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Mindfulness Practice

I’m grateful today for mindfulness practice. The simplest definition of mindfulness that I can share after six months of in-depth study on the subject is: mind training. So that ‘mindfulness practice’ becomes ‘mind training practice.’ It’s still and always practice. You never get there, because of impermanence: ‘there’ is no fixed point, ever. It’s always changing, along with everything else including your means of locomotion to get there, the companions you meet along the way, your own fitness for the journey. 

Most of us invest five minutes to an hour or more each day in our physical fitness, whether simply brushing our teeth and running hot water over our faces, or more: a weight training workout or a run, or a swim, or a yoga class three times a week, or or or… and a hot shower afterward. How many of us devote ten minutes a day to mental hygiene? I’ve always spent more time each day on introspection than I ever have on dental hygiene. The difference is, now I’m actually training my mind, instead of simply riding it. (Like a horse, right, cowgirls?) I also floss more often.

A key component of mindfulness practice is breath. Of course, breath is a key component of everything. We’re spending a lot of time practicing awareness of breath this weekend in our class retreat, but more about breath another time. Immersed in a weekend intensive, each exploring our own way of being across the four domains of body, mind, emotions, and spirit, the domain of spirit especially resonates with me today. This domain is comprised of one’s sense of purpose, one’s sense of worth, and one’s sense of connection, or belonging. Today, I’ve been examining these three aspects of my way of being whilst teetering on the brink of a yawning pit of existential angst. It’s fascinating. I’m so grateful for mindfulness practice!

I’m grateful, too, for deer butts, their shining signal in the woods that lets me know they’re there well before I get close enough to spook them, so I can walk softly and pass close by, ‘bearing in mind (another component of mindfulness) their proximity, their spooky prey nature.

Dinner with Amy: Smoked Trout Croquettes

“I have trout in the freezer I want to use up,” I told Amy last time. She sent a nice fillet recipe, but that wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

I’ve been so blessed over the past few years to have a friend who brings me fish he caught now and then, trout and kokonee, sometimes whole, sometimes filleted, always frozen when he delivers a catch. I’m grateful that when he can’t release them, he brings some to me, since he doesn’t care to eat them himself. Grateful for collaboration: I give him cookies sometimes, and other occasional treats.

Grateful not only for the fisherman but for the fish itself, its life ended for human sport, but its flesh well spent in support of my sustenance. Not that I contribute much more than a brown trout to the planet’s overall well-being, but I do try to.

Brined for a couple of hours in water with brown sugar and salt, out in the mudroom, almost as cold as the fridge.

So I had this package of fillets in the freezer, and it was time to use them up, refill the space with winter lamb, (or ice cream). Grateful for the rancher who raised the lamb, the lamb who lived well for a short while, Dawn for sharing her freezer til I can make room in mine. I saw this recipe for smoked trout croquettes, and sent it to Amy. This is more what I was thinking…

“Fried mashed potatoes,” Amy said laughing, tonight as we ate them, silly with how delicious they were, and the simple joy of another zoom dinner adventure together, giddy with gratitude that we’d both survived the pandemic so far, that our government survived… or at least those were some reasons I was laughing.

If I bought smoked trout that would have defeated the purpose of freeing freezer space. I let the fish thaw overnight in the sink, then drained and brined it, and figured out how to smoke it on the hand-me-down Weber grill (for which I’m also grateful).

Last spring’s pruned apricot twigs for flavor on top of mixed wood and charcoals
An hour later, after struggling to get the coals hot enough, then casting my trout to the fates so I could keep a zoom appointment, the fish flaked apart, a little dry but done: flaky, sweet, smoky, delicious.
Last night, I weighed out what I needed for croquettes, and mashed the rest with some mayo, sour cream, and cream cheese for a hearty, delectable dinner dip.
Potatoes mashed with butter, garlic chives, horseradish, egg, and cheese, then smoked trout folded in…
… rolled into little balls and deep fried. Grateful I bought that Fry-Baby years ago when David brought alligator: though I rarely use it, sometimes it’s just the right tool for the job!
“Fried mashed potatoes!” Amy cries in glee.

It goes without saying (although it shouldn’t) that my gratitude for any kind of food is broad and deep. I know where my food comes from; and I know that in a moment, access to that food can vanish, whether by ailment, accident, or catastrophe. A young man I know of with Covid can’t eat, it hurts to swallow; my mother, and thousands with her type of disease, lost the ability to swallow altogether. People across the planet, our own neighbors, go to bed and wake up hungry; victims of climate chaos flee war and drought and starvation.

We who have ample food on our tables daily are so fortunate. We who know how to make the most of what there is in our larders, freezers, markets, neighbors’ gardens and fields, are even more fortunate. Those of us who also grow our own food are the most fortunate of all, to eat the fruits of our own labors, wholesome nutritious food grown with devotion. I am grateful for food!

Discipline

Crispy cheesy pan pizza, with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, brie, smoked salmon, and fresh basil.

I’m grateful that I’ve made it one-twelfth of the way through my commitment to this daily gratitude practice, grateful for the discipline this requires. I’m grateful it’s helping me see the simplest things more expansively.

I’m grateful I had the discipline to eat only one small pan pizza the other day, and saved the larger one for two more meals. I’m grateful for eating a similar pizza in the past at PJs Pub, or I may never have conceived the delicious combination of smoked salmon and brie on pizza. I’m grateful smoked salmon is available in our local grocery store, grateful I can afford luxuries from time to time, grateful Philip shops for me, and I’m grateful I’ve kept a basil plant growing in the sunroom since fall.

I’m grateful that this pizza recipe splashed all over the internet during the pandemic, and I braved yeasted dough to try it. It couldn’t be easier to make the crust, and it’s so light and delicious. The recipe yields enough dough that it’s too thick a crust in my large skillet, so I split it and make one in the large skillet and one in the medium skillet. With a little prep, I’ve got three delicious meals. It freezes well, and reheats better than any store-bought pizza. You can put whatever you want on top, of course, leftovers like on the one above, or more typical toppings like the pepperoni, onions, and tomato sauce I put on the big pizza.

Inauguration

I Can See Clearly Now

Like at least a hundred million other Americans, I’m grateful today for the new President and Vice President of these United States of America.

President Biden is not a flawless human being. Vice President Harris is not a flawless human being. They are both bound to make some mistakes, and I’m sure they’ll take some decisions I’ll disagree with. However, they each have more integrity in their little finger than their predecessors.

Truth matters a lot to me; it’s one of my highest values. I strive for honesty in my every interaction, and even in my thoughts. Biden’s words today made my heart rejoice: “There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders, leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation, to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”

Like many people I know, there was some anxiety around an outdoor inauguration. Several friends have expressed today their relief that there was no kerfuffle. We’re all grateful for that! Although when you have to give thanks that no one was shot during ‘the peaceful transfer of power,’ it remains something of a dark day. May we settle in to a brighter future for our country, for Americans suffering from the pandemic and all its fallout, from years of gaslighting and all that fallout, from racial, social, economic, and medical injustice, and from decades of eco-anxiety, all stirred up by the toxic hurricane and wildfire lies of the past administration.

As former President Barack Obama said last fall, “If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work.”

Let us all learn to see truth clearly. Going forward, let us shop in the marketplace of ideas walking and talking in the sunshine of truth.

Kindling Cracker

Today and most winter days, I’m grateful for the kindling cracker, and for the New Zealand girl who invented it for a science fair, and for the entrepreneurs whom I hope were fair in their production and distribution of it, making it available internationally, and for UPS who delivered it to me, and for the highways, the tires, all the materials involved all along the chain of causation that led this piece of metal to live on this stump, and for this mallet… Mostly, I’m grateful that the worst, now, I can do is smash a finger rather than chop one off whilst splitting kindling. How small I can split, now, and what tough sticks I can split! And all with more control than I ever felt with the sharp end of an axe.

Kindling cracker: the greatest thing, the Colonel would have said, since sliced bread. Also grateful for that.

Stellar’s Last Days: Poop

I’m grateful every time that Stellar poops on a walk. That means less chance he’ll poop on his bed or on the floor. I’m even more grateful when he poops off the trail, but that doesn’t happen much anymore. He cannot longer squat, so he poops as he walks along. Anyone who has ever loved an old dog, (or a puppy, or any dog, or a cat for that matter) understands the importance of monitoring their companion animals’ digestions, from what goes in and how often to what comes out and how often. It’s not a tasteful task but necessary, part of everyday life as much as attending to our own digestive systems.

There are the jokes about praising your dogs when they poop. But there’s a good reason for doing this: training a puppy, helping it understand what a goooood boy or girl it is for pooping outside not inside. Some puppies learn it quickly, others slowly. I don’t think Stellar every pooped inside. I think he was house trained by the time we got back from Florida after a week on the road in the Mothership. He never pooped in the Mothership. We stopped often enough that he had ample opportunity to learn that lesson, and by then I had learned to always take a puppy out after every time it eats or drinks, and be patient, and praise a good poop.

This is the third winter he’s suffered from neurological damage in his spine, at first presumed to be degenerative as he continued to lose strength, muscle mass, coordination and mobility in his back legs, and began to lose bowel control. First it was just a random golfball on the bed overnight, and then another a few months later. Around that time a friend posted a query on Facebook: “Does your old dog ever leave a hard dry poop in the bed?” Yes! I answered, as did some others. We figured it was just an old dog thing.

Since he moved downstairs a year ago, bowel incontinence has increased. For awhile it was every morning. I adapted his feeding schedule, and made his walks more intentional, and now it’s back down to every few days. There’s a little turd or two in his bed when he gets up for his morning walk. The earlier I get up and walk him, the better the odds for me: less laundry. Also for him, I think. He doesn’t know it when it comes out, but I think he’s a bit ashamed when he notices it. You understand. Old dogs, they’re special. I’m grateful to meet any old dog.

I am so grateful to have Stellar’s last days with him, alone, the only dog I need to love right now. He’s been the most remarkable companion a girl could ever hope for. He’s made patience practice easy and a pleasure. I would be immeasurably lucky to get a thousand more days with him, supremely grateful for a hundred or two, or three; grateful even for only ten more. Ten days from today he’ll turn thirteen. 

Granted, I’d feel cheated by only ten, since he’s finally doing so well (though I’m well aware, every day, that I could get only one more). After two years of steady decline, his health has been slowly improving for the past six months on a magic formula called ‘moleculars,’ a half-homemade diet, and a routine of two short and at least one long walks a day. Long being relative, half a mile or more. 

I was grateful this morning when he chased Cynthia down the driveway. He hasn’t run that far in at least a year. Run being relative also, but he managed a pretty quick wobbly lope that I couldn’t keep up with walking. He got way ahead of me, and she was way ahead of him but he was gaining on her. I yelled her name, and I can’t stop him

She assessed the situation, then walked toward him to turn him back across the field. Overjoyed that he’d caught her, he turned to lead her back to me, still lope-limping, til he spied a deer bone, which he grabbed and chewed, and trotted with toward home. We waved, and she continued on toward the Barn, while I headed home with my dog and my cat. I’m grateful for mid-morning quotidian adventures.

More gratitude for Stellar’s Last Days will be expressed leading up to his birthday… It’s too much for just one post.

Dreams like clouds and flowers

Sean had surprised me with a half-hour visit on his way around the world, just long enough to have a cupcake and a cup of tea, and to climb the gumbo limbo tree that had replaced the big juniper just outside the spider gate. 

“We have to walk a fine line here,” he said as he restrained himself from kissing me. It was alright. When he left shortly thereafter we kissed with pursed unhappy lips, but it was alright. At least I got to see him one more time.

I also dreamed the crocuses were up as the snow melted. Half the snow melted in a day, revealing patches of giant crocuses, twice the size they used to be, in brighter shades of yellow, orange, purple, blue and green. Other small, glorious, strange bulbs also emerged in groups of three or five among the extravagant crocuses. 

All day long altocumulus clouds crossed the sky in V’s like geese flying south.

I am grateful for dreams. These days, they’re more comfortable, like clouds and flowers. For decades there were nightmares mixed in with the absurd, about as dense as citron in a fruitcake, along with rare and lucid prophesies. I haven’t suffered a nightmare in a couple of months, and can’t remember the last one so it couldn’t have been traumatic. The most recent absurd, delightful dreams which may or may not hold meaning came this morning.

The crocus part is not far off of true; some years recently they’ve bloomed in early February. I’m so grateful that the first possible crocus may be only three weeks away, and this thought welcomed me to wakefulness today: a day, a week, otherwise fraught with uncertainty bred of a mean man’s evil ego. I’m grateful for all the true American patriots, who represent this week what my father, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, great-greats, all the way back to the founding of this great country strove for, the service women and men who will do what they must to protect the authority of the United States Constitution, instead of some aggrieved minority’s dream of what they think it should be.

But I digress. Dreams of all kinds, healthy and delusional, seem to be coming to mind all day as time progresses inexorably toward nightfall, farther away now than it was three weeks ago, creeping toward equinox. The garden wakens. Crocus dreams grow beneath the dirt.

Goodnight, Moon. Sweet dreams.

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.