What I Learned This Week: #177

2021: Monday, January 4 – Sunday, January 10

The Week in God Dammit America!: I’ve been very quiet this week on social media in light of the events at the Capitol because, although I have a lot to say, I don’t have anything positive to say. A reading of history suggests we are in for several years of upheaval. The American political class is rotten to it’s core and they have brought us to a Civil War. The insurgent force, a group of delusional and violent American citizens, was temporarily pushed back this week, but they aren’t done. They will regroup and cause greater terror. I’m loathe to predict anything, but will not be surprised when they start to direct their violence on civilians, beginning with their own neighbors. As much as the right magnifies Antifa, they are a nothing but a loosely knit group of kids that will be ready for skirmishes, but will be no match for the para-military forming all around us. Our war of facts vs. fiction takes place in front of the backdrop of a raging pandemic that a third of population (mostly the insurgents) believes is harmless, And, just thinking off the top of my head, I would not be surprised to see border skirmishes as a new wave of people decide a broken America is still a place they would like to be. Someday it will be again, but for the foreseeable future, we have to keep working to reclaim that status. We can do it, I will never lose hope for the rise of the good people, but we’re in for a rough ride.

The Week in Hoping for Next Week: My little anecdotes don’t seem very important this week. But…

The Week in 5 Day Work Weeks: After two shortened work weeks I hauled my not enthusiastic self to work 5 days in row. And I had to do all the stuff I put off the previous two weeks because the people I needed were doing “holiday” things. Whatever. I made it, dramatically! Work is back to regular programming and next week I hope to be in a better frame of mind to post my little shining lights of humanity.

In the meantime, I’ll spend the week thinking about the marketing team that put a cactus on a package of toilet paper. What does it mean?

What I Learned This Week: #176

Monday, December 28, 2020 – Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Week in Getting Stones (Not Stoned): On a whim (and to support the neighborhood’s newest shop Sweet Sistah Splash), I bought my Mom a quartz crystal healing stone. The closest my Mom has ever come to dabbling into new age was an early appreciation of John Tesh music, and maybe a macramé project or two with the ladies in the 1970’s. Still, I thought she might find some value in holding a stone while she was watching TV or whatever.

I handed her the stone and she said, “what does it do,” like I’d brought her an small appliance. I explained that it doesn’t “do” anything, but that many people believe quartz has healing properties. I handed her the card that came with it and told her to google it. I didn’t think much would come of this, but she did immediately put the stone in her pocket which was better than I’d hoped.

The next week when I came to her house, she still had the stone in her pocket. She also had googled her quartz and other stones and found some others she wanted which she carefully wrote out in a shopping list for me to fulfill. I was not expecting her to be as enamored as she was and I had to double check to make sure the woman in front of me was actually my Mother. She wants amethtyst, aventurine, turquoise, and malachite. And she says, that’s enough. She doesn’t want “rocks” all over the place. Ah yes, that’s recognizable as my Mother.

The Week in My Brain: I started a new puzzle this week and I believe how a person does a puzzle is very revealing. When I do puzzles with other people, I just go with the flow. But when I do puzzles at home by myself I have a strict set of behaviors that may be borderline clinical. [I like to call the way I do puzzle ‘quirky!’] I turn all the pieces face up, and, if the puzzle allows, I stack them in ‘zones’ of color. The 1000 piece puzzle below is three days in and not one piece is put together. I have a box of trees, and a box of the river, and the edge. Then, and only then, am I ready to start putting pieces together.

And don’t I know it that if another person showed up to my dining room table and wanted to help, the first thing they would do is run their fingers through the boxes upending all my work. I would nod my head and move on. I’m mean, I may have some odd tendencies, but I’m not fighting anyone about how to do a puzzle.

Three day in…separated by color and end pieces…and now it’s time to get to work.

The Week in Actually Eating Out: I‘ve been very specific about the very few restaurants I’ve dined in during Covid. I try to go at off times and try to get in and out as quickly as possible. And, when I’m there, I want to eat food that wouldn’t lend itself to take out. The thing about take out food, besides the waste of single use packaging, is that foods that are great in a restaurant aren’t so great after I walk them home in the winter cold.

Most of the items on Lou Vino’s menu are things I don’t want to take home and so I sat down for their Shrimp and Grits, a lovely take on a classic where they use a spicy red sauce. Because I knew what I wanted and knew I wanted the meal to be quick, I was practically ordering my meal and drink as my ass hit the chair. I didn’t wolf my food down, but I didn’t linger. I enjoyed my brief time there for what it was. Dining out isn’t terribly fun right now but it is doable in small doses.

The Week in Super Lucky: My Dad was a sauerkraut guy on New Year’s Day. He always made sure we had some in the house and that he ate some on January 1 to bring good luck for the new year. As an adult, I picked up the habit of black eyed peas and collards and I usually make a small batch. This year I not only did I buy black eyed peas, I bought Super Lucky Black Eyed Peas. And instead of using bulk sausage (pork is thought to be good luck), I bought links of andouille, which I cut into rounds (the coin shape is thought to be a harbinger of wealth). And then, just to be sure, I bought sauerkraut. I’m taking no chances to start of the new year.

The Week in Joy: The dude jogging in Ziegler Park this week during a rare glimpse of sunshine in an otherwise overcast week ran like he was an extra in a movie musical hurling himself toward the big dance number. With a big smile on his face, arms flailing, he would randomly slow his run into a shimmy-dance or in mid run he would leap in the air like a ballet dancer. He was a delight to behold! Pure joy.

The Week in Beans and Corn Bread – Music: My batch of black eyed peas meant that I HAD to make a batch of cornbread. And, if I’m eatin’ beans and cornbread, I’m singin’ about it, too!

What I Learned This Week: #175

2020 – Monday, December 21 – Sunday, December 27

The Week in This Years is (Finally) Ending: As 2020 comes to end, it is easy to focus on the bad. You don’t even have to focus. That bad shit will just smack you in the face. What I’m choosing to focus on is how I faced 2020. After all, 2020 is leaving, but I’m sticking around. 

Some quick hits: 

  • I rage quit a terrible job. That will never not feel good! 
  • I made a plan for summer that Covid took away and I didn’t let that get me down. I adjusted to the new reality. 
  • My new job is perfect for me. 
  • To support local bars, I’ve been buying all my beer from them instead of from the grocery.
  • Also, to-go cocktails are now a thing!
  • Sure, there weren’t any festivals this year, but that meant an entire year without one use of a port-a-potty. 
  • I always liked jigsaw puzzles, but was never home enough to do them. Now there’s a puzzle on the table all the time, and I have small puzzle library. And, I learned the very controversial storage technique of bagging the end pieces separate from the rest of the pieces to make the next go around start faster. 
  • Pre-Covid I was never home enough to really appreciate my space. I’m home plenty now and my apartment is really nice. Thank goodness.
  • Though I am not a person who just buys stuff just to be buying stuff, I am throwing money at local vendors as a good will gesture to help keep them afloat till Covid settles down. I now own way more t-shirts than I’ve had in years, plus candles, books, and, thanks to the new soul/spiritual store on the corner, crystals.  
  • I refrained from buying a pet. 
  • I caved to wearing sweatpants outside of the house even when I’m not exercising.  
  • After activating my step count on my phone in early May and looking at my very low stats, I dedicated myself to take 10,000 steps a day and to walk after dinner every night. I’ve stuck to it, even as walking in the winter makes me wear all my exercise clothes all at once. 
  • Wearing a mask at my desk all day has finally curbed my workday snacking.
  • But, I do snack more than ever at home and pandemic snacking is guilt free snacking.
  • Because I go out to eat less and cook more, my recipe box is in the process of getting spruced up with my new cooking patterns. (Bonus: I love a good organizing project!)
  • Also, coffee cake. There were a couple months were I always had a coffee cake on my counter. I’d no sooner finish one and then I’d make another. I now have several coffee cakes in my repertoire and I’ve found I can slice and bag them to take to work (Covid proofing them). I love sharing food, and there is something comforting about coffee cake that has hit a nerve with my coworkers.  
  • I’ve learned to redefine my daily being. I can control nothing except how I deal with what is going on. I can spend time thinking about what my days aren’t, or I can appreciate what my days actually are. That’s what I do. If cleaning the apartment is the highlight of day, so be it. 

I know Covid doesn’t have a calendar and NYE means nothing, but we’re all human and we mark time. We’ve made it this far with highs and lows and we’re doing as well as can be expected. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Oh 2020, you beautiful mess of year, good riddance. 

What I Learned This Week: #174

2020 – Monday, December 14 – Sunday, December 20

The Week in the Christmas Spirit: On one of my walks back to work from lunch at home, I passed Ms. Kim, the woman who I buy most of my Street Vibes Newspapers from. Street Vibes is a bi-weekly paper printed by The Homeless Coalition of Greater Cincinnati and sold by homeless, or those in heavily subsidized housing all around the streets of downtown. Today, Ms. Kim, with a big smile, called me over from across the street screaming, “Hey, I’ve been looking for you.” She said she’d been looking for me for a couple days because she had a Christmas present to give me. I kid you not. She does not ever remember my name, but I’ve spent a lot of time chatting with her. She’s takes care of her aging father, and her ex-husband who has a significant heart condition. Often when I buy a paper from her, she turns around and gives it to the kids who hang around her looking for hand outs. And then she turns to me and says, “I just can’t say to to them.”

Ms. Kim lives the Christmas spirit all year long. Ain’t nothing big or bad enough, or Covid-y enough to stop the Christmas spirit. I. Am. Still. Crying.

Honestly, the truest gift I’ve gotten in a long, long while.

The Week in Kale is in Season – Part 1: The greenest thing in the farmer’s stall at Findlay market was kale. That brought me to the NY Times Pressure Cooker Lentil Soup with Sausage. I cut the recipe in half and it was a winner. Simple, and hearty. Beluga lentils gave the soup a great texture. And it was pretty.

The Week in Kale is in Season – Part 2: Half a recipe meant 1/2 a head of kale and lentils were still hanging around the kitchen. I found a Blue Apron recipe for Italian-Style Pork & Lentils, which was very good, even though I totally made it wrong. The dish was supposed to be pork chops on a bed of cooked kale and lentils, then topped with a red pepper caper relish. In my jacked up (not paying attention) version, the relish and the kale and the lentils all came together in one big pot. Maybe their version is good, too. And, I guess Blue Apron’s step-by-step instructions are too complicated for me. Also, wine may have been involved.

The Week in Local Commerce: Homemaker’s Bar is a women-owned bar that is facing the pandemic with as much spirit and outside the box thinking as you could expect during a pandemic. Their outdoor area, new for Covid, is one of the great spots to hang out in during this trying time. They have also made a point of staying community oriented and this week they had a mini craft fair supporting women and minority owned small businesses. Of course I had to take a look. In this week’s “purchase to support a local entrepreneur”, I bought a wonderful, handmade candle by Alexis Nickelle. Pricier than I’m used to paying for candles, the “Grace” candle seems worth it to support owner’s craft and her journey.

The actual commerce was fraught with technical difficulties, all my fault. It is always in the back of mind when I partake in modern commerce, you know, pay apps, that I will get to chatting and forget to hit all the buttons to make the transaction go through. Welp, that’s what happened and my efforts to support this small business looked like a lesson in petty crime. I did email her and we worked it out, but I felt pretty guilty for a couple hours.

This Week in Christmas Time is Here: I bought my yearly Ginger Bread, uh, Jill, a pink-iced “girl” of a gingerbread man. It was fun to unpack the market bag with Jill staring right at me, and fun to cleave her right in half to split with my Mom. Tis the season.

And here’s a Christmas song that is working for me this year. Merry Christmas!

What I Learned This Week: #173

Monday, December 7 – Sunday, December 13

A very quiet week to report on. It’s like there’s a pandemic and it’s winter, or something. Oh well. Here are three things that I found reasonably notable this week…

The Week in So, This is Christmas: Like everything else. Christmas is a little muted this year and I’m starting to think of the parts of the season I’m missing and not missing. Holiday snacking is high on the list of what I miss.

Holiday snack tables are the best snack tables of the year. Super Bowl parties are the best one-off snack event, but holiday snacking is a season. People pull out their favorite recipes, sweet and savory, and snacks are everywhere. Granted, the Covid era is practically defined by snacking, but the low level noshes that have been sustaining us are not in the same category at traditional festive snacking and makes us run to the gym in January. Chex Mix and Doritos are going to hold me until next Christmas.

The Week in Socks: When you buy socks, you can’t see inside them. Mostly, that is fine. But every now and then I find an unwelcome, stringy surprise. When I see socks like these I either think the manufacturers does not appreciate find craftsmanship, or they have much better toenail management skills than I have.

These socks really got a rise out of me.

The Week in Dressing, the Side Dish (Not the Act of Putting on Clothes): This week I had a powerful, unexplained craving for stuffing, technically dressing since I had no craving to fill a bird’s cavity. I still call it stuffing. I love it, but I only eat it once a year, T-Day. This year that single day was not enough. 2020 is obviously the year of Covid, but it is also the year of the carb.

Stuffing is easy to make, but not easy to make a small amount of. I didn’t even try. I made a whole portion from an whole bag of Pepperidge Farm bread cubes. I made it on Monday and my spoon did not leave the casserole dish for the next several days. My face was imprinted in it like some culinary shroud of Turin. I stuffed my self with dressing to the point where I thought dressing (in clothes) might become a challenge. A couple days and pounds later, I did come to senses and stepped away from the casserole dish. Satisfied, I was!

What I Learned This Week(s): #172

Monday November 23 – Sunday, December 6

The Week in Skipping: I skipped a week. So here’s two week’s of minutiae.

The Week in Folding: A couple years ago, my Mom got a new bed. Once it was delivered, I didn’t give that bed another thought. A few weeks ago, I bought a new bed and mentioned to my Mom how I needed new sheets. Boy, did she perk up. She walked me back to her bedroom and pulled up the coverlet to reveal very poorly fitting sheets. Turns out, her new mattress was thicker than her old one, so of course the old sheets didn’t fit. My Mom didn’t know there were special sheets for her mattress and she was resigned to waking up each morning wrapped in sheets “like a taco,” her quote.

This week I brought her new sheets, and because I”m going for Daughter of the Year, I washed them first. When I handed them to her all she could talk about was how well I folded the fitted sheet. She said she just bunches hers up. Well, glad to be appreciated!

The Week in Zoom: My Mom had her first Zoom call this week, a cross country gathering of our very small family. We haven’t gotten together in person for years, so Covid actually did our family tree a favor. Once Mom had a glass of wine, she really got into the call. It’s actually fun to watch someone experience technology with awe. It really is magical, especially if you grew up in a totally pre-computer world.

The Week in Science and Comfort Food: Speaking of experiencing the awe of science, I had a coupon on my childhood favorite Kraft Mac and Cheese and it was just the push I needed to relive the food of my youth. If you don’t think the Kraft powder cheese packet and the ensuing mouthfeel isn’t one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century, you haven’t thought things through. I ate the entire box and not one thing about that meal was disappointing except I wish I could have eaten another box.

Everything felt exactly the same despite the modern upgrade to spirals and a pretend health checklist.

The Week in Love and Comfort Food: One of the standard recipes in rotation at my house when I came back (temporarily) as an adult was what we called Wet Chicken Dijon. We called it “wet” because we had two very different Chicken Dijon meals. One was cutlets, “dry” Chicken Dijon which we ate with green beans and rice. Wet Chicken Dijon was cooked in a mushroom sauce and we ate it with mashed potatoes or noodles. The difference was important to say out loud so we had the right expectation when we sat down for dinner.

To make Wet C.D., season some boneless chicken cutlets and saute them til lightly browned (you can dredge them in seasoned flour if a thicker sauce at the end). Remove the chicken and add finely chopped shallots and sliced mushrooms to the pan. Add a little salt and pepper. Cook on high heat until the mushrooms release their water and the pan dries up. Add a cup or so of chicken broth. Scrape up those brown bits. Stir in a little dried thyme. Put the chicken back in the pan, reduce heat and simmer till the chicken is cooked through, 7-10 minutes. Eat it! The sauce is great on almost any carb your heart desires.

Nestled in sauce…1/2 way through the cooking process.

The Week in Covid Black Friday: The holiday shopping season officially kicked off though many shoppers at TJ Maxx have told us all through November they were buying early because they were mailing gifts and needed more lead time. Black Friday, non-Covid, is my absolute favorite day to work in retail. Shoppers know what the day is about and they are happy and enthusiastic to be a part of it. There’s a point in the season where shopper’s and the shopping experience takes a turn, but Black Friday is a delight. This season had some of that charm, but very scaled back. People are just doing their best.

The Week in Covid Small Business Saturday: After working big box retail, I love walking through the little shops of downtown and picking up unique pieces and Small Business Saturday is a fun city event. This year people were out, but the mood was not quite as festive. I walked right past several stores, or stopped in for just a moment before being over whelmed with the number of shoppers. On one hand, I was super glad to see the support, on the other, there’s still a pandemic. I did my Small Business “Saturday” over the next week. Geesh!

The Week in Danger: I did stick with my shopping plan for Artichoke cookware, an independent store in OTR. There were only 4 people in the store when I walked in, but at least 10 when I walked out. Dammit. Small places just don’t have the personnel to have someone stand at the door. I was already involved with the owner talking about my purchase and it would have been awkward to high-tail it outta there. I stayed and did what I came to do.

I was on a mission to purchase a Mandoline slicer. I used to own a mandoline, but while it was sharp, it was difficult to use and I like my fingertips more than thin cut potatoes. Because I’m cooking more, I decided it was time to buy a better mandoline slicer, so I did. It’s funny that knives aren’t called “Knife Slicers” but you know that’s what they do. Mandoline slicers are just upfront about the damage they can cause. Still, my first batch of shaved Brussels sprouts was worth it.

No fingertips were harmed in the taking of this picture.

The Week in Spending It Like I Got It: I’m not much of a shopper for the sake of shopping, but I am trying to do my part in keeping small businesses afloat. To that end, I will probably come out of the Covid era with about 2 dozen more t-shirts than I need. I’m just buying things to be buying them. I’m a bleeding heart shopper.

So, I own a book about Bockfest Posters, and I like it.

Case and point, I stopped into Urban Eden, an Art Store of local artists and retailer of local goods, a place so small, they not only don’t have a website, they don’t even have a Facebook page. Small business, indeed!

As I was looking around and chatting with the owner Julie (we were the only people in the shop), a man came in with a box of books. Turns out, he is the artist for the Bockfest posters. Bockfest is a big deal in my neighborhood so I bought the book. It’s a very pretty, very thin, and somewhat expensive book. Turns out, due to the author’s preference, all the printing was done locally instead of sending it to China, thus, it was more expensive…and I’d like to think, better quality. Glad to see my Sensitive Purchasing supported so many things I believe in.

The Week in Adult Purchases: My first “elder” purchase was a foot massager. If I’m going to be home so damn much, I have time for foot massages now. That is a win in the Covid era.

But I do have to go out every now and then and when I do, I often face one of my arch nemeses, my car tires. I don’t know what it is, but I usually find one or two nails a year, and then every now and then, a tire will randomly lose air. I’m pretty inept at putting air in my tires at those gas station machines, but it’s the 21st century, and there’s a solution. My portable air compressor got it’s first use today. Very exciting, grown up stuff.

That adorable little device brought me from 27 psi to 35 psi. And it brought tears of joy to my eyes.

What I Learned This Week: #171

Monday, November 16 – Sunday, November 22

The Week in Technology: I thought I was looking at my sent email this week because my Mom’s email address was listed. But lo and behold, after 5 years of incubation and cajoling, she replied to one of my emails via email and not, as usual, with a phone call. Granted, she definitely used Google auto fill because my Mom has never said, “Awesome, thanks,” in her life. But it is a start. It brought tears to my eyes!

The Week in Friday Night During a Covid Spike Induced Curfew. During my post dinner walk a woman asked me for money for bus fare or a Milwaukee’s Best beer. I gave her 2 bucks for the bus but decided I wanted to buy her beer, too. We were in front of the mini grocery so why not? No M-beast in the cooler but I bought a 6 of Hudy and took one for myself as a night cap. Sadly, she didn’t know Hudy beer. Her quote was “What is this?” She probably thought I bought her some high end craft beer. If all you drink is beer from the Milwaukee’s best price range, craft beer sucks. No worries for her, though. Hudy is a fine beer in the Milwaukee’s best wheelhouse. Maybe my real good deed for the night is introducing her to a local classic.

The Week in Keepin’ it Simple: I wanted a no fuss dinner on Friday night, something fun like I would get if I was going out. (If I could…sigh). Not sure how I got to Cheeseburger PIzza recipes, but that’s where I landed and that’s what I did. I seasoned up some ground beef and cooked it in a skillet. When it was cooked, I drained it and stirred in some mustard. The oven was heating to 450 as I tore open a Boboli pizza crust. I don’t love these crusts, but they’ll do. The ground beef went on the crust (no sauce), followed by onions, tomatoes, and pickles. Then, I covered it all with American cheese. Into the oven it went. When it came out I drizzled ketchup over it. It looked ridiculous, and it was delicious. And fun. And fuss-less. Perfect Friday night dinner.

The Week in Comfort Food: Kroger got me this week by putting all the Chex cereal on sale and putting in on a big display telling me to make a batch of Chex Mix. My family used to make Chex Mix by the tub full. Back in the day, you had to make it yourself because it wasn’t available pre-packaged. Now that you can buy it, none of us have made it in over 20 years. There is nothing wrong with the packaged version, but the homemade version is an addictive delight.

I noted the recipe on the boxes I was purchasing, but knew I had another “original” version in my recipe collection. Sure enough, I’d cut a recipe off a box in the 1980’s. Chex Mix was created in the 1950’s and the original original recipe is quite simple, so simple in fact, that people started screwing around with it immediately, adding all kinds of flavors and textures. By the time I’d cut out a version, even the cooking method had been updated from baking to microwaving.

My family always went for the baked version and even though it’s not noted on the card, we always added pretzels and cayenne pepper. The reason that the home version is superior to the store version is because of the butter. Baking the mixture in the seasoned butter adds that rich cooked butter taste and mouth feel that the bagged stuff cannot duplicate. Having made the first batch in a long while and distributing it to my snacking family, I decided I better hurry back to Kroger and buy some more cereal while it’s still on sale. We are once again addicted!

The Week in Don’t Mention The War: On part of my walk into work one day this week I was at a pace with a woman walking her pure breed German Shepard. German Shepards are a breed that will look you directly in the eye and hold your gaze, which she did each time we came to a stop at crosswalk. As a single person who is getting zero personal feedback during Covid, it’s nice to get a very direct message, even if it’s from another species: “Lady, I am taking none of your shit today.” #Iwillbehavemyself

The Week in Covid Confinement Part Deux: I’m giving in to the drama. Here are two peanuts performing Waiting for Godot. #pandemicwin