Monday, October 25, 2010

House guests all week.....

No, I'm not crapping out on you already.  We are entertaining guests this entire week and I probably won't have much time for navel-gazing.  I might be able to squeeze one good post in, but if not, see you next week.

Friday, October 22, 2010



I don't have anything really new in the way of food, at least to me, to tell you about, but I did have this recipe, and the photo, in the files, waiting to be shared.  Glad to have the chance today.

Despite its Middle-Eastern origins, it seems that "pilaf," at least in today's American cooking vernacular, is just about whatever the cook wants it to be.  This is a version given to me 20-or-so years ago by a friend who lives in Baltimore, and it's come in handy over the years.  It's a very simple yet delicious side dish that harmonizes well with more showcase entrées.  As with all things that appear to be simple, the key to success is in the technique. 

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium shallots, minced
2 cups rice
1 cup raisins, light or dark
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
1 cup cashew pieces (salted is OK)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven.  Add shallots and sauté until soft.  Add rice and cook, stirring, until rice is thoroughly coated with the flavored oil and just begins to color.  Add raisins and stir to mix, then add broth, salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer, cover tightly, and place in oven to bake for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, pan-roast cashews in a dry pan over high heat until they take on a good deep brown, taking care that they don't burn.  As soon as the desired color is reached, remove pan from heat, place cashews in a bowl and set aside.

Remove rice from oven and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes.  Remove cover, sprinkle cashews over evenly.  Fluff rice, distributing cashews throughout.  Adjust seasoning and serve.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


The best way for me to describe the gorgeousness of this day is to tell you I cut the grass just for an excuse to spend some time outside.  It's in the 70s (mid 20s C) and there is a steady, strong breeze that makes all the pines whisper.

We are in the land of Bermuda grass.  Bermuda grows easily from seed down here; it thrives in ungodly heat, can withstand drought and grows well even in poor soil.  The major drawback is that it browns out over the winter, much like zoysia.  The accepted solution to that, we have learned, is to throw down some winter rye seed.  At first we thought this practice, very popular here, was for cosmetic purposes only--no matter what time of year, you can always have a carpet of green.  Lame.  Who wants to be mowing the lawn in the middle of winter?  But when we learned that rye grass also nourishes the soil, we were sold.  The dirt we have here is "soil" only by the most liberal definition of the word. It's half pure clay and half fill sand.  The clay may have some micronutrients for plants blessed with the wherewithal to root in it, but there is little to no organic material.  So we planted the rye, and now it is beginning to grow, verdant and thick.  As long as we have days like this, I'll love mowing it.

I realized I never brought many of you up to date on the hamstring injury I had last May.  I'm happy to report that the leg is entirely normal now, to the point where I've been able to resume my walking routine, which I had neglected since we left Arlington a year and a half ago.  The worst part of that experience was really the wait to see a specialist who could teach me what to do--almost a whole week, during which I navigated on flat floors only via a face-up crawl I'd seen disabled people in Africa use.  (Yes, they really were my inspiration for mobility.  The Peace Corps pays you back in uncountable and unexpected ways.)  That was something of a fun adventure for about a day, and then callus set in in places I'd never dreamed it could be.  A week was more than enough.

The results of the orthopedist visit were dramatic, if a bit anticlimactic, because after all that pain and all that crawling, the solution was so simple.  The doctor asked me if I had crutches.  I said I did, but I couldn't use them because it hurt too much to hold my leg up.  He had me stand facing a table, with my hands on the table.  This I did, with my leg in a position that kept my foot off the floor.  "Straighten your leg and put your foot on the ground," he said.  I did.  And just like that the pain disappeared.  I was on two feet for the first time in a week.

When I got back home I started practicing movement on the crutches.  In less than a minute I saw the that crutches were in the way.  I called the doctor to ask if I had to use them, and he said I did not.  So I put the crutches down, stood up, and voilà, I was walking.

Turned out that having the leg bent actually works the hamstring, flexes it.  The muscle is relaxed with the leg extended.  Who knew????

It was a few weeks before my leg felt entirely normal, and I had to be careful about some positions that caused a burn where the tear had occurred.  But I was very glad to see that my body can still heal fairly quickly from such a nasty injury.

And how else could I push a mower around, anyway?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A rite of passage and other fun stuff

Guess what?  I go on Medicare next month!  On November 14 I will hit the magic age of 65, when Uncle Sam takes over the bulk of my health care costs.  (Sixty-five????  I am in shock, this is not possible!  Remember when you couldn't wait to get older?  I was so happy to turn 30, thinking I'd finally "arrived" as an untrustworthy adult!  Somehow the current milestone lacks cachet.  I'm no longer looking to "arrive" anywhere any time soon, that's for sure.

It's almost scary, the way Medicare just appears in your life.  A big envelope from the Social Security Administration shows up in your mailbox about 3 months prior to the magic day.  In it are a few boilerplate brochures that purport to explain how it all works, and a flimsy paper thing bigger than any other card you carry, but which happens to be your Medicare card.  The idea momentarily flits through that this is just a sample, that a "real" card, made of plastic with a magnetic strip and that will fit with all your other cards, will be arriving, but no.  This is the actual card which by necessity must be on your person at all times, or at least close by.  If you don't get it laminated or in some other way protect it, it will never last the thirty or so years you intend to use it (if you're lucky). 

The Medicare premium for 2010 is $110 a month.  It will automatically come out of my monthly Social Security payment.  I only net $116 a month from Social Security as it is, since as a career Federal employee the only Social Security-eligible quarters I have come from summer jobs I had when I was a teenager and a few other short-term private-sector occupations I had over the years.  I called to ask if my premium could come out of Federal retirement pension instead, but was told that I had no choice in the matter.  If you get enough in Social Security payments, your premium comes from them.  So, what was once pin money will become--what?  Dust money?  In practical terms, I will not be aware that my bank account is being enriched by a whopping $6 every month.

As the saying goes, they get you coming and going. Under normal economic conditions, Social Security makes a yearly Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) to your monthly stipend.  However, the COLA is pegged to inflation, and since OMB has ordained that there has been no inflation for the past two years, there have been no COLAs.  There was none for 2010 and there will be none for 2011.  But that doesn't stop Medicare from upping its premiums.  If I had started with it in 2009, my premium would have been $96 a month and, since there was no COLA for 2010, it would have remained that amount for this year.  But somehow, even though there was no COLA, the premium for 2010 is $110 a month. (If I had any sense at all I'd be sorry I'm not a year older, just so I could have saved $9 a month!)  As long as there is no COLA, my premium will not go over $110, but that is small comfort.

Oh.  And Medicare doesn't cover all of your medical costs.  There are still co-pays and some conditions that are not fully covered, and for those costs, you must have a "supplemental" policy.  The supplemental payment to a provider combined with whatever Medicare pays should make for no out-of-pocket medical expenses on your part.  But the supplemental policies are the same policies that were available to me as a non-Medicare participant, the same array of plans offered under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP).  And even though I will be using a plan only to supplement Medicare, thereby reducing my cost to it by a great deal, I get no break on my premiums.  To put it in a nutshell, when you're on Medicare you end up paying at least two premiums--one to Medicare and one to the supplemental plan.  Add to that optional plans, such as "Part D" for prescriptions and separate policies for vision and dental, and you're shelling out more than twice what you were paying just the previous year to keep yourself healthy.  And of course, these private supplemental plans are under no constraint to freeze their premiums because there is no COLA.  Those payments, which like clockwork rise every year, do come out of my retirement pension, which has also not increased in two years for the same "no inflation" reason.  In 2011, therefore, I will realize a net loss in income because of all these new medical costs. If this is progress, give me the Dark Ages.

Don't even get me started about Steve's medical situation, the fact that he is now paying for an individual policy, and I can't get him on my plan because Congress refuses to recognize us legally coupled...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In defense of Facebook

Speaking of habits, I've developed one new one that I count as good, but I know not everyone would agree with that assessment.  It's Facebook.   It has given me contact with wonderful friends I thought I had lost forever; it provides portals to fascinating news stories and new music; it has a couple of Scrabble-type games that I'm addicted to and which don't require you to give up any information about yourself in order to play.  (Yes, all this wonderfulness does have the potential to get out of hand, but it can be controlled.  More on that later.)

In the "BF era" (Before Facebook), my morning routine was to take a walk, shower, have breakfast, finish the two hours of Morning Edition on NPR (the first having been heard on my walk) and then head to the computer to write something here.  Now when I head to the computer I first go to Facebook.  I catch up on personal news of friends and interesting tidbits from all manner of media that those friends may share. Of course, I must also check the word games.  All that can take long enough.  On this particular morning, though, NPR music featured a new album by Bryan Ferry--a rare event by a unique performer whom I like very much. I ended up listening to the whole album.  By the time I even started here, then, I'd already been at the computer for well over an hour. That's excessive, I agree, but, it's also rare.   Facebook as a part of my morning routine is here to stay.

Facebook naysayers don't like the site because they think it's intrusive.  Agreed, it can be, but it doesn't have to be.  Just as plain old common sense comes in handy in all other of life's endeavors, its use need not stop at the Facebook door.  Example:  the site is full of fun questionnaires whose purported intent is to analyze certain of your personality traits and how those traits of yours compare with those of others.  Don't fall for them.  They're likely surveillance tools that transmit what you say about yourself to marketers who will then add targeted spam to your inbox.  As to privacy settings:  they're what you make them.  You don't have to post a profile picture; indeed you don't have to divulge anything at all about yourself except an email address.  Once you join, the "friend" database is easily searchable, making it possible for you to reach out only to people with whom you'd like to be in contact--others don't even have to know you're there.   It's actually possible to join Facebook and then hide from unwanted attention.

As I mentioned above, Facebook is more than a mere social network; it's a matchless source for information that is either fascinating or important, often both. The Internet already allows us to sample literally any media source in the world.  If you come upon a compelling article, you can instantly share it with your friends on Facebook via the link in the article, which these days is provided by all major media outlets.  I get important information from publications to which I'd don't subscribe myself--indeed sometimes have never even heard of--and likewise I share articles that I know others would have no chance of seeing in any other way.  I find this one of the most valuable aspects of the entire Facebook phenomenon.

Well.  I had no idea I'd be going in this direction when I sat down at the keyboard.  As some kind friend once told me, "it's your blog, you can write what you damn well please."  All this verbiage demonstrates to me just how big a thing Facebook has become in my life.  If you haven't tried it, do!  We can play a game of Wordscraper!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Here I Am

So I just got an email from an old work friend from whom I hadn't heard in almost two years.  The last time I saw him was when I went to his house to collect a good 50 pounds of green tomatoes (he's what you'd call a suburban backyard farmer, and a good one) so Steve could make his mother's green tomato mincemeat pie filling.  After that fun visit, there was utter silence.  Couldn't imagine what had happened.  Lo and behold here's this note today asking me what happened to Days of Transition and telling me he's worried!  Who knew he was even reading it???  If I needed a reminder that there are lurkers out there care about me (why, I can't imagine) and were using this blog to keep up, that was it.  (You know who you are.  An occasional shout-out, even anonymously, would be most welcome, just so I can know you're there.  I'm not at all averse to a private email, either, if you care that much about visibility.)

I've been working up to starting again, anyway.  Most of the heavy move-in projects are done now; Steve's actually dreaming up make-work things to do just to keep his sanity.  Can some sort of actual job be on the horizon?

And I've been writing all over people who never asked me to.  Long comments on friends' statuses on Facebook.  Longer replies to simple emailed greetings.  I've been away from this daily exercise for too long and it's showing.  I need to write.

I see no need to make any changes here.  I'm still transitioning, even though that original, literal transition is now history.  I'm still learning about living here in the country, meeting new people, getting new perspectives.  Most are good; some are less so.   There are plenty of impressions to tell about.

So I hereby promise to make an effort to get back into the daily habit, or at least as close to daily as I can make it.  If habits there must be, this one is one worth keeping.