not during ice storms, remembering their preferences for golden raisins or pumpernickel bread, wheeling my cart past the lettuces (now a swallowing hazard), stopping in the frozen treats department to scan for sugar-free ice cream.

Once I gave. Now I receive. All I have left to give you is gratitude, that and clear direction, a shopping list printed with my wavering pen in hand, and forgiveness for any lapses in concentration.

Pace yourself, dear Winter Caregiver. Whatever the results of tomorrow’s biopsy, I’m stuck with the durable truths of life: that sleet falls in every New England winter; that daybreak rises from the bed of night; that night will fold me in her arms, one night, forever; that we all sleep, sometime, folding our bodies into the good earth with one last act of generosity.

— Mary Ann Barton

Editor’s note: I wrote this prayer from the point of view of someone who receives care, so it’s not about me. I’m still able to run freely, for which I’m grateful. But I can imagine a time when the roles will be reversed. The piece was first published in the newsletter of First Parish in Concord, MA (Unitarian Universalist) . — MAB

Image credit:  The Snowy Winter of 1918, New York, by Childe Hassam, American, 1918, via Wikimedia Commons.

In Memory of My Mother

January 14, 2015

Today I am remembering my mother, Lisette Berglund Hyde, who died four years ago on the day before her 102nd birthday. She loved being outdoors, gardening and walking the dog; baking bread; setting a beautiful table; visiting art museums; listening to Vivaldi on public radio. Lisette was born in Bjuv, a small town in the southern tip of Sweden, so I am marking this occasion with a sunlit painting of a breakfast table outdoors by the Swedish artist Hanna Hirsch-Pauli.

Frukostdags (Breakfast Time) by Hanna Pauli

Frukostdags (Breakfast Time) by Hanna Hirsch-Pauli, Swedish, 1887, via Wikimedia Commons.

Commentary about this painting from the Swedish National Museum reads:

To this day, Hanna Hirsch-Pauli’s painting Breakfast – Time from 1887 is still able to trigger feelings of intense sensual pleasure from our visitors. “We truly feel invited; it is just like our very own breakfast ritual. The chairs are waiting for us and we can almost feel how the heavy teapot tilts as we lift it.” The table which is laid with beautiful objects gives associations to family life and domesticity. The image shows a corner of reality, where the bourgeois dining room has been removed to the garden.

This is an open-air painting suffused with light. The subject is dappled with reflections that give the objects a suggestive shimmer. It is a juste-milieu painting, being at once anchored in the classicist tradition with its linear perspective, but also inspired by the way the Impressionists depicted light with colour. Like many Swedish artists at the time, Hanna Hirsch-Pauli studied in Paris and exhibited at the Salon.

The use of light, the lively brushstrokes and the thickly applied paint outraged several Swedish critics at the time. They saw her technique as “slipshod” and one critic meant that the flecks of light on the table cloth were probably the result of the artist “wiping” her own brushes on it. In the late 1880s Breakfast – Time played a major role in Hanna Hirsch-Pauli’s breakthrough as an artist. Already an accomplished colourist, as we can see, she went on to develop those skills in her portrait painting. — Nationalmuseum Stockholm via Wikimedia Commons.

Thank you for reading this post,

Mary Ann

Related post: Remembering Gladys, Remembering Lisette: Three Years On

Hyperbole and the Long Winter Walk

Once upon a time, in a small log house at the end of a long lane, there lived a dog named Hyperbole.

Whenever his friend Edward would come driving down the long lane to visit him, Hyperbole would bounce and bark and run around in circles. His ears would flap and his brown eyes would shine. His big black nose would shine, too, in that pixelated way dogs’ noses shine when they are moist with enthusiasm.

Now, on one particularly frosty winter day, a day close to Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, when snow had fallen on the little log house and melted in the ruts of the bumpy lane and frozen again, so the ice cracked and crunched under your boots when you walked up the lane to check for mail in the mailbox, on this particular winter day Edward came driving up the lane and crunched to a stop beside the log house.

“Oh boy, oh boy, bark, bark, bark!” said Hyperbole as he ran in circles and sniffed and snuffled and bounced around his friend Edward.

“Let’s go for a walk in the woods, Hype,” Edward said. “But first, I have a Secret Package to carry inside and put away for later.”

“Oh boy, oh boy, bark, bark, bark!” said Hyperbole. “Can we have the Secret Package now? Can we have it now?”

“Have you checked the mailbox yet today, Hyper?” asked Edward, who really wanted the Secret Package to be a surprise.

“Not yet, not yet, but I’ll go see,” said Hyperbole. He bounced and ran around in circles a few times, and then shambled down the long lane, sniffing and whuffling at the interesting repositories of smells along the way, such as old cattail stalks that other animals had peed on, and a muskrat’s tracks in old snow that had thawed before the muskrat walked across it and then frozen afterwards.

As soon as Hyperbole was out of sight, Edward carried the Secret Package into the kitchen, where he unpacked it hastily while keeping an ear cocked for Hyperbole returning. He put some of the items from the Secret Package in the refrigerator, and then, glancing over his shoulder to make sure nobody was looking, he put the rest of the items in the cupboard, high up on the top shelf.

“Whuff! I’m back, I’m back,” announced Hyperbole, just as Edward shut the cupboard door. Hyperbole’s voice was somewhat muffled by the mail he was holding in his jaws, but when he had dropped the mail on the table and Edward had wiped off the drool with the sleeve of his jacket, the dog’s voice rang clear as a bell again.

“Anything for me, for me?” asked Hyperbole.

They pawed through the mail looking for Christmas cards from Edward’s nieces, Jasmine and Dakota and Cheyanne, but there weren’t any Christmas cards yet, just L.L. Bean catalogs and fundraising letters and bills.

Finally, Hyperbole and Edward took a really long, long, walk
run
bark
bounce
circle
sniff
pee-on-a-tree
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walk
run
bark
bounce
through the woods.

Hyperbole and Edward walked all the way up one side of the mountain, past the pine trees and the hemlocks. They passed the old foundation stones where lilacs bloom in the spring. They passed the place where last time they saw bear tracks (extra-long sniffing here).

Then the two friends came back down the mountain, with a few detours after squirrels (Hyperbole), and a few pauses for drinks of cold, cold, well water from a BPA-free water bottle (Edward), and fur that was cold on the top and warm next to the skin (Hyperbole), and frosty cheeks and a red nose (Edward), and puffs of breath visible in the cold air (both of them), and stretched trapezius muscles in the shoulder (both), and joy in the heart (both, for sure).

Now, by the time the two friends got back home, Hyperbole had forgotten all about the surprise. Secret Package? What Secret Package? He trotted over to his water dish and gulped and guzzled the water until his thirst was slaked. Then he curled up in his dog bed next to the wood stove and tucked his nose under the plume of his tail and slept.

Perhaps Hyperbole dreamed, for every once in a while his muzzle quivered or his front paws twitched.

As he slept, I wonder if Hyperbole heard, dimly, the squawk of the squeaky hinge on the cupboard door, or the whump of the refrigerator door closing, or the hiss of water running in the sink.

Or perhaps he smelled, in his sleep, the deep and glorious smell of onions frying in an old and experienced cast iron skillet, and the brown smell of floured chunks of beef tossed into hot oil, where they sizzled, minute by minute by minute, the brownness crisping and crusting and deepening until, at just the right moment, Edward scraped under the browning beef chunks with a spatula and flipped them to brown on the other side.

But I will tell you that by the time Edward’s Surprise Beef Stew was finished cooking, Hyperbole did hear the clink of knives and forks on the table.

Hyperbole woke up with a start.

“Whuff?” he said. “Whuff?”

“Let’s eat!” said Edward.

“Oh boy, oh boy, beef stew! Bark, bark, bark!” said Hyperbole, for beef stew was his very favorite dinner in the whole wide world. And he bounced into his chair at the table and fell upon his portion like a ravenous wolf at the end of a very long winter day.

And when the two friends had polished off two huge bowls of stew each, they stacked their dishes in a sinkful of hot and soapy water. Hyperbole went out briefly in the cold to sniff around the woodpile and pee one last time, while Edward scrubbed the skillet and blotted it with a towel and wiped it with oil and set it on the stove to dry.

Then Edward shoved two more logs into the wood stove. He clinked the stove door shut and adjusted the draft so the fire burned brightly. The stove ticked softly in the peaceful, after-dinner silence. The two friends curled up together on the sofa and slept and slept and slept. And what they dreamed about, sleeping in that warm log house at the end of a long lane under the bright and icy stars, I will leave you to imagine for yourself.

The End

Hyperbole_Ornament_01_f7f7f7Background

With thanks to my son Edward for walks in all seasons; to Dorothy, for the hospitality of her log house in East Lempster, NH; and to the writers, illustrators, and publishers of all my favorite children’s books, especially The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, for their stories. — MAB

5 New Tips for a More Peaceful Feast: Thanksgiving 2013

Still life with a Pumpkin, Peaches and a Silver Goblet on a Table Top by Francois BonvinLast year I wrote my first Thanksgiving post for you, 5 Tips for a More Peaceful Feast: Thanksgiving 2012. It was a wonderful holiday, full of warmth and laughter. It was also a day full of sorrow, with one family member suffering from his last illness. He died just five weeks later.

Given these family sorrows, I imagine that this year’s feast will bring the deeper sense of belonging that comes from sharing losses. Because last year’s tips helped me to stay grounded and avoid eating everything in sight, here’s what I’m planning to do this year:

1. Start the day with a private song. Singing is a good way to bring deep breaths to the body and peace to the mind. I sing each morning in the bath. You can sing a favorite song from your childhood, improvise a tune without words, or listen to music that you love and hum or sing along.

2. Leave a note of gratitude under your pillow. Just take a moment to write one sentence on a piece of paper: I am grateful for ____. Put the note under your pillow. Then, the next morning, read it out loud to yourself. How do you feel? Are there more things you’re grateful for? Is there someone you want to thank? Extra tip: If you can’t think of anything you’re grateful for now, write down something you were thankful for in the past, or hope to be in the future.

3. As you greet others, connect with them by noticing their hands.  Look at and clasp the person’s hand, if that’s appropriate, or make eye contact and then notice their hands. Gazing at the hands isn’t as intrusive as extended eye contact, but the hand is very personal, so it’s a good way to become closer to someone. If you are alone, allow yourself to notice your own hands from time to time.

4. Smile before you eat. Sit at the table and look down at your plate. Allow your gaze to rest on the food. Smile. Inhale gently, letting your smile rise up toward your eyes. Exhale, relaxing all the muscles in your cheeks and around your eyes and your mouth. Look up and smile again. Breathe in through your nose. Relax, breathing out through your mouth. Then, as you begin eating, notice how it feels to smell and taste the food, to make the exquisitely complex movements of chewing or sipping and swallowing.

5. Before you sleep, notice one unexpected thought. Often, when I pay attention to my experience in the moment, I notice something unexpected. It might be an observation about myself, such as noticing the play of light and shadow across the back of my hands as I type and thinking, “Oh, my hands are older this year.” It might be a response to a familiar sound, such as hearing someone play the piano and thinking, “Oh, I remember singing that song together!” We can deepen our experience by pausing and noticing this thought, in a curious and nonjudgmental way, and sharing it with someone else, or just with ourselves.

May you have a peaceful feast.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Mary Ann

Image credit:  Still life with a Pumpkin, Peaches and a Silver Goblet on a Table Top by François Bonvin (1817–1887), oil on canvas, 1858. By François Bonvin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.