Retreat

Today, I’m grateful for waking up, and being able to spend the day making preparations to spend the weekend in silent retreat. I finished all the work that had to be finished this week, and feel at liberty to devote the next two days to meditation, contemplation, introspection. Working from home, setting my own hours, lets me make choices that stress me out. “We’ve forgotten the concept of weekend!” If I would work with discipline and focus every week, I could have a retreat every weekend. Instead I procrastinate, so there’s always some nagging sense of obligation, no real peace of mind, and always distraction.

This is part of our cultural delusion, exacerbated by technology that makes constant demands on our attention. I turn it all off at bedtime tonight, and live without it until Monday morning. I’m grateful that I get to relax into practice for a good two days, pondering the question Who am I? and The Four Immeasurables. Gratitude practice will continue unabated, and I’ll catch up here on Monday. I’m grateful for people who care.

Friends I’ve Never Met

This little girl lives across the country. I’ve never met her, nor her mother, in person. But her mother is one of a number of friends I’ve made virtually along the mindfulness path I embarked upon in earnest five years ago. She and I have met almost monthly with a small sangha on zoom for that whole time – even pre-Coronaverse, a new world in which I’ve become friends with a number of other people on the path this past year. I’m grateful for all of these dear people who’ve come into my life online, and hope to meet some of them in person eventually.

Little R will be three in June. Her mom texted me this picture with the caption, Look what R found in her drawer and wanted to wear. Still fits!! She’s wearing a bunting I knitted for her ‘welcome to the world’ present, which she received when she probably could have fit inside one sleeve. I’m grateful my hours of knitting are still keeping this little girl warm, that she wanted to wear it, and I’m grateful her mom made my day with this surprise picture. My joy in this simple text and all it conveys brings tears to my eyes.

I’m grateful again today, as always, for waking up alive, and finding my dear Stellar alive downstairs in his bed. It still breaks my heart that he can no longer climb the stairs to sleep with me, but he seems content in his own bed. And I’m grateful that he feels so good these days that he eagerly strays from the trail. For most of last year, he was so feeble that he could only plod along ahead of me, head down. Nowadays, he’s always following his nose out into the trees, and sometimes gets so far ahead of me I can’t see him. I’m grateful that he always stops and waits for me. From our walk this morning – he’s blurry in most of them, that’s how well he’s moving!

Stars

I’m grateful for the American Birch just north of the house, and the stars beyond her to the west.

I’m grateful for clear dark skies between snowstorms, and the stars that shine in familiar constellations. I’m grateful for the white-barked trees I planted in my yard years ago. These aren’t great photos; they’re not even good photos. But come on! These are photographs of white-barked trees in the middle of the night with stars beyond in outer space that I shot with my telephone. There are people who might take that technology for granted, maybe people who grew up with it, but it boggles my mind. Even a few short years ago this wasn’t possible with your average cellphone, and today anyone can take pictures of stars. With a telephone.

I’m grateful for the little aspen, and the Big Dipper northeast of her.
To the southwest, Orion dances over the big juniper by the gate.

The Joy of Each Breath

I’m grateful for being able to breathe fresh, clean mountain air.

I’m grateful for every single breath, whether or not I’m aware of it, and I try to be aware of my breath many times during the day. Sometimes just a single breath, sometimes a few, sometimes for five minutes, or twenty-five, I focus on the sensation of the breath.

My friend Kim and I try to meditate spontaneously together once a day. One of us will text an invitation, and usually within a few minutes we’ve both settled somewhere quiet with a guided meditation, or just a silent timer set for five or ten minutes. “The joy of each breath” comes from a meditation we did this evening, led by Peter Harper, The Drunken Monk, on Insight Timer. The joy of each breath. It really is a joy when you can breathe fully, and take a moment to pause, notice, and really feel a single inhalation-exhalation cycle. Or give yourself ten minutes to truly allow yourself to relax, release, let go. Relaxation is a skill not well known nor practiced in this predominant culture. It’s so much more than kicking back on the couch with a beer watching TV, or sitting on the deck with a martini savoring sunset, or having a great time pursuing any kind of sensory stimulation. It’s letting go of all that, resting in the stillness of nowhere to go, nothing to do. Each breath really is a miracle.

I’m grateful I had shells and homemade sauce in the pantry, ricotta and kale in the fridge. It was a good day to make stuffed shells, sprinkled with a little mozzarella because everything is better with cheese. The recipe came from a Level 4 Vegan cookbook, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch. I fried the onions in bacon grease and used real cheese, but technically a vegan could make this delicious meal, which proportionizes readily for freezing.
Three for lunch (these are gigantic shells), and two fives for later.

Because several people asked for the Cheesos recipe, here are the sources of inspiration for both Cheesos and the Shells. I’m not entirely digital – I still love actual cookbooks, and have a few reliable go-tos besides my own 3×5 card file, a folder of printed recipes, my mother’s lifetime recipe notebook, and two staples that forged my appetite: mom relied on The Joy of Cooking, and the Colonel swore by Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School bible. I’m also grateful for cookbooks!

Cheesos recipe from the 21-Day Ketogenic Weight Loss Challenge book.
The “NEW” Fannie Farmer, ©1951 — it’s older than I am!

Sometimes during the day, after I notice something like these cookbooks, and pay attention, and take stock of the luxuries in my life, I take a deep breath – a big sigh – and am suddenly aware of this breath – and then this breath – and I recognize the astonishing chain of events that led to my being here, in this moment, holding this cookbook that is older than I am. Each breath is a miracle. Oxygen is the real drug; breathing, the ultimate high.

Skin Care

Stellar enjoying his morning walk (after my morning skin care regime).

We girls are taught from a young age to spend a lot of money on skin care, buying all sorts of products in countless fancy brands. I’m grateful that I’ve learned at long last how to take care of my skin, the body’s largest organ, fairly efficiently with just a few items, in this arid desert climate. The most important thing we can do for our skin (and our hearts) is to stay hydrated, simply drinking more water each day than we think we need. I’m grateful, as I am every day, for potable water at the turn of a tap. But beyond that, in this harsh climate, I do use just a few products.

Oil, sunscreen, lip exfoliant, and lip balm make up my skin care regimen.

First, I almost never use soap on my face anymore, and I’m grateful for figuring out I don’t need it. Once I’ve washed my face in the morning with hot water, I squirt some avocado oil into my palm and smooth it all over my face and neck. Just regular avocado oil from the grocery store, organic when possible. It’s much cheaper than fancy lotion, without unnecessary chemicals, and moisturizes better than anything I’ve ever tried. Once I’ve rubbed that in, I apply a layer of Elta MD physical sunscreen which uses zinc instead of chemicals to protect from UV rays. I’m grateful for the aesthetician who recommended that to me many years ago.

I keep several jars of Hive Magic moisturizing cream around the house for lips and hands, and use it on my face at bedtime. This rich, handcrafted, small-batch cream contains organic plant-based oils, beeswax, honey, propolis, and pollen, period. It’s great for extra-dry skin, it keeps those fingertip cracks at bay in winter and summer, and can be used anywhere, hair, face, hands, lips, heels. I suffer from dry lips, especially when I don’t drink enough water. After trying a number of recipes with multiple ingredients, I finally made a great exfoliant by adding fine caster sugar to this cream. Rub it gently on my lips every morning for about a minute, then rinse as I wash my face with hot water. After that, I apply the cream plain, or use some other kind of lip balm, and reapply throughout the day.

I sometimes use another lotion aprés-shower on arms and legs, and that’s about it. After forty years of spending too much money and suffering the assault of random fragrances, I’m grateful that I can get my most important skin care at the grocery store, and with a few extra items keep this aging skin in pretty good shape. I’m grateful I no longer have to think about it! No more manipulation by advertisers, no more costly gambles, just functional, affordable skin care. I’m grateful there are still avocados. I don’t expect avocados, almonds, chocolate, or coffee to be readily available later in my life, as climate chaos wreaks its havoc, but I’m grateful to have access to them now, and intend to make the most of them for as long as I can.

Grateful for a cord of firewood delivered yesterday, and stacked this morning by Mr. Wilson in anticipation of a much-needed, very welcome week of precipitation ahead.
And finally, grateful for the garden, which I can sense quickening as the last of winter’s snow melts. Spring snows from here on will melt quickly, and soon (though I’m thoroughly grounded in the present moment) tulips will emerge and I’ll be planting vegetables among the flowers in the raised beds, spending much of the day outside in this sacred space.

Electric Light

I’m grateful today for a lot of things of which I have no pictures, from fresh air and cold tapwater to twice-baked potatoes, from conversations and meditations to a delivery of firewood to finishing my homework. I’m so tired after a full and fruitful day that I’m going to turn out these electric lights, for which I’m also and always grateful, and go to bed.

Cheese

Today’s inspiration, cheesos

A day without cheese is like a day without sunshine. I was discussing cheese last night with a friend on the phone and we concurred. I’m so grateful for cheese! I’m grateful for cheddar and brie and havarti, for parmesan and cream cheese, for gruyere, gouda, feta, mozzarella and bleu cheese; for hard cheese, soft cheese, and melted cheese, for cheese on crackers, cheese on toast, cheese on bread with mayo. I’m grateful for the people who make cheese and sell cheese, and for the animals who provide the milk that becomes cheese.

Maybe the best cheese ever
Perfect Brie
Herbed havarti on rolls, with avocados, and cranberry sauce

I’m grateful for cow cheese, sheep cheese, and … ok, I’m even grateful for goat cheese, because it makes some people happy, and leaves more cow cheese in the world for me. If I had to pick only one thing that I could ever eat again, I’d pick the cheese sandwich: Bacon, brie and avocado grilled in bacon fat on bakery-fresh sliced French bread, with mayonnaise; cold cheddar and potato chips on plain white store-bought bread, with mayonnaise… Technically, pizza could count as a cheese sandwich, and for sure panini would: You can put anything on bread or between bread and call it a cheese sandwich, as long as you include cheese. I think it’s a pretty versatile pick.

Cheese and tomato sandwich
Cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich
Cheese, avocado, tomato and bacon sandwich
Grilled cheese, pepper, tomato and bacon sandwich
Grilled cheese collard melt sandwich
Even pizza is a cheese sandwich – open-face

I like to keep a few kinds of cheese in the fridge at all times. You never know when you’re going to need some kind of cheese. This afternoon I needed cheese. I had some leftover carne asada from the other night, and no tortillas, so I made cheesos: taco shells of melted cheddar cheese, with lettuce, red onion, carne asada, homemade salsa, and sour cream, what I had on hand. Simple. Delicious. And so cheesy. Yes, I’m grateful for cheese.

Zucchini and squash blossom casserole, with cheese
Skillet enchilada casserole, with cheese
Bleu cheese breadsticks
Sausage and cauliflower bake, with cheese
Cheesecake
Cheesecake with coffee syrup
Cream cheese frosting
Fried squash blossoms stuffed with cheese
Spiralized zucchini with marinara and grated parmesan – grateful!
Heirloom tomato and cheddar pie:
More cream cheese frosting

HATs

Lots of hats in my mudroom: old, new, ancestral, picked up along the way from various other people… all kept in order for easy access on a wonderful iron hatrack crafted by Ira Houseweart.

Yes, I’m grateful for hats: warm hats, sun hats, fancy hats, ball caps, and berets – but HATs in this case stands for Habits, Attitudes, Tendencies. I’m grateful for the easy acronym to remind me about these constant companions, and grateful for learning the importance of recognizing one’s own HATs, acquired through a lifetime of coping with the diverse experiences of being human. We all have some good hats, and we all have some unhealthy hats. By cultivating mindfulness, one aspect of which is the ability to choose where to focus my attention, I’ve been learning how to observe and modify my tendencies, enhance and increase my healthy habits, and let go of unhealthy attitudes and habits. Or at least, if I can’t let go yet, observe and acknowledge which habits do not further my flourishing, and which do, and move in the right direction.

Judgment, for example, has been an unhealthy HAT for me. I was raised in a family that wore their judgments like Kentucky Derby hats, flamboyant and unapologetic. I have certainly lost some opportunities and friendships through the years because of my judgments, as well as caused myself immense unnecessary suffering. Letting go of judgments, however gradually, is one of the healthiest things I’ve ever done. The HATs I’ve been examining for months now are old, new, ancestral, picked up along the way from various other people… and some that I’ve knitted all by myself. Some still fit, some have become too tight, uncomfortable; some are comforting, some flattering, and some are quite unattractive. I’m grateful that on the hatrack of my mind there’s always room for another good hat, as I strive to get rid of old, unhelpful hats.

My HAT teachers – all three of them are!

I learned about HATs in the mindfulness teacher training course I’m halfway through. I’m grateful that conditions aligned so that I could spend this first year of Covid in deep introspection, pursuing a new calling. I’m grateful for the teachers in this course, and especially grateful today for a flyby visit from two of them as they passed through town on their travels. Stellar vociferously and highly approved of Laura and John, who joined us for a walk to the rim, and some crispy, cheesy pan pizza outside in the garden afterward. I’m grateful for my new winter hat: it’s perfectly fine to picnic outside when it’s freezing, as light snow starts to fall.

Letting Go

Letting Go. This is who I am. This is what I do. I let go. I’ve spent a lifetime resisting, yet learning to let go, and it is time now to put to the test the letting go lessons. I’m grateful for letting go of so many things, tangible and intangible, in the past year; my letting go accelerates this year. 

I let go of any expectation or even hope for perfection in material things a long time ago, while I was building this house. With an emotional punch as from a sudden death, I let go of perfect walls one morning after I worked in Grand Junction overnight, and returned to find that an unexpected rainstorm had washed away parts of several walls under a fresh bond beam. I’ll fix it later, I told myself, some day. Imperfections piled on after that, and I had to let go: Nothing in this house is plum, level, or square.

Letting go of noticing mismatched caulk proved to be a lot easier than letting go of “No Trust.”

A professional finish? Forget it. The caulk around the window frames, among other things, reflects my letting go of that ideal. This was the best fix for the conditions at the time, when we discovered that blowing perlite insulation into the 4” space between the double walls was a bad idea. Before we got close to filling it up, perlite aspirated out of every minute gap between blocks and window bucks, into the house. We bought the closest caulk to adobe color; but I had to let go of noticing the difference, and call it close enough.

I’m grateful for letting go on days like this, when the internet I pay too much for is down most of the day, the new computer I paid too much for is in the shop for repair after only three weeks, four years of photo libraries are lost from a backup disc that the new computer fried, along with who knows what else. I’m grateful for letting go on other days, too; letting go of little things all along helps cultivate equanimity for when I have to let go of big things.

Flying Insects

Grateful for skies like this.

I truly am grateful today because I saw the first flying insects of the year. I don’t know what they were, they didn’t buzz, but I saw one on the front walkway late morning, and another near the vegetable garden in the afternoon, just fleeting little dark things flying by. Another sign of spring!

Aspen at night in snowfall
Stellar after night walk in snowfall. I’m grateful, as always for snow. Precipitation is always a gift.