Aloft

by Maria Theresa Maggi on December 7, 2018

"Moon and Kite Over Ocean," pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Moon and Kite Over Ocean,” pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

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 my blog posts in chronological order, making an index and taking notes as I go. Memoir or not, it’s turning out to be quite a meaningful adventure.

A few days ago I was rereading a post from January 7, 2015 called “Vegan Versions: PB2, Cranberry-Fruit Sauce and Other Tasty Odds and Ends.” What stayed with me about this post was not the products I had tried out from my “new” grocery store or the sugarless cranberry sauce I liked to put in a sandwich with PB2, but how I wrote about making it a practice to learn the new grocery store by exploring a new aisle every time I went there:

“Since I moved about a mile or more northeast, the shortest distance to a grocery store puts me at a market that has surprised me with its abundance of great organic produce and a section called “Huckleberries” within it that duplicates much of what I can get at the co-op. On icy days or second walks in the early almost dark of winter, it’s often the destination Romeo and I choose to stretch our legs, warm up for a few minutes and pick up some extra greens or sweet potatoes. It’s bigger than the co-op, so I’ve made it my new “job” to try and discover new things in it each time I go.”

And here is the note I made to myself last week after rereading the post:

“What stands out to me in this post is the narration of my commitment to get to know the inside of Rosauer’s after moving to Van Buren Street, and that that is how I found the products I write about. Juxtaposed as something new with the almost 450 miles I have moved, and the now ever changing ocean and beach I live next to, it seems so different in scale, and yet I can still feel my determination to become familiar. I had no idea my world would literally explode in scale; back then I talked about that house on Van Buren Street as my “nest” for the next 20 years. I had no clue I would be leaving it in a year. And now, even though I am in the same place everyday I never know what it will be like, what potential beauty or danger is in store. My task is how to discern that in the moment and live in it. Also how uninterested in these products I am now. Too salty and too sugary (for my teeth) and how that’s fine. Little experiments. Different experiments now.”

In fact the scale of experimentation has gone from trying out a new product from a new aisle in a not completely familiar grocery store to deciding to move to Portland and then to the coast, first to the park model and then to my house at the coast, at a pace so “fast” it made my head spin, except for the fact I trusted it was right.

If I had to pick one thing the change to low fat whole plant foods has brought me in the last ten years that I value the most, it’s clarity. Of course I also love that I can walk, talk, chew and swallow more easily than when I began, that I’ve been able to write poetry and this blog, and do art again, and enjoy the support and love of my service dogs, Romeo and Cotton. But all of those improvements and many others, like the ability to bounce back when things do get out of hand, all boil down to more ready access to clarity.

First of all, there’s clarity at the cellular level, which in point of fact facilitates the change to more ease in movement and physiological function. Last summer when I met the couple on the beach who are both doctors I described in the post Magical MeetUps, this term “cellular clarity” is the phrase I used when they asked me to describe how the diet had changed things for me. I said that lowering the inflammatory response had given me a clarity that started at the cellular level, if that made any sense to them.

Much to my surprise, it DID make scientific sense to them. The metaphor I often used back at the beginning of this transformation in 2008 is that it felt as if I’d been in a fever and all of a sudden it broke; something had been eating away at me and suddenly it just stopped. That made space for a kind of clarity to feel what goes on my body, my mind and my emotions and how they are all connected without the static interference of constant and acute inflammatory processes. That makes way for deep listening to the self on all these levels and an engagement with that listening, which comes in so much more clearly that at times I forget it wasn’t always this way, or that others don’t see it that way, or see the way I eat as being able to have that kind of influence.

I was reminded of this last weekend when an artist friend of mine let me tag along with her to a gallery close to our neighborhood where she was showing two of her layered glass pieces. I had only seen her work in photos and had asked if I could come while she signed the papers so I could see them first hand, and also take a look at the show they were part of, which my neighbor had described as beautiful.

She was right. The new gallery space was lovely and the show had many intriguing paintings, sculptures and blown glass in it. After introducing me to the gallery owner and a friend of hers, Cotton and I wandered away purposefully to take a closer look at things and give my neighbor and the gallery owner a chance to finish up paperwork. As I went beyond a partition to look at some pieces I heard whispering and since my neighbor had once suggested taking me down the coast in another direction to meet a gallery owner in Yahats, I briefly wondered if my neighbor was telling the gallery owner I was also an artist.

But I don’t think that’s what my neighbor whispered about, because when I got back the gallery owner smiled and her friend asked me if I’d like to sit down in the single chair, which I accepted, since I’d already been on a long walk, and we were at the gallery at my nap time, on a hard cement floor. The gallery owner said something like “animals can be such a help when you’re a shut-in,” and then peppered me with questions about Cotton’s breed and told her own story about a dearly loved dog.

She was very kind, but it also meant I had to process that my neighbor must have said something about me like “she has MS, and doesn’t drive or get out much,” which somehow translated into “shut-in” to the gallery owner. I’d never thought of myself as a shut-in. A bit of a hermit, maybe, often by choice, but not a shut-in. Didn’t I take two walks a day? Wasn’t I sitting there with them instead of being shut up at home?

Maybe I should have been upset but the implication somehow amused me. And this is one of the things I mean by clarity. I know who I am, even when others don’t. I know when it’s worth my while to challenge how they see me, and when it’s not. This wasn’t a time to do anything with my energy but model who I was in that moment.  Convincing people is highly overrated and defensive efforts to do so rarely work anyway. For instance, I remember standing in a clothing store with Romeo looking right at two women who came up to me and asked me if I was blind, I guess because I had a service dog with me. The fact that I was looking right at them, making eye contact as they asked me, seemed to be completely lost on them, so I just said, “no, I’m not,” and tried not to laugh out loud.

A couple of days after this encounter at the gallery I got a message on social media from a young man who used  to look up to my son when they both were growing up. I’ll call him Dan. The older boys were good to him, as the older skateboarders had once been good to them, and I remember fondly Mike’s 16th birthday when they all came in from skating and said “we need to vacuum Dan,” who was maybe 10 or 11 at the time and had fallen into a mess of pebbles, sticks and leaves. He stood there while Mike and another teenager carefully cleaned him up so he could sit down and enjoy some birthday cake.

When Dan got older, he spent a summer or two working for the city helping with the farmer’s market and he would sometimes come over and help me in the garden, perhaps remembering that his Dad had brought him over to help with raking my leaves when I was far too weak to do much of anything. We would talk about what was going on in his life and I would give him my astrological perspective when he asked for it.  So I was pleasantly surprised when I got a message a couple of days ago asking how I was enjoying the change of season. I told him it had been a beautiful day at the beach. He responded by saying, “That is wonderful. I was just speaking about you with a friend, Debra, who apparently knows you too. I want to say that seeing you come from being nearly bedridden when I was a child to selling two homes and moving to Oregon in one year is amazing. You are one of my superheroes!”

In the space of less than a week I had been labeled both a shut-in and a super hero. What’s funny to me about that is that so many years ago people who could effortlessly carry in a box of wood for my fire when I could barely get down on my knees to make it did seem like super heroes to me, and I would sometimes joke about that when I thanked them for helping me. Indeed there was a period of time when I couldn’t even get down on my knees to lift the logs into the firebox or sit in front of it while it burned, I was so weak and unable to regulate my body temperature effectively. And here was Dan, calling me what I had often called my friends,  as they split my wood, shoveled my walk, lifted something for me I couldn’t lift, or even helped me button my coat. Now was the superhero in Dan’s eyes.

The clarity I enjoy in my slow miracle life allows me to take both the label of “shut-in” and “superhero” in stride. I see there is partial truth in each description, depending on perspective. From the gallery owner and the neighbor’s perspective, perhaps driving and going out and about to see and be seen is the measure of health or social success. But to someone who once knew how incapacitated I once was a lot of the time, my efforts to get myself where I live now make me a super hero.

It’s true I don’t go many places. Maybe I’ve slowed down a bit. That’s largely because I do not have to run on adrenalin to push through the most ordinary tasks. I know how to rest if I’m tired, and wait until I’m not.  And in that process of awareness, I have made the long  unprecedented journey to end up here, in this wild, quiet place, so I could use my clarity to reflect on all that’s happened, all I’ve written about it, here and elsewhere, and what that might mean. When Dan was little I never would have dreamed I’d be on the Oregon coast now. I had to work extremely hard to cross the street. There’d be times I was not able to leave the house for weeks. I could not look at a computer screen for more than a couple of minutes without becoming dizzy. I could not hold my head up without pillows. I could not hold the phone to my ear without also supporting my arm on pillows. Sometimes I could not write a check or lift the frying pan. Now, though I don’t  walk to the store here, or for several miles on the beach, I do walk every day, on the beach when it’s safe to be there, up and down stairs to get there, on sand, on pine needles, on grass, gravel and asphalt, and I learn how to be next to a very wild and unpredictable and achingly beautiful shoreline safely. I play with the dogs out there, which means I sometimes even run a very little. I rake some of my own leaves now, but most of them I let compost.

When I think of what this clarity means to me, it finally occurs to me, too, who my audience for all of these stories is: those who strive to listen to their bodies, to give themselves what helps them heal, even when others might see something different and not believe in what the person engaged in self-healing behavior sees as self-evident.

When I think of encouraging people to listen to themselves at the cell level and believe what they “hear,” I think of the pastel at the top of this post I did last summer: the sliver of moon over the ocean on a bright windy morning, with a kite aloft against those great blue expanses of sky and water. It’s not huge, or abstract, like the art in the gallery, and the photograph here doesn’t quite do it justice, but every time I look at it  I feel the gratitude I felt to be able to look out over the ocean and be captivated by the kite ruffling in the wind with the moon out behind it. I got lost in the sight of it so completely at the time that the conversation around me faded and I knew I would go home and try to draw it. In that moment I was clear; in the moment I drew it I was clear about what it felt like to look at it. That clarity came through like an act of grace in my hand–the same hand that once could barely lift the phone or write a check. And it’s largely all predicated on the way I’ve been eating for the last ten years, no matter who believes it or who doesn’t know that or understand it. And that, to be “clear,” is what living a slow miracle is all about.

Maria (moonwatcher)

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Broken Lasagna Minestrone from Plant-Based Slow Motion Miracle

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 to see our country using tear gas against women and toddlers seeking their right to request asylum. Besides writing to my Congressman about it,  I went to find this story, Gate 4-A, by poet Naomi Shihab Nye, again, because I knew it would be the soul soup I most need. I was blessed several years ago to hear her read it in person.

Sometimes, too, the outward activity of making a pot of soup reinforces the need my soul has for the miracle of softening, bringing together and harmonizing disparate forces. This particular soup uses up bits and pieces left over from a lasagna dinner that didn’t quite use up all the gluten free lasagne noodles, from Thanksgiving, and from the days it was warm and dry enough here to gather wild mushrooms. It’s a compendium of happy leftovers from the cupboard, the fridge and the freezer all in one pot. I trust it will help with what ails me on oh so many levels and I offer it to you in that spirit too.

Broken Lasagna Minestrone

broken

1/2 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed and chopped
1 small carrot, sliced
1 small parsnip, sliced
1/2 cup chopped red cabbage
about 2 cups chopped frozen kale
1 can chickpeas
a handful of dried mushrooms
a handful of dried tomatoes
a tbs of dried lentils (optional)
Italian seasoning
poultry seasoning
ground fennel
about 1 cup pasta sauce
about 1/3 cup leftover vegan gravy (optional but good)
about 4 1/2 cups of water
1-2 cups of broken gluten free lasagne noodles pieces, uncooked
about 2-3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast
1/2 tbs of lemon juice
1 tbs of chopped fresh parsley

Saute the red onion in a large soup pot. I started on low heat while chopping everything else. After the onions begin to soften, add the rest of the raw veggies and some seasoning and saute for a couple of minutes. Splash with a little water if necessary. Then add the can of chickpeas (I did not drain it in this instance) and then the frozen chopped kale. After that is all stirred together and starting to warm, add the pasta sauce and leftover gravy and stir again. Then add water until you’ve got a soupy consistency, keeping in mind that once you put the lentils and pasta in, they will absorb some of the liquid. Once the soup is boiling, add some nutritional yeast, the little bit of lentils, and the broken lasagna pieces. Bring it back to the boil and let it boil a few minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent any sticking. Turn it down to medium and let it cook, continuing to stir occasionally until the lasagne pieces are done. Add a little lemon juice, some additional nutritional yeast and some chopped parsley. Take off heat and cover, letting it sit for a little bit. Stir and ladle into a soup bowl. Top with a grated cashew or hazelnut if desired for a parmesan cheese effect.

Notes: this “recipe” is endlessly adaptable. Use whatever veggies appeal to you, and if you don’t have pasta sauce on hand, dilute some tomato paste, just something with a full bodied tomato flavor. The Italian seasoning I used happened to have red pepper flakes in it so I didn’t add any additional. It’s also likely it will need a little more liquid (water, pasta sauce) on reheating, since the lasagna pieces will continue to absorb liquid. Let your taste buds be your guide on all these options.

This soup turned out much better than I thought it would when I was making it, the kind of good that makes my eyes widen and my mouth say, “oh MAN this is good!” It reminds me once again, that it’s absolutely imperative for me to put one foot in front of the other, even when I’m hearing old tapes that there’s no point or it won’t make a difference or turn out the way I wish it would.  Nearly 30 years ago I used to ride my bike, the color of French vanilla ice cream, around the Back Bay to campus the last year I taught at UC Irvine before moving to Idaho. Something had gone wrong with the bike, perhaps a flat tire, and I had had to bring it in to the campus bike shop. It’s notable to me now that I can’t remember what it was, but I was in despair about something the afternoon I picked it up, so much so that it was hard to physically move. But I told myself to keep going, one step at a time, until I got to my car and could hoist it onto the bike rack and head home. What I do remember as if it were yesterday is that by the time I got to the car some of that despair had lifted, precisely because I had willed myself to concentrate on the task at hand, one step at a time, until I reached the car, rather  than continue to be engulfed by whatever it was that had thrown me into despair. That focus on the moment-to moment literally shifted my consciousness away from feelings that were threatening to paralyze me altogether.

It’s the going forward through a sheer act of will by continuing to make the motions that gets me across that river of fear, time and again. It’s not that I wish to forget about the parents and their children suffering at the border; that’s something I’ll likely never forget, unlike the personal details of the despair that day as I walked to retrieve my bike.  It’s that I wish to be able to go on in service to their humanity, however humbly I am able. I’m grateful for the difficulties I’ve had in my life that taught me to do this, and the moments of grace that help me remember to apply it, even in seemingly tiny ways. It’s the resonance of that compassion and determination moving outward into the world I believe in. And so I go forward, with my letter to my Congressman and my steadfast belief in the humanity of every human being, because I never know what continued motion in that direction will be the tipping point. I know that every one of those steps counts, is a light against the dark in and of itself.  I make soup to help me keep taking those steps, even when I have to will myself to do it.  The fear that soup wouldn’t be any good as I was making it turned out to be false. I hold fast to that, too, because it means the same outcome might apply to the much larger collective challenges we face. That possibility is delicious soup for my soul. So I put one foot in front of the other and I trust in that.

Maria (moonwatcher)

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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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Walk On

October 29, 2018

I got out of bed this morning after my first set of meditations and stretches to do a bit more yoga and loving kindness meditation. Afterwards, I was left with the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” so present in my being that I started to sing it out loud. After decades of not even thinking […]

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Vegan Gluten Free Happy Birthday Cake

October 22, 2018

I’m not celebrating anybody’s birthday this week. But sometimes it’s nice to remember a special occasion, or pretend there is one when there isn’t. It conjures up those feelings a special occasion brings, the ones that make us feel grateful for each other and for how we have made it through good times and bad. […]

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Turning the Tide

October 18, 2018

I am working on a blog post about a gluten free cake recipe I want to share with you, but this is not that post. This is something else, again, like the last post, about my human experience I was given to know suddenly, and which I feel compelled to share here. For any of […]

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On The Verge

October 4, 2018

As I begin to write this, there are things I should be doing. The dogs are waiting for their food. The food I bought for the little art reception for the neighborhood art show I’m in tomorrow evening is sitting in the fridge waiting to be transformed into tofu cream cheese and 3 ingredient oatmeal […]

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I Meet My Golden Self

September 27, 2018

  I’ve long held that the real test of anything I undertake to heal or help myself comes at especially trying times. It’s easy to stay on track with walking, eat whole plants, or doing my yoga every day when nothing is getting in the way. But it’s most important to do such things, and […]

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Vegan Versions: Gluten Free Flatbread Pizza Party

September 3, 2018

One of my favorite things about whole foods vegan eating is the creativity. It suits the inclination of that question I asked myself more than two decades ago, upon first learning the results of an ELISA test: what can I eat? With that question I embarked on a long fascinating voyage through the ups and downs […]

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We Are Of The Ocean

August 21, 2018

Last Friday afternoon I had settled on the couch with the dogs for my afternoon rest, completely unaware that space and time were about to open a gate into the phenomenal and timeless. Although I call it “Nap Time” in an older post, my afternoon rest does not always mean I fall asleep, although often […]

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