Busy Fall Retreats

Three in a row! Powerful fall retreats here at Earthsprings. Gratitude to all of you for your participation and for all of our interaction.

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After Thanksgiving

Wow! It’s been quite a season here at Earthsprings, with a retreat every other weekend and open house Thanksgiving! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be with so many wonderful people.

And now, the next holiday season arrives! This time of year always keeps all of us busy. I hope each of you take time in each day for a few moments of a sort of mini-retreat for yourself, a time of quiet resettling into the peace at the heart of your being.

I am sending you love and prayers each day.

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Every day a miracle at Earthsprings


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From Earthsprings Kitchen: Marinade for Lamb or Chicken Shiska bob

Summer time treat: My Marinade for Lamb or Chicken Shiska-bob

Combine in a shallow covered glass dish (of a size to hold 2 lbs. meat in a single layer):
¼ c olive oil
¼ c red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons crushed rosemary
½ teaspoon marjoram
½ teaspoon thyme
1 clove garlic crushed
½ cup chopped onion
¼ c chopped parsley

Let marinade sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Then to it, add 2 lbs. boneless lamb or chicken that has been cut into 1 inch cubes.
Stir. Meat should be in one layer in the dish.
Cover and refrigerate overnight, stirring it around once or twice during that time.
String closely on skewers, alternating with pieces of onion and green pepper, allowing the onion or pepper to overlap or wrap around the meat as may be.
Make a separate skewer with chunks of tomatoes and a skewer with chunks of pineapple.
Grill over hot coals until the lamb is done, basting the meat at least once with butter.
Serve hot over rice, with a lovely green salad.

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From Earthsprings Kitchen: Meatless Loaf

Jennifer, I promised to post the way I made the meatless loaf you said was “the best meatless loaf I’ve ever had!” Thanks for the compliment, and, as I told you, I can’t begin to give you proportions, as it was made up as I went along, so I hope you will create your own with these suggestions.

I simply put together in a bowl whatever amount felt right of: chopped toasted walnuts, chopped parsley, roughly equal amounts of chopped white onion and chopped sweet green pepper, a really good bit of shredded cheddar cheese, a leaf of fresh basil, salt, pepper, pinches of (I think it was) oregano, sage, and I’m not sure what else, an egg (one for your small loaf, more for a bigger loaf), and cold brown rice that had been cooked already in vegetable broth.

I put them all into a food processor and surged several times, until the ingredients were still a tiny bit crunchy but in general it was pretty smooth.

Then I fitted baking foil into the inside of a small loaf pan (with enough left over on all the sides to wrap later over the top and seal. After spraying the foil in the pan with organic olive oil, I put the processed ingredients in the pan, overlapped the foil loosely (without touching the top of the loaf) to seal, baked it all in the oven longer than I thought it would take, at 350 degrees.

I checked it frequently to watch that it didn’t burn, at the end loosening the foil so it could brown slightly on top. When it appeared to be solid when a toothpick came out clean and the sides were beginning to look brown enough, I took it out and sealed the foil again, and set it aside. When you and your 17 other companions came in to eat their regular meat loaf and your one little loaf, I popped yours back in the oven just long enough to be sure it was still hot. I think I had some sort of tomato sauce I had made to serve with it. Didn’t I?

What a great week we had. Thank you for your kindness. Experiment with this and let me know that it worked for you! I agree that it is hard to get the right texture. I blew it the week before with the other group of teachers, because I made a similar loaf using mushrooms, which I think made it too juicy and it never did set up properly. It tasted good, but had the consistency of mush. Such is the “art” of cooking. Glad you liked yours!

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The temperature outside dropped to 18 degrees last night.

The wind, blowing fiercely, had for days been bringing down any last lingering tree leaves to form a protective blanket for any vulnerable plant roots near the earth’s surface.

And last night the whistling, sometimes moaning wind brought down dead tree limbs and even dead trees. Once fallen and eventually decayed, these will be recycled as compost for new plant life, later on.

All around Earthsprings the deciduous trees in the mixed forest, having yielded up their green disguises, reveal their true, naked structure, the true nature and shapes of things.

Today bare branches and bent trees rub against each other in the wind, making a familiar, unique noise, a conversation, part apology, part disgruntled maneuvering for room, for space, for life. Inside my skin, I imagine my bones doing the same thing, creaking, stiff, stripped down as I often feel these days.

I move, now, mid-morning, on my errand, bent like the trees against the biting wind. I don’t like to be walking thus, for I grieve each broken shard of frozen grass I step on.

I stand still, so that I may hear birdsong that yet flies in the face of potential death, and I think with compassion of all the trembling creatures in the woods, without a warm haven like my own, as I check on the cats in the barn.

My fingers, stiff with cold despite thick gloves, are clumsy in carrying firewood from the shed to the house, so that I sing gratitude as I refill the sturdy stove that has kept me warm and safe all through this winter’s night.

I notice, with tender winter awareness, the chilled arrest today, for once, even of my flighty thoughts.

I salute respectfully the winter stillness that has been settling over me for weeks and has deepened now, not into an icy numbness, but rather into a natural living cycle of dormancy that will be essential to the birthing of the next springtime flush of creativity.

The poet Nancy Wood captures wintering thus:

“…It is our quiet time.

We do not speak, because the voices are within us.

It is our quiet time.

We do not walk, because the earth is all within us.

It is our quiet time…”

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A fallen giant

When a giant falls
there’s a hole overhead that
sky shows through
where green used to be, and
birds fly around in circles, confused,
wondering where to sit now,
and the earth is punched
full of holes that branches make
crashing heavily to ground.

Weeks later, I, not fallen yet, bend
to pick up, one by one, cut up limbs,
each limb larger in diameter
than many lesser tree’s trunks,
limbs sawed now into perfect size
to last all night in the wood burning stove.

Mindfully, I give thanks for this ongoing gift
of oak life, that will provide future winter warmth,
to me and mine, many truckloads.

Then, tired out, back sore, yet oddly child-like still,
I decide to walk carefully the massive giant’s trunk
that is laid out full length. I move my arms
to steady my steps, feeling gingerly
beneath my sturdy boots
the thick bark’s textured weave
that bugs will soon penetrate.

Thinking then too much about turned ankles,
I manage to lower me down to sit in one spot
on the trunk that is so thick that
my feet barely touch the ground,
and the solid circular treeness under me
feels familiar from many such sittings
elsewhere on other days.

I stay awhile to survey this newest view of things,
knowing that molecules are rearranged
for miles around as a result
of this latest thunderous
and momentous downfall,
breathing out, breathing in, prayers,
gratitude, consolation, identification.

Then I rise, stiffly, ease my back,
and walk to the old paint-peeling pickup
to drive slowly toward the woodshed,
the dog herding the truck’s tires all the way,
lest we get lost, I guess, the Chevy and me,
as if we didn’t know the way,
having done this many times before.

Tonight the two cats will sit proudly
on the stack of new wood
and consider themselves lucky for
the mice that will winter underneath,
forgetting the snakes that will
look after the mice, while
back there at the tree site, over time,
mulch will be made by weather
and beetles and woodpeckers,
and the fallen giant will finally
become nurse-tree for future generations
of oak, and pine, and sumac, and grass,
and so on it goes, never ending,
this circling round and round,
life living life. Me, in the midst.

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Today I posted a video I created on “Mothering,” for all those out there who mother the world. I hope you watch it and share it.

My gratitude to all who mother me!


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Safe House

After picking blackberries this morning in the side garden, I thought I saw something different among the brambles,

so I pulled back a prickly branch

and then I pulled back another leaf or two,

and behold, hidden deep in the thorny brambles

a tiny bird nest!

May we all have the courage to create, twig by twig, for ourselves, even among life’s tangled thorns, such a safe haven to hide away in when we feel most vulnerable, when we are hatching out some precious new way of life, when we must make somehow secure that which we have been given to nurture in this world.

Thank you, little feathered friend, for this lovely lesson in planning, execution, and endurance. We’ll just tuck the leaves back where we found them.

Safe house, blackberry bush, Earthsprings 2012.

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From Earthsprings Kitchen

Several of you asked me for recipes from last weekend’s retreat. Here are recipes for Simple Pork Chops and Salmon Loaf.

Simple Pork Chops

Have ready: Slice enough onions (1/2 inch thick slices) to completely cover in one layer all the pork chops you plan to cook, plus a few extra onion slices.

Using any thickness of pork chops (this weekend’s were medium thickness boneless), trim away any fat bits around the edges. Wash the chops, pat them dry with paper towels, salt and pepper each chop, and rub a bit of dried powdered sage onto one surface of each chop.

In a heavy skillet that has a fitting lid, preferably one large enough to hold all the pork chops in one layer, place a thin film of oil.

(Now the question has come up before about “which oil” to use for what. All cooking oils have distinct flavors and characteristics. I suggest you experiment a bit with each kind to determine your preference as to flavor; for cooking, I use a light olive oil for Italian food and Mexican food, sunflower or safflower oil for a lighter, more subtle flavor, canola oil when flavor doesn’t matter at all, and sometimes peanut oil or corn oil for Chinese food. For these pork chops this weekend, I used sunflower oil. And, incidentally, I almost always use safflower oil to make the salad dressing and tomato marinade I make so often.)

Over medium to high heat, brown the pork chops in the very small amount of oil in the skillet, turning them once to brown them on each side. Lay the sliced onions on top of the browned chops, completely covering them. Add a small amount of water, enough to come up about 1/4th of the way on the chops. Cover the skillet tightly with the lid, lower the temperature to the lowest point under the skillet, and simmer slowly until the chops are very fork tender (more than 30 minutes), periodically removing the lid to check the amount of water and juice in the pan, adding a bit more water as you go to keep the chops from burning. The liquid accumulating in the skillet (the water, the disintegrating onions, the juices from the chops) makes the gravy, so don’t add so much water that the gravy is too weak and flavorless; just add enough water to keep the chops from burning and to end up with some gravy. If your chops are thick, you may need to turn them over once during cooking. Pull any remaining onions back on top of the chops, and keep cooking.

That’s it. I usually make mashed potatoes to go with this, as the pork chop gravy over the mashed potatoes is delicious.

Salmon Loaf

Ingredients: Canned salmon, bread, whole egg, salt, pepper, seasonings, crunchies such as finely chopped pecans, onions, parsley, chopped celery.

This easy, fun recipe allows you to experiment with what you have on hand. The trick is to get the right amount of liquid with the right amount of the rest of the stuff before baking it.

Drain and reserve the liquid off canned salmon. Put the salmon in a large bowl. With a fork, thoroughly munch up the salmon, then combine it with not quite an equal amount of thoroughly munched up dry bread. This weekend we had a person trying to limit his gluten intake, so instead of the usual whole wheat bread, I used scalded cornbread (see recipe below). Whatever bread you use, crumble or mush it up completely.

Add crunchiness (finely chopped celery, chopped pecans, chopped parsley, finely chopped white onion, etc). Add salt and pepper and any or all of the following or other seasonings to your taste: dill, tarragon, sage, nutmeg etc. Taste at this point; it should taste a little stronger than you want it come out. Add whole egg (one or two depending on how big a loaf you are making; the egg is the binder that makes it all stick together when it bakes), stir all together very well. The mixture should not be so dry it falls apart easily, but not be so liquid it is runny.

Put in a very lightly oiled loaf pan; bake in a slow oven (325) for maybe an hour or a little more, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and until the edges of the loaf are beginning to brown. The top of the loaf looks rather drab; you can put a bit of butter over the top for a few minutes before removing and let this brown if you like. (I usually cheat and cut a knife into the loaf to be sure it’s all done before taking it out, but I’ve been known to cook it too long and make it too dry or burn it. Just pay attention to it.)

The experimental salmon loaf sauce I made this weekend:

In a skillet over medium heat, place 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of white flour, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Add salt and pepper. Cook while stirring until this “roux” turns golden brown. Add one cup of the reserved liquid from the canned salmon (add water to make a cup of there is not enough of the liquid). Continue stirring and cooking over low heat as you add … (oh, my, what all did I add this time??? onion powder, dried dill, sage, nutmeg, tarragon, cardamon, a pinch of brown sugar, a pouring of white cooking wine, etc.; honestly, I can’t remember, I just put a bit of this and that: you can too!)

After about five minutes of cooking and stirring, taste. If it still tastes floury, keep cooking, without burning. It should be a medium sauce, not a thick gravy. Set aside.

In a small pot, melt butter, maybe ½ a stick, until it turns golden brown. Add some of this to some of the reserved sauce, whisking thoroughly with a wire whisk. Taste, then adjust the amount of each, and adding more cooking wine if needed, or more seasonings, until you get it to your liking, whisking all the time.

To serve, reheat the sauce, whisking thoroughly. Slice the salmon loaf thickly, put a generous portion of toasted slivered almonds over each slice, and cover it about ½ way with the sauce, pouring a bit more sauce around slice, leaving some of the salmon slice unsauced. Parsley sprigs brighten up the drab look of the delicious dish.

Homemade cooked cranberries is delicious with this.

Scalded Cornbread:

Place in a big bowl any amount of cornmeal with a bit of salt. Pour BOILING water into the cornmeal, just enough to make the cornmeal stick together. Note: It is absolutely essential that the water be boiling or the meal won’t stick together. While the cornmeal is still hot, form it into flat patties about ¾ inches thick and about 2 ½ inches across.

These are near neighbors to hushpuppies, but hushpuppies are cooked by being immersed completely in a lot of hot oil; these flat patties can be pan fried in a very small amount of oil over high heat. They brown (or burn quickly); the outside will be crisp, the inside might be slightly mushy, but is thoroughly cooked already by the boiling water. Old timers in my family made these scalded cornbread cakes , over a campfire, on a freezing cold day when camping out or when out in the distant fields hoeing crops (sometimes these are called “hoe cakes” because the farmer or rancher, far from a kitchen, simply cleaned the flat hoe, then used it for a surface on which to cook the “cakes” over a low campfire; they got to be hushpuppies because the cook would throw one or two of the cakes to the ever-faithful but insistent dog standing at his feet, with a “Hush, puppy” command. Or so I’m told.). Think about the hearty old timers when you cook and eat these quick, easy, delicious corn cakes.

Eat the scalded cornbread cakes hot with butter and honey or cane syrup or molasses , or with fish, or crumbled up in black-eyed peas or butterbeans, or as “filler” in things like salmon loaf (or stacked up intermittently with onion, cheese ,stewed tomatoes, chili powder, salt and pepper and baked;this called “depression casserole” from days when meat was scarce).

Thanks for requesting the recipes. I loved the weekend.

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