Monday, April 27, 2020


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Spiders Are Our Friends and Sisters

As my mother used to say, and maybe still does say.

The loss of Hammett (on March 21) has made the boundary between crying and not-crying quite porous. When I was describing one patient’s sad situation to the next day’s on-call chaplain, I found myself in tears, which is good. I remember being on call one night at the children’s hospital during CPE and telephoning one of our supervisors, like myself an Enneagram One, to share something sad. I was deeply admiring when she immediately burst into tears: what easily activated empathy! I want to be able to feel deeply, and it is fine to cry when with a patient. As one palliative care doctor said during a training, “Just try not to cry more than the patient.”

Today I attended the first of three online training sessions presented by Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of the Upaya Institute and Zen Center, where I just finished the two-year chaplaincy program, and Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project. Offered on a donation basis, it was called Bearing Witness Together in Troubled Times, and today’s session was absolutely superb. I was scribbling notes throughout. These two teachers are so excellent, and it was also a huge comfort and joy just to see Roshi’s beloved face and hear her voice. Even though the panelists could not see any of the 1000+ participants, I got up and put on my rakusu, anyway, which Roshi gave me when I received the precepts.

I find myself craving nature, beauty, pleasurable sensory experiences. There is often a breeze coming in the small screened window in my walk-in closet, carrying the lovely scent of the big tree and other greenery just outside, and the grassy park beyond. I know that with every breath, I breathe in an infinitesimally small particle that was once inhaled by Hammett, and one inhaled by F., and one inhaled by each of my parents, and by every breathing creature that has ever lived. At least, so I once read somewhere, and I like to imagine it is true.

Because my parents were and are such avid gardeners over so many decades, inhaling the scent of plants makes me feel connected to them, as does eating my morning salad, with all the beautiful colors and tastes, each grown in some garden somewhere. I have FaceTimed with my mother a couple of times lately. It is wonderful to see her, though seeing the familiar room that I normally see in person gives me a pang. Will I be in that room with my parents again?

I read today that the meat supply chain is breaking down. This is obviously terrible for those who eat meat, and considerably more terrible for all the animals who were and will be killed. Could it have the good effect of pushing us toward plant-based eating, much more efficient and much better for our health? Or does it merely presage the breaking down of the supply chain for all the other kinds of food? Will I be found months from now in my apartment, desiccated, clutching a final herb-crusted black olive?

Along with the fresh breeze at the window and the lovely morning salad, I am enjoying sautéing onions, garlic and ginger for my weekly pot of beans. I had been putting fresh, raw ginger in canned salmon; adding freshly pressed garlic at the end of cooking beans; not bothering with onion for the beans; and eating fresh red onion in my salads. Then I got the message, via chronic chest pain, that this might not be appreciated by my digestive system. I was also putting garlic granules on toast, which is so delicious, but I think might have been the biggest culprit, because 99 percent of the pain disappeared when I stopped doing that.

I also stopped with the raw or barely cooked ginger, garlic and red onion, though I am a huge believer in the healthfulness of these things, and started sautéing for my beans as mentioned above, yellow onion rather than red. Now that I feel better, I bought a red onion to put in my salads, but will stop again if the pain returns.

I plan to start putting bay leaves in my beans and will research what other kinds of aromatic stuff you can put in beans.

For several months, on the advice of my fantastic chiropractor, I have been using this thing called YogaToes for about 30 minutes daily, to prevent hammertoes. The effect is subtle but at this point unmistakable. My toes are definitely lying flatter on the ground, and I now feel sort of reluctant, having made this ongoing effort to straighten them out, to mash them into slippers. Setting out to obtain some slippers that would allow freedom for my toes, I ended up ordering some Birkenstocks, the Mayari style, which looks like it affords even more liberation for the toes than the Arizona style I used to have.

For the final many years that I had them, or all the years I had them, I never wore them to walk outside. I wore them when I took out the trash. I actually don’t think Birkenstocks are very comfortable, but I want to be the kind of person who thinks Birkenstocks are comfortable, so I guess the two ways the coronavirus has transformed me so far have to do with bay leaves and Birkenstocks. Also, I am craving fruit, particularly bananas and citrus fruit.

There is a lot of work yet to be done in my apartment because of the flood that occurred here in May of 2019. Sanding of drywall, priming and painting are needed in the front hallway, bathroom, kitchen, and living room. The entire place needs to be re-carpeted. Hardwood in the front hallway and kitchen needs to be refinished. There are bare bulbs dangling from wires overhead here and there. Something needs to be done about that.

The common areas of the building were lately painted, supposedly with low-VOC, odor-free paint. So far, it has reeked for eight weeks. Even Tom, who (unlike myself) never complains about anything, said he couldn’t wait for the unpleasant stench to abate. I’m glad that painting occurred, because otherwise they would have gone ahead with the exact same paint in my place, and then my apartment would have become literally uninhabitable for at least eight weeks.

This morning I was thinking that I would have to resign myself to living in the place as it is until I move out, which will probably be when I die. It was a slightly dismaying thought, mostly because I know I would periodically succumb to self-pity about it. Living in a construction zone would not be good, but risking my health also wouldn’t be good. I used to smoke when I was a teenager, alas, and am deeply desirous of avoiding COPD and lung cancer.

Then I remembered that if both of two options are bad, then both are good! Avoiding weeks of a terrible odor would be good! Having a beautifully redone apartment would also be good! Mainly, I reminded myself that I am not a victim. I have agency here, and I can choose, and I can take full responsibility for my choices.

Then I had a brainstorm and sent the building owner an email proposing a phased approach:

Maybe we could pick out paint that will hopefully be fine and:

Phase 1: Sand, prime, paint the bathroom. If that goes fine, or once the smell has died down …

Phase 2: Sand, prime, paint the front hallway.

Phase 3: Sand, prime, paint the kitchen.

Phase 4: Hardwood, carpet, paint the living room. I could be out of the apartment for a couple of days for this phase.

Doing something like this would lessen the paint smell at any given time and give plenty of time to notice if a given paint was really a problem.

Finally, a small tragedy this morning, when I opened the swing-open window, which I never did when Hammett was here, and saw some gunk with legs sticking out of it on the inside of the frame. Alas, a squished spider. I had seen that spider near there, but not right there. She must have ventured to that location for a change of scenery, which proved fatal.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


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A Handful of Bay Leaves

Did I say about two days after Hammett died that I was at peace and focusing on the pleasant memories of his relaxed, affection-filled life? I must have been still in shock. There continue to be frequent tears, when some memory of him comes clearly back, when it hits me again that he is gone. Soon after his death, I got a condolence card from his vet’s office (and also a condolence card from my parents and one from Carol-Joy). Quite recently, I got another card, from San Francisco Aid for Animals, saying a donation had been made in Hammett’s name by his vet’s office. I liked that. Sort of like a birthday celebration that goes on for a month, except not like that at all.

One night when I was raining tears over him, I texted his sitter to ask her not to forget him. It seemed unbearably painful that this loss that is so huge for me should barely register for most everyone else on earth. She texted back that she wouldn’t. “How could I forget Hammett? He was a good boy.” That was surprisingly comforting. I felt better knowing that at least one person who actually knew him will remember him with me. She was undoubtedly his second-best friend.

Today’s trip to Rainbow was surprisingly great. I have little cloth bags filled with lavender that sit on top of my piles of handkerchiefs. (How many handkerchiefs do I have? A lot!) The lavender makes the top handkerchief in each pile smell good. I was thinking I might replace the lavender one of these days, and figured that would have to wait until the virus is over however many years from now. But no, Rainbow had packaged up lavender flowers, along with other absolute essentials from the bulk departments.

There was still no toilet paper, but there was also packaged-up sage. In case you need to drive the memory of Donald Trump’s voice or whatever out of your place, you can. I appreciate that Rainbow has their priorities straight.

There were bay leaves packaged up for the first time. There are many things that were always packaged, and I am sure bay leaves are among them, but whereas I could see buying a little bottle of cinnamon or dried ginger, buying one bay leaf in a little bottle for two dollars didn’t seem appealing, though I didn’t even go look at them. Maybe it wasn’t really like that, but it doesn’t matter, because now I have a big handful of bay leaves from the bulk section.

They also had my favorite kind of olives packaged up, which they usually don’t, and my favorite kind of hand sanitizer (EO lavender gel) was back after many weeks. I don’t need much hand sanitizer at the moment. (And have never really used it in the past.) I wear gloves at work, and at Rainbow. But maybe someday I might want to go into Walgreens and buy some cotton balls. I won’t want to use a precious pair of gloves for that. Using hand sanitizer after exiting the store will be just the thing.

I’ve saved the best, and also the most annoying, news for last. Whereas I have been waiting in line outside Rainbow for about 45 minutes before being able to enter, today I found the line about one third the usual length, and it moved along extremely quickly. I barely had time to open my magazine before I was at the door. I asked the worker there if they were doing something different, but she said they weren’t.

When I got to the checkout line, another worker told me what the difference was: Instacart’s app was down! I was thrilled, but steamed. There are two different lines outside, one for Instacart shoppers and one for regular people. They take turns letting in a person from each line. I did register that there was no Instacart line today, which was odd; I could not immediately come up with an explanation and gave it no further thought.

You might think that, since they alternate between the lines, it would be twice as fast without the Instacart people, but it was more like four times as fast. My theory is that the hired shoppers are buying lots and lots of stuff, and since they are unfamiliar with the store, it takes them an extraordinarily long time to locate the desired items. The nature of the store might make it harder, too. Like, if someone sends you to Safeway to get Cool Whip and a can of Planter’s peanuts, easy enough. But I spoke a couple of weeks ago with a hapless Instacart shopper who had been asked to get long-grain organic brown rice. He was completely perplexed.

So, anyway, now that I know that I am spending at least 35 extra minutes standing outside Rainbow every week so that some rich person can keep doing fun things at home, I’m annoyed. This is the note I sent Rainbow after I got home:

Wow! I was just there and it took a fraction of the time it has been taking lately. Whereas I have been waiting in line for approx. 45 minutes to get into the store, today it was 10 minutes or less--because Instacart's app was down, evidently. It made me wish there could be special Instacart-only hours, because it is now clear that not only does the client pay however much for the service, the rest of us are contributing a substantial amount of (uncompensated) time in support of the Instacart client's convenience.

Having said that, I realize some people absolutely need Instacart. I have no way of knowing what percentage of clients are perfectly capable of going to the store, but just don't feel like it, or don't feel like taking the small risk. So I see it is not a clear-cut thing, so just registering my opinion that I think it would be great if there were Instacart-only hours, or Instacart-plus-anyone-who-doesn't-mind-waiting-for-a-long-time hours.

Tom mentioned that when he went to Safeway, he was prohibited from bringing his messenger bag in. Knowing him, he probably just set it down on the ground and went into the store. Last week at Rainbow, I was bagging up my items and, as I was about to put something in my backpack, the cash register person said that was prohibited; he said I could do it outside the store, which I did.

This week I asked the cash register person why I can’t put something I have already paid for in my backpack. He said that, well, actually, I’m not even supposed to bring my backpack into the store in the first place, because it might contaminate their shopping cart. Where on earth am I supposed to leave my backpack if I arrive at the store by bicycle? Fortunately, their strategy seems to be not to worry about this and just to disinfect every cart right after it is done being used. This is probably best, anyway, because even if I didn’t bring my backpack in, I’d be touching the handle of their cart, and they’d have to wipe that, anyway.

Thursday, April 16, 2020


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Sensei Unbearable Itch While Meditating

I received the good news that my MDiv equivalency application has been received by the reviewers. However, there still does not seem to be any rush to finish everything else, so things are proceeding slowly.

I think I have written about a particularly annoying neighbor here before. This fellow steps out of his back door in a neighboring building three to eight times per day, takes a hit off a joint or uses a blue plastic bong, loudly coughs his head off, hawks up a giant loogie, and expectorates noisily onto the ground. It is beyond revolting, and it sometimes happens twice within ten minutes’ time.

A couple of weeks ago, I drafted a letter to him, meaning to copy everyone else in his building. It began, “To the disgusting pig who … ” and concluded by saying I was prepared to hire a hit man to kill him if I heard this sound one more time. The sound is horrendous, but it is, as always, partly the principle of the thing: if everyone else can figure out how to do such activities in their own bathroom, why can’t this person? If no one else feels entitled to visit such a thing on 40 or 50 neighbors, why does this (white male) person?

Nonetheless, threatening murder was clearly a bit extreme. I deleted this letter and went back to brooding. My next plan was to send a much more polite note, and the plan after that, still in effect, was to try to see this person as my teacher, on the theory that strong reactions tell us where we are stuck.

The teacher known as Disgusting Phlegm Generator joins others, including Never-Ending Noisy Next-Door Home Improvement Project and Co-Worker Who Will Not Wear a Mask.

My most recent trip to Rainbow was similar to others lately. I asked a worker in the bulk area if they are sort of cycling through the various olives as they decide which ones to package up, and mentioned that black olives with herbs are my favorites. The worker reached under the olive counter and stood up holding a big bucket. “You mean these? How many do you want?” He put some in a container for me. Yay!

Now that my shirt lady has closed up shop, new procedures are needed. I mentioned to a co-worker that it takes me half an hour to iron a button-down shirt and she said she can do it in ten minutes, thanks to having earned pocket money in her youth by taking in ironing. I figured that if anyone at all can do this in ten minutes, there must be some way to do it in less than half an hour, and the next time I tried it, I found that I actually could iron a shirt in 12-15 minutes, which is great (and also means I’ve thrown an astronomical amount of money down the drain over the years).

The shirts I ironed looked better than the ones I get back from the shirt lady, and I also noticed a greasy stain on one of them that may have been there for some time, since I don’t normally have occasion to glance at every square inch of a shirt. Part of what made it faster was telling myself that I was just trying to do a modest touch-up so as to make a slight improvement in the appearance of the shirt. Accordingly, I sprayed with water very lightly, and didn’t try to make anything look perfect.

I also came upon a mock turtleneck at Lands’ End in a vibrant purple color and ordered a couple. When I tried one on, I thought it looked absolutely good enough for work, but am not sure if it would be too warm, or if I’d feel like I’m choking. I’ll wear one to work and see how it goes. If it’s fine, maybe I’ll switch entirely to these, or at least there would be an alternative in the closet if some week I can’t get to the ironing. Since this color was on sale—it’s fortunate that everyone other than me evidently thought it was ugly—I got a couple more, just in case.

Hammett would have been 14 on April 14. That was a hard day. I miss him so much. I can hear his little voice, and sometimes think I am seeing him before realizing it cannot be so. For 30 years, there has been a black cat hanging around, Hammmett for 13.5 years, and Thelonious for 16.5 years before that, with only 12 days between them.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Monday, April 06, 2020

Superior Oil Retention

Last week I tried the very easy flatbread recipe I found online. The only thing simpler would be to eat whole wheat flour with a spoon. It’s just whole wheat flour, water, and olive oil, plus I added a couple of pinches of dried ground rosemary in honor of my father, who is partial to rosemary. You mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon, turn the ball of dough onto a greased cookie sheet, mash the dough out to the edges of the cookie sheet with your hands, and bake for 25 minutes.

I was very pleased with the result. The flavor was excellent. The texture was what you might call robust. This might not be the best bread for someone with a precarious dental or denture situation, but as far as I’m currently concerned, the only thing missing was holes for oil to collect in; it just runs off. In case one of these days I want to make yeast bread, with its superior ability to receive and retain EVOO, I ordered a couple of stainless steel loaf pans. A health food store nearby had Red Star yeast packets. I ordered some whole wheat flour from King Arthur, which may take weeks to arrive.

A week after I sent the stuff in to establish my MDiv equivalency pursuant to becoming board certified as a chaplain, I checked with my friend there—the woman who has been patiently answering questions for me for more than two years now—to make sure it had arrived. Answer: who knows? They are all working from home, so maybe it was in their mailbox and maybe it wasn’t. She said she is going into the office once a week and would let me know. She emailed several days later to say there was no sign of my envelope at the office, but they are having mail forwarded to one person, so maybe it’s in that person’s mailbox. Let’s hope so, since my packet included some original documents. I did scan them before sending, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they disappeared.

In any event, this whole process, already years long, is clearly becoming even more attenuated, so, since there doesn’t seem to be any rush, I have gone ahead and restored my weekly sabbath day, which I had put on hold. I had been using sabbath days to clean the house and do some reading and maybe see a friend or talk on the phone, but another thing I can now do on the sabbath is to iron my work shirts, since my shirt lady has closed her shop. It takes me a very long time to iron a shirt, like half an hour, so I have also ordered a couple of mock turtlenecks from Lands’ End, to see if they might look nice enough for work. Also I emailed a chaplain I know who also wears button-down shirts to work to see who his shirt lady is, and he sent me a couple of recommendations.

At the end of a workday in April, when I was about to drop my procedure mask into the bin to be cleaned for reuse, the temperature-taking lady told me I could keep it if I wanted, perhaps to use for walking around my neighborhood. I actually did not want a COVID-19-encrusted mask, but I thought it was quite generous of my employer to make the offer, given the shortage.

When I made my weekly trip to Rainbow, I found things had changed again. It required about 45 minutes of standing in line to get into the store, but this time I brought my longest bungee cord and hung my panniers around my neck, so that I could read a magazine while I waited.

The first time I went there in the COVID-19 era, many things in the bulk section were covered with brown paper, but I could put others in the containers I’d brought. The following week, I had to use their new containers, and they had started to package up some bulk items. On this most recent trip, I found that nothing whatsoever from home is welcome, including brown paper grocery bags, and that there is no self-serve in the bulk area at all. They have packaged up what are presumably the most popular items. I cannot imagine how much work that has entailed. So, for instance, where there are normally 20 choices of beans, now there are three kinds packed in paper bags. They also had packaged up active dry yeast, so I got some, just in case.

In the produce section, you can’t even tell there is a pandemic, except that there are no bulk salad greens, and there is a box for discarding gloves. But everything is well stocked and there are plenty of packaged salad greens, as well as bunches of all sorts of greens.

There is still no packaged flour, but they had packaged up some bulk whole wheat flour, so I bought some of that. There was plenty of bread. I bought one loaf. There was toilet paper! Not a lot, and each customer is limited to two rolls, which I bought. The particular sauerkraut I favor is cleaned out. There was just one jar left, my least favorite flavor. This was an opportunity to try something new. I bought one jar each from two other makers, and when I tasted one of them, I immediately thought it was superb. Maybe I won’t go back to my former favorite.

I now have plenty of bread, and plenty of stuff with which to make bread, plus some in transit, which is kind of silly, because if it becomes impossible to get one, it will probably be impossible to get the other. I’ll either have way more than needed, or zilch.

Before I went to Rainbow, the CDC had just advised that people not even go to the grocery store for the next two weeks. I hope everyone in my family follows that advice. The reason I didn’t is that we are not having any particular surge here, and my greatest risk by far is that I work in a hospital. Going to Rainbow seems not terribly risky in comparison, since they are making social distancing so easy. I wore gloves and also a doubled bandanna over my nose and mouth. I plan to sew a couple of cloth masks soon.

Another thing that was different in Rainbow was a line of yellow tape next to the cash register saying to keep that area clear: to load the conveyor belt from as far back as possible, and then rush to the far end of the station to bag your stuff up, stepping as briefly as possible to the card reader to pay.