Thursday, December 31, 2009

Time for reflection

It's true - the older you get, the faster time flies. Somewhere I read, "don't forget that you are your own pilot on the flight of time"! So I guess I'm fastening my seat belt as I head into 2010 but not before looking back on 2009.

Tough year on many fronts. I've watched two of my children struggle with the realities of the economic downturn. My plan was to sell this house I bought two years ago and into which I have poured love and money, to go in search of my dream house. Market realities cut that move off. I'll hang on here - maybe even make peace with a house that I've never felt totally at home in and let it grow on me - much like the way the garden I put in has grown.

Wonderful year on another level in that I got to live a dream and cross Africa off my wish list. Time spent there was both amazing and disturbing. I learned I'm not indifferent to poverty and human suffering, that I can't shut it out, that being an observer in the midst of appalling conditions made me uncomfortable in a way I had not previously experienced. Re-connected with an old flame too, and despite the best of intentions learned the hard way that those differences that forced us apart first time around still worked their negative magic. It just wasn't going to work.

Read some terrific books this year and not all escape literature. Ended the year with Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese - one of the best fiction books I've read in years. I know my interest was heightened by the book being set in Ethiopia - a country in which I spent the most time on my odyssey earlier in the year. It was not an escape book. Like, Half the Sky (Kristoff and WuDunn) which is not fiction, both books made me acutely conscious of just how good is my life and how determined I am to give more back in the future.

I suppose that time is all about lessons waiting to be learned. How we learn depends on just how wide we open our eyes to the world around. Whether the world of nature; happenings on street corners in our own immediate world; or a wider world view - everything we choose to see can make a difference in how we act within the world. "You are never too old to learn," is my mantra as I struggle to absorb new things, keep up with grandkids interest in technology, find out that my Mac can do far more than I realise.

Connections for Women reached a major milestone this year too - and how close Genny and I have come to giving up on occasion is an open secret. I'm energised by her commitment, she's the one who keeps me going - reminding me of all the first-rate readers we have come to regard as friends. So to you Genny, good friend, amazing woman, to Jeffrey and Heidi Peltier of Peltier effects who keep Connections moving forward, and to everyone of you who take the time to read, comment, send little e mails of encouragement - a huge hug! and of course endless thanks along with my very best wishes for a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve - and nature provides the decorations

With everyone snug under the roof here after a weather fraught drive up from Tucson, the cabin is in the usual chaos of family in residence. Six dogs too! and two of them not getting along so a lot of shuffling around and closing doors. Tuesday and Wednesday dumped mega amounts of snow but today the sky is brilliant blue and the snow dazzling - need sunglasses to look out of the windows.

When my
grandson and I arrived Sunday afternoon we got stuck in the lane and had to make several trips to get essentials into the cabin. Walking Knee deep in snow is quite a workout! We found someone to plough the lane Tuesday. We had our own little miracle here too. Neighbours have a breed of cattle that are very short, stocky and exceptionally friendly. One of the females gave birth Tuesday morning way out in the meadow. There are Mexican Gray Wolves and coyotes around so troops were rallied to safeguard the little one. I watched as three men, took turns to carry the new born through the snow to the barn - the entire event supervised by Mom, the other female and the bull. Quite a procession.

Enjoy nature's decorations - all the glitter you need.

Monday, December 21, 2009

On Becoming Invisible

I had a taste yesterday of what it is like to be invisible - of what it must be like to be homeless - desperate - a person of no account.

I set out with a Subaru Outback packed to the gills with supplies for a week at the cabin. 12 year old grandson and dog traveling with me. Barely 20 miles into the 254 mile trip I noticed smoke coming through the passenger side vent and pulled into a gas station/convenience store lot in the incorporated area of Catalina. Didn't know it at the time but an axel boot had split and spewed grease into the engine. All I did know was that I wasn't going to head off into the boonies and risk being stranded miles from anywhere.

First call was to USAA for roadside assistance. No problem , help would be there within the hour. Second call was to my daughter - again no problem. She and her husband would go to my house, pick up another vehicle and drive that out and I'd simply switch vehicles and continue on my way. I had life-lines, cell phone, genuine connections. Not for a moment did I feel anything but a tad annoyed.

Murphy's law rarely works in anyone's favor! Tow truck arrived within 15 minutes and we were left with no choice but to empty the contents of the Subaru onto the side-walk. Three coolers, a case of wine, duffle-bags, dog food, assorted boxes of wrapped gifts, a large pine bough wreath, and a rather tatty collection of ski jackets and pants. I wasn't dressed in "go to church best" but was wearing black slacks and a casual jacket - not an "avert the eyes this person is suspect" look.

But avert their eyes was the norm for the 30 or so people in cars pulling into the gas station as we waited. It was obviously an unusual sight - dog, woman, child, and what could be taken for worldly belongings piled on a sidewalk on a bright, sunlit Sunday morning. And yet not one person, man or woman, stopped to ask if we needed assistance. Rather we got a quick furtive look, a ducking of head and moving away. In one instance I watched a man get out of his car and start towards us only to be called back by his wife and the very clear words "don't get involved". And these were people dressed in go to church best.

The experience made me acutely conscious of how we ignore what makes us uncomfortable. We'll drop the odd coin into the salvation Army collection boxes but it takes the saints of this world to roll up sleeves and volunteer to help. It also made me ache with pain for the people who really are dseperate on the sidewalks of our communities with nothing, without hope - how must they feel as the general population steps out of the way to avoid them, deliberately chooses not to see them.

My experience was minor - just a blip in a well organised plan - but coming as it did on the start of Christmas week - on a day when church sermons rang out with messages of giving, of kindness - I couldn't help but feel disheartened. One woman did stop - she called out of her car window - "hey, you guys want to sell anything?"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Realistic Resolutions - and Sausage Rolls

Our theme for the January issue of is Realistic Resolutions and I thought I'd get a head start by keeping the holidays simple this year. For the first time in many years it's just going to be family up at the cabin - four adults, two kids and six dogs! one dog apiece per bed. Will be interesting, especially as Samantha the Warrior Woman cat who used to keep the dogs in line is no longer with us.

Rumour has it that we do have snow up there. Music to my ears because the small boys love to be out playing and come in exhausted, hungry and happy. Big kids will go skiing/snowboarding at the nearby resort and I'll pull out the well-worn snow shoes and do my own trudging around on home turf.

My birthday falls just before the holiday and our family tradition is to put the tree up that night and have a celebratory dinner cooked by the younger generation. We'll cut the tree that day and I know with a fire blazing, music playing and good vibes and smells from the kitchen it will be a joyful experience. Lisa, my daughter, is a baker par excellence - she's known to comment that if she gives up law she'll open a pastry shop. When we re did the kitchen up there we made it open plan so anyone who wants to cook can find a place around the counters or big stainless steel table we have in the center. There are few things that give me the warm fuzzies like cooking with friends and family. In our house it's raucous, experimental and anything goes. I have bred a family of fearless cooks and we take our occasional disasters in stride! I'm not immune to failure. I was humbled big time the year I ruined the Yorkshire puds. I used a "designer" fancy flour and it was a total flop - literally. Still living that one down.

I taken responsibility of actual Christmas dinner this year - Roast Prime Rib, Yorkshire Pudding - have to decide on the veggies etc. this afternoon. I'm making a Bouche Noel for dessert. I guess it's repetiton that makes something a tradition - one of ours is a batch of piping hot sausage rolls Christmas morning. Another is a New Mexico dinner Christmas eve but since the son who started that tradition and does the cooking is out of the country I've left that menu up for grabs.

Sausage Rolls

Makes 4 dozen mini ones

  • 2 packs frozen puff pastry (Sarah Lee)
  • 2 packs Jenno O turkey sausage
  • 1 egg beaten with a soon of cold water for brushing pastry
  • dried sage
Defrost pastry. Separate and unfold the sheets. Wet your finger with a little water to seal any cracks in the pastry. Roll each sheet so that it is ~ 12" wide. Cut each sheet into three lengthwise strips each ~ 4" wide.

Place a row of sausages down the middle of each strip. Moisten the edges of the pastry with water. Roll over to form a roll and seal and crimp the seal. Continue until you've used all sausages and pastry. Place your rolls on a parchment lined baking tray and refrigerate at least 20 minutes. Rolls can be flash frozen - that is frozen unwrapped and then wrapped and kept frozen for several weeks. If working with frozen rolls do NOT defrost - put immediately into the hot oven and bake at 450F for 15 minutes and then an additional 15 minutes at 400F.

Pre-heat oven to 450F. Immediately before putting the rolls in the oven, brush the tops with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sage. Bake 10 minutes at 450F then turn heat down to 400F for an additional 15 minutes.
Let cool slightly on a rack then slice on a slight diagonal into 1 1/2 inch long rolls. Serve with mustard - that's an option - personally I dislike mustard!

Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Reflecting on Civility, Restraint, and Compassion

Well I've done it! I've been to the mall. It was a mercy mission for an elderly neighbor who needed to return a gift purchased a week or so ago for her grand daughter. The 14 year old, had not minced words over Thanksgiving, telling her grandmother that the skirt and tee - shirt outfit lovingly chosen was "hideous", and that she'd rather have money. It took all the restraint I could muster not to head for Phoenix myself to seek out this ungrateful brat and give her a tongue lashing. Instead I saved her grandmother a trip to the mall and made the return.

The department at a major department store was was not especially crowded but initially I couldn't find anyone to help me. Finally, an older lady, who told me as we made the transaction , that she was a part-time seasonal worker, sorted everything out and the return was credited. She was exceptionally helpful and patient with me as I rummaged though my bag for the receipt I had put away carefully. That was the bright spot of the morning soon tarnished when the two women leaving the store ahead of me let the door go and it caught me smack on the forehead. My instinct was to hurl not-so polite words after them. I kept quiet. Certainly didn't want to trigger an episode of "door rage".

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home - the parking lot there was not crowded but I did wait behind someone determined to get a space by the door. An invalid space as it happened. The woman backing out was slow and cautious - the woman waiting for the spot decided she could hurry things up by leaning on her car horn. I parked across and watched a young woman - maybe 30 - leap out of the car, now in the reserved for invalids spot, cell phone to ear, and run into the store. She certainly showed no sign of being incapacitated and her car did not carry invalid plates. Once again I had to summon restraint and stop myself from confronting her in the check-out line.

So here it was close to 1:00p.m. in this season of goodwill and I was batting one for kindness, three for bad manners and three for personal restraint.

Driving home I couldn't help but meditate on the general decline in manners and civility (I know I've ranted about this before) in society - and it's top down. If we don't teach children manners through example, how will they ever learn? I've watched this coarseness and crudity in young people reach near epidemic proportions in England - and it is behavior absorbed by example there as well as here. When did being polite go out of style? What was the transition that turned parents watching a little league game from cheerleaders for their kids into ranting maniacs screaming at the young referees? What gives so-called celebrities the right to get away uncensored with public tantrums, profanity laced tirades, crude, overtly sexual displays. No wonder a younger generation finds it cool to be gross. It's behavior we've rewarded in all aspects of life.

I for one am fed-up with excusing bad manners. I will not listen to foul-mouthed talk-radio hosts spewing hatred; I will not subscribe to magazines that sexualize young girls; I will not smile and excuse rudeness. Perhaps if we all took a stand, lessons could be taught. And it's not just teenagers I'm raving against - I know quite a few who are a credit to their upbringing and I enjoy their company. I'm tired of listening to a forty-something's far too personal cell phone conversation in Safeway - I'm tired of listening to loudmouthed know -it- all's at the gym hog the treadmill and spew hatred about our President, and equally tired of the men and women who show up to exercise in outfits that suggest pole dancing might be their primary occupation!

I'm neither a prude nor congenital grouch but in this season when we pay lip service to giving, compassion, respect - surely it's not too much to hope for a little common courtesy to emerge. There was a time that I long for when people could hold opposing views on politics and social issues, gather at the same dinner table and engage in lively, and not infrequently, enriching conversation. At a recent cocktail gathering, my host, knowing I have strong views on immigration policy, urged me not to enter into conversation with a man who he said , "will go ballistic" if he hears you! I ate my cheese stick and left. I don't want to be in situations where I am afraid that a differing opinion will create conflict and confrontation.

I'm going to get through this month by showering compassion on boors, despots and bullies - let's see how they like that!