Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thanksgiving Fiesta

Happy post Thanksgiving to all! The traditions of our American Thanksgiving make this holiday my favorite of the year. I enjoy the family togetherness and love to cook the annual feast. My children are now taking over a significant portion of the cooking, so we all share in the kitchen duties. My son is a turkey cooking genius and sets on the table, a turkey so moist & juicy it is literally falling off the bones. My youngest is the green bean casserole chef, this year adding fresh mushrooms and water chestnuts to her ever evolving dish. I  love to cook pie, cranberry chutney and mash up the potatoes, so basically our menu is created by a divide and conquer approach.

This holiday, my middle daughter was committed to attending her boyfriend's family holiday meal midday and then planned to partake in our Thanksgiving meal in the evening. She was concerned about having to eat similar menus twice with the obvious overstuffed consequences. I am somewhat of a traditionalist but I decided the easiest approach to the double meal dilemma would be to add burrito wraps and homemade pinto beans to our menu. That allowed Val and her boyfriend to enjoy turkey burritos without having to eat a repeat Thanksgiving meal again. We even blended up some Margaritas to sip, fueling a somewhat international flair to our festive celebration.

More important than the food though, is the character of your heart at Thanksgiving. I would hope folks express thankfulness for their bounty more than once a year. I'm not referencing a religious experience here at all, just an acknowledgment that simply awakening, safe and whole to another day is praiseworthy. Regardless, given human social constructs, a day to live is an amazing gift and so full of potential.

Sometimes I think we Americans do not realize how safe we are, how rich we are, nor how free we are; just look around the world... Frequently, I mention first world problems, referencing the difficulties we as a wealthy culture frequently despair; stuff like "nothing to wear," (really? the closet is empty?), or any number of possession lacking laments. More serious though, "I lost my job, I can't make the bills," yet our country has a safety net of unemployment & food stamps. Even if you are homeless, there are shelters and soup kitchens if you choose to use them.

Now look at Syria, where citizens are being targeted by not only their government but random militias, deprived of  food, water and safe housing, then finally, forced to seek shelter in a foreign land with just the clothes on their backs. Are our issues so severe? There are no Black Friday shopping bonanzas for them.

I am not wealthy by U.S. standards, but I have more than I need to survive, as well as the capability to provide a wonderful family feast (granted, I bought the turkey last December, on sale). We also have the luxury of eating together safely and enjoying the leftovers. Truly, I am rich and for this I am very, very thankful.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Papers, please

Well, here's something to think about... I was purchasing a bottle of Chardonnay at the local Walmart and since I am in my fifth decade the cashier didn't card me, but carded my accompanying daughter! She was not purchasing the wine and although she is 21 years old, she did not have her ID with her. The cashier then took the bottle of Chardonnay and refused to sell it to me! Stating this whole transaction was on camera & there was nothing I could do about it. What is going on here? What just happened to my rights?

Fishy saga

Today has been bitterly cold with a wind chill of 18F/-8C. There is no snow or ice but that may change tomorrow. My recent knee injury and subsequent surgery has definitely thrown a wrench into any hope of completing most of the end of season yard chores. So, leaves have littered the lawn, frost blackened, skeletal tomato plants list in their wire cages and the trellised roses that broke free of their frame during last week's wind storm (tornadoes for Illinois) are swishing & swaying between the windows at the front of the house.

 Our two fish were hunkered down in the now very chilly, outdoor pond; fortunately unfrozen because we had thrown a couple of area rugs over the top. Sharky Boy, a substantial 8" goldfish, started living in our pond as a fifteen cent 1-1/2" feeder fish about seven years ago. He had three fishy companions but on day one, an apparently suicidal companion fish jammed his head under a rock and drowned. Down to only three fish, we learned their first winter, our 44 gallon pond freezes, with solid ice to a depth of six to eight inches and the unfortunate goldfish who became encased in ice did not survive. Consequently, we overwinter the outdoor fish in an indoor aquarium.

 The remaining two fish seemed to be the perfect number for eating algae and mosquito larvae, as well as aesthetically, simply pretty to watch. Sharky Boy and Pearl hung together for a couple more years until a sneaky raccoon preyed on Pearl's inquisitive nature and snagged her from the pond. Sharky Boy was now solo and wisely, reluctant to come to the surface.We installed chicken wire over the pond  and decided to add a "companion" fish, so we invested five dollars in a small koi, dubbed Dart.

 Dart joined the pond as a three inch, extremely fast fish. It took almost draining the pond completely last year to net him. This year he was wily, but slower and on inspection he has grown to approximately six inches! The resident fish saga has remained uneventful this season. The raccoons, unable to snatch a fish through the chicken wire, still occasionally visit. They sit atop the fencing bending it into the pond and dabble their thieving paws in the water, but both fish hideout in a submerged PVC pipe we added for extra protection.

 It certainly would have been much more sensible to be netting and transferring fish a couple weeks ago when it was warmer, but motivation was lacking and I was out of commission. Fortunately, our six years of practice made for a relatively smooth fishy transfer, aside from Sharky Boy jumping out of the net into a pile of leaves, so now both fish are swimming circles in their 20 gallon smaller pond.

This basically is the end to my season in the yard. If I can handle a rake before it snows, I will try to corral some leaves for mulching, otherwise Mother Nature rules. Next Spring I'll deal with the untended remains of this year.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nothing like a warm cookie...

Weather today was cold and rainy, then foggy, just hinting at winter. This is the perfect day to bake. The oven adds a bit of heat to the house and the comforting scent of baked goods is well, comforting. Most folks do the bulk of their baking for the holidays, but I have never been able to manage to find the time, so I bake before the holiday season.

I have a few tried & true cookie recipes that are family favorites and today's weather called for a warm, spicy cookie. Sister Marian's Ginger Cookies were a perfect complement paired with either milk or hot tea. The recipe follows:

1-3/4 cubes butter, melted
1-1/2 C. brown sugar, packed
2/3 C. dark molasses
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
2 eggs
Mix & blend all the ingredients in order. Use a large bowl.

Then add the following dry ingredients:
2-1/2 C. white, unbleached flour
1-1/2 C. whole wheat flour
4-1/2 tsp. baking SODA
Mix in completely. The dough will be very stiff.
Cover with wax paper and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Once chilled spoon out dough and roll between your palms into walnut-sized balls. Roll balls in a bowl of white sugar then place on ungreased cookie sheet 2" apart. Bake in preheated 350' oven for 8-9 minutes. Once baked let stand 1-2 minutes before removing cookies from baking sheet to cooling rack. Recipe makes between 80-100 depending on how big you think a walnut-size ball is...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Working out

Healthcare and health insurance have been trending issues in my daily life this past month. Nothing like a little personal involvement to peak one's interest... knee injury, arthroscopy & now rehab. Physical therapy started this week and wow! Just saying, these focused exercises are letting me know that my hip and quadriceps (thigh) strengths have diminished, and surprisingly so. Although, I suspect there has been an insidious decline prior to my injury, even with the significant weight lifting I do on the job. Aging seems to sneak up on you and unless you are participating regularly in a total body workout, I think these subtle body & strength changes undermine your overall condition.

I am going to have to make a daily habit of therapeutic floor mat exercises to ensure I will have healthy & active senior years. Optimistic enthusiasm will not sustain the body. Let me quote a paragraph from my Paris travel journal, compiled in June 2012, because I think then, was my first realization of the negative effects of an American lifestyle. Yep, I mean the lack of simple regular walking.

Walking in the Tuileries
"At this point I am compelled to have a mini rant; as the world knows you are going to do a lot of walking in Paris, it’s a big city like New York or San Francisco but no one ever mentions the fact that you will be climbing enough stairs on a daily basis to essentially say you ascended the peak of Mt.Killamanjaro after a week here! There are stairs up and down the metro, in museums, most restaurants and department stores, every hotel, not to mention every single famous tourist site has a minimum of thirty steps and more likely one hundred or more. Now I can walk with the best, but had I known this I would have prepared with 45 minutes of daily Stairmaster, not even kidding. Val is pooping out before me and her thighs are thirty-five years younger! We have decided this is the reason French women can eat whatever they want and maintain model thin thighs and figures. We lazy Americans invented escalators and handicap ramps..."

As you can tell from the desperation in my rant, I was feeling the pain of untoned legs and I am active, by American standards. What an eye-opener! Purposeful brisk walking must be incorporated into daily activities. Part of the reason most Americans cannot do this is that they live in suburbia; not self-contained arrondissments, where convenient shops are located and efficient mass transit reduces the need for a car.

So today, bearing these debilitating facts in mind, I took a brisk half hour walk after my challenging physical therapy session. I practiced rehab therapist, Todd's recommendations and powered on inhaling some deep breaths of the cool air by the river. I didn't weeny out because it was sprinkling either. I was pooped when I got home but after icing my knee & drinking some water, I felt vibrant, even a bit younger.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Obamacare woes

I feel compelled to comment on the current raging controversy about healthcare insurance. The Affordable Care Act, put forth by President Obama with good intentions to help uninsured and under-insured Americans has fundamentally stalled in roll out, given website failures & terrible PR. Insurance companies are promptly canceling some private policy holders coverage and even with the congressional "fix" voted in today, no one knows how this will play out. I fact, I believe all Americans are going to be wondering what health insurance coverage they will be left with come January 1st, 2014.

The company I work for has been quite public in their anticipation of dropping spousal coverage for full time employees and more than anxious to trim the healthcare coverage for all employees, current, as well as retirees. This billion dollar company has dropped healthcare coverage for part time employees onto the Teamster's union, thus eliminating a large cost to their bottom line. Annual changes to our health care coverage routinely occur, but at this point, the healthcare part of the union contract has not met with an approval vote nationwide, leaving lots of employees still wondering what regional healthcare coverage will be available to them next year.

I am starting to suspect the average American has a clearer grasp of how the health insurance industry works than the American government does. Our wealthy politicians most likely have never had to concern themselves with their policy coverage, nor have they spent hours on the phone fighting for justified benefits,   petitioning for coverage within their community or begging for an approval for a physician ordered specialist treatment. Most Americans realize that health insurance is vital to getting good healthcare, but also understand the punitive situation created by insurance professionals second guessing or rating medical necessity by arbitrary financial and medical parameters. These insurance determinations always take place without actually seeing the patient and are assumptions made by healthcare insurance "experts."

 I know about these situations because I have had to fight for some healthcare rights my family and I were entitled to. I know about the hoops health insurance companies use the delay resources or payments from my twenty years of experience as a nurse and having to interface with insurance representatives for hospitals, as well as patients. There are tricks to know for every insured person:  are you in or out of network?, are you using your preferred provider?, or if your vision and dental coverage are covered by a different healthcare insurer through your employee plan. Oh, and if you are married and fortunately covered under two healthcare policies; be sure to know which one is primary and have the ability to co-ordinate benefits between both insurances, because they do not talk or retrieve information from each other.

Does your head hurt yet? Mine does. This is an incredibly complex situation. The cost to the already beleaguered American public is also going to be an element which has not been adequately explained. I wonder now how England, Scandinavia or even Canada implemented their public health care systems without such hullabaloo...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Yep, I am still raising cane! Everyday the knee improves. Weather got really cold last night around 18F (-7C), so the cat decided to camp out indoors and we covered the goldfish pond with carpet. I snuggled under the duvet with some milky, hot Russian tea and read, since my joints were a bit achy. I'm still taking some recuperative naps while planning some significant or perhaps memorable projects during my time off from work.

In my post-op drugged loopiness, I dropped a glass jar in my bathroom sink. Eyes closed, I anticipated a smash of glass but nope, only a thunk... In a moment of cosmic physics, my sink broke instead! Wow, simply wow! Admittedly, there was already a hairline crack in the porcelain from a prior episode of clumsiness, but how I could tap the ultimate breaking point with a flimsier item can only be regarded as extraordinary. My sinkhole, as handyman Todd calls it, is impressive. All you can do is laugh...

Nothing focuses your attention on inadequate bathroom facilities like illness or disability. Since this is the one & only house I will ever own, whenever something breaks I try to upgrade with my senior years in mind. I added grab bars to my full bath when the original 50 year old soap dish fell off the wall, requiring a re-tiling of the tub enclosure. So now, since I have a sink to replace, handyman Todd suggested adding grab bars and move a wall out about a foot to accommodate a normal sized sink/vanity in this currently tiny 4'x6' WC.

 Hmmm... Big sounding project. It's a given that I am not particularly graceful nor gravity resistant, so I'm thinking a bit of bathroom demolition now might be a prudent hedge against possible future inconvenience. I really won't miss the chipped & broken 1960's pink wall tile anyway.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Short jaunt around the yard

Three days after knee arthroscopy, I am able to gingerly navigate a bit of the front yard with the wooden cane my children gifted me with post-op. I wanted to see the last of Fall before the predicted rain & snow start tomorrow. Most of the work to "button up" the garden for winter didn't get done given my gimpy knee, so I'm sure Spring will herald a ton of tidying chores. Of course, by then I will be healed, strong, rested and ready to go...

The Viburnum (viburnum dilatatum 'Michael Dodge') bush by the driveway, has set loads of white waxy berries and the leaves are simply lovely shades of  russet red, gold and green.This variety grows as a small tree, branching from a main trunk and is currently at it's full 5'x6' size.  It bloomed early this year and the slow to appear honeybees missed the peak flowering stage, but I guess enough blooms got pollinated to set fruit now. This plant is one of my favorites, supporting both the bees in May and the birds snacking on the winter berries. This viburnum has never needed regular pruning, only an occasional removal of a sucker type central branch. It has certainly added a lovely element to the privacy hedgerow between my driveway and my neighbor's front yard.

The mass plantings of Solomon's seal (Polygonatum) beneath my Star Magnolia are fading to a pale parchment color and their elegantly arched stems are starting to collapse. I find this plant to be a lovely, deep shade, space filler and it increases it's garden presence annually by underground runners. It's also low maintenance, only needing a single application of fish emulsion in the Spring and a blanket of leaves in the Fall. Since this patch of Soloman's seal grows next to the fish pond wall near my front door, it is one of my first indicators of the season change. Do consider purchasing a single pot of Solomon's Seal at your local nursery next Spring, it looks excellent paired with green & white Hostas; carrying the green and white theme to a greater height over average sized Hostas. The dainty white bell shaped flowers have a charming green heart design on them and overall you couldn't ask for a more maintenance-free planting.

My last offering is about the Osage-orange (maclura pomifera). This is a local tree that drops these huge, hard, lime green fruits in the Fall. I found this one at a nearby park while walking the dogs. These sticky fruits are reputed to repel ants and I am also hoping voles, so I have placed a few around the yard in the last few weeks. At worst, they make a winter food source for local squirrels. I have found pockets of Osage-orange trees at the edges of fields, along the river walk and at local parks; obviously easier to spot in the Fall when there are about thirty of these 6" diameter fruits at the base of the tree. I've never heard of anyone being struck on the head, but when such dense and heavy fruits plummet to the ground, there is an audible "thunk." To learn more about this fascinating tree check out this Wiki link:

Well, I need to put my knee up and do some more knitting. At the very least, I will have some completed projects to photograph for the next post. I also want to express my gratitude this Veteran's Day, to all servicemen and women for your courage and sacrifice.Thank you!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Trials & smiles

I will be getting my knee "scoped" tomorrow. This ridiculous accident, a momentary trip over the dog's bed, has caused unexpected expense, time off from work and the derailing of the end of season garden clean-up. Yet, the positive aspects of my injury, yes, there are always positives to every negative, have been occupying my mind of late. I think a list is in order here:

1.) I've had the time to consider my employment future, and am making concrete plans to go forward with some positive life changes reflecting my new interests in teaching, ESL, voice acting, and writing.

2.) I must keep up with my regular walks and consider taking another yoga class. Strength and balance are issues that change with age and I need to continue toning.

3.) Continue experimenting with new recipes, this has been fun, adding spice to our dinners at home.

Ready, set...
4.) Plan for some daily quality reading or knitting time, not relegating my interests to last place.

Life is about choices and unfortunately, I had shifted into living on autopilot regarding my work and household routines. Vitality and enthusiasm are the hallmarks of a life actively chosen. Life slips by with the adoption of a "meh" attitude, simply going through the motions without consideration of where you are going. From now on, I am determined to bound out the door with the enthusiasm of my dogs,
because I realize it is simply a more terrific life when you can greet it joyously.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Buckstahuddha" for a Mug

I just returned from a quick business trip to Albany, NY. It was one of those Friday to Sunday jaunts which leaves only Saturday afternoon for any sightseeing. I decided to drive scenic Rt.7 East to Bennington, Vermont, in hope of "leaf peeping" some fall foliage color and to purchase a Bennington Pottery Trigger Mug.

Whenever I travel for an overnight I bring my own tea bags, because yes, I am fairly picky about tea and I get a bit cranky if I don't have a stout brew in the AM. The hotel had a 24 hour urn of hot water for tea, but it wasn't quite hot enough to get the full tea flavor, more of a tepid dunk really. And while I am thrilled the styrofoam hot cup is a thing of the past, the new paper cups add a distinct paper flavor to plain black tea. I know "whaa," definitely a first world problem, and certainly unimportant in the big scheme of things but after two days of unsatisfactory cuppas I was obsessed. I know I could have picked up something mug-like at a thrift store, grocery or Pier 1, but why spend money on just any old cup when I could take a sightseeing drive (known as a buckstahuddha, in my family) and purchase a souvenir mug from my past.

A long, long time ago... I lived in Maine for about seven years. I am a native New Englander, but in the late 1970's, I moved to the backwoods of Maine for my first job out of nursing school. My rural life was simple, mostly because I was lacking in funds and challenging, mostly because of the extreme Maine weather.  Generally, upper New England back then was fairly unpopulated aside from coastal fishing villages, hunting & logging camps, hippie communes, potato farms and winter ski resorts. Truly, L.L.Bean was the biggest tourist stop outside of the Kittery Trading Post. This time frame was also decades before Martha Stewart discovered "downeast", making the state of Maine a trendy residence. Anyway, gasoline was cheap back then, around 70 cents a gallon, so I drove all over Maine and Vermont exploring. I found the Bennington Pottery and purchased two teal blue Trigger Mugs. I loved those mugs, but thirty years later they had either long ago broken or had been lost. Hence, my road trip to Bennington this weekend to replace them. I was thrilled to find Trigger mugs are still in production, although about four times the 1970's price; the cost was definitely worth it for the quality & nostalgia factor. If you would like to view or purchase some Bennington Pottery, here is a link:

So now, I am back home in Missouri sipping some excellent brew from my delightful new mug. Sometimes, I think it is beneficial to revisit some of the places and possessions of your past; kind of a positive, homey, grounding thing.