Five Ways to Work Your Way Out of a Muddle

    You may have noticed (or been relieved) that I’ve stepped aside from blogging, in part to promote The Bee Cottage Story, which is pretty consuming. But also because I’m confused about what to do next. What to say? Where to focus? Who to become? WTF? Do you ever get like that?

All wisdom begins with confusion, a wise friend told me, as I blathered on about how confused I was. I felt myself, alas, to be in a muddle.* Not so much a muddle of my making as one that I simply found myself in. Like I got all ready for a nice trip, knew where I was going, and then pfffwerrt, I got a flat tire in Muddle. And here I am.

Late afternoon in the vineyard, Rancho la Zaca

Late afternoon in the vineyard, Rancho la Zaca

It happens. Once a major objective has been attained (you finally landed that job in marketing, yay!), or a big project been achieved (you chaired the silent auction, bless your heart), then what? God knows there is plenty to keep us busy, but what is to keep us focused and inspired?

     “Don’t look for the answer,” Wise Friend said, “just live in the question.” Ugh. Not what I wanted to hear. She continued, “We forget that we are organic creatures that shift and change by necessity.” Other creatures, caterpillars for example–change dramatically and think nothing of it. A caterpillar does not go, Hey WTF? Is being a butterfly going to fulfill my purpose in life? What about medical school? Should I join the knitting team? The difference between the caterpillar and us is that we are conscious of our states of being (or changing) in ways that can lead us to question or judge it.

     “Just be,” Wise Friend said. You’re stealing my line, I said. I wrote a whole chapter on that in my book, for bee’s sake. It’s part of the reason I named my house Bee Cottage. She was unimpressed. “We all need to understand this is one of the processes of a healthy life. Try stopping a caterpillar from becoming a butterfly. You can’t, anymore than we ourselves can keep from changing.” Yes but the caterpillar

     Another translation of the Buddhist saying is, “Confusion is the mother of wisdom.” As Buddhists believe the source of suffering is attachment, it would follow that our attachment to the confusion, mentally grabbing at it and trying to sort it out, just makes things worse.

     But. At the risk of being pathetically UZ (un-Zen), “just being” feels to me perilously close to “unproductive,” in which case I want to stab myself. I don’t mind not having a plan for dinner (well, I do a little), but I mind like crazy not having a plan for, you know, life. So while I am stuck in Muddle, without a plan, I have indeed come up with a meantime-plan:

  1. 1. Live in the question. “Imagine yourself not in the concrete place of decision-making,” says Wise Friend, “but in the wonderful, fertile place of what-if.” Accept this as a time of seeing and sorting. Poet and writer Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advised, “to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.” 
  1. 2. Notice everything. Pay attention to your dreams. Listen to your intuition. If you believe in divine guidance, angels, or signs, pay attention. Know that your subconscious partly determines what draws your attention. You know instinctively what feels right for you and what doesn’t.
  1. 3. Keep a journal. Write in it every morning or night. No pressure or judgment. It doesn’t have to be long or sound pretty. Just jot down what you notice–thoughts, feelings, ideas, and what-ifs, whatever bubbles up. Look back over it occasionally for themes and patterns that emerge. These will give you insight into your next direction.
  1. 4. Be patient, and let your answer come. To paraphrase from my own The Bee Cottage Story, we are so wired in this culture to decide already! Do something! Make it happen! Now! Seriously? Is it life or death? Then hit the pause button. Sometimes not making a decision is the decision for the time being. Go with that until what is right for you appears or arises, which it will do if you’re paying attention. And don’t second-guess it. Inner or divine guidance is short, simple, clear, and non-negotiable.
  1. 5. Create a space to be. The mythologist Joseph Campbell was adamant about the importance of having “a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.” This isn’t something anyone else can tell you. You must learn to read your own compass.

*For those familiar (or not) with  The Bee Cottage Story,  and more importantly its subtitle How I Made a Muddle of Things and Decorated My way Back to Happiness, this is a different muddle 😉

Moody sunset at Rancho la Zaca

Light on the horizon at Rancho la Zaca

Posted in Humor, Insight & Inspiration | 38 comments

Hopeful New Year!

Hopeful New Year!

Greetings Dear Readers, as we gallop into 2016, I'm still catching up with '15...  Last year's Downton Abbey for one. Didn't you love the point-to-point? And how the closed captions said things like: "MAN: FASTER!" The clothes were pretty swell, too. Ah, but what a beautiful and restful time we had with His Grace's family in Wyoming... some images of which you may have seen on Instagram. This was the view from our room. I saw a lot of this view as I did not even think about going skiing. Nope. It was like a million degrees below zero every day. Fuggedaboudit. Teton Village, Jackson Hole I just came across this quote from a J.B. Priestly that sums it up: "One of the delights known to age, and beyond the grasp of youth, is that of Not Going." Amen, sister. All I wanted to do was sit by the fire and read, and be with HG and our family. And that was pretty much what I did.  Besides eat and drink. Some days we would ride into town, which was always quite cinematic. I love these shocks of orange branches defying the blue, gray, evergreen, and white.     And the mailboxes that look like cupcakes with big fat frosting. And this cupcake shaped like an old truck. More to come... 

Read More
Posted in Adventure & Travel, Blog, Humor, Insight & Inspiration | 2 comments

What Can We Do When We Feel There Is Nothing We Can Do?

What Can We Do When We Feel There Is Nothing We Can Do?

What can we do when we feel “there is nothing we can do?” When we feel helpless and afraid after what happened in Paris, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles. And that's just in the last few weeks. Here in the bustle and busy-ness of the holidays, amid the wealth and commerce that pervade our culture, we find ourselves in the wake of terror and violence. We all of us face fear, sadness, and grief, all of which are heightened during the holidays. I find myself thinking, what can I do? The table beside my "quiet chair" is graced by a bouquet from a dear friend. Our day-to-day lives are so full of family, work, and community responsibilities that there isn’t room for much else. Moreover it’s just not practical or possible for most of us to join the Marines, or work in refugee camps, or become priests, or be Bono. We must content ourselves with ourselves; unless as someone once said, we can be Batman, in which case always be Batman. Quince branches in my former New York apartment. And then I remind myself that we affect the world with every single thing we think, say, and do. What can we do? We can lend a hand right in our own little town or big city. We can lend an ear, or a shoulder. We can visit a family member who is lonely. We can run an errand for a friend whose child is sick. We can pull someone out of a ditch. We can make a stranger feel welcome. We can be kind. Sisters out for a ride at the ranch. Photo by Allison Dittmer. We can embrace beauty.  Dinner in the olive grove at Rancho la Zaca. The lovely chandelier and marble-papered ceiling in my sister's powder room. We can move with grace. A dragonfly alights on the hand of the Horticulture Society of New York's George Pisegna, in the rooftop gardens of the Waldorf Astoria, New York. We can act with integrity. We can say yes to whatever integrity means for us. And just as importantly, we can say no. "We've been through a lot together and most of it was your fault." Snapped at the Country Living magazine fair this fall and wish I could remember the artist. (If you're out there, let me know, I want to credit cute, clever you.) We can, as the line in a Christmas hymn goes, let the soul feel its worth. It goes without saying, perhaps, but we can wear elf ears. With George and Mary Jones at the Montgomery, Alabama, Curb Market a few weeks ago. We can pray of course. We can pray for peace, and we can pray for the comfort of those who are suffering. A splendid chapel in Kotor, Montenegro, where we visited this summer. We can, as God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Quan Yin, and all of 'em would have it, we can make our lives about love. And as the new Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in his installation speech, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” To which the entire National Cathedral would have shouted  AMEN if  they did that in the Episcopal  Church, which they do not. But they wanted to then. A friend's heart-shaped rock collection inspired me to start one of my own. This is hers. I love the light. We can do what brings us joy. We can play sports or play music or sing or dance or cook or read or tell a naughty joke (one of my personal favorites). A little football Thanksgiving weekend at Rancho la Zaca. Photo by friend Amy Stuart Gordon. All the joy we feel goes out into the world. We can have fun. Pure joy. Piper, the newest addition to our family. By our own examples of kindness, gratitude, integrity, grace, and joy, however great or small, we can set examples for others. We can shine a light for others. We can bring light to the world. The Pantheon in Rome, visited earlier this year. We can be a force for good. That is what we always can do. The ever inspiring drive home along Foxen Canyon Road outside Los Olivos, California.

Read More
Posted in Blog, Humor, Insight & Inspiration, Little Life Enhancers, Social Graces | 51 comments

Happy Thanksgiving Decorating and Beyond

Happy Thanksgiving from our ranch to yours. Here's a glimpse of last year, in case you'd like a little last minute inspiration. These feathered turkeys have become a staple in the entry hall. I ordered them from the Internet (no idea the source, sadly).  Thanksgiving at Rancho la Zaca This is his mate on the opposite wall. You will notice they are both Toms. We run a very open-minded-Rainbow-Coalition-type-decorating-operation over here at RLZ.  Thanksgiving at Rancho la Zaca The great room's two enormous mantles are always fun. It's like decorating two aircraft carriers.  I used a combo of pumpkins and olive, oak, and camellia foliage.  Thanksgiving at Rancho la Zaca. Butterfly painting by Hunt Slonem. I like the contrast between the olive's dusty gray and the camellia's dark shiny. I spy a little pepper tree in there, too. Thanksgiving at Rancho la Zaca The centerpiece had a foundation of moss, with a pair of pheasants (eBay), candleberry, pumpkins, and fall foliage. Thanksgiving at Rancho la Zaca Thanksgiving at Rancho la Zaca Remember the big Matisse exhibit in New York last year? Our 2014 place card was an homage to that. If you're in a pinch and need one, feel free to click on this image and print for yourself. It's not the best reproduction, and I re-touched out the year and "Rancho la Zaca" etc. You can print 8 x 11 and fold - or print smaller and use the whole thing. Like I said, in a pinch. ;) Thanksgiving at Rancho la Zaca place card Oh but Thanksgiving is not the end, oh no. We entertained the next night, too, (because I am insane) on the side porch, which can hold a few more people. The wonderful, giant, twig chandelier became the structure for a ridiculous sort of hanging centerpiece of hydrangeas and foliage. That's my darlin' daughter-in-law under there, pulling stems through the twigs, in one of my favorite flower-arranging photos of all time. Hats become her, don't you think? Thanksgiving at Rancho la Zaca This got almost as many likes on Instagram as Kim Kardashian's bottom. Thanksgiving at Rancho la Zaca Well, maybe not quite as many. Dinner party at Rancho la Zaca Have a wonderful holiday. Be sweet. Be giving. Be forgiving. Be cell-phone-free at the table.  Happy Thanksgiving, Love, me.

Read More
Posted in Decoration & Design, Entertaining, Flowers & Gardens | 16 comments

Chili Verde With Chicken and Vegetables–Great Do-Ahead for a Festive Gathering or Family at Home

Update 11/23/15 - After a bit of reader feedback, we've moderated the recipe to include a bit more liquid. But not to worry; it really is one of those recipes you cannot mess up. Here's an easy, do-ahead, un-holiday-ish dish which may be just what you're in the mood for after all those sweet potatoes.  Bonus No. 1: It's a great use for leftover turkey.  Bonus No. 2:  It's a way to get husbands and children to eat vegetables without realizing it. Just between us chilies. Bonus No. 3: Freezes beautifully, taking (at least some of) the stress out of figuring out what to make that does not involve a stick of butter, a box of brown sugar, condensed milk, or Aunt Myrtle's congealed salad mold. Does anybody still make congealed salads? Does anybody under 40 even know what they are? Stephanie Valentine's Chili Verde Serve it alone, or with warm tortillas or rice, and a salad. You can sling on a little hot sauce and call it a day, or gussie it up with salsa, sour cream, sliced jalapenos, cilantro, shredded cabbage, or grated cheese. That's more of a production, but more festive, too. Olé, baby.

Read More
Posted in Blog, Entertaining, Food & Recipes | 14 comments