Thanksgiving

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I’ll bet you thought you would see pictures of pumpkin pie and a turkey here. Sorry. This is about a different thanksgiving. The dubious narrative that forms the backdrop to the traditional version of our upcoming holiday aside, formalizing a day of thankfulness and gratitude is a good idea. I keep a gratitude journal and although I have often gotten very busy and neglected to do the journaling part from time to time, the habit, once established, of looking for things to be grateful for each day has not been dropped. Indeed, it has become quite effortless. Initially I struggled to find one thing each day. Some days I could only write that I was grateful for not being in such and such war-torn place.  I still am, although I know full well violence has a long reach. The true power of the practice came in the realization I was overlooking the many smaller gifts the universe had provided. The cat’s being silly, the opportunity to compliment a stranger and better their day, making a new friend on line through a common interest were all things to be grateful for. If it was sunny, I was grateful for the nice day and if it rained I was grateful to not have to manually water the garden.

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The simple truth is, it is more enjoyable to go through life looking at a glass as half full rather than half empty. Start using the gratitude exercise and a day will come along when you look at the glass and suddenly realize that it is in actuality completely full. You just did not have the clarity of vision to see it. The glass is half full of water but also half full of air. Don’t you need both? Aren’t you grateful for the atmosphere? Aren’t you glad you can breath?  Ask someone with lung disease and they’ll tell you how important that “empty” half is.

Why has your vision, your perception, changed?. One simple reason. Gratitude is insidious. It infiltrates your brain and actually changes your biochemistry. Look out, it might actually make you happy! You don’t need a PhD in biochemistry to explore this phenomenon, it has been reported and commented on in mainstream media. Best of all you can test it for yourself in complete safety, unless of course, you are wedded to negative feelings. Give it a fair trial, it takes thirty days to build a habit. To lazy to journal? Just spend five or ten minutes each of those days thinking of what your are grateful for. Surely you can spare five minutes a day to feel better. Your brain will reward you, I promise.

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Minor Snow xiǎo xuě 小雪 Nov 22nd

SONY DSCOn November 22nd we will pass into the period of Minor Snow (xiǎo xuě 小雪). My friend who runs the cat rescue had flurries as early as the evening of the 9th. The weather has been colder earlier than the past few years, but on days when precipitation has been forecast, it has been the product of warm fronts.

There has been heavy frost, which requires standing out in the cold to scrape it off the windows of the truck.I dislike going out. The humidity is gone at last. This I mind not in the least.

Mixingsky & earth qi cloudsThe pentads for this solar term, which ends December 7th, are actually describing what is happening, which is not always the case. Sometimes they don’t even seem to make sense. The first pentad is “‘Rainbows are concealed from view 虹藏不見”. Rainbows were considered to be the result of mixing yin and yang energy. Winter is heavily yin, there is no mixing and no one sees rainbows. In the second pentad, “The qi of the sky ascends, the qi of the earth descends.” 天氣上騰地氣下降. The qi (chi) is retreating into it’s place of origin and activity in the natural world is diminishing. The last pentad or ten day period of the term is called “‘Closure and stasis create winter 閉塞而成冬”. As mixing ends cmpletely and the qi retreats into the earth and sky, the natural world enters a state of dormancy, exemplified by animals going into hibernation.

file000135633177The cats are spending more time cuddling and wanting the same from me. It is that cold that even Cloud is not meowing loudly for me to open the windows so he can sit on the sill.  I am going to brave Black Friday to get a deal on bird seed. I feel that the winter will be a cold one. I think they will need some help this year and it also gives the cats something to amuse them.

I am looking forward to making a nice Thanksgiving dinner. All that cooking will help to warm the house and fill it with good smells. I had a chance to get a pair of Cornish hens at the farmer’s market and set them aside in the freezer for the occasion. My little Mini loved turkey so much I get sad at the thought of turkey. And none of the other cats really like it that much. Milk likes chicken and Mo likes pork. But accompanied by winter squash, sweet potatoes, creamed onions, oyster dressing, and hot cider the hens will be just fine. The cats will get treats and catnip and lots of attention. There are many people in the world who have more but far vaster numbers who have far less. I am thankful for how much I have in comparison and especially for my wonderful feline companions to share the day. Normally this also celebrates the start of our winter retreat into a time of writing, reading, planning and contemplation. This year Minor Snow will rather initiate an acceleration of the construction work on the inside of the house. Whether the snow is light or heavy or fails to appear at all, we are going to be ready for winter.

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Caturday Thoughts – Adopt a Senior Pet Month

When I did a lot of tutoring of younger students I was always on the lookout for entertaining reading for them. One main criterion was that I also would find them enjoyable. Thus I found the Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant. In the introductory volume, elderly Mr. Putter decides that a cat will keep him from feeling lonely. However, only kittens are available at the pet store (“ `Oh, no one wants cats, sir,’ said the pet store lady. `They are not cute. They are not peppy.’ Mr. Putter himself has not been cute and peppy for a very long time”).

At the animal shelter, however, he finds Tabby, a decidedly old yellow-and-white cat who needs a friend, too. In the second installment, Mr. Putter and Tabby offer to take care of a neighbor’s bulldog, Zeke, only to discover that Zeke isn’t the darling “little lollypup” his owner believes him to be. The series continues to follow these four characters in wonderful stories, containing subtly introduced life lessons and gentle humor.

Od Siamese catThe lesson in the first story is very appropriate in November. It is Adopt a Senior Pet Month. In fact, as the pet store lady told Mr. Putter, people want kittens. Even a one or two year old cat might wait and wait for an adopter. The pet store lady was also right about something else, kittens are “peppy”. They are in fact babies and require all the demanding attention of human babies but are far more active and can be real wrecking crews. So can puppies, who also have to be potty trained. Even in a family situation, an older cat even if not actually a senior,  might be a better choice, especially for a busy mom.

So what makes a pet a senior? Small dogs, such as toy poodles, terriers or Chihuahuas aren’t considered senior until much later than a larger breed, and the giant breeds are considered senior at 5 or 6. Most vets, though, consider a dog of 7 or 8 years and older to be a senior.There is a lot less variation in cats than in dog breeds and cats are usually considered middle aged at seven and senior at around ten. On the other hand larger birds, such as cockatoos, macaws and parrots can live 40 to 60 years so aren’t senior untl much later in life.

Old dogShelters and rescues are full of wonderful animals with endearing personalities and so much love and companionship to offer. I know from experience they are completely aware they have been saved from confined and lonely final years, or even worse, an early death,  when someone takes them home . They are brimming with gratitude. Especially with cats, loosing their “territory” and sense of safety can be very traumatic. With dogs, it’s just as traumatic to loose their “pack”. They might need a little extra care, like brushing those hard to reach places to help with grooming, or a special diet, but younger animals can develop problems too.

A quieter, older pet can be perfect if you are limited by chronic pain or mobility issues. A 2012 study in Pain Magazine found that therapy dogs provided “significant reduction in pain and emotional distress for chronic pain patients.” And the frequency of cat purring falls between 25 and 140 Hz. The same frequency has been shown to aid in the healing of broken bones, joint and tendon repair, and wound healing. Purring releases endorphins in cats, and it can do the same thing in humans, too. Lowered stress hormones are helpful for lowering blood pressure, and helping people cope with illness, too. In addition to pain relief, senior pets can bring feelings of joy and happiness, because their love is so evident.

So if you are in the market to adopt, even if you are not a senior yourself, and certainly if you are, please don’t overlook those older pets,

 

 

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Friday Files: Battening Down the Hatches

Storm clouds above surf breaking on a beach“Battening down the hatches” is an old nautical term. Most people know what a hatch is but might not know what the sailors are doing when battening them down. The dictionary defines a batten as : noun: batten; plural noun: battens – a long, flat strip of squared wood or metal used to hold something in place or as a fastening against a wall. In foul weather ship’s hatches were covered with tarps for extra protection and battens were used to secure them. This phrase has come to mean getting ready for any tough situation.

For me now it means prepping the house for winter. The cheap storm windows I have, badly installed and old, are a pain when it’s time to switch from screen to glass and vise versa. A lot of WD40 and banging on them is required. It takes time and is usually, I admit, accompanied by a certain amount of swearing. Since the inside windows are even older and not in much better shape, double hung having been painted into single hung for example, more still is required. Felt strips across the tops of the bottom sashes, foam in the bottoms and plastic sheeting heat shrunk over those in the living room, front bedroom and kitchen.

At some point I need to get a piece of plywood to block the fireplace opening. Since I need a new flu lining I can’t use it and heat is rising up out of it. Flu linings are quite expensive when you factor in taking out the old one, so it will have to wait. Insulation for the attic must come first.

Yesterday got up to 60F/16C and I took the opportunity to thoroughly clean out and organize the truck cab and do some cleaning up in the yard. I would not want to do it in colder weather. I also  had a visit from the neighbor’s cat I call Mr. Grey. Soon the re will be no resting on the front stoop petting him and watching him groom, it will be too cold.

Today it will not get up past 40F/4C. with wind and tonight it is forecast to go down to 20F/-20C. So this morning I went upstairs and got the pet steps I took from the thrift store when we could not sell them because the fabric was torn. Mi Sun is wanting to climb up onto chairs these days.  She has not been so arthritic since we finally got the weight off her and I don’t want her to be uncomfortable..

Closeup of oriental rug patternThe floors are in fact very, very cold, being above an uninsulated crawl space. I have pulled out all the throw rugs and carpets and am putting them down. This is also part of winter prep. Cotton sheets are swapped for flannel, light quilts for thick, plush Korean blankets. The cat beds and throws are all out, too. One thing that is still only on the wish is the purchase of insulated curtains for my leaking, drafty windows. Perhaps that will be upgraded in importance if the winter turns out to be a very cold and windy one.

Even before the sun is fully down, the temperature is dropping. I have moved a pair of space heaters into position to warm the sleeping end of the house. The unfinished floors in the bathroom and kitchen let in too much crawlspace air so I have set the thermostat very low.

 

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Winter Commences lì dōng 立冬 Nov 08

Light snow on farm building and treesToday we passed into the period called Winter Commences. It will run until November 22nd. This is true in northern China, but winter comes later in the south and thankfully here as well. The pentads are ‘Water begins to freeze’ 水始冰, ‘The earth begins to harden’ 地始凍, and finally 雉入大水為蜃’ commonly translated “Pheasants enter the water and become clams’. However, the last character, which can be clams, is also used for “waterspouts, and for a marine shapeshifting “monster”. This is another of the inexplicable phrases I find in Chinese lore that fascinate me and I wonder what the pheasants really became.

In ancient times in China, Winter Commences was an important festival as were the first days of the other seasons. Before hand, the emperor would have a ritual bath and refrain from eating meat. On the day, the emperor and an entourage of high officials would come to the suburbs of capital to perform the ceremony of welcoming winter and hold a large sacrifice to heaven. Ordinary people still observe the day by eating special foods.

One of these are jiaozi, known to westerners as pot stickers or dumplings. I love dumplings and eat them all year round as do most Chinese these days. The reason they are eaten on Winter Commences day has to do with a legend of their origin.  The famous physician of the late Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25-220),  Zhang Zhongjing had retired to his home province of Henan in central China and noticed the ears of many people uffered from frostbite starting around Winter Commences. To remedy this he combined mutton, hot peppers and herbs and weapped them in dough. To help the people understand their purpose was to warm the body and ward off the frostbite, he shaped the the little packets like ears.

Fallen leaves and tree trunksIn southeast China in the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong Taiwan, true winter comes later, but on the calendrical day people prepare stewed meats with Chinese herbs to fortify themselves for the cold to come.  In Tianjin, on the northern coast, people eat dumplings stuffed with Chinese pumpkins, botanically known as Cucurbita moschata. They are similar to Japanese kabocha. In Wuxi on the central coast, the special food is tuanzi. It is also a dumpling made with rice flour paste as the outside and filling of sweet bean paste, ground pork ot radish. They are eaten at other times as well and often colored green with addition of a wild herb. But those of the Winter Commences time are considered goor because the harvest has just been concluded and the rice is at its best.

I have noticed that the cats are hungrier the past week. I think they are also fortifying themselves for the cold and absorbing the needed nutrition to grow their winter coats. I have been wanting soup and heavier food myself. I will certainly have jiaozi to celebrate the start of winter and a nice big bowl of soup. The cats will get the bit extra they need for a week or two and then go back to their measured diet, since they are watching their weight. The seasons continue their transition and it is easier and more satisfying to live in harmony with them, eating appropriately and welcoming them as the emperor once did.

Ligh snow on fallen autumn leaves

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To Schlep

Everyone defines the necessities of life differently. One of mine is Korean food. I eat a lot of it.  Where I live, however, Mexican is considered foreign food and chop suey is considered Chinese. To fulfill my needs I have to get up early, sometimes load a cooler or two in the truck, and drive three to four hours toward Washington DC. This is a schlep. If I want German bread, Polish or Russian pickled vegetables or baklava, it’s the same thing , only over to Harrisonburg, an hour and a half drive. Even for something as mundane as bagels, I have to drive over that darn mountain to Charlottesville  I do a lot of sclepping.

The verb to schlep is Yiddish. I learned my liimted Yiddish vocabulary from the grandparents and parents of friends growing up. They were useful words; they sounded like what they meant and you could say them with gusto. Yiddish is a mix of languages. It first started as Biblical Hebrew, but after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, speaking Biblical Hebrew was considered too holy for daily use. Around the 11th century, Ashkenazi Jews living in or around the areas now known as Germany and Poland started speaking a language that was a mix of Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, German and Polish.  The term ייִדיש (Yiddish) did not become the name of the language until the 18th century.

The word has more than one usage  but in my case it’s always : To carry, drag, or lug. It has connotations of difficulty, of being something odious you really could live without the extra effort of, as in : I’m exhausted after schlepping those packages around all day. A troublesome journey, as in multiple flights of stairs, overcrowded subways or bumper to bumper driving is a schlep and believe me within 50 miles of Washington, it’s always bumper to bumper.

Yesterday was one of those schlepping days, all the way up to Fairfax county across from DC. Among the things I schlepped up were donations for my favorite charity thrift which I discovered was closed and gone. So I had to schlep them back. I’ve been buying and donating there for fifteen years and it was there for many years before I moved to the neighborhood. It made me sad. At least McKay’s bookstore was busy. I traded in three boxes of books I had also schlepped up for credit and used some of it while I was there. What they don’t accept for sale goes into a “Help Yourself – Free” bin outside.

As a compensation for loosing Clock Tower Thrift an Ollie’s had opened next to McKays. Ollie’s is like a dollar store on steroids. You can find all kinds of bargains and it saved the day for me. The night before my aging oven caught fire. The top burners are OK but I don’t trust using the oven. Ollies had just gotten in some Black & Decker toaster ovens for dirt cheap. Bringing this prize back was no schlep.

Above all, I got my Korean groceries. The sesame oil  and he brand of ramen I like were both on sale, too. In Korean markets, the sales are serious, too. I got eight dollars off on each case of ramen and seven off on each gallon can of sesame oil. At such prices the limit was two per customer but the oil will last me all winter.

I also had time to stop at the Amish market and pick up a few things. I don’t understand buying those tiny supermarket herb and spice bottles at sky high prices. At the Amish markets, they buy in bulk and sell in bulk.  You can do this at Whole Foods and some other higher end markets but the Amish are cheaper. In the past couple of years they have expanded considerably what they get in that’s organic, too. I buy herbs like carraway seeds and dried vegetable flakes to add to soups. Spices I usually get in bulk at an Indian market, again vastly cheaper. They have a fantastic range, but not some of the things common in European cooking, like marjoram and the carraway seeds. The best part was, the money I saved at the Korean grocery paid  for the things at the Amish market.

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Autumn Leaves

Tree with red autumn leavesIt seemed to take forever this year but the leaves finally began to turn. I noticed it starting when I drove up to Maryland. In a mere two weeks, however, the brilliant color is waning, red orange and gold turning to faded yellow and brown. Last Saturday the gentleman who lives on the outside corner of the cul-de-sac across from the thrift store had gathered an enormous pile of leaves after a day raking up his yard. I will have to follow suit this week. Even though Tony did tree trimming earlier in the summer, the big maple still sheds lots of leaves. Nothing is wasted, however,. The leaves will be added to the compost pile and they break down beautifully.

The autumn leaves of November are truly the end of things, as the leaves of October celebrate the height of abundant harvest. This year especially, as the Halloween storm dramatically marked a change in the weather and the time change two days later heralded the coming darkness, the dead leaves are melancholy. Even at this point I feel the coming of a long, dark, cold winter. Summer was far too hot and humid to be a fond memory but I regret the passing of the long days, the drone of the bees and the flowers they feed from and the pleasures of the farmer’s market.

The activities now are more like military maneuvers. Banging on the storm windows and inundating them with WD-40 to get them to come down is a veritable war. Putting up the heavy winter drapes is like hanging blackout curtains. Going through the checklists like a logistics officer; checking the supply of batteries, and the condition of the camp cooker, noting the broken window scraper in the truck needs to be replaced, pulling the snow shovel from the storage unit all being ticked off. Doing all the things necessary to keep the house warm and cheery, knowing the cold and dark are coming, ends with the rake being packed up for the winter as the trees stand bare and the last autumn leaves in the compost. It is rather sad in a way. Another year is coming to an end, not just a summer or a colorful fall, and a year in which there was loss.

Maybe that is why autumn leaves have become symbolic of loss.  The song is famous. It was written by Joseph Kosma with original lyrics by Jacques Prévert in French. Kosma was a native of Hungary who was introduced to Prévert in Paris. They collaborated on the song ”Les Feuilles mortes” (“The Dead Leaves”) for the 1946 film Les Portes de la nuit (Gates of the Night). Later new English lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer.  in English. An instrumental version by pianist Roger Williams was a #1 best-seller in the USA Billboard charts of 1955. As a jazz standard, “Autumn Leaves” has accumulated more than a thousand commercial recordings, one reason people recognize the opening bars without knowing the song.

Close up of yellow and orange autumn leavesMy favorite is still the original French version by Yves Montand , one of the first to record it commercially.

Oh, je voudais tant que tu te souviennes                                                                                        Des jours heureux où nous étions amis                                                                                            En ce temps-là la vie était plus belle
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu’aujourd’hui                                                                                           Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle
Tu vois, je n’ai pas oublié
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi                                                                                                        Et le vent du Nord les emporte
Dans la nuit froide de l’oubli
Tu vois, je n’ai pas oublié
La chanson que tu me chantais                                                                                                      C’est une chanson qui nous ressemble
Toi tu m’aimais, et je t’aimais
Nous vivions tous les deux ensemble
Toi qui m’aimais, moi qui t’aimais                                                                                               Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la

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