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Continuing Education

Just the simple fact that I keep on learning, something, every day, at least one thing; I’m grateful for continuing education. For example, no wonder my cookies turn out so flat, even when I follow the recipe to a T: I always let the butter get too soft. So chilling the dough in the fridge before I finish even mixing it turns out to be a prize-winning success.

I’m so grateful for the latté ritual that makes the Sundays of this pastoral life hold meaning: ok, not the only thing, but ‘my’ Sunday morning latté is definitely a ritual worth appreciating.

I’m grateful for the national celebration of the arts that is the Kennedy Center Honors; this year it was filmed all over the grounds in the leadup to the final production. I’m grateful to Mary and Chris for both alerting me to the broadcast; and I’m grateful for the technology I have learned to engage with to bring it into our lives. I’m grateful that I live in a rural community that has benefited from Midori’s initiative to bring music to the more random and isolated communities in the country. Our little Blue Sage Center for the Arts, which I’ve watched evolve since its inception into a place where, Cousin Jack was just asking me today, world-class musicians come to perform, grateful that Midori is one of these, grateful to learn more about artists I barely know, and those whose names I’ve known for most of my life. It’s a special place where I live, and I’m grateful for the palpable sense of community that enticed me to stay here, all those years ago.

It was a beautiful presentation that only kept getting better, until at last … well, I’ll leave it that the Garth Brooks segment, which was last, was also the most powerful for me. Grateful, especially, that I can enjoy and participate in this celebration without leaving the comfort of my living room.

Teeth

It was a beautiful morning, thwarted only by the promise of rain that never came.

One of the ideas that is used in the lineage of mindfulness training that I’m cultivating this year is that of mental hygiene. We spend at least five minutes a day attending to our dental hygiene, why do we not spent at least that amount of time attending to our mental hygiene? The idea has been bugging me for the past six months, as I’ve begun spending far more time on mind training than I have on physical training or fitness, never mind teeth. I tend to clench my jaws during sleep, funneling all the day’s anxiety into the night rather than dealing with it while the sun’s up. As a result, I found out today, the surfaces of some of my teeth are crazed like old china.

In Colorado, California, and Washington, dental hygienists are allowed to practice on their own unrelated to a dentist’s office.

But that didn’t really worry the dental hygienist I saw for the first time, with gritted teeth, a bit worried that they were in as bad shape as they felt. In fact, for not having been to a dentist in almost three years, my teeth are in great shape, and I was grateful again today, as yesterday, for the compassionate care of a qualified female medical professional. The only thing Jen was really worried about throughout the teeth cleaning was the “aggressive sound” of her instruments on my delicate dentition. She apologized several times for it, reassuring me that though it sounded bad it really wasn’t. In between jaw stretches, when she had her hand out of my mouth, I reassured her that it didn’t sound aggressive, it sounded like progress.

“You’re doing great,” she cheered me on several times. I felt safe again, from the moment I walked into her office. I used to be not fond of the smell of disinfectant, and normally might have gagged at the scent when I entered. However, in Covid times, I found the aroma comforting, and relaxed immediately after meeting her. No one else in the office the entire time, everything I encountered spic n span (until my muddy shoes touched the chair), and what seems like a solid protocol for both her and her patients’ well-being. It was the most fun I’ve ever had getting my teeth cleaned, and though I kept feeling my body tense up as she scraped gently away, I also kept being able to release, let go, relax. One thing that amazed me is how did she manage to put so much pressure on the scraper, or the floss, as the tartar resisted, and then not let the tool or the floss plunge into my gum when it finally released? I was impressed with her control, and surrendered to her capable hands and the general feeling that I’d chosen well to trust her. I’m so grateful to have finally found again a place I feel safe getting my teeth tended, and inspired to pay more attention to them myself. Her intake questionnaire asks, among many other things, Do you want to keep your own teeth? YES! I answered emphatically. Floss more, was essentially what she said.

I’m grateful for my teeth, that they’re in such good shape 62 years into this life, that they serve me so well, that I know now to be gentle in what I chew to protect their fragile enamel (No ice chewing, she advised), that regular brushing and occasional flossing has been enough to keep them stable for three years, that she accepts ACA insurance so I can go back more often; I’m grateful for my teeth for all they do for me daily, crunching into celery, tearing and chewing a lamb chop, lending emphasis and clarity to facial expressions. And for all they have done for me in the past. May these teeth keep on biting, tearing, chewing for several more decades!

Lynne Norton Anderson’s exquisite raku art hangs on the wall of my new favorite teeth cleaner’s office.
Late today I took the plastic off the potato bed to find the first five red potatoes sprouting through the soil surface. So grateful for this small success, and eager now to plant the rest of the potatoes this week.
I’m grateful for blooming tulips and growing garlic.
Another random juniper, unnoticed until this evening’s flat light.

Feeling Heard and Seen

Grateful to see the first wild phlox in bloom on our walk this morning.

My gratitude today began of course first thing in the morning when Stellar and I both woke up alive and able to take a nice long walk through the forest. But it really kicked in late morning when I met my new primary care provider at the clinic, a nurse practitioner who made me feel heard and seen in a way no doctor has since the great Adam Zerr left the valley. Christi Anderson heard everything, and then asked if there was more. There was. And then she asked if there was more. There was. And then she said, “I look forward to taking care of you.” All with lots of eye contact and genuine compassion and interest. I felt a lot healthier walking out of there, simply from feeling heard and seen completely. It’s so important, whether it’s with a healthcare provider, a partner, or a friend, to feel heard and seen for who you are.

Grateful for healthy garlic growing on the left, tulips budding on the right, and a new planting of romaine amidst the greens I may have planted too early this spring; grateful for the garden’s lessons in impermanence, patience, acceptance, and resilience.

And that might have been that for today’s post, except that tonight I attended the third and final webinar on a resilient ‘circular’ local economy, hosted by one of our environmental watchdog groups, Citizens for a Healthy Community. Another of the clinic’s doctors attended this workshop to speak about integrating healthcare proactively within the main focus of the series, the ‘nutrient dense’ agriculture of this amazing valley. I’ll not go into any recap of the series, which consisted of a total of almost 8 hours over three Mondays, but I’ll share the link to the recorded workshops, in which so many entrepreneurs, farmers, artists, and others explained their amazing passion projects.

Grateful to come home from the clinic today to risen pizza dough in the skillets, and plenty of yummy ingredients to top it with, from faraway smoked salmon and capers to extremely local tomato sauce.

I moved here almost thirty years ago because I found what I had been looking for without knowing it: a palpable sense of community. Though in the past decade I have retreated into my hermitage on the fringe, this community continues to sustain me in a very fundamental way, and there really are no words to express my gratitude for the gift of living here, among these generous people so deeply connected to the earth our mother. I have been uplifted and inspired by everyone who spoke in these three workshops, and was honored to attend simply to witness and learn the depth and breadth of interconnection among all these non-profits and individuals, from community elders like food activists Monica and Chrys, to relative newcomers, all dedicated to supporting the ecosystem of this beautiful agricultural valley which is also a progressive creative center in food and many other arts. One of the most exciting things I learned is that there is now a countywide Farm to School food garden/curriculum in the nine elementary schools.

I’ve often thought that I found in this valley a safe place to plant myself and flourish; a place where I could be heard and seen so that I could find my voice and my vision. I am grateful every single day that I chose to settle here in the North Fork Valley.

Zoom Cooking with Amy: Waffles + Mochi

Tomato in Drag lip syncing for her life

Oh, please let this be the new Sesame Street, the new Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the new the rest of those zany educational children’s shows that hit the big time afterwards. Please let ‘Waffles + Mochi’ be the new culturally-defining kids’ show! Drag Race meets the Garden!

We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”

What even is mochi? Auto-correct wants it to say ‘mocha,’ but it’s not. Even after looking it up it doesn’t make sense in my world view – some kind of rice. But this is what this show’s about: expanding the world views of children everywhere; children of all ages. Fearful people might perceive it as a threat to some single thing they hold dear, like skin color, pizza recipes, or language. But anyone else, a person with compassion, curiosity, and wonder at the miracle of life on this planet, a gardener for example, couldn’t help but be charmed. This show brings together all my favorite values. Good food (food that is healthy for us and for the planet), color (a dense rainbow of colors), self-inquiry self-discovery self-acceptance, curiosity, compassion, tolerance, love, nourishment, reverence for Life… and gardening! The transformative power of knowing where your food comes from.

Chef Samin Nosrat teaches the puppets that tomatoes are fruits…

From a ridiculous premise – give it a few minutes – it develops into an utterly charming exploration of food and food as metaphor. Guest stars Samin Nosrat and Chef José Andres add expertise and enthusiasm to episode one, teaching the puppets and some real kids about what makes tomatoes a fruit and a vegetable, and how to know where they belong.

… and Chef José instructs the puppets on the uses of tomatoes as vegetables.

Amy and I aren’t actually cooking this weekend, what with one thing and another, but we did FaceTime happy hour this evening. She reminded me that I meant to watch this show I’d read about, so now I’m doing it. It’s camp, it’s creative, it’s comedic, it celebrates real food, from the POV of an odd-couple of frozen puppets who dream of becoming chefs. Along with these novices fresh out of the frozen foods section, we (children of all ages) learn all about tomatoes in the first episode, and a little bit about how to think of our own belonging. In the second episode we explore salts of the world.

I’m no social scientist or education specialist, but my evaluation is that eventually this show (along with decriminalizing marijuana) could actually facilitate world peace. This world’s new crop of humans, the children of the Covid generation, could, with the loving guidance of wise, open-hearted elders, change the paradigm and bring humanity back into harmony with the planet, through a healthier relationship with food. I’m grateful for this clever, heartwarming show and its message of interconnection, well disguised as a frolic through the world of foods.

I’m also grateful for this ancient juniper on the canyon rim, and for still having the agility to get down below it for a portrait.

Itty Bitty Kitchen Ants

The ants are too tiny for me to get a picture, so here’s a little needle-felted hedgehog that I just bought for Topaz from the Snow Leopard Trust. Topaz isn’t grateful yet for this new toy, but I am, and I’m also grateful for the good work the Trust does on behalf of this magical cat and its surroundings, including human communities.

These itty bitty ants are back in my kitchen, and this year I’m grateful for them. Last year when they first showed up around the cat bowl, I didn’t mind, I’d take the bowl outside and knock them off; but then they started showing up on the kitchen counters as well, and I got annoyed. I don’t like to kill anything, even little ants, but before long I was sweeping them up with a paper towel, and sometimes smushing them on purpose. They just kept coming! Once I’d vented my frustration on them sufficiently, I started to think about them differently. Then they tapered off and disappeared over winter.

Yesterday I noticed a couple of them. Today there were more. Well, I had left dirty dishes on the counter, what could I expect? I’m grateful to the little kitchen ants for providing me incentive to get back on track with keeping the dishes flowing through the sink daily, keeping the counters clean and empty ~ removing the ants’ incentive to invade my kitchen. Thanks, itty bitty kitchen ants!

Speaking of snow leopards, I’m also grateful for this remarkable artist, Steve Nowatzki, whose work I discovered at an art fair in Florida a lifetime ago, and who is still crafting exquisitely haunting etchings reflecting human assaults on the wild world. Above, Melting Snow II.
I’m also grateful for cocktails at the pond (and for the great company) for the first time since last fall. It was 63ºF this afternoon, and only slightly cooler by happy hour.

Drag Queens

This won’t be the last time I express gratitude for drag queens. But this particular time I’ll mention only this one special episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 13: Corona Can’t Keep a Good Queen Down. In the thirteenth year of this warm-hearted, Emmy-winning show, the Drag Race team was one of the first TV series to film live during the pandemic. They thought ahead and took exceptional precautions to produce a stellar series, and the conditions of Covid have only given every joyful episode even more emotional charge and creative energy.

People sometimes ask me, “Why?” when I confess that my guilty pleasure is Drag Race. I’ve watched twelve years of episodes in two years, and become utterly immersed in this astonishing cultural phenomenon. I’m grateful that this wonderful, kind person, RuPaul Charles, walks the earth, and celebrates, elevates, the art of drag and the gentle souls who live it, bringing everyone else in the world both entertainment and perspective. More about that later. Meanwhile, this particular hourlong documentary gives those with an open heart and an open mind a lot of insight, not only into drag culture but into the ingenuity and mettle of RuPaul himself.

Drag Race took the pandemic seriously.
While the queens quarantined before and after arriving at the show, and could film without masks, staff and crew wore protective gear.
Hilarious! They’re looking at fake boobs as earnestly as they would at real ones!
Judges sit distanced with plexiglass partitions between them. That didn’t hinder their banter or dampen their wit.
Special guest Anne Hathaway appeared on screen instead of in person, and brought just as much excitement.

Friends I’ve Never Met

This little girl lives across the country. I’ve never met her, nor her mother, in person. But her mother is one of a number of friends I’ve made virtually along the mindfulness path I embarked upon in earnest five years ago. She and I have met almost monthly with a small sangha on zoom for that whole time – even pre-Coronaverse, a new world in which I’ve become friends with a number of other people on the path this past year. I’m grateful for all of these dear people who’ve come into my life online, and hope to meet some of them in person eventually.

Little R will be three in June. Her mom texted me this picture with the caption, Look what R found in her drawer and wanted to wear. Still fits!! She’s wearing a bunting I knitted for her ‘welcome to the world’ present, which she received when she probably could have fit inside one sleeve. I’m grateful my hours of knitting are still keeping this little girl warm, that she wanted to wear it, and I’m grateful her mom made my day with this surprise picture. My joy in this simple text and all it conveys brings tears to my eyes.

I’m grateful again today, as always, for waking up alive, and finding my dear Stellar alive downstairs in his bed. It still breaks my heart that he can no longer climb the stairs to sleep with me, but he seems content in his own bed. And I’m grateful that he feels so good these days that he eagerly strays from the trail. For most of last year, he was so feeble that he could only plod along ahead of me, head down. Nowadays, he’s always following his nose out into the trees, and sometimes gets so far ahead of me I can’t see him. I’m grateful that he always stops and waits for me. From our walk this morning – he’s blurry in most of them, that’s how well he’s moving!

Little Bowls

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.