Tag Archive | compassion

Zoom Cooking with Amy: Herb Roasted Potatoes

…with feta-yogurt dip, chopped nuts, and scallions…

All I knew was potatoes and feta, and all I had to do was show up with the ingredients. Amy talked me through the recipe. How thick to slice the potatoes, how long to boil them, how much of which herbs to toss in with onions and potatoes to roast…

…how much feta and yogurt, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and pepper to blitz in the food processor for the delicious sauce… to line the bowl with the sauce, spoon the roasted vegetables on top, sprinkle with nuts and scallions, and drizzle with honey. We sipped our cocktails and talked of many things as we cooked and ate, as we always do. I can hardly recall a single one of them. I’m grateful for the easy, long friendship (is it 50 years? 51?) that we get to continue across the continent with zoom cooking, and grateful for all the great dishes we’ve made together in person and apart. I’m grateful for locally grown, organic potatoes from Farm Runners, and for custom grocery delivery from P&P. I’m grateful for perennial scallions in my garden from early spring through late fall.

In the midst of cooking I paused to split the bread dough in two and set it on the warm stove to rise in loaf pans. I’m grateful for the sourdough starter that Ruth gave me oh so many years ago still going strong, for the new standard loaf pans I bought from King Arthur to finally replace the oversize pans I inherited from my mother oh so many years ago, for the persistence to try this recipe again and again learning a little more each time how to bake at high altitude.

I’m grateful that this time, I think I finally got it right. I won’t quite know til I slice the loaves tomorrow. They just came out of the oven and need to cool completely before I take the serrated bread knife to them, but they look and sound just right.

I’m grateful for a slow, quiet morning in the garden, and the gorgeous snapdragons I grew from seed which are just now starting to bloom. I’m grateful for connections with friends and cousins here and afar throughout the day, and grateful that as far as I know everyone I love woke up alive this morning. Not everyone did, and that stark reminder highlights the value of each precious day and every act of kindness, compassion, and connection it holds. I’m grateful for mindfulness practice, and the healthier perspective it’s brought to all aspects of life, from the personal to the political and the planetary. I’m grateful.

Melancholy of Caring

Twisted piñon on the rim of the Black Canyon
A silvered juniper skeleton serves as a fence to keep people away from the precipitous edge of a sheer cliff.

I’m grateful to live so close to one of the most spectacular canyons in this country, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, protected as a National Park. I’m grateful to live near the North Rim, by far the less visited part of the park. Usually on a summer Wednesday morning there might have been one or two cars parked at the ranger station, a couple of tents in the campground, and no one else on the rim drive overlooks. I guess with Yellowstone closed for flooding everyone decided to come here. I’ve never seen so many cars at the ranger station, a dozen at least, and four or five at the nature trail parking pullout. There were people everywhere!

The Painted Wall, the highest cliff in Colorado

I’m grateful for the sweet melancholy of caring enough to miss someone I barely know when he’s gone… enough to grieve the wild world, the ancient trees and fragile lives in this park, for the state that the human species has brought this planet to… enough to wish the best for all beings, even humans, even so… I think I prefer this to not caring.

Healthy Choices

Another thing that lifts my spirits is SEED TIME! Maybe, just maybe, I went a little overboard on peppers, but I’m really looking forward to growing enough to make plenty of wicked fermented hot sauce this fall, oh yeah.

Life is hard enough (even without the threat of a new World War) that we don’t need to be challenging each other on every opinion. I mentioned inflammatory comments on Facebook in yesterday’s post. They came after I posted this innocuous sentence: “I joined Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and other concerned global citizens in dropping Spotify in protest over Joe Rogan’s misinformation podcast.” My thought was, if the same number of people as have died from Covid in the US were to cancel their Spotify paid subscriptions, maybe Spotify would grow a pair and take a stand for truth. That was three weeks and roughly 100,000 needless deaths ago.

I unfriended the people who jumped all over me for ignorance and cancel culture. Life is too short. It really is, it’s just too short. I don’t bear them ill will, I just don’t have time for that shit. I do have time to enjoy the creative endeavors of other people of big heart and open mind, like the adorable Australian series “Please Like Me,” created, written by, and starring Josh Thomas (on Hulu). But I missed the easy access to a variety of music on Spotify, especially instrumental jazz, and while I love mountain grown public radio KVNF in Paonia, not all of their music shows are to my taste, and I can’t handle the interruption of unsought headlines these days.

So I have embarked upon an exploration of public radio stations around the world, in search of my kinds of jazz. I have checked out a number of stations I used to enjoy when I lived in their broadcast areas, like WTJU in Charlottesville, VA and WMNF in Tampa; and other stations I’ve enjoyed as I drove through their airwaves like KMUD in Garberville, CA. In my search for jazz I came upon WWOZ in New Orleans, which I’ve been listening to for a few weeks, and today I found Radio Swiss Jazz, which I think I’ll be listening to a lot for a very long time. I figure if I find twelve public radio stations I love around the world, and donate $10 each month to one of them, I’ll have done a lot more good in the world with my $120 than if I had kept on supporting commercial, profit-driven streaming services like Spotify. So that’s my plan!

Unnecessary moment of tender beauty

Thanks for the messages of comfort and encouragement after my gloomy post yesterday. I’m grateful for them. I woke this morning to news of Russia’s malevolent invasion of Ukraine, and set my intention for the day to let–or make–peace begin with me. There is literally nothing I can do about this new war. Other people get paid to take care of these global issues. I call and write my representatives to let them know my preferences. I voted a compassionate president into office. He’s done the best he can with what he has to work with. Not much else I can do there. But I can renew my commitment to practicing kindness, wisdom, and compassion as much as possible every precious remaining day of my short life.

Thanks to mindfulness practice, though I sometimes slide into the shadows, I no longer dwell there consistently as I did for much of my life. And when I do go dark inside, I let it be, resting in that sorrow: my friend Impermanence always comes through. Things always change, inside of me and out, and I’m grateful for the wisdom to know that, allowing myself to feel what I feel without judgement, and resting calmly with what is, until it changes. It does sometimes take an effort to make a healthy choice, like seeking out music and art that uplift me, and opening my heart with gratitude to connection offered by friends old and new. While I know that no one and nothing else can lift my spirits for me, healthy choices can certainly help shift the balance.

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

Putting Away Christmas

Cousin Bill joked about how different it felt to put his Christmas decorations away at the end of January than at his habitual New Year’s ritual… It wasn’t too soon, or too late, it was just the right time. That’s how I feel. Even later, though, I’m putting away Christmas in the middle of February. It’s the longest I’ve gone. Much as I love the ancestral decorations (and a handful of new acquired over my lifeline) I’ve put away Christmas pretty late for years, grateful for implicit luxuries, but always by the end of January. At least that’s how I remember it.

I may not get very far tonight, I’m reminiscing, communing with my little things. Catherine Ingram counsels us to love who we love, and love our lives, and love our little things. Garden Buddy mentioned that very thing this afternoon in the context of what brings us joy. We sat in her garden of stone-rimmed beds and yard art, sharing a brief cloudy interlude in an otherwise balmy day. We are both growing weary of enforced hermitude, yet are not eager to relinquish it, skeptical of the alternatives.

Garden seeds arrived! A sigh of relief, winter’s end’s in sight. It’s been a strange one, as have most recent seasons. Case in point: The shower drain hasn’t come close to freezing this winter (a good thing), but this is the second scorpion who’s climbed up out of the tub drain. Itsy-bitsy spider only this time it’s scorpions the rain washes out. Spiders have free reign in my house, they do such good eating flies, and most of the widows stay outside. But this scorpion has to go right back where it came from, back to the leaf litter under the birch tree. It’s much milder outside this year, and also drier, than what used to be normal. Even as it’s been a colder winter inside, but longer sun in a rising arc warms the house earlier each day, and I have enough power now to run the floor heat while it’s sunny. So life’s gotten a little easier.

I’m grateful for this littler orange scraper, which has also makes life easier. It’s come in handy for a lot of things, but most of all for finally solving this kitchen dilemma. For years it mystified and aggravated me why the artisan who built the copper counter didn’t finish it with a rollover edge, instead crafting a lovely rim a half inch higher than the surface. This makes it impossible to sweep crumbs off into a hand or compost bucket. A similar glitch was built into the edge of the sunroom pond by a different artist, this an unchinked valley between the wall and the stone floor, leaving a ragged stripe of concrete foundation showing. I asked that fellow many years later why he’d done that, it makes it so hard to sweep or vacuum the dirt up.

“So you wouldn’t have to,” he said sparkling with logic, “because it would collect in the crack.” Had the cabinet maker brought similar reasoning to the raised counter rim? Both ‘solutions’ make it far more complicated to clean: a woman would never have designed these features.

Speaking of crumbs on the counter, these lemon shortbreads were worth the wait for butter for the glaze. So delicate and lightly tart and softly sweet. I’ve been grateful today for sharing them, too; and for kindnesses and compassions that have come my way, softening the rocky inward trail.

Adaptability

Next week it’s my birthday! I’m so grateful just anticipating that I’ll get to have another one! Dawn was going to come over for a birthday dinner and puzzle night. We had it planned for weeks. She was kind enough to agree to isolate for four days prior to our date, and we both planned to take rapid antigen tests shortly before she came over. But because of my high risk factors for Covid, and the Omicron surge, and the fact that we both were, unavoidably, around unmasked people in confined spaces four days ago, and the recent suggestion that the rapid tests may not be as reliable for Omicron, we adapted to a plan B.

I roasted a chicken with garden carrots and some sweet potatoes, and steam-sautéed some garden green beans from the freezer. She baked shortbread. She delivered the cookies and picked up a box of dinner and a new puzzle, and drove the couple miles back home. Then, we zoomed together for dinner, put away our dishes, and opened our puzzles. It was almost as good as being in the same space working on the same puzzle–not quite, but almost. The camaraderie was still there, the quiet focus on the puzzles interspersed with meaningful conversation.

The virus sucks. The ignorance that facilitated and perpetuates the Covid crisis sucks. I feel profound compassion for the healthcare workers who are overwhelmed because of the sheer stupidity of a staggering number of humans. It’s my patriotic duty to stay healthy and well. Given that this is the world we live in for now, I’m grateful for adaptability, and for the ongoing tolerance and acceptance my friends show for my super high risk threshold.

Queer Eye

One vestige of my darker days, the framed photo of James Van Der Zee’s Prohibition Era poster, top left. But see how she is surrounded by light?

I’m going to tell you a horrible story, about a young man who sings on the subway to supplement his income. I know it’s true because I heard it from the relative he told it to. He makes a meager wage at a day job, and he’s talented. So he’s been singing on the subway for a few years. He tested positive for Covid the other day, and he kept on singing on the train.

“On the platform?” I asked, “or on the train?” As if one were better. Which it might be.

On the train–in the cars!” she shrieked. My first thought was, You should turn him in! She went on to say that she told him, “That’s unconscionable! You should be arrested!”

And I went on to think, with snap judgment and barely a shred of equanimity (but notably, with some compassion): No wonder New York City cases have exploded. Because that one naive young man, pursuing his dreams oblivious to the stark reality of this ongoing pandemic, probably infected dozens if not hundreds of innocent subway riders, many of whom may have infected 3 or more others. Our busker was a super-spreader event all by himself. Like potentially thousands, or millions, of other people across the country, either oblivious to the truth or arrogantly “done with Covid,” as my cousin proclaimed he would be once ski season started.

Ski season started, and a week later he found himself symptomatic, awaiting results of a PCR test. Did he have it, or was it just a cold? (That’s another thorny existential worry these days, for another day.) I’ll probably never know; I doubt he’d admit it. And there’s fuckall I can do about any of this ignorance.

This came in a text just now, synchronistically articulating my perspective. See more satire from Brittlestar.

So that’s my rant for the day. Sleazeweasel wants me to give outrage and gratitude “equal consideration.” He worried when I seemed stuck in gratitude for a whole year. I don’t think he’s been paying attention! Brilliant though he is, he seems to have missed the essence of my personal gratitude challenge: I was mired in outrage and despair for most of my adult life. My personal gratitude epiphany saved me, gave me back the joy and meaning of my youth, when everything that happened was a new gift. Now I understand what Brother Steindl-Rast was talking about. Having practiced focusing on gratitude instead of humanity’s dark side, immersing myself in gratitude for an entire year, I brought some balance to my perceptions, gaining the capacity to hold light as well as dark, to see reality through a less distorted lens. Gratitude has helped me achieve the equanimity I’ve been seeking for decades.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful for SNOW! More than we’ve seen at one time in a couple of years, I think. I was grateful to wake up alive, and find deep snow at last; grateful to see sweet does bedded down under the junipers just beyond the patio. Grateful for good neighbors of any species, and greeting one gliding by on skis in the drifted driveway.

Grateful for cheesos, a simple, delicious hot lunch after arduous maintenance shoveling and brushing…

And finally, I’m grateful today for Queer Eye, a ‘season interrupted,’ now back on Netflix. The first episode was shot in March 2020, and lockdown prevented the final act, so that was filmed in May 2021. The featured mother’s father had died, as well as her daughter’s husband. (In a weird way, the pandemic has presented a global ‘Compassion Challenge’–let that take off on social media!)

The transformation of Terri was profound and complete. The Fab 5 had given the family tools to heal relationships and weather their own brutal challenges just in the nick of time. Yet another feel-good series from the loving heart of gay culture to lift everyone’s spirits. I’m grateful for satire, laughter, gay men, snow, compassion, equanimity, and seeing truth clearly, among many other things in this new year.

I’m grateful today for Topaz. She hasn’t gotten her fair share of attention in recent weeks. Today I took her alone for a short walk around the Breakfast Loop. Neither of us has gotten enough exercise without Stellar to lead us on walks, and we both needed a silent stroll in the fresh air. There were a couple of brief interludes today when he slept soundly; otherwise he has been agitated all day. Partly discomfort, I think, but during the day there was certainly frustration at not being able to get up and go outside. I hate to limit him, but I just can’t haul him around anymore since he can’t help at all with his back legs. It’s the equivalent of carrying a fifty pound feed sack with one hand and steering a canoe with the other.

I’m grateful for my job teaching mindfulness, grateful for community support, grateful for a beautiful fall day. I’m grateful for the sweet moments of connection with Topaz, and the hours of respite with Stellar calm or asleep. I’m grateful even in difficulty for another day with him in which to cultivate patience, compassion, and unconditional love, developing my understanding and capacity. I’m hopeful for an easier day tomorrow.

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.