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Shingles Vaccine

I’m grateful for a lot today. All the usual things, like waking up alive, hot water, good neighbors, and biscotti… And also some occasional things, like my first shingles vaccine at the clinic. I’m grateful that a couple of friends cared enough to twist my arm to go get it, and grateful it didn’t hurt more than it did. It’s left me by darkfall feeling extremely tired and a little bit weak, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid the lengthy torture of the virus.

I’m grateful for respiratory therapy with a compassionate, fun, holistic OT, who has served so many needs over the past few months, including today my craving for a sandwich made by someone other than me. She sent me to Sweetgrass down the street. I’m grateful for her recommendation of the Hal sandwich, which came with homemade potato chips. I brought it home to enjoy and saved enough turkey for another sandwich I’ll make here, after I make some bread. I’m grateful for stretching my boundaries enough to step into the cafe and wait for the till to clear to pick up the order, despite the unmasked crowd. It did put me in a slight dissociative state where I’m on high alert. I’m grateful for the awareness, and grateful after this full day to have my cozy bed waiting for me and the cat and the dog, who have now settled into a regular sleeping pattern one on each side of me. It’s my happy place. And that’s ok.

Cozy Day

Outside and in, inside and out, we had a cozy day. Wren surprises me with her enthusiasm for snow. But she just came in after midnight whiz and won’t stop licking her paws: from a high of 34℉ this afternoon the temperature has plunged to 7 at the moment and I don’t think she’s ever been out in snow that cold. I might have to buy her some pink booties…

Lunch was total comfort food with this creamy chickpea-spinach pasta with rosemary. It was so good I ate it again for dinner. So simple, so delicious. I’m grateful for simply inhabiting this particular life at this moment. I appreciate how fortunate I am, among the 8 billion other humans, and I try to make each day meaningful by living in alignment with my values of gratitude, kindness, and being of benefit to at least one other person, human or otherwise.

Letting Go

I’m grateful that I found the glasses! Last night, immediately after I posted, I walked into the pantry, turned on the light, looked to the shelf just below my left elbow, and saw them wedged between the box of Kosher salt and a bag of flour. I knew I had put them somewhere precarious with a mental note to remember. I burst out laughing. I didn’t consciously remember where they were, I just decided to check the pantry one more time. And in that subconscious way we often find things, I went right to them. There they were, in the very last place I looked…

In a way I’m even more grateful for the capacity to laugh at myself. It may have sounded like I obsessed over the glasses for the 24 hours previous, but I didn’t really; at least, not the way I would have before. For one thing, I didn’t beat myself up for losing them. Pre-mindfulness, I would have really cussed myself out and mentally beat my head against the wall. I did sing a tender little ditty about my stupidity as I swept the snow paths, but I was gentle with myself and laughing even as I did that. I also didn’t panic. I knew they were in the house or the yard, and was calmly confident they’d most likely turn up safe and sound, instead of broken outside after snowmelt in spring. I enjoyed a fruitful day filled with other activities in between the occasional search forays. I’m so grateful for the letting go that mindfulness affords me.

Contentment

I’m grateful to see Ice Canyon forming up, and to be able to walk there with my little dog. I’m grateful for the vast, tremendous sky and all that happens in it day to day, moment to moment. I’m grateful for my life just as it is on this day of giving thanks, for where I live and how, for teachers and students, for friends and community, for a sense, in this moment, of safety and ease. I’m grateful for knowing any of this can change in any moment, which inspires me to appreciate all of it every moment as much as possible.

I’m grateful for a tidy stack of wood in the shed, protected from the elements, and for the helpers who stacked it. I’m grateful for the simple meal I made for my Thanksgiving dinner, cheesy samosa puffs, and for the jar of last year’s salsa verde I pulled from the pantry to dip them in. It was a delicious early dinner.

I’m grateful for eggs, flour, sugar, cocoa, and vanilla extract, cream cheese and butter, and the knowledge to turn them into a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. It’s not exactly like the Sarah Lee cakes I grew up with, but pretty good nonetheless! I did substitute cream cheese for some of the butter in the frosting because I could and plain butter cream is too–well, buttery–for my taste. I’m grateful that two dear neighbors wanted to share their Thanksgiving dinners with me, and that I was able to share this cake with them. And so glad that I’ll have plenty of turkey, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and more to enjoy for the next few days. I’m grateful for leftovers! I’m grateful for friends. I’m grateful for the leisure and opportunity to cultivate contentment in my life.

Disaster Narrowly Averted

Today I am really grateful that I woke up alive. I might not have, more than usual.

Yesterday I came in after being outside for a couple hours, and noticed an unpleasant smell that I didn’t recognize. I wondered if it had come in on Wren, who had rolled in something; or with the load of wood I had just rolled in. I took out the compost and the garbage in case it was in there, and after a little while it seemed to have dissipated. So I went on with my evening, and went to bed, and went to sleep…

In the morning, traces of the smell remained. I thought Getting coffee going will get rid of it… As I stood in the kitchen it dawned on me slowly that maybe it was propane. I looked down at the stovetop and indeed one of the burner knobs was a fraction left of straight up. All evening, all night long, we’d been breathing propane. Fortunately the house is not hermetically sealed, in fact there’s a window upstairs with a permanent one inch gap. And I had not yet lighted a fire in the woodstove, and coffee was brewing in the electric maker: I’m grateful that this morning I chose not to light a burner for the kettle or espresso pot. Whew! Disaster narrowly averted, and purely by chance.

What frightens me the most about the whole thing is that I didn’t recognize the smell. It’s happened a few times in the past that a burner was on, or the outdoor tank had a leaky valve, or long ago the trailer heater had a bad pilot light; so I know the smell of loose propane. But this time I did not recognize it. That calls into question my cognition, a little more sharply than the usual mindless mishaps of misplacing glasses, keys, forgetting why I stepped into the pantry. Those are all normal artifacts of a busy life. But smelling a rank aroma, deluding myself about its origin and then just letting it slide, well… that’s a slippery slope. Let’s hope it’s a one-off. I’m just really grateful I figured it out when I did; grateful it was a relatively mild day and I could open both doors and a downstairs window and let the house air for a few hours. Grateful I lived another good day so I can go back to sleep tonight.

Simplicity

I’m grateful for the simplest things. And even the simplest things rely upon countless unknown others to bring them into existence. Two slices of fried sourdough: the canola oil, the seeds, the harvesting and extracting machines and their fuel and the people who grew, harvested, extracted oil from the seeds and oil for the machines; the pan, the manufacturers and those who made those machines that smelted the metal and shaped it, those who invented the diamond-ceramic non-toxic nonstick surface, the cardboard it was shipped in and all the people involved in every step in between; the wheat and all the people it took to grow it, the mill, the bag, the paper, transportation all along the way to the store, the sourdough starter started years ago, and the teachers who taught me to bake. The spare time to fry two pieces of bread, the stove, the propane, and all those involved in those things getting into my house, the driver who pumps propane into the tank outside every now and then and the office people who let him know when to come, the truck and the hose, the county road crew, the federal bills that fund the roads… All that is before we start on the avocado… And then there’s Havarti, just imagine all the people it took to get a ripe avocado and a chunk of Havarti to my kitchen. There’s the plate and everyone involved in creating the plate… the Himalayan pink rock salt and everyone it took to get that here, and the tri-color peppercorns… sigh. Yes, I’m grateful for the simplest things, and grateful for the perspective.

Moving On with My Life

Today I’m grateful for all the usual things: waking up alive, a morning with a festival of clouds, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with potato chips for lunch–so simple, so delicious. I’m grateful that I know how to make bread, and learned to let it cool overnight before slicing–these were pretty thick! It was too soft still warm to slice thinner. Grateful that I know how to make jam, which couldn’t be easier. I’m also grateful today for meaningful interactions with many people.

Kudos to Kelli at the clinic for giving me an absolutely painless injection, and she was kind enough to come out to my car to do it, though I was planning to go inside. I’m grateful I brought an attitude of ease and interest rather than fear or resistance; it led to a good conversation about the local Covid surge, and us each giving just a bit more kindness and attention to the other than two strangers needed to. I dropped off some cookies with friends I haven’t seen in person for awhile, and enjoyed a cautious stroll in the sun. We also talked about Covid, as well as efforts to save our local library, an essential community resource. There were some text and phone connections, and I’m grateful to have spent a couple hours in mindful conversation with my Foundations class that’s about to graduate next week. The day wrapped up with a spontaneous zoom cocktail with Amy, always a warm fuzzy.

Throughout the day, though, there was something niggling in my mind. A number of people have told me recently, in talking about Covid, “We’re moving on with our lives.” There’s a very subtle perspective in there, an implication I’m inferring, that disturbs me a little bit, and I’ve been trying to tease out what that’s about. Whether I read it in an article, hear it in an interview, or hear it face to face (usually prefaced by “I respect your precautions, but…”), there’s an implied judgment, an unflattering comparison. As though I, and people like me who are still taking Covid precautions seriously, are stuck–as though we are not ‘moving on with our lives’ but frozen in time, frozen in fear, frozen in some lesser state than those who proclaim that Covid is over for them.

It seems to me that many of them are not moving on in any way, but have simply gone backwards to living the same way they did in their pre-pandemic lives. No shade intended… but also there’s no need to be smug about it, or think it’s a superior way to live to those of us who have made substantial changes in our lives. In many ways my life is more satisfying than it’s ever been; in some ways more limited. It’s complicated. But I’ve definitely been moving on with my life these past few years in a positive direction. Lots of people reassessed during the pandemic and chose to move on with their lives in meaningful ways: to leave unfulfilling jobs, to work from home or to move, to simplify their lives; chose to explore other aspects of life’s many riches besides ‘business as usual,’ the paradigm btw that got us into the climate crisis in the first place. For awhile there, the Earth itself enjoyed a reprieve from the impacts of our collective human lifestyle, although that, too, is complicated. Ironically, the 8 billionth human was added to the current global population this week. The minority of humans, those of us who suffer largely from ‘First World problems,’ really do need to figure out a new way to move forward–as this pandemic proceeds, as climate chaos increases, as our interconnectedness simultaneously deepens and frays–rather than simply going back to business as usual.

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.

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.