Category Archives: No space for it

Where the heart(h) is: Staying home, spiritually

RediscoveryofManThis is difficult to post, because I know that many of you will disagree with my decision.

From childhood through college, I was a tremendous reader of books. Then in graduate school, this tapered off. Then the internet came of age as a popular phenomenon, and after discovering news and debate sites like Zero Hedge, I have hardly gone back to reading books again, despite owning a computer and someone having given me a nice Kindle. I currently read on average maybe one or two books a year, typically light reading. Not infrequently, one of those books is fiction by Cordwainer Smith, the Christian science fiction author, whose writing I find enormously comforting.

SpiritofHappinessHowever, I have a lot of religious books on my Amazon wishlist, more than I can read in a couple of decades, at the rate I am going. I have been struggling for weeks to get through “In the Spirit of Happiness” by the Monks of New Skete, and while it is definitely not a difficult book, books no longer pull me through them the way they used to. When reading, I walk into the wind.

The books from outside my religious tradition are on my wishlist mostly from idle curiosity, to see what other brands taste like — from basic shopaholism. They are not there from a true wish to deepen my religious experience. Keeping them on my Amazon wishlist is pure vanity to flatter myself with what a broad thinker I am, or plan to be, someday, when I buy those books. Right.

So here is the difficult decision that I am sure some of you will disagree with: I am going to remove from my wishlist all religious books from outside my own religious tradition.

BrotherLawrenceYes, these other books can be of value. Yes, they can be deep. I’m not covering my ears and shouting “Lalalalala.”

I am an enormous fan of “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection and cannot recommend it too highly. I run across sayings by various Buddhist teachers and think they must be very perceptive people to say things like that.

But in the remainder of a lifetime that is growing shorter by the minute, I have to be realistic about the time I have left. Not to be melodramatic about it, really: There is the simple saying that in every gardener’s lifetime there are only a finite number of seasons in which to grow things. And none of us has more time left today than we did yesterday.

Is there really enough time left in life to plumb the depths of that lovable, wonderful, frustrating, central book of the Bible, its prayerbook, the Psalter that teaches you many ways to speak to God? (Buy a good useful edition here that guides you through a reading of the entire book of Psalms once a week — every week, if you wish.)

ElchaninovI do not plan to retire from work before I have to, and furthermore, I know from experience that should I have a serious illness, I just won’t have the concentration to read a book. (I spent one entire hospital stay fascinated by a little cosmetic catalog, which was all my mind could handle.) For the first time in my life, I have recently taken up exercise, which my doctors have long begged me to do. And so, because of the limits to the time left in my life, I find that my own religious tradition has enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life.

Suppose someday I convert to another religion: That is the proper time to look for books from another tradition! But now, now is the time to grow within my own.


Too snug

I started out by writing some nonsense about not having posted for over a week because I was struggling with a topic. Indeed, my next post will be an Observation, and those always take a little longer to write.

However, the main truth about my silence was that in my constant war against overflow of the “bathtub” of my SRO, I’ve had to turn my emotional attention, slowly and very reluctantly, from shopaholism to hoarding.

Packratting is boring compared to shopaholism: I don’t want to gather up all my trash, then walk it down two storeys to the garbage depot, and then walk back up. Same story, again and again. And the more days I am in denial, as I have been this past week, the worse it gets.

At this time of year, facing my clutter is even more difficult. I don’t want to deal with the gifts that people give me, so I leave them here and there half-opened so that the boxes and wrappers snag on me when I try to walk from one place to another in my little home. (Let’s see if I get to the Harry and David’s basket before the pears go bad.) Then there’s the problem of the original boxes that things were shipped to me in that aren’t nice enough to use to give people their presents in. And now I don’t have space to gather up trash as I usually do, so the bags and boxes from needful things like food and prescriptions pile up, ready for me to slip and fall on and for vermin to explore

It’s like the huge garbage whorls in the Pacific Ocean. There’s the big patch by the sink, the patch between my computer and the window, the patch by the door on the closet side, the patch by the door on the other side…

It always amazes me that in about ten days I can go from imagining that I’ve got my hoarding sort of under control to finding that I’m living in quite unpleasant circumstances of my own making. Given that my place is only 8′ x 10′, I shouldn’t be so surprised at how fast this happens, but the sudden ballooning always takes me unawares. I really do feel like Alice (in Wonderland) panicking at how small my room has become so quickly.

I took a couple of little presents to the foyer and put them on the freecycle shelf for someone else to use as their Christmas presents for people in their lives, but that’s not nearly enough to make up for the chaos reigning rampant in my home.

So I am sorry not to have written as I regularly do, but I think the hoarding situation is urgent enough for me to sign off now and put some sweat into dealing with the mess. Housekeeping requires a completely different sort of asceticism from restraining shopaholism, but it is ascetic nonetheless.


A delusion, not a fantasy

The waiting room in Radiation Oncology had as its focal point a big, expensive saltwater aquarium full of colorful fishes with lovely cool blue illumination. The fish were not just the center of attention; they were celebrities who got the most flattering light in the place. The walls were off-white yellow and the fluorescents the old-fashioned greenish kind, so all the humans in the room looked utterly drained of hemoglobin, as if the Angel of Death had drifted by, as, perhaps, it had.

As the treatments progressed, I realized that the lighting in the clinic was not solely to blame — I really was turning pale. Blusher became not a grooming accessory but the way to keep from looking like a cold ivory carving.

After I recovered, I kept wearing blusher, because I never did regain all my color. Blusher (or rouge, as my mother called it) makes me feel more confident and energetic. The range of tints is wider than one might imagine, and selecting just the right colors of blush and lipstick each day is a minute of calm pleasure in the morning rush.

I discovered that blush looks so stripey or dotty on most people because they actually use the doll-sized brushes that come with the compact. Cosmetics are no exception to the need for the right tool for the job. So I became fascinated by blush brushes in all their many shapes – flat, oval, fan, round, angled.

da Vinci 332 large travel blush brushI bought just two, though, from Bdellium and Mary Kay. They were perfectly fine, but they could not keep me from obsessing over the luxury collection of da Vinci brand makeup brushes. In particular, I pined for the $65 large retracting travel blush brush in a gleaming metal case. I imagined how smoothly the mechanism must work, how soft the brush must feel and how evenly its perfectly domed fluffiness would apply color so naturally, as if I really still did have roses in my cheeks. I envisioned myself opening the case, swiveling out the brush, touching it to the lovely pan of color, and making my aging, post-cancer complexion come alive.

But then I realized that the da Vinci brush was so magnificently large, shiny, scratchable, and dentable, it wasn’t practical for daily use in my purse (alongside my headlamp), nor for the one-night “mental health breaks” I take in hotels a few times a year (a chance to soak in a tub, sleep in a bed, and watch TV). This brush was meant for the kind of travel that involves entire weeks away from home.

At that point, the brush came to represent for me a fantasy life of leisure, of weeks spent here and there in five-star hotels, in multiple homes in the great cities of the world, and in a quiet, breezy villa overlooking the blue, blue ocean the color of the aquarium in the Radiation Oncology waiting room, but with the drowsy brushing sound of waves soothing me as I gently used the brush to apply to my skin the shade of lifeblood, even when nobody was around to see, or perhaps too when there was someone special nearby.

All for a clever piece of metal filled with artfully shaped hair for which squirrels doubtless have more practical uses.

The fantasy is having the villa; but the delusion is that owning that brush would get me somehow closer to having the villa, in the manner of sympathetic magic. No, I can daydream about a villa just fine without delusionally spending money on something that I cannot use in its proper manner. But if you are the kind of person who uses the words “summer” and “winter” as verbs, and you use rouge, I recommend this brush highly because it is beautiful and so consistent with your way of life.

Bundt exotica

Bundt CakeYou know what a bundt cake is, even if you may not have known what they are called. They are toroidal cakes that are baked in special pans with a hollow center so that heat can come up and cook from the center, which is why bundt cakes are so much taller than ordinary sheet cakes. Although many recipes can be baked in a bundt pan, the stereotype is a yellow poppyseed cake with lemon glaze drizzled over the top. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad bundt cake – the thick center helps keep them moist.

Wikipedia says:

The Bundt cake derives in part from a European brioche-like fruit cake called Gugelhupf which was popular among Jewish communities in parts of Germany, Austria and Poland.[1] In the north of Germany Gugelhupf is traditionally known as Bundkuchen (German pronunciation: [ˈbʊntkuːxn]), a name formed by joining the two words Kuchen (cake) and Bund.[2]
Opinions differ as to the significance of the word Bund. One possibility is that it means “bunch” or “bundle”, and refers to the way the dough is bundled around the tubed center of the pan.[2] Another source suggests that it describes the banded appearance given to the cake by the fluted sides of the pan, similar to a tied sheaf or bundle of wheat.[3] Some authors have suggested that Bund instead refers to a group of people, and that Bundkuchen is so called because of its suitability for parties and gatherings.[4][5]

Because of the topic of this blog, I don’t often talk about what I want to own that there is no compelling reason not to own, things I really may buy for myself someday.

One of those is a toaster oven. I don’t mean those little things that are sold to college students in August; I mean the spacious ones that are often promoted as “second ovens” (in addition to the one underneath the stove I don’t have in my nonexistent kitchen). I could own a big toaster oven as my One Nice Piece. I could cook far more healthy food in it than the chow from the diner across the way. I just have to get rid of more of my stuff to make space for it. No reason not to own one. I don’t mind the smell of baked food getting into my closet.

320px-Sydney_Opera_House-_2006For years, I have mused on what I can cook in a big toaster oven, ranging from simple chicken and vegetables to olive rolls and brioche. But there is one piece of baking exotica I have wanted for years that I do not think I should own. That is a bundt pan that, instead of being shaped like the usual fluted ring, is shaped something like a cathedral, or, as it looks to me, the Sydney Opera House. (Yes, I guess this is another example of my fascination with tech without moving parts or electricity!)

Nordic Ware, an early and current manufacturer of bundt pans, makes a variety of unusual shapes ranging from a heart, a Star of David, and a rose, to holiday forests and fairytale castles and cottages.

Cathedral bundt pan

The cathedral bundt pan catches my imagination because it’s pretty, it’s unsentimentally stylish, it’s spectacular, it’s sure to elicit comment wherever I take a cake. Most people have never seen anything like it.

But I do not have much use for one. There’s just me to feed at home. My church buys food for its coffee hours instead of going potluck. I would rather buy my coworkers something really special, New Skete Cheesecakes, once or twice a year, in order to support the nuns there. And if I wanted to carry around a cake, I’d have to get a cake carrier. Suddenly, what seemed amusing seems like a whole lot of storage space for the pan and carrier. And you know how much storage space I have. Cake fantasies aside, this is not a fun idea for me any more.

If you, however, like to bake and have a convenient audience and some storage space, I think it would be lots of fun for you to get at least one of the cleverly shaped Nordic Ware bundt pans and play with them. How un-boring they are! We are getting into good baking weather, when it is pleasant to come indoors to enjoy the warmth and fragrance of baking goods. You can make a few cakes and learn the pan’s ways in time for the holiday season. And then you can make gifts that will always be appreciated, as well as something tasty for you and yours. Yum!

Bacon dreams

One of the most uninhibited people I ever met was a scientist who happened to come from Italy. He was so irrepressible that he freely admitted that his fellow countrymen found him difficult to take, which is going some.

Although I had spoken and emailed with him many times, I was taken aback and delighted by his amiably room-filling personality when he came to visit my workplace for a week.

One of these mornings, he came into the office, straightened his back, and proclaimed to nobody in particular,

“I have discovered one of the great joys of life!” He paused, and pronounced solemnly: “Bacon.”

Bright man, he. He went on to describe how he had licked each of his fingers at breakfast at his hotel. (I told you he had no inhibitions.)

It turns out, according to him, that Italy does not have anything resembling American bacon. I explained to him that Americans make a fuss about prosciutto, which mystified him greatly.

Bacon SaltI have to agree with him that crisp and aromatic bacon is one of America’s great gifts to world cuisine.

Americans overseas grow so nostalgic for the flavor that a product has arisen called “Bacon Salt.” Bacon Salt is not only zero calorie and zero fat, but, conveniently for troops serving in majority Islamic or Jewish areas, is vegetarian and kosher. The Bacon Salt people also sell an enormous range of auxiliary products from baconnaise to bacon croutons.

Americans love the flavor of bacon so much that the Bacon Salt website delightedly sells bacon-flavored lip balm and bacon-flavored sex lube. There is actually a program to send Bacon Salt to American troops overseas.

But with Bacon Salt, as with sex lube, nothing matches the real thing, nor does it claim to. Nothing matches the salty, fragrant, finger-coating, mouth-filling… hmm, what was I talking about? Oh, bacon.

I love the breakfasts at the diner across the street, but I never order their bacon, because it manages to be simultaneously limp and gristly.

At work, when someone retires, amidst the smorgasbord at the party is a chafing dish filled with scallops wrapped in bacon. It’s delicious, and I always eat far more than my fair share, but in this economy, people aren’t retiring.

And as the inhabitant of a very tiny SRO, I never get to make bacon, let alone in all the ways I want. I can only dream of crispy bacon slices, and pea soup with chopped browned bacon, gravy made with bacon drippings served over tender biscuits, and BLT sandwiches.

If the American media is to be believed, which is a very dubitable assumption, Benton’s Hickory Smoked Country Bacon is the pinnacle of real American bacon.

Benton's baconEveryone from Esquire Magazine to the Huffington Post sings the praises of thick and smoky Benton’s bacon, which, the website warns, has a delivery lag of five weeks or more, which is understandable, given that they are only charging $26 for four pounds, and one can have it as an everyday luxury until the Grim Reaper appears in the form of heart disease or colon cancer.

Still and all, I am desperately curious about how delicious Benton’s bacon is. Can you help me out, please?

Please be patient with the delivery time and try some Benton’s bacon, come back to this blog, and let me know. Hype or heaven? Okay? Okay. Thank you very much.

Eight bells

320px-Dock_StreetI once spent a happy few years of my youth in a harborside town. Like a child with its mother, without being aware of it, I learned the moods of the water and weather in different seasons and at different stages of the tide– the haunting touch of the velvet fog or the gentle caress of the lightest drizzle, the salty wet kiss of the summer’s sun or the violent tongue-lashing of a half-hour thunderstorm, or the night so breathlessly still and the tide so high that it looked like one could just step off the dock right onto the glassy surface of the water. To this day when crossing a bridge over the major river in my present city, I cannot help noting whether the tide is going in or running out.

The town rang ship’s bells around the clock, a sweetly piercing sound. Before I lived there, I had read of nautical time and thought it sounded complicated. Noon is eight bells, 12:30 one, 1:00 two, and so on up to eight bells again at 4:00 p.m., and then the cycle repeats around the clock.

But because the bells are struck in pairs, nautical time is far simpler and more intuitive than it seems on first reading. The pairs mean you never really have to count to more than four. And you are never caught, as with landlubber clocks, wondering if you heard nine, ten, eleven, or twelve strikes. If you have a basic orientation to what part of the day or night it is, you will know what time it is when the bells are rung.

If it’s dark outside and seven bells ring “ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding,” then you know it is 7:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m., or 3:30 a.m. – just beginning a nice evening out with your friends, or it’s getting a bit late, or you are pulling an all-nighter and you don’t have too many hours to finish that paper you have to turn in that day.

Chelsea 20501_Ships_Bell_Hinge_bezelI am a city girl, so “nature” is for me mostly the entity that throws snow in your way and makes you late to work, or rains on you and makes a tired commute home even more tiring. But in those young years by the water, by dint of tides and a wide variety of weather, all metered out by the everpresent nautical time, I was never closer to nature as it really is in all its moods. Ship’s bells thus remind me of one of the most satisfying times of my life.

So it is with great regret that I cannot have a ship’s bell clock.

I and my neighbors are packed together so intimately that if I am walking down the hall toward our shared bath and a half, I can hear random burps and farts and telephone conversations. And so I cannot reasonably have anything that makes noise all the time. Even though these clocks have switches to turn off the sound at night, and even if the guy across the hall plays disco every Saturday afternoon, ringing bells every half hour are a bit much to ask my neighbors to put up with day after day.

Weems and Plath OrionBut if I could, I would have a ship’s bell clock from Chelsea Clock or Weems and Plath. The sound is actually far sweeter than the recording on the Chelsea website. If you have a good clock shop in your town, go and see if they have a ship’s bell clock, hear for yourself the rhythm of a life by the ocean, and contemplate whether you would like to bring one home.

Food in due season

The days are getting cooler and the nights longer, but if you have the space to grill, you should still make a go of it. Do you know how special it is to have that opportunity?

I love my little SRO, don’t get me wrong. Low rent; less space to clean; continuous pressure to control my hoarding and shopaholism; and extremely easy to keep warm or cool as the weather demands. The bathrooms are cleaned by staff, and the toilet paper is free. I’m as snug as a bug in a rug.

However, the main body of my place still is only eight and a half feet by ten feet. There is a little hallway about three by seven feet, and of course that is a major addition to the room, but it all is, as I just said, a rather snug little nest, given that a studio of three hundred square feet is generally considered a micro-apartment.

This matters because I enjoy grilled food. Grilling has its downsides, I know. Wikipedia informs me that “cooking beef, pork, poultry, and fish at high temperatures can lead to the formation of heterocyclic amines, benzopyrenes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogens.”

But I like that flavor, don’t you?

My workplace cafeteria has a grill. The diner across the street has a grill. But the results are more burnt than grilled. And I can’t play with the flavors and cooking time myself.

I have wistfully perused the websites of grilling fanatics, like the owners of Big Green Eggs, and the students of Barbecue University. I thought about getting the ingenious Son of Hibachi but can’t use it in any of the nearby parks.

I have read the recipes and envisioned what I would do with all the various marinades and rubs in their multifarious flavors, trying out pizza and desserts, chowing down on skewered veggies. Though the adventures in food were in my imagination only, I gave into full rampant gluttony. There’s a reason why foodies refer to “food porn.” Gotta be careful about that.

Take from me the greediness of the belly, and let not the lusts of the flesh take hold of me, and give me not over to a shameless and foolish mind.

My appetite was set on fire, so to speak, to read that there are indoor grills. (Don’t roll your eyes! I live under a rock, so I didn’t know.) Foreman grills — too much like a panini press. But real one-sided grills like this one! Thirteen inches! So small! And affordable! Even small enough to wash (if with difficulty) in my bar sink!
Maxi-Matic Elite Cuisine

Put it together with expert Steven Raichlen’s book on indoor grilling, and I would be all set! Curry-grilled lamb kebabs with hot pineapple on the side, here I come!
Raichlen's Indoor Grilling
Then I thought about it some more. Oops. Grilling creates some odors, to put it mildly. It’s the same source as the luscious flavors. But you know how it smells when you fry hamburgers for supper, clean up, then go into the kitchen late at night? Did I want that smell getting into my closet? Even with the windows open, my place is just too small.

So I must turn away. With regret. Gluttony is both wrong and unhealthy, but our appetite for food is also a good thing.

These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

So if you have more space than I do, won’t you go and grill something delicious soon, before the wind sets in and the snow sweeps down?

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving.

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