Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'm baaaaack!

And yes, the astute among you will realize that it's a few days earlier than planned. The retreat was wonderful and I'll talk more about that later, once my mind has a chance to rest. I arrived home yesterday afternoon after about 10 hours of driving (and no, I did not drive straight home, although for the time involved I might as well have!).

Yesterday I took another trip through past memories, opting to take a different route home through North Carolina and my beloved Nantahala River gorge. This was literally the last place I visited before I left Georgia in 1996. I left mid-week in April, and the previous weekend I spent walking my favorite trail up in this area with three of my best buddies. On the way home, we took a side detour to visit the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where I'd spent many a good day.

Thankfully, it hasn't changed much. A new bridge over the river (badly needed!) seems to be the extent of it. The river, of course, is the real draw here. It's hard to imagine emotions about a river, but early in the day when I was around Asheville I got all choked up just thinking about seeing this river, this place, again. It's been a long time.

This is Nantahala Falls, which has the distinction of being the only rapid I ever swam (in non-riverspeak, capsized) in my kayak. I can beg off by saying I was tired after a full day on the river in a  private lesson, and that I hadn't had much sleep the night before. It's a tricky rapid -- a high class III that has taken down many a good paddler in its day. May not look like much here, but it's a doozie. I love just looking at it. Wish I'd had a second chance to prove my mettle.  It wasn't the size -- I ran a high III the very first day on any river (this one in Georgia)  and have run other tricky class III's on various Georgia rivers, but this one called my bluff and won. The Nanty, by the way, is a dam-controlled river which is 'turned on' every day around 10am, and off again later in the day.

Whether you swim the falls or successfully run them, you need to get to shore quickly because a half mile or so down the river, still within the NOC grounds, is this -- Wesser Falls, truly treacherous and not to be attempted (although I'm sure some have done so). It looks fairly tame here, but don't be deceived.

This, and the following two photos, are of Patton's Run, a rapid just beyond the put-in point. I did run this one successfully, as well as the rest of the river. Until the Falls. This one starts you out right -- the launch point is just beyond that bend and this is the first thing that greets you. I made a video of this, but somehow or other messed up the file. All the motion and sound really make it.

And then after reluctantly leaving the river behind, I wound my way home on instinct - which mostly sent me in the right direction. Stopped for lunch in Ellijay at what used to be my favorite barbecue spot, but which left me disappointed this time. $7.25 for a small sandwich and tea, and it wasn't even all that good. I guess Colonel Poole has gotten the last of my dollars.

The house is fine -- although I found that there were tornado warnings on my birthday, and I'm frankly just as glad I wasn't around for those. The temp was a balmy 65 -- which I must say felt awfully good after 2 cold weeks at Bhavana.  I haven't gotten my head back into the 'real' world yet, but in a couple of days, hopefully. It's quite a culture shock to leave such a protected, isolated environment and be suddenly thrust back onto freeways filled with cars and trucks.  The car got right around 40 mpg on this trip! The first tank was a tad over 40, ensuing ones (in the mountains) were a tad under 40. I don't know what brought that on, but I'm not complaining. Could a new fan belt make that difference? That's the only change that's been made.

Anyway, I'm outta here for today. Talk at you later.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blast from the Past

I got a phone call out of the blue the other night from a long-lost first cousin in Michigan, who told me they'd been looking for me for a couple of years (for genealogical purposes).  Oddly enough, her existence came my way within this past year and I spent some time trying to find her, with no luck.  Didn't help that I didn't have her married name. Unfortunately, the email addy she gave me doesn't work, but I do have her phone number and that of another cousin near Atlanta, so I can reach her once my land line disappears. And it will disappear.

Anyway -- through the course of that conversation she told me she had my wedding photo announcement from the local newspaper.  Now, I didn't even know this existed!  You'd think my mother, or grandmother, or somebody who was still in Cedartown a few days after the wedding, would have clipped this and sent it to me. And maybe they did -- let's give them the benefit of the doubt.  However, I have no memory of ever having seen this and I have no memory of even sitting for the photo.

It wasn't a fancy wedding (newspaper hype not-withstanding), and I have no idea who took the photo or how the info got to the newspaper, but clearly, it did.  Yesterday was the first chance I had to go to the library and hit their microfilm library. Didn't take long at all to find this -- after all, while I don't remember the photo, I do remember the event and the date. I look a bit terrified -- but I think that was because I was uncomfortable in front of the camera, a state that continues to this day. I like being behind a camera, not in front of one.

The print from microfilm isn't very good, but I just had to post this because I think it's such a kick.  I was 18 years old, newly returned to Cedartown from Germany, where I'd lived on a big army base with my mom and military dad.  I designed the dress, such as it was, and my mom made it. The lace jacket came off to reveal a simple scooped-neck cocktail-length dress made of what is essentially parachute silk, or as the article calls it, cloud silk.  I can't remember what happened to the dress exactly -- I know I gave it to somebody a couple of years later, but I don't remember who. It may have been the daughter of a family I knew in Germany. Somebody who needed a prom dress or something.

Oh, for a return to even a partial size as that! I had an 18-inch waist and weighed under 100 lbs. Alas, that will never happen again.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Velva Jean Learns to Fly

I've decided that I'm going to do more book reviews in this blog. I've done a few in the past, but sometimes I find a really good writer that I've never heard of, and without DSL in the house I expect I'll be doing a lot more reading.

I brought this book home almost out of desperation -- because there wasn't much of anything else on the 'new books' rack at the library.  It's a continuation of an earlier book called 'Velva Jean Learns to Drive', but one doesn't get the sense that you needed to read the first book before reading this one. I think I'll read the first one, now, because this woman can write.

Velva Jean escapes from the mountains of North Carolina in the early 1940s, driving herself to Nashville to become a singer on the Grand Ole Opry.  The war comes along, she learns to fly, then is accepted into the WASP program which trained women pilots.  Much adventure ensues from her years in this program.

Jennifer Niven is a wonderful writer, in my opinion. Her words are true to the character and clear as a bell. You almost feel that you are Velva Jean. There's a lot of country wisdom on almost every page.  I found it engrossing.  I'll be reading more of her work.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Meditation Room Revisited

I received an email from a senior monk at Bhavana today (yes, monks do email!) advising me to have nothing in my meditation room aside from my cushion and the Buddha statue 'on a small table at eye level' in the room. I kind of wish he'd offered the logic for that, but he didn't and I'm not going to ask. He didn't reach the position he's in without knowing his stuff, so I'll take his word for it, after half a day of resistance to the idea. It wasn't the answer I wanted to the question I asked (which had nothing to do with this room), but I am fortunate to be able to ask questions of him at all, so I will accept what I received, with gratitude.

So, this afternoon I set about reorganizing the house so I could move the chair and ottoman back to the living room (!) and remove the other small items of furniture in there as well. I opted not to remove the heater, because the room is unlivable without it.  It's the coldest room in the house, because of its northeast exposure, and I don't keep it particularly warm, but I do leave the oil-filled radiator heater on low, at all times.  Warm it up when I want to use the room, and sit wrapped in my new, wonderful, wool meditation shawl to keep chills and drafts at bay.

It looks spartan, to be sure, and will no doubt be 'tweaked' a bit before the day is over.  Now I really wish I had the curtains hung, but I'm just not brave enough to try putting the brackets into the sheetrock, and I don't trust my neighbor to do it well, either, after last summer's fiasco with the closet fittings. One of these days.

The little wrought iron table that once graced the front porch, then the living room, is now back in the kitchen, to make way for the chair and ottoman in the living room. Things change, and as the Buddha said, all things are impermanent.

Life still continues well enough here. Nights have been a tad cold for a few, but days remain mostly sunny and warm, perfect for walks or yard work.  I've taken to using the greens in my garden for green smoothies, and find that suddenly I don't have too many greens out there at all. I can harvest a few leaves per day, whirr it up, drink it down, and I have my greens for the day, all chopped up in a way that the body can use the nutrients in their entirety, easily.  Works for me.

Later, Y'all!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Good or bad? Not quite sure

I'm a little stunned right now, having just finished the latest book by my favorite author, Anne Rivers Siddons. On one hand, I'm thoroughly disappointed, and on the other hand feel that she's finally graduated into the ranks of other slightly crazed but brilliant southern writers. I don't know which is worse. Or better.

On the good side, she's come home again to Atlanta for this book, and she wraps the city and the southern culture around the reader in a way that rings totally true for what I'd call 'true Georgians', those who are natives and who know old Georgia/Atlanta as well as new Georgia/Atlanta. There's a familiarity that soothes. She nails the syrupy persona of a certain kind of southern woman, and the pretensions that were and still are rampant, particularly in and around Atlanta. She mocks both with a edge that I found most satisfying and familiar.

Siddons has always been a magical writer, to me. Her prose is lyrical, her characters and stories deep and lush and satisfying.  I savored every book simply for the beauty of the words strung together one after another, page after page.

From the get-go, this book was different. That lyrical beauty was mostly missing from the prose. Often there were sentences that I had trouble understanding (I thought I was perhaps becoming more senile than I realized, at first). I found it a bit hard to follow at times as later incidents and characters seemed disconnected with earlier parts of the story, and the timelines seemed off, from time to time. I think if you didn't know Atlanta and the south, and if  you weren't familiar with her other books, these might not have been so noticeable. But I'm not sure about that.

Because it was Anne Rivers Siddons, I kept reading and found myself drawn into the story, inexorably grabbed by what is, for her, a very strange storyline, impelled forward to the end.  Although I noticed discrepancies, I couldn't help but read on.  The ending is bizarre (although from the first pages bizarreness is hinted at, so the fact that it would be somehow bizarre should come as no surprise). This is where I think she blends into those other crazed southern writers and I still don't know if that's good or bad. Unlike some other reviews I read on Amazon when I went in to steal the image shown here, I'd say hell yes, read this book! Just don't expect it to be like any other book this woman has ever written.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It ain't exactly what I had in mind....

Sometimes there's a great disconnect between intention and results.  This is true in meditation as well as all of life, but today it has to do with a  bit of winterizing of my garden. It's nice and sunny and warm out there right now, but yesterday morning I had ice on my windshield, so I decided it was time to put the vague plan I had into action. I just hope it doesn't get too hot in there for the plants during the day, until the weather cools off some more. I could have left it looser, but then cats could get in.

Everything started out fairly well. But then, as I tried to put my existing fabric over the hoops, I realized they were too tall, so I had to take them apart a couple more times and trim them down a foot at a time until the fabric fit, more or less. Actually, probably less than more, but I guess it's a good thing that function matters more than form in this case.
Ugly as sin, but then sometimes we just have to make do with what we have, and what I had was several smaller pieces of fabric that I'd used last year, and one unused piece.  You can clearly see that the hoops are not the same size, but I didn't notice that while I was doing it, and it's not easy to get them off the rebar, so it just gets to stay as it is. The sagging looks bad, but it won't matter to the plants. It'll just move out of the way if they get big enough.  None of them are particularly large plants, other than possibly the chard.

So, that's my day.  Tomorrow I get to take the little female cat to the vet in Villa Rica to be spayed. If she only knew! I kept her on the front porch last night, so she'd get used to it.  That's where she's going to have to live for awhile, until she heals, and she has to stay there tonight so 1) I can catch her in the morning to put her in the carrier, and 2) she's confined without food after midnight, for the surgery. She didn't seem to mind it so much, but she was in a big hurry to get outside this morning. I don't think she knows what a litter box is, because the poor cat didn't pee or poop for the entire 10-12 hours she was on the porch! She's a funny cat in other ways. Has no fear of coming into the house, makes herself right at home.  But anything that moves or makes noise (microwave, washer/dryer, ceiling fan, TV) scares her. It's like she's never seen any of them before.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Random moments...

Isn't it funny how random moments can set you off on a tangent? Well, I had one of those random moments this morning while I was doing my daily crossword puzzle on MSNBC. The answer was 'quiche lorraine', and it came to me with rather amazing speed, considering how prone I am to not even try to fill in long words unless I have some letters to offer more clues. This was an utter blank page, but it touched some weird thing inside that said "yum, I want some."  I found a recipe, added the ingredients to my shopping list but found that an hour or so later it didn't seem that interesting. As luck would have it, I was hungry at the grocery store and it sounded really, really good.

I'm not sure I've ever made Quiche Lorraine before, although I do get some faint little memory whispers that say I probably did.  Once.  A very long time ago. I've made other quiches, but not the quintessential Lorraine, with the bacon (the real thing) and swiss cheese, and not for a very long time. It was also a good opportunity to use the nice red and white pie plate that was a holiday gift from Hartwicks when I worked there 4 or 5 years ago.

I was going to put it off until tomorrow, since I also had a potato salad to make this afternoon. But --- that urge just wouldn't go away and I had the time, so voila! This is dinner, and it was pretty darned tasty. The potato salad wasn't quite as good as I remembered it from Bhavana, but I'm thinking it was operator trouble along with tampering with the recipe at both ends.  It's still pretty good, worth spending most of the afternoon in the kitchen.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A lot of work, in small packages

Got my fall seed order from Territorial Seeds yesterday.  Now, tell me people. Does one person really need all this? As usual, I got carried away. But, small quantities of each will work wonders, and most can also be replanted for spring.

Winter veggies, including fennel and radicchio, among other things.

The state of the garden this morning, under overcast skies. Tomatoes and peppers at the rear left, and aside from the basil and flowers, there's nothing else left in any of those raised beds. I'm still trying to figure out where to plant all these seeds for best use of the space available.

It certainly doesn't feel much like fall around here, but the garden tells the tale.  I pulled the lima beans on Tuesday, after harvesting and shelling most of the dried pods.  The okra and eggplant are long gone. I've about lost interest in the tomatoes, although I'll leave the yellow bell peppers since they're going nuts all of a sudden. I probably won't move the perennial flowers until later in the fall, or pull the basil and marigolds until they die.

So -- work! I need to deal with compost, moving it from the bin into the beds, before I can plant. That's probably the hardest work that needs doing right now and hopefully I can get into that during the upcoming weekend. The weatherguessers are predicting cooler weather, and even some rain, beginning Sunday or Monday! Neither can come too soon.  As you can see in the above photo, most of the grass has turned brown and crispy, and I've been doing a lot of watering to keep what's out there alive.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What kind of butterfly is this?

I have an answer: I think it's the Great Spangled Fritillary. North Georgia is the southern limit of its territory, and while I've found lots of photos now that I have a name, and while the outside of the wings match, none of the photos I've found show the exact colors of the inside of the wings. There does seem to be quite a variety of colors possible, however, so until I'm corrected, I'm going with the outside markings.

Whatever this fella is, it's been at the echinecea literally all day. It's a good sized butterfly, -- that's a big blossom. Really beautiful when it flits around and you can see the wings.  Soft browns and yellows. I haven't been able to find anything like it on Google. It's times like this when I actually like this camera.  Full 24x zoom from my back porch about 20 feet away, and it managed an almost perfect focus.

Best shot I could get with the wings extended. And then the battery died on the camera. The brown and even the yellow are much lighter than they appear here, because it's in the shadows. Gorgeous bug, whatever it is!

Chapter Two -- The Retreat, and meet Cinta

I've been to a fair number of retreats, and there is no question in my mind that this one proved to be the most special, and the one at which I learned the most (possibly aside from the very first one, where I knew nothing and which was basically a ten-day mind/body survival test).  It was also the only one where I ended up feeling bonded with the co-retreatants, and I was not alone in that feeling.

There are several reasons for all this that come to mind. One is that it was a small group -- about 30 to begin with, and at least three women that I know of dropped out on the morning of the third day. Most other retreats I've been to had anywhere from 70 to 100 participants. Another may be that these were all experienced meditators.  The retreat was advertised as intermediate, so no beginners attended. Some were newer than I to the practice, many had far more experience. I was probably the oldest, but I don't think many were under 30 and a good many of us were over 50.

But, I'm thinking that much of the reason for the bonding and the overall feel of the retreat was our teacher, Sayalay Susila. She set the tone with her humility, her compassion, her concern, and her incredible knowledge. On the last day, a group of us discussed the bonding briefly, and most felt that it came from the daily group question and answer sessions in the sangha hall (as opposed to the meditation hall). Initially, the group was divided up into two sections, with half attending one day, half the next, in rotation. However, on the first day Sayalay told our group that she didn't mind if anyone who wanted to attended these daily groups, if they had questions. The sangha hall is fairly small, intimate, the questions were often somewhat personal and as we learned from her answers, we got to know one another and bonded even though during the retreat we were urged to remain silent and not speak to one another, to aide in concentration. Another  part of the bonding has to be credited to Fran, the retreat coordinator, who I felt was the rock of the retreat.  She was always available to us, always willing to help in any way possible, and always with a happy attitude and smiling face. She was our go-to person, and we certainly went to her.

Personally, I don't know that I have ever in my life been anywhere that I felt so at home with a group of people (strangers or otherwise). We treated one another like loved family, which is what good Buddhists should do.  For me, it was the first retreat where judging did not rear its ugly head (or if it did, mindfulness let it go), and the first where some negative mind-state didn't erupt and take over. This was huge.

Group photo, taken after closing ceremonies. With a couple of exceptions, most of the  people dressed in white  took the eight lifetime precepts.  More about that later.

Having said all that, I also have to say that while the retreat was happening I didn't think I was learning much because 1) I was so darned tired, and 2) because some of it simply went in one ear and out the other with no possibility of remembering. A couple of private conversations with Sayalay on the first day left me so excited that I could rarely settle my mind down enough to concentrate, and concentration was the focus of the retreat. Now that I'm back home, now that I've settled down, now that I've read over some of Sayalay's materials, I know that I really did learn a great deal.

We were all whining about being tired toward the end of the week, and Sayalay shortened the evening meditations to give us more rest.  Our days began at 4:50am, with early meditation in the quiet and dark hall until 6:50. Breakfast was at 7:00, and it lasted for well over 1/2 hour, with all the recitations. From 8 until 8:50 we had our work period, from 9 to 10:50 more meditation.  Eleven am lunch, which lasted for most of the hour, then two hours of personal time which I used either to sleep or to walk through the woods, depending on energy. The day went on in this vein until 9:30pm, with occasional breaks for group interviews, optional yoga, and tea. (Note that no solid food is eaten by Theravadan Buddhists after 12:00 noon.) And most of the time, most of us were there, in the hall. Almost always, Sayalay was in the hall before we arrived each morning at 4:50, and often she was there when we left at 9:30.

You already know that no photos of yours truly ever make the pages here, so you must recognize how special this one is that I will actually publish it for the world to see. Sayalay made a point of getting me in a photo alone with her, which was rather an honor as she hadn't allowed that with anyone else. She is the most remarkable woman I have ever met, and I could talk about her all day, but will leave her to her privacy beyond this except to say that I do believe she is a truly gifted teacher.

Bhante G's water-dousing equipment, after the closing ceremonies.

So, I mentioned the Eight Lifetime Precepts ceremony that eight of us participated in. This was a surprise opportunity, announced on the first day of the retreat for those who were interested. I wanted to take them 3 years ago when I first tried to attend this same retreat and the ceremony was offered in the retreat notes. As generally happens when things don't go as you planned, I think I'm much more ready to take, and keep, them now at this stage of my practice.  I've lived by the first five for over six years, since I first took them at my first retreat. The last three all pertain to speech.  Here's the list:

     I undertake the training  rule to abstain from taking life.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech (lying).
I undertake the training rule to abstain from malicious speech.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from harsh speech.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from useless speech (chatter).
I undertake the training rule to abstain from wrong livelihood and drinks and drugs causing heedlessness.

This last one is generally included in the five that retreatants are always required to take for the duration of their stay at any Buddhist center, and I include it in the first 5, although they are presented differently here. The last three -- malicious speech, harsh speech and useless speech -- are challenges for me. Most of my malicious speech regards my boss, and I began to be aware of that before I left and was already softening my words and thoughts where he's concerned. I've mostly let go of anger -- or at least the need/urge to lash out in anger. That's been tempered through mindfulness over the past few months as well. Useless speech? Well, isn't that what this blog is all about? Clearly, I have not mastered that one.

The ceremony itself was fascinating. Early in the week we all got a quick Pali lesson, since we had to recite a whole long list of stuff in Pali. We all met with the resident nun for a Q&A session (many of us asked about the alcohol restriction, whether it meant no alcohol at all, or that maybe one drink was OK as long as we didn't go further. She was noncommittal, but said if we had a drink then we should later reflect on what pleasure we got from that drink.) We were told what to expect at the ceremony, white clothes were dug out of the attic for those of us who didn't have complete white sets with us, we took our two-page ceremony instructions and Pali speech with us to study. I spoke a lot of Pali aloud on the porch of my little kuti during my afternoon breaks.

When we entered the meditation hall after breakfast on Saturday morning, all of our personal cushions and belongings had been moved to the first two rows (as it happened, there were four men and four women taking  the precepts). When prompted, we recited the Pali together, stopping to let Bhante G ask questions or recite lines that we had to repeat.  Then, in totally random order he called us to the front one by one, where he gave us our new Pali name (mine is Cinta, pronounced Cheen-TAH, which Bhante G said meant 'thoughtful one'), handed our certificate off to the appropriate monastic (a monk for the men, Sayalay for the women), then (in Fran's unforgettable words, 'threw water at us' several times). Then we moved on to the monastic, who tied a braided golden string around our wrists, hung a gold medallion around our necks, and handed us our quite beautiful certificates.

When this part was over, we were treated to advice from Bhante G about the precepts we had just taken and perhaps this was the most special part of all, in many ways, although it was all very special. Mostly, he told us not to worry if we broke one of these rules, but to simply begin again. Taking the precepts is a reminder of how we should act towards all others at all times, not some kind of religious vow. Remember what I wrote in Chapter One about the three facets of Morality, Concentration and Wisdom? This is the Morality wing, and these precepts are how we develop that morality. Concentration comes from meditation, and wisdom grows over the course of time. Hopefully.

And then....well, lots of useless chatter was heard as silence was lifted and we had the chance to speak to one another. Although the retreat was officially over at 12:30 after lunch, I didn't leave until 1:30 and many were still there even then.  I cannot wait to return in December.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Gluten Question

I've never been one to latch onto fads when it comes to food, diet, health (or much else, for that matter). It seems that over the years of my life there have been so many 'diseases du jour', and an equal number of 'magical cures du jour', all of which seem to fizzle out after awhile. How often have we seen the medical profession announce some major new discovery when it comes to diet, only to admit a few years later that they were mistaken, and that now they have an even newer discovery that's surely right this time? Too often. So, I read and study and try to take the middle road, not get caught up in extremes or fads.

The natural medicine doc I've been listening to for over a year now, and whose book I've read, pushes a gluten-free diet on everyone. For the most part, I've resisted this since I try not to eat a lot of grains anyway because they tend to put fat on this body.  However, in recent months I've opted to be more thoughtful about gluten, and have satisfied my summery need for pesto by using gluten-free pasta (made from rice), and avoiding grains otherwise.  Until last week.

The food at Bhavana offered lots of grains: oatmeal, breads, pasta, desserts, etc.  Now, nobody made me eat it -- there were always other options of healthy foods to fill my belly.  But hot oatmeal is such a delight, and who can resist a wonderful pasta accompanied by freshly-made garlic bread?  Not me! So I chose to eat these things and more and enjoyed every bite.

I knew that my digestive system was all out of whack while I was up there, and knew it had to be from some change in diet.  I even gave some mild thought to the gluten issue, but didn't really think too much about it until last night when I got my new issue of Bon Appetit magazine and read an article on gluten-free cooking.  According to them, devotees swear that eliminating gluten gives them "more energy, fewer aches and pains, less bloating and depression". Even physicians are "swearing that their own fatigue and brain-fog lifted".  Hello! Those are exactly the symptoms I had!

I'd noticed already that the bloating and other digestive issues had disappeared, and now that I've gone three gluten-free days I've awakened this morning for the first time with some actual energy, feeling more like what passes for normal for me. Certainly, the energy part could be coincidental, in that I've been resting so much, but all in all, considering all the symptoms, I'm beginning to think there may be something to this gluten thing. And I don't reach such conclusions lightly.

The funny/odd thing is that I hadn't really noticed a difference from not eating gluten for the previous couple of months, but I sure noticed a difference when I added large quantities of it back into my diet. I expect that's because even before I cut it out, I was eating very little of it to begin with and have been (or tried to be) grain-free for many years. I had lapses, but not large lapses that were concentrated over a period of a week.

Something to think about, and it certainly gives me more incentive to avoid gluten, see if the connection is real.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chapter One

Driving 11 hours after a tiring week turns out not to be the best idea I ever had. Seemed fine at the time -- I was filled with adrenaline and made the drive with no problems. But let me tell you, I've suffered for it afterwards, wanting to do nothing more than sleep. I did make it to work yesterday, but even now my energy has not returned.  I'm really getting too old to act like I'm a kid!  

Because my experiences at Bhavana were so varied and so wonderful, I've opted to break the tale into two parts, beginning here with my experiences with the place itself.  I'll talk about the retreat a bit later on.

This sign greets you, assures you that you are not lost, after several miles of driving back country roads. I love this photo because it shows the beauty of the entire area -- lush greenery, nature at her best.

I arrived on Saturday around 2pm, a day before the actual retreat was to begin. A wonderful resident named Ann greeted me, showed me my kuti (the little hut that would be my home for the week) and gave me a great orientation tour of the property. As it turns out, I was just in time for a weekly Pali (the language of the Buddha) class, to be followed by a Sutta (the teachings of the Buddha) class.  I opted out of the Pali class, deciding to settle into my kuti instead. Ann introduced me to the resident monks, Bhante Seelananda (or, as he introduced himself, Bhante Seela), and Bhante Dhamma. I met the Abbot, Bhante Gunaratana (better known as Bhante G) rather by accident while standing in the entry looking at some items on a bulletin board. The door opened and a monk in full robes, a big floppy hat, wearing sneakers with a backpack water container over his shoulder walked in. I knew who it had to be, although he didn't introduce himself. He did greet me, asked me a question, then went on his way. He is, I believe, 83, and all of them had been up until 2am in the temple, celebrating the half full moon, so he was no doubt a bit tired.  He also had a Sutta lesson awaiting and needed to get his shower after his daily walk. Wisdom and kindness simply radiate from this man, and I soaked up every opportunity I had to be in his presence.

I attended the Sutta class, very small, held in the library with perhaps a dozen people, including the monks, the resident nun, resident lay people and some outsiders who are always welcome to these classes.  I was more than a little awed, I must admit, to have the opportunity to get a Sutta lesson from Bhante G himself. It was a rather magical hour.  I also had the opportunity to meet Sayalay Susila, the retreat teacher, who arrived during the afternoon.

This is my kuti, named Parami, which means 'perfection' in Pali. There are 10 parami's in Buddhism, virtues cultivated as a path to purification and leading an unobstructed life, so it was a good name to have. It has windows on three sides always open to light breezes and the sounds of nature.  Crickets and tree frogs serenaded me during the night. The kuti's have neither electricity nor plumbing, but neither presented a problem. The main building wasn't far away, for plumbing and electrical needs. Although I took several photos of the kuti during my stay, this one was taken and sent to me by Ann, the resident I got to know fairly well during my stay.

This sign adorns the office building in the main courtyard, and signifies what Bhavana and Theravadan Buddhism are about.  Sila is virtue, Samadhi is concentration, and Panna is wisdom. It's what we all strive to find in our practice.

Another photo of my kuti, from the path leading from the main building. My camera really does not do greens well!

I slept well that first night, tired from the drive, peaceful from the afternoon and evening spent with various activities and meeting people.  Early Sunday morning (as in 5am!) we were all in the meditation hall being led through the morning routine by Bhante G.  The sounds of children laughing and playing disturbed the peace of that early hour, which seemed strange, because while there are houses in the neighborhood, these children were nearby and what average American child is going to be wandering outside in groups away from home in the morning darkness? Once the morning routine was finished, I learned what was going on.  It is not unusual for families to bring food to the monastery as dana, or generosity in giving, and that's what was going on. They were expected, of course, but arrived earlier than expected.  This turned out to be a real treat!

This was a large Sri Lankan family, at least three generations, perhaps four.  Three children under 10 or so, and two infants.  Breakfast at the monastery happens at 7am, and they had brought a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast lovingly prepared by the family. We had beans, noodle cakes, rice cakes, oatmeal and cereals with nuts, a traditional breakfast soup -- very green and very vegetative but very good -- that was supposed to be very healthy.  The family stayed to also provide lunch, which was even more of an array than breakfast. Rice, other grains, potatoes, a mushroom dish, green beans, a minced parsley salad and a similar cooked minced parsley dish, a fruit that looked like a bite-sized chunk of pot roast, curried (or at least with tumeric) cooked cashews, red lentil soup, fresh fruit, two rice puddings and sweet rice bars.  And I'm sure I left some out!  This was really a treat, a wonderful opportunity not only to experience the traditional food, but also to observe the family and see the importance to them of this dana and the ceremony.  Bhante G read off a list of departed family members who were being sent merit by the living families through this act of dana.  In fact, every meal, every day at Bhavana is the result of dana from some persons or family, and the names are always noted at mealtime.

Mealtime at Bhavana is always a ceremony. The monastics sit on raised platforms in the background, the rest sit on the floor.  This was another photo Ann sent me, of our group at some meal or another. The yellow pages before us on the table contain various passages that are recited daily at each meal.  Some only by the monks, others by the monks as well as others -- most of them are in Pali.  Because of these recitations, mealtimes tend to take a fair amount of time. That would not be bad in and of itself, but this old  body did grow weary of the amount of getting up and down from the floor, between dining and meditation!  When I left, I felt as if I didn't want to sit down again for a very long time.  The food, incidentally, was absolutely delicious.  All vegetarian, of course, but with a wide variety of terrific food in great abundance.  Everyone visiting Bhavana has a daily work assignment, and I chose to work in the kitchen for an hour each day helping prepare lunch.  I really enjoyed that, and learned a lot in the process.

This is the meditation hall, photo taken on the last day once the retreat officially ended.  It's an extraordinarily beautiful room, with the bentwood arches and wood paneling. The windows are always open to breezes and the sounds of nature.

This peaceful spot is what I believe they call the columbarium, although I may be wrong about the term.  Whatever you call it, the area behind the wall is a place where one may choose to have one's ashes interred after death. This is something I've known about for years, and I can't think of a better place for my ashes to lie. No, I'm not in a hurry,  but at my age one never knows.

I spent time hiking various trails into the woods, sat outside on little benches in secluded spots, generally enjoyed weather that I can only call spectacular.  Days were balmy, in the mid-eighties, nights cool, mostly breezy, with a few showers here and there.  It's a beautiful place inhabited by beautiful people teaching a beautiful message.  Tired as I am, I'm glad I went.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

She lives!

This stained glass lotus window sits at the highest peak of the back wall of the meditation hall. Because we sit facing forward, I never noticed this until yesterday afternoon when we were taking photos in the hall. It's very beautiful.

For those of you who will worry otherwise, a quick note to let you know that I have arrived safely back home as of just after midnight today.  I opted to drive straight home, rather than stopping overnight enroute. Took just under 11 hours, but worth it because I was glad to be home.

You can expect more, no doubt ad nauseum, about my trip on another day, when my mind is not quite so tired. For now, let me say that it was all I expected and much, much more.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Adieu for now

This is it, folks. Tomorrow I head northeast for 10 days, and I'm looking forward to it for so many reasons. First and foremost is that I will finally accomplish a visit to the Bhavana Society, after two prior failed efforts from Oregon.

Beyond that, it'll be nice to get away from work for a week!

And then there is the magic that always comes from a retreat such as this. Peace, quiet, no electronics, no worries, food provided. There's a lot to be said for getting away from the world, particularly when the world is in such a mess as it is right now. It won't be perfect -- they never are -- but the imperfections always come from inside me as I react and watch my reactions to the inevitable inner reflections that arise when there are no distractions, nothing to do but sit and meditate. They can be uncomfortable because they force you to face yourself, whether or not you like what you see. But in the end you come out having learned much that is valuable. In the past, I've found it really interesting to observe what happens inside when you can't talk (totally silent retreat) and when there are no distractions. I'm sure this will be no different.

Wouldn't you know that now I'm leaving town, the weather is cooling off a bit? But, it's been even cooler in West Virginia, which will be quite welcome.

I leave from work tomorrow around noon, will drive about 4 hours to Kingsport, Tennessee, on to the monastery on Saturday. I'll talk to you when I return home.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I must be on a roll....

You know the old saying about things coming in groups of three? Good things, bad things, whatever, they always do seem to come in threes.  I've now had my second one in less than a week, so naturally I have to wonder what the third will be (and in my more negative states, when that old pendulum will start dropping again).

I've wanted to go to the annual year-end retreats at the Bhavana Society, where I'm going next week.  But, to keep beginners out and leave this to serious meditators, they've had a requirement that a person must have attended one nine-day retreat at that location. But, they didn't offer any nine-day retreats this year, so I spent a little time in the early part of this year pleading for a temporary rule change. I finally gave it up, because months passed with no announcement of a change on the website.  Today, out of the blue, I received an email saying that I could attend if I was still interested. Yay! Patience pays off.

The end of the year is always depressive and horrible for me. I hate the Christmas hoopla, plus it always emphasizes just how alone I am in life when both my birthday and Christmas pass by unnoticed and I spend all that time alone. I hate it, and I dread it every year. I'd fly away to someplace warm and sunny for those two weeks if I could, but unfortunately I can't afford that.

The Bhavana year-end retreats come in two parts, and one may attend either one or both, beginning December 16 and going through January 1st. Our store is closed the week after Christmas anyway, so I just need to ask my boss for the previous week off (without pay, which will make two weeks without pay!). I don't think he'll mind, as it's a really slow season for us at best. Now, I just need to find a better way to get there other than driving, if possible, in case of snow. That may not be as easy as it sounds, since I'm not near either a Greyhound or Amtrak station, and since the monastery is also not near either. The best bet might be to fly into DC and meet up with others to share a rental car or taxi. I've looked into this before, and it's quite a hassle. I just don't want to be caught up in snow, either enroute or when it's time to drive back.

I spent another hour in the garden early this morning, using hand clippers to edge the garden area. Some of it hasn't been done in quite awhile, and the guy who does my grass doesn't always do a good job with this. I think he's just trying to be careful, not get any plants or the cedar mulch with his weedeater, but I hope that making the edge clear to him might encourage him to get it good.  I hope the garden survives 10 days without me here to water it. I'll soak it good Thursday, then hope for rain while I'm gone.  Really, there isn't much left out there to worry about, other than the limas that aren't ready to pick yet. The tomatoes are going strong, but I won't be heartbroken if they don't survive. It is what it is.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Body Oddities

Why is it, do you think, that I can go out on my bike this morning for a good, steady 35 minute ride around town and come back feeling great, but 10 minutes of trying to cut the grass yesterday left me overheated and pouring sweat? I'm sweaty today, but it's not the same.

Time of day was the same, weather conditions (temp/humidity) were about the same. I got less sleep last night than the night before. Could it be that the cycling is a positive, uplifting experience, and the lawnmower was a negative, deflating experience? Don't think that would explain the excess heat and sweat, but it could certainly impact my state of mind. I think it's just as likely that pushing that damned mower made the difference, because that was much harder than a good fast ride on the bike.

Today is shaping up to be another hot and muggy one. We finally got some rain late in the afternoon yesterday, which was great. Cooled things off, but didn't do much for the humidity level. When I went to bed my sheets felt downright soggy, and it didn't improve overnight. According to local weather sites, the humidity has been 100% since I first checked early this morning. I'm trying something new with the windows today -- leaving them open for awhile to see if the humidity inside will decrease as the sun comes over the trees. Ceiling and floor fans  are all going, to try and evaporate some of it. 

I need to walk up to the nearby grocery store before it gets too hot, and then it's going to be an exciting day of laundry and housecleaning.  Whoopee!!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

How sweet it is!

A cold front has swept down from the north and brought an end to our sizzling heat!  A temporary end, to be sure, but more welcome than I can even describe.  When I left work yesterday just before 3pm the temp on my car dash was under 80 for the first time in months.  The afternoon and evening got progressively cooler, all doors and windows flew open once I arrived home, no fans necessary through the night.

After a decent night's sleep, with the temp hovering around 70 this morning, I headed out early on my bike -- around town, this time, rather than on the Silver Comet.  It was wonderful!  Trails are great -- and the SC is one of the better ones I've seen -- but at heart I'm a road cyclist.  I love the feel of the open highway where I can fly on long straightaways, ridding my body of pent up energy and frustrations and stress and..... whatever needs to go.  Until now, I've been a bit squeamish around here, with the good old boys driving monster pickups and maybe even the little old ladies driving big sleds.  But it was early on a Saturday morning, and I knew traffic would be light on the streets I chose.  Actually, for the most part I was on residential streets right in town, but the first part skirted the edge of town.  All in all about 45 minutes, and it felt wonderful!

Freshly hand cultivated (have I ever mentioned how much I love the feel of dirt between my fingers?), plenty of compost and a bit of cottonseed meal, and it's headed towards being ready for fall planting. After the marigolds die and after I figure out where to put the other ornamentals.

Back home, after a little protein in my body, I headed out to the garden.  The sky was still grey, the temp cool.  Lovely.  I dug 4 or 5 or maybe more buckets of almost-finished compost out of my oldest pile and spread it here and there in the veggie beds, the blueberries and the dogwood.  There's plenty more in that big bin left for fall bed amendments and planting.

These guys are far too old and woody for my old teeth to enjoy eating, but after some cooking, I'm thinking they'll be pretty good as soup.  Wonder what would happen if I also put eggplant in the soup, since I have so much of that?

In the process, I opted to finally pull all the carrots out, but I left the green tops and flowers across the bare bed to keep cats out and to keep the birds happy.  I love that my garden always has birds popping in and out of the beds, getting seeds and/or bugs.  This morning, for the first time, I saw a pair of goldfinches fly from the wildflower bed after they noticed my presence on the back porch.  Lovely!

I've also noticed the presence of a surprising number of dead June Bugs on the cedar around the beds.  Enough, in fact, that I'm beginning to wonder if the nematodes got them.  June Bugs come from grubs in the soil.  Nematodes will attack the grubs with great relish.  I would have thought that it would be the grub that would die, but is it possible that the process was slow enough to allow the bugs to emerge, then die?  I don't know, but it's a thought.

All those carrots -- too big to eat comfortably -- are going into soup, since the day is cool enough for a little cooking.  Yum.

All this, and it's only 10 am.  What will the rest of this day bring?  I'm not sure -- but I think a shower would be in order at the top of the list.  And there are always errands to run.  This cool spell is supposed to last for a couple of more days -- we can only hope the weatherguessers are right on this one.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sixteen Months Later....

It's been awhile since I posted garden photos, and I know you are all waiting with bated breath to see how it looks at this very moment.  OK. So humor me.  I want to show you how it looks right now.

As I've mentioned previously, it's been a seriously hot summer, starting in May, with an almost unbroken chain of 90+ degree days for May and June and now into July with no letup in sight until September.  Hot. Now, the summer muggies are here.  It's not quite as hot as it's been during the day, but the difference is negligible, the nights warmer, the air is thick with humidity and we've had several thunderstorms that brought much-needed rain. Now, while I may not enjoy the heat or the humidity or thunderstorms, the garden loves all of it.

The big picture.  Remember when I arrived in February of 2010 this was all a sea of green?  Well, in February it was actually brown, but you know what I mean. Lots of hard work went into this, most of which is chronicled on these pages somewhere, if anyone is curious.

Marigolds, hurriedly seeded in a veggie bed because the holes in the concrete block weren't filled with soil yet.  I had the best intentions of transplanting the seedlings, but you know what they say about good intentions.  Note the big carrot greens and white flowers behind, and bits of the wildflower garden on the right.  Not to mention that big fat squash plant in the rear.

Echinecea and basil seem to do well enough together.  Another temporary home for flowers in the veggie bed.  That yellow crookneck squash is the only one of three remaining.  The other two, both patty-pan, succumbed to the dreaded squash vine borer a week or so ago.  This one was covered with squash bugs and had signs of the borer, too, but a good spraying with Eco Smart insect killer seems to have taken care of both.  It's thriving, at any rate.  The others were gone beyond salvation when I came home from work one day.

Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and okra.  No ripe tomatoes yet, the peppers are disappointing so far.  But, I've had eggplant and okra with plenty more coming along.  When the tomatoes begin to ripen, I'll have more than I want.  But, I'm all prepared to make a bunch of home-made marinara sauce and freeze it in pint jars.  Already have a bunch of pesto in the freezer, in single-serving ice-cubes.  This summer's bounty will last awhile.

I have a veritable forest of baby redwoods sprouting from the humus around what I guess is my 'mother tree', a twig brought from Oregon that I hoped would grow.  They aren't large, but they seem to be quite vigorous.

So that's it, people.  Oh -- I also got a whole handful of blueberries today from the three bushes.  More are ripening every day, but that bird netting makes it almost as hard for me to get to them as it does the birds. Definitely need an improvement to this system for next year.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 2 of Filming Jayne Mansfield's Car

For those of you who are tired of hearing about this movie, I can tell you that this is probably the last entry, unless I rouse myself to watch the filming tomorrow night, which is doubtful. There's also an outdoor concert/dance scene to be filmed tonight behind the West, with Dwight Yoakum, but I don't see me walking over for that, either.  A couple of hours standing around waiting for some action to happen was quite enough for me, thank you very much.  But, I do have a bunch of photos to share.

Talking to people around me, I learned that one of yesterday's scenes was a bunch of hippies protesting the Vietnam war.  Kevin Bacon is one of the hippies, apparently.

I've been meaning to post an 'after' shot of the West Theater, with its new paint job.  Compare this to the original, below.

The 'real' West Theater

The streets were lined with cars of the era. Amazing they found so many!

The trusty steed that sat in front of the dime store next to my grandfather's barbershop.  I have clear memories of begging to be allowed to ride it!  Sometimes I got my wish, sometimes I didn't.

This is Hollywood's solution to handicap ramps at street crossings.  Very temporary, but from the street the curbs look quite real.

Spectators, cops and crew standing around waiting for some action to happen.  Much more of this than actual action!

More childhood memories.

Wonderful old police car.

On a side street in a big parking lot lie lots of big white trucks and lots of trailers.  This is where the real action takes place!  There were plenty of people standing around waiting to see a star arrive or depart, but I wasn't really interested in that. Someone in town said they saw Kevin Bacon this morning out walking his dog.

Same area where the trailers are.

This is where the concert scene will be filmed tonight.

It takes an amazing number of big white trucks to make a movie!

Check out the albums in this music shop!

Kevin Bacon cupcakes from Crickett's Cakes. They were actually very tasty.

Billy Bob and his family arrived in a golf cart after some cars had been set up on the street.

The entire scene consisted of cars driving down the street and people walking down the street.  They did this several times, then the crew and cameras went down to the other end of the street, to the left of this shot, and they did it again to get it from another direction.

Then Billy Bob and his family walked back to the other end,  posed for some pictures with local dignitaries, then hopped in his golf cart and left.  

Not surprisingly, the inside of Moore's has also been transformed.  I would imagine there will be scenes filmed in here (otherwise, why fix the inside up?)

Old movie posters at the West.

And -- souvenir t-shirts, which I finally broke down and bought.  It's not the kind of thing I tend to wear, but it's large enough to sleep in. These are available from the Cedarstream Company here in town, who made them, if you want one. 770-748-0608 or click on link.

So, after Billy Bob whisked away in his golf cart the crew began setting up for another scene, but it didn't seem as if it were going to happen anytime soon, so I decided enough was enough and walked back home.  I'm glad I went down for awhile, and I can say I was inside the bakery when I actually see the movie.  For whatever that's worth.