Monday, January 28, 2008

Stairs, Meet Your Master

Before the StairMaster, there were stairs. Since I live in an older house, (about 1930, so not too old, and the stairs aren't unsafe or uneven in rise) I am lucky to have a nice straight climb of 16 steps between my first floor and second. There's another, shorter flight of stairs between the first floor and the basement, but anyway...last week, when I realized that muffinks and those birthday dinners were catching up with me, I started my version of the stair master. First, it was 5 flights (up and down) extra a day, twice a day. I did that. Plus, there were the countless normal flights of steps, and the regular mile long dog walk. When I "meet the stairs," I don't need an expensive piece of a equipment, that may only be discarded later, as waste.

Today, for the first time, I did 10 flights instead of five. Got a little heart pumping, wobbly leg action going by the end. Gosh, I must be out of shape. (or just when it comes to my version of free exercise that can be done whenever?) What strikes me most though is the introduction of a new ritual to my day that seems to stick so far. I've been thinking about rituals, because this weekend, I dyed a lot of cloth napkins.

It's traditional for Jews to set their Friday night dinner table (much like a Sunday dinner for Southern Christians) with white. That's because of this metaphor: one welcomes the Sabbath bride at the beginning of Shabbat. (Sabbath in Hebrew) When I got married, I was given white china and a dozen cotton white napkins. Since this was the sum total of all the table linen I had, my mom gave me some of hers. Over nearly 10 years, gravy, tomato and barbeque sauces have taken their toil...not to mention the red wine. No amount of bleach got rid of the stains. However, most of the napkins were in good shape...and I can't just throw away good cloth napkins!

So, I went wild with some mahogany and garnet dyes, and I got this:
We're trying out the concept of using cloth napkins every day instead of just for Friday nights, holidays, and when guests come over. This saves trees, paper napkins, and trash. We're on day two, I've got those mahogany napkins on the left on my little kitchen table. We'll see if this becomes a habit. If so, you can bet I'll knit more of these, too!

I got to thinking about ritual because of the napkins--not a religious thing in itself, but part of what makes meaning and prepares me for a traditionally religion-oriented once a week occasion. Also, I was reading Here If You Need Me by Karen Braestrup, which was recommended to me by a thoughtful friend. This memoir has such a respectful, loving way of approaching traumatic losses and end of life issues. It takes time to talk about religious ritual and prayer around death in a multi-denominational way, as Braestrup serves as a chaplain for Maine game wardens. It's well worth the read.

For me, at least, ritual is very meaningful. Not all ritual, everywhere, but the kind that says, at the end of a frustrating week, we sat down, as usual, on Friday night with a comfort meal of chicken noodle soup, challah, salad, wine, and peach crumble, and we laughed with a friend who came over at the last minute to boost our spirits. That helped. Those rituals, and habits (like the new "stair master" routine, which confuses the heck out of the dogs), add structure and meaning to our days. Some ritual is secular, like standing up for the seventh inning stretch at a baseball game. Some of it is small, like forming a knit stitch, one at a time, to soothe oneself. Some of it, like setting the table for Friday night dinner, has been my way of making a division between Sabbath and the rest of the week, for nearly my whole life. (that was my chore as a kid)

I'm going to miss the smell of white napkins, the bleach rising faintly from the drawer in the dining room, when I next set the dining room table. Yet, I can match that lack with my new ritual--one of reusing something in a new way, avoiding unnecessary waste. There's both comfort and value in that juxtaposition.

8 Comments:

Blogger Mrs J said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

January 28, 2008 at 4:10 PM  
Blogger Mrs J said...

Hmm.... my 'posh' linen, some of it passed down from aunts & great aunts, some found in antique markets, sits upstairs in the airing cupboard, the check oilcloth sits on the table under my laptop -ups.... not quite the red tartan tablecloth still sits on the side after a recent brush with the iron, but I do know what you mean. 'Setting' a table is a soothing ritual. We nearly always sit down to eat at our 'heart of the home' farmhouse style kitchen table to eat (only table infact -dining room became divided to form a study and 'back kitchen'years ago) but it is nice to throw a good cloth over the oil cloth & get out the 'better' china once in a while. It is always interesting to learn about the place of food in faith & festivals. Occasionally I teach RE to our year 7 children (11 year olds) & they always enjoy this aspect, The Diwali sweet making homework is always popular!

January 28, 2008 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger foodperson said...

Very nice, Joanne. And nice napkins, too. I've been all-fabric for years now and find it's not a problem at all. (In fact, paper seems awfully insubstantial.) But, then, I'm not at all bothered by putting out wrinkly napkins or even (gasp) reusing yesterday's napkin.

January 28, 2008 at 10:15 PM  
Anonymous louknits said...

After reading the beginning of this post I went and ran up and down my stairs (23 steps) twice. Ack! I guess I need to work up to doing it ten times. The napkins looks great too. I just cleaned out my linen closet and have found lots of things that could use a good dyeing. Thanks for the great ideas. Louise

January 29, 2008 at 6:50 AM  
Anonymous AlisonH said...

Thoughtful and beautifully put. And my first thought, as the page opened, was, what a beautiful staircase! Living now in an area where two-story houses are rare and most of them are post WWII, it's a treat to see an older place that has some heart in it.

And I will look at my cloth napkins with new respect. Thank you for that.

January 29, 2008 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger weebug said...

i am looking forward to the expanded content of your blog. isn't it interesting how they start with one intent and then morph to fill other needs that you weren't aware of? i actually look forward to my weekly monday morning meanderings post and have a feeling that i will be eagerly awaiting your weekly post of a different vein as well. you rock!

January 30, 2008 at 9:16 AM  
Anonymous ilana said...

hi joanne, great idea. we've been turning our gravy/wine stained cloth napkins into cleaning rags, but really there is nothing wrong with them. maybe even they can dyed with beet juice?
i also wanted to let you know, looking at your other posts the socks made while traveling are AWESOME!!!!! can't wait to jeff with weekend and have some brekky togteher- maybe at the bbq joint!

January 30, 2008 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger cyndy said...

Beautiful photograph of the banister!

My stairmaster is the deer path up the side of the mountain! (although there have been times that I would love an expensive piece of equipment!)

Thoughtful observations about the importance of rituals...and so true. They are necessary for me, a way to stay grounded in the midst of a hurried world. Your napkins are lovely!

January 31, 2008 at 7:11 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home