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Courage

I hear the Cowardly Lion sputtering it. It takes courage to live this life, no matter what our challenges are. I’m grateful today for the courage to meet the challenges of my day, and for the lessons I learned about myself in doing so. They weren’t big, were basic first world challenges; challenges being relative, we all have some.

I had to drive 80 miles (in my car that I own though it’s 16 years old) after a snowy morning (an unexpected three inches) to see the dermatologist (which insurance pays for except a measly $2), and get a couple of centimeters frozen off my face as well as a biopsy sliced off the bridge of my nose which has precious little flesh to spare. I’m so grateful for the awareness to observe physical changes so I knew to go see the doctor, for his friendly efficiency (it took three times as long to numb my nose as it did to carve the biopsy), and for the financial assistance to get potential skin cancer identified and taken care of (thanks, Affordable Care Act); grateful for the long-lasting anesthetic he shot into my nose to get me that 80 miles back home painfree, and that I didn’t freak out driving home when I noticed that my nose was bleeding and in fact bled the whole way home. Even though I felt a little queasy after awhile.

I’m grateful for the gorgeous drive from here to there and back again, and grateful that I had other options though I decided to take little Wren with me. This was another act of courage, choosing to trust humanity not to mess with her while she waited in the car for me while I was under the knife (and freezer gun). I’m grateful for the opportunity to observe the extent of anxiety that rose in me because I know that she has separation anxiety when I leave her at home. How do I know? The way she greets me on my return panting like she’s run a marathon in summer and jumping to my shoulder. She was a perfect angel on the drive, waited quietly in the car (for all I know) and I know it wasn’t too hot today, and she slept the whole way home. Such a good little girl! She’s given plenty of gentle huggies since we got home, and is patiently waiting for bedtime.

“How are you?” asked the doctor when he entered the office. I’ve been seeing him a long time and he sort of knows me. “I’m anxious!” I replied a little too emphatically. As I told him about Wren in the car, I felt all these other anxieties bubbling up. “I’m anxious about a lot of other things, too!” I almost challenged him to ask, so I didn’t make him. “I’m anxious about politics,” I confessed, and about climate chaos, I thought, and in that moment I realized that I had channeled a lot of sublimated anxieties into the one I’d been focused on for days, What to do about Wren while I’m gone for four hours? I’ve been ignoring anxieties about the rabid right wing threat to democracy and the most basic rights of most Americans; I’ve been cultivating anxiety about Covid, long Covid, and living alone; and about this COPD diagnosis, and what the future will bring, and whether I’ll ever choose to spend time around people again. I could feel the seeds of agoraphobia taking root; I could feel empathy. I was able to recognize what was arising in me, and be with it with calm awareness even though it wasn’t comfortable, sit still for the procedures, and then follow the steps to get home to (relative) safety. My attachment to the outcome of this day was different than it would have been a dozen years ago. Instead of worrying about biopsy results, I only cared that I made it home safely with Wren, and once that happened I was able to relax again.

In mindfulness practice we consider relaxation to be a skill. It was only by pushing well beyond my comfort zone into overt psychological discomfort that I was able to recognize how far I’ve come in relaxing: It amazed me to realize that I used to spend much of every day enmeshed in this same level of anxiety that assailed me this afternoon. What a relief! It’s no longer a steady state for me, but only an occasional trait.

Breathing

Best of all, little Wren is allowed to attend respiratory therapy with me! She makes herself right at home. She’s also been welcomed at physical therapy, and just got permission to come see the chiropractor and the massage therapist also. Amazing! What a great health network we are blessed with in this valley.

I’m grateful for breathing. I’ve been on night oxygen for around a month, and that’s helped a lot with my energy level during the day. For various bureaucratic reasons, Medicaid, Medicare, and any other type of insurance won’t pay for the portable oxygen concentrator I require for various logistical reasons associated with living off the grid. But I’m grateful that I was able to afford to buy the unit from savings, and that it has been performing as advertised. The battery charges in around four hours during the day, and then it lasts for about nine hours overnight–just long enough for me to turn it on, put in the nasal cannula, and read for an hour or so, then roll over and sleep through the night. I’m grateful for this extra oxygen overnight which has improved the quality of my days. There’s a little discomfort with the tubes across my cheeks, catching my arm in the tubing when I roll over, and a persistent sensation of pressure under my nose during the day when there’s nothing there anymore, but these are all minor inconveniences compared to the benefits.

As much as for the nighttime oxygen, I’m grateful for the respiratory therapy provided by our local hospital network. Dear Marla, who has helped with therapy for both wrists, is also a breathing expert. I get to see her once a week for awhile, to learn a basic functional breath, and increasingly demanding exercises to improve lung capacity, oxygen absorption, and CO2 expulsion. I’ve mentioned before how grateful I am to the various physical therapists I’ve seen over the past few years through the Delta Health system. This poor, challenged body continues to benefit from all those past visits, and now derives great comfort and resilience from the tender ministrations of a warm, compassionate, and skillful breathing coach.

I’m also grateful today for another grocery delivery, and for the beauty of beans. This batch was cooked with onions, orange jalapeños, garlic, cumin, coriander, and oregano, and will go into a batch of burritos to freeze for quick and easy meals.

My First Lover’s Mother

She was the age I am now. He was her eldest child, thirty-seven. I was twenty-one. Stevie Peet. She was a short, round little lady born, raised, married, lived her whole life (and died for all I know) in southeastern Virginia. It just struck me tonight as I set my empty martini glass on the kitchen counter to wash in the morning, that she was sixty-three when I met her, and she seemed so old. A mother of five grown children! A widow… The matriarch of a complicated family.

“Go ahead and eat the bones,” she assured me as I ate shad for the first time at her table, “they won’t hurt you, they just dissolve.” Maybe for her. I always got the oddball ailments, always. The next morning there was still a shad bone stuck into my throat just beyond reach of anything I or her firstborn could stick in there without my gagging. I called my dentist. In a college town, he was the popular go-to for dental care, being liberal with the gas. He could see me at eleven. He gave me gas, talked me into a relaxed state, calmly stuck his long hemostat down my throat, and pulled out the fish bone. We both had a good laugh about it; it was his first time too.

Except for that misguided advice, though, Stevie Peet was a great role model. Every night after dinner she would sip a three-ounce cordial glass full of gin. It helped to relax her throat, she said, which otherwise closed up. I can sure see what she meant! Doesn’t matter what kind of day it’s been, it doesn’t feel complete until I’ve relaxed my throat with a martini.

Chicken Soup

I’m grateful on this cold rainy day for the ingredients and ability to make chicken soup; for the stove and fuel to heat the burner and for the pot; for the fragrance wafting through the house; and for a friend to share the soup with.

Mindfulness

Look at all those ripening scorpion peppers!

I’m grateful for the mindfulness practice that has transformed my life over the past couple of years. In January 2020 when I decided to get certified to teach meditation I had very little understanding of mindfulness. I just knew I was being called to something. I’m grateful that circumstances unfolded in such a way that I immersed myself in the study of mindfulness and came out of a yearlong training qualified to share its benefits with others.

I’m grateful to be participating in a mindfulness retreat this weekend celebrating this year’s graduating class of certified teachers in the Mindful Life Program, and grateful for deepening relationships with mentors and colleagues.

Perspective

Smoke haze from wildfires far west of here mutes the mountains and clouds the canyon air. What was once an occasional occurrence is now the new normal for us here for at least part of every year. Today, the past few days, it’s been a mild haze. Grateful for each day that I can still breathe outside this summer; we’ve been more fortunate than many this year.

Thinking about time, today, in the context of “the rest of your life.” No matter how long that is, such a short time! How long did it take for this little canyon to take its present shape? Many many human lifetimes. How long has this Ancient One been growing on the canyon rim? Seventeen human generations at least, especially since in the first dozen or more of those generations human life expectancy was more or less forty years (mostly less). I’m grateful for this perspective, which helps me to appreciate the precious insignificance of my own uncertain lifetime. I’ve already lived longer than most humans for most of human history. I’ll be grateful for all the ups and downs, the gives and takes, that landed me here, in this old arid land, for the rest of my life. I’m grateful to be able to share this place with good companions along the way.

Birgitt

Truly the best poundcake ever.

I’ve done it: I’ve reached my limit. I can’t upload anymore photographs without either deleting some older posts, or upgrading to a more expensive plan. I cannot make a decision about that now, and maybe not tomorrow, or even the next day. We’ll know more later.

What I do know today is that I’m grateful for Birgitt, the Nurse Practitioner at Delta Health Pulmonary. She spent well over an hour with me this afternoon, listening attentively, exploring options, and explaining what might be going on and what steps to take next. I have been diagnosed with moderate COPD, without much further explanation. How did I get this? Was it from being raised in a home filled with second-hand smoke from birth til eighteen? Was it from forty years of light pot smoking? Was it from living with particulates from thirty years of woodstove heating? Was it chronic bronchitis for a few years when I lived in Florida? Who knows? Maybe we’ll know more later.

Birgitt said she prefers not to do too many tests to examine the potential causes, but to look forward to investigate potential treatments and mitigations. My paraphrase. I’m on some sample inhalers to see if that improves things, and she drew blood for a CBC, and had a cheek swab to check for a genetic type of COPD. My neck was measured for an overnight sleep test at the hospital–I didn’t even wanna ask what that was about! And referrals were sent for the sleep test, and to a different oxygen company to see if we can finally get me night oxygen. I’m grateful for her kind and deep attention, and to finally have a short answer, and another advocate committed to helping my breath improve. I know that I need to be my best advocate, and get more exercise, and step up the daily pranayama practice. Time to knuckle down and take my health seriously again.

“Get your head out of the clouds,” as my mother would have said. How she laughed when my old friend Thelma told her I had such great common sense. I’m grateful that I’ve had the common sense to avoid Covid so far, knowing intuitively and physically that my lungs can’t afford that kind of infection. I’m grateful I have supportive friends who understand this, and now that I have this diagnosis, maybe a few more of them will finally get it that I just can’t get it. I’m grateful this arduous day is over and I can go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. Wishing you a good night’s sleep as well, and happy breathing.

Change

I think this little girl’s world has changed a lot since spring. I wish I knew more about where she came from and what her life was like before. I’ll probably never know more later, but I’m grateful that she is expanding her horizons, and I’m stretching along with her. She’s only been to the canyon a few times, but now I’m under doctor’s orders to walk there daily again. My habit of doing that changed last fall when Stellar could no longer make it that far, and then he was gone and it was winter, and cold and snowy, and I didn’t want to walk down there alone anyway. We live where lions live, which I’m also grateful for; but I don’t want to be walking alone among them. So Wren and I are girding our loins for the short hike down there daily. Even though she is small, she is alert and will let me know if there’s a big cat on the horizon.

I’m grateful for change. It’s wonderful to know that nothing stays the same. Everything uncomfortable will also go away, even as will everything lovely. I’m grateful that I’ve allowed my tastes to change over the years. When my mother made Bread & Butter pickles every year for the St. Alban’s church bazaar, it was fun to help. I was too young to slice, but I liked packing the sliced cucumbers in ice. One time the Colonel cut his finger slicing them and there was some concern about where the sliver of skin ended up… Maybe that’s why I never liked to eat them. Eew. I loved dill pickles but sugar and onions? Forget it. Now, they’re my favorite kind, but that may be only because I’m making them myself with cucumbers I’ve grown. This recipe I’ve used twice this summer is so simple, so delicious. The pickles are crisp, sweet, and spicy. Sometimes I load up a tiny bowl for a snack mid-afternoon, and sometimes I incorporate them into a meal. Today, I made the most delicious sandwich on a toasted croissant with avocado, Havarti, and pickles, with lots of mayonnaise of course. My love affair with mayo? That’s one thing that will never change.

Pain Relief

On top of or underneath her bed, Wren can sleep anywhere in any position.

I’m grateful that neither my car nor my house ever got egged–until now! And even so, that it wasn’t a malicious act by miscreant youth, but an unfortunate accident. I parked under–just barely under–a tree this morning when I went to see my favorite PT for a little body work. I’m grateful for her, for her kind, nonjudgmental attention to this challenging corpus, and her strong hands and wise mind; and grateful for the pain relief I get for a little while after seeing her. Also, I’m grateful that she lets me bring Wren to our sessions, and that Wren is a pretty good little girl while we’re there, settling eventually onto her bed–after she reassures herself that PT means me no harm. Anyway, we got in the car, and I noticed a yellow streak down the center of the windshield. At first It thought maybe it was sap, but realized that it was egg yolk–and there was a tiny smashed egg at the top. But it was too late, I was already driving home. I resisted the impulse to turn on the windshield wipers, anticipating that that would just make a worse mess. After I got home, I hosed off some of it, then scraped the hardened yolk, then scrubbed the residue with window cleaner. Now I have a shiny clean windshield. I’m grateful that my first thought was compassion for the birds who lost their egg, and that even as I cleaned it off I didn’t resent nature or anyone else for the trouble, just felt bad that a little bird won’t be born.

After returning home, I microwaved a home-frozen burrito and topped it with sour cream, homemade salsa and hot sauce, and avocado. I was grateful for this simple, delicious, nutritious lunch, as I am for every bite of food I have the luxury and luck to enjoy.

Planting Seeds

Here I’ve tipped over and pinned the arugula stalks, in order to open sun space over the carrots beyond, and to allow self-sowing of any little rockets that pop out of the drying seedheads. In between I planted rows of flowers I failed to get started this spring. If they make it, great; if they don’t come up, oh well.

I’m grateful that the monsoons are truly upon us, even though there’s been precious little moisture on this mesa. The foothills are getting some rain, and we a bit farther west are getting humidity and clouds. This helps the plants and ground (and our skin) retain some moisture, and keeps the temperature down in the 80s and even 70s for much of the day, a welcome respite. Wren helped me plant some seeds this morning, anticipating a midday shower though none came. I resorted to a watering can to set flowers, lettuces, cilantro, and two varieties of carrot seeds into the soil, grateful for a forecast of moderate temperatures and increasing chance of precipitation over the next two weeks. I’m grateful for planting seeds both in the garden, and in my heart and mind: seeds of kindness, forgiveness, compassion, and equanimity. What we water grows.

I’m grateful for this beautiful Sirenevyi sweet pepper harvested this morning. I used half of it along with some red onion, basil, oregano, and ricotta cheese to make stuffing for the four blossoms the zucchinis offered up. After sautéing diced pepper and onion and chopping the fresh herbs with the herb scissors I mixed them up with a pinch of salt and pepper, stuffed the flowers, and put them in the fridge for later.

Then we did some other things for awhile.

And then it was time for a late lunch. I had awoken achy and queasy, and optimistic for rain, so I cancelled Boyz Lunch. It was a hard call. It turned out to be for the best, though it never did rain. I was forced to eat the fried blossoms by myself. No shortcuts this time! I made the batter with one egg, a third cup of flour, and a quarter cup of 7-Up. The recipe calls for beer, but what it wants is the bubble action, and the soda worked fine. The smooth thick batter clung beautifully to the flowers and fried to a golden light crisp.

I mixed a dip with some mayo and sour cream, and a splash of Penzeys Arizona seasoning. I added some chopped celery and mayo to leftover cold pesto pasta, garnished with some sliced avocado, and enjoyed another simple, virtuous lunch. It brings me great pleasure to prepare simple, delicious meals, even just for myself. Like many single people, I used to think it wasn’t worth cooking for one. It’s been a long road to learn that I deserve my love and compassion as much as anyone else does. And it’s been a joyful journey learning how to make the most of simple ingredients and techniques, leftovers, and effortless aesthetic touches. I’m grateful I’m finally learning to care for myself.