"The Magical Felt Laundry Ball," pastel life sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“The Magical Felt Laundry Ball,” pastel life sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

Back when I started all the moving a few years ago, I got into the habit of tying up my yoga mat with a beautiful cotton plaid scarf a friend of mine brought me years ago from Cambodia. It may have been that it was hanging over the post of the mirror on my dresser and I just needed something to tie the mat with so it didn’t come unrolled in the moving truck, with the added benefit that I would know where the scarf was without having to go through boxes. Or maybe I started using it on trips to Portland to visit my son and daughter-in-law when I wanted to bring my mat with me and be sure not to forget it. However it started, my mat now sits in a large basket in my bedroom, and when I’m not using it, it’s rolled up and tied with this lovely scarf, that reminds me of the kindness of my friend and the help they gave the people they visited on their trip.

Now that I live at my house near the ocean, I have returned to doing my yoga and morning meditation at the foot of the bed. It’s one of the first things I do in the morning before breakfast. I untie the scarf from the rolled up mat and put it at the bottom of the bed. Romeo is sleeping farther up and Cotton has already gone into the living area to sleep on his cot until I come out of the bedroom to let him outside.

As I’ve written about before, the yoga mat is what I call my magic carpet, where insights come to me and where I watch the waves of my emotional roller coaster uncurl as I meditate. This particular morning I was feeling despondent, and disappointed to be feeling so. Yet I find when such feelings arrive, it’s best to identify them and accept them, even through reluctance to admit to them, because that’s the best chance I have of moving through them to release and transformation.

As I opened up to honesty, the word “forsaken” came to me as what I was feeling. Wasn’t it just weeks ago that the Tibetan Buddhist monks had been in Newport, that I had experienced such a wonderful glow of their healing energy and playfulness, complete with one younger monk, giving Cotton, who accompanied me, his own red thread blessed by the Dalai Lama, and who at the very end of the ceremony putting the remains of the sand mandala into the harbor, had walked by us in procession and showered Cotton with flower petals? Wasn’t it adorable how one petal stayed on the top of Cotton’s head, and sensing it was important, he carefully balanced it there nearly all the way back to my neighbor’s car?

Wasn’t it just days ago that I met a couple outside the grocery store who stopped us to say they had 5 Silken Windhounds, and when I mentioned Romeo, the woman clasped her hand to her mouth and teared up, because they had owned his son, Moto, who has passed away? Didn’t we strangers hug like the family we are? Didn’t I just see a poem of mine in print after a long time?

There are many things like this, magical things, that happen in my life. And yet this particular morning, they all felt dim and far away, as if they had happened to some other me, and it further disappointed me in myself that I couldn’t access that magic in any immediate way.

Sometimes when I’m in a difficult emotional place, I don’t stand on ceremony with my angels or guides or the universe or any powers that may be. Instead I just yell “help!” Sometimes I ask for a sign. And I try, despite that natural resistance to do so, to stay present with whatever the difficult emotion is, and wait for a transformation of it to emerge.

As I rolled up the mat after practice and knelt on the floor, reaching for the scarf thrown across the bed to tie it with, I said again that word “forsaken” to myself, trying to accept that’s how I felt. When I went to pull myself up with the hand on the bed, it hit something hard–and round–under the blanket.

“Whaat?” I asked myself, and felt around some more. Then I reached under the quilt and pulled out a felt ball, the same size as a tennis ball, the kind I use instead of fabric softener sheets to help with static cling in the dryer.

It was as if it suddenly appeared out from under the covers to keep me company so I wouldn’t feel quite so forsaken. A mute felt ball to keep me company in my dejection? The absurdity of the timing was so perfect I collapsed into genuine laughter.

The day before, even though I  hadn’t felt like doing it, I had washed this quilt and several other layers of bedding, but had missed fishing all the balls out of the folds, and only mildly wondered to myself where they went. The moment this one appeared, its pointedly absurd comment on my mood was like the sun breaking through a storm, or a bright scarf pulled out of a black top hat. I just couldn’t stop laughing. I tucked it into the pocket of my sweat shirt, and went to let Cotton out. I patted it in my pocket as I began to get ready to make my oatmeal and I chuckled some more.  The comedic timing could not have been more perfect.

I asked myself if I had ever written about signs before, feeling sheepish about whether to do so or not. Almost immediately I remembered I had, when telling the story of how I came to buy my house here at the coast. I’ve got to go find that post, I thought to myself, to seehow I did it before.  When I went to look for it, I also discovered a synchronicity: not only had I written about signs in that post, but I had also addressed my feeling of  initial sheepishness about whether or not to say I put my faith in them. But most synchronous was the fact that the post I went looking for also happens to be the very next post I will come to in my rereading of all my blog posts over the years from start to finish. That kind of synchronicity definitely felt like yet another a sign that magic was still afoot.

In that post, A Hummingbird and a Seagull Made Me Do It, I talked about how hummingbirds had acted as harbingers, leading the way to what was to become my new house, beginning with an afternoon when one flew into my little trailer by the sea while I was also in the process of reading a novel where they are a central metaphor. It’s easy to see a creature as lovely as a hummingbird as a sign. But a felt ball that takes the static cling out of my laundry? Was I forcing things?

Perhaps the felt ball appearing out of my quilt like a magic trick I didn’t know I could perform is less of a sign and more of a comment from a wiser part of myself than the one who felt “forsaken.” But a comment can be a sign, too. So can an experience, or even the memory of one, which reminds me of the following, which I  was prompted to write down after reading a blog post by my friend Gena at The Full Helping a few weeks ago:

“I was feeling rather cranky and sore and out of sorts and a bit entrenched in it all. But last night as I closed the shutters on a big window downstairs that faces west, I remembered that earlier i had walked by and saw a very delicate pattern of sun on the floor. It was so lovely that I thought at first it had substance, and then I saw it was light that had seeped through a partly closed and angled shutter, and dripped onto the floor in this startling pattern. As I closed the shutters for the night in my sore and crabby state, I remembered that moment when I touched the shutter itself, and I was reminded that moment was as real as all the sore and cranky, and suddenly it was all in balance again. It’s very important to give those good moments the equal weight they deserve, no matter how fleeting. To do so makes them less fleeting, more substantial.”

This morning as we started out on our walk, a song I hadn’t thought of in a long time came into my head: One More Time To Live.  I absolutely loved it when I was in high school. I would put the album on and lay on my back on the floor and sing along at the top of my lungs. It’s still as beautiful and relevant as ever, and seems to have some to me in the spirit of this post.

And finally, the magic trick of the felted laundry ball  also reminds of how I ended my post “Wrapping The World In Light,” which I just finished rereading:

“One last thing: I hope to be silly as often as it visits me. It used to mean to be ‘blessed,’ and in my opinion it still does.”

Yes, yes, indeed.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

{ 6 comments }

Organic Non GMO Soybeans in the Jar

Though I’ve made almond milk, hazelnut milk for months on end over the last 11 years, and even hemp milk, pecan milk and pistachio nut milk on occasion, I came late to soy milk making. While I was intrigued long ago, the prospect seemed out of reach, since everyone who did it, and every soy milk maker I looked at was in need of large quantities at once. Since I wasn’t feeding a family, it didn’t seem practical to make a lot at once and then have to worry it might go bad if I didn’t use it in just a few days. Then there was also the fact that at some points during peri-menopause, it seemed as if a large soy intake was aggravating hot flashing I was trying to get under control. But once I entered post-menopause, that same unprocessed soy became an ally in helping to calm those hot flashes, which just goes to show how dynamic our food choices and our attention to them can be.

Just last year when my friend Cathy Fisher of Straight Up Food came to visit for us to meet in person for the first time, she brought along with her what she called her “traveling milk”–a carton of EdenSoy Organic Soy Milk. This reminded me that there is only two ingredients in good packaged organic soy milk–organic soy beans and filtered water.  I finished Cathy’s carton once she left, and began purchasing my own for the benefit it gave me on days I didn’t have any tofu cooked.

While there is outright magnificence in living at the ocean’s edge every day, it can present practical inconveniences. One of those for me, a lifelong trash picker upper and then recycler, is that the recycling here is more limited than it is in Portland. Since there is no composting option here, I was feeling terrible about having to put so many produce scraps in the garbage, sealed up away from prying wildlife, which prompted experiments in composting in ceramic and clay pots, which, I’m happy to say, is now an up and running system and a resounding success.

I’m always conscious of and irritated by things coming in plastic or aseptic packages I can’t recycle, but sometimes my energy level also dictates I humble myself to the convenience they provide me so I can so other things with my hands, energy and time. But one day I just got tired of  wrestling with the tofu package and having to throw the organic soy milk carton out. Then one night I saw a post on Facebook from the son of one of my friends in Moscow, who is vegan like me, and who was proudly showing his homemade tofu made from his homemade soy milk. I was fascinated. “Recipe?” I queried in the comments. And he sent me a link to a video on youtube called Todd’s Kitchen, and my adventure–and obsession–began

At first after watching various videos, I thought maybe I should skip trying to make it myself and just buy the “right” soy milk maker I was about to buy one when I thought to myself that maybe I should just experiment with how to make it without one first, to get a feel for what it’s supposed to come out like. And my adventure–and temporary obsession with learning about it–began. Instead of buying a soy milk maker, I bought a $20 dollar Brita water filter to affix to my kitchen sink, and voila! I had filtered water. (This turned out to be a benefit to me on many levels.)

As one of my neighbors here can attest to, finding the best way for me to make soymilk was pretty much all I wanted to talk about for a while. The inner alchemist in me was fascinated by the changes soaking heating skinning and simmering brought to the soy bean. And I also became absolutely entranced with finding out how many things can be made with the leftover soy bean pulp–known as okara–I could make. There are burgers, cookies, crackers, scrambles, and even pizza on my menu, all containing it. Some have been more successful than others, but it seems to be a relatively low fat nutritional powerhouse and I’m glad to have the problem of learning what I can do with it.

But none of this is even the point of this post. The point is how reverent I’ve become about the soy milk making process–how at first slow, and mostly quiet, and lovely and transformative it is. Fresh soy milk has a sweet smell that rivals anything the store can offer. And getting there for me is indeed a meditation

At first the process was tiring, as I experimented with what to do and how to do it. Once I settled on a routine that is an amalgam of things I’ve read, with huge contributions from two videos on Mary’s Test Kitchen on YouTube, I could also settle into its mindful delights. Once the soybeans are soaked, it all goes from one step to the other, and each step, though they don’t take all that long, requires mindful attention. Making soy milk is not something I can walk away from or add to multi-tasking. It requires attention in the here and now.

Half cup of soaked soybeans

After soaking the beans in boiling water for at least overnight and up to 48 hours, the next step I like to include is running them through my hands in a bowl of filtered water to remove some of the skins.(You can read about the boiling water tip and the science behind it here.) This involves skimming the separated skins off the water with a slotted spoon. At first I groused to myself about whether I was getting them all, but then I started to realize it was kind of relaxing and I actually liked doing it, if I gave myself the chance. It didn’t really take all that much time, and it was rather lovely in the northern morning light coming through the kitchen window.

Soy Bean Skin on Spoon

The next step, which I don’t have a shot of, is to spoon the (mostly) skinned soybeans into the blender and and add 5 parts water. The beauty of making the milk without a soy milk maker is that I’m able to half the recipe and make just enough for me to use on my oatmeal and so forth for the next few days. I blend those skinned soaked beans and filtered water for one minute, as I learned on Mary’s Test Kitchen.

Then I pour them into a muslim bag and squeeze the milk into the eco-friendly non-stick pot I like to use. For obvious reasons I couldn’t take a photo of this step, but it isn’t the visual so much as the sound that seduced me into continuing to do this by hand. Picture it early morning and quiet. The heater has turned off. The dogs are sleeping by the fire. The light outside is moving from out and then back behind the clouds. The only sound is the .music of the soymilk falling into itself in the pot, a tiny trickle, like a rivulet melting snow. That’s it. No loud machine humming and whirring for fifteen minutes. Standing at the counter creating that lovely sound with my own two hands as I also was creating fresh soy milk is an experience I turn to again and again in my mind when I need to calm myself or reassure myself that my slow ways are enough. And while a whole batch can be a bit tiring for me, this half batch is not. (Even when making a whole batch, most recipes and videos say it works better to do it two batches.)

Next the newly squeezed soy milk goes on the stove to simmer for anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes, to taste. (Thanks again for that great instruction, Mary’s Test Kitchen!)

Soy Milk on the StoveThis is where the alchemy really gets magical, if I’m willing to stand there and stir and watch and wait. I’ll see the bubbles form, I’ll see the simmer begin, and I might even see the skin called yuba form (which, by the way, is delicious, and which can be removed or stirred back in. I had to learn not to turn away and wash a few dishes or try to finish something else that would distract me and of course never to leave the kitchen while that simmer is happening. But once I learned how to recognize the gentle simmer, I also learned to be able to smell when it was most likely ready to my taste.

Here, finally, is the photo I took first, that inspired me to take the others. It’s the remainder of the previous batch of soy milk, poured into the bottom of my oatmeal bowl, over mashed banana and nutmeg.

Homemade Soy Milk with Banana and Nutmeg

It was so pretty with the light bouncing off one of my favorite blue bowls that at first I thought I’d just plop it up on this blog’s facebook page. But then I realized the whole process and what a meditation it’s become was worth writing about to me.

After my kids visited, I also revisited the prospect of the soy milk maker, for convenience. But when i reread the comments, I found that many who had bought one still used a nut milk bag to strain it after it came out of the machine, rather than just a mesh strainer, in order to get the quality of milk they liked best. I also learned it’s not possible to make smaller batches than 5 cups at once in any of these machines, unless I were to purchase a small one that only has a small capacity. What is the point, I thought, of enduring the noise of the soy milk maker, when I can be done with the noise in a literal minute and then listen to that delicious dripping sound coming from the patience of my own hands? I’ve also found that the soy milk itself running over my (clean) hands has softened the skin on them in a way that feels luxurious.

It’s also true as others say that I really do save money making my own milk. It has cut down on what goes in the trash as well. So for now, I will continue with this quiet, relatively slow way of making my soy milk. It is much slower and more time consuming than picking a carton off the shelf (I do allow myself a container in reserve for times I need too much too quickly or am too tired to go through the whole process), but it also really is true, as everyone who makes their own says, that there’s no comparing its sweet taste and smell to store bought. And I’m talking about just the finished milk, with no sweetener added in. Ultimately, though, it’s the peaceful and beautiful magic of the process that has absolutely captured my heart. I need processes like this to anchor me in a chaotic world. I think we all do. This one literally nourishes me as well, and it takes less time and money than some would have me believe. It returns me to the deep truth that making anything is magic for me. It’s almost my religion. It’s certainly where my spirit feels most at home and can soar, yet stay anchored to the cast of the light, the shape of the bean, the color of the tile. Kitchen as temple: simple domestic grace.

Maria (moonwatcher)

{ 10 comments }

Kalette

March 7, 2019

I have fallen in love with a new vegetable. It’s a little kale flower that grows on a stalk the way brussel sprouts do. In fact, it’s a cross between kale and brussel sprouts. But I didn’t have to know any of this to fall in love. My heart was stolen the January Saturday at […]

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Making Repair

February 12, 2019

Each morning before breakfast as I do my simple yoga and meditation routine, the branches of an old alder keep me company outside the bedroom window. From this alder, which leans toward the street, I have learned continued patience with my right side, the cerebral palsy side, as it continues its journey of balance on […]

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In Tandem

January 30, 2019

Last weekend at the winter market in the Lincoln County Fairgrounds building, a woman approached me, Cotton and the friend we came with, as I was paying for a hand knit hat. I was turned away from her to hand my card to the carftswoman, but I heard the familiar question, “what kind of dog […]

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Where The Rainbow Begins

January 12, 2019

On the night of my birthday I wrote: “Was just relaxing here by the fire with the dogs, listening to the rain on my roof and laughing to myself, thinking, ‘I can’t go to bed until after 10:27 pm because I haven’t been “born” until after that!’ It’s been a full day. Enjoyed the sea […]

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Grown Up Anise Cookies (Vegan and Gluten Free)

December 29, 2018

As I have written about before, my Dad was a staunch believer in the 12 Days of Christmas. Every year he would take from December 24 to January 6 off from work. He’d grow a beard and in general relax and enjoy himself. He especially savored the holiday baking we had done leading up to […]

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Aloft

December 7, 2018

When I first moved to the little park mobile home at the coast in September of 2016, I began a rough draft of what may someday be a memoir arising out of this blog. When I got as far with a beginning as I could get, I decided to begin the process of rereading all […]

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Broken Lasagna Minestrone

November 26, 2018

A storm is blowing in off the ocean. The waves were high this morning, the sky is gray, and the trees are now bending their wide ever green branches in the wind. And the wind is cold. It’s time for soup. It’s also time for some soup for my soul. I’m heart broken beyond words […]

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In The Beginning

November 10, 2018

I was a curious child, apparently always asking questions that could put grown-ups on the spot. Sometime during elementary school, I remember becoming curious about when all the mothers on our block had gotten married, since my own mother did not do so until the age of 26, which was considered just shy of ancient […]

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