Monday, February 29, 2016

Laundering Tibetan Prayer Flags

I am having what can only be described as an existential, theological dilemma.
We are in the final stages of a pantry remodel, a DIY purgatory, so to speak. Fresh paint covers the walls of the utility/pantry room. All my cooking gear waits at the ready on the dining room table for return to brand new shelves.

And my Tibetan Prayer Flags are filthy.

There's a sentence my Sunday School teachers never anticipated.

I suppose I should qualify this a little.

Tibetan Prayer Flags are those colorful little banners you see hanging in the open air in nearly every picture of Tibet and the Himalayas. The story goes, that you say a prayer which attaches to the flag and as the breeze blows the flag the prayer is lifted to heaven.
I have had a set hanging in our kitchen for years.
I have never been to Tibet. These were purchased at the Plowshare shop in University City, Mo. (Plowshare is part of the One Thousand Villages organization, run by Mennonites to provide a way for Third World Villages to sell their wares. To learn more click: )

I am not Tibetan, or Buddhist, nor do I believe I need to pray to something to have my prayers heard. Although when a co-worker actually traveled to Tibet and climbed Mount Everest, you can bet I employed those flags quite frequently.
But overall, I do not feel I need the power of those flags to get my prayers answered.

I guess the flags might feel differently.
As I took the banner down to prep for painting I noticed a lot of frayed edges and quite a bit of kitchen gunk. For fabric that has never been exposed to the outside elements, these poor flags were looking pretty tattered.
Perhaps my prayers have been giving them quite a workout after all.
Or it might be my knack for cooking a fair amount of smoke producing dinners.
I am no theologian.
Slightly frayed edges. Thankfully, the kitchen gunk is not noticeable in the photo.

Which brings me to my dilemma.
Is it, in fact, okay to run these sort of holy artifacts through the washing machine?
Will I somehow wash away all that good praying?
Will those that benefited from my prayers suddenly be cast into a world of despair, hunger and lost earrings?

Of course, when I attempted to just hang them back in their rightful place the Lutheran German in me won out. And into the Maytag they went, properly cocooned in a pillow case along with my Grandma's embroidered German banner, which speaks to a happy home, and a set of Peruvian Wish Chickens.

If I am taking down one tradition I may as well take down several.
You can bet I said a prayer as I turned the dial to gentle and added the Holy Water of Delicate Laundry – Woolite – to the tub.

I am happy to report that the Prayer Flags came out crisp and clean and in an ethical battle of strings with the German banner. 
That is a whole lot of cultural confusion right there. 
Roughly translated this says: Not everyday is Sunday. Not everyday you can drink the wine but Everyday you must love me. Truly a German sentiment.
The Peruvian Wish Chickens were also as good as new, although upon further laundry duties I did find a handful of Wish Chicken bells in the Maytag. 
Bring it, Wishes! The Chickens are clean and ready.

But that's how life goes, isn't it.
We all shuffle through, a little agitated with one another now and then, a little frayed around the edges. But if we aren't willing to give it a try, well...we just wind up a grubby mess. 
Fresh and ready to help the World
Philosophical problem solved.
Now on to the Zen practice of Returning the Spices to the Stadium Seating Display in which I question the morality of having 4 different types of curry and 3 bottles of the exact same type of Paprika.

Say a prayer for me.

**I feel that everyone's faith is private. While having been raised in several Christian denominations, I do not subscribe to one particular organized church, choosing instead to believe in the Monty Pythonesque image that a higher power is indeed watching over us laughing and waiting to squelch evil doers with an enormous cartoon foot.
Why that foot hasn't been more active lately is a question for someone more qualified than me.

And, I hope this has not offended anyone. I suppose, if you are a routine reader you probably aren't easily offended. And if you are of the easily offended bend, well, I hope you took this opportunity to think. And maybe learn a little something about laundry.
One final thought, as those wise men from Monty Python put it:
"Try and be nice to people,
avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then,
get some walking in,
and try and live together
in peace and harmony
with people of all creeds and nations."

***Upon doing a little research for this post I learned that my belief that the flags helped send prayers to heaven was a misconception. Actually, the wind passing through the flags is sanctified and purified by the mantras printed on the flags. Also, it is traditional to replace flags yearly to renew hope for the world. 
Guess I just symbolically baptized the water supply here on the Coast of Illinois.
To learn more about these Prayer Flags click HERE 
I can't seem to find any info on the Peruvian Wish Chickens. I can only assume I have also been misinformed about them as well. I will, however, continue to wish. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Take Us Home CakeMan

As with most of the country, the Coast of Illinois is under attack. For some, the threat is wind. Others, as myself, it is the most dreaded of forecasts- the 'Wintery Mix'! And if you are lucky enough to be out of El Nino's tantrum there is still the hot air of politicians decimating the airwaves. 
So what better time than now to go back to the islands...
I passed this young man early one morning as I walked the beach looking for my favorite Ganga man (for PICTURES! Stop it!) He had a mask and spears and apparently a keen sense of fish hangouts. It has become one of my favorite photos.
But if early morning spear fishing isn't your thing..

How about a wine tasting and appetizer buffet in the dappled sunlight of a poolside pergola?

A beachside wedding perhaps? One of probably a dozen we covertly attended. Your gift is in the mail, happy couple.
Still not warm? 
Then perhaps a candlelight dinner under the stars?

Or a pastel painted sunrise...

Still not there? Then close your eyes and listen closely... There is a cart rolling down the marble wheel is a little wonky...a quiet rattle of china underscores splashes from the pool...a gentle whiff of vanilla mixes with the ocean breeze...
That's right...

 Possibly the most absurd and wonderful experience of my life so far! 
At the pool! 

I seriously need to relocate...

(All photos are from Iberostar Grand Rose Hall Jamaica. Wedding and dinner pics courtesy of our dinner club Fireman. The rest are mine.)

Monday, February 8, 2016

It's a disease, really...

It is officially the morning after.

The morning after our biennial Mardi Gras party. It use to be an annual party but let's face it, I am not as young as I was in 1999 when we started this thing.

There is a patio tent trying to launch in the cold February wind outside my kitchen window. Christmas party lights are strung throughout the entire upstairs. Giant Jenga lies in ruins on the basement floor. There is leftover alligator in my refrigerator and I am pretty sure the raccoons finished off one of the bottles of hurricane mix I forgot was on the deck.

And I am awash with the final stage of the Chronic Party Thrower: Amnesic Contentment.

This stage is defined by post party exhaustion, euphoria and delusional studying of the refrigerator calendar in search of the next potential party date.

However, to fully understand this 10th and final stage of the Chronic Party Thrower, we must examine the first nine stages.

Idea Blossom: a seed is planted, probably after watching a fantastic party scene in a movie which takes root and finally blossoms into the vocalization of "I can totally throw a party even better and more fantastic than the chocolate birthday party scene in Chocolat. Let's do this!"

Guest List Agonization: Vocalization quickly leads to creation of a Facebook event page and a work flyer complete with clever illustration which also doubles as neighborhood invites – which I forgot to distribute. The guest list grows like a snowball rolling down a Warner Brothers Cartoon Mountainside as anyone claiming to be a dependent on a tax form, as well as immediate and extended family – both genetic and philosophical – add names to the list. 
Not only this year's invite logo but also painted on my basement wall - 'borrowed' from the Broadway Oyster Bar.

Supply Arrival Storage Shock: Waiting for RSVPs to begin rolling in is a rookie mistake. The MINUTE invites are mailed it is time to begin the supply order. Purchase a chest freezer to store perishables ordered from exotic locales such as Shreveport, La and Oriental Trading Company. Keeping a running list of forgotten items is essential. No one wants to be left without a mini drink umbrella. 
Yes. Gator. from

apx 37 quarts of gumbo

Regimented Prepping Mode: It is essential that prep begins withing one month of the planned event. Cleaning must include closets, under cupboard storage and the interior of the washer and dryer. Creating an Excel spread sheet is helpful, but not necessary. Just let that tiny What Would Mom Say voice in the back of your head guide you. Do I need to dust behind the television? "Yes. If you care for your guests' comfort, you will naturally dust in places they will never look because what if they did?"
JoeyKatt does not approve of all the garland and vacuuming.
Doubt and Panic: This is a fluctuating phase. It may begin any time after the public announcement of the planned event and once established will intermittently continue until the final guest has departed the venue. This stage is defined by doubt over the actual arrival of any actual guests-counteracted by manic listing of current and potential RSVPs as well as a list of former dependable guests augmented with a list of guests which you are praying don't actually show which produces a guilt so strong that you run out and introduce yourself to ten more people then immediately invite them too. Fear that there will not be enough food-treated triggers repeat Target and SAM's club runs. Other symptoms may include over decorating, party favors in the likeness of Elvis and purchase of enough fabric to create matching outfits for the entire family, including the cat.

Restful Oblivion: The brief ninety minutes prior to the arrival of the first guests when you foolishly think you are finally and completely ready. The sufferer will kick back on the couch with a cup of coffee, a handful of M&Ms and -if this is a malignant infection – a book.

Last Minute Panic Prep: Best observed from afar, or the basement, this is the moment when the party planner realizes that in fact, the shrimp is NOT thawed, the corn for the boil has not been cleaned and there is no ice. None. 
This is me. Defrosting the shrimp. T-10 minutes to guest arrival. I am not smiling. I am gritting my teeth and wondering if I need a CAT scan.
Relax and Enjoy aka Have another Hurricane: Sadly, only advanced Party Throwers ever reach this stage and even then, most require one adult beverage over their self imposed limit to reach it resulting in that vague feeling that perhaps you DID sing background to Peaceful Easy Feeling...and then took the lead for the final, angsty verse.
Yes. This is Giant Jenga. There was also a complimentary helmet for when it reaches 5 foot. And it did.

Sleep Cleaning: Defined as manic cleaning of the entire house after the last guest has left; not all Chronic Party Throwers experience this phase. Prediction of potential sufferers can be determined by leaving two half empty cans of soda, a dirty coffee cup and a skillet used to saute chicken scattered around the house before bed. Those who are immune will go to bed and clean up next morning. Those infected with a mild case will empty and rinse the cans and place upside down in the dish drainer, fill the cup and skillet with warm water to soak before retiring. Terminal cases will rinse and drain the cans before placing in the appropriate recycle bins, scour the coffee stains from the cup, prep the coffee maker for next day and wash, dry and reorganize the pots and pans storage area before putting the skillet away. Attempts to treat this stage with more alcohol will only result in deep resentment the following morning. And no delicious left over potato hash.

This leads to the final and aforementioned stage:

Amnesic Contentment: Best defined as a complete, all encompassing desire to relive the entire event, from first guest arrival to delivery of the final Hurricane. Stories are told and retold, Facebook photos are shared and a pleasant melancholy satisfaction exudes from every pore leaving the Chronic Party Planner to suddenly remember that she failed to put the mini drink umbrellas by the Frozen Concoction Maker and now she is stuck with a gross of mini drink umbrellas which are just screaming for a new party in which to adorn guests tropical beverages...where's my calendar...



As a chronic sufferer of Chronic Party Planning, you might wonder just what spurs this insane behavior on?

I have done some deep reflection and I believe there are several motivating factors.

      1. It is the dead of winter and nothing warms the heart more than a house covered in holiday lighting.
      2. It is unbelievably fun to tell people you have 10 pounds of alligator in your fridge.

And finally:      
                           3. What better way to let the people that you see every day, as well as those you only see occasionally, that they are valued as an important part of your life.


If I could, I would invite every single person I know – in real life and internet life- to our Mardi Gras Party. Because Life's too short not to try alligator while sipping a Hurricane and waiting for your turn at Giant Jenga on the Coast of Illinois.

Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler!!
Video courtesy of my Dad. 
See you time! 

OOPS -  as promised - here is the GUMBO recipe: 

Saute in a heavy saucepan or dutch oven:
1 diced onion
1 diced bell pepper
2Tbs olive oil or butter
After 2 minutes sprinkle with Tony Cacherre Cajun Spice (available in the seafood aisle)
Stir and then allow to cook undisturbed over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. 
Stir, scraping the bottom of the pan - it will look slightly burned. but don't worry.
Add 1 large 32oz  can crushed tomatoes and 6cups chicken broth along with another 1-2 Tbs of the Cajun spice. 
Simmer on low for 15 minutes.
Add 2-3 cups of shredded, cooked chicken.
        (This time I cooked the chicken breasts in the crock pot for 4 hours with a very liberal sprinkling amount of Cajun Spice. Alternately, you can bake the chicken with spice on it or even use canned or rotisserie chicken if in a hurry. Just be sure to add more Cajun Spice.)
Allow to simmer slightly covered over low heat for as long as possible but for at least another 15 minutes 
You can also add sausage, shrimp, crab or my favorite - Krab, with a K. (Fake crab legs).
Serve with a scoop of rice.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Complimentary Catamaran? Why, Thank You!

It's Groundhog's Day. Which is appropriate, as I have been trying to write this post over and over and over and over and then Sonny and Cher starts playing on the radio and Andy McDowell has her face carved in ice and that gopher from Caddyshack drives the truck off a cliff and ....

Sailing in Jamaica. This site greeted me on the approach to Montego Bay. It still makes me shake my head but I have to say, there are no words to convey how much I love the feeling of being under sail.
What a lovely thought on a windy, dreary February day.
Also a lovely thought on our SFJV* last autumn. 
We had the opprotunity to take out the COMPLIMENTARY catamarrans while we were guests at the Iberostar Grand Rose Hall in Montego Bay. 

In fact, any guest of the hotel has these boats available, along with snorkel gear and kayaks! All complimentary! 
No experience needed.
Theses are a very trusting people.
(I believe they do offer a quick lesson.)

Rob and I are comfortable on mono-hull boats, you know - the kind Captain Jack commandeers. But we had never tried catamarrans. In fact, all I knew about them was to HANG ON! Every one I have ever seen was tipped on its side with the crew hanging off the up edge.
Of course, soaking wet is my go-to sailing look.

We had pretty strong, steady winds - NE to SW, Cuba to Panama. Something like that. The boats are very easy to maneuver downwind, especially if your wife is acting as ballast. However, going back upwind to the point where the boat is to be turned in is a little more tricky, especially if you haven't really sailed. Which seemed to be the level of expertise among most of the sailors we saw. We counted at least three boats trapped at the far end of the beach, waiting for the rescue crew to tow them back. No one was in danger of anything more than a bruised ego and a pocket book lightened of $50, which is the going rate for a rescue. 

All that class time and puking in the BVI really saved us. In fact, after our first excursion we were complimented by an older lady and her son, who both noted that we clearly had a little sail time under our lifebelts.

We took the catamarans out several times the week we stayed, never bothering to reserve a boat. Although our last excursion was at the mercy of a guest who finally never showed. Two friends went with Rob for an afternoon- even after I warned them of the 'ballast' job and the fact that the guy in front will be soaked with spray- and came back so excited and thrilled that they went out again with us the following day. 

I guess I am not the only one who appreciates a fine salt water splash now and then....

*SFJV - Super Fancy Jamaica Vacation. 
For more sailing stories click on the Sailing link above. 
Happy Groundhogs Day!