Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My grandparents

I've recently returned from a five day visit with my paternal grandparents and I am once again reminded how much I have to learn.  I am ashamed to admit how much maturing I had yet to do, and how much I still had (and surely have yet to) to learn.  As much as I’ve always loved and appreciated my grandparents, I appreciate them so much more now.  My grandparents have not fundamentally changed as long as I remember, but the lessons they had to teach me are finally sinking in. 

My grandparents are amazing people.  They've been working and taking care of themselves and their families since they were teenagers.  When I was younger I thought that their relationship was rather dull.  Theirs wasn't a passionate romance (as far as I knew), how boring.  But this year they will reach their 55th anniversary, and spending time with them has taught me what enduring love is. 

They first met at a bar where my grandma, Patricia, was hanging out with her mother in law (a woman I wish I could have known).  She thought my grandpa was too drunk, so their meeting was brief.  Luckily, she went to a feed store where my grandpa Fritz worked and this time his luck was better.  He asked her out, and met my dad and uncle shortly thereafter. Despite the stereotypes of the time, he took the kids along on boating trips (against his friends’ protests) and when he told his family he was going to marry her, he told them the kids were now family.  He never treated my dad and uncle any differently than my aunt and uncles that came after. 

            Together they have had five kids, countless grand and great grandchildren.  They survived my grandmother’s breast cancer, my grandpa’s hip replacement (and other minor surgeries), and now they deal with her dementia.  Despite this, they are one of the most fortunate people I know.  They are blessed with each other.  The amount of care my grandpa takes for my grandma is amazing.  Throughout their marriage they played the typical roles.  My grandpa worked as a carpenter, while my grandma cooked, cleaned, shopped, took care of the bills and children, as well as worked a few jobs.  Now that she has dementia my grandpa has had to learn to pay the bills, go grocery shopping, and I was shocked to see he’s even doing chores around the house.  My grandpa is an amazing man.  He leaves her notes when he goes out in the morning telling her which pill to take, and although they are just little post it sized notes, they each say “I love you”.  They have also had so many people in their lives that have helped them along the way.  My great-grandmother – ma Brown - helped my grandma out when she split up with her son, and even encouraged her to dance with Fritz.  A neighbor lent my grandma her car so she could get a job, and her pastor later showed up at the house and helped her get a divorce.  They have so much love in their hearts that they love my over achieving gay brother just as much as they love my very opposite older brother, or any of my other cousins.  They are wonderful people, and although I will never be as selfless and accepting as they are I will do my best to keep the lessons they have taught me

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spiced Mango Pops

   Inspired by a great mango sale at Whole Foods and the mango lassies that were being sampled I made these (plastic free!) spicy mango popsicles.  Since there is no yogurt in them I do not know if they can be called lassies 

I blended:
about three atoulfo mangoes,
the juice of one and a half limes
A little bit of ground cardamom (1/4 tsp?)
A nub of ginger (1/2"?)
And just a little canned coconut milk. Maybe 1/4C

It smells delicious. Spicy and tropical.

   A friend got me these molds from Onyx, but I would get them from because I like that company.  The molds are great because I can take fresh season produce and quickly turn it into a guilt free snack.

   In case you are intimidated by mangoes the simplest way to get the fruit out is to stand them on end, stem side up (or lay them down), and cut down letting the knife slide right over the pit.  Then simply take a soup spoon and following the contours of the skin, scoop the fruit out.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Deliciousness - achieved!

At last, I've done it.  I've made a recipe that is 90% mine.  I give Karen from the meat department credit for the inspiration.  Last year she cooked some chicken thighs in chicken broth.  Browned them on one side, added broth, reduced it down, added garlic, basil and bell peppers.  I thought, this would be good with pasta.  I tried it awhile ago with green beans but it was lacking slightly.  Tonight, it was perfect.  It is simplicity itself, and probably made often by people who don't give it a second thought.

I bought everything at Whole Foods (except I had Better Than Bullion, spices and garlic already) and the total came to $10.92.  I got five servings out of it which comes to $2.18 per serving, which is pretty awesome.


  • 1 package linguine ($1.49)
  • 1 pound chicken thighs (just over a pound, $4.29)
  • 1 bunch asparagus (it was on sale for $1.99/lb so $2.15) I got the thickest asparagus to avoid over cooking ~ break off the tough ends (save with the mushroom ends for stock) and cut into one inch pieces
  • .66 pound crimini mushrooms ($2.99) ~ sliced thick
  • garlic ~ 4 cloves roughly chopped
  • dried basil and rosemary
  • heaping teaspoon Better Than Bullion chicken broth dissolved in one cup water

While you wait for the linguine water to boil, saute the mushrooms in whatever random oil you use (I used hazelnut oil) with some garlic in a 12" skillet.  When the mushrooms have browned nicely scrape them into a bowl for later.  Add the chicken thighs to the skillet and brown them on both sides. Maybe the pasta water has boiled, and if so stir in the linguine.  After you flip the chicken add the broth, put the lid on the pan, turn the heat to medium low and let it simmer five minutes.  Or so, I'm really not sure.  This is where you realize you should have seasoned the mushrooms so sprinkle a little (a teaspoon?) rosemary and basil on the mushrooms.  Some kosher salt too.  When the chicken is nearly done add the asparagus stems, put the lid back on and cook for a few more minutes.  At this point the chicken did not seem ready so I took out the asparagus which was knife tender, and let it cook a little longer.  After another minute I figured the chicken looked done so I added the asparagus tips and let them cook for about a minute.  They don't take long.  Add the mushrooms and asparagus stems back to the chicken and turn off the heat.  Return the drained noodles to the pot and dump the chicken mixture in.  Give it a good stir, add some fresh cracked pepper (and perhaps some crushed red pepper) and eat!

Who knows why, but it seems like everything sinks to the bottom, so the first serving is a lot of pasta, and leftovers are a lot of vegetables.  Its probably good cold too.

If I was to make this for my vegetarian brother I would (obviously skip the chicken and use a different broth, like better than bullion fake chicken) probably reduce the amount of broth to one cup and maybe add just a little more vegetables.  Maybe more mushrooms and add peas.  Tempeh or fake meat if you like that.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Relationship Advice - for any and all

   The lesson I learned last year and my goal from here on out is to be more honest.  Tell the truth, be honest, discuss your feelings, don't bottle things up.  Last year I lost two friends.  There are lots of little reasons but one reason that I can identify and improve from here on out is lack of honesty.  I am guessing one friendship was lost because of something about me.  I bitch too much or I'm depressed or I don't know what.  I'll never know because she never really told me.  There could have been vague hints but (and I know this is hard) how about "you know, I've found it hard to hang out with you/I seriously think you should seek counseling/you really need to be more upbeat or people won't want to hang out with you".  Yeah, it's really hard to say that (or it would be for me) but if the choices are buck up and speak out or lose the friend?  And yeah, I'd probably be hurt or deny it if a friend said that to me, but I'd mull it over when I'm alone and give it some consideration.  The other relationship began with excellent communication but somehow it got lost.  It just got worse and worse until now there is nothing.  Part of this was cowardice on my part.  It's scary to confront people.  But if you love someone isn't the risk of a little pain worth losing them completely?  And, if you're afraid you will lose them by confronting them, consider that you will if you don't.  Maybe we are too polite.  I've really gotten into reading advice columns (Dear Abby, Dear Prudence) and this theme is constantly reappearing.  Spouses and engaged couples who can't discuss simple things, people who no longer want to see a friend due to their attitude.  Spouses should be able to discuss almost everything.  If you're not comfortable or unable to  discuss something like being fine with one orgasm per session (seriously, weird problem) than its not a great relationship.  But shouldn't you be able to tell your friend when they've become an unbearable bitch (obviously say this less bluntly)?  Isn't that what a friend is for?  
     I was talking to a friend today (who is very honest!) who mentioned the problem of being "too honest".  Obviously there are caveats.  Don't be a dick.  There is a difference between "I'm concerned about the amount of weight you've put on" and "you look like a total slob, I'm ashamed to be around you, and you look like a pig at the slop bucket when you eat".  Obviously I'm assuming we are all adults here (even if you are not legally an adult you can still try this!).  I think I made the mistake in my last lost relationship of saying "don't be too honest".  I've since decided that honesty is a trust.  If you love someone you trust them and you are honest.  You should give them your trust that they will not ask more than you can answer just as you would not ask them more than they would be comfortable answering ("did she look better in a thong than me?" "Do my sweat pants make me look fat?"). 
  This applies to everyone.  Parents, lovers and friends.  I think the level of intimacy should reflect the amount of honesty. We shall see if my friends and family agree with me!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Accepting the bad with the good.

I am so happy to have stumbled upon a book "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking"  (and then several more) which finally say its OK to not be so damn happy. You don't have to pretend to be happy or even seek it out! Finally! 
I may be late to the game - apparently Bernard Shaw was not a fan of happiness either- but it is so wonderful to hear that it is ok to be me. I do not live in the depths of despair but neither to I shun my darker moods. My father is constantly telling me to "find my Pollyanna", my brother will hardly utter a negative thought, the man I love won't even allow me to speak ill of streets that get so waterlogged I fear for my engine. I have made friends with a girl (aptly named love) who is so cheerful she poops rainbows, but at least she understands that there must be balance. What would opera be if it was all joy and sunshine? The best operas involve at least one death and a lot of tragedy. What would the Hundred Acre Woods be without Eyore? Carebears without Grumpy bear? Sesame Street without Oscar the Grouch? Emotions come in all colours, and not every opinion need be cheerful. I'm not saying I will spend my life in bitter anger, I know I need to be careful to avoid complaining too much. I am sure people who know me will attest that I can and do feel joy.  But, the only heart-racing rollercoaster I am willing to ride is life, and it would be a dull ride if it was always up! up! Remember, there can be no "make-up sex" if you don't argue first. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

blue biker chic

I have a new passion. Its wonderful. I have been toying with the idea of getting a bike since moving to Austin. This and that got in the way (mainly money). Then one day my baggy board shorts wouldn't fit (not easily) and the next day, I had a bike (hello imaginary money). It was just under $700. It's a great Trek seven.two. It's neither city nor mountain bike. Its good on light trails and fine on the street. A few months before getting the bike I bought a helmet (like people who buy a wedding dress before they've got the ring or maybe even the man). The helmet is baby blue. The bike is baby blue. It was meant to be. Got a bike cage for my Klean Kanteen (can you believe the guy tried to get me to buy one of those squeeze bottles?) and a rear light. Later I got a front light and because my hands kept going numb I replaced the grips with Ergon bio cork handlebar grips. I also got a little bell with a pink electra sticker on it - but mostly I just say "on your left" or slow down until I can pass people.

But, back to the awesome bike. It combines so many great things I love and never knew I loved. Its a great way to enjoyably exercise without the bouncing (actually, my head gets jostled instead of my boobs). Its fun. I am really not a thrill junky (I'll quickly wear out the breaks on these hills) but I can ride at a good pace and still enjoy the scenery. I forgot to mention the outdoors. You're outside on a bike. In a neighborhood or on the trail or whatever. Of course, its much more sustainable than driving my car. In Europe and Japan I did not mind mass transit. In the US, its rather icky. Buses and subways over here just make me want to wash my hands. Crazy people talk to you. But on a bike your being eco-concious without the hassle of associating with other people. The best way to arrive at work is after a great mind clearing bike ride. And the best way to get home is back on your bike. I might wake up grumpy, but once I'm on my bike all you think about is whats around you and pedaling. After work, the day's stupidity washes away while you pedal in the now.

Something else I never realized I enjoyed is the challenge biking presents. Austin is a hilly rocky area and that makes for some interesting biking. Personally, I prefer relatively soft, flat trails, but I do enjoy the challenge of getting up the hill and not falling off my bike going over some rocks. It's a great feeling to think: wow, I did that!

I met a cool couple at REI (through my freakish love of Klean Kanteen...) who run the blog Path Less Pedaled and tour around the US (and soon more!) on their bikes. Watching their videos and reading the blog has inspired me to make a trip with either Amtrak and my bike or my car & bike or just bike. South Florida is great for that - drive to a little island, rent a bike, and enjoy the area. Which, is another cool thing about biking: there are so many communities within it. There are easy paved park riders, and commuters, and serious racers, mountain bikers, and of course "kids" who ride without proper protection (lights etc) erratically and give bikers a bad name. You ride on the street and smile or wave when you see someone else on a bike (ok, not the reckless no helmet wearing kids). You never drive a car and think "Hey! Your in a car, I'm in a car, that's cool!". But being a (responsible) biker makes you part of a community.

So far, I've only biked down to and around the lake (and past sxsw), to work (a short two mile-ish trip), down Shoal Creek which runs through downtown, and to Central Market. I look forward to some bigger trips, to getting panniers, maybe a mirror, assorted bags... Maybe build up to biking to a state park? Lending my mom the car....

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chipping away at the waste in my life

Inspired by Beth Terry at My Plastic Free Life I have been attempting to slowly whittle away at the waste in my life. Plastic mostly, but waste in general too. Slowly because I think it would be far too overwhelming to attack everything at once. And, I'm lazy.

Here then, is a list of the little things I've managed to do to eliminate plastic from my life.

Be prepared! I ordered a purse off etsy and I made sure it would be big enough for my Klean Kanteen (although I usually carry that or put a glass bottle in my purse), and have lots of pockets for everything I need. It doesn't look bulky and yet I manage to carry around with me: utensils, a straw, Newman's Own mints (in a tin), kleenex, a pen, reusable bags, a glass water bottle or lunchbot, lip gloss, moisturizer, nail file, my wallet & phone. Seriously, its great.

Water/drink bottles: I would feel lost if I left the house without my Klean Kanteen water bottle or thermos. I am absolutely in love with it. I've taken it on road trips and filled it at airport water fountains and in restaurants. Since I'm always prepared, I never have to buy water.

Utensils: I carry a set of to-go ware bamboo utensils in my purse wherever I go. It has a knife, spoon, fork and chopsticks.

Straws: I bought a set of stainless steel straws and I keep one in my purse for those drinks that just need a straw (Thai iced tea, fresh juice). I actually prefer the glass straws (glass production is less labor intensive than steel) and I have some of those at home.

Soap: I am now using solid soap for my hands and body and only have liquid soap for dishes and laundry. And my face, but I intend to replace that with a bar once its done. I might use soap nuts for the laundry or make my own. I can refill my Dr. Bronner's soap bottle at Whole Foods and use that for dishes. Once the shampoo is gone I will get a bar for that too. A Wild Soap Bar (which is local) makes some shampoo/body bars, while Lush and several other companies make exclusive shampoo bars. There is also the "no-poo" method where you wash your hair with a mixture of baking soda and water, and rinse with diluted vinegar. I'm looking forward to finding a bar of soap that will work for my face, body and hair and getting rid of some of the clutter in the bathroom. Bonus: solid soap bars are no problem to carry through on planes! Update: I currently buy good quality natural soap and just use that on my face and body and once or twice on my hair.

Toothpaste: I had been using Tom's of Maine toothpaste as it was fairly environmentally responsible and came in an aluminum container, but as they have moved to plastic tubes I've decided to make my own. Beth Terry actually has a great post on it with all sorts of plastic free options. I made a batch yesterday with coconut oil, baking soda, stevia & essential oils. Not bad, but the keep in mind the consistency will vary depending on the temperature in your home. I tried using cinnamon and clove essential oils for my first batch but there wasn't much flavour, I am now using ginger and orange extract which tastes better. My favourite thing about homemade toothpaste is that is rinses right out and I can immediately eat or drink what I want without it being effected by the toothpaste flavour.

Deodorant: I gave up antiperspirant long ago. Sweating is good for you. It gets out the toxins. I don't mind it, just the smell. I tried natural deodorants from the store and none really worked. Straight up baking soda on your pits is supposed to be great, but it gave me a rash. I spritzed alcohol on my underarms for awhile (in a reused eyeglass cleaner spritzer) but that stopped working. I use the salt crystal (as do my dad and brother) which works mostly but not always. Currently I'm using the crystal and then dusting a mixture of baking soda and corn starch on top of that. It seems to work. I'm sure other people would have an easier time, but working outdoors in Texas (and just being a sweaty person) makes it tough. Unfortunately, it seems shaving helps with the smell, but no matter how I shave I irritate my skin. Got to fix that.

Eggs: I only buy eggs in compressed paper containers because if it doesn't get recycled it'll biodegrade.

Toothbrush: I buy preserve brand toothbrushes from Whole Foods which you can either recycle where #5 recycling is allowed or send back to the company. They're made from recycled yogurt containers.

Lady products: I love love love my lunapads. Check out my write up on them. They are the most comfortable thing ever. One of these days I'll do something permanent so I can get rid of the birth control plastic.

Lube: Coconut oil is the best! Ya gotta be in a committed relationship (not condom compatible) but it totally rocks. I don't have half the problems like I used to once I got natural on my stuff.

Grains and spices: I buy them in bulk, its cheaper! byo bag or spice jar or glass container. Bonus: you only get the amount you need.

Lotion: I tried coconut oil for awhile on my face but it was not thick enough. Olive oil is actually pretty good. Currently I'm using a body oil from Badger Balm but I might replace it with something homemade. Badger sells all sorts of balms in tins (bug repellant, muscle rub, lip balm, moisturizer) so I plan on going away from water based lotions. Give them a minute to absorb and they're great.

Cooking: I avoid teflon (the debate rages on, but I'll just be safe and avoid it) and use metal or wooden cooking utensils. When used right cast iron is totally non-stick. Used right, by the way means heat up the pan, add oil, and let the food cook until its developed a "crust" (fish, pancakes, egg).

Clothes: Trying to buy clothes only made from natural fibers. I had thought recycled plastic clothes might be a good option, but apparently lint from synthetic clothes can end up in the oceans (I guess thats a duh) and as insignificant as it seems, I'd like to avoid adding more plastic to the collection thats already out there.

Napkins: I use clothe napkins at home which saves my pants & paper towels :)

Cotton Balls: I got the cutest little reusable flannel rounds to use in place of cotton balls off I love etsy. If there is ever anything you need, look on etsy. I keep them in a cute glass jar and put them in a mesh bag until they're used up.

Cleaners: I clean just about everything with baking soda or vinegar (yeah... in a plastic bottle. Got to work on that one). Sometimes I use hydrogen peroxide. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are supposed to be just as effective as bleach in killing staph and other harmful bacteria. The only problem I have here are unreliable spray bottles.

Cleaning: I got a cool wooden scrub brush for dishes, I'm waiting until I can afford a wooden toilet bowl brush, a friend got me some cute reusable clothe wipes to clean surfaces with and I'm waiting to buy a cute red Thai made broom. Hey, if you buy cute cleaning supplies, cleaning is more fun! I also use natural celulose sponges for the dishes and old socks/clothes to clean dirtier surfaces.

Bags: I bring my own produce & grocery bags to the store. I always carry a compact bag in my purse so I don't even need at a bag at the mall/hardware store/etc. I intend to make a bread bag big enough for a loaf of ciabatta. Toss them in the wash occasionally to avoid germs.

Spreadable butter: I found a recipe online where you blend 1/2 cup oil and a stick of butter to make it spreadable. I put it in a Bonne Maman jelly jar and its been working great. I've also been thinking of getting a butter bell crock... thing.

Fast Food/Eating out: I try to avoid fast food - or eating anywhere where the food is not served on reusable plates with reusable utensils - but when I do eat it, I use my Klean Kanteen, tell the server "no straw", and try to bring my own container for leftovers or the food itself. Lunchbots or to-go ware tiffins are great for leftovers.

Needs improvement:
I need to work on meat, frozen fruit and vegetables. I should be able to get meat from the butcher counter at Whole Foods in my container, I just haven't tried yet. (Update: brought a sturdy container and managed to get meat put in it) I'm not sure how I could affordably stock frozen fruit for smoothies and keep vegetables on hand. I think its going to involve planning. I've got to learn how to plan meals so fresh vegetables get used and don't go bad.
I need to try to make my own almond milk & yogurt. Yogurt is supposed to be easy, but will almond milk be cost effective?
Austin doesn't compost, and I no longer live close enough to Whole Foods to bring them my veggie scraps. I've thought about a worm compost bin. I feel bad sending compostable scraps to the landfill where they'll never amount to anything.
Ice cream. Well, no one's perfect.
Allergy pills: dare I try the neti pot? Will it work?
Tissues: can hankies handle allergy season? Update: they almost can! I should probably make more. Old t-shirts work great, and you don't need to hem them.

Challenges: Its hard enough not bringing in plastic on my own, but what do I do about plastic from other people? There is a well meaning customer who twice now has bought me a cold bottle of water and said "stay hydrated" running off before I could refuse it. Gifts can be a challenge although I do my best to let everyone know I am trying to acquire no new plastic. Buying things online can sometimes be hard. Whenever I buy something online I say "please package it without bubble wrap, not in a poly envelope. For some reason, someone from ebay still sent me fabric in a poly envelope. Um, because fabric is not waterproof? My other biggest challenge is things I no longer use, but hate to throw away. I don't want some of these damn sample lotions anymore, but without a recycle symbol they're doomed for the trash!

One might wonder; Why eliminate plastic at all? Its so wonderful! Where would we be without plastic? What would I type on? I do accept that plastic plays a useful role in modern society, but also that it has far exceeded that role. Prosthetics are great, disposable spoons are not. Drilling for oil to make plastics can either lead to toxic oil spills, or endless wars (either we are fighting for oil, or someone else is. It cannnot be denied that like gold, blood has been shed to aquire and own it). Even if you responsibly throw your spoon/straw/bag in the trash it can quite easily blow out of a dump truck or landfill and make its way to the nearest waterway. Floating plastic looks very similar to jelly fish and for this reason it has caused many birds and turtles to die when their stomachs are filled with plastic. Of course, the typical answer to all of this is: Why not just recycle it? Unfortunately, in order to make something new you cannot use 100% recycled plastic. Even recycled plastic products require virgin petroleum, thus continuing the cycle. Plus, how often is a batch of recyclables trashed due to a bottle cap that shouldn't be there jamming the machine, or some dirty take out boxes causing the whole batch of recyclables to be tossed.

The point is, plastic may have its place, but we passed that place long ago, and have just become lazy. I am not scientifically minded nor am I likely to list statistics on how many turtles die from bag pollution, nor how many gallons of water are tainted from oil drilling or plastic manufacturing, or how many people have died trying to secure an oil field. I've been to the dump and seen the trash blowing around, I've gone to the beach and filled up bags of trash, and passed more trash than I could collect. I feel guilty when I go on a hike and do not collect trash. Frankly, that's good enough for me.

Finally, I should probably add that I am not a dirty hippy. My teeth are as clean as they've ever been, my skin looks as good as it is going to without microdermabrasion, and my clothes are clean. My hair is crazy but honestly, when has it not been? It actually looked its best when I was putting cornstarch in it for the shingles.

I'd like to apologize to the grammarians that shudder at my blatant disregard for the proper use of a colon,
semi colon or any other grammar rules for that matter.
I swear I tried to double space after the period, I just don't know what happene

which is more important? i.e. which would you choose at the exclusion of the other?