Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Fragrance of Love

My sister sent me a get-well bouquet on Thursday, the day of my surgery. I was a bit woozy, walking around the house like bumper cars when the doorbell rang at 6:00. My sweetie had left to go to a meeting, so i went to the door to be greeted by a gorgeous bouquet of star-gazer lilies.

My sister knows my colors. This bouquet matches the trim on my house. Just looking at all these flowers brings me a lot of happiness.

The scent of happiness greets me every time i walk in the door. Ahh! The fragrance of those lilies :)

My sister is 3,000 miles away, but the fragrance of her love is right here with me.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Blue the Bluebird

My friend Kathryn was sitting in her car in her driveway when she saw a bird fall out of a tree and into a snowdrift. It flapped its wings, but was unable to extricate itself. Kathryn waded through the thigh-high snow to reach it. A bluebird!

She carried Blue into her house to warm it up. Then she called the local vet who specializes in birds. She took Blue over to the vet about 1:00. The vet put Blue into an incubator and fed him some worm meal. Kathryn called back at 4:45 to find out how the bird was doing; she was kept on hold for a while. Finally the vet came on the line and said that Blue had perished while Kathryn was on hold.

Everything we cherish will perish. Even those things we love for just one afternoon. Like a bluebird.

Blue in the veterinarian assistant's hand.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


When i say i have zero fear about this breast cancer / lumpectomy today, some friends think i'm in denial. Other friends say, "You're so brave" or "You're so strong." Strong has nothing to do with it. I am not taking a stance nor standing against cancer nor standing up to it. I am surrendering.

I surrender to Life as it is unfolding.

Right this minute, not even the doctor knows, really, what he will find. He has made some educated guesses. I surrender to his expertise.

Not even the doctor knows what my follow-up treatment will be. "It all depends" on what he finds. If he doesn't know yet, i don't need to know.

For years i have ended my meditation with May i see and accept things as they really are.

Today i see that many things are unknown. May i accept not knowing what cannot yet be known.

No worries. No fear.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Zero Fear

Yesterday, the rabbi asked me, "What's your fear level?"

"Zero," i said.

I have breast cancer.

Notice your fear level. Right this moment.

I'm going for a lumpectomy tomorrow.

I've known about this for 10 days. (See my February 17 blogpost.) And my visits to my local doctor and hospital (4, so far, with another one today) have been stress-free. So easy.

Pain is inevitable; Suffering is optional.
Resist the present moment (the mental pain, the thought
of cancer), and distress arises.

The future cannot be known. Not really. The doctor doesn't know what the follow-up will be until after the lumpectomy. Wanting to know what can't be known is called anxiety and worry. I'm not going there.

Today is a sunny, blue-sky day.

This is what our meditation practice has been aiming at for all these years: Deep happiness regardless of outer conditions.

Meditate today as if your hair is on fire. Your life, your well-being depends on it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Scent of Generosity

My corn plant is blooming. I had just been looking at this 5-foot tall Dracaena fragrans and thinking "It's time to give that plant away." Then i really looked at it, and it is blooming with fragrant blossoms.

A friend, Deb, gave me this corn plant a few years ago because she had become quite allergic to everything in her environment. A friend of hers had given her the corn plant as a get-well gift, but Deb was allergic to the potting soil. So Deb gave it to me. Two summers ago, i divided the 3 stems and gave away 2.

Now my one stem has multiplied. I love the gardener's math of multiplying your plants by dividing them. We give things away, and then we have more. It's so counter-intuitive. More plants and more joy.

And the corn plant is giving me more fragrance. The scent of generosity.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Localvore Bouquet #2

My localvore bouquet of coleus cuttings (from my February 1 blogpost) rooted, so i planted them in a pot. Now i have another localvore bouquet sitting on my kitchen table. I love the blood-red leaves of Iresina next to the Party Time pink-and-green of Alternanthera. This combination is looking lovely next to the last pink hyacinth.

This little bouquet of cuttings from my houseplants is another example of "contented and easily satisfied"--a line from the loving-kindness chant.

I can be so contented with this simple bouquet. Contentment is a state of wishlessness--not wishing for anything different than what is. The comparing mind is laid to rest. I am not thinking of the beautiful flowers at the grocery store. I am not thinking of the flower bouquet on my neighbor's kitchen table. I am not thinking of visiting the florist.

Contentment is a quiet form of joy. Joy in this easy and beautiful bouquet.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Natural Humidifiers

My neighbors are running humidfiers in their homes during these zero-degree days when the air is so, so dry. I ditched my humidifier some years ago in favor of houseplants.

Think about it: i could spend 24-hours worth of electricity to run a humidifier, which would put half-a-gallon of water into the air every day.  (= 3-1/2 gallons per week) Or i could water my plants, which take 16 gallons of water every week. (Yes, i have a lot of houseplants.) Where is that 16 gallons of water going anyway? Into the air in my home via the transpiration of the plants.

We breathe. Our plants breathe. Let's meditate with our plants.

Watering my houseplants just smells like a better idea than a humidifier.
All without the electric hum of a hum-idifier.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Clean 15

If you want to save money and buy non-organic fruits and vegetables, then these are the ones that are safest:
  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes

Some of these make sense, because they have heavy rinds, like avocados, pineapples, and cantaloupe. For the rest, you'll have to delve into the research of the Environmental Working Group.

As a localvore wannabe, i've been saying No to produce from the tropics. The cabbage and onions at my food coop are local and organic, so that's what i buy.

Oh, those tropical fruits look so delicious.

A line from the chant on loving-kindness says
contented and easily satisfied,
...and frugal in their ways.

This is one way we can practice loving-kindness toward all beings--by being contented with what we have, feeling "contented and easily satisfied," even with second best. Like when we choose cabbage instead of lettuce leaves in a plastic container.

Being "frugal" in our ways is absolutely counter-cultural. We are not frugal in order to be stingy; we are frugal so that there is enough to go around. Enough for everyone.

We want to practice loving-kindness to all beings.

Friday, February 20, 2015

12 Fruits and Vegetables You Really Should Buy Organic

According to Andrew Weil, there are 12 fruits and vegetables you really should buy organic, due to the heavy pesticide loads these non-organic produce carry:
  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Snap peas (imported)
  • Potatoes
 No matter how much you wash these vegetables, you can't wash the pesticides out of them. And when you start thinking about potatoes--potato chips, french fries, hash browns--just how much pesticide do you want to eat?

Saying "No" to big beautiful California strawberries is not easy. Our sensual desire overwhelms us and whispers delicious rationalizations into our ears. We suddenly want to treat ourselves; we don't want to deprive ourselves of a big, beautiful, pesticide strawberry.

Sensual desire hinders our meditation and hinders our best intentions. But we want to see things as they really are. Look closely. And look again. Feel desire in your body.

You may be saving money by buying non-organic, but you are spending your health, your immune system, your very body.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Organic Composting Handbook

My friend Dede Cummings has published The Organic Composting Handbook, filled with colorful photos.

I wrote the foreword and 32 sidebars, which i think you will get a kick out of.

It seems a bit early in the season to be thinking of compost piles. Two of my 3 compost piles are buried under 3 feet of snow. The pile that's in use has a fresh blanket of snow every few days. Maybe i could call it lasagna composting? A layer of kitchen scraps, then a layer of snow, etc.

This is the great thing about winter: last year's mess, last week's garbage, yesterday's scrappiness is buried under a fresh layer of snow.

We think our own ill-will, our own unskillful actions, our own scrappiness is buried by time. Yet that habit is still there, composting away under our pretty veneer of nice-ness.

We want to develop the habit of goodness in our actions. Nice-ness may look good on the outside, pretty as a fresh layer of snow, but it doesn't touch our heart. Nice-ness has our self-interest at heart--I want people to like me. It's not that i necessarily like them.

Of course, we feel ill-will at times, but we can compost it with a dose of loving-kindness--toward ourselves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hyacinth Joy

Six hyacinths are blooming on my kitchen table. I'm having my own private spring flower show right here at home, and i can really feel the healing power of plants. I would call it joy.

Smiling has all sorts of health benefits. A smile of joy lowers stress and anxiety, releases endorphins, and strengthens your immune system.

With 4 feet of snow and temperatures in the single digits, i can use a stronger immune system.

Plus the hyacinths smell so sweet. My kitchen table feels like spring.

Statues of the Buddha always show him with a slight smile--the joy of meditation. Let's sit down and smile, just slightly, today.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Partly Cloudy

I made my second visit to the mammogram machine in two weeks. Dum-de-dum-dum.
Followed by an ultrasound. Dum-de-dum-dum.
Immediately followed by going into the radiologist's office. (Are they moles in disguise? It's so dark in there.)

A dozen big computer monitors show year-to-year comparisons of my mammos with a close-up on the most recent offending cloud. (The whole mammo picture looks like "partly cloudy" to me, but they pay attention to some clouds and not others).

The radiologist shows me the ultrasound close-up of the particular little cloud he's concerned about. It's a bump on the chest wall.Then the radiologist walks me downstairs to the oncology surgeon's office, and i make an appointment for a biopsy.

A few days later, the surgeon skewers my breast, and does this neat little dart-gun thing that extracts tiny bits of flesh.
I go back 6 days later. (Dum-de-dum-dum. Dum!)

This body is of the nature to become ill. It does its own thing. I seem to be just along for the ride, which has suddenly turned into an adventure and not under my control at all. (Was it ever?)

The hospital puts me on its conveyor belt of procedures: blood work, chest x-ray, EKG, MRI. I just keep walking forward, taking the next step. The next step into Life unfolding.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Minus Two with a Freight Train of Wind

Baby, it's c-o-l-d out there. Minus two with a freight train of wind bringing the wind chill down to minus 27. I can hear the wind howling around the corners of the house, trying to get in. I'm wearing my hat and scarf inside the house

The finches try to turn themselves into little round balls, as they stand on one foot and then the other, waiting their turn at the bird feeder. A gray squirrel is vacuuming as many sunflower seeds as he can into his mouth, and the little birds don't dare come too close.

 It's Winter Carnival week in town, with all sorts of winter activities planned, including the only official ski jumping contest in the country.

We can celebrate the cold or we can complain. Which one causes less stress?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chicadee Sweethearts

I was on a loving-kindness meditation retreat in February 20 years ago, when i realized that the chickadees were saying, "Sweetheart! Sweetheart!"

While i was doing walking meditation, they'd perch on a branch of a nearby apple tree and call out to me, "Sweetheart! Sweetheart!" They practice loving-kindness to me. I practice loving-kindness to them.

Now, i love February for the advent of the chickadee song: "Sweetheart! Sweetheart!"

They sing to me. I sing the loving-kindness song back to them--those black-capped darling sweethearts.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Kerelian Balsam

My sweetie and i took one of those clowning-for-orphans tour in Russia 12 years ago. When we arrived in the industrial city of Petrozavodsk (Peter's Factory), we visited the children's ward of a hospital. Bill turned on a faucet to fill up his squirt gun, and the water came out brown.

Afterwards, we walked through the streets in our clown costumes, receiving lots of nods and smiles. Someone told us of the local specialty Kerelian Balsam, so i bought a bottle. Kerelia is the area just east of the border with Finland. Balsam is a hard liquor composed of 28 herbs and roots.

I'm not sure what i was thinking. I had already given up drinking alcohol, but when in Russia.....

Bill pulled the unopened bottle of Kerelian Balsam out of the liquor cabinet the other evening when we were both having coughing fits, and he poured himself a healthy swig. At least, i hope it was healthy for him.

I'm happy to report our coughs have stopped. It must be all those herbs and roots. Good for what ails you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Prodigal Paperwhite

I started some paperwhites in November. When they still hadn't bloomed, after Christmas, and i was leaving home for 3 weeks, i gave them away. One i left here for the housesitter, and when we returned, one bulb was in bloom.

Apparently i have much more patience with plants than with people, because i couldn't bear to pitch out the other 3 bulbs in the container that seemed to be stuck at an inch tall. So i've been waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

One of those bulbs bloomed today! Three months after i started it. The slow-starter gives me joy, like a Prodigal Son. I had thought it never would show up.

Life unfolds on its own, according to its own pace. Life doesn't happen on my schedule, doesn't happen on my calendar. (Though i often like to believe that it does or that it will.)  Life has its own internal calendar. Life. Happens.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Snow and Ice

My sweetie and i have been vacationing in the land of old, old age for the past several days. He caught a cold from the doctor's office and came down with it 3 days later. Then 3 days later, i came down with it. Maybe it was a form of flu? I lost my appetite, and i still don't have it back. I feel a bit wobbly. I really see how fast the body can go downhill.

We each did a lot of sleeping. We are still taking at least 3 naps a day.

Meanwhile, the snow builds up on the decks, and a monstrous ice dam has formed on the north side of the roof. There's a glacier living up there, above our heads.

The 2 of us are project people; we usually enjoy taking care of the snow and the ice. Yet, this past week, we've done no house maintenance like we normally would. We just spent 5 minutes shoveling snow off the roof, and now we are both pooped.

I'm happy to be returning from my visit to old-old age. It's not a place i want to go again anytime soon.

The snow is still falling. The land of snow and ice awaits us all.

Snow and Ice

My sweetie and i have been vacationing in the land of old, old age for the past several days. He caught a cold from the doctor's office and came down with it 3 days later. Then 3 days later, i came down with it. Maybe it was a form of flu? I lost my appetite, and i still don't have it back. I feel a bit wobbly. I really see how fast the body can go downhill.

We each did a lot of sleeping. We are still taking at least 3 naps a day.

Meanwhile, the snow builds up on the decks, and a monstrous ice dam has formed on the north side of the roof. There's a glacier living up there.

The 2 of us are project people; we usually enjoy taking care of the snow and the ice. Yet, this past week, we've done no house maintenance like we normally would. We just spent 5 minutes shoveling snow off the roof, and now we are both pooped.

I'm happy to be returning from my visit to old-old age. It's not a place i want to go again anytime soon.

The snow is still falling. The land of snow and ice awaits us all.

A Blogger's Last Blog -- by John Fabian

From Tower to Wharf to Bed

O'Hagan'sAuckland’s Sky Tower is a cross between the Seattle Space Needle and a Russian rocket ship. It is 1,050 feet high. It is part of a large downtown development with hotels and casinos. Of course for New Zealanders this isn’t enough. You must also jump off the damned thing or walk outside high above, along a narrow walkway, tethered of course. It does provide great views seen only before by people in flying machines, from which Kiwis also jump.
Xmas Music @ MallFrom the tower to the wharf is a short walk. Boats of all sizes bob in the water. Folks eat lunch at the surrounding cafes. Corporate bank offices display large sculptures. The tower can be seen from most angles. It’s a good reference for the sidewalk traveler.
After viewing boats I went into a downtown department store, the Warehouse (think Walmart on steroids). Some boys were playing delightful Christmas music on a guitar and stand-up base while staring intently at sheet music. Santa strolled around with good wishes and candy. It was 80 degrees and no air circulation. I became sick.
The pain was so bad I thought I might die. At first that frightened me. Then as it became more intense I felt there would be no more suffering and that buoyed me. The ironic situation, in its dull haze, confused and delighted me. Here in abject agony, possibly on the verge of death, I was balancing the event with the Dharma, the Buddha’s teaching. Who said the end of suffering was going to be easy? Breathe.I made it back to the hostel where I drank fluids and rested. I had pain in my chest and a very tight abdomen. About 10:30 at night I had a massive bowel movement. That changed things. I started to feel normal, but just.I canceled my meditation retreat. I’m resting. Merry Christmas. Ho Ho Ho

John Fabian, the author of the blog Mile Post 2.0 and AoteaoraDispatches, died 2 days later.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Willow Branch

I grew up in the Midwestern cornfields, near a tiny town (population 200) named Willow Branch.

My sister found some decorative lights called willow branches, so she sent some to me and some to our brother. These are the lights i turn on when i go down to the living room to meditate at oh-dark-thirty (as my sister calls those middle-of-the-night awakenings.)

I come home to meditation, and, very briefly, am reminded of the home that i called home for 18 years.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Another Cold

My sweetie came down with a draggy cold on Monday. He believes he caught it in the doctor's office, 3 days earlier. Now, 3 days later, i am coughing and sniffling and.... Wanh! I don't want to have a cold. I just had a cold 1 month ago. I do not want another one!

And i practice the 2nd Daily Reflection:
 I am of the nature to become ill (whether i want to or not).  
My body is of the nature to get sick.
My favorite remedy is to dice up a garlic clove and swallow it with a glass of water. I'm chewing Vitamin C. I'm sucking on zinc lozenges. I'm drinking fluids--coconut water is my current favorite. I'm napping. I'm cancelling my appointments.

And i am coughing, coughing.

I feel grateful for a body whose immune system can fight off the invaders.

My eyes are narrow slits. My mind has no idea where this blog is going. And despite the outer circumstances (ugh!), an inner smile is walking me to bed. Right now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Organic Composting Handbook

The Organic Composting Handbook has arrived! Authored by Dede Cummings, I wrote the Introduction and 32 of the sidebars.

This handbook is a comprehensive guide to composting with some reality-sidebars thrown in to make you smile.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cuttings of Swedish Ivy

What to do when you're snow-bound for the second time in a week?

I spent some time in my solarium with my houseplants, taking cuttings and generally cleaning up. Some annuals develop woody stems and sort of peter out. In addition to taking coleus cuttings and cutting the mother coleus back down to the dirt, i took cuttings from my variegated Swedish ivy. This is a lovely annual, good for bringing background interest to a flowerpot on the front step.

Like regular Swedish ivy, the stems become woody after a couple of seasons. It's time to root cuttings and start new plants. The old woody stems practically fell out of the dirt. They were done.

My 94-year-old neighbor, Esther, an inveterate gardener, was found dead in her driveway. Doubtless, she was on her way to do some good deed or other when her Subaru clonked out. She got out of the car, and her heart gave out. The heart that had a new (cow's) valve replaced 10 years ago. The heart that connected to so many people all over the world. Uprooted from the earth of her living so easily. Lying on the earth that she was always part of.

Her good deeds, small as they were, rippling out over the world, rooting now in other people's lives.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Groundhog Day

I love Groundhog Day. I mean, I love the thought of Groundhog Day, which has very little to do with any real groundhog, or woodchuck, as they are called here in the North Country. I certainly don't love them when a groundhog gets into my vegetable garden. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Today, February 2, lies halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. In other words, the sun has returned!

Yes, it's snowing outdoors right now. Four inches since last night, but the snow is temporary. When the snow clouds pass, the sun will shine. And my passive solar house heats up to a-day-at-the-beach temperature. No matter how cold it is outdoors, indoors will be toasty. We let the wood stove go out, and the furnace won't come on. The day's heat lasts well into the evening when I finally start a new fire, an overnight fire, in the wood stove.

The earth spirits, who went to ground last All Hallows' Eve (Halloween aka Day of the Dead), those spirits are, metaphorically at least, popping their noses up to say "The sun is coming. The sun is coming."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Coleus Cuttings

I'm localvoring the flower bouquet on my kitchen table. I take cuttings from a coleus and put them in a jar of water. Oh, those velvety green, burgundy, and creamy white leaves are beautiful. I want to rub them, touch them.

This "bouquet" came from 20 feet away. It wasn't flown in from a foreign country. No fossil fuel was used to transport it.

Hopefully, the cuttings will root, so i'm multiplying my houseplants at the same time as i'm enjoying them. The mother coleus is looking rather old in last summer's flower pot that used to reside on the front step. I'm not sure whether i can revive Mother Coleus by cutting her back and back. I have my doubts. Meanwhile, i'm enjoying her offspring, smiling at me from the kitchen table.