Friday, May 29, 2009

Food Carts & Bicycle Rides

Another gorgeous, warm day & evening in P-Town and full of reminders as to why I love my city.

This afternoon I met some folks up by PSU to check out a new Korean fusion taco truck, Koi Fusion. I'd hoped to catch a bus on 5th Avenue, but didn't end up being able to and walked all the way up from my office. It is a good walk and with the sunny weather I was pretty warm by the time I found the truck.

There was already a decent line waiting and food being served up. It was fun meeting new people and chatting while waiting. In addition to some more tech community folks I met the owner of the Whiffies food cart, Greg, and his adorable French bulldog puppies, Maddy & Moira (oh so cute, so sweet). It was very pleasant hanging out, making the wait go quickly, and oh was the wait worth it.

In a little tray was tofu cubes seared in a nice sauce topped with cabbage, bean sprouts and served in a fresh, made-in-the-truck tortillas. I got a little homemade, vegan kimchi on the side. It was all awesome. Very fresh, very good ingredients, and incredibly tasty.

Koi Fusion tofu

I was all fired up to go to yoga in the afternoon but by the time I made it home and opened the door to the adorable site of CK napping on the sofa with Phoebe I just wanted to rest. I do feel a bit guilty about not going to yoga this evening but instead CK worked on the website for my yoga teaching practice while I wrote. I made some progress on the article I started that reflects upon the time I've kept the list of names for the Transfer of Merit for the Portland ZCO community. Finally getting going on some projects at work has helped me get writing again in general.

CK & I decided to meet up with some folks, some we know from the tech community, at the food cart pod on SE Hawthorne & 12th. There are some carts that have been raved about and it has been very popular to head there for dinner after the Beer & Blog. Neither CK or I had been to any of them and it was such a beautiful night we decided to ride over.

It was a gorgeous ride over. Warm, sunny and that beautiful evening light. I smiled thinking about myself just a couple of months before my 30th birthday. I was at my heaviest, most distracted, and most unhappy. If you had told me then that 10 years later I'd be 150 less, vegan, and riding my bicycle to SE PDX with my girlfriend I would have shook my head and laughed. Funny thing is, several times people have guessed me to be around 25. When I was just about to turn 30 I looked far older than I do now.

When we got there we were met by friends and there was some chuckling about the contrast between CK's sleek road bike and my cruiser. We got input from Dawn, a fellow vegan, and wandered around a bit to check out the offerings. CK commented a couple of times that the whole vibe in the cart pod reminded her of Burning Man.

We decided upon starting with a vegan pot pie from Whiffies. One bite each and we agreed that we were happy to NOT be within walking distance of this cart. Wow, so good. Lovely, light gravy, veggies and homemade seitan in a flaky, fried pastry. Best Vegan Pot Pie Ever.

For our second course we split some fettuccine & veggies tossed in a pomegranate & balsamic reduction. Yep, from a cart. The Yarp?! cart specializes in really tasty pasta and other dishes. The dish was recommended to us and we put in an order. When it was ready were told by Jeremy, the owner, to just eat and we'd sort out the money stuff later. Bemused we sat down and dug into a huge serving of perfectly cooked pasta, summer squash, olives, red peppers, roasted garlic, onions, and assorted mushrooms in a reduction of pomegranate and balsamic vinegar. Incredibly tasty and Jeremy was way cool to chat with. I even found myself enjoying the chantrelles!

One totally unexpected gift from the universe was getting to chat with Liz. We chatted about yoga for a bit and pies. The conversation ended with the offer of her small house in Nepal for us to visit if we'd like. Wow! I am so very touched by this lovely, entirely unexpected offer.

Then we had to ride home. Hard, especially going up the hill at first. My legs complained a lot about being asked to do this. I felt a little grateful for not doing a yoga class too since my first real ride of the year. CK gave me an encouraging pep talk while I worked my way up the hill to Alberta. We laughed all the way to the house.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Forward Momentum

For the first time in days, weeks really, I felt like I was getting going again on some projects at work. I've felt so unfocused these past couple of months that it has been really hard to dig in and get things started, much less finished. I feel like I could just use a little time to not need to be tied to that paycheck to recharge. That life doesn't just stop to let me process everything is a pretty irritating reality!

It hit me today that since high school I've never had a real break. I started working jobs in the summer and during school then and haven't ever stopped really. The couple of times I've been laid off from work the stress and worry about not having an income did not constitute a break. Things just keep moving along and I just try to keep up. I mentioned this to Hogen right before the Loving-Kindness sesshin started, that I'd just gone through an especially rough week. He reminded me that my whole life has been filled with what most people would classify as especially rough weeks. That I know how to do this getting-through-the-hard-stuff already.

Doesn't make it feel anything but really hard. In fact all of the Zen practice means that at times it almost feels harder than ever before. I've taken away the distractions and denials that got me through into my 30s and am left in the authentic space of really feeling the emotions. All the fear, anxiety, grief and anger simmering there, waiting to be acknowledged. Years of it.

GM told me on Wednesday that I was to stop beating myself up. I keep feeling this awful shame that I let things with AM go on for too long, didn't enforce boundaries, didn't stand up for my needs, told him how much his choices hurt me and then didn't say anything besides express my sorrow when he'd make the same ones over again. She said it took as long as it took for me to learn how to be clear about these things and make them stick.

Hogen commented this evening on my brightness again. I noted that there are still some hard things but that I'm just trying to be present for them. He said whatever I was doing looked like it was working well for me since I looked so well, to keep up the good work.

Be present, stop beating myself up, and keep up the good work. Should be easy...

At least making real progress and a couple of great coaching interactions at work help me feel like I'm moving forward again. Overcoming the out-of-focus-inertia feelings that have churned around spitting out shame, anger and guilt for weeks. Momentum helps with being able to keep moving forward when things are really hard. I guess recognizing that is evidence of Hogen reminding me that I know how to do this.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


After my positive experience last autumn making apple preserves and applesauce I'm excited to try out more home preserving this year. I'm really happy that CK is just as excited as I am.

Which is good since our fridge still had over 7 pounds of strawberries in it from the U-pick on Sunday. This evening she made ginger cookies from Vegan with a Vengeance and I washed & stemmed the berries. I was inspired today by an article I saw in the NY Times on preserves which linked me to some good sites.

So the 7+ pounds of berries are now in our freezer. I won't have time to experiment with doing low or no-sugar jam. The berries are so sweet that to add all the sugar called for in my Ball Blue Book of Preserving seems ridiculous. This way they can stay fresh until this weekend when I'll try my hand at some "small batch preserving".

My back aches from standing there cleaning the berries, but I'm excited to try this out. I really have been enjoying learning how to do more of these types of things at home. It feels good that our evenings are spent on making the house and yard better, cooking together, and growing together.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Showing off Oregon - Part 2

While I taught yoga on while CK and NR went to a coffee shop, both to get a little work done. After teaching we headed over to pick up SAO. Quick lunch at Red & Black Cafe (where CK and I each ordered the same thing, again -- her a TLT and the Phyto Club for me) then some sweets & coffee from Sweetpea Baking and we were headed out.

The first idea was to go to the Evergreen Aviation Museum to see the Spruce Goose. Kind of a "second date" event for CK and I. Although that was really a fantastic, muddy hike in Forest Park in December 2007. I was hugely nervous on the trip we took there in January 2008, barely saying much. CK thought I was bored and/or irritated.

I'd suggested we nip into Sokol Blosser to check out some wines. It is roughly on the way to McMinnville, so it seemed like we could fit it in. I had spotted on their website that this was a big weekend celebration with tents, bands, and a new wine being introduced.

Inevitably we hit very slow traffic as we approached Dundee. We'd got out of town later than expected so it seemed unlikely that popping into one of the wineries would work. SAO and NR were not hugely into the museum so a spur of the moment decision was made to continue on to Lincoln City for a walk on the beach. The considerably longer drive would give NR a chance to see a lot more.

Just after leaving McMinnville CK spotted a sign for U-Pick strawberries. "Let's pick berries" she called out with great excitement from the backseat.

I looked in the rear-view mirror and calculated that suddenly braking for the sharp right turn would not mean the large pick up behind me would crashing into us. I said something to the effect of, "Oh! Uhh... hold on!" and pulled quickly down a gravel road. Whew!

At Farmer John's Produce & Nursery we were given plastic bags ("We're out of buckets right now") and I lead us out to the rows of strawberries. It was warm and smelled of earth & berries. We were soon all quiet and looking for the bright red of the strawberries peeking through the green leaves. Occasional "yum" noises were made as someone popped a perfect, warm berry into their mouth and ate it.

The self-pick bug took hold of us. I weighed in with 4.1 pounds of berries. CK had over 3 pounds as did NR and SAO. We were all sticky and I kept finding red stains on my pants. Laughing and much refreshed we piled back into the Outback and continued on towards the coast.

Predictably it was chilly and windy when we finally stopped at the Road's End State Park. We all piled out, pulled on jackets and started to walk north with the intent of looking at the tide pools. Along the way I looked for interesting rocks and agates. CK explained that I had an uncanny knack for finding them (I'm sure there are people better at it although I do have pretty good luck). There weren't a lot of rocks on the beach so I only found a couple of interesting things.


The wind was blowing really hard, making all of our ears and heads ache from it. CK and I noted that we should just keep a couple of hats in the car for just this kind of occasion. Since it appeared that the tide was pretty well in, meaning the tide pools wouldn't be a s good, and we were all pretty chilled, we headed back.


I really enjoyed trying to get good pictures of the sand pipers.


The light was great on Sunday making for a lovely drive home after we got back to the car.


I even managed to get a shot inspired by my friend E!


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Showing off Oregon

Today we slept it, which felt wonderful!


Once we all were up and showered we decided upon Vita Cafe (really like the new space) for a big breakfast and then up to the Downtown/PSU Farmer's Market. It meant we got there past noon, much later than either CK and I usually get to the market. We were not very surprised to see that some stalls didn't have as much left.

Musicians were all around the perimeter of the market and the band that was playing in the center was awesome! We quickly picked out some asparagus then looked around for rapini (none to be found, sadly). Since we hadn't found rapini we decided to get some chard. I also grabbed a small bunch of spring red onions - shining red bulbs and stiff green shoots. Some vegan basil, garlic, mint pesto was sampled and purchased for dinner later. I also got some fiddlehead ferns to try out.

CK and I picked out some more starts for the garden. She found a yellow watermelon and a spaghetti squash. We also got two types of lettuce and some red choi. Then vendor at that stall had a broken Italian bush bean (1 out of 6 starts in the tray was damaged) that she gave to us free!

The last two chocolate panini at the Pearl Bakery booth were purchased and then we decided to get a "soda" made from fresh raspberries, lemonade and mineral water. This was very refreshing and tasty. We enjoyed these while heading over to Pearl Bakery to see if we could get a round boule of their multi-grain bread. They didn't have any left so we picked out a cibatta to go with the veggies with dinner later.

Brought the market goodies back to the house and decided to drive up the Gorge a little bit since NR has never seen it. As we drove past falls we made a spur of the moment decision to continue east to Hood River. Once there we went to the Full Sail Brewery and had a late lunch with beer. Then down to the river to watch the windsurfers and kite-boarders.


Back to the house CK and I worked on the yard a bit. I planted seeds for various lettuces and greens as well as the starts from the market. Still need to find homes for 3 more of the bush beans. CK leveled out the area by the compost pile so that she can make mounds for all the winter squash and melons.

Then inside for a late dinner of grilled, baked tofu & tempeh with pesto. Chard sauteed with the red onion and a little minced garlic in olive oil, tossed with balsamic. Seared, steamed asparagus with sea salt. Plus crispy slices of garlic bread. All of it was so delicious.

Made for a long day, but it was a lot of fun showing off our city and state. I really enjoyed being able to go from the Farmer's Market to a delicious dinner later. That CK & I also managed to squeeze in a little garden time ourselves was very cool.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I am up later than I'd like to be awaiting CK arriving home from the airport and picking up our first house guest. I have just spent the past hour or so moving boxes, running the vacuum, finding and putting some bedding on the convertible sofa in the living room. That is after going over to the Green Dragon late this afternoon where I worked on some test plans.

We had planned to go to a couple's retreat at Great Vow this weekend, but Atari is sick again. This time there's concern that he may be diabetic in addition to the usual infections he is prone to. The stress of that, the extra pills, and everything else had us deciding not to go to the retreat, to stay home with the cats instead.

When we decided to stay home one of CK's dearest friends from college decided to come up for an impromptu visit! That we have boxes everywhere a guest could be is not a deterrent it appears. Our first house guest, it is nice even though rather chaotic. I'm glad we get to do this even though right now I'm just beat!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Energy We Bring

I went to the Portland Dharma Center tonight. Two periods of zazen (sitting meditation) separated by kinhin (walking meditation) followed by a Dharma talk. Having been sick with bronchitis for the past two weeks it has felt like forever since I'd been there. I felt good just being there, which struck me as funny at some point this evening.

As a rule I've felt so uncomfortable in groups that I've covered it up with persona and distracted myself. Since I don't do that anymore I spend a lot of time acutely aware of my unease. To have a group I feel comfortable with, many of whom I've been seeing for a few years now, is unique.

Hogen afterwards commented on how bright I seemed, happy. I told him that I was happy to be there. That I missed everyone. It isn't that practicing at home doesn't feel good, yoga or zazen. It feels like my practice and I always am glad I do it, but the energy of practicing with other people cannot be replaced.

Smiling that present, bright smile Hogen called my attention to something I hadn't considered. He said that I was missed too. The particular energy that CK and I each bring to the sangha is noticed, missed when we are away.

It was very touching to me to hear this. In the same way I find it too easy to skip over myself when doing Metta practice I find that I don't consider that people might miss me. Regardless of the fact that I notice when sangha members are not at the Dharma center and I miss them! To interact with people happy to see me, glad to know I am well enough to be with them, and be focused on this by my teacher was a lovely gift.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I am feeling distracted today which is no help at all to writing test plans, project plans, or new code. I decided to write down some of what’s distracting me in hopes it will help clear things up for me. I’m also going to make myself go for a walk over to Powell’s to pick out a book to give to one of my SMART readers, who “graduated” from the program this year.

More bad news at work today. In addition to my director’s mother dying last week a co-worker’s brother, who has been battling brain cancer, is in the last stages of his life. He’d gone into remission for a while and things were looking incredibly positive for him. They found another cyst in his brain yesterday. Today he had a few lucid moments and in them asked to have his breathing tube removed, to not replace it should he stop breathing. After receiving this news I sat for a few minutes doing loving-kindness practice for my co-worker and her family.

I think the biggest part of the distracting disquiet is that I believe AM is angry at me and feeling like I’m ignoring him, “pushing” him out of my life. That I was sick for two weeks probably doesn’t measure in much to his feelings. Aside from being sick, I do admit that I have been keeping communication with him down a bit. I’ve been angry with him and rather than confront him about old decisions that cannot be fixed now, I’ve just been trying to work on being present to how things are now. Some distance has helped me from falling into venting that anger at him, merely complaining about the past.

I told Hogen that when I try and pull away the anger and the many times I felt deeply disappointed, I’m just sad. Putting in the garden was bittersweet in many ways, bringing up a lot of that sadness. Sweet because it felt really good to make some progress and the yard, having it look nicer. Bitter because I kept running into tangible evidence of projects, ideas, tools all just set aside to rust and decay. So many instances where an investment of time, if not money, was made only to be abandoned after the initial enthusiasm wore off.

It hurts to remember the many times I questioned this approach, said that I think things should be done in a different order, or at least continued. Most times I was given a list of reasons as to why it was OK that things weren’t progressing how I’d hoped they would or assurances that things would be different, but then weren’t. A lot of times it felt as though my priorities didn’t really matter in the overall scheme of things and that either his priorities were more important or that he had put the priorities of other people ahead of mine, of us.

For some reason it hurts more when I’m holding some rusted tool in my hands that had meant so much to have the year before that spending money on it couldn’t wait until there was actually money to be spent. However, it apparently didn’t mean enough to be put away for the winter so it would be in good shape this spring. I’m not sure why I feel the hurt and anger so keenly when there’s some material reminder around, but there it is.

Broken stuff, broken dreams, broken hopes, broken promises… And the overwhelming feeling that I should have done something differently earlier. At times it feels like every rusted and/or broken thing I find around the house and yard is just further evidence of my complicity, my fault. I feel tremendous shame around all of it.

It isn’t useful at all to dwell on decisions I made then and it is even less useful to direct anger at AM for the decisions he’s made over the years. It doesn’t actually fix anything at all in the present and in the long run only hurts our chances for maintaining some kind of friendship. Nor would any of it change that a fundamental instability in my relationship with AM was my trying to force my sexuality to go the direction I, we, wanted it to go.

Right now I’m finding it challenging to reach out and foster our friendship, although I am trying. It hurts really letting myself feel the deep sense of disappointment I tried hard to ignore, feeling that I didn’t matter enough & that other priorities were more important, and recognizing, mourning the loss. It has been incredibly painful deciding to direct the movement of my life towards my priorities without him, to agree with him that it was time for us to end our marriage.

During my sessions with GM she and I have talked about how we would have eventually hit this point, the need to end my marriage. Last autumn I was still trying to find a way to “figure it all out”, feeling that if I just worked harder at the problem I could fix it. When AM responded to my distress by saying he thought we should end things I was surprised, it was not the direction I was going. After talking with him about it I agreed he was right.

I’ve wondered a lot if he’d be less angry with me if CK wasn’t in my life right now. If he saw that I was without a relationship and struggling more would it be just as easy to be angry with me?

It isn't that I begrudge him his own hurt and anger. I can only assume that just as I am feeling the full impact of the loss and the pain around examining that loss, he is going through the same process in his own way. It would be entirely unreasonable for me to expect him not to feel hurt and angry as well. I guess it just hurts a lot that he’s angry at me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Angry Tai Chi Man

First of all... I am feeling sad, cranky, and questioning myself.

Good thing dinner with CK was nice.

I had a good day back in the office after a couple of weeks - and that's after having been in only one day in three weeks before getting bronchitis. It was nice to reconnect with co-workers, but the day was filled with sad news and my throat hurt by then end of the day.

I'm hoping it is because I've been talking so much more.

Then home via Tri-Met. Kind of nice sitting on the bus. Instead of reading on the way home* I put my book away and did Metta practice for everyone instead. I wasn't able to take part in a Dharma-brother's "Zen Flash Mob" idea this past Sunday since I was teaching at the time, so it was nice to do this as my evening commute meditation.

A quick change and off to Dishman for my Tuesday class.

And another confrontation with "Angry Tai Chi Man".

I've been teaching a class at 5:45, which was moved to 6PM at the request of students, for about a year now. A month ago I opened the door to my classroom to discover a Tai Chi class underway.

Uhhh.... There went my precious pre-class minutes to get myself set up to teach!

I checked in with the site director who informed me that he'd scheduled the class to end at 5:50, a short 10 minutes before my class started. Pretty tight since students really like to have time to ask questions, gather belongings, etc. He suggested I chat with the other teacher about the close time commitments.

I gathered my courage (I hate confrontation) and let the Tai Chi teacher the next week know about the close scheduling. At that time one of her students, who was listening in despite my efforts to take the other teacher aside and explain things, suddenly jumped in and confronted me angrily, "So what are you saying? To get out?"

It left me feeling anxious and upset the rest of the evening. I had tried to explain to him that I wasn't trying to be disrespectful and that I was offering to start my class even later, just that there was a tight time commitment and it would be most helpful if the Tai Chi class ended on time.

I missed teaching last week and was grateful for it.

This week I waited until 5:55 and went in with my stuff. My mat, very unfortunately, landed on the floor with a thud having slipped from my hand as I went to unroll it (Natural latex, surprisingly heavy). I quietly walked along the edge of the room to hang up my jacket and open the closet where the props are stored.

The Tai Chi class ended and the same student as a few weeks prior rounded upon me immediately in anger with phrases like, How dare I enter their room, obviously projecting my anger at them? How little respect I showed.

He parted the room with, "How can you call yourself any kind of yoga teacher?"

The worst part?

I couldn't immediately curl up into a little ball around the wound, the hurt of this anger. No, two new students were waiting for me to teach them. Ugh.

After quickly introducing myself I slipped outside to apologize to the Tai Chi teacher for interrupting her class with the heavy "Thud" of my clumsily dropped mat. I confirmed with her, "You class ends at 5:50, right?"

"No, 5:55." she answered.

Uh. Problem!

"Oh, the program director told me 5:50!" I said back in surprise.

For weeks I have felt the chafe of irritation that this teacher would consistently end her class 5 minutes late! I felt the irritation turn instead for the activity director who made this ill-timed planing decision without informing either of the teachers involved! Then I took a deep breath.

I left a note at the front desk to tell any students who ask that my class will now start at 6:10, instead of 6PM. This gives ample transition times between the classes and hopefully will mean I may get to avoid another interaction with Angry Tai Chi Man. In addition to offering Metta for my students, the memory of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and all beings, I tried to offer Metta for the Tai Chi class, teacher, and especially Angry Tai Chi Man.

I forgot about myself. I have a habit, generally considered to be unhelpful, of forgetting myself.

Then I went home and broke one of our new dishes. Admittedly kind of cheap, but I still felt hugely bad about it, growing more and more upset with myself.

After all, I had picked out said cheap dinnerware and I had broken it by microwaving it.

The voice of my inner critic, which had already grown strong stewing over the words about my worthiness of being a yoga teacher, stomped in an angry tantrum all over my heart and I started crying. CK, who had been trying to read me a proposal request, was a little surprised at my upset over a dish. I admitted that the interaction with the Tai Chi student had really hurt and I hadn't really been able to acknowledge it because students were right there.

She just hugged me an said she was sorry I had to deal with a jerk.

I didn't feel awful to cry, not that if felt exactly good, but it felt OK. Not as crushing, overwhelming, or anxious feeling as crying usually feels. I just cried a little, with her comforting me, then got back to finishing up dinner.

We'll see how next week goes. Honestly, I'm hoping to miss Angry Tai Chi Man entirely!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Garden Begun

And we're off! Behind and with several crop options out of the question as the days get warmer, CK and I cast aside all thoughts of laying around, farmer's markets, street fairs, or anything else and took full advantage of the past three days of glorious sunshine here in P-Town.

In the past three days CK and I have:
  • Cleared out the two beds that were completed last year (one had acquired a lush, verdant carpet of.... dandelions. Just the succulent, invasive, tender leaves which we pulled with great diligence)
  • Filled the third bed with a layer of cardboard (easy-peasy when there are boxes from moving everywhere)
  • Cleared bark off, then turned & added topsoil to the small bed on the south side of the deck (me, mostly, reacquainting myself with the inferior, but adequate garden fork)
  • Cut down towering blackberries (CK took on this monstrous task, wading in with the trimmer. She also did the work of bagging the dangerous clippings while I was plied with coconut rice & mango at the SMART appreciation get together at Tin Shed. *Thanks, Christie)
In all this space we planted:
  • a whole pile of heirloom tomatoes
  • an assortment of mostly sweet peppers (are Anaheim peppers really that hot, or is just me)
  • 3 small-fruited eggplant
  • 4 rows of bush beans
  • numerous cucumbers
  • 3 summer squash
  • 5 pole beans
Yet to be planted:
  • 4-5 winter squash & melons
  • greens (rainbow chard & Lacinito kale)
  • mache
  • lettuces
  • Flowers!
The yard already is looking better. We still have a lot of boxes inside, but it was so beautiful & warm this weekend that we both really wanted to get vegetables going. It was good spending the weekend feeling like my health was returning and working hard. Weeding out the beds reminded me a lot of work duty during April's sesshin and I was smiling remembering the little interactions with my work partner. Entire conversations based upon a slight smile, small bows, tired sighs, and occasional bursts of quick laughter.... oh, and one very small victory dance.

Well, I did one small victory dance, my weeding partner just laughed merrily. Given that I was very present and mindful, I think a quick booty-shake of pepper cress eradication celebration was very Zen. It was one of these spots of absolute joy that would pop up during what was an emotionally challenging sesshin for me. (I wrote a little about work practice during the Loving-Kindness sesshin earlier)

We got a bit carried away at Portland Nursery picking out vegetable starts. This explains the numerous cucumbers - we both started just picking them out instead of agreeing upon how many we were getting. There's going to be a whole lot of cherry tomatoes in our future too.

I'm thinking gazpacho. CK's never had it. I've never made it. I think it would rock with all of our veggies. Maybe another victory dance will be necessary?

We are a tad nervous that all these tomatoes are going to show up the week we're gone for my birthday. Perhaps we'll have to have designated veggie pickers from the sangha come over and help themselves to some?

Oh, and are we ever aching! As the man sang, "I ache in the places where I used to play."

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Dad's Inhaler

In the May 2009 Bronchitis Saga I've had to break down and use an albuterol inhaler again.

This feels really bad, like some kind of defeat. I haven't needed to use albuterol for my asthma in years. Since changing to a vegetarian, then vegan diet it hasn't bothered me nearly as much. I went from having to use it for emergencies about every other month, and daily if I had bronchitis (usually twice a year), to not having used it since 2002.

Until this week. I've been so out of breath and coughing really hard. The one I still had kicking around was really old (2001) so my doctor prescribed a new one for me. We both agreed that I should have one regardless of the bronchitis in case I did have an emergency.

Yesterday, feeling incredibly short of breath, I finally broke down and had the prescription filled. The little excursion to the pharmacy left me utterly exhausted & shaky for the rest of the day. I also was coughing a lot yesterday and stayed home from the Dharma Center again, which feels unsettling having been away two weeks.

When I got back home and opened up the package I realized why the brand-name, Proventil, sounded familiar. After dumping out the contents of the box my hands held my Dad's inhaler. This felt pretty creepy.

My Dad died December 11, 2009. I was there. Well, actually I was outside when it happened, fixing the wooden reindeer in his yard that had fallen forward on its nose, something that would have bugged him. He died while I was outside taking care of his Christmas decorations.

The death certificate would say that the cirrhosis (alcoholic) beat the COPD (smoker) as the cause of death. I don't keep bottles of Seagram's around the house, not sure if I would. But it felt unsettling seeing same inhaler he used, the ones I'd see around his house, by the side of of is bed. Especially since I was using it.

So much of my life is driven to not become my family. Sometimes our greatest lessons in life come from watching teachers who show us what not to do. My family members represented all of the six realms of existence - distracted by desires (human), anger (hell), craving (hungry ghosts), at the mercy of instinctive response (animal), envy (jealous titans), and pride & indifference (gods). Having spent the past decade plus separating myself from years of unhealthy training it feels like something of a failure to be using the same inhaler my Dad used.

Yeah, totally unreasonable. There's a big part of me that knows that and I'm trying really hard not to let that part beat me up about the fact that I'm still kind of creeped out by using the same inhaler as my Dad before he died. It isn't a failure, it is just bronchitis.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Vegan Way

It was in 2006, after being a vegetarian for a little over 5 years, I really decided to just switch to a vegan diet. Primarily I was making a final attempt to get my high cholesterol down. I also had started to seriously look at the way dairy cows are treated. It was bothering me.

When I started teaching yoga in October 2005 I also began to incorporate the other "limbs" into my practice. I started attending zazen, somewhat irregularly at first, with the Zen Community of Oregon. This helped me look closely at the cultivation of concentration, meditation, and wisdom. It was while I was taking a class on Life Vows from Hogen that I vowed to uphold the Yamas, the "Rules of Life" in yoga practice.

The first of the Yamas is ahimsa, non-harming. I'd read some things about the Buddhist Precepts at ZCO and found that the first Grave Precept is to not kill, but to affirm life. I also had spent a lot of time reflecting upon Thich Nhat Hahn's book Anger which begins with a discussion of diet. He felt that it was important that we not consume, nourish these bodies which practice, with the panicked, dying, suffering energy of an animal slaughtered for food.

In the spring of 2006 those things came together for me after listening to Howard Lyman speak at the NW Veg VegFest. After spending a day listening to people talk about dairy I finally committed myself to doing what had been considering doing for months, I stopped eating all dairy products the next day. That was the last step, I became a vegan.

Because I live in Portland this was a fairly easy transition. I just became used to assuming that most places I went to, most gatherings I attended, would not have food I would eat. I would make dishes and bring them to share to be certain I would have something as well as show how tasty vegan food was. Most of the time it didn't matter, sometimes it hurt to feel the way this choice put me even further outside of the mainstream.

My focus all along has been to improve my health. To avoid as many as the diseases that plagued the women in my family - diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, angina, and obesity. Once dairy was taken out of my diet I began to lose weight again, finally dropping the last 40 pounds to have my weight fall into the "healthy" range for my height.

The weight loss alone caused my doctor to shake his head and smile, but when my cholesterol started to drop dramatically he told me not to change anything I was doing. By 2008 my cholesterol had dropped 100 points and I was still losing a few pounds. I went in for a chemical stress test to get a clear picture of how my heart was doing and was told that people 10 years younger than me should have a heart working as well. This spring my doctor called me "skinny".

I feel as though my commitment to changing my diet to improve my health has created space for me to appreciate the choice of being a vegan even more. Over the past several years I've moved more and more to trying to buy organic products, local ones where possible. I have never lost the lessons of the Outdoor School program, of the interconnectedness of everything on the planet and how the choices I make do matter. A vegan diet is an environmentally responsible one that makes a commitment to improving the health of the planet.

When I was at the Loving-Kindness sesshin this past April I had a lot of opportunity to think about this. Because the sesshin really awakened some emotions long buried during my childhood the feeling that I was not included was rather intense at times, especially on nights where during formal tea everyone else would be served a beautiful, fancy cookie while I was served the same store-bought ones I'd brought out to the monastery. One night there were steamed carrots, but only a very small portion without butter set aside for me and it brought up sad feelings.

Later that night, in the dark, cool zendo I would have time to breath through and comfort the child inside of me who felt left out, hurt. In my mind I talked with her about the importance of not having the fancy cookie, that the cookies I'd brought from the store were ones I liked and that I still got a cookie with everyone else. By the time I was served the same cookie I had most of the week that child inside of me and I were both OK with.

What had hit me through keenly feeling the separateness of my vegan diet was that I have been slowly moving my life towards peace. That is what the path of yoga and zen is for me. It is the cultivation of tranquility and calm-abiding. For me there is absolutely no question that the literal foundation must be nourished by food that supports this path. Since we are constantly in change, our cellular structure constantly going through the death/birth cycle, then the base components for that structure must nourish peace. This is how my practice is built, it begins with what I put into my body.

Settling and Healing

I think I'm improving a little today. I didn't wake myself up coughing last night and felt a little more rested this morning. I'm still coughing, pretty hard at times, but I just felt like I had a little more energy today. I worked from home again just to take it easy and because I had a session with GM this afternoon.

The effects of the sesshin are still sinking down. At times I'd feel the deep silence there and I'd feel so deeply connected to my lineage at those times. Supported by nothing but my breath and those ancestors from both Zen and Yoga. Then out of the silence some bubble of trauma would come crashing up to the surface. I'd see some of those traumatic moments clearly for a moment, like looking down through still water. Now I'm still settling down the turbulence caused out of those brief glimpses of clarity.

The sesshin and all the energy of moving, CK here and AM to his flat, created lots of unsettled feelings. GM asked me today how I was feeling being back in the house all the time, with CK here, and I said that it felt good. In that regard it is really nice to feel like I'm not really living anywhere, to feel like I am getting to work on my home again.

I still don't really want to see my Mom all that much. Hard because I finally spoke with her on the phone yesterday and she mentioned how she wanted to see me this weekend. I hedged on any commitment, noting I wanted to wait and see how I was feeling. She thought that was reasonable given that she heard me coughing.

What makes it all feel kind of hard is that those momentary glimpses of clarity only have served to have me really see just how inappropriate and wrong things were during my childhood, adolescence and into my twenties. Hard, sharp moments of clarity. Sometimes, seeing the edges of these moments revealed hurts still.

I guess it is progress. I don't curl into a ball of stuttering and muscle spasms as often, in fact it hasn't been that bad in a long while. I'm able to stay present even to some very small degree when it feels the worst and that's while I'm looking at the causes of the turbulence clearly now, instead of being merely thrown into panic by the turbulence itself. My Zen and Yoga practices often feel like they have kicked all of this processing into some turbo gear.

GM told me today that I'm her hero. It took me a moment to realize she was serious. Then I went right back into my discomfort with being looked up to in anyway. Shying away from the responsibility of being a teacher. I don't feel any of the confidence in my voice unless it is describing yoga, not yet.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009


So the cold that arrived last Tuesday manifested into a hard, dry cough by Friday. Monday I phoned my doctor's office to see about some more samples of the new allergy medication. I mentioned the cough, shortly there after I actually coughed and my doctor's nurse said, "So, we'll see you at 11:30, OK."

Not really a question and 11:30 found me waiting at my doctor's office. His nurse frowned when she heard me cough. He frowned when he heard it.

I was complaining about the lousiness of my health this spring. A sinus infection and now mild bronchitis. My doctor was quick to point out that I was not nearly as bad sounding as I had been in the past and that I'd not had bronchitis in nearly 4 years.

I was born with asthma and upper respiratory allergies. Not seasonal allergies, I have things that trigger me all year round. Growing up this constantly left me short of breath and prone to illness. Through my 20s I regularly got bronchitis in addition to really suffering from allergies. Sometimes 3 times a year. I would spend autumn through spring battling bronchitis and other types of upper respiratory infections. The only time I've been hospitalized as an adult was for a viral pulmonary infection I got one August, right after the first full WOMAD festival. I've even manage to crack a couple of ribs coughing.

This all changed when I stopped eating meat and has only continued to improve. My respiratory allergies and tendency toward bronchitis has gotten so much better that at times it has felt like I don't have asthma anymore. It has seemed miraculous to me, my doctor, and my mother. So much so that a couple of years ago my doctor made a point to conduct a breathing test on me when I felt great.

I was feeling so optimistic about this test but it triggered a mild asthma attack. I didn't need any medication for it, just space to breathe. My doctor smiled, noted that I was amazingly improved, but I still have asthma.

The past few days have been an unwelcome reminder of it. I feel so tired and short of breath that it is hard to do much of anything. I even took a nap in the middle of the day today. I hardly ever take naps! Deep, yoga breathing causes me to start coughing. The coughing makes my whole body ache. On top of that I feel anxious that I'm not getting enough done.

I'm sure my teachers would point out that when sick, just be sick. I find this tedious and difficult, to just be sick and I've been fighting it for a week now.

Tonight CK went to some developer groups. I usually teach, but I'd phoned Dishman earlier and they canceled tonight's class - extending the last spring series out a week to make up for it. After she left I mindfully took a long, hot bath with bubbles and I read from the novel she got me for my birthday, 'Lavina'. Afterwards I had some dinner.

I don't feel cured by just relaxing tonight, which some part of me is mildly annoyed at, but it did feel good to just relax into the quiet of the evening. I'm really hoping I feel better tomorrow.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Noise Irritation

Ugh. I am day two into a spring cold and am none to pleased about it. It makes everything feel like a bit too much to take on. In addition to the whole body "ick" sensation I am sneezy, headachy, itchy, cranky, and probably a few other of the Dwarves of Spring Colds.

Tonight the neighbor, who spends the majority of his time meticulously maintaining his yard, used a pressure washer to clean his drive way for nearly 3 hours. The same neighbor yelled at me Sunday for the state of my yard when I suggested we find a compromise on the tiny strip of earth between our properties that didn't involve him spraying toxic herbicides that then run down onto my property.

After the Loving-Kindness sesshin I can feel the way my heart hardens, closes against the neighbor. Generally I feel mostly some compassion for him, tinged with a sadness that I suppose is rooted in judging the circumstances of his life. Today it was challenging to offer him anything resembling a kind thought at all. He's a good candidate for when I choose to work on Loving-Kindness practice for someone who irritates me.

The noise of the pressure washer felt oppressive with the congestion-amplified pain in my head. On top of that our water bill had arrived today. There's the very realistic cost of that water, financially and environmentally. I feel aware of him literally spraying resources into the sewer system.

Dinner managed to get made and the noise was still this heavy weight as we recited our meal chant. We smiled, joked, rolled our eyes, and commented on the neighbor's behavior. Finally I burst out to CK, "That noise is what my chronic pain sounds like!"

Several years ago I started to use noise to help people understand what chronic pain is like. A constant noise, part of every moment of your life, and not even in sleep can it be fully escaped - that's what it is like to have chronic pain. Some days it might only be slightly irritating to have the constant noise vibration; those are the good days. Other days it feels like the noise vibrations are an oppressive and heavy weight that makes it hard, if not impossible, to wade through the day-to-day; those are the bad days.

He's stopped now. I am feeling a lot better since he has. I was thinking about how irritation & aversion are merely low-level anger. Anger all usually comes back to fear. What do I fear in the neighbor's noise?

Maybe I find the noise of his many power, yard tools to be so awful because I already have what feels like some level of constant noise chafing in my life from my pain. Do I fear the additional weight of the noise in my life?

There are small, puffy, rose-hued clouds hanging in the still-blue, twilight sky. The sunset is so lovely from the upstairs of the house. Now, now that there is some quiet I'll go sit zazen for a little and offer Loving-Kindness practice for myself and my neighbor.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Accidental Vegetarian

Several people have heard the story of how I "accidentally" became a vegetarian and I've talked with a few people about why I'm vegan. During the Loving-Kindness sesshin in April I had a lot of time to deeply look at how important my veganism is to my life. I commented on this during the sharing time at the end of the sesshin with my fellow retreatants, but it really seems like something worth sharing with a much larger audience. This is a part one of two posts that cover over 8 years of my changing my diet from the Standard American Diet to a very healthy, vegan diet.

How does one "accidentally" become a vegetarian?

Back in 2001 my cholesterol was 290. On top of that the "bad" cholesterol was really bad, the "good" wasn't anywhere close to good, and those pesky triglycerides were just as sad. Yep, those levels where the doctor starts to use words like "statins" at visits. My blood pressure and blood sugar levels were OK, but when you added those bad numbers to my weight and a family history of women having heart problems -- well, it wasn't good.

I'd lost some weight, about 30 pounds, but was still obese and those numbers weren't budging. Yes, "obese", I'm not going to say "large" or "heavy" or any other of the nice words that take the sting out of it. At not quite 5'5" I weighed about 260 pounds even having lost 30 pounds.

Facing all of this and the knowledge that statins can often have a side-effect of joint pain (since I already have chronic pain in my back I didn't want that added to the list) I decided to stop eating as much meat. Meat is loaded in cholesterol and the foodie in my just saw trying vegetarian options as sampling a type of new cuisine. I was still eating sushi. This was back in 2001.

In 2002 the sushi fell by the wayside one afternoon over a spicy tuna roll and some seared salmon. These were two of my favorite things and sushi was the only flesh I was still eating. I was happy when I was presented my little plate of fish, took a bite, and while chewing my mouth reacted strongly. Chew, chew, chew.... "Ick, what is this!? We don't want this in our mouth! EEEEW!"

A few weeks later friends were over for dinner. Some lovely smoked salmon ravioli had been picked out for the evening and I was looking forward to it. Great conversation, nice wine, yummy veggies... The ravioli? Same mouth reaction, only more insistent. Chew, chew, chew.... "Ick, what is this!? We don't want this in our mouth! EEEEW!"

I honestly thought the ravioli were rancid. Something seriously wrong with the meal. I looked around the table and realized everyone else was happily munching away. I was the only one fighting the urge to gag as I spit out my second bite into a napkin. At that point it seemed obvious that I'd become vegetarian without even trying. My body just found meat gross.

In 2003, while answering a craving for scrambled eggs, my body reacted the same way to eating eggs. I knew the signs immediately. Chew, chew, chew.... "Ick, what is this!? We don't want this in our mouth! EEEEW!"

By now I'd lost nearly 100 pounds. People were amazed. In a way it didn't really feel amazing to me at all, I was there just eating differently, exercising more. It wasn't until my shoes were too big that I really was able to acknowledge how dramatically my body had changed with the weight I'd gained. I certainly was feeling better, so I didn't feel inclined to return back to the way I had been eating.

Cheese was the last great hold out. Particularly Gorgonzola, brie, Stilton, and strong Cheddars. I loved cheese and would happily have entire meals of nothing but an assortment of cheese with some bread. Yep, still vegetarian. Made sure everything I got was not made with animal rennet.

The side effect of this cheese love? Well, my cholesterol had started to inch down a little when I first switched to a vegetarian diet, however, the increase in all that high dairy-fat cheese in my diet sent it right back up again! Once that had happened my doctor was really wanting me to see a nutritionist and go on drugs. I asked him for one more year.

Monday, May 4, 2009


The 2007 Fall Ango Zen Community of Oregon reflected upon a teisho from my teachers' teacher, Maezumi Roshi. The particular teaching we studied was entitled, "Close the Gap Between Yourself and Yourself". Hogen suggested that I really look at how to cultivate pride and appreciation for my accomplishments.

It struck me as "pretty un-Zen" at the time. When I talked with GM about it during that Ango she said she wasn't surprised I didn't get it. One of the things she notes is an area that could use some improvement is my ability to really appreciate my accomplishments. I downplay my achievements all the time.

Really most of the time it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything extraordinary. It just feels like I'm chugging along, humming & drumming through each moment.

So I struggled with this topic and a few weeks into Ango I went back to Hogen and asked for help. It struck me as somewhat comical that I was asking my Zen teacher just how one goes about cultivating pride. He suggested that I consider the task of digging a 100 foot ditch, irrigation or some such thing. He said that when one is digging a really big ditch it is necessary to turn around after the first 5 feet and recognize the effort that has gone into that work. Not to just keep feeling overwhelmed by the 95 feet yet to be dug.


GW agreed that I spend most of my time worrying about the other 95 feet. CK, after she got to know me weighed in with her agreement of this assessment.

This spring for some reason I'm finally starting to get it. In most things in my life I've been a quick learner, adapting with speed to new things. Sometimes Zen makes me feel like a rather poky student.

My doctor, the same physician I've had for over 15 years, called me "skinny" when he saw me last month. He checked out my blood pressure & pulse statistics, shook his head and smiled. Maybe it is that his reactions are so candid, so human that it is finally sinking in that my weight loss is something unusual. There have also been friends and teachers who have been telling me again and again that the changes I've made in my life, have maintained in my life, are unique.

This takes me to the berry patch at Great Vow Zen Monastery. Last week at sesshin my work duty was out in the gardens. In particular, the berry patch where another retreatant and I had been asked to remove pepper cress. There was a lot of pepper cress, it is very successful at sending seeds spraying out in all directions. It seemed like an enormous task.

The first work period I just sat down at the far corner and started pulling pepper cress. By Friday I realized I'd cleared nearly half the berry patch! I stood up looking at the ground, cleared of the invasive weed (although it is edible). I nearly started to laugh as I stood there feeling a great deal of pride in what I'd finished. On Saturday my silent partner and I finished the last 3 feet in a great flurry of weed-pulling after the clean up bell had rung. We closed the gate, laughed together merrily, and I performed a small celebratory dance, waving my 5 gallon bucket in the air. We grinned at each other and continued to chuckle while emptying our buckets before heading back in for more zazen.

I still feel a little uncomfortable with this new sensation. But I can feel the way pride is good. That it is OK to look at something I finished and really let myself feel the accomplishment, the appreciation.