Holding My Breath

When things get crazy, it’s time to stop. I’ve said it many times before, and I will surely have endless occasions to say it again, but more important is that I do it.

Being immobilized by the lack of internet access for a while is perhaps a good start, but given the current schedule of overlapping work, travel, home relocation tasks, and a fair number of surprise interjections, I know that I will need to take every little momentary jot of rest and refreshment I can get. It’s 10:30 p.m. and I’ve just sat down after the evening’s part of the work that started in earnest about 12 hours ago. I know that there will be longer days ahead, many of them. I know that other people do intensely hard work for much longer days on a regular basis, and for less reward. And I also know my own limits.

My brain is abuzz, my muscles flagging, and most of all, I am reduced to a fuzzy and quite unfocused state that prevents much more productive work before bedtime. Since there’s an appraiser coming to inspect the house at 8 tomorrow morning (and you all know full well that I am among the least morning-friendly of creatures), I know it’s time to accept the state of the house as tidy and dolled up enough for his or her inspection—or else. Can’t make Neuschwanstein out of El Rancho Ordinario, nor should I. False advertising aside, it’s not the right character for a simple and happy family home. (Ask Mad Ludwig’s ghost, if you like.) So I’ll get up in the morning, however reluctantly, and get out of the inspector’s way, believing I’ve done as much as I can and should, and I’ll let the results of the day’s efforts speak for themselves. And then come back and undo all of them for the next inspection, the arrival of the estate sale manager at 10 a.m.

But right now, I am preparing my mind and body for as restful a night as I can conjure, and it begins, yes, ironically enough, it starts with stopping. Letting go of all the undone, poorly done, or yet-to-be-done stuff and silencing my mind. Letting myself drift toward peace and calm as though I’d dived into deep, clear, soothing seas and the water buoys me and shuts out the visual and voluble wildness of the day just past and those yet to come. I’ll sing myself to sleep with a little whale song, perhaps, but mostly, I will gladly let go of the need to rant and pant and wrestle, and I will return to life as refreshed as if I had a good long soar through the depths, if I can manage it, because that will make the next day’s work survivable in so many more ways.Photo: It's Not a Fluke

Foodie Tuesday: Holidays on Ice

As lazy as I am when being an ‘everyday’ entertainer, that attitude of mine only multiplies and intensifies when it comes to special occasions. I have no interest in hosting a party if everyone is having fun except me. So it’s especially important to me when I’m thinking of any event, particularly a festive one like a holiday (and I’ll embrace any holiday that’ll have me, if it means an excuse for celebrations with friends and loved ones), that I do as much of the heavy lifting as I can ahead of the day. Being a piggy with a sweet tooth, and not opposed to alcohol in moderation, that means I am known on occasion to haul out the Fix It-Douse-It-Forget-It recipes. You know, the ones that you put booze in or pour it over, seal up like little yummy mummies, and tuck away in a safe spot to age until party time. Keep ’em on ice, so to speak.

One of my favorites for this used to be Christmas Pudding, usually using a classic recipe like the lovely one given to me by a friend in London the very first time I visited there nearly thirty-five years ago. I have since become even lazier; it’s a million-ingredient extravaganza with real fresh suet and tons of over-the-top fat and sugary delights, and requires fussy prep and long, carefully monitored steaming in (for those of us who lack a real pudding steamer) a low-tech contraption cobbled together from whatever substitutes one can find for the pudding tin, before one can even attend to the artful draping in layers of liquor-soaked cheesecloth and plastic wrap and tinfoil. Heavens! I’m salivating just thinking of the glory that emerged from those efforts when long weeks or months had passed and it was time for the great unveiling. A large spoonful of that miraculous stuff, re-warmed and blanketed in equally boozy hard sauce and washed down with a good stiff tot of port, and I was undoubtedly well enough pickled to last several months on a dark cupboard shelf myself. But it was a bit too much, not only the excess of caloric craziness and vaporous intake, but also in the immense labors it took to accomplish it all.

Nowadays I am (literally, to be honest) inclined toward greater ease. But I still enjoy some indulgences for the same special occasions, even holidays that might have little personal resonance if it weren’t for the permission they give me to indulge so. Now that we’re rumbling into the high holiday season as America immerses in it (and let’s just start with tomorrow, which according to my quick research, is Nevada Day—who but a handful of devoted Nevadans knew!), there will be no shortage of reasons for partying. Now that I think about it, my birthday is the feast day of La Guadalupana, and since I have without even having previously made that connection been decanting a homemade rose liqueur (from dried Mexican rosebuds, no less) that I think would be highly appropriate to her story, I might have to find excuses to tuck that event in as well. Guess that just confirms my longstanding belief that my own birthday is a major holiday.

But meanwhile, there are all kinds of seasonal treat regarded as something like a serious requirement in this country if one is to celebrate the holidays properly. Anything and everything pumpkin flavored, of course, with warming spices, the occasional fall fruits (apple, pear, quince) and maple syrup and various nutmeats thrown in—these are all high on the list, some of them with an emphasis on High. Oh, and eggnog. Never forget the eggnog. So I, being fairly easily led to hankering for food-and-drink-related things that are being touted and offered nearly everywhere I look, follow the resultant trail of salivation, if not salvation, right to the sources.

Today I felt moved to put together some of these seasonal treats, some to pop in the refrigerator for fairly immediate consumption (though intended to last for a few days in the chiller, at least), and a bit to wait for their starring moments. The former includes a Fall dessert combination of pumpkin, apple, and pecans, and the latter is this year’s take on eggnog. Because sipping champagne-and-roses (as I intend to do with a nice sparkling Rosé spiked with the aforementioned rose liqueur) is probably not enough.

Photo: Pumpkin-Apple Dessert Makes a Good Breakfast

Pumpkin-Apple Dessert makes a good breakfast, don’t you think?

Pumpkin-Apple Dessert

Not pie, but close…to pumpkin pie, apple pie, and pecan pie, all in one big ridiculously happy dish. Or served separately, if that’s your happy wish. See that? I made a little rhyme, too, all for the sake of my sweet tooth. The measurements in all of these are approximate and to taste, as are any cooking times and temperatures. You know me.

Pumpkin Pudding

1 large tin of pure pumpkin puree (29 oz), 3 eggs, 1/2 cup dark maple syrup, 1/4 cup coconut oil, 1 Tbsp vanilla, a hefty pinch of salt, 2 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 tsp allspice. Blend together thoroughly, pour into a greased covered pan, and bake or microwave (on high for about 5 minutes) until the eggs have thickened it slightly. Refrigerate.

You will probably not be shocked to know that I amped my pumpkin pudding up with the addition of a couple of scoops of vanilla whey protein powder, because I will be having some for breakfast once or twice before it’s gone.

Apple Pie Sauce

1 each Granny Smith (or other bright-flavored) and Fuji (sweet) apples, peeled and cored and diced, 2 Tbsp clarified browned butter, 3 Tbsp minced candied ginger, and a pinch of salt, all cooked down into a still-chunky bright applesauce with a quarter- to half-cup of gold rum.

Bacon-Maple Pecans

Pecan halves, bacon fat, and dark maple syrup. Melt and heat them together until the nuts grow faintly toasty and the fat and syrup caramelize, and you have candied pecans made in hog heaven. Yeah, you can use any sort of favored fat you like, so don’t cry if you’re vegan! Goodness is still within reach!

Photo: Pumpkin-Apple Dessert after Dinner

Pumpkin-Apple Dessert after dinner is good, too.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

And in honor of a couple of fabulous Puerto Rican ladies (Natalia and Fabiana) I happen to know and greatly admire, my take on the PR version of eggnog, or Coquito.

[Note: Just to be on the safe side and to take advantage of the slight thickening that heat brings out of eggs, I have made this in custard-fashion, cooking it slightly, but aside from the usual caveats regarding at-risk persons (i.e., the pregnant, the very young, the very old, and those with compromised immune systems) and raw eggs or alcohol, the combination of the two has been scientifically proven to kill, rather than foster, salmonella. Just so’s you know. Salud!]

Coquito Loco Rico

1 cup coconut butter, 54 oz coconut milk, 6 egg yolks, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 2 Tablespoon vanilla, 1 cup packed light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, and 1 tsp ground cardamom, all blended together and cooked, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Pour into a container that can be tightly closed (I used a 3 quart pitcher with a tight lid), add a pint of gold rum (I used PR-produced Bacardi), stir, seal, and stash in the depths of the fridge for as long as you can stand waiting The large proportion of alcohol keeps the eggs from spoiling. Serve cold or hot, straight up (high-octane!) or mixed with additional nonalcoholic coquito, eggnog, cream, or milk of any kind, and preferably in good company.

Because you may need the comfort, since this stuff can be so good it’s scary. Happy Halloween, everybody. Even if you don’t care to dress up for it or recognize it as any kind of meaningful event for you, it can be well worth your while to gather some friends and loved ones to celebrate something with a flavor-packed dessert or a rollicking drink.

Shades of Myself

How Fleeting is My Soul

O, perfidy! that, fugitive, elopes
With all that filled my soul with meanings rare,
And character, and hung up in the air
What history I knew, and all my hopes,
My senses, and my sense, unleashed them all;
Left me unmoored, untethered, in the wind,
Subject to every buffeting, unpinned;
And burning like an effigy, to fall
In ashen flakes and caught in drafts, to drift
Apart from faithless memory, and pine
For everything I thought was Me and Mine,
Now tantalizing from across a rift.
What once defined and marked me as my own
Has fled, and Self has left me quite alone.Digital illo: Egret

Here’s hoping that there are cures, or at least tremendous strides in treatments for, Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia in the near future. And even before then, greatly improved support for those who suffer from these sorrows, whether as patients or as patients’ caregivers.

A Dawdler in the Regiment

In olden times, say, when I was in high school, such schools still had Guidance Counselors who evidently thought it genuinely helpful for students (or at least, highly amusing to the counselors and their pals) to give “aptitude tests” to predict youths’ futures. These assessments were ostensibly meant to help us kids find our true paths in life and, more importantly, to steer us somewhere in a job-like direction when we graduated. But of course, they had more than a tiny whiff of the whimsical, as most students knew that giving fanciful answers to the quizzing garnered some pretty fantastical career proposals for them. I was too much of a Goody Two-shoes in those days, apparently, to opt for that form of entertainment. Pity.

You would think I’d’ve been right there on that artistic bandwagon, given the inspiring leadership of my father, who was known to send excuse notes to school after any of my illness-driven absences that led to Public Service Announcements on the school intercom system detailing my kidnap by Green Gremlins, among other purported adventures, and filled my classmates and teachers with glee. But instead of following Dad’s fine example, I answered the Aptitude Test questions with the dull and timid truth that was my safety net at the time, and was assessed as having correspondingly dreary potential.

Photo: Calculated Risks

I guess I just never was big on taking risks.

That was how it sounded to my young ears, anyway. My best option was listed as joining the military, not the most obvious choice for a deep-dyed pacifist. I certainly was no Daughter of the Regiment, born and bred to the military life.

Future Me #2: working in a funeral home. Now, lest you think I’m denigrating funeral professionals or that I consider them or their work boring, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I want minimal fuss, maximum simplicity, when it comes to disposing of my corpse: recycle any usable parts for medicine and science, burn the rest without flourish, and throw out the ashes as compost ASAP. But funerary services aren’t for the dead, are they. Those who offer care and consolation to anyone in need, especially in grief and loss, have my highest respect. It’s tough and complicated work, and tremendously important. I’m just not the person for the job. I haven’t the knowledge, the skills, or the selflessness that doing that admirable work requires. It would take a more creative and positive approach than I can offer.

I don’t lack for imagination, and I’m not wholly without empathy, I hope. But perhaps my peculiar kind of imagination—the surreal and byzantine, the cheerfully macabre—is not the very best sort to be exercised in most funeral counseling and service arrangements, let alone in preparation of a person’s remains for a dignified viewing and memorial service. And there are the added complications of my being easily overwhelmed by others’ worries and struggles, never mind my being horrendously squeamish. If the High School guidance counselor thought it’d be a hoot to see what happened when he put me into the parlor with a grieving family and I suggested they convert Grandpa’s remains into a friendly robot to keep them company and tend to their housekeeping, following that recommendation immediately with a fit of hysterical cackling and a dash out the nearest door to vomit, then perhaps he had the right candidate. Green Gremlins in my future as well as my past.

Photo: A Boar No More?

I’ve always loved the interesting landscapes, history, and art in cemeteries, and I don’t mean to be a pig about it, or a boor, but funerary work didn’t seem like my destiny to me.

The military option was at least in one way more realistic: part of me does crave order. So many other characteristics (dare I say it) militated against my joining any of the armed forces that it was an obvious non-starter for me, but all of these years later I still find myself  wanting to bring more order to my daily life. Starting a daily blog was a good step in that direction, when I did it four-plus years ago. Now I need to extend that discipline to other areas of my day-to-day occupations so as to maximize both their productivity and my pleasure in them. I expect both better health and more enjoyment as payment for the new commitments.

What elements of life would I like to habituate more fully by regimenting them with a slightly rigorous daily schedule for now? First, sleep. Yes, I know that you know I sleep far more than average, and I relish long, uninterrupted nights. I would rather sleep less but more healthfully, to be honest. Be more dependably, deeply asleep, and a bit earlier, and then more fully refreshed and alert when awake.

Hydration is a higher priority than ever, too. It seems small enough, but the good doctor who just shot down my kidney stone assures me that no matter what my geological analysis reveals, I had better start drinking more water to stay healthier, and I know that if I don’t just plain schedule it in for a while, I’m unlikely to remember to make it a habit. Exercise is another such thing. I have no desire to become an athlete. That’s neither in my inherent character nor on my wish list; I do, however, want to be set up for as long and healthy a life as I can manage, and the sedentary nature of writing and making most kinds of art is both antithetical to physical movement and so engrossing that I tend to forget to merely take breaks to move. If I schedule those breaks for a while, just like any old-school union employee, I hope I may train myself to improve in that regard.

I’ve already become slightly more regulated in my dietary ways, since my spousal-person and I successfully navigated our post-summer month of rehab-style eating (low carb, low sugar, no processed and junky foods) and both feel better. Good encouragement to continue the process with diet and otherwise.

The most important piece of the newly regularized itinerary for my average day is to shift the focus of my writing and artistic discipline gradually away from being dedicated to daily blogging and toward a new, more personally fulfilling version of my creative output. More books for publication, probably, on the relatively near horizon. A reduced blogging schedule, something more like three days a week, will certainly help me in that regard. But I think I’m just getting a little hungry, whether it’s more from four-plus years focused on that daily post or from merely getting a little older and more constantly aware of my finitude, the ever-increased nearness of my own need for funerary services from somebody who took the career path I didn’t—it doesn’t matter why. I’m just feeling ready to ramble in a new direction, and the only way I generally get used to such things is to build them into a Plan, for starters. To regulate and codify and systematize them into a semblance of order.

I never did join the military, but it turns out I tend to do fairly well in my own regiment.

Photo: Ah, but Witch Regiment?

Maybe I *was* destined for a more regimented life. Ah, but witch regiment?

Maybe It’s Best If I Make It Yuckier

Regular visitors here know that I’m about as far from perfect in my skills and know-how about practically anything in the humanly possible realm as the average Jane, if not farther. In the kitchen, especially, I am prone to go overboard with my inventions and experiments, and sometimes it takes some serious triage, revision, and reparations before I can set out what is a reasonably respectable meal. But you frequent-flyer readers here also know that I am near enough to omnivorousness, not to mention almost perpetually hungry, that my lack of chef skills and culinary brilliance are not entirely a stay to my possibly eating myself into an early grave no matter what it is I’ve concocted. If it smells reasonably pleasant and has an intriguing texture, and it isn’t outright toxic, I might well eat it anyhow.

Which can be problematic, if what I’m concocting isn’t meant to be food.

Photo: Deodorizer Cakes

I may have called them ‘cakes,’ but these trash-deodorizers were not made to look too pretty, since their main ingredients are at least nominally edible: baking soda, coffee grounds, and almond essence. They smell rather good, in fact; but since they still look a little like lumpy bricks of kitty litter, I’m not too worried I’ll just pick one up and start snacking on it.

I try not to use potentially dangerous ingredients when I’m making home remedies for any kind of thing, whether they’re to be ingested or put on a body or not actually intended to come into close contact at all—say, something made to clean windows or fertilize potted plants, take stains out of my clothes or attach objects to art projects. If I’m to use such materials or introduce them into my environment, I don’t want to spend time, money, and energy on any stuff that will make me or anybody else feel unwell or will poison the general environment in the long run.

The super-rich skin emollient I made for treating unusually dry skin—especially on feet, but on hands, elbows, and knees, as well as any abraded or burned, scarred, or irritated skin—last week is an excellent case in point. Wanting it to be clean, safe, and pleasant to ‘wear’ in the long term, since it was intended to stay at work on the skin for hours at a time, I used very pure natural ingredients, and, as it happens, all ones that are safe to ingest as well. I’ve decided perhaps I ought to add at least one ingredient that isn’t edible, because it smells so delicious to me that if I’m not careful I’ll probably consider eating it by the handful out of the jar, and besides being fairly awful for my health (being 100% lovely fats), it’d be a lot of expensive skin care gone in an eyeblink. I think I might be telling you all of this as a safety valve, to keep myself from doing anything quite so foolish and drastic.

But if some total stranger sneaks up and tries to lick my delicious smelling and wonderfully soft elbows, I suppose I couldn’t blame them. I’ll just have to be vigilant, I guess.

Photo: Good Enough to Eat Skin Treatment

So smooth, so rich, so ridiculously delicious smelling! But don’t. Really. Just…don’t.

Good-Enough-to-Eat Skin Treatment

1/4 cup shea butter
1/4 cup beeswax
1/2 cup cocoa butter
1/2 cup coconut oil

Melt these fabulous ingredients together and blend thoroughly. Cool until softly set. Use a small amount on rough or irritated skin, and when possible, protect the treated skin with soft cloth (knit cotton socks, shirt, gloves, etc.) until the emollient is fully absorbed. Repeat as needed. Keeping the treated area covered until this wonderful mixture is absorbed can’t guarantee successful treatment, but it may help to discourage you and others from licking the balm off of your knees before it can have any positive external effects. Internal use is your own problem entirely and may require further intervention than I am prepared to offer.

Photo: Just Say No to Spoons!

Step *away* from the utensils! Put down the spoon! Just say no to eating skin emollients, no matter how swell they smell.

The Princess & the Pee

Hindsight, it’s said, is 20/20. While it may be true that we can see things more clearly in the rear-view mirror of time, that’s no guarantee we’ll understand them better. If it were so, we’d always learn from past mistakes and keep growing wiser. And we all know that’s not what happens, not nearly often enough.

But isn’t it interesting how often we do see the hidden thread that has been connecting the seemingly random dots of our life-experiences, once the larger pattern has begun to emerge and we can step back from the greater perspective of time?

Take my little visit from a kidney stone. (I should probably insert the old Henny Youngman joke addendum here, “please!”) Only after diagnosis and the removal of the laser-vaporized formation via seemingly endless water-drinking and salutary trips to the Throne Room could I look back and say that not only was my fleeting suspicion at the beginning of the same month correct—I did have a kidney stone—but what I never twigged to at all on the occasions a year or two previous was almost certainly, when seen through this new lens, also a set of at least two visitations from the same rotten little culprit. My symptoms were identical in each of those previous instances, and the reason they subsided without further intervention than my body complaining and trying to evict it with sharp, instant-onset, swiftly passing flu-like symptoms was probably merely that the tiny rock got stuck in other locations along its way and couldn’t move around further at the time, each time. I doubt now that I had food poisoning or high-speed flu at all.

Does this in any way change what I would have done? No, not really. Since the mini geological formation presumably had to spend a fair amount of time forming, I had no obvious way of preventing the formation without knowledge that it existed, let alone what caused it. Much to my surprise, I’ve now learned that kidney stones can have more than one cause, not only having a genetic predisposition as one component but potentially also  a variety of compositional materials, so until I get the results of the analysis on my own homemade jewel, I won’t know what is indicated as problematic in my diet or behaviors that could be changed as a preventive measure. And, given that my father and one of my sisters have had the unwelcome distinction of previous kidney stone attacks, I may be at a very slightly elevated risk for recurrence, after all.

No matter; I will do as I’m told by my doctor, however unwillingly if it happens to involve eating less of something I adore or behaving in ways that I find tedious. I’m pretty compliant as a patient, if not in general as a person. (Ask my spouse, said the Stubborn Woman. ‘Nuff said.)

But now that I know I have the capability of attacking myself in this nefarious way, however easily I happened to get through the episode in question, I would be mighty silly not to do something a bit different, going forward. At the least, I will know that what I think or assume to be true about what my body is telling me can still hold surprises. And that if any little pea-sized bit of internal gravel thinks it can hide under the mattress of my middle, I may be coarse and ignorant enough in my casual attitude about many health-related things but I’ll eventually figure out that not is all as it seems. And I will clean house of that little sucker, even if I have to wake up my chauffeur in the middle of the night and evacuate the castle to do it.

So there.Digital illo: The Princes & the Pee

Should I Sing or Whistle?

Photo: Red-winged Blackbird 1

I can neither whistle nor sing as beautifully as a red-winged blackbird, but my heart is willing!

One of the most interesting exercises during my quick hospital pajama party the other day was the opportunity to watch while a cardiologist did an echocardiogram on me. I’ve had one or two in times past, but never when I could see the monitor and watch it in progress, let alone ask the person administering it what I was seeing and hearing, and I found it to be a surprisingly charming entertainment, along with the informative aspects. Primary, of course, in its pleasures was to be told that everything seemed entirely operational and quite healthy. Seeing how each chamber was measured and observing the various valves in action, watching the graphic representation of the individual parts’ particular and distinct  rhythms and patterns coalesce into a wonderful zigzag of electrical cheer while hearing the  live sound—this was all intriguing and encouraging in any number of ways.

But even more than my spirits, the actions and sounds of my heart had me feeling both surrounded by and immersed in song and dance. It was a lovely surprise to someone who has never known anything particular about the heart in the abstract, let alone had any chance to experience my own in action. The thrumming of my pulse changed with every move of the technician’s hand, each valve and artery having its own part of the whole melody, singing at its own pitch and speed. The view of each valve seemed like a tiny pantomime synchronized with the sounds, and some valves looked (from the side) for all the world like pairs of arms waving as the hands clapped in joy, or perhaps like the waving movement of an exuberant conductor coaxing a choir to sing; one overhead view was so like a mouth singing along with my own heartbeat that I thought perhaps I was seeing a surrealist movie of some marvelous conga-accompanied south seas musical number.

Today, a few days of rest and healing down the road from any sort of emergency, I am feeling so much better already that I have a slight sense of being ready to burst into song or dance myself, the larger (and far less graceful) embodiment of these inner workings. I won’t, of course, not least because I’d still tire in about two turns or trills. But when the songs, calls, and whistles of the grackles and cicadas, crickets and our newly ensconced red-tailed hawk neighbor ring through the trees, I am pretty nearly guaranteed to join right in myself. I think I’d forgotten how that felt, for a while.

Photo: Red-winged Blackbird 2

Good health is certainly a heartwarming bright spot in the day!