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Self-Compassion

Maybe the best sourdough bread yet, at least it looked like it to Wren. And it couldn’t have been simpler! Mix together four ingredients, wait awhile, fold it a bit, wait some more, and bake in a cast iron dutch oven. I’ll definitely practice this recipe again soon.

Then I whipped up some crispy fried tofu with homemade sweet n sour sauce for dinner. I didn’t have potato starch so used corn starch, so it doesn’t look quite as good as the picture in the NYT. But it was definitely crispy. I used up the last of the apricot jam in the sauce, what a great idea, and some homemade paprika. I’ll make this recipe again too. I’m grateful for this abundance of simple good food.

And now I have a perplexing story to share. I noticed a couple nights ago that the globe lights on the tree outside my front door weren’t lit up, and assumed the catmint had overgrown their solar panel. Today I checked the panel, and saw the cord had unplugged from the panel. When I looked for the cord, I realized that it was gone. I was baffled as I searched the tree and saw that the whole string of lights had disappeared. Nowhere to be seen in the tree or anywhere around. Wind? Then I wondered if someone had pranked me. Then I noticed a few twigs on the ground where I knew I’d raked pruning. And then I saw some fresh scars on the limb where the twigs had been torn away. And then a horrible scenario arose in my imagination. I still can’t make sense of it.

The bucks are no longer in velvet, so I don’t know why one would be rubbing antlers on this limb, but they are in hot pursuit of does all over the yarden. So that was my first guess, a buck–and then his antlers tangled in the light string and he pulled the whole thing off the tree in his frenzy to escape, and ran off trailing a string of 3″- globe lights. I looked all around the yard at that point, hoping to find them, but nothing. As I searched, an even worse image came to mind: a doe had been nibbling and caught the line around her neck, and run off tangled up in the lights. But there wasn’t much to nibble except some thorny twigs. I feel pretty sick about it. If someone did prank me, all is forgiven and you can keep the lights, if you just let me know!

I wish that’s what happened but I don’t really think so. Bucks have been seen around here with big pieces of field fence wrapped in their antlers; a doe was spotted crossing a field with a five-gallon white bucket hanging around her neck. One of the worst moments in my garden happened a few years ago when a doe got her head stuck in the fence around the Fuji apple tree. After much thrashing, she wrenched herself free and I immediately removed the fence and rolled it up out of the way. We inadvertently create wildlife traps when we humanize our landscapes. I’ll never again string lights in an outdoor tree. I pray that whatever animal ran off with this string managed to shake it off and escape uninjured. I hope one day soon I’ll find those lights out in the woods on the ground so I know for sure. I feel a terrible compassion for any suffering that might have happened to another creature, but I’m truly grateful for the ability to feel some self-compassion for my own suffering of imagination and guilt.

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.

Plagiarism: Special Election Day Bulletin

   Maybe no political party is as virtuous as it wants to claim. But there was a time when the Republican party could at least bill itself as the party of financial responsibility, small government, defending democracy, supporting the troops, paying your bills, family values and even telling the truth. These values are now gone from the Republican party. And they didn’t fall, they were pushed.

Maybe until now you’ve stayed with the Republicans hoping once Donald Trump was gone the Republican party of old would re-emerge. But two years later it’s clear even his sizable loss didn’t open the door to the party returning to its values but instead somehow managed to only accelerate the decline.

Every political party through history has had its more extreme elements, but few have allowed the extremes to seize power and control the agenda. You saw with your own eyes what they did to Liz Cheney for keeping her word and honoring her oath to uphold the Constitution. This isn’t just not your father’s Republican party anymore, this isn’t your Republican party either.It’s been said elections have their consequences. Part of this is who gets elected, but equally important is how our votes define who we are as people. Who are you? What do you stand for? Do you really want children to have to carry their rapist’s children? Do you really want no exception for abortion to save the life of the mother? Do you really want gay friends and family members to fear for their marriages? Do you really want birth control to be a conversation between a woman, her doctor, and her local politician? No, of course not.

So maybe this is the day you stop voting for all these things you don’t believe. Maybe today’s the day you stop waiting for a miracle and simply admit you are done with the nonsense, done with the cruelty and that you really just aren’t a Republican anymore.

So what next? If you are in a spot where you feel safe to do it, I’ve heard from customers making the leap and telling the world the Republican party is no longer for you can be quite freeing. People will be excited to have you on our side.

For those of you living more complex lives in less liberal communities with all the scary bits about what Republicans have become, there’s something to be said for starting out with a slightly stealthier approach. Maybe borrowing a page from the LGBTQ+ rural teen handbook and living a double life for a while is your safest bet. Ultimately this is more about who you are than about who others see you to be. Today who you vote for is far more important than who people think you voted for.

I know this isn’t easy, but I think you may be surprised just how many of your old values have found a new home in the Democratic party. At the heart of conservatism is the belief in passing on an at least as good of a world to future generations as the one we inherited. To achieve this we must preserve the environment, education, and equal rights. To think, the Republican party was started to end slavery. Times change.

Please don’t let yourself be locked into continuing to vote for what you don’t believe in. Both our nation and our planet face serious issues that can’t wait another decade to be addressed. You being among kindred spirits where you no longer have to hide your empathy and compassion just to fit in is the first step toward preserving what’s good about this world. Come join in. You are welcome. Plus, our side has the tastier treats 🙂

Thanks for giving this some thought,
Bill

bill@penzeys.com P.S. Please forward this to everyone you know of who is far more kind than those you think they will be voting for. Thanks!       Penzeys Spices12001 W. Capitol Drive | Wauwatosa, WI | 53222 USview this email in your browser
 

With all the encouraging words out there from so many compassionate and wise leaders, this mini-essay from Penzeys exec Bill struck me as the one I wish I had written. Everything changes, all the time. The Republican Party has changed, dramatically, from the one I was raised to believe in. And I have changed. I’m not the same person I was yesterday, much less five, twenty, forty years ago. It’s no only OKAY to recognize the changes in ourselves, our beliefs, our perceptions, our needs, it is essential to our growth and maturing as a sentient being. If you haven’t already, please vote for women’s rights, human rights, and the rights of all those beings without human language who are being decimated by loss of habitat through destruction, poisoning, and other effects of human greed. Recognize our interdependence with each other and all beings, and vote for a real future: vote for love.

“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.

Helpers

I’m grateful for helpers of all kinds. Grateful for friends who bring me groceries, for bodyworkers who work my bones and muscles toward healing, and the bodies of friends, and all the healers who work all the bodies and souls toward healing. Grateful for the road builders and flag people and pilot car drivers who keep the roads in shape, and for all people who work hard or tedious but necessary jobs to keep the transportation arteries of the world healthy and flowing.

I’m grateful for weather forecasters and reporters, whether or not they get it just right but especially when they do; grateful for the men and women who step out into hurricanes to bring us updates, and especially for those across Florida across channels all day today. Grateful for the technology that allows anchors in the studio to talk onscreen with reporters standing in the eye of the storm, and then beams their stories into my living room. Grateful for the relative security and comfort I’ve enjoyed today compared to the terror and uncertainty so many experience worldwide, especially in catastrophic weather events like Hurricane Ian. Grateful that as far as I know so far, my friends and family have fared okay through the day, and hoping they make it through the night.

Feeling intense compassion for the suffering of all those people who didn’t make it out, didn’t survive, or will find tomorrow that they lost homes or loved ones; and for the dolphins breaking surface behind one of the reporters on the beach, and all the creatures that were sucked out of bays on the north side of the eye and those smashed onto land with storm surge; and for the land mammals, insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians who lost their homes or their lives in this storm and will in days to come to the floods it fuels. Feeling intense compassion for a planet pushed to the breaking point: as a dog tormented will finally turn and bite, so our earth displays her natural reaction to the torture we’ve visited upon her as our human population and its incessant demands escalate. It’s certainly not her fault.

I’m grateful for my capacity to feel empathy and compassion for those who are suffering, and to feel gratitude for the helpers of all kinds; those simply doing their quotidian jobs on a calm fall day, and those rising to remarkable occasions, as so many will tomorrow across the Florida peninsula cleaning up debris that was once treasure, restoring power, rescuing people and animals from untenable situations, feeding the foodless, repairing homes and habitats. On and on it goes.

Truth

The most riveting TV drama of the summer is paused now until September. It’s not the kind of thing I normally would have watched, but after the first episode I was hooked. I’ve watched all but one of the January 6 hearings in their entirety, and only missed half of one because it overlapped with Boyz Lunch. I’m grateful that the final hearing of the first set occurred this evening, so that I could enjoy lunch without distraction, and focus on the hearing without distraction also. I’m grateful for truth in general, and I’m grateful for the committee’s lucid, compelling, and relentless reveal of the truth of that devastating day. I’m grateful that this truth remains public record, that all the hearings are available to watch on the committee’s website.

I’m grateful that Wren is getting more comfortable with company.

I mentioned an upcoming hearing to a friend a couple of weeks ago, and someone else on the zoom referred to it as “another nothing burger in the witch hunt.” I’m flabbergasted that anyone can think like that. Especially after today’s hearing, in which a truth that was already crystal clear was made even more strikingly irrefutable. I have no more words. See for yourself. Trump must never return to power, and his followers must come to understand that he lied to and betrayed them from the beginning. I hope the tide turns soon; when it finally does, it may be a tsunami.

I’m also grateful for another Top 5 Boyz Lunch, and the overwhelming success of the twice-baked pizza. I’m grateful for green salad, homemade peppercorn dressing, and a 7-Up cake that mostly held together even though I ejected it from the pan a little too soon. It was a big hit with the fellas, “the best ever.” That’s a high recommendation to make it again, especially since it was so easy. I’ll have to do a little research about the physics of baking this particular kind of cake, leavened only with 7-Up, at high altitude. It needed about twenty minutes longer than the recipe suggested, and maybe should have baked at either a higher or lower temperature to keep a portion from falling.

Another Whole Day

I’m grateful to have been mindful of and attentive to another whole day, sunup to sundown and beyond.

I’m grateful to Sandra for being curious about my dream, and spurring me to analyze it a little more rather than just forget it. The live mammals that so horrified me were a rare (imaginary) catlike species from Africa who had been caught by a local hunter I know; they were essentially skinned white, their flattened heads and strongly slanted eyes even more noticeable without their fur. This speaks to me of a couple of undercurrent sorrows I hold at bay most of the time with gratitude for the moments in this precious life, since there’s not much else I can do. (Don’t misinterpret: I do what I can, but it’s not much.) Honoring our pain for the world means recognizing this Sixth Extinction we are in the midst of, as a headline today highlights; and also holding awareness that as we exploit species for food or whatever else our greed desires, we will continue to unleash more and more spillover infections like the current pandemic.

Meanwhile, on the home front, there is so much to be grateful for. I woke up alive, for one thing. The house had cooled overnight and I shut all the windows to keep the cool in all day as the temperature rose to 95℉ outside. I’m grateful for a meaningful meeting with graduates of the Mindfulness Foundations Course that I’ve been teaching, and for right livelihood. I’m grateful there’s water for the peach tree. And for me. I’m grateful for bright spots in the kitchen like this new little pot for a single serving of soup, or for melting butter; grateful for popcorn. And for a frozen banana bread scone which heated up beautifully in just ten minutes in the oven this morning…

…and grateful for the perfect scone-sized plate which I chose because it makes me so happy, no matter what I serve on it, to get to the bottom and see the little wedge of Brie. Who designed this plate, and why? What possessed anyone to think that this simple illustration would sell a plate? But it did, to Amy, for me, and it delighted me when I opened the gift, and delights me to this day years later, just to see that little brie and think of Amy, and of all the evenings over five decades when we sat together once in a blue moon eating Brie and bread. I’m grateful for this simple symbol of friendship so loaded with meaning, especially when it’s empty.

I’m grateful for a simple dinner salad, and once again grateful for Janis who taught me thirty years ago to throw anything and everything into a salad; grateful a conversation with her this evening prompted me to scavenge in the fridge for what I could add to some lettuce and dressing to make an interesting meal: cashews, broccoli, leftover beans, carrots, feta, leftover chopped pecans…
Grateful for the fragrance of new mown hay, even though it makes me sneeze, and for gorgeous clouds.

And I’m grateful there wasn’t more fallout from an intimate predator/prey interaction this evening, right after the hour I spent practicing patience and equanimity on tech support, and before our soothing walk to watch the sun set. Wren was minding her own business, nosing about in a flower bed, when Topaz got up and stalked her. How cute, I thought, she finally wants to play. She lunged, Wren ran, she lunged again, Wren ran farther, and then Topaz went after her in earnest. It looked a lot like this. Or this. But really more like the first one: she grabbed Wren’s flanks just like a lion would, and left a hole on each hip before I broke it up. There was hissing, screaming, growling. It’s not like dogs, I think, where you let them sort it out a bit and only break it up if you need to. Wren was outmatched in terms of weapons, or might have killed Topaz if she’d really fought back. I wasn’t willing to risk it. So…maybe they won’t end up cuddling in front of the woodstove this winter. But there’s still time! Hope springs eternal. I’ll get a squirt bottle loaded just in case.

Sunrise

I’m grateful I went to bed early enough last night to finally see sunrise this morning. It’s been a long time! I woke from an endless fever dream about grocery shopping of all things, which opened with me realizing I wasn’t masked and proceeded through greeting or avoiding many people, delighting in choosing cheeses, and finally wound up with a horrific discovery that City Market was selling live wild animals for both food and pets.

I struggled to get my camera to open and then to work right to photograph the three glass front cages before me, first filled with tragic mammals but then the reptiles in the background began to fill the scene, eventually including some small dinosaurs. I can place almost every element in the dream to a corresponding piece of yesterday’s reality, but what a colorful subconscious interpretation! I’m grateful for dreams, and for waking up from them.

Just like in the movie, I mean dream, the camera failed to open at first when I stepped out onto the deck at sunrise. I’m grateful it did in time to catch the daily spectacle that I all too often take for granted: its beauty, and that I’ll live to see it.

Laughter

Cheering up a friend last night I sent her this snap of a cartoon from The New Yorker. Then I ate some ice cream.

There is so much not to laugh about today. So much extra, unnecessary misery has just been catalyzed by the self-righteous right wing wingnuts on the Supreme Court. So much extra, unnecessary misery has been generated by human greed and ideology since the Industrial Revolution. So much suffering has occurred globally for all species and will continue to occur for all species including, of course, human beings, due to climate chaos and our species’ staggering capacity for denial, our devastating refusal to face this slow moving catastrophe. There is so little any one human can do about it.

This is where mindfulness skills* have literally saved my sanity. Cultivating the wisdom to accept things as they are, and from there determine how I can help; the ability to choose where I place my attention and hold it there; to practice gratitude and compassion with every breath that I can remember to–these are the gifts of mindfulness for me. With these skills, I am sometimes able, even on a day with such dreadful planetary and political news, to laugh til my sides ache.

Wren and I sat on the deck for awhile this afternoon as I laughed til I cried with my dear cousin over the phone.

My cousin and I play Wordle every day, and share our results. First we each share, in our own time, the blank tile tally that we’re given the option to share once we complete the word game. Then we share a screenshot of our guesses. I love seeing her process, and learning from it, and noting how some days it is so different from mine, and some days so similar. Spoiler Alert: Today, the solution was SMITE. After we texted our solutions, this happened…

I could not stop laughing at my own spontaneous cleverness, largely because I knew how hard she’d be laughing at my reply. I called her, and we sat together on the phone, half a country apart, laughing til we cried without saying a word for several minutes, before catching our breath and chatting for awhile. I am so grateful for laughing out loud long and hard with my cousin, for laughing with my friends, for laughing alone sometimes, just because it really is the best remedy. (Just. Just for you, dear 😂) May we each find laughter where we can in each day, no matter the challenges it presents. May we laugh together on the same page as we fight to protect one another. May we remember how good laughter is for our bodies and our souls.

*I start teaching a new 8-week Mindfulness Foundations Course online on July 1. If you’re interested, check it out here, and let me know.

Loving Friends

Had I not gotten violently ill last night, I would have posted my gratitude for Raven and Stellar, yet again. And for letting go, finally. Yesterday I took their faded photos off the food bins that I’d used for them and have been using recently for Wren and Topaz, and replaced them with their current owners. It was hard, even knowing those photos don’t hold their lives, to throw them away, but it was time to let go of the pull of their memories in that context.

I didn’t feel quite right so I went to bed early. I’d only been asleep for an hour when I woke up all kinds of sick, and remained so for about twelve hours. I’m grateful for my Cousin Nurse who talked me through accepting it, there wasn’t much I could do to stop vomiting, but to be sure and sip some liquids as I could. I was able to get out of bed around two this afternoon and sip some dilute ginger ale and water. Once I felt a little better I texted around to see if anyone had some orange Gatorade or some Pedialyte to replenish electrolytes.

I am so grateful for a supportive community: for loving friends who cooed their concern and made various offers to get me something, and for Garden Buddy and her husband who actually had exactly what I needed and made a special trip over to deliver it. They may not even have had it on hand; they were out and about and may have picked it up. Knowing them, they’d have gone to extra lengths to get me Orange! The only flavor Gatorade I can stand–but I would have been grateful for any flavor at that point.

I’m grateful I got so much housecleaning done yesterday, it made it easier to come downstairs this afternoon and rest in the recliner. The slight fever is down a bit, the Covid test was negative, a cool rain drizzles outside, Wren and Topaz have been extra sweet. The awful helpless feeling is gone and I’m just tired and a little queasy now. The fear that it would get worse and all the scenarios that flowed from that are gone. I almost want to eat a cracker now, but I’m heading back to bed. I am grateful that I will survive!