I completely accidentally discovered something new on my iPhone Photos app. Lots of other people knew this, I’m sure, but I stumbled upon the ability to isolate a subject from the background. It took about fifteen minutes to pin it down after I accidentally pushed on an image and saw Wren get outlined in light… I’m grateful for these serendipitous discoveries!
It’s such a privilege to be alive at the end of a day to watch the sunset, and I’m grateful for the gorgeous displays of alpenglow we’ve gotten to witness recently. I took a quick break between a zoom webinar and zoom cooking to step out on the deck and enjoy the last of it. Except for the company, it was the best part of the evening.
I’m not having a very good run of recipe selections, so I made Amy choose for next time. This week I selected Shingled Sweet Potatoes with Harissa. Amy said compared to the carrot noodles it was a 10 out of 10. My experience of it was more like a 4. I’m grateful to try a new recipe, anyway.
I loved the idea because the dish looked beautiful the way Molly Baz prepared it. I cut the recipe in half, and Amy made a third of it: hers looked beautiful too, but mine just looked interesting. Also I didn’t have pistachios so I used pecans.
I still haven’t learned the trick to cooking at altitude, after thirty years! Even though they were thinly sliced and baked at 400℉ for an hour, my sweet potatoes still had a stiff crunch. I hate hard sweet potatoes! I do! Also, they were a bit spicier than I could eat much of, so I microwaved my dish for a total of five more minutes and top dressed with some Greek yogurt. Those measures helped, but once you undercook a sweet potato it’s hard to get it right. The leftovers may end up as dog food, Wren loves spicy food, maybe from her New Mexico roots.
Amy’s looks like it ought to look. She used pistachios, and apparently black sesame seeds, and cooked in a little copper pot. She also didn’t baste every quarter hour as instructed, and said that’s why she got a crispy top. I think my problem was more the oven temperature at this altitude. IF I were to make this dish again, and I might for a dinner party, IF I ever host or go to a dinner party again, I’d bake it at 425℉. Even regular potatoes don’t bake like they do at sea level–I don’t know how much of it is altitude, and how much aridity. Everything’s a little quirky up here. At least I used homegrown fennel seeds, and they were the best part of the dish for me. Live and learn! I’m always grateful for Zoom Cooking with Amy, whether the food succeeds or fails it’s always a win for us.
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.
I’m grateful for the simplest things. And even the simplest things rely upon countless unknown others to bring them into existence. Two slices of fried sourdough: the canola oil, the seeds, the harvesting and extracting machines and their fuel and the people who grew, harvested, extracted oil from the seeds and oil for the machines; the pan, the manufacturers and those who made those machines that smelted the metal and shaped it, those who invented the diamond-ceramic non-toxic nonstick surface, the cardboard it was shipped in and all the people involved in every step in between; the wheat and all the people it took to grow it, the mill, the bag, the paper, transportation all along the way to the store, the sourdough starter started years ago, and the teachers who taught me to bake. The spare time to fry two pieces of bread, the stove, the propane, and all those involved in those things getting into my house, the driver who pumps propane into the tank outside every now and then and the office people who let him know when to come, the truck and the hose, the county road crew, the federal bills that fund the roads… All that is before we start on the avocado… And then there’s Havarti, just imagine all the people it took to get a ripe avocado and a chunk of Havarti to my kitchen. There’s the plate and everyone involved in creating the plate… the Himalayan pink rock salt and everyone it took to get that here, and the tri-color peppercorns… sigh. Yes, I’m grateful for the simplest things, and grateful for the perspective.
Thinking about time, today, in the context of “the rest of your life.” No matter how long that is, such a short time! How long did it take for this little canyon to take its present shape? Many many human lifetimes. How long has this Ancient One been growing on the canyon rim? Seventeen human generations at least, especially since in the first dozen or more of those generations human life expectancy was more or less forty years (mostly less). I’m grateful for this perspective, which helps me to appreciate the precious insignificance of my own uncertain lifetime. I’ve already lived longer than most humans for most of human history. I’ll be grateful for all the ups and downs, the gives and takes, that landed me here, in this old arid land, for the rest of my life. I’m grateful to be able to share this place with good companions along the way.
It’s hard to explain a non-conceptual experience of being in conceptual terms. I’ve heard this from various sources for several years, and I realize I’ve been hearing it all my life in some form, but not quite comprehending it until the past few months.
I mentioned to a friend the other night that my practice recently has been ‘observing my thoughts.’ She asked for clarification, and I found it difficult to explain. Today, I continued my practice of the skill of relaxation, and observed the experience of simply being, unentwined with thought or expectation for most of the day. Time both slowed and quickened. I’m grateful for a flexible perspective.
It’s sheer happenstance that this existence seems to me the way it does. From what I understand, there’s a better chance that there is an infinite number of me’s living different lives in parallel universes than that there is just this one me in this singular life. It’s a comfort to settle into this possibility: anything I can think of to desire or to do I can rest assured is happening somewhere else at the same time as I’m lying reading on the patio chaise, strafed by hummingbirds, still, quiet, present, quite aware of this moment, here.
Tonight I’m grateful for science. I’m grateful for science all the time. Can you imagine the quality of our lives without science? You wouldn’t be reading this blog, for one thing. You wouldn’t be pulling a cold beer out of the fridge or a pint of Häagen-Dazs from the freezer without science. Without science, we’d all have died of Covid by now, OR the pandemic wouldn’t have even happened because there wouldn’t have been air travel from China. Wait, I’ve just given myself an argument against science. But aside from all the down sides of science and technology, we do live a pretty good life because of science, and I didn’t die of scarlet fever in third grade because of science. So, I’m grateful for science. And I’m especially grateful for science when I look to the night sky and grasp an inkling of perspective that is brought home with a big bang as I marvel at the stunning first images from the James Webb Telescope. I am always grateful to be reminded that in the grand scheme of things I’m nothing, in a good way.
Another evening walk to the west fence, on top of a full and restful day. I’m grateful for this sunset, and hope to savor many more with my little friend. What a dazzling array of clouds and colors. I’m grateful for the support expressed by several readers in response to my post yesterday, one of whom shared a lead to this column about BA.5, the latest Covid variant sweeping the nation. Feeling less alone in my cautious solitude today, thank you! I’m grateful for other ways to connect than in person, and grateful for the vast, magnificent sky and its reassuring perspective.
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.