Congo bars, adapted from Terry Walters’ Eat Clean Live Well

Today, as I cooked and then, while I cleaned the kitchen, wrote this blog post, and still now, when I’m getting ready to walk to a friend’stulips house for dinner, it rained. Steady, relentless rain. For hours. It could so easily be depressing. Many days that’s what would happen. I would permit myself to be ruled in a negative way by something completely out of my control. But today, in addition to supporting the Spring’s new growth, I somehow managed to use the rain as fuel to reinforce all the things in my life that seem right: this morning’s an amazingly deep yoga practice with several people I love a lot; preparing to teach my first public group yoga class on Monday; my sweet cat asleep on the couch, still Benalive and reasonably healthy despite being just a few weeks away from turning 17 years old; the coziness of my apartment; a perfect mix of music that included this song, which has been playing in my head ever since I saw Morgan Geer’s Drunken Prayer open for Freakwater this past March and which I don’t own; and being awake to the luxury of this time alone, being in my home, cooking, and appreciating all that I have instead of focusing on what is not. I’m not sure why the rain was uplifting today instead of being depressing, if this is just grace or if it’s the result of a decision I made yesterday to be happy even if it wasn’t coming naturally. Probably both. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. With so much gratitude for all that I have, including the ability to choose happiness and have it work.

Congo barsI don’t suppose I can compare all of that to these Congo bars. Or maybe I can. They’re quite special. And while I don’t suppose any dessert that tastes this good will ever qualify as being actively healthy, this one comes damn close, especially when compared to other sweets. If you try the recipe, I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do. And, if you have any leftovers, store them in the fridge. It’s best eaten warm but cold is good too.

Congo Bars, adapted from Terry Walters’s Eat Clean Live Well

1/2 t. virgin coconut oil
1 c. teff flour
1 c. almond flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
4 oz. natural applesauce (I use the single-serving containers)
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. cashew or sunflower butter
2 t. high-quality vanilla extract
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c. dark chocolate, cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350; use 1/4 t. coconut oil to grease a square baking dish.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the applesauce, maple syrup, honey, nut butter, and vanilla in a separate bowl, then add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. Mix in the nuts and coconut. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, smooth the top, and draw four long trenches across the batter.

Melt the chocolate and remaining 1/4 t. coconut oil in a small pot, either on the stove or in the oven, being careful not to let it burn. Once the chocolate has melted pour it into each of the four trenches. Use a table knife to create a swirl (or, like mine, swirls and a splotch) across the top. Bake for 35 minutes or until a knife in the center comes out clean.

If you can manage to wait, allow the pan to cool for at least a half hour before you dig in. The bars are delicate and likely won’t hold together if they’re too warm. Serve as is or with a dollop of yogurt.

Enjoy!

State of Emergency

Today is Day Three of my vacation. On Day One I picked up a rental car in Chicago and drove to Kentucky. The plan was to spend two nights and one day hanging out with my best friend, who lives there. Maybe we would go to Berea. I was hoping to buy a few inexpensive wooden spoons and suchlike to give as gifts along the way. We would definitely eat delicious food, probably drink some bourbon, talk, laugh. It was going to be great. Then, from there, I planned to drive to Tallahassee for one night before heading to the beach on Sunday morning for a week before finishing the trip with a visit to friends and family in Atlanta.

Well. The best laid plans, as they say. Whatever it is they say, whoever they are. I know I could look it up but I don’t want to. I do not want to be precise. Because really I don’t care what the saying is. I know the point: your plans are going to get fucked up. Life is change. Human lives are tiny and we cannot truly control anything. Except how we are in the world. And even that takes a tremendous amount of work.

I suspect I’m going to be learning this lesson over and over for however long I live. Today, though, felt like a big one, like maybe I moved up a level . Which of course means the challenges will get bigger now. But still. I’ll take it. With gratitude. Because right now, writing this post, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

When I left Chicago on Thursday the weather was perfect. I knew a storm was coming but wasn’t too worried. Cut to today. This is what the road looked like around 7:15 this morning when I left Richmond, Kentucky, Jan 23 2016my friend’s house. I was behind a giant tractor, which was pushing snow out of the way. I felt good about the trip. So good that I did not check the weather before I left.

Snow bunniesI know it seems crazy. But we’d checked yesterday, thoroughly, in between shoveling their rather long driveway. Speaking of which, that itself held a few lessons: (1) Communicate frustration directly, not sideways, and if you love the person you’re talking to, remember that; (2) shoveling snow is even harder than it looks; and (3) surrender. Ask for help. It will come.

Mine came in the form of a man of few words who was driving a small, green, John Deere tractor. I was standing at the end of the drive, nearfrozen braid the place by the street where I’d gotten stuck earlier that day (we had to go out because my friend had a physical therapy appointment that wound up being cancelled via a note on the door), and I guess I looked pathetic. I know there was snot pouring out of my nose because that’s why I’d stopped, to get a tissue from my pocket. Anyway, there I was when this angel of a man drove up, stopped, and said, in a slow Southern accent, “need a hand?” Yes, I did. So he took over. Cleared the drive. Then stopped again, said, “good enough?” and drove away. It was magical.

Before that incident I was close to tears, frustrated and anxious. Holding on and managing to notice then consciously soften clenching, both physical and emotional. But not in a great place. Afterward, though, I felt all this internal space. I came inside where my friend (she’s the one with the frozen braid) was marveling at our good fortune with the tractor angel, and I practiced yoga for an hour. There was a minor catastrophe during my practice (we’d inadvertently broke the heat by shoveling snow into the furnace vent), but I was blissfully unaware and by the time I emerged it had been resolved. So we ate cheese, hung out for a while, then had an early night after noticing that the driveway still seemed clear. Outlook for travel seemed good.

Ha! I’m nohighway madness near Bereat sure when I’ve been more wrong or felt less competent. At first everything was fine. Sure, there was a little snow on the highway, but it was no worse than the aftermath of a storm in Chicago. I just had to go slower than usual and maybe wouldn’t make it to Tallahassee that night. It was going to be great. Until it wasn’t. This happened somewhere around Berea, just a few miles away from my friend’s house. As I learned when I checked my phone, there was a huge traffic jam on I-75. Some people had been stranded for 12 hours. And me? I drove right into it. In the world’s least suitable car. With less than a half tank of gas. So foolish. The only upside was that I didn’t have time to drop off my dry cleaning before taking off on Thursday, so had a bunch of sweaters in the car. I wrapped them around my legs, Finding humoradded a couple of layers, and waited. I made a few calls, I took pictures, texted friends and family. I tried not to freak out.  At some point, in a text, my dad noted how handy all my mindfulness training must be about now. In another text a very wise friend  suggested that maybe the universe was giving me alone time. Not that this was happening in order to give me alone time, of course, but that I could choose to be miserable or to look at as an opportunity. And that’s when I found my sense of humor. It all became so funny. Scary, yes, and uncertain and far from ideal. But also hilarious. Especially when I decided to get out my crystals and put them in various places throughout the car. I put them in the little compartments in each door, in the console at the front, and on the back seat. I surrounded, bathed myself with this energy of something that I don’t understand or quite believe in.

And yet. I always feel better with crystals around. It’s an admission. Right here. I don’t like a lot of what I consider to be hippy paraphernalia (although I love hippies. Seriously. Just not the look.), and crystals used to be a prop in my store of mockery. Until something changed. In Zion National Park. Which is a story for another day.

Back to today. I’m going on and on and am not quite sure what I’m saying. I suppose just that this happened. I was pretty miserable and scared. Then I decided to trust that everything was going to work out. I gave myself Reiki. I breathed as deeply as I could. I waited. I talked to my best friend on the phone, asking about the weather (because my stupid old phone wouldn’t give me the full report) and I got irritated when she wasn’t telling me what I wanted to hear. But I managed to work within the irritation instead of getting lost in judgment, and state what I needed directly. We had a conversation, clear and direct, in which each of us moved through our individual fear and frustration and came through the other side without a misunderstanding. In the 30 years I’ve known her, this might have been the first time. At least for me. It was cool. And then? At the first opportunity, I got off the highway, even though it wasn’t what I wanted, because I had allowed myself to soften, which allowed me to hear the concern from friends and family and see that it would be foolhardy to go forward. I found a gas station. A man, maybe the man in one of my photographs, backed into me. There was no damage, everything was okay. Except him. He was driving a U-Haul and had been stuck on the road, right there, for 12 hours, then just got off and found gas and was stuck in snow at the gas station and hit me trying to get out. I wound up hugging him. I hope he’s okay. I’m going to send that hope to him, wherever he is.

After my little crash, the men inside the gas station advised me not to enter the lot at the Day’s Inn, that maybe the Hampton would be better. Less of an incline. So I went for the Hampton Inn. Where I did not get stuck in the parking lot and where they had one room.hotel room bed This room.  With a king size bed and a comfy chair and a kitchenette and room for yoga. I’m pretty sure I am the luckiest person ihotel yogan the world. Which has always been true. What’s new is that I’m finally realizing it and not taking it for granted. I feel gratitude. Huge, warm, flowing gratitude. For being safe and warm and deeply, deeply loved. If you’re one of those people who loves me, thank you for that. If you don’t, I thank you, too. Because more and more what I know is that we’re all love. It is the only thing that matters. Yeah, maybe that reality got lost in all the hippy fluff. But John Lennon had it right. So many other artists get it right. And I’m finally getting it.

I decided to write this post because I wound up cooking myself this crazy gruel in the kitchenette, gruelfrom hotel kitchenettefood that I had in the car. I thought it was so funny, yet also practical and kind’ve cool. I wanted to share. The idea came from a good friend who I’ve been teaching Forrest yoga for the past two months–she’d mentioned the other day that you can take just a small amount of oats and make a beverage. So, today, starving and stranded, I remembered her talking about that and decided to give it a shot. I didn’t have a bowl or a spoon, but I had a wide-mouth mason jar I’d used for chocolate milk (raw w/ cacao and honey) that I made for my trip to Kentucky. And I had oats and prunes that I’d brought from home for the beach. So, I decided to boil some water in the microwave, toss in a handful of oats and couple of prunes, shake it up, and let it sit for a while. Voila — gruel! Pretty tasty, actually, and definitely nourishing. Maybe not worthy of a full-on recipe, but good inspiration for a post.

And wow. I had no idea I was going to say all of these things. From gruel (which name reminds me of my youth in Tallahassee, Florida) to crystals and love. Perhaps I will regret this. But I think I’m going to post it anyway, as is. With love. And gratitude. From Kentucky.

 

 

Tonglen for Thanksgiving. Also, a ham and links to many recipes.

Early this morning, after starting water for coffee, I put a ham in the oven. For Thanksgiving. Which I’m celebrating this year at home, in Chicago, with a small group of dear, long-time friends.

I have so very much to be grateful for. The group of friends who are coming for Thanksgiving, the core of my urban family. My biological family in Florida. Satisfying, interesting work. Exceptional yoga teachers. Robust health. So much that to list it all would take my entire day, which I need to spend in other ways.

So maybe for now I’ll just focus my gratitude on Slagel Farms hamthis ham. It’s from Slagel Farms. I’m hoping it had a pretty good life. And I’m certain it will be delicious both on its own and then later, when I use the bone for some form of bean soup. This sort’ve ethical (I eat meat with qualms) ham was also affordable, because a friend from yoga invited me to join her and another friend in ordering directly from the farm–we all agreed that 15 dozen eggs divided among the three of us was not crazy. At least not right before Thanksgiving, a holiday that for me is almost entirely centered on cooking a traditional feast that calls for large quantities of eggs.

As I’ve said here before, there is little that makes me happier than cooking for people I love. Therefore yesterday, as I made cornbread for dressing, gluten free pie crusts for pecan pie, and cranberry orange relish, and while I rubbed salt and organic coconut sugar and black pepper into the very expensive organic turkey that another friend and I bought through the food co-op that I hope one day will form here in Chicago, I danced in the kitchen. I felt joy.

Side by side with the joy and gratitude, however, upwelling into unexpected spaces, I also felt, still feel, grief and anxiety.

I feel grief because the man I’m in love with is no longer in my life, because one of my sisters died far too young, and because I’m in the process of releasing so many delusions about who I am, what my life is, how I fit into this world. I feel grief about the state of our world, for all of those who are suffering untold horrors. For the contemptuous ways in which we humans too often treat each other and ourselves. And I feel anxiety over who knows what. The state of the world, yes, but also for some nameless unknown. In my life, anxiety comes in tiny waves that roll relentlessly through my small self, constant stories about this and that, him and her, me, them. It is the background music of my life.

Looking back, I think I’ve always been anxious. Indeed, at my sister’s memorial service earlier this month someone who knew Valerie long ago told me that her (this woman’s) babysitting career ended because of me. Apparently I would not stop crying no matter how she tried to comfort me. I was too young to remember that particular episode, but I have countless childhood memories of curling up with various pets, finding solace from the storm of feelings that I did not know how to handle and that no one around me was equipped to understand or resolve. It was the 70s.

As a young adult I found relief from anxiety in marijuana, which I smoked for years and years. It worked in a way. I was able to function in social settings, I was able to relax and feel normal. Have fun. But I believe that smothering my anxiety with drugs also choked off my ability to grow into the person I wanted to become. Because contrary to everything I learned as a child and young adult, anxiety is not something that needs to be pushed away. It is an invitation.

For the past month or so I’ve been doing an online meditation class through Dharma Ocean. Like Forrest Yoga, the form of meditation taught at Dharma Ocean is an embodiment practice. But meditating is for me much more challenging than yoga. There are no poses. There’s just you, on the cushion.

When I practice yoga I know I’m supposed to be feeling my body. And sometimes I do. But usually, despite continual attempts to stay in my body, I live primarily in my head and mostly in the future. Worrying, planning, thinking. I know that the solution is to practice yoga each morning at home, to meditate. And every day I have the best intentions. Then, most days, I make coffee. I write in my journal. Time passes. I have to go.

This is my life.

It’s happening again now. If it were a regular Thursday I wouldn’t mind too much because I would go to Gwen’s 4 pm class at Yoga Now. But today is a holiday. There is no class. I’m on my own. I want to meditate, I want to practice yoga, to have ceremony for and with myself on this day, to show up and do the things I know I should be doing to be fully alive and able to be my best self. Instead I’m here, in my head, trying to work this out in writing, to share my experience with all of you. Which is important to me. I’m not sure why. Lately I think maybe writing is yet another way in which I distance myself from my feelings, another distraction, another defense mechanism. But, at least right now, I think that’s okay.

Last night, lying in bed, I picked up one of the books on my crowded nightstand.bedside books Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. It is one of the books I have to read and write about in order to reach Level Two certification for yoga teacher training. Like so many of those books, I’ve read it before. And I can’t seem to get it together to do the rather daunting homework. So instead, as with the other books, I pick this one up on occasion, open it at random, and read a few words here and there, usually before bed.

Last night I opened to chapter nineteen: Three Methods for Working with Chaos. The second method is Tonglen, which Pema Chodron describes as follows:

“When anything difficult arises–any kind of conflict, any notion of unworthiness, anything that feels distasteful, embarrassing, or painful–instead of trying to get rid of it, we breathe it in…. When suffering arises, the tonglen instruction is to let the story line go and breathe it in–not just the anger, resentment, or loneliness that we might be feeling, but the identical pain of others who in this very moment are also feeling rage, bitterness, or isolation. We breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune, our fault, our blemish, our shame–it’s part of the human condition. It’s our kinship with all living things, the material we need in order to understand what it’s like to stand in another person’s shoes. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe it in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering. Then we breathe out, sending out a sense of big space, a sense of ventilation or freshness. We do this with the wish that all of us could relax and experience the innermost essence of our mind.”

In reading this I realized that while I might not have made time to meditate or practice yoga, I could easily practice Tonglen throughout the day whenever I felt grief or anxiety. I started right then, in bed. Breathing in the sharp pain of missing people I love who I will not see again in this lifetime. Allowing the feeling to permeate my body. Softening around the feelings, enfolding them with compassion for myself and all the others in the world feeling those same feelings. Exhaling a hope that we might all be free from suffering. That seems a good wish for today, for always.

Today I certainly won’t practice yoga. I doubt I’ll make time for formal meditation. Instead I am going to cook and clean a little in preparation for my guests. Then I’m going to spend time with them. Between now and then, though, I am going to practice Tonglen. I shall be sending out hope that all beings be free from suffering. Including you, whoever and wherever you are. Thank you for reading this. May you be well. May you be at peace. May you be kind to yourself. May you accept yourself as you are. And may you have a Thanksgiving that is happy, whatever happiness means for you. For me, sometimes happiness comes in feeling sadness. It is the happiness that comes from knowing I am alive. I am grateful.

First cup of coffee after yoga teacher training

Today, shortly, I will head to the yoga studio for the last two days of yoga teacher training. Yesterday was the last day with Ana Forrest but we still have the business class. I meant to go to open practice, do some yoga. But instead I decided to sleep in and have coffee, my first cup since training began. Then I decided to write this meandering post, which has absolutely nothing to do with beans. In fact I’m not sure it has to do with anything. Except how much I’m enjoying this cup of coffee. coffeeIts richness and depth, and the jittery feeling spreading through my body right now. The container of time it helped me build this morning during which I get to listen to the wind blow through trees outside the windows as I watch a sea of green against storm gray sky, undulating and speaking some language that I understand with every part of my body, my body that is so much more awake now than it was the last time I wrote here.

During training, the man I’ve been dating for the past two years left my life, at least for now. I’m doing my best to trust that it is what is supposed to be, that we each learned what we needed to learn from the other. To practice gratitude for feeling as loved as he made me feel. But every morning and every night, right now, tears pour from my eyes, down cheeks. My stomach heaves with the tears that I don’t yet know how to shed. I’m so very sad.

In training I realized how hard I am, how many layers I’ve built between myself and the world. I learned that my mode of dealing with life is to tighten my body, squeeze, constrict. I learned that my default answer is no. I learned that underneath my holding I am absolutely terrified. I also learned, however, that I want to say yes. Yes to whatever comes, whatever life has in store.

I hoped yoga training would show me how to let go. Instead it showed me how desperately I hold on. And that it is up to me to figure out how to live to my highest potential. That no one else can do that for me.

I’m not sure how I start. So I will breathe. Doing my best to trust that there is a place for me in this great web of a world in which I so frequently feel I do not belong. I will post this terrifyingly honest blog entry that has nothing to do with beans or anything at all except me. The beginning of what I hope will prove to be true strength, my developing warrior heart. Thank you, Ana Forrest, and everyone in the Forrest tribe. I am grateful for your welcome.

Intentions

Today marks exactly one year since I started this blog. A year of not being afraid to fail. Or, rather, trying despite the fear. Because despite what Yoda said, trying is doing. (http://bit.ly/18Zte7X)

A year ago I started out full speed, overflowing with energy and ideas and expectations about how things would be. Daily posts lasted, what, a month? Or maybe it took less time than that for me to slow down, eventually being lucky to post weekly. Although I could, I’m not going to look it up right now. Because it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I accomplished the larger goal. Dreamsofmyfava exists. You read it. A fact for which I am deeply grateful every day. Truly.

I’m not cooking today.  And I’m not going to post a recipe. Because (a) my freezer is full of food I’ve made over the past month; and (b) I want to spend time hanging out with two of my dearest friends, who are in town for a very short visit. So my plan for today is to pull some buckwheat waffles with pecans out from the freezer (http://bit.ly/1g0Eimk) and relax with my friends until it’s time for them to leave. Then, afterward, maybe practice yoga on my own. Set some intentions for the new year. Eat some more food from my freezer. Above all, whatever the days holds, to stay present in each moment, as it is. Open.

Although I’m not cooking or posting about food today, I decided to write anyway, while they’re still sleeping, because I wanted to thank you for helping me make this happen, for reading what I write, trying out the recipes, sharing in this process. This year my plan is to follow through on the idea that started this project and write a cookbook. Make something tangible, a compendium of recipes and information about cooking and eating beans. That will maybe also be about some of my experiences over these past couple of years, things I’ve noticed as I went through a divorce, got serious about my yoga practice, started improv, and started to open up.

Honestly, I’m not sure how that’s going to happen. It may not. We’ll see. What I am sure of is that the process of trying is what matters. That I will learn something along the way, that I will grow. Which is, as best as I’ve been able to figure out, the point of being alive. Doing your best, day after day after day. Happy Near Year. I hope 2014 is good to you. That you love and are loved until your heart cracks wide open and stays that way so that you are overflowing with  and in love. Life is good that way. Even when it’s hard. Peace.

22 days of gratitude

This post has nothing to do with beans. Or cooking. I’ve been missing my blog, and had planned to write about black bean brownies today. Because I made some a couple of days ago, for my birthday. Not because I wanted them, but because I wanted to have something to blog about. But they didn’t turn out well and, when I tried to write a post, that didn’t turn out well either. So, after a long walk, on which I spent some time swinging and a little more time sitting (actually standing) with this Buddha headBuddha head, I decided to abandon that idea and go with this. I will write about black bean brownies sometime soon, though, when I have time to do a proper job. I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit. Just not workable for this week.

Instead, I decided to post about my gratitude project, which consisted of what was meant to be 44 Facebook posts ( either lost or failed to post one) for the 22 days up to and including my birthday, which was this past Friday. 10/4, good buddy. So. Here is the completely unedited list. I think it will speak for itself. But I will say that the execution of this idea was both more difficult and far more rewarding than I imagined when I dreamt it up. The difficulty was mostly in feeling so exposed, day and day after day. Because oftentimes what I was grateful for wasn’t something I would ordinarily post. Then I would go into struggle mode, trying to stay true to myself while also guarding (or trying to create) healthy boundaries. Also, during the course of this time I finally got officially divorced. That is a good thing, yet complicated. It added an element of difficulty to this project. But, overall, the good far outweighed the bad, at least from my end. I hope you like it. Here’s the list.

September 13, 2013

22 days from now I will be 44. Which, while I know absolutely nothing about and am highly skeptical of numerology, seems somehow significant, if only because of the lovely mathematical symmetry. And because I really like the number 11. So. To mark this day, and the days between now and 10/4, I’m going to celebrate by creating a daily ritual of posting two things for which I’m grateful, one upon waking, the other just before sleep. This morning I woke up filled with gratitude for this time alone, and the space I’ve been given to start trying to figure out, on my own, how I want to be in the world.

Embarrassment of riches in the gratitude department right now. Harmonizing with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts for Crimson and Clover? Gwar? The letter a friend sent that cut through my emotional fortress and went straight into a part of my heart that I didn’t even know was still there? Yes, I am grateful for all of those things. But the thing I’m most grateful for right now is that I have all of my teeth. Many people don’t. And they’re super useful for things like eating delicious sausages. Which I did tonight, at Riot Fest. So thanks, parents, for all the excellent dental care, and to the universe for letting me stay lucky thus far.

Grateful to be able to pet my (or any other) cat for as long as I like without suffering a rash, or an athsma attack, or any other allergic reaction.

Tonight’s gratitude is for the magic friend circle that happened today with Shaune, Michelle, Dana, Johnny, Dawn, Ken, and Connie. And also for affirmation that my high school obsession with the Violent Femmes was not misplaced.

3/22, am: grateful for all the second chances.

3/22, pm: foot massage. grateful doesn’t quite cut it.

4/22, am: grateful for waking up to the sound of house guests, laughing and rehashing perfect weekend, which included the Replacements.

4/22, pm: grateful that I did not have to use a port-o-poddy today.

5/22, am: grateful for this opportunity to start my days out by considering subjects of gratitude. Totally meta.

5/22 pm: grateful for the sound of wind in trees, and that I can still hear it.

6/22, am: grateful to wake up with a different perspective.

6/22, pm: grateful that the latch on my back door is fixed. And a trifle embarrassed that I hadn’t yet gotten around to doing it myself.

7/22, am: grateful for choices.

7/22, pm: grateful for my new air popper, popcorn, butter, maple syrup, and salt. Also that I was not born as a factory farmed chicken.

8/22, am: grateful for this moment, in which my cat is sleeping next to me with his paw stretched out, touching my leg, and I have just begun the most perfect cup of coffee.

8/22, pm: grateful to be letting go, and for how things always work out.

9/22, am: grateful for sunlight refracting off the glass blocks in my living room and the way in which it evokes mornings at the beach on St. George Island. And today is International Day of Peace, which is super cool. Maybe people can stop killing each other for a little while.

9/22, pm: grateful, generally. Today was pretty awesome.

10/22, am: grateful for the ability to change.

10/22, pm: grateful to be on the bus with Good Lookin’ Bill, who sounds exactly like Screamin’ Jays Hawkins.

11/22, am: grateful to be able to take so very things for granted.

11/22, pm: grateful that my sense of humor is so very, very dark. It comes in handy when reading articles like this one.

Pull quote: “He isn’t hopeful humans will rise to the challenge and save themselves. ‘Everything is worse and we’re still doing the same things,’ he says.
‘Because ecosystems are so resilient, they don’t exact immediate punishment on the stupid.'” (http://www.oceansidestar.com/news/web-of-life-unravelling-wildlife-biologist-says-1.605499)

12/22, am: grateful, despite everything, including my sometimes paralyzing fear about what’s happening to the environment, that the planet will run out of water, and horror at the myriad ways in which humans continue to be awful to one another, to have been born into this time. Because it also feels full of love and amazing opportunities for connection, growth. Today I’m going to focus on that.

12/22, pm: grateful for clear answers when they come.

13/22, am: grateful that my numbers have passed the stage of looking like a date. Also, that the longer this project continues, and the deeper I have to reach to figure out what I’m grateful for, the more rewarding it becomes. At least for me.

13/22, pm: grateful that I’m almost finished with monster brief, and that it includes a version of the argument I fought for.

14/22, am: grateful for breath and stillness, and the way in which they are pathways to change.

14/22, pm: grateful for the smell of rosemary and for kitchen dancing by myself.

15/22, am: grateful there’s a yoga class with Anne Paulson at 6:30, because it makes this otherwise completely sucky insomnia seem like a gift.

15/22, pm: grateful for my brain’s ability to summon the taste, sound, smell, sight, and feel of the Gulf of Mexico, right now, there.

16/22, am: grateful to wake up believing that things will work out as they should.

16/22, pm: tonight I’m generally grateful for Chicago’s theater scene, and specifically for getting to see Beyond Therapy, which was great. Disconcerting at times, but great.

17/22, am: grateful to have found such a good apartment. I like it here.

17/22, pm: [completely tired of the word] grateful for this day, which started with more than 2 hours of yoga to celebrate the birthday of one of my teachers. That was the high. But there was also a perfect blue sky, and San Francisco-style crispness to the air. That was good. And a long walk through the urban utopia that is Sauganash, where apples are literally falling to the sidewalk from a tree planted along the side of the road. The low point, which was also great in its intense weirdness, was coming across a giant repository for garbage somewhere near Hubbard and Damen. There literally was a pile of rotting waste sitting in a huge warehouse, fouling the perfect air so intensely that I had to hold my hand over my nose. Hence no photo.

18/22, am: thankful for the way this project is wearing a new groove into my brain, so that more and more I think about what I have, what is good, rather than focusing on the lack.

gratitude project, day 18 of 22, pm: pizza delivery, pajamas (or close equivalent), and television. Also I’m pretty sure I finally nailed the argument I’ve been struggling with for far too long. Which means I may escape probation at work.

gratitude project, day 19 of 22, am: When I thought about what I wanted to post this morning, the first thing that came up was photographs. Photographs both as art and as a means to feel connected to people and places and animals are and always have been deeply meaningful for me. My life without photos would be much smaller. Because of my incredible fortune, there were several possible posts for this morning. I decided on this one when I saw the attached story. While the idea of solitary confinement fills me with despair, projects such as this one remind me of the good. (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/9/30/photo-requests-fromsolitary.html)

gratitude project, day 19 of 22, pm: so lucky in my friends. Thank you for being there for me, today and always.

day 20 of 22, pm: I am full of gratitude for the flexibility of my work schedule, which meant that without any advance planning or notice to anyone I was able to leave early today. Which in turn meant that I was able to spend hours outside on what was quite possibly the most perfectly beautiful day ever. Good.

day 21 of 22, am: grateful for my cat’s round teddy bear eyes, loud purr, and boundless, unconditional love. (I could do without his nibbling and awful breath, but, well, trying to focus on the positive.)

day 21 of 22, pm: incredibly grateful that there’s only one more day to go until I can stop doing this.

22/22, am: grateful for the dream I woke from this morning. My bedroom was the same except it had been built to accommodate a very large tree. So there was this one branch that went through the whole top of the room, like a giant elbow. And it was an apple tree. With fruit. I opened my eyes after sleep, looked up, and saw several perfectly ripe apples. Because it was a dream, one magically appeared in my hand. I ate the fruit.

22/22, pm: grateful for music. It makes life better. And love, which makes life possible. Thank you all for sending me so much of it today. I am seriously lucky.

Perfect slow-cooked black beans

Finally the weather has broken in Chicago. Today’s high is expected to be a silky 76 degrees, temperate, sane. This comes after what feels like a lifetime of mind-numbing heat that left my long, sun-drenched apartment stuck on high. I couldn’t cook, not really. And, while I tried to write, I had no energy, no creative spark. There was only languor, and longing for something else. But I had to eat. So, at the start of one of those days, before the kitchen became unbearable, I spent five minutes cooking a pot of black beans.

There is no photo for this because I never intended to write of something so plain. Indeed, this simple pot of beans is not a recipe. You simply wash and pick through however many dry beans you wish to cook (I used one pound, a single bag of Goya brand), place them in the insert of a slow cooker, add a 3″ piece of kombu (a sea vegetable that tenderizes the beans and thickens the cooking liquid), and cover with about three inches of cold water, ideally filtered. Cover, turn on the machine, and cook for 10-12 hours. Salt liberally and allow the beans to cool in their cooking liquid. Then use them however you wish. One evening I used the beans as a filling for tacos with sauteed strips of poblano peppers. Another day, I had them for lunch over rice. And once, when I got home late at night, tired after rehearsal with my young ensemble, I had them plain, in a bowl all by themselves. Each of these variations were delicious and surprisingly satisfying.

I decided to write about this non-recipe recipe because, while simple, this method of cooking brings black beans to perfection. The result is tender, yet perfectly intact beans with an abundance of flavorful cooking liquid that is delicious in its own right. Infinitely better than a can of beans. And, at $1.69 plus water and electricity, far more economical. You just need a slow cooker. And time.

A slow cooker and time. That combo feels like some sort of metaphor right now, directions for how to live a good life. Slow down, let things happen, trust that it’s all going to work out. Despite my best efforts, I cannot seem to learn this lesson. I constantly find myself pushing to do, to be something more, something else. And I wind up in struggle. Anxious, afraid. Winding up with (metaphoric) under or overcooked beans, beans so hard as to be indigestible or soft and mushy, completely devoid of character. I do this even though I know better.

So what’s the answer? I think it’s practice. I just need to create a new pathway, a new habit. The essential difference between the now version of me and the me of a year ago, is that now, when I find myself in struggle and overcome by anxiety, I notice. If I find myself in an old pattern of self-laceration, berating myself for being anxious, for pushing too hard, I simply notice and try to breathe. It’s true that my breath often gets stuck in my chest in these moments. Which is not all that helpful. But I’m slowly learning that if I simply notice, without getting frustrated or angry, my body opens up. Eventually my breath moves down, reaches the lower abdomen, and my heart rate slows. Life ceases to be an emergency. It’s not suddenly perfect, of course. It takes time. Patience. And perfection only comes in moments. But those moments are everything good.