Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cranberry Relish and Interdependence - Gratitude 4

We had Thanksgiving dinner this afternoon with my mother's family. My aunt has been hosting Thanksgiving at her house for over two decades at this point. She makes most of the dinner but my mother brings rolls and sweet potato muffins, another aunt brings desserts, and another aunt brings pumpkin bread. We are a carbohydrate loving family, as you can see. My husband and I bring vegetables when we come since everything else is pretty much claimed.

One of the items on our table was orange cranberry relish, which was purchased from a local grocery store.  That is completely acceptable and even encouraged in my family; we are big fans of keeping things easy. The relish was good, but certainly not the star of the dinner table. It's just a dish I happen to like and as I ate it I thought about how amazing it is to eat orange cranberry relish. I began to imagine how much effort and how many people are involved in what looks like a really simple event: a woman eating orange cranberry relish at Thanksgiving dinner.

Oranges were grown in one part of the world. I don't know much about how you grow oranges, but I'm pretty sure a warm climate, trees, a farmer, and some hard work were involved. Cranberries are usually a cooler climate crop and I know they are hard work because the grow in bogs that have to be flooded to harvest them. There had to be a farmer to plant the bushes, build the irrigation system, flood the bog, harvest the berries, and then pack and ship them. Someone else took the oranges and cranberries and cooked them together in a relish. Yet another person in a factory somewhere made the plastic dish to hold the relish. Someone else stocked the grocery store shelves. My aunt drove to the store, where someone sold her the relish, and she brought it back home for us to eat.

So there's a huge chain of people involved in me eating orange cranberry relish on Thanksgiving day this year. I didn't even get into the people involved in transporting the cranberries and oranges to the right places, or the people who worked to make sure there was electricity and fuel available for farms, stores, trucks, machinery, and cars. Not to mention the people who built the buildings involved and the machines and the vehicles, the people who designed all of those things, and the people who figured some of these things out in the first place, like the person who learned that cranberries and oranges are tasty together, the person who started to grow oranges or cranberries in the first place, the person who came up with the idea for plastic dishes and figured out how to make plastic. There's the people who designed and built and sold the car my husband drove to get us to my aunt's house.

I could go on and on, trying to list all the people involved in one small side dish on the Thanksgiving table. I don't think I could work out the huge web of people and events that had to happen. What's even more astonishing is that you can do this with pretty much any object you see around you. Even your own body; think about how many people were involved in getting you to the point that you are reading these words on your computer screen or mobile device. I won't list them because the list would be as long or longer than the cranberry relish list, and you get the point. Try the exercise for yourself; it's kind of fun to see how many different angles you can come up with, and it gives you a whole new perspective,

I find this astonishing, and wonderful, and awe-inspiring, and humbling, and even overwhelming. We are all, at every moment, relying on each other. We live in this web of trust and interdependence all the time, without even thinking about it. We are connected, one to another, to people we will never meet and might not even like, but we need them all the same, and they need us too. That seems like a reason to give thanks!

See other posts in my Thanksgiving Week series:
Thanksgiving Week - Gratitude 1
Teachers - Gratitude 2
Baking With My Daughter - Gratitude 3

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Baking With My Daughter - Gratitude 3

For a long time I thought that I wasn't a particularly good cook. I muddled along in college and medical school, fixing rice and canned chili or grilled cheese and canned soup, but it wasn't something I really cared about or spent much time on. My husband, fortunately for me, is a fantastic cook. He is adventurous and creative and enjoys cooking so much that it has become a form of stress relief for him. So over the time we've been together I've essentially ceded the kitchen to him. We plan meals together most of the time but he does all the actual work.

Recently though, I've become interested in baking. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it has something to do with my daughter and being her mother. I have many, many memories of my mother baking. She still bakes at Christmas and we come home laden with cookies and treats that last us into January. I always loved hanging out with her in the kitchen, chatting and helping with the occasional stirring while she made cookies or cakes or brownies or some other wonderful treat. Somewhere deep inside, baking just feels like something a mother should be doing with her daughter.

So my daughter and I bake together. It is often one of our evening projects on the days my husband has a night out. We make scones, usually. I am crazy about scones and I found a really good recipe a few months back that lends itself to multiple variations. At least once a month I bring treats to work for our morning case conference meeting and so there is a ready and eager outlet for our baked goods. This evening we made sweet potato muffins so that I could bring a seasonal treat tomorrow. My daughter donned her apron and chef's cap and we went to town.

Sweet potato muffins are one of those favorite family recipes that my mother has been baking since I was a small girl myself. My mother makes them every Thanksgiving and they are generally devoured without leftovers. This evening I was so amazed watching my daughter help me measure the flour. She patiently scooped the flour into the measuring cup and then leveled it off, all on her own, before dumping it into the bowl. I asked her about that and she proudly told me "Daddy taught me that!" She cracked and beat eggs and mashed sweet potatoes and stirred and scooped batter into muffin tins. When we got to the actual baking she told me firmly "That's a mommy job" and stood well back from the oven. When the muffins were done and cooled we each tried one (quality control, you know - I can't bring bad muffins to work!) and decided we had done a good job.

Baking with my daughter is a lot more fun than baking by myself. I find that I am much more relaxed about the mess and much more engaged in the actual activity. As we bake we talk about ingredients, why muffins are quick breads, and who her friends are at school. I am thankful for the time we spend together, doing something we both enjoy. She told me this evening as we worked "I'm going to do this for my whole life!" and my thought was, me too.

See other posts in my Thanksgiving Week series here:
Thanksgiving Week - Gratitude 1
Teachers - Gratitude 2
Cranberry Relish and Interdependence - Gratitude 4

Monday, November 24, 2014

Teachers - Gratitude 2

I had the chance today to sign up for a teleconference with one of my favorite teachers, Rachel Naomi Remen. She is offering a free class in mid-December featuring stories on The Will to Live, and I am looking forward to hearing her read. Dr. Remen's books were introduced to me when I was a first year medical student by the volunteer who coordinated and led the complementary and alternative medicine group that I participated in. She gave each of us a copy of Kitchen Table Wisdom and I devoured it. I read it several times that busy first year becase it gave me courage and hope. It remains one of the most important, influential books that I have ever read in terms of how I approach patients and medicine. It reassured me that there is a place for me at medicine's table, that the spiritual and relational perspective that comes most naturally to me has its own voice, even now in the era of technology and randomized controlled trials and 10 minute visits. I have given the book in turn to many friends and students

In my life I have been so blessed by teachers. From grade school through high school through college through medical school through residency and even today, my life has been filled with people who have poured out their knowledge, wisdom and caring on me. I would not be the person I am today without my teachers. They taught me, and they taught me how to learn, and they taught me to love to learn, and that has made a tremendous difference to me and then in turn to others. One of my own deepest privileges is to take my own turn as a teacher, passing along the gifts that were given so freely to me as well as I am able. There is something sacred about taking part in this living, breathing lineage of human knowledge.

My daughter is just entering education at this point in her life, having officially started "real" preschool this year (as opposed to daycare preschool). I like her teacher very much; a veteran teacher of over twenty years with a fun but no nonsense approach. Her teacher is also from Texas which my husband and I appreciate a great deal, since our daughter was born in San Antonio and we still miss living there. I hope that my daughter will be so fortunate in her teachers all of her education, just as I have been.

I have friends who are full time teachers and I know how desperately hard they work and how deeply they care about their students. I know they don't get nearly the appreciation they deserve and that they often hear more complaints than compliments. So, today I am grateful for all teachers, everywhere. I am thankful to them for their dedication, concern, enthusiasm, knowledge, patience and persistence. None of us would be where we are, reading these words, without them.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Week - Gratitude 1

In church this morning one of the pastors called this week "a week of gratitude, a week of really remembering how to say thank you." I liked that idea. A whole week of saying "Thank You!" instead of a day of stressful travel, eating way too much, and not talking much at all about what we are thankful for because, honestly, it's too much and kind of embarrassing to get real that way. A week of saying Thank You instead of a week of build-up to the insanity of consumerism that marks this time of year.

The follow-up in church to the pastor's prayer was an "open mike" sermon in which people went to the front and spoke for a few minutes about something they were grateful for, which I have to admit felt good and honest and weird and a little too intimate all at the same time. I find myself worried about any visitors today and wanting to reassure you all that my church is actually pretty normal, that we don't usually do things like that. Which is true but says a lot more about me and where I need to grow than it does about my church.

I couldn't think of anything to say in church (and I did pray and ask if G-D had anything for me, and I hope if something had popped into my head I would have had the courage to get up and say it, but nothing came, so I was off the hook anyway) but then I thought I could write about gratitude this week. My first thought was I could write a short piece every day about something I am grateful for and post it. Then I remembered that I often bite off more than I can chew and decided not to promise anything. Better just to start with something and then see how the rest of the week turns out.

A few years ago a friend was leading a Sunday school class I was in and she gave us an index card and a challenge. "Write down what you are grateful for" she told us. I filled up the card pretty quickly and I still have it. It's good to look back on, particularly when I am grumpy. The items on my card are my "big gratitude" items, the things that have a huge influence on me that I often take for granted. Here they are:

My husband, who is patient, funny, smart, and much calmer and more level headed than I am. 

Our daughter, who is healthy, smart, loving, creative and curious. She has a bright, energetic and adventurous spirit which teaches me every day.

The rest of our family; parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins - both my husband and I grew up knowing ourselves loved, encouraged to learn, and blessed to always have enough. We are still surrounded by a net of love.

Good health, throughout my family.

A job that allows me to do good and serve others every day, and also pays our bills so that we have enough.

Freedom to worship, speak, write, travel, work, live, have friends as seems best to me without restriction by our government.

G-D's love and care, and his abiding presence with me in each day and circumstance. 

Those are my big items, the ones on my card, the ones I can think of off the top of my head when I focus my mind on gratitude.

See other posts in my Thanksgiving Week series here:
Teachers - Gratitude 2
Baking With My Daughter - Gratitude 3
Cranberry Relish and Interdependence - Gratitude 4

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Family Masterpiece

When we were setting up the nursery for our daughter, my husband and I repurposed a small chest of drawers to be a changing table and dresser. My mother organized it for us the week after our daughter was born and it worked wonderfully for the first year. Unfortunately, once she learned to pull herself up and open drawers our daughter quickly discovered that it was delightful to take every bit of clothing out of the drawers and scatter it over the floor of her room. This was much less delightful for me, and after a few repetitions of this I wised up and we started putting all her clothes in the closet. We put blankets in the chest since those were easier to put away again. As a bonus, they were apparently less fun to take out in the first place and our daughter turned to other sources of entertainment. The chest of drawers got broken in one of the following moves and so it has been closets for us ever since.

Our daughter is four now and recently we decided it was time for a dresser once again. She has been able to open her closet door and pull down her own clothing in the morning for at least the past six months and we haven't had any repetitions of the clothing covered floor phenomenon. Frankly, we have become a little tired of hanging up all her shirts and pants and putting things in drawers seems like it would just be easier. So my husband ventured to IKEA and bought the drawer sets that promised to work in the large white cabinet that stores her sheets and blankets. 

The starting point.
Plain white furniture isn't terribly cheerful for a four year old and my husband bought some colorful drawer fronts from a different product line to liven things up a bit. Unfortunately, the colorful drawer fronts didn't actually work with the cabinet and drawers. I guess there is a reason you are supposed to buy everything from the same grouping. My husband was mourning this fact and the upcoming trip to return the colorful drawers to get boring white ones when I commented "Well, we could paint them any color we want." 

We looked at each other with realization dawning in both of our eyes. "Why yes. Yes we could. We could paint them not just in colors but in pictures." And so a weekend project was born. We schlepped back to IKEA to exchange the colorful fronts for white ones. Then we hit the craft store for acrylic paint and paintbrushes. We covered the kitchen table with a plastic cloth and got to work.
Work In Progress
We each painted one drawer. My husband gamely took on the fourth since my daughter fell asleep and I was worn out with my artistic endeavors.
Work In Progress
After they were dry we took them outside and sprayed them with a glossy sealant, reasoning that we were likely to need to wipe them down from time to time. Also, we felt just a little protective after all our hard work, and from experience we know that acrylic paint will peel.

This afternoon we assembled the drawers, removed a cabinet door, and installed the runners. My husband lifted each drawer into place and my daughter and I filled them with her clothes.

As our daughter would say "It's our masterpiece!"

Our Masterpiece!