Friday, January 17, 2014

Year Nine

Fatigue, dreariness, and a lack of motivation characterized yet another day in 2014. I found myself wondering if something planetary was going on. It couldn't just be the weather. It couldn't just be the usual stressors of economics and politics. I knew I wasn't running a fever.

In search of an answer, I turned to numerology, and discovered an interesting -- if offbeat -- explanation. I was in another Year Nine. For the uninitiated, numerology (or at least the rather low-key, don't-take-it-too-seriously version that I subscribe to) envisions life in cycles of nine years. The cycles don't begin, however, at one. The day, month, and year in which you were born determines which year your cycle begins. My birthdate of November 9, 1962 (11 plus 9 plus 1962) means that my life cycle started in a year two. (Again, for the uninitiated, here's how it comes down to a year two: 11 plus 9 plus 1962 equals 1982; 1 plus 9 equals 10 and 8 plus 2 equals 10; 10 plus 10 equals 20 and 2 plus 0 equals 2.

So what does a year nine mean? Nine is a number of endings, the highest single digit. It's a unifier and an ender of phases. One chapter closes in preparation for a new chapter to open.

Numerology has revealed some uncanny things in decades past. I don't take the significance of any of these revelations too seriously, but I do find that they are interesting to contemplate. For instance, my last year nine was 2005, the year I got married, an ending to single life. The year nine preceding that was 1996, the year I resigned my reporter position at The Seattle Times in order to begin graduate school in 1997. And the nine year preceding that one was 1987, the year that I began my first serious romantic relationship, one more ending to single-ness, in a sense.

So, of course, the numerology's revelation that this, too, is a year nine set my mental wheels spinning. What will the ending of this cycle represent?

I always enjoy an opportunity to look back and reflect, and the nine-year cycle of numerology creates an opportunity for such an indulgence. The past nine years have been amazing years of transition, growth, and transformation.

I still remember opening 2006 -- the year one of this cycle -- at a spiritual retreat on Oahu, knowing that I was going to be leaving Hawai'i later that year and asking for spiritual strength, guidance, and assistance in finding my path. I also remember arriving in Seattle in July of that year, entering the house I had purchased back in 1993 and had rented to a friend of a friend (a single mother with two children) and seeing that it had totally transmogrified in its appearance and vibe over the years. I remember going to a church and asking for prayer, and hearing a member of the worship team tell me that what she was hearing from the holy spirit that for me Seattle was a season, not a place of permanence.

Year two (new relationships) brought a slew of teaching opportunities, and year three (adventures and travels) gave me my first real taste of political organizing when I began hosting house parties and making phone calls on behalf of Barack Obama's first bid for the presidency.

Year four (a round of completion) culminated with a job offer at the college where I currently work, and year five (upheaval and chaos) was characterized by a big cross-country move as well as the sale of my much beloved Seattle home.

Year six (love and romance and partnerships) brought me and my husband to our current beloved home, and year seven (indecision and uncertainty) was marked by a lot of emotional and mental hair-pulling over the completion of a book manuscript.

Last year's year eight (a year of finality) felt like a year where I no longer felt uncertain or indecisive about the life choices I'd made over work, finances, and marriage, and it brought a major transformation as I finally kicked the alcohol habit that I had indulged for the past thirty years.

Which brings us to the year of endings. Year nine, again. Looking at the past eight years offers a philosophical explanation to my current fatigue. It is perhaps the end of what has been quite a big life journey, one that began -- as I now recall -- with a juice fast and a walk on a beach in Hawai'i and is currently characterized by life in a snow-covered land with many of the fruits and vegetables that I used to buy at grocery stores and local co-ops growing in my backyard or stored in protectively dark, cool spaces in containers in my basement. The end often merits rest, a slowdown, an interlude, a period of quiet, before the surge of life rekindles and charges up anew.

(Just a brief postscript: In searching for images for this posting, I found a couple of "fun" sites for understanding what one writer calls "creative numerology". The site which carried the image above is An additional site that you might want to visit is Christine DeLorey's "Creative Numerology" at inc=includes/9year.html Happy counting and reflecting.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Winter warmth

Bitter cold seems to have seized most of the nation, with wind chill reports of negative 40F coming in from Chicago, Minneapolis, and parts of New York. For our part of New York, the thermometer dipped to negative 25F over the weekend, and we experienced today a low of 3F and a high of perhaps 9F, along with a biting wind.

I pulled on the layers of clothing like so many others, and ventured out to my office. Later, I went to the Y and then came home to comfort food. As my husband and I warmed up our leftover venison chili, and cooked up some greens, beets, garlic, and opened a couple of boxes of organic macaroni and cheese, my inner temperature felt noticeably warmer. We sat by the wood burning stove and ate dinner, marveling at the lovely mix of reds, oranges, greens, and browns on our plates. Since so much of what we were eating had come from our garden -- brussels sprout leaves picked before the -25F plunge, beets, garlic, and beans in the chili -- it seemed as if the sunshine from summer had found a new warmth in the form of food for our souls.

Our meal was largely leftovers, something for which I've gained a new appreciation over the past couple of years of living closer to the land. In the past, leftovers often sat forgotten in the refrigerator until the mold started to form. These days, they are a source of future meals: lunch the next day and sometimes the day after, a side dish at a dinner one day or two days after being the main course. I was ecstatic tonight to discover that while we both ate heartily, there was plenty of our meal leftover for a sizable lunch tomorrow.

Enjoying the warmth of a home-cooked meal in my office is a pleasure, as well. There are very few eating-out options in the immediate vicinity of where I work, and take-out food in this small rural community often costs quite a bit more than I want to pay. Plus, as my consciousness of what goes into the food preparation process rises, my willingness to just trust anything has dropped. Plus, because my time in my office is limited, it often is more expedient to hand-pack a home-cooked lunch than lose thirty to sixty minutes of time eating out.

What makes the warmth of winter foods so inviting? For me, the warmth stems from an odd paradox. So much of what we eat when the ground is covered with snow that is then coated with ice comes out of a storage freezer or peat-moss-packed bin, or has been canned for winter use. Even relatively fresh items like squash are fresh only because their hard outer shells protect their innards from deterioration, and in order to access the edible innards, one must cook the squash for several hours. To put it mildly, nothing is fresh from the ground crisp and delicious. Everything requires some sort of cooking -- and usually some additional spicing -- to make it palatable.

That's where the warmth comes in. Winter foods are braised, simmered, baked, stewed slowly. The idea is not to eat something that is fresh but rather something that has been cooked in a slow, low-heat manner that allows both its inner warmth and its full flavor to come out. I used to shy away from foods -- particularly vegetables or fruits -- that were frozen or canned, thinking that they had been processed. I was correct in the assumption, of course, but home-canning changes the meaning of processed. Most of our foods were washed before they were frozen, topped of greens or other sprouts before being placed in makeshift root cellar bins, or cooked down (as in the case of fruit and tomatoes) with a minimal amount of sugar, spices, water, and lemon juice added in. They were processed with an intention of being eaten through the winter before a new round of planting and harvests begins to occur by May.

If I were to divide food into seasons, I would do so by cooking styles. The spring styles are stir-fries, salads, and as the days lengthen and the snow melts grilling. Summer is predominantly about grilling, quick steaming and quick sautés. The quick is often less quick than quick appears to suggest because so much of what we eat comes directly from the garden. So part of the process of cooking is gathering the food, washing off the garden dirt, trimming stem and root tips, and slicing and dicing it in the way that you want to ultimately eat it. The actual time over heat is what's quick -- often I'll steam fresh greens or sauté beans and carrots for less than one minute. The quick heat flash of summer starts to give way to slower and longer cooking times as the days shorten and the nights become cooler in August and September. Freshness is still a premium, but often the produce is larger and heartier. To bring out the flavors that reside within the later fresh harvests, one needs to lower the heat and lengthen the cooking time. Which leads ultimately to the long, slow simmers of winter. These foods scent the air with their fragrances and warm the body as a result of their long, slow cooking processes. Processes that will quicken as spring returns and the days lengthen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


A familiar image pattern?
I took a two-week holiday break for the first time in several years. Although I was not cut off from work entirely, I did feel as if time was altered in a supremely relaxing and enjoyable way. I am dreading tomorrow's early morning wake-up and rush out the door. I also am looking forward to the opportunity to start the work year recharged and renewed.

Work challenges involve two major obstacles in my case: punctuality and procrastination. I tend to run late getting into the office and end up feeling rushed, as a result. I also tend to delay getting down to the items on my day's to-do list, which ends up draining me and leaving me feeling as if the day were for naught. These are two big issues that I'd like to take on this year. I figure that if I can quit drinking and can manage to write at least 750 words a day, I can give up my habit for tardiness and my tendency to procrastinate, as well.

Getting down to the root of the matter raises some interesting questions. As a professor, I am not exactly what one might consider "my own boss." However, I am lucky in that I have a fair amount of control over my schedule. I can decide what time to arrive at work, what time to leave, whether I want to work at home or in the office, and if I want to disappear for two and a half hours in the middle of the day for a workout. While I do have meetings, appointments, and other similar types of time commitments, my main work of teaching, mentoring, researching, and writing can be done whenever, wherever, and to a certain extent however I like.

That freedom is lovely. I think it's also the cause of the challenges. Because the main person I am accountable to -- some might say the only person -- I am the only one who can monitor and change my behavioral habits. Many of my colleagues, in fact, tell me that my procrastination and lack of punctuality are not issues in their eyes because they know how hard I work, how much I contribute to the college community, and how I always come through eventually on my commitments. I appreciate their words, but I feel that the person that isn't satisfied by this response is me. My interests are wide and varied. As a result, my time is limited and quite valuable. When I see it frittered away through tardiness and tempting diversions, I feel as if I disappoint myself because I am not living my life and carrying out my life's mission to its fullest. At the risk of sounding preachy and a little too religious, I feel as if I am misusing the spiritual gifts with which I was bestowed. Because gifts are something I deeply value, especially when they stem from the building of a personal relationship, I feel as if the spiritual gifts should be treated with the utmost care and respect. But no one's going to check me on my level of care, except perhaps the spiritual one, which manifests its voice often in the form of inner conscience.

Alongside the issue of accountability comes a tendency to take on a lot of things. Note that I did not say too many things, merely a lot of things. When a project, task, or request calls out to me, I tend to say "yes" to it. Common sense would put on the brakes and offer a round of firm "no's". Common sense is smart, but I do think one should remember one's role as a servant to one's communities -- however one defines servant -- and realize that a request or a task or a project comes along, it is like a gift. And, as a result, these things also deserve to be treated with the utmost care and respect. Inevitably the "to do" list will overload, the cup will run over, the plate will become too full. And then fear will set in. How will I get everything done? Where do I start? Is this going to cause me to miss my workout? Rather than reacting out of a mode of scarcity consciousness -- saying no, backing out of previous commitments, delaying a facing up to the work with procrastination -- it is probably best to step up the plate and begin to take on the work one step at a time. And the workout will take place, if you insist that it will -- because it, too, is a commitment to yourself.

As I write, I realize these challenges of timeliness and procrastination are twins. They both act as strategies of avoidance to cover up a fear that one will fail to live up to one's expectations. What's important to take away, perhaps, is the fact that the bulk of the world will not notice either one's successes or failures. The only one to notice will be you.