GratiTuesday: Those who rush towards

I don’t know if we’ve had more disasters – both natural and made-made – this year or not, but it certainly feels like it. Wildfires have eaten up acres of beauty and hundreds of homes and businesses, hurricanes and storm surges have created destructive winds and deadly floods, and the sudden shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates have toppled buildings and collapsed bridges. Then, there are the disasters created by the mentally ill, the morally repugnant, and the fanatically delusional.

It can be difficult to feel gratitude in the face of all of this. I don’t live in a hurricane zone, I haven’t been touched by a catastrophic wildfire, the earthquakes I’ve experienced have been mild and caused little damage, and I haven’t had a loved one’s life cut short by a bullet or a bomb, but I certainly don’t feel immune. Neither planning nor luck – and certainly not “thoughts and prayers” – will ensure my safety. Those who have recently been impacted likely once felt sorrow and empathy for past victims, and maybe some relief that they, and their families, were untouched.

As I’ve witnessed these disasters from afar and have worried about the fate of those affected, I see something over and over again that fills me with awe and appreciation: not just the first responders, but the everyday people who put themselves in harm’s way to help others.

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Aftermath of the earthquake in Mexico City. Picture credit: Joe, Month at a Time Travel blog

 

I’m so very grateful for those who fight the flames and rescue others from the path of a wildfire. I am grateful for those who brave floodwaters to carry trapped homeowners to safety. I am grateful for those who climb on top of precarious rubble in a desperate attempt to locate and save those buried below. I am grateful for all who keep the peace, attend to the wounded, and comfort the frightened. I am grateful for those who rush towards danger while others are running away.

GratiTuesday: Funky Town

I live in a pretty big city. But like most cities it’s made up of small communities, each with its own distinct personality. The demographics of each community often define its personality, but sometimes it is hard to know if the personality came first or the demographics.

There is a beach community that is several miles from where we currently live but is less than a mile from my childhood home. I spent much of my summers hanging around the beach and strolling along the main shopping district with my friends. It was funky when I was young and it is doing its best to maintain that funk even as investors salivate at its potential for development. That independent, counter-culture vibe is apparent on signs in shop windows and on bumper stickers that read: “U.S. Out of O.B.”

Starbucks managed to get a toehold, but not before receiving a huge community pushback. I’m not sure how it’s doing (long-time residents still refuse to patronize it), but they have smartly downplayed the corporate look at this particular outlet. Now, a Target Express wants to take over what was once a five-and-dime store and is now an antiques mall. If Target manages to break through the strong local opposition, I will be one of those mourning the loss of another locally-owned business.

Last Saturday, my husband and I attended the town council’s annual Pancake Breakfast. The proceeds help fund projects like the annual Food and Toy Drive and pay for the gigantic lighted Christmas tree “planted” on the beach each December. Although the food is OK, a big draw is that the breakfast is held on the fishing pier. After several days of chillier-than normal weather and constant overcast, we were favored with bright blue skies and warm sun. It was a glorious morning.

So many of our communities are being taken over by generic chain stores and cookie-cutter fast food outlets. It has become rare to find a truly locally-owned business and, when I do, I try to patronize it as much as possible. If I have to spend a little bit more to keep a family’s business in business, I am willing to do so. And, if paying $10 for two pancakes, a scoop of scrambled eggs, and a couple of charred sausage links helps support a community’s desire to maintain its unique character, I’m all in. That it includes dining at a table which offers a view of the coastline and surfers playing in the waves below, all the better.

I am so grateful for the personality of the small community I grew up in. It’s a little bohemian, a little quirky, and a lot funky. It’s been a long time since I’ve sunned myself on the beach and most of the businesses have changed since my younger days. But the smell of the salty air is unmistakable and, in many ways, it will always feel like home.

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

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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.