It’s been a challenging few weeks. Between internal and external events, I’m tired all the time. It’s hard to rise to each occasion. But from this glum place, I’ve reached a conclusion: I need to return to my daily gratitude practice. And why bother with a thousand words, when a couple of numerals and some pictures can do the job? So, catching up for the past couple of weeks, here are just some of the things I’m grateful for…
42+ is a gratitude practice from the Active Hope course I just completed this evening. It’s freely available online, and one of these days I’ll probably facilitate a group engagement similar to the one that just ended, hosted by a friend. Today, I’m grateful for (4) having been given the opportunity to take the course, having made the commitment to take it and participated in it fully, and for the wonderful classmates I shared the eight-week journey with. I’m grateful to (2) Deborah Sussex for offering the course for free, and for her skillful and open-hearted facilitating of it through an increasingly difficult time in our country, when active hope is needed more than ever. The + part is how I will express my gratitude: right here, right now. Many thanks, Deb, Denali, Kes, Renee, and everyone else, for the inspiring experience of virtual connection.
Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day. Once again, we stare into the dark hole of a madman’s mind, shudder at images of unfathomable suffering, face a nuclear threat I thought we left behind for a wiser century. On top of climate catastrophe and ongoing global pandemic we now confront looming world war. Life is fleeting and uncertain. Love your people, your little things, the moments that bring you joy and meaning.
I did a selfish thing this year. I ordered a birthday puzzle, and I put it together all by myself, and then I framed it and hung it on the wall, without letting anyone else assemble it. I may have breached a Puzzle Rule… but then again, I write the rules and I don’t recall one that says every single puzzle must be available to everyone. Sorry, guys! This one was just for me. One of these days I’m going to paint the green wall blue, and I wanted this on there when that happens. Couldn’t risk a chipped or stained piece–even though Puzzle Rule #1 is No food or drink on the puzzle table, I often catch a little grease spot on a puzzle someone else has done.
Leftovers are great! The Mac n’ Cheese that keeps on giving. After Boyz Lunch last week I got a few more meals from the pasta pan. First I Mexicali’d it up with homemade salsa verde and fermented hot sauce from last summer’s harvest. The next day, I simply topped it with a fried egg and bacon.
Another leftover treat used up the second half of the sourdough pizza crust which I had frozen, topped with leftover herbed oyster mushroom roast. The recipe calls for a complicated skewer construction to mimic a roasted meat, but I simply topped the red onions and rosemary sprigs with the marinated mushrooms. It smelled amazing as it roasted, and delivered a complex spicy umami flavor and remarkable texture.
I know how fortunate I am. I really am grateful, almost every moment of every day. And when the suffering of others begins to feel remote, and I forget to be grateful for the food, the skills, the luxuries, the beloveds, the beauties of the life I’ve been graced with, all it takes is one phone call to remind me of my blessings.
The proprietor of the neighborhood pub died over the weekend, shocking the community. Another reminder to seize the day. His passing leaves a big hole in the fabric of the valley. I don’t know the details and I didn’t know him well, but I can see him clearly, smiling as he inquired about our entrée, shopping at the local grocery, bringing a special cocktail or dessert to the table…. awarding Deb the prize for best Halloween costume, back when we went to big parties. Another untimely death, she said, though we both know we’ve reached the age when no death of anyone older than us is untimely. Even though it almost always feels too soon.
It was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. I’ve read focaccia horror stories: For a first effort this was a great success! Life’s simple pleasures. The joy that baking has given me over the past couple of years.
The joy of serving Boyz Lunch again, finally, outside on the patio! Scrub jays squawked in now and then to pluck a seed from the spent patio pots, as we sat in warm sun, shedding layers as we ate and talked about consciousness. They are so gratifying to feed! Everything is the best, how will I live up to the high bar I set in the first lunch of the season? It’ll be easy–they are easy to please. Today they enjoyed broccoli-cauliflower soup from the freezer, Judi Wolfe’s mac n cheese with the Secret Ingredient, and makeshift fajitas. I cooked fajita meat from the ranch down the road in an overnight marinade, and laid it in 12″ tomato tortillas, with grated cheese (Blarney Castle!), homemade salsa, and ripe avocados.
For dessert, a tiny pear galette also from the freezer. I’ve got to start eating down the freezer, as we are blessed to be able to say here. The last of last summer’s frozen produce has got to get going, so there will be room enough in a few months to start restocking with this year’s bounty. Neighbor Fred says the apricot tree is loaded with fruit buds this year–if only we don’t lose most of them again to late freezes as we did last year. It was inspiring and hopeful to plant pepper seeds this afternoon, twelve varieties: enough to share seedlings, and enough, I hope, to make plenty of fermented hot sauce to keep some and give some away.
Thanks for suggestions of ways I can get music! Several people mentioned Pandora. I did have Pandora for years, but found Spotify’s music management features more helpful and convenient. Pandora also repeated songs annoyingly frequently at that time years ago, maybe they’ve expanded their capacity since then. I paid for each of those services because I can’t stand ads for so many reasons, from the aggressive sound of their voices to the manipulation of desires and emotions, to the presumption that I am a “consumer.” I bristle at that word: Consuming is not my primary motivation nor my identity.
As I write this evening, I’m listening to Turn It Up on KVNF with my dear friend DJ Honey Badger playing a lot of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Like me, she appreciates the stand they’ve taken against Covid misinformation (and probably so much more). As I mentioned, though, KVNF doesn’t always play music I like, and also offers a lot of news, which I don’t want.
I don’t want it! I understand what’s happening, and take it in, in little bites, when I feel resilient enough each day to check the headlines. I understand that human nature is violent, greedy, power-hungry, rabid, narrow-minded and stupid, as well as kind, generous, loving, compassionate, expansive, creative and beautiful. I do not need to dwell in the negative aspects of our species, I spent most of my life fretting about those. Life is too short!
Mindfulness allows me to hold both the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows, juggling them from hand to heart to hand to mind to hand. Mindfulness allows me to choose where I place my attention, so aside from supporting my local Indivisible chapter, making calls, signing petitions, and writing to my ‘representatives’ (I use the term loosely, living in CO District 3); and ascertaining whether nuclear war has broken out; I choose to focus my attention on things I can actually control, such as what I eat for lunch, whether or not I walk Topaz in mud season, and if I should get her a kitten; how much time I spend on ‘entertainment’ and how much on learning, working, exercising, home maintenance, correspondence; living in alignment with my core values, and trying to be skillful and virtuous in thought, word, and deed; et cetera… there is so much that I can control, that life is too short to dwell on and make myself suffer from things I cannot control.
One of the things I can control is where I get my music, the background soundtrack for my days, the energy and joy that moves me. I tried I ♥️ Radio back in my traveling days but couldn’t quite figure it out and didn’t get much from it; also, I think there were too many ads on there. Kim recommended Radio Garden, which has captivated me. I could spend hours playing in Radio Garden! It concerns me that the website shows up as ‘Not Secure’ — I don’t really know what that means — but I’ve solved that worry by using it only on my old laptop where I no longer have any confidential or important information stored. I spent the afternoon listening to KOKO, old-school Hawaiian, as I worked upstairs. Commercial-free radio from Hana, Hawaii. I spun around the globe from Ukraine to Cape Verde and many points between, fascinated, but settled on KOKO for a peaceful, easy feeling this afternoon.
Kim also recommended Bandcamp, to hear music from unsigned artists around the world. She offers her edgy ethereal sound free on this wonderful platform. Coincidentally, or synchronistically, a new friend sent the link to her bandcamp profile, where her unique songwriting shines. What a world! Technology fosters a whole new level of interconnection among humans. I’m grateful I have lived to see the day. I’ve got all the music of the world at my fingertips without Spotify, Pandora, Apple, or Amazon Music.
Anyway, in this moment, I’ve turned up my “very own community radio station” on my actual radio, and I am hearting this community. Honey Badger has played my most favorite song ever (“I think I can make it now the pain is gone“), and a few other top ten, and my inner drag queen has gotten up to lipsync and dance around the living room. It’s easier without the giant dog bed taking up half the ballroom floor. I let loose as I haven’t in a long while, moving this body, feeling alive in this moment, and interconnected on many levels, despite this excruciating solitude. Most of the time it feels pretty good (solitude) but recently, Stellar’s absence, a somatic lack, has swelled into heartache again.
This diffident cat stimulates very little oxytocin. Even though I’ve known her since the day she was born, and have loved her within days of her existence, she remains mysterious: she is a consummate CAT. She’s been through traumas, suffered losses and unknown physical distresses in her madcap life, and so as Honey Badger points out, “Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like her.”
My deepest soundtrack, in my story of this archival entity I call me. Listening to Honey Badger’s playlist brings alive my past, what first connected me with this community, dancing in a mob in Memorial Hall as Laura Love rocks “What if God Smoked Cannabis?” in this historical pot capital of Colorado. And decades earlier, that rock climber who introduced me to Neil Young, his perfect body, climbing with him at Seneca Rocks… Now, I dance alone at home, decades later, essentially content. Grateful for every living moment of every day, when I remember to attend to it.
Now, iconic DJ Fettucine takes over, HB is driving home through falling snow, and Neil Young sings on, on these community airwaves. This sonic nostalgia: another state, another love, another life altogether. I’m reminded of two questions I asked frequently when I first arrived in this place half a lifetime ago: Who Am I? and How Did I Come to Be Here?
How is a fun question to ask, but not essential. What now, what next, are the crucial questions moment to moment. I’m grateful for every step that led me here. Music tonight, and a felt sense of belonging, have restored my joy. For the moment. Everything changes, all the time. Let me remember to be grateful, every living moment of every day. I think I may have mentioned this mission before. I understand that self-cherishing is the root of all suffering, yet I am never happier than when I wallow without reservation in gratitude. Perspective is everything.
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.
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.
This half-hour film is mind-blowing in many ways. Shot by a Cornell Lab of Ornithology photographer in Dardala, India, where half the world’s population of endangered greater adjutant stork supports its growing population by scavenging the dump alongside humans, the film celebrates the conservation efforts of one woman who changed a culture’s relationship with this prehistoric bird. The film came to me courtesy of KarmaTube.org in a weekly newsletter that I recommend for inspiring stories, along with kindspring.org which features accounts of kindness.
Kindness has always mattered to me, as much as honesty, compassion, and gratitude. I was never that great at any of them, but have always appreciated and valued them above all. Traits to aspire to. I’m mulling over what the next blog project will focus on; kindness is an option, or letting go. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore these ideals and practice them to the best of my limited abilities. I’m grateful for the inspiring efforts of people all over the world who are doing what they love and making the world a better place as they do, and I’m grateful I took the time tonight to learn about the Hargila.
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.
Just a few highlights from my birthday week. I’m grateful for another turn around the sun, and for all the loving good wishes that came my way. I worked through the whole weekend, but paused frequently to appreciate the uncanny, glorious days, and a handful of visitors who dropped by with cards and gifts. A gorgeous bouquet was delivered Friday, Saturday brought earrings, a lemon tart, and a plate of hors d’oeuvres ready to cook. Various balms, candles, candies, and other goodies arrived over the next days in the mail or in person. I feel truly blessed to be so cared for. “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”
I’ve been hoarding my Christmas grapefruit, but have been promised another shipment for my birthday, and so indulged in the last of them. Amy told me how to ‘supreme’ a grapefruit and it sounded like a lot of trouble and a waste of fruit, but I tried it, and (except for a little nick of a finger) it is by far the best way I’ve found to get the most fruit, juice and enjoyment out of a grapefruit.
Little cat, big cat, walking in the snow… I know I’ve mentioned before that I’m grateful to live where there are lions. It’s been a couple years since I’ve seen sign of one, so it was a thrill to come across a line of tracks.
Last night I went out to turn off the generator, and there was a huge moondog. As I stood marveling at it, I heard coyotes northeast of the house along the canyon. I haven’t heard them like that for years. There was a pack, singing like their little hearts were full. They would sing a round, then the dogs across the canyon would bark, and I’d hear the reverb of all those dogs roll up the canyon and stop when it hit the end. It was magnificent. It was just one grand thing after another all week long.
Next week it’s my birthday! I’m so grateful just anticipating that I’ll get to have another one! Dawn was going to come over for a birthday dinner and puzzle night. We had it planned for weeks. She was kind enough to agree to isolate for four days prior to our date, and we both planned to take rapid antigen tests shortly before she came over. But because of my high risk factors for Covid, and the Omicron surge, and the fact that we both were, unavoidably, around unmasked people in confined spaces four days ago, and the recent suggestion that the rapid tests may not be as reliable for Omicron, we adapted to a plan B.
I roasted a chicken with garden carrots and some sweet potatoes, and steam-sautéed some garden green beans from the freezer. She baked shortbread. She delivered the cookies and picked up a box of dinner and a new puzzle, and drove the couple miles back home. Then, we zoomed together for dinner, put away our dishes, and opened our puzzles. It was almost as good as being in the same space working on the same puzzle–not quite, but almost. The camaraderie was still there, the quiet focus on the puzzles interspersed with meaningful conversation.
The virus sucks. The ignorance that facilitated and perpetuates the Covid crisis sucks. I feel profound compassion for the healthcare workers who are overwhelmed because of the sheer stupidity of a staggering number of humans. It’s my patriotic duty to stay healthy and well. Given that this is the world we live in for now, I’m grateful for adaptability, and for the ongoing tolerance and acceptance my friends show for my super high risk threshold.
Human hubris is not something I’m grateful for, let me be clear. But it seems to be a fact of life and a condition of our species’ nature. So I just want to name it. It’s time, as a friend said today, to call it ‘climate catastrophe’ instead of ‘climate change.’ It’s been time for awhile. Extraordinary drought, extraordinarily high sustained winds, and apparently a downed power line, today led to an extraordinary wildfire in the Boulder/Denver suburbs. By the time I turned off the TV an hour ago, more than 600 homes had been destroyed. No count yet on loss of life. Not to say this could have been avoided, given the human population of the area, and the trajectory we’ve been on sabotaging our planet’s climate for the past 150 years. Thinking, somehow, that we were in control!
As someone who lived in one of those decimated neighborhoods said to me twenty years ago, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” I had picked up Girl Scout cookies at her house, and asked how she felt about the new subdivision under construction across the field behind her cul de sac. Hers was a neighborhood about twenty years old, small homes separated by quarter acre yards. The new subdivision was McMansions jammed together wall to wall, hundreds of them in the same area that dozens of homes occupied in her neighborhood. She smiled with generous equanimity and said, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” A symptom of my privilege, I suppose, or my good fortune, that her answer surprised me.
In my neighborhood, where homes are separated by ten, twenty-five, or forty acres, and could also all be incinerated by a wildfire, I get grumpy that a new neighbor leaves on a glaring ‘security’ light overnight, shining right into one of my windows. If you can’t stand the dark, why move to an area like this? I wonder. We who’ve lived here awhile are grateful for our dark skies, and find these new spotlights a distressing intrusion. As, I imagine, do the wild animals whose land we share. Ah well. Worse things have happened, like the Marshall Fire. I live with the keen awareness that a single lightning strike, or careless cigarette, or rogue firework, can destroy my neighborhood. And still it feels, watching these planetary winds, these astonishing wildfires, these unprecedented floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, that I live in the safest neighborhood I possibly could. And for that, I am grateful.
I’m not grateful that the US Congressional representative for my neighborhood is psycho criminal insurrectionist Lauren Boebert, and I was super surprised to get a robocall from her–note that the transcription typo is Siri’s error, and the voice sounded right, and the message was on her point–from a number apparently registered to the Palestinian Territories. WTF? Did anyone else in this district get such a robocall? I could go on about that.
It might seem as though my three day break from the gratitude blog has soured my disposition! In truth, I’ve done a heroic job of staying positive over the past year, I’ve enjoyed a few days of going to bed early with a good book, and I’m still just as grateful for all the good things in my life, and in the world, as I have been. But I am experiencing a lack of patience today with stupidity. And I’m allowed a lapse, we all are. I spoke with one friend today who zoomed with a bunch of triple-vaxxed friends the other night, and a third of them had Covid. I spoke with another friend whose Trumpista family had gotten together for Christmas and half of them now have Covid, from her 4-year-old niece to her 70+ lung-cancer-missing-two-lobes sister. She is enraged at them all, and I can’t blame her. Equanimity, acceptance, compassion, and loving-kindness are not easy to practice. And yet, the alternative realm, in which I used to dwell, is just dark and pointless. I finally had to turn off coverage of the fires, and stream “Drag Race Italia” to reset my attitude.
There is so much beauty, grace, and kindness in this world, human and otherwise, that we can sense and experience if we choose to focus our attention on those things. There is so much that is out of our control, from the weather to the choices of others, that will only make us sick with despair if we choose to focus on that. Mindfulness is a balancing act: to be able to know the truth of all that is dark in human nature at the same time as knowing all that is good and bright. We maintain our sanity, our compassion, our humanity, by choosing to turn our attention to what we can influence, and letting go of all that we cannot. We can always affect those around us in a beneficial way by acts of generosity, kindness, compassion; by remaining calm in the shitstorms–or firestorms, or wind or snowstorms–around us; and by appreciating the most basic gifts our lives provide, from electricity and running water to enough food and the other species who share our world: cats, dogs, birds, deer, trees, bees, bunnies, wallabies (depending where you are!) and so many more, even spiders and snakes.