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Diagnostic Imaging

Amy reminded me that I may not have mentioned popcorn yet: I’m grateful for popcorn!

I’m so grateful for all the X-rays, sonograms, mammograms, echocardiograms, CT scans, MRIs, and other diagnostic imaging I’ve had in my life; grateful for the technicians who performed them, the radiologists who interpreted them, the medical schools and personnel who taught these people how to make these images and read them; the doctors and nurse practitioners who’ve shared my results with me. I’m grateful for the various machines, and all their tiny, complicated components, and the decades, centuries, of scientific investigation by thousands of humans whose names I’ll never know, that led to these machines being invented and improved.

And I’m grateful for the nameless lives of various creatures, maybe humans, lost ‘in the interest of science’ as these inventions evolved. This doesn’t mean that I condone testing on animals; simply that I accept that it has been done in the past (and there may be occasions when it’s still necessary, but certainly we’ve come far enough that most of it can be avoided), and I appreciate the sacrifices, willing or unwilling, that test ‘subjects’ have made through centuries. I can feel sorry that some things have happened, and still be grateful for the ramifications of the outcomes.

Anyway, back to the list: I’m grateful for the specific people that work in the Delta Hospital radiology department (and I know I’m not the only one) who consistently show such professionalism, efficiency, and compassion in their work. I’m grateful that my recent brain MRIs show only average signs of ‘aging.’ And I’m grateful that my cervical spine MRIs don’t show anything imminently life-threatening. I could whinge about the catastrophic evidence of: degeneration in the vertebral facets, “reversal of the normal cervical lordosis,” “moderate to severe left foraminal narrowing due to left-sided arthropathy and hypertrophy,” and “central canal stenosis with ventral cord flattening.” It doesn’t sound good, and certainly is enough words to explain this ongoing, worsening neck pain.

Oh well. It is what it is. Accepting this, now I can move forward taking into consideration options, making informed choices on the best ways to minimize physical and mental suffering, adapting my lifestyle with diet, appropriate postural adjustments, exercises, and therapies to improve my health. Yeah, it wasn’t great news, but it was more information than I had before, and reassuring in some respects: I don’t need surgery right now, for example, and there’s no cancer. While my brain may be a little older than the years allotted me so far, my spine might be fifty years older than that. One thing, though: my heart keeps getting lighter and younger every step of the way. Too bad they don’t yet have diagnostic imaging to evaluate consciousness; mine would show I’m getting better every day.

How Many Things

I’m grateful for learning new things about familiar technology. This video shows up like it should, in a horizontal format, but in this rare instance I shot it vertically. Frustrated at its abbreviated appearance, I clicked around on the icons at the bottom, and discovered if you click the open box in the lower right it will play the video full screen and you can see it as shot. If you click on 1x, you can speed it up or slow it down, which is kind of fun. Escape key will bring you back to this page. Most of all, I’m grateful that my kitty is back to normal!

How many things am I grateful for today? Waking up alive to a mild sunny day: though I pine for moisture like all living things in this high desert, it gave me an opportunity to do more outdoor chores, like digging some baby bull thistles I discovered beyond the pond, and cutting back spent rabbitbrush blooms by the laundry line, so I could hang sheets without them collecting seeds. Grateful for sheets! And a bed, and a washing machine, and water.

I’m grateful for Garden Buddy bringing sweet ‘permanent’ flowers, and a tender moment with her setting them on Stellar’s grave; grateful all over again for her kindness on the day he died exactly one month ago. I’m grateful that the pain abates a little bit more each day. I’m grateful for a relatively painless body, too, these past few days after a rough few months. Grateful for meditation, Telesangha, mindfulness, friends, laughter, and good food.

For lunch I used the last of Stellar’s ground turkey from the freezer, cabbage, a shallot, ginger, and a garden carrot to make filling for egg rolls, then deep fried them, and served them to myself with Hoisin sauce and mustard. I’m grateful they held together and tasted pretty good for my first attempt. For dinner I roasted a garden butternut squash, opened a can of last year’s tomatoes, chopped an onion and some mushrooms, threw in garlic, ginger, spices, and a jar of stock I froze after cooking the last chicken, to make a hearty one-of-a-kind soup.

And finally, I’m grateful for an astonishing assortment of movies available to stream right into my living room. I’m grateful that after reading a friend’s review of “The Power of the Dog,” I tried the movie and had the good sense to quit watching when Benedict Cumberbatch started punching a horse in the face. I’m grateful I was encouraged to watch “The Starling” last night, and that tonight I took time to explore several previews until I settled upon this adorable Swedish gem, “Dancing Queens.”

Love on the Spectrum

Among other things, I’m grateful today for “Love on the Spectrum,” an unusual Netflix dating docuseries. I appreciate open-hearted programs that broaden my perspective on humanity, and nurture compassion. I’m grateful to have been watching it with one of the biggest-hearted people I know. We catch up on FaceTime, then countdown and watch the show and laugh and cry together. Tonight was extra emotional because it was the last episode of the season. We came to care about all these amazing, vulnerable, beautiful young people on the autism spectrum, seeking romance and happiness in relationships; and then it was over! Too soon! It’s an eye-opening, sympathetic, at times uncomfortably intimate, look into the challenges of people who are neurologically different, but so much the same, as everybody else who’s dived into the dating pool. I’m grateful I’m not out there flailing around with them! Nevertheless, we’re all after the same thing in life: more happiness and less suffering.

Ronan, who finds happiness with Katie, at least thus far.

I’m grateful Rocky came to say goodbye to Stellar, and was walking on all fours. I’m grateful I still feel Stellar’s presence here, despite feeling also his absence. I’m grateful that Topaz seems almost back to normal today, and got to go out for a walk with me this morning, and a few hours on her own. It seems to have exhausted her; she’s been inside sleeping since before Deb and Rosie came for their ‘thank you’ lunch (roasted chicken with harissa chickpeas). I’m grateful for the unfolding adventure of another day.

Bit of Time

Wherever did he get the idea to climb up and hug me, anyway? Stellar at two weeks old, the day I first met him.
Found it! Here is the picture I’ve been looking for. This day was the last time I held him off the ground; he weighed around 35 pounds, and was three months old. Doesn’t look like he was too too heavy, but I don’t have another image after this of carrying him.
Just to compensate for the picture I shared yesterday, here is an image from the big snow of 2010, when Stellar was pure muscle and control, at two years old.

I’m grateful for another easy day with Stellar. We have diminished his meds and supplements as of last night to purely palliative, and implemented belly-band use full time as of this afternoon. He was so busy trying to keep himself clean that he was starting to lick sores on the inside of his perpetually damp leg, and a bedsore was starting on his left hip. It was past time to escalate from pee pads. The belly-band keeps his legs and hips dry; without the need to lick obsessively he seems much calmer, which is also easier on me.

Today there was less mobility than yesterday, though I did manage to get him outside to his garden bed for a couple of hours midday, in the unseasonable warmth. I’m grateful for that bit of time outside in sunshine, and for his restful sleep most of the day. I’m grateful for another day to pay attention to Stellar past and present, remembering and cherishing his brief, sentient life. I’m grateful for support from a Buddhist friend for the course I’ve chosen for his transition, and grateful to be able to experience this as a natural transition rather than resisting, and turning it into a source of more suffering for me; and I’m grateful for the presence of mind to savor the lessons I’m learning during this extensive, existential, letting go.

One More Day with Stellar

Stellar at five, in my lap, again! I’ve been trying to find this one particular shot of the last time I was able to hold him in my arms. It continues to elude me in various hard drives and backups, but I have a fresh lead to follow tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m grateful for the joyful journey down memory lane.
Meanwhile in real time, he couldn’t get up this morning without assistance. I helped him outside with a sling, but his left back leg just wouldn’t cooperate. A few steps and we turned around. I fed him breakfast in bed. A couple more times he struggled to get up so I helped him out for a short stagger; then he slept all day.
Around four, he wanted out, and by golly that leg worked again–just barely.
He only fell once on the short Sunset Loop, and then I wrapped him in a belly band for the next few hours. He wanted out again after dark, so I took it off, soaked, and threw it in the washer. He’d be mortified if he knew I was sharing this picture.

I’m grateful for the products available to manage his incontinence. I’m grateful he had a pretty easy day with little agitation, grateful today wasn’t the day. Each day, each challenge, offers another opportunity to practice patience, compassion, and unconditional love. I’m grateful that I have this precious time, these hours each day, to lie beside him on the floor and remember with him the travels we’ve shared back and forth across the country, our joyous life together here for almost fourteen years. I’m grateful for the perspective that allows me to settle more deeply each day into this process of surrender, of letting go: grateful that when it’s over, I really will be able to say I brought my best self to this passage of our lives.

Stellar in his youthful prime, flying uphill.

Day Two: Beignets

I’m grateful for Day Two of Zoom Cooking with Amy. After making the dough last night, this morning we rolled it and cut it and fried and sugared it, for our first attempt at classic New Orleans beignets.

As usual it was fun, but we were both a bit dissatisfied with the quality of the beignets, though neither of us was sure exactly what they were supposed to be like. We felt that they were more doughy than they should be. She said hers were chewy. Mine were, frankly, an abject failure, overcooked outside and underdone inside. We agreed they wouldn’t pass muster with Paul Hollywood. I’m grateful for the lessons I learned in the effort. First, they should have been rolled thinner. Second, they browned much too fast. I surmised, too late, that the oil temperature should be lower than stated, since water boils at a lower temperature at this altitude. Indeed, when I looked it up afterward, I found this:

Deep-Fat Frying: The lower boiling point of water in foods requires lowering the temperature of the fat to prevent food from over browning on the outside while being undercooked on the inside. Decrease the frying temperature about 3°F (1°C) for every 1,000 ft (300 meters) increase in elevation.

Kim Allison, ThermoBlog

But since beignets or doughnuts or pretty much any fried pastry is simply a vehicle for sugar, we both ate plenty of them with our coffee, and laughed about it.

I composted the first batch, rolled the remaining squares thinner, cut them in half, and fried up some more beignet logs. I learned a third lesson here, the reason they are cut square (balanced) and not rectangular: some of them wouldn’t flip over in the oil, kept rolling back onto their first side so I had to hold them over.

A few of them turned out the way I think they’re meant to be, airy in the middle, though even then they were more trouble than they were worth, in my estimation. I’m grateful we did this for the delight of cooking and spending time together, rather than with any attachment to outcome.

Self-Compassion

Grateful that Stellar made it to the canyon rim another time… wondering if this ‘dying’ story is all in my head… knowing it isn’t, and patience is essential. Choosing to place my attention on the joyful times we share in a day, rather than the ongoing signs of decline.

Yeah, I behaved poorly… Years in the making, layers of labels, resentments, dashed expectations, “different world views,” and a final cascade of events and emotions…. “It was justified.” Still, I behaved poorly, and I’m grateful that I can have compassion for my old sorry self who used to let her mental stories lead her way, and still takes me over, though it’s been a long time…. I’m grateful today that I can observe the processes of “my” mind as I reflect on all the layers of this event, and of how it came to be. Though I’m not clear yet, I’m grateful for mindfulness skills that can help me at least know the possibility of clarity, feel the grace of self-compassion, and aspire to forgiveness.

Grateful for this happy place, this garden, and for living at the edge of these mountains, inside the kaleidoscope.
Grateful for the ongoing gift of rattlesnake pole beans…
…For knowing, finally, how to tell when these weird little cantaloups are ripe: a yellowness comes over the rind when they’re ready.
Grateful that Stellar once again made it to the canyon rim this morning…
…that he made it home again, through the day again, to help me water the marigolds, and inspect the harvest.

It’s hard not to think in terms of last: is this his last walk to the canyon? his last drink from the hose? his last night? his last day? I’m grateful for all this painful awareness, reminding me constantly of what a constant companion he has been for almost fourteen years. And he still is, though it’s so different. He would still fight to the death to protect me, if he could move fast enough. I’ve remained the ‘parent’ as he has gone from infant to elder before my eyes, in no time at all. The challenges of this, too, shall pass. Nothing lasts forever. Death is certain, time of death uncertain.

Grateful to bring in the last of the harvest today, save a few hardy greens that will come in before the hard freeze mid-week: The threat recedes in both intensity and time. Paltry zucchini, ample green tomatoes, the last few okras and rattlesnake beans, and the single solitary purple pepper that grew this year. Grateful that nothing ever stays the same, and that I’m learning to trust and be kind to myself as I surf the sea of impermanence.

Mind Training

I’m grateful this morning that I didn’t get myself into a bigger snit this week, over a cascade of events that I experienced as aggravating and stressful. I lost my temper–but only a little bit–with the person I felt had put me in a no-win situation. I’m grateful for mindfulness practice for tempering my reactions throughout the experience, helping me keep a compassionate and friendly perspective, and for enabling me to let go once it was all resolved satisfactorily.

I’m grateful for the mind training I’ve engaged in this past year, which allowed me to recognize these worries as projections of mind rather than reality, thereby keeping rampant emotions in perspective. Frustration and resentment simply buzzed around my head like an angry bee from time to time, rather than dominating the field of love and serenity that Stellar and I have been cultivating during these last precious days together. (How many now? Ten? One? Another month?)

I can’t imagine what a mess I would have been two years ago in the same situation. Actually, I can imagine, and this clear awareness is so much easier; this letting go so much healthier. The angry bee has flown, ravens chat nearby, a sweet fall breeze stirs leaves and flowerheads. Stellar lies on his bed in shade beside the patio table where I write, resting comfortably after two short wobbles around the breakfast loop earlier. I’m grateful for the new regime of comfort meds that have given us both more physical ease, and therefore peace. Perhaps these palliative measures may extend his life a little longer, I don’t know; but the important thing is that they are giving him a better quality of life, whatever its duration.

I’m also grateful for an impressive carrot harvest. Time to bake some carrot muffins!

Letting Go

I might as easily have chosen to highlight my gratitude for the Bibiliofillies, but I am grateful today for letting go. I’m grateful for the capacity to quit reading a book, or watching a show, or otherwise removing my attention from one thing and turning it to another. This is the very essence of mindfulness, the ability and willingness to choose where we place our attention.

Tonight, the Bibliofillies met on zoom to discuss our month’s selection, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, by George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, which we read awhile ago. The latter was a work of fiction; tonight’s subject, an academic analysis of numerous classic Russian short stories, and the arts of writing, and of reading. (I can’t tell you how many stories, because I didn’t get past the first chapter.) A few fillies loved it; some were almost neutral; the rest of us, well, to say we despised it would be an exaggeration, but needless to say the various opinions made for lively discussion. This is why I’m grateful, at least once a month, for the Bibiliofillies.

I bristled at the author’s (a middle-aged white man) initial assumption that he knew what I was thinking. From there it went downhill. Though I did find some redeeming features in what I read, I did not want to keep reading, one of Saunders’ essential criteria for a successful short story. My perspective aside, (for what does it matter anyway?), having this safe place to express it, laugh about it, adapt it, is… priceless.

It’s essential to adapting to be able to let go. There is so much to let go of every single day. I’m grateful that I can let go of attachment to ‘my’ point of view more and more often these days.

Life is so much easier now that I’m simply letting things be as they are, instead of trying to control them. I also used to bristle when people told me, “You think too much!” Turns out they were right, but for the wrong reasons. And if I didn’t hang onto an emotion, I couldn’t consider that it mattered. Letting go was never easy for me. So I clung to, among other things, my own judgements, expectations, mistakes; I harbored grudges, fed them with repetition. Michael was right: I did have a ‘victim mentality.’

Death is certain, time of death uncertain.

I’m so grateful that I’m learning to let go, of everything. Emotions can actually flow through, and that doesn’t make them less real or less valid. The faster I let go, the faster I learn the lesson. The lesson I learned this month was that I don’t have to finish reading every book, or watching every episode of every season of a show, or a movie to the end. I don’t always need to know what happens next: as in a bad dream, I can take my attention by the hand and walk away. I can choose where to spend my precious attention. I don’t know how much I have left. I’m grateful for letting go of things that don’t nurture me.

I’m grateful for the salutary effects of prednisone, which have given Stellar new strength to walk to the canyon. Today may have been the last time; or maybe not. Living in this strenuous uncertainty requires focus almost as complete as blowing glass: anything you drop could be catastrophic.
Stellar was excited to see his buddies at Boyz Lunch today, as they were to see him looking so lively. I’m grateful for the option of gently, comfortably, letting go of this magnificent life that has graced my own for nearly fourteen years. And grateful for the geezers, too.
I’m grateful for endless cherry tomatoes from the garden this summer; grateful to still have the stoneware bowl my mother made fifty years ago that holds them; grateful even so to know that if the bowl one day breaks I can easily let it go; and grateful for the imminent relief of letting go of garden maintenance, as we approach a hard freeze six nights away from now.

…the Kitchen Sink

So much to be grateful for today! We all woke up alive in my little family, and my extended family, my community. Stellar and I stepped out the gate to this sight on our morning walk just after sunrise. Extravagant rabbitbrush, shimmering winterfat, and the West Elk Mountains on the horizon. Thank you! We are so lucky to live where we do. Then I called the plumber.

He showed up around 2:30 with his power-snake, and unplugged the drain! I am grateful for pretty much everything in my little life today, including the kitchen sink, and especially its drain. I’m grateful for the metal shaped by someone or some program at some factory that makes the sink, grateful for the plumber who installed the sink and the few who have worked on it over the years, for the faucets with their advanced features that have adorned the sink in its 26 years here, for the know-how to clean out those pipes underneath the sink, and most of all, today I’m grateful for Plumber Shawn who finally unplugged the kitchen sink’s drain. I gratefully sent him home with a box of tomatoes, including one of those spectacular one-pound Brandywines.

I’m especially grateful for the kitchen sink today, and going forward this next couple of weeks, and for its unclogged drain, as each day I add to the buckets of produce on the counter that need to be preserved. After this week’s grocery run for onions and a few other things, I’ll make and put up tomatillo salsa, tomato salsa, marinara sauce, tomato soup, and tomato paste. I’m grateful for every single thing about this day. And I’m grateful for the mindful awareness to be grateful. More and more my ancient prayer rings true: Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day. In our life of opportunity and privilege nothing else rings true.