Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Getting ready for the big event

No mystery about what this is. Eugene is just a tad south of the full totality path, so we should get most of it. Picked up my glasses today.

The best news is that I can watch it from my living room window if I want to, though there will be a group gathering outside in a good viewing spot, so I may go down there and have some company.

I have never seen an eclipse, as far as I remember. Partial moon eclipses, but never a sun eclipse, or if there was one, I wasn't close enough to really see anything, or remember it.

Hot weather is upon us -- 90 degree days, but cooler nights, of course. Thankfully, this apartment is easy to keep cool, as it faces east and misses the hot sun of the day. In this building there's a real trade-off for that, because we also face the street and get tons of street noise. Not sure which I'd really rather have, but I do like the east window.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


I'm beginning to like what I'm calling 'pantry/fridge clean-out days.'  Somehow, all that good stuff tossed into one dish makes for some pretty tasty results.

Today, I had a little leftover arborio rice from when I made paella back in April. Thought to toss it, but then -- decided to keep it until I had some white wine open, and try some risotto. No recipe, though I did check the steps and process to be sure I did it right. I wish I'd managed to skim some of the fat off the broth, but I was too lazy. Tastes good, but is a bit rich.

Also in the fridge, along with a really small, but adequate amount of leftover chardonnay, was some leftover rotisserie chicken and a few cherry tomatoes. Garlic and onion are pantry staples, and I cut some rosemary from the garden. Yesterday I made some fresh chicken stock from some of the chicken bones. And that was that.

I'm no risotto expert, but to me it's pretty darned tasty. It's creamy, which is what the experts say is the desired state. I've had risotto cooked by others that was kind of sticky and gummy and not the least bit creamy, so this was a real goal. Creamy, perfectly cooked to the perfect state of al dente, if I may say so. It's a good thing, too, because I used every last drop of the stock I'd made and was wondering if I'd need some hot water before it was over.

Went for a walk down to the ponds early this morning for blackberries. Came home with 3 cups, which is adequate. I got 4 cups on Sunday, and I'm sure others are helping themselves as much as I am. Main thing is the briers are loaded with black fruit that's just not quite ripe enough to fall into my hands with a gentle tug. There's plenty more to come.

Not sure what to do with this bounty. Sunday I made a cobbler and put some of the berries into the fridge for the next day's smoothie. Right now, my tummy is full and the berries are not calling to me, but I suspect that will change as the day goes on. I only use a drizzle of honey over the berries, and a tiny amount of sugar (a teaspoon or two) in the biscuit dough that tops it. It could be worse.

Time to go clean up the kitchen, but it was worth it....

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Only two weeks in....

All of two weeks into this Vassa thing, and I'm already chafing at the restrictions I placed upon myself. I sometimes resist the need to meditate, and more and more feel the urge for 'just one computer game'. But -- for the time being, at least, I ignore both, sit on the cushion as scheduled, and don't click on the games icons.

I think for the first time this is actually giving me a small look inside the discipline every person, male or female, has to have when they ordain as a monastic, and at how much they have to give up. The men live by over 300 rules that affect every aspect of their lives, and the women (who are presumably temptations for the men and must avoid that) live by over 600, if I'm remembering my numbers correctly. They relinquish pretty much everything from their layperson lives, including money and possessions.

I've given up things when I've stayed at a monastery, whether for a week or several months, but most of it never bothered me because about all that really frustrated me was lack of entertainment (TV, radio) and lack of occasional wine or beer. I didn't eat dinner, but for some reason that's something that has never really been difficult for me. And I've mostly had my computer for the entertainment value that provides.

Observing all this within my mind is fascinating. I'm forced to make choices, reaffirm my intentions, on a daily basis, and this forces me to look deeper, think more about what I'm observing of my own mind. One thing most Buddhist meditators can agree upon is that the human mind is never boring, if you really watch how it works. It can be frustrating, but not boring. Training it is not easy, but the rewards are great and worth the effort, because the effort to not give in to either craving (playing computer games) or aversion (not wanting to meditate) does train the mind to let go of both those unwholesome actions. Craving and aversion are at the heart of what, in Buddhist philosophy, causes unhappiness in our lives, and the more we can let go of them, the happier we are. I can attest to that, certainly.

So, I continue, discovering in the smallest possible way just what my monastic friends experience every day of their lives, to a much higher degree. It's a worthy experiment.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Summer in the ponds

It's been awhile since I walked around the ponds. I got tired of seeing the same thing, and then I got sick. Today I went to town on the bus to pick up a library book and hit the farmer's market, and on the way home noticed how low the water is, so I thought I'd check out the change of scenery. That little family of ducks was adorable to watch, if hard to focus on. They were moving fast! More photos of them further down.

Back in the winter, water rushed under these bridges barely missing the walkway. Now, this one is just a pile of rocks and the one below isn't much better.

A yellow waterlily about to burst open here -- need to come back in a few days to check it out.

Wild sweet peas are just one of the many things I love about an Oregon summer.

Hard to tell what these are -- puffy purple balls, basically, in speckled light. Lots of wildflowers blooming today, though very little wildlife other than lots of beautiful dragonflies.

Much of the ponds are covered or nearly-covered in these lilipads. I wonder if they will bloom? More to check on later!

Obviously, I had fun watching these ducks!

To the uninitiated, this looks pretty boring. But that left bank, all the way along the ponds and further, is Oregon black gold. Wild blackberries! They are just coming into season and I expect to head out there more than a few mornings once the serious ripening starts. I get a little crazy for blackberry cobbler. I found a few today that were ripe and sweet.

Pretty and peaceful in the noon-day sunshine.

The state of the garden, at the moment. The squash plant is going bananas, the chard is still out-producing my ability to eat it. The nasturtiums are bright, and the rosemary loves the heat. I had to pull the parsley plants a few days ago because they were going to seed, not producing anymore leaves. I planted some seeds and hope to have more soon enough.

Looking close at the other end, the eggplant has a purple blossom opening and inside the red cage the pickling cucumber -- stunted by snails -- is also blossoming.

Spent $4 for a small container of fresh figs at the farmer's market this morning. I was thinking of fig season a couple of days ago, and while it was pricey, I was willing to pay it. Yum! I can eat lots of fresh figs when I get the chance.

And in the manner of small victories, I attached the swivel plastic door to the cat's enclosed litter box this morning and she didn't even hesitate to go through and back out. When I bought this box, several months ago, I wasn't brave enough to attach the door until she grew accustomed to the newness of the box. It's never wise to give a cat any reason to be uncomfortable with its litter box! Time passed and we both got used to the box the way it is, but I remembered the door today and it seems to work for both of us.

As I said. Small victories.

Monday, July 17, 2017


In case anybody wonders -- and I seriously doubt that anybody does -- I'm still keeping the vassa pledges I made a week or so ago. Wearing white is easy. Meditating twice a day has been easy too, surprisingly, and even not playing computer games is not overly difficult, though there are times when I long to reach for those icons, to pass the time.

The cat was confused about me sitting on 'her' meditation cushion for a few days, walking all around me, meowing, insisting upon climbing my body so I'd hold her, and generally being a sweet pest. But she eventually gave it up and got used to it. So I'm left in peace, from the feline at least.

I'm also a little surprised at how much good the meditation seems to be doing for me. Since it's only 20 minutes at a time, I expected little other than the discipline of doing it. Then I started up a healing meditation I learned a few years ago from my favorite teacher, even listening to her guided meditation one evening. She is Asian, of Chinese ancestry though Malaysian-born. This meditation leads the mind in sending loving thoughts to the body, superficially at first, then deeper to include the various organs -- brain, heart, lungs, liver, intestines, etc -- as well as every body part. She says that sending these loving thoughts sends the good 'chi', or energy, to that part and heals whatever needs healing. Something is working -- certainly in my neck/spine area where I had a bad whiplash back in 1993 leaving my spine looking something like a pretzel in that area. This had been inflamed lately, but since I've been doing this meditation daily, the inflammation seems to be gone. No more pain, at any rate. There was a second area that I cannot even remember at this moment, also gone. She also addresses the mind, as well as the body, and when I'm through with 20 or 30 minutes of this I'm kind of a happy, limp noodle.

I think what I like about these pledges most, however, is simply the successful discipline that comes with following them. They cause not one bit of difficulty or trouble in my life, other than offering a tad more discipline in a couple of areas.

I still don't know if I'll make it until the full moon in early October, but for now it's all good.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Another rant about doctors

What is it with doctors?

Over the years I've mentioned to several doctors that I often get 'itchy, tingly, crawly sensations under my skin' that come and go and are very unpleasant. I've often wondered if it was some kind of mis-firing in my nervous system, or a reaction to something I've eaten. Not ONE doctor has ever offered up a suggestion, most merely give me a blank look, or shrug.

So today I googled it, and to no surprise these are anxiety symptoms. Known and clear. Why couldn't one of these doctors simply understand this, and tell me what was going on? I swear they are useless!

It's no secret that I don't like medical doctors or frankly, the modern idea of medicine, where rather than find a cause for a problem they simply use a pharmaceutical to treat the symptom. Possibly they all ignored it because they don't like prescribing anti-anxiety meds like Xanax. Best to just ignore me, pretend ignorance. I would never take it anyway, on a treatment-level basis which calls for taking some every 4 hours.

I did that once, many years ago when Xanax was new and my doctor (a high-level psychiatric expert who eventually rose high in the California state mental hospital system) told me that it was new and non-addictive. Didn't take me long to realize he was wrong, as after a few days I noticed the body wanting the pill before the 4 hours would be up. At that point, I said no thanks. I take it on occasion, mostly for helping me sleep once or twice a week. But would never again take it routinely. Or even daily.

I know I'm anxious -- something that's gotten worse as I've gotten older. Anybody in this country who isn't anxious these days isn't paying attention. Especially poor people and old people. I try to use natural methods to alleviate it, and am prone to craving sugary stuff which has just the opposite effect.

It's good to know what is causing the skin tingles, though. Not sure what I'll do about it, but at least I know it's not some dire physical issue.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Vassa, and life

So -- today  is the first day of a season/tradition called Vassa, when Buddhist monastics, at least those of the Theravadan tradition, tend to stay in one place for three months, rather than going out into the world to teach. The tradition stems from the days of ancient India, when this was the rainy season and travel was difficult for the monks. Twenty-five hundred years later, the tradition is still observed, though rain or shine travel is much easier.

Teaching still happens, of course. But more 'in house' I guess you'd say, rather than roaming from place to place. Not all that many monastics actually roam these days. Most are connected to a monastery somewhere as a home base, even if they travel to teach. But, I know of one at least who has been traveling the world for years now, staying with friends or at monasteries. He always observes Vassa, wherever he is.

I've spent time in monasteries during Vassa, but never really noticed anything much different other than that often bikkhuni's from over the world might come and join the others for the three months. I never thought about observing it myself, on my own, in any way, until a week or so ago. There was a Google Groups message from an Indian man whose family is offering much financial support to Dhammadharini during this time. He suggested various ways lay people could participate: come to the monastery, wear white and serve the monastics, meditate, and such. I was invited to spend time with them this summer, and wanted to, but in the end gave in to the reality that I just didn't have the energy for the drive down there, among other things.

But then -- light bulb! -- he mentioned that Vassa was sometimes called the Buddhist Lent, which I'd never heard before, and that lay people could observe it in their own homes by doing something that was good for them, giving up something that was bad for them, and spending more time in meditation. This sounded like something I could and wanted to do, though I admit that I had some reservations over the last few days. But, here I am.

Wearing white every day, meditating twice a day as something 'good for me', and not playing computer games serves as giving up something 'bad for me'. Those games were and are a terrible habit, and are bad for my eyes as well as my right arm which has an annoyance something like carpal tunnel syndrome, though not in the wrist, and has had for years. Comes from the same idea -- repetitive motion.

Other than these easy things, life goes on as normal but since the mind is always aware of the need to avoid the games and to remember to meditate, it's also more aware than usual of the general Buddhist philosophies and the wish to live by them perhaps more strongly than normal. Now, I'm as skeptical about me actually doing this for 3 months as anybody else, so we'll see. But that's the goal.

Hard to catch the cat in the window long enough to take a picture, but I managed. She's grown -- not so much bigger, but sturdier and heavier. Not fat, just solid. She's a sweetie, tries so hard to be the perfect cat. A great companion that I'm glad to have with me.

This morning I awoke to some beautifully risen (over-risen, unfortunately) sourdough bread I'd started yesterday. I baked it anyway, and it rose but not as much as if I'd baked it sooner. I tried something different this time: added rosemary and greek olives and black pepper to the dough, guessing at quantities from a non-sourdough recipe I really like. Fortunately, the idea was a good one, but there is too much black pepper, certainly, and maybe too much rosemary. However, I made a half recipe and it's not inedible, so not much is lost.

The garden is doing well, though snails decapitated a couple of pickling cucumber seedlings, three bean seedlings, and some of the stem of an eggplant. I don't know if the eggplant will produce any fruit -- sure hasn't been growing, but looks healthy otherwise. One bean bush has maybe 3-4 beans on it, but the other seedlings are shot. Squash is doing great, Swiss chard and everything else are doing great.