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Archive for March, 2012

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It’s been raining on and off all day today, and I was feeling stir crazy in the house.

Sure, the floors needed mopping and the clean laundry was ready for folding, but the minute there was a break in the rain, I headed out the door. My destination: downtown to the library, a 6.5 miles round-trip. I figured I could at least make it to the library before it stormed again, and if needbe, I could call my neighbor to come get me.

So out I went, daypack full of books to be returned, and raincoat tied around my waist for easy access.

As an aside: earlier in the week I injured my back (feels like a minor herniated disk) and had a fainting spell due to dehydration. So I vowed to drink more water and to stop the gardening if my body started sending pain signals. One of the side effects of the back issue, however, is not being able to walk as fast as I normally do.

I love water, so it’s not that hard to drink more; I just have to be more mindful. And I am getting better about stopping work before I can’t walk; I do like to walk, after all, so limiting my manual labor is in my best interest.

But walking slow, especially when I’m starting out … that has been difficult. Going faster means more of a work-out, and being able to walk farther in a shorter time.

But, I had vowed to be more respectful of my body’s needs. And I just couldn’t physically make myself go faster, so I had to make up my mind that, for the time being, my walks are just for enjoyment and distance.

So, because I couldn’t walk as fast, I was able to notice my surroundings — at least when I wasn’t dodging cars.

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I was surprised to find that there are at least three streams I had never seen before. Of course it would be hard to miss them today as they are chock full due to all the rain we’ve been having.

And speaking of cars, why do passing drivers swerve toward me rather than away? I figure it’s because I’m a sight; whether a good one or a bad one is up for debate.

Anyway, I figure this experience will help me on the Camino. I’ve heard horror stories of a stretch of the Way on paved road, with cars speeding by.

So I made it to the library, returned some books, then checked out a new set. About a minute after leaving the building, it started to rain. I pulled on my trusty rain jacket and pressed onward toward home.

My rain jacket is big enough to cover the daypack, so it will probably be big enough for the pack I’ll use on the Camino. Problem is: it’s not “breathable.” I got very hot wearing the jacket for only half an hour. People recommend ponchos for the Camino anyway, so if anyone has any suggestions for “breathable” rain gear, please pass them along.

So now I’m back home, a little wet, a little muddy, but happy nonetheless.

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My dog, on the other hand, is stir crazy herself. So it’s off for another walk before the next band of rain hits.

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When I first started writing about my favorite things, I thought it would be easy. There are just so many things in this world that bring me joy!

But trying to relate schnitzel with noodles to something I love has been a bit of a challenge. I’ve already talked about the foods I like to eat, so what to do?

I could focus on how this has been a challenging week for me, diet-wise, but eating too much or succombing to my sugar addiction doesn’t really make me happy or relieve stress, no matter what I tell myself while reaching for that Foster’s Market macaroon.

So instead I’ll focus on some of my favorite cookbooks.

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Laurel’s Kitchen was the first cookbook I bought after becoming a vegetarian 20-something years ago. One look at the worn-out cover reveals how well-used this cookbook has been. Laurel inspired me to bake bread from scratch, and attempt homemade pasta.

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Next came a few Moosewood cookbooks, though my favorite is “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant.” I really like that this cookbook focuses on different cuisines, though I must admit that when I want to eat Asian food, I just go to a restaurant. My favorite recipes in this book are perhaps the simplest: Rumpledethumps and Pasta y Fagioli.

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DaddyNell gave me “Passionate Vegetarian” a few years ago. I mostly make the soups, and am in love with her gumbo recipe. Other favorites are the Pumpkin-Tomato Bisque (super easy too!) and the Union Square Cafe Borscht.

I want to spend more time with this cookbook and make more of the recipes, but often I’m short of time and want to make something quick and easy.

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So I often pull out the “400 Soups” cookbook given to me by my neighbors. This cookbook, while not vegetarian, has a nice selection of bean and vegetable soups that are quick and easy.

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And, over the past few years, I’ve begun canning. The idea was to preserve my garden produce. Thanks to fun books like “Canning for a New Generation” and “The Joy of Pickling,” I am enjoying learning a new craft (skill?) and creating delicious gifts to share with family and friends.

So those are a few of my favorite cookbooks. Though I also scan the internet for recipes and am often printing and filing for future reference.

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So when the dog bites or the bee stings or I’m feeling hungry, I simply remember my favorite cookbooks abd then I don’t feel so bad. (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

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Today was JR’s memorial service. A former co-worker of mine, JR passed away in January.

Now, when I say co-worker, I don’t mean to imply an equal status. I have basically a “push papers” job; JR was a professor and dean. But you would never know that you weren’t on equal footing with JR. She treated everyone with dignity and respect.

JR was not a religious person, so her memorial service consisted of co-workers, friends and family speaking their remembrances. Several themes resonated throughout their remarks. One was her joyous attitude toward life. Another was her desire to “build people up” through friendship and mentoring. She was also a valued researcher and colleague, a leader in her field of pulmonary medicine. And she just loved life. She definitely took advantage of the time she had here on earth.

JR was in her early 50s when she succumbed to cancer. I’m not that much younger than she was. And while I believe in reincarnation, I also think that I shouldn’t waste this time around.

I’ve used her passing as a reminder that I need to get a move on. Why put off for retirement what you can do today? Why stay in an soul-less job out of fear? Why not take risks? What do I have to lose?

So, in today’s service, I asked JR if she would serve as my guide in  all things having to do with bravery, joy, and living life to its fullest.

Then, interestingly enough, one of JR’s friends read the following poem:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
— Mary Oliver

JR definitely didn’t just visit this world.  She left her mark on everyone she worked with.  May her spirit guide me in leaving my own mark, and in helping me to be brave enough to live a more authentic life.   May she also rest in peace.

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Door bells are nowhere near my favorite things. In fact, the doorbell at my current house broke shortly after I moved in, and it’s never been replaced.

I’m talking more than a decade here.

I realize they aren’t that hard to replace. My handyman J. went into elaborate detail as to how easy it would be. But I guess it’s just not important enough for me to make that long, three-mile drive to Home Depot…

Anyway, why purchase a loud doorbell when I already have what I view as a more charming bell (pictured above). The bell belonged to my great aunt, MaryNell, who had collected numerous knick-knacks during her 97 years on earth.

After she passed away, the Nells divided up her belongings. I selected several pieces of furniture and some china, as well as quite a few tchotchkes like the bell above and the scotty dog below.

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Silly me likes to dress up the scotty with ribbons around his neck. And I’ve just realized that it’s about time to switch out his winter wear to something more spring-like.

Another of my favorite items that came from a family member is the rose lamp in my living room.

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The lamp came from GrandmaNell. For some strange reason, no one else in my family wanted it. Fine by me, as I love it. Definitely not something you’d find in a box store!

Another item no one else wanted, but which I value greatly, is what MamaNell calls, “the monstrosity.”

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I’m not quite sure what this piece of furniture actually is. Perhaps a pier table? It has a heavy wood base, to hold an even heavier marble top. Unfortunately the inlaid mirror has seen better days.

“The monstocity” came from GreatGrandmaB’s estate. Now, GreatGrandmaB is on my father’s side of the family, but somehow my mother obtained custody of it when my parents divorced. She gladly let me take it some 20 years ago, and it has been taking up valuable space in my small houses ever since. But, as I have said, I love the monstrosity!

Another of my favorite pieces of furniture is the dressing table I inherited from GreatGrandmaB.

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I had this dressing table when I was a young girl, and, while I have no need for such an item, I hate to get rid of it. It reminds me of happy times in my youth. And again, it is a little unusual.

Other favorite items from my youth are these ancient prints of flowers.

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I believe I was gifted these prints along with the dressing table. They have definitely seen better days, but I still love them.

These items are just a small portion of the items I’ve inherited from my family. In fact, more than 90 percent of my furniture came from family members.

So when someone comes to visit and says, “I feel like I’m in grandma’s house,” they are mostly right. GreatGrandmaB, GrandmaNell, GreatAuntMaryNell, and GrannyB’s possessions fill my house and connect me to my past.

So when the dog bites or the bee stings, or I’m feeling sad, I simply look around my house and then I don’t feel so bad. (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

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When I think of my favorite things to eat, of course dessert is right up there at the top of the list. I am a recovering sugar addict, after all.

So instead of focusing on foods I’m trying to limit in my diet, I am choosing to emphasize the delicious foods that are actually good for me.

So here’s a list of my favorite foods, in no particular order:

1. Black beans. I could eat these every day.

2. Broccoli. I do tend to eat this vegetable every day, either chopped in salad, steamed, roasted, or sauted with garlic in olive oil.

The other thing I eat every day is oatmeal. My morning is not complete without a bowl.

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3. Greens. I became addicted to greens years ago when my former boss L. introduced me to the joys of growing kale. Why a joy, you may ask? Well it’s because kale is super easy for me to grow, as are mustard greens (above). I tend to let the plants go to seed, so I have plenty of free seed to start the next year’s crop. And there’s also plenty to share with my friends, the goldfinches.

Back to greens: I’ve just started having luck growing collards, but still have spotty luck with turnips. I can grow one particular kind of spinach (Space), lots of arugula and most leaf lettuces.

In terms of eating, I mostly steam my greens, or add them to soups and stir fry. No need to add bacon grease!!!

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4. Home-made yogurt. I began making yogurt several years ago, partly as an experiment and partly to stop buying all those plastic containers. I used the recipe on this page, and have had great success. I’ve made the labneh, too, but haven’t had luck with the mozzarella.

I eat the yogurt with freshly chopped apple or banana, along with cinnamon. Sometimes when I’m feeling indulgent, I’ll add some chocolate syrup. Who needs all the added fat and sugar of ice cream? (Note that I do, indeed, love, love, love ice cream.)

5. French-roast coffee, teas of all kinds, and simple smoothies made with frozen fruit and soy milk. My favorite thing to drink, though, is:

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WATER!

I love water, which might be obvious looking at my collection of water bottles. (Not included: a Camelback day pack.)

I know people, Nells included, who do not like water, and I just don’t understand this. Water is so refreshing, plus you need it to live! I guess I need more of it than most, since I drink about a gallon a day, and at least two gallons in the hot summer. Perhaps I had a past life where I didn’t have access to enough water? Whatever the reason, water is my bestest friend.

And, as has already been established, I do love most things sugary and chocolatey. I’d have to say my favorite dessert is:

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A brownie!!! Gooey chocolatey goodness!!!

The above brownie is actually half a brownie made and given to me by my neighbor B. I ate the first half (all 170 calories of it) on Monday, and had put the other half in the freezer for a treat this weekend. I’ll eat it off MamaNell’s wedding china with a real silver fork. Anything to distract me from it’s tiny size!

Though I am mighty proud of myself for being able to cut the brownie in half instead of eating a huge piece, like I normally would. Hopefully that’s good news regarding my sugar addiction!

So when the dog bites or the bee stings, or I crave some sugar, I simply remember all my favorite healthy foods, and then I don’t feel so bad. (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

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Okay, she’s not a pony, but Nanaline is cream-colored. And, as my pet dog, she’s one of my favorite things.

Nan’s half lab/half chow, with half a black tongue to prove it! (Sorry, she won’t keep her mouth open long enough for me to take a picture.)

She’s the fourth dog with whom I’ve shared my life. First there was Molly Dog, a golden retriever whom I bought as a puppy. Molly lived to the ripe old age of 14.

Next was Cameron, a black and brown dog who was abandoned by some neighbors. Having had a rough life before she moved in with me, Cami was in constant need of reassurance that she was loved. She was probably about seven when she died of kidney disease.

Then came Bailey and Nanaline, littermates adopted from a rescue organization. I got them in 2002; Bailey passed away in December.

Each of these girls were/are mid-size dogs, in the 60- to 70-pound range. Perfect size for light wrestling! Luckily they all loved long walks in the woods.

Molly and Cami were the perfect size to snuggle up against on cold winter evenings. However, Bailey and Nanaline stayed away from the furniture, and the few times I tried to get them on the bed, they panicked. That meant no snuggling unless it was on the hardwoods.

So Miss Nanaline has been an only dog for about four months now. And she seems to have settled into a comfortable routine. There is some dementia, along with arthritis, cataracts and hearing loss. Sometimes she wanders around the house aimlessly, but she’s nowhere near as nervous as Bailey was. And she sleeps at night!!!

The good news is that she’s increased her interactions with me; she now comes up and demands to be petted the way she used to. And sometimes she even tries to chase Patches the cat, so there’s still some life in my old dog yet.

Since I’m a dog person, I’ll probably always have one or two dogs in my life. And I’ll most likely always adopt from a shelter or rescue organization. While it might be more challenging to work with a rescue animal, there’s something quite special about knowing you helped that animal learn to trust and bond with humans.

So when the cat scratches or the bee stings, and I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my wonderful dogs and then I don’t feel so bad. (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

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One of my favorite things about winter is having the time to pore over seed and bulb catalogs and order what I’m going to plant the coming year.

I used to go hog wild and buy way more than I had the time or room to plant. The crocus below were part of a 1,000-bulb order a few years ago.

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After really struggling to get those bulbs planted (and to be honest, some never made it in the ground), I’ve been a bit more restrained in my ordering.

This year’s order was perhaps the smallest in awhile, though I do have quite a few seeds left over from last year to plant. I basically ordered only things I had no seeds for; in other words, no new variety of tomato when I’ve got numerous packets on hand.

So this year’s seed order included only peas, sugar snaps, snow peas, lettuce, okra, peppers, beans, kale, corn and cucumber.

I haven’t had much luck with corn, but I’ll try again this year. I have basically given up on cabbage due to never getting it planted in time to beat the bugs. I’ve also given up broccoli, due to aphid infestation, and carrots, at least until my clay soil is better emended.

I plant a few cut flowers — sunflowers, marigolds and zinnias mostly. I’ve got some wildflowers that reseed each year and create quite a show. I’m hoping the cosmos I planted last year will do the same.

I’d like to expand my flower growing, but for now I’m focusing on the veggies. And I’m definitely not allowing myself to order any more bulbs unless a designated space has already been prepared!

That being said, few things in life make me happier than the first blooms of the season.

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I also get great joy from watching my seeds grow. The peas I planted a few weeks ago are more than ready for transplanting.

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This coming week is spring break, so I’ll be taking a few days off to work in the garden. I can’t hardly wait!

So when the dog bites and the bee stings, and my team gets blown out by an arch-rival, I simply remember the joy I get from gardening, and then I don’t feel so bad. (Apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

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