In Gratitude

“They both seemed to understand that describing it was beyond their powers, the gratitude that spreads through your body when a burden gets lifted, and the sense of homecoming that follows when you suddenly remember what it feels like to be yourself.” – Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers

The last two yrs+ have had so many ups and so many downs, that if I think too hard about it, my head spins. And today, sitting in the coziness of my little home, listening to the conversations of my not-so-little kids, I feel such immense gratitude for the lessons learned and the absolute good fortune of my complicated, messy, joyous life. I am surrounded by such good people – friends, neighbors, family, even the occasional stranger! When my light dims, these people lend me their spark; when I cannot get up, these people lend me their strength; when I am without words, these people lend me their voices. So thank you.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 

 

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Ninety-one Days

Today, I ran. More clumsy and slower than ever before, no great distance covered, but it doesn’t matter. After ninety-one days, I ran. Again.

It’s been ninety-one days since going to bed one evening, only to awake hours later in the worst pain I have ever endured. Ninety-one days of frustration, fear, anger, and doubt jostling for dominance in my mind. Ninety-one days of watching an entire season come and go from my bedroom window. Ninety-one days of finding humility, learning patience and holding on to hope. Ninety-one days of crawling, then limping, then walking. Ninety-one days of being alone in my own head.

Ninety-one days where I closed the final chapter of one life and started another. And here I am, stepping into it – eyes, arms, and heart wide open.cropped-blogpost_april2017.jpg

How To Be a Knife Ninja

Ever so often, I get to pretend to be a real writer. Local Banquet, a wonderful (and free!) publication focusing on food and agricultural issues in Vermont, is published quarterly – aligning with the seasons.

For this year’s summer issue, I wrote a small piece about the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link’s food and cooking program, Everyday Chef. I truly enjoyed my time as the EC coordinator – connecting with people from all walks of life. I often walked away learning a lot more than I taught.

Here is an excerpt and here is a link to the entire article.

How To Be a Knife Ninja

by Elena Gustavson, May 15, 2017

“How many here are knife ninjas?” After a pause, two or three hands creep up in the small crowd of flannel- and Carhart-clad students. This group from Green Mountain College is a bit shy, but definitely interested. “Great! How about you?” I smile encouragingly to the young woman with the knitted hat and big smile who raised her hand first. “Come on up here and show us how to straighten a blade on this steel.”

She laughs and shakes her head, but walks to the front of her fellow students and takes the knife and honing steel, a ribbed, elongated rod used to realign the edges of a knife blade, from my hands. Under the watchful gazes of the other students seated in metal folding chairs in the assembly room of a local church, she glides the cutting edge of the chef’s knife across the steel a few times and laughs again. “I know I’m doing this wrong!” before moving to hand it back to me. I tell her to keep it, and picking up another knife and honing steel on the table, I demonstrate for her how I hold the edge of my knife at an angle to the steel.

Together we straighten our blades for the audience, working out the technique while we chat about our favorite celebrity chefs (“Anthony Bourdain and Jaime Oliver”) and our favorite breakfast foods (eggs with avocado for me, pancakes and maple syrup for her). We finish and with eight more knives lined up in front of us, I look back to the crowd and say, “Who’s next?” To my delight, several hands shoot up.

READ the rest of the article here.

Standing Still

blogpost_april2017

I run. I don’t run with elegance, but dammit, I do run.

At the age of 17, filled with strength and an unrelenting desire to make a dollar, I pulled a muscle in my lower back carrying a big tray with too many laden dishes. I shrugged it off. In the years since, I have battled back pain through youth, pregnancy, raising children, digging dirt, weight gained and weight lost. I found relief through exercise, eating nutritious food and managing my stress. Then two weeks ago, the familiar pain that starts from above my left buttock, traveled down the back of my left leg, behind my knee and to the midpoint of my calf, made itself known.

And for the last two weeks, I nursed my back – walked, iced, heated, stretched and massaged – but have been unable to find relief from the constant, persistent ache. Two weeks ago, I was maximizing my miles on the road, adding speed and distance with the intent of hitting a 10k by summer’s start and a half marathon by summer’s end. Two weeks ago, all I could see was moving forward to hit a goal. Two weeks ago, my world was where it should be.

Last August, I took a job. A big job. One that challenges my wits, tests my patience and pushes the limits of my endurance. My physical fitness has taken a back seat to reports, staff meetings and staff management, late night emails, and early morning cash flow projections. Sleep eludes me. Again. Stress has become a constant companion. Stress likes to worm itself into my back and erupt with heat and pain.

Did I mention that I love my job? Well, I should mention that I love my job. The challenge, the daily change, and the hope that my day to day is making a difference for someone, somewhere. I’ve never been one to do things the easy way. Kind of like my love life, but that is a story for another day.

So for the last year, life has been moving in a forward motion, even if that motion has been stressful and chaotic. My favorite kind of motion to be honest. And running all winter in order to maintain fitness had finally given way to ramping up my miles, my strength and my speed. I felt like I could do anything.

Two weeks ago, I went from adding miles to outright stopping. I have tried, but not succeeded, to find relief from the constant ache that shoots through the left side of my body. I put running aside for long walks. It’s not the same.

Then yesterday, unable to resist the warm afternoon and the sun on my skin, I set out for a run. Not a tempo run, where I sped along at race pace, pushing my limits for the duration of my workout. Not a speed or interval run either, where I pull myself through short spurts of speed, pounding the trails with strength and rhythm. No, I set out on a slow, plodding, graceless run, feeling the weight in my legs and pain in my back, shoulders hunched and chin tucked. I ran with intention. Willing away pain, tucking in my core, seeking out the flats.  It sucked.

But in spite of myself and wallow in self-pity, I relaxed and found my mind pulled out to the birds singing, the whistle of wind in the trees and the sound of people talking as I lumbered past. My shoulders sank away from my ears, my chin lifted and although the weight in my legs still felt cumbersome, I found myself grateful that I could move my body through space, even if that space had felt more welcome in days past. I reveled in the sun.

So, I ran. I didn’t run well and I didn’t run fast, but I did run. And as I ran, I sought out peace. Peace with standing still instead of moving forward. Peace with taking a step back when I desperately wanted to take a step forward. Peace with my fears of aging, illness and my place in life. Peace with the choices I’ve made. Peace with running for the sake of running.

And that was enough.

 

Counting on change

And it’s spring!

My restaurant, DownStreet Eats in Cabot, served its last meal in January. As good a decision to close it as it was to open it. Maybe I’ll write about it, but for now, onward.

After a few months of consulting, cooking and farming, I ALSO get to work with the good folks at Rutland Farm and Food Link as their Everyday Chef coordinator. I am pleased and honored to be a part of their team.

And another year passes

I am lucky. I got to grow up with a wonderfully awesome group of people that I get to call family. One of those wonderfully awesome people was my Grandma Eleanor. She was never one to let age get in the way of living, even if it meant conquering something called “email” in order to keep in touch her with her beloved grandchildren, who were quickly growing up and moving away.

So, although we chatted on the phone sometimes, mostly Grandma and I wrote emails to each other. Quick missives or longer stories, but writing nonetheless and it was good. It was all before Facebook was an actual thing and G’ma kept me (and I think everyone else) up to date with what my cousins, uncles and aunts were doing along with bits of news about old neighbors, new friends and her very busy social calendar. Sometimes she wrote just to say “I love you”.

And then, Grandma died. And although time has passed and the sharp pain of grief is dulled, there are days that I just plain miss her.

As another year passes and we usher in a new one, inevitably I type her name into my inbox search bar and read the emails we wrote to each other. They always make me smile.

Here is the one I received one year after our cousin Thuy put together a book of memories for Grandma that she had gathered from the rest of us. I was spending another Christmas on the east coast, feeling homesick for family, Trivial Pursuit in the sunroom, my aunt Lan’s eggrolls and poking around the tree to peek in stockings while the palm trees outside waved in the wind.

Eleanor Gustavson <gramgus@pacbell.net> wrote:

Dear Elena,

Your name came up a number of times on Christmas and we wished you were with us.  l planned to call but the day got away from me.  I think Peggy took your stockings to send you.  The book Thuy put together was my very most favorite gift — even though I got a new computer and several other lovely gifts.  I cried when I read the letters and cried again today when I read them again.  They are so special and make me look like a “superwoman” – which I’m not – but the loving thoughts are very special to me.  And I shall always cherish them.
    Pam was the last one here and she left this morning.  All in all it was a very special Christmas and I’m sorry you couldn’t join us.  But maybe next time.
    Thanks again for the lovely tribute.
    My love, G’ma

Good Dog(s)

Yesterday, after months of contemplation and conversation, we adopted a dog. Maximillion Snaggletooth Bonsai.  Or Max, for short. As you can imagine, it was a group decision; his name that is, decided mostly by my 10 year old daughter.

Adopting a dog isn’t a quick and easy choice to make and there are always many things to consider, including the impact on other pets, family members and life, but I have missed the companionship of a dog and when an opportunity came up to provide for one in need, I said yes.

It’s been almost two years since my dog Chuck passed on to the great hunting grounds beyond where, I hope, pastured cows and house flies are plentiful and slow as to allow my old friend plenty of entertainment in the afterlife. Chuck was a good dog, maybe not obedient, but a good dog and very loved.

He was a good teacher too. An outgoing and friendly little thing, Chuck forced me to acknowledge and gracefully reach out to others whenever he stole an unattended sandwich or licked the sticky face of a toddler or fetched a ball over and over and over. He was almost pretty, with a blond coat of long hair and large brown eyes peeking out from under a fringe, causing strangers to stop me in my tracks and ask me about his “pedigree” (none). He taught me courage, alerting us to strangers at the door and once even charging a man who was threatening me in the streets of Oakland many years ago. He taught me patience, while he found JUST the right spot with his nose or waited quietly, head lying between his paws, while I puttered around before his walk. Mostly though, he taught me about forgiveness and trust. No matter what I did, how cranky or enthusiastic, sad or happy, quiet or loud, lazy or busy. No matter where I was in my life, good or bad, he trusted me and when I messed up, he forgave me.

Chuck was a special dog, as much for his fun loving, charming and sweet nature, as to what he represented. The old guy saw me through college, courtship, marriage, pregnancy, parenthood, divorce and an assortment of big and small life events that ranged from pivotal to mundane, all the while, asking for little and giving more than he ever knew.He ushered me into and through almost 20 years of adulthood while giving companionship and love to three babies that eventually grew into full blown humans that loved him right back. The bond was strong and he is a hard act to follow.

This afternoon, I am watching Max nap, curled up on the rug, by the front door. He is a small dog with an under bite and silky black and white coat. Although I don’t know the details of his previous living situation, we do know the last five years could have been better. A lot better. Albeit a little hand shy (he flinches and curls away when our hands or feet move unexpectedly), Max is sweet, curious and eager to please. It’s been a joy to watch the kids befriend him, lavish attention and build his trust these last 24 hours. I’m looking forward to getting to know this little guy, teach him the ways of our family and bring him into the fold.

And I think Chuck would be proud. He taught us well.