Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is Breast Milk Kosher?

Bet you didn't know that Mother's milk is kosher.

But most Jews could tell you quickly that it is. Breastmilk not kosher? How would we grow our babies?

Found this today, a YouTube of Ina May Gaskin, one of the most famous midwives of our age.

(This gives me hope that YouTube has some real usefulness by having important figures speaking and easily accessible. Such use is in stark contrast to the footage of Columbine shootings that my teens tell me you can find there.)

Ina May has a long history in middle Tennessee and nationally for her work as a midwife. In the 70s her books had a ground breaking effect - many would say she changed the face of birthing in this country.

The Farm
is one of the oldest "communes" in the country, and Ina May helped set it up.

These days, I found, they are called intentional communities. It's interesting to think that thousands of people have decided to take a harder road for their living arrangements.

It's not immediately obvious that "intentional" means "harder", but it does. If you find a neighborhood and it passes some basic hurdles (price, style, age of the houses, kids or lack of kids, proximity to the things you value - school, work, shopping) then you buy a house and figure the rest out.

You definitely don't have to go through an interview and get approval from all or most of your neighbors. And you don't eat meals with them, raise kids together, figure out community chores or make an effort to work out differences in a public way.

I've stayed at a couple of these intentional communities. I had to see what they were about, learn what they do, how they do it, think about the commitment it takes to Community to live that way.

I was lucky to stay at two of the oldest American intentional communities. Gwyneth, then 6 or so, and I visited The Farm in 2006 and I went with my ex and two small kids to Twin Oaks in about 1994 or '95.

There were significant differences between the two. Twin Oaks in Virginia (outside of Charlottesville) was very closeknit, with meals served together, (tho you could stay at your own home and cook), chores divided and the community businesses of tofu production and hammock manufacturing shared.

The Farm
was more individuals and families living together with a common cause, but many with "outside" jobs. They had a strong commitment to protecting the land they own (and bought more to keep developers out of their immediate area) and to working together, but they seemed less rules oriented.

For me there were tectonic shifts during the 10 or 12 years between the two visits.

When my children were young I was fascinated and drawn to these kinds of places. I had a need to take my progeny away from the world, protect them. Not that I thought the world to be evil or dangerous, but rather that the world of Ninja Turtles, and falling twin towers and starving children in developing nations was not what I wanted them to be thinking about.

Since then they have grown to driving age, and the hard work of releasing them truly into the world has begun in earnest.

Now, instead of being available with a lap or a hug, (or breastmilk) I offer advice sparingly, encourage strongly at times, but force myself to stop at that, give them their head (a loose rein to be sure) and see what happens.

Today another parent of twenty-somethings said she was amazed that they come back home to roost. It isn't just a few families that are getting this. Move out, conquer the world, tell you that you are doing everything wrong, and then, a few years, they're back.

I found it odd that while parents are seeing children take on subjects at younger ages, often more than they can really absorb (explict sex and violence in music and all over Madison Avenue, internet dating, global warming, etc) thus growing up "too fast" in some ways, yet in other ways they seem to prolong the growing up over all.

It reminds me of elephants, 20 something months gestation and years to get to full adulthood, much like humans (I think it's 15 or 16 years).

But I'm glad that intentional communities are still out there, cutting away ties to conventional thinking, forging new paths. I've even heard friends talk of converting a large piece of family farmland to a divided grouping of homes for like-minded friends.

Another intentional community is Celo, NC. I found it in those toddler years, a small town that happens to be the oldest land trust in the country. Everyone owns their own property, but it is a communal land trust, and they all make decisions accordingly.

I'm not sure if the land trust is legally much different from a typical town, but at least the intentions and approach are a departure from any place I've found.** Certainly the intentional communities step into the work of making more decisions together, presumably with equal voices.

Of course that entire area of the world, the deep mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia tends to set itself apart.

There are still home remedies, music making on the front porch and old crafts practiced. I think the allure is for those "simpler" times, especially as the baby boomers age. (I once counted myself among them, but being born in '63 apparently am on the cusp, and therefore given a small window of choice, at least by demographers. These days I like that - betwixt and between two generations... Baby boomers and Gen X.)

In Atlanta, like in all big towns, it's fashionable to have a place in the mountains, or at the beach. We're seeing a lot of development in those lovely Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains. Maybe the real estate bust will slow some of that down.

In the meantime I've seen the ripple effects of tourism in the mountains. Over the last 4 or 6 weeks I've been to Cherokee, an Indian reservation, Black Mountain, NC and last weekend Brevard NC. It's not just the stores and restaurants that are more "usual" but the entire world view of the locals has changed.

Maybe it's good that they aren't as suspicious of us outsiders as they used to be; then again, maybe they were more protected when they worked harder to keep us away.

I hope as long as Crones like Ina May are around, and we young'uns pick up the arts of midwifery, "sang hunting" (that's ginseng), salves and maybe an ability to slow down, there will still be places for our children and grandchildren to explore and savor. Without Walmart.

*Passover is the only time of the year I try to keep somewhat kosher, at least at home. Ok, it's the only time I try to stay on a No Fat Fluffy Bread diet - see blog entries related to baking phenomenal bread.

**There is an awesome place down the road from Celo, Hemlock State Park, where I'd love to get a fishing line wet. Very quiet and preserved.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Grandmothers know things that have taken a lifetime to earn. They know that women grow out of girls, and that the journey has taken thousands of years. Grandmothers know that girls are sprites, bringing light playfulness to the serious side of our world, and they are emotional antennas, telling what they know, as boys learn to get quiet with their feelings.

Girls grow to womanhood by learning they pulse with the cycles of life. They learn to flow gracefully into the stream of their world, even as they learn to make and guide their own rudder.

Women wrap their arms around life, around their loved ones, around their homes. They bring life into the world and know that they have Mama Bear spirit within, will do whatever it takes to protect their young. Over time they learn that being Mama Bear does not mean self conscious alarm over every step, but is a rambling journey of exploration, fully grounded, finding and giving nourishment, teaching our young how to grow strong and self sufficient. Women nuzzle. Women roar.

Women swaddle babies and guide children, even if they have none of their own.

Women know loss. Women cradle death as well as life, holding dead spirits, dead bodies and missing limbs. We know that to rebirth a soul means to just be nearby sometimes. Silently we care for physical space to show love that reaches into dark souls, and sometimes breathes life back.

We wash bodies with no more spirit and place them gently into the earth for safekeeping, and we reach into the earth for our own strength, seeking the flow of wisdom from our grandmothers and grandfathers. We dig up roots and share them at the family table.

A woman knows that reaching out to sky, or into the world, is a skill we must develop and carry always. There are times we are protected, as children, and times we learn to make our own path, walking long roads to find our ancient sisters, those who birthed babies alone in fields, and who gathered wood alone in the winter to warm themselves, their families.

Once we have struck out on our path, we find that while there are terrifying nights when fierce wind blows away all of our courage, there are also mornings of dew and warming sun to bring us back to life. Sometimes we wait in the dark for small twinkling stars, bits of wisdom within us, tiny light when we need it most. Some call this intuition. Learning to follow those stars, to hold them in our mind day and night, takes discipline and devotion. It is lonely work.

We find our path at times full of "mean girls" and are stronger for withstanding the pressure to give in to our lower selves. We find sustenance in stretching our minds, but also know that our spirits need room to grow into full fledged, full bodied Amazon soul warriors. We find our tribe and build communities out of nothing but meals and stories, trading clothes and hugs.

No matter her size a woman must know that her body is her temple, and that only when she learns to guard her own gates does she begin to know real safety. We love our smile lines and our stretch marks, lines of service, stripes of valor. We shun notions of external beauty and create our own from deep within. This beauty is easily recognized in any face. Women dress well and with attention; first with love and respect for ourselves, then for the enjoyment of others.

Women build their own fortresses, and know who to take in and who to turn away. Men and women of lesser value will come knocking, and discernment is one of her most important tools.

Women find battles in corporate board rooms and in their own homes, in standing on their feet 16 hours a day to serve others, and inside their own minds. Women learn to come to each skirmish with grace, with intelligence well heeled, with determination, with strength of character and with nothing to hide. Once a woman knows how to wield a sword of discernment, and when to make deep cuts, or kill, then she knows when to win at any cost, and when to stand down. She makes the salves that soothe her soul, and heal others, and brings them back to the table of family and community.

A woman knows how to lose, how to win and how to keep going after either outcome.

A woman knows that men are outward facing, hard wired to protect and serve the needs of his family and community, same as her, but very different too. She joins her partner in his work to build a life. She leads him (and others) to build relationships, and follows when he knows the way, and sometimes when he doesn't. She knows the journey is more important than the destination.

But a grown woman will not waste years tending a garden in bad dirt. She admits her mistakes, learns from them, mourns them, and moves on if there isn't good ground to till. A wise woman makes her own ground fertile, soulwork that feeds hundreds if not thousands.

If she digs a hole too deep, she hauls herself out of it. If she needs a rope, she asks for help.

A fully realized woman will spin grace and beauty into the lives of her loved ones, in material things, but more importantly in spiritual realms. A woman knows how to find the best in herself, and how to encourage the best in others. She knits together the lives of many, making those memories that keep us warm, strong and hopeful. She cooks to nourish our bodies and souls, making food into an offering. A woman knows to bless the table, calling down Spirit, and invoking gratitude. She makes sure she is well fed in every way.

Even in the worst storms of life, she keeps a small ember of hope and belief in herself glowing, sometimes so deep down even she forgets. But one day it gets warmer and finally burns hot in her again, shining thru her eyes. Sometimes this process seems divine, and she is comfortable there, in the swirl of mystery and faith and unimaginable grace.

A woman can bring light to every part of her life - she finds that the other side of sorrow and loss is immeasurable and unlimited Joy - and she laughs often in delight at the wonder of it all. Always a Sprite, she creates fun from the mundane, blowing bubbles from dish soap. She works for happiness, and protects it.

Women cherish the pleasures of touch and sensuality. They become more sexual as time goes by and the children no longer need constant tending. Having learned to love themselves, they can fully give themselves to another, without getting lost. With the right partner, they lose self consciousness and send sparks of creation, transcendence and gratitude to the divine.

She becomes a grandmother when she settles completely into herself, sees the mountains and valleys of her life in true measure, and blesses the path of children, women and men who follow her. She knows she can feed them only small pieces of her journey, as they must find their own way. She listens deeply.

Grandmother teaches us to go thru fear, to hold onto our embers and starlights, to forge our own swords. She stands as guide, example and a comfort to show that there is a place of redemption for a life well lived. She holds the visions, of the world and for each of us, seeing us on our path and rightly beautiful. She loves us unconditionally, even when we cannot love ourselves, and knows the value of forgiveness and rest.

Woman knows that life is short, and hard times seem to last forever. And all is well, eventually.

(Inspired by: Steve Pavlina and Tom Chiarella)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Extemporaneous Food

I sent a dish back last week at a local bar, where we were enjoying the Spring weather and noshing on chips. The spinach and artichoke dip, a solid standby, usually, was something out of Calvin and Hobbes (flash to the dinner dramas where the food, a blob with an evil attitude, attacks poor innocent Calvin).

When the waitress asked for specific feedback I said it tasted strange, didn't look good, and reminded me of something I'd cook at home, meaning something experimental.

Tonight I'm glad to report a successful chemistry of chicken, half a can of mushroom soup, some mystery sauce (I think chipolte) and fresh broccoli and portabella mushrooms. It's great.

I needed this, after last weekend's VERY sour sourdough pumperknickle rye. Wow was it strong! This came after spending three days on it - or a week, depending on how you count. I had to order the starter, (which arrived quickly) and then feed it for a few days. Then I had to feed it again to get it ready to add to the dough, then the bread itself took two days.

True artisan stuff. Very good, except for that sour part.

We normally inhale my bread and beat off strangers. But I don't even think my Dad liked it. He got the second loaf.

Not a good sign.

I once FedEx'd an early loaf to him, an inedible heavy result. He called me and raved about it. Good old Dad.

That is true love.

Now about Keith not liking my bread....

I'm only half kidding here. He loves my challah, but won't eat it. He hasn't tried the bagels, but loves the rye. I think it's that whole "bad carb" brainwashing going on.

I know, white bread isn't my nutritional favorite, but still. Homemade challah has to get some points for something! And once a week may save your soul, if not your waist line.

More baking adventures next week : same bat time, same bat channel.