Monday, November 28, 2016

I Cooked a Thing

So there I was.  Thanksgiving was around the corner.  The first since I stopped eating animals, and I had two main concerns.  The first was that I could bring food people want to eat.  The second was a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for myself.

Every year I attend two different dinners.  The first is with my family.  This is very casual.  Our family is small, and many have other commitments.   We all come when it's convenient, and leave when we need to.  I had already given my mother vegetable broth, and asked her to use it anywhere she would normally use chicken broth.  No one noticed any differences.

I came in the morning armed with supplies, and set about the task of making gravy.  I purchased three varieties of gravy mix I found at Mississippi Market.  Two were onion gravy, the third was mushroom.  Both just called for adding water, and simmering on a stovetop.  But I wanted to jazz them up a bit.

For the mushroom gravy, I was able to find mushroom broth.  I used half water, and half that.  For the onion gravies, I used half vegetable broth.  But I finely chopped an onion, and sautéed it in butter first, then started making gravy in the pot.  They all tasted great, in my opinion.  But how did everyone else compare them to the turkey gravy they were used to?

The world will never know.  Everyone saw my mushroom and onion gravies, hot and ready to serve, then took a look at the jars of turkey gravies they're used to, and picked mushroom or onion.  No one said they were awful, and no one said they were great.  No one ate them to make me happy.  They just thought it was a fine option.  Success!

The next day was Thanksgiving with friends.  People announced what they were bringing, and I said "Onion and Mushroom" gravy, capitalizing them on purpose.  I wanted to make sure people wanting turkey gravy had chance to bring what they like.  And no one did.

No one thought it was unusual I brought onion gravy, and no one thought it was unusual I brought mushroom gravy.  The only comments I got were from people thinking it was rather fancy to bring two different kinds of gravy.  And everyone thought my gravy was fine.  It was just fine.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Time for Thanks, Once Again

“Thanks to God!”

Christmas is right around the corner, the preparatory season of Advent begins shortly, and Thanksgiving has just occurred. For what am I thankful? There are numerous things:

  • After moving in with our dear dying friend Loretta in December, 2014, and staying at her place for months after she died to bring some sort of order to Loretta’s affairs ( for which she is responsible ), my dear Ellie moved back home on New Year’s eve 2015.
  • Ellie and I were, therefore, together, living under the same roof, when Ruth ( Ellie’s sister-in-law ) died suddenly in very early January. We could provide support, care and concern for Ruth’s two daughters, and Ellie’s brother, Jim, who was having dementia, without having to communicate between two physical spaces.
  • Though exhausted and grieving from caring for Loretta, Ellie showed me how to be hospitable by being open to her sister and her sister’s husband, who stayed with us when here for Ruth’s funeral and, later, when here to help get the estate ready for sale. She responded with similar hospitality when another sister flew into town to visit Jim.
  • Ellie managed her job as executor of Loretta’s will very well. She got Loretta’s car to her nephew in Chicago without our having to drive there and managed to sell her condo with the only incident being a last-minute change of the closing date by only a few days.
  • My friend Mic, who has been dealing with inoperable brain cancer for nearly a year, has had some good experiences recently. Two MRIs in a row have shown his tumor to have shrunk. His left hand has stopped shaking and is now strong enough that he can cut the fingernails on his right hand. He can taste food again. He no longer needs a cane, and his walking gait, which reminded me of someone who’d had a stroke, is darn near normal!
  • I’ve found some time to interact with some neighbors in new ways. On one side, Andy and I collaborated on a new fence. On the other, Kevin and I borrowed a chain-saw from yet another neighbor and cut some growth in my yard that he had noticed and which did not belong there. Our neighborhood men’s 500 card party broke up when one of our number moved to Arizona; my neighbor two doors down solicited two other men and we now have a new card-party going on.
  • Though I have been consumed by attempting to care for Ellie as she recovers from her grief and exhaustion and learns to live with significant arthritis pain, especially in her knees, my friends have been supportive by inquiring about how Ellie is and I am, and by not asking much of me.
  • Ellie has found some relief from the arthritic pain in her knees. She has gone to a new clinic, seen X-Rays that show that her knees are not in awful shape, and almost completed a new regimen, which has provided improvement in her knees. She has also gotten knee braces, which are difficult to put on, make her feel uncomfortably strapped in, but which clearly stabilize her knees. She is talking of using these braces to take walks with me. I am excited.
The President-elect of the United States, and the campaign that preceded the election, not to mention the poor alternatives we had to choose from, are nearly enough to cause despair. If one looks far enough, however, there are reasons for both joy and thanksgiving. “Deo gratias.”
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Picture is Worth... 85¢ or So

'Tis the season to be thinking about Christmas presents, and I happened to notice instant cameras are a thing again.  I remember when I was young my aunt had one that she never used, but she did have many photos she treasured that were obviously taken with it.  If I recall correctly, her reason for no longer using it was that it was hard to find film for it.

Easy present, right?  Not so fast.  The first thing to note is that digital cameras exist now, and have a lot of benefits; unlimited free film, for one.  They're also small and light compared to these new instant cameras.  But she isn't using one of those, and she did use her old Polaroid.  So shouldn't I be comparing these new cameras to the one she liked and actually used?

The first thing I noticed is that they come in two sizes of prints, and even the larger size is a little smaller than the one she had.  But not so much to be a problem, I think.  Then the price tag hit me.  The cameras are not expensive, but the film is about 85¢, at best.  As someone used to unlimited free digital film, I was taken aback.  But I'm supposed to be comparing it to the previous instant print cameras, right?

Well what did they cost?  I wasn't actually able to find that.  I did find that you can buy film for those cameras today at $2.50 a shot.  $2.50!!?  I'm going to make some guesses, and assume that they're charging twice as much because it's now a novelty.  But that's still would mean my aunt is use to spending the 90's dollars equivalent to $1.25 a photo.  It seems to me that could be true.

I'm gonna go for it.  It could be fun; making cameras social again.  It might be a great piece of nostalgia for her.  And if nothing else, it will be unique gift.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Things we Do

“Where’s my purse?”

Our friend, Jane, was going with Ellie and me to St John’s; we were going to a prayer service to honor those who had lived and died before us. We’d do that in both prayer and fellowship. This is an annual event that Ellie and I had attended several times; each year seemed to bring new reasons to participate.

Jane stopped at our house, plenty early enough to allow us to chat a bit and bring Ellie’s car around and move some clothes-to-be-donated-to-MORE from her car to Jane’s. There were quite a few clothes in quite a few bags, but everything fit in Jane’s trunk. When we left, we still thought we had enough time to stop at our favorite Caribou.

It was a beautiful Minnesota fall day. Bright sun, a few clouds sprinkled about on the vast expanse of blue sky, temperature around 60 degrees. And many many trees were still “plugged in” ( credit for the metaphor to my dear Ellie ), lit up with bright fall colors. A great day for a drive.

“We saw Jim last Sunday,” Ellie, referring to her brother, was telling Jane. “And it seems he painted a picture of some fall splendor. It was hanging in the living room of the house where he’s living.”

“Oh, I‘d like to see it,” Jane, who’s not met Jim, said.

“Well … ,” Ellie said, “I just happen to have a picture of it.” Sitting next to me, she was putting her hand in her purse to fish out her phone.

Pretty soon, though, “Where’s … where’s my purse?” Frantic movement in the front passenger seat. “I can’t find my purse!”

We were going down I-94; I couldn’t help her look. Jane did her best, but she was in the back seat. I took the next exit and found a parking lot; no purse.

“I wonder if I put it down when we moved the clothes,” Ellie said.

“I don’t remember your having it,” Jane countered. “You sure you brought it out of the house?”

“No. Walter went to the bathroom just before we left … I wasn’t sure where he was … I had a bunch of stuff to carry out.” Pause. “I don’t remember putting it over my shoulder.”

I didn’t remember anything except moving the clothes to Jane’s car; that added nothing to the conversation, so I didn’t add it. Ellie had put her phone in another small bag that she brought, so she had that. However, keys, money, credit cards, car fob, remote car starter began the list of important things that were now missing. “We have to return home,” I said.

“Really? I feel really badly missing the service.”

“Me, too, but we gotta recover your purse, or start making calls ...”

As we were returning, Jane suggested calling a neighbor. Ellie called a couple. Nobody home. She left no message.

One of them called back. Nice of him, but he was not home and couldn’t help.

I dropped them off to search around Jane’s car while I went around back. As I entered the dining room, there it was … where it almost always is when we’re home. Ellie and Jane were coming up the walk to the house. I opened the door, showed them the purse, and smiled. “Come on out so we can get going to St John’s,” Ellie said.

I picked them up, we made our way to St John’s, and spent some time at Loretta’s grave.

Loretta's Marker, Cremation Columbarium
St John's Cemetery

We walked to the site of the earlier prayer vigil. After we reflected quietly I offered to get the car. As I drove up I noticed a stranger with them. It wasn’t a stranger, it was the director of the cemetery, whom we’ve come to consider a friend. From the parish funeral that was winding down as we arrived she had seen Ellie and Jane, and come over. Pleased to see her, I got out of the car, we all hugged, caught up a bit, and then we left, stopping for dinner before returning home.

It was a rewarding day.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Way to San Jose

When I got back from my trip to Thailand almost two years ago, I decided two things.  The first is that I not only wanted to travel again, but I'd like to always have travel plans.  So I started planning a trip to Colombia two years out.  The second is that two weeks is probably enough.

Colombia has lots of bars, restaurants, touristy things, and the American dollar goes farther there.  I know that sounds kind of dumb, because I could just visit someplace closer, and spend the airfare money here, but that defeats the the real goal of having fun in a new place.  The other reason I was looking at Colombia is that seems far enough away to be somewhere new, but close enough to save time and money on airfare.

To make a long story short, I had decided the crime in Colombia was not enough to keep me out, but then realized there are other destinations with less crime that have their own merits.  Costa Rica is pretty close, both physically and climate wise.  The cost of living is a little higher, but the crime is a lot lower.

For some reason these two weeks were way harder to get approved than the month I took last time, but it's on the calendar now.  I found airfare for as low as $321, but ended up spending $452 for the flights I wanted, and luxuries like a carry-on.  This January I will spend fourteen full days in San Jose, or thereabouts.

My cousin who came with to Thailand will be joining me again.  Another cousin of ours may join us too.  I don't know him well, but I'm not worried.  I think we'll want to spend a good portion of our time there doing our own thing anyways.  There will not be an exact itinerary, but even a general one has not been worked out yet.  I think we know we want to spend a few days in San Jose at the beginning and end, then travel up north to see a sloth or two, zip line through a jungle, hang out on a beach, in the middle.  And just generally skip two weeks of winter.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Election Reflection

I was right; my blog partner was wrong.

My blog partner’s testament to the above, while flattering, is also unnerving. Very. I was afraid I was right. As I consider the results of the election on the day following it, I have at least these rather conflicted notions, as in I feel ( adjective ) because ( reason ). Here goes.

I feel … relief … because the ads were seriously getting on my nerves; all of them. Really.

… afraid … Trump seems like a loose cannon who’s always interested in getting even and now he has the entire toolset of the executive branch of the United States at his mostly legitimate disposal. He also has the nuclear codes.

… I am afraid the legislative branch of the government is in his pocket as well. See concern immediately above. They are sworn to uphold the Constitution but if you cut them they’ll bleed Republican, and he ran on their banner.

… and he has egged his supporters to a “lock her up” frenzy at more than one political rally.

… he has a very thin skin and is apparently very naïve about the use of nuclear weapons.

… his gas-lighting abuse is a huge concern. I wouldn’t expect him to do things that never displease anyone; but I expect ownership of the doing. It is only in the ownership that dialogue can occur. His behavior in the campaign gives me little to no hope that he can do that.

… his apparently unflagging admiration for the dictators of the modern world, to whom governing is like managing a company ( “You’re fired!” ), along with his threats to jail Hillary, sue his female accusors and suggestions to withdraw licenses to air programming from those who’ve criticized him, leave me fearing our very democracy is in peril.

… hopeful … perhaps the United States needs a dose of his medicine. Not sure what his medicine is, but he did tap into quite a legitimate anger in the heartland … anger that Bernie Sander and Elizabeth Warren seemed to get but which Clinton either failed completely to understand or was unable to articulate in any meaningful way. Charisma matters.

( Keep in mind I believe he and his kind are the real source of the issue(s) that this anger is about, but that is a completely different story. He is clearly a member of the 1%; he has an array of lawyers that do nothing but obfuscate; he gets away with the sorts of things that would surely land me in jail; he has benefitted from the top tier of wage earners growing incomes while the rest of the people’s incomes remained stagnant; he stiffed completely more than one contractor doing work for him. In addition, his company financially benefitted from his campaign. )

I don’t think for one nano-second he really cares about the issues the anger about which got him elected … government ineffectiveness, nothing gets done for the common good, nothing gets done for the common person, too much government … except that they might affect his financial empire. Too much government? Only when it keeps Trump Enterprises from doing what it wants to do. He has no problem inserting government into women’s health issues.

… his own distrust of some institutions may be a good thing. His railing that politicians are up to nothing beyond cronyism and looking out for themselves ( hence, “Drain the swamp!” ) is almost certainly a good thing, which, while I write that, makes me wonder what he will model in that regard … and I am willing to bet I know. I believe there is a political establishment that is dangerous, is not party-specific, and which he may be onto and able to overcome. On the other hand, the government does have to work.

I am amazed at the man’s ability to win; I hope and pray his ability to govern ( which is nothing like managing a company ) is as good. As Hillary said in her concession speech, he’s our man, he’s the president, we must be together behind him. I will give him a chance and urge all to do the same.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I was Wrong

I was wrong.  I said Trump didn't have a chance.
Walter thought he did.  He was right.

I sat down to make a post on Monday, but I couldn't really get interested in any subject except for the election.  And there was nothing left to say about that, right?  Time to resign ourselves to four years of Clinton.

I thought the number of people who wanted to vote for Trump were inflated.  The opposite turned out to be be true.  Some people have speculated that people who wanted to vote for Trump were embarrassed to say so.  Some people speculated that there is a large contingent who voted for Trump to try to break the system, and those type of people wouldn't participate in polls.  And I think,...
that I'm not very good at this, apparently.

But how does this affect me, Benjamin?

I think Clinton more capable of leading the country than Trump, just as a white collar criminal is more capable of leading a company than a blue collar criminal.  I don't think either are more moral.  I don't think either are going make the moral decisions on my behalf that I would.

I also think the gameshow host that says racist, and sexist things while he needed the support of the masses will be an embarrassment to our country in a way that Clinton wouldn't even approach.  But I do think there's a chance that the supreme court judges appointed by Trump will support the constitution.  I don't think that would have been true of Clinton.

And I'd like to end by addressing the people out there saying that anyone who voted "their conscience", instead of Clinton, only have ourselves to blame.
#$@&%*! you.  If you wanted my vote, you should have presented a candidate worth voting for.  You don't just get me to vote for whoever you tell me to just because the other guy sucks.  I did not elect Trump.  I voted for Governor Johnson.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Secret Plan

Okay, okay.  We're close enough to the election to tell you the secret plan.

What I told you was Gary Johnson can't win, and Hilary Clinton can't lose.  Let's address that "was" right away.  You may have heard that the FBI is again looking into the crimes Clinton and her staff committed.  She did actually admit to having done the acts that are illegal, but claims they're not really guilty because she's a lawyer who didn't know they were illegal.

I thought she had made the right deals to make that go away, and I still think that, but the new evidence is actually too hard to ignore.  You might say I was wrong about that fact.  And I was definitely wrong about the fact that her campaign has access to other racist and sexist materials from Donald Trump.  I'm still sure it's out there, but I guess she's not as powerful as I thought, or she have it.  If she had it, we'd have it by now, and we don't.

But this only helps the plan.  You see, when I told you Gary Johnson can't win, and Hilary Clinton can't lose, I left out the other option.  They can all not win; all of them.  The constitution of the United States says that a candidate needs 51% of the electoral college votes to win.  So if:

  1. The election is close, ( Which it looks like it will be, more than ever.)
  2. and Gov. Johnson gets one state, (Very possible)
... it is possible no one wins.  What happens then?  The House of Representatives gets to decide who becomes president amongst, wait for it, the top three candidates.  Boom!  They could pick Gov. Johnson to be the next president.