Break Time

Wren enjoys a little break from her busy morning as I read with coffee before beginning my work day.

I am continually frustrated with the load of ‘cordwood’ that I paid a lot of money for last fall, despite my best effort to let go. Every time I load wood into the trolley to bring it inside I get an opportunity to practice acceptance and equanimity. Every time I load up the woodstove with half a dozen or more hand-sized ‘logs’ which happens about every hour or two, I get an opportunity to practice acceptance and equanimity. It’s not so much that I mind the extra work of having to fill the stove so very often: It’s keeping me warm, after all wood is wood. What I mind is having paid so very much money for such tiny scraps of wood. So very much of the wood is actually mill scrap. These were supposed to average 14″ long and 3-4″ diameter, that’s what I paid for.

But like my friend Peter used to say, “Oh well.” I can still practice gratitude, noting that I won’t run out of firewood this winter, that there is a kind helper who brings it down to the house for me, that I have a house, that I have a good stove and chimney. No matter what our challenges, if we are paying attention we can always find something to be grateful for. I have the added gratitude of a good recliner, and sufficient leisure in a day to spend some time in it reading, with a cozy blanket, and a sweet companion.

I’m grateful that there are people who read this blog and when it doesn’t show up they sometimes check on me to make sure I’m ok. For you, I want to let you know that I’m working on a big project for the next several weeks, and will be posting less often than usual. It doesn’t always take a lot of time to post, but I like to give it a hundred percent attention when I do it, and I won’t have that available at the end of every day for awhile. Thank you so much for your attention, responses, and affection. I’ll be here as much as I can this coming month, but not every day. I’m grateful for break time.

Wishing everyone peace and ease on this third anniversary of WHO’s declaration of Covid-19 as a “public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).” WHO reiterated that designation today, stating that the world “cannot afford to be complacent” at the same time they seem poised to succumb to the same ennui as most Americans. Oh well. Not my job.

Simple Moments

A male mountain bluebird from a few years ago…

Things I’m grateful for today: waking up alive; a beneficial acupuncture treatment; seeing a Basque shepherd on the highway with dogs, and a flock of sheep coming onto the road from a field, with more shepherds and dogs; the redtails’ return signaled by several on power poles along the highway; a cozy fire and a hot shower; a delicious sandwich for lunch; a peaceful meditation this afternoon; zoom tea with Kathleen; a single Manhattan with the drag queens raising love on ‘We’re Here’ in Temecula, CA; an early night to bed; and many other simple moments of breath and awareness. I’m also grateful for the friends and teachers who have helped me come to this place in this tenuous life where anything can happen at any time, and for the conditions of relative comfort and ease that characterize my days despite chronic pain and global grief, and for joy in the sight of a mountain bluebird’s flight across the road, and the flicker who lives in the eaves.

Zoom Cooking with Amy

It’s such a privilege to be alive at the end of a day to watch the sunset, and I’m grateful for the gorgeous displays of alpenglow we’ve gotten to witness recently. I took a quick break between a zoom webinar and zoom cooking to step out on the deck and enjoy the last of it. Except for the company, it was the best part of the evening.

I’m not having a very good run of recipe selections, so I made Amy choose for next time. This week I selected Shingled Sweet Potatoes with Harissa. Amy said compared to the carrot noodles it was a 10 out of 10. My experience of it was more like a 4. I’m grateful to try a new recipe, anyway.

I loved the idea because the dish looked beautiful the way Molly Baz prepared it. I cut the recipe in half, and Amy made a third of it: hers looked beautiful too, but mine just looked interesting. Also I didn’t have pistachios so I used pecans.

I still haven’t learned the trick to cooking at altitude, after thirty years! Even though they were thinly sliced and baked at 400℉ for an hour, my sweet potatoes still had a stiff crunch. I hate hard sweet potatoes! I do! Also, they were a bit spicier than I could eat much of, so I microwaved my dish for a total of five more minutes and top dressed with some Greek yogurt. Those measures helped, but once you undercook a sweet potato it’s hard to get it right. The leftovers may end up as dog food, Wren loves spicy food, maybe from her New Mexico roots.

Amy’s looks like it ought to look. She used pistachios, and apparently black sesame seeds, and cooked in a little copper pot. She also didn’t baste every quarter hour as instructed, and said that’s why she got a crispy top. I think my problem was more the oven temperature at this altitude. IF I were to make this dish again, and I might for a dinner party, IF I ever host or go to a dinner party again, I’d bake it at 425℉. Even regular potatoes don’t bake like they do at sea level–I don’t know how much of it is altitude, and how much aridity. Everything’s a little quirky up here. At least I used homegrown fennel seeds, and they were the best part of the dish for me. Live and learn! I’m always grateful for Zoom Cooking with Amy, whether the food succeeds or fails it’s always a win for us.

Things We Never Knew

A photo from Singing Mountain Observatory just down the road from me on Fruitloop Mesa, four days ago. Thanks to George Dunham for permission to share his beautiful image of comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

I’m grateful for so much today, starting with the middle of last night. Just before I crawled into my cozy bed, for which I am always ever so grateful, I stepped outside on the deck with binoculars to see if I could see comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). I don’t even need to know what that name means, except that I do know it was discovered less than a year ago as it approaches Earth for the first time in roughly 50,000 years. How exciting is that? I’m grateful for things we never knew.

Once I finally figured out where the Little Dipper is, which I never bothered to learn, it was easy to find the comet, and a thrill to observe it even though it was just a bright smudge in the dark sky through my birding binoculars. It will be another few days before it reaches its perigee, but it might be visible to the naked eye tonight in a dark enough sky. Last night, at 12℉ with a faint cloud cover, I didn’t stay out long. Talk about perspective though! I love the cosmos for putting me in my place.

I am little ashamed of myself that I boycotted the sciences in college because of judging the credit system to be unfair. It seemed wrong that should get three credits for three one-hour classes in English, and three credits for three one-hour classes PLUS a four-hour lab once a week in most of the sciences. I was also attached to what I knew, and I resisted the idea that in science, what we know changes constantly. I wanted to learn something and have that be that. That ridiculous bias faded through the years of simply living and recognizing the impermanence of everything, and now I kinda wish I had studied science more intensely. However, it’s been my hobby for decades, and one delight has been the night sky. For the requisite science course, I took Astronomy/Cosmology, which did not have a lab requirement, with a fabulous professor named Hans von Baeyer. I had a massive crush on him, and loved that he sent us out overnight to keep a star and planet log. I went with my new boyfriend and it’s one of the happiest memories of my college life, dozing and waking in our sleeping bags through the night to keep my log. I’m a fool for physicists still. Not the boyfriend, he was a sports writer who enjoyed a long career in that pursuit; I mean my crush on Hans and a couple of other physicists through the years.

I’m grateful that Wren had a rather uneventful vet visit today, with good heart and lung sounds, and the sad news that she is a little too chunky for her health. This did not come as a surprise, and it’s going to be hard to cut back on her treats, but she needs to lose a couple of pounds. She didn’t get even a tiny taste of the Sonic shake despite her best efforts at persuasion. She also has a little freckle on her belly that has been growing since I noticed it a few months ago. Dr. Emily measured it at 1.5 mm and told me to come back in six months or if it reaches 3 mm, whichever comes soonest. She mentioned the risks that come with anesthesia and didn’t want to do an unnecessary biopsy. So we wait and see, and hopefully it stops growing and is just a freckle.

And finally, after leaving out a dozen other quotidian things I’m grateful for today, I’m grateful for maybe the best loaf of bread so far. It freezes well so in the morning I’ll slice it and freeze half, and enjoy sandwiches and French toast for a couple of weeks.

Light Amid Darkness

How it feels sometimes…

I realize just now with dismay that not only did I not post last night, but neither did Robert Hubbell. I hope that readers of the world managed to start their days without benefit of either of our insights and wisdom! I rely on Hubbell to get me through the dishes each morning and start my day with a compassionate and wise view of the previous day’s news.

I tried to post last night and I just couldn’t do it. My own small gratitude practice couldn’t seem to bring enough light into the darkness. I felt petty feeling good about anything. The two mass shootings in a row in California cast such a pall over the days of so many Americans, between the unfathomable grief of those communities, and the trauma that revisits every survivor and victim’s family of the incalculable stream of mass shootings that has unspooled with burgeoning obdurance since Columbine.

But this morning I rallied and brought myself to this day with presence, gratitude, and loving kindness, with patience and even some joy. For what good does it do the world for me to dwell in sorrow and despair? We can each only do what we can do, and to greet each day with gratitude and the intention to make it meaningful through good works and right thinking has got to be enough. There is far more in this world that I cannot control than I can. The only thing I can control is the attitude and the action I bring to each day, each moment. I can be of more benefit in this fleeting life to myself and others with resilience and kindness than with grief and anger. I can bring light to my own small sphere of influence, and try to help others do the same, and our efforts will ripple out to reach even more people.

This is the principle underlying the Four Immeasurables: loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. When we fill our awareness with these, there is less room for their opposites: hatred, cruelty and ill-will, jealousy and envy, and attachment and aversion. This is my practice. May the fruits of my practice ripple out and be of benefit to all beings.

I’m grateful for the light amid darkness however it manifests…

So many components of mindfulness practice help me to hold both the joys of living and the immense sadness of being human in my heart at the same time. Among these are self-compassion, and choosing where I place my attention, so that I do not deplete my energy over things that are beyond my control. Another component is awareness of how we are all interconnected. With this awareness we can understand that working together we can create positive change. The majority of Americans favor banning assault weapons, and reasonable gun control. The minority holds the country hostage and we are the worse for it. I’m grateful for the citizens working their hearts out to bring attention to ways we can hold our governments accountable. One of these is Jessica Craven, an amazing activist who publishes a newsletter five days a week with easy actions you can do in five minutes to make your voice heard–she even includes scripts. A Sunday bonus edition bundles the week’s good news into an uplifting quick read. She is truly a light amid darkness.

Podcasts

I’m grateful for finishing this fun puzzle of Carmel, with all its miniature businesses, restaurants, shops, and homes, little people in windows, giant garden gnomes, and myriad other tiny details. It was challenging in a different way than the birds puzzle, and easier but not much. I’m grateful for puzzling friends and sharing puzzles.

I’m grateful for podcasts, of which I listen to quite a few when I’m puzzling. I listen to Lions Roar podcast, Upaya Zen Center podcast, NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”, Catherine Ingram’s “In the Deep,” and several others, including random recommendations from trusted friends, and one I stumbled upon the other day, The Brain Health Revolution podcast. This particular episode is a marvelous overview of research from 2022 including correlations between napping and dementia, cannabis use and cognitive impairment, and evidence that some people in a coma may be conscious–followed by a lively discussion of how we don’t even know what consciousness is. It’s a couple of neurologists, Drs. Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, with an easy way together, sharing their enthusiasm about the research in their fascinating field.

I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to have the world at my fingertips, from the laser cutters at Liberty Puzzles, to the digital opportunities for learning and growth.

The States Project

I’m grateful for a simple, delicious, white bean and artichoke heart dish garnished with feta, parsley, and paprika.

I’m grateful for the States Project. Their motto is “EVERYTHING WE CARE ABOUT STARTS IN THE STATES.” We tend to think that policies and laws that affects our daily lives happen in the federal government, but it’s just not true. The most important policies and laws are enacted at the state level, and the States Project works effectively to get candidates elected in critical state legislatures to protect human rights, the environment, and democracy. I was grateful tonight to zoom with my goddaughter Melody and her mother, one of my oldest friends, and the States Project came up in our conversation. Mel’s good friend Melissa Walker, a children’s book author, leads the Giving Circle arm of the group, and their data-based strategy successfully held or flipped several state legislatures in favor of the people of those states rather than rightwing extremists and conspiracy theorists. I was glad to be reminded of this powerful tool at our disposal going into the next election cycle, and encourage everyone to check out and contribute to their proven winning strategy.

Writing

In addition to being grateful for peaceful proximity of siblings, I’m grateful for attending an online writing retreat today with my dear friend and mentor, Sarah Juniper Rabkin. I’m so grateful that I met Sarah half our lives ago when she visited Dinosaur National Monument where I was an interpretive ranger for a few seasons. It was one of those rare, random soul meetings, but also I realized later, characteristic of Sarah who greets the world with an open heart and enthusiastic curiosity. We hit it off and have cultivated a long-distance friendship fortified with a few visits through the years. From playing in the mud on the banks of the Green River to writing in the desert, sharing letters and emails and mutual readings of our projects, I’m grateful for knowing Sarah, and for her unequivocal support of my creative endeavors.

Sarah gently juggling the aspirations and egos of sixteen writers through a day of provocative prompts.

Today, she skillfully led sixteen people through a dozen writing prompts, and gracefully encouraged us to share some of our words. It was great to devote the better part of a day to a practice I’ve been neglecting. Over the course of the day in my writings I explored my past, present, and future, through memories, insights, and motivations. It was exhausting! I’m glad I had nothing pressing to do between sessions, though I did manage some housecleaning and laundry, as well as baking the thank-you loaf for the neighbor.

I am definitely getting the hang of this recipe, and am also grateful that I got to share it and support the Bad Dogs through baking their first loaf. So simple, so delicious! And flexible, too. You can bake one loaf, or two loaves, or as I did today, one large loaf and one roll, inspired by the empathetic joy of my most loyal reader. For dinner I enjoyed the warm roll, half with butter and Havarti, and half with butter and homemade chokecherry jelly.

Good Neighbors

Wednesday morning

You saw this picture Wednesday night. This driveway is drifted a foot deep in places, after a two-inch snow accompanied by strong winds for hours. Because of its south-north orientation, and prevailing west winds, with no windbreak to the west, only a forty-acre field, it’s a perfect equation for drifts. I’m grateful for the opportunity to observe and learn first-hand about the powerful phenomenon of drifting snow. It’s amazing how wind packs and sculpts this delicate substance. I understand better than some when I hear weather reports about blizzards closing highways, or other snow drama. I’m even more grateful for the kindness of neighbors, and the first-hand experience of interdependence.

Thursday morning

I couldn’t have lived here thirty years without the support, friendship, and cooperation of neighbors. Thirty years! I can’t believe it. This summer it will be thirty years at the end of this driveway. I’m grateful I’ve learned to open my heart and my mind, to communicate with and accept differences, and to focus on the shared values of the people I live among. One of those values is perseverance, demonstrated above by the truck tracks (subsequently drifted again in the west track along the fenceline) left by my courageous friends on Wednesday morning determined to get food to me. Food that I didn’t really need and I’m so glad they didn’t get stuck delivering a luxury.

Another value is cooperation, demonstrated below by the plow and tractor tracks made today by a neighbor whom I asked for help. We’re not close, but I’m grateful that he’s often willing to help when needed; as I know he’s grateful for access across my north forty, and its occasional use for his horses. I’ll bake some bread to show my appreciation. I’m grateful for the ideal of good neighbors, and for being surrounded by so many of them. I’m even more grateful that some of them are my dearest friends.

Friday morning

Star Trek

Somehow I thought there were way more than three seasons of the original Star Trek. I wasn’t a Trekkie in my youth–I’m still not. I watched it sometimes when it was on TV back then, and maybe occasional reruns, but it didn’t capture my fancy. I wasn’t a sci-fi fan then, either. In high school, my brother and his friends dragged me kicking and screaming to see Star Wars. I loved it. That was the moment when I learned that sometimes the things I resist the most turn out to be those I enjoy the most. I slowly eased into enjoying science fiction after that, in books, film, and TV. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to get to know Captain Jean-Luc Picard because my glancing attention to pop culture had led me to develop a crush on Patrick Stewart. So I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It became my lunch companion, and over time I settled into a comfortable routine of turning on one episode while I made and ate lunch every day. Or, almost every day. It probably took me almost a year to watch all 176 episodes of the seven seasons. When that was over I conceived the idea to watch all the other Star Trek series. I followed the various incarnations of Starship Enterprise forward and backward in time, until this week I found myself at the beginning of the original series. I’ll leave critiques to the experts, but I’m enjoying it, dated as it is. They certainly lacked the special effects budget of the later series. I wasn’t sure I’d even write about Star Trek until I saw this space creature today.

Here’s why I like it. I got a college degree in Cultural Anthropology. I was thrilled to discover that I could major in people watching. I appreciate the message that threads through every episode of Star Trek: meet new cultures, don’t interfere, live good values. Sure they sometimes get caught in a fiery battle defending themselves, but their main mission is to explore and learn about other beings. Just like an anthropologist. And despite occasional bad behavior, they are largely trying to live with integrity and peace. Plus, it’s just good old fashioned escapist entertainment. Anyway, when I saw this little dog dressed up as a space creature who got split into two halves, the good half and the bad half, in a tragic transporter malfunction, I was utterly charmed by the absurdity. Here’s a picture of the bad half.

Oh no, wait, that’s Wren. She’d been restless for the past couple of days and I thought it was because it was too cold and snowy for her to go outside much. I realized it was something much more fixable than that. I’d started giving her bully sticks in the kitchen, and she stayed in there to chew them. This latest one she wasn’t chewing, and I wondered why. When I finally brought it out to her in the living room she was thrilled. I think she thought she had to keep it in the kitchen, and she didn’t want to be in the kitchen alone working on it. She’s been calm and happy with her chewy in the living room all afternoon. On her new rug. Here’s the bad half of the space creature. I think this would make a great Halloween costume for Wren…