“My body is a canvas on which to paint the day,” I used to say while scouring thrift stores to create outfits to match whatever role I felt like playing: corporate girl, PTA mom, Dakini. These days I tend to reach for my “going to the computer clothes”—ultra comfortable versions of jammies/workout clothes. I do, however, still think in terms of “painting my day.” But now I do so in planning the perfect healthy meal to match the mood and dietary restrictions of the day.
Recently, Jay and I have been embarking on a challenging new physical routine of jogging every other day, climbing two to three days and week and doing yoga twice a week. And, since we are not spring chickens any longer we’ve also decided to add the delightfully extreme measure of eating grain free as well—it helps keep the inevitable joint pain down. I am no stranger to working with dietary restrictions, so as soon as the decision was made, I began researching how to legitimately cheat—that is how to eat grain-free nutritious food that tasted . . . well, like comfort food. Not so easy. Still I persevered.
So here I was the other day painting my day from an essentially Paleo palette—not that I am a perfect Paleo princess, more of a would-be grain-free girl–but you get the gist. Anyway, Jay was about to head out on a business trip later that evening and I wanted to send with him a treat—but what?
That’s when I discovered it on wholefoodsimply.com: Sweet Potato Bread—made with actual cooked sweet potatoes and very little else. It is moist and yummy and a new staple in our house.
The rest of that day got busy as I was not only “painting my day” with the new Sweet Potato Bread recipe, but also planning to actually paint various parts of the house while he was away: the stairwell, a bedroom, the kitchen ceiling. Plus we hoped to get some exercise in prior to his flight.
I ran through the day in my head. Let’s see an hour to bake the sweet potatoes, ten minutes to mix the ingredients, another hour to bake the bread, an hour to decide on colors, take stock of our painting supplies, and make a list of what was needed. Check. We’d still have time to rock climb before he had to leave for his 5 pm flight. I could run into El Cajon to pick up the paint supplies after he left. I should be home in time for dinner, a show and a long hot bath—the perfect cap to a busy day.
I arrived back home after dark, hungry and tired, anticipating a piece of that Sweet Potato Bread. I hurried out of the van grabbing all my supplies at once, so to avoid having to go back. I grunted carrying my awkward heavy load made up of several cans of paint, rollers, brushes, other painting supplies, milk and eggs, a new shirt. I managed to open the courtyard gate door with one hand.
Gypsy ran up to greet me circling my feet, smiling, and wagging like crazy as I fumbled for my keys to open the front door. I couldn’t find the keys and set my parcels on the bistro table next to the front door for a moment. Gypsy came around in front of me angling to get in the house first and then it happened. With one particularly robust and happy wag of her tail she knocked the leg of the wrought iron bistro table and everything went flying. As if in slow motion I turned and watched in disbelief as the can of white paint fell, bounced off the little step and exploded open, spraying paint all over the porous cement courtyard like a Pollack painting but with enough left over to leave a eighth inch deep puddle right in the middle.
“Ah, Ah, AAAAHHHHH,” I cried, shaking my hands and hopping up and down, panting frantically, but otherwise paralyzed and unable to think. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh,” my little girl brain screamed eyes opened wide.
“Think think think!” my adult brain screamed.
Gypsy looked at me head cocked and started to head away from the front door and TOWARD THE PUDDLE.
“No! Gypsy, No!” I snapped, new neurons firing.
Then, in the midst of the chaos and frenetic worry, a calm centered voice took over: “No time to think, just do” and the next steps presented themselves:
1) Get Gypsy out of here
2) Put packages inside
3) Take off clothes/shoes
4) Start cleaning
Inside my head a little clock began ticking. How long does it take paint to soak into concrete? Tick tick tick.
I opened the front door and shoved Gypsy inside, threw the packages in behind her, then stepped through myself, tore off my clothes and raced to the kitchen, grabbing a metal spatula, a bowl, a bucket of water and a scrub brush. Small voices inside me competed for attention. Are you sure you should use the kitchen spatula? Hey that’s a bowl we eat out of! But a louder voice said “No time to worry!” tick tick tick.
Like a mad woman, naked and mumbling to myself, I began scooping the paint into the bowl. Every so often I’d race back into the kitchen and dump the bowl out down the drain, where another voice would point out “Hey you can’t put that stuff down the drain.” The commanding voice would counter “No time!” tick tick tick.
Gypsy tried to follow me back out the door, sensing my upset.
“No Gypsy!” I yelled panicking, imaging white footprints throughout the house. I summoned an act of faith and added pointing to the far side of the living room “Go sit over there!” And a part of me watched in amazement when she trotted over to the far corner of the living room and lay down, not moving further. For, despite her sweet nature Gypsy has never once listened to any of my commands before.
For the next twenty minutes or so, I madly scooped and dumped, scooped and dumped. Finally, the bulk of the puddle was gone. I sat back on my heels surveying the disaster.
The only thing that came to mind was “Crap!” (Followed very closely by “sure glad Jay’s not here . . . “)
The paint splatters which had spread in a 10-foot circle from what I thought of as the “epicenter” had begun to dry.
“Oh my god, oh my god—this is disastrous. You’ll never be able to clean this up! You are doomed.” My brain shrieked.
But another voice came in too, saying calmly, “Just get water–lots of water.”
I began running out the courtyard for the hose. “Wait!” brain screamed. “You are naked.”
I paused momentarily; brushed paint splattered hair out of my mouth and quickly weighed the odds. It’s dark, I reasoned and ran bouncing out the gate toward the back of the house to grab the hose.
The hose wasn’t there.
“Crap. Crap. Crap. Now you are really toast. This is taking too much time. The paint is setting in. May as well just give up,” the adult brain muttered nastily. “What are we going to do?” the little girl fussed.
“Stop panicking,” my inner Zen coach advised. “Just keep cleaning.”
Then, I remembered I’d dragged the hose down to the Manzanita by the street. Yep. I was still naked.
Tick tick tick.
I ran back in the house, Gypsy perked up. I gave her a fierce look and she dropped her chin again. I grabbed my jacket and headed out to the street huffing and puffing, bare legs pumping, but breasts and butt covered at least. I dragged the hose up to the house and attached the spray nozzle.
Tick tick tick
“Here goes nothing,” I muttered throwing my jacket back in the house and closing the door. I turned on the sprayer aiming it at the epicenter. Immediately the paint began spreading everywhere and even though I knew it was coming, I gasped as half my courtyard turned white and the river of white paint flooded the entryway. Then as if things couldn’t get worse it pooled up against a cement lip blocking the flow from one section of the courtyard to another and keeping it from leaving the courtyard.
I had reached now what I think of as the “pea soup” phase of a project (as in pea soup fog)—a stage where everything has suddenly gotten worse and you can’t conceive of how to move forward.
“Nothing is wrong. Everything’s okay,” inner Zen coach soothed.
“Are you kidding? No it’s not!” brain screamed. “You’ve just ruined our courtyard—probably ruined our house. It’s going to cost thousands to re-paint the whole courtyard. You’ll probably have to take out all the plants.”
I whimpered a little wondering, “how am I going to tell Jay?”
“Just keep cleaning. Just keep cleaning,” Zen coach said brightly in a little singsong voice like Dory in Nemo. Then added, “and grab a broom.”
I raced downstairs to get the street broom to sweep the paint river over the cement lip and into the palm tree planters.
“Crap. Crap. Crap. Now you’ve killed the plants too,” brain screamed.
“You are doing great,” coach encouraged. “Use lots of water. Plants will be fine.”
I proceeded to spray, sweep and scrub vigorously. When at last the river dissipated and all the spots that could be scrubbed and sprayed clean were gone, I stopped to survey the remaining mess. The bulk of the paint was gone, but there were still splatters everywhere and these had soaked in deep enough that no amount of water pressure could get them up. My beautiful hacienda courtyard looked like it had chicken pox. Despite all the hard work, it was still a veritable disaster.
“You are such a Klutz! You really have destroyed the courtyard. What were you thinking?’ Self hate screamed, followed by a whiny little “and I’m exhausted! I can’t go on.”
“Don’t even go there,” Zen coach urged. “You are doing great! Now go get the stainless steel wire toothbrush. We will tackle this one paint splatter at a time.”
The unexpected kind words and “we” voice encouraged me. I found the steel toothbrush and knelt on my hands and knees to begin scrubbing the 10-foot paint splatter circle with a 1½-inch steel wire brush. A calm one-pointed focus prevailed. There was suddenly no waffling. I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t quitting. I wasn’t panicking. My mind went blank. I tackled the next spot and the next. Some came up easily others were stubborn. My back was sore, my knees were bruised, my arms ached, and I was getting cold, but it didn’t matter anymore, instead, strangely I began to enjoy the task. As each little splatter disintegrated under my pointed attention, I relaxed more. And eventually the scales tipped and I realized I’d made it through the daunting “pea soup phase.”
As I scrubbed the vestiges of the last splatter away more than two hours after the disaster began, a quick self inventory told me I was physically exhausted, hungry, still naked, alone and covered in paint splatters, but I was also . . . happy.
I walked back in the house, grabbed a piece of the Sweet Potato Bread baked earlier that day, caught sight of myself in a reflection, sat down, and found myself chuckling, for it reminded me of another childhood memory involving peas–but that’s another story. Suffice it to say, it seems disaster and chaos not only make the best life lessons but also the best stories.
I offer you now, the recipe that painted my day that day: Sweet Potato Bread.
As I tucked myself into bed that night, I thought about a daily precept we like to say about how every moment really is an opportunity for spiritual practice . . . and, I mused, more than likely fodder for a good chuckle down the road.
The phone rang. It was Jay calling to say goodnight. He told me a little about his day. I paused, and then made up my mind.
“You’ll never guess what happened to me!” I said coyly.
“What? You spilled paint all over?” he said without missing a beat.
“Hey! What do you mean by that?”
“It was inevitable.” He responded.
Apparently, I am just a story waiting to happen.
“Its only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.” ~ Jackson Pollack