Gezouten Boter

cheese market in front of the Gouda City HallThe first cookies I baked when I moved to The Netherlands came out of the oven flat, not just in shape, but in taste. Part of the problem, I discovered, was the flour, which is processed differently than in the States in a way that reduces the amount of gluten, and part of the problem was the butter. At home I took it for granted that our default butter is salted. Back in the eighties and nineties an American baker had to go out of her way to find what we call sweet butter, but in Holland the default butter is unsalted. Dutch salted butterIt took several tries before I realized that all my recipes assumed the dash of salt from the butter in addition to the teaspoon explicitly stirred into the cookie dough, and I learned to seek out gezouten boter in a larger store than the corner grocery. And what about the flour? For special-occasion desserts it was worth driving to The Hague (home of the country’s embassies and hence a city  that caters to foreigners), to the import shop I’d heard about through the American grapevine, where I spent way too many guilders for a pound of Gold Medal flour from home.

Pumpkins and turkeys were also absent from Dutch grocery stores, but Americans abroad are resourceful when it comes to our holidays. Each fall a few members of the American Women’s Club of The Hague drove across the border to a farm  in Belgium that grew pumpkins and returned with a carload to resell as a fundraiser for the club. I often wondered what my neighbors in the little village of Waddinxveen thought about the jack-o-lantern gleaming from my window on October 31st.

Waddinxveen, small as it was, boasted a poultry shop, and my first November there I timidly inquired about procuring a kalkoen. The poulier’s face lit up, and it became clear he’d recognized my American accent. “It’s for your harvest celebration, isn’t it? I’ve heard of this!” He didn’t carry turkeys, but could special order one for me in time for the holiday. As he scribbled my information on an order pad, he asked what I’d be serving with it. “Aardappelen en …” Hmm, my Dutch vocabulary did not yet include words like stuffing and cranberries. Over the next years, he came to recognize me. “Ah, mevrouw Thomas, here for your oogst kalkoen, eh?”

Mary and table set for Thanksgiving dinner

I began my married life in Holland, and those years were my first attempts at cooking a Thanksgiving dinner myself. At first, it was just my husband and me, but each year we found more American friends to celebrate our holiday with in a country where the fourth Thursday in November is an ordinary workday like any other. With our homesickness like salt in the dough, friends became family around a table, a turkey, and blessing: a little island of home in the Dutch sea.

 

 

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News of the World

It is ironic that a librarian, whose business it is to provide access to information, suffers from the soul sickness of TMI (too much information). This addiction can be as intoxicating as caffeine and edge-softening as alcohol, but it does not feel like an indulgence. Rather, it is the obligation of a responsible citizen and a thoughtful friend, the satisfaction of healthy intellectual curiosity, even an aid to spiritual seeking and nourishment for the poet.

But there are only 1440 minutes in a day, so how can I choose between the New York Times and the Santa Cruz Sentinel, email and Facebook and all the blog posts, articles, and websites my friends refer me to? Should I give up Jane Hirschfield’s essays on poetry, Sue Monk Kidd’s memoir of searching for the sacred feminine, or Cynthia Bourgeault’s thoughts on the meaning of Mary Magdalene? And don’t even get me started on all the tantalizing sources in their endnotes, not to mention the professional reading I should keep up with! iPhone, iPad, laptop, Nook, books, and magazines fill my rooms and days, and if they’re not enough, the library, internet, and Amazon offer ready access to more.

Now, here I am on a writing retreat outside Pescadero, in a sunny clearing among the trees, my body still tingling from a swim. The redwood over there hasn’t read the latest appalling tweet from him who shall not be named, and Spider is writing her own poem in a web strung between two branches that sway on the breath of God. It’s true that here too is more information than I can take in or understand, but it does not insist on my attention in the way newspapers and social media do because it was not created for my consumption. Everyone is going about their own business here, ten thousand leaves drinking up sunlight while the butterfly finds nirvana in a dahlia and the laughter of naked ladies drowns out the sound of jet engines overhead.

Belladonna lilies

I take off my sandals to put my feet directly on the earth. My soles read warm ground and soft green grass, an engrossing piece that invites a great deal of attention. A breeze lifts my sun-dried hair off my neck, and the redwood across from me nods companionably – she knows just what this feels like. “In the name of the bee – and of the butterfly – and of the breeze,” this is all the news of the world my soul needs.

(With appreciation to Paulette Jiles for my title, Emily Dickinson for the invocation in the last line, and my friend Ursi Barshi for the photo.)

Summer Solstice 2017

IMG_3820

After the long winter of seed-soaking rains
when the driest taproots drank their fill,
the privet and the bougainvillea
revel in inebriation,
besotted roses plaster their vines with blooms,
and even the stately redwood indulges
in tipsy explosions of baby green at every needle tip.
Now comes a feast of light
for the leafy exuberant ones.
Deep in their cells they remember
the way they thirsted in the drought,
but this memory is just a gilt edge
on the solstice invitation to summer.

The prodigal stretched-out days ask,
how big is your we?
Does it include
this velvet yellow petal,
an extraterrestrial guava blossom,
the courtly redwood?
Oh come, my darling,
it’s the summer solstice –
lift your glass to the light,
and dance with the whole shimmering forest!

Prayer for the Water

I wrote this prayer after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but thinking of the Standing Rock water protectors and remembering the importance Pope Francis placed on water in his encyclical Laudato Si, I offer this again today on behalf of the earth, our common home, wherever there is water pollution.

tuolomne river

O holy, mighty One,

open our hearts to compassion.

O Light of the world,

show us the way.

Mother of sorrows,

mingle your tears with ours.

Mother of mercy,

we are sorry.

Our Life, our Sweetness,

sweeten the poisoned waters.

Star of the Sea,

shine your brightness there.

You fishermen, Peter, James, and Andrew,

join our prayer:

may the waters give life once more.

St. Brendan the navigator,

guide the energy of our prayers

to the water that wants healing.

O sacred energy that hallows

the Ganges and Brigid’s well,

permeate the wounded water with your pure love.

All you whales and creatures of the sea,

forgive us,

pray with us.

Thanks be to the water,

our life, our sweetness,

hear our prayer.

We the People

On the day a bully takes office,

the rivers roar out a lamentation,

and the sky sheds frozen tears.

Even the marble statues weep.

In graves that the earth

had finally folded into healing arms,

the ghosts of slaves stir

from too short a rest.

 

But on the day the women march,

parchment rustles in glass cases.

us-constitution

We the people

Are created equal

Molecules vibrate faded ink into quivering.

Life

Liberty

The pursuit of happiness

On the day the women put on the armor of light

and march into the streets across the land,

on the day we claim our right

peaceably to assemble

and remind the bully

Congress shall make no law respecting

an establishment of religion,

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

or abridging the freedom of speech,

or of the press,

the lady in the harbor will lift her torch.

On the day the women resist hate

because we are all created equal,

no matter our

gender,

age,

color,

creed,

or sexual orientation,

the earth will answer our stomping feet with jubilation.

On the day the women demand

care for the planet,

health and safety for our brothers and sisters,

we will wake the country from its Trump-induced trance

and across this hazy land the wind will blow;

on that day the words in the National Archives will dance.

We the people do ordain it so.

 

 

Words in italics from our Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Image of United States Constitution courtesy of Jonathan Thorne through a Creative Commons non-commercial license.

Winter Solstice 2016

labyrinth by the ocean

One hundred steps to the center of the labyrinth,

and light enters the world as gently

as the pilgrim making her way to the center.

Can you tell the moment when the foxtail

takes shape out of the night

and the pine needles assume their points?

In the pause between

breathing out

and breathing in,

the last star fades into the brightening sky,

gone to the place you journey in your sleep.

 

I watch my thoughts dart off

like a startled flock of sparrows

in twenty directions.

I have written ten thousand words

that don’t mean a thing.

Now the solstice calls me to the labyrinth,

and my feet long for the one hundred steps.

November New Moon

crescent moon

Tonight my mind feels like the new moon,
present in all her integrity,
but turning a blank face to herself.
She blends softly into the dark night,
pleased to hide among the stars,
and rest.
Tonight she doesn’t have to reflect light,
shine on dreamy lovers,
or inspire a single poem.
She wraps all her secrets up in the cloak
her grandmother wove for her
and tucks herself in,
knows that tomorrow she will begin
another waltz with the sun, and
sliver by sliver
the words to describe
the autumn light and the blue sky of November
will begin spilling onto the page
in a golden tumble.