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Things That Last

I’m grateful for things that last. My little Honda, for example. I’m grateful for numerous offers from neighbors to give me a lift to pick her up, and for the one whose timing worked out today; I’m grateful that Ray got her done quickly once he received the new starter required to get her running again. The cost was staggering, but much better than having to replace the engine or the entire vehicle. I’d been thinking about a new car, but I really like this little old Honda I’ve had for seventeen years this month. Ray was impressed with what great shape she’s in, and amazed that she’s only been in his shop one time many years ago. I’m impressed with how long she’s been running, and grateful for how long she is lasting.

I’m grateful for the sixty-plus-year-old potato masher that Auntie gave me. I’m grateful for ancestral lamps with ancient wires, and old tintype photographs of some of those ancestors. I’m grateful for the carbon steel paring knife my father gave me when I left home for college, which I use every day and remains my favorite knife. I’m grateful for many things that last. I just scooped some kitty litter from the bin into the box using an old square Tupperware that I’ve been using for this purpose longer than I can remember. I do recall that it was my mother’s container and she also used it for many years before she died, which was nineteen years ago this month. I must have packed something in it to bring home safely after her demise, and used it until I lost the lid. Because it had lasted so long, and was so sturdy, I turned it into a kitty litter scoop. Show me a plastic container made today that will function for thirty or forty years: Oh, I’m sure they’ll last, in landfills and oceans, but would they actually still function?

There aren’t that many things that last, anymore. Just when we needed to start conserving resources and energy and manufacturing things that last, companies got the bright idea of planned obsolescence. I was horrified when I learned of this strategy years ago, and I’m still angry about it. I’m grateful for this eloquent diatribe from pioneering rock-climber and outdoors-outfitter Yvon Chouinard, where he pleads for corporate responsibility to return to making things that last. He discusses planned obsolescence and introduces the latest insidious profit-grabbing, planet-destroying strategy, quality fade. This involves “slowly downgrading materials to save money and duping customers into buying something a little bit worse each time even if the label stays the same. As a result, products that could have been made to last a lifetime — or even generations — end up in landfills.”

It’s a great read, and short. I enjoyed learning about how Chouinard developed his quality-driven product ethic from his climbing gear origins, which brought to mind memories of dating a climber in the early 80s who revered Chouinard, and his gear. I’m grateful for some sweet memories that last from that time. And I’m grateful for Patagonia, the company that Chouinard founded, which turns fifty this year. Another thing that’s lasted. And just last year, Patagonia made Earth their only shareholder, a revolutionary corporate approach to conservation.

Knitting

I’m grateful that we got a little snow overnight. And so winter begins, and brings with it indoor pastimes.

For a few years I knitted a lot of dishcloths, simple squares of knit knit knit, that took little attention and resulted in lovely sustainable dishwashing utensils that I am still using. I knitted enough to increase my supply year by year, and to give as gifts to others who equally appreciated their unique satisfactoriness in the bewildering and often dissatisfying world of dishwashing products, largely throwaway plastics. I was grateful for that hobby which allowed my mind to rest while my hands were productive; until a series of wrist and thumb injuries stopped my knitting career.

I’m grateful that physical therapy and time and life healed my joints enough that I can knit again. I’d been thinking for a few weeks about getting back to the dishcloth habit, and was inspired to finally do so after a conversation with a dear friend led to her buying the dishcloth yarn and sharing her grandmother’s instructions. I didn’t read them because I had mine in my head, but I did sort my yarns and needles into order and started knitting tonight. I texted her the above picture to thank her for her inspiration, and we ended up on the phone trying to figure out where she’d gone wrong with grandmother’s pattern.

We got it squared away, literally, and she started over. I finished my basic square and decided to try the fancier pattern, which had sounded complicated but was actually simple once we understood it. So while she knitted away in Oregon, I knitted here, and later we exchanged photos of our success. I’m grateful for an old friend turning into a new knitting buddy!

I’m grateful for my other little buddy who fits right under the needles while I work. I’m grateful for my friend and her grandmother; and for the little old lady in the eye surgeon’s office years ago who showed me the simple dishcloth she was knitting and recommended Sugar and Cream yarn when I expressed an interest in emulating her. And my knitting buddy and I were both tickled pink when she first found her grandmother’s handwritten instruction page and it called for Sugar and Cream! I’m grateful to be part of a generations-long tradition of thousands of women using this sweet cotton yarn to knit dishcloths, and for all the multiple thousands of people through the years who have grown the cotton, processed the cotton into yarn, the yarn into skeins, and sent the yarn to the shelves. I’m grateful for knitting.

Old Friends and Existential Threats

I’m grateful for Old Friends and Existential Threats. They both give me a healthy perspective on this fragile human life. And when the two come together it doesn’t get any better. A dear couple of friends from out of town visited yesterday morning, to enjoy a short visit, coffee, and cinnamon rolls. They are Dog People, and quickly made friends with Wren, who was delighted with their calm and soothing attention.

We were discussing Biko, who is now 23, and he asked about the tortoise’s life expectancy. “80,” I said, “ish.” We laughed as he said “You’ve gotta find someone young, then.” Then she asked, “Not to be gauche, but what are you gonna do with this place?” I laughed. “It’s only gauche to ask if you think I might be leaving it to you,” I said. I shared my thoughts on the matter, and they understood without further explanation. They are also Climate Realists. Then they left, and I came inside and opened the virtual newspapers, and read about this Supervocano in Italy. I’ve been well aware of the Yellowstone Supervolcano, but I had not realized there are more scattered around the world.

“Supervolcano is ‘a made-up word,’ said volcanologist Michael Poland, scientist in charge at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. ‘I think it’s misleading. I think it’s misapplied. I can’t stand that term…”  Of course it’s a made-up word. All our words in any language are made-up words.

Supervocano refers to only about 20 of the 1000+ known volcanos on earth, one that has already erupted with astonishing force, ejecting “a volume of around 1,000-cubic kilometers or more — about a thousand times bigger than Mount St. Helens.” Supposedly, just because one erupted thirty thousand or a couple of million years ago doesn’t mean it will erupt again. But it might! And while it might not result in human extinction, if one does erupt in our time it would create massive destruction and havoc across the globe. So the mere idea of an Existential Threat reminds me of the fragility of all life on earth, and of course my own; while a visit from Old Friends recalls the stability of enduring connection among our fragile human selves.

And speaking of perspective, we were all three grateful to hear the primeval call of migrating sandhill cranes, a bird that’s been around at least two million years, and then we felt doubly blessed when this beautiful V flew right overhead. Bearing witness to this antediluvian species puts our own into a healthy perspective that adds even more gratitude to my little life.

Last night I was grateful to prepare another delicious recipe I’ve been wanting to make for awhile, and finally had all the ingredients: Chickpea-Mushroom veggie burger. You’re supposed to freeze the patties for at least two hours but by the time I finished mixing everything I was too hungry to wait, so I fried one right away. It was really delicious! And I still had eight to freeze for later meals.

Today I was grateful for a lot of other things, including a good vacuum cleaner, Method cleaning products, a warmish sunny day, and a visit from a newer friend, mentor and teacher. She also, it turns out, is a Dog Person, and Wren recognized that right away. That, or Wren is just starting to realize that most people are dog people at heart, and no one is out to hurt her while she lives with me.

Stork Bite

I’m grateful for all the right tools, for the raised beds, snow on the mountains, and the resilient red salvia that keeps on blooming for any stray hummingbirds or other pollinators in need.

When a friend cut my hair the other week, she noticed a ‘birthmark’ on the back of my neck. I couldn’t believe I could have had a birthmark for 64 years and never known about it, but I asked my primary care provider today when I went in for a Medicare intake that was mistakenly scheduled since I have to wait til I’m 65 for that particular appointment. But it was good to see her, to hear that the weird bump on my finger was a benign cyst that is pressing on the nailbed making it grow crooked, but nothing to worry about; and that the strange red splotches underneath my shorn hair are what’s known as a ‘stork bite.’ This extremely common type of birthmark, found on nearly 30% of newborns, apparently remains in around half those people into adulthood. What a relief! With all the skin cancers I’ve dealt with through the years, I’m grateful to have a simple stork bite.

A stork bite, photo from Bing Images

Stork bite! It’s a hilarious phrase and I can’t stop saying it. I’m glad I had something to laugh about, because when I went to the pharmacy after waiting an hour for a clinic appointment I didn’t really need, they once again said that Medicaid didn’t cover the new Covid vaccine. I got impatient with the tech, because after the same person told me the same thing last week I had called around, including my insurance provider, and been told it was covered; I’d called the store manager and she said there was a mistake and to come get it anytime. Well, I put my foot down this time and made them call the number on my card, but as the situation unfolded I felt like an ass for holding up the line behind me and being cranky to the helpless tech. Turns out it’s true, City Market won’t take Medicaid for the Covid shot; the store manager had double-checked flu shot coverage, not Covid.

As I waited, though, instead of fuming and getting more impatient, I called to mind that it wasn’t their fault, they work hard, I didn’t want to make anyone’s day worse, and I gradually surrendered to ‘this is how it is.’ The tech who had taken the brunt of my bad attitude had left the scene while the pharmacist was on the phone trying patiently to learn how they could give me the shot. When I heard her say, “So we need to get pre-authorization?” I called to her “If I can’t get it today I’ll just go to Safeway.” “Are you sure?” she said. “Yeah.” So she hung up and came over to apologize, and I apologized for getting cranky. But as I drove home I thought about the feelings of the other tech, who had taken a break. I put myself in her shoes: I’d have taken a break from me too. I felt awful for bringing discord into her day just because I was annoyed and inconvenienced.

Maybe she was already having a tough day. Maybe my attitude would make the rest of her shift more difficult, or maybe she’d go home and still feel bad about that interaction. The possible ripples and ramifications of my impatience plagued me, and I could really understand the truth of how we create our own suffering when our actions are out of alignment with our values. I value kindness and patience, and I had not been kind nor patient. Granted, I had not spiraled into a tizzy as I might have a few years ago before mindfulness practice, and I wasn’t stewing at her or the situation all the way home. So I’ve improved myself some. But not as much as I’d like to. Once I got home, I called the pharmacy and offered the tech a heartfelt apology, and she was grateful for it. So was I.

Mindfulness Practice

I’ve been pondering how to enjoy a BLT without the bacon, and am grateful that it finally occurred to me to order some vegetarian bacon bits and see if that could work. And more grateful that it did! Nothing equals bacon. But I haven’t been able to eat it for the past year; I simply lost my taste for eating pig. I’ve only eaten meat a couple of times this year, though I will continue to slowly cook up the few pieces that remain in my freezer, or eat meat if it’s served to me. It’s hard even to serve it to my cat and dog, though I will because I believe it’s the best option for them.

Meanwhile, I’ll explore substitutes like soy-based bacon bits and other options, as well as eat more legumes and pulses, and all the other vegetarian proteins available. I’m grateful I got some bacon bits in time to make some semi-BLTs with the last few garden tomatoes.

I’m grateful for mindfulness practice, and for the Mindful Life Program where I trained to be a mindfulness teacher. Their latest yearlong cohort graduates tomorrow, and I’ve participated in some sessions of their final online retreat this weekend. One of the sessions for teachers involved some outdoor mindfulness exercises, including a ‘mindful photography’ piece option: to take pictures representing the Four Keys of Living Mindfully. These are Attention, Values, Wisdom, and an Open Heart. For attention, I captured this lovely moth on a Maximilian sunflower, representing attention to detail, or to nature, or to beauty, your choice.

For Values, I shot my clothesline, representing my value of living lightly on the planet: off the grid, entirely solar powered, my home doesn’t have a dryer. I’ve been enjoying drying clothes on this Irish-made Breezecatcher clothesline for many years. Clothes, and in this case, kitchen linens, the dish towels I use in abundance to reduce paper towel use, and the dish cloths I knitted for several years until arthritis stilled my knitting needles for awhile. I hope to get back to knitting more this winter. What a relief to knit long-lasting cotton wash-squares that clean as well as any disposable sponge and last for years with frequent hot water washes.

The last two keys, Wisdom and an Open Heart, are represented in the Contemplation Tree in the yarden, where skulls, antlers, horns and various other found artifacts of wild life surrender slowly to Impermanence. The tree itself, a skeleton of an old juniper, honors Impermanence. As I may have mentioned once or twice before, comprehending the truth of Impermanence is fundamental to Wisdom. The barbed wire heart, which has been hanging there for nearly thirty years, was something I hadn’t noticed in a long time and a perfect surprise representation of Open Heart.

Little Wren greets the notch-eared doe who is nibbling a few tomato scraps I put out for her in a patio pot. I think Wren was more interested in the tomatoes than in the doe, but the two of them peaceably nose to nose is also a sweet example of Open Heart.

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Breakfast: the best way I know to eat strawberries. I’m only even eating breakfast so I can take some ibuprofen in the morning for the heel pain, going on three months now. I toughed it out for two months but was barely able to function. With winter coming, I need to be able to be on my feet more than off them and so, I’m grateful for making the best of a bad situation.

I’m grateful for wasp spray and diatomaceous earth, which also helped me make the best of a bad situation. Today we flipped over the kindling-cracking stump when I was pretty sure the wasps were all dead. No wonder it took so many attacks to end their assaults: The nest was massive. I stood by with spray ready as my garden helper turned the log over; even after all that I’d done, I saw one moving inside so sprayed it before he rolled it off the patio. Next time he’s here I’ll ask him to split up the rotten log, and then I’ll burn it outside. I’m so curious to see how the nest filled the cavity, and if it conformed inside the log as it did flat at the bottom.

Above, the carnage left below when he rolled the stump away. Lots of rotten wood, and a horrifying number of dead wasps. I feel so bad about causing so much death — and yet I could not live with them. The pill bugs are alive and well and scavenging, I suppose. I hope the diatomaceous earth doesn’t hurt them–and if it does, I guess that’s what you call collateral damage…. That was definitely a bad situation, and I will be more proactive next spring to keep the yellowjacket nests away from the house or anything else I need to go near; and this winter I’ll knock down all the old ones under the eaves.

Accomplishment

I’m grateful for finding what I needed to spackle the nail holes in the green wall… I got home from the hardware store with spackle and realized I didn’t have a putty knife. I pondered for a short while, confident that I had something somewhere that would work, and thought of my mother’s box of painting supplies upstairs in the craft-storage room. I was so happy to find her old encaustic knife, which I had a vague memory of having seen there.

I’m grateful today to have finally accomplished a project I started dreaming more than a year ago, after getting ‘wall envy’ from seeing the blue wall in my cousins’ house on family zooms. The tired, quiet green I’ve had on my one painted wall for almost twenty years was ready for a change and so was I. I bought the paint last fall but winter came before I could open it, and then one thing after another… Procrastination is one of my growth edges… This week, after some encouragement from a good friend, and feeling no pain in my shoulders for a month, and a narrow window of ideal weather for it, I took the plunge.

The 48-hour forecast was perfect: highs around 80, lows in the high 40s, and clear skies. I could keep doors and windows open all day and close half of them overnight, to keep fresh air flowing in the whole time. First I cleared off (i.e. boxed to tackle later) the stuff on the desk and dresser that stood next to the wall, and pulled the furniture away.

Then I photographed the artwork so I’d know where to put it back later, and left those nails and hooks in place. I pulled the C-hooks and plugged their holes with long brads, hoping that I could roll over them and then pull them out after the paint dried to replace the hooks. (I pulled a few small nails where there were studs and tried to plug those holes with smaller nails but that didn’t work: the roller pulled them out right away.)

I called the hardware store in our little town to ask if they had a mechanical paint shaker. “Yes,” she said, “but we’ve had to draw the line at shaking other people’s paint. If it’s not completely sealed shut it makes an awful mess.”

“I haven’t even opened this!” I exclaimed with hope, “but I certainly understand if you can’t do it.” She was happy to shake my unopened paint can and would not take compensation. I was grateful for her generosity. I remembered to buy a jar of spackle while I was there, and filled in the empty holes in the wall. Then I taped off the perimeter, thermostat, switch, and outlet.

Commitment! No turning back once I’d cut in the blue paint.

It’s been hard to adjust the photos to reflect accurate colors as the light kept shifting throughout the day. This morning I spread out the alleged ‘heavy-duty’ plastic dropcloth I’d purchased at the same time as the paint, brushes, and roller setup. While everything else was better than I could have hoped, the dropcloth was about as heavy-duty as I am! Amazon will hear about this deception. Then I started rolling on the paint.

After four hours dry-time, I repeated the cutting-in and rolled on the second coat. I could not be happier with the result!

I only let it dry a couple of hours after the second coat before pulling the tape and hanging the first two pieces back on the wall before the light faded. Yes, I missed a spot with the spackle, oh well. And as I watched the paint dry, I realized I wanted to swap out a few art pieces, so I pulled my mother’s pastel portrait of her Aunt Gretchen from the shadows where it has lived for years, and returned it to the same place it held even longer ago, when the green wall first replaced the original peach wall from the housebuilding in 1995. I look forward to playing with the rest of the wall art tomorrow!

Somewhere in there, I also accomplished another masterpiece cheese sandwich, with smoked gouda, shredded romaine, and garden tomato.

Though I knew some basics, including taping off edges and spackling, I was so grateful for the tips on rolling and some other aspects in this wonderful book from the Trans Handy Ma’am. I’m delighted to support her work empowering trans people, and making the world of home repairs more friendly and accessible to introverts like me. Her motto is “You’re worth the time it takes to learn a new skill!” Thanks, Trans Handy Ma’am, for helping motivate me toward a real sense of accomplishment.

Wren’s Fun Day

Miss Mary takes the early shift. I left Wren under the covers before sunrise, and Mary stopped by to let her out not long after it came up… [all photos by babysitters]

So much gratitude today! Grateful for Wren’s babysitters who checked in on her throughout the morning while I spent it traveling and undergoing a Mohs surgery. I’m grateful for neighbor-friends who happily supported me and my little family during an anxious time. I’m grateful to my dear chauffeur who drove me there and back even with her own concerns, and for the meaningful conversations both ways.

I’m grateful to the skilled surgeon who explained everything lucidly and managed to get all the basal cell carcinoma off me in one cut. Even after multiple Mohs procedures on my face and head over the past twenty-plus years, I learned a new piece about the process today. Dr. Weber explained how he marks the tissue so he can follow the cancer’s direction, and furthermore that he is the actual pathologist in the process. I knew he was trained to excise the cancer in layers, and to skillfully repair the wound, but I hadn’t realized that he is also the one who dissects the tissue to see where the cancer margins are. He told me, “If someone says they’re doing Mohs but they’re sending the tissue out to a lab and not examining it themselves, they are not doing Mohs!” I found this really reassuring.

Honey Badger takes second shift…

Around the time Honey Badger came by, I was waiting in the chair in the dark with a garish patch over my eye after the first incision, for Dr. Weber to determine if he needed to remove more. The wait was longer than I expected, two hours, but I was so relieved when he came in and said we were done, and he didn’t even have to stitch the wound. They cleaned and cauterized it, and left my eyelid largely unmarred. I’m grateful he has a sense of humor and we could joke about him including an optional blepharoplasty to lift my droopy lid.

…and even though he can’t persuade Wren to get in his lap, Fred manages the near impossible: to pick up Topaz!

By the third neighborly visit, I was almost out of the office with a few less eyelashes and a simple bandaid. I admit I had a hard time going to sleep last night. I’d done all the right things: meditating, breathing, accepting, allowing, surrendering, and still my heart pounded and my mind wrestled with worst-case scenarios. Then I remembered a suggestion I heard recently to think on the best-case scenario instead of catastrophizing. This skill of being able to choose one thought over another comes with meditation and mindfulness practice, cultivating one’s capacity to choose where to place attention and to hold it there.

And so I finally fell asleep after choosing to visualize all the aspects of a best-case scenario: just one small cut, quick in and out, easy repair, Wren safe and cared for, pleasant companionship on the road, and home in time for lunch. I’m grateful for the wisdom that allowed me to rest in that possibility, and for the success and validation of that thought-choice. I’m grateful, too, for the many well-wishes that came to me via texts, emails, and messages from friends around the neighborhood and across the country. I’m grateful for everything about Wren’s fun day.

Tofu

Where’s Wren? She’s in the middle of the kitchen floor, where she has dragged both her beds that belong on the periphery so that I don’t step on her as I move around the kitchen. She knows she has to stay on the bed, so she just puts it where she wants it.

In my recent mostly-vegetarianism, I’m grateful for tofu, and specifically for the trick I recently learned of tossing it in cornstarch before frying it to make it extra crispy. This delicious recipe from Bon Appetit for Sesame Tofu with Broccoli made a simple dinner tonight, with leftovers for tomorrow. It was super tasty and filling, and I almost didn’t need a slice of peach pound cake for dessert, but I had one anyway, because why not. I had forgotten to get a scallion from the garden so went without that, and was so eager to eat it that I didn’t notice the toasted sesame seed part of the recipe, and still it was really yummy.

The sauce which included sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and more simmered just long enough to thicken before adding the sautéed broccoli and tofu back in and tossing to coat. So simple, so delicious!

Want What You Have

I checked another peach for ripeness yesterday and woke this morning knowing that harvest time was imminent. I had not noticed any bird or rodent predation yet, but yesterday’s peach was just soft enough to start picking. When I stepped inside the tree’s embrace I saw right away that I was already late. Several peaches had been mauled already. So I started picking.

As I walked around the tree I saw there were many more peaches from some angles than I’d realized from the side I’d been watching. I figured I’d better test one before I got too carried away, so I enjoyed a juicy peach right there: just a little tart on one side but generally soft and sweet, it would have been perfect in another day or two. I’m grateful peaches continue to ripen off the tree, and that’s one reason I wanted to get them in, so I’d have some time to process them in batches of sequential ripening.

Wren was eager for a taste but she spit it out. Wren does not like peaches!

I’ll just pick one basket, I thought. But the more I picked the more I discovered were ripe, and soon I had picked both baskets full. Even with the largest harvest ever, there are more remaining on the tree now than its had total in most years of its life. I’m grateful that I learned how much difference a really wet spring can make in the home stone fruit harvest. Tomorrow I’ll start sorting out what to do with them all. Next spring I’ll start watering heavily as soon as the snow melts.

I’m grateful today for Wilson cleaning the stove and chimney in plenty of time before I’ll want to burn the first fire. There’s a significant ease that comes with having the woodshed almost full and the chimney swept by Labor Day. I’m grateful for the peace of mind derived from winter preparation well underway.

I’m grateful for a simple, delicious cheese sandwich on the new flat bread which still has a great texture and taste: mayo, mustard, shredded lettuce, B&B pickle, red onion, extra sharp cheddar, and leftover tenderloin from Thursday’s dinner out. I’ve been doing real well as a vegetarian this past year, but when someone serves me a perfect steak from a local, grass-fed steer, I’m not gonna turn it down. So I’ve eaten meat twice this month, but none for the previous twelve or more, with no plans for the future except to do the best I can in any situation.

I was thrilled to discover a tiny butternut squash finally growing on one of two vines I planted from accidental sprouts in a pot where I tossed seeds from a local, organic squash I bought last winter. I thought the deer or someone would eat the seeds. Imagine my surprise when melted snow revealed them and they all sprouted!

Brief mid-afternoon thunder sent Wren upstairs to bed, and I joined her there for a nap to comfort her. I woke to this vision, and arose to spend some time in the yarden, feed hummingbirds, chat with Auntie’s daughter, and enjoy fromage forte with a glass of red wine and some TV time. I’m grateful that everything changes, all the time; that sad or self-deprecating moods leave as readily as they arise, that awareness and gratitude nourish contentment, and give such richness to the phrase “Want what you have.” Grasping for more rarely leads to genuine fulfillment.