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Healthy Choices

Another thing that lifts my spirits is SEED TIME! Maybe, just maybe, I went a little overboard on peppers, but I’m really looking forward to growing enough to make plenty of wicked fermented hot sauce this fall, oh yeah.

Life is hard enough (even without the threat of a new World War) that we don’t need to be challenging each other on every opinion. I mentioned inflammatory comments on Facebook in yesterday’s post. They came after I posted this innocuous sentence: “I joined Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and other concerned global citizens in dropping Spotify in protest over Joe Rogan’s misinformation podcast.” My thought was, if the same number of people as have died from Covid in the US were to cancel their Spotify paid subscriptions, maybe Spotify would grow a pair and take a stand for truth. That was three weeks and roughly 100,000 needless deaths ago.

I unfriended the people who jumped all over me for ignorance and cancel culture. Life is too short. It really is, it’s just too short. I don’t bear them ill will, I just don’t have time for that shit. I do have time to enjoy the creative endeavors of other people of big heart and open mind, like the adorable Australian series “Please Like Me,” created, written by, and starring Josh Thomas (on Hulu). But I missed the easy access to a variety of music on Spotify, especially instrumental jazz, and while I love mountain grown public radio KVNF in Paonia, not all of their music shows are to my taste, and I can’t handle the interruption of unsought headlines these days.

So I have embarked upon an exploration of public radio stations around the world, in search of my kinds of jazz. I have checked out a number of stations I used to enjoy when I lived in their broadcast areas, like WTJU in Charlottesville, VA and WMNF in Tampa; and other stations I’ve enjoyed as I drove through their airwaves like KMUD in Garberville, CA. In my search for jazz I came upon WWOZ in New Orleans, which I’ve been listening to for a few weeks, and today I found Radio Swiss Jazz, which I think I’ll be listening to a lot for a very long time. I figure if I find twelve public radio stations I love around the world, and donate $10 each month to one of them, I’ll have done a lot more good in the world with my $120 than if I had kept on supporting commercial, profit-driven streaming services like Spotify. So that’s my plan!

Unnecessary moment of tender beauty

Thanks for the messages of comfort and encouragement after my gloomy post yesterday. I’m grateful for them. I woke this morning to news of Russia’s malevolent invasion of Ukraine, and set my intention for the day to let–or make–peace begin with me. There is literally nothing I can do about this new war. Other people get paid to take care of these global issues. I call and write my representatives to let them know my preferences. I voted a compassionate president into office. He’s done the best he can with what he has to work with. Not much else I can do there. But I can renew my commitment to practicing kindness, wisdom, and compassion as much as possible every precious remaining day of my short life.

Thanks to mindfulness practice, though I sometimes slide into the shadows, I no longer dwell there consistently as I did for much of my life. And when I do go dark inside, I let it be, resting in that sorrow: my friend Impermanence always comes through. Things always change, inside of me and out, and I’m grateful for the wisdom to know that, allowing myself to feel what I feel without judgement, and resting calmly with what is, until it changes. It does sometimes take an effort to make a healthy choice, like seeking out music and art that uplift me, and opening my heart with gratitude to connection offered by friends old and new. While I know that no one and nothing else can lift my spirits for me, healthy choices can certainly help shift the balance.

This Monk Wears Heels

Two top passions meet in this discovery, Drag and Dharma. It was inevitable. “Makeup is just color,” says Kodo. (Photo borrowed from Lion’s Roar)

What a wonderful thing it was to wake up alive yesterday, and to spend such a beautiful day as I did. All the love and kindness that flowed my way, the quiet fun of contentment, the luxuries of food, technology, and time to be mindful. A few pleasant surprises came up including this Lion’s Roar podcast in which Buddhist monk Kodo Nishimura discusses gender, authenticity, injustice, dharma, drag, and his new book, This Monk Wears Heels. I was enchanted.

Another pleasant surprise was finding my favorite necklace which disappeared a week ago. I wasn’t worried: I knew it was in the house, and I would find it eventually. I had the faintest recollection of watching it slide off of something and thinking ‘I’ll get it later.’ Over the week I checked behind every table, desk, bookshelf and counter I thought I might have set it on. Only when I started housecleaning yesterday and moved a pile of magazines on the coffee table did I find it. It had only slid off a short thing, a stack of books next to the stack of magazines. I remembered then that when I lay down on the couch for a nap, the chain broke, and I set it on the books and drifted off to sleep.

After a quietly productive day, it was time for Cousins’ Zoom Cooking, a new feature for me and My Favorite Cousin. She had never used puff pastry before. I haven’t done a lot with it, but just enough to know the only hard part is making the dough, so we bought frozen. Deb’s spanakopita the other day had inspired me, so we made an easy appetizer in less than an hour, Spanakopita Bites. The Fruitloop Gourmet Lending Kitchen came through with a mini muffin pan for me.

It was a delightful first run for my birthday apron, all the way from Peru via Dog World in Florida. MFC was wearing her special new apron from Ukraine. How funny that we both had been given handcrafted aprons from across the world, a grateful coincidence.

Spinach-herb-feta-egg filling all tucked into little pastry pockets, brushed with egg, and baked at 400 for 25 minutes. So simple, so delicious! MFC ate one of hers. I ate half of mine.

I was so pleased to wake up alive again today, and grateful for leftover spinach filling cooked with the leftover egg and some spices, rolled with bacon and sour cream into a couple of tortillas. Who says tortillas have to be reserved for Mexican food? They’re a great wrap for any kind of filling. Then, after a little more tidying up, I started one of two new puzzles which also came as a pleasant surprise yesterday, when a dear friend who’s moving soon dropped them off. It was just a regular weekend, but it felt like a festive holiday. I’m grateful for life’s simple pleasures this weekend, and grateful to the many people who made each of them possible.

Putting Away Christmas

Cousin Bill joked about how different it felt to put his Christmas decorations away at the end of January than at his habitual New Year’s ritual… It wasn’t too soon, or too late, it was just the right time. That’s how I feel. Even later, though, I’m putting away Christmas in the middle of February. It’s the longest I’ve gone. Much as I love the ancestral decorations (and a handful of new acquired over my lifeline) I’ve put away Christmas pretty late for years, grateful for implicit luxuries, but always by the end of January. At least that’s how I remember it.

I may not get very far tonight, I’m reminiscing, communing with my little things. Catherine Ingram counsels us to love who we love, and love our lives, and love our little things. Garden Buddy mentioned that very thing this afternoon in the context of what brings us joy. We sat in her garden of stone-rimmed beds and yard art, sharing a brief cloudy interlude in an otherwise balmy day. We are both growing weary of enforced hermitude, yet are not eager to relinquish it, skeptical of the alternatives.

Garden seeds arrived! A sigh of relief, winter’s end’s in sight. It’s been a strange one, as have most recent seasons. Case in point: The shower drain hasn’t come close to freezing this winter (a good thing), but this is the second scorpion who’s climbed up out of the tub drain. Itsy-bitsy spider only this time it’s scorpions the rain washes out. Spiders have free reign in my house, they do such good eating flies, and most of the widows stay outside. But this scorpion has to go right back where it came from, back to the leaf litter under the birch tree. It’s much milder outside this year, and also drier, than what used to be normal. Even as it’s been a colder winter inside, but longer sun in a rising arc warms the house earlier each day, and I have enough power now to run the floor heat while it’s sunny. So life’s gotten a little easier.

I’m grateful for this littler orange scraper, which has also makes life easier. It’s come in handy for a lot of things, but most of all for finally solving this kitchen dilemma. For years it mystified and aggravated me why the artisan who built the copper counter didn’t finish it with a rollover edge, instead crafting a lovely rim a half inch higher than the surface. This makes it impossible to sweep crumbs off into a hand or compost bucket. A similar glitch was built into the edge of the sunroom pond by a different artist, this an unchinked valley between the wall and the stone floor, leaving a ragged stripe of concrete foundation showing. I asked that fellow many years later why he’d done that, it makes it so hard to sweep or vacuum the dirt up.

“So you wouldn’t have to,” he said sparkling with logic, “because it would collect in the crack.” Had the cabinet maker brought similar reasoning to the raised counter rim? Both ‘solutions’ make it far more complicated to clean: a woman would never have designed these features.

Speaking of crumbs on the counter, these lemon shortbreads were worth the wait for butter for the glaze. So delicate and lightly tart and softly sweet. I’ve been grateful today for sharing them, too; and for kindnesses and compassions that have come my way, softening the rocky inward trail.

Movies

Just a bit of color in the indoor garden this winter.

I’ve been indulging in movies again recently. There was a time when I considered I might be a professional movie reviewer, another time I thought I might make movies or write one and get nominated for an Oscar, and then the time when I was falling in love with another movie buff and I imagined our life ahead enjoying movies together til we were old and grey. He chose someone else, and the other options didn’t pan out either, and all of that is okay. I couldn’t be more content with my life now.

One reason for the resurgence is that I’m not going to the theater occasionally for a specific movie, and now there are so many great new movies showing up on streaming services PDQ instead of having to wait a year til they play out the theater circuit. Last year I watched many of the Oscar nominations before the awards; this year I haven’t paid attention to those accolades, but have been following the recommendations of friends to choose my viewings a couple of times a week. Last night’s movie was a sure Oscar contender.

It is absolutely beautiful in every way possible. If you have a cat in your life, it’s a must see. Even if you don’t, it’s exquisitely worth your time. I’ll let the trailer speak for itself.

“The world is full of beauty… and it’s up to you to capture it, Louis, and to share it with as many people as you can.” So I’m sharing this bit of beauty with you. Thanks, Deborah, for sharing it with me. Here’s an interview with director Will Sharpe, but save it til after you’ve seen the movie.

Another visually stunning film I watched this week is “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” I found some of the dialog hard to understand more from the audio characteristics than from the language, and a little trouble keeping some of the characters straight because it’s been forty years since I studied the play; but, a worthwhile evening’s entertainment nonetheless. Thanks, Sarah, for recommending it.

Queer Eye

One vestige of my darker days, the framed photo of James Van Der Zee’s Prohibition Era poster, top left. But see how she is surrounded by light?

I’m going to tell you a horrible story, about a young man who sings on the subway to supplement his income. I know it’s true because I heard it from the relative he told it to. He makes a meager wage at a day job, and he’s talented. So he’s been singing on the subway for a few years. He tested positive for Covid the other day, and he kept on singing on the train.

“On the platform?” I asked, “or on the train?” As if one were better. Which it might be.

On the train–in the cars!” she shrieked. My first thought was, You should turn him in! She went on to say that she told him, “That’s unconscionable! You should be arrested!”

And I went on to think, with snap judgment and barely a shred of equanimity (but notably, with some compassion): No wonder New York City cases have exploded. Because that one naive young man, pursuing his dreams oblivious to the stark reality of this ongoing pandemic, probably infected dozens if not hundreds of innocent subway riders, many of whom may have infected 3 or more others. Our busker was a super-spreader event all by himself. Like potentially thousands, or millions, of other people across the country, either oblivious to the truth or arrogantly “done with Covid,” as my cousin proclaimed he would be once ski season started.

Ski season started, and a week later he found himself symptomatic, awaiting results of a PCR test. Did he have it, or was it just a cold? (That’s another thorny existential worry these days, for another day.) I’ll probably never know; I doubt he’d admit it. And there’s fuckall I can do about any of this ignorance.

This came in a text just now, synchronistically articulating my perspective. See more satire from Brittlestar.

So that’s my rant for the day. Sleazeweasel wants me to give outrage and gratitude “equal consideration.” He worried when I seemed stuck in gratitude for a whole year. I don’t think he’s been paying attention! Brilliant though he is, he seems to have missed the essence of my personal gratitude challenge: I was mired in outrage and despair for most of my adult life. My personal gratitude epiphany saved me, gave me back the joy and meaning of my youth, when everything that happened was a new gift. Now I understand what Brother Steindl-Rast was talking about. Having practiced focusing on gratitude instead of humanity’s dark side, immersing myself in gratitude for an entire year, I brought some balance to my perceptions, gaining the capacity to hold light as well as dark, to see reality through a less distorted lens. Gratitude has helped me achieve the equanimity I’ve been seeking for decades.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful for SNOW! More than we’ve seen at one time in a couple of years, I think. I was grateful to wake up alive, and find deep snow at last; grateful to see sweet does bedded down under the junipers just beyond the patio. Grateful for good neighbors of any species, and greeting one gliding by on skis in the drifted driveway.

Grateful for cheesos, a simple, delicious hot lunch after arduous maintenance shoveling and brushing…

And finally, I’m grateful today for Queer Eye, a ‘season interrupted,’ now back on Netflix. The first episode was shot in March 2020, and lockdown prevented the final act, so that was filmed in May 2021. The featured mother’s father had died, as well as her daughter’s husband. (In a weird way, the pandemic has presented a global ‘Compassion Challenge’–let that take off on social media!)

The transformation of Terri was profound and complete. The Fab 5 had given the family tools to heal relationships and weather their own brutal challenges just in the nick of time. Yet another feel-good series from the loving heart of gay culture to lift everyone’s spirits. I’m grateful for satire, laughter, gay men, snow, compassion, equanimity, and seeing truth clearly, among many other things in this new year.

Satire

Amy and I opened our Christmas boxes to each other after our zoom happy hour this evening. A RuPaul children’s book?! Come ON! I can’t wait to read myself a bedtime story tonight. It’s one in a series called “Little People, Big Dreams,” diverse biographies for children. Beautiful!

I watched the new Netflix film “Don’t Look Up” this evening, knowing nothing about it. I laughed, I cried. It reminded me of “Melancholia,” except that almost everything about it was different. It’s truly comedic and also a scathing indictment of our human capacity for ignorance and denial. Imagine the US president (Meryl Streep) in a ball cap leading her followers in chanting “Don’t Look Up! Don’t Look Up!” The cadence of that phrase has a familiar ring… To say anything more would be a spoiler, but I’ll add only that it has a delightful ending: don’t turn it off early. I’m grateful for skillful satire.

Speaking of the cosmos, R. Hubbell included a link in Today’s Edition to an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot, which is worth a second read, or a first if you haven’t ever. And a third, fourth, and so on. Hubbell suggests it “is an appropriate reflection on our place in the universe and deserves to be read out loud at family gatherings as we close the chapter on a challenging year.”

Merry Christmas!

Grapefruit

I’m grateful today for grapefruit! I’m grateful for Kathy for so many reasons, for so many years, but today especially that she sent me a bag of grapefruit from the tree in her yard. Citrus trees in your yard are certainly one good reason to live in Florida. These days, between fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and the governor, I can’t imagine ever moving back there; but I’m sure grateful for the years I lived there, and the lifelong friends I made there, a couple of lifetimes ago.

Salty Dog cocktail: 1.5 oz gin or vodka, 3 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, shaken on ice and poured into a glass whose rim has been pressed into the grapefruit and then into a dish of flaky sea salt. Yum!

I know she sent them with some misguided sense that they would provide me a healthy breakfast. Instead, I squeezed the first one into a salty dog for this evening’s cocktail. I finished the bird puzzle, and then watched the Kennedy Center Honors when other Florida friends texted to remind me they were coming on. I’m grateful for this annual televised celebration of the arts, that our president was once again in attendance after they were boycotted by the previous administration, that JFK was a staunch believer in the importance of the performing arts, and that I grew up down the road from the Kennedy Center (50 this year) and enjoyed many events there during its early years. I’m grateful for the moving performances in tribute to Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz, Motown founder Berry Gordy, and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels; and grateful for these five sublime artists. Grateful to have a TV, grateful for internet so I could stream the show, grateful, grateful… I don’t wish to break this habit.

Poetry

Poetry on a plate: I’m grateful for gingerbread biscotti turning out so beautifully!

Thanks

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin, “Thanks” from Migration: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by W.S. Merwin. 

I’ve fallen in love with poetry all over again after years of ignoring it. I’ve fallen in love with a dead poet. I am a poet at heart, have always been, I see the world through a poet’s eyes; not a musician’s, a grocer’s, a farmer’s, a politician’s. I’m grateful for my poet friends Christine, Gary, Diane, Marion, Tara, Jane… and all the poets I’ll never know. Grateful for sonnets, sestinas, odes and lyrics; for free verse and form, for the particular sensitivity of the poetic soul. I’m grateful that my mentors introduced me to the soul of W. S. Merwin, 17th poet laureate of the US in 2010, with this quote:

“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree” 

― W. S. Merwin

Why? Why would I want to plant a tree on the day the world is ending, when it will never grow big, when no one will sit in its shade or eat of its fruit? Why would I choose to do that, rather than run around like Chicken Little or try to satisfy every hedonic desire in the short time left? Well…

… Why would I not?

I’m grateful for poetry: for inspiration, consolation, validation, affirmation, transformation…

Artists

I’m grateful to have known many artists. Yesterday I finally reframed two dear artworks, a project I’ve been eager to accomplish for a year, and hung them on the living room wall. I realized with some sadness that most of the artists represented on that wall now are deceased. Dick Higgins was a friend of Auntie’s, and after she died her daughter sent me the small watercolor above. (Dick’s daughter Wendy is a phenomenal oil painter in Santa Fe, specializing in light.) I pirated an old frame and mat that had had a Japanese print in it for fifty years to reframe this one, which is not only a lovely image but also carries the breeze off the Rappahannock River at happy hour.

“Cats on the Furniture” is a print by one of the loves of my life, Daryl Harrison, who died of breast cancer in 2006. She was scientific illustrator for the University of Florida biology department when we lived next door in the 80s, and was staff artist at the Albuquerque Zoo for years before she died. This print perfectly captures her skill and her whimsy. It came in a silver metal frame, and the mat had faded, so I stole the frame and mat from an old pastel my mother made of me and Knobbydog, which always bugged me because she got his head wrong. I’m grateful I know my way around a picture frame.

When I owned a gallery in the 90s, I supported the artists by purchasing a lot of their works. One of my favorites is this fox by an artist still living, Daniel Logé. Another, below, is this lovely spring alpine scene by Richard Van Reyper. I became friends with his daughter when she brought some of his paintings to enter in a show. I was immediately enchanted with his work, and also with his daughter who became a friend. They’re both gone now. Gretchen succumbed with grace to cancer ten years ago, and I just learned that Dick died last year.

My mother painted a couple of versions of this vase with lilies of the valley, her favorite flower. Amy has the more abstract version of it, while I got to keep this one. She died in 2004. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. She loved the art of Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858), and this print below, Fudo Falls, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, was made the year before he died. Oh wait! That’s a Liberty puzzle!

And it’s not on my wall, but it was on my table for the past few days. Liberty carries a number of Hiroshige prints made into puzzles. I’m grateful to Sarah for sharing her puzzle collection with us here in Colorado, and thoroughly delighted in assembling this first of three. More on that, perhaps tomorrow. I’m grateful for artists and the infinite worlds they bring to life.

Shifting Perspectives

Speaking of dogs, I’m grateful for a visit from tiny dogs today.

I’m grateful for the ability to stretch enough to shift a perspective now and then. “The Power of the Dog” turned out to be more fascinating than fearful. Based on the horse punching, and a few reviews that seemed to emphasize intimidation and manipulation (all three emotional triggers for me) I was turned off. If it had been promoted differently, I’d have probably not resisted as much. If, say, it had been advertised as a sensitive LGBTQ period New Zealand western with a twist, I’d have been all over it. I’m grateful that Michele’s analysis and Deborah’s reassurance gave me the resolve to finish watching it, and it turns out the horse punching was actually the hardest scene for me. Yeah, he drove poor Rose to drink, but he didn’t really torment her all that much. Who among us hasn’t been bullied? Why did the buzz focus on his mean behavior instead of his vulnerability? The film was so much more than that.

We get entrenched in our views about things, people, points of view, and often it’s hard to let go: of preconceptions, resentments, grudges, judgements, personal emotional wounds. I’m grateful my heart cracked open a little more today, though it wasn’t easy to face my own intransigence. I’m grateful for shifting perspectives.

I’m also grateful for homemade sweet and sour sauce. The only thing missing with the egg rolls the other day was sweet and sour sauce. Hoisin was good, but no substitute. The mustard was really a bust with the particular brand of powder I had. So I picked the easiest, quickest S&S recipe that came up, with five ingredients on hand, and was delighted with the result. In ten minutes I had the perfect sauce to balance the rich Hoisin and salty filling.