While this blog will continue to touch upon what happens in life and general musings, my newly christened food blog ThatSurlyVegan will be home to my love affair with everything food related.
My brother called with a bit of celebratory news moments ago (now a few hours ago). This morning my sister-in-law gave birth to a baby girl that is soon to receive her name, which will be become a part of her and will be known by henceforth. Congratulations to them and blessings all around! While this is the first child from my brother and his wife, I am now an uncle four times over (my sister has three children with one on the way in roughly two months).
Thoughts echo within my head over what life will be for her as she grows into this world I am still learning about myself. How will she use the gifts she’s given? What are gifts in the first place? Are they awards and attributes of an area, such as the privilege of being raised in a state with some of the highest education standards in the nation, access to a theater scene second only per capita in seats to New York City, being present in one of the downright friendliest places, also the most gay friendly city across this country, free wheeling about the number one ranked city for biking, not surprisingly the fittest too, acceptance related to the highest rate of interracial dating, best place to be a hipster (seems to go along merrily with the biking and art scene) and living in a region that has the pinnacle of what an airport should be? No.
That my be all fine and dandy and while they may help shape my niece to a degree, they’re not the focal point rather part of the scenery. Really for me the love and support from family, friends, neighbors and a plethora of other people within the community both near and far contain the seeds of monumental impact; nurturing and encouragement from these same people to dream and experiment throughout the coming journey in life hold another important position for her development. Now, those are some of the umbrella hallmarks I live by, though, I imagine she will too.
I wonder… I wonder what her triumphs and celebrations will be. What of life in the future will she hold dear? As with the three children I am uncle to she will be hugged, tickled, told and read stories, shown around the beauty of plants and all the little creatures inhabiting gardens, laws and forests and exposed to a diverse variety of foods, cultures and peoples. I am certain she will live a blessed life. Makes me smile simply to think of seeing her tonight in the hospital. Budding in anticipation I type these words of hope and love.
On another note, I felt an enormous amount of gratitude in being able to attempt and participate in my friend’s service this past Sunday. A sermon was shared, rather observations in life as I would call it, about moving from victim-hood in our lives to surrendering into grace. Her “gratitude rant”, as she called it, was a way she’s decided to move from worrying about what task on the to-do list needs attention next, how she’s going to finish every errand and still have time to set aside for herself. The politics of the current news cycle, involvement of the USA, other nations and groups of people in armed conflicts and wars, the environmental calamities unfolding by the hands of us humans and natural disasters that each destroy lives, families and communities all take their toll on us. Dwelling on the past and future or what is beyond our control, as we all find ourselves doing from time to time, can be very detrimental in just being in our daily lives.
On any given rant, thanks might go out to having legs to walk on and take her from appointments to places for dancing and expressing her body, sharing a home cooked meal with family and friends, the presence of the here and now in the blazing sunshine and the sultry humidity of the morning that requires a fan, the recognizing of the dozens of swallowtails chirping, flitting and darting this way and that as she spoke and onto her lovely family showing support in the front of the audience. Until, as you’ve read by now, she came to a place that brought about her awareness to the present. And yet, the “gratitude rant” did that in and of itself.
What is the gift that we take away from each and every experience whether “good or bad”? We all have lives that keep us busy, and yes there are errands and to-lists that we’ll have until we leave this body, our loving communities and mother earth behind. Yet, are we not the ones who can set aside time to be quiet and listen, ask questions, pray and be present? How one prepares for and follows through on that is a personal choice only we ourselves can make a commitment to each week, day or even several times a day if that’s your fancy. I confess to not having the answers or knowing what I am doing and/ or how to live life. Yes, there is a ticket in my hand for this journey. We all have one. Where I decide to get that stamped is ultimately up to me. That is the real beauty of all this that is.
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Here’s more space I will set aside for another rambling thought and experience. A few months back I was going over some photos of my mother’s extended family. Photographs of great-great-grandparents, aunts and uncles filled in gaps in my visual memory of past ancestors I never knew. There were wedding celebrations, casual gathers with packed baskets of food along a lakeside, family reunions with everyone standing still as granite, my great-grandmother with her lifelong good friend in her thick rimmed glasses that were always perched upon her nose and blurry expressions and nary a smiling face throughout them all for the camera and film processes of the day dictated longer waits for a finished product that now takes but a millisecond to view on a digital camera.
Then came later photographs of my grandpa in his full-body wool swimwear as a wee lad, great-grandfather’s smile that my mom states never seemed to stray from his handsome face and faux tortoise shell rimmed glasses, grandmother parading around in her chic, and what I imagine are colorful if not in black and white celluloid, dresses and long, elegant coats back in the late 40’s and 50’s and finally a few snapshots here and there of my mother, aunts and uncles towards the end of the pile of photographs my uncle had compiled and sent off to all of his siblings. Yes, I come from a family of photographers. These little treats tantalized the taste buds of my eyes, as did the descriptions and stories flowing from my mom’s lips into my eager and hungry ears.
I thought about how my life would be viewed upon by my descendants. What would they be told? How would my life be revealed to friends and family? Would they know why I was in China, how I came to the profession I excelled in or the other multiple facets of my life? A glimpse. That is what they will come away with. As in a eulogy, they may speak to some of these attributes: my genuine and caring nature, gentleness, my passion for all living things (maybe veganism will not be as rare as it is now at less than 0.001% of the USA population), of course my random knowledge of the world and devotion to family and friends. Or, maybe my smile in the photograph, the telephone game could change all of that in time. My life could be “cut short” in the near or not too distant future.
The last post here was about remembering the loss of one of my very dear friends a year and a half ago. Only in her thirties and she was whisked away by cancer from her son, family and friends. She lived the life and journey that she was destined to. Denial and anger merged into sadness that I felt and breathed. Tears turned to acceptance and a quick realization that pain would not engulf her body any longer. I came to terms with that and surrender to the beloved for the mystery of the coming and going of our bodies.
Another friend passed on. Though, this one was 83. I knew her since I was up to my current bellybutton in height. A smiling hello, cookies and her fluffy, shy dog stick in the forefront of my memories.
A second-cousin of mine, in his mid-twenties, dropped to the ground while hiking alone along a section of the Appalachian Trail two and a half years ago. Why did his heart give out? Why? I don’t know. All I can sit with is he was out in nature, one of his favorite places. As kids we camped together and played all sorts of games into the dark of night. Watched the fire flies, then the stars emerge before our eyelids fell and a deep slumber that can only be found in nature surrounded us.
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Radiation. That miracle of medical science saves a life each day and causes many more a suffering that the majority of us cannot begin to imagine. For my grandfather, the atoms bombarding a growth in his abdomen are far from merely draining, they’re causing him all the numerous side effects. A list of such found in a television prescription drug commercial give you all the ideas you need to create a picture. My little sister and I will be giving my grandmother a break from the four to five day a week run to the hospital in order to keep up with his scheduled appointments. She’s proud and never asks for help. I was unaware as to the lengthy visits and pain he was in. Some of my family has the idea that keeping information from certain people is best for them and one should suffer alone until the breaking point is banging at the front door.
Back in mid-April I flew to Florida with the intent of helping my family in monitoring my grandfather in the wee hours of the night and morning. Midnight until six or seven in the morning is a stretch of a schedule to follow for a week straight. Here and there I would bite my tongue to stay awake as my grandfather slept soundly. Other nights I had all I could do to keep him from going it alone without his walker to the bathroom. Once in a while he would make his way to the kitchen… I shutter at the thought of the reality I endured, the pain of standing physically in his path to block him from finding something to eat. Because of failing his swallow test he could not drink, let alone eat anything by mouth. Doing so would put him on a deathbed suffering from pneumonia in the process. On one occasion his walker cut into my side as I created a wall in his path toward a treasured bite of food he had hoped, yearned for.
Writing that in my journal the same day, I cried for all that was around me. How I felt helpless in doing anything for him except denying access to x, y and z. His thirst and hunger for something, anything to be on his teeth and savored on the tongue, would be one of the most frustrating things I can personally comprehend. A feeding tube was and continues to be his only source of sustenance. Short-term memory fades for my grandfather on any given day or night. A look of confusion glosses over his eyes and wipes clean his face. Help is spelled out over his face as he searches a mind of vagueness for what he was about to do next. “Oh right, go to the bathroom,” he might say. Other times, nothing came out and I would gently ask him if he needed help and then direct him back to bed or a comfortable chair.
My skills at switching from the topic of the hour, food a 24/7 obsession, could become legendary. I brought up his life stories to be retold, also hoping to jog his memory around the block and keep those stories there for him, too. Early on he was going to be traded to the Cardinals as a catcher had it not been for WWII, though he still made it into the hall of fame because of his extraordinary record in the minor league. Shortly thereafter tours of duty on boats took him crisscrossing the oceans of the world, and he told of his morals being tested and holding a gun. Once he did have to carry it on his person, hand on holster, and that was when in New York City escorting a crew of fellow servicemen with their wages in tow, which he would distribute as the bookkeeper. We assumed roles that I never dreamt of as a child. One where I was caring for him, assisting with a moment or helping decipher his slurred speech. A great appreciation of time spent in his presence and patience was on my mind during that week. If fact, that’s still with me.
There’s one coming into this world of light and another’s exiting into a world of a different light. There has been and will always be this coming and going of us. Death and birth are ever present. They are sacred and real. An ongoing journey for us.
The gifts of my life are utterly apparent. If I ranted on my gratitude for weeks straight I could scarcely cover the basics of what I hold dear and thanks for in my life. Basics. Life is why I’m here. To feel all spectrum of emotion, to make all variety of choices and stick to those choices. I believe in love, I believe in a creator that holds love for all of us. We’re in this together. New ways of seeing love and experiencing the mystery of it all before me is my path and I’m most thankful for that.
Today we are confronted from every direction with what pill we need to ingest to “cure” this or that ailment. I don’t blame anyone for doing so, for we’ve been conditioned to run toward the doctor’s office or local pharmacy whenever we are feeling under the weather; all the ads on radio, television and the web don’t help either. I’m no saint here, for I have fallen into the reactive medicine loop, too. At times because of the lack of alternative resources seemingly available, we take this or that because those are the only options we are presented with. Don’t get me wrong, for there is a time and place for modern medicine and I was taking last fall what amounted to handfuls of prescription pills over the course of several months post-op to mitigate pain during the healing process. Hernia surgery was necessary, yet the pills which hid the pain gave me a heavy dose of toxic crap on the side. No thank you for that. My sleep cycle was off because of pain, and the body was not working the way it could while the pain killers held the liver and kidneys hostage. If that wasn’t the worst of it, the painkillers no longer worked, and I had switched them out a number of times with the help of my doctor.
What is one to do? I for one am lucky to have worked at a natural foods coop and therefore had easy access to resources, knowledgeable staff, sometimes products that were close to their expiration date and a lovely discount to top it off. Going back ten years now I have been suggesting various foods and herbal remedies for friends and family to take in healing their bodies. For pain I would ingest turmeric, ginger, oat straw tea, etc. A kidney detox followed by a liver detox were in order for my system. A capsule chock-full of beneficial herbs, from milk thistle to burdock root for the liver and dandelion, parsley and nettles for the kidneys, targeted the source of a problem instead of masking it. This was taken when I awoke and later on when it was time to hunker down to dream. Being that the liver completes a multitude of its functions from around 11pm – 1am late at night, I would then do my best to give this amazing organ the time necessary for work. Also, I mixed up a concoction of chili powder, apple cider vinegar, chia seed, lemon juice, warm water and psyllium husk to work on my lower digestive tract. Homemade kombucha, fresh juices and smoothies did their part in bringing my body, mind and spirit back to a semblance of normalcy. These natural cures were not all taken at once, but rather in succession over the span of several months so as not to overtax the body.
Consequently my bile production increased, and so too the function of toxin removal was thereby increased exponentially from the liver, to the gallbladder and on into the beginning of the small intestine, the duodenum. While this is not the only function of bile, it emulsifies fats among other things, this is my focus at the moment.
My kidneys are back to optimum blood cleansing capacity thanks in part to another capsule filled with another mixture of herbs. One of may painkillers had a side effect of higher blood pressure, so the kidneys were likely not able to properly filter and pull out their usual levels of waste from the body or regulate the proper levels of sodium, phosphorus and potassium circulating throughout the body for that matter.
During this detoxification period I took additional herbal teas to cleanse my liver, went on fasts to purify my entire body and kept up with a basic workout routine consisting of yoga, cycling and light weights.
Having finished with that several months long daily regimen I slowly began to feel myself once again. Scar tissue from my operation continues on a path of working its way out, saying hello from time to time when I eat and drink, workout and move my body in basic fashion and when I run to the restroom. March will come along and I will be healed. In the meantime cross-country skiing has been my physical activity outlet. Over 35 miles of snow these old combi ski have taken me, both groomed and broken trails. At least a third of this distance covered was by breaking a trail myself on lakes, hilly parkland and wooded areas. Each day I finish near exhaustion, similarly to when you are just about full from eating, and yet you hold back so as not to gorge yourself too much. Although, this has been quite difficult since I’ve wanted to be out experiencing this kind of activity going back all the way to August of last year. Smiling as I write this, because I want to get right back out there. High school and college drift in and out of my thoughts as I glide down the path. Memories of my first ski, cheering, crossing the finish line, being part of a team, a unique community, starting up and running the Nordic ski program in college, racing on the official team the following year and all the people I met along the way makes me so happy.
With snow in mind, I’ve constructed and slept in a quincy/ quinzee/ quinzhee, an emergency snow structure. In the backyard I piled snow to my shoulders creating a mound six by twelve feet. Sleeping out there was so utterly quiet. Having been over ten years since being in one this was a real treat. I plan on winter camping and cross-country skiing in the weeks ahead. With my MN State Park ski and camping passes I’m all set. Now all I have to do is drive out to one of many great parks nearby and be with nature and the crisp air of winter.
Piano has been keeping my mind churning and myself occupied as I recovered from my surgery. Yes, I have been playing well before that. But, this has been a wonderful way to challenge myself each day and now I can play all the cords and scales with ease. Jazz, blues, classical and pop music are the genres I’ve been covering. My nimble fingers can manifest Imagine by John Lennon, multiple variations of the twelve bar blues and basic sheet music by the likes of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Chopin, ect. Curiously, and the last thing I had ever imagined to happen, a tiny fly -not a house fly, but rather one you find living in potting soil- joins me whenever I sit down to play. Crawling between the keys I play and hovering around my sheet music, I would like to think it enjoys music too, though I cannot help go all logical on this thought and chalk it up to a light being on and the vibrations in the air from strings as the most likely reasons for its timely appearance each day. Still, the fly has become an unexpected fan. A few times I’ve worried about accidentally squishing it, though it anticipates my fingers’ movements and scurries across or flits out of the way to another key.
I keep my temple as clean as possible and alter my routine when need be, find fun around the corner even in the depths of winter and I see myself as that fly, playing with what comes my way or making a situation fun because it can be. Taking risks is part of my life and I have no regrets in doing so. Here’s to playing with giants among the keys.
“It’s been a year and now I fear the fade is on,” and yes that is a line I am borrowing from Megafaun. For over an hour and a half today I strummed away as my fingers memorizing their positions on the strings, and the cellular memory stuck. As I sang the words of this song , they brought out the hurt that’s still holed up inside me. The welled up tears now meandering down my cheek, stopping to rest at each unshaven hair follicle, zigzagged along side my mouth. I was so in the zone that my concentration led to me getting down those lyrics and cords to my liking and in doing so I failed to realize the sting in each fingertip of my left hand. Oh C#, gotta love ya. While not quite bleeding, these fingers are raw and they’ve endured a pain rather unfamiliar. Even my left leg joined in the game and went numb to the point that I couldn’t perform a basic hominid function, walking, without using momentum and something to hold onto. I laughed at my current predicament and how the position of my guitar obviously helped in shutting down my leg’s circulation. I felt as though a flashback of my hernia surgery recovery played out in real life, but that’s another story.
Over eight months ago I lost a good friend and co-worker, Briana. She had cancer, after going through the routine surgery and chemo she seemed to be bouncing around the office as ever before with her smile, laughter and passionate conversations. We spoke of how fascinated her son was with science of all kinds, from dinosaurs to electrons, and how his geekiness was eerily similar to me, which she and I both confessed. He had turned 11 the week before she past onto the next world where there are other plans she has to attend to now.
“It’s the slowly turning down of the well acquainted sound of your old voice,” and I cannot stop with these lyrics, for they fit so well, not like a mold or a glove, rather they grew out of one person’s feelings and thoughts in their mind, were echoed in some kitchen or bedroom, then spilt onto paper and then were changed and adjusted during a brainstorming workshop, or however it is that musicians do it… coffee and/or alcohol are possibilities, as are sincere love and heartache for a fellow friend, family member or cause.
Happy Up Here by Röyksopp played in my mind long before I turned on the computer, opened iTunes and clicked on the play button that gave me a ticket to a world I needed. To dance and release tension. Nearly a fortnight ago my friend, Tara, invited me to a Bollywood Aerobics class. Given the clear to go ahead after eight weeks of limited physical activity, because of my recovery, as previously stated, to participate in a full fledged workout finally by Dr. M F, I never thought of saying no when asked to meet up to learn a few new moves. Well, you can see where this goes…
What took me down this path? I love to dance and sing and so did Briana; once upon a time we belted out a duet from Grease with all the classic moves on a staff appreciation karaoke night. We kept that party going, her son sang and acted out a very convincing performance once done by MJ to Billie Jean, leading me to believe that he had a wee bit of practice. Ah-ha! I knew he didn’t stuff his nose in a book all day long. My last song that night was Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, by Otis Redding, done so in my favorite way, a capella. Oddly, it was not on the play list, so that was technically my only choice. And, an easy one to make.
Loss, sits beside me. I feel a warm metallic object and glance down to see my pinky ring. How can one forget something that too came from love. Ore was mined, then refined to an ingot, which was later separated by children, under adult supervision, at a camp my friend helps run, and fashioned into a shape they desired. Three silver pieces were finished and my friend was the recipient of them. She in turn gave two away as gifts, to me and the other to a mutual friend. Our triangular bond now strengthened by the addition of a circle seemed so certain. Oh how feelings that turn into thoughts and manifest as actions change who we are byway of their consequences in the universe. What did I go into, stumbling on my words, unsure of myself and where I was going? I latched onto what I thought was real, and it was at that moment. Relationships change and conveniently facebook shields you from knowing that briefly until you attempt to check some one’s status update. At least settings don’t scream to the web how you are or are not dating this person or talking to that person, as long as you set them that way.
In the same span of eight months, there have been two very special people to me, in addition to those mentioned above, that I now have a vastly different relationships with. We lived what we lived, shared what we shared and still have those memories. The sadness and pain is subsiding. Residual residue of feelings cling to me from time to time. I acknowledge this, instead of denying where I am at the moment. Slowly, this trickles down, as my tears have, and the experience is good.
Belize is where I am for the next several weeks putting my permaculture skills into practice.
My first day in Belize I hit the ground running. Went and bought a ton of local produce in the nearby town of Spanish Lookout and then set on home to make a small snack for dinner. My Cracklin’ Cucumber was on the menu and chips on the side, and as always… it did not disappoint. After a tour of the site and a run down of the to-do-list we began tackling it the next day by transplanting coconut palms that began taking root wherever they landed. That would take several days in total to finish before we set upon our next task of bushwhacking around the banana grove. What a workout, for I had never been so sweety in my life!
Somewhere in the mix bofore the later task, we made a coconut station for processing the ripe ones in search of their water, flesh (soft and hard), and finally the sponge (this is what would feed a sprout as it grows). All of these are so good in their own right, especially fresh. I have a honed my machete skills and can crack one open in under a minute. Belize, I still cannot believe I am here! What an adventure. Next I’ll share with you a place I visited while here.
Where have I been the past five months? You’ll have to wait while I consult my planner and my sanity. Here’s why, I have had a whirlwind of adventures that have yet to be shared. Beginning in the fall I went camping for the first time in many places: Taylor’s Falls, Minnesota; later hit up Zion Nat’l Park, Utah; and finally Indio, California for Phish Festival 8. My first foray into camping in three months brought me to a lava flow region I had previously not known about an hour north of Minneapolis. There was also a thriving art community called Franconia.
Zion treated me to some of the most breathetaking views I have ever seen in the southwest portion of the USA.
The third campsite brought me to a weekend long Phish Festival, where I volunteered to avoid the $240 ticket. Everywhere were people having the time of their lives. A local farmers market was set up for people to grab a good helping of dates and other produce California has to offer. 🙂
January took me to Europe for my third time. Amsterdam was home for the better part of three days and I took full advantage of my layover, hitting up no less than four museums, several vegan friendly grocers and restaurants, as well as taking time to grab a beer with some new hostelmates.
And then, on down to the horn of Africa as I made my way from Nirobi, Kenya to my final destination of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I finally had the opportunity to visits my good friend’s hameland and see for my own eyes all that is Ethiopia. The coffee made freshly twice a day in an elabrate ceremony, and his mother’s cooking will not soon be forgotten!