First World Problems

I led a meditation this morning that began with inviting everyone to share a ‘first world problem,’ and ended with some time to ponder gratitude, impermanence, and perspective. The theme occurred to me as I was telling a friend before the meditation started that I had to drink tea instead of coffee because I was out of decaf. Three days in a row I’ve enjoyed full-strength coffee, but this body can’t handle it, so I brewed a weak pot of Earl Grey. Even that gave me indigestion, but that’s beside the point. I laughed as I ‘complained’ about this, and said “First world problems,” then told her about the first time I heard that phrase.

It was in Moonrise Espresso a hundred years ago, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop. I walked in and was complaining to someone about something inconsequential, and a guy I’d never seen before looked up from his laptop and said, “First world problem, huh?” I was speechless, then laughed out loud. I understood instantly what he meant, and it was a moment of awakening. Perspective! But it took awhile for that insight to really sink in, and inform my entire way of being. Practicing mindfulness, one of the first things we learn is to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. I wake each day in a bed with a roof over my head, turn on a tap to get water, and have a choice between coffee and tea, both of which come from faraway lands. I’m in reasonably good health, and am content with my life. In the context of starvation, climate displacement, war, and countless other desperate human conditions, I really have nothing to complain about.

This doesn’t mean that everything is always peachy and I have no right to complain, or be unhappy or scared if real trouble arises, or wish things to be other than they are. It simply means that I can keep things in perspective, and not waste energy fretting the small stuff. It means that a momentary frustration is just that, momentary, and losing the internet for a couple hours, or a clogged drain, or any other inconvenience, isn’t going to ruin my day or even my mood. It also means that I’m aware of great suffering in the world, holding compassion for those suffering and wanting to help where I can. And it means that I can bring compassion to myself also, recognizing when things are really hard and not just annoying, and be more supportive and caring for myself and others, and more resilient in challenging situations. I’m grateful for the perspective of ‘first world problems.’

Getting snowed in at the end of a quarter mile driveway could also be seen as a first world problem. That I even have a driveway that long is an enormous privilege, for which I’m immensely grateful. That I even have a driveway. I’m grateful for friends with big trucks! I didn’t get back out to take a picture after the Bad Dogs dropped off groceries, but am sure grateful they were able to punch through the drifts to get down here.

Little Tiny loves the snow, but not when it’s up to her shoulders. It’s the first time we’ve been out that she has jumped on me to pick her up and carry her home. I’m also grateful to be making progress on the puzzle, enjoying the warm sunny view while the fire warms and lights the house inside, even as clouds and wind blow outside.

Meal Planning

It’s taken a long time for me to learn to settle into a routine that includes meal planning. Now that I have a regularly scheduled grocery day once a week, and a world of recipes at my fingertips, and time and inclination to eat better than ever, I’ve started saving a few key recipes each week and going through them on Tuesday to make my grocery list. First, and again and again, I’m grateful to my Personal Shoppers who give me this gift each week. Far more than the protective convenience it began as, it’s contributed to my personal transformation. Even if covid ever goes away, or I ever decide I’m game to get back to going out in public, I’ll keep the rhythm this pattern has created. On my list this week was chickpea-mushroom veggie burgers.

Naturally I wanted to make the buns as well. All parts of this meal freeze well for future use, and I gave some away too. These 30-minute buns take a little longer than that, but are quick and easy and really good. Here they are after their warm-oven rise–I don’t have an oven light, and the lowest my oven will go was a little warm for a rise. Next time I’ll just leave them out for awhile before baking, and also use a little less yeast at this altitude than I did this time. I think they didn’t puff enough because the yeast moved too fast. But what do I know? I’m still figuring out this baking world. I’m grateful I’m not attached to the outcomes of the recipes I try out. As long as they’re edible I’m happy; and even if they’re not, I’m grateful I’ve got a compost bin. No waste.

Toasted chickpeas with garlic powder and smoked paprika get mashed with chopped mushrooms, miso, tahini, and a well-cooked grain. I thought I had quinoa in the pantry but did not, so used farro instead. Mixed, mashed, and formed into patties, then frozen until ready to cook.

When I’m Sixty-four…

Despite a concerted effort through most of my life to make sure this never happens, I believe that today there might be a few people who love me who have forgotten that it’s my birthday.

If there are, though, there aren’t many. I have been overwhelmed with birthday greetings and salutations from before I awoke til just now, via text, zoom, email, phone, and facebook. I am so incredibly grateful to be thought of kindly by so many people. It has truly been a day to receive love and celebrate my still being alive after sixty-four years. And yes, as only one friend asked, I’ve had that Beatles’ song going through my head all day.

A gentle snow fell off and on all day, and I started a fire first thing because when it’s cold and grey outside, it’s pretty chilly inside. The cake I was so proud of not un-panning last night was impossible to get out this morning. All that butter had congealed and glued it to the bundt pan. So I set it on top of the woodstove for a few minutes, and it popped right out. It is delicious. Here’s the recipe for any NYT Cooking subscribers. I can see all kinds of variations on this in the future, like using lemon extract instead of vanilla, and making a lemon syrup to saturate it… or maple syrup syrup… I’m grateful I have a few neighbors to share it with.

I’m grateful that I received a few gifts–and doubly grateful that there were only a few. I have been trying desperately for years to once and for all finally declutter my house, which got out of hand long ago when I brought home so much of the ancestral stuff after mom, and later dad, died. Please friends, when your parents go, relinquish attachment to their stuff! I’ve prolonged a sorry task that’s become a real burden. Attachment creates suffering. See something you want in my house? Please take it! Except for my birthday presents. And for some reason, every single one of them was kitchen related.

I’m grateful that the Bad Dogs lent me Norma’s Solstice puzzle, “Carmel by the Sea,” which I started last night. In two sittings I completed the two easy parts. Now, as they warned me, comes the hard part.

I’m grateful that the universe granted me this precious day that will never come again, to relax, and receive love, and enjoy the gifts of this particular life in this precise moment. Everything changes all the time. I may not live to see another birthday. Death is certain, time of death uncertain. We each have our unique way of seizing the day, and mine, this day, was to relax into and allow the simple quiet joy of contentment and gratitude.

Transformation

In this interesting Kentucky butter cake, it seems all the ingredients go in at once. Then the batter is beaten and poured in the pan, and came out as the most beautiful cake. As soon as it’s out you poke it full of holes and pour over a vanilla butter syrup, which soaks through. I’m grateful that it has to cool at least three hours before coming out of the pan. It’s better if I wait til morning to eat some instead of right before bed. I’m grateful for the transformation of simple ingredients into something spectacularly different. I’m grateful for the transformation I’ve undergone in the past few years of living with mindfulness.

Zoom Cooking with Amy: Carrot Button Noodles

We started off with a salty dog in our RBG glasses that Amy had provided. That’s her refrigerator covered in pictures in the background, and the lights over my living room window above that. Our dish for tonight was Carrot Button Noodles, which Amy found online. I was grateful I had just enough carrots left from the garden to make the dish.

Chopped, cooked til tender–but not quite tender enough–and drained, then into the food processor to puree until smooth–but not quite smooth enough.

I ended up with little bits of carrot in the dough but so what. The recipe calls for potato starch, which wasn’t to be found in the valley, and I’m just as glad. I used half cornstarch and half wheat flour, and liked the consistency of mine. Amy found potato starch, and said hers were really chewy. I went back to the website just now to get the link, and read “When used in doughs, potato starch, when cooked, gives a chewy, translucent, and glossy end-result. They have a silkier mouthfeel than using wheat flour….I like to use potato starch because it’s a little chewier than cornstarch. You cannot use any other flours or starches as the texture will be completely different.” Oh yes I can!

After kneading til it was smooth, we pinched off small bits and rolled into balls, then poked with our pinkies. It said to use a half teaspoon to roll each ball but we both thought that was way too small. I supposed Amy might have enjoyed her chewy buttons better if they were smaller, and I would have appreciated a higher sauce to noodle ratio on mine which a smaller button would have achieved. So now we know that for next time, if there is one.

Boiled about five minutes and drained…

Then topped with the garlic-soy-vinegar sauce. Amy had scallions which would have added nice color and crunch; I did not so I used some finely chopped shallots. Then another fun part, pouring boiling hot vegetable oil over the top, which sizzled, and sprinkling with sesame seeds. Equally fun was eating them. The little button holes caught and held the sauce. Smaller buttons, more buttonholes, more sauce per bite. Which may be the whole point of these noodles. Neither of us tasted a bit of carrot in them, though they were half carrot. But it was so simple, and so delicious. I’ll definitely be making more vegetable noodles this way in the future, if I live long enough. I’m always grateful for zoom cooking with Amy.

Further research, which I wish I had done before we made them, reveals a Chinese video with a different and even more delicious-looking sauce, and slightly different steps. I believe I will make them again, with potato starch. Even if I don’t make the exact noodles, I am definitely going to try this sauce.

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.

Rocky

Rocky the Dog brought delight, joy, laughter, and love to people around the country, in person and virtually. On Fruitloop Mesa he was everybody’s favorite neighbor. He wore with dignity and pride the titles of Honorary Bad Dog and The Littlest Catahoula, among others. It is with great sadness, and deep compassion for his beloved Deborah, that I relay that Rocky transitioned today to his next big adventure. He passed with peace and grace, and is relieved of ongoing suffering. He was fifteen years old.

From his very first days in this community, Rocky loved everyone, and everyone loved Rocky. I’ve shared numerous stories and pictures of him through the years, and this remains one of my favorites: the moment Rocky and Raven met, when he was less than one year old. He stole my heart from the first moment I met him. He brought joy and laughter to a dear old lady in her last months, and when she died I was grateful to be able to help find him a perfect person with a perfect home and life for the rest of his years.

Here, he is so proud of his first ever snowman, which he made to surprise me.
I’m grateful that I got to babysit Rocky often through the years, enjoying his precious presence and sharing his joy with lots of friends. He made himself perfectly at home wherever he went.
Always the gentleman, Rocky was the life of every party.
Rocky had true equanimity. He loved everyone, large or small, human or otherwise. He was also a fierce protector when needed, chasing deer and hunting rodents like a wolf.
As wild and playful as he could be, he also loved to relax on his back and get his tummy rubbed, and he readily gave many people many opportunities to enjoy this activity with him.

Rocky’s effervescent spirit will be missed and long remembered. Our hearts are hurting. Fly, little man, fly into the great unknown.

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.