There’s a statement in a book I’m reading, “hand wash cold: care instructions for an ordinary life”, by Karen Maezen Miller*. She says, life is a kitchen. She goes on to say that the essence of our life, is really to serve. Karen continues to describe beautifully how she came to this insight over many years and varied life experiences. And, she had me at
“life is a kitchen.” It hit me like a thunderbolt (maybe because it was raining today). I had to put the book down as many memories came flooding in of my own experiences of what kitchen means to me.
The kitchen seems to always be the hub of household activity. The family; whether you’re alone, living with one other person or in a communal setting. Growing up, it’s was where the lunches were made, where the am/fm radio was always turned on to hear the morning weather/latest music single, where the dog was let out into the backyard, where we would exit to get to the garage and re-enter after parking the car in the garage.
I love kitchens because I love to cook. I did a lot of the family cooking when my mother went back to work full time; I must have been twelve or so. I got to make whatever I wanted. Moving the family from jarred spaghetti sauce to homemade with onions and garlic. French bread soaked in garlic butter and toasted in the oven. Salmon loaf to replace meat loaf. It drove my father crazy/ He’d say, “Ugh, more garlic…parsley, onions.” Anything other than what he had considered regular, of the norm. But, he got used to it.
When I became a vegetarian, being in the kitchen and experimenting with new flavors and smelling up the kitchen was pure heaven. Can there be a more beautiful scent than sautéed garlic in butter? Something I had learned from my father, and carried forward, was his love of washing the dishes. I think it really was his way of getting out of the whole dinner time thing and being able to get away into the kitchen where he would often turn on the baseball game on the radio.
I’ve carried his legacy forward with an addition. Washing dishes in front of a window….that includes a wonderful view. I love washing dishes because, when I’m cold (which I often am, whatever the season), it warms me up. I had an acupuncturist tell me once there are other solutions to staving off cold besides washing dirty dishes. But, I recognized the value of cleaning glass and plates and pots and pans long before I knew about zen.
It only takes breaking a glass once, watching the red ooze and sting, melding with hot soapy water to give you the lesson of paying attention. What dishes you wash first (after they’ve been scraped of any excess): Always the glasses as they are usually the most delicate and the least dirty, then plates, silverware (any sharp knives separate), lastly the pots and pans as they will turn the water dirtier and faster than anything.
I’m living in a house that my husband and I own. We have a dishwasher that we use regularly. But, there is always need for hand washing items. The pan that needs scrubbing, the coffee cup used throughout the day and special items that require a gentle hand. And this kitchen has what I’ve always wanted, a window that looks out directly onto a yard that reflects how I feel inside.
After all the rain we’ve been having, there is lush green grass. There are aspens, douglas firs, pinons and elm trees. Ravens, hummingbirds, robins, tanagers and pinon jays. A tri-level fountain that birds bathe in. A porch with a table that invites one to sit and look and enjoy and sit some more. And sit in stillness.
And how do I feel inside? So rich and lush and seeing nature like I’ve never seen her before. This place, this home, this kitchen, where my day begins, where the coffee has already been brewed, programmed from the night before, to the last call of evening. As the lights are turned off through the house, and the coffee maker is programmed for another morning of possibility.
One of the tenets or precepts I took in the Zen Peacemaker Order is to be generous; throughout all space and time, not fostering a mind of poverty in others or myself, and will use all the ingredients of my life, giving my best effort and accepting the result.
My kitchen has all the ingredients I will ever need. I only need to open the cupboards and look out the window.
* “hand wash cold:care instructions for an ordinary life”, by Karen Maezen Miller, also author of Momma Zen and most recently, Paradise in Plain Sight