Friday, February 13

Happy V-D Day!

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Monday, January 19

I Want to Thank You

I just want to thank you.

Reverend King, thank you so much for your hard work and sacrifice to make the world a better place. I have benefited, and I believe America is better because of you. There is still so much to be done, but we have some terrific folks continuing your work. I hope I'm part of the solution, too.

For the readers looking for a great place to start, read this.

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Sunday, January 4

2008 Was Nice

     No post since September. What does it all mean Corky?*

     I wish I could tell you that it means I’ve found the solution to the world’s woes. Or a silver bullet for my own.

     Oh sure, some real exciting things have happened since then. Birthdays have been celebrated (Squash in October, me in December), we have both been working hard at our jobs, and Genghis has kept us running, running, running. It seems as if we spent most of 2008 at the grocery store. I swear we could reduce the world’s carbon footprint and save our family a lot of money if we could stop making runs to the store. The items that we seem to never have enough of: deli turkey, fruit (Genghis loves fresh berries), frozen broccoli, sweet potatoes, bread, and of course diapers after all that (ha), and coffee for us grow ups. I can’t resign myself to bulk purchasing (bad for the environment) and Genghis loves going. I wish there was a market within walking distance so I could buy fresh every day and not use the car.

     What else has happened? Let’s see. I had a 20-year high school reunion. Hume-Fogg High School was such a unique and memorable experience for me and for many of my classmates, but the reunion reminded me of how far removed we are from that time. It is bittersweet that being an alumna doesn’t define me (and many of my peers) as much as it used to.

     Squash has practically taught himself French. He’s put in so much overtime his employer gave him another raise and we are grateful, especially in this economy. Thankfully he’s in the health care industry and in accounting. He’s not passionate about either, but he works hard and does a great job at it, demonstrating discipline and commitment. I’m really proud of him.

     Christmas was subdued, thankfully. Oh sure, I disliked the toxic mix of commercialism and religion, but it seemed to be less of a nuisance this year. And we weren’t sick, which makes a huge difference. Here’s a few Christmas pics in what is currently one of the most toxic waste spills in the country. Yep, Squash’s people hail from glorious Kingston, Tennessee, the Peach Capitol of the world and the State Capitol for one day. Salute!

     The big news is that September there have been some more profound changes underfoot for me. And I like it. I’m just not ready to talk about it in any detail. No, I’m not afraid of jinxing it because I’m not superstitious. Or at least not as much as I used to be. It’s just that as I mentally process the work I’m doing, I find it hard to put into words and describe.

     For the time being, let’s just say that I’ve figured out that there is no silver bullet (and that’s OK), but The Solution is really plural and lowercase, and the solutions lie within me. I used to know that intellectually, but found it hard to put into practice. Now, I’m doing the work. No, I didn’t have a Come to Jesus experience, for better or for worse. The stimulus for the changes is not very dramatic and the difference is probably only discernable to me and those who are very close to me. Coworkers and acquaintances probably won’t pick up on it. And it is hard work. But good work. Good, and all mine.

     Meanwhile, I’d like to change the focus of this blog to showing practical, doable, inexpensive ways to be kinder to the planet. I’m thinking photos and descriptions of stuff I do everyday around the house and in my job and my community that are green. With a little of the personal stuff thrown in. Would that be fun or helpful to anyone, or would it be the sound of one hand clapping in a forest? I may just do it anyway.

     I know that 2009 will be nice for me. What about You?

*Movie Reference: Waiting for Guffman (a Christopher Guest sidesplitter. Jamie Lee Curtis is sooooo lucky.)
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Tuesday, September 2


     I know I have days where I’d like to throw a big ole pity party. Everyone has those days (sound of glasses clinking, noisemakers honking and an unenthusiastic “Hurrah” from the crowd). I've been reading a lot of blogs lately, and I see a lot of bitching and moaning about not having enough money, not having enough creative time, being too sad (not having enough happiness), and not having enough youth (aging). Sure, there are real losses and real dramas out there.

     However, most of us get some recovery time, some time to take a deep breath, wipe away a tear or two (or many), put on a happy face, and go forward until things are better.

     But what if you don’t get rebound time? What if every single day was a challenge and presented you with new significant problems and your down time was nonexistent? How would you breathe deep and go to your happy place knowing that if you had one (or God forbid two) glasses of wine and your child stopped breathing you might not be alert enough to resuscitate your baby?

     That’s the reality for some folks out there. They are always "on call." Some of our fellow men and women crumble under these conditions. Oh yes, they do. Some self medicate and become addicts, while others quietly implode. A few lash out (anger is the flip side of fear or pain), and others walk away. Bless all of them.

     Then there are some folks that for whatever reasons, exhibit true grit, more often referred to as poise.

     Poise was one of the adjectives bandied about this Olympic season. While I was impressed with the athletes and I do think they exhibit great courage, strength and sense of purpose, their competitive endeavors don’t really define poise for me the way my friend Courey does.

     This young woman has it in spades. Her toddler son, Linden, has been diagnosed with an incurable condition, one that has challenged her almost every day with new medical problems. It took nearly two years to come up with a diagnosis, and the current opinion is that he has mitochondrial disease, which is rare and incurable (Oprah's friend Mattie Stepaneck, the boy who gave us HeartSongs, had a type of Mito disease). The diagnosis means he'll probably always get all his meals and fluids through a stomach tube, he'll always need oxygen and he'll always get tired. And it is fatal.

     She handles all of this, even the concern that her lovely daughter Aniyah may be somehow forgotten in this journey, with poise. She demonstrates to us in her blog that she is not a hero, but a beautifully flawed, “boring” Mom who is going to continue to do her best for her entire family. At the same time, she will seek beauty, joy and fun where ever she can. In her own words:

“We may not like it, but that is how it is, so we better just deal. So we’re taking it all a day at a time and not worrying any more about tomorrow than we have to. We love him, and he’s a happy boy, and that is all that matters to us.”

     Courey even patiently educates us how to be her friend, how to treat her and her family, in the most practical and loving way.

     Her August post really illustrates her poise, and that's why I nominate it for August's Perfect Post award. The monthly Perfect Post award is the dreamchild of Suburban Turmoil and Petroville.

The Original Perfect Post Awards 08.08

     We can learn from Courey. She shows us to look at the good things we do have, focus on the positive choices that will make the situation better, and don’t stop loving those around us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t get to cry. Or get mad. Or retreat. We can do all that, but at some point, we have to deal with our pain constructively because that’s really the only intelligent choice. Poise is hope in thoughtful and creative action, one day at a time.

Thanks, Courey.

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Thursday, June 19

Parenting 101

      It amazes me how some young folks get this parenting thing so well. As an older new Mom I'm often just shocked how some men and women in their early 20s catch on so easily.

      I just read a great post by a young woman named Arwen Elizabeth who gets it.
While I don't agree with everything she opines on, she's a parenting whiz, and I wish I'd taken Parenting 101 from her.

      One thing she said really struck me as important but made me a bit sad because it's taken me nearly 38 years to figure it out:

" ... what is important is not how I act upon them [family members] but how I respond to them, learning to be a bigger, better person through relationships."

      Arwen contributes a lot of her own success at parenting to her own folks. Here's an excerpt:
"And the reason they could do what they did so well is, I've finally realized, largely due to the way they approached the task of being parents to us children: not as a job at which they might fail or excel, but as a relationship. It was important to them not that they *achieve* in any outwardly visible way, but that they *love* to the best of their ability. The quality of their parenting would ultimately be self-measured not by the impressiveness of anything we children did or became, but by the quality of our relationships with God and those around us, which would be a reflection of and a reflection upon our relationships with our parents themselves."

      I agree her parents did have a thing or two figured out as well. Here's something her Dad said:
"What it boils down to is that we've been jobbed into thinking there are certain ways to "do" parenting, while the real trick is to "be" parents - make it part of our identity."

      He also tapped into a source of fear that I've had, as a new parent, and work hard to overcome. You can see glimpses of my insecurity in earlier posts on this blog. Here's what he has to say about it:

"One thing that has amazed me since before we began our family has been how much fear modern parents live under. It's almost assumed that parenting means living in this constant atmosphere of fear: fear that something's going to happen to their child, fear that they'll do something to damage their child, fear that they'll somehow "fail" parenting. I don't know if this finds its source psychological theories, or modern social attitudes, or what, but it's a terrible thing, and I think part of the reason why people dread even the thought of parenting.

I'm sure this tendency has many roots, but I think I know some of them. Part of it has to do with our cultural mistrust of the person. Some centuries ago, an attitude began to rise that said that people were not as trustworthy as systems. A person could fail you, but a properly implemented procedure (or process, or system, or protocol) would not. This attitude showed up particularly in workplaces and governments, but it eventually crept into the home.

There it took the form of doubt - doubt cast on the parent's ability to parent. "You untrained, inexperienced neophyte! What makes you think you can do something as vital as parenting? What if you FAIL?!?!? Better not leave something this important to mere chance!" So parents were encouraged not to trust themselves, but to trust "the system", where "the system" was some protocol or process defined by some expert(s) in accord with some set of principles. Raising children would no longer be a chancy, suspect operation that depended on some frail, inexperienced human for success. Now all the parents had to do was follow the procedure, and the outcome would be guaranteed! After all, this principle worked for manufacturing flashlights - why shouldn't it work for raising children?"

      Oh yes, his statement cut right to the root of my fears. Montessori or not. Public school or private. Time out or spanking. These thoughts just show that I was missing the mark--it's the quality of the relationship, dummy.

      Both Arwen and her father extrapolate their own parenting philosophies to the subject of one of the touchiest, most neuroses inducing subjects in the world, DISCIPLINE, which can be a tough one for new parents. But their discipline philosophy completely resonates with me and I am going to try my best to adhere to to the best of my ability. Here's the gist:
"A parent who times out to punish is going to get a much different outcome than a parent who uses time out to firmly show consequences for bad behavior."

      Or as her Dad says:
"One thing that really helped me with discipline: realizing the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is backward looking; discipline is forward looking. Punishment is "getting even" for a past offense; discipline is forgiveness of the offense but concern that it not happen again. Punishment is not concerned with the good of the offender so long as retribution is extracted; discipline is all about the good of the offender, that he might not do that destructive act again."

      I've been a hard person on some of those nearest and dearest to me. Judgemental, extracting, punishing and demanding. I used to attribute it to my higher standards, but really it was a foil to distract from me feeling out of control. It really boiled down to vulnerability. I finally get how ineffective and pointless and brittle hardness is and I've been working hard to change some bad habits. I'm so glad that there are people out there learning these things much faster and with fewer growing pains.

      Oh yeah, this former control freak has a lot to learn about parenting and family. And it's totally worth every agonizing, exquisite lesson.

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Saturday, May 31

You Kraine, I Kraine, We all Scream for Ukraine!

Or, From Russia (Sort of) with Love

Quick: What is Europe’s second-largest country? If you can’t figure it out from the title of this post, I’m worried about you.

As your typical Westerner, and particularly, your average American, it took me awhile to figure out that the owners of South Nashville’s most fascinating Eastern European deli and market were not Russian. Or to be precise, that Ukraine is not Russia. At least not anymore.

I should know better, awhile back I read The Carpathians by Janet Frame and because I’m such a geocentric dork, I had to look that word up. Turns out that’s a mountain range worth noting. [I have not read Jules Verne’s The Castle of the Carpathians, which takes place in the region, unlike Frame’s book.] For what it’s worth, Bram Stoker's Dracula had his castle in the Carpathian mountains, but I’m guessing it was the Romanian side.

What is important to know about the Ukraine for our purposes is that if you are traveling from the west it is the gateway to Belarus and Russia, and if you are coming from the east it is your ticket to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. That means Ukraine is an Eastern European melting pot, but I’m probably stepping on some toes for saying so. It is six times larger than the lovely state of Tennessee.

If you live in the Ukraine, your diet is going to be influenced by many other countries and ethnicities. Your food is also going to vary dramatically moving eastward from the rugged hills of the Carpathians across the wide plains in the middle and southward to the mysterious Black Sea and Sea of Azov. As a Ukrainian, you’d have access to just about everything from a Polish pirogue (although they have something similar called a varenyky) to a Turkish kebab, as long as you don’t mind a boat ride.

I know, I know. These European people kill me. But trust me; they’ve paid dearly for their euro melting pot. Still are.

So, returning to the real topic at hand, where else in Nashville could you choose from a gorgeous selection of yummy cheeses, meats and fish, get superior European chocolate and find delicate white dried porcini mushrooms? Where else could you pick up raisin and cheese blintzes, Siberian raviolis, handmade Varenikis (like pierogies), kielbasas, a variety of Russian beers and delicate cakes and cookies? Where else is there a wall of prettily packaged bulk candies that instantly remind you of Sugar Plum fairies? A place where you can wire some euros to your babushka back home and check out an assortment of Russian and American (in Russian) movies? The answer: Aleksey’s of course!

(Please forgive the shake on this photo, I get excited around the candy bins).

This Russian and European Eastern market in Berry Hill was the brainchild of Alexei Khimenko, a former dancer with the Nashville Ballet. Originally from Moscow, Khimenko decided to open this little gem in 2003 after searching for and not finding many of his traditional goodies and extensively researching the import food market. Khimenko eventually sold it to his Ukrainian friends, husband-and-wife team Yuriy and Yevheniya Kvaternyuk, so that he could focus on wine and liquor imports.

The Kvaternyuk’s are from Vinnytsia, 160 miles southwest of Kiev. Suprisingly, Vinnytsia has some key features in common with Nashville. It has a population of about 400,000 and is located on the Southern Buh River. I wonder if its nickname is Old Muddy. While not a capitol, Vinnytsia (or Winnica in Polish) is the administrative center of the province. It is home to one of the largest Baptist churches in Europe while Nashville is host to the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s no wonder Yuriy, a kind but quiet dark-haired man, and Yevheniya, a charming petite blonde, are at home here. So I was surprised when I found out that Nashville is not the sister city to Vinnytsia. No, Birmingham, Alabama gets that distinction. Someone care to explain that to me?

Anyway, if you go, you will likely be greeted by one of the Kvaternyuk’s and an assistant named Inna, also from the Ukraine. Now is a great time to go, as they are slightly slower in the summer, according to Yuriy. You can start tasting the merchandise and figuring out what you like and don’t like. Come Christmas they get busy with special orders and folks seeking novel gifts, such as bear salami (yes, you read that correctly, click on photos to enlarge).

Yuriy says that all of his imported stock comes through a distributor in New York. He features food and drink from Greece, Poland, Hungary, Germany and France. I even saw a can of Australian beef goulash. In addition to beers, they have a wide selection of sodas, juices, teas and coffees. He says he likes to put out new items and pays attention to customer feedback. So if there’s something you are looking for, or something you really like, tell him or Yevheniya.

Not everything at Aleksey’s is for me. I haven’t had the heart to tell anyone in the store that I’m mostly vegetarian, and what’s more, even if I did eat meat, it definitely would not include head cheese, veal roll, or blood and tongue. Dried eel and whole pickled tomatoes are out, too.

Fortunately my husband, Squash, loves sardines and other stinky fish in a can, and there’s a large selection. My only rule: Please don’t eat it in the house.

I do love the selection of cheeses, deli-style and prepackaged in the dairy section.

I also love the assortment of cookies, cakes and breads:

And the chocolate and candies:

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ukraine has made clear its desires to join the EU bandwagon and 2015 is a possible entry date. The very photogenic Yulia Tymoshenko became prime minister in December 2007 and appears to be friends with higher ups at NATO and the EU, so she may be able to get things done.

In the meantime, please drop by this quaint yet hip Slavic/European deli and market located at 718 Thompson Lane (across from 100 Oaks mall) and pick up some goodies. You won’t be disappointed. And if you are new to the area, and speak Russian, by all means stop by here.

Budmo! Na zdrowie! Egészségetekre! Budem zdorovy! Noroc! Stolitschka! Prost! Stin ijiasas! Santé!

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Thursday, May 15

I've Been Stimulated.

It came in the mail today. I was almost embarrassed when I pulled it out of the mailbox.

While nice, I know it’s not a cure all. Bush’s economic stimulus package, while helpful in the short term, is not a long-term fix. In short, whoopee. Or as a friend of mine recently said several times in an e-mail, whooptiedoo (it was about something else, as she lives in Stockholm, but I love the term).

My check totaled $1,500. Guess what I’m going to spend it on? The 10% tax penalty for cashing out my 401K so that I can refinance our mortgage and not lose the house. So really, I break even. I’m grateful I don’t have to essentially pay the government for liquidating prior to retirement age, but it would be nice to have had that money.

There are so many things we need: A tight fence to protect Genghis from our asshole neighbor’s pit bull. Our large maples out front need to be delimbed before they hurt someone. Squash’s truck, an 80s model, is on its last leg.

So, dear readers, if there are any out there, have you been stimulated? If so, what ya gonna do with it? I’d love to hear the answers. I suspect many of you all are simply going to plug holes, so to speak, in your budget. But is anyone going to do anything fun?

Next up, a run down on one of my favorite Nashville spots, a place where you can get everything from Babushka's teething biscuits to head cheese and Russian porn! No, no, that's not the right sentiment for this place. It's wholesome and delicious. You'll see.
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