Jul 27, 2013

Death: The Robber of Existence

My brother's longtime friend passed away early this morning. He had lung cancer. When my brother told me that his friend was in hospice, I insisted that he visit his friend as much as possible because his time was running out.  Jeff lived across the small drive from our apartment when we were living in the projects a long time ago.  I have memories of his family and mostly of Jeff and my brother.  

They spent lots of time together. Jeff was a very tall but kind and gentle soul.  When my brother decided to get married on Halloween, Jeff came as Frankenstein's monster to the reception.  This made me laugh.  He married and then had children, both are blessings.

I am going to be 53 in a couple of weeks.  At this point in my life, more and more friends and family members will be passing away. This causes me to think more often about death. We really have no idea about the next life, if there is one. Death is something that everyone experiences only once, at least that we know of.  We are given promises of heaven if we are good and hell if we are bad, according to the Bible.  But no one ever comes back to say what really happens. If you believe in psychics, then lots of people speak to us from the other side. However, not everyone holds this belief. We all hope for something better than what we have lived, I know that I do.

Is the essence of all that we are lost in the grave? The headstone lists our name, date of birth, and our date of death.  There was a life lived in between those two dates.  Sometimes, I feel guilty when researching my family history.  I get excited when I find an obituary, forgetting about the man or woman to whom those dates pertained. I don't do this knowingly, but subconsciously.  As I gather facts, I often wonder what that person was like.  What did they look like? What were their interests? Were they good or bad? The personal things that are not written about a life within an obituary. Often, our lives are summed up in a paragraph or less.

Not long ago, one of my memoir classmates read a poem written by his wife.  The poem spoke of a man's life.  Over the years he had accumulated a lot of "things", but in the end all of his "stuff" fit into a garbage bag.  I cried as he read the poem.  We cannot take our things with us to the nursing home, much less the grave.  And yet, we try. 

It is not the "stuff" that I worry so much about, but me.  I know this sounds selfish. But will I be remembered?  I, too, was here. Have I made my mark on this world? There are no children calling me Mommy, nor a husband whispering sweet words of love in my ear.  Will my life/existence vanish like the morning mist? To be honest, it will piss me off if this life is all there is. 

Our lives don't really belong to us, just like our things.  In a moments notice, we are no longer here, but there, wherever that may be. All I really want is to be remembered.  Is that too much to ask?

Jul 25, 2013

Women Majlis Painters in Saudi Arabia: Making the Center of their Homes Beautiful

In Asir, Saudi Arabia there are women who paint the majlis (the parlor of a Saudi home, the room where the guests are taken) with beautiful patterns of lines, squares, figures, triangles, and numerous oddities on the walls around the entire room.  At first glance, I thought that I was looking at something that would have been created by Native Americans, they used many of the same designs in their artisic creations.  I am mesmorized with the intricate geometric patterns and bright colors which are used in the Arab home.  They speak to me about the inhabitants of the place and it should. Women in general thrive being surrounded by beauty. About 40 years ago the women didn't veil that much and many made a living as a majalis, going from home to home making each one beautiful.   Can you imagine doning an abaya, hijab, and gloves to be able to express yourself artistically?  Yet many women do and I say a "big" bravo to them.  The Arabic term for these kinds of paintings are called nagash in Asir, Saudi Arabia.

Before commercial paint arrived in the area about 75 years ago, the women used natural sources for their colors.  Brown came from the sap of the somgha tree, which in spring the color was light brown and in summer and winter it turned dark brown. Rocks were crushed and the dust was used for various colors and certain mountains in the area have yellow stones to make a yellow-gold color.  I can almost bet that spices and vegetables were used for colors as well, such as turmeric for yellow and beet juice for a berry color. 

According to Wikipedia,  “Some of the large triangles represent mountains. Zigzag lines stand for water and also for lightning. Small triangles, especially when the widest area is at the top, are found in pre-Islamic representations of female figures. That the small triangles found in the wall paintings in ‘Asir are called banat may be a cultural remnant of a long-forgotten past.” In a recent article from Saudi Aramco World,  Fatima Abou Gahas and Um Abdullah are two women who are famous for their Nagash paintings.  Fatima passed away a couple of years ago, she was believed to have been close to 100 years old.

Preservation of this wonderful art is currently being attempted. A Cooperative of about 20 women has opened and the nagash paintings are being revived for future generations to enjoy.  Personally, I really love art and I am all for it being kept alive. 

Abha Palace Hotel, Saudia Arabia, One of Fatima Abou Gahas Final Works of Art

Jul 23, 2013

Breakfast Crumpies

This crumpet\muffin\popover like breakfast bread is wonderful.  I like English muffins very much, which aren't really English at all, I put them in the toaster and let them stay in there until very crispy. Slice into two pieces and then I add a soft boiled egg.  This is breakfast heaven to me.  Just recently,  I purchased Jamie Oliver's cookbook called, Great Britain. The first recipe I wanted to try is the Breakfast Crumpies. They look crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. You can put just about anything you like on these.  There is no limit to having a creative breakfast with this recipe. Here is my adaption of the recipe.


4 1/2 cups of bread flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 1/4 tsp quick rise yeast
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup warm milk
butter or oil for greasing the muffin pan

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, add all of the dry ingredients.  Mix well.  Then add 2 1/2 cups of warm water and 1/2 cup of warm milk.  Mix together very quickly with either a spoon or a whisk.  Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to sit for about 15-20 minutes.  The mixture should be wet and spoonable, not runny like pancake batter.   Next, scoop the mixture in the muffin pan, filling it to the top.  If you have a large muffin pan, then only fill half-way. Put the pan into the oven and bake for about 40 minutes.  The crumpies should be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Enjoy!

Jul 19, 2013

and yet, the audacity to be negative...

The past met up with me this week.  His history has not been good.  For as long as I  have known this person there has been an absence of work history with him.  The times he did have a job, the employment lasted until the first or second pay check. Like a magician, he vanished until his cup was dry. Then the lies started about where the money went, but we knew where the money had gone.  Then there is the complaining about his plight.  On the cusp of the highly publicized court case, he felt intensely that he was in the same boat. Opportunities came and went because of the decisions he made. And yet. And yet, he blames others for his mistakes, because it is easier that way.  There were words spoken, intentions misconstrued, and thankfulness.  Yes thankfulness.  Now, I remember why I walked away all those years ago...

Jul 14, 2013

Andre Talamantes: A Mural Kind of Artist, Tattoos Too

While driving home from work this afternoon something caught my eye. What was rather a dull looking floral shop became a work of art.  I quickly turned the car around and went back to talk to the artist.  At my age it is senseless to be shy. I talked to the young man who was painting the mural.

I asked him if he does other kinds of "artistic" work.  "Yes, I work with pen & ink, chalk, and I am a tattoo artist as well." I then glanced at his arms and back. I wanted to take some pictures of his tattoos, but thought that it would be asking a lot of someone whom I had just met.  Besides, I'm not sure how I would feel about photographing someone's body. This young man comes from an artistic family.  His father is a painter and his brother is artistic as well. 

Then I asked him his name. I told him that I used to work with someone by the same name.  Would you believe that I used to work with one of his relatives?  It's a small world isn't it!  I think that more businesses should include local art as part of their advertisement.  The mural adds a bit of beauty and class to the neighborhood, it was enough for someone like me to notice. 

Here is the final version

Jul 8, 2013

Cream Puffs

Now tell me, who doesn't love cream puffs?  Those decadent little puffs filled with cream or custard with lots of powdered sugar on top are so hard to resist.  I have a serious sweet tooth and I am not ashamed to say that I do.  These are quite simple to make, it just takes time and practice.  I made them a couple of times before I got it right.  I filled mine with custard.  I found an English custard mix by Birds which is to die for.  The custard is very thick and with a couple of drops of orange oil you would think that you were in sweet heaven.  


1/2 cup of all purpose flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 egg, beaten for brushing the tops of the puffs
1/2 cup of water
4 TBS butter, cut into small pieces
powdered sugar for dusting 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking pan with parchment paper or use cooking spray.  In a medium saucepan over medium to high heat add the water and the butter.  Bring to a boil.  Take off the heat and add the flour all at once.  Stir the dough until it is mixed well.  Place the pan back on the heat and continue stirring for a couple of minutes.  If you see a film on the bottom and sides of the pan that is normal. You want to try and get rid of some water.

Put the dough in a mixing bowl.  You can use a stand up mixer, hand mixer, or wooden spoon for the next step.  Mix the dough until it is lukewarm on low. Gradually add the eggs, about a 1/3 at a time.  You want to end up with a smooth dough that is wet, but not runny. If you pick some up with a spoon and try to drop it, it will stick but still fall off, sort of like a blob.  

This mixture makes 12 puffs.  Use two soup spoons or you can use a pastry bag.  Scoop up about a tablespoon into one of the spoons and push it onto the parchment paper with the other.  Place them about 2 inches apart.  Brush the puffs with the remaining beaten egg.  Use the brush to smooth the puff and round the edges. 

Place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Then turn the puffs around and lower the heat to 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  If they start to brown too quickly turn the temperature down to 315-325 degrees.  The end result is a hollow puff that is crispy.  If at the end of the baking time the puffs are a little wet on the inside, put a couple of slits on each side of the puffs and place back in the oven for about 5 minutes, but turn off the heat and leave the door ajar.  Allow them to cool.  If your puffs begin to deflate that means that they are not cooked.  Place them back into the oven.  They should be a nice golden brown when done.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and fill with cream or custard.  Enjoy!