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REVENGE OF THE POISON IVY

I am suffering from a poison ivy allergic reaction right now. It has been very bad for a week already. I have been applying many creams with menthol, camphor and other anesthetics. I have been taking steroid based medicine. But the poison ivy has its way to the end. It’s been a week and no improvement yet. My arms, neck, face, even eyes are swollen (I can barely see) and painfully itchy.  No modern medicine can do anything about it. Nature still demands respect, once in a while and we should not forget it. I was reminded this way. I wanted to shape my garden to a mental image I had created, tearing off, cutting branches and vines without much consideration. Maybe I should not have interfered. Why do we need to change nature? It is beautiful the way it is. Why do we need to pull out the weeds? Why make the pretty dandelions suffer? I am starting to question. Weeds are easy to grow and we cannot otherwise control them. And we are humans, after all. We need to control out environment, everything.

Interestingly enough, poison ivy doesn’t affect other animals. Just people. It knows its enemies.

I wished we could let the plants be. Just be. They can make us so happy. Look at the poison ivy. Isn’t it glorious?

Somehow, in a way, I am not blaming the ivy for my suffering. I accept it as punishment for feeling like such a superior being, in charge of the world around her. Although, I do not think that I am going to let the poisonous plant hang around my yard forever (I am afraid for my daughter), I am surely going to treat it with much more respect from now on (she said scratching her left hand to blood).

And, yes, the harmless weeds are welcome all over the place. Who on Earth really needs a lawn?

THE THINGS I MAKE

I have been making many things with my hands lately. It’s oddly empowering. I made some wool soakers for my daughter to wear over her cloth diapers. I made a beautiful tote bag for myself, out of a big skirt that I transformed. I made a nice cotton summer dress for the baby and also a linen skirt for myself. I know. Nothing for my husband. Actually, the food that I make is mostly for him. He is the reason I try so many new things and I am so happy when he enjoys it all. The thing is that I have discovered I am proud of my skills at making things. I am not ashamed of it anymore, I don’t consider it as a second-hand work anymore, because it is not intellectual. Where does this change come from?

I hang out with many green-oriented people in different forums on the Internet. Most of them value self-sustainability – some to an extreme. Most not only cook all their food from scratch, but they grow their food in the backyard. They don’t just knit clothes and blankets for their family, but they die and spun the wool themselves. And I have to tell you, these people are the most spiritual voices I have heard in a long time. Their work is not the fruit of their hands, but of their souls. They are the happiest people I have met, living in the smallest of places, buying only used clothes and living a life of deep involvement and connection with their surroundings and with themselves. I greatly admire these people. I want to be them – and that is the biggest shift of perspective that ever happened in my life.

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be like all the highly creative, quite mad, enormously maladjusted, misunderstood, neurotic, suicidal, brilliant writers. I wanted to be epileptic like Dostoievski, and bipolar like Virginia Wolf. I thought genius and revelation only come in this shape. I admired and looked for the unhappy. Now I see another way.

Nowadays, I can be happy even on days when I don’t get to write one sentence. Because they are days when I maybe get to work in the yard, and I can accept that as a bliss as well. It can be a deeply meditative act, sometimes even more than, yes, writing.

I even bought myself and apron that I wear with pride. Who am I?

UNDER CLOTHESLINE LIVING

Considering that this is coming from the apron lady, this will be understandable: I am so happy about my clothesline! If my mother read this, she would think I went mad. What’s so special about the clothesline? They are everywhere. Back in Romania. My grandmother has clotheslines in the yard and all through her main room, where all the living was done in the winters, from eating, to sleeping and bathing. My grandmother never had a washing machine. My mother, who doesn’t have a yard, (but had a machine to wash her clothes all the time) has clotheslines in the balcony and in the bathrooms. All my life I have been living under clothes hung to dry in all places.

My husband (in the photo at his childhood home in India) never gave any thought to this omnipresent device until now, until our living in the States. In India, even to this day, my husband’s mother, who uses daily all the modern appliances you can imagine, doesn’t even need a washer. There are too many nice people in need, who make a little money by washing clothes. No, it’s not that my parents in law would be some the richest people in India, but every middle class family can afford to pay somebody to do the laundry, somebody else for the ironing, another person for cleaning and somebody else for doing dishes and sometimes even cooking. Interestingly enough, the machines didn’t manage to replace people over there and this offers everybody so much – the environment is a bit safer, people get human interaction on daily washing basis, some families manage to survive on this simple line of work, and all are happy. In India there are nice people who do laundry and the nicest weather who does the drying. One can see the clotheslines hanging all over apartments, balconies, terraces. All day, all year long.

When I lived in Romania, just like my mother and my grandmother before her, I didn’t have a dishwasher or a clothes dryer. What else didn’t I have? It’s not a question of poverty or backwardness of my country. After all, I had a microwave and a toaster – both quite useless too. Well, let’s not speak so harshly about the toaster. I loved that thing. Oh, I also had a coffee maker, but was not using it as coffee tastes much better when boiled.

After moving to US, I still refused to use the dishwasher because I found it to break my kitchen routine in an unwanted way. I kept washing dishes quickly, as they came up in the sink. not waiting for them to pile up. But the dryer, well, that I embraced whole-heartedly. Wow! What a difference. Just take the clothes from the washer, put them in another machine and take them out dry. If it would have only ironed them too! But still, no need to break your neck and back at the clothesline, hanging each item one by one. In time though, I started hating the thing. My clothes were either too dry and wrinkly, or not dry enough. And the time! More than an hour the machine has to work continuously to dry a few clothes. As we were living in an apartment complex, the waste was quite obvious when I had to pay $1.50 for each dryer load. No, it was not worth it, but the management wouldn’t let us hang dry our clothes on the balconies, for obvious esthetic reasons. Oh, what a field day we had, my like-minded friends and I, when the drier was out of order. All our clothes were proudly exhibited on the balconies, for the sun to see (and everyone else passing by).

Now, we moved into this beautiful little house and I worry even more about our waste. I started using the dishwasher because I think I waste too much energy and water when I wash dishes by hand. But the drier… well, now I can stop using that. I have a clothesline on the balcony. I thought about this for a long time and decided that I wouldn’t be very comfortable taking my clothes outside (because I am kind of lazy too) but thank God we have this lovely balcony that we don’t use for anything else, which is conveniently situated out of the bedroom, and such really close to the closets where the clothes are anyway supposed to go. I think is genius. As a side note, I also have clotheslines put up in the basement, where the washer is, just for the occasional rainy day and 6 months of New England winter.

My first load of sun dried laundry is awaiting. Joy.

SUNDAY FLEA MARKET

I have been waiting to go to the flea market since February. The weather just wasn’t good enough. Not on weekends! So we ended up spending a lot of rainy days in the McDonald’s playspace. I know, I know.

Finally, this Sunday we were pleasantly surprised by a smiling warm sun and we decided that we can finally make the trip to the … flea market! It was almost everything that I had expected – crowded, friendly, calming, refreshing, tiring, beautiful. Ananya had plenty of fun.

We started as if for a road trip (of 20 minutes) all prepared with water bottles and Johnny Cash CD. “A boy named Sue” always makes me cry and laugh in the same time, but I guess that happens to everybody who listens to it. It is a work of art, right?

The market parking was almost full. So many people had taken advantage of the beautiful weather to go and hang out. Many children too. Some vendors who seemed to have come just to breathe in the atmosphere, because they had almost nothing to sell. Ananya enjoyed looking at all the toys. Among her favorites – a horribly noisy plastic doll with blonde plastic hair, an inflatable Dora the Explorer, some crocheted finger puppets and what she actually got, a beautiful wood let’s call it dog on wheels and a great wood bench. Mommy also got something for herself – a absolutely beautiful ceramic container with cork.

I intend to make an oil mixture for the face (avocado oil and castor oil) and keep it in the bathroom in this beautiful container. You can read about the oil cleansing method here. One thing that I have to say about it is that back in Romania, and I am guessing all over Europe, we use a thing called “makeup remover” which is basically a light creamy lotion that  we use to wipe our faces with the help of some cotton balls. In US they seem to be crazy about foaming face cleansers and, as I found out much later, there is a thing called “cold cream” which could be very much similar to the make-up remover I am used to. I have never tried it though.

So the flea market proved to be a wonderful Sunday activity – fresh air, walking, community feeling, human interaction, kid and earth-friendly. What more could I ask for?

Saturday we went for a small trek in our own town and it was a beautiful experience for all of us. There were no people to see, but nature was in full-bloom and that is a fulfilling spectacle in itself.

ALL NATURAL, NO WORRIES

These are my beautiful natural soaps that I just received in the mail. I just had to take a photo -they look so pretty in their little cloth packaging. And they are handmade. The scent that I am in love with is the one I took for my daughter – pink grapefruit. Even the little girl kept her nose in this soap all day.

Most of the time I worry a lot. I worry that the meat has growth hormones that get into our systems and mess them up. I worry that the water has fluoride and some recent studies show this substance as being responsible for development problems in children. I worry that the plastic leaks into our foods, that the grass we step on is covered in chemicals. I am scared that the furniture and carpets in our home outgas toxic fumes. I don’t know what to do about the harmful lining (bisphenol A) in the cans of food. I have bad dreams about the pharmaceuticals that made their way into our water. I am terrified that I cannot keep the pace and I cannot protect my family from this evil environment that has been created for us.

These days we are discussing a new deck for our house and the carpenter suggested pressure treated wood. In another life I would have taken his word for it, because he’s a specialist, and I would have lived on a pressure treated wood deck without worry. With my child barefoot touching chemicals every day. With my herb garden right next to the deck, sipping in all the water, everything coming down to it. But no, I am not doing that now. I am painfully researching a natural option. Some wood that doesn’t need to be treated, that we can afford. We found that cedar might be it. I might need to paint it, seal it every year. I am ready to do that. It seems to always be a little bit more work, this natural lifestyle, but I find that it is always worth it and I would never complain. As long as I can stop worrying. Even for a little bit. For one afternoon. For one cup of green tea.

THE MAHOGANY IN OUR BACKYARD

Our beautiful deck is finished. Let me tell you the whole story. It all starts a few months ago, when we moved into our new home. It is a house that we loved from the moment we walked in, a place that grows on us more each day. But it is not the perfect house. It looked quite run down when we bought it and still does, because we are taking it slowly. But it had an untouched spirit that we connected to. Oh, I feel this is going to be a long post about houses.

And as soon as I wrote the previous sentence and started a new paragraph, it all escaped my mind. What did I have to tell? All right. The family who lived here before us didn’t leave the house in a happy moment, as it happens many times. They couldn’t afford to keep the place anymore. The father had died a few years back, the son had moved out, the mother and daughter were not getting along, and the mother also had health problems. Sad to the bone. The story was that they had to leave the place so that the mother goes somewhere south, to treat a heart condition. The reality we found from mail that kept coming to us for a while – they were threatened by foreclosure in a matter of weeks. The knowledge didn’t come easy to me. I wanted to live in a happy place, marked by good energy. Well, I painted all over the walls, did space clearing in Hindu tradition (the Christian one is still on the waiting list) and got over it.

Along with the stressful energy, the former owners left us with a lot of work. The house needs to be painted, a new roof, a new driveway, new deck and front patio and stairs. We did the roof last year and now we did the deck and part of the front stairs.

I am pretty sure that the new roof is a nasty affair. At the time I didn’t realize that I need to do research on all the things that we change, because the conventional wisdom is not something I want to rely upon if I want to keep my family out of the hospitals as much as possible. I know the roof is not clay shingles or metal sheets, as we have in Romania, where things are still just a step or two away from their natural state. Whatever we have on this house is a mystery, pompously called “architectural shingles”, I believe. Some cheap, tar-based sheets put one on top of the other. At that time I realize how cheaply-made are the houses here in US, or at least in this part of the country, where we live. In my part of the world, we have brick construction that manages to stay intact through centuries, without much upkeep. We enjoy clay shingles and consider the metal roofs a cheaper although just as solid replacement. Tar? I’m sorry, what? We are not gypsies! I don’t want to demean the gypsies here, but they wouldn’t build long lasting houses, because of their tendency to take the road ever so often. In Romania, we were using hard wood and real tile on our floors even in the ’80. Sure, we heard of linoleum, but come on, that dirty, peeling, scorching thing on our floors? What are we, country post office? Recently Romanians are also getting excited with the ease and cheapness of laminate floors, but that is only for city – Ikea minded people. Serious builders have to have real wood. On a side note, Romanians have also visited Spain one too many times and they came from there with the most striking color palette for their outside walls. You will see the crazy colors from the yellow – orange – red family in far too many places. Here is an example, and here, and here. And here. Oh, here too. And a last one. I know you got the idea long back, but I am having fun, so bear with me. Yeah, Romanians go crazy with the colors. Hey, I never said we are perfect.

My point was – I come from a country that is supposed to be much poorer than the US, but people have higher standards for their homes there. Why is that? Over here, where I call it home now, people put vinyl siding on the houses, to make them longer lasting (the wood siding need to be painted every few years). Really, plastic? This is what we can come up with? It doesn’t occur to any of us to use brick? Or cement? Are brick and cement so expensive for americans? What’s going on? It is just local tradition? Is it something more? I can just wonder.

The next task at hand, after the roof, was the deck. The old one was putrid and shaky. We took it down. The first contractor that came told us he recommends pressure treated wood for the new construction, nails and not screws, the railing at 3.5 inches… hey, hey, back up… wood treated how? So I learned that the vast majority of decks in this region at least are made of this probably pine or some other kind of soft wood, improper for construction in natural state, that is treated under pressure with some chemicals to make it stronger than the strongest. What? I know. Why do we have to go through all this processes that alienate us even more from out environment? Just to make it cheaper? Just to infuse it with more “human ingenuity”? Up to what end? Chromate-copper-arsenate, or CCA treated wood was deemed dangerous after decades of use in most backyards and parks of America in 2003, and its use was restricted by the Environmental Protection Agency, because it was proved the arsenic was leaching from the wood. You can imagine the health risks with children touching the wood every day, vegetable gardens in its vicinity and whatnot. That did not stop the use of treated wood. Oh, no. They only changed the formula into something called alkaline copper quat – something which we are still supposed to keep kids away from, not breathe in as saw dust, not burn. Then why on Earth do we still use it? Maybe because most of us don’t have the time or inclination to do any research on it. Or maybe because that is all there is available in the big chain stores?

Oh, I’m sorry. In the big stores they also have the option of composite – another freak, born out of the loveless-arranged marriage of wood and plastic. And that is sometimes more expensive than wood. Can you believe that? People really have lost any sense of real value? It’s like when we were buying rugs for the house and we noticed that many wool rugs were priced similarly to many expensive plastic ones. People just don’t know how to look for quality anymore. Maybe they think if it’s expensive, it must be exceptional. Let the corporations tell us what is worth and what not. Really?

I have seen houses almost entirely made of plastic, here in New England. Like plastic doll houses – plastic siding, plastic window frames, plastic flooring, plastic doors. What is left? Plastic human beings, I’m sure. Hey, with all the transplants, bypasses and replacement surgeries, with all the chemo-therapies, who says we are not already there? It’s leaching into our systems already.

Our backyard deck ended up being made of mahogany. It is natural and beautiful. Cedar was just impossible to find. Mahogany is not the most ecological choice, imported wood, but at least it is healthier for my family. At least that.

INDIAN FARMERS COMMIT SUICIDE, AMERICAN FARMERS DIE OF CANCERS: SHOULD WE WORRY?

All our food will be owned by one company. Monsanto. As Barbara Kingsolver was putting it in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, God somehow lost the contract he had on free food. The genetic diversity of our food will be reduced to a handful of plants. Those plants will be genetically altered so that they don’t have seeds to propagate, they destroy themselves after one crop, or even if you have seeds and save them (which is against the law and Monsanto is developing a “seed police” to encourage farmers to tell on each other if they save seeds) they would not lead at the same results as the previous year. Heirloom seeds, on the other hand, although they don’t have built-in resistance to different pests, they give the same expected results year after year. But who uses those anymore? We have to relearn the reasons why traditional ways are the good, the sustainable way.

Roundup is the herbicide this company makes and has become widely, more than widely used. Everybody should know it’s name. We should know better. In the United States there is a cancer epidemic among farmers, due to exposure to such chemicals as Roundup.

In India, the chemical have destroyed the ecosystem to the point where even the trees don’t make fruit anymore because heavy use of pesticides caused the extinction of pollinators as bees and butterflies. Dr. Vandana Shiva is an Indian environmental activist who works on exposing all the damaged caused by Monsanto. Apparently, this company already “owns” 70% of the world’s food. We don’t get our food from God and nature anymore, see? We get it through the grace of Monsanto.

Dr. Vandana Shiva shows that in Punjab (but also in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh) there is an epidemic of farmer’s suicides because they cannot support the cost of the seeds and pesticides on which their crops have become dependent and more scary, because of ecological breakdown of water and soil systems. It was called The Green Revolution in the ’60. It was aimed at large crops of rice and wheat. And it gave that. For a while. Now, after 50 years, it’s resulting in desert lands and despair, because it was not sustainable in any way, financial or ecological.

In the United States, “cancer morbidity and mortality investigations have documented excess rates of specific cancers among agricultural workers. These cancers include non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease, multiple myeloma and cancers of the lip, stomach, skin, prostate, brain, testis, and connective tissue. The occurrence of such cancers has been investigated using death certificate and case control designs, among a variety of agricultural workers and across several geographic regions of the U.S. in addition to nine other countries. Excessive and repeated exposure to pesticides is one of the etiologic factors hypothesized to contribute to these increases in cancer incidence among farmers.” From Perceptions of pesticide associated cancer risks among farmers: A qualitative assessment

What else can I say? There is too much. Should we be scared? I am. I will be starting to save the so-called “heirloom” seeds starting this year. I also have to urge everybody to watch the documentary The World According to Monsanto – A documentary that Americans won’t ever see, by French film-maker Marie-Monique Robin. It is world-blowing. “We cannot afford to lose one dollar of business” – Monsanto. Human lives are not worth one dollar for them. Let’s keep believing and buying into it. Right?

If you are interested to find out more, Watch “Dirt! The Movie”, a heart-wrenching documentary about the destruction of soil and the fate of farmers.

THE STORY OF HENNA

One of my greatest pleasures, in the past, was dyeing my hair. I liked the expectation, the new colors, the compliments, the whole change. I have been coloring my hair for around 15 years. I don’t think I used the same color in a raw more than twice. I was hooked to the feeling of change. I had red, blonde, brown, blue-black hair. But that was then.

Hair dies scared me. They are terrifyingly toxic, filled of strong chemicals. It feels like that more than all the other personal care products which are also far from natural. A shampoo packed with parabens, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, cones and the sort, but we might go through life without thinking of it as dangerous chemical. Well, with hair dies, it is a different story. We all feel the toxicity to an extent. We all know it and yet, we are ready to forgive and forget, because they make a big difference. I have quite a bit of white hair from an earlier age. I had to cover that. The multitude of colors and looks were just a bonus. Now, I have overcome that stage in my life. One step, at least. Hey, how much can you ask from me? I don’t care about the colors so much but I am not ready to live as the grey-haired old lady. Maybe that will come. So, now enter henna.

I used henna once in my 20’s. I had dark brown hair so I couldn’t see any difference. I wanted a change. So henna was forgotten. I never thought it would work on my hair. Later, I was going to visit India with my soon-to-be husband. Over there everybody colors with henna. Men and women. They also do unbelievable body art with it (as you can see in the photo, on my hands, done by this amazing artist for my brother-in-law’s marriage). The strange thing was that many people ended up with orange hair. I was awestruck by the view of venerable men and women walking around in blazing orange heads. Henna started to be feared.

Until a week ago when I decided I didn’t have a choice anymore. My head was getting snowed under freakishly but I didn’t have the courage to put any chemical dye on it. So, what to do? Went to the Indian store. Bought the henna. Mixed it with vinegar, lemon juice and some black tea (as per husband + Internet instructions), waited two hours, put it on, waited two hours, washed it off and voila, beautiful hair on my head again. The white is covered and the rest took a nice reddish tinge, which suddenly seems nothing less than adorable. It is beautiful. My hair smells of tea not of ammonia. What a wonder! My scalp is not abused by long-named chemicals with unknown effects on the human body. I immediately felt that this is how things are supposed to be. I also remembered that in my own culture people use the walnut tree leaves or nut husks to obtain a similar dye effect. To help cover the gray hair, you can add vinegar or brewed black coffee. To boost red shades, mix in rhubarb or hibiscus based tea. Black tea, chamomile tea and lemon add blonde highlights to the hennaed hair.

There are options for each type of hair. There are ways to embrace nature and ancient knowledge. Why do we choose the chemicals? Why do we believe they are better, more convenient, safe? Why do we pay so much money for them, when all they do is harm our bodies? Because they tell us, I guess. I believed. But not anymore.

Ever since I started to green our living, I realized that many of the so-called modern conveniences, are not all that much more convenient than the traditional ways. Washing dishes by hand doesn’t take much more time and effort than rinsing every dish, loading and unloading the dishwasher. Not to mention the water and energy savings. Not to mention the calming effect it can have, the slowing down of our daily paces, daily stresses. Drying laundry on the line is not difficult at all (until you learn to take them inside with the first signs of rain). Cooking everything for scratch, a study showed, doesn’t really take much more time than using unhealthy shortcuts. Even when it is more inconvenient and time consuming, the traditional has spiritual benefits that defeat any comparison. So what should we choose? I am all for henna.

An altar or more

We don’t have altars in our homes, back in Romania, as Orthodox Christians. We have icons hanging on walls. We pray to them. The altars are only in churches. Hindus, on the other hand, have altars everywhere. My mother-in-law has an altar in the kitchen, in Mumbai. Beautiful, colorful, awe-inspiring. My mother-in-law gave me all the ingredients for a proper Hindu altar: the Gods (Ganesha and Lakshmi), the agarbatti stand (incense burner), a lota (small water jug), a jeweled vessel with kumkum (red powder that is applied on forehead for blessing) and diya (a type of oil lamp).

We set it up when we moved to our new house, for a short ceremony of blessing and space clearing. And it stayed in our kitchen since then. In time, I added a beautiful icon that I have from my grandmother.

We are not very religious. I would say that we are, however, profoundly spiritual. We embrace the sacred in our space, especially in the form transmitted from our ancestors, in India and Romania. But not only. My husband has always found himself attracted to Zen Buddhism, mainly because of its simplicity. The altar in our meditation space looks more Buddhist than anything else.

I am more reluctant regarding all the religions. I have grown a painful skepticism toward all that is church and priesthood. What I prefer to do is pick and choose and give shape to my own belief-system. I love Jesus. I always have. I believe in him and feel his energy around and inside us. I believe in reincarnation and karma. I believe in a spirit world where all the souls roam free. I have started believing in dark forces that can mean harm.

I believe we are surrounded by unseen world of “energies” that interfere with our existence without our knowledge. I believe that we can improve, we can become more sensitive to the “unseen” and that would do a world of good. I believe we need the communication.

I hope my mother doesn’t get to read this, but ever since I moved away from home, I stopped caring about the sanctity of Sunday. On Sundays, people from my religion, are supposed to rest, as God rested on the seventh day. Other than cooking, no work is acceptable. I used to pretend to forget whenever I had some important, urgent, no other time-proper work. I used to tell myself that God doesn’t stumble on such small things as some work on a Sunday. I had to grow, time had to pass, for me to realize that Sunday is not a church imposed holiday, but a sacred ancient time when people not only get to rest their bodies but give themselves time to return to themselves, to meditate, to stop their existence in the busy world and turn toward the spiritual one, attend church maybe, pray, meet with the family, gain perspective. I don’t think we would ever stop otherwise. There is always something urgent to be done.

The sacred, the rituals, save us. I wished I had understood earlier. I guess I am becoming old now. I have always noticed that most people, as they grow in age, turn toward religion more and more. Young, mindless spirit I was, I thought it was the fear of death approaching making them try to mend the relationship with God, to get a sweeter deal. Now I know the obvious truth. As we get older, we simply start to understand.

As I write this, I realize how rebellious I have been. I would have never thought that about myself, because my greatest strides have been directed at conforming to the rules and standards and morals and values of my family and my society. I never liked it, I many times felt alienated but I did it nonetheless. Apparently, I was holding on some deep and strong and different personal beliefs when nobody was confronting me. Sneaky.

I now welcome into my life the sacred in forms I didn’t recognize before. I can accept that there are spiritual traditions that might not make a lot of sense to me now, but that nevertheless have a power that I should not fight, but surrender to. There are certain rituals that we need grab onto, as we climb. They are for our support and have done a good job for millennia. They have been my ancestors’. They will be  mine.

I want to tell my mother that I am sorry. I want to show my grandmother that I remember everything she taught me, all the prayers. I am sorry I didn’t go to kiss the priest’s hand and cross on Christmas. I should have done it for you.

I want to tell them that I am holding my icons on the east walls and I make a cross sign on the pillow my daughter sleeps on every night.

This heaven-blue icon from my parents lives in my baby’s bedroom. It’s my sacred.

THE GARDEN AT THE HEART OF ME

Corn flowers in the potWe do gardening with a joy we never felt for other work before. It seems weird at times. I come from a family of gardeners and farmers but my husband never touched a seed before this year. His family has a lot of land around their house in India, but they never planted anything on it, which is amazing to me.

I was born in a small village in Romania. My father’s home place. Which is just 5 kilometers away from the village where my mom was born. All my grandparents made their living from the land. Their children, during communism, where encouraged to move into the cities though, go for high education, remove themselves from the immediacy of the soil. They did it. They lived in cement boxed-apartments and worked in offices. Now they are retiring and they can finally touch their dream – go back home, go back to the village and its gardens, live outside, in nature, as human beings are supposed to, not cooped up in tall buildings surrounded on all sides by cement, pavement, grey instead of brown and green. And they are finally happy.

Although born in the same village as my father, I lived in a town all my life. In an apartment. I spent my summers with my grandparents but I used to miss badly the cinemas, friends and pastry shops. I was not happy of my heritage, of not being born among oil paintings on walls, and silver candle sticks on antique biedermeier tables. I would spend all my time reading indoors, unable to appreciate, as my parents do, the life in the middle of fertile soil. Too dirty for me. Still, I always ate grapes from our vineyards, tomatoes and cucumbers from our vegetable gardens, corn from our corn-fields, apricots, apples, pears and prunes from the trees in my grandparents’ yard. I lived in their vicinity but not in their midst.

This year I planted my first tomatoes. I learned this year that tomatoes are annual plants. I could have sworn they were perennials and there is no need to plant them each year. How disconnected have I been?

I love to read and write. But I need my garden too. I need to know I am a part of this thing that is most beautiful than any human creation. This thing that breeds beauty as it grows. I still need books to survive. But I know how blessed I am to have been a child of the fields. To have had my grandparents’ yards and gardens to play  during all my childhood summers. I value my heritage and I am grateful.

I had to weight it – what makes me pick up a book and become lost in it? The need to evade my reality. What makes me get out of the house, sit on the grass and pick at my small veggie garden? A deeper need to dive into existence open-eyed, and fully aware.

So many aspects of my life have changed lately, but I would say the most radical change is my view of culture vs. nature. It’s no longer just books, paintings, theatre, music, architecture for me. It is no longer about the genius of men. Now I see the genius behind it all. And sometimes I think it sleeps in my garden, on certain moon-lit nights, or when it rains heavily and the tree branches touch our roof. Or sometimes when I kneel in the grass and pull weeds from the vegetable garden. That is how meditation was born. The meditation of working people. Of the ones who create.