Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happy Spring -- from Hendricks Park

I am SO ready for some warm sunshine! Guess that's why I keep scouring my photo files for signs of spring -- there certainly are not any outside my window!

These photos are actually from last year -- late spring sometime, not quite sure. But as I said in the last post, this place is always exquisite, always something in bloom, regardless of weather.

I seem to have a bit of cabin fever. Do you think? But -- as I sit here writing this Ms. Streisand is singing 'Happy Days' and yes, they are happy days, sunshine or no sunshine. Life is good.

Rhodies, rhodies and more rhodies.....

So -- if the view from your window is as dreary as mine today, I send this bit of cheer and happiness and yes, hope that spring really will burst forth one of these days soon!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On The Subject of Moving

Those of you who read this regularly -- thank you, thank you -- will have noticed that after weeks of anguish over the subject of leaving Oregon for Georgia, I've not mentioned it for awhile.

I'm a little less torn between Oregon and Georgia, so I suppose that's one reason I've been quiet on this subject. Another reason is that there are some rather mundane incidentals of life that need to be handled here in Oregon, before I can move.

Saving more money is at the top of that list, but I've begun an attempt to solve my long-standing insomnia issue at a local sleep center, plus after a routine session of teeth cleaning a couple of weeks ago I was left with searing pains in several teeth when they touch just about anything that isn't body temp. That's been a real downer, since I do enjoy food and beverages that are either warm or cold. I need to see both of these issues through before I can decide when to move -- plus, quit spending and start saving more!

There's also a much more personal reason that has the fullest capability of keeping me here in Oregon, but we won't go into that here. This option would require that I continue to work and continue to live in concrete, so you have to know it's a pretty damned important option. Not sure how likely it is to come to fruition, however, so Georgia is still part of my plans for the time being. Plan B, if you will. No matter what happens with this one, the above items will still need to be settled prior to any move.

So -- there's still a little angst and anguish, mostly because so many of my choices now rest in the hands of others -- the sleep doctor and that process, the dentist, the speed of growth in my bank account -- you get the picture. But, when I do have a decision and a time to move, you'll be the first to know, I promise!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Visit to Hendricks Park

Hendricks Park is one of the hidden jewels in the city of Eugene. High upon the south hills, up a twisty, narrow road to what is, for me, a refuge. Without a car, I've mostly walked to and from -- an hour each way from home -- and then spent a lovely hour or so in peace and introspection walking the many trails. Today, I drove.

Mostly, I walk the Rhododendron Garden, which is one of the oldest in the country and spectacular in just about any season. Not surprisingly, it's at its best in the spring when the masses of Rhodies are blooming. A few of the early varieties are out, including this red beauty, but the real display is a few weeks off. Still, it was beautiful. My camera battery died shortly after I arrived, so this is a mere taste.

This tiny bit of stone art is one of my favorite small treasures in the park. The exact shape and structure change with the whim of whomever is its creator, but it's always there. In fact, I love to sit in the bench which faces this hillside and just relax and feel.

A few water-bedraggled azaleas are in bloom, which appeals to the Georgia girl in me.

Paths through the park drift off into a myriad of little private places such as this one, each with its own bench. So utterly peaceful, hidden from the mainstream, wonderful places to think, or just be.

I think this is called Helleborus -- whatever it is, the park is filled with it right now, in small patches such as this one, and much larger swaths.

I don't know who puts these whimsical Christmas ornaments on this magnolia, but it's one of my favorite 'finds' in the place. Someone -- probably the same someone -- also perches tiny elves on branches here and there, just waiting to be found by the sharp-eyed wanderer.

Is there anything more beautiful and perfect than the natural colors and patterns of nature? This, to me, is exquisite. Sigh.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour -- so much more to be seen and enjoyed. I'll remember to start with a fresh camera battery next time, although I think this is more than enough photos for today.

An Afternoon Journey

Lurking near Corvallis is one of the peaceful jewels of the Willamette Valley, The William L. Finley Wildlife Refuge. Its primary purpose is as a wintering habitat for dusky Canadian Geese, and when I lived in Corvallis it was one of my haunts. So, when a friend suggested we drive over there yesterday, I jumped at the chance. It's been way too many years since my last visit.

Not much there, really, just many acres of fields for food and lots of water, some oak and fir savannas and forests, and a few buildings leftover from past inhabitants. As you can see, this was not perhaps the best day for photography, and we didn't see many geese or other critters, but the place is peaceful and beautiful and quiet and......lovely to wander through.

This magnificent old oak tree was simply too huge to capture in its entirety, but I tried. I really did.

All of the trails through the property are still closed, as they always are from November to April 1, when the geese are in residence, to protect their habitat. I don't know why, but I have never walked any of these trails. Surely I have been out there in months when they are open! It would be a lovely thing to do, perhaps some fine summer day when the sun is out and all is dry.

I don't know why this old shed appealed to me so much, but it did. I love the mossy roof, the faded red paint and -- let's face it -- the setting itself. There's a wonderful old red barn nearby and I took lots of photos of it, but none that seemed to capture what it said to me.

I think the one thing that stood out the most for me during this visit was my own reaction to being out in nature again. I was like the proverbial kid in the candy shop, so awed and impressed by the various sights around every turn in every direction. I knew I missed nature, needed to get out into nature, and that I'm tired of living surrounded by concrete, but still, I was surprised at the pure aching need that surfaced. Nature is so much a part of who I am, of where I find joy in life and where I find peace. This tells me I need to get out far more often and I will -- in fact, I think I am going to drive over to Hendricks Park, my favorite nature getaway here in Eugene. Yes, it's wet and dreary - but the rhodies should be blooming and the forest path calls.

The daffodils are blooming riotously all through the valley. These were at Finley, alongside the old home that's used as the park office. In fact, there is a daffodil festival going on this weekend.

After we'd wandered the refuge, my friend introduced me to the Alpine Tavern -- a really old place in the tiny town of Alpine that serves as a community meeting place, whether one drinks or not. We had some brew and hamburgers, which are, apparently, de rigeur and which were most definitely terrific. It's a hard place to describe, but let's just say it's filled with untold decades of character and plenty of local characters. I loved it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Happy Spring!

This photo was taken in the Napa Valley, but it actually is beginning to feel a bit like spring here in Eugene. Trees are budding, some of the flowering trees are blooming, a few rhodies here and there, and tons of daffodils everywhere. The weather isn't so spring-like, but soon. Very soon!


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Promise to Share

Another book I took to the coast to read last weekend, since I can only absorb so much serious Buddhist material in any given day, is a lovely new book by Molly Wizenberg called A Homemade Life. Molly is the author of a crazily popular blog called Orangette, also has a monthly column in Bon Appetit. This is her first book, a lovely collection of food-related stories with a recipe or two in each chapter. I highly recommend it.

One chapter made me feel a bit guilty -- she really has some strong feelings against hoarding secret recipes, and I have a recipe I've hoarded for years now despite many, many requests. So to all of you who asked and did not receive, here it is. I'm pretty sure that none of you will find it here, and I apologize for that, but I hope others will enjoy. I'm a hoarder no more.
I'm embarrassed to say that in making a batch of these cookies tonight so I could take photos, I ran into a bunch of problems with excessive spreading and browning. It can't be the recipe. That's tried and true for 20 years. I thought about it all evening and finally, in the middle of the night, I realized that in my insomnia and stress-driven fatigue, I'd simply added half the amount of flour called for in the recipe. Duh! I really need some sleep. The photo isn't exactly representative of what the finished product generally looks like -- they're more like lace cookies -- but they still taste wonderful. Truth be told, I actually like this version and may do it again someday, on purpose. Who needs all that flour, anyway -- these are lacy and yummy and get right down to what matters!

The heart of these luscious cookies is the oatmeal, coconut, chocolate chips and walnuts (or pecans). I've cut the sugars down to the barest minimum so they're sweet, but not too sweet. Lots of butter -- pure unsalted sweet butter is just plain good.

I don't advise trying to mix the oatmeal mixture into the creamed cookie batter -- instead, put the batter into the bowl with the oats and other goodies, and make good use of your hands to mix it thoroughly. It's the only way, and has more than a little bit of therapeutic value.
This cookie dough will not look or behave like the cookie dough you're used to using. There is so much good stuff mixed into the creamy basic dough that it doesn't stick together at all. You can make them any size you like, but unless I'm going for a big splash, I generally gather a bit of dough in my hands and squeeze it together gently to form a somewhat cohesive ball about the size of a walnut, then put it on the cookie sheet and press down slightly. Space them well apart, because they do spread -- although not as much as they did tonight.

It's a little hard to specify how long to cook these babies. It just all depends upon how big they are, whether you want them chewy or crisp, your oven and the whims of fate. My favorite point to take them out is when they are just lightly browned and still rather moist in the middle. But -- bake them longer until they're as brown as you want them -- this produces a delightful crispy cookie. Sometimes I've been able to take them out at about 12 minutes, lately it's been more like 18 minutes.  Let them cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before removing them to a cooling rack.

As you can see, this is a recipe born to be played with. Try it out, test sizes and cooking times, add more granulated sugar if you like sweeter cookies -- make it your own. One thing I can assure you is that however they come out of the oven (aside from being totally burnt), they will be delicious. I find them addictive, and I'm not the only one!

I've shared these cookies with a lot of people over the last 20 or so years, in different states in different parts of the country. On two separate occasions, in two separate states I had two friends who tasted them and said "Kitty, these are the best damn cookies I ever had in my life!", and the name stuck. Well, one of them was Mormon so he said 'darn', but he'd have said 'damn' if he could. I also had a fella out on the Appalachian Trail ask me to marry him upon tasting them, right in front of his un-amused wife. They're good.
Kitty's "Best Damn" Cookies

3 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 cups old-fashioned, whole rolled oats
1 generous cup chocolate chips or chunks
1 generous cup walnuts or pecans, broken slightly but left in large pieces
1 generous cup shredded, sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350.

Toss the oats, chocolate, nuts and coconut in a large bowl, set aside. Blend the dry ingredients in small bowl, set aside. Using electric mixer, cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, beat well. Add dry ingredients, beat well. Transfer batter from mixer bowl to large bowl of goodies, use hands and fingers to mix well.

Bake as suggested earlier. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Sylvia Beach Hotel Weekend

NOTE: what follows is in essence a diary – perhaps one that is far too personal for such a public space, yet here it is. Each entry was written in its present moment while emotions were high and memories strong. It is too long by far and I make no apologies for that. Each is also presented as-written in that moment. To go back and edit after the fact would be dishonest. Please – enjoy.

Friday March 13. Sylvia Beach Hotel, Newport, Oregon. This place is featured in the book “1000 Places to see Before You Die”. Mark it off my list. It’s 5:15 and I’m sitting in the 3rd Floor reading room in an ancient, patina-rich leather club chair, my feet on a matching ottoman and just inches beyond, a window overlooking the full richness of the Pacific Ocean surf rolling gently in – actually I think it’s out – while the sun begins to set off in the distance. This is one of my ideas of heaven. I’ve been in Newport for an hour.

Today was a gorgeous, sunny day on the coast and that beauty welcomed and enveloped as I drove north through what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful section of the Oregon coast. The last time I drove that stretch had to be 1999, so I am well overdue. The clouds are beginning to roll in now, the weekend should be a bit stormy but that’s ok. I had time for a short walk on the beach in the sunshine, and I am truly grateful for that.

That walk, short though it was, brought every simmering emotion from just below the surface where they’ve been hovering for weeks now and placed them front and center, demanding attention. I was overwhelmed, brought to tears as I walked in the soft breeze at water’s edge, frighteningly aware of how fragile I am right now, how near the breaking point. I need this place this weekend. I need the healing, the time to think as well as read.

There is so much love in my heart here in Oregon. Love for this coast. Love for a few people – a very few people. Driving the coast today I wondered how I can possibly leave. How can I go 3000 miles from here and never see this again? And yet – I can’t afford to live over here. My best friends in Albany, dear friends of 13 years, have disowned me over political differences. I can’t imagine losing friends over politics, but as he said in an email, “it’s a character flaw and it’s mine”. No apologies, but I’m no longer welcome in a home that used to call me family. It hurts. One other dear friend – so much love between us, yet so many fears that keep us apart. The Buddhist in me says stay, learn from this. The human in me says go, it hurts too much to continue this learning experience.

So yes, Oregon offers so much and yet with all the love in my heart that rests here, I know that there is also much that awaits in Georgia. Not the same, most certainly, but also much that I love, such as the Appalachian Trail and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. Even a few friends/relatives who are waiting to welcome me back into that warm southern sunshine and warm southern way of life. And right now, it’s people I want, more than place. I’m tired of being alone. I need people and friends and companionship. I have no people in Oregon.

So you see, I really do need this place this weekend, and I need it badly. I can feel the healing already. Dinner is served family-style in the ocean-front dining room at 7pm. I think it’s 8 courses. I chose some kind of prawns and scallops for my entree and I know it will be delicious. I’d planned to visit the Rogue Brewery Pub tonight for some fish and chips, but I’ve slept so little the past few nights, with so many emotions draining my energy, that I opted to reverse things and stay here tonight. Somehow, driving those few blocks seems beyond me and this place is superb. There is a group of ladies about my age from Portland sharing this room with me. Many bottles of wine, having a great time, apologetic for their noise that I try to convince them I am enjoying immensely. I spend so much time alone that their cheery, happy, laughing voices are a joy. If I were trying to read I might find it annoying, but since I’m only writing mindless drivel, it’s fun.

Saturday, March 14. 4:35pm. Settled once more in the reading room with a glass of wine, shoeless feet resting upon cushy ottoman, the ocean moving ceaselessly, beautifully, out the window to my right. I have, with the exception of the last hour and a half and breakfast, spent the entire day in this room, much of it in this chair. From 6am until 3pm – I’ll let you figure out the math on how many hours that was – I sat here and lived within Jack Kornfield’s new and wonderful book on Buddhist philosophy. And in the process I unwound, let go of so much that needed letting go.

With all that reading, I’ve only covered maybe 75 pages, which is a tiny fraction of the book. It is not a book to be read through quickly – although I suppose one could do that. For me, it is a book to be absorbed. He is a master teacher and, while I did get a glimpse of him during my time at Spirit Rock, this is no doubt as close as I will ever be to his teachings in any personal sense. He’s written other books and I’ve read them, but this one is something of a culmination of his years as a Buddhist monk and his years as a practicing psychologist in California and something I am totally ready and eager to learn. So I devoured and savored, read and re-read, contemplated and meditated and in the process, found pure consciousness and peace. A state I believe he said was the heart of the matter, what it is all about.

Ephemeral, yes – I suffer no illusions that this state will remain once I return to the realities of life in Eugene, but I have learned the process and know so much more and have much to build upon. He offered an exercise, which I followed: Full awareness of all sounds (and there were plenty – the wind buffeting the old building making it squeak and rattle, the surf rolling in, myriad soft sounds of human occupation), allowing my consciousness to move beyond my mind and expand into the fullness of the sky, watching thoughts arise and dissipate in the same way of the sounds, feeling the varying sensations of my body. All at the same time, all in perfect concert. Resting in consciousness. Indescribably peaceful and beautiful. And when I’d absorbed all I could for one day, I retired to my room and sat in peaceful, private meditation and did it all over again.

The storm – and it was a small one, as these things go – seems to be easing. I had another brief and bracing walk on the beach this morning before breakfast, but the wind was strong and cold and quickly drove old softie here back inside the warmth.

This place is indeed magical. On their webpage they say something to the effect that it’s not for everyone – it will either welcome you in, or spit you out. I feel welcomed. I’d love to come here again and again, but I’m grateful to have experienced it once.

Dinner was superb last night – some kind of pureed soup, carrot? then a Caesar salad, both served with baskets of incredible, freshly baked home-made bread. Fat asparagus with garlic and red peppers, steaming bowls of fragrant rice, and a perfectly cooked concoction of huge prawns and scallops in a rich cream sauce. I could barely contemplate dessert, yet couldn’t resist a few tastes. A luscious white cake drizzled heavily with melted dark chocolate and sliced almonds. Afterwards – it was 9pm by now, a two-hour dinner – I rolled myself up two flights of stairs and into the welcoming, high bed and slept for 8 solid hours. Some of that can be credited to Xanax, but mostly I think fatigue, an easing mind and a full belly might have had the same effect without the pharmaceutical industry.

Breakfast was mostly carbs but very wonderful – a wide variety of baked goodies, and pumpkin pancakes with a pecan butter and sausages. I’m so comfortable here, so lazy and peaceful, that I have no desire to get into the car and go anywhere. The desk clerk sent me to the Sandbar, a block away with a lovely ocean view and super fish and chips. I can get a brew pub in Eugene – no need to drive to the one here.

Again, so many emotions roiling through my head today as I studied the book. I made a couple of notes and one seed that was apparently planted a few weeks ago began to germinate and grow. I don’t know where it will lead, but I like the sounds of it and wanted to run to the computer and start searching the internet, but had to practice patience, as that can’t happen until I return home tomorrow. No wireless card in this computer and frankly, I am thoroughly enjoying the absence of such things as the internet, the TV and radio. I digress.

My original intent was to have my furniture picked up and then drive straight to Georgia diagonally across country so I could get there before the stuff does. In recent weeks, I’ve found myself wanting to make a few stops along the way – such as visit my friends in Napa (or Phoenix, depending upon where they are at the time). Once I let go of the idea of a forced march to Georgia, I began to think how lovely it would be to drive down the Oregon and California coasts, see the redwoods once more, en route to Napa. Yosemite pulls me, yet I wouldn’t have time for that.

Another thing I’ve been deeply drawn to do for a couple of years now is spend long weeks in meditation at some Buddhist center. There is one in West Virginia that I would have flown back to last summer, then I realized that the course I’d chosen overlapped the Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, where I’d committed to volunteer. Spirit Rock has always pulled me back and yet, where is the time for all these things?

And then, there is a certain desire to look around the southeast – most particularly the low country of South Carolina around Beaufort – as an alternative to Cedartown. But how to do all that with furniture that needs a home and needs it fast? The answer really wasn’t all that difficult, once my mind opened. I will look into having the moving company hold my things in storage in Eugene until I give them a time and place to ship. I’ve done this in the past, more than once, and the price is generally fairly reasonable. A phone call puts it all into action.

So, if that works, I’m essentially free. I will look for a long retreat at Spirit Rock and time my departure from Eugene around that. From there – Napa, no doubt, and from there, wherever the spirit moves me at the time but essentially southeast. I will also look at the schedule for the place in West Virginia and see if the timing is right for me to go there as well. And somewhere along the way, I’ll stop in Beaufort and bask in the reflected glory of my writing idol, Pat Conroy, who has made that small town so famous in his writings and who lives there yet today. Between him and my other writing idol, Anne Rivers Siddons, I have a no-doubt totally idealized sense of life in the plough mud and marshes and reeds and islands that generate so much magic for the two of them. I may not like it, and I may not be able to afford it, but I want the opportunity to find out before I settle anywhere.

In essence, I’m doing the same thing I did 13 years ago only in reverse, and when I put it that way, it seems insane. Driving in search of a home, but this time combining it with a search for greater Buddhist teachings and philosophies and – I can’t say searching for myself because in Buddhism, there is no ‘self’ – but searching for the ultimate answers, perhaps.

And who knows – I may find that home really is in Oregon, perhaps really in Eugene or perhaps here in Newport, as the fates allow.

Sunday, March 15, 7:30 am. The storm is raging again, buffeting the building and making it shudder and shake and rattle and squeak. I sit in my favorite leather chair watching as night turns to day – albeit a very gray, monotone day filled with some of nature’s harsher elements. Beautiful, nonetheless. The surf is constant and this morning plenty of it is white. Exquisite.

It’s a pensive morning – I feel so lost in thought, unsure of my future, unsettled in so much, and yet, fully secure in the things that perhaps matter most. I have no idea where the thoughts and ideas posited during this weekend will take me, but then, I’m not sure it really matters. All I need is inside me. If I’ve learned anything through all my travels and roaming, it is that I cannot escape inner turmoils by moving to a new place. Conversely, the beauty of this is that I have very few inner turmoils left and those that remain will travel with me, as will my knowledge that the only way to expunge them is from within, rather than from without. I take them gladly, secure in the knowing that I am not yet fully free in the Buddhist sense but that the ability to achieve freedom will be with me wherever I am. Whether it’s Eugene, or the Sylvia Beach Hotel, or a monastery deep in the West Virginia hills, everything I need I carry within, totally transportable, totally powerful, totally beautiful. Place does not matter. I have no people – at least, none who either want or need me in their lives to any large degree. No responsibilities.

All I need to do is toss a wireless card into this laptop, hop into my car, and follow where the road of life takes me whether it’s 10 miles or 3000 miles, and in the process remember to open my heart and mind, let go of the outcome, listen to intuition and insights, and rest in consciousness and awareness.

I’m torn with emotions about leaving this place today. It could be home for life, very easily, although that, of course, is not possible. It’s been an extraordinary interlude, worth every penny, fully the indulgent treat I intended it to be, and more. And yet, Eugene calls because it’s inevitable that I return to that reality. I’m almost ready to leave – but I will have breakfast first!

The view from my chair in the reading room. Not so hard to take!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Decisions and Indecisions

So torn today about how long to stay here in Oregon. I know, I know, you thought that issue was more or less settled. So did I. If I had managed to buy a house, the issue would indeed be settled, but that wasn't in the cards, I'm afraid.

And in reality, nothing has changed other than that I'm not in such a big hurry to go, psychologically, and the fact that I feel a need to rebuild my bank account before I stop working. It's the latter that's hanging me out to dry today. I mean -- I could stay here into infinity watching the numbers add up, but then, where does it end? How much is 'enough'?

If I'm going to wait past May, then I might as well wait until after Labor Day -- fewer people and kids on the road, and the shipping rates will go back down, thereby saving me a few bucks. I could, of course, ignore all that and just wait until I have whatever amount of moolah feels like 'enough' to me at the time, and then go, assuming there was an apartment available. Part of me would like to go tomorrow, but that really isn't possible. May 1 is still the earliest, financially, and let's face it, there are only a couple of more weeks before I'll have to decide that one, so I can give notice on the apartment, and my job. Not sure I'm ready for that -- but who knows, perhaps I will be by then.

But then, there's my mother's sister and her daughter who are planning to visit me in Georgia sometime in August. They were planning to make the trip before they knew I planned to move back down yonder, so it wouldn't inconvenience them, merely disappoint them. Still, it would be nice to see them -- haven't seen them since I was 14, and that was a really, really long time ago. They're the only living relatives I have, other than distant and unknown cousins scattered hither and yon.

But then again, summer is, after all, the best season in Oregon and in a way it would be a shame to miss it. Then again, I've looked forward to really warm weather and psychologically, I'd really like to get settled someplace. Anyplace.

In case you can't tell, I'm in limbo, and not liking it all that well.

Still -- there are some gorgeous places in Oregon that I haven't seen and a few places in this area (Mt. Rainier comes to mind) that I'd like to see once more, so maybe sticking around with a car and doing some of these things makes some kind of sense.

But then there's the apartment here in Eugene. I'm not far from campus and last year some really noisy, party-hearty students took over a large home nearby and I don't really want to deal with them for another summer. As long as my windows are closed, most of the din is blocked out. Not a problem this time of year (and yes, they've been out there lately even in cold weather), but once things start to warm up, I'll want the windows open. I'm a fresh-air kind of gal, not an A/C kind of gal. There's always a chance they'll decamp once the term is over, but I had the same thoughts last year around this time, and no such luck. If anything, it got even worse.

And of course, there is always the WORK factor to throw into the equation. Saving money means continuing to work full time at the same job -- some days that sounds OK, others, like today, are more frustrating and sound absolutely impossible.

No good reason to stay. No good reason to go. Alas. Welcome to the workings of my mind for today and be grateful you are not inside it!

What to do, what to do????? I know. Y'all don't have any answers, either. I just need to cogitate on it for a few days, see if I can't reach some kind of answer that works. Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yummmmmm -- or, How I Spent Part of My Sunday

I saw this recipe on my favorite food blog, Orangette, a week or so ago and it was just irresistible. It's a Sweet Potato Pound Cake with a Buttermilk Glaze, and although I only had a tiny taste, it is divine even if the photo is a bit blurry. I think my camera just doesn't know what it is supposed to focus on out of all that, and I am too lazy to do it manually.

You're right -- certainly not diet food, but as usual with things of this sort my urge is to bake, not to eat. I'll take it to work tomorrow and offer it up to my unsuspecting and generally grateful co-workers. I work with software engineers -- lovely people, all, but they will eat anything.

Then there was dinner. Sweet tiny asparagus so tender all it needed was a few moments of steaming to warm it through but leave it crunchy and fresh.

The asparagus was good, but this was the star of the show! Pork Mojo -- I'm sorry I don't have a link to the recipe but it's been on my computer for years and I don't even know where I got it. First time I've tried it. Pork tenderloin marinated 24 hours in a mixture that includes orange and lime juices and peels, onion, garlic, oregano and some other stuff I've forgotten. Supposed to include fresh cilantro, but guess who overlooked that item on the shopping list yesterday. Seared, roasted briefly, meltingly tender and served with extra marinade. This was a keeper.

After all the exertions of the morning, not much sleep last night, I'm a pooped puppy who is not allowing myself a nap (rules of trying to cure insomnia). All that good food isn't going to help. Alas.

But, I'm very happy.


This day has been a long time coming. Not just because I was debilitated by staph for a couple of weeks, or because I'm tired from long-term insomnia. For years I've suffered from hypothyroidism and despite begging doctors for help, they always said I was within the 'norm'. Right at the high end of the 'norm', but that didn't matter. Finally, last summer, I sought help from a Naturopath, who ran more complex blood tests as well as a 24-hour saliva test, both of which confirmed what I knew all along: my body was not getting enough thyroid to provide energy and so many other necessary functions, and my adrenals were depleted as well from long-term stress which, reasonably, was in great part stimulated by the fatigue and other symptoms of hypothyroidism. I also have a thyroid anti-immune condition called Hashimoto's disease wherein the thyroid actually attacks itself. This was a major cause of the wide swings of energy levels I experienced. Topping it off was a long-standing anemia which other docs -- MDs -- saw, but chose not to treat. Long story short, I've been under treatment for all of these things since August, and all are under control. My thyroid is right where it should be, the anemia is gone, and the Hashi's, which is not curable, is under control.

Finally -- finally! -- I have my body back, more or less. I've gained weight and lost muscle tone and some aerobic conditioning and while I haven't liked any of these things, I also haven't had enough sustained energy to do much about it. Fortunately, I walked everywhere during those months and I often walk up the stairs (7 flights) here at home and (3 flights) at work. I've also picked up the hand weights for a week or two at a time here and there. I tend to eat healthily most of the time and all this has kept me from going all the way to soft mush. Barely.

Last week I began walking up the stairs here -- all 7 flights -- at least once a day, sometimes more. I've done this before, even with laundry or groceries, so I know I can do it. I have to admit that it's been a struggle to get all the way up here all week. Right about the fourth floor I really slowed down, crawled the rest of the way. Still, I knew that would improve if I kept at it, and today it did. I walked all the way up at a steady pace without a struggle -- can't tell you how good that felt. A little later (I'm doing my laundry, so I need to go up and down for awhile) I hopped on the bike machine in our little workout room for 20 minutes, for the first time in months. I love this machine. It's programmable and I always choose an interval course that is really a tough workout, as it has me sit for 45 seconds then stand up and pedal with progressively harder 'hills' for 30 seconds. It's tough! And pardon me for bragging, but after I got off that machine I walked up the stairs again, if a bit more slowly this time.

Finally -- I have the energy to tackle all these fitness issues as well as more basic health issues and -- at last -- really attack the insomnia issue. I've made changes in my nighttime routine, which worked great the first night, Friday, but not so well last night. Beats drugs, however. Tomorrow I see my doc (MD) as a first step in ridding myself of this issue once and for all. I have my ideas as to the cause, but don't know how to solve it. I don't think she will know, either, but I have to start with her if I want to get into a sleep study, which I'm prepared to do if I have enough time left in Eugene to do it. I'm also going to have her re-evaluate the beta blocker I'm taking. Do I still need it? I haven't had any tests for this condition for 15 years, at least, and it's about time I took control of it. I've also made appointments with the eye doc, the dentist, and a dermatologist for more incipient skin cancers on my face and hands. Those come from a lifetime spent in the outdoors and a lot of sunburn before I became a believer in sunscreen (and before sunscreen existed).

Spring is nigh, even though that is not evident from looking out my window. I have a car now and I can go for a hike wherever and whenever I like. I no longer need to rely on others to invite me along. Same with the bike -- I'm free. And I want to be in shape to get out there and hike and bike. I began a week ago -- diet changes, walking up the stairs -- and will ease back into the weights and more on the bike machine and elliptical machine downstairs. This body is coming back!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Learning To Rest in Consciousness

I noted in one of my earliest posts the seemingly coincidental arrival in my life of something that clearly answers some personal spiritual question I've been struggling with. This could be my daily Pariyatti Buddhist quote, it could be a passage in a book I'm reading -- it could be anywhere. I've learned enough, however, to know that these are not coincidences, they are real answers to the questions I've been asking. No guesswork -- they are answers loud and clear. That happened again today.

I've been struggling lately with questions about why one particular situation keeps being put before me, over and over and always -- always -- with the same results. In a spiritual sense, I am enormously grateful for each of these occurrences as valuable learning opportunities. Without question, I've learned a great deal and grown immeasurably as this situation has continued to arise, and each time it arises I am pleased with my spiritual progression, the way I am more able to put all I've learned through Buddhism into practice and thereby make the situation less stressful, less troubling. Each time has become easier. So much so that after the last occurrence I felt certain I had learned all I needed to learn and that this particular situation would arise no more. I was wrong.

This is not a situation I go looking for, or that I place myself into -- quite the contrary. It comes to me from another source and arose again recently, quite unexpectedly. Again, I am really pleased this time with my internal reactions. I have put my training to use and remained relatively equanimous and have let go of the outcome. But I haven't 100% let go of the situation. I've never been able to let go 100% of the situation, but until this recent appearance, I was happily and contentedly at about 95%, and confident that time would take care of the balance. I never expected to have the situation before me again, but here it is.

So. The questions I've been asking are, why? Why does this continue to be placed in my path? What have I not learned that I am supposed to learn from this? There has to be something unfinished, or the situation simply would not arise. Until today, I had no answers.

In this morning's mail was my semi-annual newsletter from Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, California. Inside that was an excerpt from a new book by Jack Kornfield, founder of Spirit Rock. It's a full page excerpt and as I began to read I was at first confused by the term 'Rest in Consciousness". What does that mean, Jack? Of course, as I read on he answered that question, in detail, until I could understand it and understand that here was the answer to my questions, the lesson I have been meant to learn from my present situation.

One of the most basic tenets of Buddhism is that everything changes. The goal, simply put, is to watch these changes occur without reacting in fear or craving. Hard for us simple humans to do. It's also hard to encapsulate all I learned today and all that is in this excerpt into a few words on this page, but I think these quotes from the excerpt perhaps explain it best in the fewest words:

"To rest in consciousness is the opposite of contraction and fear. When we rest in consciousness we become unafraid of the changing conditions of life." He goes on to say that we can simply notice the two distinct dimensions to our life: the ever-changing flow of experiences, and that which knows the experiences. And finally, he says:

"When we learn to rest in awareness there's both caring and a silence. There is listening for what's the next thing to do and awareness of all that's happening, a big space and a connected feeling of love. When there is enough space, our whole being can both apprehend the situation and be at ease. We see the dance of life, we dance beautifully, yet we're not caught in it. In any situation, we can open up, relax, and return to the sky-like nature of consciousness."

Today, I have learned to rest in consciousness, if only for short moments. But I know that short moments lead to longer moments which in turn lead to totality. Thank you, for this lesson. And thank you for placing the situation before me so that I could learn. I'm still not at that wonderful 100% level, but I understand the lesson and know how to reach that point.

I also ordered the book, which is entitled The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Philosophy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

To Beach or Not to Beach

Life has been so quiet and peaceful and good that I've had little to write about. That's a good thing.

About the only thing going on is the application for the apartment in Cedartown. That's iffy -- she only has one apartment coming available and it's a 2-bedroom (nice, but costs a bit more). She also can't hold it for me to arrive beyond April. The woman calls me her new cousin (possible, but no known connection), and is going out of her way to make it possible for me to get this place. I faxed the application to her this morning, at her request, so she can get me on the list. I still have to send her a check and a statement from my landlord, but then we should be good to go.

I was re-evaluating the financial scene today, and it seems that leaving May 15 wouldn't gain me one penny over leaving May 1. Since she has to completely re-do this apartment, maybe she'll be able to hold it until then. If not, then I'm not meant to live there, or a one-bedroom will open up in the meantime. I'm still not sure I'll be ready to leave May 1, and I'm not going to let this drive my decision.

The weatherfolk seem to think Saturday is going to be clear and dry -- which means this gal is going to drive over to the coast and spend some time walking the beach. I haven't done that in many, many years and I simply ache for the experience. I need to be careful, though. It was the Oregon Coast that filled my head and heart and insisted I move to this state 13 years ago when I first saw it. That love hasn't abated. Wonder if I'll feel any urge to stay -- maybe move to the coast? Certainly won't have the warm weather I'm seeking, but to me it is one of the most beautiful places on this earth, and it speaks to me. Loudly. If I could walk those beaches every day again, I just might be willing to put up with the cold days. I've walked those beaches in driving rain/wind storms and loved every soaking-wet minute. I think a germ has been planted in my head as I write these words.

Of course, the likelihood that I can find anything on the coast that I can afford is another story entirely. No doubt, it's a pipe dream and a passing fancy -- but I love pipe dreams and passing fancies and it's fun to indulge in the moment, then let them pass on by. The photo is, of course, the lighthouse at Yaquina Head in Newport, Oregon.

Also looking forward to filling that 6-cd changer with some of my fav music and letting it blast away all day as I drive. There's noplace else I can do that.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Slow, Lazy, Happy Sunday

Guess this photo caught my eye because it's so cold and dreary in Eugene today. I watched these kids surfing for a long time last summer when I spent a week in Bucerias, Mexico. Send some of that warm sunshine up this way, please!

Something rather miraculous happened today. I finished -- FINISHED -- the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle! Okay, so you're brainy and manage to solve it every week. Most weeks, I'm lucky if I can fill in more than 4 or 5 words, so this was rather a milestone for me. Amazing what getting rid of the staph and getting a little sleep can do for one's brain. I feel human again....happy, energetic, forward-looking. Normal. Enormously grateful.

Spoiled myself a little and drove (drove!) over to the Regal Cinema and saw "He's Just Not That Into You". I've been wanting to see it, but of course I've been sick, and I've never liked taking the bus out there because the bus schedules don't mesh well with the movie schedules. Did I mention how happy I am to have a car again? Anyway -- back to the movie. Certainly not a world-shaker, but then, I didn't expect it to be. I knew the premise -- doesn't every female know the premise, since the book came out a few years ago? I wanted lighthearted, something to laugh at -- and that's exactly what I got. So glad I went.

I don't seem to have accepted the car as mine yet -- haven't put the keys on my key chain, but keep them separate the way I've done with rentals these past two years. And when I think about it, I have no inclination to merge the two. Odd, for me. Maybe when I don't have to return it to Enterprise tomorrow morning I'll finally realize it's mine.

On to filling out paperwork for the apartment complex in Cedartown. A little Ben Webster and Oscar Peterson noodling softly in the background......

Life is good. Really good.