International Day of Peace

The International Day of Peace, sometimes unofficially known as World Peace Day, is a United Nations-sanctioned holiday observed annually on 21 September. It is dedicated to world peace, and specifically the absence of war and violence, such as might be occasioned by a temporary ceasefire in a combat zone for humanitarian aid access. The day was first celebrated in 1981, and is kept by many nations, political groups, military groups, and people. In 2013 the day was dedicated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to peace education, the key preventive means to reduce war sustainably.

To inaugurate the International Day of Peace, the “Peace Bell” is rung at UN Headquarters. The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents. It was given as a gift by the United Nations Association of Japan, and is referred to as “a reminder of the human cost of war.” The inscription on its side reads: “Long live absolute world peace.”

Peace is a state of harmony characterized by the lack of violent conflict. Commonly understood as the absence of hostility, peace also suggests the existence of healthy or newly healed interpersonal or international relationships, prosperity in matters of social or economic welfare, the establishment of equality, and a working political order that serves the true interests of all. In international relations, peacetime is not only the absence of war or conflict, but also the presence of cultural and economic understanding and unity. Wikipedia defines peace as “a concept of societal friendship and harmony in the absence of hostility and violence. In a social sense, peace is commonly used to mean a lack of conflict and freedom from fear of violence between individuals or heterogeneous groups.”

As I said in my post entitled, “Do You Remember?”, it is my opinion that, with our country so at war within its own boundaries, “peace” does will reign on our soil regardless of this day. Until we can put our pettiness aside and be tolerant and kind to all humans, regardless of their skin color, politics, religious beliefs, sexual preference (and all things which make us different one from another), we cannot live together in peace.

Knowledge is NOT power!

The phrase “scientia potentia est” is a Latin aphorism meaning “knowledge is power”. It is commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, although there is no known occurrence of this precise phrase in Bacon’s English or Latin writings. It doesn’t really matter, since whomever should be credited with this phrase would be wrong!

Knowledge is NOT power! Let me break it down this way: A popular childhood toy that teaches shapes to youngsters was made as an educational experience. From it, children learn that a square piece goes in the square hole, a triangle in the triangle hole, a star in the star hole, etc. And you, as adults, know this, right? But is that knowledge enough? If you know this and then still try to put the square in a different hole, how does that make you powerful?

The phrase should be, “Knowledge plus Action equals Power”. It is only in taking the knowledge that we have and using it to create success that we gain power.

Most of us have or will encounter at least one, drama-filled, toxic person in our lives. We know, intellectually, that we need to step back from/remove that relationship for our own safety and sanity. However, once an attachment is formed to that person, often before we see the pattern of behaviors that make them toxic, it is a difficult task. We know that this person brings negative energy and stress to our lives, but the knowledge of that does not keep the negative energy and stress from occurring. Our power does not come from this knowledge. Our power can only come from ending this relationship, no matter how painful it is to lose this person we care about. Our power comes to us when we take action!

This truth that “Knowledge plus Action equals Power” can be used in almost every aspect of our lives. We may stumble along the action route, trying to find a way to commit to action that is courteous and the least painful. This is especially true when choosing to step away from a relationship. But if we choose to take no action, then the message to ourselves is that we would rather stay mired in the negativity than face the effort to change it.

I share this information with you because of a recent personal experience. I had a friend – we’ll call her “A” – who got into a word battle with other friends over a post I made on social media two years ago. I was not a witness to what happened, but it spiraled enough so that A lost her temper and said some unfortunate and rather nasty things, and then, out of her anger, quickly blocked me from seeing her on all social media sites. Of course, everything she said in the course of this tirade was instantly removed from my media, so I was only able to hear one side of the story. I was hurt, angry to be blamed and held accountable for this conversation that I’d had nothing to do with. But, as time passed, I was able to look at my friendship with A and see that her side was always filled with drama – about her adult siblings, about her husband’s adult children, etc., etc., etc. Looking at that more objectively, I was able to realize that, while I missed the good aspects of our friendship, I did not miss the drama! I even became thankful, in a strange way, that she made the decision to stop the friendship, because I only see now how her negativity about everything added stress to my life, yet, I’m not sure I’d have had the commitment to action to change anything.

Now, after two years of silence, A sent me a message a few days ago which said, “Hi. Can we talk?” Just those words. I’ve been through a range of emotions over this. I do miss the friendship, but I KNOW what re-opening the door will bring back into my life. And so, as much as it makes me sad, I KNOW that I need to follow through with action that values my right not to have that added stress and negativity. I’m more than curious as to why A has reached out after all of this time, and a part of me wants to dream that A has changed from the dramatic style I knew her for. But despite that dream and curiosity, all I can hope for is to find a kind and compassionate way to respond that says, “No, thank you.”

The knowledge of the harmfulness in our friendship is just that – it’s knowledge. But it’s the action I take now that will determine my power. The right decisions aren’t always easy decisions…

Surrogate Mother

I’m not sure I’m worthy of these accolades, but my beloved brother thinks I am!

commonsensiblyspeaking

Dedicated to, Jody, the best sister anyone could have!

The trap of better than you

Our parents had fallen in

Both working to see us through

Like rat running race to win

Two incomes to stave off fears

Their children wanting naught

Save the passing adolescent years

Their presence needed and sought

My mother is all I hoped to find

When home with illness I lay

Yet sent another so giving and kind

My physician for the day

Attendant to a little boy

Her love easily compared

To matriarchal woman of birth

The womb that we had shared

My sister’s love, full of grace

My comfort and fears console

And put the smile on my face

She donned the mother’s role

She cared and fawned over me

As if I were her own

Giving so unsparingly

Love felt in every bone

Blessed am I this surrogate

For Mother’s missing love

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Hacks from my Happy Place-VIII

I mentioned recently that my ‘nesting’ instincts were starting to take hold. They’ve been getting stronger still, though I know it is far too early to really let them go wild.

However, the past several days, I have been doing what I guess could be called “pre-nesting”. It started because boneless, skinless chicken breasts were on sale at the grocery store this past week. I have numerous recipes that use chunked up chicken, and since I prefer white meat, this was a good deal. Usually, I would divide up the package into the amount I needed for whatever I was going to make a batch of, and stick them in the freezer. But a light-bulb moment clicked in my head, and I said to myself, “Self, why don’t you go ahead and cook it all, then chunk it up and then divide it into the portions you need and freeze them?” The answer was, “Self, that’s genius!” So I cooked (basically boiled) all of the breasts, let them cool, cleaned off any extra fat or skin, and cut them up. I stuffed two quart bags fill of ready-to-go chicken, which will make either a double serving of one recipe or two different recipes once it’s thawed! Then, I looked at the frozen hamburger in my freezer, and thought that it would be equally genius to thaw and cook then crumble all but one package. The whole package can be used for when I decide to make a meatloaf, but in the meantime, I have two packages of pre-cooked hamburger for when I want to make spaghetti sauce or something else. And the best part is that these bags can be labeled and stacked in my freezer, requiring very little space!

This is mine, without the automatic ice maker!

I haven’t started restocking my pantry yet, but I did get it organized and made a list of things I will need for a full restock. Because of the continued problems I’m having that make my chiropractor one of my favorite men in my life these days, I realize that it is best for me to do this in several shopping trips and phases, rather than force myself to have to carry heavy bags of canned goods up steps and into the house and all of the way to the kitchen, which is at the back. Living in a 200+ year old building that doesn’t offer much cabinet storage makes me limited in what I can store up on, but at least the cabinets go all the way up to the ceiling. My handy-dandy step stool and “Grabber” will get their usual workout come winter!

I guess I’m lucky to have one this size but with 3 shelves!

Of course, now my kitchen needs a good cleaning. Off to do it!

From my Happy Place – Special Edition

This post veers from my usual hacks, shortcuts and recipes from my happy place, aka my kitchen. However, I’ve found success in my search for something I recall from my beloved grandmother’s table, and I’m so excited that I have to talk about it!

I found someone to make me hog maul!!!!! What is that, you ask? Well, hog maul (also spelled maw) is the stomach of a pig. More specifically, it is the exterior muscular wall of the stomach organ which contains no fat if cleaned properly. It can be found in American, Chinese, Pennsylvania Dutch, Mexican, Portuguese and Italian dishes. In addition, it can be prepared in various ways including stewed, fried, baked, and broiled.

I can imagine some of you making a face and muttering, “Ewwwww!” But before you do, think about this: If you eat sausage links of any kind, you should know that the casing for those links is the material that encloses the filling of a sausage. Natural casings are made from animal intestines; artificial casings, introduced in the early 20th century, are made of collagen, cellulose, and extruded casings.

Now, I’m all for collagen, since that’s good for youthful looking skin. But trust me, this body does not need any extra cellulose, having developed its own over the years. And, I suspect that ‘extruded casings’ means something that involves using some part of the natural casing. So, is eating pigs stomach any worse than eating animal intestines or, perhaps worse yet, artificial casings?

So, back to hog maul. In the farmers’ markets throughout Lancaster County, you can often purchase frozen pig stomachs from any butcher case. However, that would require thawing them and doing all of the work to prepare the stuffing that goes into them. Once filled, they must be tied off or netted (twine wrapping) to keep them from exploding when the stuffing gets hot and expands.

The most usual stuffing is made from loose sausage, onions and potatoes plus seasonings. Shredded cabbage is a common additional ingredient. However, you can stuff the casing with almost anything you like! Bread filling (usually inside a turkey or chicken) is another choice. Believe it or not, diced apples with cinnamon and sugar is also a good choice if you’re looking for a side dish or an unusual dessert.

There are many who are more than willing to eat the insides that are cooked but not the outer casing. The trick is to steam the entire item until you know the inside ingredients are thoroughly cooked, then transfer it to the oven to bake until the casing gets crispy. Honestly, if done well, the casing will become crispy, much like the skin on a turkey or chicken. There are many, me included, who enjoy that crispy skin of poultry, so there is no reason not to enjoy the crispy casing of hog maul!

As I mentioned in a previous blog(see “The Rest of Last Weekend”), during my last trip through Lancaster County, I stopped at Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market, in search of this delicacy. I found two different butcher cases who had the stomachs in frozen form. I explained to the associate who waited on me while I purchased my cup cheese that I was looking for it pre-made, and she suggested I contacted the owner and gave me a business card. I finally emailed him, as I am headed back to the area at the end of the month. I explained what I wanted – quantity, weight, price per pound I was willing to pay, when I would be there to pick them up, etc. I received a reply mail late yesterday that said, “We are going to do our best to make it happen for you” and included a smiley face!

Well, color me excited! Actually, color me doubly excited! After mentioning in another blog about grandmother memories and talking to a stranger that shares my grandmother’s first name, this coming to fruition is yet, perhaps, another sign that she is with me, watching over me! So, not only is my mouth watering in anticipation, but my heart is full with memories of this beloved lady! (See “Addendum to ‘The Rest of Last Weekend'” for those memories.)

So go ahead, turn up your nose. I don’t really care! But I can tell you that I intend to have some good Lancaster County made hog maul in my very near future, and I am going to be happy about it!

Do You Remember?

It was my day off, my last one before working 11 straight days. I was the Guest Services Manager of a hotel property, and the General Manager and Assistant General Manager (a married couple) would be leaving the next day to attend the franchise’s annual convention in Atlanta, GA. The convention only lasted 3 days, but since the company was paying airfare, they decided to take a week’s vacation around the area while they were there.

I lived in an apartment complex, on the second floor which had glass doors and a balcony. I’d had coffee with the early morning news and decided to take my shower. For some reason (coincidence or fate?), I’d left the TV on. After my shower, I stepped back into the living room for a moment to gather my coffee cup to go and make more. At that moment, the replay of the planes hitting the second World Trade Center was being aired. I stopped, jaw dropping, trying to grasp what I was seeing. It seemed surreal, impossible! I stood rooted in that spot for a while, trying to grasp what the news was trying to tell me.

You all know what happened in that chain of events. The Pentagon was struck, and then heroes helped divert another plane into the wooded area of Shenksville. And still, it still seemed unreal and impossible!

Coffee forgotten, I sat on the sofa and watched, flipping channels between all of the ones showing this catastrophe as it was unfolding. I was casually dating someone who worked at the Pentagon – at some point I focused enough to think about trying to contact him. Of course, phone lines, even cellular ones, were overloaded and my calls wouldn’t go through. I tried for over and hour.

And then, real terror set in. My brain shifted to think of the three specific places where these events occurred – one not far from me to the north, one not far from me to the south and one not far from me to the west. Suddenly, I panicked. I rushed over and quickly closed my vertical blinds at my balcony doors, not wanting to see a plane come racing towards me in the next attempt of destruction.

The rest of the day was a blur. More news as a plane hit the Pentagon and again when one was hijacked from the hijackers themselves by passengers, causing it to crash land in a small area called Shanksville, PA. Every TV station was covering these events, replaying video of them over and over. I didn’t want to watch, but couldn’t make myself stop watching.

The conference my bosses were going to was cancelled. But they still went on vacation. For the next seven days, I would be consumed by what needed to be done at work with me in charge. The lobby TV was on, much of the same things from the day before repeating. There were photos of people lined up to donate blood. There were photos of ordinary people reaching out to help anyone they could find who needed help. In those days that followed, I found my heart swelling with pride in the way that Americans came together to offer whatever support they could to others.

There was no question or face, religion, sexual orientation, politics or anything else. People simply reached out or stood in line to donate blood for whomever was in need. Our country united in a way that showed how strong we could be as a whole.

And now, here we are, marking another anniversary that changed our country. We think about the lives lost and the heroes who helped. We don’t really focus on the terror of those events. Meanwhile, our country is brewing with war among its own boundaries. Politics greatly divides people. Differing moral and religious beliefs greatly divide people. George Bush once said, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” and it seems that these divisions are living true to that comment. Some people of a political affiliation don’t believe you are Christian if you’re not on the same team. The same is true if you are on what they believe is the wrong side of pro-life/pro-choice or sexual orientation. Racism is alive and well in the US, just against a different race than it was in the 70s. And these divides are strong! So strong that I wonder, if those events would happen today, would people ask people who need help what political, racial or sexual orientation they were before deciding to offer help? Would people only donate blood if it could be guaranteed that it would go to someone whose values, morals and beliefs sided with their own?

Do we need another terroristic threat against our country in order for our country’s people can reunite for a common good?

Hacks from my Happy Place – VII

As kids start back to school and the evenings get just a little cooler, my yearn for nesting starts to take hold. I rely on my crockpot, slow cooker and toaster oven throughout much of the summer because I don’t have central air and my kitchen is in the back, getting no satisfaction from my living room and bedroom window units. I’ve been a little bit antsy to start using my oven. I’ve got a recipe for using flour tortillas to make homemade dipping chips, and while the recipe is for a savory version, I want to try the same idea and create a sweet version (I’m thinking cinnamon and sugar). I also have a recipe for making cookies from cake mix, and the box of sugar-free cake mix in my cupboard is awaiting me to turn on the oven and bake them (turning them into Snickerdoodles by adding cinnamon).

When I think about nesting, my mind goes immediately to soups and stews. I’ve tried several different packages for making the sauce for beef stew, but they aren’t the taste I’m looking for. Suddenly, I remembered my aunt making beef stew once and liking it. She’d told me back then, but I’d completely forgotten! She makes her regular pot roast with carrots, potatoes and onions. Once dinner is over, she takes out a can of Dinty Moore beef stew, purees it, and adds her leftovers to it, with a little extra beef broth, if needed. She explained that, by pureeing it, all the little pieces of meat, potato and veggie in the can get ground up, so they don’t look funny adding it to her larger pieces. Genius! It creates a very tasty “gravy”! Dinty Moore beef stew will definitely be added to my winter stock-up shopping excursion!

I did make a batch of chili recently; even though it’s usually a winter staple, I was hungry for it! In my opinion, my mom made the best chili! A long time ago, a now long-gone restaurant named Gingerbread Man had chili that tasted just like hers! Knowing that we didn’t like spicy foods, her seasonings included a tablespoon of sugar, salt and pepper to taste and…ground cinnamon! I know, I know, that sounds oddly out-of-place for a pot of chili, but it rocks! I remember the first time my brother had a bag of homemade chili from me, which was labeled “Mom’s Chili”. He agreed it was just as he remembered!

Now that I have people in my life who enjoy cabbage as much as I do, my cabbage soup is high on the list for the winter. It’s easy to make, the hardest part being cutting up cabbage into bite-sized pieces. A friend of mine, who suffers with arthritis in her hands, followed the recipe but added bagged coleslaw from the produce department. The taste was very much the same, but it lacked the texture and comfort of using regular cabbage.

I realized, as I was looking over this post, that cinnamon has been to the forefront three different times. I’ve always liked cinnamon, starting way back to the childhood days of toast with cinnamon and sugar. I’ve been known to add a little cinnamon with my sugar in a bowl of rather plain cereal (the few times I eat cereal). I add a preferred flavor of coffee creamer to my coffee at home (it’s NOT cinnamon!) but, when at a convenience store that doesn’t have a flavored coffee or creamer I prefer, I often add cinnamon with my coffee and standard creamer. I’d added it to hot tea before, but I was surprised at how much I also enjoyed it in hot coffee! Considering the multiple health benefits of cinnamon, I’m going to start looking for other ways to add it to food and drinks!

Of course, I suppose my favorite way to enjoy cinnamon is in a warm, gooey cinnamon roll/bun, but my diabetes precludes that from being a primary source of ingestion!

Meanwhile, it’s time to enjoy grilled meals for as long as possible before the weather changes too much. If you have a grill, use it as much as you can while you can! If you don’t have one, I can tell you that broiling a hot dog in a toaster oven gives you that same sense of a grilled hot dog if you let it cook for at least 15 minutes!

So, here’s to the last hot days of summer – and here’s to it getting cold enough that I can do more than just talk about nesting! And as always, please feel free to share any kitchen tips or hacks you have!