It was one of those delightful but rare occasions. The whole family was available to get together. And we did. We gathered for a pub dinner at one IMG 0331 of Surrey’s local watering holes. Lots of dishes and lots of sharing. The soup of the day was listed on the chalkboard as Manhattan Clam Chowder (that’s the red one) and someone ordered a bowl of it. Surprising, since I thought that I was the only family member who liked it – all the others preferring the Boston or New England version (the white one).

It was a serious bowl – big, steaming, and yummy. But not at all what I expected. When I make the Manhattan version (which is rarely, since I’m the only one that eats it) the clams are swimming in a barely spicy light broth along with tomatoes and some crunchy vegetables. This version was thick, rich, red, and creamy – more of a bisque. Not authentic. But, hey, who cares. It was delicious and we all liked it.

* * *

kinobay About 20 years or so ago, we had just tucked our travel trailer into a nice little RV park in Kino Bay, on the edge of the Sea of Cortez on Mexico’s west coast.

The kids rushed down to the beach to splash in the waves. They were soon back at the trailer.

“Hey, Dad. Look at this. It’s really weird. Whenever we splash our hands in the waves we end up with these.” She held up a handful of small clams. Hmm-m-m. Forty-five minutes later we had a big plastic bucket half full of clams.

Hopefully they were safe to eat. I took a few over and checked with the people at the office. My Spanish was pretty iffy but I finally figured out that their apparent concern was not about the clams we had gathered, just why I would want to eat these little clams when I could buy some much bigger ones in town.

OK. Not a definitive answer but on the way back to the trailer I ran into a small group of neighbours visiting from the US. They had been camped on this beach awhile. “Oh, they’re fine to eat. We cooked up a big batch of those last week.” I looked at them appraisingly. They still looked healthy. Good enough for me!

Margaret hauled out a big pot and soon we had a steamed clam feast around the dinette. And enough left over to make a good-sized batch of clam chowder. (The white kind.)

* * *

The nice thing about taking the time to make your own chowder is that you end up with lots of clams in every bowl. Not at all like the canned variety or even restaurant offerings.IMG 0333 When I eat those , as delicious as the chowder may be, I’m always hunting (fishing?) around in the bowl to see if I can find any evidence of clams.

Now I need to dig out my Manhattan chowder recipe. I think my family is ready for it.

[Thanks to Three Palms at Kino Bay for the great beach picture]

I like my morning routines. Like opening the blinds and peering out to make sure the neighbourhood is still there and everything016 is all right. But my most important morning routine is loading up the coffee maker and waiting for it to gurgle through and give me my first morning cup of coffee.

In my coffee mug.

Somehow it’s not the same if it’s from just any coffee mug. I’m happy sharing a cup, or sipping one solitarily, from just about anything, The cap from a thermos, a paper Tim Hortons cup, an old melmac mug from the back corner of someone’s cupboard. But if I’m at home, I want to use mymug.

There’s nothing extraordinary about my coffee mug, It doesn’t call attention to itself – it’s rather nicely bland. But it sits in my hand right when I’m warming them on a cold morning. Holds a decent amount of coffee. Doesn’t tip over.

I’m not overly attached to it. I’ve had a number of them over the years. Different types, styles, and sizes. Lost them in a number of ways: crashed on the floor, chipped on the edge of the sink, tumbled to the pavement getting out of the car. No sense of tragedy, no mourning. Just the beginning of a search for the next “right” mug. One that fits my updated personality. I always find one, eventually.

013I’ve come to realize that I’m not alone. We’ve assembled quite a motley collection of mugs in our kitchen cupboard. Whenever our more regular visitors drop over and it’s coffee or tea time, there’s a distinct ceramic clattering that goes on as everyone searches for their mug in the cupboard. (“Hey! Where’s my teddy bear mug?”) They all eventually get matched up with their own familiars.

Then the visiting can begin. Steaming beverages, usual chairs (“That’s where I sit.”), catching up on life. It all seems to work better when everyone and everything is well-acquainted.

I like routines.

I found out that when you cut the stringy end off a green onion, you can poke it into some dirt and it will quickly grow into a big 009healthy green onion. I water it a little but otherwise I just ignore it. It still grows like crazy.

Now I’m not a gardener. Never had much luck in that area. But it seems some things are easy to grow. (These must certainly be plants that are related to weeds.)

007So I have a little box of green onions in the driveway. Next to them I have a pot of rosemary and also some thyme and oregano.

I am getting more confident with herbs.

When it’s time to season the lamb chops, jazz up the spaghetti sauce, or create a salad dressing, I’m out there with my kitchen shears removing snippets of flavour and… I mean this fresh stuff will instantly infuse your brain with intense aroma. Wonderful!

And I also know what I’m putting into my dinner. Off-the-supermarket-shelf stuff almost always seems to contain unpronouncable mystery ingredients. I squint at the label. What is that stuff?

Does my jerk seasoning really need calcium stearate in it (“…an insoluble calcium salt of stearic acid and palmitic acid… formed when soap is mixed with water that contains calcium ions and is the scum produced in regions of hard water”)? Will I truly be happier if my spices contain an anti-caking agent to keep them from clumping and sticking together so it’s easier to shake them out of the container?

Does my salt need calcium silicate added to it? I don’t mind breaking up the clumps in my jar of sea salt. I shake the jar and they go away. My mom used to put grains of rice in the salt shaker to keep it dry and free-flowing. Works for me.

Why do they add palm oil to my raisins anyway?

I don’t always know which additives are innocuous, and which ones aren’t. So my solution is to get closer to the source of what I’m eating and strive to know what it’s made of.

Actually, the next time I move, I think I’ll look for a place that has a nice healthy vegetable garden next door. Abundant produce that needs to be pawned off on the neighbours.

But I’ll be keeping an eye on what gets spread on the garden late at night under the light of the moon.

* * * * *

Check out these ideas for growing food from kitchen scraps and for making your own spice blends.

I love peas & carrots with my dinner.

Most people don’t. It brings back memories of that mushy vegetable dish slopped up next to the shoe-leather piece of beef and starchy mashed potatoes served up at the cafeteria, just before the grumpy server splashes a ladle full of brown gravy on top of everything. You remember brown gravy. It has no taste. It’s just brown. And salty. And… brown. But you can stir it up to make a peas-and-carrot-and-mashed-potato-and-gravy soup.

I think people have secret cravings for those horrible things they suffered through as a kid. Peas & carrots are one of those. But today’s peas & carrots are not the mushy side dishes of yesteryear.

I love peas and carrots today because I resurrect it from the steam table glop that it used to be and raise it to an acceptable culinary level. Maybe not to the level of my crisp stir fried garden vegetables lightly tossed and coated with the complex flavours of the east. But something that combines a little veggie bite with subtle memories of cafeteria trays from years, nay decades, gone by. And it’s too easy.

Here we go.009

Peas. I use the frozen ones. Canned ones don’t cut it, and freshly shucked from the garden are a little over the top. (I just shuck the ones from the garden right into my mouth. The best way to enjoy them.)

Carrots. Here’s the trick. Fresh carrots. I chop them into coins. (I want to be able to see them without my reading glasses.)

Sometimes I add a little shaved onion for a little extra taste.

Into a pot. A little water. Cooked only until the carrots are barely tender. (They need some bite left in them!)

Drain. A swirl of butter. Maybe a sprink018le of fresh parsley. Park them next to the potatoes. Not mashed. May I recommend the delightful Yukon Gold variety?

Enjoy! This is not your cafeteria side dish. But the memories….

What a great summer long weekend!

The weather is fantastic. I’ve chugged some big glasses of orange juice to cool me down. I’ve done some chores around the house. And now it’s grillin’ time.

I’ve taken off my doin’-the-chores clothes. I’ve had a lo-o-ong cool shower. And I’m ready to grill.

012

So… for my grilling outfit I’ve chosen…. Well. if I still lived in California, it would be obvious that I’m wearing my leisure pants. Cool. comfortable in the afternoon heat.

But this is the Pacific northwest. It’s the southwest corner of BC. People here don’t wear… ‘leisure pants’. So what the heck am I wearing? Oh my God, I’m in my jams!

What will the neighbours think? Are they peeking out of their windows now even as my grill belches flames out the sides? Are they squinting through their barely closed blinds, all aghast?

Do I care?

Heck, no! It’s summer. This is one of the best weekends we’ve had.

The rib steaks I seasoned earlier this afternoon with my secret rub. On they go!

013

The fresh local corn is grilled to perfection, waiting for butter and salt and pepper. The baked potatoes are perfect.

017

Marg has grilled a pile of garlicky mushrooms. There’s some asparagus around here somewhere. I’m in barbeque heaven. This is what we live for!

020

So as the sun goes down, I’m reveling in the glory of a perfect dinner and the end of a perfect day.

Could it get any better?

Dessert anyone…?

A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it…. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff! George Carlin

We’ve driven a few loads of stuff from our house and garage to the thrift store, the recycle centre, and the dump. The weekly collection pile at the curb has been a lot bigger the last few weeks,

crawl spaceWe can now actually crawl into our crawl space. You know what’s in there? Shelves with more boxes.

All we’ve done is opened up other layers of stuff we packed away once upon a time. It’s good stuff, most of it. Well, some of it anyway.

I found that special connector I knew I was going to need when I upgraded the stereo in our old motorhome. A super deal – 50 cents at a yard sale. When I actually did the upgrade, I forgot I had it. Wouldn’t have been able to find it anyway.

But then there’s the stuff that really makes me wonder why I still have it. Like the big old tape recorder with the plastic reels. It doesn’t even work. I looked at the old moving company’s sticker on the lid – through how many moves had I lugged this thing? I counted up to ten when I ran out of fingers.

I know it’s bad to save unnecessary stuff for yourself and even worse to save it for other people. How did I get into this?

It’s so easy to see other people’s problems and know what they should do about them. Why is it so tough to deal with my own? I know. It’s all the history and baggage that I carry around with my own problems. All that stuff I have is wrapped in generations of emotional baggage.

In our family, we learned some of it from our parents and grandparents. That Depression-era, Second World War refugee thinking: things are bad and will only get worse; hang onto any useful or even remotely useful thing you have – you may need it. Don’t toss anything until it’s completely worn out and can’t be put to any other purpose. Or until someone else can use it.

Then we pass along this thinking to our kids.

So now I’m trying to change my thinking – to downsize and get rid of all this collected stuff. I can no longer pretend that the boxes in the basement are a heat and energy conserving thermal mass or that I can toss the stuff I’m tripping over into the closet and it will go away.

And how the world has changed. Things are cheap and easy to get and difficult to get rid of. Now everyone is rich, things are disposable. People spend money as a form of entertainment. No one wants old stuff. Charities cherry pick. The dump is selective and not cheap.

I acknowledge my wrong thinking and still it’s difficult to give up my stuff. Why is it clinging to me so tightly? I don’t know what to do about it, so I don’t do anything.

There are a lot of decluttering guides out there.

They can help you categorize clutter. For example there is:collectibles

  • Emotional clutter – the main kind with sentimental and emotional ties. Items that bring back memories – a story is attached to it. (But it’s the story, not the thing, that’s important.) Things you hang onto through guilt – it came from someone through great personal or financial sacrifice.
  • Bargain clutter – it was so cheap; how can I get rid of it? I found by the side of the road.
  • Just-in-case clutter – no personal or sentimental value here. Just lots of old papers, bank statements, and bills; mechanical and electrical parts.

The guides also give practical steps. You get three big boxes and label them…. You set the timer for 20 minutes and…. But these hints and procedures only work after you’ve disentangled all the mental ties. How can I do that?

I looked for other suggestions. One was meditation – sit in the midst of the clutter and meditate on why you are hanging onto it.

meditationSo I sat in the middle of the piles of boxes of paperwork I’d amassed over the years and tried to calm my buzzing mind. (Breathe slowly….) The boxes loomed over me. And I got a glimmer of insight: They were mostly memories of the lives I use to lead (in my case business, legal, technology-related) and documentation for lives I thought I might have. Someday. There were notes, papers, clipped articles, cartoons and books for the business growth and vision books I had planned to write and the consulting I was going to do someday. Brilliant, maybe, but nowhere in my plans now. Times have changed. Others have written about it. I’m off in other directions. I helped the recycle truck driver load the boxes.

Well that helped in one corner. The technique has merit. I’ll keep using it.

Then there’s the Fen Shui approach. Feng shui is an art and science that has to do with energy flow in a home as well as the energy attached to particular items. I don’t even want to think about the convoluted dysfunctional energy flows in this house.

But I thought the idea of using it for specific items was interesting. The idea is to pick up an item and ask what the item is saying to me.

I was rifling through a box of odds and ends and pulled out a picture of an old girlfriend. “What is this photograph saying to me?” I asked. I looked at it. “I dumped you over 35 years ago and you still have my picture? Ha-ha-ha!” Gone.

I still have a lot to learn about myself in this ongoing process. I am learning to say No . And I realize now that even when I’m ‘done’, decluttering will be a life-long activity.

We are thinking about picking a hew home.

001

It’s time. The old one is too big. Time to downsize. Time to get rid of too many belongings. That collection of all that stuff that will surely come in useful someday. But hasn’t yet. (Never will.)

Margaret is so much more organized and methodical about these things. She’s got the all the local neighbourhoods scouted out and organized and catalogued, suitable properties ready to pop up onto the screen at the click of a mouse.

“Where do you want to live?” she asks.

Where do I want to live? That’s the question now, isn’t it?

I try to imagine a place where I’d like to wake up. The sun is streaming through the curtains. I push the window open wide and take a deep breath from the ocean breeze. The sunlight dances on the waves in the bay, the gulls skim over the surface of the water. There’s a light clanging from the rigging on a mast of one of the sailboats anchored nearby. I wander into the kitchen and start the coffee. What a wonderful aroma. It’ll wake me up for sure. I think I’ll have breakfast on the deck this morning.

003I think I saw just the place in a 1993 issue of Country Living I was carrying out to the recycle box. Great view of the bay and slopes dotted with Monterey Pines. Nice.

“What do you think of this place…?” I ask.

“Nice, but not practical,” sighs Margaret.

How do I find the right balance between practical and want?

I know that this time I want a place that is not one-third home and two-thirds U-Haul storage locker. It would be nice to actually have room to park a car in our garage – our three-car garage. (Oh well, it’s not like we’re any different from the neighbours. Funny how we all park our cars in the rain so we can keep our clutter dry. And when the garage is full, we look for a bigger house.)

But, we’re making progress! Aah, how great it feels every time we get rid of another load of… stuff. I’m sure the folks at the recycle place cringe every time our old Aerostar comes rolling in the gate.

I also want a place that reflects who we are – and who I am. I am not a mechanic because my dad left me a big red toolbox chock-a-block full of sockets, ratchets, and… who knows what those things all are. I am not a landscaper because I have a power mower, gas weed trimmer, and a pump sprayer next to containers of mystery chemicals. I look at the About Me page of my blog and realize that the things I do and have relate very little to the description I’ve written about myself. (But I’m hopeful.)

And I want a place that doesn’t consume all my resource – finances, physical and psychological energies, time. I want a place where I look forward to hanging out, not a swirling black hole that I’m scared to get close to.

Okay, but these don’t really help in solving the practical problem of finding a new place. The real estate web site search pages don’t have check boxes for Black Hole or Self-realization or Clutter-shedding. Add to this the fact that I am a weak on-line shopper (I desperately need to poke, touch, experience a thing and its surroundings before I want to buy it) the step from wanting to having is a lo-o-ong one.

It would be nice if the perfect home just fell out of the sky, but the odds are against it. Wish me luck and send me hope.

It’s a sad day for our family today.

It’s the Monday of a long weekend – Victoria Day – and traditionally the kick-off to summer, And, continuing in the tradition of long weekends hereabouts, it’s raining.

Seems like too many long weekends start out promising  Рand end up cold and rainy. My daughter came back from a camping trip this morning. The tent, tarps, and other camping gear are spread out in the garage in the hopes they will dry out before too long. But they had a great time and I hear they put up an ingenious roof system with a couple of tarps that kept the rain off and allowed the campfire smoke to curl upwards to where it should go. BC campers are a resilient bunch!

But that doesn’t make for a sad day.

Our cat, Pussypoo (a strange name, but it stuck) is about 16 years old. In human terms that puts him well into his eighties.

He’s been a traveller, top cat in the neighbourhood, a great hunter (he would survey the open fields from his perch on top of a fencepost – of course this was before the fields and woods were turned into rows of suburban homes), and an affectionate pet.

True, over the last few years he relinquished much of his status and settled a bit more into the background. He stayed at home more but still kept our other cat brats in their place and exhibited appropriate disdain for our chihuahua, Minnie Mae. More recently, he’d become less sprightly in his movements and more cumudgeonly in his attitude. But he still came around for his regular cuddle. (Purr…, purr….)

PussypooThen yesterday morning his energy was gone; by this morning he could barely find the strength to move about from place to place. A visit to the vet – he shook his head. We lost Pussypoo this afternoon.

Maybe just a cat, but simply being together for fourteen years builds bonds. We had the whole family to share our sadness and be happy knowing that, for a cat, Pussypoo really did have a great life. We’ll miss him.

If I never loved, I never would have cried. from I am a Rock, Simon & Garfunkel

***************************************************

This is from our family website back in 1999 (before we all had blogs):

Our cat, Cat, …or is it Pussypoo…, has really settled in

niccatNicole discovered Pussypoo as one of the wild strays at Grandma and Grandpa’s farm last summer. White and fluffy, she somehow didn’t really fit in with the other farm cats. Nicole tamed her down and when it was time to leave, she couldn’t leave without …Fluffy. Well, she seemed completely at home travelling in the motorhome, loved it, as a matter of fact.

When she visited the vet on the way home, it turned out she was a he, andnicolecat not wild at all. Anyway, Fluffy didn’t seem to suit a ‘he’ and no name really stuck, so he’s Pussypoo now. We don’t know where he originally came from, but from the way he likes lying on the dashboard during road trips, we figure he got lost during someone else’s motorhome trip through the area.

but he is not too crazy about taking baths……!

bathcat

About me…

I'm an occasional writer, a refugee from the technology biz, a family guy, and a curmudgeon. While I am most likely to be seen behind the wheel of a bus, I would rather be seen behind the wheel of my RV.

Click on my picture if you'd like to know a little more about me.

I actually read a lot more blogs than these. (Too many, I think - takes up all my spare time some days.) I just don't have this list up to date yet.
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