Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Busy day at the fermentation station

Two quarts of fine yogurt cooking away inside a cooler used as an incubation station. It works pretty well, but now that I have a really good instant-read thermometer, I'm discovering that the water is only around 107 rather than the desired 110. However, I remind myself that yogurt has been produced for centuries without thermometers of any kind, and the stuff is setting up, so I'm not going to worry about it.

These two quarts will last a little over a week, as I use a cup of it in my smoothie daily. Now that it's affordable, that is. When I had to pay $4 and up for a good quality local yogurt I used it far more sparingly and supplemented with protein powder. Now, I buy a good quality local milk for about $1.25 per quart -- around $2.50 per week as opposed to $8+ per week (depending upon where I bought it) for the local product. That's a savings I can get into!

Since I was on a roll, and since I had the kitchen to myself with plenty of time, I opted to move the sauerkraut out of the crock it's been fermenting in for these last two weeks, and into a mason jar to finish up.

It's a good thing I did, I think. The cabbage was packed so tight that when I fluffed it up in the crock to transfer, I noticed areas where the cabbage was still white, so apparently the brine was not even reaching them. Something to remember for next time.

I tasted it during the transfer -- actually had a little too much to fit this jar so ate a little of the leftover. It's starting to taste like good kraut! I'll give it another week or more to keep fermenting, then store it in the refrigerator. I still have some of the purchased kraut to eat in the meantime.

The new thermometer really makes the yogurt process much easier, I have to say. It's accurate, and really 'instant'.  What will really make the whole thing easier is when I have a kitchen of my own, where I can leave things on the counter to ferment or culture, rather than moving them up and down the stairs. I really look forward to that day!  In the meantime, it gets done here, and the stairs are good for me.  She says.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Say Cheese, please

Another beautiful webcam shot from Mt. Rainier National Park. Now, most of the time these views are fairly mundane. Sometimes, they are spectacular.

Clearly, no shortage of snow up there this year, and here in Oregon, Crater Lake also has lots of snow. After a few drought years, this is very welcome.

Is it snowing where you are this Christmas Eve? This morning's weather page actually showed some snow here today, but it won't be much if it actually happens. It'll be interesting to see how much, if any, we get up here on this hill above the city. I don't think I'll like being snowed in up here if that should happen.

It's going to be a long weekend for me, with my roommate here all four days, sleeping most of the days and up most of the nights. I always feel constricted at these times, not wanting to make noise during the day when she's sleeping, oddly uncomfortable with her being up during the night. Those are my issues, of course, not hers, but constricting nevertheless. I have a feeling I'm going to want to get away from here by Saturday, so I hope not to see a white Christmas. I have no idea where I'll go, I just know I'll want to be away from here for awhile.

My sauerkraut seems to be coming along quite nicely. Beginning to smell more like sauerkraut, but still tasting like cabbage. It's only been a week -- give it time! The good news is that there are no signs of mold or a film on the surface of the brine. A local community center run by the city had some urban homesteading classes last fall and I wanted to go to the one on fermenting foods, making kraut, but didn't have the $18 for the fee. Last night, I checked their website and found that they're doing it again this winter and again in spring, so I'm going to try to get into some of them. May not need the kraut class -- just had my own, right here! -- but there is one on sourdough bread making (I've done this before, but not always successfully, so a class might be useful), and one I really want to take on cheeses. That's something I really want to tackle, and while I have plenty of good directions available, this is something that I think would be better with hands-on demonstration and somebody to answer questions. I'll probably take this one in mid-February, let the others slide until spring, if at all.

So that's my Christmas Eve, and it won't get more exciting but I'm really good with that. This is not my holiday, so I have no urge to celebrate it. My thoughts are with family and friends in the path of the tornadoes in the south. I am SO glad I moved out of tornado country! I'll take rain any day.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Salt and temperature -- too much, or too little?

My great fermented sauerkraut experiment is still in the experimental stage. Today is day 4, and according to the recipe that I used, which included whey that accelerates the fermentation, it should be ready to eat in 3 days. That's assuming perfect conditions, I suppose, which I certainly don't have.

But, I did taste it yesterday, rather cautiously. The cabbage tasted like crunchy cabbage, and the brine was super salty, but I don't get the feeling that much fermentation has taken place. There are a few bubbles, but no tangy fermented taste. So naturally, I began to question everything again. Is it too salty? Is it too cold in that cabinet? Should I toss it and start over?  All that. Lots of reading later, I'm going with the second option -- it's too cold in the cabinet. That floor of the house gets little or no heat, so yes, it is cold up there, and cold will slow fermentation because (logically) the good lactobacillus bacteria grow better in warmer conditions. Cooler fermentation is better, they say, for taste, but I don't have forever for this experiment, people! I want to use the crock for some kimchi, and soon.

So, this morning the apparatus made the return trip here to my room, which is always warmer than the top floor -- even at night when the heat is off in here. Remember, I moved it upstairs because I thought maybe it was too warm in here! My instant-read thermometer is old and I've felt for some time that it wasn't reading correctly. For fermenting food, especially including culturing yogurt, temperature needs to be accurate, so yesterday I did some research and ordered a new one, which should arrive early in the week. My first batch of  yogurt was over-cultured, as I was using the thermometer to determine milk temp and oven/culture medium temp, both of which were clearly warmer than indicated. The yogurt is good, but since the culture environment was warmer than I thought, it ended up being in there for too long and that resulted in the whey separating from the solids. I could have stirred in back in, but I opted to pour it off and use it for fermenting veggies. So, I really need that temp to be right.

But I digress. The kraut still looks the same and this time I placed the crock in the other end of this room, near the outside wall and window, which is noticeably cooler but still warmer than the cabinet upstairs, so that seems like a good compromise.  I'd add some water to try and thin the saltiness of the brine a bit, but it needs to be unchlorinated water so the chlorine doesn't kill the good bugs along with the bad ones, and I don't yet have any of that. So we go with what we have. Hopefully, it's not salty enough to keep the good guys from growing at all. I did use Sally Fallon's recipe and instructions, so presumably the salt level is fine. Time will tell, and as I work through this batch I'm learning plenty.

I know you are all sitting on pins and needles, so I'll keep you informed as things progress.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A crock -- of sauerkraut, that is

This process of fermenting veggies is, for me anyway, fraught with uncertainties.  Mostly about screwing it up and being poisoned. But, after reading salient parts of a couple of books I picked up at the library the other day, this seems almost (perhaps totally) impossible to do. The two authors are considered experts on the subject: The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, and the Nourishing Traditions cookbook by Sally Fallon. Each tells tales of removing thick layers of mold and even maggots (!) from the top of the container, and finding delicious kraut underneath. No big deal. Same for strong odor, pink colors, and all kinds of other oddments that might arise during the process.

Over a year ago, before I moved into this house, I experimented with making some kraut using some directions found online and a mason jar. It should have worked, and probably did work just fine. But I didn't manage to get all the cabbage submerged as directed, so I worried. Spotting what might have been a tiny speck of mold at one edge during the process, I panicked and eventually tossed the whole batch. Perhaps I should have done a little more research first. But, that issue of the liquid not covering the veggies is a real one, as that is what is likeliest to prevent mold in the first place. I believe that even the first directions I followed made mention of this, suggested putting a plate on top of the cabbage and a weight on top of the plate, to hold the veggies down below the liquid. In a mason jar? Really? There were also other details omitted from those directions, all of which might have been nice to know.

But, this time around I did a lot more research online, all of which made the same suggestion about the use of weight. "Put something over it, weight it down with rocks, or a small jar filled with rocks." All kinds of ways to weight down cabbage as it ferments in a mason jar. None of them sounding particularly convenient.

All of this takes me to my little shopping expedition the other day, from which I returned home the proud owner of a stoneware crock about 1 gallon in size, and a set of two semi-circular stoneware weights that fit perfectly inside. That's more my style. Easy. Clean. The kraut can be put into jars later for storage.

Yesterday, armed with a big cabbage, my new tools and a pounder (aka potato masher), I set to work. In the end I discovered that sometimes, things just need to be learned from experience as much as from instructions. The liquid used in fermentation comes solely from salt and cabbage being pounded together so that the liquid in the veggie is released. I kept on pounding, pounding (great workout, by the way), trying to get the liquid to rise to at least the surface. It may end up being mashed cabbage kraut, but that's OK. Live and learn. One step I remembered after all that pounding was simply to press down on the cabbage (after pounding some unspecified amount but surely less that I did) to force the liquid to rise. So, instead of continuing to pound, I just  pressed it down into a compact mass. Sure enough, liquid soon covered the mass of cabbage. Success! At that point I put my fancy weights in and carried the entire (heavy!) thing downstairs so it could ferment away at its leisure.

Naturally, I can't leave things alone, so this morning I removed the dish towel and plate that were serving as a lid. Less than 24 hours had elapsed and the crock was emitting a strong odor. Was that good or bad? I told myself all kinds of things. Is that yellow/green color normal? Is the temperature in this room too warm? On to more testing and research.

The strong odor is totally normal. In this case, the color is also normal (at least, that's what I'm telling myself). Katz and Fallon differ in one thing: Fallon adds fermented whey to her crocks to speed fermentation via inoculation. Katz is a total believer that wild fermentation is all that's needed. Since I made some yogurt the other day and had some whey separated from that, I used some whey in this batch and the whey is naturally this color. So it makes sense. As to room temp, a little experimentation with my instant-read cooking thermometer in this room as well as in the pantry this morning where it had been living, it seems that while the temp here is fine (about 68f now, lower at night), the temp in the pantry (59f, consistent day and night) is actually more ideal. So, for now it's been carted back upstairs to continue its work in the pantry.

And I, hopefully, will relax about the process, keep an eye for mold and simply remove any that appears. And maybe even bring myself to taste it one of these days. I love the idea, just not so much the practice. But after awhile that will change as I grow more confident in the process.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Urban homesteading -- sort of

My goodness, such a lot going through my mind today! Nothing of great import to anyone other than myself, but lots of it nevertheless.

One thing is this constant battle with losing fat off this old body. It's been awhile since it began -- mid-March -- and while I've lost a good bit, there is still more to go before I'm going to be a happy camper. Not before I'll be svelte and skinny again, because that's never going to happen. Just until more of the belly fat has departed, and we all know that's the hardest and most stubborn fat on the body.

Lately it's been really hard for me to stick with it -- I do well most of the time, but admit to eating many more calories than the diet allows, too much of the time. Then I began to realize that the fall/winter months have historically been the time when I've gained weight every year, so the fact that I'm holding my own right now could be seen as encouraging. Not losing, but not gaining, either. For now, guess I'll be content with that. I'm not sure what happens in the fall, but it probably has something to do with colder weather. I love to bake more, eat more in general, this time of year. There's probably also some deep-seated psychological reason why I feel compelled to eat more during the period from Thanksgiving through Christmas, even though I don't really celebrate or pay much attention to either. But I'm not going to look into that, because in the end, it really doesn't matter.

Another big realization is that all this boredom that's been such a big part of my world in the last year or so isn't a permanent condition. Once I get my own apartment, I'll automatically have more to do, and feel more freedom to do it. I'll have my little garden plot to tend, among other things. And, I think I've found something that's really going to take up some time, happily so, and be beneficial both to my body and my pocketbook at the same time. I've always felt that whatever I found to keep me occupied would need to be food-oriented, because cooking and food prep is just what I love to do most.

In the last few weeks I've become totally enamored of and addicted to real, old-fashioned, lacto-fermented sauerkraut and dill pickles. In fact, my body can't seem to get enough of either. Unfortunately, they don't come cheap. These aren't the typical shelf variety found in the grocery store. These are found only in refrigerated cases because they are unpasteurized, and they have a myriad of health benefits from all the natural probiotics they contain. One thing led to another and as usual I did a lot of research and reading on the subject before deciding that this is something I can easily do at home, safely and deliciously. It'll require a little investment in supplies, but those are easily available in Eugene and I'm going to do a little investigation today, see what I might need and how much it'll cost. Not just for pickles and kraut, but for other home-produced food items. We have a great store for these things, called Down to Earth. So, that's my destination for this morning.

I won't be able to do a lot until I move, because of storage space both in the cabinets and refrigerator, but I can do some. And no pickles yet, unless I find an unlikely supplier of pickling cukes in the dead of winter! But -- kraut, yes. Yogurt, yes (I've made lots of yogurt in the past so I know this is a no-brainer for me). And I'll see what else is out there, too. It'll be fun, healthy, and it'll keep me busy and entertained and having fun.

All of that brings me back to the diet issue.  It ain't easy to provide top nutrition to the body when one is limited to 1220 calories per day and has limited finances! It's a constant struggle to keep all that balanced, and while I rarely meet the goal of meeting all the needs 100% of the time, I do fairly well most of the time. Hopefully, learning to produce more foods at home will help all three. And perhaps most importantly, it'll give a real psychological boost at a time when I really need it.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

It's that time of year....

One of my favorite places ever, although this photo was stolen from a webcam. That seems to happen a lot lately. Maybe because I'm not going anywhere to take pics of my own? Nor would I be there on an early morning like this, before the snow plows had their way with the parking lot.

Been a quiet week. Not much more to say, but you know the old saying, no news is good news!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cortisol and protein

I've often railed about the dangers of the dreaded stress hormone cortisol on these pages, but until now I wrote from study and theory, rather than direct experience. Cortisol comes from stress  -- any kind of stress, physical, mental, emotional, worry, anxiety, poor diets.  All of these things and more can put stress on the body, and the body responds with cortisol. In that respect, it's a good thing. But prolonged stress with prolonged high cortisol levels is downright dangerous. A quick Google search will tell you all you want to know about it. I found this quickly, just to find something to quote here, from a medical professional:
Sustained high cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell regeneration, co-opt biochemicals needed to make other vital hormones, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, interfere with healthy endocrine function; and weaken your immune system.
And that's just the beginning. But, I'm not going any deeper because exploring cortisol is not the purpose of this blog entry. The purpose is to document a recent experience with my ongoing weight-loss regimen during a period of high stress. I keep great records of this stuff, to help me know what works and what doesn't.

I've been losing weight slowly, but steadily, since February. A few weeks ago, starting with a very stressful meditation retreat and continuing through two or three weeks of personal stress regarding my living situation, everything changed. Regardless of calorie intake, my weight went back up a couple of pounds, fluctuating daily but recorded weekly. Nothing seemed to get it going downward, and I blamed it on cortisol, because of the unusual amount of stress. Starting last Friday, 5 days ago, I also decided to up my protein intake to see if that would help. On Sunday, 3 days ago, the living situation was resolved and the stress lowered. Somewhere over the weekend I noticed the daily scale number going down, and the past three days it has gone steadily down, even though I've been eating far more calories than I try to follow for weight loss. I'm now at the lowest point since February!

How much of it is due to decreased cortisol and how much is due to higher protein is something I don't know, but the combination seems to have worked. The loss was too quick and too steady to be due to anything else, since these were the only things that changed other than higher calories, not all of them healthy calories. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep that scale number going downward. Ten more to go is my mantra these days, regardless of what the scale shows. I don't have a specific number in mind, I just know that for now at least, 10 more is a good thing to aim for. It'll all depend upon how I feel and how I look. I'll know it when I reach it.

Hopefully, the stress level will stay down. I can control the protein intake, although it takes a lot more time and effort to get that and still stay close to the daily calorie intake I want. All I can say about that is thank goodness for Excel! I don't have to do the calculations.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Yeah, we like to Shout!

If I actually had a bucket list, one of them would have been ticked off yesterday. And it was something I didn't even know I wanted to do. Imagine that.

But, I get it now. That spring game I went to at Autzen Stadium was nothing more than a mere hint of what a real game would be like. If you'll remember, after that game I decided I was happier watching a game on TV where I wouldn't get distracted by everything going on in the stadium and forget to watch what was happening on the field. And where the cameras gave me good close ups of the players and what was happening down there on the field.

But when a friend couldn't make yesterday's game and offered me his ticket, it seemed foolish to say no, so off I went. And I found out what it's all about. Didn't hurt that it was a clear, if nippy, day, or that the Ducks played their best game of the year and beat up on an old rival in the process. Or that Oregon's most recent revered football idol was in the house. None of that hurt, at all. I got the full experience -- and let's face it, lots of really fun stuff happens in the stadium during commercial breaks! And of course the noise, egged on by the big display saying 'make noise', and 'louder'. And which I was happy to take part in. Surprised I still have a voice today, frankly. Fun, exhilarating, a lifetime experience for me even though I didn't realize it would be that way going in.

I accidentally found myself at the tunnel that leads from the stadium to the team locker rooms (a pretty snazzy place) pre-game, so I stuck around for awhile to see who might show up. Missed Vernon Adams, heard somebody else point him out, but he was walking the other direction by then, stopping graciously to pose for quick photos with fans. Embarrassed to say I don't know who this guy is, although his face is certainly familiar. Even studying the team roster photos I couldn't connect him to any of them, with any certainty. And of course, I don't remember his number. He's a big one, though, whoever he is! And gracious with the fans.

Pregame festivities with the band on the field -- more stuff we never see on TV, and it's stuff that I enjoy. A lot.

And, as I mentioned above, Marcus Mariota was in the house today, enjoying being a fan and no doubt happy to be around a winning team again. His presence probably gave the team a little added energy and incentive, too.

Earlier in the day, in a private ceremony, Marcus' Heisman display was blessed in the traditional Hawaiian way.

Marcus with Vernon Adams and Scott Frost. Both photos shamelessly stolen from Twitter.

During the first quarter, probably at the first commercial break, the Thank You, Marcus video was shown on the big screen and then Marcus live, on the field, waving at the crowds. Another standing O from grateful fans.

And of course, between the third and fourth quarters a long-standing tradition at Autzen, this year featuring a different video on the screen. Part of the toga party scene from Animal House -- the Shout! In the past they used video from the movie. This year, part of the movie was spliced into the beginning of a video that came out last summer, the same scene recreated with the same singer but featuring Oregon athletes. And minus MM breaking the guitar. Do we want to dance? You bet! And we like to shout, too.

In the end, I didn't have a bit of trouble following the action on the field, keeping my attention in the right place.  Many thanks to the friend who furnished the ticket. Sorry you couldn't go, but really, really glad that I had a chance. First, and probably last, game at Autzen. Hard to beat that.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Support Feminine Wisdom in Buddhism

As I may have written previously, my Bhikkhuni friends in California have been searching for a new in-town home for some time now. The current vihara is leased, and the owners have been quite generous in extending the lease to accommodate the search. But, the lease is pricey and both the monastics and their supporters feel that the money would be better spent being invested in a purchased property, rather than a lease. They have the hermitage in the redwoods, but that is remote and inconvenient for most of their Bay Area supporters, and unsuited for potential retreats and other large gatherings.

They recently found a place that would be perfect, but even with $400,000 in cash to use for down payment, they were unable to secure traditional financing without a guarantor. Property in Sonoma, CA is expensive! If this place is no longer on the market when funds are in place, they'll continue to search for something else.

Many people suggested a crowdfunding campaign, and today that campaign has been launched. They have two months in which to raise $500,000 in donated funds. They are a verified non-profit, thus any donation is tax deductible.  If this sounds like a pitch from me to you, that's exactly what it is.  Donate whatever you can afford  -- from $5 up. I can't give much, but I can handle a small amount. Every $5 or $10 helps, and if you can afford more, I promise you they will be most grateful.

Here's the link: Support Feminine Wisdom in Buddhism. Please forward it to everyone you know who might be interested or willing to chip in for this very worthwhile project.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Get a life!

What are the odds, do you think, that three books that came into my hands quite randomly at the same time would feature a main character named Rachel? They came my way simply by having my name hit the #1 spot on the library waiting lists for each. The odds are slightly better that each would be spectacular, because they were chosen directly from the NYT bestseller lists on various Sundays. Each is markedly different, in setting and story line, but each is masterfully crafted, beautifully written, full of content. The Girl on the Train is filled with suspense, from beginning to end, hard to put down.

The Marriage of Opposites is the story of the famous French painter Camille Pissaro. More accurately, the story primarily of his mother, who was born on St. Thomas, which was then a Danish territory, although her heritage was French and Jewish. His father came from France, although of Spanish heritage.

The author is deeply talented, tailoring her prose to whichever character has the point of view, including that of the young Pissaro, who sees a world of color and light and shape and form in language that is fascinating.

 Unlike the others, who do you love is by an author whose work I know well. It's a love story, of course, but far from what might be called a 'romance book'. She's way too talented for the trite, trivial and predictable. It covers many years, some of which are actually set here in Eugene at the UO. Gotta love that!

One more book that came with the bunch awaits, and I suspect it's equally as wonderful as these three have been. It's the latest, and probably last, book by Ivan Doig, who passed away recently.

So beyond all that, I'm walking around groggy and bleary-eyed because of a late football game that I couldn't turn off. More action in the last 20 mins (including triple overtime) than the whole rest of the game put together. Awesome. Worth being groggy and bleary-eyed. What else do I have to do, after all?

I did make it to the gym this morning for my 45 minutes on the treadmill. I missed Wednesday because I awoke with an oddly pulled back muscle, and also hadn't slept well. Not likely to do much this weekend, as usual. I really do need to get a life!

But, at least I have good books to read.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The escape

Travel to Thailand wasn't the only thing I planned during the retreat. Seemed as if there was a new subject every day. But, for the last 4-5 days (when not planning Thailand) there was the subject of how to escape from the place at the earliest possible opportunity. And I mean escape, because for the first time ever at a retreat I felt as if I were in a prison camp, unable to leave at will.

I'd foolishly given them my cell phone to hold -- could have left it in the car, but didn't know that until I'd already parked the car at a distance. That was the big mistake. I tried to leave on Monday, which would have been day 5, but the teacher talked me out of it and of course, I couldn't escape on my own because of the captive cell phone.

Thus the escape plans. I wanted out, but didn't want to make another fuss. Cell phones wouldn't be available until 6:30am on Sunday morning, attendance at the morning event in the meditation hall was mandatory, and I needed to clean my room and some of the shared portions of the rest of the unit we were in. That was my dilemma -- how to escape at 6:30 and still get the place clean. Fortunately, late on Friday I decided I could do the cleaning on Saturday and talks with my roommate on Saturday morning showed that she was willing, also wanted to leave early. So, that's what we did, although she did her portion after I left, as her version of early was not the same as mine.

Still -- I wanted to leave at 6:30, not spend the necessary time getting my stuff to my car, or bringing my car to the residence to load it up. I wanted out. So I hatched another plan. Wake up was at 4am, the morning session was at 4:45. I would walk my things out the road to my car, in the dark. It didn't seem as if it could be far, although I couldn't see around the curve. I was awake before the wake-up bell Sunday morning, and it didn't take long to dress, roll up my sleeping bag and pack the remaining few items into a bag. It was still around 4:15. Plenty of time.

So -- armed with my big (34"x29"x6") meditation cushion, one duffle bag slung over a shoulder, and the rolled-up sleeping bag, I crept silently away down the road, past the 'course limit' signs into unknown territory. Didn't take long before the woods closed in and became pitch black and the only way I could tell I was still on the road was the hard gravel surface beneath my feet, rather than grassy spots I'd occasionally wander into. I did have a random thought about my flashlight at that point, but realized it was in the duffle that I'd  left behind. The cushion is awkward to carry, the sleeping bag not much less so. But I kept going because by then, I was committed. The road seemed awfully long -- much further than where I knew my car was parked. Finally, after a rather long time, I came to an intersection and a sign, which I recognized as being fairly early on the property, way before the parking area. So I hung a left on the main road and doubled back.

By then, the sleeping bag had managed to slip one of its elastic bands and was slowly becoming unrolled. Well, at least it wasn't raining. Just misty. After another long period (not as long as it seemed, I'm sure), I reached my car and got the goods stowed. By then, I had about 5 minutes to get to the meditation hall on time, so rather than retrace my steps I opted to continue on down the road to the center, which was not a very long walk. But, it meant that I'd have to cross the forbidden men's area. What could they do, throw me out? So I walked along in the dark and then wham, I felt something against my body and heard a noise. I'd walked smack dab into a sawhorse that was blocking the road off from the center itself, and knocked it over. Totally invisible in the darkness. Tried to put it back in place, but one of the legs had been dislodged so I quietly laid it back down on the ground. Couldn't have been very sturdy in the first place, she says. 

Straight ahead lay the men's walking area. With my hood up and trying to be invisible, I walked quickly across but not without being seen by at least two men. One looked at me curiously -- a spectre walking out of the darkness -- but I escaped back into the women's area safely. Just in time to walk down to the residence, grab the rest of my stuff and carry it up to the meditation hall so it would be ready for escape once I was free. I felt a little guilty -- especially about the sawhorse -- but not terribly.

At 6:30, cell phone in hand, I grabbed the other duffle and walked out, a free woman. Still walking in the dark, but by then a few lights had been turned on so at least I could see where I was going. You can see why I say it seems unlikely that I'll return for another try. Third time is supposed to be a charm, and it was more of a hex!

The place does a lot of good for a lot of people, as it did for me my first visit. But this was the first time I'd ever tried to leave early and the whole prison-camp feel didn't sit well with me. Trundling on down the highway I managed to get home by 10:30, rather than the 10am goal, only to find that the football game I wanted to watch wasn't being aired! So -- all for nothing, but at least I got a headstart towards hot coffee and a fast-food breakfast, which was strangely appealing to my normally nutrition-minded body.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thailand travel dreams

I've been without internet for a couple of days, and it wasn't fun! It's amazing how much of my life is taken up this way. I use it for radio, for TV shows that I've missed, for news, and for the silliness of this blog and twitter. My roommate, bless her scattered little brain, had neglected to pay the bill so the account was blocked. And it took her 2 days to get around to fixing it.  Ah -- how much I look forward to having my own place where I can control such things. Interestingly enough (to me, anyway) is how quickly I lose interest in some of the things I consider so 'important'. At the library yesterday, and a coffee shop this morning, I learned quickly what my priorities were, and had little interest in the rest.

Speaking of having my own place -- it's getting closer, but still looks as if it'll be early next summer at the soonest before an apartment will come available. That brings me to some plans I made last week when I should have been meditating. Trust me, many plans get made during retreats when one should be meditating, and I'm far from the only one. I heard great stories after this one about other people's plans. For me, they generally fizzle after a day or so, and this one did too until the internet debacle (and some other things) made me question whether or not I want to continue living here for that long. So -- at least for the moment, it's back in the forefront.

It's no secret that I've longed to travel to Thailand and surrounding countries. Various things have held me back -- airfare, fear of things like potential illness coming up away from my health insurance area (at my age, this is not an unreasonable fear!). Staying 3-4 months would amortize the airfare, staying a few more months would let me save some money, which would be nice. So I'm back to thinking about heading out until an apartment is available. Oddly enough, even airfares to Thailand are much higher before the holidays than afterward, so it doesn't make much sense to think of leaving before the end of Dec or early Jan.  And then there's the passport thing -- mine is expired, and it takes time to get a new one. So I'm still a little ambivalent, but taking a good hard look at the idea. We'll see! This idea will probably fizzle, too. But I gotta do something.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Nature-inspired pleasures

A little over 24 hours after arriving back home, I'm almost back to whatever passes for normal in my world. Almost, but not quite. Nothing serious -- just wiped out and sleep deprived. And I've had errands and laundry to do today, including washing the messenger bag I carry daily, my wallet and my sitting cushion all together in a separate load. The first two items had been the victim of a leaky ink pen (got all over my hands in the market today), the latter just in general need.

I'm glad to be home. That may be an understatement, actually. I'm really, really, glad to be home. The 10-day torture test lived up to its billing, but the torture this time was mental, rather than physical. My body held up remarkably well. But boredom set in early, as did frustration with a teacher who was overly strict about her flock walking out in the sunshine when they were supposed to be meditating. Imagine that! Her assistant hit me one day, told me to go either into the meditation hall or my room and meditate. Afterwards, I found that I certainly wasn't the only one. I called her the meditation police, one other woman called her the kommandant. The latter seems more fitting.

So -- since I had to be cooped up in my room much of the day, outside the allowed hours of personal time and required hours in the meditation hall, frustration and boredom reigned supreme. But, the overriding teaching of this course is that we should 'remain equanimous' in all situations, whatever life brings us. So, the last few days gave me an excellent opportunity to practice the art of remaining equanimous regardless of frustration and boredom. That's never a bad thing, really.

Aside from all this, there was much to appreciate about my time there. The views of Mt. Rainier are always awesome, whether it's shining in the sun or playing peekaboo with clouds and mist. One of the best parts of the day was walking in the field after breakfast -- which fell around 6:30 just as the sky was lightening up for the day. From the field, we could watch the sun rise over the Cascades as we walked. Some mornings were clear, with spectacularly brilliant oranges and pinks reflecting on long strands and layers of tiny puffy clouds amidst the blue. Other mornings were misty and ethereal, the colors more muted, the other women in the field turned into fuzzy silhouettes against the pinking sky, the brightness of the sun as it crested the mountains. Most mornings I longed for a camera. Big spider webs dripping with rain or mist. Photographs waiting to happen.

There were also deer in the fields. Two families, from what we saw. Two does, 3 fawns. One day just as we sat down for lunch overlooking the field, the deer were up close to the developed part of the property and the fawns started playing, chasing one another around in circles, across the field and more circles, up the hill and onto the mowed area around the residence hall, all over the place. The smaller of the does was also in this play time. For people who dwelt in silence, with no outside entertainment, this was awesomely fun and sweet to watch. I've spent a lot of time out in nature, but this is the first time I've ever seen deer at play.

Another morning, a doe and two fawns were in the field where we were walking with the sunrise, grazing peacefully in the higher weeds as we walked in the mowed paths through the misty darkness. They saw us, but had no fear. Another morning, around 8am as we were headed to the meditation hall, these same deer were grazing up in our midst, right around the entrance to the hall. One of the women was inside looking out, while the rest of us watched from a discreet distance as a curious fawn walked over boards and concrete up the glass doors and peeked inside. Something -- perhaps his reflection -- startled him and he jumped away, slipping on the wet boards causing a loud clatter with his little hoofs. No harm done -- they eventually moved away and we moved on into the hall for morning meditation.

There was more -- mostly nature-inspired, but these are the things that come to mind at the moment. We had warm sunshine, misty fogs, a day of stormy rain and wind, but not particularly cold and never really unpleasant. Food was good -- although my body is already happy to be back with a familiar diet, and so is my mind. I don't know what it is about the food in these centers, but the last two times I've been, in wildly varying parts of the country, I've been plagued with uncomfortable bloating and gas and elimination systems that almost completely shut down. That's gone, now that my diet changed -- and it changed around 7:30 yesterday morning when I stopped at the first McDonalds down the southern pike of I-5 and had a large coffee and an egg mcmuffin. I inhaled both! Pizza and beer for lunch made the transformation complete. Today, back to healthy diet food.

So -- long story short. I'm still really tired and really sleepy, but those will pass soon enough.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The beautiful and bountiful Oregon Coast

It's a beautiful day on the Oregon Coast! Just thought I'd share this webcam view with you, from Yaquina Lighthouse near Newport, Oregon. For those of you who wonder why I live 'way up here in the north.' 'Cause it's beautiful!

Not much going on. Late football game, so I'm whiling away a long morning (awake at 3am, up at 5am) until time to leave to catch a bus to take me to town, where I plan to enjoy some good fish&chips (using cod caught on the Oregon Coast) before doing some walking errands. Don't know if I'll do as much as I planned -- my eyelids are drooping, wanting sleep, and the body overall feels like it has a hangover, even though the last alcohol I had was one beer last Sunday. So don't know how much energy I'll have for walking. Even the minimum (to the fish&chips shop from the bus stop, and from there to another bus stop) will be plenty. The side trips remain in question, but are not urgent.

Maybe I'll get a nap before the game starts at 5:30. One can hope!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Equanimity reboot

A few months ago I applied to attend another 10-day meditation retreat at Dhamma Kunja, the Goenka center in Onalaska, Washington, in October. It was either a moment of weakness, or a moment of strength. Maybe some of both. Weakness, meaning I momentarily lost my resistance to these retreats, and strength meaning I had the guts to take on another one. They are particularly difficult. I was approved for the retreat, but number 21 on the waiting list. It didn't seem possible that I'd work my way to a seat from that point, and I almost took my name off the list. Kind of lost all interest in going, truthfully. The moment of weakness was gone!

Then, a few days ago, a notice that I've moved to number 6 on the list, asking me to let them know if I'm no longer able to attend. Somehow -- another moment of weakness/strength -- I felt as if I might feel like going now, so I haven't taken my name off the list and am, in fact, beginning to look forward to going. I have a strong emotional attachment to Dhamma Kunja. It's my place. This is where I went for my first ever meditation retreat, back in February of  2005, and where I returned a couple of months later for 2 weeks of service in the kitchen. I love it -- have missed it, living back east. There's something magical there, for me. Maybe it's the cool view of Mt. Rainier in the distance, or just the vibes in the beautiful meditation hall. Whatever, it's something I'm drawn to experience again. And, in the years since my last visit, they've built a new dorm for the women that's apparently pretty cool. No more dorm rooms full of cots. These are double rooms with attached baths. Unheard of!

Part of what makes these retreats so tough is the pain associated with sitting for many hours every day. Remember awhile back when I went to a local, 1-day sitting? Whined and moaned about that, the back pain, the mental difficulties. My first retreat was dominated by extreme, excruciating back pain, something that's hard for a beginner, in particular, to cope with. In later years I've spent many hours in various retreats, built up good 'meditation muscles' that keep the back happy during long hours of sitting. But the 1-day proved to me that those muscles are now seriously weak from lack of use.

Time for training! I have time -- about 3 weeks before the retreat begins -- so I've begun the process of getting those 'meditation muscles' back into shape. Yesterday, a mere 30 minutes made the back start to scream. This morning, another 30 minutes, and only twinges toward the end. The plan is to gradually increase both the amount of time at each sitting, and the number of sittings daily, because the fear of all that misery is just too strong. The meditation cushion will be used as a chair, for TV watching, during this time. I may not make the retreat, but getting the muscles back into shape can't hurt anything, and at least I'll be ready.

Will I be emotionally ready? That's tougher. It took me something like 8 years after that first experience back in 2005 to get the guts to try another. I went to many retreats during those 8 years, many of them really tough ones, but these 10-day Goenka retreats are by far the hardest. Thankfully, for the second retreat my muscles were well-conditioned and all I had to deal with was the mental aspect. That's often as hard or harder to cope with than the physical pain, because the back pain is easily alleviated temporarily by getting up and walking for awhile. But nothing gets you away from your own head! Strictly silent, with even looking at another meditator being frowned upon, there is no escape from whatever is going on inside the mind-body organism as it copes with the silence, the lack of escape, and all the rest of it.

So why do I go? Because I always learn a lot, gain a lot from the experience. Last time, in south Georgia, I spent the entire time frustrated and bored. Spent a lot of time mentally designing a kind of meditation cushion that would be comfortable for those long hours. Because even if the muscles are in good shape, and even if you have the most comfortable cushion available (mine is an air cushion, and I wouldn't trade it for any other kind), sitting on it for 8-10 hours a day results in a really sore butt. I also managed to reach a stage of deep concentration a couple of times, when I'd manage to let go of all the external stuff and simply practice the technique that is taught, and that's always a good thing.

It's all mental -- including coping with the pain and boredom and frustration. Those are all mental states that you can choose to ignore, or choose to think about. They're best ignored. Training the mind to remain equanimous in all situations is what the practice is all about. No highs and lows, no anger or sorrow. Merely a lovely state of equanimity, which is pretty darned cool. I much prefer it to the old days when I'd react strongly to life's events with anger or tears. It's not that I don't have emotions or feelings about things that happen, it's that I'm able to look at the emotions differently and realize that true happiness and contentment with life lie with the middle ground of equanimity. This is the way of life taught with Buddhist training. It's what following this Buddhist path is all about. I need some reminding, some deep practice, to help cope with this low-level depression and the frustrations and boredom of my current life. I react equanimously -- am well-trained to do so -- but I'm less successful with keeping the frustrations and boredom from affecting my days. Time for a reboot!

I'll miss two football games, but when I chose this particular retreat I was looking at the retreat schedule alongside a Ducks schedule and felt that these were two games I wouldn't mind missing -- both against teams in Washington, coincidentally enough. Speaking of football, there's a game coming up this morning, but it's rather a snooze. I'll watch, of course, but it's likely to be a rout, the underdog coming into Autzen Stadium and being walloped. Even with (probably) our back-up quarterback playing.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Baking season. And oh, yeah. Football

It's baking season. Somehow, as soon as the weather cools off I want to bake. And it really is more about the baking than the eating.

Case in point -- I made this luscious olive/rosemary bread yesterday, stuck it in the freezer and fridge, intending to have some with lunch today. That happened -- I had one small slice with my rotisserie chicken. The rest is awaiting me.

But the baking -- now, that's a different matter. This time, I particularly got into the act of kneading. Awkward at first, because it's been awhile, but before long I was punching and pushing that dough around like crazy. I almost went off into another world, working automatically. I  love to bake. The recipe calls for two large loaves, but I learned years ago that it works better for me to divvy it into 6 small loaves. This makes it easier to eat small amounts at one time. One loaf is perfect for two hungry people to devour with dinner. Or for one hungry person to enjoy for a few days, while it's still fresh.

I mixed this dough up yesterday, refrigerated and baked it off after lunch today. These are giant cookies -- about 4 inches diameter. Some months ago I was intrigued by a recipe for one chocolate chip cookie that I found in some of my browsing news sites. It's for people like me, who want a cookie, but don't want to bake a whole batch of them. I made the mistake of thinking that I'd need two of them, not realizing just how big they are. I'm nibbling away on one of them -- the other, like the bread, awaits another day. If you ever decide to try the recipe, trust it and make only one.

The cookie is good -- but not as good as Kitty's Best Damn Cookies. She says modestly. But then, it has fewer ingredients and I haven't perfected it for 25 some years. I'm guessing the issue is that the cookie contains only brown sugar, no white sugar. That adds a different flavor profile -- all that molasses that's used to make white sugar brown. I prefer a larger white/brown ratio, for flavor and also for crispness. Next time.  A few nuts wouldn't hurt, either.

So -- it's also football season, which was ostensibly the reason for wanting all this food today. I wanted to feast out, sort of my own tailgate, I suppose. But that idea seemed a lot better earlier in the week than it does today. I'm happy to have the food, will enjoy some of the bread with homemade hummus and beer once the game begins at 5pm. But I think what I really wanted was the making of the food, more than the eating. Baking always makes me feel better.

So -- four more hours to wait until the first game of the season. Looking forward to it. Stanford has already gone down -- one Pac 12 competitor knocked down the ladder a bit. I don't generally like to trash talk competitors before our game, because somehow I feel that karma will come back to bite me. I also tend to root for any Pac 12 member over any outside teams, but I'm happy to see Stanford go down, to anybody. Let's hope karma doesn't come back to bite me today.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Life at 7000 feet beneath the sea

Yeah, I'm still fascinated with the EV Nautilus and it's travels/explorations. Yesterday, they boogied about 190 miles west of Vancouver Island into deep water, to Ocean Network Canada's Endeavor station, a 'mid-ocean spreading ridge with very active hydrothermal vents'. They have various instruments there which record all kinds of things, including seismic activity.

Yesterday's dive started with a bit of drama. Just after launch, the crew saw on the camera that a camera cover that should have been removed before launch was still there (evidenced by a long red sash clearly reading remove before launch). They discussed taking it back on board, but that's a hassle, so the ROV Hercules pilot made use of one of the robot arms to grasp and remove the item, then hold it close to the ROV until they hit bottom. Then, trying to store it in a bin, they dropped it, retrieved it from the bottom and finally got it put away. Really fun to watch the delicate operations of these remotely controlled arms in performing their work. Pardon the poor quality of these photos, but screen shots of moving items are never really clear. The video is HD and beautifully clear.

Retrieving the dropped item from sea floor.
Getting the dropped item into the storage bin. They made it.

Then, they went on to their first official chore, which was to attach a recovery beacon to a sediment trap anchored to the ocean floor, being brought up after a year of service so the contents can be studied. Once the trap is released from the floor, it'll float to the surface and the beacon will allow them to find it wherever it drifts. Another delicate operation involving both arms of the ROV.

Ready to attach the recovery beacon, left, to the trap.

Shortly afterward, they spotted this old chain and anchor rusting away down there. Wonder how long that's been there, and what ship dropped it? We'll never know.

This was all happening last night and while they work around the clock, I don't. This morning they are still at it, doing a photo-mapping survey of the ocean floor so they can make a 3-D map of it. Great images. I don't know what the instrument is in this one, but the ocean bottom down here is interesting, so I did a quick screen shot.

Tubeworms growing near thermal vents at around 7200 feet. It's still cold down there -- about 35 fahrenheit, although the scientists say that near the thermal vents it's about 300 C, which according to Google is about 572 F.  Fascinating listening to the scientists talk about what we are seeing.

Active thermal plume spewing 'black smoke'
Some kind of deep sea skate -- they're not sure which one

They've just announced the plan for the next 12 hours, so they'll be down here all day. Check it out!
a mid ocean spreading ridge with very active hydrothermal vents - See more at: http://www.nautiluslive.org/#sthash.7At39w2e.dpuf

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What's the hardest thing about growing old?

It's been said that growing old 'ain't for sissies', and I have to agree. Not much about it is fun, down here in my income range anyway. I have friends in the income stratosphere who travel around the world, many trips every year to various far away places. They are filled with energy and good health and love of life. I, on the other hand, live with a lot of frustration. Whine.

You'd think that health issues might be the hardest part of aging, and of course, for too many of us, health is indeed an issue. I'm fortunate in that regard, although I certainly work at maintaining good health and have done so for 50 years. Guess it's paying off.

I knew, deep down inside, that the toughest thing I was likely to face in retirement was boredom, and that's certainly been the case, although it goes deeper than boredom, into deep frustration. Frustration that I can't afford to do much of anything -- travel of almost any kind is rare, even a drive to the coast for a day. That takes gas, and gas costs money, and I don't have any extra money. I'm generally happy if I make it to the end of the month with food in the house, and it's budgeted very carefully throughout the month. No whines about this -- I knew what I was getting into when I retired, although I did think I'd have more luck in finding part-time work to supplement my income enough to add a little fun.

The reason I bring this up now is because in watching (addictively!) the Exploration Ship Nautilus as it travels, watching the water and land and new places, the things they do in deep water, and listening to the various people on watch as they talk during dives, I want to be there. I would dearly love to spend some time on that ship, be a part of what they do for awhile. My age and income aren't really factors here -- I simply can't think of anything in my background that would lend itself to their mission in a useful way. Alas. They are open to questions and salutations and to listeners joining into their conversation when they are broadcasting, and they get many questions from others who'd like to join. Age, they say, is not a factor.

And it doesn't stop there. Recently I've been aware of how strong my sense of adventure still is, how deep my curiosity about the world and everything that's going on out there is. Remember when I wanted to go to Thailand for awhile to live and study? I'd still love that, but I realized eventually that I just didn't have the necessary gumption to go that far away with such meager resources. I'd have to sell my car, and then how would I ever buy another one when I eventually return to the states? There were just too many dead ends. Realities.

There is so much I'd still love to do, places to see, things to experience. I don't think it would take a lot more money than I have, but it would definitely take more to make me feel comfortable. And a better cushion in the bank. So I sit in frustration, knowing those things are not in the cards for me in this lifetime. And knowing that, I accept the reality. But that doesn't totally quash the adventurous spirit and curiosity. They are alive and well!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dogs -- REAL dogs!

I had the coolest encounter this morning! Really, hardly worth writing about, yet it was the highlight of my day.

Decades ago -- back in the 60s -- I raised and showed German Shepherd dogs. I had and still have a love affair with the breed, and would really love to have one right now. Unfortunately, it's not practical -- not to mention that I couldn't afford to feed one! My heart skips a beat every time I see one, although encounters are really few.

This morning I was walking through a parking lot at a market and noticed a gorgeous brown and black head at the rear window, poking its nose out the window, that was open a few inches. The dog wasn't barking, threatening, or anything, just curious. I said hello to him, although I'm not sure he heard me, and kept on walking. Then I saw a man who seemed to be headed towards the car with groceries in hand, so I asked him if it was his. He said yes, and I told him that I loved shepherds and used to raise them. He said, well, wait a minute, and headed to the rear doors of the big SUV, obviously going to let me get a better look.

He opened the doors and there were four of them -- four wonderful, big, gorgeous dogs all excited to see their owner, curious about the new person. I stuck my hand out and found utter friendliness (the really good quality shepherds are not vicious at all, merely protective if you threaten their people). I couldn't help myself -- moved in close to those fabulous heads for a hug and for a moment I was surrounded by doggie love. Real dogs -- not the overgrown rats like the one my roommate owns! I could have crawled in and sat surrounded by them, but after a moment I thanked the guy and moved on. I'm sure he had better things to do, but what a nice gesture. I'm sure he has no idea how much it really meant to me.

I smiled for a long time, and I'm still smiling when I think of it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Go Set A Watchman

I've been on the waiting list at our library for some time for this book, mostly out of curiosity. My number finally came up (or, the library finally got enough copies to meet the demand).

Maybe it's because the book is set in a time and place I know so well -- where I grew up, in effect -- but I was almost instantly transported into the book and story, far from the initial curiosity that led me to read it. I could so easily identify with the colloquialisms and descriptions of things that indeed existed at that time, were very true to the time and place. We weren't separated by all that many miles: the story is set in a small town in south Alabama and my own small town is in north Georgia. I had an aunt and uncle who lived not all that far from where Harper Lee lived in her small Alabama town. We're practically kissin' cousins.

So, I was wrapped up in the story and the people from the first page. I loved the references to earlier days in Scout's life (the times and people of To Kill A Mockingbird), and I loved seeing Scout's story fleshed out with more details, plus the added connections of so many of the same people being in both books. Beautifully written, as would be expected. Plenty of depth in characters and story, also to be expected. A book to be savored and contemplated, rich in language, writing skill and characters.

Granted, the story is not a pretty one, but it is a real and authentic one. I was there, so I can see the authenticity, even though Scout was maybe 12-13 years older than I would have been at the time. The book was written in and about the mid-fifties, which gives it a solid grounding in the realities of the time as only a writer who experienced it could do. Many people write about this era after-the-fact, but their words and opinions are based on history, rather than experience. Not that experience makes it any prettier, but it does make it authentic.

I had an experience similar to Scout's a few years back when I learned that my beloved grandfather, a man I knew to be as kind and gentle and good as a person could be, a man I idolized and loved above all others throughout my life, once marched with the Klan. I learned this from a cousin whose mother, my father's older sister, recognized her father's shoes underneath his white sheet as he marched through town with a large group. I guess the shoes were pretty distinctive, but she wasn't in any doubt who it was. So I can understand Scout's sense of loss at learning her own, idolized, father's views on the subject. Fortunately, by the time I learned it I was an old woman and my grandfather long dead. Scout was young, her father very much alive. I wasn't devastated as she was, merely surprised. People are human, even our idols, and don't always live up to our lofty expectations and sensibilities.

There's plenty of deep insight and philosophy scattered throughout the book; things that will (or should) make you think. They certainly made me think. That's particularly true towards the end, when the story reaches its turning point. Reading much of this enraged me once again, as the southern attitude towards black people has enraged me throughout my life. I had the good fortune to be born as color blind as Scout, and words such as backward infuriate me when used in this context. I would substitute other words, such as uneducated, for starters. Yet, pretty or not, it's true to the time and place. And no, I'm not going to get started on my own soapbox. Scout said it all for me.

A couple of quotes from the last few pages really caught my attention and made me think. One was ...it's always easy to look back and see what we were,  yesterday, ten years ago. It is hard to see what we are. Another, Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.

Monday, August 24, 2015

It's gotta be Monday

You know it's Monday when the world is all topsy-turvy, right? Or maybe my brain is simply malfunctioning because it only had a tad over 2 hours sleep last night.

But, that's the bad news, and it could be worse. Yes, it's thrown my plans for the day right off the rails, but I can live with that. The good news is that sometime yesterday afternoon I began to emerge from the state of fatigue that's been with me for over a week. I had energy again. And that's probably the reason I didn't sleep, because after sleeping and chilling for over a week, the body was ready to rumble. I went to bed at 10, but after being wide awake for over an hour I gave it up and turned on the telly, just for something to do.

This happens to me from time to time, for no discernable reason. It's happened after long drives when I've arrived home late at night and am still pumped -- and I get that. What I don't get is why an ordinary day can result in this wide-awake night. Whatever. I have learned that the best remedy is not to fight it -- just go with it, watch a little telly, and that'll eventually put me to sleep. And it did, towards 2am.

And then of course my bladder wanted attention around 4:30, so I attended to that and thought I'd go right back to sleep. Sure, I would. I should know better. So, I'm up. Groggy, sleepy, scratchy eyes, but still with a little energy. I think driving to town and working out would not be a good idea -- not sure I'm safe to even make the drive. So I'll have to ease back into this exercise thing more gradually, I guess. Try to get some sleep in the afternoon.

Not sure what causes these times of fatigue. Have I simply worked the body too hard for its age and condition, or is it my thyroid auto-immune disease wreaking havoc? Or something else? No real way to know, but I'm always glad when they are over.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Underwater life

The E/V Nautilus sent a tweet this afternoon of some video taken during a recent dive off the west coast -- presumably the most recent one, near Monterey.  The subject was the small yellow ghost-like blob on the bottom, which is a dumbo (I think) octopus. But I found the red jellyfish floating across the rich blues and greens to be ethereal.

It's a fascinating critter -- its tentacles are hidden underneath its body.  As the camera stays on it, the critter is moving, of course, poking its tentacles from underneath, seeming to be yawning and half asleep. Who knew things like this existed? I sure didn't.

The joy for me from watching the video live as they survey the dive sites is watching exactly this -- the critters of the ocean bottom, the very rich life that floats and swims past all the time. The scientists are talking about these particular critters on the video, and it's all much better in motion than in these screen cap photos, so have a look for yourself.

They're getting really rough seas as they travel north. Watching from the camera, the motion is so strong and the waves so big it almost makes me seasick, sitting right here! And no, I don't watch it all day, but I do check in from time to time to have a look.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Day in San Francisco

My latest online obsession is the live camera views from the E/V Nautilus, a research vessel that looks for and probes shipwrecks.  Last week they were looking at a known wreck off the coast of Monterey, CA. Yesterday they pulled into San Francisco and docked at one of the city-front piers, leaving both cameras live. I've had a fascinating day watching (on and off) all the action on the bay and at the docks -- including the big cruise ship coming in. They left promptly at 4pm, as advertised, and were well outside the Golden Gate an hour later. This ship boogies! I've noticed that at sea, before, but it was really evident inside the bay. I've been out on the bay many times, but never moved that fast. But then, I was generally in a sailboat. Next stop is Victoria, BC to explore a wreck site.

Needless to say, this made me homesick. I haven't lived in San Francisco since 1976, but I've always called it my spiritual home, and it still is, regardless of where I live.

The ship is 211 feet long and 35 feet wide, has a top speed of 10 knots. She carries two underwater research vessels and when those are in the water over the wreck, there is live video from them, plus audio of the conversations of the scientists on board, talking about what they are seeing. Pretty cool. Saw it on 60 Minutes last Sunday, and had to check it out.

I'm still feeling tired and puny -- not sick, just no energy. But, it'll pass.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Use it or lose it

I have stayed in bed for most of the last 23 hours, and will probably be headed back there soon. Why? Because I am pooped, that's why. Drained.

Yesterday I went to a local one-day Goenka meditation retreat here in town, and it did me in. I was tired when I woke up to begin with, but sitting still on the cushion from 9:30 to 4:30 really was too much. We had an hour for lunch, and a few 10-minute breaks about every hour. I realized halfway through the day that I haven't sat a retreat, or even a full day of meditation, for over a year and a half now, and it shows. My 'meditation muscles' are not in shape. For me, it hits mostly in the back and shoulder/neck region -- the trapezoids and latts. Those get a lot of use when sitting upright with no support. They get stronger with practice. But then, the Goenka retreats are the worst when it comes to physical torture. I don't think anybody who's been to one would argue that. At least this one was one day, rather than the normal 10 days. It only took me half a day to remember why I don't go to those very often. But -- they have these every other month or so, and I may try it again. Or not.

So today, I've gotten out of bed mostly to eat and pee. Hopefully, by tomorrow I'll be peppy and ready to hit the gym again.

Speaking of the gym, I was wondering yesterday why I take the time to go to the gym and do the treadmill. My neighbor, who is around 85, goes out and walks seemingly every day, right outside the door. I don't keep track of him, but I do see him out on the walking trail often, when I'm waiting for the bus, or driving past. He wears red running shorts and his shoulders are a little hunched, but he walks fast and it looks as if he works his upper body with weights, well and regularly, as well. Like I've always said -- use it or lose it. He uses it.

Sorry for such a boring post. Time to hit the bed again.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Milestones and millstones

I have a feeling that I've whined about this here before, possibly more than once. But here I go again!

It's all about this weight-loss game I'm playing. It's been successful, especially so this past week when I've been getting out and doing something 5 days per week. The frustration comes on Wednesdays, which is my 'weights and measures' day where I note and keep track of those things. Somehow -- by some diabolical force of nature -- no matter how much I weigh say on Monday, and Tuesday, by Wednesday it's always back up so I record a higher number than I feel is correct. And then a day later -- today is the perfect example -- it's back down, even lower. Yesterday I was up a few tenths of a pound from the previous days, and today I'm down 6 tenths. Not complaining about the loss, of course. Just the day of the week when it seems to fluctuate to a higher number. Maybe I need to change my weights and measures day.

But the good news from all this is that as of Tuesday (forget yesterday's number) I was down a total of 15 pounds since I started this trip months ago and with today's number the loss sits at 15.6. I like that -- milestones are always good. And, today, with that 6/10 I broke through another milestone -- one of those 'zero' numbers. All this, and the measurements, have taken me back to a place I haven't seen since 2010. Still not enough, but enough encouragement to keep at it, certainly. I'd still like to add at least another 10 pounds to that total.

Today, the urge is to hike up the hill and along the trail. I haven't done that for awhile, and it's calling. Hopefully, there won't be too many mountain bikes out there to spoil it for me. It's a good hike, lots of uphill through the peaceful forest and takes 45 minutes or so. That should burn off a few calories.

Other than that -- not much is happening here. Weather is good. Life is peaceful.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Turkey trot

Went out on the upstairs balcony to check on a basil plant I repotted earlier, heard a squirrel having fits, looked to see what he was upset about.

There's a flock of these critters that roam the neighborhood,  but this guy seems to be alone at the moment. When I first looked, he was roosting happily near the corner of the railing, but by the time I came back with the camera he wasn't thrilled with my presence and began moving off. Thanks for the zoom with this one -- that ground is further away than it looks here! The squirrel was unhappy because the resident next door, whose deck that is, puts out food and water for the squirrels, and of course the local birds take advantage, too. Guess this was too big a bird for comfort. This guy can probably eat a lot of squirrel food.

Not much happening for me this weekend. I opted to just take two days off for exercise -- makes sense, at my age and after 5 straight days of good workouts. Been doing a few other stuff, but not much. Weather here is fabulous. Warm, but not hot. Mid 80's, a little cloud cover today here and there. Nothing to complain about there. Tomorrow, back to they gym.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Life is good

This gal's had a busy day!

At the gym, tired of the treadmill and walking, I managed 15 minutes on the elliptical, which is probably a lifetime record for me on one of those machines. That's kind of a good feeling, really. Then, onto a bike for another 15 minutes. That one was easier, but I didn't have an urge to keep going past my 30 minute total. Lots of new muscles in use, which is a good thing, but they tire easily.

That makes five good workouts in a row, which will hopefully begin to translate into fat loss soon. Yesterday, I rode the bus to the nearest market to get a Kind bar (my latest food addiction) and to simply have a destination. Then, I walked back home. Google says it's 1.8 miles. I wanted to try it both directions, but wasn't quite sure I could make it, plus it was just past noon so it was warm and sunny. The 40 minute walk home was quite enough for now. I've also done my 'around the block' walk after lunch every day. Doesn't take long, but includes a walk back up the steepest part of the hill, so it has value.

Then, I created a Twitter account. Something I've been thinking about for awhile, although I don't really have much interest in sending anything. It just keeps track of the various football-related accounts I follow, so I can see them all in one spot rather than looking at each account individually. After all, football season is close at hand! Sometimes I see things I'd like to comment on, so eventually maybe I will. But you really need to have something to say before sending one! And no, I'm not going to offer up my handle here. Anybody wants it, email me, but I really don't think anybody I know who reads this has a twitter account! I could be wrong.

Also walked up the trail from the house in search of blackberry brambles, but only came away with maybe a dozen berries. Too shady in there for many of them to actually ripen, and many of them are out of reach. But they sure are good!

All this -- especially the emphasis on exercise -- is great for fighting off depression. Every day seems to offer up more energy, and I really feel great today. Happy, energetic, interested in life. And that makes me feel even better. Life is good.

Not sure what the weekend will bring. Hope yours is good!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A prowler?

We think we may have had a prowler last night! And of course the logical thing that popped into my mind was publish a photo of the house! Right? Not exactly.

Well, this is a photo of the dwelling, but I decided yesterday that I'd put it up here just for the heck of it. Timing was coincidental.

So here's the story. I went upstairs this morning at 6am to fix my breakfast smoothie, and found the front door standing ajar. That's never happened before. And, when I went up last night around 8pm, I did my usual glance at the door and I know it was closed and I'm pretty sure I checked that it was locked, as my glances tend to take in both. I emailed my roommate, who went to bed very early last night, to see if she'd left it open for some reason. She had not, but said she woke up around 11:15 and had an uneasy sense that she should go upstairs and check the front door, but she didn't follow that instinct. She did, however, flip on the light switch that lights the stairwell, so if there was somebody up there, that may have scared them off. She wonders if a noise woke her up, although the dog didn't bark. I don't really think the dog would bark at the sound of someone two floors up, as she's used to people living in this room who walk around upstairs, go in and out the door at all hours. My roomie mentioned that the previous tenant, who was a little odd, turned in her key before she left (last fall) but could have had a copy made. Just to be safe, she wants us to be sure and lock the screen door as well as the house door at night. I'm not scared -- not at all the scared type -- but admit that it's a little unsettling.

So back to the photo. Took it this morning a little after 9am, to illustrate the big trees that keep this place so cool. It's a clear day out there, but the sun (east is to the left) hasn't crested the trees on that side and the big trees on the right will start blocking it from the roof early in the afternoon. When these places were built, they only cut down enough trees for the driveway and buildings. If you look closely, you can see an outline of the hills in the background -- that's where I hike, all the way to the top. There's nothing between here and there except the power line right-of-way and trees. Not a bad gig.

Made it to the gym this morning, but it's hard, mentally, to do the full time. I upped it to 35 minutes today, and will do that until I'm back at 45. My body would do more, but the mind just doesn't like it, needs to be forced.

That's the excitement around here today.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Treadmill or hiking in the woods?

Getting back into the exercise routine always requires a certain amount of determination. Didn't have any problems getting to the gym yesterday, but last night I thought it would be fun (?) to add a morning hike or walk in the neighborhood to the mix, in between treadmill days. Didn't get quite as early a start as I wanted, but in the end I left home around 8am.

Some weeks ago I tried to find a connector between the trail I generally use to hike up the hill, and another trailhead a block away. I followed my instincts, came to a downhill trail that I followed for a long time as it became more and more overgrown and narrow, took me noplace. I retraced my steps, determined to try it from the trailhead next time. Today was that next time. Didn't take long at all to reach an intersection that was clearly signed, pointing to the left. But, the trail continued on up the hill and I have a hard time leaving a trail unexplored, so I followed it up and up until I reached what seemed to be private property. The trail appeared to lead to the driveway of a home not too far across the meadow and I didn't want to go there. The utility right-of-way was there, but again, seemed to be on private property, not far from the house, so I retraced my steps to the intersection.

Didn't get far on the designated trail before I encountered a stream crossing, sans bridge. Not a lot of water, but deep and rough with rocks and big tree roots, and wide. Once past that, I eventually came out on the utility right-of-way road, with good signage for the trail, and followed that back home. My error the first time was that I just didn't follow the road far enough to reach the 'real' trail intersection. That would have required hauling on up a steep section of that gravel road after my first effort led me nowhere, and at the time I wasn't interested. Now, I know.

There are benefits of working at the gym on a treadmill: good regardless of weather, I can set a fast speed and a hilly program that works me rather seriously at a steady pace. That's about it.

Benefits of walking through the woods for 45 minutes, however, are more numerous: there were lots of wild blackberries ripening along the lower parts of the first trail; walking through nature is always more pleasant and more rewarding than walking a treadmill; I always love exploring new paths, following my curiosity, doing something different; I don't have to get in my car and drive anywhere; and not least, walking up that last hill home is much harder, much steeper than anything I would ever select on a treadmill! Being out on a trail also requires that you keep at it at least long enough to get back home. No 'stop' button to hit if I get bored, although I never get bored out in the woods. 45 minutes of good exercise, vs. 30 minutes of forced exercise on a treadmill. Which would you prefer? Seriously? But realistically, they both have their good points and somehow, it's easier to get myself motivated to drive to the gym than it is to get dressed and walk out the door. That's the depression at work, trying (unsuccessfully) to take over.

Not today.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back to the gym

Is it hot enough for you yet? How many times have you heard that one this week.....

It's a tad after 6am and according to WeatherUnderground, it's moved down to 68.9 at a nearby station. It was a bit higher when I first checked, and should go down a few more notches before starting to rise again very early in the day. This is supposedly the last day of this current, short, heat wave (highs of 102, 104, etc) and some folks around here are ready to see the end of it. I can understand that, because last summer, in that little tin-roofed skylit cottage, I also suffered. This year, I'm really thankful once more to be where I am -- surrounded by big fir trees in a 3-level building that stays cool, other than the top floor which is also skylit and gets all the heat that rises from the bottom two floors. But that's OK -- nothing up there I need except the kitchen, and I only need that in small doses. My room stays nicely cool, especially with a little judicious use of night air for cooling. In fact, my room was cool enough yesterday that I was happy to go out in the sunshine for awhile around 1pm just to soak up some warmth!

But anyway. One thing you can always count on with the weather is that it'll change, and this is supposed to start cooling off starting tomorrow. For the sake of those out there who don't have cool, tree-shaded homes, I hope it does.

As for the rest of life: boring! I guess the good news is that my body is back to normal. Hallelujah!  Now to get the mind back on track. That's much harder than getting the body back on track. What I'm seeing is one of the prime signs of depression trying to take control, but this is something I dealt with for years and I'll deal with it now.

The fancy, clinical term for it is anhedonia. What it means is loss of pleasure, a lack of interest in doing anything because nothing is appealing, nothing is fun anymore. I learned decades ago that the best way to fight this one is to just do something. Anything. Pick up a broom or a mop. Walk around the block. Force yourself, because you'll need to force yourself when you're in that ugly state. What I found was that once I did something, I would inevitably continue and do something else, and something else without needing to force it. The main thing is to get off your butt and get started. Remember that old truth: a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

I need to put that into use starting Monday, when I plan to return to the gym on a regular basis. I still have a lot more fat to lose, and there's no time like the present to get started with that. No more excuses around feeding an unhealthy body the foods it needs in order to heal. It's diet and exercise time, baby! Do I want to do this? Hell no! But I will do it.

In the meantime, I'm transitioning the food products I have in my fridge and pantry so that by Monday, both the body and food supply will be all primed for diet foods. Not much chance I'll be out walking today, other than maybe a walk around the block, because of the heat. I'll continue to burrow into my cool little cave with books and TV for company.