Folk Thursday: Crosby, Stills and Nash

Have I already “Helplessly Hoping” somewhere along the way? Probably. Does it matter? Probably not. I’ve been doing this feature for so long, I’ve lost track of which songs I’ve posted and which I haven’t.

This is one of my favorites. That mournful guitar and those tight harmonies are just divine.


The danger in grabbing women

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one completely incapable of mustering anything even vaguely resembling shock at Donald Trump’s boasts about kissing women and grabbing their crotches without permission. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three decades, you know this sort of behavior is entirely consistent with his public persona.

What bothers me is the number of men rushing to his defense, as if the behavior he described were somehow defensible.

Men who can’t or won’t distinguish between dirty jokes and sexual assault are unlikely to be swayed by any arguments involving compassion for women, basic human decency, or a recognition of women as human beings. If they were capable of understanding any of that, they wouldn’t have to be told not to touch strangers’ labia without permission.

I’d like to offer up another angle for those who can’t be bothered to care about sexual-assault victims’ feelings.

According to stats presented by and attributed to a study by Simmons Market Research, 9.4 million American adults reported having participated in martial arts in the past year — 48 percent of them women.

If those numbers are accurate (and I’m not saying they are; I have unanswered questions about the study’s date and methodology, but these were the best numbers I could put my hands on at the moment), that means more than 4.5 million women in this country have at least some idea of what to do if a man approaches us in a sexually aggressive manner.

Not all of us were trained in defensive arts, and not all of us will remember our training well enough or have practiced it sufficiently to be effective against an attacker. But some of us will, and there’s no way to tell by looking which crotch is safe for you to grab and which will get you injured or killed.

I used to train with a black belt who was maybe five feet tall and built like a fireplug. I’ve never seen anybody who could take down an attacker faster than she could.

I knew another girl who looked like a supermodel. She showed up for her first combat karate class with about 15 years of ballet training behind her. Ballerinas, as it turns out, make excellent karatekas. Her first week in class, sensei taught us a move to keep strange men from putting their arms around us in bars. She came back the second week beaming with glee as she recounted how she’d removed a creep from his barstool for getting too fresh. I suspect if Donald Trump had met Ballerina before he met Billy Bush, his campaign would be in much better shape today.

I’m a fairly nondescript, middle-aged woman. I doubt the average man would find me terribly intimidating at first glance. But if you put your hand somewhere I don’t want it, I’ll put you on the ground and convince you to stay there politely until the cops show up.

We are out here. We are legion. And you have absolutely no way of knowing who we are until you tangle with one of us.

For the safety of everyone concerned: Don’t. Unlike Donald Trump, you don’t have the benefit of Secret Service protection.


Tiny Tuesday: Outdoor living

In assessing how much space we need in our home, I find it valuable to consider three questions:

1. How much time do I spend indoors?
2. What am I doing there?
3. How much of that could be done outside?

The answers to those questions will help you determine what kind of square footage you need and how comfortable you’re likely to be in a small space. Most of the things I like to do in my spare time — read, write, surf the internet — takes up very little room and could be done just as easily outdoors when the weather is decent.

A small bench parked in the middle of a peppermint patch makes a nice spot for sipping coffee and relaxing next to the pond.
A small bench parked in the middle of a peppermint patch makes a nice spot for relaxing next to the pond.

On clear days when it’s not terribly hot and humid, I like to drink my coffee and eat my breakfast on the deck while the dogs play in the yard. On cool evenings when I have a little time off, I might sip a craft beer next to the pond, where I have a little concrete bench just big enough for one person to sit and think, and on drizzly days, the papasan chair parked at one end of our wide front porch makes an inviting place to curl up and read a book amid the scent of petrichor and the sound of the rain. A couple of years back, I added a little tile-topped plant stand that’s just big enough to hold a glass or a small plate, and next year, I’m planning to add a small table and chair to the other end of the porch to create a sort of outdoor office suitable for writing or working on other projects.

I’ve put a lot of time into customizing my yard, turning it into the kind of place where I like to hang out, and I imagine that will only increase when I get to New Mexico, where nothing indoors is ever going to be as pretty as anything outdoors, and where the weather is generally much more favorable for spending time outside.

If you’re trying to figure out how much space you really need, do yourself a favor and try spending more time outside. You may find you don’t need as much room as you thought — or you may find you can keep your climate-controlled space to a minimum and swap some of it for a transitional space that doesn’t have to be heated or cooled, such as a sunroom or conservatory with big windows you can open to let the breeze through on nice days.

Go play outside and see how it works for you.


Make-It Monday: Free cord concealer

As part of my redecorating project this summer, I got rid of the rickety, cheap-looking vertical shelf that had been supporting my turntable and DVD player and replaced it with an open-front credenza fashioned from a storage-cube unit and a set of mid-century-style legs. I love the credenza — which looks sleek, provides a lot of storage, and goes well with the rest of the furniture — but because it’s much shorter than the shelf it replaced, the cords for the television and peripherals were visible, and they looked anything but sleek.

See that f'ugly mess?
See that f’ugly mess?

You can get fabric cases for cords, but they don’t always match the walls. I wanted something I could paint the exact same color as the wall. I looked at some of the rigid PVC cord hiders at the hardware store, but they seemed unduly expensive, and they were all designed to mount flat against the wall, which wouldn’t work well with our swivel-mounted TV. I needed something lighter and more flexible but still paintable.

Enter the humble wrapping-paper tube.

Cardboard tubes are big enough to hold several fairly thick cords, and they’re lightweight enough that you can cut them with scissors and fold or twist them as the situation warrants. Perhaps best of all, they’re free. Here’s how to turn one into a cord concealer in about 10 minutes.

Slit the tube.
Slit the tube.

1. Use scissors or a sharp knife to slit it all the way up one side and trim it to the length you need.

It's OK if it tears a little bit. That's why God made Scotch tape.
It’s OK if it tears a little bit. That’s why God made Scotch tape.

2. Use leftover wall paint to cover the entire outside of the tube, the ends, the edges of the slit, and a few inches up the inside. (Note: You do NOT need to be very neat about that inside part.)

That's a tomato-stake tie. Handiest stuff this side of duct tape.
That’s a tomato-stake tie. Handiest stuff this side of duct tape.

4. Bundle the cords together and use twist ties, Velcro strips, tape, or string to secure them in a couple of places.

Much neater.
Much neater.

5. Once the paint dries, slip the tube over the cords with the slit pointed toward the back. If necessary, secure it with a little transparent tape.

Free, easy, and it took me less than 15 minutes of actual work to create and install mine.


Sunday Self-Care: Take a load off

I try to be productive on my days off: Clean the house, do a home-improvement project or two, prep a few meals for the coming week, maybe go for a run.

Sometimes, though, it’s good just to spend a couple of hours wandering down various rabbit-holes to see where they lead.

A Twitter conversation yesterday got me thinking about musicals, which led to an Evita earworm, which sent me to YouTube to dislodge it by listening to Patti LuPone sing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” Somehow LuPone led to Nicole Scherzinger, who led to Lea Salonga, who led to Bernadette Peters, who led to Joni Mitchell (I didn’t really follow what the algorithm was doing there, but when Joni Mitchell and Mama Cass show up in the sidebar, you don’t ask questions; you just say, “Thank you” and click on over), and Joni Mitchell led to The Band — and this incredible version of “The Weight,” featuring the Staples Singers.

Mavis is sublime here. I wouldn’t have minded if the guys all just piped down and let her handle the whole song.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I’d hoped. I installed a new composter, made a batch of soap, and got a fritatta ready to bake for this morning’s breakfast, but I didn’t do the paint touchups I’d planned, and I haven’t banked as many upcoming blog entries as I might have liked.

That’s OK. I didn’t have “sing along with songs I haven’t thought about in ages” on my to-do list, but it was something I needed to do; I just didn’t know it when I was making the list.

Sometimes it works like that. Sometimes you have to set your to-do list aside and give yourself permission to waste time. You can’t do that every day, of course, or you’d never accomplish anything. But now and then, it’s good to blow off a few non-essential projects and settle in for a little me time — and more often than not, I find that when I do, I end up working more efficiently and getting more done when I return.


Eco-Saturday: Make your own TV dinners

TV dinners are a guilty pleasure of mine. They’re quick, cheaper than fast food, portion-controlled, and easier than hitting a drive-through when I don’t have the time or energy to cook. Some of them actually taste good, and some taste fairly awful but conjure up fond memories, which makes them pretty good comfort food. But all of them have three major drawbacks:

1. Most of them are high in salt, fat and starch and low in fiber — not a great nutritional choice.
2. Even the cheap ones are expensive relative to the amount and quality of food you get.
3. You’re basically paying for convenient packaging — and most of that packaging can’t be recycled for one reason or another (cardboard is too dirty, paper is coated with plastic, plastic is a type nobody accepts, etc.)

A couple of friends who have embarked on fairly elaborate fitness programs solved all of the above problems by purchasing reusable plastic trays and creating their own pre-portioned meals to keep in the freezer and warm up as needed. They were so pleased with the results that I cribbed their idea and had Ron order a bunch of the little trays with translucent snap-on lids from Amazon.

These aren’t gourmet meals I’m preparing. If I have some leftovers that will freeze well, I divvy them up into trays. Sometimes I dress them up a little bit — for instance, leftover diced potatoes today became loaded mashed potatoes, which teamed up with prefabbed veggie burgers to make a couple of quick freezer meals.

This isn't haute cuisine, but TV dinners never are.
This isn’t haute cuisine, but TV dinners never are. As my late grandmother used to say, “It’ll make a turd.” Good enough.

While I was in the kitchen, I cooked a pound of capellini, divided it among six trays, and topped each serving with a little marinara sauce from Viviano’s and a handful of shredded mozzarella. Again, it’s nothing fancy, but it’s nutritionally similar to a Weight Watchers meal and costs about 50 cents a serving to throw together.

It took me about 15 minutes to throw together eight quick, single-serving freezer meals.
It took me about 15 minutes to throw together eight quick, single-serving freezer meals.

Other meals that freeze well in small portions: curry; red beans and rice; spaghetti with browned butter; chili mac; and chicken with gravy (which I warm up and serve over toaster waffles). If you’re vegetarian or vegan, those freezer containers will pay for themselves fast. Vegetarian convenience food is unconscionably expensive.

If you’re concerned about microwaving in plastic, you might want to invest in Pyrex freezer containers. I use the plastic trays because they’re lighter, cheaper, and take up less space in the freezer, but if I ever jump on the no-plastic bandwagon, I’ll upgrade my containers. Right now, my focus is reducing waste and improving the nutritional content of the meal. Baby steps.


Vegetarian Friday: Cranberry sauce

This post is late this evening because I had to pick up some canning supplies so I could put up today’s recipe as soon as I finished cooking.

Look at these gorgeous berries.
Look at these gorgeous berries.

About nine years ago, my friend Laurel gave me a big bag of cranberries she’d brought back from a Maine cranberry bog — and then, upon discovering I’d never made homemade cranberry sauce, gave me a recipe and instructions for making some.

I lost Laurel’s recipe in the Great Mac Crash of 2013, but I’d riffed on it in 2007 and had enough presence of mind to post it here.

I’m grateful for that. Laurel passed away in January. I think of her every year and smile as I listen for the berries to pop, remembering the day I stood in her kitchen in Tulsa as she explained the steps.

I smiled tonight, blinking back tears and remembering Laurel and thinking about how amused she would have been by the latest political revelations that were pouring into my Twitter feed as I stirred the sugar syrup.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I have and use it to make some happy memories of your own.

1 c. sugar
1 c. water
4 c. cranberries
2 apples, diced
1-2 c. other fruit (berries, grapes, or more apple if you like)
3/4 c. honey

Peel and chop apples. Wash cranberries and any other fruit you’re using. (I used grapes tonight because I had some on hand, but I’ve also used strawberries, blackberries and extra apples, all of which produced equally good results.)

Heat water and sugar together until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil, stirring frequently so it doesn't scorch.
Heat water and sugar together until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil, stirring frequently so it doesn’t scorch.

Stir sugar into water and bring to a boil in a big saucepan, stirring frequently.

I love the sound of cranberries cooking.
I love the sound of cranberries cooking.

Add fruit, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently. You’ll hear the berries pop as they cook. Remove from heat, stir in honey, and let stand to thicken.

Makes about 2 pints.

Cranberry sauce cans very well; just leave a half-inch of headspace and process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. I made three batches tonight and put them up in wide-mouth pint jars.

Sustainability on a shoestring