Shawn Pittard: Half Moon

We’re between April’s Full Pink Moon and May’s Full Flower Moon. California poet and naturalist Shawn Pittard helps us bridge the space with this beautiful poem. Thank you, Shawn.

 

HALF MOON

Moon light snapped
in half.

Wafer. Eyelid.

My consistently
inconsistent companion.

Waxing. Waning.

Reliable as the sun.
Silent as god.

 

Shawn Pittard watches the moon from his home base in Sacramento.

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Fancy Grits with Quail Eggs

When quail eggs came in the weekly farm share from Stony Ridge Farm CSA, I thought they might be good hardboiled and topping some fancy grits. This was de-licious!

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Here’s how:

Make grits according to package directions.

The last few minutes of cooking, add halved cherry tomatoes.

The last minute of cooking, add chopped spinach and grated Asiago cheese.

Season with fresh ground black pepper and salt.

Top with the peeled, cooked quail eggs.

(The smoothie is plain whole milk yogurt, frozen peaches, a peeled and diced orange and a banana pureed in a regular blender.)

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Romance has hooked me!

My Little Bird encouraged me to explore why romance novels have me hook, line and sinker. I talked with some authors and did some soul searching to figure it out.

IMAGINE A WORLD created by intelligent, plucky women.

Imagine a world where fantasy is played out on a secure stage, where pleasure and principle are not at odds.

Welcome to the world of the romance novel.

Are you reading them? A whole lot of people are.

According to a recent story in the New York Times, romance novels are so popular that sales in 2013 exceeded $1 billion and are expected to keep growing.

I’m contributing to those sales, selecting the latest release from the rack above the magazines at CVS to add to my red shopping basket, and I’m rereading the Bröntes in thick hardback editions borrowed from the library.

Continue reading here.

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How to make daily life as lovely as a retreat

 A website for yoga retreats asked me to contribute a blog post.

I’ve never been a guest on a yoga retreat and don’t anticipate being one anytime soon or ever!

My towns (Harpers Ferry and D.C.) are my happiness and I learn so much from my own home yoga and meditation practices and from other teachers nearby, and from my students.

So, I offer up suggestions for bringing elements of a wonderful retreat into daily life. I hope they bring you simple joy!

In a small neighborhood studio, a yoga-class friend was telling me about a recent yoga retreat.

“Oh, it was amazing” she said as she folded her blanket into a meditation seat. “I was so relaxed. I just wish I could have felt so good when I came back.”

“Couldn’t you?” I asked. “Couldn’t you feel that relaxed everyday?”

She looked at me. Class began. And at the end of class we wandered off in our respective post-yoga happiness hazes.

Next week, same class, same spot for our mats, my classmate said, “I’ve been thinking about what you said, about feeling relaxed every day and thought, Why not?”

Why not, indeed.

In teaching meditation and yoga to hundreds of students in all sorts of settings in California, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., I’ve come up with several ways to keep that feeling of retreat in mind and body, whether returning from vacation or taking a “staycation.”

It’s a matter of simplicity and joy.

The word “retreat” means “to pull back.” On retreat, with tasty fresh food, gentle attention from a teacher, pampering and quiet, we pull back from the habits of daily life that drain us — eating on the run, denying ourselves attention, rushing through or avoiding basic self-care, excessive noise.

Adding vacation vibes to the daily grind means attending to the senses and tending the mind, following guidelines from yoga philosophy.

Start with the body and its senses

Include asana practice, even a little. Unwind a little throughout the day before the knots build in the body (and then the mind). One friend uses the kitchen counter for downward facing dog while the coffee brews. Another practices half moon before bed.

Observe Soucha, the concept of tidiness with attention to the place where you begin and conclude the day: the bed. Simplify your bed-making routine so you never skip it. When replacing the sheets, I splurged on linen. Instead of two blankets, I use a duvet. The bed’s made in seconds and looks and feels luxurious. Think about other ways to add Santosha, contentment, to a daily routine.

This might mean a touch of elegance or fun, like a single flower in a bud vase on the desk or colorful socks peeking from trousers.

When I taught at a high school, one of the women in my wing brought silverware and a cloth napkin to eat her sack lunch. While we all clutched peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in plastic bags or dipped yogurt from a disposable cup with a plastic spoon, she spread a simple repast on a clean napkin and ate like a guest at a fine restaurant.

Identify an essential oil that pleases you. Maybe a scent you associate with a place you like to retreat to. I’m in a rose phase and add rose oil to my bathwater, along with Epsom salts and baking soda. Before catching the bus to teach a class, I’ll sometimes dab oil on my inner wrists. Essential oils are subtler than perfumes and less likely to offend others. An oil that calms or energizes might add Tapas to your day, that yoga concept of zeal.

Can you add an occasional pampering service or inspiring lesson to your daily life? Ask in your area for referrals to a massage therapist or esthetician. Develop a relationship with the provider. Even an occasional massage works wonders when you know and trust the person. Or join a painting or knitting group. My local library hosts coloring book nights. Think of receiving a service or exploring a fun past-time as Svadyaya, self-study.

Manage sleep and get enough. (Nice sheets might help!). If sirens and cars disrupt rest, consider using a white noise sound to help you sleep. When I lived on a rowdy block, I used an ocean sound on my smartphone to soothe me. Surrendering to sleep is reminiscent of the release of control we experience in Savasana, corpse pose. Before slipping into sleep, touch upon the notion of interconnectivity of all life and a yielding to its energies – Ishvarapranidhana – by pausing to offer gratitude or appreciation for this life.

 

Look for opportunities to engage the senses.

At least once a day, be sure to taste. Say to yourself, “I am tasting.” Savor. This might mean taking your brown bag sandwich to a park bench to eat alone or sitting in a cafe for 10 minutes with your tea instead of having it in a to-go cup. Use touch. Run your hand along the smooth wood of a tabletop while waiting for a dinner companion, slip off your shoes to stand in the grass for a moment while crossing the square, look up at the sky and watch one cloud pass, pause and sniff the vendor’s flowers. (And treat yourself to a blossom while you’re at it!) Attune the senses as an inverse of Pratyahara, the practice of sensory withdrawal.

Tend the Mind

Being in a new place on retreat plunges us into “beginner’s mind.” Retain that childlike wonder in daily life by shifting routine a bit. Take a different street home from work or let the dog choose your evening walking route. Look at a colleague as if seeing him for the first time. Browse a new section of a bookstore — history, say — even though you usually tend toward fiction. Be willing to be surprised. Buy an unfamiliar magazine. Talk with a stranger on the plane. This is a form of focus, like Dharana, the concentration that supports meditation.

Bring home a habit that you cherished on retreat. Did you drink coffee on a balcony every morning? Could you sit in the apartment window instead? Did you watch the sunrise? Get up a little earlier and let the quiet cloak you. When I drove a commute to work, I woke up an hour earlier to take a pre-dawn walk with my dog. The movement prepared me for the long drive and the happiness I felt motivated me to wake up. Notice how these refreshing habits are supported by the breath and its energy, Prana.

Add an object to your environment that can be a focus of meditation, for Dhyana. Did you bring home a sea shell? Set it atop the computer monitor and steady your gaze on it every once in awhile for four breaths. Or hang a picture of a scene that soothes you. Use it in a similar way, to rest the eyes. Then close the eyes and, as you breathe, imagine the sounds and smells of the scene.

The mind and the body, imagination and movement, are powerful vehicles to carry us from one moment into another.

Give yourself permission to daydream. And then let that daydream drift away like a boat untied from a dock. Stretch the arms overhead and return to the task at hand.

Notice the connection between then and now, was and is – that connection is you, your breath, your attention.

Eventually, a retreat may become as simple as lying down in constructive rest beside an open window and listening to the birds outside. Or as joyful as hopping on a vacant park swing to move through the air feeling the wind in your face.

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Filed under all about teaching, at home in the body, clarity, home practice, joy, love, satya, stillness, time, yoga and nature

The Earth, a poem

For Earth Day, a poem from one of my eighth-grade students at Martinez Junior High. It was 1993, my first year teaching school. My charges were so bright and friendly, and my colleagues so dedicated, smart and helpful, it’s no wonder I fell in love with teaching.

My education professors trained me to create “life-long learners.” I’m so grateful to continue this work by bringing yoga, meditation and writing to adults (and occasionally teens!), and through self-study.

“Allegory of Mother Earth” by Christofano Robetta, 1462 – 1535

The Earth

I see the pretty light blue sky.

I see the dark brown bark on

the sky-rocketing trees.

I see the brown dirt with pine

cones layered upon it.

I remember the pretty white snow until

it all melted away.

I care about the animals that get

tested for cures.

I believe that we will pull out of

this world problem that we’re in.

I hear the wind whistling through

the branches of tall trees.

I hear the birds chirping in the

green and lush branches.

I smell the car exhaust of my Dad’s

truck when he starts it in the morning.

I smell the vanilla on a crisp piece

of bark. I touch the rough bark on

the healthy trees. I touch all the waste

that we throw away. I understand the

economic problem that we’re in. I am

frustrated with the rain forests being

cut down. I try to help by recycling.

I try to help by saving water. I try

to save by not littering. I will help

the world by recycling and not using

deadly things for my hair to hurt the

ozone layer. I hope that I will live

long enough to see the rain forests

stop being cut down.

 

– by JS

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Ask yourself

A simple question to return to again and again and always receive another answer.

“Ask yourself, ‘What am I doing?’”

from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Ramp biscuits, scrambled eggs with salmon, honey mustard dressing on greens

Springtime around here means eating ramps, a wild leek. Like onions, ramps can be fried or grilled.

I made ramp biscuits to go with scrambled eggs.

The buttery, savory ramp biscuits were delicious and still tasty the next day.

 

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simple, joyful food!

Biscuits served here with greens and violets dressed with a simple mixture of honey, mustard, apple cider vinegar, black peppers and olive oil.

The flaked salmon in the eggs is from Jumbo Seafood on Highway 340. I cooked the salmon in a little olive oil, scooted it to the side of the skillet to cook halved cherry tomatoes, then added eggs (beaten with a little salt, a little water and minced green garlic).

The ramps, the salad greens, the green garlic in the eggs–and the eggs–are all from Stony Ridge Farm CSA in Harpers Ferry.

Here’s how to make the ramp biscuits.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together 2 cups flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon white sugar.

Add 1/2 cup cold butter cut into cubes. Use a pastry blender or two forks to cut in the butter until the flour mixture is pebbly.

Handy tool.

Drizzle in and stir in 1 cup buttermilk.

Stir in chopped ramps (bulbs and greens, about 1/3 cup).

Drop batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with a little more buttermilk and top with fresh ground black pepper.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, Reduce heat to 350 and bake 15 minutes more.

I didn’t have buttermilk so I made sour milk by mixing juice from half a small lemon into the milk and letting it sit.

You can use cheesecloth to brush the biscuit tops and avoid dirtying a brush.

No ramps? Mild scallions would work, too. Or chives.

Enjoy!

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Zero, yoga, dog toys and pencil marks

A yoga practice has a beginning, middle and end.

But if you stick with yoga long enough, everything starts to flow into everything else and it all feels like a middle-less middle, in a good way. That goes for asana (the poses), and meditation practice, and just plain trying-to-get-through-the-day-without-doing-something-regrettable practice.

It’s as if Aristotle’s plot trajectory (exposition, rising action, climax etc.) and Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey (call, separation, initiation etc.) become pencil marks on the doorframe measuring the height of someone who moved out of the house.

I feel this mindless middle occasionally. It comes and goes like a shiver of knowing.

I don’t think much of it. 

Then I read Zero by Charles Seife and got to wondering again how everything has to do with time and space and the relationship of things and ideas within time and space.

Like two rivers coming together, think of yoga (when it’s lived, when it’s applied to daily life) as confluence of mind and body. The mind understands time. The body understands space.

Downstream, mind-body and time-space are one (body of) water.

Yet, unlike poetry, music, sculpture and dance, which also play with the time-space-mind-body, yoga is not, at its most honest enaction, a performance.

You see, practicing yoga away from eyeball and camera lenses doesn’t change a thing. Really.

You may get stronger. You may feel calmer. But you haven’t made anything or taken anything away. No thing is changed, but something has happened.

It’s sorta like zero and infinity.

0 ≈ no yoga

∞ ≈ all yoga

This passage from Zero inspired these rambling thoughts.

Zero and infinity always looked suspiciously alike. Multiply zero by anything and you get zero. Multiply infinity by anything and you get infinity. Dividing a number by zero yields infinity; dividing a number by infinity yields zero. Adding zero to a number leaves the number unchanged. Adding a number to infinity leaves infinity unchanged.

(Combine yoga with poetry, or another art I imagine, and you get Holmes and Watson, Nancy and George. That’s why I try it once in a while, like with the upcoming At Home in Our Bodies, gathering a few brave ones into the time/space lab of movement, meditation and words/ideas.)

My dog's two favorite toys.

My dog’s two favorite toys having a confab; they’re never far apart. In this equation, the lamb is infinity and the ball zero.

Seife concludes,

All that scientists know is the cosmos was spawned from nothing, and will return to the nothing from which it came.

The universe begins and ends with zero.

Where, then, is infinity?

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Filed under all about teaching, creativity, curiosity, meditations & breath, time

“Stoop” awarded second prize

Confession: I’m sitting by the open window on this beautiful Sunday afternoon intending to get off the computer and go outside and practice yoga when I decide to “google myself.”

Happily came across a nice surprise.

“Stoop,” a story published by Go Read Your Lunch in 2014, was awarded second place for “Best Prose” in the Luminaire Award.

The story is one that I heard in my head and transcribed, then revised many times. It’s part of the longer (unpublished) novel, “Tangle Creek,” set at a family-run stable in D.C.’s Rock Creek Park.

Desperation nipped at Ben’s heels like a cattle dog. Iris had no idea how in hock they were. He could not tell her. After all, he had promised to take care of her. He had taken her away from her parents’ twelfth-floor apartment, lined with black lacquered shelves heavy with books and silver candlesticks that—Iris’ mother, Annabelle, informed him on his first visit, placing one like a weapon into his sweaty, callused palm while he shifted like a nervous horse standing in the hall—had been in her family since her ancestor, John Plane, sailed up the Rappahannock River in 1717, with soapstone sculptures Frank Collins collected on treks to the Arctic, Central America, Africa, places he had lectured as a professor of the study of man. When Ben Tattel, by some dumb luck, collected this finishing-school beauty from her apartment and married her, brought her, he thought, like a fairytale princess to the forest in the city, he promised that, though she would not be rich, she would always be safe. He considered his wife fragile and cherished her innocence. He wanted her to be happy. Continue reading here.

Thank you Alternating Current Press!

 

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Good book: Do Your Om Thing

If you’re looking for a contemporary book on yoga, I recommend Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco.

Rebecca writes with humor and precision.

She has the focus of a runner (which she is) and the heart of a yogini.

She writes honestly about yoga in America, how it’s sometimes too silly, sometimes too serious and often too much for sale. She shares her own yoga story, including why she sticks with the practice as a student and a teacher.

I return to what I have learned repeatedly and empirically on my journey: Yoga improves and enriches lives. When practiced in earnest, yoga can synthesize every aspect of who we are and how we interact with the world, leading to a more authentic, compassionate and joyful experience.

I agree.

Authenticity, compassion and joy can be found in in fragments, like iron filings, in almost any life.

The field of yoga pulls these filings together like a magnet to make something strong enough to rely on with one’s whole self.

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