Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Folding towels

I pull an armload of towels out of the dryer. Their warmth seeps into the core of my body as I carry them over to the table. The combination of hot cotton and dryer sheet assaults my nose with a smell both comforting and false.

I begin to fold them; matching corners to fold in half and then in half again. The bath towels, in tidy squares, smoothed and piled together. The hand towels in their own little group of rectangles. Then stacked together, bath towels on the bottom, wash cloths on the top, with the hand towels sandwiched in the middle.

I carry them to the linen closet, burying my nose in the fading warmth. Trying to catch the last little whiff as the cotton cools. I straighten out some rumpled towels already there and neatly stack each category of towels with its partners.

The repeated actions lend a rhythm to the chore that echos another beat. I feel that these rhythms that feed my soul are part of and are reflections of the all encompassing rhythm of life which winds through all living things. And it is this connection with that larger rhythm that brings me satisfaction in the smaller tasks.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Colors Without Names

I was making muffins (what else?) over the weekend. The recipe called for a cup of jam. When I stirred it in, the batter turned a delightful color. A color that I had never seen before. A color that I have no name for.

It was cherry jam that I added but it didn't look like "cherry" as it is generally labeled. The flour, the buttermilk and all the other ingredients contributed their own nuances to the batter, so that it wasn't pink and it wasn't beige and it certainly wasn't "cherry". There were flecks of fruit throughout giving contrast to whatever color this was.

When the muffins came out of the oven, they were a different un-nameable color; closer to what we might call "cherry" but only if we mean the color of cherrywood furniture. They were a rich, inviting color. A color for a favorite pullover or a cozy chair. Something to envelop and warm you.

I've noticed the same phenomenon in handspun yarn. The spinner plys two or three seemingly unrelated colors and the resulting yarn is a wonderful, never before seen new color; rich with depth and feeling.

All of this made me wonder about the limits of language. We are visual creatures who take in massive amounts of information through our eyes. And yet, we cannot adequately describe what we see. We cannot share with any exactness the color of a thing without resorting to an endless list of adjectives or delineating what something is not. We say something is green. But what sort of green? Leaf? Olive? Emerald? Grass? Sage? Loden? Moss? Or some shade found only in one location at one time of day when the sun hits it just right?

Our perceptions are so clear that we can take in the feeling of a color but language limps when we try to share it. So I cannot describe the muffins' color, beyond saying that it was the color of jam muffin batter after I stirred in the black cherry Polander All Fruit. And it was very pretty.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Washing Dishes - View 2

I pop the baking into the oven and turn to survey the damages. Not too bad. I turn on the tap and fiddle with it until the water is pleasantly warm.

I begin with all the measuring devices; the spoons and the cups. Very small, very little effort. I look out the window and notice a hummingbird skirting around the camelia bush. I thought it was too late in the year for hummingbirds but there he is and then he's gone.

Next comes the mixing bowls. The flour-y one is quickly disposed of. The one that held the batter takes a bit more attention. A new bird grabs my attention; a flicker climbing on the back fence. I've never seen one this close before. I turn my attention to the various spoons and utensils that I used for mixing and then I'm done. I de-flour the counter and put away everything I washed.

Bing! And the baking is ready to come out. After it cools, I wash the baking pan and the cooling rack. I ask myself what is the difference between this washing up and the previous washing up. There is more of a connection to the action but why? Could it be that it isn't washing but part of the baking? Could it be that it was a controllable amount of washing? Or could it be that my mind was more open to being connected at this time? And, if that is the case, how do I become connected and opened to the less appealing acts of washing?

I strongly suspect that the answer lies within myself and not in the dirty dishes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Washing Dishes - View 1

Every glass in the house is dirty and both the sink and the counter are piled with dishes. I could blame yesterday's migraine but the dishes got out of control without benefit of an excuse. So, with a heavy sigh, I turn on the hot tap and decide on a plan of attack.

The water is almost too hot, not quite burning my hands, but the delay in washing makes me want to attack the bacteria with murderous intent. The water flows unevenly through the tap making an irregular rhythm as it splashes over its targets. Adding the dish soap, I start in with the glasses, being the least disgusting items in need of cleaning. The slide of water and soap on glass is fun and soothing. There is no other adjective except soapy to describe the feeling of soap. It is its own unique feeling, sliding and slipping across the surface of the glasses.

Then I tackle the dishes, scrubbing away at a bowl with something orange stuck on it. What is that? Did we even eat anything orange colored? And now, scrubbing at something I can feel, but not see, smack in the middle of a plate. If I can't see it, why do I care? What could it hurt? But scrub I do. And, when it finally can be felt no more, I smile.

Bringing up the rear, come the pots. There are only a couple of them but they take more work inside and out. I add more soap to cut the grease and push up the sleeve that has dangled into the danger zone. I don't want to walk around with a soggy sleeve when I'm done. How in the world did grease get on the outside of the skillet? I grab the steel wool and get to work. I knew that I should have soaked this thing. As I apply the elbow grease to the skillet grease, my mind wanders away. Multiple passes with the scrubber before checking to see how much of the gunk is gone. Then back at it as I watch the bottom of the skillet slowly return as the food bits and burned bits gradually disappear.

As the dishes drain, I wipe down the counters and scour the sink. I fold up the towel and survey the results.

Now I get to cook and make a new mess.

Monday, September 1, 2008


I've been bitten by a muffin bug. I like baking bread but don't always have the time necessary to do a yeast bread. So, how to satisfy the desire to bake? Muffins are a source of almost immediate baking gratification. But I've noticed it isn't as transitory as it might seem to be at first glance. There is a rhythm that quickly becomes mindless, opening the mind to other observations.

First, all the dry ingredients are combined and set aside. Then all the wet ingredients are whisked together. All of this while the oven is preheating to 400 degrees. Then the two sets of ingredients, wet and dry, are combined by folding the dry into the wet and stirring until everything is moistened. Watching the flour, sugar, baking powder and other "drys" disappear into the egg, butter and milk is strangely appealing. They spiral in clockwise with each turn of the spoon, utterly incapable of avoiding their fate and becoming more than the sum of their parts.

This is followed immediately by the filling of the muffin tins using the old reliable two spoon approach. Scoop up a spoonful, push off into the pan with the other spoon. Repeat until done. Then straight into the oven for a 20 minute tantalizing wait. The smells of the muffins waft through the house making the 20 minutes seem endless. Then the little tempters have to cool for 10 minutes before you can eat them.

So, I ask myself, what is the nature of this satisfaction I get from this small, perhaps insignificant, task of making muffins? The rhythm of the measuring and the mixing allows me to notice things and wonder about them. "Oh, look, I didn't expect it to turn that color." "I must scrape the sides of the bowl, some flour is attempting an escape." "Gee, grating carrots by hand is hard work." "Why does purple batter turn into brown muffins?" "Is the duality of wets vs. drys a metaphor for anything?" And on it goes.

And, given the fact that these muffins will last me 3 or 4 days, in each bite I re-live the satisfaction. Reveling in the knowledge that there is a bit of me, my thoughts, my effort, my spirit; in each one of the them.

They also taste good.