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.

The Value of Everyday Tasks

Bridge of flowers poppies, bigI used to chafe sometimes at my lists of things to do—sigh and say to myself, oh if I only had more free time to write poetry or organize, edit and tidy up my writings. It seemed to me that what I thought of as my daily or sometimes weekly drudgery took too much of my precious time and energy and I resented it.  However, that was before the onset of the pandemic and the seeming disintegration of all that has constituted daily life and living, both personal and for my country.

Now, strangely, the things that make up my lists–my duties, have become precious to me. While Stephen does his part in keeping up with the daily chores, I no longer mind doing them. They help me cope. The news these days is so terrifying that it does not bear thinking about. The future is cloudy at best. As I get older each tweak of an ache or pain could mean some kind of incipient illness. Life is fraught with pitfalls holding deep despair. When I focus on the feeling of the hot water on my hands as I scrub the egg from our breakfast plates, I am greatly comforted.

It’s such a little thing to make sure I get all of the egg off the plate, yet the task needs my full attention. There are other things that function the same way. Doing the laundry or watering my plants, for instance. Though I no longer have a garden to tend, I still have plants, and they require my full attention. Actually, my email is sort of like a garden these days. There are plenty of weeds to be removed: ads for goods I might have bought at one time; people urging me to vote for or contribute to a candidate; notices from organizations seeking my support—the list is endless and so are these pernicious, persistent weeds.

Then there are the garden’s plants to be watered and sometimes fertilized: my friends far and near need to be emailed and responded to. There are helpful articles or other information to be forwarded for friends’ edification and/or enjoyment. There is news to be shared of each other’s activities, and of course doctor’s notices to be reviewed. Once again, the list goes on. A garden of any sort needs daily attention. If I leave it for too long, it piles up to an impossible extent, and I can’t tend it properly.

As I move through my day, I keep my focus on these humble chores. They act as a kind of shield against all that I cannot control or do anything about, or that which has not happened and indeed may not. Again and again rather than think about an unknown, possibly dire future, I return my thoughts to what comes next on my list of tasks. And from time to time I gaze out a window at the lovely sunlight filtering through the green leaves and the pretty blue sky above, or even the rain, and I give thanks that in this present moment, all is well.

 

 

Little Pleasures Gone Missing

Queen Ann's Lace with BindweedThe daily and weekly routines Stephen and I once had have been lost to the Covid 19 virus. Things we took for granted–trips to the library, going to the movies, eating in restaurants, and more have all been sacrificed to our safety. We must avoid exposing ourselves to a virus that can take a life with one simple breath. Although I have been alive for many years, this is like nothing I have ever experienced. I find it remarkable how my life has changed from what it was a mere few months ago. If you had told me last fall what my life would be like today, I might not have believed you. I certainly could not have imagined it.

I did have peripheral experience with a polio epidemic when I was growing up. I remember summers of rampant polio cases in the 40’s. Prior to the vaccine that eradicated poliomyelitis, many children succumbed to it. There are still adults today with legs crippled from polio as children. One of my sixth-grade classmates caught it. As I recall he was paralyzed and placed in an iron lung. I have a memory of seeing him in it, only his head visible. One parent I knew wouldn’t let her children drink any water that wasn’t bottled. She even made them brush their teeth with bottled water. Children, who were especially vulnerable, were supposed to avoid the beach also, though I am not sure why. Perhaps it was for the same reason we avoid crowds today for fear of Covid 19.

Losing our small pleasures is an insignificant price to pay for staying safe. Wearing a mask in public is a courtesy Stephen and I are glad to practice. It is like saying, “I care about you, stranger, and I want us both to stay safe. How long will it be before Stephen and I go to a movie theater again? I have no idea and I won’t even try to guess. The Spanish flu of 1918 took many lives and lingered even into i920. My own grandfather died from it. My grandmother, as was the custom, wore black for seven years. My mother told me that was the reason my father never wanted her ever to wear black.

It is strange to me that the tenor of our days has so altered. Before the onset of Covid 19, My life held few surprises. I never thought twice about going to the library or to a movie—and suddenly, I no longer could. It was just not there to do. Fortunately for us, Stephen has collected a quantity of videos o all kinds, and we could even make our own popcorn if we wanted. Yet I have come to understand that it’s not the film but the experience: going to the theater, sitting with others laughing or weeping, that I miss. I can get takeout from a restaurant, but I don’t get to hear the other diner’s murmur of conversation or get to chat with the waiter. When the day comes that we can mingle freely, without face coverings or fear, I will rejoice. Until then, while I may mourn my missing enjoyments, I’ll not risk my life for them.

A Cake for All Occasions

Grandmothers 3, cakeMy mother wasn’t one for desserts and she didn’t like to bake, so if there was something to be made in the oven, she occasionally enlisted my help. I was also allowed in the kitchen of a friend who visited her grandmother in the summer. Her grandmother had a cook who was kind enough to let us mess up her tidy domain, so my friend and I spent happy hours making brownies.

In those days my repertoire was limited; however, I was always happy to be allowed to bake. I still enjoy it, though these days my time is more often devoted to writing than to baking–and there are always the calories to be considered. Lately it’s been too hot to do so, but I needed a cake for Stephen’s birthday, so I went looking for my special recipe: Vinegar Cake.

While it is counterproductive to start the oven in the midst of the summer heat, this cake won’t take long. Quickly put together, it is easily made into whatever kind of a dessert you wish to serve. When I made it was for Stephen’s family birthday party, there were only a few of us to enjoy it. It is such a simple recipe that if you are pressed for time, as long as there is enough time for it to cool, it can be made shortly before you need it. Being without eggs, it is good for vegans. Do not be put off by the title.

Preheat oven to 350, grease an 8X8 square baking pan. This cake is fairly thin, and is nice and chocolaty. It really needs no frosting, but I include a recipe in case.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour—gluten free baking replacement, or wheat based

1 cup sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

3 Tbs cocoa powder (I added another) plus more for dusting top

1 Tbs vinegar

1 Tbs Vanilla Extract

1 cup warm water

6 Tbs Vegetable oil

Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl, mingle wet ingredients. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add all of liquid ingredients. Mix well. If batter isn’t liquid enough, add water a tablespoon at a time until you get a thin batter. This cake is very moist. Bake in greased 8X8 pan in 350 preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick in the center comes out clean and edges have pulled away slightly from the pan–this could take up to 35 minutes. Or bake in cupcake cups, a little less. Dust to your satisfaction with cocoa powder. I used a sieve and stirred the cocoa powder in it to make it come out evenly.  Serves 16 cut in squares, or makes 12 cupcakes.

If you are using a gluten free flour or don’t want lumps it might be good to sift the ingredients together. It makes a better texture for the cake. For a simple frosting, mix 1 cup confectioners’ sugar with 2 Tbs soft butter and add 1 tsp vanilla and some milk or cream until spreadable. You can cut it in half and make a layer cake to serve 6 or 8.

 

How Is Everyone Doing?

Gianni at the tableI do not remember much changing in my life when I was growing up. My parents living room furniture never altered. The house looked the same except that once after years of my mother’s complaints it was painted red. We never moved; my father kept the same job, the list goes on. World War II brought certain kinds of changes, yet nothing close to what we have recently gone through with the advent of Covid 19.

This experience could be called a kind of war, yet the conflict is not between peoples but between all of us and an invisible, yet deadly foe. The rapid changes we have all endured have been part of the battle, weapons to fight this insidious and life-threatening enemy. The normal days we have all been living have been whisked away, replaced by a new normal that includes masks, frequent hand washing, and social distancing.

Some are eager to get back to “normal,” as they think of pre Covid 19 times. What that means for some is one thing, for another, something different. Yet whatever the old normal was, it’s differs greatly from whatever is happening now. Perhaps we have been given an opportunity to look more closely at what has been and make a decision as to whether or not we want to return—assuming we can, or whether we wish to create something new and different with our lives.

The old normal for Stephen and me held trips to the library, now of course closed. It held occasional visits to a movie theater, Dinners or other meals at a variety of restaurants, checking out discount stores, time spent in a favorite thrift store and Saturday yard sales. Most likely we will resume some if not all of these activities, but it may be that we will not do so with the same frequency. For us, it has been rather nice just being home. It’s peaceful. In addition, we have saved a lot of money on gas, as well as on restaurant meals and the acquisition of fun but superfluous items.

Staying out of stores unless we are buying necessities does not seem to me to be difficult to continue doing. If I really wanted to, I could shop on line although I don’t. Shopping has never been important for me unless it is for something I really need or want. For many people it is a form of entertainment. I’d rather read a book or watch a funny DVD from our collection. Too, creative writing—poetry and prose forms an important part of how Stephen and I like to spend our time. That is not going to change, nor is the fun we have cooking together.

A everyone knows, how we as a people spend our time has changed as a result of Covid 19. Many will have discovered the joy of hobbies, of passing time together as a family, and of course, being outdoors in nature. These are healthier pursuits than shopping. Sedentary activities like watching sports are not as good for us as playing them. It is said that it takes forty days to change a habit. We’ve had more time than that to make positive changes in our daily lives. May that have been enough.

 

Lets Keep America Beautiful

Flag in Snow Forest Lane032This year the annual birthday celebration for our country on the Fourth of July has been muted by the corona virus. Yet though it is important to be patriotic and to celebrate, it may be that one day is not enough to show our patriotism. Parades are wonderful, fireworks are lots of fun to watch, and of course backyard barbecues are almost mandatory, however what is most meaningful is to celebrate our patriotism all the year round.

To be patriotic is to demonstrate our love for our country. To my way of thinking one of the best ways we can do that is by showing respect for as well as taking care of the environment. Some can do more than others yet everyone can do a little. Recycling is important, as is reducing waste. Bringing our own bags into stores once we are allowed to do so again is another. Conservation of resources is vital to the health of the planet, as is avoiding leaving our waste around.

Most people pick up after their dogs when they are out walking. This is very important. Once no one even thought about this. Earlier yet, people threw the contents of their chamber pots into the streets. Many died from illnesses that were pollution born. Today there are people who throw their plastic bags and other plastic and unrecyclable products down when and wherever they use them. This often results in harm to wildlife, as well as to the woods or beaches where it accumulates.

Some ways to care for the environment come naturally to me. Because I was brought up to be tidy, it’s easy for me not to litter. I’d no more throw trash away on the sidewalk or worse, in the woods, than I would throw it on my living room floor. Like me, those who see the earth as their home tend to treat her differently than those who do not. They treat her and her resources with respect and gratitude. They treat her like the home she is.

Those people are setting an example for others. I believe that is one of the best things we can do to be of help in the world. Teaching by example is an extremely important way to prompt others to improve their behavior. Often what people are told goes in one ear and out the other; what they have observed and experienced is more powerfully remembered. It is important to show our patriotism on an everyday basis. One simple way is to turn off the water faucet when it is running unnecessarily.

I thought about this one day recently while I was brushing my teeth. I try to remember to shut off the water after I have wet my toothbrush and filled the little cup I use for rinsing. I also try to shut off the kitchen faucet at intervals as I wash dishes: between pots, for instance, or when I am drying anything. There is a true story called the Hundredth Monkey of how monkeys on an island washed their food. Somehow the habit spread between islands that had no contact. This occurred when the critical number of food washing monkeys had been reached. Perhaps if we all contribute to the consciousness of conservation, one day everyone will take care with our precious environment, and the earth will truly thrive.

A Memoir of Days Gone By

Tasha's Family 1955010My great Aunt Alice, pictured on the far left,  was a “maiden” aunt. Never having marred, she lived with her mother, and then by herself in the grand home built by her late father. It was set amid the lawns and gardens of an estate on the outskirts of a small seaside town. We lived in a smaller house that had been built for the full-time gardener. A lifelong sportswoman, she had a collection of trophies from horseback riding, as well as her tennis matches. A vigorous woman I remember her saying she always parked her car at a distance from the store she was going to, so she’d get more exercise. I also found her intriguing because she wore socks over her nylons, and never wore trousers.

Aunt Alice also had a beach cottage we went to sometimes on weekends in the summer.  It had once been her Girl Scout camp. She had had a troup once and they still kept in touch. She also for many years had dogs, always small and yappy: Scotties and Sealyhams, and later, Dachshunds. I can also remember as a very young child being held up to pat the nose of a horse she had in a pasture. There was a stable with a horse stall, though I have no memory of ever seeing a horse in it.

Over the fireplace in the hall of her home there were hunting trophies: Fox tails from when she rode to the hunt. There were lots of books, both in her library with the window seat and the plush green velvet sofa and elsewhere. I loved that window seat. Aunt Alice was good enough to pay for two years of wonderful riding lessons for me. She also put me up when my parents went away on business and I had to stay and go to school. That was fun. I enjoyed her company, and she was always kind to me. As I think about her now, I realize that she was a great example of an independent woman. Her sister, my grandmother was also, though she had been married and was now a widow. Aunt Alice worked for various charities and was generous to them.

As we went there often for holiday meals my memories of her home are vivid. Her dining table was always set with beautiful china and silver, together with a flower centerpiece and silver candy dishes, piled with chocolates. When I was small there were cocktails in the large parlor downstairs. I used to enjoy her toy truck with the blocks, and a mechanical rabbit in lettuce that rose up and munched, flicked its ears and sank down again. When I was older, I remember gathering upstairs, where she had a music box like an organ grinder’s that played various tunes when the handle was cranked. The cigarette box was always filled with the brands my parents smoked. Daddy mixed the cocktails, and Ritz crackers with peanut butter were a featured hors d’oeuvre.

Aunt Alice was quieter than my grandmother. She also unlike my grandmother, who gave out checks for Christmas presents, went to the store and bought things. Her choices were notoriously bad. Of course, we never told her that. After I grew up and got married, when I could I’d bring my children to visit her. She enjoyed their antics. By then she was rather absent of mind. Alzheimer’s caused her to fall asleep at odd moments, and make it difficult for her to remember much. The children made her smile and that was reason enough to visit. I will always be grateful for her generosity to me, and of the wonderful example her life provided me.

The Light We See By

Angela's candle for her dad          Were I learning to read today I feel sure my picture books would include children of all skin colors and ethnicity. The closest books about anything outside my everyday experiences of white America that I can remember, was a series about twins of various countries. However, these were not living in my town or even my country. My history lessons were primarily about Europe and even the myths I studied were Greek, Roman or Norse, and all the gods and goddesses had white skin. Black culture or history was not included in my grade school or even High school studies. This in and of itself forms a kind of prejudice against non-whit, non-Europeans.

Prejudice aims at many targets. I remember a comic strip in my youth that featured a white child with a pointed head named Denny Dimwit. As part of the humor he was an object of fun. Today a strip like that would be banned. I also remember there used to be a whole series of jokes about various and sundry ethnic individuals who were portrayed as stupid or in other derogatory ways. Children growing up today may find other targets of prejudice, yet still progress is being made. One thing that may have helped is the integration of all kinds of learners in the classroom.

With the Black lives matter movement in full swing, many of us may be examining our own potential for prejudice, regardless what it may be about. The need for awareness of how it functions today is obvious. The color of a person’s skin is often an occasion for prejudice, usually when we have grown up around those who make derogatory comments about it. However, prejudice comes in many forms and is aimed at many of us. Over time, we have become more aware of this, and now it is more important than ever.

Young children are not naturally prejudiced. They may like or dislike someone, yet their feelings will normally be based on behavior or previous experience than pre judgement. There is a line in a song from South Pacific, a popular musical from 1949 and years afterward, with a line that says: “You’ve got to be taught to hate.” If we really wish to make it real forever that black lives matter, we must begin at an early age to make sure children do not grow up prejudiced about skin color.

The difficulty is that what we believe—black people are…, tints what we perceive. It creates expectations that color what we see and hear. Our perceptions are primarily governed by our beliefs and these are based upon what we have been told as young people. This is a form of “knowledge” we may not be aware we employ to make the decisions that govern our behavior. The light with which we perceive others may distort our view. In addition, the shadows cast by the light may loom large and deceive the eye. If we are mindful, we can often stop the automatic prejudice that may spring to mind. It’s all part of learning and growing. Humanity has an opportunity to take a giant leap forward. May it be so.

Lemons Are Lovely For Summer

Tasha and lemons 1How about a nice tall glass of lemonade on a hot summer day? If you make up some sugar syrup ahead of time, you can make some for yourself any time you wish. Simple syrup in your fridge, fresh lemons close at hand, ice cubes and a tall glass and you’re good to go. Mix half to a whole squeezed lemon into a glass or perhaps a frosty mug, add simple syrup you make yourself, to sweeten, stir well and add ice.

Here’s the recipe for the sugar syrup: Measure one cup water into a small pan. Add up to 1 cup sugar slowly, stirring it in. Stir over medium heat only just until well dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. Pour into a glass jar, screw on the top, and keep in the ‘fridge until you need it. You will probably need only a couple of tablespoons, though if you want your lemonade quite sweet you might use more. You can double this recipe indefinitely.

You can also use one of those soda makers and make the water sparkle instead of plain so you have a carbonated drink. I like shredding some cut up ginger in boiling water in my blender and straining it after it’s sat some. Store and add a few Tbs to the lemonade mixture for a lemon-ginger ale taste.

As a summer dessert, lemon meringue pie is relatively easy to make, however if it’s hot and you don’t wish to turn on the oven, or deal with making a pie crust, which I don’t if I can avoid it, just fold the meringue into the filling instead of putting it on top and browning it. It makes a nice fluffy pudding and is lots less work. I’ve served it as a dessert for company for many years and everyone loves it.

Too, you can always make the pudding part, then instead of incorporating he meringue, use the whites to make meringue nests. Most general cookbooks have several recipes for these, so follow one, bake it according to the directions then when it’s time o serve dessert, fill them with the pudding, and top with whipped cream.

Perhaps you’ll try this old-fashioned recipe Lemon Sponge Dessert: Ingredients: 2 Tbs soft butter,1 cup sugar, 4 Tbs flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 lemon, grated rind and juice or 3 Tbs lemon juice, 2 tsp grated rind, 1 1/2 cups milk, 3 eggs separated.

Method: Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, cream butter. Add sugar, flour salt, lemon juice and rind. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks; stir in milk. Slowly add second mixture to first mixture. Beat egg whites until stiff; gently fold into mixture. Pour into ramekins or individual soufflé dishes and place in pan of hot water. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. You will have a layer of lemon custard, with a, lightly browned sponge on top. Let cool a bit. Turn out and serve with whipped cream, or serve still in the dish. You can also bake this in one large souffle dish. It is a nice dessert for a special occasion.

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll like my book, Up to my Neck in Lemons even more. It has poetry, recipes and notes on life’s lemons all for $15. autographed, postage paid. Write me at PO Box 171, North Grafton, MA 01536. I always love hearing from my readers too! Thanks for your encouragement over the years. Write me at tashahal@gmail.com with comments, thoughts and suggestions. Check out my web site at http://www.heartwingsandfriens.com

How Much Is Enough?

20180829_104856           When I was a young wife in the fifties, my father helped us buy a house in the small town where I had grown up. Just outside my kitchen door was a garbage pail sunk into the ground. I would step on the lid, dump in my orange peels, potato peelings, stale food, etc. and once a week a man would come by with a big truck, pull out the bucket, empty it into his truck, and along with all the other garbage he had collected, take it to feed his pigs.

His piggery was deep in a wooded area and the smell bothered no one because it was quite isolated. I expect that today his pig farm would have been deemed unsanitary and done away with. Then it fitted in with a more appropriate attitude of the time of waste not want not. It made a good thrifty use for what otherwise would go to waste. In those days there was a more sensible attitude toward what we have and what we need, or so it seems to me. The Covid 19 crisis seems to have exacerbated a prevailing need to have more and more.

Not long ago people were treating toilet paper as if it were about to vanish from the earth. One person even spotted a woman loading her SUV with an entire tray of rolls from a Walmart. Other items vanished from shelves as people reacted out of fear of lack. How much I need is one amount. That need springs from a logical, rational approach to having. How much I want may stem from a fear of loss, a desire to own more than I already have, plain greed, or envy driven by a competitive nature.

Need and want are such different conditions. Operating from an awareness of need is different than operating from a feeling of want.   I once read a story told by someone waiting in an airport who overheard a mother and daughter saying goodbye to one another. As they embraced, she overheard one say to the other, “I wish you enough.” The other replied with the same words. At first it seemed a curious thing to say for a farewell. As I reflected, I realized that to have enough is actually an absolutely perfect condition in which to be.

When I have enough, I have the space to put it. When I have more than enough, whether food needing refrigeration or clothing to find room for in our shared closet, I have to become creative about fitting whatever it is in. I may end up shoving things to the back of the refrigerator and losing sight of them, or into the back of the closet and doing the same. Then what I have lost sight of may become either moldy or essentially useless. It is said that much food goes to waste in this country, and no doubt leftovers may be a large part of that food.

Raised in a New England family by a thrifty German mother, I try to be very mindful not only about my leftovers but also my wardrobe. My beloved, however was raised by a mother who enjoyed abundance and showered it on her family. Sometimes we experience minor conflict around our divergent opinions. As the days go by, my refrigerator goes from full to empty and back again. Our closet, too has its moments. What matters to me is that we work out what constitutes enough for each of us, and that we make peace with our different opinions.

 

Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Write me at tashahal@gmail.com

The Flowers in the Garden of my Friends

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My father had two British friends, a married couple, who had at some point taken up residence in the small town where we lived. I remember they had a black, cast iron lion and unicorn on either side of the stone doorstep of their home. In addition, for years I had two small china ornaments they had given me. I don’t know how old I was when I visited with them, perhaps four or five. I can recall only their kindly smiles. When they passed on, they were buried in our local cemetery.

Two pink granite headstones marked their resting place. They were large, highly polished stones, and stood out among the simpler monuments. Every Memorial Day my father would purchase flowers and plant them on their graves. Although I don’t recall his telling me anything about them, they must have been special friends to him. He was one who believed in honoring those who had passed on. His own father died in World War I, when he was only eight years old.

For me especially, Memorial Day brings to mind my dear ones who have passed me on the road to the larger life, where they have their next assignment–whatever it may be. I have pictures of them, both in my mind and in reality, where I can catch a glimpse of them as they once were. Occasionally, though especially when I’m engaged in a task in my kitchen, I catch a whisper from someone I loved dearly and still do. They come into my mind and I see them smile as they used to do when we were together. It is as if they are telling me they are happy and well.

There is a smooth stone on my coffee table inscribed with these words: “My friends are the loveliest flowers in the garden of my life.” I treasure it as a memento from someone special who lit up my life for a time a few years ago. We were near neighbors and saw one another almost very day. A brave and valiant woman, she was a wonderful example of positive aging. Though she had many difficulties and illnesses she scarcely ever complained and did the best she could to carry on in a cheerful fashion.

In my mind, while I am fixing dinner, I often hear another of my late friends with whom I had many phone conversations: “What are you having for dinner that’s good?” she would ask. We would chat about cooking and trade ideas. In my recipe collection I have one of hers written out in her own handwriting. When I make a recipe  I was given by a late friend, it is especially tasty because of my recollection of its origin. How precious are the memories of those we have loved and now lost to time.

Memories of loving friends who have pasted on are such a treasure. They are a bouquet fragrant with the perfume blended from our combined experiences, the times we have shared, the gifts we have given one another. Memorial Day brings to mind many memories of my dear ones no longer within reach of the telephone or email. As I turn them over in my mind, I feel again the love we shared. I see again their smiles and welcoming arms and I have no doubt one day we will meet and share again.