Friday, February 14, 2014

Time To Get Busy

I haven't written here in a very long time.  I can remember a time when I blogged every day.  My mind was overflowing with thoughts, ideas, passions.  I wanted to share it all, to talk to my readers every single day about what was important to me.

So many things have changed since then.  There have been great losses, both personal and public.  Health problems have gotten overwhelming and then resolved, sorta.  And depression has found a semi-permanent home in my brain.

It's hard to be depressed when you can't take medication for it.  I have something called seratonin syndrome.  Not sure what it is, but my response to any of the SSRIs for depression treatment is to hang from the ceiling, my body shaking like a leaf, yelling at the top of my lungs "WHO DOUBLED THE CAFFEINE IN MY COFFEE?" It's even worse than being depressed.

For me the worst part of being depressed is my neediness.  I try so very hard not to be needy, but that is the primary way my depression expresses itself. I get overwhelmed with a desire to be held, to be coddled, to be warmed.  I'm always cold when I'm depressed.  It can be 75 degrees in the house, and I'm bundled up in a sweater with big thick socks and a space heater going right next to me.

Meditation doesn't help; exercise doesn't help. Sometimes crying helps.  But mostly, creating something, whether with words or with fabric, seems to be the best help.  So I'm creating, or at least trying to.  And speaking of that, I should get back to this quilt.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

70 Random Acts

In 63 days I will celebrate my 70th birthday.  And I have 63 days to perform 63 more random acts of kindness.  It is a goal I set myself this year, starting in mid-December, to perform 63 random acts of kindness as a way of celebrating having survived and thrived for 70 years.

My life has centered around giving.  How often I have wished I had been born into money or possessed the ability to amass large amounts of cash.  So often my gifts seemed meager and inadequate.  The few times I have been able to give abundantly have been a real joy.  But many of the small acts have brought great joy also: the startled pleasure on the face of the transit driver who I thanked for getting me to my destination safely; the genuine happiness of an old man to whom I gave a rose (he was on his way to visit his wife in the hospital it turned out and took the rose to her); the grateful pleasure for the warm socks or hat given to a cold stranger, homeless and unloved.

Sometimes it has been buying a meal anonymously for someone in the restaurant where we were dining; sometimes it has been simply adding $2 to our grocery checkout to help provide a meal to a hungry child or family.

Some of the best were enlisting the help of others:  70 quilts for wounded warriors; a year's worth of art supplies to a homeless shelter for art therapy.  Some were unheralded by the ultimate recipients: donations to the Wildcathaven Sanctuary, where the managers were grateful but the real recipients simply saw it as another meal or another weigh-in. And some were very big, like the year we managed to get together over a thousand dollars worth of games and supplies for a school whose population was made up of very low income families for the most part.

So I have 63 days to complete 63 more random acts of kindness.  And for that I need your help.  Suggestions, monetary help, whatever you can provide.   Any monies sent, either directly or via Paypal will go to the 70 random acts project, and you will be notified how it was spent.  Suggestions will be shared.  And group projects will be described here and on Facebook.

Can you help?

My email, both for Paypal and simply to contact me if you wish is

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

It seems a simple and straightforward statement. But, like all of the Constitution, it behooves us to attempt to understand the intent of the writers, not just the literal meaning of the words. Originally authored by James Madison, the amendment recog
nized two fundamental principles for the time in which it was written: first that an army was not easily raised or trained and was expensive to maintain, whereas local militias could be formed in communities and kept prepared in the event of imminent threat; and second, that the founders of the nation had bad experiences with governments and sought to give the people protection against potential tyranny, making this the only nation known of its time to not only allow for but encourage its citizens to arm themselves.

However, they (the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) recognized the need for caution in the matter of arming the populace. Most notably, John Adams wrote, "To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defense, or by partial orders of towns, countries or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws."
--John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of the United States 475 (1787-1788)

There's the nub of it: "....The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws." No where in any of the writings extant regarding the writing of this amendment do you find any provision for recreational hunting, target shooting, etc. In fact, the amendment itself as well as supportive writings specifically states that the purpose of allowing citizens to possess arms was the establishment of a well regulated militia.
On the floor of Congress, the following argument was put forth: "What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty .... Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins."
-- Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, spoken during floor debate over the Second Amendment, I Annals of Congress at 750, August 17, 1789

A careful reading of these and a multitude of other arguments in support of the amendment in the 1780s can leave little doubt that the founders had a deep and abiding fear of a standing army, governed by Congress, and able to "invade the rights and liberties of the people." In fact, again and again the arguments in favor of the 2nd amendment stressed the importance of the people being able to protect themselves against government tyranny. It could rationally be argued that the existence of a standing federal army is in violation of the intent of the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Certainly, no one in their right mind would believe that the American people today, armed to the teeth as they may be, could prevail against our own military should it ever come to that. Yet that eventuality is exactly what the framers refer to again and again in defense of this amendment. Or, as Elbridge Gerry called it in the quote presented above, "...a standing army, the bane of liberty."
Should we then do away with the military? While Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to call forth an army, it specifically states that authorization of funding of that army shall not exceed two years. "... To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years." The phrase "to raise" suggests quite strongly that the concept of a permanent standing army was never a consideration of the framers. It does call for providing and maintaining a Navy, without the time restriction imposed on an army. And it has explicit language governing militias:
"To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
"To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress." 

If, as at least one member of SCOTUS has declared loudly and often, the Constitution is a dead document, meaning to be taken literally without interpretation or adjustment to common times, then we should eliminate all but the Navy and its ancillary forces, and require regular militia training.
Nowhere is the right to possess guns for the purpose of recreation, i.e. target shooting, non-survival hunting, either promoted or encouraged. In fact, some of the arguments in support of an armed populace specifically address the inadvisability of employing such weapons except in defense of the country and support of the militia.

So, if you want to have your weapons, join your local national guard, the modern equivalent of the militia. You will probably be disappointed to find out that they provide the weapons (and keep them when you aren't training); but at least you will know you are supporting the Second Amendment.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

To Christmas or Not To Christmas

Today is day #25,490 of my life.  That's a lot of days! 

My friend tells me I fail at being an atheist.  One look around our house might well confirm that notion.  The picture above is but one small portion of our decorations. I have placed a video for your viewing pleasure at the end of this entry.  Yes, we do go nuts.  The house smells like gingerbread and spritz cookies.  While I do not celebrate the birth of a savior, I see nothing wrong with celebrating a time of year when giving is paramount.

However, there is a bit of the Grinch in me afterall.  I see no reason to acquire tons of cheaply made crap that no one really wants anyway.  So many gifts are simply tokens, not thought out carefully and given just because we give gifts.  So every year we strive to give in a way that makes a difference.  This year it is hats and scarves made from donated yarn, going to homeless who are definitely cold and miserable in the winter.  I really don't care what put them in their current circumstance. I care that they know that people still care about them, that someone thinks they deserve better no matter what they have done. If I could I would fill their bellies with hot food, and would give them shelter for the night.  Lacking those resources, we give what we can.  I have all the sweaters I will ever wear in this lifetime; my pants are comfortable and adequate to the job. Same with shoes, coats, and scarves.  I am far more blessed than they: I have a home, a place to bathe and conduct the other bodily needs on a daily basis without fear of reprisal or embarrassment. I have the internet, music, television, books from the library.  When you think about it, I have by comparison with much of the world, an embarrassment of riches.  Who could ask for more?

Enjoy my video, and please add something random and kind to your Christmas gift list.  You will feel better for having done so.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Post Election Ruminations

There is so much anger floating around out there after the re-election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.  Rarely have I seen so many sore losers in one place.  The congratulations coming from the right side of the political aisle are less than enthusiastic, accompanied by veiled and not so veiled messages that the Congressional Republicans have absolutely no intention of working with instead of against this President.  I am loathe to understand why.

There was and is a lot of racism floating around.  Every time I hear a Republican say that those of us who voted for the President are people who "want stuff" I know they are not talking about stuff like health care for everyone, food in every child's tummy, quality education in all schools, roads without potholes and bridges that are safe to cross, libraries and courthouses and school buildings that aren't falling down, well staffed fire departments and police departments, functioning sewer systems and water treatment plants, sidewalks without cracks and missing pieces, parks that invite us to picnic and play, clean air to breathe, cars that are safe and efficient to drive, regular garbage pickup, National Guardspeople to assist in times of disaster and need, federal disaster aid, regular postal service, etc. No, they see only welfare and foodstamps and medicaid.

Here is the huge perception difference between liberals and conservatives.  We liberals see government as assisting in the quality of ALL people's lives, providing all those services I listed in the paragraph above, and more.  The conservatives see government as giving handouts to undeserving lazy wretches.  They conveniently fail to include the oil industry, big agriculture, big insurance and pharmaceuticals, and defense contractors in those lined up for handouts.  Because of this blind spot, they want to balance the budget and reduce the deficit on the backs of the most vulnerable, and leave their big donors untouched.  It implies a venality of huge proportion to suggest that they care only about filling their campaign coffers and personal pockets, but what other conclusion can one draw?  You have to applaud them, though.  The conservatives seem to have refined and polished to perfection the fine art of duping a large proportion of the very people they would love to leave stranded.

True patriotism calls for supporting, criticizing and working with one's government.  Closing your business, firing people for the way they voted, and labeling everyone not like you is not patriotic.  It is stupid, self defeating, and borders on the treasonous.  And when it comes to calling for armed uprising against the government? Well, that doesn't border on treasonous; it is treason.  So be careful what you call for.

How about we work together?  Raking your infirm neighbor's leaves is not a political statement; it is a social commitment. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Infamous Christmas Cake

On the 25,455th day she put the Christmas cake in the fridge to mature.

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love fruitcake and those who think the ubiquitous treat is best used as a doorstop.  And then, there is my fruitcake.  I know of a scant handful of people who do not like even my fruitcake, but mostly the reaction has been WOW, that's fruitcake?

Since I am no longer making it in huge quantities and not even every year, I have decided to publicly part with the recipe.  As you can see from the picture, the untouched, uncut cake looks much like the deadly hockey pucks you can find on most grocery shelves starting around this time of year.  It is only when you get inside and venture a taste that things change, dramatically.

I don't recommend fooling around with the recipe, but some of you most surely will, if you are brave enough to try this little loaf of incredible dense calorific wonderfulness.  I don't even want to hazard a guess at how rich it truly is. If I got a calorie count I would probably never make it again.

First, the shopping list:

3 cups of whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 teaspoons of ground cinamon
1 teaspoon of salt
1-1/2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice OR
 1/2 tsp. each of ground nutmeg, ground clove and ground alspice

2 pounds of mixed dried fruits -- here is where most people go wrong.  Please don't go buy those cartons of sticky, icky processed sugar soaked horrors called candied fruit.  Go to your local natural foods store or if you are lucky to have a grocery store that has bulk bins of such things, and choose an assortment of dried fruits.  I recommend sticking to dark cherries, apples, peaches and apricots. Don't use raisins for this 2 pound mixture, because we are going to add raisins too.  Choose dried vegetables that you like.  The ONLY exception I make to this rule is I get a small container of candied green cherries, usually the 1/2 pound container.  Dried bananas will NOT work.  They turn to horrible mush so avoid those at all costs.  Currants are nice, as are cranberries.  Dark dark dark cherries are wonderful.

3 cups of dark raisins.
2 cups of pecans.  Again, I don't use other nuts, because pecans just make it special.
4 eggs
1-3/4 cup of packed dark brown sugar
1 cup of orange juice
2 sticks of butter
1/4 maple syrup or unsulfured molasses, the darker the better.
1 8oz package of quality bittersweet chocolate.  I like Lindt or Ghiradelli myself.  You can use the "regular" stuff and nobody but you will know, but if you're going to all this trouble why not use the best.

Set up all your ingredients on a side counter or a table if you don't have extra counter space.  This includes the refrigerated stuff -- eggs, butter -- so that everything comes to room temperature.

1 pint of Myers dark spiced rum -- You can use any dark rum, but I like the added spice.
cheese cloth

Let's talk baking pans.  As you can see from the picture I use the small aluminum loaf pans.  They are just the right size for gift giving and ensure that your recipient will not go into a full blown alcohol and sugar induced coma if they get greedy and eat the whole thing.  You can bake these in a regular bread loaf pain.  The recipe will make three 8x4x2 pans or two 10 x 3-1/2 x 2-1/2 pans.  Since most of us don't bake our own bread anymore (such a pity), the easiest is just go and buy three packs of foil small loaf pans.

Let's also talk tools.  You will see by the list above that you need measuring cups and spoons.  You will also need a flour sifter or a sieve, a stand mixer, and a double boiler.  For some of you, this means you may have to enlist a friend or borrow your Mom's kitchen.  But if you want to wow some of your friends, go ahead and borrow.  You'll be glad you did.  You will also need a good, long-handled wooden spoon.  I don't use teflon or metal spoons because of the potential for reaction with some of the ingredients.  I do use a teflon spatula for scraping down the sides of my bowls, though your wooden spoon will work just fine.  You will also need a large cookie sheet or two smaller ones and a rack for cooling.  Go ahead; borrow what you need.  Promise your lenders that they won't regret it.

And now we start.  I like to give detailed instructions.  So apologies to the experienced cooks reading this; I'm not talking down to anyone.  I just hope that maybe some novices will want to try this too.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  It will be warm far before you are ready to put them in, but doing it now will warm you and your kitchen and ensure that you didn't forget.

Get out a fairly large bowl and put all of your raisins, fruits, and nuts into it.  Add one-half pint of rum.  Mix everything thoroughly so that all the fruits and nuts have rum, and set it aside to pickle itself.  No it won't really pickle. I'm referring to the mixture getting drunk out of its mind.  As it sits it will soak up the rum, so in between each step below, give the mixture a good stir.

If you have a double boiler, set that up; if you don't, start a pan of hot water to boiling, and set a smaller metal or ceramic bowl on top if it.  Anything that can take the heat is fine, which means for gawd's sake don't use plastic.  When the water comes to a boil turn it to simmer and put your chocolate, maple syrup or molasses, and 1/2 stick of butter in and let it melt slowly while you do other things.  Don't worry about stirring this.  You will do that when you are ready to use it.

Do you have a sifter?  If not do you have a sieve?  Into the sifter or sieve, place your dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt and spices.  Sift them into a bowl and set aside.  If you are experienced or want to be a purist, you can as I do and use your coffee bean or spice grinder and grind your spices fresh. The allspice you will probably have to buy pre-ground, but if you have a wonderful store available as I do, you can get bulk allspice freshly ground.

Next, put your remaining 1-1/2 cubes of butter (by the way, for the novices, get unsalted butter) into the stand mixture and slowly increase the speed to medium high.  Beat the butter until it begins to turn pale.  Add your brown sugar and beat until the butter and sugar are thoroughly mixed and appear fluffy.  Add one egg at a time with the mixer running on medium to low.  Let the mixer continue to run after all the eggs are in, and turn to your chocolate.  It should be thoroughly melted by now.  Stir it with your wooden spoon to combine the chocolate, butter and syrup/molasses.  Once it is smooth, very slowly pour it into the egg/butter/sugar mixture while the beater is still running on low.  The reason you do this slowly is to avoid putting a bunch of really hot stuff all at once into an egg mixture.  Yes, it will cook the eggs.  So just pour it slowly, which allows it to cool and be incorporated without making chocolate boiled buttered eggs.  After you have all these ingredients in the mixer, stop it and using your spatula or wooden spoon scrape down the sides of your mixing bowl and check the bottom to be sure everything is getting mixed in thoroughly.

Now, again on medium low speed, slowly add the flour to this mixture about half a cup at a time.  This is simply to avoid sending flour dust flying throughout your kitchen.  I find that even with my Kitchen Aid and the protector in place I still get flour flyback if I don't do this slowly.  Don't mix it forever, just add 1/2 cup at a time, one right after another.  Finally, add your cup of orange juice, mix it in, and turn off the mixer.

Remove the bowl and add it to the fruit and nut mixture, or vice versa, depending on which bowl is biggest.  You will need a large bowl to hold everything.  Mix the heck out of it, using your wooden spoon.  You want to make sure that all the fruit and nuts are coated with the chocolatey flour mixture, so stir away until everything is blended.

The final step before cooking is putting the mixture into the pans.  You can butter the pans or use Pam or a similar spray.  Again, I am a purist and prefer to melt butter and brush the pans.  It probably doesn't make any difference but I despise canola oil and have yet to find a quality spray other than the olive oil versions which for obvious reasons would be a horrible choice.  If you don't have a brush, just pour the melted butter into a pan, roll it around until the sides are coated, and poor the residue into the next pan.  Rinse and repeat until all pans are buttered and ready.  Fill them to just at the top.  They will rise a bit when they cook, but not a lot.

I set my pans on a cookie sheet.  I am fortunate to have a convection oven and find it works best.  If you don't have a convection oven, please please please do the following.  Half way through the cooking time, switch the pan of cakes on the bottom shelf with the one on the top shelf.  You will be putting your oven racks at the 1/3rd and 2/3rd position in your oven.  So remember to switch.

The cakes will require approximately 1 hour, 20 minutes to bake.  I suggest checking at one hour and again every 10 minutes after that.  They will be done when you can put a toothpick or very very slim knife in and pull it out clean.  If there is dough on it, they aren't done.  Remember, switch at 30 to 40 minutes between top shelf and bottom shelf, if you aren't using convection.  When they are done, remove from the oven and sit on the cooling rack. Leave them in their little pans to cool.

While they are cooling, cut your cheesecloth into pieces long enough to wrap twice around the cake.  The ends of the cake do not need to be wrapped if you bought narrow cheesecloth.  Once you have enough pieces cut, empty half your bottle of rum into a bowl and put your cut pieces in to soak up the rum.  You're going to need it weekly.  If you drink it you will just have to buy more.  As a note here, I find rum tasty but somewhat harsh.  I have discovered that if you are willing to put out the extra cash, using something like kalua, Bailey's Irish Cream, or Godiva chocolate liquer is absolutely and totally decadent.  When your cakes are cool, take them out of their pans, wrap them in the cheese cloth.  Now I put my cakes back into the pans after wrapping them.  If you want you can just wrap them in aluminum foil.  But I mail my little cakes to people, so I like to keep the pans.  Store them in the back of the refrigerator.  Once a week, take them out and give them a drink of port.  Just enough to moisten the top of the cheesecloth.  Let them age for 3-4 weeks.  That's why I just made mine.

If you are a person who does not use alcohol for any reason, you can substitute any fruit juice for the booze.  However, I suggest replacing the run with orange juice.  With all that orange juice, your cakes will take on a lovely citrus flavor.  I would use a quality grape juice for the cheesecloth wrapping.

As a final note: if you are a person who likes to froo-froo your food, then by all means before you bake, decorate away.  You can do a red or green candied cherry with whole pecans or walnuts flaring out as petals.  Please don't use almonds.  They are just hard on the teeth.  Put the decorations on before you bake.

Share your pictures please.  And have fun.  Also don't get too buzzed or you won't have enough rum for your recipe and you might forget some steps.