GratiTuesday: International Markets

I’ve written before about how much my husband and I enjoy visiting the local marketplaces when we are traveling. The colors, tastes, and smells provide a treat for the senses and the energy is exhilarating. I love to discover produce and prepared food items that I have never heard of. Even if I’m not always brave enough to indulge, it’s a fascinating window into another culture.

We are fortunate that, here at home, we can enjoy a similar experience by visiting the many ethnic markets that dot our various neighborhoods. Within easy driving distance from our house, we have at least one Mexican market, two Middle Eastern markets, and two Asian markets. Drive a little further and the choices expand considerably.

Sometimes I like to visit these markets just to look around because the inventory is so different from what is available at a plain vanilla supermarket. Where our Ralphs or Vons might have a few feet of shelf space devoted to spices, the ethnic markets will often have a whole aisle. And, not only do they offer spices that I recognize, they stock even more that I don’t. The jams and jellies are made of fruits I’ve never heard of and the meat departments often offer cuts not displayed in most “regular” grocery stores.

While visiting Oaxaca, Mexico this past spring, my husband and I became quite fond of an iced tea made with dried hibiscus flowers or jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kah). When we returned, we missed the taste and wanted to be able to make it ourselves. After some searching, we were able to find small packages of the dried flowers at one of the local Middle Eastern markets (the Mexican market – which is much smaller – didn’t carry it). Just today, I discovered the other local Middle Eastern market carries the flowers in bulk. Yipee!

This package contains two cups of dried hibiscus flowers

If you are interested in trying jamaica tea, here’s the recipe. If you don’t have an ethnic market, you might be able to find the dried flowers online.

Jamaica Tea

1             cup of dried hibiscus flowers

0 – 1      cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your tea)

4              cups of water

Add sugar and water to a pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the flowers, turn off the heat and steep approximately one hour or until cool.

Strain the tea into a bowl with a lip. Press the blossoms to extract as much water into the bowl as possible, then toss (the tea should be a lovely, deep red).

Pour the tea into a pitcher and add 4 additional cups of water. Stir and refrigerate.

When my husband and I pour ourselves a glass of jamaica tea, we often cut it further with bubbly water from our SodaStream (about 3 parts tea to 1 part bubbly). That way, if we’ve used the full cup of sugar when making the tea, the final product is much less sweet.

The taste of Oaxaca in a pitcher

I am grateful for the interesting and diverse food shopping choices we have in our city. I’m also grateful that I can instantly transport myself back to Oaxaca just by sipping a tall glass of chilled, ruby-red, jamaica tea.

GratiTuesday: September’s Serenade

It’s nice to live in an area that tourists want to visit. We can enjoy year-round what many of them pay big bucks to enjoy for a few days or a few weeks. A trip to the beach, the zoo, or a popular entertainment venue doesn’t require a big effort any time of the year – we just get in the car and go.

The thing is, we very seldom visit these destinations in the summer… there are just too many people. Between the tourists and the local kids being out of school, most of the places that I’d love to go to are crowded. Parking is at a premium and the people per square foot is way over my comfort level.

So, we wait for September when everything starts to calm down. Hotels begin to empty of families and fill with business people. Getting a table at a popular restaurant no longer requires an extended wait. The beaches are much less crowded and parking is available. (And, here’s a little secret: we get some of our best weather in September and, often, even into early October.)

I was certainly aware of this seasonal switch when I was working full time, but I had many fewer opportunities to take advantage of it. I still had to be at work Monday through Friday and my weekends were shared with all the other 9-5ers and students. Now that I am retired, I can take mid-week walks on nearly empty beaches and visit the parks at a time when there is much less competition for space. In addition, the stores aren’t as crowded and some restaurants offer inducements to dine.

Sometimes it feels like my summer has just started.

I am grateful for the tourists (as long as they go home eventually) and I’m happy to see the kids out for summer vacation (I do remember being young, after all). But, when I start to notice the Back to School sales being advertised, I can hear the beginnings of September’s serenade. Now that it’s here, I am so grateful for the opportunity I have to fully enjoy its song.

GratiTuesday: Brick Walls

brick-wall.jpg

Sometimes it takes hitting a brick wall for me to finally make a change that I have been putting off. That final, immovable force which prevents continuing on a comfortable, but unsatisfactory, forward projection. The wall that tells me that I can no longer ignore the problem and hope it goes away on its own.

I’ve reached that point. It’s time to change my blog theme.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the first time I had a problem with my theme was four years ago, soon after I began my blog. I didn’t like the small size of my blog’s font but I couldn’t figure out how to change it. So, I didn’t… and I remained frustrated… but I decided to live with it and move on.

I encountered the second challenge when I found myself admiring features and cool widgets on various blogs I follow. When I tried to add the same functions to my pages, I found that many of the options weren’t available to me. Unfortunately, my fear of blowing up my site by making a mistake while changing the theme was greater than my desire to spruce things up.

Then, a few months ago, the title of one of my blog posts, Oaxaca’s Street Markets, suddenly appeared – complete with a link – on my menu bar. When I went into my dashboard to fix it, there was no indication that anything was wrong. I tried to add a new menu item hoping that the unwanted item and link would disappear when I clicked on Save and Update. Nope, it was still there. I began to consider that my problem might be greater than just my lack of website experience.

I finally came face-to-face with a big brick wall – one I could not ignore no matter how hard I tried – when my blog suddenly stopped behaving itself when viewed on a tablet. It was small. It was scrunched. It was unreadable.

That wall finally prompted me to seek help. Because these last two problems spontaneously occurred without my making any changes, I had no idea how to fix them. I know that I’m not exactly a techno-wiz but, as far as I could tell, the logical fixes weren’t fixing anything.

Turns out that I have an “expired theme.” Who knew themes expired?

Within the next week or so, I hope to have a shiny new theme up and running. One that has a larger body font, a few extra features and widgets, a menu bar without a mind of its own, and posts that can be read without a magnifying glass no matter what device is being used.

As I make the transition, I will probably be tweaking things here and there, moving stuff around, and adding features that catch my fancy. If anything goes awry or something looks wonky on your side of the screen, I’d love it if you could give me a heads up. Hopefully everything will go perfectly smooth… right.

I am grateful for the brick wall that smacked me in the head and has prompted me to make a few needed changes. Hitting a brick wall is not very pleasant but, sometimes, that’s just what I need.

GratiTuesday: Routine Comforts

That giant sigh of relief you may have heard this morning was my husband and me waking up to an empty home. After a week and a half of houseguests (first from his side of the family, then mine), we can now return to what is familiar and comfortable. We enjoyed having visitors, but we also love our day-to-day (some might describe them as boring) routines. Ahhhhhh.

I’ve spent my morning blissfully doing laundry, cleaning the guest bathroom, remaking the guest bed, straightening up and cleaning the kitchen and living room, and going through piles of neglected mail. These types of chores are not usually the highlights of my day but, today, I’m in my happy place.

I may venture out in the next few days (we will start to run out of leftovers eventually) but, for now, I am content to nestle in my calm, quiet, and stress-free nest.

I am grateful for our guests. They were enthusiastic, engaging, and having them encouraged us to be creative in coming up with things to do in our city. It was fun. Now that they are gone, I’m so grateful to be able to completely relax and enjoy our own company. As my husband and I settle back into our comfortable routines, I am reminded of how much I love my home, sweet, home.

The bed in the guestroom is made up and ready for visitors, just not too soon…

GratiTuesday: Getting High

As I was looking over pictures taken on our recent travels, I was struck by how many times we found ourselves way up high looking down. Hiking on trails that took us well above the forest floor, riding on a train through narrow mountain passes, biking along a path that traveled over old, abandoned train trestles, peering down from the lip of a dam that towers 550 feet above bedrock, and standing on a “see through” bridge that spanned a rocky river hundreds of feet below.

North Cascades National Park
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad
Hiawatha Bike Trail
Grand Coulee Dam
Looking straight down the side of the dam 

I know a few people who wouldn’t find these views very enjoyable. Some would muster their courage and go anyway, although trying to avoid a direct line of sight to what was below. Others would probably deny themselves the experience altogether, unable to overcome their fear of heights.

I realize that I have no idea what these fears feel like. I do know that they are not ones that people can just “get over.” They are real and they can be terrifying. And they can be frustrating. And they can be limiting.

For me, getting high is part of the fun, and I am so grateful that I’m able to embrace these experiences and enjoy the incredible views.

GratiTuesday: Coming Home

I love to travel, and we’ve been doing quite a bit of it this year. We have just arrived home from our latest adventure and, I must admit, I am relieved. No matter how much fun we have, interesting places we explore, or new experiences we have, walking in our front door after a long trip feels like… well… coming home.

Even mundane tasks like doing laundry, running errands, and planning and preparing meals make me happy. Having all our familiar things just where we want them is comforting. Sleeping in our own beds – with our own pillows – is heaven. Pretty soon all of that will become more routine, but right now I’m enjoying the newness of our everyday lives.

As I finish unpacking and sorting through my photos, I know that I’ll grow nostalgic for our travels. I may even start to plan our next adventure. But, right now, I’m so grateful to be back in my home.

GratiTuesday: BookBub

Have you heard about BookBub? If you have, I hope that you are happily downloading some great books at bargain prices. If you haven’t, read on…

A friend told me about BookBub a couple of years ago but it took me awhile to consider it further. Since I prefer actual, physical books, having a bunch of ebooks available for download wasn’t of much interest.

What changed my mind and prompted me to look at BookBub again was my purchase of a Kindle Paperwhite. I was tired of carrying books with me when I traveled and thought a single, light-weight device (that can hold more than a thousand books) made more sense.

BookBub is a free service that emails me several book suggestions every day. Most books cost about $1.99; some are a little more, and some are a little less… even free. If a book in the selection looks good, I click on the title and am taken to Amazon’s website, where I can read more about it, and, if I want, purchase it with one click. Easy peasy.

A sample of a recent email I received from BookBub

And, don’t assume that the books offered are the type that you might find on a remainder table in some dusty corner of a bookstore. Many are best sellers, or written by best-selling authors. Recent purchases include the critically acclaimed Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of President Lyndon Johnson, and A Long Way Home, the fascinating memoir that the movie Lion was based on.

BookBub members can customize the selections to their taste. For instance, I particularly enjoy historical fiction and biographies so that’s the genre I see the most. I can update my settings at any time, and I can see everything BookBub is currently offering by going to their website.

I typically borrow my paper books from the library or purchase them from second-hand stores, so I am not about to buy a bunch of ebooks at full price. I am grateful that BookBub has allowed me to populate my virtual library with quality books for very little cost.

And, just in case you thought I might have been paid for this post, I have not. I love BookBub and wanted to spread the word. If you haven’t yet tried it, you might want to check it out.