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Waking and Walking

I’m grateful for every day that Stellar and I both wake up alive, and are both able to walk to Ice Canyon. He’ll be 13 two weeks from yesterday, and boy will I have a lot to say about that then. We both stumble and wobble a bit in the deep snow and icy path through the woods, and he naps hard when we return to the cozy house. Some days he could probably make it down there, but I don’t have the energy; other days he stumbles just a bit too much to go that far. So each day that we make it is extra good.

I’m grateful I had time to squeeze in the simple pleasure of cooking soup and baking cupcakes today, and the patience to squeeze out buttercream frosting from a new piping kit this evening.

These won’t win any prizes for technique, but they’re delicious. I’m grateful for each simple, transient pleasure in any given day, and for the awareness that true happiness does not, actually, come from cupcakes.

Each day is precious and unique, and its opportunities come but once. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be of service to my community, as I was this day, and grateful to be part of an excellent and conscientious team working to make the world a better place. I’m grateful again today for technology that makes it possible for me to contribute to community without leaving my hermitage, and to connect with and see the beloved faces of faraway friends.

My Birthday

Some birthday presents, from friends who know me well!

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 did get permission to share this one. Birthday zoom cocktails with my goddaughter (top right) in Brooklyn, and her mom, one of my oldest friends, and her husband, professional musicians near DC, who asked my favorite song and then sang it: I Can See Clearly Now.

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.

Paradise Road

Sunday sunroom attention delayed until today…

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.

Grateful for homemade focaccia, melty provolone, smoked salmon, and avocado mayo. Simple deliciousness with just a few special groceries on hand.
Yay Mayonnaise! I’m grateful for mayonnaise, and for an early birthday present.
A nice long-sleeved tee with The Mayo Queen on the back, which I was just folding when “Evangeline” came on the playlist. I’m grateful for how little things make me smile.

Bibliofillies

Books I unearthed while sorting through boxes in the attic…

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:

  1. Portrait of a Lady Henry James
  2. Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
  3.  O Pioneers! Willa Cather 
  4.   A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul
  5. Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia 
  6. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
  7. The Haunted Monastery, Robert Van Gulik 
  8. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe 
  9. The Cave, Jose Saramago 
  10. Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence 
  11. A Thousand Cranes, Yasunari Kawabata 
  12. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
  13. Passionate Nomad, Jane Geniesse 
  14. Saving Fish from Drowning, Amy Tan 
  15. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
  16. East Wind: West Wind, Pearl S. Buck
  17. The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham
  18. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  19. Dearest Friend:  A Life of Abigail Adams, Lynne Withey
  20. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe 
  21. Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami 
  22. The Blind Assasin, Margaret Atwood 
  23. Dakota:  A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris 
  24. Arthur and George, Julian Barnes 
  25. Burger’s Daughter, Nadine Gordimer 
  26. The Thief and the Dogs, Naguib Mahfouz  
  27. Stories of Anton Chekhov, Anton Chekhov 
  28. Herzog, Saul Bellow 
  29. Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie
  30. My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk
  31. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner 
  32. In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant 
  33. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
  34. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee 
  35. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller 
  36. Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett 
  37. The Greenlanders, Jane Smiley 
  38. The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love, Oscar Hijuelos 
  39. White Ghost Girls, Alice Greenway
  40. The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty
  41. Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson
  42. Mara and Dann, Doris Lessing 
  43. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde 
  44. The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers
  45. Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis 
  46. The Ginseng Hunter, Jeff Talarigo 
  47. The Leopard, Guiseppe de Lampedusa 
  48. The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney 
  49. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery 
  50. The Quiet Girl, Peter Hoeg 
  51. Rabbit is Rich, John Updike
  52. A Mercy, Toni Morrison
  53. Desert, LeClezio
  54. The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
  55. The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
  56. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  57. The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
  58. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
  59. Telex from Cuba, Rachel Kushner
  60. Little Bee, Chris Cleave
  61. That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo
  62. The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
  63. Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
  64. The Dream Life of Sukhanov, Olga Grushin
  65. The Appointment, Herta Muller
  66. Vanity Fair, William Thackeray
  67. The Help, Kathyrn Stockett
  68. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
  69. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson
  70. Even Silence Has an End:  My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle, Ingrid Betancourt
  71. Tinkers, Paul Harding
  72. Dog of the South, Charles Portis
  73. Trading Dreams of Midnight, Diane McKinney-Whetstone  
  74. Undaunted:  The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, Dorothy Wickenden
  75. The Elephant’s Journey, Jose Saramago
  76. People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
  77. Reader’s choice: Mario Vargas Llosa
  78. Killing Mother, Rita Clagett
  79. Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, Christie Watson
  80. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
  81. The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness, Clay Jenkinson
  82. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford
  83. The Swerve:  How the World Became Modern, Stephen Greenblatt
  84. The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh
  85. The Invisible Ones, Stef Penney
  86. Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith & Love, Dava Sobel
  87. State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
  88. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bolgakov
  89. Room: A Novel, Emma Donoghue
  90. The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
  91. The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
  92. The Stone Raft, Jose Saramago
  93. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt
  94. Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder
  95. Mary Coin, Marisa Silver
  96. The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain
  97. Proust at the Majestic, Richard Davenport-Hines
  98. Remembering Babylon, David Malouf
  99. What Maisie Knew, Henry James
  100. Reader’s choice: Books by Mo Yan
  101. The Sumbally Fallacy, Karen Weinant Gallob
  102. The Emerald Mile, Kevin Fedarko
  103. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Kay Joy Fowler
  104. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  105. Americanah, Chimananda Adichie
  106. Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, Poe Ballantine
  107. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  108. A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
  109. The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
  110. The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
  111. The Emperor of Paris, C.S. Richardson
  112. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Roz Chast
  113. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Jan-Philipp Sendker
  114. Submergence, J.M. Ledgard
  115. The Antagonist, Lynn Coady
  116. 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.

Compassionate Presence

Grateful every day for living here.

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.

Seeing Truth Clearly
Compassionate Presence

“Today’s Edition” Saved My Sanity

Grateful for gorgeous sunset view on Solstice, and for my bonsai California Redwood, and for Cynthia who brought it to me as a rooted twig over a decade ago, and for cheap colored LED fairy lights to brighten even the darkest night.

Grateful for Robert Hubbell, a wise, compassionate attorney in LA whom I’d have never known if not for Sarah Juniper forwarding me a copy of his newsletter last year. He started writing what is already a historical record of the White House’s descent into madness on the day after the 2016 election, as “a way of providing support and hope for my three daughters and close friends who were shocked and anxious…”

This evening R. Hubbell hosted a holiday zoom party for a thousand of his closest readers. What began as a small circle had widened by the time I jumped on to around 5,000 readers, and continues to grow exponentially, as other readers like me share it with friends and family who are suffering under the constant stress and trauma of the current regime’s assault on our planet and democracy.

Raising a glass with a thousand of his closest friends and his Managing Editor, toasting the activism of his readers.

Each year Hubbell hosts a holiday party for readers, and this year he hosted the party on Zoom. Ellie and I got our RSVPs in early enough to join the party, and were beside ourselves with excitement to meet this man who has brought so much calm and optimism to our lives during this absurdly fraught election. Each evening Hubbell thoroughly parses the day’s news, synthesizing many sources from journalistic mainstays and obscure trade journals, and we wake to a sane, reassuring recap that calms nerves and inspires action. I have no doubt that his dedicated effort to inform Americans over the past four years contributed as much as many other grassroots organizations to the hopeful outcome of this last election. Much remains to be done, as he reminds us often, and he’s committed to continuing the newsletter going forward. He now has a dedicated readership of more than 17,000.

He analyzes and critiques a wide range of government players, and shares quotes from and links to many of his resources, such as this from yesterday’s newsletter: “Why we need a Commission on Democracy, and what it could do.” He writes with a level perspective and a compelling blend of clarity, urgency, tenderness and irony, often making me laugh out loud. He also gives praise where praise is due. Here’s an excerpt from Today’s Edition (No. 1,052) “Out damned spot!”

“A reader sent a link to an article about a former member of the Department of Justice, Erica Newland. See NYTimes, “I’m Haunted by What I Did as a Lawyer in the Trump Justice Department.” Ms. Newland’s op-ed is worth reading in its entirety; the excerpt below does not do justice to her thoughtful discussion. But the following paragraph struck a chord with me:   No matter our intentions, we were complicit. We collectively perpetuated an anti-democratic leader by conforming to his assault on reality…. No matter how much any one of us pushed back from within, we did so as members of a professional class of government lawyers who enabled an assault on our democracy — an assault that nearly ended it.   ….Ms. Newland quit the DOJ early in Trump’s tenure. She acknowledges that some of those who remained behind resisted Trump; indeed, they revolted when Bill Barr ordered them to look for election fraud immediately after November 3, 2020. ….As we reckon the damage of Trump’s presidency, we must consider how we can ensure that the “professional class of government lawyers” have a firmer grasp of—and deeper loyalty to—the rule of law. Law schools, bar associations, and professional organizations must play a role. If lawyers who enabled Trump leave government and are welcomed with open arms by law schools, bar associations, and professional organizations, we will have learned nothing. I applaud Ms. Newland for having the self-awareness to recognize her complicated legacy in the Trump administration. Others should be held to the same standard of accountability to which Ms. Newland holds herself.”

So Robert Hubbell’s Today’s Edition is where I begin gratitude practice today, followed by Neighbor Mary’s holiday tradition of sharing Potica, a nut-roll cake that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Neighbor Fred’s family recipe for Potica (pronounced poteetza)

IT'S A MIRACLE!

“Get me down, please.” Cyn’s caption of this photo she took this evening

I don’t often drive off the mesa after a drink, but tonight was an exception. I was enjoying a quarantini on a Zoom happy hour with Dawn when my phone, across the room, went off with text dings and call rings. I ignored it until Dawn got a text from Pamela, asking if she knew where I was, saying they had found a tortoiseshell cat at the end of their road…

It’s a miracle. I knew she had gotten in Philip’s or John’s vehicle that day a month ago when she disappeared, but… they both checked, and… somehow… who knows how… she ended up at the end of the road a quarter mile from the Bad Dog Ranch. A month ago yesterday. Both Marla and Pamela saw her in the past few days and thought she was Idaho, her sister who lives at the ranch, but Idaho was accounted for. Pamela said, “I knew it wasn’t Idaho because she’s so furry I can’t see underneath her, and I could see underneath this cat. I thought she was a feral cat from one of the ranches down there.”

This evening, they caught her, carried her home, put her in a crate, and tried to reach me. Dawn and I were chatting away, about the pandemic, of course, and other things, and Dawn checked her texts. “Do you know where Rita might be?” That moment when someone’s face changes so dramatically you know it’s important? I saw that. I leapt across the room to my phone, and saw this picture:

“It’s a long shot, but…” Pamela had checked the pictures on here and matched markings…

“It’s her I’m on my way.”

Twenty minutes later…

Had there been any doubt, which there wasn’t, because I have memorized her face during all my adorations of her, it would have been immediately dispelled when I got the crate out of the car. She began thrashing and butting her head against the grate. She knew she was home. The dogs were waiting in the yard, and she went nose to nose with them. Inside, I took her out in the mudroom, and flipped her upside down just to make triple sure, checking for that sweet flan spot on her tummy. She wiggled out of my arms and butted against the door to get in the house.

She ran right in, pranced around the house, ate half a can of food, ran upstairs, checked out all her sleeping spots. Ojo chased her around hissing and growling. I guess he didn’t miss her as much as I thought he did. I know she smells different. And maybe he was actually happy to be an only cat. She hissed back. She’s thin and tense, and very happy to be home.

One thing’s for sure: this cat is on lockdown for at least two days, if not two weeks. She’s not going outside until I get my fill of cuddles, and feel some sense of certainty that she won’t run off after her taste of the wild. No pun intended. I’ll have to buy another bag of that kibble. And clean the copper sink more often. And fret a little more about keeping cat food supplied during this uncertain time. Although we know now that she can hunt her own food. And, sorry Benny, but I’m glad I didn’t give you her scratching post yet because she used it immediately.

We’re all doing quarantine for various reasons around here, some because of recent flights from both coasts, some from reasonable caution, but we are all extra happy tonight. Topaz is lying on the rug in front of the fire now. Thanks to Cyn and Pamela for catching her and for the pictures, and to my dear friends who are as happy as I am that my ‘forever kitty’ has returned home. It’s made our day: a moment of pure joy and gratitude in this deeply disturbing and uncertain time.

Grumpy, scared and tense kitty on the first leg of her journey home

And it is. I experience waves of terror when I think about the future. But I’ve got a few resources that keep me grounded in the present moment. One is Catherine Ingram’s podcast ‘In the Deep.’ Another is the remarkably sane newsletter from Robert Hubbell. And there’s Telesangha, a weekday morning meditation group: since September 2016 a dear international community has developed in this half-hour telephone sangha that I look forward to each morning, and that years ago caused me to commit to a daily meditation practice without which I suspect I’d be losing my mind to utter anxiety at this point.

My heart grieves for all of Italy, for the horror of the unnatural aberration of death and mourning there during this pandemic. My heart grieves for all the suffering and death worldwide that is happening now and is yet to come as a result of this natural disaster, this once-in-a-hundred years pandemic, this world-changing plague, this inevitable result of too many humans exploiting a finite planet. Amidst all this grievous suffering there are also tiny sparks of joy. The practice, the balance, lies in holding the experience of the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows at the same time.

It is an inconceivable situation. And, for this one iota of life called me, as I learned to breathe with decades ago in a Thich Nhat Hanh meditation, In this moment, all is well. Inhale In this moment, exhale all is well. Over and over. And over. In the next moment, or the next month, or six months from now, it might not be. “We’ll know more later,” as my auntie always says.

Although there are some things, very few things, that we will not know more later about, like the past month in the life of the flan-tummied cat Topaz.

Good Neighbors

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Grateful the Ecofan on top of the woodstove is working again…

Speaking of thanking things, I am so grateful to my little Ecofan that sits on top of the woodstove and pushes hot air through the house, using only the temperature differential between incoming air and the heat underneath it to power itself. It quit working about a week ago, and I fussed with it a little, talked to it some, looked up repair options on Youtube, and suddenly it started working again last night. I have been thanking it out loud when it’s blowing every time I add wood to the stove.

Another thing Marie Kondo did for me was validate my tendency to speak to everything. I’ve been chatting with houseplants all my life. If everything has some sort of spirit, it’s not crazy to speak to everything. I do it all the time, but almost never in front of anyone else. It’s one reason I live alone except for non-verbal animals. I feel really good about thanking the Ecofan.

I’m grateful for everything in my life, including the fact of where I live. Not only is it beautiful, it isn’t 50 degrees below zero tonight. It hasn’t been much below zero for twenty years. This winter, just a couple of nights in negative single digits. When I first moved here, there were multiple nights each winter in minus double digits, several each year of 20 or more below. When I lived in northeastern Utah in an 1880s two-room log cabin, we had five nights in a row around 40 below. I’d get the temperature up into the 90s and pack the woodstove before I went to bed. When I woke, it was 50 inside. I’m grateful I no longer have to work that hard to stay warm. I feel for those who do.

So while others in our great, big country struggle to survive this polar vortex spill caused by ‘global warming,’ or as I prefer to call it, Climate Chaos, I sit here at my desk cozy and content, appreciating where and among whom I live.

Even if I don’t agree with my neighbors about some things, there are a couple of things we all seem to have in common: We care about the landscape in which we dwell. We have some reverence for place, no matter how differently we manifest it. And we care about each others’ animals, feeding one another’s cats or filling birdfeeders when someone’s away, catching cows or horses that stray. The other day I went to water a friend’s plants and spooked a flock of rosy finches.

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Audubon has a fascinating map feature that shows how the range of gray-crowned rosy finches, listed as Climate Endangered, has diminished between 2000 and now. I’ve heard about these birds, increasingly uncommon winter residents in western Colorado, but never seen one until this flock last week. It was thrilling! An unintended benefit of being neighborly.

Another Life v. Death dilemma entered my life this week. A guy called, I recognized his name as a long-time local family who are outfitters. He said a mountain lion had gotten into his herd of horses down in the Smith Fork, and might have killed one of them. “Once they’ve done something like that they’ll do it again,” he explained. He wanted permission to track the lion across my property. I said, reluctantly, ok. I suspected he was exaggerating the alleged lion attack. But what else could I have done?

I said, “I would prefer that you don’t kill it on my property.” He had no reply. We hung up. My land is a recognized wildlife sanctuary. I can’t give just anyone permission to kill on it. But if livestock is at stake, and people are courteous enough to ask permission, I can’t very well say no. That is the unwritten code of where I live: We are neighborly. We try to help out each other. I have seen these guys putting chains on their tires and taking them off at the top of the field in the canyon where their horses are right now. They work hard. They are attentive to their animals. Their way is not mine, but I don’t begrudge them.

The next day, I ran into one of them. They were searching for two hunting dogs they’d lost track of whilst tracking. I called James that evening, and said “I’ll sleep better tonight knowing they’re home warm and safe, but if they’re not I’ll keep looking out for them.” They had been found, they were fine. I was relieved. He was grateful that I’d asked. Ultimately, they did not find the lion, but they did get all their hounds back. It was a good outcome, as far as I’m concerned.

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Later that day we ran into a traffic jam on our way to Delta.

 

img_5342Another highlight of the week was finding a new home for a sweet old cat. Which reminds me, people have asked for a Rosie the Dog update: It’s a long story, but Rosie is in a foster home in Ridgway where she gets to live in the house, and cross-country ski almost every day. She is available for permanent adoption through the Second Chance Humane Society. You can meet her here if you haven’t already:

Bringing Rosie into my life generated a big awakening. Her joyful, loving energy lifted my spirits immensely, just as my latest round of PT has strengthened and toned my body. The result has been an enlivening perspective on making the best of what already is in my life, and relinquishing all that I must in order to live mindfully within my limitations.

The biggest gift Rosie gave me was the realization that I was taking my own precious animals for granted. Despite having all along a painful awareness of the shortness and mystery of each of their lives, I wasn’t putting into practice that awareness. With four of them, and my limited energy and physical constraints, I wasn’t spending enough time loving each of them, one on one, eye to eye, heart to heart. Since the kittens came, the two old dogs have loyally done whatever I’ve asked of them, patiently savoring any morsel of my undivided attention as gratefully as they do the tiniest last bites they wait for at the end of every meal. 

Since Rosie left six weeks ago, I’ve engaged more with each dog and cat, and even had a session last week with an animal communicator. It was amazing and exhilarating. The understanding and bond with all of my animals is stronger, in both directions. The cats are both more affectionate, and coming on more and longer walks with me and the dogs. Raven has stopped licking her groins obsessively, and is much more relaxed. Stellar is even happier than he’s always been, and said he likes the pumpkin on his food.

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The cats are especially grateful that sweet Rosie has found a new place to live on her journey to a real home. Now they can walk with us through the woods or up the driveway, and come through the mudroom unchallenged. Ojo has stopped biting me, and started purring again.

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We haven’t been to the canyon since we snowshoed out there on New Year’s Day, taking our walks up the driveway instead. And there have been plenty of days this month when we didn’t even do that! We’re all getting lazy in our old age. Or maybe just more particular about what weather we want to go out and play in.

And then there are days like these: The sky remained cloudless all day. Late sun sliding below the ridge, lighting snowbanks, treebark, mountaintops, cats’ eyes, dogs’ fur, deep bright cold gold.

Air warmed to almost freezing from nine overnight. We went outside late morning. Dogs and deer have carved trails intersecting with paths I’ve shoveled, and I could get around the yard a little more for rounds. Under some trees ground has warmed enough to melt snow. It’s time to think about pruning some shrubs while they’re free of leaves. Dormant buds already pulse with life on fruit trees. I hear a chainsaw.

Stellar and I walk into the woods next door as neighbor Ken stops his saw. He’s clearing a dead tree for Paul’s firewood. He offers me a chair, a beautiful round from the dead juniper, and is happy for the break. We chat about this winter, the marvelous snow, our miracle girl next door, recent bobcats and mountain lions in the neighborhood. Paul pulls up in his 4-wheeler to collect the wood, and we catch up for a few minutes, while Ken plows him a track to the tree pieces. Stellar and I leave them to their wood work, and head happily home to our own.

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He really does want to help.

 

 

Grammar Gripe

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I can’t do it any longer. I can’t not say anything. I don’t want to offend people, or sabotage their world views, or judge them. I just want to enjoy being a living incarnation of the magnanimous force that created this universe and keeps it in eternal unfathomable motion. I just want to be a good person.

My dear friend gave me a shirt last year that says, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” I am. Even though sometimes the rules are ridiculous, like punctuation inside or outside of quotation marks. I can’t help myself. It’s the one thing I can do. It’s the one thing that I love. I learned grammar like a fish to water, and therefore, I can play with it. As a writer, I can play with grammar.

But you? You news writer for NBC who wrote for Miguel Almaguer to say, “Downloaded more than a hundred million times, prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”

Prosecutors were NOT downloaded more than a hundred million times.

Yet that is is actually, in fact, what Miguel said, with his grammar. There is no dispute about it, if you agree with the laws of English grammar: the prosecutor was not downloaded more than a hundred million times, The Weather Channel app was. That sentence, if you want to be educated about it, should read, “Prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App, downloaded more than a hundred million times,  was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”

Now, how hard is that to understand? You should have learned that in sixth grade, NBC writer.

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My contribution to Christmas Dinner was peach pie. 

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I pulled whole peaches from the deep freeze and microwaved them for two 30 second hits, mixing them up between, rolling the bottom peaches to the top, letting the top peaches slide down the inside of the bowl. 

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Peels and pits to the side for compost. Their skins really do slip right off, and they practically break in half. Still partially frozen but juicy, they’re so small I can put them in the pie shell in halves, pit-side down, round shining essentially fresh peach halves.

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I did bake the bottom crust first. Having finally figured out to add a little more water at this altitude right off the bat, and mix fast but not too much. 

My friend’s husband Steve was right: you have to use your hands; a pastry cutter won’t result in the right size butter inclusions. You need tiny, uniform pockets of butter (or butter/lard) to make the pastry flaky. That’s science. I don’t get it exactly but I’m beginning to experience it, and I believe experience is what makes a pastry chef, or anyone, an expert at something, whether they can explain the physics of it or not.

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A nearly perfect peach pie: enough peaches to fill and round the pie plate, mixed with some sugar (not too much), and a palm-full of tapioca, stirred, and left to sit. Crusts mixed, chilled, and rolled; the bottom crust baked for around ten minutes with parchment paper weighted with beans; filled, topped, and baked, like, forever.

I think my new oven is not quite calibrated for my altitude. I think ten minutes at 450 degrees would be ideal. Then filled and quickly covered, crimped, and replaced in the oven for another ten minutes. Then, the book says, bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes. 50 minutes came and went, another ten, another ten, it took forever to even start to brown. Once the peach juice bubbled up inside the edge I took it out of the oven. Mmmmmm, the aroma.

Pastry baking science aside, how hard is it to comprehend that United States President Donald Trump flat out lied? He promised during his campaign, and was elected on the promise that, Mexico would pay for the wall.

It infuriates me that people, whatever their alliance, are not outraged, are not bombarding their Senators with phone calls and emails, exclaiming that this Shutdown is not good for America, and that Trump promised Mexico, NOT WE, would pay for any wall. He lied to you!

If every one of the nearly one million Federal workers who are working without pay, or not working without pay, would call their Senators and tell them whether or not they favor this Trump Shutdown, maybe, he says, for years, I bet that Congress would hear a whole lot more NOs than they would YESs. Every one of these people, whether they support or oppose Trump, counts on the income, purpose, and dignity of their job with the Federal Government. Trump does not speak for them. They speak for themselves.

This is a broken promise masquerading as some other closet monster. It’s monsters all the way down. The squirrelly (no offense to squirrels) course that this person’s chicanery and abuse takes is exceptionally skillful. The guy is a magnificent manipulator. And I’ve come to know some damned skillful manipulators through the years, even as recently as last summer.

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Thanksgiving’s pie was apple/plum, both from last year’s harvest, in the freezer. I figured out the crust mixing physics that time, but not the cooking science, so it had soggy bottom, ick. Also, the apples were undercooked, too al dente for my taste. Otherwise, a good mix of cinnamon, sugar, tart apple, and more tart, but less of, plum, just a layer on the top.

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Sorry friends, I didn’t ask your permission. But you kind of have to assume, knowing me, you might show up here one day. I love this picture. It expresses to me the ultimate in community. When I moved here almost 27 years ago, I could never have imagined how lucky I would become, how grateful for so much in my life. Every day that I wake up, I thank my lucky stars. For waking up at all, for the day ahead in this place, for community at ever-deepening levels.

So, that’s grammar and the president’s lies out of the way. Back to the allegation that TWC, our go-to weather source (and admittedly a drama queen of a station), has been illegally stealing our private information. “The app deceptively collected, shared, and profited from private location data of millions of consumers….” Miguel went on. Then he introduced the LA City Attorney, who said:

‘Think how Orwellian it is to have a third party you never had contact with know where you’ve gone for a therapist, for a date, for what you did last night…’

“Banking on TWC brand, the Weather Company, owned by IBM, operates the app… which manipulated users into turning on location tracking, using valuable personal data, for commercial gain.” Owned by IBM? Why should this be surprising? We’ve all signed those agreements we never read. We’ve all been complicit in so many ways in the prostitution of our privacy.

I’m sick of it, I tell you, sick of it. All of it. It is all I can do to get out of bed in the morning some days. But there is so much to live for, so much to get out of bed for, that I can sometimes set aside the incessant enervation of our species’ chatter, to enjoy the day.

Today, “another bluebird day across the state,” said Colorado Public Radio. It was spectacular. Blinding in its perfection. Every second with eyes open was a calendar photo. And the minutes and hours or portions of hours spent indoors with friends, or alone, were succulent every second. I could not be a more lucky human being.

IMG_5246.jpgSo much I don’t have, yet so much more that I do. Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day.