Saturday, October 27, 2012

Walking with my younger son.

This is my younger son, who often walks with me barefooted because he thinks it's important to toughen the soles of your feet. He is a boy of interesting contrasts, both tough guy and sensitive soul. He came to me earlier this week and said his physics class was going on an engineering field trip and that a friend of his in the class could not afford to go and he wanted to pay his fee ($2) and lunch at Mellow Mushroom. I told him I'd pay for that and he said he wanted to do part of it with money he'd saved so suggested that if I covered lunch, he'd pay the friend's fee and the tip.  He asked me also about how much to tip and I told him to leave 20%, and commented that the wait staff work hard for that money. He told me the next day that he left a 50% tip because "we were a bunch of loud, obnoxious teenagers and she had to deal with us." I just loved that he took into account the difficulty of waiting on kids and tipped accordingly. His only disappointment was that other kids under-tipped. I could not have been more proud of him.
He often goes on walks with me, now that his brother is away, and talks about things going on in his life. Mostly, we walk by the lake.
The ground is littered with acorns right now, and the squirrels are busy collecting and burying them.
We also went out to a near-by state park Sunday to hike.
Apparently this tree proved irresistible.
It was a warm sunny day, but in the woods the light is filtered and it was pleasant.
We stopped to rest after a while, looking up at the sky. It was just one of those days where I was feeling thankful that my son wanted to spend time with me. I know that 15 is an age where your parents embarrass you just by being there.
I read in the NYT Well Blog that a study of people 70 and up showed that those "who engaged in the most physical exercise, including walking several times a week, had less shrinkage and damage in the brain’s white matter, which is considered the 'wiring' of the brain’s communication system. The relationship remained even after the researchers controlled for things like age, health status, social class and I.Q."
Correlation or causation, makes no difference to me - I plan to keep walking.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Actually, some nights I just eat like this.

It's not all coordinated meals and new recipes around here. Sometimes I just want what an old friend of mine always called a snicky-snack meal. I love to cook, especially for someone who truly appreciates it. It's almost a meditative experience and I can become fully lost in the process. But I have to admit that when I'm on my own, I really don't like to cook at all. Even scrambling an egg feels like too much effort. So generally, I don't. No stove and oven, no pots and pans, no chopping and sautéeing. Just some easy food and a movie. Best of all, there is virtually no clean up. I don't know whether this represents a needed balance in my life or utter laziness. And I'm not sure I care.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Autumn is here with a vengeance.

And even though I hate the thought of winter headed my way, this does seem like a happy time of year.
There's something about the combination of bright blue skies and vivid leaves that is so appealing.
Chlorophyll absent, this maple and oak leaf pair stand out against the still very green grass.
I probably drive my son crazy, because as we drive I say constantly, "Wow, look at that tree!"
Sweetgum leaves fall in a variety of colors, this one in a speckled yellow.
One of the best things about this part of the country is that we get spectacular color in the fall and lush green for a big part of the rest of the year.
Even the highway through town looks decorated.
But I don't have to go that far - the drive into my neighborhood is also wonderful.
When the leaves first fall, the lawns in the neighborhood have bright leaf carpets.
And this tree on the corner absolutely glows.
And then there is my own home.  The big old dogwoods in front are in the homestretch, leaves a more aged red now.
From my bedroom the sun comes in one one side through these trees,
and through these along the back yard.
Remind me of this when it's cold and barren, okay?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The de-cluttering continues.

My younger son, still in high school, shuttles back and forth between his father's house and mine, swapping homes mid-week. When he arrives, school things get dropped in front of the wood stove in the den and that area becomes the staging ground for the week. Some powerful force field is created and my stuff (see the gym bag and yoga mat?) gets sucked in, too. But it drives me crazy.
When he's not outside, my son is often at the computer, playing games, reading, doing homework or researching his latest project. Within a week the place is littered with cups and socks and a variety of papers and junk.
This room is where we watch movies and also where I pay bills, read, work on business paperwork, and have my own computers, both laptop and desk. When you add in my phone and iPad, I actually have four computers. I guess I'm a bit of a geek. Anyway, although we spend a lot of our time in this room - we're both in here now, in fact - it's hardly a serene place. It's probably the most cluttered room in the house. Have I mentioned it drives me crazy?
I noticed the UU church was having a course on clutter, but I found out too late to sign up. I bought the book and decided to work through it on my own. Ironically, on Amazon the physical copy was cheaper than the ebook. Cheap enough used that I decided to get the book even if it meant bringing another thing into the house.  Because that's the point of the book really - about our relentless acquisition of stuff and deep reluctance to part with anything once we have it. It's written by the organization guy on the show "Clean Sweep," but it isn't focused on organizing as much as divesting. I took the test and am actually pretty much mid-range. Most of my house is neat and I even enjoy getting rid of things. Still, I don't live as lightly as I'd like and I am looking to pare down in preparation for leaving this house in a year or so.  
It has to get worse before it gets better. I collected up the piles of paper and emptied out the file cabinet. And then started purging.  All utility and credit card bills except the most recent, gone. Papers I wasn't sure why I'd saved in the first place, gone. I sorted and threw away and signed up for web statements from my retirement funds. I didn't need to set up a system for paying bills because the checks for those get written as soon as they come in and I already bank on-line.
The revised system - lean and organized.  In addition to getting rid of a bunch of papers, I also dumped all the back issues of magazines in the recycling bin and put the magazine rack in the pile of stuff to charity. Along with several stacks of books and some games we never play. Everything that belonged in other rooms left and things that had no real use went into the trash.
My son still has to use this room for school work and so I've left his backpack and school books, and also let him keep a few things here that shouldn't be stored in the basement. I'd prefer it to be clear of all that stuff, but I recognize that his needs have to take precedence for the time being. So it's not perfectly clear, but it is way better.
The book emphasizes that is in an ongoing process, not a one time deal. Another day, I want to pare down the CDs and store them in a less bulky way, for instance. But I'm pretty happy with it, and plan to make a sweep of the place at least once a week to keep us on track. Next up, I'll tackle another room in the house. But right now I'm going to drink my coffee and bask in the thing of beauty that is my den.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Taking a break in the midst of a big organizational project...

which includes de-cluttering, even on a digital level. I pulled up Picasa to transfer some photos from my phone to my computer, and in the downloads file, side by side, were these two throw-away photos. The first is my older son at 14, at the beginning of his sophomore year of high school (in his band uniform, if you're wondering about the silly tie and suspenders). And the next is him at 18, just as he was starting his sophomore year of college. They hardly look like the same kid! I'm throwing in this post mainly because I'm too busy for a real post and because I just thought the sophomore/sophomore juxtaposition was amusing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I did it!

There's so much at stake - women's rights to govern their own bodies, civil rights for gay citizens, the need for further reforms to health care law to push us towards universal health care, the threat of privatizing social security, global climate change. Now it's your turn - vote!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Foodie post

I admit it. I like good food. I remember the evening a few years ago, the first (and last) time I cooked for someone I'd invited over for dinner. Before he even tasted what I'd cooked, he asked for soy sauce. I got it for him, watched him douse the still-untasted food and thought to myself that he'd never be back at my table.  I don't think I could make a relationship work with someone who didn't appreciate my cooking. This dinner last week was an impromptu meal, where I just started pulling things out of the freezer, fridge and pantry to see what I could make. Salad, asiago bread, and spinach fettuccine with shrimp, grape tomatoes, peppers, olives, artichoke hearts and capers. Nothing unusual, but still tasty.
Last night a friend made me a belated birthday dinner. Salmon cooked in a nori seaweed wrapper (I plan to reproduce this one some time), a cabbage slaw, parsley rice, and asparagus that hadn't yet made it to my plate.
We had chocolate puddingish cakey-stuff for dessert, with wine. This is actually a raspberries and similar mousse-like stuff she served earlier when we got together a while back. I don't think there ever isn't chocolate after dinner at her house.  We stay up after her daughter goes to bed, eating dessert, drinking wine, and talking late into the night.
This horribly fuzzy photo was taken Monday night when I accidentally had my camera on the wrong setting. I'm putting it in anyway because the meal was so good. The salad with beets, oranges, and ricotta I won't make again - it was fine, but not a favorite. But the other two dishes more than made up for it.  I had pan-fried tilapia covered in strips of red pepper sautéed with butter, brown sugar and pecans. I also roasted peppers (anaheim, yellow bell, and banana peppers) and garlic and multi-colored potatoes and carrots. The roasted peppers and garlic were peeled and pureed with rice wine vinegar and oil, and tossed with the potatoes, carrots, and caramelized sweet onions. Not just good, actually, but absurdly good.

By request, the recipe as I made it for the potato salad:

Toss 3 pounds potatoes (I used the little multi-colored ones and some new potatoes)cut in pieces and a handful of little carrots, cut in chunks in olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast in shallow pan at 425 until easily pierced with a fork.

Microwave 1 large sweet onion in its skin for a couple of minutes, cut into thinly slices, and saute in a little butter and olive oil until browned.

Meanwhile, put Anaheim peppers (I used one Anaheim, one banana pepper and one orange bell pepper)and a clove of garlic still in its skin in another shallow pan with the potatoes.  When they are just starting to brown, remove and after cooling a bit, peel of skin and remove seeds.  Cut up a few pieces of the less hot peppers (Anaheim and bell) to go in the salad. Put the rest (1/2 C) into a blender with the peeled roasted garlic clove, 1/2 C rice wine vinegar, 2 T sugar, a little salt and pepper.  While blending, slowly pour in 1.3 C canola oil. Toss the roasted potatoes, carrots, and caramelized onions with some of the pepper vinaigrette.  (There will be too much, but it makes a great salad dressing for later.)  Sprinkle with fresh torn parsley.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Not all my projects are impressive ones.

I wrote myself a list of projects for the weekend and realized at some point that I was in danger of not completing a single one before Sunday ended. So I deliberately chose one I knew I could finish just to be able to cross it off my list. It was the kitchen junk drawer. Do you have one of those? Stuff just seems to accumulate and soon it starts spilling out whenever you open the drawer. I started by dumping the whole mess on the rug in the den.
There were the usual outdated coupons and mystery items that could be thrown away. And then: Six cell phone batteries, but I have no idea if we still have those cell phones. A number of keys that don't go to anything that I know of. A microwave light bulb that I never could figure out how to install. Two books of matches from a hotel in Athens, as if I need matches to remember the view of the Acropolis at night. After putting things where they belonged - plastic bags in the drawer that hold plastic wrap and foil, nails and a screwdriver in the tool box, ponytail holders in my dresser, paperclips and pens to the desk, boxtops counted and in a bag for my son to take to school - I was left with this incredibly organized drawer. I showed it off to my older son and he said, "Why'd you do that? It'll just fill back up again." He has yet to learn that much of adult life is an endless Sisyphean cycle of doing chores that will only need to be done all over again.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall weekend.

No denying it, it's autumn.
I looked out the window yesterday and was surprised to see a random kid raking my backyard. Later he introduced himself to me and said he and my next-door neighbors had been gathering leaves for a big leaf pile. I told him they were welcome to take all the leaves they wanted!
Fall colors are starting to appear, but it is still very damp. Mushroom colonies have been sprouting up in my yard alongside fallen dogwood berries.
But there are still spring-like touches. A blooming azalea and my impatiens and begonias are hanging on, their pinks incongruous in the slightly chillier air.
My older son came home for the weekend and he and his brother spent some time trying on winter hats. This one on my younger son was my favorite.
While I was working in the front yard, my new across-the-street neighbor came over to introduce himself.  He said he and his wife and their 3 month old baby had just moved here from Utah. I told him my sons were older, but that the neighbor was full of young kids and very safe. He asked if I had a daughter and said he'd seen a girl earlier driving in after running, he thought. I'd gone running that morning, so he'd seen me in running clothes. Later, when I was telling my kids, my younger son missed part of the story and asked what had happened. My older son said, "The new neighbor thought Mom was her daughter." I'm my own daughter - now that's Appalachian!