Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's Next Door?

I just finished reading Taken recently released by Robert Crais. I have enjoyed his mysteries that have been sprinkled with dry wit and some wise-cracking humor, so I was eager to read the latest adventures of his two main characters, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. I tiptoed carefully into it because the further I read, the more I knew it was going to be a hard slog. I almost put it down and walked away because I suspected it would not end well. There's not much humor in this story. It wasn't an easy read, but it was enlightening. It was a tense crime thriller.

The plot begins with Elvis Cole being hired by a successful business woman to find her college-age daughter and boyfriend who have been missing for a week. After all, Elvis Cole was dubed the World's Greatest Detective in a magazine article. She can't contact the police because she is an undocumented, illegal immigrant, but she has been contacted for ransom for her daughter.

So begins the search by Elvis Cole and Joe Pike to find the two young people, who they discover have been mistakenly swept up in crimes taking place near the border. They discover the shadowy world of human trafficking by coyotes who bring people from many countries of the world, illegally, into the U.S. through the southern borders into the desert. They are aided by drug cartels and gangs in the south western states. The people pay a fee to come to the U.S., then become prisoners when stolen from the coyotes who are supposed to take them to communities where they are expected by businesses that will employ them or relatives who have paid for their passage. The bajadore, who steals the pollos from the coyotes, holds the pollos as prisoners in horrendous conditions and demands ransoms from relatives. When they stop paying, the bajadore and his crew brutally kill and dispose of the bodies in the desert.

The pollos, which is what they call the illegal immigrants to cheapen their value as humans, are held in homes in regular neighborhoods. The homes are made into prisons inside and no one in the neighborhood knows what is happening under their noses. The homes have out-of-state owners and are managed by a realtor who is related to the bajadore. The rent is paid to the realtor and the out-of-state owner has no idea to whom his property is being rented.

An interesting twist in the plot is the appearance of a near-superhero, Jon Stone. He is a special ops mercenary, and polyglot, with a photographic memory, and "skills". Trained by the U.S. government, he floats about as a free-agent taking on tough-guy challenges. He's an Alpha male on the loose. When it appears that one of the two missing college students they are tasked to find happens to be the nephew of an Assistant Deputy Director of the ATF, a power struggle ensues. Everyone wants to find the kidnapped people,  but Jon tells the agent, "When we find these people, if Cole's dead, they aren't walking out. There will be no court of law. No judge and jury. You're an Assistant Deputy Director of the ATF. This will not go down in any way you can live with." Sometimes justice and the law can't play well together. I hope to see Jon Stone appear in the next Robert Crais novels because you can be assured when he is in the picture, the plot will end in a way the reader will like.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Caution: Grandchildren at Work

When my daughter-in-law brought my grandchildren to visit Nana and Papa yesterday, I asked her what they should have for dinner thinking pizza or kid's meals at McDonald's. My six-year old granddaughter pipes up that she has been "hankering" for split pea soup. I knew I had all of the ingredients so I decided I would have the kids help me make it. She said my three-year-old grandson liked the carrots and would eat it. So that was settled. I had planned to make toasted garlic bread and sprinkle parm on top because they like that. My charming little lady also said she liked to dip it in olive oil so I put it on the dinner table and she enjoyed dipping the bread like grownups. She has been learning some very healthy eating habits at home. They do interesting presentations of food to keep the kids eating healthy stuff even though they sometimes get chicken nuggets and pizza. A sandwich cut into shapes tastes so much better.


I set two step stools in front of the stove while it was turned off. I had both children putting stuff into the big pot to make the split pea soup. I chopped the veggies and put peas, celery, carrots, onions, ham and water in measuring cups so they could pour the ingredients into the pot. They took turns stirring it before I turned on the stove. I let them shake salt and pepper into it and that was a big hit. They argued over whose turn it was to stir and we managed to share that without too much conflict. I like to break a task into manageable steps so that the little ones can feel successful.The little guy would stir with the big spoon and pull it up to find that a split pea had stuck to it. I told him not to touch it with his hands while cooking, but to bang the spoon handle on the pot side to dislodge the pea back into the soup. That was appealing, so he would stir and pound the spoon on the side of the pot. It was hysterical to watch a three-year-old "cooking". 

Papa was filming this on his camera so we have a 9 minute video of the whole process. When they poured the ingredients from  the measuring cup into the pot, pieces of carrots, or celery would not fall out, so I showed them how to turn the cup upside down and bang the side with their fist to dislodge the pieces into the soup. They liked that method more than using a spoon to pull out remaining pieces.  I like to make sure they wash their hands before cooking, but I also like to show them the sanitary routines necessary to handle food. Of course, they were more willing to eat the soup because they had made it. It takes a bunch of patience to teach little kids to cook, but they can do the task and love trying. While the soup was cooking, I would go back to it at times to keep it stirred, but I don't let them near the hot stove.


To pass the time, My granddaughter and I sat at the dining room table with some sheets I had printed from NickJr before she arrived. She colored pictures of the sun, moon, and stars with either crayons or markers. She carefully cut them out with scissors and punched a little hole in each with my heart-shaped hole punch. I would push a string through the hole, and tape it to the back. Then she would put colorful stickers over the back. We cut the strings into different lengths, and tied them to two straws that I had taped into an X shape. We made a mobile from the pictures and hung the structure on the bottom of a clear coat hanger.  We put it over a door to hang on the top of the door frame. They got such a kick out of looking at the mobile we had made. It took most of the afternoon for the process while the soup cooked. We had never tried to make a mobile before. The process seemed to be an interesting possibility as I was printing the coloring sheets for her so I decided to see if we could pull it off. She was very enthusiastic and proud about it, and took it home with her.


Meanwhile, my grandson was running about collecting anything he could find that he wanted to play with in kitchen drawers, and in cabinets. My kitchen drawers aren't junk drawers, they are treasure drawers filled with interesting gadgets to appeal to a three-year-old imagination. He found piles of keys attached to various key mechanisms which he managed to connect together. He did this by himself and wound up with a big pile of keys that looked like those that a building supervisor would need.  He found a way to attach all of the key chains to each other and it was a really clever structure. He carried it around for the rest of the day.

The little guy pulled out a bunch of pots and pans which happened to have net baskets or other structures inside for various cooking purposes and he found things to put in them. He especially liked my broccoli/asparagus steamer with the big basket that lifts out and hooks on the side of the pot halfway up. Who needs toys? 

Needless to say, the house is only half recovered from the day, and so are we. I was wondering earlier in the week what we were going to do with them for such a long time. Their imaginations  kept them very busy during the entire visit.We spent most of the time at the dining room table with activities, so the rug has pieces of paper that I will need to  vacuum. My granddaughter picked up most of the big pieces and has become very proficient at organizing and cleaning up things. She tells me my kitchen desk should be organized--"It's messy," she says.

I treasure the hours spent watching the grandchildren explore and learn. Viewing their discoveries through the eyes of age and experience makes me feel young again. I need to get busy looking for something new to amuse them on their next visit.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I enjoy a hot cup of tea, so I usually pop a tea bag into a hot cup of water and let it brew. I drink de-caf green or black tea most often since my tea time is in the afternoon. I like to limit calories and I don't use refined sugar. Honey makes a nice addition to my tea, or Stevia for no calories at all. Sometimes Sweet and Low sneaks into my cup, but I like the taste of honey better. Point is, I am not a gourmet when I brew a cup of tea. The tea brewing experts that I know will say, "Don't you taste the paper of the tea bag?" I don't really know, since I never brew loose tea. "Loose" tea?  No comment. If you can't be funny, don't be mean--just leave it alone.

I probably don't really know how a good cup of tea should taste. If it is hot, and not quite as boring as hot water, I figure I'm ahead of the game. I usually sip tea while reading, therefore, I don't pay much attention to how it tastes. I don't really savor my tea and pay close attention to the flavors as if it were a thousand dollar bottle of wine. My sense of taste is very unrefined.


I received a very unusual Christmas gift this year, and it is really eye-catching for any tea aficionado. My new little Teaposy is a cute experience that bears closer examination. I've heard about the extensive tea-brewing ceremonies practiced by some societies, but I haven't seen such a ceremony. My Teaposy is so interesting, it deserves a  ceremony. So I read the directions and set up my camera to record this cutie. The videos on the Teaposey web site are very professionally produced and give a great perspective on the product.



The gift packet I received included the clear glass teapot with a strainer built in to contain the tea when it is poured into a cup. I opened one of the dozen little packets that were included to find a dry tea "bulb". You are directed to place the bulb in the teapot and slowly add hot water. I followed the directions as written, but I would recommend pouring the boiling water into the teapot, then carefully adding the delicate bulb to the hot water. I think this approach would protect the integrity of the flower and it would bloom as it soaks. As you wait 3 to 6 minutes, it blooms into a very colorful flower cradled in a base of tentacles that look like roots. I must admit it almost looks alive and a little like a tarantula. Their website explains that those are silver needle tea leaves packaged with a flower and dried together. This structure flavors the water into an herbal tea. I am familiar with trays of appetizers that include edible flowers, so tea made from a blooming flower isn't a far stretch. The gift set comes with an assortment of different flowers.


I would call the tea "delicate". The color is a pale yellow which is typical of many herbal teas, and the flavor is also delicate. I flavored the herbal tea with honey and I tasted the honey more than the tea. After the first cup, I got a bit more aggressive with this drink and poured a cup to heat in the microwave. I added Stevia to the reheated cup and got a bolder flavor that I prefer. After the fun of watching it bloom, I like the tea after it has steeped ten minutes, then reheated in the microwave. That takes away from the ceremonial aspect of it, but for flavor, it tastes very good when reheated.

It is a very interesting process to watch, and I can see that it would be fun for a ladies group or a group of friends you want to wow with a new experience. My granddaughter thinks it is really neat because it is so unusual. I think it would be a great way to introduce young people to the experience of drinking hot tea because the experience is unlike any other. It reminds me of times past and English gardens or Japanese Tea Houses where people had much time to indulge in the ceremony of drinking and appreciating hot tea. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Personal Space

Believe it or not, there are five deer in this picture, and there were more out of range of the camera. The deer often sleep or doze in the woods behind our house, but it is interesting to me that they always space themselves so evenly apart. They don't gather together to snuggle and share body heat. They seem to travel in herds so if you see one, there are generally more nearby. However, it seems to me, based on my observations,  that they require a certain amount of personal space when they settle on the ground to doze and chew their lunch for hours.

They remind me of people in restaurants, or more accurately, myself. I like personal space too. Anytime I enter a restaurant, I am curious to see where the hostess will decide to seat us and wonder on what they base those decisions. We have friends who have a philosophy that they never accept the first table offered by the hostess and have scouted the restaurant upon entering to determine the spot where they prefer to sit. They then insist on their chosen spot and are very firm with the hostess about where they prefer to sit. Over the years, we have become more and more assertive also about sitting wherever we prefer as opposed to where an eighteen-year-old hostess thinks we should sit.

It is very curious to me that the person seating diners will try to fill a whole section of the restaurant and leave certain areas with open tables. They direct people to tables beside the other diners even if there are only a few diners in the restaurant. I prefer that they give people a little space and seat them with several tables separating the customers so that they can have more private conversations.

When I worked, we often went out to dinner and we liked to catch up on events of the day or our personal circumstances. That might include conversations about our family members, or our financial dealings, or other personal conversations that we didn't want to share with people at other tables. Sometimes we would just have to say "later" because some conversations aren't for restaurant tables. Because I was a teacher in a public high school, I had many events of the day to discuss with hubby or even friends that I couldn't discuss in a restaurant because people I didn't know would recognize me and I wouldn't be aware that they were eavesdropping. I liked to keep a low profile so I couldn't discuss anything to do with my work in a restaurant.

Of course a restaurant hostess isn't seating people according to the preference of the customers, but for the convenience of restaurant staff or the servers. I don't know how they have been trained as to the proper approach to seating diners or if various restaurants have distinct policies. They all seem to have the default of seating people as close as possible to other diners. Do they really think that I want to listen to the conversation of a dating couple in their teens because we have been seated beside them? It annoys me when we are seated beside a family with active children. I like kids, but I like an adult dinner without the interruptions of kids.

It is hard to avoid conversations at adjoining tables so why not space diners away from nearby tables so that they can speak freely with the people who are dining with them whether it is a husband and wife, or two couples? They can fill in the empty tables as the restaurant gets busier and more tables are needed. When a restaurant is busy, it becomes noisy and seating diners next to other tables is necessary, but conversations are more private because they are covered by the noise in the room. 

I like a lot of personal space in restaurants so we have early dinners to avoid crowds. I tell them I want to sit elsewhere when they want to seat us a foot and a half from the only other diners in the restaurant. I have only had one hostess say we couldn't sit where we wanted, so we said we would eat elsewhere and we left.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Green-Eyed Monster

My hairdresser says to me, "My thick hair is so hard to dry." She knows I have thin, unmanageable hair and she thinks she is consoling me by saying I wouldn't want to have hair like her very thick, luscious hair because it is hard to dry. Try me. Naturally, I am jealous but I try to be grownup and generous and pretend I'm not jealous. So I tell her it is a problem I would love to have. Maybe she is consoling me, or maybe she is gloating because she has what she knows I don't have.

We all do it and we all know we do it. Sometimes it is hard to resist but we know it will be received with mixed emotions depending on who hears/reads it. The art of the "humble brag" is raging across communication networks because we all like to brag, while seeming to put down ourselves. It is practiced far and wide across the globe as we compete for the greatest bragging rights whether it is the latest technology in our possession, the most accomplishments, or the most publicity. It's human nature to want to feel as good as, or even better than others and make them jealous.

I am fascinated with the phrase itself: "humble brag". I have always been aware of the concept without that particular phrasing when I perceive that someone is trying to tell me that they know someone famous, or that they went to Harvard, or any number of things about which they think I might be jealous. I am conscious of trying to be grownup enough not to "brag" about stuff because it seems so juvenile. Why should I brag about anything? I'm too old for that kind of competition. I would like to think I am not that shallow. I won't claim I've never indulged in the "humble brag" but I would like to think I am too mature to do that.
Note that in my first sentence, I first said "hairdresser" when I could have just said "friend." It actually was my hairdresser, and I wasn't trying to be uppety by saying that I had a hairdresser, thereby creating a "humble brag" when I claim my thin hair. Much of this stuff is unconscious and unintentional. When is it a "humble brag"?

Even though I have observed the practice, we just always called it bragging where I grew up, no matter how cleverly stated. Back in those days, we would preface the statement with a disclaimer, "not bragging nor complaining, but..." Then we would proceed to do both bragging and complaining. 

I encountered the quest to properly identify what is or is not a "humble brag" on a favorite TV show, NCIS L.A. That is one of my favorite shows--TV is good for something. Although I am on the Internet constantly, I felt like I was living in a cave and illiterate as one who had not encountered the label "humble brag" before. Off to the Urban Dictionary to see how people feel about the terminology. Off to Google to enjoy reading about how we play with our language. It seems that Twitter has a very active role in this practice where people can brag like mockingbirds and show off their latest and greatest whatever while seeming to be very modest.

I keep coming back to my feeling that the brag is perceived by someone prone to jealousy in the first place. If we weren't so competitive, it wouldn't matter if someone said, "My SAT scores were barely high enough to get into Harvard, but my I.Q. was enough." It would make me wonder about the person's emotional quotient. Maybe we should just indulge each other and celebrate with others because they obviously think we are important enough to try to impress. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Doors Unopened

I turn down more subjects than I select to use when I post to my blog. Sometimes I don't have any representative photos that interest me so I pass over some candidates for subjects of a post. Sometimes, I find there isn't enough that I want to write about on a given topic beyond a few sentences. Sometimes I lack the motivation to expand on a given subject in the quest to find something profound in the situation. These items didn't make the cut:

Stargate - SG-1 We've been slowly working our way through a borrowed DVD collection of ten years of this series from the 1990's and thoroughly enjoying it. We are on season seven and we will be sad to see the end of the cast of characters when it segues into Atlantis which was the next series devoted to the subject of science fiction fantasy about travel to other planets and galaxies to find allies in the earth's never-ending battle with a formidable enemy which is dedicated to the destruction of earth. It would appeal to a very selective audience certainly.

The very enjoyable New Year's Eve party we attended with long-time friends was another subject I didn't think should be revisited on my blog. It was fun, but now it is done.

I find the topic of aging very hard to address on my blog. We visited a friend of the in-laws during the holidays. We were happy to take the time to visit the older generation at this time of the year. They have a multitude of challenges and any diversion is probably more valuable to them than gifts. Gifts for older people in their nineties would be another subject that I haven't attempted in this blog. The elderly have downsized, they usually have what they need, so I try to find something consumable, and share my time with them.

I never think that a peek into my daily life would be interesting, nor do I want to impose on my friends' privacy by posting pictures of them. I enjoy my "girls' day out" ventures with my friends and indulge in this hobby every opportunity I get. Yesterday, we went to a local casino for the day and ate lunch at their buffet. We do this periodically but I'm sure it doesn't interest most people. We had a great time, but it wasn't something that I thought would interest other people who look at my blog.

Everyone probably feels strongly about various issues, and blogging about them doesn't appeal to me because I don't seek to change the views of others, nor would I change my own. Therefore, what's the point? A few of those topics would include naturally, religion and politics, but also weird topics like sleeping pills, unisex dressing rooms or toilets, vanity license plates, or people who keep others waiting, or people who want to control other people. Since that list could become quite long, it's time to stop.

As much as I enjoy visiting with my grandchildren, other people also have grandchildren, so a little of that subject goes a long way. I restrain myself from posting about every charming thing they do.

I'm often reminded of the title of the old soap opera, The Days of Our Lives. Everyone has good days and bad days, but I try to be selective about what I share. I don't want my life to start to sound like a soap opera. I don't think of my blog as a journal or a diary. I figure my day to day just isn't that interesting to other folks and if it is, they seriously need to get a life. That's not to say that I don't enjoy seeing who has visited my little place in the world. I always appreciate the visitors and their comments.

Any time a subject makes the cut and appears on my blog, it probably represents ten others that I have rejected as likely blog fodder. My mercurial spirit needs to find the right mood and subject.