Tag Archive | gratitude practice

Bibliofillies

Books I unearthed while sorting through boxes in the attic…

I’m grateful for books. I’m grateful that my big brother taught me to read when I was just three years old. I remember sitting on the floor in the doorway between the well-lit kitchen and the dim living room where our parents sat, with a book between us, and him teaching me to make sense of the letters. I’m grateful that I love to read, that I have always loved to read, that my parents gave me lots of books, and that I have always had access to anything I could wish to read. I’m grateful that Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, and grateful that someone (though it’s not clear exactly who) invented the novel. I’m grateful for bookbindings, libraries, magazines, and Kindle, and for paper and ink, typewriters, and Pages.

Today I’m grateful for the Bibliofillies, a bookclub Ellie started in April 2005, which has always had a cap of ten people, and still retains five founding members. There are currently nine of us, and we all live in the outskirts of our little town. For all those years we’ve met on the first Wednesday evening of each month, rotating among our homes, and our format has evolved through the years but a few things have remained constant.

We start each meeting with an author report by the hostess. OK, one thing has remained constant! There was a time when the hostess often chose to make a full meal for the group, but it’s always been ok to serve chips and dip instead. In summer we’ve met on patios, in winter we’ve carpooled through deep snow. Since Covid, we’ve met monthly on Zoom, and here’s the second thing that’s constant: the camaraderie that has developed among us through the years.

The first book we read was Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, a novel published in 1881. I remember meeting in Connie’s cozy adobe living room, and there was much dissent about the book. It was a good realization that we can sometimes have even more engaging conversations if we don’t all feel the same about a book. Since then, we’ve had an ongoing discussion on “What is Literature?” One husband calls us “The Smarty Pants Bookclub,” because there’s another book club in town, which many call “The Fun Bookclub.”

I can’t remember half of these, but here’s a (nearly complete) list of the books we read in our first ten years together:

  1. Portrait of a Lady Henry James
  2. Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
  3.  O Pioneers! Willa Cather 
  4.   A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul
  5. Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia 
  6. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
  7. The Haunted Monastery, Robert Van Gulik 
  8. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe 
  9. The Cave, Jose Saramago 
  10. Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence 
  11. A Thousand Cranes, Yasunari Kawabata 
  12. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
  13. Passionate Nomad, Jane Geniesse 
  14. Saving Fish from Drowning, Amy Tan 
  15. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
  16. East Wind: West Wind, Pearl S. Buck
  17. The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham
  18. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  19. Dearest Friend:  A Life of Abigail Adams, Lynne Withey
  20. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe 
  21. Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami 
  22. The Blind Assasin, Margaret Atwood 
  23. Dakota:  A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris 
  24. Arthur and George, Julian Barnes 
  25. Burger’s Daughter, Nadine Gordimer 
  26. The Thief and the Dogs, Naguib Mahfouz  
  27. Stories of Anton Chekhov, Anton Chekhov 
  28. Herzog, Saul Bellow 
  29. Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie
  30. My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk
  31. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner 
  32. In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant 
  33. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
  34. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee 
  35. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller 
  36. Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett 
  37. The Greenlanders, Jane Smiley 
  38. The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love, Oscar Hijuelos 
  39. White Ghost Girls, Alice Greenway
  40. The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty
  41. Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson
  42. Mara and Dann, Doris Lessing 
  43. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde 
  44. The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers
  45. Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis 
  46. The Ginseng Hunter, Jeff Talarigo 
  47. The Leopard, Guiseppe de Lampedusa 
  48. The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney 
  49. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery 
  50. The Quiet Girl, Peter Hoeg 
  51. Rabbit is Rich, John Updike
  52. A Mercy, Toni Morrison
  53. Desert, LeClezio
  54. The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
  55. The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
  56. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  57. The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
  58. The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
  59. Telex from Cuba, Rachel Kushner
  60. Little Bee, Chris Cleave
  61. That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo
  62. The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
  63. Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
  64. The Dream Life of Sukhanov, Olga Grushin
  65. The Appointment, Herta Muller
  66. Vanity Fair, William Thackeray
  67. The Help, Kathyrn Stockett
  68. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
  69. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson
  70. Even Silence Has an End:  My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle, Ingrid Betancourt
  71. Tinkers, Paul Harding
  72. Dog of the South, Charles Portis
  73. Trading Dreams of Midnight, Diane McKinney-Whetstone  
  74. Undaunted:  The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, Dorothy Wickenden
  75. The Elephant’s Journey, Jose Saramago
  76. People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
  77. Reader’s choice: Mario Vargas Llosa
  78. Killing Mother, Rita Clagett
  79. Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, Christie Watson
  80. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
  81. The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness, Clay Jenkinson
  82. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford
  83. The Swerve:  How the World Became Modern, Stephen Greenblatt
  84. The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh
  85. The Invisible Ones, Stef Penney
  86. Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith & Love, Dava Sobel
  87. State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
  88. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bolgakov
  89. Room: A Novel, Emma Donoghue
  90. The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
  91. The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
  92. The Stone Raft, Jose Saramago
  93. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt
  94. Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder
  95. Mary Coin, Marisa Silver
  96. The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain
  97. Proust at the Majestic, Richard Davenport-Hines
  98. Remembering Babylon, David Malouf
  99. What Maisie Knew, Henry James
  100. Reader’s choice: Books by Mo Yan
  101. The Sumbally Fallacy, Karen Weinant Gallob
  102. The Emerald Mile, Kevin Fedarko
  103. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Kay Joy Fowler
  104. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  105. Americanah, Chimananda Adichie
  106. Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, Poe Ballantine
  107. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  108. A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
  109. The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
  110. The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
  111. The Emperor of Paris, C.S. Richardson
  112. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Roz Chast
  113. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Jan-Philipp Sendker
  114. Submergence, J.M. Ledgard
  115. The Antagonist, Lynn Coady
  116. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, Caitlin Doughty 

Who can say we’re not fun? Now, I don’t have permission, so I can’t share the screenshot I took of us toward the end of our meeting tonight. It’s not Wednesday, you might be thinking if you’re on your toes: No, but last Wednesday we were derailed by circumstances beyond our control, which several wanted to keep watching on their screens, so this was our makeup meeting. If I could, I’d share the screenshot, and prove to everyone that we are too fun! Last month we read Louise Erdrich’s dystopian novel “Future Home of the Living God,” which started out a page turner, and ended up a colossally distressing parallel, in some ways, to our own current precarious political and societal cusp between democracy and fascism.

None of us gave the book a full Thumbs Up, and several gave it a solid Thumbs Down, and after a record-short discussion there was a pause that cried for some levity. I put on a pig nose and ears, and gave a tutorial on Zoom video filters, and soon we were all laughing. Rosie sat by the seaside with a pirate patch and hat, Candy wore a mustache with the cosmos behind her. Many combinations of backgrounds, frames, antlers, hats, noses, spectacles and hirsute adornments later, we called it a night. Smarty pants indeed! I am indeed grateful for my smarty-pants, big-hearted, open-minded, thoughtful and funny Bibliofillies.

Zoom Cooking with Amy

One silver lining to the Covid cloud is zoom cooking with Amy. Here we’re making fettuccine with Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese. I’m grateful to Neighbor Mary for giving me her pasta attachment!

I’m grateful for everything in this title, separately and together. Zoom. Cooking. Amy. And zoom cooking with Amy. It’s a silver lining of the Covid cloud. Back in May, I sent her a recipe for homemade gnocchi and asked if she wanted to make it with me and share zoom dinner. Thus began a joy we have shared ever since.

Pan roasted gnocchi with leeks, peas, and asparagus (grateful for Neighbor Mary’s generosity in sharing her wild asparagus harvest!)
Sharing our first zoom dinner after fun in the kitchen.

Amy and I have been friends for almost fifty years. And her parents have been parents to me, as well, whenever I have needed them to be, and friends the rest of the time. My gratitude for Amy knows no bounds. Cooking, drinking, and eating is our favorite thing to do when we get together. She lives in northern Virginia, not far from where we grew up. We met on the first day of seventh grade, and that friendly little red-haired girl saved my life that year. Through the decades, I’ve always visited when I traveled back there. And then she saved my life again during the months I spent there when my mother was dying sixteen years ago.

The second zoom meal we made was Samin Nosrat’s Big Lasagna. This first time we made pasta we both rolled it by hand.

Amy’s been coming to visit for the past few years, including during apricot season two summers ago (when she saved my life again, by helping harvest and put up pounds of fruit), but not this summer, and so we started zoom cooking instead. She’s also been watching cooking shows for years so has lots of tricks up her sleeve. We used vanilla bean seeds for something that apricot summer, and she poured some sugar in a jar and tossed in the scraped pods. “In a couple of weeks this’ll be great in your coffee or something else,” she said, and it was.

I’m grateful for locally-caught trout filets, and the friend who shares them when he has extra.
Cheesos, or cheese-shelled tacos

In August we made Fish Cheesos, with the trout, and garden produce, in cheddar cheese taco shells. This recipe came from a Keto cookbook: you pile a quarter cup of grated cheddar for each shell, about 4″ apart, onto parchment paper and cook at 400°F for 6-8 minutes, until they’re melted flat and the edges start to brown. Let them cool about 3 minutes, then drape them over wooden handle spoons or something until they harden, about ten minutes. Then…

…then fill with any kind of taco filling!
Next, we made Turkey and the Wolf’s famous collard greens melt, a veggie club on rye, which took all day to prep the homemade components for: cooked collards, cole slaw, and russian dressing.

I couldn’t be zoom cooking with Amy like this without the help of the Bad Dogs, who kindly shop for me these days because of some underlying conditions that make me super cautious about Covid. I’m especially grateful to Philip, who shops most often, and earnestly tries to fill my list of often obscure ingredients. I try to compensate them for their trouble with fresh baked bread, rolls, or cake to hand over upon grocery delivery.

Fettuccine drying (thanks for the rack, too, dear Mary) the Night of Bolognese.

After the collard sandwiches, we made Marcella’s pasta bolognese. I laughed the whole time I was making noodles because it was just so much fun. We more or less take turns suggesting the menu. After bolognese, we made squash and peanut stew. Since our neighborhood dinners have been more or less on hold all year, it’s been great to be cooking with Amy and have the chance to use so much garden produce.

Fresh garden harvest going into the squash and peanut stew.
Though we didn’t bake these together, Amy shared her recipe for decadent triple chocolate cookies.

The next menu item was Bombay Rolls, which included a chutney with lots of fresh coriander. Amy made them according to the recipe so her stuffing was green, but with no access to fresh coriander here in December, I used a jar of Kasundi I had canned earlier in the summer. It wasn’t nearly as spicy as it seemed when I cooked it, but the Bombay rolls were fun to make and delicious anyway. We cheated and used store-bought puff pastry for this meal. Our ambitions had started to slacken.

But, egged on by the Great British Baking Show, I threw down the éclair challenge, and that brings us up to last Friday night. The recipe calls for a total of 11 eggs, and I was late getting started since I had to wait for groceries. I’m so grateful for local, freerange ranch eggs for much of the year that it’s hard to shell out the dough for storebought, but in deep winter nobody’s hens are laying around here. As soon as Philip brought the eggs, I started catchup with Amy, who had already made her creme patisserie and was starting on her choux pastry. I was grateful for a snowbank right outside the door, since there was no room in the fridge to cool the filling.

Custard quick-cooling in the snow at dusk
I overcooked, then over-mixed, the choux pastry, and had the wrong size piping bag, so made little double-barrel eclairs, which did not hold much filling. The chocolate ganache was too thick so I only had enough to cover half the little pastries. It got a little messy…
BUT WHO CARES?

While we baked, we talked about the Capitol, where Amy used to lead kids in summer camp. We compared Manhattan recipes. We talked about work and friends and everything else. We carried on two separate conversations at the same time: I said something about our technical challenge, “I kept stirring and it formed a ball which kept breaking up as I stirred…,” and Amy said, “She has several professional photographers she hires to take portraits of the family….” 

I’m grateful this weekend for zoom cooking with my old friend Amy, and grateful for all the years of ease and lessons and love that life has given us to share. One day, we’ll cook together again in person, but until that time, and onward after our next visit, I hope we’ll be zoom cooking for the rest of our years. We’re already batting about ideas for our next challenge.

Compassionate Presence

Grateful every day for living here.

Yesterday was challenging for me, as I know it was for many people. The domestic terror attack on the US Capitol shook up a lot of Americans, even some who had been sleeping as the groundwork for it was laid by the president and his enablers. But it wasn’t the event itself, or even the government’s and media’s whitewashing of the egregious double-standard of law enforcement response when compared to crackdowns on Black Lives Matter peaceful demonstrations across the country last year. It was one word that undid me: Proud.

Like many meditators these days, I participate in a virtual meditation group, or sangha, that meets over the phone every weekday morning. I’m grateful for those who were there with me in the beginning more than four years ago, and for those who have joined since, grateful for our commitment to balancing our own minds, and trying to bring balance into the world with our daily practices of stability, kindness, and insight. Our teacher brings great skills to leading us in contemplation day after day, and has a remarkable capacity to respond to the needs of the group in the moment. Some mornings we do checkins, some mornings we jump straight into meditation. Some days checkins can be lengthy, and some mornings we do the ‘two-word checkin’, which is what she asked for yesterday, in light of events in DC.

Those two words yesterday morning from a dozen people included longing for safety, numb, hopeful, upset, startled, grateful, disappointed, anger, disbelief, and proud. The last word was spoken by the only Trump supporter in the group. I spent the whole meditation trying to figure out a positive interpretation of that word, and I couldn’t do it. I was gobsmacked by the idea that anyone could be proud of what transpired at the Capitol yesterday. I spent the rest of the day turning it over and over in my mind and heart, discussing it with a few friends: maybe she was proud of the Capitol police for not escalating the violence? maybe she was proud of… what? else? could she possibly have meant?

I exercised mindfulness skills in directing my attention elsewhere, but I still couldn’t shake the icky feeling that someone I know was proud of the white nationalist terrorists who attacked, looted, and contaminated the Capitol in an effort to subvert constitutional order.

I walked the dogs to the top of the driveway, where our neighbor has hung a Trump flag, and on the way back it struck me, Maybe he is also proud of the white nationalist assault on our nation’s capital… This sinking feeling was amplified this morning when I read that 45% of republicans approve of this terrorist act; but yesterday, I continued to try to redirect my attention, looking for gratitude, making Pad Thai for lunch, digging under snow to find a few feeble tips of green onion, which tasted extra sweet.

… and baking focaccia crackers for the first time. I’m grateful for the magic of YEAST! I’m grateful for fresh rosemary growing in a pot in the sunroom. I’m grateful there are recipes for anything and everything online.

As more clarity comes from the professionals who are unpacking what actually happened at the Capitol Wednesday, I’m grateful for the alert congressional staffers who whisked the certified electoral college votes to safety, precluding even more chaos if they had been burned or stolen by the Republican terrorists. I am now not so grateful to the Capitol police, some or many of whom appear to have abetted the attackers; though I’m still grateful that there were undoubtedly some or many who tried to do their job well in a terrible situation. I’m grateful to R. Hubbell for calling out the truth with this cogent assessment:

The relevant differences are that those who attacked the Capitol are
         White.         Republicans.         Future voters for Cruz, Hawley, Cotton, Rubio, et al.
         … The media are normalizing terrorism by refusing to call it by name.

He goes on to call out the Department of Justice, the ‘Problem Solvers’ Caucus, congressional Republicans, and others, for the same thing, normalizing white supremacist terrorism by refusing to call it by name, when ‘terrorist’ is routinely applied to people of color in more benign protests.

Yesterday, our meditation teacher responded to our two-word checkins with a meditation called “Seeing Truth Clearly.” Cynthia Wilcox rose to the occasion in a way that I can only aspire to at this point in my mindfulness studies. I’m inexpressibly grateful to have reconnected with this high school classmate, ten years ago around our common interest in Buddhism, through the (qualified) magic of Facebook. Grateful for her wisdom and generosity of spirit, for how she can hold the same confusion I have with far more compassionate presence, which incidentally was the meditation she brought to us today. I invite you to set aside about 25 minutes sometime, settle comfortably into a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, and follow one of these meditations. Maybe both. Make some time for mental health the same way you do for physical health, and cultivate balance, clarity, understanding, and compassion for yourself and all beings.

Seeing Truth Clearly
Compassionate Presence

Bed

There have been times there’s barely room for me in my bed, but no more.

I’m grateful for my bed, where I’m heading soon. I’m grateful that I have a bed, under a roof, of a house, that I own. So many have none of those things. Grateful that no matter how happy or sad the day, it’s so comfortable that I almost always fall asleep quickly, and sleep through the night. I’m grateful that I get plenty of sleep these days, that I’m not in too much pain or emotional distress to sleep, that I don’t go to bed hungry.

Topaz is the only one left who comes upstairs to bed. Stellar can’t do stairs anymore. I miss him, but grateful there’s more room for me. And grateful that little Topaz picked up the slack when her brother died, and now comes running to cuddle every night when I climb under the covers.
For five years, until last fall, I could count on the little black cat to come hug my arm every bedtime.
I’m grateful for the terrific view from my bed…
… which I usually only see at sunrise…
I’m grateful for every sunrise, each day a precious gift that comes but once.

Georgia

Georgia’s first African American US Senator, elected yesterday. Today, a Confederate flag was hung in front of the US Capitol by an insurrectionist mob of racist minions. Photo from the internet.

I woke this morning to news of Rev. Raphael Warnock’s win in Georgia, and thought Georgia! I’m grateful for Georgia! News later in the day cemented that feeling when Jon Ossoff was declared a new US Senator as well. This good news for our compassionate new president, and my intention to write more about how these remarkable wins came about in George, were quickly eclipsed by news of insurgents storming the US Capitol building. Hours later, the current president has yet to call on his minions to stand down. The desks and belongings of hundreds of our duly elected leaders have been violated by an unruly mob, while our Congress huddles in a single room during a pandemic. Disgraceful.

I’m grateful for the National Guard and the Capitol Police, for a Free Press, and for courageous American patriots everywhere who are calling out this siege of the Capitol for what it is: the direct result of an unhinged, maniacal, malignant narcissist in the White House, and his deluded, seditious coterie. Any death, injury, or financial loss that comes out of this chaos today weighs unequivocally on the current president’s karma. I’d say ‘conscience’ but he doesn’t have one. As a proud American patriot of immigrant ancestors, who have served in the US military in an unbroken line of generations since there wasn’t a United States (i.e., I am a Daughter of the American Revolution), I have a lot more to say about patriotism, what it really is and what it really isn’t, but now’s not the time.

Grateful for this laundry line, bright sun, dry air, and this incredible view, far from the madding crowd.

I’m also grateful today for the two young redtail hawks who circled low overhead as I hung out laundry, for the US-made Staber washing machine that has served me for fifteen years letting me do my wash at home instead of having to go out to a laundromat, and for the Breezecatcher revolving laundry line made in Dublin that I’ve been using long enough to need to restring it with a new cable, shipped from Dublin. I’m grateful that I have the discernment to turn off the television after hearing enough, and turn my attention to the great outdoors.

Carrots

A midsummer carrot harvest, several varieties, with some early beets

Today I’m grateful for carrots. Shortly before the ground froze, I pulled a surprising number of big purple carrots from a bed where I’d scattered a bunch of random seeds in the spring. I took out a few from the fridge today (grateful for the Sunfrost refrigerator) to make a carrot-ricotta tart. Here it is January, and I’m still eating carrots I harvested months ago, surprise carrots at that!

Late purple carrots and a spiced ricotta mixture…
…some fried onions, and a sheet of puff pastry…
…half an hour in the oven, and a sprinkling of chives and parsley from indoor pots, a dash of salt: grateful for carrot-ricotta tarts to snack on for the next few days!

Grateful that carrots seem to grow well in my garden most years, that they are quick and resilient, come in various shapes, sizes, and subtle flavors, that they last for months in the fridge and brighten a cloudy winter day with stored summer sunlight. Grateful that I had time and energy to tend the garden all summer, grateful for water, for the fence that keeps the deer out and the friends who helped build it, for raised beds, good dirt, and homemade compost to nourish the soil.

Carrots sprouting among lettuce, beets, and cabbage transplants in a raised bed. Milk jug cloches protect a melon start and young peppers from night chill.
Grateful for the color orange, and for comical twisted roots.
And I’m grateful for a miniature computer-camera-phone I can hold in one hand to capture a prize carrot in the other, so I can remember summer fun in technicolor months later.

a Woodstove

“…she sits in solitude for awhile in the deep murmuring quiet of her house, fire humming steadily in the woodstove, the whispered crash inside as a burning log breaks to cinders, coals fall to the grate, the occasional deep breath of the dog on the rug before it, the rainy click and whirr of the fan on top; the woodstove alone creates its own little ecology of sound.” 

For more than half my life, I’ve been grateful for a woodstove as my primary source of heat. It’s kind of like meat: As an ethicarian, I eat meat if I know who killed it. I burn wood if I know who cut it. There are complexities and complications around anything that I’m going to be grateful for, and wood heat is just one of many. But I’m grateful for the woodstoves in my life, the three I’ve owned and the several many more I’ve tended at other people’s homes. Each woodstove, practically each fire, teaches me something new.

This little stove has four air controls: the front doors, an underneath damper, a back damper, and the ashpan door. I think that means there are 16 or 64 variations on how and where I can let in air. Something like that: a lot of options to control airflow.

I’ve learned that the more options for oxygen intake a stove has, the more control I have of the fire. I’ve learned that a top-loading option is a good thing for an older person, and I’ll be sure to get one if I ever buy another woodstove. I’ve learned how to start a fast fire first time-every time with the proper configuration of paper, kindling, and logs: there are more than one way, and I know how to tell with accuracy what will start readily and what won’t; I’ve learned how to resurrect a smoking mess in someone else’s fireplace and, very rarely, in my own woodstove. I’ve made friends with fire.

At least, with domesticated fire. No one really makes friends with wildfire, I think, except maybe some extreme firefighters. I’m grateful for firefighters, men and women who understand how wildfire makes its own weather, and lean into that, season after season. Once I did something good for a slew of wildfire fighters, and that’s one moment in my life I knew I was doing the right thing. I like a small, contained fire, in a cast-iron woodstove, heating my home.

Popis and Raven share the stove early this year.

This little Dovre replaced a big Fisher, my second woodstove, first in this house. It was given to me, and you don’t look a free woodstove in the mouth. I’m grateful for the friends who outgrew it, and let me have it for nothing in my new home. It could eat gigantic logs, almost Manor-sized. Imagine one of those six-foot-across fireplaces with an equally gigantic mantlepiece. It wasn’t that big, but could easily take a few two-foot long logs. It kept me warm for several winters, with many fond memories. Then I bought a much smaller, more fuel-efficient woodstove, with a catalytic combustor.

That was complicated, because I didn’t pay enough attention when I bought it to know that it required hardwoods, not pitchy pines and junipers. I’ve made-do for almost twenty years, burning a combination of soft, hard, and pitchy woods, and getting almost-yearly chimney sweepings. And I’ll make-do for a few more years. It’s still a great woodstove, though it’s suffered some ravages of time. One thing I’ll never buy is a woodstove without glass in the doors. The Fisher had solid iron doors, but my first woodstove, in the tiny homesteader cabin in Jensen, had glass doors, and I fell completely in love.

Ojo and Topaz share the heat last winter. Oh my god, how I miss that black cat.

A glass-doored woodstove brings together the best of a fireplace with the best of a stove: you can see the warmth without sacrificing heat. I love my little, efficient, glass-front woodstove for its heating capacity and its cheering warm light. I’m so grateful for this stove, for the wood that fuels it, for the people who have cut and split and delivered the wood, for the saws, axes, mauls and mallets that enable me to feed its fires, for the dead and down trees that lived and died to unintentionally provide me with fuel, for the kindling cracker that makes it safer and easier for me to cut wood down to starter-size, for the men who have taught me about chainsaws and the women who have inspired my confidence in using them. I’m grateful for the friends who sometimes ferry fuel from the woodshed to my front door, and for my ability to fetch it myself; for the wheelbarrows that have carried countless loads of firewood, and for the matches, endless matches struck against the iron or the sandpaper to light the paper, for the newsprint and tissue paper and bank statements that have ignited fires in these woodstoves for more than three decades.

That first woodstove. I’ll be eternally grateful for that tiny woodstove in that tiny log cabin, and for all that I learned about living while using it. Adaptability, for one thing. And how to pay attention. I’m grateful for Mrs. June Stewart, that pioneer Mormon grandma who rented me that little log cabin, and taught me how to use the little woodstove that came with it. I’m even grateful for my first real lover, who lived on the banks of the James River in Virginia, and was the first also to teach me the first thing about building a fire in a woodstove. I’m grateful forty years later that there is still deadwood, there is still a woodstove, still a life that needs its heat, still a house to heat, still a mind and body capable to feed a woodstove. I know this will not always be so.

The woodstove brings out the best in everyone. Topaz and Raven in a rare moment of sisterly compatibility. Little old Raven. All differences can be set aside. Who doesn’t love to relax and warm up in front of a cheery woodstove?

the Great British Baking Show

Paul Hollywood, anchor and chief judge of GBBO, with current co-judge Prue Leith, and two of the ephemeral hosts, Noel and Sandi. Plus, colors!

Seriously? Yes! I’m grateful for good TV shows, and GBBO is one of the best, at least for someone who loves creativity, food, and especially cake. I used to watch some of the popular dramas and crime dramas, and eschew reality competition shows. But as I began to question why I watched certain shows, in which tension, suspense, violence, and betrayal were the main plot drivers, I couldn’t find any good answer except ‘habit,’ and I let them go. It was healthy to get rid of DISH, and only stream a couple of services. On Netflix and Prime I can pick and preview, and make more informed and healthier choices for entertainment.

Why did I abbreviate it GBBO and not GBBS? I don’t know! Why is it called Great British Bake Off in Britain and GBB Show in the US? I can’t stop wondering! Whatever you call it, though, it’s a delightful and educational program. What’s not to love about a dozen amateurs in a big tent with silly hosts, discerning judges, and three baking challenges each episode, showing up in my living room at the push of a button? Not a show passes that I don’t want to learn to bake at least one of the delectables featured, and usually way more than one. Breadsticks, for example. Flatbreads. Puddings. Crispy biscuits. Showstopper gingerbread structures. Tartes tatins. Bakewell tarts. The Battenberg Cake.

A cake dressed up like a present with a surprise inside, on one of the Holiday episodes.

Like some other reality shows that I’m grateful for (Dancing with the Stars, and RuPaul’s Drag Race), the emphasis is on talent and personal growth, not on cutthroat competition and sneaky alliances. The judges are generally kind and encouraging, supporting contestants in their endeavors, and there’s lots of wry humor. It’s been on since 2010, though I’ve yet to figure out how to view the first two seasons, and there are extras like the Holiday Collection, which I’m making my way through now. I save these shows for when I’m doing physical therapy (for which I’m also grateful! Thanks, Kristian and Brian!) and they provide incentive to get down on the floor and exercise for half an hour or more a day.

Surprise! It’s a penguin, with two non-existent Antarctic Christmas trees, in case that wasn’t obvious.
Not the most skillful wrapping, Paul said, “like you painted the stars with your fingers,” but another surprise inside. The bow, by the way, got extra commendation for the “sugar work.”
Christmas baubles inside.
This present cake got high marks for appearance…
…but its inside was judged ‘stodgy, almost like a pudding,’ which is this weird thing the Brits love where a bunch of goo is cooked in a mold and deemed delicious.

I’ve learned a lot about baking from watching GBBO, including how to listen to the hiss of a cake to determine if it’s done, and what ‘stodgy’ means in the context of baking rather than personality 🙂 It inspires me to expand my baking efforts, and frees me to toss failures into ‘the bin,’ though I actually haven’t failed at any bake yet so catastrophically that I’ve had to throw it away. My last effort at an apricot cake, which was spectacular in the summer when I had fresh apricots, was a bit bland this week without them on the top, so I whipped up a chocolate glaze in about five minutes and doused the cake, which improved it significantly.

Last summer’s apricot cake…
…and this week’s effort. Thanks to GBBO, I know why the recipe called for 3 teaspoons of baking powder, which was perfect when there were fresh apricot pieces on top of the raw batter, but more than necessary without that added weight. Nevertheless, the cake was a better bake, though some might contend that the overall appearance is less enticing than the original after I doused it in chocolate glaze.

So I’m grateful for the Great British Baking Show, for its lessons, colors, humor, inspiration, diversity, and overall generous tone, in an entertainment world that otherwise overwhelmingly fuels anxiety, violence, prejudice, and distress. Yeah, I’ve gained some Covid pounds from watching it, but … oh well! Next challenge for me, piping icing!

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Top left on my ‘bulletin board’ wall of meaningful images, a postcard of the Dalai Lama I’ve carried with me since I got it in 1988. Also an image of the Buddha by Mary Hockenberry. (And yes, that’s a signed card from Jack Hanna, another longtime ‘hero’ I got to meet a few years ago.)

His Holiness fled his country the year that I was born. For as long as I can remember, I have been paying attention to his journey in exile in news reports, and later reading his teachings, and later still following them. Buddhism is less a religion than a philosophy that encourages one to examine for oneself to discern the truth of the teachings. I’m grateful for the Dalai Lama, for his teachings, even for the fact that his forced exile enabled him to bring the ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism out into the wide world at large. I’m grateful I got to sit in the audience one year when he spoke at the Boulder Theater.

Because the Dalai Lama had been a beneficent force in the back of my mind for most of my life, I leapt at the opportunity last spring to partake in an online retreat exploring The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I’m grateful for that opportunity and for Dawn who shared it with me. I’m grateful for the teacher of that retreat, John Bruna with the Way of Compassion Dharma Center in Carbondale, and for his wife Laura, whose curiosity prompted her to ask about the thickness of my house walls which she could see behind me on the Zoom screen. (Grateful for Zoom, and all the connection it has enabled during this year of social distance.)

I’m grateful that Laura’s spark of interest led me to become her student in the Mindful Life Program, and for all the goodness that has flowed from that choice into my life this year, as I pursue a Mindfulness Teacher Training course that will result in my ability to share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practice as a certified teacher. I’ll be bona fide!

I’m grateful that I’m spending the first weekend of this new and hopeful year in another online retreat with John and Laura, as we explore the possibility of “Bringing our Innate Goodness into the New Year.” I’m grateful to be learning to be a better friend to myself as I reflect on good things I’ve said and done in the past year, and learning to shush the harsh voice of my inner critic who harps that it’s never enough. It’s a helpful skill to cultivate, being your own best friend.

Friendship

… and more ice! Grateful for Carol who sent this picture of their ice candle New Year’s Eve celebration.

Going into this new year, I’m grateful for friends who have traveled this life with me, those I met just last year and those I’ve known since childhood, those who came into my life along the way and those who may arrive this new year. Thinking of friends this morning, I imagined writing a rhyming ABCs like Edward Gorey’s: A is for Amy who once saved my life, B is for Bethie a multiple wife, C is for Carol who lived in the parks, D is for David who fishes for sharks….

ABCs not for the faint of heart!

That silly imagining got me to reread “The Ghashlycrumb Tinies,” because it always makes me laugh, and besides that, it reminds us that death is certain, time of death uncertain. That recollection motivates me to wake up every day grateful, and determined to live this one precious day to its fullest.

All the little children in Gorey’s story meet a creatively untimely end. In my ABCs my friends wouldn’t die, they’d live each day in genuine happiness, and get plenty of sleep. Auntie told me once that when she couldn’t fall asleep she did what her grandmother taught her: instead of counting sheep, she would name her friends, starting with A, all the way to Z. I asked her about X. She said she was usually asleep by the time she got there. I’ve used this trick a few times to fall asleep. Sometimes I make it to the end and start the alphabet over with different names. I’m flexible: they don’t all have to be alive still, or human, or even actual friends as long as I’ve actually met them. I once shared a house for awhile with a grandpa named Q, so he’s always my go-to there. Once I met Marla’s granddaughter I had X covered.

S is for Stellar, the Very Best Boy. Oh, and more ICE!

Human or animal, girl or boy, F is for Friendship that brings me great joy.