About pujakins

I am a poet and teacher of meditation, with a fondness for words and a husband I love dearly. I write a regular column in my local newspaper and another on the internet. My hope, both in my life and in my writing is to encourage people to see things in way that will help them to live happier, healthier lives.

Something from the Oven

Cooking with heartThere was an advertising phrase that went, “Nothing says loving like something from the oven…” however, I think the advertising agency had it backward. It’s the love in the preparation that does this. The oven only helps, as do the ingredients, preferably as clean and fresh as possible. Love helps us to choose them, as well as to guide the utensils used in the preparation. Furthermore, the focus of the mind is an important ingredient as well. If I am angry or upset when I am preparing food, it could affect the way it tastes as well as the way it is digested. Though I can’t prove it, it’s my belief that thoughts and feelings can be powerful in their effect on food.

A study of this potential would make an interesting experiment for a science project, though it could be difficult to set up. I do really enjoy cooking. Though I’ve never had any courses or training for it and am completely self-taught, I get great praise from those who taste my cooking. I remember one person saying, “This must be Tasha’s kitchen because it smells so good.” Another time, I had prepared a tropical entrée made with bananas with other ingredients, baked inside their skins. When I stopped one guest from cutting into his, he said, “Oh, I thought if you had cooked it, I could eat it.” I laughed and thanked him.

One of the most cherished comfort food desserts is bread pudding. According to the internet, sometime in the 11th or 12th centuries, a frugal cook somewhere in Europe needed to use up their stale bread and began thinking up ways to do it. Perhaps instead the cook needed a dessert and had only stale bread, eggs and milk to go with it. Be that as it may, bread pudding has become a staple food. Once called “Poor Man’s Pudding,” it is said to be served in upscale restaurants as well as homes all over the world. Many of the recipes for it call for some form of fat. My recipe omits this ingredient and I don’t think the calories or the taste of it will be missed. Feel free to experiment, I still do. You can butter the bread first if you wish to include it.

The recipe I have evolved from making it often is simple, and we eat it all the time. You do not have to wait until the bread is stale, though of course that is a good use for any you might have. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 1 ½ or 2-quart covered casserole. Put a pan of water the casserole will fit in into in the oven. Begin with 2 cups torn up bread—around 4 to 6 slices. I use a raisin bread and it’s on the small side. Sprinkle on ½ cup sugar and ½ to 1 cup raisins if not using raisin bread. Beat up 2 eggs and 2 cups any kind of milk. Add 1 plus teaspoon vanilla and 1 plus teaspoon cinnamon and beat again. Pour over bread and stir to combine well. Place covered casserole in the oven in the pan prepared with water. Bake 1 hour, remove cover and bake to brown for 15 or so minutes. If you can resist diving into it, the pudding tastes best the next day when flavors have developed.

I have no recollection of having been served bread pudding in my childhood; I have evolved this recipe from following one in a cookbook of recipes based on the Cat Who mystery series by Lillian Jackson Braun, both of which which I highly recommend.

 

Be Your Own Valentine

Heart and BellsWhen I was growing up it was the custom for valentine cards and gifts to be sent unsigned. I believe this was a tradition that dated back many years. The custom of celebrating Valentine’s Day goes back even further, to ancient Rome. It originated in a festival of the time called Lupercalia, after Lupercus, a nature god of the Romans who resembled the Greek god Pan. It also has roots relating to Juno Februata, honoring Goddess Juno. Then, young boys and girls drew lots to see who they would be partnered with for the year which began in March. The Christian church opted to keep the holiday and rename it, calling it after a saint who may or may not have existed.

I remember that one year when I was around the age of twelve, I received a lovely red, heart shaped compact. No one in my household would admit to giving it to me, although I suspected it had been given me by my father. He swore up and down that he hadn’t done it, and at the time I believed him. He had a very convincing way about him and made an excellent actor.  I remember seeing him in at least one locally produced play when I was growing up. He had an affinity for the theater.

When I was in the early grades, paper valentines were placed in a red and white crepe paper decorated box.  Someone was chosen to be postman and distributed the cards to the room full or classmates. There was no talk of partnering, nor of love, per se. Rather it was all about who got the most cards. Later on, I had fun making my own valentines and sending or giving them, and I have done this for many years. Many purchase them. Commercial valentines have been in use since 1800, and Worcester claims to be the originator of early ones, though others have made that claim as well.

My first husband and I met on a day early in February long ago. I wanted to send him a valentine, however, I could nothing but find only a humorous one. Although it was not very nice, it was all I could find so I sent it anyway. Fortunately for the five children we later produced, it didn’t ruin the relationship. Perhaps it was meant to be. The arrows of Cupid, a god of love also known by Greeks as Eros, sometimes do hit the mark. The Greeks have six words that express love: Eros: or sexual passion, Philia: family love or deep friendship, Ludus: or playful love like for children, Agape: or spiritual love/love for everyone, Pragma: or longstanding or enduring love, and Philautia: or love of the self.

The average Westerner saying, “I love…” may be expressing affection, or a preference—I love ice cream, or aptitude–I love to exercise. All these fit our definition of it. And they are all conditional upon our personal choices. Yet spiritual or unconditional love, the most difficult form of love is also the most beneficial for both giver and recipient. This is the love that endures. When I give myself the valentine of unconditional love, I can be much more loving to everyone else. In addition, I do not take issue with any faults, but instead regard with compassion the struggles of the one who is loved and express patience without expectation.

 

Competition Versus Cooperation

chickens.jpgI’ve never been a competitive person. Usually a sense of competition kicks in around the age of four, when a child gains a clear understanding of “me” and “mine.” Even then there is often a desire to share unless the child is surrounded by competitors. When I was growing up competition was the rule and the idea of a game that required cooperation instead was unknown. I did not enjoy the competitive world I grew up in.

Even as a child I disliked competition in sports. One reason was that I wasn’t very agile or well-coordinated and thus most often chosen last for any team. Another was that it made me sad that someone had to lose in order for someone to win. I played board games yet not with a keen desire to win. For instance, Parcheesi which was a popular game when I was young was best won by blocking opponents and rendering them helpless. I never enjoyed doing that. For me, that was like punishing someone or hurting them.

My mother was a fierce competitor. She loved games and was good at them. She played Bridge and Mahjong with her friends. With me she played card games and Chinese checkers, which she played without mercy, making no allowances for youth or inexperience. She played to win, regardless. As a result, I did learn to play a good game of Chinese checkers. Fast forward to my adulthood. I still resisted competition when I could. Unfortunately, my children invariably made me enter the tired Mothers Race at the fourth of July games. in the town where they grew up. I came in last no matter how hard I tried.

My children’s father was very competitive. He encouraged the children while they were still quite young to play on teams and to compete. He even started a girls’ softball league in the town where we lived.  My daughters and then my sons all strove to do well in order to make him happy. He cherished their ribbons and trophies and often coached their various teams to victory. As a loyal mom I used to attend their tennis matches and their and baseball and ice hockey games, cheering along with the other parents and trembling for fear they would lose and be sad.

Regardless whether or not they won, I was glad whenever the games or matches were over. Certainly, my children learned much from their years playing tennis, hockey, and baseball. They had fun and met other children they would not have met otherwise. I am not regretful for them, though I do feel there are other ways to have fun that they might have enjoyed as well. I was too busy keeping up with household and child caring duties to do much about that.

Competition is said to be a good learning experience for children. Today even little ones barely out of toddler years are put on teams to play at various sports. For competitive people that’s good. For those like me, not so much. On the other hand, it is possible to play games in the spirit of cooperation. Team efforts in sports are only one way. There is also a cooperative way to play many games, and that is to play to see how high the score can rise. Scrabble can be played that way, and I know that’s how I would prefer to play it.

Taking My Time

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Time has always interested me. I’ve written a good deal of poetry about it, and my husband and I collect unusual and interesting clocks. I remember with fondness the pretty chiming clock I had as a young child in my bedroom.  My first experience with my own timepiece came when I was given the watch I desperately wanted. I received a Timex for my eighth birthday. How happy I was. That night I climbed into the bathtub. Then I looked down at my wrist. Alas, I wasn’t used to wearing a watch and I had forgotten to take it off. It wasn’t water proof. I never did that again. Today I have more than made up for that little tragedy. My husband and I have many clocks.

One of his favorite responses when I tell him I’ll be right there is, “Take your time.” How ought I to interpret that? What does it mean to take my time? Does it mean I can be leisurely, need not hurry, use as much time as I think I need or seem to, to do, whatever I am doing? Does it mean I have some time that is all my own, that no one can wrest from my grasp? What is my time? How do I take it? What I’ve noticed is that when I reach for it, it slips from my grasp. When I plan for how much I’ll need, it does not stay where I want it.  It vanishes while I am looking the other way. Worse, if I get distracted and wander off, it won’t be there at all when I come back.

Time is something we human beings invented. It was probably thought up by people who observed the natural cycles of nature and the seasons. Wanting to measure ahead, they created calendars and clocks of various types. If I wanted to know more about the origins of time, I could look it up on Wikipedia, however I don’t want to take the time to do so because it’s just more information than I need right now. I’ve written a good many poems about time, and I’ve a long-distance project to put them into a chap book one day. All I need is the time to do it. However, if I don’t take the time to do that, it won’t happen.

Sometimes I look at a photograph and wonder when it was taken? I look again, and realize that more than 30 years have passed since, and I wonder, where did that time go? I don’t remember taking that time and doing something with it, though I probably did. However, now is when I could use it.  As I get older it takes me longer to do what used to take less time. I find it is important to me to recognize that there is nothing wrong with that; perhaps I am more thorough than I used to be. Or does time just go faster than it used to do? I’d like to go back and dig some of that missing time up and use it better.

As my number two daughter once pointed out: to an eight-year-old, a year is one 8th of life. To an 80-year-old, it’s one 80th. I think about that when I catch myself saying, “Where did the time go?” More than ever as the years pass, I feel that every moment is precious. I have no idea, how many are left to me, nor do I wish to know. What matters to me is to appreciate each moment for what it holds and move on to the next feeling contentment with what has passed and anticipation for what is to come. That way, I can take my time. Long or short, happy or sad, busy or relaxing, each and every moment of my life needs to be passed with awareness.

Cabbage is a Winter Vegetable

Cabbage                      For the most part, I believe eating with the seasons helps keep us healthy. Like winter squash and root vegetables, cabbage is a winter vegetable, sturdy, healthy, and versatile. Its only negative is that if you overcook it, it does smell bad.  This is due to the Sulfur that is released that way. If it is cooked properly, the Sulfur content helps our bodies to be more efficient. Cabbage is a very useful vegetable. It can be boiled, fried, sautéed or eaten raw in a salad. Inexpensive, it keeps well in the refrigerator, so it is always handy as an ingredient in a quick meal.

According to Wikipedia, China consumes more cabbage than any other country. Much of what is sold in the United States goes into coleslaw. In restaurants, I often choose that over the French fries because it is not only healthier but normally gluten free. In Eastern Europe and in Russia, cabbage has a place in daily consumption in the winter, especially in Poland, where it is a staple ingredient. Pickled, or preserved as sauerkraut—literally sour cabbage, is very popular in sandwiches everywhere. It is the main ingredient in Korean kimchi, a national side dish.

In 1990, I accompanied my mother on a trip to Eastern Europe. Meals were included. Day after day we were served cabbage. While I do like it, I grew very tired of it. One day I asked if they had any spinach. Enthusiastically, my hosts served me a good-sized portion. I was delighted. The next day I asked for more. Sadly, they shook their heads, conveying the information that they had given me all they had. At least I could be grateful for the cabbage. It is fine source of fiber, something that is important when one is traveling.

I like cabbage in all its forms and have happily made it into soup, salad and sauté. Here is a salad I invented using cabbage and sweet onion: to serve two, shred or slice fine a quarter of a large cabbage. Add sweet onion sliced or cut fine, to taste. Mix with mayonnaise and horseradish sauce to taste. Add a pinch of salt, some ground garlic, lemon or regular pepper, and tarragon if you like. Mix well and serve. I have found that cutting the cabbage into fine shreds enhances the taste. Increase amounts to serve 4 or more. I like to cut it myself, which takes longer than using a shredder, but puts more love into the food.

Another simple favorite recipe of mine is cabbage sautéed with sausage or hot dogs. Shred or slice half a medium cabbage—it cooks down, so you need more than when it is raw. Sauté half a large onion chopped in small pieces, in butter and olive oil. Add 2 chicken sausages or organic all beef or other hot dogs, cut or scissored into thin (quarter inch) rounds. Stir and cook until onion is transparent and sausages are sizzling. Add cabbage. Stir over medium heat until it is beginning to cook, then turn to low, cover and cook for 10 or 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve to two, increasing quantities to serve more. This and the above recipe are staple dishes in my repertoire for winter fare, healthy, tasty, and easy to prepare.

Respect is the Keystone in a Relationship

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Sixty years ago, when my two oldest daughters were my only children, we all lived in an apartment above that of another family who also had two small daughters. Their mother and I often went on little trips together, which is what we were doing this day. As we set out, my neighbor said, “We must be sure to get back by four o’clock so my girls can watch their program.” Today this sounds quite normal. Sixty years ago, it sounded odd. While I didn’t say it aloud, it was a new thought to me to give importance to the wishes of a child to watch “their” TV program.

When I was being raised, in most families of my generation as well as the ones before that, adults came first. Children’s wishes were paid attention to only if it was convenient or the adults didn’t have any priorities. Dr. Benjamin Spock and his book Baby and Child Care, published in 1946, helped to change that—some thought for the worse. However, when I was raising my daughters, he was only just becoming a well-known authority. In those days, respect for children’s wishes was scarce or even nonexistent. Children were supposed to respect adults; not the other way around. However, these days we have made some progress: children are not considered the possession of the father as in previous centuries.

Once upon a time Children and elders were an important part of the family. Furthermore, in an agrarian society there was respect for the women who planted and grew the food for the table, wove and sewed the clothing, and kept the tribe healthy, fed and clothed. In such a society, there was respect for elders and for the knowledge they had to pass on. Today’s elders, once they cannot live independently, are often shunted off into separate housing. Gone are the days when generations lived together and everyone had tasks that contributed to the household, even the children.

Respect has diminished today, not only for elders but generally. This is an important cause of friction in our society. Respect for one’s other half in marriage is an important component in a good marital relationship. We all have our differences. Some of them are more important to us than others. When there is a difference of opinion it is vital that each side respects the point of view and/or the needs of the other. These things can be discussed amicably, especially when there is respect on both sides for what is important to the other person. Also, it may be necessary to ask one’s partner or friend what his or her needs or feelings are. Shyness or inexperience in relationships may silence the other person.

These days, our society encourages us to put ourselves first. While there are times we may need to do this, when one’s decision or actions involve other people, and most especially in a marriage, it seems wise to seek the other’s point of view. Some things can be changed, others cannot. Some deeply ingrained habits are nonnegotiable, some are not. Bringing the issues out in the open helps even if nothing changes, it shows respect for the other’s side to discuss it. The keystone in an arch that keeps the rest of the stones in place. Respect is a keystone in dealing with others.

 

Take Your Time, Please

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All over the world, New Year’s Eve is celebrated in a variety of ways. In the US many of us watch our TV screens as the ball drops in Times’ Square. My grandmother used to go to the movies. She told me that before midnight they gave out horns and other noisemakers. As midnight struck everyone blew and rattled vigorously. Making a loud noise is one way to drive out any lingering old negativity and start the new one clean and fresh. We have a bell collection and I go around the house ringing each one at midnight.

There are many superstitions associated with the coming of the New Year. Some go as far back as the height of the Greek and Roman civilizations. There are also attempts to predict events for the New Year. I remember my parents once melting lead in a ladle held over the fire in the fireplace. The melted lead was then poured into cold water and examined after it had hardened. The shape it might take was used to predict something for the new year to come. I was quite young and all these years later I can’t remember much more than that.

The old year is often portrayed by an elderly man tottering about and the New Year is portrayed as a baby or young toddler. Father Time himself is seen as an older man with a long beard, carrying a scythe with a long handle. He uses it to cut through the past and reap it in order to help us make use of what has been learned or experienced as we move into the future. Toward that end, most people feel it is important to make New Year resolutions.

As the new year approaches many of us will be doing just that. Sadly, most resolutions will be broken and probably forgotten by the end of January if not sooner. I believe resolutions are best not made, because inevitably we choose not wisely but with wishful thinking. What we wish is often to be thinner, spend less, save more, exercise more, or take better care with whatever or whomever we cherish. Our resolutions are made with well meaning and not realistically, which is why we don’t or can’t keep them.

Most of our resolutions are for what we believe we ought to be doing—losing weight being the most common. Yes, often it is important to lose weight for our good health. Yet making a resolution to do so almost invalidates the effort. It implies that we are making a special effort, not that we are participating in normal behavior. Yet what is usually best is for us to be mindful of what and how much we eat on a daily basis, rather than make a heroic attempt that leaves us feeling hungry and deprived.

The New Year is a good time to look over the last twelve months, see how far we have come, and assess how far or not we may need to go. One of my husband Stephen’s favorite phrases is, “Take your time.” Perhaps that might be our best possible resolution: To take our time, to see what really needs doing and then use the time we have to accomplish the goal of that moment. When we can do that, we are better equipped to live effectively as well as to observe carefully how we are doing. As to resolutions in general, resolving to be kind, to be thoughtful, to be more mindful might be easier and more effective than giving in to our “oughts.”