Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Professor

The tall, lanky man stepped into the bar, pulling in the icy air with him. His smooth gray suit, fresh from Goodwill, was clean and musty. His felt fedora was fuzzy and had a thick black ribbon around it. A cane supported his limp as he made his way past me and to the bar. He ordered a beer. He drank half of it in one gulp. The man behind the bar knew this type, had seen him before--just wants to drink, don't care to make conversation--he ignored him except to feed him his delicate booze.
The old man picked up his cane and limped over to the jukebox. He emptied his pocket of quarters and soon the voice of Hank Williams filled the empty stale air. He returned to his beer, finished it, ordered another, along with whiskey, and set his roots down for the night on a rickety old wooden bar stool. Meanwhile, Hank sung out in loud despair about a cold, cold heart.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A New Routine

I have settled into a new routine. Write. Walk. Write. I set out a block of time where I settle in and write in my notebook, and lately, it has been expanding a short story into something more. Once I reach my conclusion of time or round out the story, I leash up the dogs and stroll around the neighborhood. I return and type up what I wrote and add details and corrections as needed. This has allowed me to write almost 7000 words and counting in two and a half days now.
As soon as I set the pen down from a session of furious writing, I feel lightened and elevated. Like a runner's high setting in, I take to walking. This helps settle my mind and allows me to relish in a writer's high. The story will usually work through my head and I figure out where to take it next time I settle in with pen, paper, and tea. This morning, I was glad to think up the next year in the story of Jack that I am currently working on. I was able to get him from the Portland up to Alaska over the course of several months. Now I have to settle in and write.
As of this morning, he was halfway up the coast of Oregon on his way to Portland. Once there he will sell his truck, find a job, meet a girl, and winter over in the city. IN the spring, the two will set on a trip up to Alaska.
Overall, this routine is healthy, productive, and very easy to fall into. I am sure the dogs enjoy their multiple excursion throughout the day and it keeps them settled down when I sit to write. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Waste Production 101

It is Friday. Trash day. We have not had our over-sized green trash can out on the curb in five or six weeks now. It feels good to produce less waste. This has been a longtime goal of mine. For me, it starts at the grocery store. Buying whole foods with little packaging. Purchasing staples such as rice, beans, and flour in bulk. When we changed our eating and shopping habits our waste production begin to decline. We take the trash out less often. Cooking from whole foods is healthier and challenging. It eases my conscience knowing I produce less waste.
The way one single species holds together and ecosystem is how reducing waste conjurers itself up. One thing leads to another and they all grow off each other. With less food packaging going into the trash can at dinner time, my footprint becomes smaller. Furthermore, I compost every scrap vegetable, fruit, or left over rice. It all makes its way out to the pallet lined compost heap. It rots and grows more food for us. Not eating meat often, allows me to better control what goes into the compost. We also reuse.
Nearly everything in our household gets used several times over before being given away, recycled, or tossed out. Plastic bags to parchment paper to foil and yogurt containers. This helps eliminate the need to purchase food storage containers, thereby reducing the amount produced—in effect lowering waste production. Plastic bags have a life that seldom exhausted. We wash and rewash our bags over and over to use them again. This not only reduces trash, but stretches our dollar a bit further down the road.
I have learned to constantly evaluate my waste production in hopes of reducing. It is hard to not produce waste for it is part of civilization. I know I am not perfect and don't think anyone truly could be. But reducing my waste production step-by-step helps ease my mind at the end of the day. Knowing I kept just one piece of plastic out of the landfill by reusing it helps. These little steps build up over time and soon conglomerate together.
One area I could improve my waste reduction is tea. We drink a lot and while we have some loose tea and metal tea balls, bu we do buy prepackaged tea. While we do compost the tea bags, the box usually gets burned, in the winter or thrown out along with the wrapping. This adds up. When I cook, I use everything possible. Vegetable trimmings often become stock before getting transformed into compost. This holistic approach to reducing waste has been a challenge. But it simplifies things. Life becomes less chaotic without wrappers, cans, and useless packaging. I cook from scratch. I learn new recipes and this guarantees the food I eat is simple, healthy, and closer to sustainability than microwave dinners. I know what I put in and I know what I eat—and I know just how much waste my cooking produces.
Of course waste production goes beyond the kitchen. We seldom purchase new things. Thrift stores have wonders and treasures up and down every isle. We thrive off of reusing everything even if it wasn't ours to begin with. We purchase items at a cheap cost and utilize it until we no longer need it, where we often return it to the thrift store. Clothing has no wrapping. Cookware comes without a box. And blankets, sheets, and decorations—no excessive packaging.
I would say the bathroom produces the most waste of all. Beyond what goes down the toilet, trash is produced here in a higher concentration then elsewhere in the home. Toilet paper comes wrapped up in plastic. Toothpaste. Shampoo. Tampons. Floss. Shampoo. Conditioner. Face wash. These are all newly purchased and include packaging. I try to reuse my shampoo bottles and fill them up with bulk shampoo. But toothpaste is a tough one to get around. Perhaps making it would be a healthier alternative.
My toothbrush is ideal. It defines my philosophy well. It is recycled. Made from yogurt cups and enveloped in recycled plastic. This wrapper is cleverly a return envelope with pre-paid postage to return the used toothbrush to the production facility. When received, it becomes a new toothbrush. Simple. Effective. And sustainable.
I see my drive to become sustainable and reduce my waste production a challenge. An average American produces over four pounds of trash a day. I can't fathom that or want to even create that amount. I'd be in and out the house carrying a trash bag. We need to tone down our consumption. Quiet the demanding materialism habits of ours. Play the music a little softer and it can easily start at home, in the kitchen, the bathroom, anywhere is a good starting point. Waste simply cannot fill up our open spaces.
These open spaces are where we come from and where we go for solitude, rebirth, calm and soothing experiences. Open spaces help de-clutter our daily lives from the chaotic flashes of television, phone calls, meetings, shots of espresso, and traffic jams.
I hear the dump truck lift more trash into its greedy mouth. A near fully mechanized process. The large green truck hauls people around the city, daily, to collect the smelly refuse of capitalism. These honorable folk move trash cans around and onto the hands of the truck. From there, the truck whines and lifts up the trash into oblivion. And off to the landfill. A wasteful program with little sorting or organizing of the waste itself. All over, weekly trucks scour the towns and cities devouring our excess. Filling up to the brim, compacting and mutilating the glories and prizes of materialism.
The trash monster loads up on trash, like a junkie on heroin, seems to need the smelly waste. It wheezes its way around my neighborhood every friday morning. Calling out to all that listen, announcing and clarifying just how much waste we truly create. The hero of waste production. But do we hear the implications? I don't know if we do. Trash disposal is taken advantage of. Taken for granted. I know. I once disassembled an old couch and weekly sent pieces of it to the landfill. It was a cheap and clever method of riddance.
With sustainability and eco-this and eco-that and hybrids and green covering the newspapers and packaging of society, we ought to look at our weekly trash production and make an effort to change. It starts in the home, reducing waste production, and in the store, purchasing less power. Now and into the future—it will continue to affect purchasing, which in turn—will affect waste production.

Why Write

It satisfies a deep desire within. Eases my mind. Clarifies this hazy world for me. Challenges. Builds. Defines. And creates. Writing fuels my life. It compels. Commands me to make change—both in the world and within. I must write, the passion burns deep and to ignore fuels a burning growth of angst, fear, sloth, and ignorance. It drives me to learn, to read, to absorb all this crazy world has to offer. A mandate.
Even now, as I furiously write, banjo tunes blaring in the background, dogs playing, tea brewing, dishwasher humming away, I do so in ease. My mind, drives to push the pen, to keep the ink flowing. Satisfaction can only come from within. And I find it most with the pen and paper. It is futile to resist the urge. I must look inwards, not outwards to others. Inspiration I may find from the external, but not what I am. Who I am. I have to look deep into myself, within, to know the truth. It comes forth in writing. The true essence of my being, my existence shines on the paper.
It cramps the hand. The stomach pains with hunger. The mind jitters from too much coffee. It all adds up to something great, beyond words. I hope. Something only I can tangibly find. I have to look deep. It is a goal I aim to reach and upon achievement, to keep going. To sew up one story and become a better person. The power lies behind the pen. Like food providing nourishment to the body, writing provides nourishment for my spirit. Fueled by adventure and Nature—it helps maintain levelness. A soothing to the doldrums of this harsh daily world. Writing provides a release. An escape. A hatch to climb through and into a world of beauty and untold stories waiting to be cast out. I live vicariously—through writing—through Nature—through my daily life. Through doing and nothing more. I never let opportunity pass and I thrive through challenges.

Wax on—Wax Off.
Thoughts develop like the negative;
Writing helps transcend the photograph of life. 

I must write and this is why. It fuels my desires, my sanity, and my existence. It defines who I am. I am human. I am. I do. I write. And I know what I want in life. Life. Itself a grand adventure to be adorned and embellished. I want life—a true existence enjoyed every breathing moment offered. I want to be breathless on top of a mountain, to be awed by the way a tree sways in the wind. To experience the silence of a midnight snowfall in the forest. To walk in fog so thick you could barely breathe and stumble upon a grazing black bear. To watch how a boulder rolls, bounces, and crashes down a mountainside. To write. To distill these experiences through mind, pen, paper, and words. I must write, it defines, it clarifies, and it soothes. I want Life. Words. Writing and existence—nothing less.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Coffee Ceases Time

The dirty gray kettle rattled as steam billowed out in a high pitched whistle. The freshly ground coffee rests discretely at the bottom of a press pot. Two chipped mugs stand nearby. I break away from the radio show to cease the shuttering kettle and commence the brewing. The water spilled onto the grounds, frothing and foaming violently, as the coffee bleeds into the water. I fill up the empty mugs with hot water to fight against the cool basement air.
Winter has settled in and we are bundled up, listening to our favorite radio show. My hands are tired and stiff from the biting cold and I want to settle in next to a campfire and stare into the depth of its soul. I envisioned the snow falling at my back and the smoke rising up, flirting with the snowflakes. The whiff of coffee stunned me back to the cold and I brought the press pot over to the table. The air was arthritic with cold and the mugs warm my slow fingers.
We are poor—I am unemployed and my wife brings home less than $900 a month. We save pennies by bundling up and avoiding our heater. It burns expensive oil. After several minutes, I turn up from my book and plunge the press down into the dark, thick coffee. I pour one mug full and pass it over the table to my wife who knits and hums along to the radio.
This particular show is a time when we can settle in with one another and enjoy hearing the music we don't have. I fill the remaining mug with coffee and set the press down on the table. Wrapping each finger around the mug I grasp it smoothly—I cherish each piping steaming sip. The bitter and sharp coffee warms from the inside. The music dancing with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the small white kitchen. We sit at table—her knitting, me reading—drinking coffee.
Our weekend ritual had organically grown out of love for music, coffee, each other, and simplicity. The kettle slowly winds down its wheezing and sputters of whistles as the burner cools down. As I sip the honed coffee, I dream of warmth and the campfire returns to my mind. I see the flames licking the snowflakes, melting them instantly. The darkness, the chill of the night seem far away as the fire dances.
The moment seems to get lost in time. Or time stops, finally. I dissolve into the now and enjoy every bit of it. The coffee. The thoughts. The music. The company. It all comes together. The static of the radio seems to float somewhere in my conscience as I absorb the hubbub and caffeine. The steady sips set the tempo of the morning. And it may be snowing, it may be freezing, it may be raining or the sun may be shining, but right now, time has ceased to exist and this moment it is all I have.

A Tasty Treat and Read

Mexican Chocolate Brownies

about 16 brownines
2 oz Mexican style Chocolate
8 tbsp, 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup half-and-half
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup almond meal
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon, optional
1 or 2 pinches of cayenne pepper, optional

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan, or line it with aluminum foil and grease the foil.
  2. Combine the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. When the chocolate is mostly melted, stir in the milk. Remove from heat and whisk till smooth.
  3. Transfer chocolate to a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and mix until fully incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing between additions.
  4. Sift together the flour, almond meal, cinnamon, and salt. Add to chocolate mixture, along with vanilla, and stir to combine.
  5. Pour into prepared baking pan, being sure to spread batter evenly.
  6. Place in oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Cool 10-15 minutes before enjoying.

A ethnic twist on an American classic. Commonly found in Mexican grocery stores, Mexican chocolate is a popular choice for hot chocolate. Milk and a tablet of this unique chocolate warmed up and frothed together until hot and fully mixed, commonly served with a cinnamon stick as a straw. I decided to bring this sweet, grainy textured chocolate into the classic, chewy dessert.
This chocolate is made in a way that does not fully incorporate the sugar into the cocoa butter, making for a sandy and sweet chocolate. Almonds are commonly mixed into the chocolate adding a nuttiness that accents the chocolate. I found this to be a plus in the brownies, as it builds the flavor depth. I took this a step further by including almond meal, which can be found at many grocery stores, into the recipe in place of some of the flour. To round out the recipe out and provide creaminess, I added a touch of half-and-half. This will provide a smooth, fudge-like consistency while helping to keep the brownies fresh and tasty for a few days.
Additional flavor accents include vanilla extract, always a booster when chocolate is involved. If the Mexican variety can be found, use it, it has a distinct taste an aroma. Finally, cinnamon and cayenne pepper—traditionally combined with chocolate in Mexico for hundreds of years, dating back to the Aztecs. The two provide a warmth and spiciness to the chocolate. Unexpected most of the times, it will always provide a smile and delight to young and old alike.
What comes out of the oven will smell of warm cinnamon and chocolate and provide the taste buds with a dance in the exotic. Certainly, a great way to warm up the soul among a cold and snowy night. Goes great next to a warm cup of hot cocoa or glass of eggnog. This recipe appear normal, but will amaze and delight anyone caring to indulge. Let these brownies be your surprise for the holidays.

Laundry Day

I am at the laundromat. Waiting for clothing and blankets to dry. I washed all of ours today, as we use them nightly. We recently shed our bed, box spring, and makeshift frame for a more modest simple bed-the floor. Part of the Tao de Ching mentions sleeping close to the ground. It also helps my back and is easier to get up in the morning. Furthermore, I feel like a kid at a sleepover as I slip under a comforter, wool blanket, and a quilt we got for our wedding. Any chance to feel youthful and childlike I flock to. It reminds me that our time is short so enjoy it.
My laundry is probably dry by now but I care not to turn to it and rather just want to write. People shuffle about moving dirty clothes, wet clothes, folding clothes, talking, and sauntering. A baby whines. The money taking machine talks in a digitized voice. For now this blog will remain short. Sweet and short. I am making bread at home and have dived into the world of writing about my bread escapades. I have had a few and look for those words to be up soon.