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Practice

I’m so grateful for this mindfulness path. Some days the challenges are small, some days larger; some days easier to navigate, some days harder. But it’s always good to have some awareness of what is actually going on, what is real, versus what’s all in my head. Today gave me plenty of opportunities to practice.

First, it was hard to get anything done this morning, with the little love bug sprawled over me at every turn…

Today’s guidance in the Mindful Life Community was about going beyond forgiveness to having compassion for those who have hurt us. Forgiveness is hard enough for me, much less compassion for those who have wronged me, even long ago, without an apology or accountability. But tonight’s Mindfulness in Recovery meeting, where we discussed the guidance, opened my heart to remind me how ego lies at the root of resentment, and opened the door to finally forgiving, and even having compassion for, that crazy bitch who stole from me and the state, and let my house fill with mouse shit, when she was supposedly tending it for me during my mother’s decline and death. Does it sound like I’ve forgiven her? It’s hard, but I’m getting there. I’ve made some pretty awful mistakes too.

Why was I even thinking about her? Today’s Mindfulness Activity was “to reflect upon some people or situations that you may be resentful of. Try to step back and identify the suffering that gave rise to it. Can you find it in your heart to forgive? Can you find it in your heart to be compassionate? Can you give yourself permission to heal? As you go about your day, try to be aware of how your outer actions are reflective of your inner states. See if you can recognize this in yourself and others.”

I was grateful for this small, quick puzzle I received for Christmas. It was just what I needed to keep my mind calm while I filled the hour between lunch and leaving for the dentist this afternoon.
It was just tricky enough to keep my attention off my pending excursion, and easy enough to complete in an hour, plus full of delightful surprises like the unexpected edges. Plus, what better way to contemplate mortality?

I had plenty of time to reflect on people or situations I may be resentful of as I drove to the dentist and home again this afternoon. I was anxious about going to the dentist because of potential covid exposure, and my anxiety was well-founded. There were absolutely no covid precautions in place: no signage even suggesting voluntary masks, no masks on staff, no hand sanitizer on the counter. There was a large, older gentleman in the waiting area, unmasked, and I sat as far as possible from him, but that didn’t make me feel any better when he coughed without even covering his mouth. Then I heard one of the unmasked staff beyond the counter also cough. The tech who led me back masked when I asked her to, and the tech who did the x-ray came in masked because I’d asked; the dentist of course was masked for his protection but when he pulled down his mask to talk to me–I felt his breath on my face–I got that static in my head and took a long while to figure out that it was okay to ask him to keep it on for my protection. Just in time for him to leave the room.

The tooth in question, ‘good’ in the dentist’s estimation, because the root is sound, but the tooth is cracked and liable to break again in a year or two if they simply fill it.

I am having second thoughts about pursuing a crown with this office. Yes, the middle-case scenario is what’s prescribed, not a filling (best-case) or a pull (worst-case), but a crown. (This is not the kind of crown I want.) But I’m grateful for the technology and the expertise to repair a tooth, despite the sticker shock from the price tag.

I was grateful that staff were willing to mask when asked, and some were even pleasant about it, but the general lack of awareness and concern for at-risk patients appalled me. Any medical office should have hand sanitizer on the counter. Any medical staff should be masked when they interact with any patient, or at the very least, when a patient comes in masked anyone who interacts with that patient should automatically put on a mask when they see that the patient is masked. I get that I’m on the fringe where I live, that people in this county are done with covid, but as Eric Topol wrote just last week in the Washington Post, the coronavirus is not done with us. I’m grateful for access to newsletters from leading researchers, analysts, and medical professionals, including Topol, and public health professor Dr. Leanna Wen, whose email today addressed the plight of a woman whose husband is immunocompromised with stage 4 kidney disease.

For millions of Americans who are immunocompromised or who live with someone who is, it extremely difficult to live in a country where most people no longer see covid as a threat. The same is true for elderly Americans who are more vulnerable to severe outcomes and those who simply wish to avoid the potential consequences of infection, including long covid.” (from The Checkup With Dr. Wen: We need to do more to assist the immunocompromised 01.12.23)

Dr. Wen agrees with this woman’s policy prescriptions, which include this proposal, so relevant to my experience today: “Masks should be required in medical or dental situations until and unless covid becomes much less of a threat to those who are at risk. Many at-risk people already skip necessary medical and dental appointments due to fear of contracting covid, and optional masking in these venues only makes matters worse.”

I include this picture because Amy doesn’t seem able to distinguish between black mustard seeds and nigella seeds… here’s the difference, haha!

All in all, at the end of the afternoon as I drove home, my nerves felt frayed. I chose to turn my attention to some healthful comfort food once I got home, and calmed myself, indeed practiced the skill of relaxation, by cooking this delicious red lentils with butternut squash and tamarind paste.

As I worked in the kitchen, I relished the view of alpenglow on the West Elk Mountains through the living room window, breathing deeply my contentment in this precious little life I’ve created.

The dish came together and simmered until dark, when I sat down with one bowlful, and then another. Grateful for food, grateful for teeth, grateful for another full day of practice and living fully.

Good Luck

I’m grateful that I’ve finally perfected the no-knead sourdough bread; with the caveat that external conditions are always different so I can’t be sure I’ll get it quite so perfect next time, but at least I’ve got the mixing, rising, and baking down pretty well. I love that it looks like a shaggy mess when I’m done mixing, and with ten hours and a few stretches of the dough, it turns into this:

And this: I made two small loaves this time, so I can give one to my Personal Shoppers. Naturally, I sliced into one as soon as it was cool enough, and enjoyed a crusty piece that melted butter.

I’m grateful, too, that just before the last bite, I felt an anomalously hard chunk and did not bite down on it, but spit it into my hand. I pondered it as I continued to chew, sensing nothing amiss in my mouth, until–uh-oh! I felt a big hole in a back molar. Sigh. I’m so grateful for mindfulness practice. I was able to accept this minor misfortune in stride, and enjoy the last few bites of bread, instead of panicking and fretting. I won’t think about it tonight; I’ll think about it tomorrow! I am really grateful for the good luck that there is no slicing-sharp edge (as long as I’m careful) and no pain. To think, I warned everyone about breaking a tooth on the biscotti, and went and broke one on a slice of bread! I’m grateful for irony. I’m grateful there are some dental care options I can call around for tomorrow, and still be able to eat if it takes a few days to get in. I expect I’ll lose the tooth, but that’s ok, it’s one less mercury filling in my mouth. We’ll know more later. It could have been a lot worse.

Relaxing

Wren is as happy to see Dr. Leigh as I am. I’m grateful she works on a Sunday. Town was empty; there was no one at the gas station so it was easy to fill up. I’m grateful I can afford to fill up, and that I have a car to fill up…

I was so grateful when I first learned that relaxation is a skill that we need to practice. I’m grateful to have various means available to facilitate my relaxation practice, including a gentle chiropractor with a magic touch.

I’m grateful I could come home and relax with a quick pizza, small homemade crust from the freezer and some random toppings. I cooked down a dollop of plain sauce with a mix of dried herbs and garlic slices, sliced some red onion, martini olives, and the last of the summer’s spicy dill pickles, and topped with shredded mozzarella. Baked to perfection! After lunch I enjoyed a nearly perfect homemade creme brûlée, relaxing with a sense of great satisfaction that I finally ticked that recipe off my bucket list.

I spent a little time relaxing outside with the cameraphone, finally managing to get the moon halfway decently with iPhone alone. I’ve figured out the technique, and identified a challenge with rural living. I’m supposed to focus the camera first on a streetlamp, that’s what the tutorial said. My patio light isn’t bright enough or far enough away to lock the exposure and focus accurately to capture the moon when the lens is turned on it. There was a light cloud cover, which helped; the other night it was so bright the camera captured only a blinding white circle. I’m grateful I get to relax both outside and inside my house.

Relaxing after the moon shot with a bitters and soda, garnished with a slice of rangpur lime. I’m grateful this special little citrus fruit made it from Florida to my kitchen to remind me of the tricks our memories can play–you learn something new every day!

Good Neighbors

I’m always grateful to live with good neighbors, human and other people. This handsome mule deer buck is quite at home in my yard, quite likely having grown up here over the years. He’s hanging out with a herd of does and their fawns from this year, and at least once a day they meander through the yarden, browsing and grazing. I watched him rip up some of this broom to his left, then chew on the piece he’d torn off. I’m grateful to him for doing some of my spring pruning early. Then he moved on to check out the ephedra, and the grass under the apricot tree. Topaz, Wren and I watched him and his family from the sunroom windows.

Sharing Recipes

First, get you one of these…

I’m so grateful to readers who want to know more about something I’ve cooked or baked. I love sharing recipes, both directions. A couple of friends wrote to me after receiving their holiday biscottis, saying almost word for word the same thing: “I love biscotti. And this is by far the best I’ve ever had.” One of them added, “Give a woman biscotti and she enjoys bliss for 3 days. Teach a woman to make biscotti and she will have a lifetime of bliss!” I immediately set out to create a biscotti tutorial, and here it is.

First, hightail it to King Arthur and get a biscotti pan. You might find one elsewhere but why not get the best. This takes all the suffering out of forming the initial loaf for baking. Then make sure you have a couple of not-so-usual ingredients, espresso baking powder and candied ginger. Here are the two I use.

I think it’s best to buy espresso powder rather than try to grind your own beans down small enough. This is made from organic beans powdered so finely that they readily dissolve, but if you like a bit of extra crunch you could grind your own.

Here’s my recipe, modified slightly from the original. For one thing, I put all spices in order of amount so that I can just set them all on the counter and run through my measuring spoons, saving the liquids for last of course. It’s simple because you just put all ingredients except the last three into the mixing bowl, mix on low til incorporated, and then whip on high for 90 seconds, which is just enough time to weigh out the flour. I do start by chopping the candied ginger smaller so I have that ready when it’s time to add flour and ginger to the ribbony batter.

The batter gets light and ribbony after whipping for ninety seconds.

Mix in the flour and chopped ginger on low until the flour is just barely incorporated, don’t overmix. The texture is like damp sand, but sticky. Here’s where that biscotti pan pays off. The original directions call for gathering it together with your hands and forming it into a loaf on parchment paper. In my experience with this dough, there is no gathering possible. I line the pan with a sheet of 9×13 parchment paper (and an aside, I used to think it wasteful to pay a little more for pre-cut parchment paper instead of the roll, but it is such a time and frustration saver). Then evenly dump the mixture into the pan…

…and gently press flat with your fingers or a spatula.

Bake in preheated 325℉ oven–and make sure that it’s been preheating through your whole mixing process–for 40-45 minutes. For me perfect is somewhere around 43. If you bake it too long or not long enough it makes it harder to cut later. Don’t turn off the oven! Once the pan is out of the oven, I lift the loaf out of the pan with the paper handles and let it cool on a rack for ten minutes.

Then you slice the loaf diagonally with a serrated knife into ¾” slices. I think it slices easier if you flip the loaf over onto the cutting board and cut across the smooth bottom rather than try to cut across the textured top. See what works for you. You’ll be making this more than once!

Slice slowly, smoothly, gently, don’t saw it like you might bread or pieces will break off. If the knife gets sticky from the ginger pieces, you can rinse and dry it partway through. No need to be too precise about the width of the slices, you’ll get about a dozen, plus a few shorter pieces from the diagonals at each end. Naturally, these are too small to give away so you must eat them yourself.

Lay out all your pieces on their sides, on a cookie sheet lined with 12×16″ parchment paper and put them in the oven. They won’t spread any more, so you don’t need to worry about spacing. I like to set the rack one notch above middle. Bake for 7-8 minutes then remove the pan, flip each biscotti onto its other side (except the corners, no need), and bake another 7-10 minutes. The longer these bake here, the crunchier the cookie. During this last bake, I melt the chocolate, but you can do it later. I’ve tried microwaving but did not get the consistency I wanted, so I do as the recipe suggests and melt in a stoneware bowl over simmering water–not boiling, and not touching the bottom of the bowl. You can use any kind of chocolate, but I prefer extra dark; it both melts better and tastes better than semi-sweet chips. Break it into bits and melt til it’s smooth and runny. Once the biscotti are out of the oven you can ice them any time.

Turn the biscotti rightside up on the cooling rack over the parchment paper they cooked on. (This is important, because once the chocolate sets and you put away the biscotti and the rack, you’ll have a bunch of chocolate drops on the paper that you’ll need to clean up. And by clean up, I mean eat.)

Using a teaspoon–the kind you stir ice-tea with–I drip one spoonful over the top of each cookie and let it drip down the sides here and there. Nothing fancy. You can use more or less chocolate than called for. Then, patience. Wait til the chocolate sets solid before doing anything else. This can take some hours, and will depend on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen. I’ve tried setting these out in the cold mudroom to speed up the set, but don’t like the result. You’ll know they’re set when the shine is gone. Best to leave them even longer before boxing, bagging, or tinning them, but certainly you ought to try one with a cuppa something hot at this point. And that, my dear, is how you make the best biscotti ever.

And now, Sandra, here’s the answer to your question, which motivated me to post the biscotti recipe today. Here’s how I made the fried grits.

I tweaked the basic recipe above, incorporating elements from the variations. I used 2 cups water and 1 cup milk, a large pat of butter, salt, and less than a cup of grits but not as little as ¾ cup. I poured the grits in slowly, stirring steadily, before the liquid boiled and stirred constantly after it boiled, for… awhile. More than five minutes, less than 15, until it was thick and smooth. Near the end I stirred in about a quarter cup of broken up white cheddar and cooked a bit longer til there was no crunch left. It was thick but pourable, and I poured out most of it into a glass container a couple inches thick, let it cool to room temp, and put it in the fridge. To fry, I melted butter in a small, non-stick Greenpan skillet, sliced the cold grits ⅝” thick, and fried on both sides til crispy. So simple, so delicious! I use only silicone tools on these expensive-but-worthit pans. Enjoy!

Learning Something New

In keeping with my word for the year, Curiosity, I tried a couple of new things today. Last night, I craved grits to go with the leftover Good Luck beans, so I cooked up a pot of Bob’s Red Mill grits with butter, milk, and a bit of cheddar in addition to the boiling water. Today I cut a slice of cold grits from the container and fried it in butter to go with more beans for lunch; I fried another with my dinner salad. It’s the most successful, and delicious, fried grits I’ve managed, and I think that’s largely due to finding the perfect way to cook them initially. I’m grateful for learning something new.

Another new thing I learned is how to photograph the moon with an iPhone. After Amy sent a video clip about it, I played around with the camera tonight until I figured it out. Unfortunately, by the time I got it, the moon had gone behind clouds, so I just shot Wren standing guard instead. But I know now how to do it, next time the moon peeps out from the clouds! I’m grateful for the village it takes to raise me, and for a camera in my pocket that I can also use to call for help if I ever need it.

More than Enough

I’m grateful tonight for a brief burst of sunshine this morning, and for some more much needed precipitation this evening, but mostly for a glimpse of a sunny blue sky this morning, it did wonders for the spirits in this house. I’m grateful for breakfast with Topaz, who’s become more interactive in recent weeks, even jumping up on the recliner for awhile this evening. She’s really enjoying her new comb, and I’m enjoying less hair around the house. I’m grateful for coffee in the sunroom with her, Wren in my lap, Dickens on the Kindle, art on the walls, bonsais on the table, and sun outside. I’m grateful for heat in the woodstove, wood in the shed, friends in the neighborhood, friends across the country, friends in other countries, internet in the ethers, power from the solar panels, water in the pipes… I’m grateful for more than enough.

Forgiveness

My new-year’s good luck started shortly after I dumped the black-eyed peas into the soaking bowl...

A new friend asked my forgiveness this morning after she forgot our zoom-coffee date. That was easy–it happens, I’ve done it myself–and I was grateful for her ask because forgiveness is something I need more practice with. But then I got given forgiveness, unexpectedly, and after a long time, and that really made my day. A year ago, I left a message on a phone number I’d been trying to get for several years. An old friend from college whom I haven’t seen for about forty years, and whom I’ve been apologizing to in my head for decades, for several offenses.

It was complicated. I made a few selfish choices through the years of our friendship, and only later came to realize how hurtful they must have been to her. If I remember correctly, I’d made a half-assed apology for the last of them in a letter a few years afterward but hadn’t heard back. Then a decade or so ago I received a cryptic card with no return address and was too confused to pursue it. But I had a connection with a couple of her family members and eventually started trying to track her down, resulting ultimately in this phone number that may or may not have been hers. I left a heartfelt voicemail asking her to call me back because I wanted to apologize. When I didn’t hear for a few weeks, I texted. And left it at that. Writing several more apologies in my head since then. I was thrilled to see a response from her this afternoon. It was nothing more than a note that she’d be in Colorado this spring, maybe we could meet, it would be great to see me. Forgiveness was implicit; relief washed over me.

In the same way that it feels better to give than to receive, maybe it feels better to be forgiven than to forgive. It did in this case, anyway. But I’m eager for the opportunity to tell her in person what I’ve thought about writing for all these years: I’m sorry about the dog. I’m sorry about the car. I’m sorry about the trip.

The good-luck peas were delicious, the best I’ve ever eaten. I started with a simple recipe from Chili Pepper Madness but made some changes. First, I only had half a pound of peas, soaked them for most of the day. Chopped half an onion, half an orange jalapeño and a handful of Blot peppers from the freezer, one clove garlic, sautéed them with some Penzeys celery flakes since I didn’t have fresh (look at the little piece in the top of the bowl above), and their Cajun seasoning, kosher salt, a small lamb bone from the freezer, two cups of broth, and the peas in their soaking water. After a long simmer, with the lid on for about 40 minutes then without for as long, I threw in chopped young kale, and squeezed in a little fresh lime juice (thanks, Pamela!), cooking til the kale was soft. So simple, so delicious! I look forward to my year of good luck.

I don’t write a lot of product reviews, but felt highly motivated to give this cat comb five stars–so I did. The wad of hair Topaz is playing with all came off her this morning, and I was still getting more.

The comb was due before Christmas, but the package came ripped open and it had fallen out somewhere in transit. I called to get it replaced, and had the most delightful chat with Ibra, in India. She was helpful as could be, sorry it wouldn’t come til Friday, and I laughed and said that was ok, I’d just be patient and so would my cat. She asked what breed of cat I had, and thus ensued one of those ‘only connect‘ conversations between two cat-loving strangers that left us both happier than we’d been before the call.

Curiosity

My aspiration when Wren arrived in spring was to have the two of them lying together in front of the fire by Christmas. Well, this morning almost, but not quite! It’s a big improvement over yesterday, though, when there was a fight over my lap in the same spot. I use the little stool to sit on to start and feed the fire, and Topaz used to let me pick her up, lay her on her back, and brush her at that time. Since Wren’s arrival she’s not allowed that until yesterday morning, and as she lolled there and Wren sniffed too close, she reached over her shoulder and smacked Wren on the head. Then there was a kerfuffle which involved hissing, growling, smacking, and lunging before my ‘stop it!s’ stopped it. Oh well. One day at a time.

It was a quiet day at Mirador, slushy outside, cozy inside. I meditated, napped, generally relaxed all day, allowing this body to take the day off from sitting at the computer, shoveling snow, doing much of anything. It was restful and restorative. This evening I had some options but chose to watch a couple of shows, drink a salty dog, and chat with Amy, then tuck into silence and reflection. I figure about half of the New Year’s Eves of my adult life I’ve partied like a drag queen, but the more recent eves I have simply tucked in to reflect on the previous year and contemplate my aspirations for the new one.

This year, I’ll deepen my mindfulness practice by remembering to ask the four questions: What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Is it helpful or healthy? Is it based in reality? I’ll focus on the value of Curiosity. If I’m curious, I’m not judging; if I’m curious, I’m not reacting. If I’m curious, my mind is open; if I’m curious, I’m learning. I’m curious where that will take me in the coming year. Wishing everyone a fulfilling and peaceful new year! Remember, it’s not what you get from the world but what you bring to the world that creates genuine happiness.

Kindness

Little Wren is grateful for her big new rug. I also like it a lot.

I’m grateful for warmth and safety as the atmospheric river makes its way over western Colorado. Grateful for the moisture that fell as rain since yesterday evening, for the fog that nourished all the growing things, and for the snow that finally started falling this evening. We’ve gotten around four inches so far and it’s pouring down, a gentler storm here so far than the terrible blizzard that’s been wreaking such havoc and tragedy in the east. I’m grateful to have sufficient food supplies for me and the pets to ride out a long spell, and plenty of wood stacked close to the house, and the mental and emotional wherewithal to not only survive but to thrive in a solo retreat over the new year’s weekend.

Coming back from the mailbox, where I found a bright surprise from an old friend. Grateful for a reliable car and a reliable friend...
… she said she thought of me when she saw these socks, and laughed out loud. So did I.
Tucked in out of the elements with nothing but gratitude for all the kindness that’s come our way this past year.