Saturday, December 28, 2013

We're really spoiled

My great-grandmother, Martha Haygood Smith.

I'm finally beginning to gain a deep appreciation and understanding of how difficult life would have been for even the generation prior to mine -- if one lived in the country -- and certainly the generation prior to that wherever one lived. This photo is typical of the time, which was the 1930's. Martha and her husband Asberry lived on a farm outside Rome, GA. Martha died from burns when her long skirt caught fire at the fireplace. No modern conveniences here!

However time-consuming it is to wash my hair and take a 'bath' without a hot water heater, I'm still incredibly privileged by comparison.  I don't have to chop wood to feed a wood stove that heats water (and cooks food as well). And I don't have to bring water in from a well, or even hand-pump it into a pail. I have a microwave and a good gas stove to do the heating and water -- albeit cold -- on tap. I also have a good washer that'll heat it's own water if I choose that cycle. Not to mention that I have good heat sources, instead of a fireplace.

I remember visiting some cousins in Rockmart when I was 18, and before that as well. Their house had electricity, running water, a washer-dryer, all the modern conveniences of that time. Next door, however, in the old farmhouse where my cousin's husband was raised, not much of that existed. They did have indoor plumbing and I'm not sure about water or heat, but they didn't have electricity. She could have washed her clothes in my cousin's washer, but instead, this wonderful old woman (who looked and dressed much as Martha does in the photo) did things as she'd always done: heated water in a huge black iron pot in the backyard, over a wood fire, stirred the clothes with a stick while they boiled clean. I watched her do this more than once, and this was in 1961.

My appreciation comes from the time involved to do what I'm used to doing in a quick shower. Washing hair has to be done in the kitchen sink, because I'm not going to kneel down in the bathtub. Besides, it's right next to the stove where water is heating. It takes time and makes a mess, but does the job.

To take a 'bath', I have to bring the 3-qt pot of water to a boil, heat more water in a pyrex bowl in the microwave, take it all into the bathroom along with a smaller pot used as a ladle and a large stainless steel bowl to mix cold water with the boiling water. The tub itself is cold -- big, old, cast iron with enamel -- and never gets warm to the touch even though the heat is always on in that room. I sit on the edge, or stand at times, wash myself with the microwaved water and soap, then use the larger quantity of water for rinsing. Then take all the pots and bowls back into the kitchen.

Not hard work -- and I'm not complaining or whining -- just gaining a new appreciation for the generations that came before.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Bhavana in winter.
Golly gee, what a restless day! I think 'travel fever' has taken hold, even though I don't leave until a week from today. My mind tends to transition itself on its own time schedule, and right now it's transitioning or transitioned to Bhavana.  I'm physically here, but the mind is doing its own thing. :)

So I'm restless. Meditation would be a good antidote for that, but I'm out of the habit and it's hard to restart without a push of some kind (I think two weeks of nothing else to do will take care of that!). Now, I guess I need to put the physical wheels in motion, although most of those are already handled in my mind too, and there's no point in actually packing bags this early. I wouldn't have any clothes left to wear around here!

I'm hoping the weather allows me to get there. Snow and ice there for the next few days, but it should disappear before next Sunday and right now there's no more forecast for that weekend. That forecast changes several times every day, however, so I'll continue to keep my eye on it.

I'm so looking forward to being at this wonderful place and seeing the smiling, familiar faces of the monks and staff once again. But, in the meantime I have things to gather and pack, a dermatologist appointment, a haircut (maybe) and a recycling run (all on one trip to Rome).

I think I need to find something active and useful to do today, since it's only 9am and there's a lot of daylight between now and bedtime!  Hard to gather much interest on a cold, wet and gray day.

I've been reading Pat Conroy's cookbook (the essay portions) this morning, but it's short and won't take long to finish. Yesterday, I finished his latest book, The Death of Santini, and was left wanting more, plus I wanted to revisit the recipes and see if there was anything in there I might try. Most are too complicated and/or too expensive for me to do. Primarily more expensive!

I admit that I'm somewhat obsessed with this man, and I don't even care. He's an incredible writer and I was hooked back around 1986-87 when I read The Prince of Tides -- first time I'd ever heard of him, I believe.  I thought I'd died and gone to writer's heaven, and nothing I've read of his since has disabused me of that feeling.

There's also some weird sense of connection to him that has no basis in reality -- although I've often thought that perhaps it's the shared 'military brat' background and the fact that we both hated our fathers from early childhood. Not to mention that we are both children of the South and have both suffered a lifetime of depression. In fact, I discovered in the new book that his mother was born and raised dirt poor in Rome  -- 20 miles north of here. Her parents were from Piedmont, AL, 25 miles west of here where some of my own mother's family settled a couple of hundred years ago. Unfortunately, I can't find any of his family names in my own genealogy database -- it would be cool to be a distant cousin. He's a couple of years younger than I, his parents/grandparents and mine lived parallel lives during the same time periods and may have even crossed paths -- his grandfather owned a barbershop in Rome at the same time my grandfather owned a barbershop in Cedartown, and my grandfather's brother owned a barbershop in Rome. These were small towns back then, so it's not out of the question that my great uncle would have known Pat's grandfather, since they were in the same trade. Possibly my grandfather as well, since he was from Rome. On the other hand, Pat's grandfather took his fundamentalist background a bit far, abandoning both his business and family to go out on the streets evangelizing, so the parallels end at that point.

Something else I find fascinating is that one of my other favorite writers, Rick Bragg, is also from the Piedmont, AL area, from another dirt poor family that moved in that same time period and that same arc from the Piedmont area to Rome and back, following ways and places to earn a living. Two great writers spawned from the hardscrabble life of Piedmont, AL. Who'd have thunk it?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Congee, or Jook

Yum! My latest food addiction -- and a healthy one.

I read descriptions such as Chinese comfort food, the perfect food for a cold day, even a likeness to chicken and dumplings that really isn't all that far-fetched.

So utterly easy to make, albeit a bit time-consuming to cook, as the liquid must evaporate and the rice cook to a soft consistency. Put the rice, water, chicken stock, salt, ginger and boneless, skinless chicken thighs into a pot and let it cook until done. Period. I used this recipe, although I altered it to use brown rice instead of white, and doubled the amount of ginger (it could use still more). I also added more liquid, to offset the brown rice, and if there's too much it's easy to let more of it evaporate away.

Yesterday I ate two bowls. Today, just this one slightly larger bowl. And I'm stuffed, in a very pleasant way. Lots of chicken ended up in this bowl, which made it extra filling. Now, I think it's time for an afternoon nap.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A whole new attitude

Remember that old saying, there's no place like home? I woke up this morning with a whole new attitude -- one of confidence, certainty that right now, I do not want to move. With all it's problems and foibles, noisy neighbors and all, this place is home and right now, I'm just not ready to leave it.

I suspect that's because I have no idea where else I really want to go, and at my age, it's not a decision I want to just jump into under the pressure of feeling that it's something I have to do.

I feel like a big weight has been lifted -- and in a way, it has, because this has been hanging over me for a month now, since I returned from California. It's pushed me into doldrums and inertia and a not-like-me state of just wanting to read and watch TV or play computer games that stress my eyes something fierce. Fortunately, it's also pushed me into spending a lot of time on the stationary bike just to burn off some of the inevitable nervous energy that was caused by the whole thing.

This means I have to do a few things -- like break down and get a HW heater installed. I figure I can sell the thing in 6 months and get much of that money back, although not the installation cost, of course. Still, I think 6 more months of being without one might get a bit old.

It also means planting some greens in the garden! I'm not going to spend a winter here without that, so I need to get on it. Today, if the weather permits, or tomorrow. Wouldn't hurt to go spread some supplements on it today, let it sink in if it rains. Maybe pull out the few old plants that are left.

I feel alive again -- at least more so. I'm going to go ahead and fill out applications for potential places to live, in Atlanta and Eugene (!), since they have waiting lists anyway. Hopefully, by spring, I'll have a better idea what I want to do.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

King's Mountain

Pardon the lousy graphic -- image ripped from Amazon and it's none too good.

But -- the book itself is wonderful! This is my second 'ballad' novel by Sharyn McCrumb, and while it wasn't quite as entertaining as The Ballad of Tom Dooley, which I read a year or two ago, it's a good story.

The author specializes in well-researched historical novels set in North Carolina and Tennessee. She uses facts -- real people and documented events -- and builds good reads around them. Tom Dooley was a real person -- real name, Thomas Dula, and his story was true.

This book chronicles a two-week interval in 1780 where a bunch of mountain men banded together, militias from various states (Virginia, North and South Carolina, North Georgia) with one common goal: to find and battle the British Army Major Patrick Ferguson who was roaming the mountains. The main players in the story are real people -- from historical records, genealogical records and such. The victory at King's Mountain was considered by Thomas Jefferson and others as the turning point in the American Revolution. I'm afraid I kept my eyes on Google maps to follow their path from "overmountain" on the northwest side of Roan Mountain in what is now Tennessee, right on the border of North Carolina, to the battlefield.

As the author states, King's Mountain was a veritable "Who's Who" of the frontier south. Although not all mentioned in the book, the roster of men  included the first governor of Tennessee, the first governor of Kentucky, the brother-in-law of Virginia governor Patrick Henry, Davy Crockett's father, Robert E. Lee's father, and the grandfather of North Carolina's Civil War governor, Zebulon Vance.

It also included a much-less-exalted ancestor of mine: Pendleton Isbell, who served with Benjamin Cleveland from Wilkes County, NC. This wasn't Pendleton's first Revolutionary War battle, either. He also served with George Washington at Valley Forge and Brandywine, but this time he was defending his home territory. McCrumb mentions some Isbell's in The Ballad of Tom Dooley, but not Pendleton. That story takes place in and around Wilkes County, so her Isbells are also bound to be relatives of mine, one way or another.

I'm definitely planning to read more of her work. If you like history or just good fiction, maybe you should give her a try.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Preserve Your Brain

A friend of mine has written a fine book that we can all use. Especially those of us on the high side of 50 and counting. Entitled "Preserve Your Brain", the book contains exercises we can do to keep our brain alert and active, probably even encourage the growth of new brain cells (which again, we can all use).

Ann has long been a teacher of yoga and tai chi, specializing in seniors, and has published many articles on the subject of health and mental well-being. She knows her stuff. The book encompasses simple exercises that anyone can do, some yoga, some stretches, the importance of smiling, mindful meditation, brain nutrition, and much more. I haven't fully read my copy yet but I have looked through it, tried a few suggestions, and look forward to sitting down for a good read in the near future.

The book is available on Amazon for a modest price, and I'd recommend it to all of you.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Full circle

Remember the various posts I made when this movie was being filmed here in town? When I arrived home on Tuesday, I saw that it's actually (finally!) playing at the West, which was featured in the film. I haven't gone to see it and probably won't -- they don't do matinees, and I don't do evenings. You can find all those previous posts below by just clicking on the Jayne Mansfield's Car label at the bottom.

Also found this on the camera, which I'd totally forgotten about. The bus from Jenner made a detour to the western side of Bodega Bay where the driver took a 10 minute break. It was so lovely -- but then, I'm always a sucker for boats and docks and marinas and such.

Saw my dermatologist yesterday -- I lost count (and he stopped counting aloud) at 20 zaps to my face alone. He moved on to my hands, but soon stopped, with only a cursory glance at the rest of my body, looking for obvious problems. I think he though I'd had enough -- and he was right. I usually get around 10 -- never anywhere near this many. And there were two that needed biopsy (and thus needles to deaden). So much fun.

It's on the chilly side here this morning -- down to 60. It's that time of year when it's silly to turn on heat in the morning because it'll be warm later on.  Brrrrr. It was this cold in Jenner most mornings, but I was in Polarfleece and other warm stuff.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A new experience

So here I sit, settled in at SFO for my very long wait until my flight departs at just before midnight. Civilized city that it is, they have free wi-fi, so I'm all set to be happy for awhile.

The security lanes were empty when I arrived, and since the place I want to have dinner is inside those lanes, I opted to come on in -- little did I know the excitement that awaited me! First, a young man politely said they needed to do a bag check on my backpack, and please meet him at the end of the conveyor when all my stuff was through. That done, it turns out that the machines detected symptoms of explosives in the bag. So I got to watch while he carefully took things out, swiped some paper through it then fed the paper back through a machine -- did that several times, in several areas of the bag, even swiped my smelly running shoes. Naturally, the found nothing -- I did tell them that I'd been in a redwood forest with mold and mildew and chemicals used to get rid of those things. Then, I got my 'massage'. A very nice woman did a full pat down -- I opted against the private area for this. My flip-flops and sweatshirt and computer bag all had to go back through the system. I was relaxed and having fun with it -- a new and different experience, and they were polite. I told them I had a long wait anyway and it didn't really matter whether I spent it there or further into the terminal -- I was not exactly in a hurry. In the end, I was cleared and now here I sit. Waiting, patiently for now -- but with another 7 hours to go, that may change.

Had a great day! Wonderful, if emotional and confusing, morning talks with Ayya, a nice wait for the bus alongside the Pacific, an interesting ride into Santa Rosa where my good friend Sylvia waited. I had no particular interest in hanging around Santa Rosa, so we headed to Sonoma where we had a great lunch at a wonderful restaurant on the square, called The Girl With the Fig, or something like that. Nice shaded outdoor patio, perfect weather, good food and even better companionship. Then, on to Napa where she dropped me at the Napa airport shuttle. This time we crossed the new Oakland Bay Bridge that just opened over Labor Day weekend -- that was really cool. Will be better once the old span is taken down, but they're working on it. The thing just floats -- just a low concrete barrier on the right side, with a series of tall white supports on the left, between the two sections of the bridge. Then short suspension points to the one tower. A cool experience.

So now I wait. When I get back to Atlanta, it'll be tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Happenings and changes

Greetings to all from the rainy, cool, misty redwoods -- weather which descended upon us yesterday and appears to want to hang around for awhile. No complaints (well, actually I'm whining a bit from wet shoes) because this is the norm. The wonderful, warm, sunny days of this past month have not been the norm, although they were much appreciated.

Including today, and Sunday (when I'll be gone most of the day), I have five more days here. And I've been here 4 weeks as of today. I'm so glad I came -- for so many reasons. I am so deeply honored and pleased to have Ayya Sobhana as a dear friend as well as mentor, and I'm glad to have been able to help her during this time, and to have such a wonderful opportunity to work and live closely with her on a daily basis. I had a friend visit for a few days and he commented over and over that 'this is not easy', meaning the general life here. And he's right. It's not easy and I didn't expect that it would be easy. Everything is in transition -- an outdoor kitchen under a canopy, the refrigerator around the corner, the pantry and ice box (literally) are across the way. The kutis are far from everything else so you don't want to forget something when you come down the hill of a morning. Or when you go back up the hill of an evening.

For the first 3 weeks or so none of this mattered to me -- I was happy and content and could see my life here easily and comfortably (more or less comfortably). I wanted to stay, intended to return. I'm not sure what made the difference, but for the past few days I've been dis-spirited, going through the motions, looking inside (not as deeply as I would like, but inside nevertheless), doing what I know to do, but somehow it's really not helping. Or, not helping enough, at any rate.

I'd already considered contacting the monastery in Austin to see if there was a chance I could still be useful there -- and then this morning a surprise email from them to see if I would be interested in returning there to teach English to foreign monks in a contemplative environment. Warm kuti, private bath, internet and electricity. Warm weather. Short walks to everything. And once the construction is completed, a good teaching atmosphere. It seems almost providential. And yes, it's something I will consider and consider closely.

Ayya, in her goodness and kindness, has helped to connect me with a woman in Sacramento who is actually going to come here and cook for her for a few days after I leave. I met her a few weeks back at the opening of the vihara in Santa Rosa. All that is background -- she and some friends from Sacramento are going to offer lunch dana to Pa Auk Sayadaw at his residence on Sunday, and Ayya suggested I go with them! The name may not mean much to most of you, but in the Theravadan Buddhist world, he is one of the greatest living teachers, also the teacher of my teacher, Sayalay Susila. There are no words to describe how much it means to me to sit in his presence, listen to his wisdom for just one time. He's old, and his health is not good, and even if that were not the case there may not be another time when I will be so near him and have an opportunity to meet him. So that's what I'll be doing on my last day in California.

About time to go start preparing lunch -- Ayya is still good and dear to me, weather notwithstanding, and she needs food (as do I).

Friday, August 30, 2013

Life is good

Didja think I fell off the face of the earth? For awhile, I kinda thought I had done just that, or was at least on the brink of doing so.

I struggled for the first week and a half -- seriously struggled with energy (lack thereof). We made numerous trips into Santa Rosa, often leaving early in the morning and arriving back late at night. Plus cooking (which I am coming to enjoy more and more) and general life.

But -- a couple of days ago I began to notice that magical moment when the energy was returning, when I no longer needed to crash right after lunch. I knew the moment would come -- it always does, as the body hardens up to meet new physical demands -- but there were days when I wasn't sure I was gonna outlast it.

Having some serious computer (software, thank you very much Microsoft!) issues that threatened (and may still threaten) the ability for the computer to function, hasn't helped. I've never made a secret about how much I dislike techie stuff, and how uncomfortable I am with it. But, I make gains. A couple of downloads this morning that were supposed to help. And disconnecting Word as my email editor. That seemed to be the biggest holdup over the past couple of days, so we'll see what happens in the future. I have over 2 weeks left here, so I need to keep it working. Internet is still slow, but functioning. Only time will tell for the rest.

Life here is good, despite the difficulties. It doesn't hurt that we have had a long spate of hot, sunny days with good breezes. Perfect weather. And it doesn't hurt that the last two afternoons we drove to Windsor (north of Santa Rosa) along the Russian River through some very beautiful and very excellent vineyards and wineries. My heart sings at the vineyards, and my palate resounds at certain winery signs, such as Sonoma-Cutrer. Not sure just what memory that reflected, but it was a good one. Maybe I just know they make a really, really good chardonnay, or maybe my palate remembers just how good it was when I had some.

I'm getting used to handwashing a couple of t-shirts every couple of mornings (I don't have many with me because I expected 'normal' cooler weather). Lunches have mostly been pretty good, if I may say so. Today I fixed what was supposed to be a frittata, but which seemed more like a Spanish omelet to me -- lots of potatoes. I've made lots of frittatas in my day, but never one without an oven, so I had to use my friend Google to learn how to do it on the stovetop. Also fixed some roasted red pepper/garlic salad, which is one of my favorite things. I cook on two big camp stoves, with serious BTUs, and it's fun to roast the peppers right over the flames.

So now it's time to put away the lunch dishes, and turn to bookkeeping. Life is good.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sweet sunset

Now, this is what it's all about, folks! We drove into Santa Rosa on Sunday and as we headed home from Bodega, the sun was putting on quite a show. Ayya suggested we stop for a minute -- a great way to relax after a long day.

I'm actually in Santa Rosa again at the moment. Ayya had to come in for some ceremonies today and tomorrow at the new Vihara, and while I was offered a very nice private room, I opted for a motel, so I can do anything I want to do at any given moment without worrying about proper protocol.  I have no clue what I'm supposed to do at the Vihara much of the time, and it's too easy to do the wrong thing simply from that ignorance. Besides that, I've been really, really, tired -- no chance to recover from that loooooog day of travel before jumping right in and driving in to do loads of laundry (not alone -- Ayya always helps and does more than her share), then take over the daily cooking and kitchen cleanup chores. In short, I'm pooped! Shortly after the above photo was taken, after we passed Jenner but hadn't reached our road, I felt that old, familiar feeling of 'hitting the wall', which is a term I first learned way back in 1983 while I was training for my Colorado bike ride. What it means is that the body literally runs out of energy to continue. I recognized what was happening, told Ayya, but assured her I was ok to get us home. It was dicey on our narrow, twisty, bumpy road, but while I may have been a bit loopy, no harm came to anything.

Still -- I'm pooped. And since I made such a big fuss about needing to have the oil changed in the truck, that was part of my day -- I had to wait 3 hours (2 promised), and didn't get to my motel until almost 6:30. And I was supposed to have a restful afternoon! So yes, I'm still pooped. Fortunately, I've been able to mostly be aware of all the mental fussing I've been doing based around the body fatigue, and was mostly able to let go of it, at least for that moment. And once I wind down, I'll be hitting the sheets. And I can stay here all morning if I wish -- will pick her up around noon for the return trip home.

It's a hard life, no doubt about it. But if I continue to work through the issues I'm still sure I can and want to make this work. I will not give up this time. The rewards are so wonderful. The forest heals. The sunshine heals. That beautiful ocean and beaches and sunsets heal. It all offsets the difficulty. I think.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Home, again

For me, there is something miraculous that happens when my flight is say, about an hour out of San Francisco. It's not intentional, it just happens. Anticipation starts to build, and it's anticipation filled with joy and much, much more. My heart soars and the feeling gets stronger and stronger as the plane gets closer and closer. I'm coming home. My heart is coming home -- to its spiritual home. I've considered that city to be my spiritual home for over 40 years now -- during the times I was lucky enough to live there, and as strongly in the times I lived elsewhere.

This is home. And it feels like home. My heart is happy and at ease in a way that it never is 'at home' in Georgia.

I had to laugh once I left the gate and entered the SFO concourse yesterday, because the first thing that hit my senses was the smell of good -- no, make that wonderful -- food. What else would you expect in San Francisco, even at the airport?

At the moment, we are in a laundromat in Guerneville doing many loads of laundry to try and rid it of mold and mildew smell. This is an experience all in itself. Sixty dollars in quarters so far. Welcome to California.

Yesterday was a comedy of errors from beginning to end, yet in each incident I was able to let go of worrying, let go of any fear around each ' what if' that came along. Made for a calm and peaceful day amidst snags.

I got to the Atlanta airport and checked my bags, got my boarding pass, headed to the gate, waited for a flight to load and then the next departing flight was not to SFO so I asked at the counter and it turned out that my ticket was for a flight leaving that night at 9:55 pm, instead of 9:55 am. Luckily, Delta had another non-stop flight leaving an hour later, and she got me on it, got my checked bag re-routed, and all I had to do was walk to the end of that terminal, take the train under the runway to the other terminal, then go almost to the end (gate 5 of 18). But I was on.  The flight got in around 1:05, the Sonoma Airporter bus I needed to catch left at 1:30. I dashed from the plane to the baggage, where my bag didn't come out until maybe the third load. I was just happy to see that it got onto the plane! I grabbed it, looked at my watch: 1:28. I thought, no way I can get out there in time -- but also no way I can't try. So backpack on the back, heavy computer bag in one hand, heavy, big duffel in the other, I moved as fast as I could toward the door that led to the street crossing for the shuttles. I got there 30 seconds before the bus!

Then, the driver told me he wouldn't get to Sonoma Airport in time for me to catch my bus to Jenner, because of freeway construction slowdowns. I relaxed, knowing I had a back-up plan for a ride, and content to wait and see if I would make the connection. He, in the meantime, had devised another plan. At his last stop before the Airport, he told me he was going to go off his route and drop me at the Santa Rosa Transit Mall, where I would be able to catch the bus! He stopped at a corner and I had to hustle off the bus quickly with all bags, then walk a block or so, but what great thing to do! From there, I waited around 20 minutes in the breezy sunshine, then enjoyed one of those 'California only' experiences. A small bus, local people (interesting local people), headed to Mendocino eventually. Laid back, fun. We drove through the rolling hills to Bodega, then headed north along the coast (and yes, my heart really did soar, then) to Jenner. The driver dropped me at the end of the private road that comes up here, a few miles north of Jenner, where Ayya Sobhana was waiting for me. A wonderful day of potential 'disasters' that all had happy endings.

Weather here is fabulous. Warm and sunny, the coastal fog far, far out at sea. It won't last forever and is most unusual for this time of year, but nobody is complaining.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Curry -- my latest food obsession

Today's effort, served over brown rice
I've never had much curry, outside the occasional Indian restaurant. Never thought a great deal about that lack until last April when the cook at Southern Dharma served two very different curry sauces for use over rice during the course of the two retreats. At that point, I was sold and should have asked him for some tips. Instead, I tried an online recipe that turned out to be less than interesting. A week or so ago I did a little more searching and found a really basic recipe. Long story short -- a couple of days ago I tried it, and liked it. Thus obsessed, I tried it again today with some additions and liked it, but maybe not quite as much. 

The basic recipe called for 1 cup coconut milk or whole cow's milk, 1 Tbsp curry powder, salt, and a Tbsp of butter. Can't get much simpler than that. When I made it, I used 3/4 cup coconut milk because that's what I had leftover in the freezer, topped it up with whole milk. I used coconut oil instead of butter, for no real reason. I also chopped up some green onions (didn't have any regular onions), a little fresh ginger (all I had left) and some garlic and sauteed those before adding the spices and milk. Once finished it was tasty, but I found that adding more curry powder made it even tastier.

Here's today's efforts. You know I had to photograph this!

I sauteed the onions in coconut oil until they were good and soft and had begun to form a thick liquid.
Then I added a bunch of finely minced fresh ginger and garlic, two of my favorite ingredients for about everything.

Red curry paste and curry powder

I added some Thai red curry paste because I had it, leftover from the recipe I didn't like. I still can't say it added much of anything to the end result, other than changing the color. Next time, I'll omit it altogether. I also added more curry powder, but since each brand is different, another brand might require more or less.

A little fresh cilantro from the garden, just because I noticed how it had shot up over the past few days from seedling to harvest size.

Then, all that's left is to let it simmer until the onions and such get nice and soft and the flavors all meld. I've been serving it over brown rice, as it is, but I'm convinced it would make a good protein-rich meal with the addition of tofu. I'd have tried that, but I bought some at Kroger awhile back (probably for that online recipe I didn't like) and it wasn't very fresh despite being a good week away from its sell-by date. All they had was their own brand, so I bought it against my better judgment just because that's all there was. No more! Next time, back to a name brand I know even if I have to drive to WalMart to get it.

Final product at top of page -- and enough sauce left for another day. I'm guessing this would be pretty good with about anything -- meats, veggies, whatever.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The joys of old age

I'm beginning to get better insights into how my body reacts/recovers after being really tired (from all the long driving trips and retreats of the past few months, specifically).

I've long seen that it just takes awhile to recover once I'm back home, or even on the first leg of the trip when I arrive at my destination. What I haven't fully realized is that while I feel enough better after a few days to think I've recovered, that really isn't the case. That second phase, if  you will, takes longer.

This most recent trip to Bhavana is a good case in point. Long drive up there, a short retreat, long drive home. I've been home not quite two weeks now, but have been thinking that first recovery was as good as it was going to get, and wondering why I was still so fatigued. I put it down to increased cardio, but that still didn't make sense because I wasn't doing enough to account for the level of fatigue.

Yesterday, second day of increasing the time spent on the cycle machine, I felt great, drove to Rome, did my errands, came home, had plenty of energy all morning, took a nice nap after lunch and felt great the rest of the day. Today, I increased the time on the machine by 10 minutes, and I still feel great. I seem to be swinging back into the relaxed routine -- sleeping a bit better at night, napping naturally during the day -- definitely feeling better all day.

I can only chalk this up to additional time for recovery. Nothing else has changed. Looking back, I know it took awhile to feel good after past trips -- I just didn't pick up on the pattern. This is good news. I can expect this pattern also when I arrive at the Hermitage, but can relax with the knowledge that it'll pass soon enough. It seems that last year my body was feeling much less fatigued the last few days before I left (although my mind was not happy!).

Ahhhhhhhhh -- the joys of old age.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On the road -- AGAIN!

First, let me say that I am so proud of my little car! Even as it approaches 90,000 miles it continues to get such wonderful gas mileage. On this last trip with three fillups, mileages were: 38.45, 38.52 and 39.49mpg! The latter was actually the first tank, when I was driving easily in the early morning hours headed northeast. The last two covered heavy slow/fast and even stop and go traffic during the next half of the trip north, and a slightly heavier foot on the pedal all the way home. I'm getting braver, edging that speed up just a tad and hoping the vigilant Virginia cops leave me alone. So far, so good. If I didn't have this car -- or another car with equally good mileage -- I'd never be able to afford all these trips I take.

My next trip, however, is going to take me further and faster -- as in a big old jet from Atlanta to San Francisco. I returned home to find my dear friend Ayya Sobhana left alone at the hermitage with only one lay woman to help, and many construction and maintenance projects underway. The other bhikkhunis are staying elsewhere for the next few months while all this is going on, so I felt that I had to find a way to help her out. I can do more of the financial stuff from there, and more to help her with various elements of project management. I am already doing more from here, but in a few weeks there are no more lay women scheduled to visit and help. Someone must prepare her food and drive her from time to time -- the monastic orders do not allow her to do these things for herself.

That said, I'll be leaving here August 14 and returning September 17. Cold weather, rodents, mold and all the chaos be damned! It'll also be a really good opportunity for me to determine whether or not I will be able to go there to stay, as I've been considering once again. This is going to be tougher than last year -- the 'kitchen' is outdoors, soon to be covered by a large canopy that I just ordered for them. Two big Coleman camp stoves do the work. Water is nearby -- don't know if it's been plumbed to the temporary kitchen or not. But, I've cooked meals in the woods for myself many times, using a simple one-burner backpacking stove, so I can do this. All that's needed is filling and nutritious food -- nothing fancy.

So, it's going to be an adventure -- one I'm looking forward to. This time I'm taking some good cold weather clothing, even though that will require checking a bag and thus more $$. But the comfort will be worth it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Home from the hills

I'm getting better at this traveling thing! Last month, when I drove home from Bhavana it took me almost exactly 12 hours -- but I made stops for breakfast and a late lunch (I was pooped and needed a break and some heavy refueling). Driving up there last Sunday -- in horrendous traffic and nasty thunderstorms for the last 3 hours, it took 11 hours. I took food in the car, so only needed to stop for gas and bathroom breaks. Driving home yesterday, I made it in 10.5 hours -- again, I had food stashed in the car (stopped at a grocery store early on for some cheese and a bathroom break), and blessedly light traffic that allowed me to move steadily along all day. I left there at 11:05am, arrived home at 9:35 pm. Better yet, with each trip I find that I'm less and less tired afterwards. My body is adjusting. That bodes well for whatever long trips may be in my future.

Had a great trip. Finally, a retreat taught by the irreplaceable Bhante Gunaratana. I've met and talked to him on previous visits, listened to some short talks, but never an actual retreat taught by him. This was worth whatever the cost in terms of time and money. I was planning to leave yesterday early, before breakfast, but on the previous day they asked me to assist with a ceremony that would take place yesterday morning. I was honored to be asked, so of course I stayed, leaving right after the ceremony, before lunch. This was for the Eight Lifetime Precepts, which I took two years ago. The ceremony requires a female, preferably a nun, to put a medallion necklace around the neck and tie a string bracelet around the wrist of the women taking the precepts. I was apparently the only female onsite who had previously taken these precepts, and that made me marginally more appropriate to the cause than a female who hadn't taken them. I was careful not to attach any sense of pride or ego from this, but I have to tell you it was really, really cool to sit up front next to Bhante G and perform these rituals! Photos were taken during the ceremony using my camera. I'll eventually post more on the CintaSpeaks site, but here's one.

Yours truly -- with a woman I happened to already know and Bhante G looking on. Priceless! Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.
I'm still a bit brain-loopy, so further words will need to wait. I will say that more travel may be in my immediate future -- as in airline travel to San Francisco. Stay tuned to details as I get them.

Friday, July 19, 2013

To old friends

A dear, old friend of mine was recently named 'Artist in Residence' for the America's Cup competition underway in San Francisco. One of the nicest people I have ever met, Jim is not only a talented artist, but also an accomplished sailboat racer (now retired from that) and owned a successful sail loft that catered to racing for many years (also now retired). These days, in his 80's, he enjoys his life and paints, which is what he loves best.  This self portrait shows the merry glee and goodness that are so much a part of his personality.

Check out this article in Diablo Magazine for some of Jim's America's Cup work, and links to more. He's a true treasure, and I am so honored to have been a friend for over 40 years now. I even have an original deWitt sketch that's about that old.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Listen up, everybody. This is an important question.  How does a butterfly get through the fine meshed bird netting that covers one of my garden beds? During the past several days I've freed numbers of them, when I've seen them floundering against the net from the inside, trying to escape. It's a mystery to me.

I'm back from retreat. Kind of. Let's say I'm edging back. Officially, I'm not 'back' until tomorrow, but I put a hole in the proverbial dam yesterday when I answered an email from the bhikkhunis in California that I wanted to chime in on immediately, as it concerned me and some new duties I'm taking on. Once that was done, the hole just kept growing and emails have now been flowing as normal. But, I'm still being silent otherwise, still sticking with the meditation schedule and work schedule and the monastic precepts (no evening meal and no entertainment, primarily).

And, since I took the plunge last week and signed up for a formal jhana retreat at Bhavana next week (as opposed to the informal one I've been doing here), I will have a four-day turnaround before I hit the long road again early Sunday morning.

I found great humor during this week at how much my house has profited from the daily scheduled hour of work. My house is too small to require an hour to tidy up every day, so I had to find projects, things that would take time. This morning, I hauled everything out of the pantry and cleaned it thoroughly, then put it all back inside. Badly needed! There have been many of these projects, inside and out (I almost tamed the rosemary). That's a good thing!

The retreat was more than successful. It was intense and deep and hard work! So hard, in fact, that by Sunday I was drained, whupped, pooped, flogged. Done. That's when I started peeking at the internet again, reading but not answering email. The mind and body were just too tired to keep the work going. I'll do more of these, but I've learned a couple of things. One is not to use an electronic teacher, since that requires turning on the computer. The one I used is actually on a cd that I have, but it opens in a browser and has three talks per day, so it didn't make sense to turn the computer on and off three times a day. I just left it on -- and the temptation got me.

The second thing I learned was that next time I won't make it quite so long, since I really haven't been very effective these last few days while I was so drained.

Other than those minor things, it all went well. I didn't have any trouble keeping to the schedule (although I did blow off early morning meditation a couple of days when I was so tired and the body just wanted to sleep). All in all, I think I spent more time meditating during meditation periods than I normally do at a formal retreat.

The best thing about it all was silence. Outer silence that allowed the inner silence and peace to arise and take over. That was just too, too beautiful for words. And rather surprisingly, most of that disappeared when I began communicating and becoming involved in things again yesterday.

I really would make a good hermit. And I really do need silence, at least from time to time.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Retreat time

Still wallowing in dampness here. Cool dampness. Forecast for the next week isn't a lot better, although instead of 100% chance of rain, it drops into lower percentages. Fortunately, it's been calm and steady rain -- no racking thunderstorms, big winds or downpours. It could be worse.

Everything is wet now. The dehumidifier is running a lot, and I'm emptying a lot of water from it. This old wooden house has just absorbed moisture and that won't go away until we have some sunshine and warm weather. It doesn't help that I've still opened the house up at night for fresh, cool air. Tonight, I'm going to leave the windows closed (a few are always open a bit), so I don't have to start all over with the drying out tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, I'm going to take my own advice and turn this house into a meditation cave for the next 10 days or so, if I don't go stir crazy before then. I've spent the past few days prepping both the house and me, getting food in, cleaning, doing things a retreat center would do to prepare for a retreat, mostly. Fortunately, no packing or driving for me this time!

Now, I just have to see if I have the discipline to make this work. I think it's a toss up whether I will or not. I have a schedule to follow and no distractions. The computer will be off. I'll let you know when I emerge.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Are Bluebirds the Key?

I've mentioned often on these pages how joyous I find the sight of bluebirds in and around my yard. These were in my driveway not too long after I moved here. As the years (three plus)  have passed, I've seen more and more of them. This spring, my neighbor had two pairs of them nesting in boxes in her front yard -- one box actually attached to the front porch. Now, I often see one when I look out into my front  yard. Presumably these are the offspring of those two nests, poking around in the grass looking for munchies. That flash of blue never fails to bring a smile to my face and, perhaps more importantly, inside.

The point of all this is that I've been thinking for awhile now how nice it would be to put up my own nesting box and have them in my back yard. I'd intended to do this the first year, but then these two disappeared and I didn't see anymore until the following year. My thinking was negative -- oh, it's pointless to put a box out there, they'd never use it. My neighbor is proof that they will use it, and that it doesn't have to be out in a field someplace (although she's had those boxes out since before I moved here, and this is the first time bluebirds have occupied them). Bluebirds, like other species, apparently are adapting to life among humans. I now have babies who were born here and will likely either stay here, or return here when it's time to build nests. And there are at least two pairs who have already nested here and will likely return.

So back to this urge. Now that it seems unlikely that I'll become a nomad or live in a monastery, I have to figure out just what the next steps are. Wouldn't it be funny if it all hinged on bluebirds? Not forever, but at least for now.  I really want to put up a box and see it used, and right now I don't have a more compelling reason to go someplace else or to stay here. Perhaps this is as good as any.

I'm sort of nesting here again myself -- planted some basil over the weekend, thinking about planting some more veggies. Yesterday I weeded around the blueberries (badly needed, since the netting keeps the weed-whacker and lawnmower away) and around the rosemary. This isn't much, but it's a big step from the idea of total abandonment that's been in place for so long now.

Of course, so much of it comes back to money! Part and parcel of that is the question of the roof -- well past its reasonable lifespan and apt to leak at any given time. Replacing it is out of the question -- if it leaks, and the leaks are bad, abandonment will be the only alternative. A big part of me still wants to be proactive and not have to worry about that or any other maintenance expenses that might crop up.

But, nothing is written in stone here -- not even close. Merely thoughts leaking from my mind onto the page. I'm not even giving the future any serious thought -- just listening to what arises.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Garden gains -- and losses

Why is it that computers change things that don't need to be changed, with no explanation? I know, there will never be an answer to that question.  What's changed this time is how photos are downloaded from my camera -- in the span of a week or two of non-use, once I returned from Bhavana I noticed the process was different, different windows opened, but I didn't change any settings. I lost some of the Bhavana photos, and I lost a couple of photos I just took out in the yard -- easily replaced and somehow I got this one to save on the computer. Microsoft doesn't like the fact that I'm using my old Roxio photo software instead of Windows -- I think that's the basic problem.

But anyway..... I thought I'd show what's happening out in the back yard.

It's late in the day so it's shadowy, but the point is the greenery around the four raised beds. Greenery that used to be cedar mulch walkways, but is now weeds. I fought them last year, even over the winter, but finally admitted defeat when warmer weather and rains arrived. I just can't do it any more. I could use Roundup, but that grinds every nerve in my body. So the weeds grow and are cut when the grass is cut.

Remember this? Work in progress.
And this? "finished", more or less -- and before the rosemary took over the garden. But the curved metal is in place around the rosemary, as well as the front and left edges of the cleared areas. I never got around to the other two sides and that was my downfall, particularly along the rear where bermuda grass and weeds encroached faster than I could pull/cut them out. I hate the stuff -- it's relentless. It's nice to remember that it looked decent for awhile, anyway.

And this? The summer of black plastic that killed bermuda grass so I could add the two new concrete block planting beds?

And this? Cutting out the layout for the beds -- unevenly!

And this? Digging trenches on two sides of the planting area, as well as the curved area around the rosemary, to install that nice metal edging, to keep bermuda grass from rooting through?
In the ground, ready to be filled in and finished. Only took two days to do two sides. The curved area around the rosemary came later.

Is it any wonder that I'm disillusioned and wanting out of this house -- this is only one reason among many. Countless hours of work, lots of money, and it's all going back to weeds because I cannot keep them out any longer using organic methods, and I refuse to use anything else. The beds are mostly lying fallow now -- needing more black plastic on the empty ones to keep the weeds out -- I dig and dig but they encroach, regardless. I'm tired of the battle. And too old for the battle. So what's the point?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Does fat make you fat?

The first naturopath I saw, many years ago in Eugene, was a sveldt young woman who didn't appear to have an extra ounce of fat on her skinny body. She and I didn't last long as doctor/patient but I will always remember her insistence that dietary fat did not make one fat. "I", she said, "am a perfect example of that." Her diet included lots of fats.

Since then, I've heard the same theory in various places. The body needs a certain amount of fat in order to be healthy -- preferably in the form of healthy fats, of course.  In my own life, I've never noticed that more or less fat in my diet led to more or less fat on my body.

My recent week-long stays at two monasteries with vastly different dietary styles led to an interesting, if unintentional, experiment with this subject.

In Austin, the diet was traditional Burmese: various meats and veggies swimming in heavy sauces floating with oil, lots of white rice, rice noodles and other noodles. No fresh veggies or salads.

At Bhavana, absolutely no fat is allowed in any food, per instructions from the abbot's cardiologist. The rest of us might get scrambled eggs (dry-scrambled), but he would have only the white of a boiled egg. There were nut butters and margarine available on the table, but I had only a small amount of almond butter a couple of mornings, and bread only once. There were plenty of fresh veggies and always a salad. There were two days of delicious food dana (food offerings brought in from outside). The first was 'normal' American foods brought by a woman whose cooking I'd been lucky enough to taste before -- this time no fats or oils used. The second was traditional Sri Lankan food, but without coconut milk or oil of any kind. All of it was delicious without fat.

So where would you guess I'd lose weight, and where I'd gain?  I was certainly surprised! When I returned from Austin after 7 or so days of this delicious diet, I felt as if I must have gained weight -- but the scale said otherwise. I was down 2 or 3 pounds from 'average'. When I returned from 5 days of healthy, fat-free food at Bhavana, I was once more surprised -- up 2 or 3 pounds from 'average'. In between the two, my weight had returned to 'average' so both visits started at around the same figure.

More interestingly, I think I ate more in Austin, and I know I had really no exercise other than walking from place to place at the monastery. At Bhavana, I stood on my feet for 3 to 5 hours per day, working in the kitchen, washing up after meals, and doing another project assigned to me while I was there. And I didn't overeat.

I'm not sure what the conclusion is for this little experiment, other than that as I've noted in the past it doesn't seem to matter what I eat, how much I eat, or how much/little I exercise when it comes to gaining or losing weight. But this was certainly far more of a contrasting diet than any I would or could have devised at home. Make of it what  you will.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bhavana visit

I've never seen Bhavana more beautiful than on this visit -- but then, I've never been there in spring or early summer, either. Some of my photos were lost in the process of transferring from the camera, which has never happened before, but I'll show what survived.

I've never seen the lily pond in bloom before. On my first visit, it had just been cleaned out and was just a mud puddle without a lot of plants around it. I took better photos than this, but this is the only one that survived.   

The lily pond is just to the left of the bridge, the meditation hall behind it.

One of the beautiful lilys in the pond.

From near the columbarium -- such beautiful, green woods!

The columbarium, where people may choose to have their ashes interred. There is work planned for this area during the summer. My will stipulates that my own ashes be sent here.

So, that's what survived. As I suspected before I left, residency here will not be possible for me, except possibly during a summer. The work is difficult even now -- I was pretty well pooped out even during this short visit -- and their need is for 'strong young bodies'. Clearly, that is not me. I can, of course, attend as many retreats as I wish, and go for short visits or residencies, but not long term. As Bhante G said, we have to look at realities in these things, and even I know that the reality for me is that this is just too difficult for my aging body.

On the other hand, when I was there my heart felt that it was at home -- the place it wanted to be. The rest of me agrees. After a beautiful drive through the West Virginia and Virginia backroads, with tantalizing glimpses of the mountains and beautiful Shenandoah Valley in the early morning light, when I reached I-81 at Strasburg, VA there was great reluctance in the act of steering my car onto the on-ramp -- and a bit of dampness in the eyes. I really wasn't ready to leave.

So what does the future hold for me now that this isn't a possibility? I don't know yet, but I'm thinking about some way of living closer so I can visit more often. I feel that there is unfinished business for me there, and I want to honor that if I can. Right now, I'm still too tired to think about it too much.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Frustrations of old age -- and hitting the road again

I get to spend a week here -- almost. My favorite place to meditate.
I know many of us are familiar with that old age disease CRM -- can't remember shit!?

This morning, I'm packing for my trip to Bhavana tomorrow and I cannot find a pair of black pants that I want to wear. I've searched the obvious and less obvious parts of this house several times -- and it's not a big house. Nada.

I know I brought them back from Texas, so they have to be in this house somewhere. But where? I'm keeping my Buddhist calm about it -- so far -- but still racking my brain to figure out where they could be. At least my closet got rearranged in the process of looking. Guess that's good. I don't have a lot of clothes to begin with, so it's not easy to hide something like that. I've checked in the bags I packed this morning twice now, even though I knew they weren't in there. I find there's no such thing as 'know' any longer. :)

Other than that -- and actually putting things into the car -- I'm mostly ready to go and it's not even 10am yet. I've got this system down to a science, I must say. Certainly been enough practice so far this year. Now about all that's left is watching 'hawk TV' to catch the last Red Tailed Hawk leaving the nest. She's taken her own sweet time about it, but sure looks ready.

Tomorrow I'm finally meeting a wonderful woman from Corvallis, OR who has recently moved to  Asheville, NC. We've corresponded for years -- connected through a couple of sources -- but never met. I'm driving north through Asheville just to have lunch/tea with her. Her name is Dr. Mary Ann Iyer and she writes the blog Living in Harmony that's on my blog list to the right. She's just amazing -- so wise. I'm so looking forward to this.

So, that's my day. Wish me luck finding the missing black capri pants!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Photos from Austin

Finally got around to downloading the rest of the photos off the camera this morning, so here are the promised 'more' photos.

Meditation  hall. Floors here and other buildings are mahogany.

This trim around the sides of the meditation hall was taken from actual, ancient temple paintings in Burma. I assume they began with photos, but then the old, faded paintings were 'restored' by determining what the original colors would have been (presumably done by computer) then turned into wallpaper to use here. Every panel is different -- I just chose this one at random.

Part of the ceiling wallpaper, presumably produced in the same way that the side panels were. It's truly amazing to see all this at one time, in the room.

Detail of the Buddha and more wallpaper, other decor, in the meditation hall.

From the far end of the meditation hall walkway. Hall to the right, pagoda beyond, marble plaza between.

Inside the pagoda -- one carpet had been taken outside, but this was my last day and last opportunity to get a photo.
This Buddha is solid white marble, weighs two tons! The radiating lights behind change colors constantly.
Front  yard garden at the Austin Zen Center. Really a beautiful place!

I'm still not feeling up to par today, although after a long night of sleep and yet another early morning nap, I forced myself to pull up garlic (it was about to bloom, and past time), then slowly do a few other things. I'm just blah, and have a headache that developed yesterday and hasn't quit. And I don't get headaches, as a rule. I really think it has something to do with the mold in the walls of this house. I felt great until I was back here for awhile.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


As travel days go, today was short and easy.  Three hundred eighty-five miles, total travel time including lunch, 7 hours. And not even a full tank of gas. The car is usually good for 425 or more per tank, and I filled up last night in Vicksburg.

I've been back awhile. Adjusting to the humidity and the sheer comfort of being home again. Makes me wonder how I'm really going to do with the fact of not having a home to go back to after a journey, an adventure. Gave a lot of thought to this whole scheme today -- with no particular answers.

An answer exists. I just have to find it. I don't believe it is going to be in Austin, for several reasons. It's a lovely place with lovely people, no question about it. But is it the right place for me to learn and grow in my practice? I don't think so. And that is, after all, the purpose of all this effort. To find a place to grow in my practice.

My body is also glad, I think, to be back to the food it considers 'normal'. I enjoyed the Burmese food, with a few exceptions (my old bugaboo bitter melon for one, and fish sauce or paste for another), but my body had very different perceptions and feelings on the subject. I feel as if I must have gained a ton of flab, and that's not a trend I want to continue. Although tasty, the food was largely refined carbs (white rice and noodles) with meat or veggie swimming in oil-based sauces. Jiggly belly fat is the inevitable result of that kind of diet, especially when one has no real exercise or form of exercise. I could have walked around the property, or down the road, I suppose, but I'm not sure that would have helped much. Now, I just have to diet and work it off.

Still, despite the 1847 total miles, I'm glad I went. It's the only way to find out, after all. And even though it doesn't sound like a 'home' for me, it was a wonderful experience. Monday night as I was taking leave of the abbot in the pagoda, he asked me to come back any time, and next time to fly, not drive. He said they would meet me at the airport. Hard to beat that sort of kindness -- and that kindness came to me from everyone there, not just the abbot. The cat was a bit skittish, but even he came around eventually.

So now my task is to rest up and get ready for Bhavana in a few weeks -- and also to keep looking for 'the answer'. Somehow, it always points me back to California, to Aranya Bodhi, but I've yet to figure out how to make that one work.

It's a good thing I don't have a deadline for figuring this out!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Moon over Austin

When I left the Pagoda last night I glanced up and saw the moon directly in line with the Pagoda top -- so I had to get the camera, of course! This one turned out surprisingly well, for hand held. It's times like this when I wish I had a tripod.

Looks like I'm going to leave Tuesday. I'm in no hurry -- have actually begun sleeping so well here that I want to just keep sleeping! I missed morning meditation so I could sleep for another hour today, and would have missed breakfast, but I thought someone might begin to worry about me if I did that.

Today, we're going into Austin where the monk teaches a Sunday class at a Zen center, then later in the afternoon there is an Abhidhamma class taught by the abbot, first in English, then in Burmese. I won't stay for the Burmese, of course.

I promised photos, so here are a few. The moon photo finally gave me some incentive to download from the camera.

This is the kuti I'm staying in. I've nicknamed it the Taj Mahal, because it's so luxurious.

Some of those 8000 pieces of trim that went on the Pagoda.
Hundreds of small bells on this topper -- lovely sound all the time, with the breezes.

Steps up to the Pagoda
Pagoda from parking lot. It's just amazing!

That's it for now. I hope to get some interior photos, but keep forgetting. The interiors of the Pagoda and meditation hall are just wonderful!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Those pesky tornadoes!

So I'm leaving Georgia partly to get away from tornadoes, and then there's big stuff happening overnight to the north of here! Actually, tornado activity around here is one thing I researched long ago.While this is technically at the tail end of the areas generally affected by tornadoes, they don't happen all that often around here. Nothing like at home in Georgia, or further north in Texas. Still, it was quite a shock to read the news this morning and know that all this happened overnight while I slept peacefully.

I'm still pooped, my friends. I don't say that as a complaint -- it's just the reality of what's happening with my body right now and I fully accept it as that -- I am wondering how long it's going to take me to recover from the drive down here. And if I'll be recovered by the time I leave again. Old age sucks, at times like this. Recovery time is so much slower! I think part of the problem is that I'm still waking up on EDT and going to bed on CDT, so I'm losing a good hour of sleep and rest in the process.

However, all that aside, I am so glad to be here! As days go by and I relax more, get more familiar and thereby more comfortable with the surroundings, procedures and people, I find that this definitely will give me the experience I want of immersing myself not only in a monastery, but also within the Burmese culture. Two out of three monks currently in residence are Burmese. All the food is Burmese. Evening chanting is done in Pali, Burmese and English (separately, thank goodness!). Burmese culture reigns and I love it. As I hoped, this will give me the experience of a Burmese monastery, and it's the closest to the real thing I'll probably ever get, since I can't see me traveling to Burma, much as I might like that.

Long-term residency here would not provide such luxurious accommodations, but I haven't yet asked what kind of accommodation I might expect. Kuti's range greatly in size and comfort features! When I was talking to the contractor the other day, he said this is a 'five star monastery', and he's right, but I expect I'd probably be assigned a one- or two-star kuti, probably without private bath. I could live with that. One of the one-star versions is next to the Taj Mahal here, and it is seriously tiny! Nothing in it but a twin bed with bookcase headboard, and little room for much else. But, it has electricity and AC, no doubt heat as well. Some of the kutis at Bhavana are bigger and better appointed, but none has electricity or AC.

They're only months away from completion of the building project that's already take two and a half years. It's interesting to look forward to and beyond that point, see what it will look like visually (right now, much of the ground in the parking/driveway areas is torn up and rough, not to mention the big ditch that extends everywhere). And it's fun to think about the retreats and teachers they might have, the place filled with people and everything functioning as it's been planned for about 20 years now.

I've finished the first editing/proofreading assignment, and am now chilling out and waiting either for reviewing it with the monk, or meditation at 7pm, whichever comes first.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What I'm learning

It's a rainy morning here in Austin, perfect for sitting inside and working at the computer -- which is what I was doing until I decided to take a short break and communicate here. By work, I mean doing some proofreading for one of the monks. Pleasant work. Made more pleasant because I am able to pick up the computer and take it to a more comfortable location, without being tied to the endless wires that exist at home. Actually, this is what inspired me to communicate.

For the first time, I'm using this computer for a fraction of what it's designed to be able to do. No added keyboard, mouse or other peripherals. What is standing out for me is the wonderful lighted keyboard -- even in the darkness of the room, I can easily see every key and what it is, because it's lighted from below and through the characters on the keys. Pretty cool. The room doesn't have to be dark -- I could turn on a light -- but on a sunny day the six windows in this room provide plenty of light. Today, that light is adequate for everything but reading.

So, enough computer-speak, other than to say it's a nice toy that gets nicer every time I use a new feature. I'm grateful to have it, and grateful to Woot! for offering it at a price even I could afford.

I've been here not quite 2 days now, and I'm beginning to 'settle in' and figure out the ways of the place, get to know the people, be comfortable in a monastic setting that's different (Burmese culture as opposed to Sri Lankan culture) than I've known in the past. And to learn what (very little) is actually expected of me while I'm here. Yesterday, in an effort to help earn my room and board, I swept lots of walkways and decks -- very satisfying, outdoor work. I'm meditating 4 times per day with the American monk, which is good. He and I talked for about 3 hours yesterday afternoon about his writing, how I might help him, what I'm looking for, and such. I enjoyed that, except that I foolishly had not eaten enough food at either breakfast or lunch, and was therefore suffering blood sugar issues so that my brain was rather lightheaded and dull.  I don't think I'll make that mistake again! I chose to be here under the Eight Precepts, which means I live under the same precepts the monks live under, which means no eating after noon. There is a liquid 'snack' after evening chanting -- fruit juice or smoothie normally, but after having both Monday night and seeing how all that fruit sugar affected my body and ability to sleep, I requested -- and got -- a glass of milk instead.  This morning, I ate and ate and ate at breakfast and could have kept on eating, but stopped because I knew I'd really had enough. Breakfast was some warm cereal that I'd guess had a rice base, plus a noodle/sauce dish that had pork in it and was very tasty, plus a rice noodle/vegetable dish that was also delicious. All Burmese food, all prepared elsewhere and brought here daily by various supporters.

Yesterday I met the contractor who has spent the last 2.5 years building this place. He was taking a break in the dining room after lunch and I walked through the room so he introduced himself and chatted for awhile. The pagoda, I've learned from both the monk and the contractor, is the largest in this country. I had quite a different perspective from the contractor on the building of it than I might get elsewhere! All very positive, but from a different viewpoint. He talked about how it was an exact "and I mean exact" scale model of the one in Burma. Apparently, he had to undo and redo things more than once when he wasn't exact. He said (presumably told this by the Burmese architect who lived onsite for around 9 months and supervised construction) that if it wasn't precisely exact, the spirits would be unhappy with the pagoda. He also said they had 8000 'pieces' to put on the outside, all created onsite by the group of skilled Burmese craftsmen who also created the many Buddha statues inside. If you look closely at the pagoda, you can appreciate what he means, even though everything is covered in a gold metallic paint. I'll eventually post photos -- I promise! I just don't know when I'm going to download them from the camera.

One thing I do not like about this computer (the operating system, not the hardware) is that my old photo editing software doesn't synch properly with Windows 7, so working with photos isn't as comfortable as with WindowsXP. I should be (and am) happy that it works at all, since I really can't afford to buy new software. It does keep me from working with it so readily, however.

Right now, the contractors are installing a ground sprinkler system that was suddenly required by the fire inspector. A deep, serpentine ditch has been dug and continues to be dug all around and through the property to prepare for this. The contractor said that there was a big fire last year not far from here (I drove through the burned area on the road from Houston) that got everybody a little jumpy, which is why the afterthought of this sprinkler system. The fire area was indeed huge -- on both sides of the highway extending as far as I could see. All these oaks and cedars do burn, and they're really like a short forest, in that the trees are so close together and cover basically everything in sight other than where man has cleared them away.

Everyone here is extraordinarily nice and friendly. I have some difficulty understanding the two Burmese monks, but with closer attention and growing familiarity with their accented English, that's improving. I always have problems with accents of any kind -- sometimes including deep southern accents! Even British English can be difficult for me, but with time I can and will adapt.

One thing I think I've decided (since you never know with me) is that I am just too old for these long road trips. I don't know why they take so much out of me, but the fact is that they do so. It takes days to recover -- I'm still not there. I need to find a place and stay there. Soon. But first, I  have to return to Georgia, then make the round trip to Bhavana, which is closer to home.