Monthly Archives: July 2022

Current Events

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Took a long leisurely drive to Abingdon, Virginia, in far southwest Virginia, one of my favorite parts of the state. I listened to a book and then music on the radio. As I have for some time, I avoided the news. And, I’ve been avoiding writing about the news as well. But, I worry that posts about gardening and reading might be considered frivolous in our chaotic, stridently divided world. On the other hand, these are the things that help me from plunging into despair. Another mass killing, another black person gunned down, another bigoted law passed. I am even having trouble getting through the 15-minute Up First podcast from NPR that I used to enjoy as I made my morning coffee. There seems to be nothing to celebrate and many things to grieve.

This article from The New York Times provided some perspective on how I might move forward. It quotes a variety of experts including one of my favorite meditation teachers, Sharon Salzberg. In fact, I wrote about Salzberg’s book, Real Change, in this same context. Salzberg herself took some criticism when, in response to families being separated at the border, she organized a world-wide loving-kindness meditation. How can meditation change anything? She replied that she was ONLY meditating but that meditation gave her the strength to battle the negative forces. And, she was one of the Buddhist leaders who openly condemned the practices on the border. This interview gives you a taste of Salzberg at her best.

The image is of a collage using one of my favorite poems, The Peace of Wild Things, from Wendell Berry. It hangs over my desk. Nature is one of my antidotes to despair. I hope you can find your own.

Hobby Versus Practice

Picture of a spring blossom with the words begin againI haven’t written a lot of blog posts over the past few years but many of those I have posted focused on my meditation practice. So, it’s telling perhaps that in describing my plans and goals for the future, I didn’t mention meditation despite it playing an important role in my daily life. I think it may be because I was writing about hobbies and meditation, as I have written before, is a practice.

Teacher Joseph Goldstein talked about why meditation is not a hobby and why that is important as part of a course I am following in the 10% Happier App. Goldstein reminds us that meditation is more than the practice itself. Its impact is meant to be felt beyond the mat as the lessons we learn in quiet contemplation can change the way we move and live in the world, if we let them. So, the fundamental mantra of “begin again” that we repeat each time we bring our wandering minds back to the breath and the body during meditation is one we can use throughout the day when we are distracted or disturbed. See the anxiety or stress, name it, recognize the pattern that causes unhappiness, and begin again to focus on the present, the now.

The meditation teachers I follow assure me that even the most seasoned practitioners have bad days. The secret is to let it go and…wait for it…begin again. And again. And again. And that’s what it means to practice.



What Are You Reading?

Painting by Gary Melchers of  a woman sitting in a chair reading by an open window that looks out to a flower garden where another person is standingI am fortunate to have lots of bookish friends who share their reading on social media. One is an honest to goodness bookstagrammer. While I don’t have that kind of energy, I am committed to writing more about my reading. Currently, I share my reading with a small group via the LibraryThing 75 Books a Year group. I have belonged for 8 years and gotten increasingly involved over time, which mostly means writing, reading and responding to other people’s posts. The groups use an old-fashioned discussion forum that predates Good Reads by some years and the larger website is wiki-based. I have developed friendships with several people and met three of them face to face when we did a meetup in Colorado. The others, including a retired British coal miner who I also follow on Twitter, are virtual friends only. We use the platform to share our reading and through those conversations, we share our lives as well. It has become my community of choice as I spend less and less time on other social media platforms, especially Facebook.

So, what am I reading? Short answer: anything I want.

The longer answer is that I make an effort to read a wide variety of writing. One way I do that is by participating in LibraryThing challenges, especially the annual Bingo card. At the beginning of the year, a group of volunteers with input from the community come up with a list of 25 reading topics that are then programmed onto a Bingo card. You can see a screenshot of mine below:

a bingo card with topics for reading

Here are a couple Bingo card books that I enjoyed and might not have discovered if it weren’t for the challenge:

When You Get the Chance by Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson tells the story of cousins who take the road trip of their lives to the Toronto Pride celebration. Mark and Talia, cousins who haven’t seen each other for a long time due to a rift between their sibling parents, reunite at the family cabin for the summer. They are mostly there to clean it out to sell it. They are both in same-sex relationships with Talia’s partner identifying as non-binary, using “they” as a pronoun. Both of them want to get to Toronto for the Pride festival even as they try to figure out the mystery of why their parents don’t get along. The book was written with an eye to educating the reader but the story was fun and upbeat as well. I particularly liked the depictions of older gay couples who tell their stories and also offer support for the next generation.

Zahrah the Windseeker is the first book by Nigerian American writer Nnedi Okorafor. Wikipedia classifies it as young adult book, but I think it would be fine for an older elementary audience as well. Okorafor tells the story of Zahrah, who lives with her family in the Ooni Kingdom on the edge of the Forbidden Forest where no one who ventures returns. Thirteen-year-old Zahrah was born dada,  meaning she has vines growing out her hair, an unusual phenomenon and one the community regards with suspicion, believing such people to possess magic. Their suspicions are correct because as the novel opens, Zahrah is just discovering her powers. She and her best friend decide to explore the forest and quickly encounter almost deadly danger. In order to save her friend, Zahrah must return to the forest. I loved the book: the forest is filled with fantastical creatures that set the imagination alive. But, the characters are very real human beings living in this world and we get to know them and love them even as Zahrah learns to love herself.
And just to show you the range of reading I do, the last Bingo card book is April Lady by Georgette Heyer. I generally don’t read romances but have heard Heyer mentioned by readers I respect. She did not disappoint as she crafted her tale of the Cardross’s: Gile with the fortune who married for love despite his family’s disapproval, and Helen, who also married for love, but seems to be more interested in the money as she amasses a pile of bills. The book is a romp through the Regency world as Helen tries to hide her spending from her husband through silly and ultimately unsuccessful schemes. Fun and frivolous with a little history to give it some redeeming value, I suppose.

What Are You Going to Write About?

I mentioned a few writing topics in the previous post. Basically, I am taking the advice of the social media folks: everything is content.

Since we are at the height of summer, gardening plays a big role in my life. I have always been the flower gardener in the family, but this year, I also planted a vegetable garden. It is dominated by tomatoes but also includes the standard stuff: peppers, eggplants, okra, cucumbers, and herbs like basil, oregano and parsley.

Gardening is, as they say, in my blood. My father always had a vegetable garden and the yard was filled with flowers, especially roses. Even now, at 87, he plants flowers outside, including those roses, and also tends about 100 orchids that live in the greenhouse he built in the basement of their retirement-community condominium. My maternal grandmother, named Daisy, lived in the city but kept chickens in the backyard along with her victory garden and a beautiful peach tree who limbs hung with the succulent fruit each year.

I have always found a way to garden. While I am fortunate to have almost unlimited space here on the farm, even when I lived in an apartment in Los Angeles, I grew houseplants along with pots of lettuce and peppers on the tiny balcony.

Gardening brings opportunities unavailable in other ways. Besides getting me out into nature, it forces me to really see the natural world, connecting with its rhythms and learning how plants fits into the environment. I have a better understanding of how my actions impact the ground beneath me so that, while summer is the major focus of my work, there are things I can do throughout the year to help the soil help me and my plants. Knowing the difference between soil and dirt is a good starting point and this article from the Napa Master Gardener provides a great introduction:

Remember: there is a difference between soil and dirt. Dirt is what you get on your clothes and hands while working in the soil. Soil is made up of elements that have been decomposing since the earth was created.

Finally, a word of encouragement to those of you who don’t think you can garden for whatever reason: no green thumb, no space, no time. I count any relationship with a living plant to be gardening, and there are houseplants that refuse to die despite your best efforts.

As for me, I’ll be outside with my hands in the soil! A few pictures of the current situation in the flower beds for your enjoyment:

Flowers in Early July 2022 

What Are You Going To Do?

Front Porch of an old house with furniture and plantsThe number one question I was asked when I told people I was retiring was, “What are you going to do?”  I wish I had had a more satisfying answer for the questioners and, honestly, for myself. I named my  hobbies including gardening, music, reading, crafting. A desire to travel. I mentioned potentially writing a book. But, ultimately, I didn’t know what I was going to do other than not continue doing the work I had been doing. It was work I loved, which made it hard to leave behind. But, the love had made it all consuming, and I knew it was time to take the next step even without being completely sure of the path.

Because of the holiday weekend, today seems like my first real day of retirement. So, what did I do? The usual morning routine of reading and journaling then feeding and walking the dogs. Rode my bike to the post office. Watched Wimbledon. Puttered around the house and garden. Ticked a few items off the to do list.

Now, as the afternoon wanes, I am getting around to doing the one thing I did want to accomplish on this first day of retirement: writing a blog post. And, in writing, I have come to a short time answer to the question: I have blogged on and off almost since blogs existed. But I never got into a regular practice. Now, I have the time, and I want to use at least some of it to establish that practice.

Not sure what I’m going to write about: technology, education, gardening, cooking, and pretty much whatever else takes my fancy.