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Poor Little Wren

A. She doesn’t like snow! She did everything she could to avoid going out in it yesterday. Fortunately for her, it didn’t accumulate much, and fortunately for all other living things, it actually carried quite a bit of moisture, leaving good puddles when it all melted this morning, and soaking into the ground pretty well.

B. She got traumatized at the vet this morning. The good news is, she isn’t diabetic; and, she didn’t fight the blood draw as ferociously as she did the other procedure. She’s had loose stools since she arrived almost a month ago, to varying degrees. She got treated a few weeks ago at the Delta vet for ‘stress colitis’ and put on a special, very expensive, short-term diet, which seemed to improve things for the short term. But it’s just been getting worse since we transitioned that diet a week ago to a high-end small-dog kibble. I wondered if maybe she had picked up coccidia from snoofing the kittens, or had not been thoroughly wormed at the shelter she came from. So off we drove to the local vet on this gorgeous, damp morning, Wren snapped into her new carseat, nasty bagged poop sample on the back floor.

I brought them both in, dog and sample, and held her on the exam table as we waited for the doctor. When he approached her behind, I naturally thought he was going to take her temperature, so I tightened my grip. She screamed, thrashed, screamed, bit me, screamed, writhed, latched onto my ring finger and ring (Please don’t swallow that stone!), and screamed some more. She fought every bit as hard as Raven did whenever she was on the vet table, and I was grateful Wren only weighs eleven pounds. The vet grunted “Move her up, move her up.” I didn’t know what that meant or why, imagined the thermometer stuck in her butt, but I scooted her up the table and looked over my shoulder. A stream of poo ran down the table and he stood there with a dry swab.

“Jesus!” I yelped. “What are you doing?! I brought in a sample!”

“Oh, you brought a sample?” he muttered.

It took me a few minutes to regain my composure, and Wren a bit longer than that. I handed her to the assistant, and went to the sink to wash the blood and shit off my hand. OK, that sounds worse than it was, there wasn’t much of either, it was just a couple of small tooth wounds on my pinky and a little smear of poop on my wrist. Though I remained disgruntled, I managed to be pleasant for the rest of the visit as he ran the Giardia test and listened to her heart and lungs. Despite her occasional little cough, her lungs sounded good, and her heart strong. He drew a few drops of blood from her foreleg and found her glucose to be safely in the normal range. But the Giardia test turned up positive.

Giardia is a nasty one-celled parasitic organism that passes through feces and contaminates water and soil. It’s almost impossible for a human to drink from wild water anymore, even in high mountain streams, without getting infected, because domestic grazing animals have contaminated source water. Giardia is not uncommon in kennels and shelters, it turns out, especially if cleaning protocols are inadequate. Not making any accusations, but the most likely source of Wren’s infection is one of the three shelters she passed through on her way here, or else she arrived at the Shiprock shelter with it from her previous home. Fortunately, it’s unlikely that Topaz, Biko, or I will get infected from Wren, as various strains of Giardia infest different host species. But, it’s possible, and we’ll be doing some more thorough cleaning than usual this weekend.

By the time I left the vet, their tiny waiting room had gotten crowded with unmasked people despite the “One at a Time” sign on their door. I was still shaken and grumpy. I carried that grump with me as I drove back to town and went into Farm Runners for a couple of groceries. The mushrooms weren’t in the cooler where they should have been but were in a counter drying out; no one in there wore a mask; the first clerk coughed so much she had to leave the counter; the second clerk nattered on about how good the tortillas are–Like I don’t know that? Like that’s not why I’m buying them?!

I had to laugh to myself about my poopy attitude. I didn’t manage to muster a smile behind my mask, but at least I didn’t voice any of my irritation or act it out. I was, as usual, so grateful for my mindfulness practice, which in this case allowed me to understand why I was impatient and grumpy. Everything in the store that annoyed me was exacerbated by the residual experience of anger, trauma, and frustration from the vet office. I could see clearly that I was in the grip of an emotional refractory period, and was able to get through it without any regretful reactions. Once home, I showered off the bad attitude and ate some delicious spring risotto topped with crispy baby shiitakes, while Wren curled up in her bed and licked her wounded pride.

Poor little Wren. What a rough ride she’s had these past few months: given up, shipped through three shelters, her kittens taken away, a constantly upset tummy, and now this indignity. But I promised her, it will just get better from here on out. “Her name is Wren and she’s home,” I croon to her often as I hold her close.

Loving

Loving may be the healthiest thing we can do. It doesn’t matter so much who or what we love, but that we engage our hearts in connection with other living beings. I love my crabapple tree, and make time to appreciate it every day that it’s in bloom, and as its petals fade and blow off in these planetary winds, settling on top of the pond; and I pay attention to it through its fruit growing cycle, and as its leaves turn in autumn, and as they fall off toward winter.

I love this new little dog, and feel tenderness when I see her fall asleep in the sun while I sit under the crabapple tree sipping morning coffee. I found the original shelter she came from in New Mexico on Facebook, and messaged them to find out more about her. No wonder she’s so well-behaved. She wasn’t a stray, she was an owner surrender: she came from a family with children and cats, but there was another baby on the way and the mother couldn’t manage it all. I look at Wren sometimes and think, How could anyone give up this little dog? And then I remember something I heard the other day: a friend said, “Any time I think of someone How could you do that…?, the Universe eventually says, Lemme show you….” When we judge others for their choices, we often find ourselves before long in a similar situation making similar choices that we never thought we would or could. Roe v. Wade comes to mind…

So instead of wondering how someone could have given up this precious little being, I asked the shelter to please let that woman know, if they had the opportunity, that her dog has found a safe and happy forever home, where she is making an old lady a wonderful companion. She jumps up from her pink princess bed to follow me every time I go outside, and feels safe enough now to explore the yard on her own, but she comes running whenever I call her. She’s progressing well in her turtle-hunting training, and investigates the compost bins more frequently than is strictly necessary.

This evening, in the weird yellow-grey light of dusty-windy sunset, she followed me into the lilac pen, where we circled the blooming shrubs just wishing the phone could capture the heady aroma as well as the shifting colors. This year lilac flowers are profuse, though still fleeting. I make time multiple times each day to spend attention on the lilacs, loving these shrubs in this brief, abundant, drunken season.

Kitten Chaos

Pitbull and Tigger

Fostering these kittens is a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s also been fraught with frustrations but not from the kittens: communications with the shelter have been sketchy from the start, supplies inadequate, and there was an unfortunate visit with the foster coordinator last week that traumatized at least three out of four of us.

Three people told me three different ages for them. The person who called said they were two-and-a-half to three weeks old, one maybe older. They had been brought in that morning by a person who “picked them up from a place where there were a lot of cats.” They needed to be placed that night. I was excited to take them. I’ve hand-raised baby parrots, but always wanted to bottle-feed something and was happy to help out.

The woman who delivered them to me in the Safeway parking lot, about halfway between the shelter and my home, said the black one was already spoken for and named Smokey. She gave me the name and number of the woman who had brought them in and said she’d like some updates. She also gave me one can of powdered formula, a small bag of kitten food cans, a heating disc, a package of one bottle and several nipples, and some cursory verbal instructions. When I asked again how many weeks old they were, she said “three-ish.” Later the foster coordinator told me they were listed as four weeks old at that time.

It seemed like it would be easy enough. Mix the formula, warm it, and give them the bottle. It wasn’t that easy. For five days, they failed to ‘latch’ onto the nipple, and feeding was cumbersome, messy, and insufficient. That first night I searched online and found the Kitten Lady videos, learned what was supposed to happen, and also learned about the ‘miracle nipple.’ The next day I let the foster coordinator (FC) know they weren’t eating well, and he suggested I look up the Kitten Lady. It occurred to me then that it would have been helpful if they had arrived into my naive, first-time foster care with an instruction sheet and a link to the Kitten Lady. By then I knew I would be back in Junction on Monday to meet the potential new dog, so I arranged to bring the kittens in for a lesson in bottle feeding. He mentioned then that he had these great miracle nipples that might help. Why, I wondered, had he not sent the miracle nipples along in the first place?

Then I learned that the woman who found them and claimed Smokey has an email address at the shelter. If she worked there and wanted the kitten, why did she send it out to be raised? A small question, and I’m sure she had her reasons. But then why so vague about the kittens’ provenance?

After a couple of days I advanced the largest kitten onto a slurry of the canned paté and formula in a bowl, feeding him in a tall cardboard box, and he ate well. Smokey progressed to the slurry after a few days, but Tigger ate very little and had liquid poop, a big no-no according to the Kitten Lady. At one point all the kittens had loose stools.

We took the kittens to the shelter on Monday, and after coming and going from the room several times the FC finally set us up with a bowl of food for the older kittens–a large bowl full of adult-size cat food shreds, ¾” long by ⅛” wide, that both Pitbull and Smokey dove into. All the way, face first. It didn’t seem right to me, but I figured, hey, he’s the foster coordinator, he must know that’ll be ok for them. Stupid me.

Then he gave me a lesson on bottle-feeding Tigger, during which he did everything the Kitten Lady had expressly said not to do, including forcing the nipple into the mouth, and turning the kitten onto its back to feed it. I said, “Here, let me try,” and took Tigger back, holding him gently and offering the nipple.

I asked again, to clarify, whether they were supposed to supply everything I needed to foster. Yes, absolutely everything, was the answer. “I’ll need some more canned food,” I said, and proceeded to list the remaining obvious supplies: wipes, litter, more formula mix. Resupply had been part of the plan we’d agreed upon, and I was surprised that I had to specify everything I’d need, and that it wasn’t already boxed up for us. I mentioned that I live 90 miles away and wouldn’t be able to come back for more. FC left the room again to gather supplies. In short order the tiny kitten began to suck. How wonderful it would have been to have had the miracle nipples for the first five days of fostering, instead of the unwieldy puppy nipples that came. Meanwhile, Pitbull and Smokey in the crate got covered in goo from the food.

When Tigger was done feeding, I handed Smokey, who was a mess, to FC to wipe down while I cleaned Pitbull. There was a box of wipes on the table, but FC struggled to open the new, sealed box he had brought for me, until I pointed out there was an open box right there. Then FC took Smokey across the room and held him over the garbage can as he cleaned him, kitten screaming, while I wiped down Pitbull. When Smokey was returned to me bedraggled and limp, he was still goopy, so I gently wiped him down again.

FC had set a small bag of litter, a sack of canned food, and an opened half-can of formula (“this should be enough”) on the table. Once the kittens were back in the crate, I said I’d need some help getting stuff to the car. “Oh. Sure,” he said, and gathered the supplies into his hands. After we left, it struck me that everything about his attitude and actions suggested he was stoned.

A mixed bag of adult cat food…

Smokey was still wet and limp when we got home. I dried and cuddled him. Over the next 48 hours he ate less and less, his little belly bloated. Monday night I discovered that the entire bag of canned food was adult cat food, not kitten paté. I texted FC to ask if they could ship me some kitten food or reimburse me for buying some, since kittens have different nutritional needs than adults. FC responded with, “Oh my goodness, I’m sorry, I didn’t look close enough but it was in the kitten section!!” He said he’d look into options. Three days later he got back to me, saying he still didn’t know about reimbursing or shipping, but that the adult food should be fine. Not on my watch. Meanwhile, I’d already asked a friend to pick up some kitten food while she was in town.

On Tuesday I put Smokey back on the bottle instead of offering slurry. By Wednesday afternoon he had become listless and quit moving. I thought he was going to die, and planned to take him to the vet on Thursday morning. That evening I gave him a warm soak in the tub, then held him and rubbed his belly for awhile, thinking maybe one of those shreds had gotten impacted or I don’t know what. It was an anxious night, but I was delighted in the morning to see him romping again with his brothers.

It’s Monday again. I ran out of litter yesterday, and formula this morning. Wipes will be gone tomorrow. It’ll be almost three weeks until they reach the alleged two month age at which I supposedly relinquish them back to the shelter. Tigger has gained only 10g in 10 days, about a tenth of what he should have. After his setback, Smokey is eating well and gaining weight again after losing for three days. FC has responded vaguely and slowly to my missives, saying he can’t guarantee that they’ll reimburse me for the cost of the supplies I’ve ordered, and that I’ll need to bring Tigger to a vet in Junction because they don’t have one in Delta. A local vet provided enough formula today to tide us over until the can I ordered arrives Thursday. Litter and wipes are on the way. I’m taking Tigger to a closer vet on Thursday and will pay the bill myself, since I intend to keep him.

Topaz is skeptical of the kittens, and they are of her.

I understand that all shelters are overrun and understaffed these days, but I am disillusioned with this unprofessional, slacker approach from an organization that had a good reputation and relies on volunteers. There are a few other annoying details, but I’ve gone on long enough. It’s been a joy to tend to these kittens, and a headache to deal with the logistics. A couple of four hour sleeps each night and a nap or two each day, and my mindfulness practice is in tatters. I’ve alienated a friend with my impatience, and let my best self down. I won’t be fostering for this shelter again, for sure, and I doubt I’ll foster anything ever again anyway, since I’m what they call a “foster fail”: I’m going to keep both the tabby kittens, giant little Pitbull and tiny sweet Tigger. After the time, energy, affection, and money I’ve invested, just let that FC try and take them away from me!

Meet Ready!

I am too tired to write much, except to say that when I was finally ready, so was she!

I found her on Petfinder when I was shelter surfing online a couple of weeks ago, and the stars finally aligned for us to meet. I’m so grateful to GB, who drove me up there so that I could cuddle her all the way home from Grand Junction, and was more optimistic than I that it would work out. She’s very timid, having been first a stray on the Navajo reservation, then in a shelter down there, then shipped up to GJ with a bunch of other puppies and dogs since there aren’t as many dogs available in Colorado.

I thought about naming her Fennec, since her profile picture on the website reminded me, and others, of the adorable North African desert fennec fox. But she doesn’t seem like a Fennec, and it’s too hard to say over and over.
So her ‘working name’ for now is Ready, just like in the dream, and it works really well: “Ready, come! Ready, go! Ready, ride? Ready, up; Ready down, Ready dinner…” Her computer-generated name online was, get this, Stella! But I just couldn’t keep it. Also, she is not really a Stella.

She was billed as a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, but I think they got it very wrong. Chihuahua I can see, but not Pom. Pamela thinks maybe she has some red heeler in her because of her freckled paws; I think she may have Basenji because I haven’t heard her make a sound in more than 24 hours! David says she has coyote ears. Coyotihuahua! We’ll know more later, because I’m interested enough to spring for a DNA test somewhere down the line.

You might think a new little dog for a day wouldn’t exhaust me (even with the slight and dissipating tension of monitoring her interactions with Topaz), and you’d be right. I was already tired when she joined the family because I’ve been ‘fostering’ three little kittens for a different shelter in GJ for a week, up at least once in the night to make sure they get adequate feeding. Two have graduated to canned food but the littlest, Tigger, is still on a bottle, and not thriving.

Smokey, on the right, was spoken for when the kittens were delivered, whew! That left only two for me to think about rehoming when they turn two months. This alleged fostering lasted about three hours for Tigger before I knew I’d be keeping him. The largest kitten, on the left, I’ve named Pitbull, for a couple of reasons, which I may go into another time.
This is NOT the ideal nipple for a three-week old kitten! If you’re ever going to foster bottle-baby kittens, look for the ‘miracle nipple’ instead of the standard package.

He’s what they refer to as ‘a fussy eater.’ I don’t think it’s really his fault, or even mine. The shelter didn’t give us ideal nipples at first, but yesterday we took the kittens with us to the city, to get a lesson from the foster coordinator. That didn’t go so well, but we did get a better bottle, and today he’s latched on a few times if only for a few seconds; an improvement, however slight, and I think he may have gained a few grams by morning.

Certainly, he’s gained a friend. I was beyond delighted this morning when I had fed Tigger, and Ready jumped into my lap and curled up, letting him snuggle. As tired as I am, I’m realizing the nourishing potential in physical connection with these warm little lives. If I had four new mechanical things or four new work projects that required this much time and energy, I’d be thoroughly depleted. But I get a lot back from caring for these animals, and am soothed by a steady two-way flow of oxytocin. And bless little Topaz, who has tolerated these intrusions with surprising equanimity. I’m making sure she still gets all she ever wanted from me, which is a couple of walks a day, full food bowls, a treat game in the evenings, and to sleep in bed with me at night. It’s a little challenging right now, but I’m confident it will smooth out over time into a new, sweet, balanced family.

Resurrection

Male and female evening grosbeaks and house finches flocking together rested in the top of the birch tree the other morning.

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, did I mention that before? I had a lot of recovering to do from the drawn-out demise of Stellar, which was physically and emotionally grueling; and actually quite a bit of settling into a new normal without some of my closest friends who also died over the past two summers, from Ojo to Auntie to Michael and more. This spring does feel a bit like a resurrection for me, and what better day to acknowledge that than Easter Sunday?

Looming larger these days in the back of my mind is how will Topaz receive a new addition to the household? I am pretty much ready for a dog!

I pulled out the new husband-camera which has also lain dormant all winter, and realized I had no idea how to use it, so I also pulled out the manual and spent some hours today figuring out all the knobs and buttons — most of the bells and whistles will have to wait for another day. I haven’t even attached the ‘good’ lens yet but still got some pretty pictures. The two nights of deep freeze last week did not destroy all chance of apricots this year, at least up on this mesa. The tree was loaded with buds, and while most of them had just opened before the freeze and are now toast, it seems that many unopened buds survived and are blooming in this next round of balmy weather. I hope that the valley orchards fared as well.

It was this Mourning Cloak who arrived yesterday that inspired me to bring out the big camera and get ready to wallow in my favorite pastime again. Last year, the ‘good’ lens lost its auto-focus and would have cost a lot to repair. So I dove in headfirst and sprung for a camera upgrade and two new lenses. It helped a lot that I could trade in the old husband and all his lenses at B&H Photo, my go-to AV store in NYC. They offer great help over the phone, and reliable goods and shipping.
While I waited for the butterfly to come in range of my seat on the bench, I missed a bumblebee but got a mediocre snap of a honeybee. There were just a few other small native bees buzzing around; maybe because it was windy, and is still kind of cold at night… or maybe because there are fewer bees even than last year. The loss of the almond tree last year has cut their spring smorgasbord sadly in half.
Not many native pollinators seem to care for forsythia, but this western yellow-jacket was enjoying having it all to itself.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

The Mindful Life Community daily guidance this morning brought suddenly and vividly to mind the journalism teacher in high school, Dottie Olin, who became a lifelong friend. She inspired me then, and I became editor of the paper. For three decades we stayed in touch, visited when I was in town, and her joie de vivre and boundless joy in life grounded me in unstable times. I was grateful to visit her often during the months I lived in Virginia while my mother was dying, and we became even closer. She continued to inspire and support me well into her 80s. Shortly after my mom died and I moved back home to Colorado, I got a note that she was dying of lung cancer. She said, “It’s nobody’s fault but my own,” as she had smoked all her life. She was at peace because she had lived fully and with so much love. I was devastated to lose her as well as my mom in the same year, 2004. I hadn’t thought about her recently, and love that she came to mind so vibrantly as someone who lighted a fire in me and rekindled it through the years. Just the thought of her this morning lifted my energy and got me outside and moving around in the garden, motivated to make the most of this beautiful spring day, this precious day that will never come again.

Gunshot: A Cautionary Tale

I blame gun culture: in the news, in TV shows and movies, in games. I’m just another stupid American with a gun. To be clear, there was nothing wrong with what I did; just with how I did it. It’s three days this morning, and my hearing still isn’t right. It’s much better—but not all that much. MFC was right, I never should have fired that second shot. It turns out one gunshot can do permanent damage.

Now that I understand what I actually did to my ears, I am even more chagrined. With one violent act I brought instant karma down on my poor ears, and I blame the normalization of guns in our culture. Because they never show, in news of mass shootings, of cop killings or cop killers or ‘stand your ground’ murders, in movies with wild west gunfights, gangsters, or the mob—they never show a shooter stop to put in earplugs or pull down their earmuffs, no, they just whip out a gun and start shooting. Like an elk hunter suddenly attacked by a bear—even bow hunters carry a gun for that, just in case.

So that’s what I did. Whipped out my gun and took a quick shot to the ground behind the last of the two big dogs patrolling my east fence like they owned it. I’m tired of these brutes, who have troubled me and Stellar at the end of our own driveway, charged across the road into our space menacing me and my decrepit old dog. I yelled at them and shooed them away a couple of times before we just quit walking to the mailbox.

I know they’ve been around all winter, I’ve seen their tracks in the snow. But I couldn’t be sure it was them until the other morning, when I saw them both trotting along just outside the yard fence, in the heart of my safe zone, the very woods I walk for peace and solace with my tender cat. I decided to give them a piece of my mind.

And mind only. It was never my intention to hurt one. Like I’ve seen Chris and Dave fire their guns into the dirt to break up a dog fight (and even they didn’t stop to put in earplugs) I pulled out my .357 revolver, braced it on the deck railing, waited until the second dog was just past the south fence, and shot downward well behind it. I never heard or saw the dogs after that—well, I didn’t hear anything for awhile, but I didn’t see them run off so don’t know if they got the message, but I assume so.

I certainly got the message: guns are incredibly loud. It’s not like on TV. You really do have to stop and don ear protection, even for just one shot, if you don’t want to wreck your hearing. In my foolish, spontaneous urge to teach those rogues a lesson, I forgot everything I ever learned in the few shooting tutorials I was given years ago (all of which included ear protection). The kick alone could have knocked me over: I hadn’t braced nearly enough, and I’d done it all wrong. I know what a powder burn is now, too. I got one on my left thumb along with a cut from bracing too close to the barrel. 

I only took the second shot to do it right—well, also to drive the point home with the marauders. I held the gun straight out, sighted well away from my face, braced the base with my left hand just the way I was taught, took my time to aim at the plastic dogloo in the pen, a big fat target, just to see if I could hit it. I didn’t. It wasn’t as loud as the first shot when I’d had my elbow bent, my ear twice as close to the gun. It somehow escaped me that I also had half the hearing I had before. And I didn’t think to put in earplugs the second time, because it didn’t occur to me that I could be doing permanent damage.

A simple explanation of the complex, miraculous process of hearing is described here. 80 decibels is considered loud. Hearing loss can occur with sounds above 85 dB. Last night, falling asleep, I remembered a party at the home of a former boss in the Park Service. At his frequent parties, he routinely played Pink Floyd at top volume on huge speakers, likely well over 100 dB, and that night his little girl came in her pajamas into the living room, crying because her ears hurt. He told her to go back to bed. I learned years later that she had eventually gone deaf. The 165 dB shockwave my pistol produced for 2 milliseconds was the equivalent of working a jackhammer for a forty-hour week without ear protection.

A bomb can register more than 200 dB, well beyond the threshold of “deadly shock waves.” Weeks of exposure to bombs and gunfire… I cannot imagine the trauma of sound shock alone on the people of Ukraine, those who survive the bombs and artillery assaults. Contemplating with painful compassion how any war causes such unutterable suffering. 

I am in the throes of Temporary Threshold Shift. Immediately after shooting, every sound was deeply muffled, as though I had a down comforter stuffed in my ears from both outside and in. For the next two days, my own voice sounded like I had a mouth full of custard. External sounds are gradually improving but I still can’t hear myself clearly. At rest, my ears burble with the faint sound of water boiling in the next room. 

My poor stereocilia are still recovering from their traumatic flattening, and here I’ve been talking on the phone, listening to music, watching TV, zooming for work, further assaulting my inner ears for most of my waking hours the past two days just trying to force things back to normal. It’s time for a break. At least one full day of silence, no talking, no music, TV only with closed captioning if I watch it at all. A great opportunity for a silent retreat, reading the book club selection, appreciating nature. This could take weeks to heal, if I’m lucky.

I’m optimistic. I just blew my nose and my left ear whistled. That could be a good sign. Let’s pretend it is. And outside, I can hear bluebirds faintly chirping as they fly over, and the whoosh of raven wings. I’m grateful for these sweet subtle sounds, and the silence that surrounds them.

Every Living Moment

Such a sight to wake up to…

Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day. Once again, we stare into the dark hole of a madman’s mind, shudder at images of unfathomable suffering, face a nuclear threat I thought we left behind for a wiser century. On top of climate catastrophe and ongoing global pandemic we now confront looming world war. Life is fleeting and uncertain. Love your people, your little things, the moments that bring you joy and meaning.

A sure sign of spring, the garden rake standing with the snow shovel.

I did a selfish thing this year. I ordered a birthday puzzle, and I put it together all by myself, and then I framed it and hung it on the wall, without letting anyone else assemble it. I may have breached a Puzzle Rule… but then again, I write the rules and I don’t recall one that says every single puzzle must be available to everyone. Sorry, guys! This one was just for me. One of these days I’m going to paint the green wall blue, and I wanted this on there when that happens. Couldn’t risk a chipped or stained piece–even though Puzzle Rule #1 is No food or drink on the puzzle table, I often catch a little grease spot on a puzzle someone else has done.

Leftovers are great! The Mac n’ Cheese that keeps on giving. After Boyz Lunch last week I got a few more meals from the pasta pan. First I Mexicali’d it up with homemade salsa verde and fermented hot sauce from last summer’s harvest. The next day, I simply topped it with a fried egg and bacon.

Gratuitous egg-yolk picture, because the deep orange yolk of Bad Dog Ranch free-range organic eggs just looks so delicious.

Another leftover treat used up the second half of the sourdough pizza crust which I had frozen, topped with leftover herbed oyster mushroom roast. The recipe calls for a complicated skewer construction to mimic a roasted meat, but I simply topped the red onions and rosemary sprigs with the marinated mushrooms. It smelled amazing as it roasted, and delivered a complex spicy umami flavor and remarkable texture.

Seasonings for the mushroom marinade, including homemade paprika and home-frozen garlic cubes since I was out of fresh.
Tossing mushrooms in the mix after adding soy sauce and olive oil to the seasonings.
Ready for the oven…
…and ready to eat. So simple, so delicious!
Dessert that day was coffee ice cream topped with dark chocolate M&Ms.

I know how fortunate I am. I really am grateful, almost every moment of every day. And when the suffering of others begins to feel remote, and I forget to be grateful for the food, the skills, the luxuries, the beloveds, the beauties of the life I’ve been graced with, all it takes is one phone call to remind me of my blessings.

The proprietor of the neighborhood pub died over the weekend, shocking the community. Another reminder to seize the day. His passing leaves a big hole in the fabric of the valley. I don’t know the details and I didn’t know him well, but I can see him clearly, smiling as he inquired about our entrée, shopping at the local grocery, bringing a special cocktail or dessert to the table…. awarding Deb the prize for best Halloween costume, back when we went to big parties. Another untimely death, she said, though we both know we’ve reached the age when no death of anyone older than us is untimely. Even though it almost always feels too soon.

Life is Hard

Obligatory joyful pet picture, Topaz in a tree.

Even for someone with almost everything (except true love) life can be hard from time to time. There is so much suffering in the world that I can do nothing about, and then there’s my own personal, ego-centric suffering. This or that didn’t go my way, this or that person doesn’t care about me the way I wish, this or that beloved has just died. Just this evening, I learned that one of my best high school friends died the first summer of Covid, a month after Michael died.

My old friend Wayne, who died of Covid in July 2020.

I hadn’t known him well for the past ten years or so. His beloved wife was radically opposed, I think, to our friendship, as she was to virtually every belief I held about reality, except the love of dogs–and Wayne. He was a great guy. We grew apart as our political differences fueled that awful cultural divide that plagues the country now as pestilentially as Covid 19. The last time we connected, jovially, on Facebook, was about a year before Covid arrived. I’d been thinking about him quite a lot this weekend when I cooked a batch of cheese grits, and served myself some leftovers with a lot of bacon. The last time we were really close was not long before the Colonel died, when Wayne and his wife visited at The Home, and we all wallowed in the endless bacon buffet at Sunday brunch. Grits and bacon, a Sunday brunch tradition for us for all the years my parents lived in The Home.

Cheese grits on the bottom, kale and garlic, a fried egg, and lotso bacon.

Why they feed old people all this fatty awful food I have never comprehended, but us younger folks sure enjoyed it. I remember that last time we were all together, before they moved to Phoenix and then the Colonel died, they were in the buffet line in front of me, and I heard her make some unkind remarks about the old folks in front of us, and he laughed. He fell a little bit in my estimation then. He never used to be unkind. Anyway, they moved, and we corresponded a few times, but then Trump happened, and they were pretty rabid supporters of his, and so that was essentially that. I went on Facebook this evening to try to promote my upcoming Mindfulness course, but was so distressed by the divisive comments on a post I’d made a couple weeks ago from ‘friends’ I don’t even really know, and from some crassly commercial spam on our high school page, that I decided not to share my course information on that platform.

But I did look up Wayne, having him on my mind from the grits and bacon, and was stunned to see some posts from his wife referring to his death. I followed his timeline back to his obituary in July 2020, to learn that he died after a two-week struggle with Covid. That news has exacerbated my already prevalent sadness as I begin to face the grief of the many other losses sustained in ‘my little life’ during the first two years of the virus. None of them, til now, have been directly related to Covid, but they have all contributed to an uncomfortable sense of aloneness–some might call it loneliness, but I eschew that word and concept–that has only kept growing since Stellar’s departure last November. It is becoming harder and harder to care. I keep checking in to see if I’m experiencing equanimity, or indifference. Peace with impermanence, or simple despair.

Wayne introduced me to my first real high school boyfriend, his best friend Mike, who I think turned out to be gay, but oh well. I spoke some French, and one night Mike played me a song he couldn’t understand in which a phrase sounded to him like Shut the door. It was actually Je t’adore. We had a good long laugh about that. Mike gave me perfume and roses, and played the total romantic, but he couldn’t get into sex with a woman. Or at least with me. Wayne and I stayed friends for decades after Mike had disappeared from both our lives. Every time I flew back east he’d pick me up at the airport, and he was a rock during the time my mother was dying of PSP and I lived in Lorton, VA, for almost a year to help her through that.

There have been a lot of people around here that have died of Covid, but those few I was peripherally acquainted with were much older. Wayne is the first peer I’ve learned of to die from it. I’m not surprised, given their politics, but I was shocked in a different way to lose an old friend, and hold the regret that I hadn’t reached across the divide to him sooner, in time to share some love before he died. I messaged his wife my condolences, of course. And now I sit with this regretful loss, on top of all the other grief I’ve been holding with equanimity until recently.

Too much current sugar, in the bad morning habit again of sweets with coffee, in this case a homemade buttermilk doughnut.
Negative Covid test a few days after potential exposure at the grocery store. For what it’s worth, given the unreliability of these tests to accurately identify Omicron infection in a timely fashion.

For the past week, I’ve been exceptionally tired, and my blood oxygen has hovered around 88, going up or down a few points depending on when I measure it. Relevantly or not, a week ago I was standing in line for the pharmacy, when an unmasked man passed a couple of feet in front of me and sneezed a giant, congested, snotty sneeze just two feet in front of me. He did sneeze into his coat sleeve, but still, I could practically feel the blast on my masked face. By Friday I felt hot and had some feverishly delirious all-night dreams. I didn’t have a fever, and I tested negative with one of my free government home tests, but I’ve been sleeping til almost noon the past few days, and going through daylight hours in a bit of a stupor. Who knows, I probably don’t have Covid or I’d have worse symptoms, but I do have some mental anguish.

Grief, for all the beloveds I’ve lost over the past two years, and missing the physical comfort of my precious black cat and my dear old big dog; anger at the stupidity of the human race who is so fucking impatient to be done with Covid that they’ve set it up so we’ll never really be done with it (see BA.2 variant doubling weekly in the US); bristling at the nasty, self-righteous pontification of near-strangers on ‘my’ social media; pure physical weariness and pain from the longterm effects of ancient tick bites and too much current sugar; sorrow at the metamorphoses of some significant relationships into less than my preferences; and overall resignation to the entropy of life on this fragile planet.

A glowing moment of delight, lemon-ricotta pancakes, thanks to MFC sending me the recipe. Way more trouble than they’re worth, but delicious.

However, I’m grateful for the skills and perspective of the ancient wisdom of mindfulness, which enable me to get up out of bed every day no matter how late; to meditate myself into a place of calm abiding; and to be aware of, attentive to, and grateful for the ephemeral beauty, joy, connection, and love that flows along within this precious life. We are all grasping at straws–they can be straws of loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, gratitude, and equanimity, or they can be straws of rage, hatred, envy, greed, and aggression: the choice is ours to make.

I’ll choose the path of love and kindness any day, no matter how challenging. “On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.” ― W. S. Merwin

This Monk Wears Heels

Two top passions meet in this discovery, Drag and Dharma. It was inevitable. “Makeup is just color,” says Kodo. (Photo borrowed from Lion’s Roar)

What a wonderful thing it was to wake up alive yesterday, and to spend such a beautiful day as I did. All the love and kindness that flowed my way, the quiet fun of contentment, the luxuries of food, technology, and time to be mindful. A few pleasant surprises came up including this Lion’s Roar podcast in which Buddhist monk Kodo Nishimura discusses gender, authenticity, injustice, dharma, drag, and his new book, This Monk Wears Heels. I was enchanted.

Another pleasant surprise was finding my favorite necklace which disappeared a week ago. I wasn’t worried: I knew it was in the house, and I would find it eventually. I had the faintest recollection of watching it slide off of something and thinking ‘I’ll get it later.’ Over the week I checked behind every table, desk, bookshelf and counter I thought I might have set it on. Only when I started housecleaning yesterday and moved a pile of magazines on the coffee table did I find it. It had only slid off a short thing, a stack of books next to the stack of magazines. I remembered then that when I lay down on the couch for a nap, the chain broke, and I set it on the books and drifted off to sleep.

After a quietly productive day, it was time for Cousins’ Zoom Cooking, a new feature for me and My Favorite Cousin. She had never used puff pastry before. I haven’t done a lot with it, but just enough to know the only hard part is making the dough, so we bought frozen. Deb’s spanakopita the other day had inspired me, so we made an easy appetizer in less than an hour, Spanakopita Bites. The Fruitloop Gourmet Lending Kitchen came through with a mini muffin pan for me.

It was a delightful first run for my birthday apron, all the way from Peru via Dog World in Florida. MFC was wearing her special new apron from Ukraine. How funny that we both had been given handcrafted aprons from across the world, a grateful coincidence.

Spinach-herb-feta-egg filling all tucked into little pastry pockets, brushed with egg, and baked at 400 for 25 minutes. So simple, so delicious! MFC ate one of hers. I ate half of mine.

I was so pleased to wake up alive again today, and grateful for leftover spinach filling cooked with the leftover egg and some spices, rolled with bacon and sour cream into a couple of tortillas. Who says tortillas have to be reserved for Mexican food? They’re a great wrap for any kind of filling. Then, after a little more tidying up, I started one of two new puzzles which also came as a pleasant surprise yesterday, when a dear friend who’s moving soon dropped them off. It was just a regular weekend, but it felt like a festive holiday. I’m grateful for life’s simple pleasures this weekend, and grateful to the many people who made each of them possible.

Hargila

“Hargila,” the greater adjutant stork, feeding in a garbage dump. Image attributed to netzfrauen.org.

This half-hour film is mind-blowing in many ways. Shot by a Cornell Lab of Ornithology photographer in Dardala, India, where half the world’s population of endangered greater adjutant stork supports its growing population by scavenging the dump alongside humans, the film celebrates the conservation efforts of one woman who changed a culture’s relationship with this prehistoric bird. The film came to me courtesy of KarmaTube.org in a weekly newsletter that I recommend for inspiring stories, along with kindspring.org which features accounts of kindness.

Kindness has always mattered to me, as much as honesty, compassion, and gratitude. I was never that great at any of them, but have always appreciated and valued them above all. Traits to aspire to. I’m mulling over what the next blog project will focus on; kindness is an option, or letting go. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore these ideals and practice them to the best of my limited abilities. I’m grateful for the inspiring efforts of people all over the world who are doing what they love and making the world a better place as they do, and I’m grateful I took the time tonight to learn about the Hargila.