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This Precious Day

I’m grateful for so many things today, but mostly for the fact that I came to the end of it still alive. I’m grateful for walking after rain with Stellar and Topaz, for their sweet friendship, for golden September light.

There was no particularly extra danger to my life today, except that I drove twenty miles to town and back, and went into the post office and the grocery store. Even pre-Covid I’d have been aware of the slight uptick in risk that entails: anyone can get killed in a car wreck a quarter mile from home. But since Covid, these minor everyday risks we all take without giving them much conscious headspace feel magnified a hundred times. Just going into the grocery store for half an hour feels like sticking my neck out way beyond comfort. There’s a somber air in the aisles these days, a fraught undertone. I’m not defiant like those who put us all at risk, but I feel equally defensive. The public fisticuffs of last fall lurk just beneath the surface in the silence as strangers pass without smiles. A sense of relief when you recognize and connect with someone you know.

So I was glad to get home this evening, and walk again in the woods, again after rain; grateful for another few tenths of an inch in a lovely intermittent drizzle over the past twenty-four hours. Grateful for no dramatic thunderstorm with lightning’s fires. Grateful that out of all possible random misfortunes that can befall a human life, my good fortune and my body held up for another day. My heart kept ticking, my lungs kept breathing, and beauty continued to stream past me. I’m grateful for this precious day.

Grateful for a simple pleasure at the end of the day, of a beautiful ear of fresh corn with butter and salt. So simple, so delicious!
Grateful for a beautiful late-night surprise, rain-sparkled blue grass in the headlamp.

Peristalsis

I’m grateful for peristalsis, the process of wave-like muscle contractions that moves food through the digestive tract. It moves food through the esophagus into the stomach, and from the stomach into the small and then large intestine, and eventually moves waste out. I’m grateful for this involuntary bodily function, as I am for others such as breathing, and my heart beating. Peristalsis also occurs in a few other systems within the human body, and the same process enables earthworms, caterpillars, and millipedes to move. I’m glad for them, but I’m really grateful for peristalsis within this human body. Without it, eating would be a real drag.

My peristalsis has been working hard today. Another recipe I’ve been hankering to try is this Grilled Corn Salad with Hot Honey-Lime dressing. I made it for lunch. Without a grill, I broiled the corn. I cut back on the heat a little by using Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming spice blend instead of a chopped Serrano, but I had the rest of the ingredients. It was delicious! I’m grateful every day for whatever food I manage to feed myself, whether it’s a healthful salad, or some illusory-healthy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, or both.

That I have food at all! That it’s delicious! and that the peristalsis in my body functions well! … I might once have taken any of these things for granted, but with the realization that many people lack one or more of these conditions, I am conscious of them, and profoundly grateful. Billions of people on the planet don’t have enough to eat. And thousands have all the food they could want, but disease prevents their bodies from processing any of it. I’m grateful for peristalsis.

Cauliflower

Rain! lots of it! Off and all all night and day and night, at least an inch altogether. I’m grateful for rain! I’m also grateful, delighted, surprised, that Stellar wanted to walk all the way to the top of the driveway this evening in the drizzle, and that he did so eagerly and barely stumbled, after eating reluctantly and refusing half his pill-treats. I’m grateful for his resilience, and another sweet day spent with this remarkable animal.

I’m grateful for whole roasted cauliflower, and the Dutch oven to roast it in, and the ingredients in house to make a delicious, healthful, meaty meal from this one cruciferous vegetable; and for the oven, and the gas, and the roof over my head…. I vowed to eat better, and I’m gonna start by committing to more vegetables and fewer carbs. No cold turkey this time, just modulation, moderation, and genuine concern for the well-being of this body with all its intricate processes and interconnections. This aging human body which will fail and die some day, any day, no way to know which day…

Not to be macabre, but just by way of motivation to make the most of this one precious day that will never come again. Part of that is making food good: A heart and gut healthy vegetable. I’ll be paying a bit more attention to eating more fiber for awhile. I combined two recipes to make this gorgeous crown, which Stellar and I both loved.

I whisked together olive oil, a couple tablespoons each of Dijon mustard and grated parmesan, dried basil and thyme, salt and pepper, and some minced garlic cloves, while the oven preheated at 400ºF. Trimmed the bottom of the cauliflower, set it core side up in the Dutch oven and rubbed sauce into the center, then flipped it over and coated the top and sides. Baked for 45 minutes with the lid on, added a few more tablespoons parmesan over the top, and baked uncovered for ten more minutes. Just tender enough to cut with the spatula. So simple, so delicious. I am grateful for cauliflower.

TLC

I’m alive! I’m so grateful to be on the other side of the colonoscopy. I had intended to turn over a new leaf and eat really well as I restart my digestive system. My kind companions allowed me a stop at the grocery store and I suddenly craved the comfort food of my youth, frosted flakes. I don’t think Tony the Tiger always wore glasses, did he? Is that just to make him still relatable to us baby boomers?

“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” ~ 14th Dalai Lama 

Yesterday and today I really came to terms with this guidance. I’m grateful for the mindfulness practice that has given me more control over my unruly, anxious mind. The procedure went really well this morning. I spent the past two days telling myself that it might just be a wonderful experience, the previous few weeks cultivating a neutral, fearless attitude toward it, and the last three months intermittently dreading it, while largely remembering that I am capable and resilient enough to handle whatever the outcome of this test would be. I went from viewing it as unpleasant, to neutral, to pleasant. His Holiness is right, it feels better to be optimistic.

It was a wonderful experience. I was bathed in loving kindness from the minute my friends picked me up. The hospital staff was so kind, from the intake lady to the anesthetist to the surgeon, with all the nurses in between who were friendly, cheerful, efficient, downright doting. Nurses are a breed apart: they may be the most compassionate subset of humans that exist. The last thing I remember as I lay on my left side slowly losing awareness is the pressure of a compassionate hand on my arm, another on my back. I slept deeply and dreamed. In no time, I opened my eyes, for a second disoriented but feeling thoroughly comfortable and safe.

After the selflessness, generosity, and kindness I experienced today, I’ve come to the humbling realization that my interest in others is sincere; yet my interest in my own safety continues to supersede all other interests, despite all the wisdom, compassion and insight I’ve gained through mindfulness practice. This tenacious drive for personal safety is a result of being ACOA, I suspect. My highest priority is feeling safe. The safeness I need to feel can only come from within a complete surrender to Impermanence: I can’t even say to Uncertainty. It has to be Impermanence, because that is the single Certainty of our existence. Today, grounded in mindfulness, awash in TLC, I was able to embrace a daunting emotional challenge with optimism and gratitude. I’m grateful for tender loving care from a multitude today, and celebrating a new lease on life.

There was just enough time before pickup this morning to play a few minutes with the new camera. I am grateful for the feathered gems.

Curiosity

I looked up rattlesnake pole beans. I had assumed, like many of the references, that their name derives from their purple-speckled skin, but I found one article that mentioned it comes from their propensity to wind themselves around the supports or their own vines like a snake. And then I found this one! I’ve picked quite a few that were twisted around the fence wire, or their own coiling stems, though mostly they hang straight down. I’m grateful that my curiosity about their provenance led me to find out this tidbit, and then find a perfect example of it.

I’m grateful, as always, for Stellar Stardog Son of Sundog. He spent a lot of time outside lying on his bed in the shade under the deck, which is kind of unusual. Something seems to be turning in him. His back end was as weak throughout the day as I’ve ever seen it, maybe the worst consistently. Maybe he’ll rebound again, and maybe this is a new normal, or the beginning of the end. I’m so grateful for this bonus year we’ve gotten to spend together, and for all the good days he’s had. I’m grateful for the curls of his ruff, and the way he sees me.

Another thing I’m grateful for today is that the prep for a colonoscopy has improved a lot since the last time I got one twelve years ago. This doctor at Delta County Memorial Hospital offers her own recipe, which includes a super sour sickly sweet 10 ounces of magnesium citrate–I chose grape, because lemon-lime is intolerable from past experience, and cherry is just icky no matter what. That went down ok. Then she has you add 238 grams (8.3 oz.) of Miralax powder to a gallon of Gatorade, your choice just not red or purple. I chose orange because for a few years in my younger days, I really liked orange Gatorade, in the context of a hangover cure: that, and a bag of salty potato chips, brought me right back into my body on the too-frequent mornings after.

This prep was far more mild than I’d expected, though the first few cups of it bounced right back up all at once. I hope I managed to keep enough of it down to do the trick. Yeah, it’s gross to think about, but a) it’s apparently important that we get this done from time to time, and b) the whole time I was drinking this two-weeks’ worth of laxative, I was watching the news of Haiti and Afghanistan, and I felt really lucky. Also, I set my mind ahead of time to engage in the process as if it were a meditation, committed to just being present in the midst and flow of it, observing my bodily sensations, being grateful for the effects, and optimistic for the outcome. Bringing a kind curiosity to the process has been a huge help in managing legitimate anxiety: An old friend did her first screening colonoscopy at 50 like they tell us to do, and they nicked her colon, and she died of sepsis.

“That’s exceptionally rare,” I’ve been told by many people. And yet it happens, and why would it not happen to me? I am not invincible, though my childish mind insists that I’ll always come home from whatever outing I undertake. This amazing human capacity for denial: It can’t happen here, it won’t happen to me, etc. Silly denial; and yet, the reality can be terrifying. Death is certain, time of death uncertain. I’m ready to face the music tomorrow, when I’ll be grateful for my chauffeurs Rosie and Deb, and pray that I come back home to Stellar, Topaz, Biko, and the glorious garden, unscathed and healthy.

Harvest: Potatoes and Basil

This morning I picked another pound or so of rattlesnake pole beans, and dug up one of five Yukon gold plants. I planted five each of three varieties, and have now harvested one plant of each to see how they did… and of course to enjoy the subterranean fruits of our labors. On the menu for Boyz Lunch today was green bean-potato casserole.

Also on the menu, mustard chicken, browned in bacon fat (from making the casserole topping: bacon, and crumbled Ritz crackers), then skillet roasted in sauce of mustard, white wine, soy sauce, tabasco, and garden garlic and herbs: ripened fennel flowers and basil, plus a teaspoon of herbes de Provence.

The boys said it was definitely Top Five. I love that they say “Top Five” about eighty percent of the meals I make for them. I’m grateful for their appreciation, and grateful I get to host Boyz Lunch live, at least until it gets too cold to eat outside.

I’m really grateful that my hand gets to be out of the brace sometimes, and for OT’s TLC. I can cook again! I still have to be very careful and gentle with it, and it aches and tires easily. OT says it will be a few more months before it’s back to a hundred percent, and I’ve got a handful of therapy exercises to do with each hand, probably forever going forward, to mitigate the underlying arthritis.

The lettuce leaf basil is going bonkers. I’m grateful for the adventure of watching these magnificent plants grow from fragile, minute seedlings, and for the joy of harvesting and eating or preserving the robust leaves. I’m exploring various ways to save this basil, having dried some, made and frozen pesto, and today, freezing the chopped leaves. The four basil bushes continue to splurge outward, promising more and more.

I’m grateful to own a food processor, in which I roughly chopped the basil, then drizzled in just enough olive oil to coat it. Then, into an ice tray by the tablespoon, and into the deep freeze. Tomorrow I’ll pop them out and put them in a freezer container for easy access once the fresh basil is gone.

I’m grateful for prolific basil and green beans, and for potatoes even though they’re all pretty small: live and learn, next year even lighter soil, but hey, this is my best potato crop ever, so far. I’m grateful for the garden, the fence that keeps out the deer, the people who built the fence; grateful for the kitchen and all its implements, for solar power and batteries to store it to keep the fridge and freezer running and power the food processor and this computer and everything else in the house, and grateful for the support of a kind and capable solar technician. I’m grateful for every day that I wake up alive and get to harvest in the garden and cook in the kitchen.

My Left Hand

I have a new appreciation for my left hand. Marla Therapist has put me on a month of total thumb rest. It’s only been splinted for about four hours, and already I am fascinated to observe how essential it is to every single thing I do. Even though I’m ‘right-handed.’ Sigh. But things could be worse. I haven’t lost sight of the heat dome over the northwest, and send my loving thoughts to all those I know and those I don’t know suffering in that this week; nor has the great good fortune that I live in a single-story mud hut that was built to California (read earthquake resistant) adobe code escaped my notice. I tremble with sorrow over the condo catastrophe.

So finding out the extent of the damage to my left hand from that injury a month ago was challenging, but easy to accept. OK, it can be managed, it will get better, it’s not even close to fatal. (Death can be a friend, reminding us of its absence.) And already I’ve noticed a completely different relationship with my entire left arm, all the way through the shoulder into the neck. I’ll be exploring that tomorrow with Kristian Therapist. I’m so grateful to have these two nurturing women attending to the painful effects of this aging body, with their compassion and expertise. I’m grateful to Medicaid for providing me with their healing services. You know how much more productive a citizen I can be with two hands.

In light of this new restriction, and of the challenges of typing with a splinted hand, my gratitude practice will feature less verbage and more images for the foreseeable future. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be safe and free from harm.

Pleasant Surprises

I turned on the soaker hose in the bean bed, and this little sagebrush lizard instantly darted out from the edge of the bed, directly to a drop on the hose, where it stayed for several minutes. A startling, pleasant surprise, this little lizard, as it sprang from nowhere toward the water, spontaneous opportunist.
I’m grateful for new neighbors ,new friends who could pick up a prescription in town and drop it off as they picked up the last of the orphan vegetable starts. I’m grateful the babies I propagated now have a good garden home and chance of survival, fruition. The bag I expected to hold only one bottle of pills instead was stuffed like a concert swag bag. I’m grateful to Kroger’s for taking the pandemic seriously, and doing their part to convince the American public by giving away free masks and disinfectants; a pleasant surprise that says to me they understand, This thing is real: just deal with it..
This blue ephedra, planted years ago and now starting to spread a bit: It’s lived here for years and I’ve never seen it fruit like it has this extraordinary drought year. So unspectacular in bloom they are I didn’t even notice the flowers: I turned around yesterday and suddenly noticed the fruits, glowing red in the sunlight. A pleasant surprise!

I’m grateful for most surprises these days, as I can experience them as neutral at worst most of the time, and good, fascinating, or delightful at best in almost every case. I can imagine some surprises that would be distressing, but why? Why would I want to make myself suffer even more than everyday life itself demands?

I was just about to call It is what it is on the desert willow, when I walked past it this evening and noticed the first tiny bit of new green growth. It’s just a hint, but I think all I’ll have to do will be way cut back the dead limbs and give it some TLC before we see if it can make it with a new resource allocator in town.

X-Rays

I’m grateful to have all the little tenders out of their hot black pots and safely tucked into their dirt this week, with our third day pushing a hundred, and a couple more still to come before we fall back to a more tolerable low 90s. Still no rain.

I’m grateful that today’s trip to radiology was uneventful, and that my hand does not appear to be broken. I dropped a heavy metal bar on it a couple of weeks ago while I was assembling an inversion table, and screamed. Since then it’s only gotten marginally better: there’s a low level pain most of the time, and when I do certain things with it the pain spikes to that level that causes your gut to jump. The pain’s over in a flash when I back out of the movement, but that’s meant I’ve almost dropped a few things. I was worried that there was something seriously wrong that normal daily activities might be exacerbating. Whew! Though I’m not sure the news that it’s ‘advanced degenerative change at the base of the thumb’ is any better: just more arthritis. My skeleton is letting me down (but I’m still grateful to have a largely functional skeleton).

I am grateful for the X-ray, and the fortuitous accident that led to its discovery. I’ve had several recently, and many over the course of my life, and though the radiation can be dangerous, the information garnered has been worth the risk, in my experience. I’m grateful for the various X-ray technicians that have captured those images, for the radiologists who have read them (and for all the conditions of their lives that led them to those careers, etc…). Another fascinating discovery in today’s X-ray was ‘a small metal density foreign body in the tip of the middle finger.’ You just never know! Perhaps it’s the microchip that came in the vaccine.

Photo and all you need to know about thumb arthritis here.

I regret that I didn’t take a picture of the X-ray when they let me look at it, but I was in that purely functional state I get into under duress and didn’t think creatively. Oh well! But I imagine it looks something like this. Ouch!

Breath

Breathing in the peaceable kingdom, evening.

I focused on my breath a lot today.

I used to drive across the country once or twice a year, for more than twenty years. I felt really confident in my driving, and in my ability to handle anything that came up. But in recent years, while I’m still confident in my driving abilities, I’m less sure of the skills and wisdom of other drivers; also, the pandemic sapped my desire to go anywhere anyway. So I practiced focusing on my breath several times this morning before heading out on the highway, just to keep myself grounded. Then at the hospital, I breathed intentionally to keep calm through the intake and waiting areas. I’m grateful for how well DCMH maintains their Covid protocol, and this time I sailed through the process to get to radiology.

An MRI itself used to make me feel claustrophobic, but the new machine is like a giant donut and much easier to breathe in. I chose classical music, which happened to be a dramatic symphony that meshed in a fascinating way with the sounds of the machine. At the same time, I focused on my breath, with an awareness of thoughts arising and falling away. I surrendered to the noise: It was a lovely meditation. I’m grateful I have learned the mindfulness skills to approach this potentially grueling outing with equanimity, and make the most of what had to be done. We’ll know more later about the outcome, and I’m not worried about it, expecting only to gain information.

Then after I got home and decontaminated with a hot shower (one of the things in life I am most grateful for! Imagine–clean water flowing from the mountains through pipes underground, into a holding tank, pumped via solar power into my home, pouring out hot in a fountain in my very own shower! Life doesn’t get any better), I sat outside on the patio for a long time, just breathing, recuperating the energy it took to sustain equanimity throughout the day. Then I chaired a zoom meeting, and later sat outside again for a long while with Stellar and some cervid friends, breathing with the rhythm of the phoebes’ flights to and from their nest overhead; punctuated with occasional hummingbird frenzies off to the side. I spent a good portion of the day just being grateful for each breath.