If not laundry…sunset

Work.

Work.

More work.

A cliché of fast-paced modern life, but that’s the way things have been for me lately. It’s also the reason I haven’t posted lately; why I’ve been away from my you, my blog world friends.

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but  my family and I are living in a hotel. We’ve just sold our home of twenty-three years and are in temporary housing ’til our new home is remodeled.

This is quite a “hotel,” I have to admit—we have a suite with two bedrooms and two baths, living room and full efficiency kitchen.

The pathway between units at this Marriott Residence Inn, more like a condo complex than a hotel. Sorry this is a little dark, but it was dusk when I snapped this with my phone.

Being here is better than living in an apartment, at least for us. Every day, we get a great buffet breakfast, along with a modest supper on four weekday nights. Considering the meals and the maid service (they clean, make the bed, and even do the dishes!) I feel as if I’m on vacation. Finally, a true stay-at-home traveler, I guess.

Of course, this allows me to spend hour after hour doing catchup work on tons of tasks I had to neglect during the throes of our move. I won’t bore you with my huge list, but merely say the biggest job is preparing to do our income tax, gathering receipts and tallying voluminous data.

So much for excuses for my blogosphere absence. Back to the dirty wash.

During this heavenly hiatus from cooking and housework, dirty laundry never goes away. So, today, I trudged to the hotel’s laundry room in hopes of taking care of this chore.

The small but effective laundry room. Someone left a dryer door open, obstucting the view of the print on the wall.

Alas, every washing machine was in use. So, I left my dirty wash and detergent there  and proceeded out into the dusk.

A taste of the beauty of dusk on my hotel's "nondescript" street. (Again, a bit blurry, since taken with my phone.)

Thus forced to take a break from my workaday concerns, I went to the lobby, the place where the hotel provides afternoon cookies and coffee. I poured myself a cup and put two cookies on a napkin. The evening was balmy, so I took my little repast outside and sat at a table by the jacuzzi and pool.

The beginnings of sunset, as seen from beside the pool

I sat there, with nothing to do, at least nothing I wanted to start. I declined the option of beginning yet another income tax task only to have to interrupt it when the laundry room freed up. And so, I sat and let my gaze fall wherever it would land.

I scanned the poolside. My eyes were drawn to the trees overhead. Behind the branches swaying in the breeze, pastel pinks and blues, turning to lavender, painted the sky. The colors called to me from between the branches.

Sunset beauty, without even leaving "home"

I ate my cookies, sipped my coffee, and let my gaze drift where it willed.  Then I left refreshed, ready to tackle my work again.

Even the laundry.

Wherever you are, whatever the weather (and I know in many places, old man Winter is blasting a terrible chill), take a little break for yourself. You’ll be renewed.

And maybe–amid the mundane–you’ll experience the poetry of everyday life, the beauty of nature in balmy weather or in snow.

Bon voyage,

Rita Elizabeth

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Posted in Domestic Arts, Gifts of today, Moving house, Poetry in daily life, Travel near home | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

A walk under California’s blue skies

The New Year is really here!

I always love this time. However much I love celebrating the year-end hols, it feels so very good to take the decorations down and get back to daily life. 2010 had been a tough year for me (though I certainly don’t emphasize that on this blog.) For one thing, we’ve just gone through the sale of our home in an unbelievable, down-sizing, move. This alone would have been enough, but other things were thrust upon us, too.

While I wish I were a person whose reaction to stress is to stop eating, my problem is the opposite. Thus, in the past twenty months, illness in my family and other high stressors have taken their toll. I’d pretty much abandoned my exercise regimes and my weight has crept up much more than I like to admit.

Now, (even though I have a mountain of work to prepare data for our income tax returns) my family and I are in a bit of a “lull.” Nice timing for some  stay-at-home journeys in nutrition and exercise. In accordance, the day before yesterday, I went out for a ten-minute fast walk.

The day was sunny for this time of year and the sky was vastly blue. I walked for almost an hour! The crispness of the air, the warmth of the sun, and mundane details–yes, beautiful details–of life here in Northern California gave me another gift of today.

I began my journey outside my hotel’s door and walked along a busy street.  The street would be of little interest from a car, but as I walked, things of beauty appeared before my eyes. This simple walk on a so-so street served me poetry on a sunshine platter.

Here’s a sampling.

Some might deem this street dull and non-descript, but observe the little flowers by the sidewalk.

Perhaps the flowers sharpened my senses and made me see additional beauty.

Here's a quite ordinary apartment complex, in the "California" style. Quite lovely, I thought, for a (mainly) commercial area.

And then, I looked up beyond the palms and into an amazing blue.

A flawless blue sky day

The gift of today during this walk showed me how ordinary things can really be sublime. Such are things we miss when we speed through life. But  we see such things when we slow down.

I looked up the street and then discovered–without even realizing, I’d neared the Italian-American market.

Italian-American markets are favorite haunts for my stay-at-home travels. I found myself walking in.

Remember, this was the first week of the year, so besides new goals for exercise, I’m working on nutrition, too. Imagine my chagrin when I realized I hadn’t yet planned my lunch. As things turned out, that was no problem at all. See what this market had in store for my hunger.

Don't these veggies look luscious?

Oh, and possibilities for a healthy dessert spread before me, too!

 

 

Don't these fruits look delicious, too?

Thus, it happened that I bought all I needed for my healthy lunch, and I hadn’t even gone through the planning.

These are the gifts my walk brought me the other day. What gifts would a walk around your neighborhood bring you? Please note that all these pictures were taken with my phone. Be sure to take your camera-phone with you. If you took a walk and snapped pictures of your surroundings as if you were a tourist from abroad, what things of beauty and enjoyment would you see?

Bon voyage,

Rita Elizabeth

P.S. A few months ago, I posted a topic on the gift of today. I’m delighted to say that post was picked up by a new and interesting blog. Click here for the link to that blog, which I’ll talk about about in a future post. (Or, you can see the original gift of today entry in my October 9, 2010 post on Stay-At-Home-Traveler.)

Posted in Gifts of today, New Year, Poetry in daily life, Travel near home, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

1-1-11: Bits of fun

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Gift straight from Colorado--handmade by my nephew!

Today’s date (and the thing pictured above) smacks of the years I worked as a computer programmer. Far, far before the age of personal computing, I labored. Far before Blackberry and Droid, far before the “i”Era — Pads, Pods, and Phones — I toiled.

In those days, sometimes we worked in machine language: binary code, octo, or hexadecimal, autocoder language or basic assembler. All had places in the programmer’s tool kit. When COBOL, a brilliant, English-like language for writing programs came along, life got a whole lot easier. Yet, I have to admit, I missed machine language–working with it made me feel skilled and privy to some things abstruse.

I never really needed that ego trip, because it used to annoy me that computers often made  people scared. In those days,  some thought only a mental giant could work with those machines.

What a long way we’ve come! Computers eventually brought us the Internet. Now we use computers, in our mobile phones, even, to connect with others all over the world.

As you might already know, the way computers work–at a very deep level–uses the fact that an electric pulse can flow or not flow–just as a light bulb can be on or off. Very simply put, in binary code (one type of machine language), “1” means that something is happening (a current is flowing, a charge is present, or something–anything– is on.) In like manner, “0” means the whatchamacallit isn’t flowing, or it’s absent, or it’s turned off. These on-and-off states–embedded in the languages that comprise computer programs–tell the computer what to do.

Just for the record, the locations–to put it simply–where these on/off states, well, switch on and off, are called “bits.” Thus, the title of this post.

And what in the bloomin’ world does this have to do with stay-at-home traveling? Well, the thingy in the picture comes from somewhere I’ve traveled to, from a place I’ve skied and hiked and visited relatives, a place which is part of my travels. Moreover, this thingy not only brings laughter to my home, but today it seems uncannily appropriate as an expression of ones and zeros in the date today!

As you look at the photo of this crazy piece of wood fashioned by my Coloradan nephew, notice that the shape is reminiscent of binary code. The peaks certainly seem like “ones” to me, and the valleys could well be considered “zeros.” This funny-looking thing veritably screams ON and OFF.

As if that weren’t enough on this 01 01 11 day, here’s the real chuckle. Do you see the nail in the middle of the wood? How did my nephew do that?

When my husband opened this gift and turned the item around, we wondered if Dennis had used some esoteric technique for building ships in a bottle. As far as we could tell, this didn’t seem likely.

We examined the wood. We saw no evidence of cuts or tinkering to position the nail.

So, for this New Year’s Day, as I ponder the date and the computer and the universal impact of  zeros and ones, I offer a question to tease your brain. Who can fathom what my nephew did?

Take a look at the thingy again:

The nail head is on the left, the point on the right. How did my nephew get the nail in the wood?

The first person posting a solution as a comment on this blog gets an ego boost as his or her prize!

An ancient Japanese story says that anyone who folds a thousand cranes will have their greatest wish granted. For 2011, I wish you a thousand cranes!

Cranes for 2011 on our New Year's Day mantle

Bon voyage,

Rita Elizabeth

(P.S. In a few days, I hope to be back with the answer to the brain teaser.)

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Our Trees are Fair and Lovely

Merry Christmas! Blessings to all who journey, Stay-at-Home or otherwise.

Our choo-choo train of lights on its journey toward the North Pole and a feeding reindeer. Pictured here is one section of last year’s light display in front of our home on the hill (the one we recently sold.)

Over the years, my family and I have celebrated with Christmas trees of many shapes and sizes. When my husband and I were first married, we lived in a townhouse. There, our tree was tall and slim, a perfect fit for a narrow space topped by a cathedral ceiling. When we moved to our huge home on the hill, where we lived for twenty-three years, our trees stood big and fluffy and proud–even a height of ten feet wasn’t enough to fill our living room’s space. In those days of child-rearing abundance, we selected robust trees and adorned them with purchased ornaments and ones received as gifts, including several  special baubles tagged “Baby’s First Christmas.”

Our 2009 Christmas tree--night time view

Our 2009 Christmas tree--night view. Our tree was smaller than usual last year. It sat on a table top.

For the two Christmases we spent in England, we had smaller trees for our smaller living space, but still five to six feet tall. As we prepared for our first English Christmas day, since we hadn’t yet adjusted to transacting in Pounds Sterling instead of U.S. dollars, everything seemed terribly expensive. Though we wanted to decorate our home as usual, we hadn’t brought our Christmas things across the Pond and didn’t relish buying pricey ornaments. So, we switched into high Stay-at-Home travel gear and high-tailed it to Picadilly Circus in London to shop at a Japanese grocery store. There, we bought several packets of origami paper. That paper became our ornaments that year.

Our two English trees live long in my family’s memory. We can’t forget how sweet it felt to fold and tuck colorful paper to make our ornaments together. And, ever since we’ve been back in the U.S., we haven’t used our old ornaments. Though all our old ones are very charming, every year we go back to the homemade adornments.

After our big and exhausting move from our home on the hill, our Christmas has transformed into something different. Now we live in a Marriott Residence Inn until the remodel of our new, down-sized, house is done. Though quite comfortable, our living room here is small; there isn’t really a clear and central space where we can put a tree.

Our 2009 tree, day time view. Note origami on tree as well as on tree skirt.

So, this year, we’ve switched gears again. Instead of a rather large tree as our main attraction, we’ve decorated two tiny ones, so small that even the origami ornaments we made in England dwarf their branches. So, we  made origami ornaments again–this time of very small paper.

Tiny origami cranes

Tiny origami cranes we made for this Christmas

One tree is decked with tiny cranes. The other is decked with handmade red and gold bows. Also included in our decorations are a few small things from our international travels. These little additions make our modest living room cozy and festive.

For a fun exercise in Stay-at-Home-Travel, here’s a kind of game: look at the following picture of our little living room and see if you can identify the following items and the country they come from:

  • Origami ornaments
  • Miniature crèche
  • Royal guards (very hard to see)
  • Christmas crackers
  • Christmas carol CD‘s

Christmas 2010: Our two tiny trees and Stay-at-Home-Travel items

Did you find them all? Here are the origins.

Origami, of course, comes from Japan and is the Japanese art of paper folding. Instructions for making cranes can be found here. It’s a You Tube video, and might take some time for it to load.

Miniature crèche: When I bought this set at a little store in Assisi, I romantically fantasized that the figurines were fashioned by Geppetto. When the proprietor told me the figurines had been made in Germany, it seemed a bit less romantic. Not because there was anything wrong with them being made there–the German craftsmen did a beautiful job! I just “wanted” them to have been made there in Assisi! But in the end, I bought the set.

They sell crèches in Assisi because St. Francis of Assisi was the person who fashioned the first creche. Click here for the story.

The royal guards are, of course, from England. Whenever I set up my Christmas crèche, I fling chronological accuracy out the window. Doesn’t it make perfect sense for Buckingham Palace and Tower of London guards to keep watch over the Holy Family along with the shepherds?

Christmas carol CDs: here’s a way to extend your travels into your home after you return: buy CDs of the local music. Every year, we play Christmas carol CDs from not only the USA, but also from England and France.

A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...

Image via Wikipedia

In closing, allow me to give you some food for thought, for now and in the New Year: how can you, also, extend what you’ve taken from your travels into your celebrations at home?

Bon voyage,

Rita Elizabeth

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Open Me First

Christmas tree in lobby of hotel where we're staying: Marriott Residence Inn, San Jose/Campbell

You’ve done it when you’ve given someone a certain kind of gift—a camera, a camcorder, or something like that. Right next to the big bow, you’ve affixed a labelOpen me first.

What a simple concept, one I’d have expected to put to use during a most important voyage of my stay-at-home life: my family’s move from our oversized house to a downsized, now-being-remodeled, home.

Salvation Army pickup day: preparing to move out of our big and beautiful home

I like to think I’m an organized gal. Come the first of the year, I snatch women’s magazines off my supermarket’s shelves. You know, those “home journals” that tell you how to keep house and be a perfect wife or mother. Their articles are an irresistible seduction. Titles—such as Organize Your Home—call to me like sirens from their January covers.

Like a starving lioness, I devour those mags.  I prowl the aisles of Walmart and Target. I butter up the staff at The Container Store. In my quest for a perfectly organized life, my mouth waters at the variety of storage containers in delicious array. Clear plastic boxes I’m not afraid to pluck  off the shelves and toss into my cart.

Compared to this, Christmas shopping is one big zip. January is my time to dream and spend. Energized and full of New Year’s zest, I donate, recycle, or toss into the trash. When my work is done, with great tenderness, I squirrel the remaining good stuff in the storage containers I’ve selected from the stores. With little ceremony and much relief, I snap their covers on and admit those fine containers to the Organization Heaven of my closets’ shelves.

One would think the skills acquired from these annual efforts would’ve smoothed our family’s recent move. Except that we’re downsizing from 5,000+ square feet to less than 1500. Of course, this meant removing pickup truckload after pickup truckload of furniture and stuff for donation or recycling, and, sadly, for the dump.

Pickup-truckload of stuff to be junked

The removal of it all was a Herculean effort. And the machinations we went through to find good, caring homes for all the keeper stuff? Don’t even go there.

Absorbed was I—body and soul—in the sorting and inventorying needed to place our things in five different temporary storage venues. Didn’t I have to do that? I mean, don’t we need access to all these things while we live in a hotel ‘til our remodel is done?

One of our storage units, filling up. (See how organized I've set things up?)

Upon hearing my story, you might understand how I could forget the simplest idea. Had I remembered, I’d have placed our essentials—cameras, laptops,  and bullet-proof vests—all in a box labeled Open me First.

Alas, I did not. My dear daughter’s laptop, and her brand new Apple MacBook Air, have, unfortunately, gone missing. From what we can tell, these things are buried like needles in a haystack in our moving company’s warehouse. Which means our daughter can’t use them until we move into our remodel and quit the hotel.

This is why my holiday gift to you is a bit of friendly and unsolicited advice: if you happen to be wrapping gifts for Christmas morning, or preparing your family for a big move, write Open Me First on a box or two.

A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

Posted in Christmas, Domestic Arts, Home, Moving house | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Making Peace with your Crab

No, I’m not talking about soothing that loved one who injects occasional crankiness into your life. I assume you have that covered, especially during this season. After all, since childhood we’ve been told the message of our year-end holidays is peace and goodwill.

On this first day of a month when festive food becomes our culture’s preoccupation, I’ll merely wax poetic about an item I discovered during travel in Japan, a little something that eases certain meals in our home. If you haven’t seen this item before, can you guess what it is from the picture below?

 

Utensils we brought home from Japan

Take a hint from this question: have you sworn off serving crab to guests, to spare them the burden of fighting to dig out the delicious meat?

Alaska King Crab Legs

Image by chriki24 via Flickr

These forks from Japan can make light of the work and turn the struggle into a minor ritual of elegance. Just crack the crab, stick the sleek fork in, and pull or lift. Voila! Out comes the meat, white and sweet—the perfect appetizer, in my humble opinion.

I first encountered these forks at a ryokan, during dinner delivered with great ceremony and eaten at a low table as our family sat together on our room’s tatami floor. The usefulness of these forks immediately struck me, and the discovery felt so important that the next day I ran out to a store to buy them to bring home. As well as taking the struggle out of eating crab, they seem always to serve as conversation starters.

I’ve looked around for these forks in the USA, and haven’t seen any quite like these. US and European versions do exist, but the tines of the Japanese forks are slightly different from the rest. The  Japanese forks, to my taste at least, are sleeker and a bit more elegant.

The elegant curvature of the Japanese crab fork

Though it’s possible the Japanese forks might be available at a few Asian grocery stores in this country, I’ve just learned that anyone can get them over the internet. Here’s the link to a company who offers them:  www.ekitron.com. (Type crab fork in the search box in the upper right corner. The item number is EK_2028-1.)  Wouldn’t these forks make a different and charming holiday gift?

Who knows? If spreading word about these forks reduces struggles at holiday tables, this might also spread a bit more peace around the world.

And, by the way, if cracking a crab intimidates you a little, just check out this neat video.

Happy December!

Bon voyage,

Rita Elizabeth


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Happy Thanksgiving

On my kitchen wall, above my sink, there hangs a short saying in a small frame.

"Take time to give thanks for the beauty of today"

Each time I pass that little framed picture, I do breathe a prayer of thanks. It feels oh, so good, to be aware of my blessings and to thank God for them.

How wonderful that we have a national holiday that encourages each of us to do this.

 

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

Image via Wikipedia

And so it is that today I want to express my thanks for my dear husband and daughter, all my family and all my friends, and for the constant flow of blessings that comes into my life because of them.

And I give thanks for you, my readers. I give thanks for my blogging buddies. Thanks for the friendships forming in the blogosphere because of our mutual interests.

May we all give thanks for our blessings. May we all have a Happy Thanksgiving! God bless us, everyone.

 

Thanksgiving last year--in the kitchen, well after dinner: start of the scarf-down of our homemade pies. (We made pumpkin, apple, and cherry pies!)

 

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