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Mission: Joy

I’m grateful for this amazing film about two of my favorite people ever, now available to stream for the next 36 hours through the Global Joy Summit with this invitation. I’m grateful for the inspiration these men have brought to my life and millions of others, for the work they’ve done to improve conditions for people around the world, for the hope they have brought to so many, and for the extraordinary joy and irrepressible laughter that characterizes their friendship. The documentary is well worth two hours of your time, whoever and wherever you are in the world and in your life. The summit and film are introduced at thirty minutes in, and the film itself begins about 38 minutes in. I just watched it, and will watch it again before the window closes. I laughed, I cried, I marveled; my heart cracked open.

Scientists

I’m grateful for all the doctors and other scientists who continue to research the many facets of Covid-19. This diagram is from Eric Topol’s newsletter a week ago, delineating the number of new variants as of November 3 that have multiple convergent mutations. Note that at least ten of these variant families are resistant to prophylactic Evusheld, and/or monoclonal antibodies currently used to treat Covid. Some days Topol, who is among other things a professor of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute, offers good news in his daily Covid update, and some days not so good news. In one report this week he cites research suggesting that Paxlovid treatment for acute Covid significantly reduces the incidence of subsequent Long Covid. On the flip side, he cites another study indicating that “a 2nd or 3rd infection is associated with worse acute and post-acute (Long Covid) outcomes than not having a reinfection.” I don’t pretend to understand the statistics, charts, and graphs he cites, but I do understand the plain English of his interpretations.

I’m grateful that the top scientists in the world continue to take seriously the threats to public health from this virus. Most authorities on the subject concur that this pandemic is far from over. I’m saddened to see so many in my community sickened with Covid right now, and disillusioned to see almost everyone I know dropping precautions right and left. When I share my concerns with friends in explaining my ongoing vigilance, they offer polite but insubstantial sympathy. I’ve been crystal clear since March 2020 that I have no intention of getting Covid and absolutely do not want to be exposed to it. I’ve shared with my close friends that I already suffer chronic pain (most likely from a previous infection of an unknown virus thirty years ago); that another virus laid me low for nearly two years after an acute attack of vertigo that prevented normal functioning for six months; that I already have enough trouble breathing (even before the COPD diagnosis and being on night oxygen). My life is already hard enough. I don’t bitch about it here, or much anywhere. Instead I celebrate the good and the beautiful that helps me enjoy this one life, one precious day at a time. But I’m laying it on the line tonight.

For almost three years, I’ve asked people to respect my precautions and accept my protective isolation, and for the most part they’ve been willing and supportive. Some have been kind enough to do my grocery shopping regularly this whole time. I had a heartwarming conversation with a friend on Tuesday morning in which she assured me that people would be happy to honor any guidelines I might lay out before connecting with me. I pointed out that a) I’ve already been clear about my guidelines, and b) I don’t have any right to ask people to change their behaviors just to come near me. But I do have the right to protect myself by limiting my potential exposure with ‘informed consent.’ It’s like avoiding an STD: just let me know where you’ve been and with whom, and then I can decide how close I want to get to you. Ironically, at the time of that conversation, I had no idea that I’d been potentially exposed the day before.

I sense my friends are getting tired of me–I’m an extremist, an outlier. I sense my community, like much of the world, has decided they’re over Covid even if it’s not through with them–we’re in a hyper-local mini-surge here these days: everyone I talk to knows someone who has Covid right now–as one by one they drop their previous precautions like masking in the grocery store, or refraining from large gatherings, or traveling, or so many more. Perhaps they’ve surrendered to the inevitability of catching it, or the presumption of immunity. Or they’ve had it and “it wasn’t that bad.” Or they assume that because people they know who’ve gotten Covid have said “It’s like the flu,” that they’ll be sick for a few days and then be fine. But not everybody is fine: Covid still kills nearly 400 Americans everyday and they’re not all old and riddled with co-morbidities. And the parallel pandemic of Long Covid is revealing horrifying neurological and other systemic breakdowns occurring in millions of people, including an appalling rate of suicides by people whose brains just quit working. Check out this video featuring Yale Immunobiology Professor Akiko Iwasaki.

Or read this article in Time about neurological symptoms in Long Covid sufferers. While I’ve been super cautious, I’ve chosen to take a few risks during these pandemic years, largely to get healthcare for me or my pets. I can’t control everything: I need surgery for skin cancer next month. I’ll be in a closed building with plenty of other people with no mask requirements for hours under the knife. In this case the risk of cancer spreading outweighs the risk of the virus. Tough choices. I’ve figured (another naive assumption) that if I survived acute Covid, and ended up with Long Covid, at least I’d have the skills to handle prolonged fatigue, chronic pain, brain fog, and the other symptoms I’d read about–I’ve had plenty of experience with those already, plus now I’ve got mindfulness. Then I learned of a particular suicide that raised the question of the limits of the practice, and opened the door to deeper understanding of the dire realities of Long Covid. My budding complacency was shattered. Any temptation to lower my risk threshold evaporated. I’m grateful I enjoy being a hermit.

Living with Animals

My neighbors and I frequently remark on how lucky we are to live with animals. Sometimes we are referring to mountain lions, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, or bears. Sometimes we are referring to elk or the deer that wander through our yards. Sometimes we are talking about our little dogs! I’m grateful for living with animals.

Choosing

I’m grateful today (and every day) for choosing where I place my attention. I didn’t used to have this capacity. I used to let my thoughts drag me around. I used to “think too much,” as many people told me and I resented them for saying that. You don’t think nearly enough! I would think in response. It’s true, too many people don’t think nearly enough, or as a friend pointed out today, don’t have the capacity for critical thinking, i.e., discerning truth clearly. But thinking too much is a different beast. I’m grateful to mindfulness practice for allowing me to release the mental agitation caused by believing my every thought, identifying with or attaching to the things I think. I still think horrible things could happen tomorrow if unthinking Americans vote narrow-minded, self-righteous, power-hungry, greedy, ignorant people into power… but I’m not attached to the outcome. No matter how awful it might be, it’s beyond my control now.

I’ve donated more $ in the past six months to political causes and campaigns than ever in my whole life put together. I’ve voted, written, and conversed, and tried to influence people to vote for their true best interests, and against corporate greed, fascism, and ‘alternative facts.’ I’ve done what I can in my own small way. No matter what happens when the ashes of this election settle, there will still be people, animals, and a planet who need my help and compassion, and that’s where I’ll continue to turn my attention. And in the meantime, I’ll choose to pay attention to what I can control, which is how I show up for myself and for others moment by moment, day by day.

One way I strengthen resilience and hope is to take care of myself, so that I can be more present and helpful for others. One way I take care of myself is to give myself little gifts, moments of joy, throughout the day; choosing to be mindfully aware of what is good, true, and beautiful in this life. One way I do that is with simple but delicious food treats. For example… croissants from City Market cost $1.12 each… add some homemade raspberry jam and a quarter of a chocolate bar, bake for eight minutes, and this delectable breakfast cost less than $2 and fifteen minutes. So simple, so delicious. Taking another ten or fifteen minutes to savor the flavors and textures, along with a cup of coffee, and I can honestly say it was a half-hour well spent. Yes, life is hard: millions of sentient beings suffer every day; all the material blessings of my life could disappear tomorrow in some natural or man-made catastrophe; death is certain, time of death uncertain. There is nothing more that I can do about any of those true things than what I’ve already done: and in this moment, in this breath, all is well, and for that I am profoundly grateful. Tomorrow come what may, let me live this day choosing to focus my attention on gratitude and joy, wherever I can find them.

Looking Up in Wonder

As Wren and I were out on our afternoon walk, everything in front of us looking much the same as usual, the ground, sagebrush, trees, green mosses, and soft dry mud, I chanced to turn and look over my shoulder, and “ah, bright wings!” We followed the marvel through the woods until, as everything always does, it shifted, dispersed, dissipated. I’m so grateful for those moments when I am stopped in my tracks by looking up in wonder.

I’m grateful for the single Tabasco pepper I grew this summer, for its precious little hot peppers, and for it hanging on long enough after I potted it up and brought it inside to load up with ripe or ripening fruits. When I went to water it today I noticed an aphid infestation, and I’m grateful I had a plan for such an eventuality. Having observed in previous years that outside food plants brought in, peppers or herbs, often succumb to aphids, I was on the lookout, and had steeled myself for the necessary: I cut off all the peppers and put the plant and aphids outside to freeze gently to death; trying to control them has always failed and resulted in more houseplants becoming infested. I’m grateful I had “the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.”

Heat

Today started with me massively over-sleeping, and of course I’m grateful for the ability to oversleep when I know so many people who can’t sleep through the night. I’m grateful that my first zoom of the day friend was gracious and understanding when I was half an hour late. I’m grateful for ample firewood so I don’t feel the need to scrimp on a chilly grey morning, and Wren is grateful for a thick cotton rug on the hearth. Today is the first time she’s stretched out in front of the woodstove, and I’m grateful she’s comfortable to do so. I’m grateful for a quiet Saturday to rest, read, and catch up in the kitchen.

I’m grateful that my strategies for salvaging the two Datil pepper plants worked, and I was able to harvest enough ripe Datil peppers to make this delicious hot sauce recipe from Chili Pepper Madness, with homemade tomato sauce and paprika, honey, garlic powder, and apple cider vinegar. It was crazy to choose to grow Datil peppers–they’re a St. Augustine, FL, specialty, and I might have known they’d need far longer to mature than the growing season here. I may not try to grow them again for that reason, but I sure am glad I tried them this year. After simmering the ingredients for about 25 minutes, I blended them and got two squeeze bottles full of a fruity spicy sauce, with a touch of sweetness. I’m grateful for shedding the label I gave myself decades ago of ‘can’t handle the heat.’ I can handle a little bit more heat today than yesterday, and more yesterday than the week before. And it’s been fun and fascinating to grow all these different hot peppers this summer, and play with how to use or preserve them.

Top of the Hill

Today I’m grateful for the view after a brisk walk to the top of the hill. It’s the first time I’ve had the breath, energy, and sufficient lack of pain to walk that far for a long time. Little Wren was thrilled, dashing up and back, hither and yon, inspiring me with her enthusiasm. I don’t remember the last time I walked the whole length of the driveway, but I think it was more than a year ago. It was a stark contrast to this day last year, and in the way of anniversaries I thought a lot about how that Friday unfolded. I’m grateful for the friends who carried me through that awful morning, that they are still alive and well and that we continue to support each other in the ups and downs of our lives. I’m grateful for Impermanence, for how loss and grief also dissipate over time as surely as any good thing; I’m grateful for the new little dog who’s been here just over six months, and how she continues to heal my heart, gradually stealing into the tender places that closed with Stellar’s death. I’m grateful for the slow, sometimes arduous process of healing my body, too.

Disappointment

This was certainly not a disappointing way to wake up! I was lolling in bed when I saw this enormous white beast gobbling up the mountains at a fast clip. I could hardly jump up quick enough. I’m grateful for the fascinating sight, and all the moisture in the snow-sleet-rain storm that followed this throughout the day. I’ve checked the Cloud Appreciation Society library to try to identify this cloud but can’t quite fit it into any of the categories. They don’t have “Freight Train” listed, nor “Godzilla.”

I picked the sleetiest part of the day to drive the garbage up, but was rewarded with this soft scene on the way back down. Most of the day was not a disappointment. I’m grateful that my appointment in town was today and not tomorrow because at least the roads were warm and wet as I drove to deposit my ballot in the dropbox in one town, and then on to PT in the next town; I’m grateful for the ongoing education I’m getting about cardiopulmonary fitness and how to get there. I found myself in the right place at the right time, and with just the right hankering, to pick up some Thai food from a place that came highly recommended, so I stopped there for the first time. I ordered egg rolls, cheese rolls which I’d never heard of, and Pad Thai. I was surprised to find that this food ranked right up there with the worst Thai food I’ve ever eaten. The egg rolls had hardly any filling, and beneath the crispy exterior were doughy; same with the cheese rolls, though the cheese filling was the tastiest part of the whole meal. The dipping sauce was thin and vaguely fishy tasting. Regarding the Pad Thai, I would think a Mild described as “the least spicy” would at least have some flavor! Any flavor at all! The noodles were tough and chewy, and the toppings included a few pale shreds of something that could have been anything but certainly weren’t bean sprouts, while the quarter teaspoon of chopped peanuts were so finely ground they disappeared. Ah well!

I’m grateful for this disappointment. For one thing, I don’t have to pass the place again with my mouth watering, wondering, wanting to stop but not making time; for another, it proves the mindfulness point that reality is subjective and relational rather than intrinsic to any situation, event, encounter, or food outlet. I’d heard such good things; clearly some people like the food. Maybe it was just a bad day in the kitchen. Maybe the host was annoyed that I asked where the chicken came from and opted for tofu when told it was “just regular chicken, not organic or anything.” Maybe my taste buds and preferences have gotten spoiled after years of cooking gourmet food just the way I like it. I threw in a spoonful of Hoisin sauce to make half the dish palatable, and tossed the other half in the compost. It was worth the price for the lesson.

“If Republicans Win, You Lose…”

I’m grateful for yet another day of beautiful, mild fall weather which Wren and I could spend outside puttering in the garden, tidying up the yarden, before another winter storm blows in overnight. Already clouds are massing above, obscuring the waxing moon; there’s moisture in the dark air. I’m grateful to have some of the firewood stacked dry under the shed roof,

I’m grateful that the green tomatoes I brought in weeks ago are ripening so well! I pulled them out of the brown bags to finish on the counter before turning them into sauce. After a hard day’s work inside and out, Wren is grateful to rest with me.

I’m grateful for the steady wisdom of Robert Hubbell weekdays in my inbox: for his optimism, criticism, research, references, compassion, and wisdom. I can’t recommend his newsletter highly enough for all Americans who believe in democracy, equality, and true freedom. I also admire and am inspired by and grateful for pastor John Pavlovitz who promotes true Christian values of kindness and inclusion. And I’m grateful for Jessica Craven, Heather Cox Richardson, Dan Rather, the J6 Committee, and so many other voices on the national stage speaking truth in the face of corruption and lies; and for the thousands of door-knocking, phone-calling, postcard-sending activists in my community and yours who are putting their precious time and energy into spreading the news that if Republicans win next week, we all lose. If you follow this blog and you are not an advertising troll, you probably care about many of the same things I do. Please trust me on this: it is imperative that every one of you votes. It’s going to be a close election, and there will be nasty fallout with Republicans across the board refusing to honor the results if they lose. We have every reason to be hopeful, as Hubbell says often, and no reason to be complacent.

Improvisation

I’m grateful for improvisation in the kitchen. Yesterday, I boiled some butternut squash gnocchi from the freezer, which I made a few weeks ago with last year’s squash purée from the freezer, and topped it with a quick sauce of sautéed onion, mushroom, and garlic, and the last of this year’s arugula, which I blended Bello style with a splash of milk and some pasta water then tossed back into the skillet with the gnocchi and some parmesan to heat through. It was so simple, so delicious! I tried to post last night but was thwarted.

And I got a second meal out of it as a cold salad today, with a splash of mayonnaise and some chopped chives–still green outside despite ongoing winter weather.

In the meantime, as though I needed to eat even more, I tossed together the last of the shredded chicken with a can of Great Northern beans and one of Cannelinni, some onion, one orange jalapeño, chili powder, garlic, cumin, frozen corn, and Penzey’s Arizona seasoning. It was also simple and delicious. I’m sure grateful for eating so well, and as I’ve mentioned before, for finally settling into comfort and competence in the kitchen so that each meal isn’t a challenge of What? When? How?

And I’m grateful that little Wren has been able to settle into comfort, too–do you think she could relax just a little bit more?

I’m also grateful for the hard work so many citizens (including my friend Gina, a hundred postcards above) are doing these last few weeks before the US midterm election. This is a crucial election: Our democracy hangs by a thread, and it’s up to thinking, compassionate Americans to preserve it. If Maga Republicans win the precarious balance in the Senate or takeover the House, we will return to the Dark Ages where rabid religious zealots will determine who has basic human rights (white people, mostly rich) and who no longer has basic human rights (women of all colors, men of color, LGBTQ+ people, children discovering their authentic identities); who lives and who dies by shuttering social security, Medicare and Medicaid and silencing scientific research; who gets educated and who does the educating based on one single religion–wait a minute, isn’t that what even Republicans were pissed off about with the Taliban? And what’s up with the Putin worship, anyway? My old white male relatives, Colonels and Generals in the US Army before they died in the past decade, were as staunchly anti-Russia as every other Republican in their generation.

We are literally in a battle for the future of the planet (politics aside). But if you love anybody gay, anybody trans, anybody who has a uterus and the potential to become pregnant, if you love Nature, wild animals, clean water, reading what you want to read, science, the earth, you better Vote Democratic this November. Better yet, vote early! If you have children or grandchildren, you better take a good hard look HERE at the difference between what Republicans did over their last four years in the presidency, and what Biden has done in just the past two years, and be honest about which party really has your best interest at heart. If you agree with my point of view, will you please commit to reminding at least three people you know to vote Democratic in next week’s midterm election? With gratitude.