Sunday, January 01, 2012

2012: As the World Ends ... and Begins Again

by Zinta Aistars

Lorena and Derek's "mirte" or Myrtle, symbol of
long life and hope in Latvian folklore
The world, some say, is supposed to end in 2012. Maybe so. The world as we know it, at least. That's the way I like to think of it, that we are leaving behind an era and are now stepping across the threshold into a new one. This one, I hope, is an era of enlightenment. That is my wish for humankind, that we will have at long last learned a few valuable lessons from our muddled and too-violent history and are now ready to try something .... different.

I'm hoping to start a new era for myself, too. And within my family, my inner circle of beloveds. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be a very special year for my daughter and Derek, as the two of them plan their wedding for later this year. It rings in the new year with a special kind of mother's joy.

My son, too, seems to have found someone special. I see a new hope rise in his eyes, and when he calls me on New Year's Eve to wish me well into 2012, he is uncharacteristically chatty. I'm not sure I can remember the last time we spent an entire hour on the phone, babbling away about future plans, with him doing most of the talking. We talk about our wishes and dreams and hopes, not our resolutions, for those often seem that proverbial road to hell that is paved with good intentions. Instead, we hold our dreams in focus and allow them to guide us in toward the place we want to be, trusting that even the difficult moments in our lives are a part of that path.

I believe 2012 will be a breakthrough year for my son, too. And why not believe that for myself, too, while I'm feeling so cheered and bright about my family's future ...

In 2011, I came across a saying that has stayed with me as I cross into this new year: "Life begins where our comfort zone ends." The author is unknown, but the sentiment, that I know. When I look back on my personal history, I can see that has always held true. What I remember most and with least regret are those times that I took risks and pushed myself beyond my comfort zone. No, those times didn't all end well. And yet, I am without regret. I dared to try, to reach, to expand my own horizons, and that in itself is always good.

Lorena and Derek at the property that could
be an answer to a long held dream
On this Sunday morning, January 1, 2012, I wake with a smile. This could be the year. This could be the year that brings me to my fondest wish, my lifelong dream, my forever pursuit ... of finding Home. About a month ago, as I sat talking about a book manuscript with a friend, an understanding began to dawn on me. There were many factors intertwined in bringing me to this moment of open eyes, but it led me to a place that I have now visited numerous times, and that I feel is now calling me. On Christmas, when Lorena, my daughter, and  her Derek came out to visit me, I brought them to see the property, too, wanting to hear their perspective. I wanted to be sure I wasn't just seeing this place with rose-tinted glasses, and wanted their objectivity. After all, it's an old house, dating back to 1930, and with that would come various challenges.

While my daughter was her usual diplomatic self with "do what makes you happy, Mama," her Derek wasn't the least bit shy. "Buy it!" he near shouted as we turned into the long drive, leading into the 10-acre property. "I'd like to come visit you here! Heck, I'd like to bring the kids here!"

I burst out laughing. Kids, yes. My future grandchildren. With the two of them making their home in the big city of Chicago, this country property with acreage that stretched to the horizon, the surrounding forest of pines, a stream-fed pond with lazy fish in it, and such deep and wonderful silence all about ... would be a retreat that rejuvenates the spirit.

Could this be it? Could this be the Home I have been seeking all my life?

This Sunday morning, I decided to make a special breakfast as I thought about the prospects of the new year ahead. I'd been wanting to try making potato latkes for a long time. A simple recipe, really, for a European comfort food that cost nearly nothing to prepare, yet surely filled one's belly with goodness. The kind of food that I imagined came off a farm. I'd been eating all organic now for at least three years, and so the potatoes I took from the bin, and the big sweet onion, were indeed from someone's farm nearby.

I grated the onion first, squinting my watering eyes as juice spritzed from the grater. Then the potatoes. One of my favorite foods, and perhaps even in my genetics, just as dark bread and cold climates and tall pines are, reminding me of my own ethnic roots in Latvia. I affectionately refer to such foods as "peasant fare," because potatoes and onions and dark bread come from the country, and  have nourished people through the ages with little expense.

I think about the acres out back of the old house I am considering and what I might grow there. I crack two eggs into my bowl, add three tablespoons of unbleached flour, a bit of salt and a bit of freshly ground pepper, then heat my cast iron pan with olive oil. A heaping spoonful onto the hot pan, I press it down flat, then let it sizzle. When the potato mixture browns at the edges, I flip it.

I put three of the hot latkes on my plate along with a couple slices of prosciutto and mozarella cheese, drop dabs of sour cream and green onion on top, pour myself a mug of steaming coffee, and sit down to my meal. Oh, these are good! They'd make a fine side dish, too, for dinner, along with a filet of wild salmon and a fresh salad ...

I think about that other kitchen as I eat. It has an antique oven, as old as the house, it seems, but Derek, who is a professional chef by training, took a close look at it and deemed it quite worthy of cooking many more meals. It fires up on both gas and, yes, wood, with an ash box below. With that and the wood-burning stove in the living room, I wouldn't have to fear a power outage. Nor a day without a hot meal.

Decisions to make. I'm not rushing into any of them. I'm letting the pathway open as it will, in whatever direction. None of these decisions come without compromise. If I have long thought about the prospects of wilderness living up north, this would be a compromise of country living instead, keeping me closer to my expanding family. That rates high with me.

Yes, this year will be an important one in my family. Pieces are falling into place. Fond dreams are taking shape. An era of one kind is ending, and a new kind of era is opening its door in invitation. My belly full of delicious potato latkes, I call my parents to wish them a happy New Year. Sustained good health, the warmth and support of love in our family as we bring in new members, and always hope for an even brighter future.

My old chow pup is waiting for a walk on this snowless winter day. That part, comfortingly, never changes. I grab my jacket and scarf, and we're off.


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