40 Days: Restoration

True learning is remembering.


Painting by Amy Judd.

There is a story that is told to demonstrate the abstract idea of wabi sabi to Westerners like myself who have the most tentative of grasps of the abstract concept.  Wabi sabi is finding beauty in nature, which I understand.  Wabi sabi is also finding beauty in age and use and imperfection and transience, which overturns everything I’ve ever had written into my mind by the culture that grew me.  The story goes like this:  there is a clay, handmade bowl that is a part of a person’s daily ritual of life.  The bowl breaks.  The person doesn’t throw the bowl away.  Instead, the person uses molten gold to mend the crack, and the bowl becomes even more beautiful in the eyes of person than it ever was before.


Microscopic section of one year old ash wood by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, 1632-1723.


Restoration is my favorite week of the 40 days, and not just because I’ve never made it this far before.  Restoration is my favorite because it is wabi sabi, it is the idea of taking something old and used and caring for it, not in spite of the use, but because of the use.  Restoration is to burnish and care for an old thing.  Something like a wooden floor, or painted dome ceiling, or a brick smokehouse, or yourself.

Photo by Sophie Munns. Recycled metal sculpture by Julie Tremblay.

Restoration allows us to see past the limitations of time.  Instead of being limited by a thing in the time frame of the present, restoration allows for a person to imagine all the layers of time and all the faces of the thing that have existed to make up the thing as it is today.  Restoration gives another dimension to reality because restoration acknowledges that the past played a role in the present.


“The past is never dead.  It isn’t even past.”

-good, old William Faulkner


The restoration of Aya Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

I remembered something from my own past that I’m pretty sure led to this whole blog, writing about food in literature thing in myself.  It was this book, The Secret Garden Cookbook by Amy Cotler.  Reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel in middle school was formative enough, but creating the Victorian English recipes brought the book and the historical setting alive in a way that apparently changed me forever.

Flowers opening timelapse from David de los Santos Gil on Vimeo.

It must have been my junior or senior year of high school, circa 2002 or so, because I made the meal from this cookbook for my sister, my mom, and my future stepfather.  So it was after my mom kicked my dad out of the house and before I moved away to college.  I made the garden peas and fresh mint and the “sausage cakes” with fresh sage.  Surely, this meal was one of my very first experiences cooking with fresh herbs of any kind.  I also made the tattie broth.  The recipe called for butter or bacon grease to saute the onions in, and I remember using both, despite intense trepidation that accompanied walking off the path of the recipe instructions.  And I remember my warm satisfaction when I tasted richness of the tattie broth.

40 Days: Equanimity

“To bear all naked truths,

And to envisage all circumstances, all calm,

That is the top of sovereignty.”

-John Keats, “Hyperion”

When I started teaching in an inner Houston city school, I suddenly needed large amounts of a different kind of strength.  I needed to be able to hear a student call me puta and tell me to chinga mi madre and not allow my reaction to be influenced by the anger and whatever other emotions came rising up.  I watched a custodian wipe the blood of two 6th graders off my floor with a mop, I listened as a student explained how a knife held by someone else’s hand left the scab on his neck, and I decoded gang symbols that a student had carved on his own arm in the back of my classroom.

Perspective and equanimity. A linocut by Evelyne Bouchard.

From the beginning, I’ve always been into yoga for the equanimity.  Yoga redefined strength for me.  Before, I thought strength meant being able to lift heavy things, and the strongest person was the person who could lift the heaviest things. Yelling the loudest in a classroom solves nothing.  It was through practicing yoga and teaching broken children from broken homes in a broken system that I began to understand strength as the ability to stay still for a long period of time. To stay still in a challenging yoga pose despite how much your muscles are shaking, or to stay still in a classroom when a student tells you to go fuck yourself.

A conversation with a cardiologist over Christmas break gave me a new physiological framework for this kind of strength.  He confirmed that no, yoga isn’t a cardio exercise, so it doesn’t strengthen your heart by raising your heart rate.  However, practicing yoga can increase a person’s heart rate variability.

Heart rate variability measures how quickly your heart rate can change in reaction to your environment.  Heart rates go up in response to stressors in the environment, and then they go back down again when the body understands that all is well.  In other words, if a person has high heart rate variability, and her heart rate goes up when a student threatens to shit in the skull of another student, she can quickly react from a place of logic and calm instead of anger and stress.

“If you want inner peace find it in solitude, not speed, and if you would find yourself, look to the land from which you and to which you go.”

-Stewart L. Udall, The Quiet Crisis

Comfort food is surely the food of equanimity. I believe that comfort food is forged early in a person’s life, and the food that comforts a person is sort of like a unique fingerprint that our early experiences make on us.

List of My Comfort Foods:

  1.  Grapefruit with salt
  2. Chicken and dumplings
  3. Chocolate chip cookies
  4. Homemade bread
  5. Highly sweetened fresh mint tea
  6. Curried chicken salad sandwiches
  7. Country ham and grits and red-eye gravy
  8. Soft-boiled eggs and toast
  9. Eggs Benedict
  10. Pasta with butter and dill
  11. Tattie broth
  12. Oranges
  13. Citrus of any kind, really
  14. Biscuits and tomatoes and sausage gravy
  15. Pasta salad, especially with Israeli couscous
  16. Rosemary and goat cheese
  17. Dark chocolate