Thursday, January 28, 2016

We gotta get out of this place...

I'm feeling a bit restless after two-plus dark and dreary days of rain. The darkness and rain remind me of England and going out bundled in a coat, something that was completely foreign to me growing up near the equator. The weather here, apart from bouts of rain, has been cool though the northern portion of our State did have warnings of snow flurries during Jonas and there has also been some tornado activity reported, all strange for the region and time of year.

Wet weather makes it hard for me to get or stay outdoors. Apart from slick pavement and mud, there is the detritus one inevitably runs over and risks tire punctures from as well as the mess tracked into the flat. It is also not fun to have to sit in a damp seat. Since I cannot push and handle an umbrella, the only recourse is a raincoat with a hood. Mine is black and people have jokingly told me I look like a rolling version of the Grim Reaper in the thing which isn't at all what I was going for when I bought it. Nothing against the image since we are all destined to depart eventually, but that is hardly a pleasant thought for someone who, in a period of two years, lost five friends and an extended family member, one of whom I found as a corpse. I'd much rather be Bat Lady or at the very least, Batty Cat Lady since I am owned by two felines, albeit somewhat grudgingly.

That said, the two cats have been behaving strangely, even for them. My overprotective male has spent the balance of the last two nights jumping from pillar to post to window sill, as though he senses something disturbing. I, however, find nothing amiss. His female counterpart, skittish at the best of times, has virtually glued herself to me beneath the duvet and spends non-sleeping hours secreted away in a closet.

I've read, cooked, done laundry, listened to music, played guitar badly, written blog posts and bungled Hebrew until I can do no more. The Beatles, "Here Comes The Sun," is the latest tune traipsing through my brain, though the Animals tune, "We gotta get out of this place," is a close second...

A friend suggested I try the Mall for a bit of a roll around. Despite my serious dislike of such places, the paved, dry surfaces and lack of water sound very appealing...

The Grim Reaper Rolls!

How do you deal with restlessness?



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Striped Aubergine And More...

Those of you who have been reading here for a while may know that I've been struggling for the last couple of years to lower the weekly shopping bills, cope with transportation costs and issues and free my home of unneeded items. I've discovered that each of these is an ongoing process. I continue to make headway and have recently had the good fortune to see a reduction both food bills and waste, thanks to some simple changes.

Because I must pay transportation costs and face restrictions on the number of bags I'm permitted when using a shared wheelchair van, I arrange a wheelchair taxi and go out once weekly for groceries and any other necessary shopping. The driver, whom I know, accompanies me for shopping, which I pay for. As the costs of both transportation and food in this country continue to climb, it has been important for me to economize and try everything I can to eliminate what I refer to as "cash in the trash syndrome."

Beginning in the new year, I ditched the major grocery chain in my neighborhood in favor of the four mile trip to Aldi, which my readers in Europe will recognize. This has slashed my food budget nearly in half and while I still need to buy pet food and litter elsewhere, I've been able to stock up on those items and re-fill my pantry so that now I'm mostly just buy fresh vegetables, salad makings and fruit, along with basic cleaning and laundry supplies. Neither fast food or frozen meals figure prominently in my diet, nor does a lot of meat. I do keep a cache of frozen vegetables, some pasta and veggie burgers and fish on hand for quick suppers and lunches and have recently made the acquaintance of the local farm stand which is on the way to the Aldi at which I shop.

Last night, I paid ten dollars for aubergine, a bag of red potatoes, a large Meyer lemon, a bag of fresh broccoli, some candied papaya, bananas and a couple of other items at the farm stand. My Aldi bag consisted of bread, pasta, fresh green beans, cucumbers, a bag of baking potatoes, cottage cheese, one dozen eggs, some condiments and a few basic kitchen items for $25. My twenty pound bag of pine cat litter was $9 and I have more than enough to see me through the next week. I felt like I did well rather than simply settling for what was inexpensive and my savings is growing a bit, which is always a plus in my book.

Because I never know what fruits and vegetables I will find, I've had to get creative with meals, which means my grocery lists now consist of notations such as, "check fresh veg," rather than specific items. A week ago, I was surprised to find large, fresh blackberries available for half of what they cost at the larger grocery chains, so into the basket they went, with me smiling all the way to the register. Blackberries were never around when I was growing up. It was a late blogger friend from Canada who introduced me to them and now, when I find and enjoy them, I think of her.

The aubergine was small, cream colored and lightly striped in lavender rather than the deep purple to which I'm accustomed. It is the first of its kind I've ever seen and I've not yet found a photo of it on the Internet. I roasted it in the oven with some oil, basil and oregano for part of my dinner this evening and savored every morsel.

As far as cookery, I'm not sure my skills have improved, but I am having some fun finding ways to use up left overs and make sure all of the lovely fresh stuff I've been buying is eaten promptly to avoid waste. Life on a fixed income...

What money-saving strategies do you use, if any?




Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cha,Ch,Changes...

Okay...You probably thought, "Why is she writing about David Bowie now instead of a week or two back? The short answer is, I don't tend to follow crowds but the much lamented Mr. Bowie's music has been stimulating the "little gray cells," of late,  as a certain fictional Belgian detective oft admitted.

Hence, the title of this post. I cannot seem to get that song out of my head. Changes, it would seem, have been a recurring theme for me. I have been about overhauling finances, re-stocking the flat, quietly remembering yet another recently departed friend and commemorating the anniversaries of two other significant losses.

Having reached the outer limits of middle age at much too fast a clip for my liking, I am reminded every so often that there were those who, upon my premature arrival, predicted that I would not last the week. Some years after that, yet another medical genius announced to my mother that my "little gray cells" (paraphrasing mine) were in short supply and that I should be shut away as I wasn't worth the air I was breathing. Herr Doktor even went so far as to label my mother, who was by this point so angry she could spit nails, delusional. While that could be said of some aspects of my mother's life, about my budding intellect, not at all. About a male doc with an officious attitude wanting to assert his authority over a woman he regarded as inferior to himself, definitely. It says a lot about the man that he would admit his mistake to mutual friends, yet never utter the   merest apology in my mother's direction.

Though never one to use the word feminist in reference to herself, my mother nonetheless gave my lifelong feminism a fat boost when she stood up to those who would otherwise discount either of us. For me, those lessons began early and have continued. As I make my way into the eighteenth year of her passing, the truly mixed bag--light and dark--that she represents to me is shown again with startling clarity as I recall my teens and how badly she handled my entree into adulthood.

Female, disabled and very alive and aware of the world in the seventies, as my teen years stretched on, so did the growing feeling of "otherness." A quiet kid who did well in school, I was, for the most part, assumed fine by my parents. Seeing no obvious signs of waywardness, trouble or rebellion, they emphasized getting into university as the necessary step to job security and happiness. I was, however, the proverbial fish out of water. Well liked by my teachers, I had only a handful of friends and quickly learned to keep myself to myself if I wanted to look as though I fit in anywhere. Attentions firmly rooted in my studies, music, books, horses, following world events and writing, I was a loner and very private and seeing no-one in my conservative military/governmental community with whom to engage also meant that I saw no real examples of how someone in my situation could become the happy adult my parents were hoping to turn out into the world.

I began to notice those who were "out there," the artists, writers, actors, musicians who in one way or another, whether through word, song, deed, manner or dress, made their presence stick. While I never envied their celebrity, wrote fan letters or plastered my walls with photos or posters, I developed a few favorites, including Elton John and David Bowie. Elton John, though he had a serious side, always seemed to my inexperienced girl eyes, to thrive in front of an audience. I loved his willingness to costume and have what I perceived as fun. Mr. Bowie on the other hand was always a bit darker and in more than one instance, left me wondering about his personas, captivating though they were.

 It wasn't until my university years that I began experimenting with costumes, sometimes becoming a hybrid gothic Elvira-like character. In my life as a working writer the balancing of client needs versus my creative instincts taught me that looking as though something is easy or fun is actually a hell of a lot more work than people realize.
That said, I tip my hat, one last time to the little boy and young man who became David Bowie.

Until Next Time...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

MLK Day 2016

 

As it was MLK’s birthday yesterday, I'm re-posting something from 2009 about him as one of my childhood heroes. Standing at the forefront of non-violence and Civil Rights, I often wonder now what he would say about the ever-increasing violence towards individuals of color in this country…

The first recollection I have of the word "pacifist" is in connection with Martin Luther King, Jr, and protests for both Civil Rights and an end to the war in Vietnam. Residing in a community dominated by both military and government employees, the questions asked of my parents and teachers were often met with cautious responses.

"What is a pacifist?," was one of the first. The initial response, "Why are you asking?" then led to a series of even more provocative inquiries on my part that culminated in the simplistic reply, "A pacifist is someone who does not believe in violence."

When I pointed out that killing people only resulted in more people getting killed and asked why both sides could not just stop and talk with each other, my exasperated mother conceded the point that talking was indeed a better solution than shooting or dropping bombs.

Her frustration reached new heights when I observed that it was wrong to put Mr. King in jail just for standing up for people who could not stand up for themselves, then wondering aloud why everyone did not have the same rights, despite differences in their houses, the color of their skin or where they were from. She knew I was right, but offered no satisfactory answers as to why the rest of the world did not see things my way.

I knew by age nine that discrimination, cruelty and ignorance existed, for I had experienced them in my school and neighborhood, and so had my mother. I was growing up female in a world full of sexism, disabled in a school in which well-meaning teachers and neighbors, and even some doctors, were often ignorant.

Despite having the things many of my neighbors and their children had, I was also growing up in a Third World Nation, in which many neighborhoods overflowed with poverty. I also grew up around people from throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America as well as the United States and Mexico, and grew to love many of the wonderful foods, customs and cultural experiences that sprang from this exposure.

That this environment, coupled with personal experiences, also gave me a first-hand look at the differences in the way people are perceived and treated is no surprise. Indeed, the desire for fairness, equity and dignity for everyone , which I also later learned from Judaism, and first glimpsed through the eyes of a Baptist civil rights activist and minister on an old black and white television screen, remain at my core as a woman today.

As a citizen, I often find myself at odds with the activities and views of elected officials and wonder what we are coming to as a nation and as a member of a much larger and diverse planet. I am sure that years ago, Reverend King hoped fervently that through his and the actions of others, rampant prejudice would end, and that rights and human dignity would be respected. That they have not been is a continuing source of shame for our nation, disruption and violence in our communities and needless suffering amongst families and individuals today. We should demand better of ourselves, our politicians, policy makers and law enforcement.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

From Soup To Nuts And Back Again...



In recent years, New Years Eve and much of the following day often finds me wrapped up in feline fur with a favorite book or movie or in the closet that passes for a kitchen on my flat, attempting to be something other than simply a passable cook.  2016 dawned with unusually hot weather and me stirring a pot of homemade vegetable soup, pondering the origins of my connection with this particular comfort food.

Though not  a "picky eater," I had a short list of loathsome edibles that included liver, creamed foods, mayonnaise, my mother's take on tuna salad and anything remotely bloody. I have always had an aversion to the smell and texture of raw meat, poultry or fish, so made myself scarce until these were on the plate. As a young adult, I embraced vegetarian cooking and eating with gusto, to the very vocal dismay of my hypercritical mother who swore until her dying breath that I had lost my mind.

Growing up and traveling abroad afforded me the opportunity to develop a wider palette than was available in my mother's extended family, so I was often more adventurous than the average kid, eating a variety of vegetables, fruits and dishes from around the globe. I could happily consume escargot with the same aplomb as fish and chips and mushy peas. My love of a good, hot cuppa comes from having learned how to correctly brew, strain and pour the perfect cup of tea, courtesy of a British friend I made while in England in my teens. The Chinese food I learned to love came not from a New York-style take out which now seems ubiquitous but from actual Chinese-owned restaurants and gardens in Panama. The gardens were roadside stands with small plots of land at the back on which the fruit and vegetables to be sold were grown. Consequently, they were seasonal, fresh and of better quality than a lot of imported foods. Seafood, some of it right off the docks, was also a staple in our home.

My parents cooking and eating horizons, expanded as my working mother attempted to replicate some of the varied dishes she enjoyed. A longtime subscriber to Gourmet Magazine, she also collected and sampled recipes from a wide range of cookbooks, often with great results. I, on the other hand, faced an impatient home cook who gradually tamped down any nascent interest on my part in either the art or methods of cookery.
It was only a love of quality and the desire to eat healthily, together with the budget constraints of my student days, and bad cafeteria fare, that saved me. Never a lover of fast food, when all else failed and money was tight, soup could be had, and not from a tin.

Soup was ladled and put in front of me in the immediate aftermath of my mother's premature death, it has warmed me through various episodes of respiratory hell, offered comfort on cold days and seen me quietly through two heart wrenching anniversaries that fall within the first week of the New Year, among other life events.

Until Next Time...


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Let Us All Eat Cake...

When was the last time you enjoyed a slice of wedding cake?

This question lingered in the back of my mind as I savored the first bite of vanilla frosting and white cake amid the happy throng of far-flung relatives and longtime friends at the post-wedding party for my friend Steve and his partner Dave last week.

A three-tiered affair,  with separate sections of carrot, chocolate and vanilla, the cake itself was so beautifully done I almost hated to see it cut.

Apart from the sweetness of marital union, wedding cake, from ancient times forward, has symbolized prosperity, happiness and fidelity, among other things.  Though its form has changed through the ages, evolving from a wheat bun to a minced meat or organ concoction known as Bride's Pie, the cake we recognize today only came about with affluence and the availability of ovens and refined flour and sugar. The now ubiquitous wedding cake endures apparently both because of and despite change, as does marriage.

It gave me immense pleasure to share in the traditions of cake, toasts to the groom and groom, music, conversation and food. With any gathering, however, it is the people involved that make it memorable. In this case, the grooms, their hosts and the mix of friends and family members on both sides who are now joined because two wonderful men decided to make their already established commitment as legal as it can be.

In the months since the historic Supreme Court decision allowing marriage equality to stand throughout the nation, several sets of my friends have declared their intent to marry but Steve and Dave are the first to do so. This is both a fitting end to one year and a just and happy beginning for another.

Until Next Time...

(As a post script, I was asked to emphasize how happy they were that friends and family could come and and celebrate with them).