On Cabbage And St. Patrick’s Day

On Cabbage And St. Patrick’s Day.

I gathered Will and Grace and told them, “We are going to the store.”  After a short drive, we arrived at the market, and I pulled out my list.  Carrots, cabbage, small red potatoes… the items trailed on.   A swipe of my credit card, a short return drive, and we were back home.

I checked the internet for cooking times, and the three of us moved into action.  Vegetables washed, peeled, and cut up.  I pulled the slab of corned beef that I bought a week earlier from the fridge and cut it into three pressure cooker sized pieces.  Beef broth, an onion, and eight cloves of garlic went into the pressure cooker followed by a rack.  I plopped the sections of corned beef on top of the rack, set the timer to 90 minutes and pressed the start button. Our St. Patrick’s Day celebration was underway.

Julie told me that she wanted to go for a walk, and this 90-minute window seemed to be a perfect time.  We walked downtown, which was already bustling with people wearing bright green shirts and hats.  The bars were open, and despite the fact that it was only late afternoon some revelry goers appeared drunk.

On our return, I removed the beef and added the vegetables.  Three minutes later, dinner was cooked. Corned beef, cabbage, carrots, baby red potatoes, soda bread. Simple, but delicious.

I thought back to the last time that I made corned beef; it was a year earlier.  In fact, I typically make corned beef only once a year.

St Patrick’s Day has little significance for us.  Yes, I know that St. Patrick converted Ireland to Christianity.  But our connection with the day centers mostly on the meal.

With that said, I would miss not celebrating this minor holiday.  I enjoy our traditional corned beef meal, which somehow makes the day seems special.  I believe that these minor celebrations serve an important function. That function varies from person to person.  St. Patrick’s Day allows some to celebrate by recounting the religious significance of the day. Others use the day as an excuse to get drunk.  We choose the day to have a simple family meal of corned beef and cabbage.

Minor holiday celebrations can give us something to look forward to.  They can bring our families and friends together.  They can allow us to extend ourselves outside of our usual actions and behaviors.  They are more than marketing ploys designed to coerce us to buy things.

So Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day! If you didn’t celebrate it, consider doing it now.  I’m sure you can get a nice slab of corned beef at clearance prices.

Cooking Corned Beef and Cabbage.


Day Seventy-Two, And Waiting.

Day Seventy-Two, And Waiting.

Today is day seventy-two. Seventy-two days, almost two and one-half months. Day seventy-two and I’m still not sure where I’m heading. I don’t know what I should have expected, perhaps nothing. Instead of clarity, my future seems to be more cloudy. Maybe my expectations were too high. That wouldn’t be a surprise.

My change took place on January 1st of this year. I moved from a five day work week to a three day one. Two more open days a week, a four day weekend every week. Now, seventy-two days later I am left wondering where the time goes. Friday evening starts, I turn around, and it is Tuesday night. I had so many plans.

To be fair to myself, I am doing some of the things that I had planned. To be honest with myself I’m not doing them to the degree that I had hoped. To be brutally honest my efforts have not convinced me that I have a hidden talent that will propel me into a new career.

I am not sure if my expectations are realistic, as everyone around me is telling me to take it easy and to be easier on myself. I am writing more, I am expanding my photography skills, I have done some house organization, and I’m even playing the guitar a little more. All of these activities at about a third of the level that I had hoped to do them, but I am doing them.

So what is the problem? To be honest, the problem isn’t that different from the problem that I had when I assessed my progress about a month ago. The problem is that I lack direction. I do not have a singular purpose; I am still scattered. I am still sampling this and that, hoping for inspiration to strike. The lightning bolt has not arrived.

On a day to day basis my writing style changes, as do my interests. I have been doing some architectural photography for a friend, and I find myself consumed by learning this new type of photography. I like being consumed by an interest. Is this a “next step” or just a passing interest? I find that I really enjoy working with small businesses. I tend to see things from a different angle. Is this a “next step” for just a passing interest?

I like writing about my philosophy of life. I want to distill a lifetime of experience into simple paragraphs. I like writing slogans for life. Is this a “next step” or just a passing interest?

I want to travel to beautiful landscapes, small towns, real farms. I want to connect with people and write about them. I want to inspire other people with what I write. However, fear stands in my way. This fear is on many levels.

I have a fear that I would be disloyal to my family if I go away for a few weeks or even a few days. I have concerns about “wasting” family money on such a self-centered adventure.

I have a fear of reaching out to people and asking them for help. Dear reader, I have no evidence that this fear is rational, and I am confident that it is based in my childhood. Time and time again when I reach out to people they are not only receptive, but they seem happy about our connection. It is maddening that I am so influenced by childhood trauma. It is infuriating that I let these fears control me and that it takes so much effort for me to break free of them. I guarantee to you that I have been actively working on correcting this issue, but it has been a two step forward, one step backward process. I am convinced that this old dog can learn a few new tricks. Convinced, yet not sure.

I wonder what my next step should be. Should I plan a short non-family trip as a first stage of desensitization? Should I talk to friends and family and specifically ask them for help? Should I meet with my pastor, who is a shaker and mover, and ask for his advice? Should I continue doing what I’m currently doing and wait for an opportunity to present itself?

As I write this, I am aware of another obstacle. I love having the bits of unstructured time that I am now experiencing. I love the ability to write in present tense one day, and past tense the next. I love learning new things, like my recent stint with architectural photography. If I become hyper-focused on a project, I will need to give up those things. Personal growth over the greater good, could this be stopping me?

Day 72, the clock it ticking. Dear reader, I’ll keep you updated.

My life is like my spice cabinet

What is on your bucket list?  Going skydiving? Attending baseball games at all of the major stadiums? Buying a BMW M6?  I have a bucket list too, and I am in the process of tackling one of my items. My list has some fun goals on it, but it also has some things that I need to do for other reasons.  So what am I tackling? Cleaning out my spice cabinet, of course!

Dear reader, as I type this, I imagine you yawning as you click off this post, but I am who I am.  In our house, the spice cabinet occupies an entire three shelf kitchen cabinet. For years it has been so full that finding the most common item can require digging through its entire contents.

The cabinet serves as a repository of general baking items, such as baking powder and vanilla.  It has specialty items, like my wife’s ever-growing collection of cookie sprinkles. It has cooking items, like bouillon.  And of course, it has lots and lots of spices.

The last sentence may make you think that we are exotic gourmet cooks.  This is not the case. Like many, we buy an unusual spice to try out a recipe and then keep it.  Our cabinet has Chinese, Indian, and Cajun spices with names that I can’t even pronounce. We also have the usual spices: oregano, bay leaves, paprika, basil, thyme, cinnamon, that we use often.

 The cabinet is jammed packed, and I have wanted to clean it out for years, but the thought of doing the job was overwhelming.  Instead, I would waste time digging through unneeded items to find those common spices that I did need. I would rebuy spices that we had because I couldn’t locate them in the cabinet. The cabinet was so full that a little jostling would send these bottles to their death. It was common to have a bottle fall and shatter on the kitchen countertop when I went spice hunting, creating an unnecessary and sometimes dangerous mess.  

Yesterday I decided that enough was enough and I started the process of cleaning, eliminating and restocking.  Various jars and bottles completely covered my kitchen countertops. I sorted through them. Long expired spices went into the garbage, as did those spices that we used once and are likely never to be used again. I asked my wife if she wanted to participate in the cleanup.  She said no, and I couldn’t blame her. Her refusal has exonerated me from any future blame if I accidentally tossed out an item that she would have kept.

Today I’ll line the cabinet with shelf paper, and restock it with the saved items.  Cleaning a spice cabinet is like many life tasks. At some point, I’ll have to do it all over again.

Dear reader, if you have been following my blog, you likely realize that I find life lessons in just about everything. As humans, our responses are limited and routine. We tend to practice the same behaviors in many of our actions, whether it is in our lack of attention to a spice cabinet, or lack of attention to our lives, goals, and relationships.

These are the lessons that I learned from my spice cabinet cleaning:

  • Just like bottles of unused spices, it is easy to let unimportant things clutter up my life.
  • Keeping “brain clutter” around increases my chance of not paying attention to things that I do need to pay attention to.  The result is that unnecessary problems can come crashing down on me.
  • It is OK to give up those things that are not important to me, even if they would be considered important to someone else.
  • Sometimes I have to do the real work of cleaning this stuff out of my life, even if I don’t want to.
  • Doing this necessary work doesn’t have to be pleasant.  Necessary does not mean pleasant. Necessary means necessary.
  • When indicated, I need to include the feelings and needs of those around me when making such decisions. However, my needs also count.
  • This is not a one and done process, and I will need to repeat it once my life-clutter builds again.
  • If I do regular check-ins with myself, I will be able to deal with my life-clutter sooner. The task will become more routine, it will be easier to accomplish, and I will become more efficient at accomplishing it.
  • Just like spices, having a little variability and uncertainty adds interest to my life.  However, just like spices, too much ruins it.

Wishing you a clean spice cabinet, and just enough spice to make your life interesting!

a cabinet full of unused spices!


Taking Pictures In The Bathroom

Taking Pictures In The Bathroom.

My original plan had me walking Tuesday morning at 5 AM.  My friend Tom was going to pick me up at 7:30 AM and take me to do a photoshoot of a recent remodel job that he completed. Monday night I received a text message from Tom, “Can you help me with my computer?  I’ll take you to breakfast.” “Sure,” I replied. An adventure with Tom trumps walking.

At 4:50 AM Tom pulled up in front of my house.  I put my coat on and headed out the door. Once inside the cabin of the car I was greeted by a friendly hello and a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee.  We headed into the city meeting rush hour traffic. I was grateful that Tom was driving; traffic makes me crazy.

At our favorite breakfast joint, The Palace, Tom chided me to order “Something decent  this time.” I have been making an effort to be conservative in my ordering, and this unannounced change had clearly been picked up by him.  I went with a veggie omelet. Tom pulled out his MacBook Pro and I fiddled with it and solved his technical problem. I have never had a computer class, but I seem to have an ability to understand computers.  Sometimes the answers to a computer problem will literally flash in front of me. I guess this talent would be classified under the category that my wife refers to as my autistic brain.

Off to the suburbs and the photoshoot.  Tom had several appointments Tuesday morning and so I shot solo.

The remodel consisted of a kitchen and two bathrooms.  He had put a lot of thought and energy into the project and was rightly proud of the outcome. He wanted me to digitally capture when he was seeing for his portfolio.  

Dear reader, there are few architectural shoots that are more difficult than a bathroom.  Consumers see glossy photos in advertisements, but they don’t realize that these images can be bathroom “sets,” and not the real thing.  When a pro shoots a real bathroom the room is sometimes partially deconstructed to allow for proper shooting angles.

Bathrooms are small, and to give photos the illusion of a larger space it is necessary to use a wide angle lens along with a camera capable of using such a lens to its greatest advantage. Wide angle lenses add a tremendous amount of distortion to an image. Objects towards the corners of the lens spread out and tilt in very unnatural ways.

Lighting is difficult when shooting a bathroom, a flash has to be carefully directed to avoid washing out closeby surfaces. Even using existing lighting presents its own problems of unwanted reflection and exposure blowouts.

Reflective surfaces, like mirrors and glass shower doors, are everywhere.  It isn’t considered professional to see a photographer in the mirror of a finished photograph! Doors open into spaces, blocking the room view.  The list of issues goes on and on.

When we view a bathroom in person we are able to take in the whole experience. Our brain makes a composite image out of many scanned images. Unwanted objects are filtered out, holes are filled in.   The camera can only see the room one section at a time which highlights, not hides, flaws.

Door removal and room modification were (obviously) not an option, the best I could do was to try to emphasize creativity, rather than absolute accuracy.

I mounted a borrowed 16-35 mm L series lens on a Canon 5D and positioned myself in the room looking for the best angles… I started shooting. High shots, low shots, inside shots, outside shots, this angle, that angle… click, click click.  A quick scan of the camera’s LCD screen to make sure I was in focus. Another scan to make sure that I wasn’t being reflected in the glass shower door. Click, click, click. It took me hours to shoot the two remodeled baths and the kitchen.

When I arrived back home I loaded the images into my computer.  A tweak in the overall contrast, a little more exposure here, better white balance there, and so it went.  I have some perspective correction tools that reduced some of the most egregious optical distortions, but I’m am hardly a Photoshop expert.  I don’t have the ability to create a geometrically accurate image, or the ability to perfectly clone out imperfections. Even so, I spent the rest of the day tweaking photos.

In the end, I felt OK with the results.  They were a little better than the last bathroom photoshoot that I did.  Hopefully, the next bathroom shoot will be a little better than this one. Although challenging, my project was also exciting.  I pushed myself to think differently, I became more proficient, not only with the photography but also the post-production work. I forced myself to use my own standard as a reference point.  That standard was not perfection.

Dear reader, I believe that last Tuesday’s photo shoot was actually a metaphor for how I approach life and its problems. If I have a problem I tend to believe that there is a solution to it.  I think about the potential issues and plan accordingly. I explore my solution specific strengths and weaknesses. I focus on potential pitfalls and possible workarounds for them. I face the problem and try to learn from both my successes and failures.  I correct my course as needed. I establish what is an acceptable outcome. Perfection does not exist, acceptable is the way to go.

I am not claiming that this method is the only reasonable one, but it generally has worked for me.  When I talk to some of my patients I can see how their problem solving is ineffective and at times causes them unnecessary stress and grief. Some people adopt the impulsive “ask forgiveness” model.  Some plan so obsessively that they never get around to tackling the task at hand. Some use the “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” option. Some feel that any outcome other than 100% is a failure, so they do nothing. Some utilize the, “It is not my fault, it’s your fault,” philosophy. None of these are congruent with happy life.

We are creatures of habit, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt and change.  If you are unhappy with the way that your life is going explore what you can do to change it.  Be reasonable and take responsibility for your actions. Don’t blame others, become your own force of change. Sometimes the slogan, “Life is what you make it,” can be true.

Bathroom detail shot.
A beautiful bathroom.
Interesting angles.
A wonderful roll-in shower.
Bathroom detail shot.