So Christmas happened. Happy Christmas, y’all! (And late Chanukah and Solstice and other meaningful winter happenings).
I did the road to Bordeaux with friends and a lunch stop at their family home. So many creches from so many countries! Guatemala or possibly Peru above. There was an old-fashioned American pinball machine too…we may have played a couple rounds, and I may have done not horribly. All those years of pizzeria pinball and early computer game versions apparently paid off.
I did Bordeaux with the sis. We stayed at one of Dhagpo’s sister centers, Dhagpo Bordeaux and got the best welcome ever. Warm beds, homemade bread, and sole meunière with good humor. All of these families that aren’t actually my family somehow made me feel like it’s family Christmas after all. It doesn’t made me any less nostalgic for my actual family, but it makes me appreciate them even more for how they have taught me to love and to share.
There’s a sweet old cemetery by the center and we went to visit the departed. Could seem creepy, but it was more peaceful than anything. The wrought iron alone merited the visit.
Things got pretty real too, as far as actual family goes. I realized it’s been a year since I’ve seen my sister, the longest we’ve ever gone. We know each other less well than we used to and we have less things in common than we’re used to. But we still know each other better than any one else in the world (except maybe our parents) and there’s a commitment in that. To promise to keep track of someone, to follow their story, to face their disappointment, to own up to what we could do better and what we simply cannot yet do for the love of them.
My sister makes me appreciate how often the best relationships are the ones where you don’t agree on everything, but you care enough to figure out why and understand what the other believes.
We visited some gardens. Saw some lollipop trees and spiral hedges, the odd castle in the mist.
History, people. I think it matters. To understand where we come from, how we came to where we are now.
Tomorrow, the year end course at Dhagpo begins. Jigme Rinpoche will talk to us about meditation, and we’ll try to listen and get wiser. Another year is passing, has passed. Time is precious. This is good to remember. To cherish and to share it.
This is obvious perhaps, but it strikes now as the time comes for resolutions and reflection: I want my heart open. I want to love with all I have and embrace the whole of the world. Forget the smallness of my self and remember the vastness of connectedness. We are causes and conditions, and we depend upon each other. All we can do is look after one another.
Happy New Year people; I’m thinking of you.
And um, cake, because apparently I’m on a cake roll again. This picture is terrible and usually I try not to post recipes with truly deplorable photos, but I’m doing it mostly for myself. Because this cake is so good that I need to have the recipe recorded somewhere easily accessible. You don’t have to make it or be convinced; this is a simple, humble cake. But if you’re curious, I’ll tell you: it’s like a hug from some one you have been missing a long time. You feel their arms around you and it’s like plugging in a light; the current runs down the line and the connection is direct. You know you’re in the right place and you are grounded.
This cake is all molasses and spices. It’s chewy like a brownie with a deep, enveloping flavor. For me, it’s comfort and it’s definitely the taste that goes with the hearth at wintertime. Also happens to be friendly for gluten and dairy sensitive people because I’m on that kick too.
From the original 1897 New York Sun editorial, “Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.” Read it; it’s magic.
Happy Solstice! This photo is blurry, but if you look at it like it’s an abstract painting, it works. The colors! It was like that in real life.
And happy Monlam too! I woke up at four this morning to watch the livestream of the final day of Kagyu prayers in Bodh Gaya, and well, I’m a little loopy now for the lost sleep, but it was totally worth it. It’s good to be part of a community that cares about beings.
I’m enjoying the unexpected arrival of Christmas break (yeah, even Buddhists take off for Christmas). Even though I knew it was coming, the fact that I’d get, like, time off, hadn’t really registered until I sent off my fully finished budget and realized I suddenly no longer had a list of grueling, urgent things to do.
Even though I spent most of this week totally exhausted whilst trying to check off all the things on the aforementioned list, now that it’s break, I just feel, like I’m floating. Carried by a breeze. Life is happening, and I get to be part of it.
I have dreams and plans and goals and wishes. I have people to work on them with and exchange field notes along the way. The above comes from the first-ever meeting of Dhagpo’s newly-formed Tibetan language study group. I can very haltingly respond to the question, “What’s your name?” and I can pretty much pronounce the alphabet right (-ish, if I stare at the ceiling and spit a lot for certain letters).
Tomorrow I’m heading to Bordeaux to pick up the sis, for a ground-breaking, non-family-unit Christmas. It’s a little strange, but hey, things change and even if my family doesn’t look the same on Christmas as it used to, I have this feeling that we’re all on the right track even if it’s not easy. And that matters more.
Because Solstice and Christmas and even this pseudo-cold weather we’re having mean making all baked goods loaded with spices, here’s a perfect holiday recipe. Before today, I’d eaten persimmon pudding once in my life (at a friend’s house in high school, homemade by her mom with persimmons from the backyard), but the experience so marked me with its deliciousness that I vowed to one day recreate it. When one of my new English students sent me home with a bag of hachiya persimmons, I knew what was coming down the line. Tender, moist-to-almost-gooey, earthyfruityspicy winter goodness. Also, it’s gluten free, because I can.
This is birthday cake. According to my cohort here at the center, it’s also the best cake I’ve yet to make. There were some mutters that the red velvet might still give it a run for its money, but all-told, it was a major hit. As was intended. I made it for the only other resident American, and I felt the need to go all-out for the sake of nationalistic solidarity, and well, also, because s’mores. The French don’t know or understand them, and I’m not sure this cake really clarified the situation as it only resembles its inspiration in flavor and not at all in form, but in any case, I’ve convinced them that this strange American phenomena called a “s’more” is a good and delicious thing.
This picture is blurry and not the most tantalizing, but you can see the tattooed hand of the birthday boy in the background, and so I decided to include it. He’s off gallivanting around India for the next month, taking spectacular photos and bringing together art, communication, and the amazing lineage of Tibetan Buddhism we have the good fortune to be a part of.
I’m keeping it real in the Dordogne writing budgets for the Lama House and trying to train myself to read practice texts with something resembling a proper Tibetan accent. If you want to see me stare intently at the ceiling and spit a lot while I try to produce a convincing ཁ (kha), stop by the community room after lunch, where my patient friend Julie gives me pointers based on her studies in Katmandu. I might not be able to speak yet, but I can hear alright, and I’m grateful to have somebody around with a decent accent and the generosity to help me work on mine. Also, I’ve started giving English lessons to a few folks who live nearby, which is a blast honestly and a nice way to meet people in a different context than my role as an uber-busy volunteer. It’s been a very linguistic couple of weeks, I guess.
I wouldn’t say that life is exciting, but it’s enriching. I’ve taken to listening to Brahms’ violin sonatas while doing office work, and yesterday a few of us took a break from the daily grind to share a hearthside dinner at a friend’s house; such things give me this strange feeling of settling inside. That despite my longtime penchant for wandering and adventure-seeking, I’m learning something about stillness. How to find the joy and the resources to get through and even appreciate the slow-going, unglamorous business of doing what needs to be done.
Recipe follows… Continue reading
I call it quiet ’cause I did bit less talking whilst away, but let’s be real. It’s noisy inside this mind.
Still, the time to take a look around at what all’s jangling about in here, change the wallpaper, dust off a few corners…it’s a gift. Not to mention getting to do so in a pristine corner of the Auvergnat countryside.
To seep up early winter sunshine, feed the koi fish, and breathe clean air without worries of tomorrow or next week or who might need what when, with simply focus and practice to color the days. It’s more than pretty good. I’m grateful is all.
Grateful too for the life I come back to. Even the meetings and budgets and backload of e-mails. Glad to belong to something meaningful and to share it with others who give a damn about each other and what we can try to do in a lifetime.
Grateful for the time to pause and notice it all.