For Stella

Stella, photo by Elizabeth

What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

My friend adopted an 11-year-old 17 pound miniature pinscher, Stella, as well as Stella’s senior bestie and brought them home to Luke, her regal 85 pound rottweiler mix.

Already deaf, Stella had lost an eye in a fight with a larger dog a few weeks earlier. Her stitches were still in place when Stella met Luke, who accepted the new dogs in his home, which was a first. However, when Stella came near Luke’s food, he let out a roar that other dogs had always run or cowered from.

Not Stella. She reared up on exceptionally slender legs, stared at Luke through her one eye and growled loud, ready for action. Never challenged before, Luke looked shocked as he stared at this fine-boned snack-of-a-senior. To his credit, he walked away. Her body was small yet Stella’s spirit was indomitable.

Made for These Times

de Young glass exhibit piece, photo by Elizabeth

“We Were Made for These Times” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.

The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes: American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

Ceres Community Project

CIMG0581 - Version 2 pureed red beet soup with cashew cream heart, photo by Elizabeth

On Feb 13, my friend’s first meal was delivered from Ceres Project, which delivers free weekly meals for people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses for three months. This profound kindness is only one of the important ways Ceres Project is improving the world and individual’s lives. They also take recipient’s dietary requirements into account (gluten-free, for example); and use whole, health-promoting, organic, seasonal food, sourced from local farms, farmer’s markets and Whole Foods Market. Ceres chefs also teach teens, who prepare the food, how to cook delicious nutritious meals.

Even kindergarteners are involved by making inspiring cards for clients. This is from Max and my friend says, Thank you, Max!

CIMG0674 - Version 2
photo by Elizabeth

Cancer and its treatment is challenging for anyone as well as a person’s family/caretaker so the primary cook gets a much needed break from the daily grind of doing all the shopping, meal prep and normal clean up, with restaurant-quality meals prepared not only for the client but also for the immediate family/caretaker.

I’m told every bite was delicious! So their health was nourished, spirits raised and their minds and bodies could relax for the night.

Valentine’s Day inspired my friend’s first Ceres meal and proved one of the most loving valentines ever created. In addition to the pureed beet soup they received:

CIMG0591 - Version 2 arugula, watermelon radishes & blood orange dressing, photo by Elizabeth

CIMG0597 - Version 2 heart-shaped turkey meatloaves with tomato jam, photo by Elizabeth

CIMG0601 - Version 2 sauteed red chard with blood oranges, photo by Elizabeth

CIMG0588 - Version 2 dairy- and gluten-free chocolate cranberry bread pudding sweetened with a touch of maple syrup, photo by Elizabeth

To learn more, or to volunteer, or provide a tax-deductible donation please contact Ceres Project (PO Box 1562, Sebastopol, CA; 707.829.5833). If you know someone in Sonoma or Marin who is being treated for cancer, please let them know about Ceres Project. Hopefully people in other areas will be inspired to create similar services in their communities.

Wishing you all health and support when needed.

This Edge of Sea

essay & photo by Elizabeth
          And it is a dream at sea such as was never
dreamt, and it is the Sea in us that will dream it:
          The Sea, woven in us, to the last weaving of its
tangled night, the Sea, in us, weaving its great
          hours of light and its great trials of darkness

                                                                Saint-John Perse, Seamarks

I’ve touched death twice and come back. I feel like a cat, though I’m not counting on nine. I was told as a child that I would not live even thirty years due to severe asthma. In my early twenties, I wheezed ceaselessly for two years, even with intravenous steroids during monthly hospitalizations. At this time I was told I’d be dead by twenty-five due to a rare form of asthma that afflicts fewer than two percent of asthmatics, most of whom are seventy or older. Now, long past thirty, I know that no one can predict another’s fate.

The first time I touched death, I was seventeen. After spending several days trying to stabilize a particularly bad attack, during which I could only walk with assistance, could barely eat, and couldn’t lie down, I called my physician, Doctor K, who wanted to meet me in the emergency room.

Driving proved slow and difficult with such labored breathing, but after I parked near the hospital’s entrance, I inched toward the automatic doors by leaning against cars, poles, the rough white wall for support, and paused to catch my breath after each step as if climbing at twenty-six thousand feet. 

Just before I reached the door’s sensor, a nurse rushed out, slid a wheelchair under me, and rushed me to the sterile emergency room where I was transferred to a metal-railed bed. Veiled behind pale vinyl curtains, I rocked back and forth in spasmodic rhythm, my airways severely constricted. A nurse paged my doctor as another nurse gave me an adrenaline shot, which accelerated my heart and made me shake uncontrollably. My breathing worsened.

Another nurse tied a blue tourniquet below my left biceps, slapped the inside of my arm to raise the knotted veins, aimed for the largest, and stabbed the IV needle through the skin. The vein rolled. Her second attempt was also unsuccessful since this vein was scarred from scores of previous IV needles, so she turned my hand palm down and speared the largest vein running between slender hand bones. Blood spurted up the needle’s tube before it flushed back through my body in a stream of saline released from the bottle she hooked to the metal bar above my head. Blood gases were then drawn. A respiration therapist once told me that these are so painful that he’s watched people in comas jerk, even sit up, when these were drawn. I cried from exhaustion and pain, but immediately choked, the extra phlegm further congesting restricted airways. 

Once Doctor K came through the curtain’s opening, I relaxed. He ordered steroids, blood tests, and more than I needed to think about as I struggled for bits of air. Telling me to drink, the nurse handed me a liter of water, then pulled green plastic tubes over my head and shoved their ends in my nostrils so pure oxygen could return my blue lips and nails to pink. A breathing machine was rolled in to transform liquid drugs to mist, which I inhaled through a thin tube and disposable mouthpiece. After four days of labored breathing, my head ached from lack of oxygen and my back felt as if I’d been beaten repeatedly with a wooden chair. 

Still I strained for air and shivered from exhaustion and medicine that was cold as embalming fluid yet stimulating as speed. The nurse gave me a bedpan since using the bathroom required too much effort yet I needed to keep drinking and the IV kept flowing. My body rejected the onslaught of medicine and cold water. I vomited, mostly fluid and dry heaves, despite my need for hydration, lips and throat cracked, muscles in spasm. My wheezing worsened. Doctor K fired orders at those trying to stabilize my breathing. 

 An hour later, not wanting to lose his first patient in twelve years of practice, Doctor K ordered the nurses to transfer me back to the wheelchair. He then got behind the chair and pushed me to the sixth floor intensive care unit where nurses lifted me onto another bed and adhered oval sensors to my chest and back so they could track my heart visually and audibly on monitors above my bed and in the nurses’ station. Sharp rivulets of pain shot from my spine across my back, through my skull, and down my limbs, while my head throbbed, a clenched knot. But pain held no authority; my existence depended solely on the mechanics of breath. Concentrating, I focused on the task: lean forward, inhale; sit up, exhale; lean forward, inhale; sit up, exhale.

Suddenly, it was effortless. My muscles and head no longer ached. I felt calm, peaceful, no longer straining for air, but instead enveloped in an expansive quietude. As if floating just beyond the high florescent-lit ceiling, I marveled at the tenuous thread connecting me to my body, pale and rocking on the bed, and felt love and acceptance for everything and everyone–pain, resentment, alliances, released. No white light, no one beckoning, simply unconditional love and absolute peace.

Working hard, Doctor K and the nurses tried to revive me, their faces clenched, muscles taut in rapid fire action. I wanted to tell them that there was no need for concern, nothing to save me from. I was okay, out of pain. And then I was looking up at their faces, now so close I could feel their breath as they stared at me. In that first moment I was prone, but they helped me sit again, took my vitals, my body still rocking with the effort of breath, though not as forcefully.

Doctor K’s dark eyes met mine for the first time since we entered the elevator. Despite beads of sweat on his brow, he appeared comparatively relaxed as he said, “Welcome back.”

“Thanks,” I mouthed.

“You didn’t just come close to dying,” he said, “you touched death and came back.”

On a deep level my entire being reflected this. When I was released a week later, nothing looked the same.  Blue sky was no longer simply blue, but also composed of gold to pink hues, while foliage overwhelmed my senses with its infinite shades of green, red, grey, all of which were more vibrant than I’d previously perceived. This heightened awareness may also be the result of a week spent amidst neutral walls, floors, curtains, bedding, since I’ve read that prisoners also experience an overwhelming sense of color saturation when released from our monochromatic institutions. As I drove home, what had previously appeared mundane–buildings, windows, traffic, stoplights, overhead cables–interwove exquisite geometric patterns throughout the city. Transfigured, this world revealed itself to be indivisible, electric, mesmeric.

Nothing in my home seemed familiar except Shanti, my Malamute, who greeted me with exuberant joy. When I kneeled to hug him, he surprised me by placing his forelegs on my shoulders, curling his clawed paws into my back and pulling me to him as he pressed his soft large head against the side of my neck. He held me like this for several minutes.

photo by Elizabeth

Years later, I had an experience that was so similar, I know I touched death again. I’d been camping in a valley that, overnight, filled unexpectedly with fog, which I’m highly reactive to. At daybreak I had to be rushed to the nearest hospital, an hour away. As my boyfriend sped us down the highway, my world once more reduced to breath despite the various types of pain screaming for attention throughout my body. Though shivering and wheezing intensely, I remained calm as I focused on breathing, feet to pelvis, knees to chin, so I could rest, my torso wedged fetal-like between my legs and the seat’s back as I rocked in rhythm with my breath to aid the expansion and contraction of lungs and diaphragm.

And then, as if I were floating above the hood, I looked through the windshield at my lover driving and my body on the seat beside him, a sliver of brown cord the only connection between my body and me. It felt as if the effortless course would be to drift farther away, release the cord, and never wheeze or hurt again. Resentment and pain had been replaced by the warm expansiveness of love and repose, none of life’s struggles carried beyond the parameters of the body.

But as I looked at my boyfriend, I realized he’d blame himself if I died in the car since he hadn’t taken the severity of my asthma attack seriously, had delayed our leaving even though I urged him, hours earlier, to drive me to the hospital. Too, it is possible that whatever the circumstance, I would have created a pressing reason to live. This time, however, the effort to return almost proved too much. 

With no more than thin arms and hands, I pulled the dead weight of my legs and torso along the slender filament rising from my body’s navel. Though I was descending, the effort was as extreme as if I were pulling myself up the insurmountable face of a thousand foot cliff, that despite my focus and will I would not be able to reenter my body. But I kept placing hand before hand as I pulled myself closer and closer till the pain of wheezing filled me once more.

With these fragile resilient bodies we bleed, can be violated, may hurt so much that we long for death, or at least release, but we also touch, make love, feel the sun on our skin, perceive color, texture, and the range of experience from rapture to numbness to extreme pleasure. And sometimes we are able to choose whether to live or die, which may be what Florida Scott-Maxwell alludes to when she writes, “…it may matter deeply how we end so mysterious a thing as living,” though what enables us to make this choice remains as mysterious as the actuality of life itself.

I do not fear death since I’ve felt its intimate wholeness; however, death’s perpetual presence makes me anxious, no certainty harbored that I’ll see those I love again. Though I’ve experienced the compassion and unconditional peace that exists in death, I am unable to maintain that lack of pettiness, judgement and attachment while alive. Instead, a peculiar ledger of rights and wrongs permeates the psyche, as if the tension holding molecules in physical form requires some kind of passion. Yet, whether measured as a whole or a moment, life remains transient and miraculous, a miracle we honor with our keen presence and compassion, both of which expand to the exclusion of all else once free of this exquisite existence.

Thank you to the editors of Cezanne’s Carrot for first publishing this piece.


photo by Elizabeth

I’d heard of chia seeds (and joked that someone’s found a new marketing angle now that chia pets are no longer the craze). I didn’t take chia seriously until I attended a raw live food cooking demo and now I love them.

photo by Elizabeth

Chia seeds are high in fibre (“the stealth nutrient” according to Robert Lustig, MD) and omega 3, and chia is delicious in combination with fruits.

Though the cook demonstrated this with measurements, I cook by approximation. She also added agave or maple syrup, which is overkill given the fruits’ sweetness. And no one needs more sugar despite it’s syrupy whispers to our DNA that it’s safe, since it fattens the liver and body and fosters disease.

Summer’s the perfect time for berries, so here’s the recipe…in approximate measurements. Once you’ve got a sense of it, make it your own!

2 baskets of Berries……..2 ripe Bananas……..5 Tablespoons Chia seeds……..3.5 cups water or coconut water……..

2 baskets of raspberries. Wash in water. (I sometimes soak berries in warm or cool water and a splash of apple cider vinegar as a disinfectant, for at least 10 minutes, then rinse.)

photo by Elizabeth

2 ripe bananas

photo by Elizabeth

(I show the image because U.S. consumers often buy and eat bananas before they’re ripe.)

photo by Elizabeth

5 Tablespoons of chia seeds

Add about 1 cup of water and soak for 10 minutes. You may need to add a bit more water, or coconut water*, so the seeds continue to have liquid to absorb. (They can absorb nine times their volume in water…so don’t eat unsoaked chia or you’ll get stomach cramps.)

After soaking for 10 minutes, add at least 1.5 cups of water, or coconut water*, till the mixture holds its shape while while still flowing from a tilted spoon.

photo by Elizabeth

*Coconut water is often clear but sometimes pink. The best is directly from young fresh coconuts, but bottled/canned coconut water is easy if you don’t have time hack through the husk and you like the taste, or want extra potassium.

photo by Elizabeth

Now that you have the rinsed raspberries, ripe bananas and soaking chia

photo by Elizabeth

mash the bananas with your fingers, a potato masher or

photo by Elizabeth

a fork

photo by Elizabeth

till they look like this:

photo by Elizabeth

And do the same with the raspberries, which is easiest with fingers, though I’ll often do the bananas and raspberries together with a potato masher,

photo by Elizabeth

till they look like this:

photo by Elizabeth

Then add flavors you like…this medley in decreasing order of amount includes vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove:

photo by Elizabeth

Add the soaked chia to the fruit and mix till you have a uniform semi-liquidy glop that can be more or less watery depending on your taste – this is how I like it:

photo by Elizabeth

For more texture, you can mix in whole blueberries, or another fruit of your choice.

Cover your chi-licious and refrigerate at least two hours, then enjoy!

(For more crunch, add toasted nuts or seeds like pecans, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds in your bowl.)

photo by Elizabeth

It will be good up to three days, refrigerated, though it’s doubtful it will last that long. Delicious and good for you…what a combo!

Bon Appetit!

Takes a Village

Point Reyes Sand Castle day; photo by Elizabeth

A few years ago my local grocery had a tree with cards for Christmas gift requests from people who were homeless or nearly so.

For many good reasons, I’ve struggled financially in my life but when I read the individual requests it shifted my perspective: winter gloves; a man’s razor for shaving; socks; barrettes or a hair tie for a girl; a scarf and hat.

I have or can easily buy these things. It doesn’t matter if they’re old, or from a thrift store, or unstylish. I can still use or buy them. I don’t need to hope that someone will read my request and give me a pair of socks.

These few examples shifted my perspective on my own financial situation. I no longer accept bag credit when I fill my cloth bags with produce, but instead ask that it’s donated because my “need” diminished to slightly more than zero that day.

Some of my favorite parts of the season are the lights, spending time with those I love, and going to the local toy store to buy toys (well, usually art supplies and a stuffed animal) and dropping them off at Toys for Tots to be distributed to children who get too little material support, children I’ll never recognize though I apply the care in choosing that I do for my loved ones.

When I was little I was inseparable from my stuffed grey squirrel…Grayee was my Linus blanket. We moved when I was five and Grayee disappeared. Sobbing, I begged my mom to call the police because “the moving men stole Grayee.”

It was many years before I could laugh at the idea that these grown men would have stolen my battered squirrel, but Grayee had been my comfort and companion. My hope is that Toys for Tots provide the comfort I got from Grayee…and that the toys received are never lost.