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Georgia

Georgia’s first African American US Senator, elected yesterday. Today, a Confederate flag was hung in front of the US Capitol by an insurrectionist mob of racist minions. Photo from the internet.

I woke this morning to news of Rev. Raphael Warnock’s win in Georgia, and thought Georgia! I’m grateful for Georgia! News later in the day cemented that feeling when Jon Ossoff was declared a new US Senator as well. This good news for our compassionate new president, and my intention to write more about how these remarkable wins came about in George, were quickly eclipsed by news of insurgents storming the US Capitol building. Hours later, the current president has yet to call on his minions to stand down. The desks and belongings of hundreds of our duly elected leaders have been violated by an unruly mob, while our Congress huddles in a single room during a pandemic. Disgraceful.

I’m grateful for the National Guard and the Capitol Police, for a Free Press, and for courageous American patriots everywhere who are calling out this siege of the Capitol for what it is: the direct result of an unhinged, maniacal, malignant narcissist in the White House, and his deluded, seditious coterie. Any death, injury, or financial loss that comes out of this chaos today weighs unequivocally on the current president’s karma. I’d say ‘conscience’ but he doesn’t have one. As a proud American patriot of immigrant ancestors, who have served in the US military in an unbroken line of generations since there wasn’t a United States (i.e., I am a Daughter of the American Revolution), I have a lot more to say about patriotism, what it really is and what it really isn’t, but now’s not the time.

Grateful for this laundry line, bright sun, dry air, and this incredible view, far from the madding crowd.

I’m also grateful today for the two young redtail hawks who circled low overhead as I hung out laundry, for the US-made Staber washing machine that has served me for fifteen years letting me do my wash at home instead of having to go out to a laundromat, and for the Breezecatcher revolving laundry line made in Dublin that I’ve been using long enough to need to restring it with a new cable, shipped from Dublin. I’m grateful that I have the discernment to turn off the television after hearing enough, and turn my attention to the great outdoors.

Carrots

A midsummer carrot harvest, several varieties, with some early beets

Today I’m grateful for carrots. Shortly before the ground froze, I pulled a surprising number of big purple carrots from a bed where I’d scattered a bunch of random seeds in the spring. I took out a few from the fridge today (grateful for the Sunfrost refrigerator) to make a carrot-ricotta tart. Here it is January, and I’m still eating carrots I harvested months ago, surprise carrots at that!

Late purple carrots and a spiced ricotta mixture…
…some fried onions, and a sheet of puff pastry…
…half an hour in the oven, and a sprinkling of chives and parsley from indoor pots, a dash of salt: grateful for carrot-ricotta tarts to snack on for the next few days!

Grateful that carrots seem to grow well in my garden most years, that they are quick and resilient, come in various shapes, sizes, and subtle flavors, that they last for months in the fridge and brighten a cloudy winter day with stored summer sunlight. Grateful that I had time and energy to tend the garden all summer, grateful for water, for the fence that keeps the deer out and the friends who helped build it, for raised beds, good dirt, and homemade compost to nourish the soil.

Carrots sprouting among lettuce, beets, and cabbage transplants in a raised bed. Milk jug cloches protect a melon start and young peppers from night chill.
Grateful for the color orange, and for comical twisted roots.
And I’m grateful for a miniature computer-camera-phone I can hold in one hand to capture a prize carrot in the other, so I can remember summer fun in technicolor months later.

a Woodstove

“…she sits in solitude for awhile in the deep murmuring quiet of her house, fire humming steadily in the woodstove, the whispered crash inside as a burning log breaks to cinders, coals fall to the grate, the occasional deep breath of the dog on the rug before it, the rainy click and whirr of the fan on top; the woodstove alone creates its own little ecology of sound.” 

For more than half my life, I’ve been grateful for a woodstove as my primary source of heat. It’s kind of like meat: As an ethicarian, I eat meat if I know who killed it. I burn wood if I know who cut it. There are complexities and complications around anything that I’m going to be grateful for, and wood heat is just one of many. But I’m grateful for the woodstoves in my life, the three I’ve owned and the several many more I’ve tended at other people’s homes. Each woodstove, practically each fire, teaches me something new.

This little stove has four air controls: the front doors, an underneath damper, a back damper, and the ashpan door. I think that means there are 16 or 64 variations on how and where I can let in air. Something like that: a lot of options to control airflow.

I’ve learned that the more options for oxygen intake a stove has, the more control I have of the fire. I’ve learned that a top-loading option is a good thing for an older person, and I’ll be sure to get one if I ever buy another woodstove. I’ve learned how to start a fast fire first time-every time with the proper configuration of paper, kindling, and logs: there are more than one way, and I know how to tell with accuracy what will start readily and what won’t; I’ve learned how to resurrect a smoking mess in someone else’s fireplace and, very rarely, in my own woodstove. I’ve made friends with fire.

At least, with domesticated fire. No one really makes friends with wildfire, I think, except maybe some extreme firefighters. I’m grateful for firefighters, men and women who understand how wildfire makes its own weather, and lean into that, season after season. Once I did something good for a slew of wildfire fighters, and that’s one moment in my life I knew I was doing the right thing. I like a small, contained fire, in a cast-iron woodstove, heating my home.

Popis and Raven share the stove early this year.

This little Dovre replaced a big Fisher, my second woodstove, first in this house. It was given to me, and you don’t look a free woodstove in the mouth. I’m grateful for the friends who outgrew it, and let me have it for nothing in my new home. It could eat gigantic logs, almost Manor-sized. Imagine one of those six-foot-across fireplaces with an equally gigantic mantlepiece. It wasn’t that big, but could easily take a few two-foot long logs. It kept me warm for several winters, with many fond memories. Then I bought a much smaller, more fuel-efficient woodstove, with a catalytic combustor.

That was complicated, because I didn’t pay enough attention when I bought it to know that it required hardwoods, not pitchy pines and junipers. I’ve made-do for almost twenty years, burning a combination of soft, hard, and pitchy woods, and getting almost-yearly chimney sweepings. And I’ll make-do for a few more years. It’s still a great woodstove, though it’s suffered some ravages of time. One thing I’ll never buy is a woodstove without glass in the doors. The Fisher had solid iron doors, but my first woodstove, in the tiny homesteader cabin in Jensen, had glass doors, and I fell completely in love.

Ojo and Topaz share the heat last winter. Oh my god, how I miss that black cat.

A glass-doored woodstove brings together the best of a fireplace with the best of a stove: you can see the warmth without sacrificing heat. I love my little, efficient, glass-front woodstove for its heating capacity and its cheering warm light. I’m so grateful for this stove, for the wood that fuels it, for the people who have cut and split and delivered the wood, for the saws, axes, mauls and mallets that enable me to feed its fires, for the dead and down trees that lived and died to unintentionally provide me with fuel, for the kindling cracker that makes it safer and easier for me to cut wood down to starter-size, for the men who have taught me about chainsaws and the women who have inspired my confidence in using them. I’m grateful for the friends who sometimes ferry fuel from the woodshed to my front door, and for my ability to fetch it myself; for the wheelbarrows that have carried countless loads of firewood, and for the matches, endless matches struck against the iron or the sandpaper to light the paper, for the newsprint and tissue paper and bank statements that have ignited fires in these woodstoves for more than three decades.

That first woodstove. I’ll be eternally grateful for that tiny woodstove in that tiny log cabin, and for all that I learned about living while using it. Adaptability, for one thing. And how to pay attention. I’m grateful for Mrs. June Stewart, that pioneer Mormon grandma who rented me that little log cabin, and taught me how to use the little woodstove that came with it. I’m even grateful for my first real lover, who lived on the banks of the James River in Virginia, and was the first also to teach me the first thing about building a fire in a woodstove. I’m grateful forty years later that there is still deadwood, there is still a woodstove, still a life that needs its heat, still a house to heat, still a mind and body capable to feed a woodstove. I know this will not always be so.

The woodstove brings out the best in everyone. Topaz and Raven in a rare moment of sisterly compatibility. Little old Raven. All differences can be set aside. Who doesn’t love to relax and warm up in front of a cheery woodstove?

the Great British Baking Show

Paul Hollywood, anchor and chief judge of GBBO, with current co-judge Prue Leith, and two of the ephemeral hosts, Noel and Sandi. Plus, colors!

Seriously? Yes! I’m grateful for good TV shows, and GBBO is one of the best, at least for someone who loves creativity, food, and especially cake. I used to watch some of the popular dramas and crime dramas, and eschew reality competition shows. But as I began to question why I watched certain shows, in which tension, suspense, violence, and betrayal were the main plot drivers, I couldn’t find any good answer except ‘habit,’ and I let them go. It was healthy to get rid of DISH, and only stream a couple of services. On Netflix and Prime I can pick and preview, and make more informed and healthier choices for entertainment.

Why did I abbreviate it GBBO and not GBBS? I don’t know! Why is it called Great British Bake Off in Britain and GBB Show in the US? I can’t stop wondering! Whatever you call it, though, it’s a delightful and educational program. What’s not to love about a dozen amateurs in a big tent with silly hosts, discerning judges, and three baking challenges each episode, showing up in my living room at the push of a button? Not a show passes that I don’t want to learn to bake at least one of the delectables featured, and usually way more than one. Breadsticks, for example. Flatbreads. Puddings. Crispy biscuits. Showstopper gingerbread structures. Tartes tatins. Bakewell tarts. The Battenberg Cake.

A cake dressed up like a present with a surprise inside, on one of the Holiday episodes.

Like some other reality shows that I’m grateful for (Dancing with the Stars, and RuPaul’s Drag Race), the emphasis is on talent and personal growth, not on cutthroat competition and sneaky alliances. The judges are generally kind and encouraging, supporting contestants in their endeavors, and there’s lots of wry humor. It’s been on since 2010, though I’ve yet to figure out how to view the first two seasons, and there are extras like the Holiday Collection, which I’m making my way through now. I save these shows for when I’m doing physical therapy (for which I’m also grateful! Thanks, Kristian and Brian!) and they provide incentive to get down on the floor and exercise for half an hour or more a day.

Surprise! It’s a penguin, with two non-existent Antarctic Christmas trees, in case that wasn’t obvious.
Not the most skillful wrapping, Paul said, “like you painted the stars with your fingers,” but another surprise inside. The bow, by the way, got extra commendation for the “sugar work.”
Christmas baubles inside.
This present cake got high marks for appearance…
…but its inside was judged ‘stodgy, almost like a pudding,’ which is this weird thing the Brits love where a bunch of goo is cooked in a mold and deemed delicious.

I’ve learned a lot about baking from watching GBBO, including how to listen to the hiss of a cake to determine if it’s done, and what ‘stodgy’ means in the context of baking rather than personality 🙂 It inspires me to expand my baking efforts, and frees me to toss failures into ‘the bin,’ though I actually haven’t failed at any bake yet so catastrophically that I’ve had to throw it away. My last effort at an apricot cake, which was spectacular in the summer when I had fresh apricots, was a bit bland this week without them on the top, so I whipped up a chocolate glaze in about five minutes and doused the cake, which improved it significantly.

Last summer’s apricot cake…
…and this week’s effort. Thanks to GBBO, I know why the recipe called for 3 teaspoons of baking powder, which was perfect when there were fresh apricot pieces on top of the raw batter, but more than necessary without that added weight. Nevertheless, the cake was a better bake, though some might contend that the overall appearance is less enticing than the original after I doused it in chocolate glaze.

So I’m grateful for the Great British Baking Show, for its lessons, colors, humor, inspiration, diversity, and overall generous tone, in an entertainment world that otherwise overwhelmingly fuels anxiety, violence, prejudice, and distress. Yeah, I’ve gained some Covid pounds from watching it, but … oh well! Next challenge for me, piping icing!

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Top left on my ‘bulletin board’ wall of meaningful images, a postcard of the Dalai Lama I’ve carried with me since I got it in 1988. Also an image of the Buddha by Mary Hockenberry. (And yes, that’s a signed card from Jack Hanna, another longtime ‘hero’ I got to meet a few years ago.)

His Holiness fled his country the year that I was born. For as long as I can remember, I have been paying attention to his journey in exile in news reports, and later reading his teachings, and later still following them. Buddhism is less a religion than a philosophy that encourages one to examine for oneself to discern the truth of the teachings. I’m grateful for the Dalai Lama, for his teachings, even for the fact that his forced exile enabled him to bring the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism out into the wide world at large. I’m grateful I got to sit in the audience one year when he spoke at the Boulder Theater.

Because the Dalai Lama had been a beneficent force in the back of my mind for most of my life, I leapt at the opportunity last spring to partake in an online retreat exploring The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I’m grateful for that opportunity and for Dawn who shared it with me. I’m grateful for the teacher of that retreat, John Bruna with the Way of Compassion Dharma Center in Carbondale, and for his wife Laura, whose curiosity prompted her to ask about the thickness of my house walls which she could see behind me on the Zoom screen. (Grateful for Zoom, and all the connection it has enabled during this year of social distance.)

I’m grateful that Laura’s spark of interest led me to become her student in the Mindful Life Program, and for all the goodness that has flowed from that choice into my life this year, as I pursue a Mindfulness Teacher Training course that will result in my ability to share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practice as a certified teacher. I’ll be bona fide!

I’m grateful that I’m spending the first weekend of this new and hopeful year in another online retreat with John and Laura, as we explore the possibility of “Bringing our Innate Goodness into the New Year.” I’m grateful to be learning to be a better friend to myself as I reflect on good things I’ve said and done in the past year, and learning to shush the harsh voice of my inner critic who harps that it’s never enough. It’s a helpful skill to cultivate, being your own best friend.

Friendship

… and more ice! Grateful for Carol who sent this picture of their ice candle New Year’s Eve celebration.

Going into this new year, I’m grateful for friends who have traveled this life with me, those I met just last year and those I’ve known since childhood, those who came into my life along the way and those who may arrive this new year. Thinking of friends this morning, I imagined writing a rhyming ABCs like Edward Gorey’s: A is for Amy who once saved my life, B is for Bethie a multiple wife, C is for Carol who lived in the parks, D is for David who fishes for sharks….

ABCs not for the faint of heart!

That silly imagining got me to reread “The Ghashlycrumb Tinies,” because it always makes me laugh, and besides that, it reminds us that death is certain, time of death uncertain. That recollection motivates me to wake up every day grateful, and determined to live this one precious day to its fullest.

All the little children in Gorey’s story meet a creatively untimely end. In my ABCs my friends wouldn’t die, they’d live each day in genuine happiness, and get plenty of sleep. Auntie told me once that when she couldn’t fall asleep she did what her grandmother taught her: instead of counting sheep, she would name her friends, starting with A, all the way to Z. I asked her about X. She said she was usually asleep by the time she got there. I’ve used this trick a few times to fall asleep. Sometimes I make it to the end and start the alphabet over with different names. I’m flexible: they don’t all have to be alive still, or human, or even actual friends as long as I’ve actually met them. I once shared a house for awhile with a grandpa named Q, so he’s always my go-to there. Once I met Marla’s granddaughter I had X covered.

S is for Stellar, the Very Best Boy. Oh, and more ICE!

Human or animal, girl or boy, F is for Friendship that brings me great joy.

Ice

Morning has broken…
Today I’m grateful for ice, and all that ice implies.

Grateful for ice, I am grateful for all that ice implies. First, for this kind of ice at least, water, clean tap water, and all that that implies: a reliable water source of snow-capped mountains, a delivery infrastructure, a water treatment plant, more delivery infrastructure, staff to build and maintain all the physical means of delivery and storage, a cistern, the people who dug the trench a quarter mile from the road and buried the pipe, dug the hole and buried the cistern, the plumber who plumbed the house and the several plumbers since who’ve maintained the household water system — deep breath — a freezer in which to make the ice, what a luxury that is, what a luxury all this is, to have clean water delivered to my kitchen sink, to have a kitchen safe and warm, with a refrigerator and freezer.

I’m grateful to be able to reach into the ice bin when I touch the hot skillet and hold an ice cube as it melts until the burn subsides. I’m grateful for ice trays, and how they’ve morphed through the years from those old aluminum trays with the handle that squeaked when you had to pull it up to break the cubes free of the metal grid. Grateful for the twisty plastic kind, and now the fun silicone molds that let you make whatever shape ice you could possibly want, cubes and spheres and sticks of ice.

Grateful for the spherical ice mold Amy sent, even though the frozen globes won’t fit my favorite new drinking glass!
Grateful I have more than one favorite drinking glass!

I’m also grateful for Ol’ Wilson, a new handyman in the neighborhood, who built a contraption to prevent my shower drain from icing shut this winter, and helps shovel snow, who cuts dead trees and stacks firewood, who built a shed for the generator after it’s spent 25 years under a tiny ‘temporary’ roof on a deteriorating rickety stand, and a lean-to in the food garden for hoses and tools. Wilson is cheerful and resourceful with an engineering mind, and grateful for the work, and grateful to live here; he arrives calling out “Another day in Paradise!” and he is absolutely right about that.

Using stuff that was around, Wilson insulated the shower drain outlets at the base of the birch tree, because sometimes ice isn’t what you want.
The generator shed before it was quite finished last month.

Almonds in Winter

So much to be grateful for in a simple salad.

The last of 2019’s almond crop, store-bought organic romaine and cheddar, and homemade ranch dressing: so much to be grateful for within a simple salad in deep winter. Grateful for the almond tree, that feeds bees in spring and provided pounds of fruit last year; this second crop proved the tree is not a bitter almond after all but a sweet one. This year, drought and an exceptionally hard spring freeze yielded only a handful of nuts, which I left for birds and squirrels. I still had a bag frozen from the previous summer, and thawed them out last week intending to bake or cook with them. After thawing, I slow-roasted them with a spritz of olive oil and some kosher salt, until they were crunchy, and set them on the counter to cool.

I keep snicking a few here and there over the next few days til I can get time to bake, and next thing I know, there aren’t enough left in the bowl to grind for a torte. A couple more days and all that’s left is a handful for salad. Oh well, and yum! Each crunch is a reminder of all that each almond took to get here.

Red Admiral butterfly pollinating almonds in May.
Ripe almonds in September.

I tried the “tarp under the tree whack it with a broom” method of harvesting, but it felt all wrong, smacking the limbs of the living tree, so after a few whacks I gathered the sheet and went back to snapping individual nuts or handfuls off the twigs. Over the course of a few weeks, I harvested several bowls full and enjoyed sitting outside processing them. Most I used before I harvested the next batch, and I saved the last in the freezer.

Shelling commences.
Layers peeled away reveal milky raw kernels inside the shells inside the hulls.
They were a bit soft after a year in the freezer, but with some oil, salt, and heat they crisped right up, good as new.

So, today I’m grateful for almonds in winter, and grateful for this trip down memory lane. I’m grateful for Philip, who among other demonstrations of friendship delivers groceries, grateful he’s survived Covid to once again bring cheddar cheese and greens, grateful for the growers and pickers of organic romaine, the makers of cheese, all the people all along the trail of ways these foods get to the store, drivers, road maintainers, all the conditions that make it happen that Philip can buy lettuce in December….

Stellar by moonlight. Grateful, as always, for my good dog, who always gets last bite of everything.

Snow

Snow started falling heavily late yesterday and continued into the night. iPhone night vision is amazing!

Gratitude practice today begins with SNOW, for obvious reasons. Western Colorado is among the regions hardest hit by climate chaos in the Lower 48. We are in Exceptional Drought, the driest, most dangerous category, expected to suffer both short (agriculture) and longterm (hydrology, ecology) drought. The state has activated its municipal drought response for second time ever. Any moisture is good moisture, and snow is the best. Our fundamental water reservoirs are snow-capped mountains.

Grateful Stellar can still wobble through snow this deep, and it’s good PT for his hind legs, too. Grateful I can still wobble through snow this deep!

I’m celebrating the biggest snow of the year, a really big snow! Compared, anyway, to past years. This morning’s accumulation measured only 5.2 inches, with .38 inch moisture content. I’m grateful for CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, a citizen-science initiative that began with a few weather geeks at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University in 1998. Now thousands of regular folks (also, I guess, we are all weather geeks) report daily precipitation from our own backyard weather stations across the Northern Hemisphere.

And I’m grateful for Julia Kamari-Drapkin, who started a now-global interactive climate change platform called I See Change in the North Fork Valley in 2015, in collaboration with KVNF and NASA. As part of her yearlong residence here, exploring climate change through the eyes of local ranchers, farmers, beekeepers, and weather geeks, Julia invited Nolan Doeskin, then Colorado State Climatologist, to do a little workshop at the radio station, where I got turned onto CoCoRaHS and started daily precipitation measurements with an inexpensive rain gauge and special snow ruler. I’m grateful to weather geeks the world over for their citizen science, and for that matter to birders, too, who are in the midst of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, for their contributions to global climate research.

You can get a sense of how snow shapes trees through the many winters of their growth…
Grateful for Neighbor Ken who plowed our driveways this morning, and for other neighbors who do the same.
Grateful for sunshine after snow, too.

So much to be grateful for today! Among other things like chocolate, soap, a functional woodstove, and the propane truck that got stuck for awhile in plow drifts at the bottom of the driveway, I’m grateful to Deb for calling me on my dark side in a conversation yesterday, which allowed me to see something clearly and ultimately laugh at my silliness, before I did any harm. Grateful for daily mindfulness practice, which enables me to live each day in better alignment with my core values.

Toilet Paper

A single Christmas cookie and the new Christmas glass, half full

Not that I don’t enjoy my hedonic pleasures… It’s attachment to them that’s dangerous, living a life of grasping for them at all costs. Blessings rain down upon me, and I feel obliged to appreciate them. Heaven forfend the day that I lose them, but I am prepared to live the rest of my days in a solitary jail cell should that ever come to pass, having relished each day until then.

Today, besides waking up alive, and all the other blessings of this life, I’m grateful for toilet paper. Think about it. How much nicer than mullein leaves or a rock! But what a colossal cost in trees. Millions of people across the planet don’t even have toilets, much less toilet paper. I’m grateful for the ability to look up the history of toilet paper with the tap of a few buttons. We are so fortunate that we can relegate our bodily waste to the backseat of our daily awareness, no muss no fuss. It’s an area where I’ve pampered myself, always springing for the cushy kind instead of cheap rough stuff; I figured solar power offsets a few other anti-planetary ‘consumer’ indulgences.

I’m grateful to Julie for introducing me to a socially and environmentally responsible company that makes bamboo (i.e., sustainable) toilet paper. Last spring when the paper-product shelves were bare in the stores, I ordered a case from Who Gives a Crap? It really is soft enough, and perfectly adequate in all other ways. It comes in bamboo-paper packaging so no plastic waste. I use the wrappers for fire starter. And they’re attractive enough to stack storage overflow on top of the toilet! These folks have a sense of humor, and they also donate 50% of their profits to a variety of charities that build toilets in the developing world, providing sanitation among many other benefits. I’m grateful there are companies like this one who put the well-being of people and the planet in the forefront of their business plans.