Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Coming to Terms (and Honey Lavender Ice Cream)

I lace up my sneakers, open the door, and step out.  It's only been three days since I've gone running, but it feels like an eternity: my limbs feel like stone.  I have already decided that I'm going farther today.  I reach the street, lean forward, take a breath, take a few steps, quicken my pace, and begin.


Before I got pregnant with my daughter, I had a dream that is still vivid in my mind.  I am walking down the sidewalk, perhaps towards downtown, perhaps towards the farmer's market up the street; the sun is warm and the light is dappled on the pavement.  Ahead of me, my son walks with my husband, holding his hand, sometimes skipping away, then running back to him, like a boomerang.  Sometimes he climbs up onto my husband's shoulders, ruffling the leaves playfully when his head nears the branches.  I am walking a good distance behind them, more slowly, carrying a child in my arms.  A daughter.  She is heavy, thoughtful, watching the world go by with solemnity.  I want to hold my boomerang child, too, but I know I must carry this one right now.  I feel like I'm being left behind, even though I'm not alone.  I feel my throat tighten, watching them head into the light without me.  Without us.


Yesterday I went to yoga class for the first time in weeks.  It's been too easy to miss class lately, with my husband's business trips, and our (too short) vacation, and the loss of momentum.  I dragged myself out, knowing that there would probably be a sub because my teacher goes to India every year at this time, also knowing that I need ... something.  Recentering?

The sub was someone I know fairly well, a woman who is in the 500 hour training this year.  My teacher had given me her name as a reference when I was exploring doing teacher training, when I had given up on getting pregnant after years of loss after loss and had just been handed a diagnosis of unexplained secondary infertility.  I had decided I was going to give myself a different goal, just a week before discovering I was pregnant with my daughter.  Seeing her always reminds me of one of the alternate universes where I didn't end up, the one in which I become a wildly successful certified yoga instructor, but have only one child.

Her style is a little different from my regular teacher, but you can also tell that she was my teacher's student.  She does more than just talk about asanas; she talks about philosophy.  And last night she talked about stillness, that we need to find that place in us that doesn't move, the center around which chaos swirls.  My teacher calls this sattva.

I find some irony in this.  On the one hand, I have a hard time not getting swept up in the chaos.  Chaos has defined my life for the past 38 years.  But on the other hand, I am the center now.  I'm the one who isn't changing, who is just watching the world dance around me.  And I don't always find it a welcome place to be.


I am running through the better part of town now, through the Mc Mansions.  I hate these houses, this sprawling treeless suburbia, and yet, I want them.  Or more correctly, I want the ability to have them if I wanted them.  There are other things like that, too.


You should know this about me: I was a valedictorian.  I was the one who was always ahead.  I was the smart one, the one in the gifted and talented classes.  The first one in my class to take my exams in graduate school.  The one who won the fellowship.  The one who started new programs at my former place of employment, turning them into some of the most highly visible features of the university before I left my job, unable to turn a blind eye to culture that openly permitted sexism.

Now I applaud with humility and jealousy when the accolades get handed out.  I'm no longer the best in show.  I watch others walk into the light, and wonder if I'm not running fast enough to keep up with the chaos.


My son starts first grade in two weeks, riding the bus for the first time.  My daughter is beginning to put words together to form stories: "Eat.  Elmo. Eyeball.  Nomnomnomnom.  bwahahahaaaaa!" (in reference to consuming an Elmo cupcake last week.)  My husband orbits us, coming and going on business trips and busy with work.  My former colleagues' lives march onward in Facebook, with posts about new student orientations and other harbingers of the new academic year.  My non-work friends have their own chaos, some of it not good at all.  My blogging colleagues and friends have theirs, some of it very good chaos, indeed.

And I sit here in the middle of it, just watching.  Feeling jealous of the movement and strangely disappointed by the stillness that this teacher says I should cultivate.


I am three miles out from home, feet falling rhythmically on the pavement, my mind spinning, the air thick with jasmine, gardenia, lavender, and I realize I am gasping for breath. I stop, resting my hand on the splintered wooden fencepost, and am surprised to find that I am shaking, dry-heaving.  It comes, like a tidal wave.  My face is wet.  I brush the sweat away, but it's not sweat.

I am tired of death.  I am tired of giving up, of renouncing.  I am tired of the lives that didn't make it to term, the dreams I had to leave behind, the losses I had to cut.  And I am tired of the stillness that invades even the motion of running.

I am shaking my fist ungratefully at the sky, at the miraculously blue sky.   An older couple drives by in a beat up green pickup truck, waving, thinking I am waving at them.  I wave, take a deep breath, curse everyone, and pick up my feet, half skipping to start myself moving forward again.


When I first got our ice cream maker, I was surprised to see that the paddle stayed still in the middle while the bowl turned around it.  It makes perfect sense, of course, given that you want to continually give the ingredients new contact with the coldest surface in order to convince them to freeze evenly; it had just never occurred to me that it would work that way.

Maybe it's a useful metaphor.  Maybe I am running to stand still.  The flower around which the bees work, collecting nectar to bring back to the hive.  Honey.  Lavender.

I crest the hill, and turn down, towards home.

Honey Lavender Ice Cream

2 c. milk
1 c. heavy cream
1 T. + 1 t. corn starch
1 t. lavender
2/3 c. honey
3 T. cream cheese (or goat cheese, thank you Healthy Foodie!)

Mix about 2 T. of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.Whisk the cream (or goat) cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Combine the remaining milk, cream, lavender, and honey in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes, Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Gradually whisk the hot milk into the cream (or goat) cheese until smooth. Submerge the mixture partway in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Strain out the lavender as you pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy. Pack the ice cream into a storage container. Press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

Serve sprinkled with a few lavender buds, toasted almonds, or a square of good bittersweet chocolate.
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  1. Oh my. This is an incredible post. Your writing really moved me. So much to say. Will save for in person.
    You amaze and inspire me.

  2. Beautifully written, as always. I was always the high achiever, always so much younger than everyone else on my position. Now the reverse is true, 1st time mum at 41, work colleagues 10 years younger than me, etc. And my husband looks at me to centre the family why I am still spinning off, unsure whether I am mum or career woman. But I'm feeling a shift and readjusting my priorities. Moving forward so I can stand still. But I haven't been on a proper bushwalk in ages...

  3. I want to say something, but I can't imagine what there is to say. Just that it was beautifully, bravely, put, and that the icecream looks delicious.

  4. What a beautifully written post! I have those same sentiments sometimes - loving where I am but also lamenting the things I can't have with this life I've chosen. (Like that fantasy where I just up and move to Italy for a summer.) I can totally relate to so much of what you've written here! Thank you for sharing your experience so courageously.

  5. Gorgeous post J. Abiding with you and sending peace, love and light your way. xoxo

  6. Gorgeous post.

    Sometimes stillness is incredibly hard.


  7. I'm sorry you are in this mind space at the moment but I love the way you wrote about it. This is a gorgeous post. I read it earlier and it has been on my mind all day, as have you. As others have said, very brave and very beautiful.

  8. I don't know what to say...such a moving post. Why does it not surprise me that you were valedictorian? Smarty-pants. :)

    Our alternate universe where we're amazingly bendy and peaceful yoga instructors is one and the same. I think we all struggle with jealousy, but you're much more self-aware and recognize these feelings more. I have been struggling a lot lately with feeling like I'm an underachiever. The whole point of not having a hugely demanding career was so I could attend to children, and I'm obviously not on the fast-track to that goal.

    Love the ice cream maker analogy.

  9. May I just come and give you a hug? A hug for taking the more challenging route of working at home to be with the kids, a hug for your honesty, and a hug to thank you for your beautiful writing.

    Sometimes the way to stillness is embracing the chaos of the mind and world, greeting it like an old friend, and in all of the swirl, knowing that the very essence of you never changes.

    All the best,

  10. Been thinking about this all day. So gorgeously written and what a unique & apt analogy. While my circumstances are very different than yours, the feelings you describe are so so familiar. I often feel like my LIFE is moving ahead without changes are occurring and I haven't quite caught up.

  11. Hi from ICLW...I love your blog...the food is beyond amazing!!!

  12. Well. I obviously love lavender and will clearly be trying this recipe.

    Your thoughts on being the center, the stationary one, possibly left behind, has stayed with me since I first read your post.

    I sense that you are talking about the interplay between the masculine and feminine energies, and that you are in a time of flux. BE-ing fully in the feminine (center, still) yet longing for the masculine (DO-ing, accomplishing). You will find balance at some point(and then lose it) because that's how it works. But you already know this.

    To everything -- turn, turn, turn -- there is a season.

    I am certain you will be a very gifted yoga teacher, should you decide to do that. Best in show, I would wager.

    And you are a very talented writer and blogger. This post is phenomenal.

  13. I'm sorry you're feeling this way :( It doesn't surprise me that you were the valedictorian of your class, at all.

    You are a crazy talented writer. One day, I will be in the audience as you read your very own VOTY essay. Cheering madly!

  14. Beautiful post! I can identify with much of what you wrote.

    ICLW #7

  15. Everything, everything about this post is wonderful and delicious, I'm so glad you shared this- all of this- with us.

  16. So much of this I understand and can relate to. I think our specific circumstances are different, but there are still so many similarities. You put it out there so thoughtfully, much better than I could.

  17. So, so beautiful. It is so hard to stop and be still after striving for everything. But the calm center is underrated: think of the sun and how it gives life to and influences everything else while the planets spin madly around it.

    I have a new coworker who is just so awesomely competent and driven. And I used to be that way. I feel aimless and spent but envy the accolades he has received in a short time.

  18. Beautiful post! I am really starting to embrace the stillness now.


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