We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. –William Butler Yeats, “Anima Hominis,” Essays (1924) 


I began this year with several days of cleaning out closets and boxes of letters, pictures, and childhood memorabilia.  It was an emotional experience; so insightful, but at times bittersweet: I saw relics of relationships with friends and family that have passed, I’ve mourned over people and relationships that I’ve lost along the way, and I’ve marveled at all the people who have been a part of my life for so many years, all the places I’ve been, and all the life lessons I’ve learned.  I’m experiencing a sense of  life coming full circle- a sense life pulling me back to my unfinished business from the past, and presenting old puzzles to me with new solutions, and new perspectives.  It has been a time of reflection, not just on the past year, but the past ten years, my enduring relationships, and in fact, my whole life.  Going through old things gives us the chance to let go, and  I’ve had the opportunity to let go of many things, to clear a path forward.  I feel a sense of integration of the past into the present, gratitude for all the many generous blessings I’ve experienced in this life, and a clean slate for a New Year. Full circle seems an appropriate theme for this time of year and all it’s festivities, which, at their root, celebrate the seasonal cycle of the return of the sun- the rebirth of life in the bright cold of winter.   Last year at this time, I wrote about the sense of appreciation and balance in the giving and receiving of love.  I wrote that:

I’m learning that life doesn’t have to be an either/or situation: that I can have my happy, healthy home and family life, and have my soul journey too. Integrity is a word that comes to mind: a wholeness, a sense of being yourself no matter where you are, and of believing that, everything, joy and sorrow, solitude and togetherness, creativity and good ole hard work, are not opposites, but co-exist in proper measure, one to the other.

Well, I’m still working on this, and this year has certainly been a reflection of that. Looking back over the reminders of my past was confusing in some ways.  I’ve had struggles in my life (my brother likes to say that I always choose to learn things the hard way), but I’ve also had immeasurable and unexpected joy.  It can be hard to integrate so many seemingly opposite experiences- like the extremes of living in “voluntary poverty” at the Catholic Worker versus working full-tilt for years to build a business, or the joy of powerful self-reliance that I learned during my separation from my husband versus the very deep and warm appreciation of my home life with he and my son that I feel now.  The challenge seems to be for me now to integrate the duality of those experiences towards a larger whole, and the path to that integrity, I believe, lies in taking the best of each of these experiences and letting go of the rest.  Another way of saying that would be in shifting our perspective away from the paradigm of “right and wrong”- in the sense of the old way of dividing the world into success and failure, victor and victim, the carrot or the stick- and towards a perspective of learning from our mistakes and experiences with gratitude, or, as my friend Lucy put so succinctly: having “humility without humiliation.”  If you’ll pardon the expression, I’m learning about having your cake and eating it too.  (I’ve never understood that phrase.  Why shouldn’t you have your cake and eat it too?  First you have it, and then you eat it.  What’s wrong with that?)  Another way of saying that is that I’m grateful for everything that has happened to me, the choices I have made, because they have made me who I am.  I believe that this integration of duality (as expressed in this tarot card, The Chariot) might be a root of healing, and our world, more than anything else right now, needs healing.

In our home, I’ve experienced life coming full circle: Duncan, Jasper and I went camping on the beach, planted a fig tree and a kitchen garden in the spring, and, after losing both our cats this year, a beautiful orange tabby showed up at our doorstep on the solstice.  I’m grateful for the happy, healthy home that we’ve created together.

In the Cake Shop, I’ve experienced this sense of reflection too.  Our Christmas party was beautiful.  Everybody from the Cake Shop came with their families, and I gave bonuses and made homemade eggnog and a 9-pound pork loin.  I treasured that experience, and it represented to me how far we have come as a crew.   The Christmas abundance of this year stands in stark contrast to where we were a year ago, with a great reputation but our finances unsteady and uncertain, while I looked for outside work in hopes of buying time for the Cake Shop’s survival.  After much hard work, we made it through a very successful year, buoyed by the success of the Cake Ladies book, and the crew that stuck by me during the lean times continue to be the heart and soul of this business.  Now, in our third year as a shop, we have established a rhythm with the cycles of the seasons:  so much about what baking cakes is to me is about marking the seasons with rituals and traditions, and as each holiday rolls by, Christmas, Mardi Gras, Easter, Day of the Dead, I see that the Cake Shop has become a part of how our town marks the season, how each season has its own flavor, and it is an honor to celebrate that through food, and make a living while doing it.

As a business, we’re growing and maturing, too.  We’re working to streamline systems, and become a more efficient, more consistent, and more communicative crew.  I’ve hired a Manager, Anna, who will help me grow the business towards the ultimate goal of creating a more just and generous abundance for all who participate in the Shop.  I want my writing (on this blog, and elsewise) to be a part of my work at the Shop, I want to continue to support new home-based and small-scale ventures, to continue to be supportive of social justice projects in the community, but most of all, to cultivate working relationships that are loving, mutually supportive, and fun.  My intention in creating this business was to to support and facilitate myself, my family, and my employees in living a whole and happy life, and I feel grateful that that is happening for us.  I also know that no one does it alone, and that I’ve had lots of love and support along the way.  I feel incredibly grateful for the Cake Shop, and the untold numbers of friends, angels, and miracles, small and large, that have made it what it is today.  It has become a venue for creativity, community, new and sometimes unlikely friendships, and for and expression of love through food.  I’m so excited and grateful to have the Cake Shop as the foundation for my creative life in the coming years.

(image courtesy of Sweet Peach)

Other highlights of 2011: I got to travel to California to bake the wedding cake of my dear friends Michael and Tim.  The Asheville-Buncombe Food Policy Council is up and running, a dream of Bountiful Cities that has been years in the making.   The Cake Ladies book was released, and has been received by so many as the gift that it was intended to be.  I got to travel with the book and revisited many of the places that gave me refuge during my soul’s journey of writing the book.

And that’s another full circle: on book tour I got to actually BAKE again.  In the past six months I have fired myself from production shifts at the Cake Shop due to my unreliability in the area of showing up for early shifts, and I have missed the early mornings and the magic of cakes.  But I have had the wonderful opportunity to bake in friends’ kitchens, old and reliable recipes, and to offer these cakes at signings and parties.  That has made me truly happy, and it has renewed my commitment to baking, gardening, canning, and celebrating at home, with the seasons, which was the whole point of this whole crazy endeavor.

I’m excited about this coming year.  I feel poised to live the mystery, not just the dream. What are your goals for 2012?  What can we do, individually and collectively, as a community, to lift ourselves and one another up, to be whole and healthy people, to reject the tired old belief that one has to sell off one’s authenticity, or power, or dreams, to have love (or freedom, or stability, et cetera)?  As usual, I have to remind myself that the goal does not lie in the outcome, or rushing headlong into perfection, but in the discovery of learning, forgiving ourselves and others, and making mistakes and enjoying the lessons along the way.  Happy New Year, friends.  I wish you love, peace, and clarity in this season of light, dark, and the mystery in between.