Circle Time

Mama, I’m making a call. I need space.

This past week, our family has finally initiated something I’ve been thinking on since Fern was born. A morning circle time, taking place just after getting up, but not before coffee. Caffeine and hot winks in hand, we nestle down in our sunroom and begin to invoke the day with a smudge. Already Fern is stating her preference each morning for “Shagebush” or “Palu Santa“. She enjoys watching the thin smoke curl upwards, and I enjoy reminding us of the sacredness of all things.

Another sweet parcel came in the mail from generous and magical Elizabeth, with the most wonderful hand-me downs for Fern (and Mama too).

We each take turns, speaking first of awareness…what we carry into that moment. Not the context (I’m worried about work today) but simpler…”I feel worry. It’s in my stomach, twirling. I’m noticing my back pain. I’m aware of the sun on my face. I desire to stretch out like a cat.”. Each days awareness varies greatly. Yesterday Fern said she was noticing the song “Jingle Bells” in her head. This morning she said, “I notice you.”. Much also stays the same…the body stiffness, the patterns of mind, and also the appreciation, the love.


We continue to circle, next reaching into our dreams and hearts for our intention of the day. Again, the tapestry is often different, but the weave is the same. To stay connected to my own vulnerability, and bravery. To practice patience and kindness. Towards self and other. To stay awake. To come back, over and over, as much as possible. Some days are fancy, some are simple, always with a little bit of stretch and reach, always towards love.

We end with a random excerpt from a book, the book choice shifting according to our own dance of inspiration. Right now we are using the one on Dhammapada teachings (that you sent, Elizabeth!). If we have lit a candle, Fern blows it out with enthusiasm and Ffwwaaa, we are on our way.

Fourth of July treats.

We stayed home on the Fourth, basking in the comforts of home and grilled pineapple. Kerri, and her partner Rick, joined us for the evening. We cooked, we drank (Kerri introduced me to the delights of Old Speckled Hen) we watched the muppet show and when the fireworks began, we stood outside on the back steps, peering over the city. Close by the neighborhood celebrated with bright bursts of enthusiastic contraband, and off in the distance the city funded explosions lit up the fog. Fern chuckled her raspy Elmer Fudd-ish laugh at each “Bang!” and ended by regaling us with her new song…A, B, C, D, E, F, ShIREWORKS!, H, I, J, K, ShIREWORKS!, Q, R, S, T, U, ShIREWORKS!

Who needs fireworks when this pretty lady is around?

Although the initial plum enthusiasm has worn off, we are nowhere close to being done with stonefruit season. The two plum trees in the garden next door are still reaching perfection. On Friday I was reaching over our back fence when I heard a voice from the plots below. I peeked my sleepy morning face over the top to see Gabriel with an impish smile. The plums are ripe! They need to be picked! Let’s have a picking party!

So we did.


This many times 20.

All the plums around our house are clingpit, which means exactly what it sounds like. The fruit does not come off the stone easily, and at least a quarter of each plum stuck loyally to its seed. Still, we had so much that I was able to make 10 jars of jam.

Lower Haight Plum Jam, 2012

Wash and quarter your plums. Cut them directly into your measuring cup. Place in a large and deep cooking pot.

For each cup of plum fruit, add one cup of sugar. (In each past year, I have used something “healthy” like sucanat or rapadura. The jam comes out fine, but the cooking time has been quite long. This year all I had on hand was plain ol’ C & H white sugar. Guess what? The jam came out beautifully and had a shorter cooking time. So don’t feel bad if you choose to go the traditional route. You just might have an easier time of it.)

Put a little plate in the freezer.

Simmer the plums and sugar. Simmer. Simmer. Simmer.

Feel free to get creative with your spices. I added cinnamon and two tahitian vanilla pods. I don’t know what amount of cinnamon. Start with a teaspoon and work your way up!

Don’t let it boil over!

Simmer. Simmer.

After an hour or so, begin testing your jam by placing a few drops on your frozen plate. When it cools, if it has a jammy consistency (doesn’t slide or drip) then it is done.

While your jam is cooking, sterilize your canning jars. Pour the piping hot jam in, place the lids, and wait for that satisfying Pop! You can also make biscuits while the jam is jamming, so you can do an immediate taste test.

On a recent visit to the public library, I picked up some Annie Dillard I hadn’t read yet, For the Time Being. I also picked up some T.T. Williams Finding Beauty in a Broken World. I’m enjoying Finding Beauty, but it has been tossed aside since I cracked the spine of Dillard. It has that spark of synchronicity that I love and crave in a good book…how is it that this book is speaking to everything I have been thinking about as of late? In one day I got halfway through.

So. Many. Plums.

I think I know what she is getting at, and I am at once thrilled and terrified. Growing older, re-visioning faith and belief, conversing with the god in everything and embracing the idea that this may be the only dance we dance.

Brilliant and momentary. These poppies last for a day and are gone the next.

I spoke a few posts back about my mid-life reckoning. Yup, still happening. Like Dillard’s book, it too is thrilling and terrifying. Thrilling because I am discovering a new place of wakefulness, my head popping above the waters of my life so far. Terrifying because I suddenly have an acute sense of purpose and preciousness, and I realize how much of my life has already gone by.

I love zinnias, because even though they are modest and kind-of raggedy, they morph into a new self everyday. The petals unfold in layers, and the flower it was yesterday is not the one it will be today. And yet it is.

I have been going through some deep healing lately, in regards to that Great Ball of Fire in my stomach. If you’ve been with me for a while (I notice I’ve been saying that a lot lately on here) then you may remember that I have been cultivating my relationship with what I have spent my life trying to push aside. If you remove the poetic explanations, it can best be described as anxiety. Or fear. And it is always in my stomach and it has always ruled my life.

Potatoes like the glamour.

The sensation isn’t going away at all. Rather, I’m moving closer to it. Like Frodo walking through Mordor towards the great eye. But it is not my enemy. Instead, my friendliness towards it is increasing. As this happens, my life becomes less fractured. My self becomes less fragmented. I am staying home in my body more and more. And I am looking back on my life and my childhood and feeling sorrow for the child that needed help, for the young woman who was so lost. Then, the acuteness of now…to live differently, to live more. To LIVE.

It is not late? A late time to be living? Are not our generations the crucial ones? For we have changed the world. Are not our heightened times the important ones? For we have nuclear bombs. are we not especially significant because our century is?–our century and its unique Holocaust, its refugee populations, its serial totalitarian extermination; our century and its antibiotics, silicon chips, men on the moon and spliced genes? No, we are not and it is not. These times of ours are ordinary times, a slice of life like any other. Who can bear to hear this, or who will consider it? Though perhaps we are the last generation–now there’s a comfort. Take the bomb threat away and what are we? Ordinary beads on a never-ending string. Our time is a routine twist of an improbable yarn. A. Dillard, For the Time Being.

Our morning circle time doesn’t make our life ideal or bucolic. Actually, it has stirred the pot, been disruptive, brought up discomfort and disagreements. But it also supports that crucial wakefulness, and our lives and relationships with each other feel more true.

May the time being feel like eternity,


7 thoughts on “Circle Time

  1. Hi Mary
    I have been checking in lots, hoping the second package arrived, I had envisaged them coming together. Its so lovely to see these oh so familiar things on Fern. Its an even lovelier connection, and me and maddy will smile from ear to ear seeing these. I only wish I had sent something for the boys, It suddenly seems they were quite left out.

    I feel so keenly what you are expressing here, and as usual you do it eloquently and with such depth. I would love to read more of what you are reading.
    It does feel as if we are on the edge of a great newness or a passing over, an end even. All transitions are dramatic, that much I know!!!!! Your concerns and anxieties interspersed with these amazing pictures of Fern , bring home beyond belief to me and my own heart, about how it is to be mother navigating the outer world as it is in its glory and madness, chaos and peace, and at the same time, having some understanding and inclination towards healing the inner world too. Knowing there is a path, a reason for experience. I empathize with the challenge, with awareness comes responsibility.
    You describe what is turing about in my heart sometimes before I even realize it myself.
    xx E

  2. Mary, I love how you consistently seem to express what I’m feeling. We’re very close in age, so maybe that has something to do with it. I’ve been asking the Universe many of the same questions and also tryingtryingtrying to keep coming back to right here right now, every time I think of it. It’s so easy to become distracted, though! You have such a gift for writing and expressing these things, so coming here to read helps a lot, makes me go, “Oh YEAH, I was trying to do that!” And then I try again. It strikes me as incredibly brave to embrace and befriend your anxiety… and the thought doing so also makes me incredibly uncomfortable. So thanks for giving me something else to ponder.

    And yay for the plum jam recipe! My plums are tiny little things, but there’s a bazillion of them and I’m sure this recipe will work for them, too.

    Also, I don’t know if I’ve said so, but Fern is so beautiful. She seems like an amazing little person. Her pictures make me miss my boy at that age… so full of wonder at the world and enthusiastic about everything. He’s going on 15 now and knows everything, and is waaaay too cool to care, haha. He’s still pretty neat, though. 🙂

  3. omg i would punch everyone in the face if i had a morning circle. mama needs coffee first. our morning circle takes place around the tv with all our sesame street friends as i clutch my coffee like a life preserver and will the caffiene to START WORKING ALREADY as my children fire off their breakfast orders to me and tell me what strange wild animal they want for christmas. we’ll call it my Mindful Parenting Fail Circle.

  4. aha! Happy to meet Gabriel’s face around these parts again. I liked what you said about feeling for the young girl lost (that was you) – I had a similar epiphany some time ago. It helped me stopped hating my young self and to feel empathy for all that she was…alone, without guidance, naive. In effect I forgave myself….i think. It resolves the chapter and yet now i can still flick through and look every now and then, but with compassion instead of shame and then the book can be closed again. Is it hard rising up to greet your anxiety? Dumb question.I feel like that could be helpful to me, but I am not so mindful. Fern looks adorable in her new to her get-up. Lovely Elizabeth! i must go now. children await impatiently. xoxo

  5. i love your reading choices! i tried to start For the Time Being but couldn’t get into it yet; it remains on my pile of VERY SOON to read. you’ve definitely got me piqued to pick it up again. last year, i took my time reading the TTW and found it fascinating and inspiring as all her words are for me. i love that both you and milla’s blogs today inspired me and my own musings just as my own favorite writers do 🙂 thank you for this glimpse into your own journey, for vicarious plums and spunky neighbors, adorable children in beautiful clothing, and the waves and wonderments of circle time, family, mamahood and womanhood that you always face and enter with such grace.

  6. Mary,
    I have been reading for a while now, it seems. Long enough to know about that “great ball of fire”. I’ve read with a knowing of some sort. “I’ve been through that” or “I’ve struggled with anxiety.” Always thinking of it as in the past, something I left behind when I stopped working in clinics and holding others’ trauma. But my epiphany comes only recently, that those things I like to blame my own current ball of fire on, the stresses of motherhood or living in this workaday culture or being a frustrated artist with no time to paint, may have validity, but they are only a part of the anxiety I’ve lived with my whole life. Dammit. So I guess we peel another layer off the onion. Behold, the little shit demon is still there. I step tentatively toward looking at this, shocked that I could so easily have shoved it out of my awareness, hoping what tools I’ve acquired will help me. How I wish to be free of it. Your post is timely, again. And I appreciate you sharing, so bravely, your experience for us all to read.

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