Search This Blog

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Soledad, Patron Saint of Oaxaca

This is my favorite patron saint.  It is almost surely because she dresses in black, I admit that, but I do have a fondness for her. The great thing about Oaxaca is that there is a tradition of wood carving that means that these wonderful creches of her are everywhere.

Where did she come from?  There are many legends, but this is the one I prefer.  In 1620 a mule train bound for Guatemala camped outside the city of Oaxaca discovered an extra mule which did not belong to anyone in the group. The mule refused to move and when prodded rolled over and died. When the pack it carried was opened, it was found to contain the statue of the Virgin of Soledad. Taking this as a sign from heaven, the inhabitants built first a shrine, later a church and finally the imposing basilica which stands today on the spot where the statue first appeared.

 She resides in the church dedicated to her, the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.  Construction began in 1682, it was designed by Father Fernando Méndez, sanctioned by the Viceroy Tomas Aquino Manrique de la Cerda, and consecrated in 1690 by Bishop Isidro Siraña y Cuenca.  This is from another local church that has her dressed much more humbly, which is my preference.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sweetie Pie's, St. Louis

 Robbie is the woman pictured at right.  She was a back up singer for Ike and Tina Turner, and now she has a soul food restaurant in St. Louis, cooking the food that she grew up with.  I went with a large crowd of people who I am doing a leadership training with, and it was definitely like stepping into Southern Cooking.

The restaurant is a buffet line, where you choose your meat, you choose your side (do not skip the fried chicken and the macaroni and cheese), you decide if you can skip the peach cobbler, and then you go to a table and enjoy it all.
As I was leaving the restaurant I had the best interaction that I had the entire week I was in St. Louis.  The security guard at the door said "you look like you are having a good time.  What's your name?".  "Catherine", I replied.  "Well, Miss Catherine, what do you do?  Are you a teacher?"  "Yes I am a teacher."  "Well you go on enjoying life like you do."  Why thank you sir.  I will try.

Friday, May 29, 2015

DCI Banks (2010)

While it is true that I don't often review BBC crime dramas, I do watch quite a few of them.  It is my go to entertainment when I am walking on a treadmill and I am not up for something more intellectually stimulating.  Unfortunately, I am not a morning person.  Despite that, I try to do at least a small amount of exercise before I go to work, and so my compromise is to watch series like this.

The star of the show is Stephen Tompkinson, best known to me as the upbeat priest in Ballykissangel.  He plays the morose detective from Peter Robinson's murder mystery series, who is preternaturally insightful but somewhat prickly and difficult to get close to.  The cases that he and his team solve are often complicated and the untangling of the clues is what Banks is exceptionally good at.  This is available streaming on Amazon Instant Video, and if you are a fan of this genre, it is excellent.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rosca de Reyes

The ring-shaped Rosca de Reyes is a sweet round, cake or oval shape Mexican bread, decorated with slices of crystallized or candied fruit colors. The King cake is also called: biscuit, cake or sweet bread to celebrate the three kings.  Yes, it is June and we are well removed from the twelve days after Christmas , but I am remembering this fondly from my January trip to Oaxaca.

The tradition of holding the reunion to celebrate the Day of the Epiphany comes from the middle ages in Europe, mainly from Spain and France. This tradition came to Mexico at the time of the early years of the viceroys.  The rosca de reyes is eaten with family and friends while sipping the famous hot chocolate from the region.  One or sometimes two lucky winners will bite into a small plastic baby, meant to represent the baby Jesus.  Unlike a typical winner, the one who finds the prize in this case has to bear the cost of the party.  So best to eat it one very thin piece at a time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Misery Loves Co., Winooski, Vermont

 This is a great restaurant, nestled into a small town just outside Burlington.  My spouse read about it on Chowhound and we started off there with a lunch.  The food is incredibly good, each and every dish a taste sensation.  We shared everything and while we were more than full at the end of the meal, we really hadn't had enough.  What to do?  We went back for dinner the next day and it was even better.  One word of warning.  This is the best fried chicken, but when you order it off the dinner menu, you get half the bird.  The neck, the back, the whole thing, piled up on a plate too enormous for one person, and a struggle for two. 
So if you want to give the menu a chance, skip that (or go with more people).  Order  a number of the smaller plates.  The pasta with ramps was phenomenal.  Light pasta, perfectly cooked, spring green in color, just delicious. It had pig cheeks in it and it did not need them (and we are not a couple to turn a good pig cheek down, I am telling you right now).  This is a place to seek out, and to eat at again and again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Alexander (2004)

I watched this movie with my youngest son after reading a lengthy and somewhat sobering account of Alexander the Great's life. While the Greeks of his day were monogamous, the Macedonians were not, and Alexander's mother was the third wife of Phillip II.  The movie portrays Olympia as a scheming woman who may or may not have had Phillip killed after wife number four had a son.  Phillip II developed and perfected a new form of war fare and Alexander learned it at his side in battle.  He was a master horseman who miraculously had one horse through his many years of war.  Bucephalus was a horse that by all accounts he tamed and who survived with him in bloody wars where they were out manned and out horsed.  Truly a remarkable story, and Alexander's legacy as the greatest field commander who ever lived seems to be richly deserved.
Oliver Stone's retelling of his life does not gloss over the low points in Alexander's life.  Olympia (well played by Angelina Jolie, a woman who was not afraid to play the role of mother to a grown man) is paranoid, smothering, and a little creepy.  Alexander (played by Colin Farrell) aptly says of her that she sought a high price for the nine months he spent in her body.  Alexander has a close and loyal childhood friend, Hephaestion (played by the very beautiful Jared Leto) who is his right hand man on the battle field and probably has shared his bed on more than one occasion.  All of this is probably a true depiction, as is the single mindedness that Alexander took to conquering much of the known world without any sense of how to rule it all.  He wore his troops out, and left a kingdom that no one man could ever rule again.  The story is told through the eyes of Ptolemy (played by Anthony Hopkins), who went directly to Egypt upon Alexander's death, eliminated all the local contenders for the governorship, and built a dynasty that lasted until Cleopatra rattled the cage of Rome and the Ptolemy's were wiped out.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis

  had never been to a national cemetery even though I have worked at a VA hospital in some capacity since 1983.  Before I visited the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery last month, I thought that Arlington was a national cemetery, but it is not part of the system.  I also would have thought that Gettysburg had some connection, but again have been wrong.  So my visit to St. Louis was eye opening.  Jefferson Barracks is named for Thomas Jefferson, who died on July 4, 1826.  The facility was commissioned in 1827, soon after his death, and it was made part of the fourteen national cemeteries that Abraham Lincoln created in 1862. 
ISo a part of the cemetery pre-dates the Civil and it is an obviously different part of the cemetery.    Days family could erect their own monuments, so it is a mish mash.  The Confederate soldiers wanted pointed gravestones so that Union soldiers could not sit on them.  Some grave markers are smalls, some are large, and some are not white.  In the beginning, the cemetery was largely populated by children who had died.

The more modern part of the cemetery, meaning World War I onward, has the grave markers all the same size and shape and color.  They are set at exactly the same height and they are roughly the same color of marble.  The cemetery orders from only three quarries.  There is a standard that 90% of them need to be in line, and it is impressive to look over hill after hill and see that uniformity.  The other thing that I did not know is that spouses can be buried with the veteran.  They stack them.  First in goes 7 feet deep, next one 5 feet down.  The veteran’s name is on the front of the marker and the spouse on the back.

Finally, the group graves are interesting.  A common grave is used when the remains are comingled and cannot be identified or separated.  The common situation is a plane crash or a fire, but the other situation is cremated prisoners of war who were found in Japanese POW camps.  That is why there are group graves with the remains of international soldiers.  A very cool experience, and since there are 130+ national cemeteries nationwide and some overseas are well worth seeking out.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya

This is the dark comedy of immigrant stories.  The Nasmertovs, the family at the center of the book, have been in Brooklyn for 715 days--they were still counting the days, literally, as the novel opens.  When the parents, Esther and Robert, immigrate in 1991 with their grown daughter Marina, her husband Levik, and their 7-year-old granddaughter Frida, they leave behind their son Pasha, a socially phobic,up-and-coming poet who avoids all discussions of what he will do with his life and who is part black sheep, part source of irritation and fascination.  He takes to his bed often, and is the kind of guy who can suck the life out of a room.

This is a book you read for its vivid characters and language more than plot. Panic abounds in biting cultural and visual observations, as when Pasha, debating whether to cede to his family's pressures to relocate to Brooklyn, reflects, "His fellow countrymen hadn't ventured bravely into a new land, they'd borrowed a tiny nook at the very rear of someone else's crumbling estate to make a tidy replication of the messy, imperfect original they'd gone through so many hurdles to escape, imprisoning themselves in their own lack of imagination." He notes that even the food is uncannily similar, "the only divergence being in abundance." It is both wonderful and manageable.  Not too Slavic in it's length but just as sharp in it's wit.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mockingjay Part 1 (2014)

I admit that the third Hunger Game book devolved to a very dark level, but this movie has sucked the life out of a very talented actress in Jennifer Lawrence.  I can see that she has to see the series through, and anyone who read the books would know what they were in for when they signed up for the series, but it is not a pretty sight.

Katniss wakes up after the shocking end to the tournament of winners to find herself in a bunker deep below the earth in District 13.  Her home has been decimated by the government, thousands of people burned to death in the streets, with Gabe and her family amongst the survivors.  Peeta has been captured and is being brain washed.  The tow of them share a connection that is born of killing and surviving, and there is no saving either of them really.  A part of them has died. 

The story progresses to the rebels having someone who they can rally around, and the symbol of the revolution being torn apart by it all.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman is still a player in this, and Julianne Moore plays the president--but again there is very little room for good acting to be found.  I regret that they divided the movie in two, because I won't be able to not watch it, but don't hold out high hopes.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Steamed Kohlrabi and Celery

Kohlrabi season is just around the corner and I found several recipes for it in my new vegetable cookbook, The Broad Fork (which I will review once I have the chance to make a few more things out of it.  This recipe is very simple, and not very photogenic, but good in the way that vegetables that taste like themselves are.  Nothing fancy.

2 bulbs of kohrabi, peeled and cubed
1-2 Tbs. butter
1 shallot, thinly sliced in rings (can substitute onion with some garlic minced)
1/2 c. thinly sliced celery with leaves
1 tsp. thyme
1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds

In sauce pan brown the butter.  Add the shallot, celery, and kohlrabi and saute briefly.  Reduce heat, add 1/4 c. water and thyme, then cover the pan.  Cook for about 5 minutes until kohlrabi is tender and water evaporated.  Season with salt and top with sesame seeds.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Molcajetes, Baby

On a recent trip to Oaxaca my spouse bought a molcajete on the very first day.  We were at the fantastic Sunday market in Tlacalula, and who could blame him for his enthusiasm, especially after our lunch.  We had goat barbacoa and he was in the groove.  We needed a way to make this food at home and a molcajete seemed like an essential took to accomplish that.

It was my idea to go to Oaxaca, and I really wanted my spouse to enjoy it as much as I did, and so while part of me was wondering how in the world we were going to manage to pack this large piece of rock in our suitcase, another part of me was thinking that if we could bring 8 cases of wine home from France we could surely get a modestly sized molcajete safely home.

Our molcajete is so much more beautiful at home than it appeared in this market.  I love it's painted flower sides and projecting pig face.  It reminds me of the place that we bought it (and the man who made it).  A good lesson to relearn is that while there may be a dozen of them everywhere you go, when you get it home it will be the only one.  Not to mention that it is an entirely functional member of our kitchen tool collection.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

There are problems inherent in making a movie out of what is really a very short story written for small children.  I think that Disney got a little cocky after the success of Where the Wild Things Are, which made a surprisingly good full length movie.  This is not the case with this movie, although it may hold great appeal for the tween crowd.

Alexander Cooper is an almost 12 year old boy who has a deep and intimate knowledge of bad days.  He has them with some regularity and he is sick and tired of the rest of his family being Pollyanna about everything.  Even his unemployed father has an irrepressibly sunny attitude about life.  When Alexander tries to explain why it is just not that way for him, his father tells him not to worry because everything will turn out okay.  So on the eve of his 12th birthday he wishes them all a very bad no good day, and lo and behold that is what happens.  Alexander is surprised to find that he is even more upset to think that the terrible things that are happening to his family are because he wished it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Boston Baked Beans

My best memory of baked beans is from Faneuil Hall in Boston, where you eat at long tables family style.  I had Parker House rolls with them, and somehow my New England family roots came to the forefront and I will always love both of them above their food value.

These are a version of Chris Schlesinger's from "Thrill of the Grill".

  • 1 lb. (2-1/2 cups) dried navy beans, picked through for stones
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz. thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1x1/4-inch strips
  • 1/2 cup robust unsulfured molasses
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tbs. ground mustard
  • 1/2 oz. kosher salt (1-1/2 Tbs. Diamond Crystal or 1 Tbs. Morton)
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Put the beans in a large bowl add water and gently boil until the beans are tender to the tooth.  Soaking them overnight is best, but not required.  Cook with some salt.  Save water.
Saute onion and bacon until they are both . In a large measuring cup, combine the molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup, mustard, salt, and pepper with beans and 4-5 cups of the cooking water.

Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then simmer uncovered until the beans are fully tender—it’s OK if they still look watery at this point. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours to thicken the liquid before serving. Serve, or cool and refrigerate in an airtight container.  Can be made ahead of time and served later.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mandel

I loved the two books that the author has written that have won the Man Booker Prize (Wolf Hall and Bring up the Babies), and am eagerly awaiting the third installment in that trilogy.  The books are both character driven with complex plot trajectories, mixed in with the history of England on the brink of the Renaissance.  When this collection of short stories showed up on the 2014 New York Times 100 Notable Novels list, I put it on my reading list.

For those who love the aforementioned books, this is largely nothing like them.  As you would expect from a short story, the narrative arc is foreshortened, and that is very close to the exact opposite of those books.  Some of these short stories are just several pages in length.  What this book has in common with the novels that I have read is the introduction of a wide range of interesting and varied characters.  The book opens and closes with what I think are the strongest stories, with one in between on their par.  In these stories, women and men have a complicated relationship that is party of their making and partly a product of the circumstances that they live in.  That is the gift of the author, and it does glimmer through in some of these stories.  I should also note that I am not a fan of the short story, and that I am someone who does not shy away from a complex 600+ page book, so you really do have to take what I say with a grain of salt.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mourning a Brother

Catullus wrote this poem (known as Poem 101--he was not a man who wasted a lot of time on titles for the poems he wrote in his all too short life) after his beloved brother died.  He was a bon vivant in Rome at the end of the Roman Republic.  He belonged to a group of poets known as the Neoterics, who made fun of those who could not say in 200 words what they could say in 20.  He was talented, antagonistic and brilliant.

His poetry was often bitingly sarcastic or erotic, but when he wrote about places and people he loved, he was elegant and concise.  I chose this one to mark what would have been my brother's 54th birthday had he not died when he was eight.

Through many peoples and many seas have I traveled
to thee, brother, and these wretched rites of death
I bring a last gift but can speak only to ashes
Since Fortune has taken you from me
Poor brother! stolen you away from me
leaving me only ancient custom to honor you
as it has been from generation to generation
Take from my hands these sad gifts covered in tears
Now and forever, brother, Hail and farewell.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Red Lentil Dal

  I made this as part of an Indian meal for a reunion of my house from college.  I wasn't sure what the dietary restrictions were going to be, and this is delicious, gluten free, and vegan.
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 cups diced sweet potato
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pinch of chili peppers
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 cup canned chopped tomatoes
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

  1. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, heat oil, and sauté onion until softened. Add sweet potato, and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add minced ginger and garlic; stir, and reduce heat to low.
  2. Finely dice chili, keeping seeds if you wish to add more heat. Add chili, lentils, coriander, cumin, turmeric and ground ginger to pan. Stir until lentils are well coated with oil. Add tomatoes and 4 cups water. Raise heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat until mixture is at a fast simmer. Cook uncovered until lentils and potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes.
  3. Season to taste with salt, and continue to simmer until mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes. Whisk dal to amalgamate lentils and sweet potatoes. If dal is too soupy, increase heat and cook for a little longer.
  4. To serve, place dal in a serving bowl and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. If desired, shave thin strips of fresh coconut on top. Serve hot.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Roman Sculpture by Diana Kleiner

I read textbooks out loud to my youngest son, who is partially deaf but also an auditory learner.  There are many things that I have read in that role that I would never have otherwise picked up and this is certainly one of those books.

We read it in connection with an art history course that he is taking.  I discovered that there is really almost nothing that I know about art history in general and Roman art in particular.   At first I thought that my problem stemmed from not going to class.  Surely if I were to hear the professor I would understand it all better.  But then there was an extra credit evening lecture to go to.  Since my son has no more talent for art history than I, he knew he had to go and get those extra credit points.  They could be the difference between passing and failing.  I went to help take notes, and that is when I discovered that being in the lecture was not going to be the magic bullet for me.  Oh dear.  So what did I learn from reading this book?  More than I would have guessed from where I started, but when I look for art books in the future, I am definitely going to do more than look at the pictures to see if there is some hope on this green earth that I could follow the story.  Somewhere toward the end of the book I started to feel like I might be able to do better with my next art history book.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

One Small Hitch (2014)

This film, found streaming on Netflix, is a pleasant and formulaic romantic comedy.  Josh has been dumped by his recent girlfriend after she realizes that he is a very unlikely candidate for becoming a groom, much less an actual husband who settles down to the wife, kids, and dogs, all wrapped up in a minivan within the blink of an eye.  So he is going to a wedding of an old friend of his parents without a date.  En route to the big event he runs into a childhood friend, Molly, who is hapless in a very charming way.

Events conspire for Josh to tell his parents that he and Molly are a couple and on the brink of marriage.  Their story is that they were keeping it on the low down because of the connections between their families, that they wanted to make sure it was going to work out before they went public--which is the very reason that the whole scheme is a less than perfect idea.  It gets worse when Molly realizes that she would like the relationship to be real and Josh is sleeping with a recently single friend with benefits.  Some people know it's a hoax, some don't and it all comes together for a predictable but likable ending.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Travelling Shoes

One of my Facebook friends asked the question about how you travel, heavy or light, and I responded at length.  I definitely have an opinion on that one.  I am of the mind that less is better when it comes to travel. I have felt that way for a long time, but now that the airplanes are small, and the overhead bins are even smaller, if you don’t keep it small, you have to gate check.  Since planes are often not on time and connecting gates are rarely near each other, so the ability to get from one flight to another may depend on your ability to pack lightly. The other thing is the ability to catch an earlier flight.  If you have a checked bag, that is not an option, and I am all about making the most of your travel options.

So what do I pack?  As one respondent said, the problem is shoes and books.  I solve that by having a comfortable pair of shoes that is presentable and at most one additional pair.  If one of the pairs is bulky, that is the one that goes on the plane.  If I am going for a week, then I limit myself to e-books.  My travel wardrobe is lightweight and interchangeable.  I have a travel backpack that has all the items that you might forget at home; things like sunscreen, analgesia, spare glasses and small bills to tip valets.  I can make do with what I have, but don’t forget the socks and underwear!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I Pity the Poor Immigrant by Zachary Lazar

So, yes, this book is titled like the Bob Dylan song:
I pity the poor immigrant
ho wishes he would’ve stayed home
Who uses all his power to do evil
But in the end is always left so alone
That man whom with his fingers cheats
And who lies with ev’ry breath
Who passionately hates his life
And likewise, fears his death

This is a book about outsiders and immigrants and crime bosses and escaping justice.  Journalist Hannah Groff travels to Israel to investigate the murder of poet David Bellen. Over the course of her research, she learns about Meyer Lansky, the gangster who emi­grated from Poland to New York and helped to establish the American mob—and build Las Vegas. Facing a murder charge, Lansky sought asylum in Israel, but the government turned him down.  Hannah draws connections between Lansky, his mistress Gila Konig—a Holocaust survivor—and Hannah’s own family, leading her to uncover some unsavory aspects of the Groff legacy. The intricate story becomes a meditation on violence and power and their relationship to Jewish identity specifically and personal identity in general.  Short and meaningful.  Check it out.

Monday, May 11, 2015

First Night (2010)

The movie is about the staging a=of an opera and the story line is right out of that genre.  Somewhere between a Shakespearean farce and an opera libretto.  Complete with lots of singing to make it all the more believable.  Or not.  I think that the segment of the population that loves opera will be the only ones who do not find the plot believable--but then, that is the backdrop of the movie and in a lot of ways the opera the cast is performing, Bach's "Cosi Fan Tutte", and the back story of the movie go hand in hand. 

There is a love affair gone bad, there is a love affair gone cold, there is the possibility of new love and there are love affairs that will never happen, there are hearts broken.  The cast and their shenanigans on and off stage cover a lot of love's ground, and there is no shortage of drama to keep the pot stirred.  I streamed it on Netflix and found it to be quite enjoyable for an evening of diversion, and if I loved opera I might have liked it even more.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day

I am not new to the parenting game.  I tell you, this is not my first Mother’s Day by any means.  I have been a parent for over 26 years. Another way to look at it is that  I have 82 child years of experience parenting my own children. Not to mention that I like to think that I have played a role in the lives of many other children over the course of my life.  So while I am not big on a day to celebrate motherhood beyond my spouse thanking me for co-parenting our children (which I definitely deserve credit for), I do like to spend a little time reflecting on the experience.  I may not have done the best job, but I have definitely earned it.

The best of it is that there is so much activity in my life that I can barely manage it all.  
The least of it all is how exhausting it is.  I have an acquaintance from college who is not remarkably younger than I am who recently had twins.  While others were very justifiably congratulation him, I was sighing deeply.  No way.  It is not the whole going back to a child in diapers that made me so weary.  I think that is tiring, but in the early years the children go to bed at an early enough time to allow the parents some time to themselves.  What I couldn't imagine is doing what I am doing right now in 20 years.  I can barely do it now, and my plan is not to think I will have more energy in the future than I do right now.  So thank you my children for wearing me out and teaching me the wonders of the 21st century and keeping me thinking and reading and listening to new music.  I find it all wonderful, if a bit tiring.  Happy Mothers Day to all those who are mothers or have one.  It is quite a job.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Managing Your Dreams

I worked temporarily with a group of people for several months that had an identifiable impact on me.  We all worked remotely, meaning that we get up in the morning and stay home.  My predominant office space for that four month period of time was my cellphone and my computer.  I lived on Lync with shared desktops and my cell phone on both speaker and mute.  So it was not exactly a social work place at first glance.

The quality of my workplace during that time was remarkably good.  That is related to my supervisor at the time and the atmosphere she created.  She was phenomenal on many levels, but one of the things we did in our group is a professional development curriculum that we develop and teach each other.  The one book that we read that has stuck with me is The Dream Manager.  It is a slim book that is a guide towards planning your future based on what is important to you personally.  I found some interesting things about myself by going through the process of looking at my dreams.  One is that my adventure column was enormous.  There are still lots of places that I want to visit in the world, and quite a few I want to go back to.  My spiritual dreams are very limited.  I hadn’t even thought of what I want my legacy to be, even though I only have 10-15 years left to work.    I have some serious dream managing to do, it turns out.  The good news is that now I have a list, I am checking it regularly and I am making some progress towards fixing some of all that.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Save the Date (2014)

This movie takes place in Manhattan, and other than the enormous size of apartments that artists are able to afford being completely unbelievable in size, it is a New York movie.  Sisters are dating band mates, but that is where their similarity ends.  One sister is getting married, and she is pretty stereotypically wrapped up in herself and her experience.  She wants everyone’s world to revolve around her wedding.  The other sister gets completely spooked when she moves in with her boyfriend and breaks up with him when he asks her to marry him.  She then becomes involved with another man, who is all too clear that he is the rebound relationship but since he has been sitting on the sidelines for a long time, he enters the relationship with his eyes wide open.

Then the world turns upside down.  The relationship avoidant sister becomes unexpectedly pregnant.  From that point forward, that is in the background of every interaction that she has.  It is a fun diverting movie on the theme of marriage, relationships, should you really have a blow out wedding or should you focus on what is important?  You choose.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Not All Beds are Created Equal

When you travel a lot you bring all sorts of wonderful things into your life.  You can see new places, meet new people, eat a wonderful variety of foods, and rekindle old friendships.  It expands your vision.  It can be the spice of life. The benefits well outweigh the challenges, and I am a dedicated traveler.

Not everything is a plus, however.  The thing that has been the biggest issue for me as I age is sleep.  It is possible to miss your own bed enough that you dream about it.  I admit that while I could be happy with folding chairs and second hand furniture, I am dedicated to having a comfortable bed.  I don’t require expensive bedding, but I do require a high thread cotton count.  I made the quilt on my bed and I embroidered the pillowcases—so I have spent time making what I sleep on.  When I am on the road and the bedding is not up to snuff, my sleep suffers.  The best news is that many hotel chains have upped their game in the bedding court.  The Hampton Inn is one great example.  I can be just as comfortable in a Hampton Inn as I am in a hotel that is literally 2-3 times as expensive.  I recently stayed at a Holiday Inn and that was a mistake.  So beware, not all hotels in a price range are created equal. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fitbit and Walking the Serengeti

Ok, I have not actually walked the Serengeti.  But I have walked the 500 miles that would represent walking from the top to the bottom of the Serengeti since I started using my Fitbit.  That would be a very silly thing to do.  The last time I was in the Serengeti it was very clear that I was not high enough up on the food chain to survive such a walk.

I decided to participate in a Fitbit study.  It seemed like such a great deal.  In exchange for giving them my blood and my ongoing activity information, I got to try the device.  One of my challenges with a device is that there is a learning curve to optimally using it, and that was overcome immediately.  The friendly study personnel set up my Fitbit and made sure I knew how all the features before I left with my device.

Prior to entering the study I had gotten back on the exercise bandwagon, but what I did not realize is that on days that I did not exercise for an hour I was very unlikely to achieve my baseline goal of 10,000 in a day, unless I was on vacation and walking a lot.  My job is very sedentary and even though I have a standing desk, my daytime activity is shockingly low.  I love my Fitbit—I faithfully meet my baseline goals except on very rare occasions, and I will be using it when the study I am in ends.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2014)

This is an odd animated film, which is one of the five animated movies nominated for an Academy Award this year.  It is based on a Japanese folk tale called The Bamboo Cutter’s Daughter.  The bamboo cutter lives in a very rural community on the edge of a bamboo grove.  One day the bamboo cutter is in the woods and he finds a golden bamboo shoot with a small baby in it.  He brings her hoe to his childless wife and they raise her as a princess, a magical gift from a god above.

She starts off with a carefree existence, learning about the land and how to live off it.  She is free spirited and fun to be around, even if she seems to grow at an inordinately quick rate.  Then the father finds what is essentially a pot of gold and decides that means that he needs to move her to the city and teach her to live the high life of a princess.  Which essentially doesn't go all that well.  The animation looks like it has been drawn with charcoal and water colored in.  Dainty and genteel at the same time. Not exactly a children's story, but kids do like dark tales and this has a bit of that edge about it, despites it's pink tones.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Recycled Mittens

I have two pairs of mittens that I really love that are both made from recycled knitwear that has been felted and then repurposed into gloves.  I love this concept on so many levels.  The first is reusing things.  I have several sweaters that no longer fit or have gone way way out of fashion (think those puffy sleeves that were really lovely in the late 1980’s), but are made of quality materials.  Instead of throwing them away, they can go to something new that is both functional and beautiful.  The other is that handmade things support artisans.  The maker of my gloves is doing something that is creative.  They are able to do work that is personal.  I love putting something on that I have made myself, but second best is making something that someone else has made.

So two things I learned from buying these mittens.  The first is that they are as functional as they are beautiful.  The second is that I definitely need to learn more about felting.  Such a cool technique!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Hot Pickled Pinapple and Peanuts

An excellent and very different pickle to have with BBQ.

1⁄2 cup peanuts
1 clove garlic
11⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons chile sauce
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1⁄2 cup distilled white vinegar
11⁄2 cups chopped fresh pineapple, in 1-inch cubes

Place the peanuts in a small skillet over medium heat. Scorch them, shaking the pan, for about 5 minutes, until blackened in spots. Set aside to cool.
Finely mince the garlic or put it through a press. In a large wood, glass, or ceramic bowl (plastic will scratch and retain odors), combine the garlic with the salt. Use the back of a sturdy spoon to mash the garlic and salt together into a paste. It will take a couple of minutes to get it smooth. (Of course, if you have a mortar and pestle, you can use that instead.) Stir in the chile sauce, anchovy paste, and fish sauce until well combined. Stream in the vinegar and mix well.
Add the peanuts and pineapple and mix to coat completely, then spoon everything into a 1-pint jar. Don’t worry if there isn't enough brine to cover; the fruit will yield more of its juice as it sits. Cover tightly and let it sit for at least 1 hour before eating. This pickle, stored in the refrigerator

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Take Care (2014)

This is a funny sort of romantic comedy.  Frannie was hit by a car and she has an arm and a leg immobilizer.  She is one handed and she can’t walk.  She lives in a fourth floor walk up in Manhattan, so getting her in and out of her apartment is a large enough obstacle that she will be essentially home bound until her injuries heal.  She needs morning, noon, and night care, and there is no one in her life who can provide that for her.  She hits upon a solution that is odd.  She nursed her former boyfriend, Devon, for two years of chemotherapy and surgical treatment for a cancer.  She lost her job, and in the end, she lost him as well.  She is angry, very angry about him leaving her, even though years have passed.  So what does she want?  She wants him to take care of her.  She has him over, she lays it out for him, and after a number of protests he agrees to take care of her. 

The thing that is interesting to me is the emotional component of life threatening illness.  Devon is not over it.  His emotional response to his cancer is very common and fairly destructive.  Cancer is the gift that keeps on giving.  What you don’t deal with emotionally comes back to haunt you, and this movie portrays that aspect reasonably well.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Home Garden Reboot

Fifteen years ago my youngest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  The trauma of that continues to ripple out over the ensuing years.  Some of them are obvious, but some of them are not.  Even as a mental health professional, there are things I really do not understand.  It just is what it is.  One of those things for me was a complete inability to think about a garden.

Which is too bad.  I love having fresh produce throughout the growing season.  Being able to add fresh herbs to whatever I am cooking is a wonderful way to add brightness of flavor to food.  I can’t explain why I haven’t been able to do it.  I have compensated with frequent visits to my local Farmer’s Market and participating in a multi-season CSA.  Which has definitely helped but it is not enough.  My spouse has decided that it is time to get back on the horse.  So now we have a plot of land that is rototilled, manured, and some of it is even planted.  Wish us luck!