We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Shoulder, Trees, Writing

Winter                                                                         Imbolc Moon

shoulder-arthroplasty-Mayo-ClinicHippity hop to the ortho shop. Kate’s got an appointment at Panorama Orthopedics today. Her right shoulder. She can no longer hold things up with her right arm and has to use two hands to put dishes away, sometimes to lift a cup. Annoying and painful. Screws up her sleep, too. She needs some kind of solution, more than likely a shoulder replacement. This is the first step, a consult to see what her options are.

A friend of Kate and mine is having surgery for breast cancer today, too. It’s a cancer that has the improbable, but very desirable, cure rate of 100%. In the sort of piling on that getting older can deliver, her husband, only a week later, got a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It’s a killer, but slow, maybe 5-10 years. He’s mid-70’s. Mortality is always stalking us, but seems to knock on the door more often past three score and ten.

Sister Mary tells me she’s been invited as a visiting professor to a university in Kobe, Japan this summer. Very close to Kyoto. And, great beef. Congrats to Mary. Brother Mark is in Bangkok right now, chillin’ in the tropical heat.

Tu B'ShevatAn interesting week ahead. A session on green burial tomorrow night at CBE. It’s part of a conversation about creating a Jewish cemetery up here in the Evergreen/Conifer area. Oddly, I think I’d like to work on that. The next night, Wednesday, is Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. Judaism has a lot of pagan inflections, Tu B’Shevat and Sukkot, a harvest festival at the end of the High Holidays, for example. Looking forward to this one because there’s a seder, too, with seven species of fruit and nuts. I’ll explain more on Wednesday. After the this celebration is another Kabbalah session, more double letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

NovelIdeaRigel has her second appointment at the Vet Referral Clinic with Dr. Bayliss this Friday, too. I’m excited about it because we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s going on with her. And, it’s not the dire prognosis we anticipated when we took her in a week ago last Friday.

Meanwhile, I’ve finally levered myself back into writing, now on both Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire (only a working title). Not sure exactly how I did it, just did it, I think.

Getting closer to using the sumi-e brushes, maybe today. Yesterday I tied string at the base of each new brush after applying a bit of glue all round, too. That had to set for a day. I gathered some towels, watched a couple more videos. Youtube is a fantastic resource for all kinds of things. Jon watches Japanese woodcrafting videos to calm down, for example.

Next week is Kate’s quilting retreat in Buena Vista.

 

Sunday

Winter                                                                            Imbolc Moon

Kate and meKate sewed most of the day yesterday. May not seem like a big deal, but it is. Her energy and her energy management skills are both improving and she’s enjoying life more. I’m so glad to see it.

Rigel’s feeling better, too. Acts better. Less needy. Appetite more normal. The rabbit protein diet, which includes small chunks of frozen canned dog food as treats, seems to agree with her though I can’t tell whether she’s gained weight or not. Dr. Bayliss said Rigel will get a b-12 injection on her next visit to the VRCC. After that, not sure. I’m glad to see Rigel feeling better, too.

Today I’m going to spend some time on sumi-e, ink wash painting. Youtube videos. Preparing my new brushes. Learning to grind ink. Going to use some of my less expensive tea cups with it because they’re beautiful and fit the aesthetic. My goal right now is to learn the strokes, what the brushes can do. How to make ink. How to set up the area for a productive session. How the paper reacts to the brush. Beginner’s mind.

20180124_110641Work on online education for Beth Evergreen will continue today, too. Marilyn Saltzman found some mussar sites and I’m going to add Coursera and EDx courses. I also plan to look at other, more general online education sites. So far I’ve focused on online education focused on Jewish studies, but I imagine there are more courses. A fun project.

Might pop over to Tony’s Market. Not a place to do regular grocery shopping, but for special meals, white table cloth, jazz, and candle sticks meals, it’s the best I’ve discovered here so far. They have a wide selection of sea-food, meats and prepared side dishes.

Challenges

Winter                                                                     Imbolc Moon

Kep and Rigel

Kep and Rigel

No word yet on Rigel’s further tests, the ones focused on her GI tract. We do have her now on a diet exclusive of all proteins other than rabbit and those from milk products. She seems less needy, appears happier and to have gained a bit of weight, or, at least doesn’t look as emaciated as she did. These are all good signs and we’re hopeful, but still tentative. We go back to see Dr. Bayliss next Friday.

Cooking and sumi ink painting are my gardening equivalents here on Shadow Mountain. I realized not that long ago that I need some active, physical work in my life. This surprised me because I think of myself as an intellectual, a reader, a writer, sort of an in my head guy a lot of time. Which is of course true. Partially. I’m also an emotional guy with Kate and the dogs, family and friends. And, I also spent 20+ years as a serious horticulturist and beekeeper. Oh, right. Yeah.

kitchenI don’t miss the heavy lifting (the literal heavy lifting) for the most part, though part of my time at Beth Evergreen involves setting up for Adult Ed events and I do like moving chairs and tables, that sort of thing. Go figure. But I also need purposeful, intellect engaged physical activity. Different from exercise, which I also need. Cooking is physical and intellectual, also creative.

I’m challenging myself, trying to do things I’ve not been comfortable with. Don’t laugh, but I made pan gravy last night after pan frying some nice pork chops. I’d not done that before. Seemed, I don’t know, too delicate or fussy for my skills. Easy peasy. I also did the pork chops. It’s pretty easy to heat pork out of its flavor and tenderness zone, not as easy to cook it so it’s moist and tender. Got it last night!

zenThe sumi painting I’ve not yet fully engaged, still collecting materials, setting up my work space, learning techniques, but I intend to stay at it as long as it takes to get some proficiency. Precise or artistic hand work has never been my thing, but I’m going to change that, at least to some degree.

I have two areas I want to investigate. The first is the Zen calligraphy typified by circles and crescents, done mindfully with brush and paint as a meditation. The second is Hebrew calligraphy, drawing the letters as art. This last one interests me because I’m learning (well, sort of) the language itself and, more interesting for this work, I’m also learning the history of the individual letters, their symbology and their story. Their shapes are intriguing and I think focusing on making individual letters in the same style as Zen calligraphy may open them up to me in a new way. We’ll see.

This guy needs his hands in, something or other. Right now, the stove and the ink brush will do.

Life is like an hourglass

Winter                                                                             Imbolc Moon

hourglass

This is a short piece from a book, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations. It’s day 350. It fits so well with kabbalah, as I’m finding Taoism often does.

Life is like an hourglass

Consciousness is the sand

Imagine an hourglass.

Its shape is like the symbol for infinity. Its form recalls the double helix of DNA. Its two sections represent polarity. The material on one side, the immaterial on the other. The male on one side, the female on the other. Hot and cold, positive and negative, or any duality. (dialectic)

The sand runs in a stream, the same stream as the course of energy that runs up your spine, the same stream that is the road of life.

The movement of that sand is what we call Tao. Our consciousness alternates between the various states represented by the hourglass. It is as difficult to grasp as a stream of sand. Therefore, it is foolish to examine things minutely. It is unwise to focus on the material. It is wisdom to understand the movement.

 

Rice Cake Soup. And more.

Winter                                                                     Moon of the Long Nights

rice cake soup ddeok-kookYesterday SeoAh taught me how to make rice cake soup. It’s delicious, a good breakfast soup. It has an unusual role in Korean culture. At the New Year, the spring festival, (same time as Chinese New Year), all Koreans eat, with their families, a bowl of rice cake soup. When they’re done, they’re all a year older. The entire nation becomes a year older on the same day, using the same ritual.

The new InongenG3, Kate’s portable O2 concentrator, has refused to charge beyond 16%. Called service and they suggested a hard reset. “Set the unit on the right and the battery on the left of the table. Set an egg timer for thirty minutes. At 30 minutes, plug the unit in for 30 minutes. After that, put the two back together and charge.” Just a bit condescending. Didn’t work the first time. Trying one more time, then this puppy is getting rehomed and  exchanged for a new one.

20171225_162548Kate had a battery of tests, some blood work and a CT scan. The CT scan showed nothing. Which is good since they were looking for a possible pulmonary embolism. She may have a stress test next. The question moves on to cardiac issues. It’s been a tough year for Kate physically, but she’s handled it with calm and resolve. Still more stuff to workout. That damned right shoulder, too.

Joe and SeoAh decided to stay today, leave tomorrow. Joe and I took down the boxes of his stuff that we moved here from Andover. He’s going to sort through them, making a throwaway pile, a keep here pile, and a move to Robbin’s pile. He’ll start by taking some of that last pile tomorrow. He has many, many baseball, basketball, football cards. There are Transformers, a train set, the Great Books, college text books, Christmas decorations, fun things he had on the ledge in his room back in Minnesota. All that between high school and after college stuff.

Auld Lang SyneWe watched the Murdoch detective series last night. The detective is Murdoch the Akita’s namesake. There is a great ease in family relationships of long standing. So much that does not have to be said. So much confidence in the future of those relationships. Holiseason moments abound in these experiences, giving us fuel and stability for the months ahead.

May your days-and nights-be merry and bright, may old acquaintance be recalled and a cup of kindness lifted to them all.

 

New York to Asia to Hanukkah

Samain                                                           New (Long Nights) Moon

20171215_181928Hanukkah’s 7th night is tonight. That small cruse of oil, only enough for one day in the Second Temple’s menorah, continues to burn. Hanukkah always starts on the 25th of Kislev and ends on the 2nd day of Tevet. The lunar Jewish calendar means that the Gregorian calendar dates fluctuate from late November to late December, but it’s always in the cold, dark part of the year for those of us in temperate and northerly latitudes.

Yesterday Kate packed up a huge plastic bag printed with dreidels and stars of David. Hanukkah gifts for Jon and the grandkids. She also ordered box lunches and latkes from the New York Deli, which we pass on the way to Jon’s house.

In the back of the Rav4 went the chainsaw, chain oil, fuel, wrench, ear protection and wrench in one of the cardboard containers we got from the Elizabeth Meat Locker and threw a tarp over it. The tarp was for wood, hard wood, from Jon’s yard. There was, too, a large plastic storage box with a tight fitting lid. Gertie was going along and we had a second stop after the New York Deli.

On the way traffic was, as it always seems to be, even on Sundays, moderately heavy once we got into Lakewood. Up here in the mountains and along this busy urban thoroughfare there are lots of lights, some artfully arranged, most put up with a desire to celebrate the holidays of lights, Hanukkah and Christmas. They seem brave to me, a human mark on the dark of the long nights.

new-york-deli-news-denver-742117At the New York Deli we collected the food in a large cardboard box and put the latkes and box lunches in the plastic storage bin, locking down the lid as a very interested Gertie sniffed around the edges. From the New York Deli, which has a sign in front of it, Leaving Denver, entering New York, we left North America altogether and went to Asia.

H Mart is a pan-Asian grocery store. Huge and filled with items for folks from Korea, China, Japan, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Malaysia. There were space ship resembling dragon fruits, cutup pieces of jackfruit, kimchi, live lobsters and fluke, a flat fish that looks like a flounder, packages of dried sweet potato stems, frozen baby octopi to Kate’s disgust. We found some mochi ice cream, ice cream balls covered by a sweet rice wrap. They went in the basket, mango and green tea. I found Korean red envelopes in which to put cash as a present for SeoAh and Joe.

hmart_co_denver_0All the while Asian folks from many lands pushed carts along the crowded aisles, crowded in spite of the fact that H Mart is the size of a Costco. Finding their food of preference many examined the items with great care. I saw a Chinese man inspect and reject several cucumbers before choosing one. Asian women shook baskets of greens, a practiced eye looking for whatever made one clump more desirable from the next.

The H Mart has restaurants, a kitchen supplies department, cosmetics counter, rows of everyday items available in Asian stores, but readily available in ordinary U.S. stores. There are pallet sized, chest high stacks of rice in large bags, some too heavy for one person to carry. This is easily the most ethnically diverse spot in all of the Denver metro.

20171217_171620After we got done at the H Mart, we went to Jon’s to set up Hanukkah for the kids who returned that evening at 5 pm from Jen’s. While Kate unpacked gifts and food inside, I retrieved our loppers, lent to Jon, and went to work on the pile of brush I left when I cleared his back a couple of weeks ago. The brush has to be cut into pieces small enough for the trash. It was chilly and the light faded quickly even though we got there at three thirty. Almost to the Winter Solstice.

20171217_175903When the kids came home, Gertie ran up to Gabe, her little stump tail wagging, wagging, wagging. We lit the menorah, said the prayers, then the kids started removing wrapping paper and opening boxes. Various oohs and aahhs amplified when we told them about the new TV in the kid’s room on Shadow Mountain. In the way of kids (and adults, too, but we usually hide this) Ruth said, “My favorite present is the slinkys.” Each got two of the one inch slinkys I used for my kabbalah presentation.

We ate, cleaned up, then Kate and I began to fade. Loading up the truck, Gertie eagerly, but gingerly jumping (arthritis) in, we went up Florence, Jon’s street, passed houses decorated with lights and began the ascent from 5280 feet to 8,800. A lot of family stuff in the past two weeks. Jon and SeoAh come this Friday, driving from Robbins AFB. They’re bringing Murdoch!

 

 

Ofrendaless

Samain                                                               Bare Aspen Moon

spanish cilantro soupSpanish-Cilantro soup, served cold, is delicious. A good starter for a meal. Lots of allium: onion, garlic, leeks. Plus potato and, of course, cilantro. Recommended.

Slept in until 8:30 yesterday. Kate and I have not found ourselves on the road at 10:30 pm very often of late. The moon was full and high, clouds for background, the mountains hulking with only their dark shoulders visible. The traffic was somewhat heavy, probably folks coming back from the first night of Christmas lights at the Botanical Gardens. That was what created the traffic going in, we learned from Marilyn.

So yesterday was slow, a rest day. In the afternoon I took Kate to see Coco. It was better the second time. I even liked the mostly silly Olaf 21 minute short, an extension of the Frozen franchise. This time I noticed how Remember Me dominates the movie as plot point, central theme and as music.

ofrendaThe anthropologist in me got to thinking about ofrenda, the family altars created at Dias de Los Muertos, and prominent in Coco. Similar in purpose to the ancestor tablets in traditional Japanese, Chinese and Korean homes they create a bond with the memories and accomplishments of dead family members, encourage the passing down of stories over generations, help glue together families in the present through the care in creating them and the sense of living a shared narrative. They also reinforce family norms.

They are, too, similar to the yahrzeit in Judaism and the yahrzeit wall at Beth Evergreen, not to mention Samain, the equivalent Celtic holiday celebrated on the same day. Thinking about this made me wonder about the relative disappearance of dead relatives from the homes of European ancestry Christians. There is no moment in the Christian year when the dead are remembered save for All Saints Day and that’s not celebrated by many Protestants. I suppose the idea of heaven and resurrection turn the focus away from the dead and toward the afterlife and eventual resurrection. If we’re all gonna meet up at the end times, why bother with the past.

dadOh, we have our photo albums, our knick knacks, but we too easily slip past the family past to engage career, building our own family, taking care of our own lives. We’re relatively disconnected from our past, from our family. Read this article in the NYT about lonely deaths in Japan. It’s not only beautifully written and illustrated, it shows what happens to a society where declining child birth leaves the elderly alone, ofrendaless.

I point the finger at myself here. I have a small permanent ofrenda, a replica of a Spanish style balcony I bought in Bogota on my first international trip. Its purpose in Colombian culture is to hold photographs, mementos of loved ones. In it I have family photographs, a couple of small U.S. flags for mom and dad’s veteran status. Near it I keep my dad’s old briefcase, his silly animal hat. But really I rarely think of it, rarely return to their memories. Dad and I were estranged at his death, true, but I long ago mellowed on him. Even so, there are no moments during the year when they come to mind, when Aunt Mary and Uncle Charles, Grandma and Grandpa Keaton become the stuff of story and ancestry.

3 generations of our family

3 generations of our family

Good art gets us to reflect on ourselves, our own lives. It may either gently or roughly remind us of things we have neglected, emotions we bury, yearnings we had forgotten. I guess Coco stirred in me a longing for those deeper family connections, a more in this life experience of the Ellis family story. Good and bad it is my story and Joseph’s story, Mary and Mark’s story and now by extension Kate and Jon’s, too. Ruth and Gabe and SeoAh’s as well.

As the holidays begin to accelerate, perhaps this is a good time to ask the question about how we Anglos might learn from our Latino neighbors? Maybe the ancestral traditions of other lands, other peoples, can enrich our own. Help us sing Coco’s song, Remember Me.

 

Conifer Journal

Fall                                                                              Harvest Moon

Jackie

Jackie

scootersKate and I go to see Jackie at Aspen Roots. After growing my wizard beard and having it often end up it in my mouth after a night’s sleep, I decided to get it shaped. I like Jackie and the time out is another thing Kate and I can do together. I’m better groomed now than I’ve been in years. Change up. After my haircut and beard trim and Kate’s coloring and cut, we went over to Scooter’s, a relatively new restaurant here in Conifer. A down south style barbecue joint-they cook up the meat in a huge metal barbecue that sits outside-their food is good. St. Louis ribs, macaroni, onion and cucumber salad with cornbread and pinto beans and Texas Toast. Hmmm.

We stayed out so Sandy could get the downstairs done before we came back home. Nap time. After the nap Kate drove into Lakewood, about 30 minutes away, to Swedish Hospital for her regular Remicade infusion. Her right shoulder, which has been wonky for some time, osteoarthritis probably, has passed her-high-pain threshold and become a daily and more significantly a nightly nuisance. A new shoulder may be in her future. We do our part to support the medical-pharmaceutical complex.

20170902_163055Gertie has recovered well from the removal of her lesion last Friday. Instead of the cone of shame we now put t-shirts on our wounded dogs, so she’s been wandering around with Kate’s pink Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History. It gives Gertie, hardly a well-behaved female, a certain panache. Rigel continues her reignited predator ways, sniffing the deck and barking under the shed. Kep’s a sweet boy, eager and happy. With Vega dead he’s much less volatile in pack dynamics. No idea how that works.

I’m looking forward to talking with Joe and SeoAh about North Korea, get the perspective of a native South Korean and a USAF Weapon’s Officer. Germane points of view.

 

 

Fire and Fury. Big, big trouble.

Lughnasa                                                                               Kate’s Moon

My family’s Asian pivot began decades ago when Mary went to an Indiana University campus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She’s still in Asia, though now for a long time in Singapore, thirty years or so later. Brother Mark began teaching English as a second language and worked in Taiwan, then in Thailand and Cambodia. He was in Southeast Asia over twenty years and still considers Bangkok his refuge, if not his home. In 1981 Raeone and I welcomed a four-pound, four-ounce baby boy into our home from Calcutta, India. That boy turns 36 this fall. In 2016, after a year long deployment in Korea, Joseph married SeoAh, a native born Korean he met in a coffee shop in Seoul.

SeoAh’s family lives in the south of Korea near Gwangju. Better, I thought, than being in Seoul under the current circumstances, but Joseph says no. He knows far better than I do. This means that all the saber rattling going on between two tyrants with low impulse control is personal. We have family literally in the way of any outbreak of violence.

 

 

 

Family Celebration

Midsommar                                                                          Kate’s Moon

Jon has made it through, all the way through, a year plus of divorce drama with court appearances, lawyers, contested final orders. Those final orders, written in November of 2016 and recorded then, have now been in place for over six months. The daily crisis mode has fallen away, replaced by the gradual establishing of new norms. Both Jon and Jen must find a new balance, as must Ruth and Gabe. When kids are involved, you’re not divorced from someone, you’re divorced to them.

To celebrate we all went to Domo. It’s a unique restaurant, one of my favorites in Denver, that focuses on serving dishes typical of rural Japan, especially its mountain prefectures. Below are some pictures.

Waiting for supper

Waiting for supper

20170729_190250

Inside

Inside

20170729_190758

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