After

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Welcome to after-Karmapa.

I hope you followed during on the 40th anniversary blog or on Facebook! I can’t supply you with much, at least not in the way of pictures. Though I can try to paint you some with words. It’s funny how quickly it all turns over; the tents go from humming and buzzing and being filled with two thousand people to just standing empty to being slowly taken apart one metal support at a time.

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Here are the images that rest the brightest in my mind and the reflections that flesh them out:

I see the Lama House team in all its forms and subdivisions. The kitchen crew at seven in the morning and five pm, the service team at 11:45, the girls showing up to clean the bathrooms surreptitiously mid-morning and afternoon, the lady for the laundry, my friend who filled the altar bowls on the terrace, all the willing, friendly people who came to do the dishes, the security guys who were always extra grateful for their lunch or dinner plate, not having to eat the cold salads of the dining hall all five days straight. More people than that with more roles than I can list…planning it all was a major event in and of itself. But the magic of it all is the way that working together carries us.

I was petrified of how tired and strung out I might be at the end, and yeah, I was tired and strung out, but I was also still fairly relaxed. And this is because I had a team I could count on who knew what they were doing, who did it with joy, and who communicated with me so I could do my best to make things work for all of us. It seems I did all right, as the response was positive and overall people said the atmosphere was fluid and pleasant, that the behind-the-scenes didn’t show too much. I learned that being responsible means being present and that it is not physically possible to be in more than one place at one time; I have not yet figured out a solution for this conundrum, but maybe sharing the overall responsibility with a second person could be an option next time.

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I see the garden filled with set tables and smiling faces, the parasols, the koi pond, the buffet with our shiny new chafing dishes (Thank you budget commitee! I promise it was worth it!). I got to see old friends, make new ones, and connect with people face-to-face whom I have thus far only corresponded with via internet.

I don’t know what it’s like to run the welcome center, cook in the dining hall, organize the teaching space, coordinate the translation, or do any of the other various things that make up an event at the center–and there are numerous: fundraising, communication, hospitality, security, first aid, sound and video, parking lots, trash pick-up, the snackbar, the rituals. It blows my mind how much energy, how much dedication, and how many details go into welcoming Karmapa and all those who come to receive the teachings. I get the sense we are all adapted to the activity that we do…we find our way to the tasks and domains that challenge us and move us forward, the places where we can give and be pulled along the path by our wish to help and offer. I still get overwhelmed from time to time by the good conditions in which I have found myself and gratitude for my place here.

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I see Karmapa’s broad back, faintly purplish in his robes under the moonlight, at midnight, in the garden. He came just to see what was new in the kitchen, late one evening after a meeting. He had told us earlier that day not to worry so much about the future, that most of the time it’s enough to come back to daily life and practice, and this resolves the vast majority of problems. Watching him take in the moon, the peach tree, the catalpa, the little A-frame herb garden made of pallets, I remembered meeting him for the first time in India two-and-a-half years ago. I told him hello from the teachers in Santa Barbara and he seemed surprised to meet me there, in that place and time, so far from home. The other night, I wanted to ask him, did you think we would find ourselves here, now? With the vision he has, I bet he could easily see it if ever he looked.

Me, I didn’t, I couldn’t…but somehow I made my way here, and that is what counts.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Layer Cake And Kitchen Days

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Today we made walnut blondies for eighty people, chestnut génoise and ginger loaf for sixty, plus cherry almond biscotti for one-ten. Karmapa’s visit this year is the first time we’re cooking for so many guests at the Lama house. We debated about hiring a catering company, but we wanted to offer our own labor of love. Even with the incredible changes to the kitchen, it’s still a family kitchen and not a professional one. All the materials and cooking spaces are far away from each other, and the oven is the size of a postage stamp. This means preparing in advance.

Everything that can be made ahead without sacrificing the integrity of what we’re serving is being made now. Pastries, savory tarts, salad dressing, even a couple main dishes. We’ve set up a camping kitchen with a giant bunsen burner on the terrace and we shuttle things back and forth from the Lama House to the oven in the main kitchen.

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It’s hectic, but it’s joyful. We get the pleasure of working all together without the direct stress that comes with being in the heat of a major event. It’s tiring, but there’s an end in sight–final make-ahead dish is scheduled for the 26th of June. After that we have to start deep-cleaning. So it’s all for a good cause, and I’m often astounded by the reserves of energy we unearth when we are committed to what we are working for.

In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out when I can squeeze in a little pastry for my homies around here. This cake was to celebrate the last day of our Bodhi Path studies on Wednesday. It’s surprisingly light, almost refreshing if you don’t think too much about the cream, and really easy to make with all the glamour of a layer cake!

I got a request from the collective of July birthday folks for “real American layer cake,” like wedding-style with tiers. Fulfilling such a request will require much more effort for the necessary glamour points, hehe. If you’re looking to impress without spending four days in the kitchen, this is the way to go. As for me and my July birthday buddies…we’ll just see how that goes!

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Under Construction

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So I mentioned that we’re redoing the Lama House kitchen…

Rinpoche told us the time was right, showed up with some gigantic windows to turn the terrace into an enclosed working space, the labor to install them, and a boatload of ideas for how to improve both interior and exterior. We went on a fieldtrip to the kitchen store and picked out cabinets and countertops. Rinpoche drove, vetoed my choice of kitchen sink, but validated the cupboard color. With the project manager, we sat down to figure out dates. When the sales lady told us delivery and installation occurs eight weeks after the order is placed, the project manager and I looked at each other and mouthed the words, “forget it.” After all, that puts us roughly ten days before Karmapa arrives. Ten days that will be very useful for cleaning up everything after installation, setting up all the event material, and you know, not having any margin for late delivery.

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Rinpoche looked up from his own calculation and said, “I think it’s okay, then,” without the tiniest hint of irony. And so, here we go. While the inside kitchen is being fabricated over at the factory, the outside kitchen is being built right in place. We’ve got a skill saw in the garden, caution tape closing off the kitchen door, and sawdust everywhere.

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The guys spend their days laying tile, fitting windows, and preparing for the installation of the counters. I come by occasionally to make aesthetic comments or organizational decisions, or, you know, to find out that nobody will be able to access the basement for two days and then to scramble to inform all the people who use the basement and to help them move whatever they might need in the next two days. No big though.

In return, I insisted that the countertops be eighty-eight centimeters high and definitely not ninety-one. We’re short around here! And I don’t want to have sore shoulders every summer for the next ten plus years from cutting vegetables above my means… As a result, they um, had to shave three centimeters off every single piece of wood for the counter supports, which they would not have had to do if I had accepted ninety-one centimeters. All’s fair in love and war and home renovation, right?

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It’s a lesson in teamwork, in developing relationships through the process of creating something together, all the while figuring out how to communicate to get things done and be kind and joyful at the same time. These are pretty rad people to begin with, but the meaning makes a difference. Whatever we might be stressed about, annoyed about, or take personally, we let go, because we’re invested in a goal—get this kitchen in place, and properly, for Karmapa and before Karmapa arrives—and that goal trumps whatever a priori or emotions we might have at one moment or another.

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to walk on the tile again, and we’ll just see what comes next after that!

This Is Life Lately

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This is a boîte à donation, a.k.a., a donation box, ready to accept funding for notre chère Institute, our dear Institute. It’s also a boîte à ailes, a winged box. More on that in a sec.

IMG_1283This is a family of boîtes à dons, inspired by me, I suppose, conceptualized by Rohen — who conceptualized an enormity of cool things and talked me through all my own conceptualizing too, — built by Vincent, and painted by Christine. Teamwork, yo.

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This is a family of boîte à ailes en papier, origami winged boxes, made by loads of people. Special shout outs to Guillaume, Collette, and the traveling Germans for folding multiple hundreds each. These will all be inflated into proper box shape and  hung by fishing wire in the installation. A few will find other homes. This is me leaving a trail of crumbs for future posts. Be intrigued.

IMG_1294This is a bunch of paper and wire spirals, which will turn into the growth of the seeds of wisdom, in part a representation of the Three Jewels. It’s a long story. I’ll explain later. Promise. There will be more pictures, and they will be awesome. In no small part because of Barbara, who paper-mâched like a fiend today, and Mylène, who keeps sending people to help me.

IMG_1290This is a fuzzy picture of my painting studio. For that, the infinite gratitude that every artist knows who has her own space to work. In this case, to Julien, and not just for this, but for finding me paint, finding me help, reminding me not to get overwhelmed, and also, ya know, building the structure of the whole installation. Ain’t no thang.

And more gratitude on top of that for too many people to name who are making all of this possible. The ladies at the Lama House for picking up the slack and making me smile. The homies on the range (erm, residents) for keeping it real and keeping it cool as the pressure rises. The in-and-out people from around the hood who pop by and get inspired. All the administrative peeps and money peeps and infrastructure folk who let this happen and made this happen.

This is happening. And it’s gonna be rad. And I can hardly believe it, but I will show you everything when it is ready.

And thanks to you, for being here, for keeping me connected to the wide world and letting me know you care. This is awesome; you are great.