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Antidote for Worry? Soup!

My worries have worries. So I built little matchstick houses

with large ceilings, a garden for them to grow tomatoes, cilantro, & carrots

their worry babies will eat.

—Laura Villareal, Poetry Unbound

Last week my friend Jenni sent me this snippet of a poem. And there it was, in one perfect image. Everything I’ve been hearing from friends and strangers alike for the last five years. “Worry babies” seem to be invading the planet: growing in gardens, dropping from trees. Once they get established, worries, like crabgrass, tend to take over, setting up residency in our brains and getting busy raising their own worry families. Sometimes they take cover in dreams, full of spikes and hooks that keep drawing us in when we’re just minding our own business. This is the work of the Nightime Worry Family, whose patchwork ticky-tacky housing development parties get wild about 3:00 am.

One of my favorite thoughts about worry comes from Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks’ character, who is trying to save a spy who might well be executed at any moment, repeats his one question three times: “Aren’t you worried?” The reply is always the same:  “Would it help?” If you’d like to check it out this link.

Lately I’ve been asking Wilma, my inner Worry Wart, if she’s trying to help,  because it sure seems the opposite. She made the case that ignoring her completely might mean turning off flashing yellow lights that keep me safe. But often, especially in the middle of the night, her honest answer is “no.”

Although an actual worry may contain the seed of a solvable problem (or at least an action item) by the light of day, the ones that set up housekeeping and wake you up at night do NOT offer solutions. Their job is to feed on any anxieties the body may have stored. In unprotected moments, when you forget to ask if it helps to worry, they can have their way with you, repeating past regrets or imagining fearful futures in an endless loop.

The best hope for evading the Nighttime Worries is to notice the quick moment when we start to feel ourselves getting hooked at other times in our daily lives. This can be especially challenging during the holidays because that’s when worry families thrive.

Try it out for yourself. sometime, in one of those elusive moments a when a worry first arises. Ask yourself whether it’s helpful. Breathe deeply once or twice. Just this much might be enough. Sometimes simply remembering to pay attention at that moment can calm the system. Next, find a quick way to tend to your actual body in some way, even if that means washing your hands or stretching for a couple minutes. Embrace whatever acts of self-care you can, even if it means a quick bathroom Time Out in a moment of overwhelm.

When the time is right, you might ask your version of Wilma the Worrier to help develop a long-term plan. Allow some time to listen to what calms her, especially if you tend toward worry loops. Ask her to prioritize your to-do list, quietly eliminating her crazier ideas. If you listen closely, she might suggest you cut out unnecessary duties or dance or take a walk move excess energy. Or perhaps she’d like a little Time Out for herself. Send her to the spa and then give your body and spirit a few minutes (or hours) for a nervous system reset. Cozy up. Take a quick nap if you can. Simply stare out the window while savoring a comforting hot drink.

Even better, nurture yourself by getting soupy.

Warmly,

PS. Below is a great soup created from a couple of other recipes by way of my friend Martha. The first is from relishmag.com for African Peanut Stew. The second  is from  http://wpr.org/zorba/recipes/z07-0203r.htm (African Peanut Soup). Enjoy!

 

Getting Soupy

I get all soupy in the fall

Squash and pumpkin soupy

Mulligatawney soupy 

Chicken noodle soupy

Muertos with salty tears soupy

Sacred soupy

with your face 

in every spoonful,

each memory of you, 

all that and more

reduced now to a rich melange

congealed on the serving spoon

at the end of this meal.

But I’m still the same greedy monkey

who sops it up, every bit,

with a soft sourdough roll.

—SgB

November, 2022

Martha’s Peanut Soup w/Veggies 

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 onion finely chopped (about 1 ½ cups)

1 medium bell pepper (chopped)

1 large yam (peeled and diced)

1/2 chopped carrot (2 small)

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 cup zucchini, diced

3 cloves garlic (more to taste)

2 tablespoons minced, fresh peeled ginger, more to taste

Jalapeno pepper to taste

*1 tablespoon curry powder 

(or this combination of spices: 1 tsp. ea. mustard seed,

ground cumin,. turmeric, coriander, cinnamon plus ¼ tsp. cayenne

1 (14 ½ oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained (or may use combo. of diced toms. and salsa)

4 – 8 cups veggie or chicken broth to desired thickness

1 bay leaf

1 ½ cups edamame

1 cup garbanzo beans 

¼ cup creamy or crunchy natural peanut butter or almond butter (mix in bowl with some of the broth)

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

5 oz. baby spinach or kale, torn into bite-size pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown rice

1) Heat olive oil in a large saucepan, add fresh veggies (zucchini last), sauté until soft and translucent.

2) Add garlic, ginger and curry spices and sauté until fragrant.  Add tomatoes and bay leaf, cook uncovered until tomatoes are slightly reduced.

3) Add broth, diluted peanut butter, edamame and garbanzo beans and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer.  Cook until thoroughly heated.  Stir in cilantro and spinach until spinach wilts.  Season with salt and pepper.  May  top with fresh cilantro, diced green onion and/or plain yoghurt.  Serve over rice.  Serves  8.

Balancing in the Land of Autumn

Fall Equinox found me in in Augusta, Missouri. a town of two or three hundred in my home state. I was there for a biking adventure covering a chunk of the Katy Trail, an official state park that winds through farm and river country along the Missouri River for 253 miles. Now the longest Rails to Trails route in the country, the land was first cleared by the MKT railway (This stands for the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas, or the Katy line, for short). 

The Katy Trail is the longest uninterrupted biking and hiking path in the country represents the collaboration of industry (railroads retiring old lines) and donations, with a whole lot of negotiations along the way. 

In the 1990’s, when the trail was being developed, the folks from the tiny farm towns along the Missouri river were not happy. They feared invasion by outsiders from other parts who would no doubt bring drugs and other undesirables into their insular communities. In other words, Trouble in River City.

The path turned twenty last year. And the struggling farm towns along the way are  now dotted with profitable B & B’s, antique stores, and restaurants.

The first wine country in the US has been reclaimed. The path winds through an area that once produced more wine than anyone else in the country, but during prohibition all the established old-world vines were ripped out of the ground.

So it’s possible that the path has brought danger to the river cities, but whatever danger that is, it probably wouldn’t start with pool halls. These changes have defied expectations and provided triage for the shrinking small-farm economy. 

So what does all this have to do with Fall Equinox?

When I woke up on September 22 in a beautifully restored Victorian B&B in tiny Augusta, it made sense. For me this time of year is all about balance, especially the balance of opposites, just as light and dark are equal on this one day of the year. So it seemed a fine way to spend the day, balancing on my bike, speeding along the flanks of the Missouri River, thinking about the unity of opposites. While breathing in the serenity and idyllic beauty of limestone cliffs and spacious river and autumn colors.

But my mind kept returning to opposites in politics. In the middle of vacation. I know.

For me the political and regional divisiveness of the last few years has been exhausting. I glean the news to find a sense of hope, trying to create equilibrium in my own mind.

But on that first day of fall, in a town once abandoned as river commerce died, it occurred to me that I was in the right place for the season. In the exact middle of America, in the middle of a “red state,” riding on the shoulders of the widest river in the country (and third widest in the world), all felt in balance.

This, I thought, is truly the middle path. Not conservative or liberal, not afraid or angry. Just people meeting people, people helping people, people connecting with people, acting from kindness and generosity, with a little free market enterprise thrown in. From that middle way has come a gradual trust, a balanced change. An inspiration for my own life, certainly. And a blueprint for our country and our world. A hope for a future of small, local action. A path of equilibrium.

Katy the Trail

You pierce the heart of this continent

like a dogwood arrow slowly landing 

under green canopy, in a bending and twirling pas de deux with the third widest river in the world. 

Who needs the Amazon or Congo

when there’s the Missouri River, queen to her core, 

lined with wrecked steamboats,

bare muddy shoulders cloaked with horsetail reeds

scattered bouquets of purple asters 

fields of radiant yellow blooms with black eyes?

Katy, without the clickety clack

of iron horses 

Your job is to be, 

still and quiet, 

offering your charms to human pedalers, 

sharing your warm embrace equally 

with copperheads and bicycles 

and sworn enemies of red and blue, 

giving a hand up to farming hamlets

no longer ghosts of the past 

but offerings to a future of beauty and simple pleasures, 

seated in the power of place.

 

—SgB

October, 2022

 

The Magic of the Crack Between Worlds

Here in the Northwest, reliable sunny summer weather typically lasts for only a few weeks. Summer can feel like a crack in time between seasons. So many of us try to wring out every little drop of out-of-door essence, condense it, and bring it home as a hedge against winter (or other unforeseen quarantines). 

After our family’s mountain cabin burned down in the conflagration of 2020, after hanging out for a couple of years in pandemic isolation, my long-time husband and I decided earlier this summer that it was a good time to drive down memory lane. So we headed out, bikes in tow, to visit outposts from our early lives, when we were in our early twenties and worked for the forest service on recreation and fire crews, usually in remote locations. It felt like peeking back through a crack in time. Fifty years of time.

Our trip began with the lookout tower where we resided and kept fire watch in our early twenties, George was designated main lookout, but he was also a fire fighter. When there was a lightning bust, he’d put on his hardhat and drive a fire tanker down the hill to try to find spot fires. Then it was my turn in the tower to track the lightning hits, using binoculars to detect an orange glow, trusting an amazing device called an azimuth finder to align it with his headlights. This all had to happen while standing on a glass stool, careful not to touch metal so as not to get fried by lightning.In other words, boredom bookended with occasional hits of adrenaline. 

We lived in our workspace, so we spent 24 hours a day in the same room for six months. Edward Abbey, an acclaimed environmental writer who lived and wrote in a lookout tower for three years, said that the best test of a marriage was to assign a husband and wife a job on a lookout. According to him, “Couples who survived this were destined for a long marriage, and they deserve it.” In my humble experience, it also helps if you’re young or in that “merge” stage of love that makes small spaces cozy and desirable. Lots of things have changed in our marriage during that gap of time, including our relationship with personal space, but we seem to still be living examples of Abbey’s contention.

One lookout where we lived was at the top of a steep road that wound its way up a cinder cone. The entire range of the central Oregon Cascades was our wallpaper. At night the stars and flirtatious visits by the Northern Lights were our entertainment. The tower stood out as a sentinel on the caldera, and it was also the first structure of an area that is now a national monument. So our little cabin on stilts served as an interface between the wild world and humans. We were only one flight up some stairs, so during the day the same refrain drifted through our windows: the sound of winded tourists would gasp for breath while they read the altitude sign. At high volume. And the altitude never once changed in all that time.

Most of the time we laughed at life there on the crack between humans and the wildness of nature. We hung out, staring out over the land for a blue haze, binoculars at the ready. While one or the other of us did that responsible thing, the other read or played an instrument. I planned to learn to play the banjo and never progressed past “poorly.” But we worked up a fake-bluegrass version of Smokey the Bear to torture the visitors at the end of the season. We got back at those altitude readers. I marvel now at our ingenuity and ability to entertain ourselves.

We were the last people to live in this particular tower, which is now staffed only during the day. It was a bit of a shock during our first stop on this summer’s nostalgia tour, then, when were boarded on a shuttle bus stuffed with other tourists that disgorged passengers about every half hour at the top of the caldera. I gasped my way to the top of the crater, stopping to read the altitude sign. Out loud. Once there, it almost seemed as if we were able to enter a crack in changeless time because it was all so familiar. Except the number of people swarming the caldera. I was taken aback by how rugged the living was, with a far steeper hike than I remembered, especially round trip down the little switchbacks to the only bathroom, a pit toilet.

We continued our trip to a couple of once-isolated resorts, now full of people, even though the pristine areas remain protected and once again seemed much the same, and there was an odd sense of comfort consistency in nature. We biked through stunning meadows and looped a whole lake, grateful for new bike baths. Another day we pedaled through the remains of whole towns that burned down and are now being replaced with manufactured villages, stripped of gardens and trees. Blackened ghost trees hovered dark and tall over new growth of grasses and ferns along the creeks, witnesses to the cracks in the world created by wildfire.

Ever since that trip, I notice that little cracks of wonder are everywhere, in so many places: old times and now times, honeymooners and silver anniversary celebraters, wild spaces and civilized ones, children and grandparents, night and day, destruction, damage, and renewal, summer and fall, There’s a magic in this simple but profound peek between worlds. A sense of being held by all of it, despite occasional evidence to the contrary. 

May you find yourself held when the cracks in your world don’t seem kind.

 

Long View

Over fifty years ago 

we went to sleep every night 

in a glass house tied on top of poles 

perched on a lava cone.

Our enemy was a flash of lightning, 

a pewter puff in the distance 

a glimmer in the dark 

a smudge in a valley.

Our tools were a radio, 

a behemoth metal fire finder

and a platoon ready to pounce.

 

We woke up embraced by mountains, 

watched the snow dissolve until it was gone,

went to bed to among stars and sometimes

the green petticoat of northern lights flounced our way.

 

Our fears then were lightning busts,

renegade campfires

and the thought that

we might end up living ordinary lives.

First one and then the other of us 

was the on-duty watcher 

while the other one was left 

to dream and scheme.

And right there on the caldera we began

to gradually glimpse our future 

circled by an entire range of mountains,

and all the time in the world. 

 

And when autumn came and socked us in

we surrendered, unready as we were, and 

began to grope our way 

into what was next.

 

—SgB

August, 2022

Subversive Power of the Smile

Happy Summer!
 
Gathering in community is challenging right now, for oh so many reasons. We’re already reeling from culture wars fed by deeply-held beliefs and trumped-up divisions and differences. Then there’s the confusion and chaos of rapid change. To make it worse, recovering from the isolation or trauma of the pandemic sometimes makes it awkward to simply be around other people. At long last our mouths are mostly disrobed. But I notice even this can be awkward, even for me, a naturally friendly person in a small, relatively safe town. For those who are just beginning to emerge from grief, anger, or fear from the troubles of the last couple of years, it can feel frighteningly vulnerable.
 
As human beings, it is our nature to thrive when we gather with others. So how do we go about life now, in our first “normal” summer in three years? Some of us start with church or go to farmer’s markets. Others brave the unpredictability of airline travel flights to reunite with family and friends. Or we find ways to naturally embrace real live community, in public spaces with children playing and babies toddling, perhaps accompanied by actual live music.
 
Lately I’ve been thinking often of a long-ago trip to Thailand, “Land of Smiles.” Even though the airline lost our bags, even through jet lag in a country radically different than my own, I experienced a curious feeling of well-being after a couple of days. I had already noticed that all the locals smiled as we passed. All of them. It was infectious and also faintly familiar, like going to the Oregon Country Fair or another festive gathering. But it took me a while to figure out that so much smiling had some powerful juju.
 
What I now know is that in Thailand there are 13 or more distinct smiles. The most common, reserved for strangers, is a smile to say hello, a polite courtesy. But even this smile, which I might usually find insincere, had worked on me. Since that trip I’ve discovered research on the increase in dopamine and endorphins and all manner of good chemicals humans experience when smiling. And yes, studies show it’s infectious to give and receive smiles.
 
I recently thought about the Thai tradition of smiling when I read these words by Richard Rohrer: “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of being. We live ourselves into a new way of thinking.” I suddenly knew just how to go about recovering from my awkwardness. I could live myself into a new way of thinking by the simple, conscious practice of smiling at folks whenever or wherever I could, regardless of what team they seemed to be playing on.
 
My radically subversive act began. Almost immediately what might have seemed false before felt like my true nature. I was living myself into a new way of thinking by simply smiling.
 
It’s been a remarkable experiment. Infectious. Fun. And real.
Join me? 😄
 
True Nature
 
Yesterday down the oak outside my window
A masked raccoon slowly crept, face first, 
Striped tail straight up, prehensile claws holding fast. 
Tiny nuthatches do this too
And somehow the earth doesn’t rise up 
To claim their bodies, break their necks,
Or punish them for their arrogance.
Must be their true nature, I think.
 
Meanwhile, this body of mine, 
held upright by bumpy ankles of many breaks,
Plops and slides down the slippery clay riverbank 
butt first rather than risking a crooked footfall. 
Sometimes, I think, true nature 
also requires getting low on the earth,
having a seat, and then trusting gravity with the rest.
 
 
—SgB 6/2022

Mother, Simon, and Me

 
 
Nearly every recess in second grade, I raced to the playground to play one of my favorite games, either Mother May I or Simon Says. I didn’t care which. I don’t remember loving the power of telling the other kids how many baby or giant steps they could take. I just liked the way the rules were so easy, as long as you paid attention. If you weren’t listening or you didn’t mind Simon or moved without Mother’s permission, you were O-U-T. 
 
So very simple and clear. 
 
Ever since 2020 I’ve been longing for that old certainty. At first I studied daily updates and followed the leads, somewhat obsessively focused on decoding pandemic rules. Mostly I obeyed them, which wasn’t too hard since I’m of the certain age that makes caution advisable. But lately Simon has been MIA and I haven’t been able to get a clear answer from Mother. So, like everyone else, I’ve been following my best educated guess about re-entering the world of people. 
 
At least that’s my excuse for my questionable decision to fly to Las Vegas last month for an extended family errand. Somehow the first night, looking for a restaurant, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of several crowd events, mostly outdoors, but still. I was not prepared for the overstimulation that is Las Vegas, a place I hadn’t visited in years. And having been (mostly) sheltered, it was a lot. 
 
A part of me was excited. At the same time another part (my whole nervous system?) began to scream for shelter. After a couple of days of entertainment laced with terror, my husband and I drove a few hours to pick up an RV. We drove it nearly a thousand miles back home to Oregon. This involved learning how to manage all the systems along the way and included a short Siri-directed diversion through San Francisco’s winding streets. Did I mention we were in an unfamiliar vehicle? In an RV? I’m still unpacking from the adventure of the trip. 
 
In the end I didn’t get Covid, something I’ve resigned myself to experiencing as it becomes endemic. As it turns out, several of my friends, both traveling and stationary, did contract the virus. What to do? I’m hearing from lots of other folks about how awkward it is to make plans to reconnect, even though we know itwill probably be worth it in the end. Yesterday, a friend pointed out a people-friendly website: https://covidactnow.org. Having this resource has opened the door to more clarity in summer planning, began with a BIG stretch: indoor singing (with mask). ALMOST like the good old days. But I’ve mostly returned to my old cautious ways.
 
I don’t want to forget the quieter pleasures of the life lived at a slower pace. Walking my elderly dog. Quiet time in solitude by the sea. Following the rise and fall of the ocean, the graceful arc of seagulls and raptors. Life lived on my own terms.
 
I think Mother would approve.
 
Be well,
Remembering Las Vegas 
(or How Not to Emerge from Pandemic Isolation)
Brilliant collage of magenta
Cosmic calliope of punk
Decibels killing to the human ear
Street zipping over the projected sky
“Nuns” with pasties, fishnets and thongs twerking,
Moonwalking the tricky world between sacred and profane.
 
Mother May I?
Take one small step into morning 
this moment of arising 
of drifting in and out without effort
into not being a me and then being one,
becoming and unbecoming 
again and again.
in the dark margin. 
May I taste this tiny slice of life
and savor this small knowledge of death?
 
—SgB 5/2022

Is Spring enough to match the war of hell?

Words have been eluding me this month, mostly because news of war is always lurking, even in the early rays of morning light. I recently recovered from the bad habit of doom scrolling over Covid or presidential politics, and I was finally settling into the soothing early-morning habit of meditating and reading or writing poetry. Then along came Russian invasion of Ukraine, and tragic scenes from Kiev and Karkov (and other places I can’t even pronounce) flooded my mind.
 
I became acutely aware my own helplessness in the face of such enormous tragedy. Then I thought of our sister city Uzhrogod in the Ukraine. And so Geo and I went down to the courthouse and held a sign in solidarity. We donated money for supplies. Then we gave some more to support a local couple who were traveling to the warfront with medical supplies. This helped, but it didn’t feel like enough to match the hell of that war. 
 
Then I thought of the painful losses within my own family from suicide and addiction, another hell in another time of life. And I remembered William Carlos Williams’ words: “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” The last few days I’ve managed to pick up a pen or remember a few words from trusted source Mary Oliver, determined to save the only life I can, my own. When I do that, the day dawns with a new dimension. If I’m lucky, I can be absorbed by a different world, the one that has been right beside me, all around me, all along.
 
To my amazement, Spring has come. Yesterday I sat in the sunshine on my deck in the woods on the meadow with a poet friend. The plum blossoms blushed pink and, and one of them floated like a tiny lotus in the bird bath, accompanied by the bubbling fountain over my shoulder. I knew right then what it is to be in heaven. Sometimes it feels as if there’s no place big enough to contain all the contradictions of life. Guilt came up, along with one image of starving people in Mariupol. Suddenly, the plum tree, along with the song of the yellow-rumped warblers, all of it was gone. This is how it is for me nowadays. My heart breaks from the hell of war. I try to do something to useful. But all the while there’s the heaven of spring, right outside my door. 
 
Meditation helps. Walking and biking and yoga help. But what helps most of all is simply stopping, breathing, and looking around to take in the wonders of the world where I’m embedded right here and now.
 
Yesterday I saw a photo of a subway car in Karkhiv where many families shelter. A mother had placed a tin can with tulips in the window where she and her two sons were sheltering. (Check it out here.) May this be an image we all remember, a moment of spring poetry. A piece of heaven to honor the soul in us all.
 
There is a quick moment
somewhere between dark and light.
Neither this or that.
Mystery sits there.
Nightmares become dreams and dreams nightmares.
Dome of sky offers a day uncut by sorrow
and morning is born again
with news of war waiting
unbidden in the shadows 
 
—SgB 3/2022
 

How to Get Rich on Love

Morning meanders take me out my door and into the meadow outside for a loop to the top of a little hill. When I get there, I catch my breath and take in the expansive pastoral view of a green gully with a large barn across the way. This has been my habit most every morning for many years. In my mind it was my little secret before the pandemic made it a wider walking path. A couple of weeks ago, a classic park bench appeared at my usual breathing spot. A plaque on the back declared the more you love, the richer you are. No Parks Department insignia. No dedication to someone’s father, mother, sister. Just those eight words. 
A mystery. 
 
My imagination went on a walkabout. This wasn’t an amateur installation. Someone rich had been here, someone who had loved and been loved enough to memorialize it with an anonymous public installation. I live in a small city of overlapping relationships. So it wasn’t long before I began to hear speculation and nearly first-hand origin stories about the bench. The first, of course, was a secret romance of star-crossed lovers whose ashes were spread right there. 
 
But my favorite (the one I made up, sort of) was about two people who fell in love and decided that they wouldn’t keep it to themselves. In my story, their expanded hearts multiplied and multiplied, spreading their love to this generation and the next through their generosity. And when one of them died, they died wealthy by every measure. In my heart I knew these people. I loved them both. 
 
An old storyteller once told me: if it weren’t true it shoulda been, And so I’m choosing my version. This is a Love Bench, available to all, a place for love to grow. And now it’s a new addition to my morning walks. A place to steep in the power of the heart, every day of the year. A sure way to get rich.
 
May you feel the wealth grow around you and let it grow your heart. Every day of the year.
 
 
PS. Special thanks to my Valentine of more than 50 years, Geo, aka George Beekman, for photos and help putting this together. I’ll sit on that bench with you any day.
Invitation to a Wandering Queen
 
This is just to say the welcome mat is out.
The table is set.
And also this:
I never forgot you.
There’s a soft seat here, tucked inside
this rib cage
as small and as big as the known universe
offering everything and nothing 
but a throne fit for a sovereign
queen of hearts, a place to sit and be
or maybe not be 
anything at all, 
protected by
a foggy moat. 
Ready embers still await you.
Won’t you come to stay?
—SgB 1/2022

Runaway Rescue! (Resolution Revolution)

Once again reality didn’t agree with my plans. The nerve of it. Less than month ago I reflected on a Christmas past, the year our family spent the holiday tending sick puppies and watching them die from Parvo, one by one. For me it was a story of grace and humor in the weirdest places. I had no idea that another dog-centered holiday movie was about to be released.
 
This year on Christmas Eve the scene was set. The lights. The wrapped presents. The Tree. The baking. The full refrigerator. The early afternoon arrival of my son and his partner Liz-e, along with Finn, a year-old beagle they’d rescued from Korea, where a stray might be headed for the meat market. He had experienced more than a little trauma in his life: a tsunami, loss of his entire litter, being shipped half-way around the globe. But in the end he was rescued by a warm-hearted network of dog lovers from both countries (https://wildheartspdx.com).
 
Within a couple of hours of his arrival, as a rare Oregon snow began to drift in, he zoomed out the front door, down the bike path, and (eventually) all over town. We were able to follow him some of the time by using Air Tags, which sent occasional beeps to my son’s phone when an iPhone is close by. For three below-freezing days a scattered tag-team of family and friends and firemen and security police random strangers stalked him through the snow, many of them foregoing their holiday plans. Gratitude isn’t a big enough word for these many acts of human generosity. He had travelled almost 30 miles over three days when he stopped running and took shelter under a parked truck. The smell of Korean carry-out food was what it took to lure him out in the end. And all was well. It was The perfect Hallmark holiday movie, with less kissing. And afterwards a few more nightmare-type dreams of losing control. 
 
Isn’t that the way life shows up sometimes? Just when you think you’ve got some idea packaged into a preplanned version, it can explode into something more chaotic and less welcomed. You’d think this is a lesson we’ve all learned from the last couple of years of Covid. And yet along comes the terrible surprise of one more highly transmissible variant just as things were settling down and life was returning to something we recalled as normal. The only surprise here is the fact that we’re surprised, having lulled ourselves into the belief that things would match our intentions for them. 
 
A teacher of mine once asked me if I’d rather have a flexible mind or body as I age. I don’t like having to make that choice, but I would land on the mind every time. Because when it’s limber, it’s easy to see what’s negotiable with the Universe and what’s not. And at its heart the mind knows to love what it has no choice but to accept. In a throw-away line last week, Stephen Colbert said, “Can I change it? I can’t? Then I love it!”
 
Now that’s flexibility. A tall order during these trying times. A full-time job, really. But this is the kind of freedom I want in life. This peace. This freedom. 
 
I want this for all of us.
 
—SgB
 
Resolution Revolution
 
Here I am once again
 
same time new year
 
holding tight to the road,
 
to this revolution of my own making. 
 
The one where I resolve 
 
not to resolve
 
to be lighter, brighter orsomeone
 
with nothing out of place,
 
a corrected version of me,
 
but built back better. 
 
Instead, let me evolve into someone 
 
good enough but better when still.
 
Because this revolution is not televised. 
 
 
—SgB 1/2022

Dead Puppy Christmas and Carbonated Holiness

One Christmas past, my daughter and her friend brought home fifteen sick puppies from a kill shelter rescue mission that had gone awry. I imagined a family home Christmas as a video, swarming with curious, slightly weak puppies around the Christmas tree.
 
I didn’t know much about Parvo at the time. Reality hit quickly. When we saw how sick the puppies were, we rallied to a new mission, setting up an emergency vet clinic. 
 
For the two days leading to Christmas we nursed half-pound infants, trying desperately to save them from the grim effects of the disease. We kept our arms full, set alarms and devised a way to hydrate with homemade IV’s. Instead of going to a midnight service we prayed for their survival as we held them and watched them fade. Hour after hour the little pile of bodies in the corner grew. In the end only one survived, born miraculously on Christmas Eve.
 
My blog post that season said “This will be the Christmas of Dead Puppies soon, and we will laugh. Someday.” When my son Ben read it, he said he cried, and I saw how powerful my protective shield had been, and how truly traumatic it had been for all of us. We needed to grieve. Now, ten years later, I have the distance to see the whole picture and appreciate how we coped.. We cried plenty, but somehow even in the midst of it all there were moments of hilarity.
 
What saved us was being able to see our own powerlessness in the face of the absolute absurdity of the scene. We told ourselves that it couldn’t get any worse and then it did. Again and again. I guess you could say that dark humor became our greatest ally. This and the power of distraction. My memories of the year feature us stumbling through some Christmas carols, playing Pictionary, and awkwardly dancing to a Wii Rock Band workout featuring Beatles music. But mostly I remember the laughter.
 
It may seem strange, but ten years later I realize that this may be have been our most deeply soulful Christmas of all, working together through the crisis and still finding a kind of humor in the midst of an awful situation. Later I heard Anne Lamott call laughter “carbonated holiness,” and I knew just what she was talking about.
 
This is what I wish for each of you this holiday season. 
 
Without the dead puppies.
 
Just some carbonated holiness. 
 
With love,
 
Susan Grace
 
Dead Puppy Christmas
 
Today in the mist of a stroll 
through the Advent calendar
I open tiny windows of Christmases past,
The first scene is one I tenderly recall, 
Dead Puppy Christmas
There we are, five of us humans,
 jostling fifteen half-pound puppies 
recently rescued 
before the Grinch of Parvo took over,
now sick and getting sicker.
Across from the tree in this diorama 
is a small I-V stand
Each hour another pup stops breathing 
and a tiny body Is added
to the pile in the corner.
In between we cry, 
stumble through carols,
distract ourselves with sugar cookies,
eggnog, gingerbread and games,
Tending to life and to death,
Awaiting the miracle of Christmas Eve, 
one surviving puppy.
 
—SgB 12/2021

First Step, Second Step

 It is pointless to know where the way leads. Think only of the first step. The rest will come.
 
— Sams of Tabriz
 
It was time for my first big step. I was finally able to bear my own weight after a bike accident resulting in six weeks of complete dependence on everyone around me. My heart was full of gratitude, but my balance was precarious as I ditched the surgery boot and slowly began to reclaim my own two feet.
 
This is when I convinced my husband that we should take our first road trip in forty years. It made sense, I argued, using Lockdown Logic, for him to drive and for me to ride with my foot elevated on the dashboard for several days along western edge of the continent from Oregon to the Southern edge of our country. Lockdown Logic said that it was time to use that car we bought just before the pandemic. It said that we should get out of our little bubble and drive, not fly. Some of my lifelong friends had been planning a gathering for a year in San Diego, so logic said that now must be time to hazard a trip out of the cocoon. In addition, secretly I wanted to reconnect with my rural roots by simple human interaction in more far-flung parts of this divided land we hear so much about.
 
Half-way through the trip, I bragged to my friends about our small safe haven of a city, especially our local school board. We live in college town with a deep dedication to education. Our little city leans left in a state that is famously unpredictable. We’re well outside of the newly vilified city of Portland, so we’ve seen few so-called culture wars.
 
While we were traveling, we saw proof of a country more united than the news would have us believe. Except for a few drivers who didn’t like our slower pace as we followed directions like the old codgers we are, we were met by human kindness throughout our trip, whether red or blue. We saw little mask or anti-mask mania. Little evidence of vax wars. We came back relieved, ready to report that rumors of civil war are greatly exaggerated.
 
So the first big step back to “normal,” was a complete success.
 
The second day after our return, I went down to my local food cooperative, where I ran into a friend who filled me in on local news, referring me to the New York Times. One of our bright lights, Sami Al-Abdrabbuh, our school board chairman, had been under physical threat almost since he was re-elected by a landslide.(More here)
 
I began to doubt my recent travel experience and felt the cocoon calling me back. After a couple days, I remembered one of my favorite quotations, attributed to Rumi’s teacher Shams: It is pointless to know where the way leads. Think only of the first step. The rest will come. I know that I can’t un-step that first forward step toward my fellow beings. All I can do now is get stronger, more educated, and more flexible to prepare for the next step. So I‘ve been educating myself on harassment and cyber threats. By moving out of denial and into reality, I armed myself with information about how I can take a more grounded and informed stand to support my very real oasis of a community..
 
I want to reboot stronger and lighter. My second step has been to return to my physical therapy schedule. Who knows what the next step will bring? For now, it’s showing up for my body so that I can take more balanced and healing steps. It turns out that this is the perfect time for this challenge, what with all the traditional expectations and the challenge of reconnecting during upcoming holidays . My prayer is that I remember all the lessons of the last two years as I continue into the future with step after ever-stronger informed step.
 
May we all notice human kindness permeating our coming days. May we move forward to the beat of our shared heart, our shared humanity, our shared planet…
 
Road Trip
 
Her country, newly
humbled by fear
called to her, 
offering its western perimeter. 
A whiff of youthful memory
cried out, which caused her to 
stare sit stretch 
and then sit again, 
watching sky television
a dream of a parched world 
flying by 
not the same as before 
but still 
ocean met dunes 
rocks stood sentinel
days were fruitfully spent
moving under bowl of big blue
 
cities came and went 
with humans still busy 
annoying other humans 
passing on the right 
honking from the left
and then the gusty rain came
erasing it all in a big wet huff
and after that there was this:
a miniature freeway oasis 
appearing from the fog
with fairy lights and
breakfast in little brown bags
but most of all the kindness 
of a muscle flexed, a stranger’s hand 
lifting a bag, opening a door 
just because you with your cane 
could use one.
 
 
—SgB 10/2021

Spider Sense

During my slow recovery from a broken bone and surgery this fall, I’ve given myself the luxury of silk. Spiderweb Silk. The spider on my windowsill creates its miracle of tensile strength slowly and steadily. As I watch I think of the body magic that is healing my body with very little help from me. With plenty of time on my hands and a new curiosity, I’ve dipped into the human Interweb to find out more about spiders.
 
Newsflash! Spiders aren’t all hairy monsters who devour their own. Only some of them. About 40% can get cranky enough to consume each other. Biologists who focus on the social life of spiders discovered that adult spiders seem to forget how to behave together after being alone too long, which causes them to become aggressive. They’re still not sure why some spider species like to hang out together while many eat spiders if given the chance. As it turns out, spiders raised in groups almost never try to eat even unfamiliar spiders. When they remain together, they respond to chemical cues and remain tolerant. But when they’ve been isolated, the familiarity is lost, and that’s what leads to intolerant and aggressive behavior. 
 
I’ve seldom ventured out on my own two crutches at all, but last week, I headed out with the help of my trustworthy life partner and nursemaid Geo. Out of necessity we went to a big box grocery store where masks are still required. People are my favorite! I thought, looking forward to the quick exchanges of connection that are part of the human social world. I tried the “smiley eyes” thing out as I motored around in my electric go-cart. People mostly ignored me, which felt lonely and awkward. Then at the check-out line one guy, his mask down below his chin, told me that I was cutting into line. I saw that this was true and I apologized, but he just glared back. 
 
Immediately my mind got busy judging him. Then it began to criticize other people’s pandemic behavior. There are some very sticky thought webs about that subject, I noticed. I couldn’t wait to get to my safe and predictable home, shocked at how one interaction had shifted my whole mood. Back with my spider and its web, I remembered another spider factoid: most spiders create a new web every day. Then I remembered that I had forgotten for a minute: the energetic kindness of strangers who have bounded ahead of me to help open doors. The beautiful emails and cards of sympathy and kindness. The meals prepared and cheerful visits of friends. 
 
There was such clarity in that moment that I began to spin a new web based on my simple truth, backed by more than 70 years human social life. No matter who smiles at me or gives me crap or what gets spun in the news cycle, I know for sure that most humans are not unkind. I could see the likelihood that our species will get less cranky as we get out more. I think we’ll learn again how to tap into our basic human need for kindness and connection. And when I’m in doubt, I remind myself of the words of spiritual eco-activist Joanna Macy: “Let life through, in the biggest doorway in your being.” When I do that, there’s enough room in my heart for all of creation, including cranky humans and spiders.
 
May we all remember that in the coming months.
 
SgB 10/2021

Letting It Roll

Resistance
 
I tie my limbs with rubber bows
red yellow blue green
remembering not to hold,
I breathe and count rep by rep
the movements of slow recovery.
 
—SgB

Now has come an easy time. I let it roll.

 
Thus began my personal mantra for the month of August, courtesy of my favorite poet William Stafford. And so at the beginning of last month I changed my daily practice to include rolling around town and country on my electric bike. Clever, huh? But then, a couple weeks in, I hit a pile of loose gravel.
 
My understanding of letting it roll changed radically in that moment. I was forced to drop immediately any idea of managing the situation. There was no choice but to let the Universe roll on without my guidance. So much help began showing up, from the angels on the spot who helped out at the scene, to my husband who was impeccably on call for the first two weeks, to the long list of family, neighbors, and friends who came forth with offers, food, and encouragement. Now a metal plate and a few screws are holding the fibula back together while I experience the meaning of surrender and dependence and still manage a humble brag concerning my Athletic Injury.
 
Now has come an easy time. Right here. Today, I remind myself, with my leg propped up on various surfaces around the house, I’m finally freed of the lessons brought by the pain of the first two weeks. I repeat the Easy Time mantra frequently, even while I continue to give up some pride and gratefully accept help. Since there will be no wild times requiring bearing weight for a total of nearly eight weeks, I’m learning all kinds of other things about asking for help and releasing a few dozen unexamined preferences. My walker and I roll along fine when I keep these things in mind. But sometimes I forget, and then come the thought storms about how long this will be, how pathetic I am, how bad it is for my body and mind to be largely sedentary for four weeks, how unbearable the pain is.
 
Suddenly it’s not an easy time anymore. Everything becomes harder and I get lost in a little pity tea party. Then I take a sip of the nettle tea my friend sent to help knit my bones. And I notice I’m breathing fuller and my monkey mind is taking a nap. And the serene beauty of autumn takes over the healing.
 
This is that easy time. And I am grateful.
May you find some easy times and places this Autumn.
 
And may you let this good time roll.
 
SgB 9/2021

Why I am Happy

I hate summers.  Every year by fall the words tumble out. Admitting it seems sacrilegious. And yet there it is. Even today, as I savor the summer world waking up, I know that it’s not completely true. I don’t really hate it. But still.
 
No. Not still. That’s the problem with summer, I think. All the hubbub and activity. Summers are composed of too muchness. Overwhelm. Not enough stillness. So big. So busy. So much coming and going and not enough time to land. 
 
 
 
 Like most everyone around me, I’ve been trying my best to make up for lost time with family and friends while responding to the reality of a rapidly shifting world. Yesterday I sat for a time in my garden, trying to catch up with myself. Essentially nothing from my activity-based checklist is completed, and yet already there’s that sense of depletion. A phrase from a beloved poem by William Stafford, Why I am Happy popped into my mind. My framed and beautifully scribed copy burned in a forest fire last fall, but the wonderful thing about words is they don’t burn but keep doing their magic as long as we can string a few phrases together.
 
The next words, I let it roll, come into my mind.
My to-do list for the next month just got a whole lot shorter. 
 
And so we come to my summer wish list for you, my friends: 
 
May you let it all roll as you remember the peace and ease of the blue and free lake you already carry inside yourself.May that elusive peace of mind be your guide as often as you can during these precious days.
 
It’s a wish and a prayer. For you. For all of us.
 
SgB 8/2021

Now That I Know

Now that I Know…

These are the words of my spiritual director, a radical priest who holds space in a small loft in Portland. I’m not a Catholic, but I trust this guy.

I’ve just weathered the traumatic accidental drowning of a friend and an addiction crisis with a family member. Both were situations requiring me to find the ground under my feet ASAP while at the same time surrendering to all the things I couldn’t control even if I wanted to. Other people’s needs seemed to dictate my days. 

Now that I know, he said quietly. 

What?  I asked, leaning in.

What did you learn? What do you know now that you didn’t know before? He asked.

For a moment the overwhelm and fog lifted. Clarity. A felt sense of calm, a perspective. A way to move on.

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