Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Out for Coffee

Image result for coffee house europeCoffee and me go back to college.  The school cafeteria offered breakfast coffee for 10 cents with unlimited refills.  Most mornings I would get a bow tie pastry with it, streusel + confectioners sugar coated for 25 cents, leaving me with energy for AM classes.  Within a year, I found an orange percolator that served me well studying for exams at night through medical school.  Can't remember where I lost it.  My father drank instant.  Phooey.

Living in Harvard housing, the Square had a shop called Coffee Connection, introduced to me by my wife.  They may have been the precursor to Starbucks, which eventually absorbed them.  Early on a weekend morning I could head over there and purchase a brew in an individual French press.  They had multiple types and you could buy beans, thus my first home coffee grinder, a blade type.  As I ventured to Fanueil Hall Marketplace, there were other places to sample different coffees,  12 oz for about 75 cents.  My home still had canned coffee, whatever was discounted at the supermarket, though by then I had developed a preference for Folgers over the other large commercial brands.  Only one blend per manufacturer at the time.

Fondness for coffee has continued to this day.  I have a bunch of French Presses, a keurig maker, three coffee cones, two drip machines, a stovetop percolator and and electric percolator, not to mention a party sized urn that rarely gets used and both manual and electric espresso makers.  My staple, though has been the keurig cups, enabling variety and ease of use with small sacrifice to taste.  Why ever go out?

Despite my gadgetry, I cannot duplicate what Starbucks and the like do.  WaWa has some varieties of good consistency at a lower price which I get when I am in transit.  When coffee houses were a novelty to me, the coffee in its variety, made with expertise, was my destination.  More recently, though, the destination has been less beverage and more transient space rental while I plan my week on Sunday mornings at the Brew HaHa or take my laptop to Starbucks to rent space at their counter while I type an essay.  Artists and Bohemians have been meeting at European coffee houses for centuries, less to drink coffee and more to expand their minds with each other.  I do it alone, but same basic principle.  Since the purpose is to minimize distraction and promote focus, I stopped going to the nearest Starbucks with loud music and traffic in favor of a newer one, more thoughtfully laid out to enable productive efforts.  The Brew HaHa is also quiet with the tables placed away from customer traffic.  And my car, with it's paper 20 oz cup of Ethiopian or Peruvian special, affords me the ultimate in solitude as I pay attention to the road.  Usually I have a destination, sometimes important, sometimes not.  So while coffee has remained a cheap hobby for me from my earliest adult years, sometimes the taste is supportive of something else that often has greater importance.  But we don't engage in great thought sipping Maxwell House.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Hanukkah Gifts

As newlyweds, or perhaps even before, we established a gift protocol along the lines of my in-laws family.  Parents, grandparents, and siblings would get one not too expensive gift from each other.  Spouses and children would arrange for one small gift each day.  Over time, we have become the senior generation.  Once we had kids, our siblings fell off the gift list.  Now we have our first new addition in a while, a fiancee, leaving me with 20 trinkets to acquire this year, eight for my wife and four each per child while my wife assumes a similar number.

Geographic realities made us experienced at shipping them on time.  Inflation, though, has only taken a minor toll.  We get less for our spending limit but there is no barrier to shopping at Goodwill where discounts override newness.  My son once got a skateboard within budget that way.

Add to that a December and a January birthday, with higher spending limits, and the amount of creativity needed to fulfill expectations can be challenging, though in a gratifying way.  It may be the only time when I must consider the uniqueness of each individual on the list. 

Needed to get away, I ventured out but came home mostly with ideas.  I had purchased two items previously at a crafts display.  If I see something that shouts Hanukkah, any time of the year, I acquire it and store it in a place easy to remember.  By far the most difficult purchase was always for my father who needed nothing, wanted nothing, and kept his interests obscure.  My nuclear family has many interests.  Some like a fondness for spirits maybe need acknowledgement in only the smallest way.  We have cats, we have Jewish, we have, sports teams.  There is always an edible, always one with kosher certifications.  Even when giving gifts to office staff, none of whom were Jewish, I would never give anyone food I would not eat myself, making an exception of a turkey drive for the needy if I qualified for a free bird from the supermarket.   Food in various forms remains readily available though seasonal specialties from gingerbread houses to hot sauces to drink enhancers no longer carry that desired OU.  Since the ladies can never have too many earrings, those work well.  Sized clothing doesn't work as well but it is generally light and unbreakable when shipped.  Eventually mugs and kitchen doodads create clutter.  Cosmetics have a way of accumulating too but are technically consumable.   Glass does not ship well, particularly when filled with liquid.

Give a few other stores a shot tomorrow.  Since the gifts are small, on-line shopping tends not to be cost effective for Hanukkah, probably the way to go for birthdays.
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Friday, November 15, 2019

Prepping Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner has been my challenge for a long time.  I would make it, planning the menu weeks in advance, then transport the whole thing to my in-laws.  Since my mother-in-law's passing, it made more sense for the people to come to us, which is how it has been.

The day and the meal have their traditions, American ones and personal ones.  Like many families, the gathering has become less populated for a host of reasons ranging from kids who have moved away to Trumpanzee relatives who avoid hostility or hard feelings by not coming.  I will cook for whoever comes.

My menu has its fixed and variable points.  Turkey remains a centerpiece, though no longer the big glorious bird which has gotten rather expensive with not enough people to eat it.  Empire makes a half-breast which I will make for shabbos sometimes and in recent years for Thanksgiving as well.  Appetizers vary.  I made something with Tofu last year.  Soup varies, typically mushroom and barley.  This year tomato with Israeli couscous seem the top choice.  Salad varies less.  Greens now come already cut and triple washed so I have made garden salads.  Israeli salads are easy to make.  I think I'll make a cabbage slaw this year.  Cranberry sauce come from the berries that I boil myself.  There are variants of this but mostly sugar, water, and cranberries.  Sweet potatoes come in a variety of preparations but there is always something with sweet potato.  I've been making stuffing in the crock pot because it is easy and keeps the oven clear for other things.  For a vegetable I get what is on sale that week.  I do not know why brussels sprouts dominate on line searches of Thanksgiving menus.  I like them but not everyone does.  And I've never made a green bean casserole.  Green beans on sale can be made plain or dressed with nuts or sauces.  For dessert, I usually make something with apples.  Strudel or apple cake this year.  The apple cake is a lot easier.  And beverage is usually soda or sparkling cider.  Last year I got wine and might again this year.
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It challenges me.

Monday, November 11, 2019

November Under Way

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If May is lusty, which I've never quite found it, then November might be reflective.  Thanksgiving gathers a dwindling cohort of family but still challenges my mind to arrange an repast second only to Seder and challenges my tenacity in executing it, with major cleanup the following two days.  Veterans Day was intended to be reflective but the hundred years since the original World War I armistice moved memory to history.  Still, a small moment of genuine respect remains for those who participated.

Medicare, of which I am now a beneficiary, has its Open Season, the chance to change supplementary options.  I've not raked leaves in many years but it used to be a major November initiative.  Some years, but not this one, Hanukkah arrives by November's end.  Even though it spans the Christmas season this calendar year, I reserve shopping time.  Partly I like to have it done before the Xmas crush, partly gift giving affords a chance to reflect on what each recipient is like and what captures their individual interests.

My father's yahrtzeit usually appears in November, now approaching its tenth anniversary.  But this being a Jewish leap year, it does not appear until December.  My mother's birthday was November 7, an annual day of celebration in her lifetime.  And since my wife's birthday appears just beyond the monthly transition to December, some November thought goes into that celebration.

November also marks the 2/3 point of my semi-annual projects.  I have a good inkling of what has gone well, what to pursue a little more, what be better abandoned or replaced.

Some years, but not this one, we vote.  Sometimes I'm with the majority, sometimes not.  But with this task, along with the others, November might really be about deciding what I stand for and pursuing it, whether at the ballot, with family, or the things I do on my own behalf.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Empty Nester Shabbos Dinner

Image result for shabbat aloneWe have some semblance of supper most days.  Even on the two major fast days, a meal precedes the fast.  And I have been fortunate to prioritize supper with my family most nights, as did President Obama who had more pressures on his time.  Once a week we have shabbos dinner, never leftovers, virtually never eaten out unless traveling.  It surpasses caloric sustenance.  We have kiddush, sometimes delayed if sundown arrives after our usual suppertime.  We have challah.  Often that meal has more than one course, though not always.  It is elevated above supper on the other days.

Ironically, my very favorite shabbos dinners took place my final two years of medical school.  I ate alone.  There was a vegetarian restaurant that I liked within walking distance of my apartment.  It is unusual to be able to select from an entire menu so this was a special destination reserved for the onset of shabbos.  And I always ate alone there, enjoying the creativity of the chef and the folk music of a guitarist.  But that dinner is only eaten alone out of necessity.  Once I married, that was allotted time for my wife, unless my residency schedule had me on call Friday night, and with children, we all assembled unless a parent was away at conference or a child at camp.

Shabbos dinner remains a designated highlight of our week, though the children are long on their own.  When working, I had to cook chicken, our usual entree, very early in the winter, when shabbos would commence long before I arrived home.  Now as retired people living as a couple, we have more flexibility.  Chicken still dominates, kiddush and challah remain.  Gefilte fish is long gone, though I have a few jars in the pantry which serve more as a snack.  I try to have some pareve munchee on hand.  Kosher beef has gotten expensive since the Rubashkins were shut down and some hauled off to the Otisville Minyan so crock pot beef stew has gotten less frequent.  And we were never singers of zemirot.

Despite the special occasion, we rarely extend or receive an invitation from other families. While we are empty-nesters, a look around the sanctuary at shabbos morning services reveals quite a lot of people who have been widowed.  I never queried whether or how often they invite each other or get invited as guests.  And as my experience as a medical student attests, the dinner can be made a week's high point even eating alone among strangers. But that's not the intent of our tradition.  I assume, perhaps wrongly, that our Rabbi has the pulse of how those who now live alone introduce the weekly shabbos to their homes.  Maybe it can be improved.  Maybe we should be the ones to try.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Sleep Hygiene

Getting a continuous long duration night of sleep has been elusive, probably since my residency days when after being up all night on call, I would return home, assuming a supine position and dozing off as my due reward for my dedication to the rigors of medical training.  Such hazing is no longer permitted but those restful catchups have never been duplicated for me.

In more recent years, sleep has gotten far off schedule, even unscheduled sometimes.  I go to bed early, not always tired, and wake up for one reason or another while still in the wee hours on the clock with the red numbers.  I had a four pill sample of Ambien a long time ago, used them sparingly, but each time however they proved highly effective.  OTC diphenhydramine works as well, with a hangover the next day.  That hints of something chemically causing this which can be corrected in a pharmacological way, as unappealing as that is.  Since I no longer need to keep a work schedule, sleep deprivation, at least to the most restful stages, has not been a handicap and I am still pretty productive in my waking hours.  I wish I felt better and I wish I were less guilty about my naturally haphazard sleeping hours.  If I were incapacitated, I'd seek a sleep lab but since I'm not, the sage expert advice from cyberspace or the NEJM review should suffice.

I am familiar with clinical sleep hygiene advice, which I violate regularly.  I have set times for lights out and no computer screens, which I follow.  The bed is a refuge for reading.  At one time it was a refuge for television but since I got a super screen 55-inch model for My Space, I rarely watch the bedroom 24 incher from bed.  I bought a lounge chair which until recently has gone the way of all flat surfaces in my house.  Now cleared and used and off limits to piling random stuff atop the seat or footrest, I have an alternative to bed in my bedroom, and I'm starting to take advantage of it.  Coffee usually stops at noon or shortly thereafter.  Never drank much alcohol.  A Hot Toddy never served me well as a liquid hypnotic agent.

This summer I started working on keeping the bedroom cooler.  I had bought a room air conditioner as the central air conditioning never cooled the master bedroom as well as the lower rooms of our house.  It made a difference, not only for the ambient comfort but the background sounds seemed useful as white noise.  I have tried binaural sleep sounds, a sleep sound unit with waves or rain, blindfolds to create true darkness.  None are on the standard sleep hygiene suggestions, probably for lack of efficacy. 

And the bedding.  Mattress overdue for replacement.  A priority this fall.  Other bedding is fine but down comforter with duvet in the pattern of a black cat tends to be uneven, though warm.

Blue emitting light from screens is everywhere.  My smart phone with internet access is my connection to the world.  I have set a moratorium from 11PM to 5:30 AM which I have maintained with very rare minor lapses.  It may be better to shut the screens down earlier.  And the alarm clock, which I almost never use as either an alarm or as a radio though often as a clock, has those red numbers.  I have tried turning it around or covering the numbers with a washcloth with little discernible benefit.

And there's always Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  I'm not that desperate.

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Monday, November 4, 2019

Storage Rental

One of my more inane monthly expenditures has been a small storage unit.  When first rented following the closure of my office nine years ago, it seemed a necessity.  I had financial records, employment records, books, more office supplies than I could give away, a large photocopier, a tall cherry red bookcase from Ikea, oodles of books.  And then I retired from the job that followed, with contents of desk drawers that belonged to me, not the hospital.  Some $18K in fees later, I am paying monthly to house stuff that I don't want.  The statute of limitations on financial records has lapsed, not that I could find any if requested.  The medical records were stored elsewhere and destroyed when the required storage time elapsed.  It's time to divest of the storage fees.  The only item that I know I want is that bookcase which will house quite a lot of books in my bedroom.

In the meantime, I have emptied most of my home files and made a commitment to myself to clean the basement, partly to have a single storage area in my home and partly for a form of end-of-life planning so my survivors do not have to pay somebody to do this. 

At three boxes a week, I can now see the floor of that storage unit.  Much has gone to shredding.  Office supplies need a home, which for now is two baskets in the lower hall.  My Franklin Planner accumulation has gone to a mixture of shredding and paper recycle.  Diplomas of various types have just come home, a closet to be identified for their indefinite storage.  I remain on schedule for the end of the year.  What to do with the money saved?  It will be something celebratory.

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