Live Long, and Prosper

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Sunday gratefuls: for the poetry and philosophy contained in the world’s religions. for not having to believe in them. for the intimacy and wonder of holidays. for deep thinkers and their ability to change our minds, to see what we cannot. for the pain and struggles that teach us what’s important and what’s not.

Seoah made a bulgogi soup last night. Delicious. Each time she comes I think, “I’ll cook like that, too.” Then, she leaves. And my cooking returns to its Western, American ways. I’ve added few Korean dishes to my repertoire. Maybe, over time…

Murdoch bounces around, happy and energetic. His teeth still have the pointy sharpness of a young puppy. He discovered the loft the other day, came running in, wagging his tail, rushing around, smelling this, then that. And left. He’s come back. He may join Gertie for longer time periods if he can contain himself.

Stanford University has a recent initiative, A New Map of Life. I like it because it recognizes the three blocks of life I call first, second, third phase: education, family and work, and the third phase. Not retirement, at least not the finish line model, but a new phase of life previously unavailable due to shorter life spans. And, as a result, one without cultural guard rails or guidelines.

Their approach makes so much sense. They want to to redefine, reshape the cultural paradigms for all the phases, not just old age. “Longer lives present us with an opportunity to redesign the way we live. The greatest risk of failure is setting the bar too low.” WP article: We need a major redesign of life. Dec. 8, 2019

Will investigate in greater depth and report back. I’m going through what seems to be an annoyingly long rethink of my own life. This is the fifth year (in 12 days) of our Colorado mountain life. It has peaks and valleys (hah) and they keep on coming.

Old age doesn’t seem to be the real issue for me though it plays a role. What’s more salient is the unpredictable nature of our daily life and the difficulty of getting into a rhythm for creative work. Health span is a key issue. Kate, though much better now than six months ago, still has occasional nausea, occasional fevers and fatigue, occasional heartburn, constant weakness. I have bouts of fatigue, muscle weakness, and general uncertainty added with prostate cancer and COPD.

Not complaining, observing what’s real for us. How do we build a mutual life that reflects and respects these difficult elements without capitulating to them? There is a disparity between us, too. I am younger than Kate by three years and though I have my own serious illnesses I don’t get derailed by them as often as she does from hers.

There’s a question of mutual life and its outlines and our individual lives. I’m admitting here that our answers so far have not been satisfying. It’s a project for both of us and it continues.

Mountain Living

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Thursday gratefuls: Friends who know about your own friendship with a constellation. Mt. Evans, which controls our weather. Black Mountain, which dominates my view from this computer. Conifer Mountain, which graces the left side of our journey up Shadow Mountain Drive. Hell, I’ll even give a shout out to the Verizon cell tower on top of Conifer Mtn. And to the folks who put it there.

Thanksgiving here officially ended. Annie’s cell phone went back to Waconia yesterday afternoon wrapped in bubble wrap.

Going to the Conifer Post Office is always a bit fraught. Our Next Door Shadow Mountain lights up with folks complaining about delivery times, deliveries not made, boxes stolen or misdelivered, letters and other mail delivered to neighbors, boxes shown as delivered and never seen. The staff at the front desk is often cranky, too.

Apparently this is a problem for Morrison, Pine, and Evergreen, too. Rural post offices. Also, mountains. Also, snow and rain and curves. Nothing like stopping your vehicle in the road on a snowy day, around a blind curve. Wouldn’t want this job or garbage pickup either. Having to stop a vehicle on the road in the mountains for any reason is hazardous and these folks do it at every house. Every house.

There are a lot of folks who make mountain living now much different from the Jeremiah Johnson era. The folks at IREA who construct and maintain the electrical grid up here. Mail and garbage folks as previously mentioned. The propane folks. Colorado Natural Gas that piped us and many of our neighbors. The Centurylink folks who build and maintain our phone and DSL lines. Jeffco public works responsible for roads, bridges, shoulders. Truckers who bring groceries and other goods to our stores. Workers in various professions who choose to live up here and often accept lower wages to do it. Think vets, doctors, eye care people, dentists.

We are not, contrary to the libertarian mythology, able to live free or die. We need not only family and friends, but a constellation of services and their employees to maintain ourselves up here. God bless them, everyone. Tiny Tim, too.

The Day After

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Sunday gratefuls: the water in our broken granite aquifer and its replenishment by rain and snow, the rocky mountain on which we live and its brother and sister mountains around us, the Arapaho National Forest that covers them, the regular coming of day and night, the winds of yesterday.

The day after. The paper plates and plastic cups, the napkins with the turkeys on them. All in the trash. Jon and Ruth left on Friday night, but Gabe asked if he could stay over. Sure, but you’ll have to sleep on the couch. That’s ok. Annie and Joe are here till Monday. Seoah will stay until mid-December when she will leave from DIA for Singapore.

The mood changes when the holiday is in the past. Less ritualized, more homey time. Sitting around with casual conversations. Joe talking about his comic book collection. “This one’s worth $4,000,” he says, showing me an old Avengers I gave him a couple of years ago. The old comics in the attic routine. Turns out mine were were worth some money. Several thousand as it happens.

It’s compensation for that Michael Jordan rookie card I wouldn’t help you buy. He’d wanted me to help him buy a $200 Michael Jordan rookie card now worth thousands. I said no. It’s a running joke (sort of) with us.

Joe and Seoah went to H Mart, the big box Asian grocery store in Aurora, near Jon’s house. Annie and Gabe went with them. Gabe went back home and Annie got her first taste of Asia.

H Mart, with its bins of durian, dragon fruit, lemongrass, its coolers with various meats and cuts not available at King Sooper, its aquariums with fish and shrimp, boxes of instant white rice and seaweed, stacks of fifty pound bags of basmati, has a pan-Asian clientele. East Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Filipinos wander the aisles looking for food they cooked back home or food their parents cooked back home.

H Mart has Korean owners. The first time Seoah came here we stopped at H Mart on the way home from the airport. I remember her delight when a stockboy talked to another employee in Korean. Her face lit up. My language! In America.

The original plan for Thanksgiving was to have Seoah cook a Korean holiday meal instead of the whole capon, side dish thing. When I realized they would arrive on Wednesday, the day before, I wrote back and suggested we wait on that. She agreed. Instead she made the dish last night

Chopche is my phonetic spelling of what she called it. Which, I just looked up, is not too far off: chop chae. Mixed vegetables and beef. It’s one of those Asian dishes that has most of its time in the prep work. She thinly sliced carrots, thicker chunks of bell peppers (red and yellow), mushroom, green onion. Transparent sweet potato noodles. Long, narrow slices of beef. All stir fried, one at a time, except for the noodles. A zucchini cut into slices, breaded, and fried.

When do you make this? Any big holiday. New year. Death. Birthday. Happy occasion. Tasty. Worth learning. Her cooking seems simple, but it’s not. She has a lot of knowledge picked up from her mother and now many years of cooking herself. Her moves have an economy to them that only comes with much practice. I watch her, trying to pick up at least some of her skill.

“I like to organize,” she says. When I try to wipe off the kitchen counter, she says, “Not needed.” Spreads her hands indicating the kitchen, her domain. “It is my pleasure.”

Shadow Mountain Gratefuls

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Everybody got here. 8 of us. Ruth, Jon, Gabe, Joe, Seoah, Annie, Kate and me. Plus a very interested Gertie, Rigel, Kepler, and Murdoch. Our oven thermometer allowed me to calibrate the lower oven since its heat is different from what gets set. Ruth’s pies, pumpkin and pecan, were wonderful. The heated side dishes made the meal easy to prepare. Love around the table. None of my burns were too bad.

The heated capon was ok, as were the side dishes. Hardly gourmet though tasty. We ate downstairs around the Stickley table that largely gets used for folding laundry. The red table cloth was festive as were the Happy Thanksgiving paper plates.

We used a few questions from a set by a company called Vertillis. The intent was to have a conversation that did not feature Trump tirades, one that was, instead, about us. It worked. After the plates of sage stuffing, mashed potatoes, capon, cranberries, and green beans were empty we broke into groups.

The women, with Kate at the head of the table, stayed downstairs talking while us guys put away food, cleared the table. A moment of gender parity. I mentioned it and Jon said, “Yes. And, two male dogs and two female dogs.” True.

Later Annie, Kate, and Ruth went upstairs, Jon sat in the chair and dozed while Joe, SeoAh, and I talked. The spirit of those questions seemed to linger even after the meal. Seoah said Joseph was her first true love. Who was mine?

The question set me back. After three visits to the altar and many women friends/lovers over the years, I wasn’t sure at first. “Kate,” I said. Raeone and Judy were both relationships formed while I was drinking and their dissolution reflected their flawed premises. Kate though was, pardon the not really a pun, my first sober choice. It’s true love because we both want what’s best for each other, will sacrifice for each other, and share convictions, core convictions, about politics, mother earth, dogs, family.

The essence of holidays, these sorts of conversations reinforce family ties, deepen them. We come together out of individual and nuclear family lives to bathe for a moment in the larger, extended field of our relationships. SeoAh said Koreans celebrate a harvest festival with similar themes.

Even though Kate’s going through some kind of disturbance in her force, nausea and fever, it nonetheless felt to me that this holiday put away the old, bad year and began a new one. Next year Joe and Seoah will be in Singapore, so it will be different.

Murdoch will stay with us for a year since Singapore wouldn’t let him in. Means considerable jockeying since both Murdoch and Kepler are male Akitas with the dog on dog aggression that comes with the breed. We’ll work it out, get a routine down.

Dogs, I read recently, like certainty. If we can get a system that works, when to feed, when to let this one out, then that one, keep Murdoch outside while Kep is inside and vice versa, we’ll avoid squabbles. Squabbles being a euphemism for teeth tearing flesh, blood, wounds, squeals of pain, and my forced interventions.

At two years old Murdoch still has a lot of puppy in him. That’s delightful and will warm up our house. He’s also a sweet boy, nice to have around.

Today is Thanksgiving on Shadow Mountain

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Friday gratefuls: Joe and SeoAh arrived with Murdoch after a long drive. Our plowed driveway. Thanksgiving when everyone can be here. Learning how to make chili from scratch. Discovered that smoked paprika adds to chili. Murdoch’s happy, puppy presence. This computer on which I do so much work. This loft in which I paint, write, read, exercise.

Joe and SeoAh’s arrival delayed Thanksgiving. They encountered several accidents on their way to Missouri for a night’s rest. Didn’t get there until 3 am. I decided we’d wait Thanksgiving rather than have them rush while sleep deprived. Cooked the capon last night, sliced it, covered it in tin foil. Will go in the oven to warm up today.

The big box of side dishes from Tony’s rests in the back of Ruby, cooled by what Kate and I call the great outdoor refrigerator. They, too, will go into the oven to warm up. Then those fancy plates and napkins I picked up at the Paper store will adorn our downstairs table. Around it will be Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Annie, Joe, SeoAh, Kate, and I. Eight souls. The animal souls will be in various places to avoid hassles.

We have 18 inches of snow on the ground and on our roof. A Colorado Thanksgiving. The solar snow shovel will gradually remove it.

Thankful Kate’s health is so much better.

Gathering

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: lodgepole pine and their snow shedding branches, aspens and their massive cloned groves, Maxwell, Blue, Shadow, and Bear creeks, the mule deer, the elk, the rabbits, the voles, the mice, the cougars, the bears, the foxes, the pine martens, the porcupines, the Canadian jays, the magpies, the ravens, the crows, the trout, the minnows, the willows and dogwood. And all the critters I don’t know about and all the soil organisms and grasses and flowers

Annie comes in today. Her flight arrives at 8 am. Joe and Seoah will get here tomorrow. We’re going to eat later as a result, probably around 5. Plus Murdoch, who, it turns out, will be staying with us for the next year. Gonna be interesting.

Jon, Ruth, and Gabe will come up for the day. Since Ruth has agreed to make the pumpkin pie, they have to get here early enough for her to work.

Getting the side dishes made by Tony’s means I can concentrate on the capon. I want to do it well. I hope our oven does not recapitulate its last Thanksgiving performance where it didn’t reach an adequate temperature. It’s been fine since then. Of course.

Lupron has been swinging my moods, giving me hot flashes, making me weaker than usual. Lotta fun. Better than the alternative.

Got plowed yesterday. But. New guy since Ted, our usual plow guy, fell off a ladder at a job and broke several bones. Chris is a substitute. He did an ok job, but he doesn’t know our driveway like Ted does. On Thanksgiving day we’ll have three extra cars here: Annie’s rental, Jon’s, and Joe’s. Ought to be interesting.

1′

Samain and the Gratitude (new) Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: Friends. All the Woollies with a special inflection for the Zoom guys: Mark, Bill, Tom, Paul. My zoompals. At CBE: mussar folk, Alan, Jamie, Rich, Marilyn, Fran in particular. Neighbors: Jude, Holly, Eduardo, Derrek. All the Facebook friends from long ago in Alexandria, Ball State.

Put the yardstick down on the deck this morning at 6 am. 1′ of snow. So far. Overnight. More still coming. The biggest snow event here since a blizzard last March. Ending today, probably AM. Roads will be clear for Thanksgiving travelers on Wednesday. Thankful for that. Seoah, Murdoch, Joe on the road from Warner-Robbins, Georgia.

Put on my Sorel’s, my down vest, my watchcap, my alpaca coat. Warm enough. Shoveled the deck and the small, pallet covered with rubber stall mats deck extension. The plastic push shovel that works so well on the composition decking and the stall mats is not good for throwing or lifting snow. Just bought a poly shovel. These heavy snows are easier to push if I can clear a few inches off the top first. The curved plastic of the push shovel dribbles the snow off as soon as I lift it.

Beautiful outside. The sun is up but Black Mountain is gone behind a pale bluegray curtain. The solar panels look like Korean tombs resting on our roof. The lodgepoles look like flocked Christmas trees.

Kate went to the grocery store to pick up an order and go to the bank which is in the King Sooper. When she got back, her lips were white and her face ashen. Walking to the bank and to the pharmacy (both inside the store) was too much. She’s having a Sjogren’s flare which may account for some of it. Her appearance shocked me, and I feel bad for not having done the trip. She thought she could do it. So did I.

Mundane

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Stayed out late Tuesday, for us past 8 pm. Makes the next day slow. Tried to get into the resistance work, couldn’t. Muscles complained. Did thirty minutes on the treadmill.

In to see my ophthalmologist. (spelling gets me every time) Glaucoma check. Every six months for over 20 years. Now every 4 months. The usual. Eye charts. A small glass instrument pressed against the pupil to check pressures, 16 and 14. Scan of the retinal nerve. Mine’s still abnormal. Has been for as long as they’ve been following me.

Stopped by Tony’s market. Picked up a few things. Cooked supper. The end of the day.

Big day. I’m meeting Alan to go over our bagel table plan for Saturday morning. The Dandelion again in Evergreen. Slippery roads this am, freezing drizzle. Driving freezing drizzle down the mountains can be challenging. The Blizzaks went on Ruby last Friday and she has all wheel drive.

At 12:45 we’re meeting Steve and Jamie at the Staples parking lot. We’re going to a CBE tour of the Monet show at the Denver Art Museum, a four hundred object exhibit arranged by a curator at the Denver Art Museum. This is its only stop. Looking forward to it.

This evening we have MVP, the mussar vaad practice group. Had to be moved from Tuesday due to the shiva at Steve and Jamie’s.

That’s a lot of moving parts for us in one day. Good ones, yes, but still a lot.

Our First Shiva Minyan

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Seven p.m. last night. Already well dark. We drove to the Staples parking lot, about 10 minutes away, and picked up Marilyn Saltzman. She got in, put Jamie and Steve’s address in her phone so she could navigate, and we drove toward Bailey on 285, turning on Richmond Hill Road, up toward Lion’s Head.

Driving in the mountains at night has a claustrophic feel, the dark closes around you, the headlights illuminate some of the road, but the curves and the dropoffs make the light useful only right in front of you. A sense of isolation creeps up, too. Without those headlights? A bit like driving in a whiteout. A blackout.

Coming home on familiar roads at night. That’s ok. We do it a lot from Evergreen and Denver and we know the roads. Jamie and Steve’s house though is hard to find in the daylight.

Marilyn navigated well. We arrived to what we thought would be a packed house, but nope. Their long driveway, asphalt, had only a few cars, all parked close to the house.

Jamie and Steve met us at the door. Steve’s brother, Arthur, died a month or so ago. Steve was unshaven, as is Orthodox custom, and he wore a Bronx sweatshirt in honor of Arthur. The shiva minyan* marks the end of mourning when mourners begin to reenter the world. A minyan, as you may know, is at least ten Jews, men only in former days, who together can say communal prayers.

Neither Kate nor I had ever been to a shiva. I expected it to be somber, but when Steve and Jamie showed us into their spacious kitchen, people were chatting in small groups, laughing, talking with friends. A fruitbowl, platters of brownies, nuts, small cupcakes, a raw vegetable plate with dip sat on the island. Marilyn had said usually folks bring food, but there had been no request in the announcement. Yet here was the food anyhow.

This is a big, big house. It has a formal dining room between the kitchen and the living room. We’ve been there for fourth of July parties and their deck, which extends from beyond the kitchen to the end of the living room outside, stretches easily fifty feet and overlooks Pikes Peak in the distance, behind a range of mountains. The living room has a two-story rock fireplace with exposed beam rafters. Big.

When we came in, Jamie asked me what Kate was doing out so late. She was partly serious. Jamie is Kate’s close friend, a quilter in the Bailey Patchworkers and a member of the Needleworkers, too. She’s taken Kate to some of her appointments, brought food, been a mensch.

Judy saw me and grabbed Leslie. We did a group hug. Judy has ovarian cancer, stage 4, and Leslie recently had a second return of her breast cancer. We knew what it meant.

“We’re waiting on the Rabbi,” somebody said. Rabbi Jamie showed up not long after. We went into the living room. Prayer books for a house of mourning, maroon paperbacks, got passed around. The minyan allows the Rabbi to lead the kaddish, or prayers for mourners. They come at the end of the evening service and he lead an abbreviated version of that service.

A lot of singing, mostly in Hebrew. Moments of private prayers. Some standing, some bowing. During the service Rabbi Jamie, in his way, spoke a bit about the tradition behind various parts of the service. His relaxed manner, his shirttail was out, and he sat on the raised stones in front of the fireplace, made the atmosphere serious, but not somber, respectful, but not formal. A difficult feat. He did it easily.

Steve and Jamie told stories about Arthur, about the kind of man he was. Steve’s niece read parts of the service. She read a poem, I don’t recall by whom. Poems in English showed up often in the service, including a favorite of mine, The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry.

We finished and went back into the kitchen, grabbed our paperplates, and, the Yiddish for it, noshed. I’ve included this short quote because it says what I felt. How I wish Methodism had had this sort of sensitivity to mourners. Our family might have turned out very differently.

The shiva minyan–because it occurs in the home, because it is composed of friends and fellow congregants–does more than remind the mourner of membership in a larger community. It creates that community–precisely where it is most needed. By physically entering the isolation of the mourner, the shiva minyan dispels it.” Rabbi Bradley Artson, My Jewish Learning

Over the curves and up the hill…

Samain and the Fallow Moon

The waning half Fallow Moon was beautiful this morning. It was the half closed pupil of an eye surrounded by a circle of silvered moonlight within a larger circle of blue moonlight. The eye followed Orion and his dog as they hunted, looking all round Black Mountain for prey.

While Minnesota and points east have been cold, we’ve had a milder, less snowy first half to November. That’s about to change. How much remains to be seen, but it looks like Thanksgiving week will be both colder and snowier.

Kate and I drove up the hill yesterday afternoon after yet another doctor’s appointment. I asked her if she felt different, more at ease with at least the immediate future. Yes, she said. Me too, I agreed. It’s an adjustment to see fewer appointments ahead, less likelihood of drastic news. A good adjustment, yet it also has a when will the other shoe drop tonality. I believe that feeling will pass as long as our mutual health conditions remember stable over a longer period of time.

I ordered a capon from Tony’s last week. Kate decided to get their side dish bundle: gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans. Ruth agreed to make a pumpkin pie. Joe, SeoAh, and Murdoch plan to get here on Wednesday. Annie, too. Jon, Ruth, and Gabe will join us on Thanksgiving. A full house plus.

As many of you will understand, we’re both looking forward to these visits, a lot, and dreading them, a little. Having three extra people and a now larger Murdoch in the house for five or six days presents psychological and logistical challenges. All worth it, but challenges none the less.

Not nearly as big though as the Keaton Thanksgivings. Mom’s family. Muncie, Indiana. Aunt Marjory’s. She was the acknowledged culinary guru and must have worked very hard to feed 18-20 people. There was a kid’s table, lots of comic books (often brought by me). Uncle Ike, Uncle Riley, Dad, Uncle Ray, if they were all there, would retire to Uncle Ike’s den to smoke cigars and watch football. Aunt Roberta, Aunt Virginia, and Mom must have helped Aunt Marjory in the kitchen, but I don’t remember it.

This was a key link in our extended family’s year, the other major one being a family reunion in James Whitcomb Riley park in Greenfield, Indiana. Jane Pauley would occasionally come. Her father Dick Pauley and Uncle Riley were close friends.

Thanksgiving memories. An American tradition. A strong one because it is non-sectarian, focuses on food and family. Probably my favorite holiday of the year after the Winter Solstice. One for the family, one for solitude.