Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An unexpected gift of time

Of all the things in my life, one of the most precious is time.  Perhaps that's because it seems like there is never enough of it.  The to-do list is a mile long (on an "easy" day), the demands of others draining, and the rising and setting of the sun a constant reminder that life is moving regardless of whether we've used or wasted the day.  That is why I find time so precious, although it is something that cannot be truly quantified, contained, measured, grasped.  It's like trying to hold light -- you may think you've captured a beam, but when you look inside your cupped hands all you see is darkness.

I cannot bind time to me, but I can appreciate it and use it.  That is why one of the most valuable gifts is the gift of time, an unexpected hour or evening or day that once was full is suddenly empty. The possibilities for that time seem endless.

What shall I do with today's unexpected gift? My mind revels in the possibilities, my body takes a breath of peace, and my heart sends up a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing of time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In honor of Vaclav Havel...a Czech-inspired cabbage recipe

I am still in mourning over the passing of Vaclav Havel, a very inspirational leader. (If you don't know much about Havel, you can check out the article on CNN or one on NPR (or here) or the remembrance on Talk of the Nation to get a glimpse into the life of this writer-turned-president.) My way of dealing with grief is to cook.  Sometimes this takes the form of baked goods, but this time it took the form of comfort food.  Czech comfort food, that is, in honor of my favorite Czech.
Cabbage and (chicken) sausage -- yum!
Honey says that I am true to my peasant roots when I make food like this.  Some of my favorite meals are essentially peasant fare from around the world. When it comes to certain parts of Europe, however, I must say that the thought of eating lots of sausage and cheese does not appeal to me. That is why I like this dish -- plenty of vegetables and a bit of sausage.  I found the original recipe on and over the years have tweaked it just slightly to make the meal to suit my tastes.

Czech Cabbage & Sausage (Marie's version)

  • 1 package chicken smoked sausage or turkey kielbasa, thinly sliced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 cup (or two, depending on availability & preference) diced bell peppers
  • 2-4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 small head cabbage, shredded
  • 1 tbsp oil or butter
  • 1/4 c. balsalmic vinegar
  • salt & pepper, to taste
Melt the oil or butter in a skillet and fry the onions and garlic until soft and fragrant, about three minutes. Add sausage and cook for three minutes.  Add the rest of the vegetables and cook until soft.  (I usually end up cooking mine a bit longer because I like the consistency at around 15-20 minutes.)  If you use red and yellow bell peppers, this ends up being a very colorful dish -- one of the things I love about it.

Meanwhile, heat a stock pot of water until boiling. Add cabbage and cook until cabbage reaches desired tenderness (some people like it just blanched so it's very crunchy, I like mine cooked for a few minutes so that the cabbage is mostly soft with just a bit of crunch left).

Drain cabbage and place is a large bowl.  Add contents from skillet, balsalmic vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Toss until well-mixed.  Serve hot or chilled.

YUM.  And a fitting tribute, in some small way, to the man who has inspired me for many years.

It is hard to believe that the first full-length work that I read of Havel's was a little over a decade ago.  All of his hard work in the 1980s and 1990s was overshadowed, in my young mind, by the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Sadly, my own secondary school education did not teach me about all the various movements and revolutions across Eastern Europe in the 1980s.  Havel, if I did hear about him at all, was just a footnote.  Upon discovering his books in 2000, I was transported, amazed, and I vowed that if I ever had a chance, my students would learn about this man.  He showed that we can overcome great obstacles and that not all politicians are corrupt.  His writings revealed a belief in the necessity of morals and ethics and in the truth of human struggle. If I ever have a chance to teach again, I would love to share Havel with more young people so that he can continue to inspire generations even though he is now gone.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rest in Peace, Mr. Havel.

Today was a rough day. A leader of the Velvet Revolution, the first president of Czechoslovakia and (later) the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, passed away.  I did not know him personally (of course) and had the Fates smiled on me and allowed me to meet him when I visited Prague several years ago there would have been very little we could say to each other thanks to a significant language barrier, but this is one world leader whose passing leaves a gray cloud hanging over my soul.

Vaclav Havel was an inspiration to me and many others of my generation, people who wanted to see that a dissident writer, jailed numerous times for his bold writings against the communist state, could promote nonviolence...and win.  Sure, our history books have Gandhi, and the American Civil Rights Era had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but our era -- the late 80s -- seemed removed.  Vaclav Havel showed us that standing for one's belief in a nonviolent way did not mean that one was passive and it most certainly did not mean accepting defeat.  It meant struggling over and over every day to make the world a better place and in the end that works.

I did not always agree with Havel.  There were times in this post-9/11 world that he supported military or government actions that I felt were harmful -- or at the very least not conducive to promoting a peaceful existence.  Regardless, I respected him because I knew from reading so many of his essays and books that he struggled with the idea of making moral and ethical decisions to run a country with the apparent necessity to make harsh political decisions. Juggling politics and ethics was, to him, the Art of the Impossible. A CNN article on his passing quoted Havel as saying, "'I would be glad if it was felt that I have done something generally useful,' he said. 'I don't care much about personal fame or popularity. I would be satisfied with the feeling that I had a chance to help with something in general, something good. That history gave me that chance.'"

In my mourning I was comforted by a student who told me that he remembered what I taught about Havel and the Velvet Revolution -- and the student said "'I'm sad to hear your hero is gone, but that doesn't mean what he did in the past won't have an inpact on others in the future. So see it this way: he is still very much alive to us through history and maybe one day his words/actions may inspire a new revolutionist for the future.'"  Yes, may that be true.  May Havel's words, his passion for understanding the human endeavor, and his desire to improve the world through nonviolent means be an inspiration for all future generations.

Vaclav Havel, I will miss you.  Rest in peace.

(For more on my obsession, you can see an earlier blog post here and here.)

Friday, December 2, 2011

A silent scream (or maybe a bit of hair pulling)

Dear Readers, please feel free to ignore this.  I just needed to scream and pull my hair in frustration.  If, however, you do decide to read this and you have advice, I'm all ears...
WTF is wrong with people?  Seriously!  Having heard from The Cougar (formerly known as Bestie #2) a total of three times in the month of November -- once at First Friday Family Dinner, once the weekend before Thanksgiving wondering what "we" were doing for the holiday (in the past this has meant "Why don't you plan everything and make most of the food and host it at your house and just tell me what dish or two to bring"), and once (in a message) a few days before the holiday expressing dismay over my communicated decision to celebrate the holiday alone -- I now get a lengthy e-mail as if no time has gone by and there are no issues.  Amazing.  The email was newsy -- what the parents and grandparents are up to, how she spent the Thanksgiving holiday, how she has to reapply to the graduate program because it's been a year and a half since she took a class -- and included a question: "By the way, are you still holding first Friday dinners? I wasn't sure since you haven't sent out any reminders (not that I have a Facebook page in order to respond) for a couple months."  Really??  The dinners you've attended without fail for nearly a year and a half (since they started), the last of which was on the last first Friday of the month, those dinners?  Am I still...?!?!?

Perhaps this is a legitimate question.  I was, after all, considering calling off family dinners for the foreseeable future.  After some discussion with Honey I decided not to do that but, instead, just not have much contact with family the rest of each month.  I think it's a fair compromise and good for my mental health.  And so perhaps this was just a legitimate effort to see if dinner was still on.

But I am very frustrated.  I do not consider us friends any more, although I am always friendly and polite.  Yet she's always had everything handed to her, everything smoothed over, life made easy.  She chooses friends and when to keep the and for how long and never puts forth effort into a friendship, knowing that the others in the relationship will take care of it for her.  So I stop...and she doesn't make an effort to reach out because she's never had to do that.  Does she still think we're best friends?

On the one hand I want to just confront the issue and be done.  Yet I hesitate because she is currently exhibiting the behaviors and maturity of a 15 year old -- and as we all know, age 15 is the worst age: they think they know everything and absolutely refuse to listen to anyone.  I don't want to initiate a conversation because I believe she would be more receptive to listening if she initiates -- the same as teenagers are more willing to take the advice of a teacher or mentor if they ask for that opinion or advice.

This whole situation is frustrating.  Just when I think "Well, at least I don't have to deal with it anymore" something pops up -- like an e-mail that says nothing and yet says everything.

Detoxing (in a way)

A few weeks ago I saw a very inspiring idea on Pinterest. (Okay, you got me -- every day I see inspiring ideas on Pinterest. It's just that this time I actually did something about it.)  DIY Wallflowers -- you know Wallflowers, the scented plug-ins you buy, they last a few weeks and your home smells incredible and then you have to plunk down another giant wad of cash to buy refills.  Living in an old home filled with old home smells encouraged me to buy a lot of Wallflowers -- one for just about every room of the house.  The house smelled great, but that was an expensive fix!  Then when I lost my job that was one of the expenses that we cut.  I used up the remainder of my house-smell-good stash and then carefully packed the warmer units away, knowing that eventually I would find a use for them.

The DIY Wallflowers idea beats buying refill plugs!  The problem with all of the good smells around the house was that I knew I was actually breathing in chemicals, which is not good for me or for the rest of the family.  Do I want to breathe in chemicals?  No, thank you!  So the idea of refilling the plug-ins with a mixture of water and essential oils was quite appealing.  But where to get essential oils for a reasonable price?

Enter Vitacost -- a website that has low prices on many healthcare and homecare products.  They carry Aura Cacia essential oils for a lower price than I've seen them elsewhere.  The nice thing about Vitacost is that if you get a referral from a friend, you get a $10 credit -- since I went this route I ended up with four bottles of essential oils for about $8 total (and that included shipping).  Not bad, eh?

So if you're interested in a referral, just let me know -- leave your e-mail in the comments section or send me an e-mail and I'll send you a referral.

Right now I have four plug-ins working in my house.  Lavender in the bathrooms and a mixture of mint, eucalyptus, and orange in the living room and kitchen.  I breathe in deeply and enjoy the scent knowing that I am no longer filling my nose with toxic chemicals.

(Oh yeah, and as you probably know, essential oils can be used in many ways. One of my future projects: homemade soap.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chayote Squash

I consider myself relatively knowledgeable in the areas of garden produce.  Of course this is relatively new knowledge, say the past ten years or so, because growing up we didn't have much exposure to fruits and vegetables.  I remember one of the first times I made a meal for Honey, who then asked me where the side dish or salad was. You mean you put more than one thing on your plate for dinner? Nonsense! But apparently that's the way most people work.  Now when I make a meal it tends to be balanced and I try to make it beautiful, like last night's dinner of crockpot chicken mole.

Nevertheless, there are times when I hear about a fruit or vegetable that is completely new to me.  Maybe it's something I've seen before and never paid attention because I've never thought about cooking it.  Whatever the reason for my ignorance, I'm always looking to try something new, so if I find a new fruit or vegetable, we're making least once.

Last week for Thanksgiving, we had blue hubbard squash for the first time -- I grew one in our garden (it wasn't a very good year for winter squash at our place this year) and we ate it as a gratin for our Thanksgiving meal.  Yum -- sweet, perfect compliment to potatoes in the gratin.  This week, Safeway was offering chayote 2/$1.  It sounded like a good price, so of course I had to figure out what this thing was.

I bought three of the best-looking chayote (although that's not saying much, since this Safeway doesn't always have the best produce), did a bit of searching, and finally decided to use two of them to make this recipe.  It called for the chayote to be a bit crunchier, perhaps like a salsa of sorts, to be eaten with tortillas.  I decided to make mine a bit more like a curry, adding coconut milk and letting it cook off so that the chayote was a bit softer (with just a bit of crunch)

Wikipedia says that some people think the chayote tastes like a cross between a potato and cucumber.  Honey thought it was akin to water chestnut or bamboo shoots.  I had no idea what to think.  It has a very mild flavor, so it seemed to adopt the ginger, garlic, and coconut milk and make a nice curry accompaniment to the chicken mole.
So if you get a chance, try it -- it's always fun to expand horizons. And if you come up with an amazing recipe for this veggie, please do share.  We can all learn from one another, right?

Thanksgiving was a success -- now on to Christmakkkah!

Does Thanksgiving weekend seem like a distant memory to anyone else, or is it just me?  It was lovely to have a few days with Honey, uninterrupted by family, unstressed by the need to make (and then consume) a ridiculous amount of food.  The weekend actually felt like a retreat and was restful enough that Honey said "I could get used to a four-day weekend."  Thankfully, we don't have long to wait -- we're taking a long weekend around Christmas and going away, as we do every year, to enjoy time together and escape the Crazies.
Honey started reading the collection of
Sherlock Holmes I got him for the holidays.

So how did I do on my list of Thanksgiving craft projects and recipes to make an accomplish?  As I feared, I did not get as much accomplished with crafts as I had wished.  It always takes time to set things up and transition between projects!  But I made a dent and quite a few things as "in progress" (with today's date reminding me that I need to wrap it up), I love my new craft room, and even Honey brought a chair in a few times to sit and read in the cozy room as I worked on various holiday gifts.

The list of recipes was a bit easier.   And yummy!  After all, who doesn't like trying something new -- especially when it comes to holiday foods. The soups were good, Chick-Fil-A knockoffs actually pretty similar to the real thing (now my mouth and thighs can duke it out over who is most important and who my brain should listen to), the granola a bit of a miss (although it made for good chewy banana-oatmeal cookies later in the weekend), and the eggnog cheesecake divine.
Knock-off Chick-Fil-A nuggets & sauce (with some leftover
biscuits & gravy).

Our Thanksgiving Dinner 2011
There's more good food on the way.  A dear friend of mine sent a belated birthday gift that arrived the day before Thanksgiving.  What did this amazing gift (from a beautiful lady) contain?


So that was the break -- and it was a lovely break!   After all, can you really go wrong when you get time to sit and read...or time to look at adorable cuddly pets?
I think eventually  all five furry  babies made it to the couch.

Bunny the Cat with stuffed kitties. Snuggling!
These pastimes never get old.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...