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Christmas Cheer

I’m grateful for all the cookies, cards, thoughtful gifts, and Christmas cheer that have been floating around the neighborhood this past week or two; that though in solitude, I am among friends. It was lovely to wake this morning and have a little pile of presents under my miniature tree. I carried them into the sunroom to open in the warmth with coffee and a cinnamon bun, and felt a faint vestige of that childhood magic of Christmas morning. Later in the day, I roasted a tiny half leg of lamb with potatoes and carrots, and steam sautéed some green beans. There was a special gratification in gathering garden vegetables from pantry, fridge, and freezer to prepare Christmas dinner, and the lamb came from a local ethicarian ranch to my freezer last year. I hadn’t cooked lamb after learning that Stellar was allergic to it. It was a quiet, peaceful holiday at Mirador.

Oh, and some store-bought peppers… with fresh rosemary from the potted tree in the sunroom.

Cooking for one, again. After writing about it the other day, I feel even more motivated to explore and celebrate the practice. I’ve fallen into a nice rhythm in the kitchen: I’m able to cook three or four times and have all the meals I need for the whole week. So simple, so delicious. Wishing that everyone had good neighbors and friends, and enough to eat, this Christmas and always; knowing it isn’t so, and feeling compassion for those who suffer without.

Irony

I’m grateful today for the dried beans I harvested at the end of summer, just now all thoroughly desiccated and locked into storage. On the right are the rattlesnake pole beans, which I planted for their fresh (immature, they call them) string beans. On the left below are the scarlet runner beans, of which I grew only one plant, and only for the flowers for hummingbirds; the immature beanpods are not that tasty and they stick on you like a burr. And that little jar on top? That’s the only bean I planted with the intention of harvesting dry: the tepary beans.

I bought them elsewhere, but this native seed site offers a wide variety. I knew they were drought tolerant, but didn’t realize until I heard Lance talking about them on “As the Worm Turns” that they really prefer dryer soil. My mistake was giving them plenty of water. I’m grateful for the irony of overwatering beans in a drought year: I have learned a valuable lesson in water conservation. I’m optimistic that next season I’ll pick the right time and place to plant them, and be able to harvest more than just one bowl of chili’s worth.

I’m grateful for my little helper as I continued to put the garden to bed this afternoon; grateful to have time and energy on one of our last warm days to roll up some hoses and tuck storage tubs and tools under shed roofs before the snow flies.

Chuño

Today’s gratitude stretches back to the first week I moved to this valley in 1992. I saw a flyer for a dance class for women, and there I met several whom I still know today. Though I haven’t seen them much since those first few years, I am grateful for the warm welcome and sense of belonging they offered when I was new here, and grateful to remain connected with them through the web of community and common interests.

I’m grateful for community radio KVNF, and for their gardening show “As the Worm Turns,” and for an episode a couple of months ago when I called in with a potato question. Then Tara, one of those first friends from that dance class, called in with a potato answer. Tara and her husband have been adopted into a community on an island in Peru’s Lake Titicaca. Here is one of my favorite poems of hers about her Taquile family.

I had forgotten about that poem until Tara called into the Worm after I did, and told us about chuño again. Lance reported the next week on the show that he had made some, and I had by then harvested some tiny potatoes and frozen them. I didn’t have a huge potato crop, so I kept adding to the chuño bag in the freezer until I had finished harvesting and then left it until I had time to focus on it. With the garden largely put to bed, tomatillos all processed, and most of the tomatoes and peppers finished, I took out the chuño bag, let them thaw, and then smashed them with a heavy-bottomed glass on a plate.

After a few days in the drying pantry (which hangs in the living room not far from the woodstove from mid-summer through fall), the smashed potatoes were dry enough to put in a jar. Tara says she uses them in soups and other dishes throughout winter, and I look forward to enjoying their particular flavor/texture sensation this winter, maybe after I’ve eaten the last of the fresh potatoes. I’m grateful for living in community through time, for KVNF, for the Worms, for Jeffy the technical heart of KVNF, for Tara, for her cross-cultural horticultural wisdom and her good heart, for potatoes in general and specifically those that grew in my garden this summer, and I’m grateful for learning yet another way to preserve food: chuño.

Chuño dried and ready for the jar this afternoon, a mix of red, russet, and Yukon gold baby potatoes.

Stellar’s Last Days: Stretching

I’m grateful for another mild day to permit Boyz Lunch, grateful Stellar is still here to delight John, grateful to see how happy these two are to see each other.

I feel like a new mother. I spend an hour lying on the floor with him, soothing him to sleep, and then I roll over, get up, and go in the kitchen to do dishes, or wrap another set of pills for him, or take my own night pills, and I turn around and he’s there behind me, panting, hungry, wanting, needing. His appetite is insatiable these days. His energy is greater than mine. His confusion is increasing. His mobility looks good when people come around, and they say He’s doing great! But they see him at his best, alert with steroids, and the excitement of their attention. When it’s just the two of us, he stumbles a lot more; when we walk through the woods, his back legs frequently tangle and stretch out behind him, and he hops on his front legs for a few steps, dragging his back legs on the tops of his feet.

He remains the most beautiful creature I have ever known, and I’m grateful for all that he has taught me and continues to teach me about unconditional love. At the same time that I’m exhausted, that it’s a kind of torture to watch his up and down decline, I’m grateful for each day that he wakes alert and eager for a walk, that his eyes follow me around the house, that I get to spend time in the evening lying beside him massaging his muscles, holding his pressure points, feeling his pulses, hearing his breath, looking into those trusting brown eyes, loving this soul that has never let me down.

Though I have whinged a bit recently about the extra work entailed in caring for his infirmities, I’m grateful each day for the accommodations and adaptations I’m able to make, in order to make his last days more comfortable, and to be more at ease with him, and a little less precious about meself. I’m grateful for stretching my capacities for acceptance and compassion. I’m grateful for this ongoing surrender in service to another sentient being, a being as worthy of my regard as any other.

I’m also grateful today for wrapping up the canning season with the last batch of salsa, at last! Grateful, too, that a few tomatoes remain ripe and ready for sandwiches and cooking, and a few more green tomatoes ripen in a basket and on hanging vines, to carry me another month or so with fresh fruits. I’m grateful for a bountiful harvest this year that will provide nutritious homegrown food through winter, as well as a few gifts for friends and family. I’m grateful to live in this little mud hut in the woods, with a good dog, a sweet cat, a quiet tortoise, a garden, friends, and solitude. Above all I give thanks.

Uneventful Day

I’m grateful for this little aspen tree in the yarden, once again golden; grateful that we’ve both survived another year; that though all the aspens in the high country have now dropped their leaves, leaving mountain slopes grey, this one little accidental aspen glows here.

I’m grateful for the safe reception of an heirloom painting after some confusion about its delivery. When I picked it up from a cottage in town there was a joyful German wire-haired pointer on the deck who hugged and licked me all over. I told her person it would make Stellar’s day to get to smell her on me, and indeed it was the highlight of his otherwise uneventful day. We took a few short walks, he ate and drank a lot, I worked here and there, and spent time outside with him. I’m grateful for an uneventful day.

Everything

If ever there was a ‘Catahoula look,’ it’s this one: What? You talkin’ to ME?

Tired. Grateful I get to go to bed. Grateful for just about everything today! Grateful this morning for snow!

Grateful for gorgeous rose hips, and hoping I get time to harvest some to make jelly. If not, oh well! Grateful to feed the deer.

Grateful for the garden Buddha, and grateful for the teachings passed down for millennia from this humble sage.

Putting the Garden to Bed

I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed before the first snow today at this elevation, which continues after dark lightly frosting every leaf and limb white prior to the first real freeze. I started a week ago, and have been whittling at it for a few hours each day. I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed after a thrilling season. The counter is loaded with the last ripe tomatoes, tomatillos are all put up in the pantry, heaps of parsley are distilled into pesto and frozen cubes; rattlesnake and runner bean pods dry in large paper bags; eggplants and carrots fill the fridge. I’m living the dream.

I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed with tips and tricks from gardeners online. I’ve hung tomato vines to ripen in the upstairs room, beside pepper plants with wrapped rootballs. Some gardeners advised misting the roots, while others just left them dry. I compromised with a quick twist of plastic bag to prevent them from instantly desiccating in this climate, maybe giving the peppers a bit more nourishment as they redden.

I’m grateful for another day with my little helper, covered in snow. Like in the movie Awakenings, he is transformed with drugs, and like those patients he will eventually relapse into inevitable decline. His resilience astounds me. He wants to be alive.

Self-Compassion

Grateful that Stellar made it to the canyon rim another time… wondering if this ‘dying’ story is all in my head… knowing it isn’t, and patience is essential. Choosing to place my attention on the joyful times we share in a day, rather than the ongoing signs of decline.

Yeah, I behaved poorly… Years in the making, layers of labels, resentments, dashed expectations, “different world views,” and a final cascade of events and emotions…. “It was justified.” Still, I behaved poorly, and I’m grateful that I can have compassion for my old sorry self who used to let her mental stories lead her way, and still takes me over, though it’s been a long time…. I’m grateful today that I can observe the processes of “my” mind as I reflect on all the layers of this event, and of how it came to be. Though I’m not clear yet, I’m grateful for mindfulness skills that can help me at least know the possibility of clarity, feel the grace of self-compassion, and aspire to forgiveness.

Grateful for this happy place, this garden, and for living at the edge of these mountains, inside the kaleidoscope.
Grateful for the ongoing gift of rattlesnake pole beans…
…For knowing, finally, how to tell when these weird little cantaloups are ripe: a yellowness comes over the rind when they’re ready.
Grateful that Stellar once again made it to the canyon rim this morning…
…that he made it home again, through the day again, to help me water the marigolds, and inspect the harvest.

It’s hard not to think in terms of last: is this his last walk to the canyon? his last drink from the hose? his last night? his last day? I’m grateful for all this painful awareness, reminding me constantly of what a constant companion he has been for almost fourteen years. And he still is, though it’s so different. He would still fight to the death to protect me, if he could move fast enough. I’ve remained the ‘parent’ as he has gone from infant to elder before my eyes, in no time at all. The challenges of this, too, shall pass. Nothing lasts forever. Death is certain, time of death uncertain.

Grateful to bring in the last of the harvest today, save a few hardy greens that will come in before the hard freeze mid-week: The threat recedes in both intensity and time. Paltry zucchini, ample green tomatoes, the last few okras and rattlesnake beans, and the single solitary purple pepper that grew this year. Grateful that nothing ever stays the same, and that I’m learning to trust and be kind to myself as I surf the sea of impermanence.

Letting Go

I might as easily have chosen to highlight my gratitude for the Bibiliofillies, but I am grateful today for letting go. I’m grateful for the capacity to quit reading a book, or watching a show, or otherwise removing my attention from one thing and turning it to another. This is the very essence of mindfulness, the ability and willingness to choose where we place our attention.

Tonight, the Bibliofillies met on zoom to discuss our month’s selection, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, by George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, which we read awhile ago. The latter was a work of fiction; tonight’s subject, an academic analysis of numerous classic Russian short stories, and the arts of writing, and of reading. (I can’t tell you how many stories, because I didn’t get past the first chapter.) A few fillies loved it; some were almost neutral; the rest of us, well, to say we despised it would be an exaggeration, but needless to say the various opinions made for lively discussion. This is why I’m grateful, at least once a month, for the Bibiliofillies.

I bristled at the author’s (a middle-aged white man) initial assumption that he knew what I was thinking. From there it went downhill. Though I did find some redeeming features in what I read, I did not want to keep reading, one of Saunders’ essential criteria for a successful short story. My perspective aside, (for what does it matter anyway?), having this safe place to express it, laugh about it, adapt it, is… priceless.

It’s essential to adapting to be able to let go. There is so much to let go of every single day. I’m grateful that I can let go of attachment to ‘my’ point of view more and more often these days.

Life is so much easier now that I’m simply letting things be as they are, instead of trying to control them. I also used to bristle when people told me, “You think too much!” Turns out they were right, but for the wrong reasons. And if I didn’t hang onto an emotion, I couldn’t consider that it mattered. Letting go was never easy for me. So I clung to, among other things, my own judgements, expectations, mistakes; I harbored grudges, fed them with repetition. Michael was right: I did have a ‘victim mentality.’

Death is certain, time of death uncertain.

I’m so grateful that I’m learning to let go, of everything. Emotions can actually flow through, and that doesn’t make them less real or less valid. The faster I let go, the faster I learn the lesson. The lesson I learned this month was that I don’t have to finish reading every book, or watching every episode of every season of a show, or a movie to the end. I don’t always need to know what happens next: as in a bad dream, I can take my attention by the hand and walk away. I can choose where to spend my precious attention. I don’t know how much I have left. I’m grateful for letting go of things that don’t nurture me.

I’m grateful for the salutary effects of prednisone, which have given Stellar new strength to walk to the canyon. Today may have been the last time; or maybe not. Living in this strenuous uncertainty requires focus almost as complete as blowing glass: anything you drop could be catastrophic.
Stellar was excited to see his buddies at Boyz Lunch today, as they were to see him looking so lively. I’m grateful for the option of gently, comfortably, letting go of this magnificent life that has graced my own for nearly fourteen years. And grateful for the geezers, too.
I’m grateful for endless cherry tomatoes from the garden this summer; grateful to still have the stoneware bowl my mother made fifty years ago that holds them; grateful even so to know that if the bowl one day breaks I can easily let it go; and grateful for the imminent relief of letting go of garden maintenance, as we approach a hard freeze six nights away from now.

Zoom Cooking with Amy: Moussaka

We’ve been planning it for weeks. I chose traditional Greek moussaka because I wanted something to do with the Navdanya eggplants I grew. I’m not a huge eggplant fan (we had a falling out many years ago), but I want to like them. This Asian variety is hardy in this climate, and gave more fruits than any previous eggplant I’ve grown. This moussaka recipe calls for potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and eggplant, all of which I was delighted, and grateful, to provide from my own back yard.

Even the tomato paste came from my garden! It is such a gratifying feeling to reach in the freezer and pull out a cube of homemade tomato paste, all that summer distilled into one little frozen block. The lamb in the meat sauce came from a nice rancher I know in the next valley over. It was a busy day, so I fit in making the first sauce with my morning coffee…

…and I whipped up a quick béchamel on my lunch break. With both sauces in the fridge I went to teach my first mindfulness class, filled with gratitude for all the day had brought so far.

Stellar rallied this morning after a long night’s sleep, eager to take a walk, and excited to see Mr. Wilson when he came to cut up slab wood for the stove. Stellar spent most of the morning here by the gate, one of his all-time favorite locations, keeping watch over his domain as always. I’m grateful for another day with him, and I showered him with attention every chance I got.

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh

After class, and another short walk with Stellar, wheezing as he went, it was right back to zoom cooking with Amy. Our first task was to slice the eggplants a centimeter thick, salt them, and set in a colander.

Three of the precious few russet potatoes lent their texture and flavor as the bottom layer in this recipe. As the eggplants baked, the potatoes were sliced, fried first, then layered into a buttered pan…

One layer of eggplant covers the potato layer, which in turn gets covered by the meat sauce…

Another eggplant layer, topped with the béchamel sauce, and shredded parmesan…

And baked til golden brown! Amy has the patience of a saint. She’s two hours ahead, so she didn’t even sit down to eat til after nine p.m.

I’m grateful for a full day with lots of meaningful connection, celebrating joy in the face of sorrow, attending to a full range of emotions and letting them flow through. I’m grateful for Stellar’s resilience, rainclouds, mindfulness practice, teaching, a warm evening fire in the woodstove, and zoom cooking with Amy, moussaka edition. I’m sure I’m grateful for way more than that that I can’t remember, and I’m grateful for the warm soft bed I’m heading to now.