Winter, Spring, and TBT: A Meditation on Impermanence


This morning, I was feeling reflective, as the dog and I made our way around the 3 mile loop through our lovely little town in North Jersey. The gardens were starting to awaken, and patches of color were catching my eye, yard by yard. The sky was lapis blue and clear as crystal.

Maplewood Cherry Blossoms 4-17-14

Maplewood Cherry Blossoms 4-17-14

The temperature was chilly, having plummeted back to the upper 30s after a weekend of temps close to 80 degrees. Welcome to Spring in the North East.

This winter was long, with temperatures hovering in the teens for much of the duration.
So very long. There were moments when I wasn’t quite sure it would actually end. Winter can be like that, so stuck and so barren, so seemingly endless. And, yet, the temperature started to rise, and the snow eventually melted. And now we have green shoots and colorful blossoms in the garden.


What a relief.

Except that, right when the weather started to turn pleasant, I got hit with the flu. It’s been years since I have been laid up, with an illness so leveling as this one was. I was in bed for more than a week. On day 7, I started wondering if I would ever feel better. Again, it felt like it might go on forever.

There are a few things that I hate to feel–
1. Weak
2. Needy
3. Lazy
4. Incapable
5. Dependant

That damn flu hit all 5. Hard.
It had been a terribly long winter, followed by a terribly long flu, and I started looking for the lesson. There’s always a lesson, right?

And then, after a prescription for a steroid inhaler brought me back to life, I figured it out.
What I landed on was the idea of impermanence. It’s a toughie, in the same kind of way that it can be a real godsend. Mostly we tend to like things to stay just the way they are, unless the way they are is becoming unbearable—like the winter or the flu.

Change can hurt and change can free. Change can upset and change can relieve.
It just depends on what happens to be changing. And, things are always changing.

We adopted the pooch in early December, this goofy little dog whose mother was a Golden Retriever and daddy was a Basset Hound.

Cody & Mommy

Commander Cody Rainbow Pilato & His Mommy

As we trotted along today, I thought about how my trip around this route had changed over the past few seasons. It used to be my running path, my place to open the channels of inspiration, while blowing off the steam of my life. But, since I have slowed my pace to a walk, I have decided to invite him as my daily companion. We stop a lot more than I like, sometimes. He sniffs and pees, and runs after a bird here and there. It’s a different walk. But, I enjoy his company.

When we came to the half-way point, at the park, I looked up to see the two Magnolia Trees that flank the entrance sign. Two days before, they were breathtaking, but since the frost, many of their lush white and lavender petals have turned to rust. It made me wistful, like Spring can do.


There is so much beauty in the rebirth of the world in Spring—like the flowers are opening their souls to the sky to commune with the sun. The pinks, yellows, purples, whites, and all of that green–the colors touch me on a heart level. They make me think of my mother, who I lost 7 years ago.

Every Spring, she’d call me up to tell me the daily flower reports, which ones had come up which ones she was hoping to see next. I miss those calls. But, I see her in those colors, and I hear her voice when I call my children to: “Come & look at what came up in the garden!!! Can you tell what’s new? Aren’t they GORGEOUS??? Look, the other tulips are about to go! The Cherry Tree is going to be even MORE beautiful next week!” I really get into the flowers. But then they die. And I get sad. There’s that impermanence again.

When we got back home, I clipped the dog onto his long leash, and we got to work in the garden.

Garden Dog


Every time I start to dig a hole in the dirt, I expect it to be an easier task. It’s simple enough. But, I never expect that so much dirt ends up falling right back into the hole where I just dug. Does EVERYTHING have to be a microcosm of life??? There are rocks down there under the soil, the black dirt gets under your nails, and sometimes you fall down on your butt while doing your best not to trample the flowers that are already growing. But, the end result is so darn pretty—I mean, it’s really beautiful, while it lasts.

After I watered the new flowers, and got the dirt out from under my nails, I did the next logical thing a mom whose kids are both in school at the moment would do. I checked my Facebook. And, darn it if it wasn’t Throwback Thursday. I recently reconnected with a friend that had been integral to my life in early childhood. Her dad was the pastor of my childhood church, and my mom was his secretary. Our dads coached baseball together. And when Eric and I were married, her dad officiated the ceremony. The photos that she posted really touched me. They were just one more reminder on how things just keep on changing.

Then, I went into my own family albums, which I inherited when my mother passed, and let my eyes wander over all of those faces.



Leon & Virginia Nasteff 1940s


My Parents Russ & Debbie
1980 (maybe)

The faces of my siblings & I, as we grew and changed. The photos of my parents, who divorced long ago, but are still together in those yellowed sticky pages. My mother and my grandparents, alive and smiling. Captured moments, frozen in time, in a world that keeps on changing.


Impermanent. Fleeting. Beauty.

On Baking: Turning Chaos into Cookies (My Messy Beautiful)



In my world, schedule has a flexible meaning–meaning that  I have no semblance of what most people consider to be an actual schedule. It’s predictably unpredictable. And, the only thing I can count on 100%, is that if my kids have a special something happening during the school day, I’ll have a last minute audition or job. We have a saying in my world: “Book a vacation, book a job.” And the same logic applies to being “Mommy of the Day”.

This photo taken, after the original date was pushed, amid tears and pleading to: "Pleeeeaaaase, Mommy--ignore your audtion!!! Please."

This photo taken, after the original date was pushed, amid tears and pleading to: “Pleeeeaaaase, Mommy–ignore your audtion!!! Please.”

Some weeks, I am running around New York City at dizzying speeds, and others I am puttering around New Jersey waiting for my phone to ring. But, if there’s something in the calendar, like a doctor’s appointment that has been scheduled 2 months in advance, rest assured, the calls will start coming in. It’s delicately controlled chaos.

Surprisingly enough, I tend to function considerably better, during the busy times. I like to feel needed, I love to work, and I have found that it helps me to be a nicer mommy, when I miss my kids a little bit, here & there.  When there is a break in the scurry, when my schedule grinds to a halt, my mind has a minute to start worrying if my career has finally run its course, and if I have made the wrong choice by being a working mom, in the first place.  During those down times, it gets loud in my head–crazy loud and down right messy.

Baking is a ritual that has the power to quiet me down. There’s solace in the act of turning a pile of browning bananas into a delicious afternoon snack. You rummage through the kitchen finding seemingly disparate items that are inedible on their own: flour, baking soda, baking powder, raw eggs, butter and sugar (ok–the last two can totally be eaten on their own), mix them together in a certain measured order, and end up with magic…delicious, warm, crusty magic.

Elements of Banana Bread

Inevitably at least one child will ask to help & voila–it’s meaningful family time. There’s attention required, there’s a method–a method to the madness. And that’s what I’m always looking for, something to make meaning. Meaning puts me right.


Pinching the crust.

Apples from the Farm

Apples from the Farm


Crumb-Top Apple Pie

Baking can also save a play date that’s heading South. Give the kids a job, measuring, mixing, or cracking an egg–and you may have a mess on your hands, but you have saved the sinking ship. And now, there’s a snack on the way. I have yet to meet a kid that will not eat what he or she just made with their own hands. In my experience, after the cooperation required to mix up the batter, after the spoons and beaters have been licked, the camaraderie returns long enough for a little playtime before the goodies come out of the oven.

Baking Playdate  (my daughter is pictured RT)

Baking Playdate 🙂

Food is a big deal in my family. It’s not only a ritual, but a right of passage. The annual Christmas cookie baking, is the stuff of legend. The cookies trace back, at least as far as my German Great Grandmother Emma, on my father’s father’s side. She passed it down to my Grandmom Ginny, who taught it to my dad–and so forth. This recipe takes a full day, from mixing to chilling, to rolling & decorating. It always starts out a joyous adventure, and by the time the last batch comes out of the oven, someone has always stomped off in a huff.  But they are delicious & well worth the trouble. Wafer thin, with a hint of nutmeg, and sometimes a spray of cinnamon sugar, they have a great crunch & a flavor that unfolds as you chew. The dough is also fantastic. In the early years, I was Dad’s helper.  But as the time has gone by and I moved away, my sister & cousin have taken over the mantel of the cookies, at Dad’s house.  Now, I bake my own and we always save a few to compare & contrast.




And then, there’s my Grandmother’s poundcake. Grandmom baked dozens of different holiday cookies, a number of pies, and was always good for a train-cake for a kid’s birthday party.  But, if her memory could be distilled into one dessert, it would certainly be her pound cake.  This cake is legendary, weighing in at about 5 lbs.  It makes it’s own entrance.  Always delivered in the same silver domed cake plate, the pound cake is still a staple at any Nasteff family gathering. Only, I am the one who brings it now.  When you see the silver cake plate, you know exactly what’s inside.  Proust had his Madeline, and I have that pound cake.  It’s an enormous bundt, golden brown, with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. And, the yellowy inside is dense, with a deep flavor of butternut, vanilla, and amaretto. That cake is love on a plate. The poundcake now has a reputation here in NJ, as I have started bringing it as dessert to progressive dinners and pot-luck affairs. It’s even been auctioned off to benefit our school.


Making that poundcake is an immediate way for me to reconnect with Grandmom. She died 7 years ago, but I swear I transmit her frequency, every time I make that recipe. It’s her cake, I just open up the channel, and let her do her good work through my hands.


The conscience act of slowing down to prepare something from scratch, for me, is almost always as good as a therapy session or a great yoga class. To feel the various textures of the ingredients, the slick greasy slide of the butter, the grainy abrasive feel of the sugar, the fluffy powder of the dry concoction. To hear the droney rhythm of the mixer as it melds the components together. To smell the aroma as it seeps out of the oven. And, finally to taste the delicious result. It’s a tangible thing to do. It adds up to something real.


What you have in the end is food–beautiful heart food, that smells up the house in the best possible way, that lights up the eyes of the kids in only the way a fresh pan from the oven can do, and that quiets the chaos for long enough to enjoy a pure blissful moment of yummy togetherness, with those at your table, and even with those who are now in the beyond.

And then…onto the dishes. Messy Beautiful.