Posted by: Laura Carter | May 29, 2016

Healthy Eating Redux

First let me say, my mother was a superior cook. Every night she cooked a family meal and we all gathered around the kitchen table eating and talking. Many of our family favorites were from the Southern cooking repertoire she learned from her mother. Cornbread dressing, black eyed peas, pecan pie, tomato aspic, etc. She made the best fried chicken ever. So good that when she included a leftover piece in my lunch box the next day, it still tasted awesome. I remember she had a special container on the stove to strain the drippings from the breakfast bacon with which she used to flavor many of her dishes. What horror that sounds now, right? Her Red Velvet cake recipe is what the hubby uses to great raves.

chinese cook book

Lula Belle’s original Chinese cook book

Mom also made it a point to learn how to cook cultural food dishes from wherever we lived with Dad on his Army assignments. In Hawaii, she learned to cook Asian food including wontons and spring rolls and delicious rice dishes. When my dad was stationed in Pakistan, and we couldn’t go, she still learned how to create Pakistani dishes to serve my father when he got home so we could share the food culture.

Another component of my foodie upbringing was through my dad. Everywhere we lived, he had a garden. He loved tilling the dirt and learning the plants that would grow well in whatever climate we were in.

I specifically remember the garden in Hawaii. It was a rather large garden on a hill on one side of the house in which we lived while waiting for base housing. Much to his chagrin, there were many types of tiny beasties that will infect and eat your produce in that climate. While our native Hawaiian landlord gave him some advice, Dad managed to invent a tomato saver using my mom’s old stockings. The result of all this gardening is that we were privy to fresh seasonal veggies on the table most of our growing-up lives. He continued to garden until his last year on this earth.

When I began my life in Austin as a hippie babe, I too became a darn good gardener. In both homes I had there, I maintained a large, prolific garden. I grew squash, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, beans (scarlet runner were my favorites) melons and more. Our resident neighborhood food guru, Clay, was already a vegan and among other dietary examples, fed his twin baby daughters almond milk after they got too big for nursing. We ate a lot of good fresh produce, turkey eggs, raw milk and other healthy foods. We shopped at Good Foods, the store which was actually the precursor to Whole Foods, and then at Whole Foods original store on Lamar Blvd. I made healthful cookies and other baked goods and stayed away from white sugar.

Somewhere along the way of life, I deterred from this path. Smallish incomes and three kids led the family to make the unhealthy mistakes many people in the same financial situation make—beans, potatoes, bread, pasta are cheap, fresh or organic produce not so much. If your teenager works at Church’s Chicken, you love the free leftovers every night.

Oh and did I mention I married a pastry chef? Most the weight I gained from this era is still with me.

Little by little I got back on the right path. I just started saying “no” to the pastry, cookie, cake stuff. I began eating gluten-free for my intestines’ sake and there went the pasta, crackers etc. The hubby and I shopped at Central Market for the great assortment of fresh and tasty produce.

Delivery produce box

For a year or so we had a weekly box of local, seasonal produce delivered to our door. It stretched our ideas of what exactly is eatable Yes! to beet greens and strange sprouts and big black radishes. We finally cancelled, feeling it was not economically in our favor to continue.

On our back patio, we created a small, but productive, container garden. We’ve had good luck with tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, peppers, chard, herbs and even okra. Plus, the house came with two tangerine trees that keep us in fresh tangerines for about 6 weeks every fall.

tomatoes

Container garden tomatoes

We tried shopping at some of the latest wave in ‘new’ farmer’s market offerings. I confess we slipped some.

What got me back on track is reading a non-fiction book by Barbara Kingsolver, a terrific fiction writer–Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. The author and her family enter a life-changing adventure by moving full time to their farm in Virginia. They committed to eating only local, seasonal, organic, homegrown, homespun…well you get the idea. Albeit, they have a large growing area, already producing fruit and nut trees and a farming communityavm icon that grows, raises or makes all products which fit in the parameters of this foodie life. It’s an interesting and inspiring tale.

Granted, our budget is limited, but we are trying to eat better and cook with more healthy ingredients. So, it’s back to the farmers markets for us for fresh, local, seasonal produce, eggs and other products. Last week, I got some wonderful beets and blackberries. This week a sweet, sweet watermelon and a jar of honey. Semi-retirement is a boon for time to search for healthy, economical food options and hubby is excellent at cooking them into delicious, interesting dishes.

Garden eggplant, pepper, herbs stew/sauce

Garden eggplant, pepper, herbs stew/sauce

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A chard frittata with pear from CM

Posted by: Laura Carter | May 11, 2016

A very bad kitty tale

A few years after we lost our 18-year-old cat, the husband and I decided we needed another kitty in our lives. Cats are cuddly, can be kept indoors easily and we just like them. We went down to the Animal Defense League and adopted a cute little black cat with white paws. The husband thought Lover Boy (the name he was given by the shelter staff) really chose him by putting his little cat paw through the cage and tapping him on the arm. “He looked at me like, ‘boss, get me out of here,’” hubby said.

A deceptively cute looking kity.

A deceptively cute looking kitty.

All went well for the first year or so. We live in a townhome complex. One reason we bought this house is the floor to almost ceiling windows looking out on a common area with lots of big trees. There are also several feral cats who roam the complex. The problem with kitty began when these cats would come right up to the windows and drive our cat nuts by being in his territory. Well, actually, he’s neutered so he doesn’t have nuts. But, unbeknownst to us, he could still spray urine. All over the curtains, the carpet and windows.

It took a while to understand where the stink was coming from. The curtains reeked. So I washed them. But, as many of you know, NOTHING ever gets rid of the smell of cat pee. It may seem to work only because our noses can’t smell it. But the cat can.

Here are some of the things we tried to de-stink the house and stop the cat from marking inside.

Replaced the curtains, with shorter curtains, higher than his butt could reach. Which looks dorky, but so what?

Replaced all the carpet in the house with flooring.

Put furniture over the spots where he frequently went.

Squirted him with a water gun when we saw him peeing in an inappropriate place. (He is very stealthy, though)

Burning copious amounts of incense.

Constantly and vigilantly cleaning up the pee puddles, spending a fortune on ‘guaranteed’ to work chemicals cleaners and sprays.

We starting letting him outside to pee in the early morning, risking the ire of the HOA Nazis. But he continued not peeing in the litter box, only in front of the windows—and occasionally on us.

When he marked my brother’s leg, we decided to take him to the Vet once again for testing.  She was very kind, but told us he was healthy, and if this behavior has been going on for a long time, the odds of changing it was slim to none.

Wonderful!

So, we added an extra litter box and bought $60 bag of “calming” pet food with tryptophan.

Then my brother told us about Crazy Water, bottled water from Mineral Wells, Texas which has a naturally occurring high percentage of  lithium. Lithium is sometimes used to treat anxiety and/or depression. Mineral Wells touts its extremely low rate of murders and aggressive behavior is due to the high level of lithium in the water.

I researched how to make homemade cat repellent. I made several versions of natural sprays and cleaners some with Eucalyptus and Wintergreen essential oils and Mrs. Myers dish soap.

We are having some success with the water, food and Eucalyptus oikitty sittingl (as a deterrent) combination attack. There has been a decrease in the frequency of urination. Lover Boy now only has about three spots in the house he pees, rather than eight. And, he sometimes uses the box.

We think the house in general smells better, but I’m afraid to ask an impartial visitor if they detect Lover Boy’s urinary indiscretions.

Now if we could just keep the damn squirrel out of the birdfeeder.

 

 

Posted by: Laura Carter | March 18, 2016

Jesus loves ALL the little children

Remember that Sunday School song we all used to sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children”? For some reason I started singing it this morning as I was getting ready for work. And, I thinking, “Jesus loves ALL the little children in the world including:

22% of all children in the US living below the federal poverty rate

one in five children suffering with mental illness

62% of Hispanic children in the US living in or near poverty

The estimated 679,000 children who were victims of abuse and neglect

All the Syrian and other refugee children, clinging to their parents, hoping for a chance to live in a better world

The children born to undocumented parents in the US who fear they may be torn from the only life they’ve know and deported.

Let’s remind all the “conservative Christian” politicians and their ilk spreading hate and bigotry, Jesus is not selective about who He loves and that is the model we should strive for. Not how much we can cut the assistance and education programs. Not how fast we can round up all the “undocumented” families or build a wall to keep out all those who do not ascribe to the same faith as they claim to follow.

all the children of the world

Jesus loves the little children All the children of the world Red & yellow, black & white they’re precious in his sight Jesus loves the little children of the world

 

Sing that little song several times today to as a reminder just who does Jesus love. Sing it for your family, your friends and co-workers. Sing it for yourself.

 

Posted by: Laura Carter | March 10, 2016

Little Zen Moments

I wonder, if like me, everyone occasionally experiences moments where the world seems to stand still and the cosmos aligns itself in perfect harmony.  These experiences might last for a few seconds or several minutes.  But, before the gears of chaos engage again, I always have the overwhelming feeling “Woo hoo, life is good!”

I’ve thought perhaps these moments of clarity and tranquility could be a spiritual thing…maybe a split-second glimpse of what heaven would be like.  Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, believed there must be a little bit of Zen in all creative and spiritual experiences.  Not counting any drug induced euphoria, I believe each of us can experience our “little Zen moments” during our lifetime-if we tune in.

Here are some of my little Zen moments:

Sitting in the sun, by the pool. Watching the clouds drift by, listening to the birds, I feel my body and soul warming, the tension washing away, and I experience “the eternal happiness of the spotless mind.”  Although not all Zen moments can be recreated, this works for me almost every time.

Waking up in the morning and walking into the living room where all my grandchildren have flung themselves to sleep in the blankets on the floor.  I look at their beautiful, sleeping faces and think, “Yeah, this is the best moment of their visit.”

Walking downtown during my lunch break, soaking in the sights and sounds of the city, sometimes gives me the feeling of being so completely alive it is a Zen moment.  It is especially meaningful if you just say “howdy” to strangers.

At the Botanical Gardens, I sit on a bench and stare out at the riot of plants and colors and feel in ‘shock and awe’ of nature’s divine creativity of which all our lives are a part.

Listening to a “kick-ass” song on the radio driving home after a great workout at the gym.  Go endorphins!

Having a cup of Oolong tea on the back patio with my hubby.  Sitting in the breeze, watching the bats come out at sunset, I feel the multiple activities of the day moving out of my mind.  This unfortunately does not last as long as I would like, ’cause the evening’s tasks soon take up residence.

If you don’t recognize your Zen moments, I urge you to learn to do so and then, please share.

PS I wrote this several years ago, but was reminded of it today.

Posted by: Laura Carter | February 28, 2016

Gardening on Cement

If you’re as old as I am, you might remember the Beverly Hillbillies TV show. The Clampetts, a family of hillbillies–obstinately from Tennessee–found oil on their land, got rich and moved to Beverly Hills, California. Elly Mae, the blond and buxom daughter, called the swimming pool their “cement pond”. I call our back courtyard garden our “cement garden” in remembrance of Elly Mae.

2015 garden

Last year’s garden

For the past several years we have planted veggies in tubs and large pots. We’ve had good success with tomatoes, peppers, okra (bred for containers) eggplant, Swiss chard and a variety of herbs. This year we are trying onions. We also replaced the lime and lemon trees as the previous ones froze two years ago.

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2016 Spring garden just planted

We also have two fabulous, 10 foot tangerine trees in a real dirt patch on one end.

tangerine tree

Last fall’s crop of tangerine totaled about 170

As you can see we also have cactus plants, a Bird of Paradise and about a dozen Plumeria trees in various stages of growth. Our small front courtyard is a plethora of plants and a volunteer Loquat tree, which we think is cool.

20160228_142634

This is what you can do with a little space and ingenuity.

 

Posted by: Laura Carter | December 2, 2015

In between Netflixing, what I’m reading

If you’ve read my blog post Confessions of a Streaming Addict, you might think that’s all I’ve been doing to while away the hours. However, I’ve managed to squeeze in several books—some of which are listed below.

1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew

book cover reuseThe concept of creative reuse aka upcycling, remaking or repurposing is not new.  According to Grant Johnson, author of the book “1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse: Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew, “…materials reuse has been around since medieval scribes scraped off and reused parchments, and the ancient Greeks melted down older bronze statues to make newer versions.”

Creative reuse, in its current incarnation, combines artistic expression with ecological responsibility served with a side of thrift.  1,000 photos of artworks and projects from artists around the world inspire us with infinite creative possibilities.

Spin

book cover spinWritten by Robert Charles Wilson, this is science fiction, but with plenty of plausible science based theories. The novel starts out simple, but grows with complexity as the story progresses. The main characters are exceptionally well developed and likable, too. Stick with it, as it becomes an engrossing read.

 

 

Last Train to Istanbul

book cover last train to istanbulA historical novel about Turkish Jews during WWII. It was well researched by the author who used historical aspects taken from written files and oral histories. I was surprised to learn the Turkish government has a history of not only welcoming, but protecting its Jewish citizens.

It is a tale of escape from the Nazi regime with realistic characters and plenty of suspense. I plan to read more of Ayse Kulin’s books in time.

 

City of Stairs

book cover city of stairsThis is a novel in the fantasy genre. I follow the author Robert Jackson Bennett on Twitter @robertjbennett. He is an irreverent hoot sometimes, but don’t be fooled, he is an amazing writer. It’s a tale of people and politics, a mythology of gods and magic. His imagination runs wild. Yet, Bennett manages to build a highly organized and absorbing world with a storyline and characters which will definitely grab your attention and leave you wanting more.

Posted by: Laura Carter | October 30, 2015

Seven Sisters of Blessed Sacrament Academy

Seven Sisters sounds like a movie title. Well, in a way it is. I recently created a video compilation of testimonies from the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament who live in the Convent (and original school) built in 1926 on 17 acres at 1135 Mission Road in San Antonio, TX.

Sister Odilia writes “…listen to our “job descriptions”, and when you add our personal journeys, you will get a hint of how huge those difference are. And yet … as we continue to work in and sponsor the programs of Blessed Sacrament Academy you can also sense and see the powerful work God is doing with our lives.”

I hope you find inspiration and appreciation as you listen to these strong, caring women tell but a fraction of their amazing life stories.

 

Posted by: Laura Carter | October 17, 2015

Mission Trail Rotary Charity Bike Tour

After a few years of working with Sister Odilia at Blessed Sacrament Academy, I have become a big fan of San Antonio’s Southside. As part of BSA’s community outreach efforts, Sister Odilia and I joined the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association and the Mission Trail Rotary Club. Both organizations bring together people who care about their Southside neighbors and neighborhoods.

m2m posterThe Southside is also home of the Missions of San Antonio (all but the Alamo) which were recently designated a World Heritage Site.The Mission Trail Rotary Club is hosting 2015 Mission to Mission Charity Bike Tour on Saturday, December 5, 2015 beginning at Missions Park Pavilion, 802 VFW Blvd, San Antonio, TX 78214.

bike riders

This year nine local charities will receive grants from money raised by bike riders and sponsors. Read the quick facts or go directly to register for the best charity bike ride of the year.

#MTRotary #M2Mbike

See you there!

Posted by: Laura Carter | August 30, 2015

Confessions of a Streaming Addict

OK, I admit it’s true. I am addicted to streaming.

Several years ago we cut the cable TV and bought a ROKU box. The ROKU is a magic box that allows you to watch a variety of streaming channels including Netflix, Amazon Prime, news and movie channels and a whole lot more on your TV set.

My first favorite was watching TV shows in binge mode. No commercials, pause when you want to, watch a whole season in back to back episodes. Who could ask for anything more. I started out with “The Tudors” and nip tuck“Nip Tuck” and progressed to “Mad Men.” Recently, I watched all 196 episodes of “Supernatural”–not all at once, silly.

My grandkids share their favorites and they have surprisingly good taste. Or, at least we agree on genres. My granddaughter and I watch horror movies–the old classics and the new not-so-classic like “Paranormal Activity”.

One grandson suggested “Six Feet Under” six feet underHe said it had the best ever last episode of any series. I watched it and agreed. I like “Hell on Wheels” and lots of the BBC murder mystery series–some of which are many years old. And, of course, “Downton Abbey”. Nature and science programs also show up on my recommended list.

orange is the new blackThe new Netflix originals are a great addition to the already amazing amount of choices. “Orange is the New Black” and “Sense8” are super.

Another really nice feature, for a person hard of hearing as I am, is to activate the closed captioning. It has made a world of difference in my viewing pleasure.

I list more of my streaming favorites on Pinterest and books I read too, if you are interested in more recommendations.

Posted by: Laura Carter | July 13, 2015

Mission musing in San Antonio

This morning, while brushing my teeth, my mind went wandering, and I found myself thinking about the San Antonio Missions. On July 5th UNESCO designated the four Spanish colonial Missions and the Alamo as the first World Heritage site in Texas. In a post I read on the Rivard Report, Nelson Wolff, Bexar County Judge, is quoted as saying, “This is a great day to celebrate our culture, our heritage, and the great historic structure of the Missions and the Alamo.”

I drifted just a few seconds to recall the crazy antics of weekend protesters who rallied in front of the Alamo fearful of the United Nations “taking away our control of the Missions.” No doubt, there are some who are worried Jade Helm may be hijacking the Missions for tunneling, secretly sending troops to overthrow the Texas gov’ment, and make it part of the United States.

the alamo

In my life I have been so fortunate as to have worked within walking distance of two of these great Missions. For six years, I worked downtown in the beautiful old building, 110 Broadway. The Alamo was one block from my office. I passed by it almost every day as I weaved my way through the tourists and other downtown workers to lunch or shopping. I never passed by the Alamo that I wasn’t aware of a slight emotional tug from the historical site.

mission conception for blog

Now, I drive past Mission Concepción on my way to Blessed Sacrament Academy campus at 1135 Mission Road. Both the history of the Mission and that of Blessed Sacrament seem sacred. It also feels, as they say, “Puro San Antonio.”

Come visit San Antonio and our historical sites and treasures.

selfie at the missions2

Me trying to take a selfie at the Mission was pretty funny.

 

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