I am grateful that I made it to 62. Grateful that my parents, despite their challenges, raised me well and with plenty of love, and raised me to hold certain values among which number … well, another time for elucidating those, but they definitely did their best, and I turned out pretty OK, and for that I’m grateful. I’m grateful to live this part of my life in this part of the vast world, surrounded by natural beauty, supportive community, and kind friends. I’m grateful that even in the social distance of Covid, I was able to celebrate my birthday all day long in many and wonderful ways.
I didn’t get done half of what I’d hoped to today, but that’s OK. I did connect with a lot of people, and allowed myself to receive their generous wishes for a happy birthday. I made connection a priority this day that comes but once a year, this precious day that will never come again. I’m grateful for all the warm wishes that came on Facebook, in the mail, by phone, text, email, zoom, and by special hand-delivery. For most of my life, I confess, I have not felt myself to be lovable: I must concede to the majority today, and acknowledge that all these birthday well-wishers can’t be wrong. I’m grateful, in this moment, to feel lovable, and loved. And loving.
I’m grateful that Mr. Wilson, handyman extraordinaire, invested in chimney sweeping equipment, and knows how to use it. He was meticulous, not a speck of ash or dust in the house when he left, and the firebox cleaner than it’s been in years. This is the third winter since the last time it was cleaned, and it was actually fun to watch from the loft as he sent his brushes up the chimney attached to a power drill. The whole firebox was full of gunk behind the plastic barrier before he finished.
Chimney sweeps have been problematic for me in recent years. One is so belligerent that it’s traumatic to have him come, and the next one was unreliable and his quality disappointing after the first year. So the past two years I let it slide, never anticipating the complications that would ensue this winter. So I let it slide again, until Wilson got his gear. Just in the nick of time!
We are so lucky that this wonderful young family man moved to the neighborhood, with his sincere desire to help people and do a great job at whatever he undertakes: he embodies the value of service. He has experience doing so many different types of things, and is eager to learn what he doesn’t yet know. He takes Covid seriously, and cheerfully wears his mask and gloves and keeps a respectful distance. He focuses intently on whatever project he’s working on, and brings critical thinking to making his work more efficient. He is a godsend: I no longer feel anxious about any aspect of maintaining the nuts and bolts of my house, knowing I can call on him for anything: if he doesn’t know how he’ll figure it out. I’m so grateful for him!
I’m grateful for little bowls. I started collecting them years ago when I was cooking a lot of Indian Cuisine, and needed about a bunch of separate ingredient piles to add at different times to each of the various dishes I’d cook for a single meal. They’re hard to find these days. I’m grateful for all the potters whose little bowls grace my cabinet. I bought some from Michael McKenna of Smiling Son Pottery when he lived in Paonia; a few of those have broken, but I treasure the rest. He’s the only potter I’ve come across who routinely makes little bowls.
My mom made the bottom bowl here, which is marked with shell imprints from a trip to Sanibel Island when I was a teenager, back when she had her fling with pottery. I’m grateful for all the bowls and vases I have left that were made by her hands. I’m grateful for Kristin who made two when I asked, and for a couple I bought at the Creamery, and the rest whose makers’ names escape me now. I’m grateful there are people who love to spin globs of clay on a wheel and craft them into little bowls, grateful for the kilns and the fuels to fire, and that I’ve been able to afford to buy a small stack of little bowls through the years.
This morning, I’m grateful for a message from Neighbor Mary, sharing lyrics that touched her from Dolly Parton’s “Paradise Road.” I’m grateful for Spotify, where I could type in the title and hear Dolly’s sweet voice instantly. Think about that. Grateful (despite problematic negative consequences for society and planetary health) for all the technology, the inventors and coders and the people who put tiny chips of precious metals in a little silver box that delivers the world to my lap, and grateful for the people who mine and those who recycle those precious metals. But back to Dolly.
Paradise is a state of mind / Down the road of life and time And the friends we meet / Make the travelin’ sweet / On Paradise Road. Sometimes now when the world is mad / I find that place I’ve always had Inside my soul / It’s paved in gold / Paradise Road.
~ Dolly Parton, Paradise Road
I’m grateful for the authentic joie de vivre and gratitude for life she exemplifies, as well as her resilience. I actually know someone in person kind of like Dolly in those ways, and she also sings a sweet “Happy Birthday”… why, it’s Neighbor Mary! I’m grateful for these inspiring examples of genuine happiness, in the wide world and in the neighborhood.
I was just getting ready to tend to the sunroom, when Dolly’s lyrics arrived, and was wondering what music to play among the flowers as I watered orchids and groomed geraniums. And now, I’m grateful for hours of Dolly Parton’s music, and for “Backwoods Barbie,” which I’d never heard before, which seguéd to Patsy Cline and Emmylou to carry me through lunch.
I’m grateful for books. I’m grateful that my big brother taught me to read when I was just three years old. I remember sitting on the floor in the doorway between the well-lit kitchen and the dim living room where our parents sat, with a book between us, and him teaching me to make sense of the letters. I’m grateful that I love to read, that I have always loved to read, that my parents gave me lots of books, and that I have always had access to anything I could wish to read. I’m grateful that Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, and grateful that someone (though it’s not clear exactly who) invented the novel. I’m grateful for bookbindings, libraries, magazines, and Kindle, and for paper and ink, typewriters, and Pages.
Today I’m grateful for the Bibliofillies, a bookclub Ellie started in April 2005, which has always had a cap of ten people, and still retains five founding members. There are currently nine of us, and we all live in the outskirts of our little town. For all those years we’ve met on the first Wednesday evening of each month, rotating among our homes, and our format has evolved through the years but a few things have remained constant.
We start each meeting with an author report by the hostess. OK, one thing has remained constant! There was a time when the hostess often chose to make a full meal for the group, but it’s always been ok to serve chips and dip instead. In summer we’ve met on patios, in winter we’ve carpooled through deep snow. Since Covid, we’ve met monthly on Zoom, and here’s the second thing that’s constant: the camaraderie that has developed among us through the years.
The first book we read was Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, a novel published in 1881. I remember meeting in Connie’s cozy adobe living room, and there was much dissent about the book. It was a good realization that we can sometimes have even more engaging conversations if we don’t all feel the same about a book. Since then, we’ve had an ongoing discussion on “What is Literature?” One husband calls us “The Smarty Pants Bookclub,” because there’s another book club in town, which many call “The Fun Bookclub.”
I can’t remember half of these, but here’s a (nearly complete) list of the books we read in our first ten years together:
Portrait of a Lady Henry James
Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
O Pioneers! Willa Cather
A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul
Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
The Haunted Monastery, Robert Van Gulik
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
The Cave, Jose Saramago
Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence
A Thousand Cranes, Yasunari Kawabata
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Passionate Nomad, Jane Geniesse
Saving Fish from Drowning, Amy Tan
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
East Wind: West Wind, Pearl S. Buck
The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams, Lynne Withey
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
The Blind Assasin, Margaret Atwood
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris
Arthur and George, Julian Barnes
Burger’s Daughter, Nadine Gordimer
The Thief and the Dogs, Naguib Mahfouz
Stories of Anton Chekhov, Anton Chekhov
Herzog, Saul Bellow
Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie
My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
The Greenlanders, Jane Smiley
The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love, Oscar Hijuelos
White Ghost Girls, Alice Greenway
The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty
Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson
Mara and Dann, Doris Lessing
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers
Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis
The Ginseng Hunter, Jeff Talarigo
The Leopard, Guiseppe de Lampedusa
The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
The Quiet Girl, Peter Hoeg
Rabbit is Rich, John Updike
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
Telex from Cuba, Rachel Kushner
Little Bee, Chris Cleave
That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
The Dream Life of Sukhanov, Olga Grushin
The Appointment, Herta Muller
Vanity Fair, William Thackeray
The Help, Kathyrn Stockett
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson
Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle, Ingrid Betancourt
Tinkers, Paul Harding
Dog of the South, Charles Portis
Trading Dreams of Midnight, Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Undaunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, Dorothy Wickenden
The Elephant’s Journey, Jose Saramago
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
Reader’s choice: Mario Vargas Llosa
Killing Mother, Rita Clagett
Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, Christie Watson
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness, Clay Jenkinson
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, Stephen Greenblatt
The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh
The Invisible Ones, Stef Penney
Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith & Love, Dava Sobel
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bolgakov
Room: A Novel, Emma Donoghue
The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
The Stone Raft, Jose Saramago
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt
Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder
Mary Coin, Marisa Silver
The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain
Proust at the Majestic, Richard Davenport-Hines
Remembering Babylon, David Malouf
What Maisie Knew, Henry James
Reader’s choice: Books by Mo Yan
The Sumbally Fallacy, Karen Weinant Gallob
The Emerald Mile, Kevin Fedarko
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Kay Joy Fowler
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
Americanah, Chimananda Adichie
Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, Poe Ballantine
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
The Emperor of Paris, C.S. Richardson
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Roz Chast
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Jan-Philipp Sendker
Submergence, J.M. Ledgard
The Antagonist, Lynn Coady
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, Caitlin Doughty
Who can say we’re not fun? Now, I don’t have permission, so I can’t share the screenshot I took of us toward the end of our meeting tonight. It’s not Wednesday, you might be thinking if you’re on your toes: No, but last Wednesday we were derailed by circumstances beyond our control, which several wanted to keep watching on their screens, so this was our makeup meeting. If I could, I’d share the screenshot, and prove to everyone that we are too fun! Last month we read Louise Erdrich’s dystopian novel “Future Home of the Living God,” which started out a page turner, and ended up a colossally distressing parallel, in some ways, to our own current precarious political and societal cusp between democracy and fascism.
None of us gave the book a full Thumbs Up, and several gave it a solid Thumbs Down, and after a record-short discussion there was a pause that cried for some levity. I put on a pig nose and ears, and gave a tutorial on Zoom video filters, and soon we were all laughing. Rosie sat by the seaside with a pirate patch and hat, Candy wore a mustache with the cosmos behind her. Many combinations of backgrounds, frames, antlers, hats, noses, spectacles and hirsute adornments later, we called it a night. Smarty pants indeed! I am indeed grateful for my smarty-pants, big-hearted, open-minded, thoughtful and funny Bibliofillies.
I’m grateful for everything in this title, separately and together. Zoom. Cooking. Amy. And zoom cooking with Amy. It’s a silver lining of the Covid cloud. Back in May, I sent her a recipe for homemade gnocchi and asked if she wanted to make it with me and share zoom dinner. Thus began a joy we have shared ever since.
Amy and I have been friends for almost fifty years. And her parents have been parents to me, as well, whenever I have needed them to be, and friends the rest of the time. My gratitude for Amy knows no bounds. Cooking, drinking, and eating is our favorite thing to do when we get together. She lives in northern Virginia, not far from where we grew up. We met on the first day of seventh grade, and that friendly little red-haired girl saved my life that year. Through the decades, I’ve always visited when I traveled back there. And then she saved my life again during the months I spent there when my mother was dying sixteen years ago.
Amy’s been coming to visit for the past few years, including during apricot season two summers ago (when she saved my life again, by helping harvest and put up pounds of fruit), but not this summer, and so we started zoom cooking instead. She’s also been watching cooking shows for years so has lots of tricks up her sleeve. We used vanilla bean seeds for something that apricot summer, and she poured some sugar in a jar and tossed in the scraped pods. “In a couple of weeks this’ll be great in your coffee or something else,” she said, and it was.
In August we made Fish Cheesos, with the trout, and garden produce, in cheddar cheese taco shells. This recipe came from a Keto cookbook: you pile a quarter cup of grated cheddar for each shell, about 4″ apart, onto parchment paper and cook at 400°F for 6-8 minutes, until they’re melted flat and the edges start to brown. Let them cool about 3 minutes, then drape them over wooden handle spoons or something until they harden, about ten minutes. Then…
I couldn’t be zoom cooking with Amy like this without the help of the Bad Dogs, who kindly shop for me these days because of some underlying conditions that make me super cautious about Covid. I’m especially grateful to Philip, who shops most often, and earnestly tries to fill my list of often obscure ingredients. I try to compensate them for their trouble with fresh baked bread, rolls, or cake to hand over upon grocery delivery.
After the collard sandwiches, we made Marcella’s pasta bolognese. I laughed the whole time I was making noodles because it was just so much fun. We more or less take turns suggesting the menu. After bolognese, we made squash and peanut stew. Since our neighborhood dinners have been more or less on hold all year, it’s been great to be cooking with Amy and have the chance to use so much garden produce.
The next menu item was Bombay Rolls, which included a chutney with lots of fresh coriander. Amy made them according to the recipe so her stuffing was green, but with no access to fresh coriander here in December, I used a jar of Kasundi I had canned earlier in the summer. It wasn’t nearly as spicy as it seemed when I cooked it, but the Bombay rolls were fun to make and delicious anyway. We cheated and used store-bought puff pastry for this meal. Our ambitions had started to slacken.
But, egged on by the Great British Baking Show, I threw down the éclair challenge, and that brings us up to last Friday night. The recipe calls for a total of 11 eggs, and I was late getting started since I had to wait for groceries. I’m so grateful for local, freerange ranch eggs for much of the year that it’s hard to shell out the dough for storebought, but in deep winter nobody’s hens are laying around here. As soon as Philip brought the eggs, I started catchup with Amy, who had already made her creme patisserie and was starting on her choux pastry. I was grateful for a snowbank right outside the door, since there was no room in the fridge to cool the filling.
While we baked, we talked about the Capitol, where Amy used to lead kids in summer camp. We compared Manhattan recipes. We talked about work and friends and everything else. We carried on two separate conversations at the same time: I said something about our technical challenge, “I kept stirring and it formed a ball which kept breaking up as I stirred…,” and Amy said, “She has several professional photographers she hires to take portraits of the family….”
I’m grateful this weekend for zoom cooking with my old friend Amy, and grateful for all the years of ease and lessons and love that life has given us to share. One day, we’ll cook together again in person, but until that time, and onward after our next visit, I hope we’ll be zoom cooking for the rest of our years. We’re already batting about ideas for our next challenge.
I’m grateful I can take a day off when I need to. My mother loved Saturdays, she said, because she didn’t have to do anything. In her dying months, she fretted constantly, at the end of each day, that she hadn’t accomplished anything. Oh mama. You don’t need to accomplish anything, I said. Every day is Saturday now.
Yesterday was challenging for me, as I know it was for many people. The domestic terror attack on the US Capitol shook up a lot of Americans, even some who had been sleeping as the groundwork for it was laid by the president and his enablers. But it wasn’t the event itself, or even the government’s and media’s whitewashing of the egregious double-standard of law enforcement response when compared to crackdowns on Black Lives Matter peaceful demonstrations across the country last year. It was one word that undid me: Proud.
Like many meditators these days, I participate in a virtual meditation group, or sangha, that meets over the phone every weekday morning. I’m grateful for those who were there with me in the beginning more than four years ago, and for those who have joined since, grateful for our commitment to balancing our own minds, and trying to bring balance into the world with our daily practices of stability, kindness, and insight. Our teacher brings great skills to leading us in contemplation day after day, and has a remarkable capacity to respond to the needs of the group in the moment. Some mornings we do checkins, some mornings we jump straight into meditation. Some days checkins can be lengthy, and some mornings we do the ‘two-word checkin’, which is what she asked for yesterday, in light of events in DC.
Those two words yesterday morning from a dozen people included longing for safety, numb, hopeful, upset, startled, grateful, disappointed, anger, disbelief, and proud. The last word was spoken by the only Trump supporter in the group. I spent the whole meditation trying to figure out a positive interpretation of that word, and I couldn’t do it. I was gobsmacked by the idea that anyone could be proud of what transpired at the Capitol yesterday. I spent the rest of the day turning it over and over in my mind and heart, discussing it with a few friends: maybe she was proud of the Capitol police for not escalating the violence? maybe she was proud of… what? else? could she possibly have meant?
I exercised mindfulness skills in directing my attention elsewhere, but I still couldn’t shake the icky feeling that someone I know was proud of the white nationalist terrorists who attacked, looted, and contaminated the Capitol in an effort to subvert constitutional order.
I walked the dogs to the top of the driveway, where our neighbor has hung a Trump flag, and on the way back it struck me, Maybe he is also proud of the white nationalist assault on our nation’s capital… This sinking feeling was amplified this morning when I read that 45% of republicans approve of this terrorist act; but yesterday, I continued to try to redirect my attention, looking for gratitude, making Pad Thai for lunch, digging under snow to find a few feeble tips of green onion, which tasted extra sweet.
… and baking focaccia crackers for the first time. I’m grateful for the magic of YEAST! I’m grateful for fresh rosemary growing in a pot in the sunroom. I’m grateful there are recipes for anything and everything online.
As more clarity comes from the professionals who are unpacking what actually happened at the Capitol Wednesday, I’m grateful for the alert congressional staffers who whisked the certified electoral college votes to safety, precluding even more chaos if they had been burned or stolen by the Republican terrorists. I am now not so grateful to the Capitol police, some or many of whom appear to have abetted the attackers; though I’m still grateful that there were undoubtedly some or many who tried to do their job well in a terrible situation. I’m grateful to R. Hubbell for calling out the truth with this cogent assessment:
The relevant differences are that those who attacked the Capitol are White. Republicans. Future voters for Cruz, Hawley, Cotton, Rubio, et al. … The media are normalizing terrorism by refusing to call it by name.
He goes on to call out the Department of Justice, the ‘Problem Solvers’ Caucus, congressional Republicans, and others, for the same thing, normalizing white supremacist terrorism by refusing to call it by name, when ‘terrorist’ is routinely applied to people of color in more benign protests.
Yesterday, our meditation teacher responded to our two-word checkins with a meditation called “Seeing Truth Clearly.” Cynthia Wilcox rose to the occasion in a way that I can only aspire to at this point in my mindfulness studies. I’m inexpressibly grateful to have reconnected with this high school classmate, ten years ago around our common interest in Buddhism, through the (qualified) magic of Facebook. Grateful for her wisdom and generosity of spirit, for how she can hold the same confusion I have with far more compassionate presence, which incidentally was the meditation she brought to us today. I invite you to set aside about 25 minutes sometime, settle comfortably into a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, and follow one of these meditations. Maybe both. Make some time for mental health the same way you do for physical health, and cultivate balance, clarity, understanding, and compassion for yourself and all beings.
I’m grateful for my bed, where I’m heading soon. I’m grateful that I have a bed, under a roof, of a house, that I own. So many have none of those things. Grateful that no matter how happy or sad the day, it’s so comfortable that I almost always fall asleep quickly, and sleep through the night. I’m grateful that I get plenty of sleep these days, that I’m not in too much pain or emotional distress to sleep, that I don’t go to bed hungry.
I woke this morning to news of Rev. Raphael Warnock’s win in Georgia, and thought Georgia! I’m grateful for Georgia! News later in the day cemented that feeling when Jon Ossoff was declared a new US Senator as well. This good news for our compassionate new president, and my intention to write more about how these remarkable wins came about in George, were quickly eclipsed by news of insurgents storming the US Capitol building. Hours later, the current president has yet to call on his minions to stand down. The desks and belongings of hundreds of our duly elected leaders have been violated by an unruly mob, while our Congress huddles in a single room during a pandemic. Disgraceful.
I’m grateful for the National Guard and the Capitol Police, for a Free Press, and for courageous American patriots everywhere who are calling out this siege of the Capitol for what it is: the direct result of an unhinged, maniacal, malignant narcissist in the White House, and his deluded, seditious coterie. Any death, injury, or financial loss that comes out of this chaos today weighs unequivocally on the current president’s karma. I’d say ‘conscience’ but he doesn’t have one. As a proud American patriot of immigrant ancestors, who have served in the US military in an unbroken line of generations since there wasn’t a United States (i.e., I am a Daughter of the American Revolution), I have a lot more to say about patriotism, what it really is and what it really isn’t, but now’s not the time.
I’m also grateful today for the two young redtail hawks who circled low overhead as I hung out laundry, for the US-made Staber washing machine that has served me for fifteen years letting me do my wash at home instead of having to go out to a laundromat, and for the Breezecatcher revolving laundry line made in Dublin that I’ve been using long enough to need to restring it with a new cable, shipped from Dublin. I’m grateful that I have the discernment to turn off the television after hearing enough, and turn my attention to the great outdoors.