Nature, Meditation, and Cooking

I hope you like my featured photo.  I took it on my way home from Nebraska in 2017.  We had traveled there to witness the total solar eclipse.  Of course it was incredible, and luckily, the sun set that day with a spectacular view in Western Kansas.

I have a list of topics on which to write in my series of blog posts.  One thing I thought of was the joy of camping.  My Father used to take us camping when we were young. Of the seven children, all of us continue to enjoy nature and all it has to offer us.  My best memories of camping with my father and siblings were the nature lessons on edible plants, astronomy, mushroom hunting, and fishing.  Cooking what we caught and gathered was the best part, and eating all of the food we prepared was the bonus.  My father used to sing to us while he cooked our camp meals.  Today, our camp sites are a place for gathering (Pre-Corona Virus times), conversing, and enjoying each detail of the natural world around us.

My Father’s favorite and best meal was, “Sheepherder’s Delight.”  Basically, it is a one-pan meal, and was cooked over an open fire.  It was a favorite of Dad’s for camping trips since it was a staple meal for sheep herders who lived in the mountains of Colorado with during the summers, as was my Father’s life as a young boy.  Today, when my family goes camping, we prepare the meal the way Dad did, but when we make it at home, we change it a bit.  Here’s my Father’s recipe for Sheepherder’s Delight prepared in one large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven:

1 pound (0.45 kg) of bacon.  Cook until crisp.  Remove cooked bacon, and set aside.  Cube two to four potatoes, depending on the number people that you will feed.  Figure about one small potato per person or two people for a large potato.  Place the potatoes in the hot bacon grease, and fry until soft with crisp edges.

Next, open a can of prepared baked beans, pork and beans, or beans in tomato sauce.  Pour the beans over the potatoes, and add the cooked bacon.  I don’t have a picture of it, but it’s best served after a hard day of hiking, fishing, mushroom hunting, or what ever you do to enjoy nature.  We have a slightly different take on Sheepherder’s Delight when we’re at home.  We change up the ingredients:

1 pound of ground beef (453.592g) I’m sorry if my metric measurements are not quite right.  I look them up on the web for the conversions.  Cook the ground beef with some diced onions, salt, and pepper.

Prepare the potatoes for oven baking.  I cut mine into strips, and toss them with salt, pepper, some oil, and some malt vinegar.  Bake the potatoes in an oven set at ~365 degrees Farenheit (185C). Bake until brown and crispy at the edges.

While the potatoes are baking, finish cooking the ground beef.  Drain of any extra fat.  Then you’re ready to add the canned baked beans, pork and beans, or with what you’re familiar.  It should look like this.

Now, to assemble this wonderful comfort food, bring the potatoes out of the oven.  Arrange some of the potatoes on your plate.  Then serve the bean-meat mixture over the potatoes.  We make this for camping trips.  We use one pan by cooking the potatoes first.  Set them aside while you cook the meat.  Add the beans, and serve over the potatoes.  I forgot to take a picture of the finished product until I had but one bit remaining.

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Another thing we do to enjoy nature is hike up to my Father’s fire circle.  It’s in the same mountains of his childhood and that of his children, grandchildren, and the “Old Ones,” our ancestors.  The Fire Circle is a place to drum and sing our songs, and honor our beloved ancestors.  The hike to our sacred fire circle is about two miles from the main forest service road.  We pass stands of quaking aspen trees, scrub oak, pinon pine, and Ponderosa pine trees.  The fire circle overlooks a canyon where my people hid when the U.S. government was removing them from their ancestral lands to reservations in the 1800s.  It is a very sad time in American history, that is not taught in the schools today.  Here’s a glimpse of those lands.  Our grandson enjoys his time there.

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Speaking of “Indian Removal,” there is the reality that the people were moved away from their hunting and gathering grounds, so there was no way to raise their food.  So the government provided commodities, food surpluses, which included white flour, powdered milk, lard, and a variety of canned meats and vegetables.  The food was highly processed, and we can trace obesity and diabetes back to this down turn in our physical health and food sovereignty.  Having only white flour, dry milk powder, and lard, fry-bread was born, out of necessity.   Though it is a symbol of a bad time for my ancestors, we use it today to symbolize that we are resourceful, and we are still here!  Here I am frying bread at my Father’s fire circle.  My grand nephew was learning how to roll out the dough.  It’s never too early to teach the “younguns” as my brother would say.  He was the one hauling the cast iron Dutch oven up to the circle.  The elevation is ~8,000-plus  feet above sea level.  The beauty contributes to the meditative state in which we find ourselves when we visit this place.

It was a good day to be alive and a good day to honor our ancestors while celebrating the children.

Thank you for reading.

Missing Riki on the Day of Her Birth

Today would have been our lovely Riki’s 38th birthday.  As I had written of a year ago, we lost her to an untimely death because of a faulty medical diagnosis.  We continue to hear her voice, and we see her ways reflected in her children, which is of great comfort.

Riki lived, loved, and worked intensely.  Whatever she did, she did it well.  Thinking back to her middle school days, she decided to be on the swim teach.  She received medals for winning competitions.  Once the season came to an end, she didn’t need to do it again.  Then she played basketball.  She was the lead point-maker for her team.  Once the season ended, she did not feel the need to go back.

Riki did maintain her love of cooking and being with her “village” of friends.  When I spoke at her funeral, I wanted to tell the story of her vivid dreams of driving a car.  She was only 11 years old when she told me of the dream in which she was driving a car from the town of Ingalls to Montezuma (about 17 miles of road or 27.6 km).  Along the side of the road was a raccoon.  She stopped, and opened the door, through which the furry critter jumped in.  As she drove along a little further, there stood a young fawn along the side of the road.  She stopped, opened the door, and the little guy jumped in.  Well, she had not driven but a few paces, and there was a big dog! Yes.  He jumped in the car through the door that Riki had opened. By the time she had reached Montezuma, she carried eight animals in the car! Once she stopped, she let them out of the car, and they ran to safety.  She loved that dream, and I loved hearing her story.

If we thought about what dreams meant, it would not be until well into her adult life that I began to understand.  She gathered friends in much the same way she was gathering those four-legged creatures.  Riki quickly made friends where ever she planted. Whether I visit her home town or the town where she and Jonathan raise their children, she made close friends, and they continue to love her to this day.  Alas, I didn’t tell the story at her funeral.  Perhaps I thought, in a split second, that it would have been a weird comparison.  Perhaps not, though.  My point would have been to describe a loving heart that beat inside her.  I leave you with some images of her.

Riki could be called mischievous!

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Here’s a goofy one of Riki and “the Village”.

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More than anything, we know that she loved her family, and she loved her friends, deeply.  She loved to have fun, and she continues to be an inspiration to each of us who knew her.  Meanwhile, we continue to remember what she believed in.  I leave you with a picture of her and our son, her brother, Stevie.  He carries on the tradition of fabulous cooking and sharing his food with loved ones.

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Thank you for reading my blog.  I hope to talk to you soon.

 

Loss and Grieving

Loss of a loved one garners emotions that hurt to the very core of who you are.  Humans experience such emotions, because we have the power to love.  We lost our lovely daughter nearly three years ago, and the deep pain never goes away.  We just learn to live with it.  Our daughter, Riki, married her childhood sweetheart.  They had been together since they were 12, and it was a life long love story until her death at the age of 34.  She left behind three bright and lovely children, and the love of her life, Jonathan, and her brother, Stevie, and her parents.

My observation is that people don’t always know what to say when a friend, co-worker, or acquaintance are grieving.  My suggestion is that you ask about it.  Ask about the well-being of the one who is grieving.  Give a loving pat, hug, touch, or anything that establishes a physical presence.  I cannot imagine anyone, in the throes of grief, who would not appreciate such a gesture.  It is a most generous gesture, and it takes nothing from you.

Also, I can tell you what not to say: “Life goes on.”  Not sure why anyone would say such a non-affectionate, heartless thing.  As the news got around about our daughter, several people said that to me.  Okay, I get it.  They simply did not know what to say.  Then, I think, say nothing at all.  Other phrases that I’ve heard, “Aren’t you over it yet?”It boggles my mind.

I can say, here, that grief is not a linear process.  One simply learns a new way of life with its emotional ups and downs while missing the loved one.  Our daughter was extraordinary, and we see it in her children.  She was on this earth, as their mother, just enough to instill her joy for life, her curiosity, and her acerbic wit!  We miss you so very much, Riki.  I’m not posting pictures of her family since the children are young, and Jonathan needs his privacy.

Now, are you wondering why there is a dog in my featured photo.  That’s our Scottish Terrier, Fiona.  She’s in our back yard, and please notice, she is under the watchful eye of St. Francis, patron saint of animals.

Fiona came to us 13 1/2 years ago.  Her parents, Skye and Shamus, and her brother, Tavish, lived with their humans, Jeff and Jo.  We shared furbaby sitting with Jeff and Jo.  We lost daddy, Shamus, in April 2017, mom, Skye, April 2018, and two days ago, Tavish went over the “Rainbow Bridge”.  Loss is never easy, even when it’s our family “pets”.  Our furkids are such a deep part of our lives, especially when those animals belonged to our children.  Here’s Tavish, Fiona’s brother:

Upclose Tavvie

Most people who have dogs or cats know that they are important members of the family.  I have read that children who are experiencing hardship, in any form, are better able to cope if they have a close relationship to a family pet.  I tend to think that dogs are the better choice.  I find that cats are a little too independent to be affectionate when there are high emotions in the home.

Our love of Scottish Terriers began when we bought one for Stevie when he was in 7th grade.  Beth, was affectionate and sweet.  We lost her to heart failure when she was eight.  We had found an abandoned cat, Skippy, who was two weeks old.  Bethy raised that cat with all the parental chores of the “whelping nest”. Here they are:

beth and skippy They were inseparable, and when Bethy died, Skippy screamed while looking for her, for weeks.  Their favorite past time was watching the world go by at the front window when they were not outside.  I have several pictures of the two, and the only thing that changed was the weather!

Skip and Beth at window

Sometimes, Skippy and Bethy even allowed the tabby, Clovis, to share their window-watching space.  Notice the snow.

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We still have Fiona.  Skippy, Beth, and Fiona’s family are gone now.  We know that 13 1/2 is old for a canine, so we dread the day.  Our furkids continue to help us through our grieving for Riki, for which we are grateful.  Here’s Fiona and our sheep dog, Jitsu.  They’re watching it rain from the deck, Fiona looking woolly and in need of a Scottie trim.

J and F

Thank you for reading.

A Ute Prayer: Earth Teach Me to Remember

I can’t remember where I found this, but it comes from my father’s people, the Uncompahgre a.k.a. Northern Ute.

Earth teach me stillness
as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering
as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility
as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth Teach me caring
as the mother who secures her young.
Earth teach me courage
as the tree which stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation
as the ant which crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom
as the eagle which soars in the sky.
Earth teach me resignation
as the leaves which die in the fall.
Earth teach me regeneration
as the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself
as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness
as dry fields weep in the rain.

p.s. I posted a picture of a hummingbird moth (sphinx moth) feeding on an umbrella plant.  It reminds me of the beautiful wonder of nature.

Thank you for reading.

Everyday Mindfulness

Not too long ago, I collaborated with two of my extension colleagues to write a lesson on everyday mindfulness.  The lesson and leader’s guide can be found in the K-State Research and Extension online bookstore.

Our journey to present this information comes from the idea that we, as a society, are so very focused on earning a living, acquiring wealth, planning for the future, and the other worries of everyday life.

Leading this charge to write this was my colleague Donna.  She and her husband are devout followers of meditation and “Do-In”, also know as “self-Shiatsu”.

Personally, I had been following what the practice of mindfulness meditation was doing for building self-respect and “de-colonizing” thought for people on our Native reservations.  I had been following the work of sociologist and professor, Dr. Michael Yellowbird , presently, at North Dakota State University.

To describe the concept behind mindfulness, I will go to our publication.  (Here’s the URL for the pdf): https://www.bookstore.ksre.k-state.edu/pubs/MF3424.pdf 

Mindfulness:

  • Living in the present moment/awareness of
    the present moment — paying close attention
    to thoughts, physical sensations, and our
    surroundings.
  • Observing personal experiences of mindfulness,
    being completely focused on a project —
    reading a book, doing a hobby, or playing a
    sport. This heightened awareness is mindfulness.
  • Taking a few deep breaths — becoming fully
    aware of the present moment.
  • Having nonjudgmental awareness in which each
    thought, feeling, and sensation is acknowledged
    and accepted in their present state. This steady
    and non-reactive attention usually differs from
    the way people normally operate in the world.
  • Paying attention, precisely, to the present
    moment without judgment

This is a good start.  I think the idea behind mindfulness and meditation gives us the tools to take better care of ourselves.

Thanks to Donna Krug and Charlotte Olsen for the collaboration on writing this lesson.  Enjoy!