Sunday, July 26, 2015

Packin' a Suitcase

When packing a suitcase for vacation or a flight, my aim is to pack light, but to have what I need and feel comfortable both when I travel and when I get there which tends to mean that I check my luggage.

The destination and mode of travel are part of my packing strategy, but generally, I travel for leisure. This approach works well- I pack two tops for every bottom, bring a mix of bottoms some of which are quick to dry, easy to spot clean, bring things that are casual yet dressy, like a long linen skirt in summer- something that works for a dinner date is about as fancy as I get, and can vary with the weather- leggings for colder nights under long skirts are an easy add. I always pack a swimsuit (you never know when an onsen spa, pool, or water park will be on your agenda), a scarf, and a jacket or blazer (to dress up pants and add a layer of warmth).

To keep it organized, roll together the top, bottom, and any undergarments needed. Pack the rolls tightly into a bag or suitcase. For kids or those who struggle with staying organized, use a rubber band around each outfit which helps with counting outfits packed, plus later when the suitcase explodes, and for some reason this always happens to my children's bags, anyone can discern what's clean (still has a rubber band around it), what goes with what (still has a rubber band around it), and when they're out of clean clothes (it's all chaos). Also roll up pajamas with fresh underwear. If you have nylon stuff sacks, fill them with additional undergarments such as socks, tank tops, and panties. Vary the extra tops to flex your choices for hotter or cooler weather by packing thinner or thicker fabrics and longer or shorter sleeves.

Sometimes trips have a unique purpose such as a bike or ski trip requiring special clothes, add those items. For example, on a beach trip add a coverup and flipflops. For a big city trip, add a dressy pantsuit- mainly because I hate to be cold or underdressed.

For accessories, I tend to go with beaded necklaces, a pair of sandals (plain black Chacos), and a pair of closed toe shoes (varies by trip). If the clothes' colors match or compliment each other, it simplifies everything.

I also try to pack minimal toiletries, however, I prefer my own razor, hair conditioner, hair goop, skin lotion, and toothpaste. 

For carry on items, I go for both dulling the senses and entertainment. Pack an eye shield, earplugs, a scarf (for blocking light and warmth), a real book, a notepad, pen and mechanical pencil, an empty water bottle, a zip bag with a widget full of audiobooks, headphones, and the necessary cords and plugs for a mobile as well. I also carry the travel paperwork for where I'm going, necessary identification, any medications, Motrin and Tylenol, sunglasses, a small sunscreen stick, eyeglasses, a contact lens holder loaded with saline, toothbrushing items, nail clippers, and extra layers for cold flights like leggings, socks, and a sweater. Though I wear little makeup, I do keep an item or two in my bag along with lip moisturizer. 

When my kids were little I always brought a thermometer and decongestants. Now I limit it to band aids of various shapes for the cuts and blister crowd.

Safe travels!


Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Anaconda Diet

An old friend, intrepid bachelor, and soon to be retired Marine Colonel whiling away terminal leave, will soon return to another Athens in the southern parts of these United States, visited while it just so happened to be Brew Week. We chatted about old times, movies, flags, Civil War battle tactics, but of all things, his comment, The Anaconda Diet, resonated with me the most for being an unusual dietary philosophy in the face of high protein, gluten free, vegan, etc., restrictions. His philosophy? "Eat first, worry about how to get rid of it later."

Yes, he's the kind of person that still wears the same sized uniform, thirty years later, as when he joined the corps since he PTs (read does physical training) religiously. He also happily hoofed it all over our fair town to the various venues to try brews and cheer on the brewers.

It seems a marvel of the modern age that we obsess about food, but really, the human species has had  food on the brain from the get go. Nonetheless, I appreciate when someone actually eats the food, whatever it is, with little compunction about the what perhaps best illustrated by leftovers on a kiddo's plate.

Kiddo stands, looks at Mama, and says, "Can you wrap this for breakfast?" Mama says, "Sure." Dada says, "No." Mama starts to intervene, explaining that while the boys were out sampling beers, the family sampled bread and cheese over a game board of Life. Dada shakes his head dismissively; his fork reaches toward the leftover half of a burger patty. He says, "I'll eat it." 

The Colonel, fork and butter knife at the ready, eye on the half the burger, says, "I'll take half." His fork descends into the other half of the half burger. Dada quickly retrieves his butter knife and plunges it into action. The division complete, two grown men consume the remnants of the child's meal with wide grins on their faces.

I can't imagine or recall sharing (or haggling) over half of a leftover hamburger or anything for that matter, but I think it is because I didn't grow up with a brother. It occurs to me that only men who grew up with brothers think nothing of clashing forks and knives for additional scraps at mealtime and that sport of the halving it adds to the tastiness of the meal.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Blueberry Raspberry Jam

Adding the whole berries at the end of the cooking process makes for a nice chunky jam. Using the ratio of 1:2/3 cup (berries to sugar) allows the ripe fruit taste to come through. Estimate about 2 pints of berries for 1 pint of jam. Yields 6 pint jars. Refer to manufacturers instructions for specific canning details for either the waterbath or oven method. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is

Fresh Ripe Organic Blueberries, 750 gm ( 26.5 oz) = 562 gm (20 oz) + 188 gm (6.5 oz) (set aside)
Fresh Ripe Organic Raspberries, 750 gm ( 26.5 oz) = 562 gm (20 oz) + 188 gm (6.5 oz) (set aside)
Granulated Sugar, 1000 gm (35 oz)
Organic Lemon, 1, zest & 1 Tbsp of Juice
Kirschwasser (Cherry Liquor), 2 oz (60 ml)

Useful Equipment
Long handled spoonLarge heavy bottom Dutch OvenZester for LemonMesh skimmer or spoon to skim off foam and small bowl of water to dump the foamJars for canning with lids and bandsCanning Pot for water bath

1. Place metal spoons or plate into freezer.

2. Wash inside and outside of canning jars with lids and bands (estimate a pint jar per two pints of berries).

3. Bake jars (tops open) at 250ºF (121ºC) for 30 minutes. In a small pot over low heat, simmer the lids until needed. Lay out a clean cloth to wipe jar rims after filling.

4. Pick over the fruit and discard any unripe berries, stems, leaves, critters, or mold. Fill a bowl with water and swish the berries around-- prevents damage from the faucet's stream to the delicate fruit. Arrange in a single layer on a paper towel-lined baking sheet to prevent bruising and dry.

5. Near the stove, set aside a quarter of the berries, 375 gm (13 oz), to add at the end.

6. In a large heavy bottom pot with a wide rim such as a dutch oven over low heat, add berries and occasionally stir to soften the fruit and draw out the pectin until it comes to a simmer, 5 to 7 minutes.
Continuing over low heat, add the sugar, lemon juice, and a bit of lemon zest. Stir into berries until dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes.

7. Increase heat (medium high to high depending on the heat source) to boil rapidly, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until the jelling point is reached, 15 to 20 minutes- see the next step below. Skim foam off the top as needed.

8. After 15  minutes begin to test for the jelling point by placing a bit of the hot jam onto a spoon or plate from the freezer. If the jam runs, continue to cook and recheck after a minute, if the jam runs in a sheet and crinkles when pushed up, the jelling point has been reached.

9. Add the remaining whole berries and return to boil until the berries are translucent and just hold their shape, about 1 to 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Skim off any foam.

10. Gently stir the Kirschwasser into the jam.

11. Allow to cool and thicken to let the whole fruit pieces to remain disbursed, 10 to 12 minutes.

12. Ladle warm jam into clean sterilized jars with a 1/4-inch of head space. Wipe rims with clean damp cloth. Apply lids and seal with bands- tighten bands to just finger tight.

13. Place jars in a pot with a rack and enough water to cover the jars by about an inch. Bring water to boil and process for 5 minutes. Start the timer when the water begins to boil.

14. Remove jars from the water and place on a surface (wood, folded cloth, newspapers, silicon mat, etc.) to cool. Tighten the bands. Allow to sit undisturbed and to cool completely.

15. Check the seals. Any unsealed jars must be used within a few days and stored in the fridge. Store jars in a cool dry place and use within 1 year. Label jars/lids with the date and contents.

At the table
Eat jam on sandwiches with brie, french toast, oatmeal, yogurt, scones, waffles, salad dressing, etc.

Blueberries and Raspberries cooking

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lessons from a Funeral

In no particular order, these are some of the thoughts that have stuck with me these past days with the passing of my mother-in-law.

1. “How old was she? Was she sick? Oh, it was expected right?” I’ve cluelessly said some version of this myself. No, I wasn’t expecting it though I was expecting it because she was sick, but I can’t really believe someone’s gone until they're gone which then feels unexpected and out of no where. She was gone before she was gone, but it was important to me to witness that last little bit of the going and then it still felt like a surprise.

2. “I’m sorry for your loss,” is enough. Get comfortable for an awkward millisecond, I’ll come ‘round.

3. Don’t lay your loss on me right then and there, I’m staggering already.

4. Flowers are for the living. Have all the dang flowers you need, beauty helps in these moment.

5. Rituals, friends, community, and random people with their stories of, “She helped me,” helped me. Eventually, you have to stagger out on your own two feet, but there’s a time for support. Later, years later, it’ll catch you off guard, but for right now, closure, a way to say goodbye, and an opportunity to share the grief are enough.

6. I thought my father-in-law was going to die watching my mother-in-law die. It pained him to see her suffer, but it almost killed him too. Dying is grueling. Pace yourself. The living must rest, relax, chill, take a break, eat good food, go for a long walks, you just have to do it especially when accompanying the dying.

7. My mother-in-law was a dynamic woman who made lots of things happen in her life. I had moments of doubt that she always meant well, but I see clearly now that she always had good intentions. It occurs to me to trust that most who cross your path, mean well. Second guessing is a waste of energy.

8. Photos collages recollect all of the times, roles, and parts that the departed have played in life. It’s good to gather and assemble a lifetime of photos.

9. I’m avoiding the cards. More cards have arrived than at Christmas. It’s a little overwhelming. I’ve stacked them up for my husband, but he hasn’t opened them either. I’m slightly afraid of the grief that will be shared or maybe it’s the dazzling sentiments that I’m ducking. Who knows.

10. Every person who came, wow, just wow, it means a lot. When my husband’s college buddies, who were also in our wedding, walked into the church for the funeral, I lost my composure.

11. You get through the messy stuff of life because other people don’t let you fall through the cracks even though you are surrounded by flesh eating sinkholes. See above.

12. In the end your body is just a vessel for your soul or whatever it is you call the difference between a corpse and someone you love. You don’t take the body with you. I realized it’s ok if it’s got holes in it or parts missing. I thought the body was way more important than it turned out to be. It eventually fails and falls away, it's part of life. Be an organ donor.

13. My mother-in-law nearly died during the fall, but she came back, though her body no longer worked very well. However, she gracefully accepted the changes as she tried to recoup her physical strength. I seriously doubt I could be as magnanimous as her. Honey, let me go the first time round, and I know I’m being selfish in asking for this. Those extra months she got really helped me appreciate what she was going to have to do to get back to a level of activity. When it’s my turn, have mercy on me, let me go. She was a saint, I'm an ogre- no testing necessary, I'm confessing now.

14. In life, we need less stuff. I’m as guilty as the next person for having stuff in my closet and life that just takes up space. I don’t care why you love it, but only keep ithe stuff you love. Otherwise, thank the unloved stuff and pass it on.

15. It’s never what you think will do you in that does you in. Was it the chemo or the cancer? I tell you this, it wasn’t the Piña colada, exercise program, or cruise to the northern climes that did it. I’m not saying smoke the smokes, but do live a little, you can’t take it with you.

16. It’s going to take me a while to write thank you notes. I don't want to think about it all for a while.

17. That was physically an exhausting experience. I could easily spend a week in hibernation. I have pains that I've never had before. I’m definitely an introvert.

18. Every face, every smile, every nod felt like encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without all of you. Thank you for making the path brighter and the way, lighter.

19. The day of the funeral, I played my Moody Mama playlist. R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” and Sade’s “By Your Side” helped.

20. My kiddo had a nightmare shortly after the funeral. She couldn't go back to sleep so she got up uncharacteristically early. I didn't press, but a few days later, she told me about her nightmare. She said, "Someone stole Square Pig  (her "lovey"), and I couldn't get it back. When I woke up, I wasn't holding even one of my stuffys." Oh! Crackle my heart. Death snatches our loveys from us,  and we don't get them back.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


How could one feel grumpy with azaleas in bloom? I manage. Spring colds and a loved one on a ventilator help. However, I rousted myself from the house to check out the first week at the Chesterhill Produce Auction. The pickings were slim, but the eggs, asparagus, and rhubarb were plentiful! 

It amazes me what grows in this area- plenty. The seasons are sometimes short so with asparagus, you must act quickly if you want to make pickles. I also saw The Under Secretary of Agriculture and got interviewed by a Korean journalist about rhubarb. 

For dinner, try an asparagus, potatoes, and bacon quiche.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Problem with Spring

Spring makes me glad all over again that we have long cold dark days that ripen into flaming petals of outrageous colors, visual performances onstage of words written in the late night hours, and of little girls leaping in tutus with steps learned week after week during the long months of buildup. Every spring as the tulips wave their colorful hellos from the beds, I think, "I'm planting more bulbs in fall." Every fall, I fail to plant the hundreds of tulips I had envisioned seeing in spring. 

The problem with spring is that you have to do the work in the dark days to get to the sunny ones.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sunburnt Feet & Frostbitten Toes

Barring four years in high school, I spent most of my childhood down south. However, I'm a Yankee, of some sort, by constitution. I tend toward writhing glances versus the spoken word, unsweet tea or, even worse, hot tea instead of sweet tea ya'll, and reading books, not the bible, in coffee shops. It's not just the heat that stifles.

Lured onto the church bus by promises of candy and prizes, my mom rightly let me figure out for myself that my butt on a foldout chair or planted on a wooden bench were the real prize. My fascination with droning fans probably began at a three hour bible study I demanded to attend. By age nine, I started declining bus rides to bible study even though it cost me a few friends. 

I wanted to fit in, but an uptight bookworm with a misguided sense of equality and a modulated Midwestern cadence is not easily accommodated. I liked all the wrong things- anoraks instead of polos, funky shoes instead of flipflops, and the occult held more appeal than the Southern Baptist church.

"Do you take Jesus Christ as your personal savior," a young man queried me in earnest before having the gumption to ask for a date. "Personal? No. No, I don't," I replied. "Well then, there's nothing more for us to talk about," he said. Open and shut, black and white, and the world of gray, Protestant, dismissed in the blink of an eye. The heat of my car welcomed me as the feeling of having just missed a death knell to my spirit washed over me. 

Still, nearly every woman I knew or knew of, got married around this time. I began to get comfortable with the idea of being single forever even if it did feel like a case of leprosy. I counseled myself that Christ ate with the lepers. 

Then there was the time a neighbor threatened that something might happen to my house because my roommate dated a black man. "Some people frown on that sort of thing around here," she said. I shrugged at her comments. There was not much that could be said to the neighbor though she did tell me it wasn't her that I needed to worry about but those other people. "Other people?" I asked. We left the middle of the road by the mailboxes in a stalemate. I didn't act as frightened as she intimated I should be. I opted not to mention it to my roommate, it was the little thing I could do to stop the insanity from spreading. 

The stifling window of how a woman may conduct herself, what interests are deemed appropriate, and my own inability to fit the southern girl mold with aplomb sent me in search of alternatives.

Now, I visit the Redneck Riviera, admire the fit and not so fit ladies, and linger over the long drawls, noting the ways I never could quite catch. I eat grouper, greens, and grits. The handbags bursts with color. The beer is mass produced. I drink a cocktail, walk in the sugar sand, and I am grateful for staying true to some parts of myself. There's still plenty more lost causes filed away in my drawer of truths to reckon with someday, but for now, I'm glad to be heading north with both sunburnt feet and frostbitten toes.