Archive for the ‘Family’ Category


As a kid, well really most of my life, I’ve loved lying in the sun. Balmy summer days I would lather myself up with suntan lotion, curl up like a big cat on a chaise lounge and allow the glorious warmth of the summer sun to transform my skin from pale English alabaster to a lovely golden brown. This, I have to admit looking back, was not the wisest plan. Most of my relatives are fair-skinned, blue eyed beings some so pale they come close to igniting if over exposed to the suns rays. My mother can endure about ten minutes of summer sun before her face looks like she’s been bobbing for French fries. At least I tanned, but at what cost? All the blissful years spent floating on my raft in the pool or water skiing on the Colorado River have finally submitted their bill and for the fourth time I’ve had a pre-cancer removed from my face. This one creating a huge blister appearing as though an extra from Alien 3 climbed up on my cheek and attached itself to my skin. Lovely. I told Rick I’m going to sew a designer burlap bag to pull over my head should we need to go out before it heals. His reply was “you look beautiful”. Either his eyesight has abandoned ship along with everything else or he really does love me.

I’m always after my children and grandchildren to lather on the sunscreen. When you’re young you assume you are invincible so I might as well be suggesting they ditch their smart phones and get a couple of tin cans with a rope attached.

Why, why, why is it things that are so gloriously delicious in this life, for example chocolate, are only good for us in moderation? Small amounts of candy are suggested while you can eat kale until it comes out your ears without any ill effects? The eternal question. I know, I know you are shaking your heads and thinking but chocolate isn’t bad for you in small amounts, actually good for you. I DON’T WANT A SMALL AMOUNT! I want a mountain of chocolate atop a Matterhorn of ice cream. For twenty years after my son was born I couldn’t consume chocolate without breaking out in a blotchy rash. Apparently something occurred in my body chemistry during my son’s difficult birth that caused this reaction. Sure, I couldn’t have come out of it with an allergy to, say, liver or tripe? NOOOOOO. Thankfully I did my time and around ten years ago began to be able once again to enjoy the heavenly taste that is chocolate. Still, I don’t eat chocolate, or any sweets often but occasionally Susie has just got to have it.

Don’t misunderstand me kale lovers, I enjoy kale, but if I was asked to design my last meal a big bowl of kale definitely would not be number one on my list. I wouldn’t order a lot of sweets either. Definitely there would be a hamburger with grilled onions smothered in rich cheddar cheese. Okay, I’m hungry. When I’m hungry I don’t crave sweets. In a way I was born with a very low libido when it comes to sugary treats. If I were to crave something on the “bad list” of foods it would more likely be French fries or Fiery Cheetos. Oh yes, I like dem Fiery Cheetos. That is one snack I never keep in the house as my impulse control when it comes to the crispy orangey little nuggets is very low. Also, if you offer your grandchildren unhealthy snacks from time to time, never choose Fiery Cheetos for small children. I say this from one sad new couch experience many years ago where little orange fingerprints nearly rendered the lovely grey material it was covered with unusable.

Let’s face it kids are hard on furniture. They don’t sit in it, they plop, land, fly or repel into a seated position. Feet go on fabric whether shoes remain on or bare feet have been recently cleaned. If they are eating and don’t have a napkin handy (basically any time they’re eating no matter how many napkins are available on the counter) an arm rest or couch cushion will serve just as well. One of my granddaughters when she was about three thought it might be fun to take a pen and draw a long line across the back of our couch. Unable to get the ink out, that couch ended up against a back wall and pens were stored at a much higher elevation in future visits.

Ever vigilant is the motto when raising children, in particular pre-schoolers. You can’t afford to take your eyes off the little buggers for a minute and learn to find silence, rather than comforting, a sign that something is going on. My two, a boy and a girl, were born a year apart. Truly it was like having twins for that first year or two. Two in diapers, two with bottles, and double the trouble once both were fully mobile. They shared a room after the first year. My son, the youngest was still in his crib, with my daughter in a toddler bed. Back when I was raising children they had a schedule. After lunch my two pirates went down for a nap and this was my time to catch up on my day or simply take five minutes to sit down and catch my breath. One particular day they had slept an hour or two and it was deliciously quiet. I poured a cup of coffee and took a moment to remove the nail polish I’d found time to apply the previous summer and give myself a pedicure. Once the polish had dried I made my way stealthily down the hall to peek in on my sleeping angels and check on how they were doing. Quietly pushing the door open I found my son with a large green crayon in his chubby fist creating his first wall mural. Lord. I mean it, Lord. Crayons are wonderful tools when used on a piece of art paper. Unfortunately when applied to paint not so much. If you attempt to paint over the crayon the wax bleeds through. In the end I had to have the wall professionally repainted. One expensive pedicure. Lesson learned.

These delicious melt in your mouth ribs are delicious dipped in the Kentucky bourbon laced sauce accompanying them. Yum, and yum.

Slow Baked Back Ribs with Kentucky Bourbon Sauce

2 racks of ribs membrane on back removed


1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. hot paprika
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Cajun seasoning
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder

Preheat oven to 225 degrees

Whisk together rub ingredients and rub all over meat. Wrap tightly in tin foil.

Bake for 3 1/2 hours. Open packages and brush on barbecue sauce reserving half the sauce for dipping. Continue cooking uncovered for 20 minutes. Slice and serve with sauce.

Kentucky Bourbon Sauce

1 cup catsup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup Kentucky bourbon
2 1/2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together ingredients. Allow to sit in refrigerator for 2 hrs. before using.

Serves 4-6

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Holidays are flying off the calendar! Last week people were slicing limes and hoisting shimmering salt rimmed glasses to salute Cinco de Mayo and last weekend the mother of all Hallmark events (if you will) Mother’s Day. Our reasons for celebrating holidays often get blurred it seems to me. For example, Cinco de Mayo originally was a date set aside to celebrate the victory of Mexican forces over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Not, as might be concluded by present day behavior, the anniversary of the first time tequila was introduced to triple sec, lime juice, and crushed ice. I know.

In my youth it didn’t take much encouragement for me to find a reason to throw a party. I didn’t actually develop a taste for liquor until my late twenties. With two young children in the house by the time I celebrated my twenty-first birthday there wasn’t much time to hoist a glass. Though, looking back, there often was a good reason to do so. As I remember, however, I enjoyed a May 6th after party tequila hangover a time or two during my early thirties. Having a hangover makes you wonder why you poured a drink in the first place. Finding oneself in the grips of a full-blown hangover can at times be a deeply spiritual experience with you on your knees praying for redemption. While in the effects of the alcoholic intake from the night before it is likely you will take the pledge never to touch the vile liquid again. This newfound spirituality generally lasts as long as the pounding headache, parched mouth, and violently churning stomach, at least in my experience.

Always it makes me laugh to watch college students having “fun” at a frat party, knowing the following morning the best time they’ll have is in between trips to the toilet. It has been many years since I’ve consumed enough alcohol to produce after effects, but the memory lingers on. These days I rarely take a drink save an occasional margarita when at a Mexican restaurant or when friends or family are visiting. Hard enough as the years pass to keep your mind churning through the gears efficiently without adding a controlled substance to the mix.

Mother’s Day having been properly put to bed and tucked in, we move on to Father’s Day in June. Father’s Day appears as an also-ran on the greeting card shelves. Cards appear with duck decoys, ties, and “manly” images emblazoned on the front. Rick often comments historically he footed the bill for his “father’s day brunch” and finds the holiday definitely having men playing second fiddle to the ladies who are the concertmasters when it comes to the “hoopla factor”. June is also graduation month so many will be sitting in bleachers watching their youngsters take their first step into adulthood (ostensibly).

Just as we’ve properly thanked our dads and saluted our grads, Fourth of July will be hovering close by. Some holidays stay the course simply because it’s hard to veer them off it. Fourth of July is the celebration of U.S. independence, period. There are no bunnies or candy filled plastic eggs necessary. Flags fly, fireworks go off, barbecues are fired up, and how the U.S. progressed once out from under English influence remembered. Growing up in Canada until the age of nine, my first 4th of July celebration was in California after we relocated. I knew much about American history already as it was taught in Canadian schools along with our own. My first year in school on American soil was 4th grade. Mrs. Potts was my teacher that year. A short sturdy woman with six children of her own she seemed to recognize without being told I was going through a rough period of adjustment and tucked me under her well padded wing. Being transplanted from Nova Scotia to California was a big adjustment for a small girl. Without being aware of it, it was her influence that helped me to find my way that first year and allowed me to begin to get adjusted to my new world.

With summer and holidays popping up each month people are scheduling their vacation days. “Me Days” are a new addition in some companies. Days taken off just because you need one or have personal business to attend to. Longer maternity leaves for both the new mom and the new dad are starting to be introduced as well. A time for the new family to settle in with a new baby in the house. Back in the day when I was spending some time studying the ceiling in the delivery room dad’s didn’t join you during the final throes of labor and baby didn’t stay in the room with you, but was delivered at meal time like a pizza.

Times are changing, and this is a good thing. Americans tend to keep their noses to the grindstone, working their way up the ladder putting in long hours and providing “face time” so their employers can see how invaluable they are to the team. Somewhere along the line enjoying time off has become a corporate no-no. I like the French approach to working. They put in as little time at the office as they can get away with and consider lengthy vacations (around 10 weeks) part of their hire-on package. I say “oui, oui” to that.

When I started working (back before they invented the wheel) I got one week of vacation for the first three years, working up to two weeks when I hit my third anniversary. My vacation time progressed marginally as my years of employment history increased, but never did I see ten weeks, not ever. The last job I had in the high-tech industry they considered weekends an adjunct to the work week and two more opportunities to log eight to ten hours. Vacation was something you accrued but never actually put in for if you wished to be promoted. Sort of like insurance. You pay for it, but you better not ever have to use it.

Soooo, I too am planning our vacation, or we are. I am having a need for the ocean so some time in the next few months we will seek it out for a few days. Looking forward to it.

This salad is delicious. Sometimes I add chicken or tuna and make it the star of the meal. I adapt it to the veggies I have in the drawer but always it’s a crowd pleaser.

Penne Pasta & Green Bean Salad

6 oz. tri-color penne pasta cooked
8 oz. fresh green beans, cooked and halved
4 strips bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
3 large mushrooms, halved and sliced thin
1/2 English cucumber, sliced
14 yellow and red cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup sliced red onion
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, halved


3/4 cup mayonnaise
4 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together and toss with salad ingredients.

Serves 6-8

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I need an assistant. Would somebody please apply? Job description? Let’s see……long hours, no pay, but sooooo much appreciation. Plus side, probably not going to be a long line of people at the door waving their resumes. Lately it feels like I can’t keep up. Now, it’s not like the future of the world teeters on my next move but I do have a lot of projects going with people depending on my participation. What on earth did I do when I worked full time? I must have been younger. Ah yes, looking back I’m sure I was younger.

In addition to my busy schedule I have committed myself to working out at the gym. A friend of mine and I have been going three times a week. Someone told me it is easiest if you approach exercise as fun. Speaking of committing yourself. We begin on the treadmill. I don’t mind the treadmill really although I had a bit of a close call before getting used to it. The perfectly toned young man who was explaining the workings of the machine to me said to use the arrows located on the control panel to adjust the speed at which I wished to walk. Doesn’t sound to difficult (for anyone else, naturally). For starters I set the machine at 2.5 mph. From previous painful “day after the first time at the gym” experiences, I knew it would go a lot better for me if I didn’t try to run a marathon my first time out. Looking down I noticed the screen read “enter your age”. Sigh, fine. So nosy. Inputting my age in two seconds I was sprinting for my life trying to reach the stop button before being propelled through the window into the Indian restaurant next door. Apparently, I entered my age under MPH. According to my calculations had I maintained the pace this would have had me crossing the California border in 3.2 minutes. Fortunately, my finger located STOP before the ejection process was complete. The man next to me stood staring at me jaw open. Shut your mouth and mind your business I say.

The stationary bike at first looked innocuous enough. After locating a gym employee to help me adjust the seat, I hopped on board and began pedaling. The first ten minutes were tolerable. After that your legs begin to send up smoke signals. Fifteen minutes of pedaling my knees had written HELP in the sand in bone fragments. I did write a mental note to self to remember to bring a book or headphones on my next visit. Five minutes can seem like twenty when you’re pedaling rigorously and find yourself still in the same spot. Brings me to mind of why my hamster was always cranky. Time passes like molasses when you’re doing something boring. Stuck at work on a slow Friday, for example, waiting for 5:00 to arrive can seem to last for days. Time appears to drag by when looking forward to a special occasion, and virtually comes to a standstill when seated in a waiting room with fifty other sick people on a busy night at the E.R. That being true, when exercising the minutes on the clock pass as though moving through a sea of fast setting Jello. For me gym exercises are a very masochistic pursuit. Basically, paying to have pain inflicted upon your person. Wait, I’m not finished whining yet.

The indicator alerted me my allotted 15 minutes was up on the bike. There is a God. I was sure they’d invented a cure for yellow fever in less time. Dismounting, my legs, not used to being asked to perform at such a high level, showed their displeasure by vibrating at an alarming speed nearly failing me for a minute. Ah, it is good to be making such an impressive showing the first time at bat.

Once my knees ceased their spasms, I moved on to a machine sitting low to the ground. I’m sure it has a name but I wasn’t interested enough in it to want to pursue it. The object on this device of torture is to seat yourself, place your feet in the stirrups provided, grab the handle and pull a cord in towards your chest and release. Now that I’m writing this I believe I would call this “rowing”. A light goes on in an otherwise dark room.

The “rower” for lack of a better adjective exercises your whole body and strengthens your core. Core? Who knew I had one? I thought only selected veggies and fruit could boast of such a thing. Couldn’t I just go to a day at the body shaping clinic advertising before and after pictures ad nauseum when I’m eating dinner? A quick vacuum and voila like new.

Next they bring out sponge tubes. The tubes look a bit like the noodles you use in swimming pools only wider. These you sit on and roll back and forth. You can also lie on them, roll your back on them, and basically become one with your tube. I sat on mine which seemed pretty basic. My mind told me if I was incapable of doing this they were going to rescind my membership for the good of the club’s reputation. As ridiculous as it sounds, I had trouble staying on. I was blessed with many things I am thankful for, a backside isn’t one of them. Since women started wearing below the waist jeans I’ve spent my time in public looking for ways to keep my pants from dropping to my ankles. I could feel my muscles working after a few minutes, though, so at least something was getting a benefit from my visit.

There is a lovely “afterglow” of accomplishment once you are in the locker room gathering your things. I don’t know if this supersedes the pain to achieve this feeling but time will tell.

This soup has the “yummmm” factor big time. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it to my pickiest guests.

Tomato Basil Blue Cheese Soup

1/4 cup butter
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
1 stalk of celery, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 cups chicken broth
1 14 1/2 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes, with juice
1 14 1/2 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes w/seasonings, with juice
3 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup non-fat milk
1/3 cup buttermilk blue cheese

Melt butter over medium heat until frothy. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook 8 mins. or until vegetables are lightly browned and tender. Whisk in flour. Stir constantly for 1 min. Add all remaining ingredients up to sour cream. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to med. low. Cook covered for 20 mins.

Pulse with stick blender until pureed. Whisk together sour cream and milk. Whisk into soup. Cook 5 mins. until heated through.

Place 2 Tbsp. blue cheese in bottom of four bowls. Pour hot soup over top. Sprinkle with additional blue cheese.

Serves 4-6

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Allergies are plaguing me this year. More so, even then in years past. Perhaps it’s the early spring? Outside my yard is in full bloom and yellow bursts of pollen release across the deck each time a gust of wind moves through the trees. To add to the mix this time of year tiny worms string webs across the trees and entryways. By the time you get to the car you’re swaddled like a newborn baby. Although we have a two car garage we leave the SUV outside. Not because we choose to. When we first moved in boxes filled one side of the garage. Even when the boxes had been broken down and I’d found a spot for everything, it was still a small space. This, largely due to the fact the former owner was a tinkerer and had built a massive attached work area to one side. To appease Rick who hated to see his baby exposed to the elements I worked all one weekend to minimize the stuff in the garage so as to fit both vehicles inside at one time. The plan was nearly foolproof with the one fly in the ointment being both cars inside I couldn’t open the door far enough to exit the second vehicle. Not only that I wasn’t sure I could back it out without stripping the rear view mirror off its mount or sacrificing some paint. I honked the horn but Rick didn’t respond. Struggling, I finally climbed over both seats and went out through the tailgate door. Hmmmm. Though a workable plan in an emergency situation not something I want to attempt every time I need to go to the store.

Rick is a stickler about his vehicles. Not as rigid as when we first met certainly, I can eat a snack while driving these days. But to be fair when we met he was driving a slick red Corvette convertible named Lucille, now replaced by our yet to be named Chevy SUV. With the pollen draping itself all over the SUV’s lovely deep red paint and water regulated due to the drought, frequent trips need to be made to the car wash. Usually we stop after gassing up and use the drive thru mini-wash but as bad as the pollen has been this spring we opted this last weekend for the full monty car wash down the hill to give it the works and a little wax job for sticking with us for thirteen years.

I have what I would term “car wash phobia”. Sounds ridiculous, I know. It sounds silly to me and I am the one who experiences it. Back in the late nineties I took my car to a car wash I had not frequented before. A warm summer Saturday morning, a long line of cars awaited their turn outside the facility. I pulled in behind the last car and inched my way up to the front. A young woman asked me what I wanted by way of a wash. I replied, and she pointed in the direction of the entrance to the washing area itself. At the front of the wash area several men busied themselves around my car with long-handled brushes and soap. Another guy was gesturing with his hands for me to pull forward which I did. Suddenly he was waving more rapidly and my car jerked violently and was being pulled along listing to one side. I had everyone’s full attention by that time. Apparently whatever machinery you are supposed to maneuver your tires onto to be conveyed through the wash I overshot and my tires were hung up. Rick would say, “only you Nelson”. I know. Everything came to a halt. The attendant asked if he could get behind the wheel and the car was finally straightened out and I went through the rest of the ordeal without injury except to my pride. Needless to say I did not clip their coupon for a return visit any time in the near future. I’m sure my picture is on the wall riddled with dart holes.

These days I simply get anxiety. Rick pulls in and those damnable flapping leather pieces slap at the window and I begin to hyperventilate. Rick tries to look nonchalant as I grapple with my apparent fear of waving soapy leather straps and water. What can I say. I looked it up to see if I was the only being on the planet suffering with car wash phobia and was totally surprised to find I was not. Perhaps they have an annual reunion in a leather/water free zone I could attend. Smile here.

Knowing someone else not wired correctly is sitting in a car wash somewhere breaking out in a cold sweat is comforting. Add a bee to the picture and for me that would be the perfect storm. My mother is afraid of heights. Once on a road trip along Highway 1, a particularly beautiful stretch of California highway hugging the impressive cliffs along the coastline of Big Sur, my mother actually laid in a fetal position on the floorboard in the front seat of the car waiting for the end to come. I know this because she kept yelling “God, please let it end”.

I have a friend who has developed a fear of driving. This is based on several bad accidents, but for her getting in the car is like being in the front line of an infantry unit. Not good. Not good at all. Back in the day I dated a guy who was terrified of spiders. Not just black widows or the nasty little brown recluses but daddy long legs or your basic innocuous house spider. Once while working on a leak under the sink on encountering such a six legged beast he nearly knocked himself out on the pipes getting away from it. I’m not picking on him. Anyone who’s afraid of undulating leather strips is not in a position to throw stones.

Lamb shanks were something I saw often growing up, and they never scared me. Lamb in any form was a familiar sight on our table. These have a Mediterranean flavor to them and when done fall off the bone and melt in your mouth. I paired them with rice with grapes and braised red cabbage. Yum.

Crockpot Mediterranean Lamb Shanks

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lamb shanks
salt and pepper
1 large onion, sliced
3 carrots, julienned
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 1/2 oz. can beef broth
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with onion, celery, green peppers
1 cup water
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 bay leaves
Mint jelly (optional)

Sprinkle shanks with salt and black pepper. Heat oil over high heat. Brown meat on all sides.

Spray 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Line bottom with sliced onion. Top with carrots. Add browned meat to pan.

Mix all remaining ingredients together and pour over top. Cook on low for 10 hrs.

Serves 2

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I saw my first palm tree at the age of nine. Accustomed to the stately pines, colorful maples and rough barked birches indigenous to Nova Scotia I found the top-heavy spindly palms a bit odd indeed when they first came into view out the window of my parents new Buick. The Buick had been purchased prior to my mother’s recent nuptials specifically to carry us across the continent. My new stepfather, to become the first of three, manned the wheel as we made our way from our entrance into the U.S. in Bangor, Maine to our final destination in Santa Ana, California. What an interesting trip it was. At that time Howard Johnson’s (HOJO’s to those who remember it fondly) were strung across the nation like lights across the tree and extremely popular. I believe I ate a different flavor of ice cream while seated on one of their red vinyl stools in every state we visited.

Our trip proceeded at whatever pace we chose, stopping along the way to explore the wondrous caves of both the Meremac Caverns in Missouri and the Carlsbad Caverns in Arizona. I had my picture taken standing on a precipice at the Painted Desert and not long afterwards seated on a gnarly log at the Petrified Forest. Along Highway 10 we followed the signs to see “The Thing” and paid $.75 to view whatever the thing was never being really sure exactly what is was we saw.

I can remember approaching the Las Vegas strip and thinking I’d stepped into the magical world of Oz. Never had I seen such magnificent buildings and fabulous neon light displays. Had Dorothy, Toto and their band of needy travelers been seen dancing down a street paved with yellowed bricks it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. Leaving the twinkling lights behind us and venturing out on the desert floor I was transfixed by the starkness of it all and the prickly visages of cactus plants some looking as if they were waving their long arms at us as we passed. Cactus was a new variety of plant for me as well, as they don’t grow in Nova Scotia where the temperature hovers far lower than their natural comfort zone.

Crossing the border into California we were stopped by border officials and asked to declare anything we were taking in from Arizona they might need to know about and once cleared began our trip south to Orange County. At that time Orange County was aptly named. The fragrance from the sea of orange trees was intoxicating floating in through my open window. The rural streets seemed as if they were ablaze with orange and the sky was a nearly unnatural shade of brilliant blue. Paradise. Looking back I can see why people migrated to the west coast. Warm breezes, sunny beaches, ah yes, I remember it well. As yet Orange County was not overrun with businesses and people, and smog was yet a term uncoined. Disneyland was up and running, although the Matterhorn was yet to be completed. I found the whole scene around me compelling.

Arriving at my new step-grandfather’s house, I was shown to the small room I was to occupy until we found suitable housing in the area. Finding a new home was to be my mother and my job as my stepfather was scheduled to start his job as a writer at the local newspaper the following Monday. Each time I stepped out into the summer sunshine I was amazed at the bath of heat pouring over me. Thankfully, one of my newly acquired relatives lived close by and had the good sense to have put in an in-ground pool. This was something not new to me. While in Halifax I spent a good deal of time in the water and at nine was already an accomplished swimmer.

Getting used to my new surroundings was challenging at first. For me it was like going from Sweden to Peru. A lot to learn about my new stable mates for sure. Once we located a house and got situated the rest of the summer lay before us. Disneyland came first after much begging on my part, then Knott’s Berry Farm, and finally the beach. I settled into the warm sand welcoming it like an old friend. The familiar salty smells and sounds of gulls calling overhead reminded me of home.

Our first dinner out we were taken to a Mexican restaurant, whatever that was. Nova Scotia at the time had nothing of the kind to offer, Canadian cooks leaning more naturally towards seafood, soups, stews, chowders, and the like. On the table was a bowl of what looked to be diced tomatoes and some hard salted triangles we were told to use as a sort of scooper for the tomatoes or what they called salsa. Hmmmm. I liked tomatoes. First I tried a chip and it was hard and crunchy but tasty. Next I dipped it in the “salsa” and placed it in my mouth. Once the burning sensation causing my taste buds to do the lambada reached my brain my fingers in self defense immediately wrapped around the sweating glass of ice water the waiter had placed by my plate. Good Lord, I was on fire. People around us were smiling and pointing as my face turned red and I drank and drank in an attempt to put out the blaze on my tongue now traveling down my esophagus. My mother was horrified, assuming I’d been poisoned. Never had I tasted any food that had actually bitten me back.

Many years have passed since then and Mexican food now ranks among my favorite ethnic food. This is a great way to use up leftover white rice if you have enough or you can make a new batch and add it to the mix. I serve this with the crockpot chile verde recipe you can find at crockpot chile verde. They are the perfect pair.

Mexicali Beans and Rice

1 1/2 cups cooked white rice
1 14 1/2 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can black beans drained and rinsed
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (your call for heat)

Cook rice according to pkg. directions (if not using leftovers) and set aside.

In fine strainer drain diced tomatoes reserving liquid. Add water to tomato liquid in measuring cup to equal 1 cup.

In large skillet heat oil over med-high heat. Add onions and cook 6-7 mins. until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 min. Add black beans, salt, cumin, chili powder, oregano, coriander and red pepper flakes. Cook and stir about 1 min. to incorporate. Add reserved tomato/water mixture. Bring to boil. Cook on low boil for 5-7 mins. until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add tomatoes and rice and continue cooking for 3 mins. until warmed.

Serves 4-6

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Today was my first day at the gym. Managing to put this off since I first received my membership card, in desperation I made a pact with a friend with a membership at the same establishment to go together. If I know someone else is counting on me, I will get my lazy behind in my Spandex and hit the road. You never realize what bad shape you are in until you are faced with such medieval torture devices as the elliptical machine. The first time I stretched and bent these squeaky old knees it put life in perspective. Good news, there is one muscle in my right index finger that is not screaming my name.

For me this has been a busy week. I feel uncharacteristically scattered. Usually I can remain organized in chaos but this week has stripped me of my sash reading “Extreme Multitasker” leaving me unfocused and a bit cranky. Perhaps it’s the weather. It has been odd. Day before yesterday the thermometer was hovering around 90. I know! Today it is in the 70’s and rain is on the horizon. Outside everything is blooming with my allergies following suit and flowering themselves. Aside from looking a bit like a hungover lab rat, I spend my hours sneezing and blowing my nose. Whine, whine, whine. I hear you. I shall stop now. Thank you for allowing me to vent.

My mother recently went down to the DMV to renew her license. Studying vigorously for the written test she passed with flying colors, but when she got to the eye test she stumbled. Unfortunately, her macular degeneration had progressed making reading the chart on the wall impossible for her to do. I explained to her she would not want to be on the road with poor eyesight becoming a danger to herself and others. Nodding her head as I spoke I could see that as much as she understood what I was saying, accepting it wasn’t going to come as easily. I can only imagine watching that last piece of true independence exit out the side door must be sooooo very difficult. Not being able to hop in your car when you need something such a hard thing to accept. For a person as independent as my mother having to lean on other people will be a hard pill to swallow.

I have been told I’m a bit male in my approach to such things. When faced with a problem I tend to immediately go into a solution mode. First I looked at public transit solutions for alternate transportation. Often they fall into categories. There are those provided for low income seniors. Then those for fiscally solvent older citizens. These all start at $40-45 one way. Hmmmm. This is me stroking my chin again. At this point, I turned in the direction of Lyft or Uber. These two would be obvious solutions but for the fact my mother is technologically challenged. I am being polite here. Several years back I attempted to teach her how to use the computer. This took us down such a prickly path, I ended up enrolling her in a class at a local adult school. She attended four classes after which I believe the teacher tendered his resignation. Not true, but mother did not persevere. The blocking point is her intrinsic fear she will “break” the computer if she hits a wrong key. Though she types like a pistol (typing- done on a machine called a typewriter plugged into the wall), she finds keying daunting which holds her back. On some level she would have to learn to manage the APPS necessary to summon drivers for the two above mentioned services in order to use them. Again, hmmmmm.

In the middle of working on the driving situation I have been doing a lot of side work for the food ministry I volunteer for. They are a lovely group of humans who donate their time to help people in our county who cannot afford the food necessary to feed their families. Working with them is good for the soul I find. In the midst of an unsettled world it is lovely to find human beings giving freely of themselves for the sake of those around them with no repayment expected except for the joy of doing so. Like it. Like it a lot. As well as nurturing my soul my “job” for them if you will keeps my computer skills fresh. Although I’m sure technology with regard to the graphic arts has long since left me struggling in the dust, I can still whip up a catchy logo or create a media campaign suitable for publication. This is a good thing. I don’t exercise my artistic self as often as I should these days. It’s not that I don’t have time. Actually thinking about it, I don’t. It’s more that I don’t make the time. When I finally do sit down and put my feet up I find my hands are more likely to want to remain in my lap rather than search for a pencil and a piece of paper. Signs of the passing of time I would suppose.

To add to my busy schedule Murphy is acting up at our house. Things always seem to fall apart in threes around here. You know, like when one famous person passes away, two others often fall quickly behind them. First the battery went out in our car. Not a big deal, they weren’t running out at the store. Then yesterday the refrigerator stopped working. This is a bigger deal. It is a relatively new refrigerator (4 years). I have noticed that a refrigerator never ceases to function before you stock up on groceries, rather lying in wait until you’ve just spent half your check at the local market on food. Hopefully, we’ll break the three’s a charm rule and stop at two this time. I have my fingers and toes crossed. This brings to mind living in Alabama during a particularly hot summer. At the time we kept a dedicated freezeer in the garage to hold overflow items. Before leaving for vacation (naturally) we had loaded it up with fish caught on a recent day on the lake as well as venison given to us over the winter months and a 20 lb. meat package recently purchased at a local butcher. After a glorious two weeks on vacation we returned home to a garage so ripe I’m amazed it hadn’t exploded. Ewwww. No one willing to open the lid on the offending object, we ended up paying a local hauler to remove it as it sat contents and all. For months the garage smelled like a crime scene no matter how many cans of room deodorizer we exhausted on it.

These veggies are such a hit at our house. The tomato sauce is amazing.

Green Beans and Corn with Cherry Tomato Sauce

1 lb. green beans trimmed
1 1/2 cup cooked corn kernels
1/4 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 red cherry tomatoes, halved
10 yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. dried basil
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Trim beans and cook over high heat covered with lightly salted water until tender. Drain. Add corn and heat on low.

In another saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Add pepper, sugar, and basil to pan. Add tomatoes and cook and stir until tomatoes begin to wilt but not turn to mush. Add salt and additional pepper if desired and parsley. Pour over vegetables and toss gently to combine.

Serves 4

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Back home and settling in after five days in San Jose. Each time I return to the Bay Area, even after living there off and on for twenty years, I find it harder to pick up the pace. Drivers on Bay Area freeways are fearless. Weaving in and out of lanes and traveling far above the speed limit. If you’re in the fast lane and going over 80 there will be five cars behind you nipping at your rear bumper as if you were standing still. People push and shove in store lines and generally don’t seem very happy to live in such a popular location. When we hit the bottom of the climb up the hill to our little piece of heaven my heart is always glad to find home a less crowded place to be.

My son recently sold his home in Campbell. For those of you familiar with the Silicon Valley area of Northern California, Campbell could best be described as an upper middle class bedroom community. To refine the description you could include it is home to EBAY and other technology based businesses, located in between Los Gatos and San Jose. A nice place to live by most standards, if congested for my taste. Shopping is a plus with Trader Joe’s in the Pruneyard, the high-end Santa Row shopping center within driving distance, and all manner of stores and restaurants close by. My son’s is a nice home, in a nice neighborhood of Campbell certainly, but not a spectacular home. If you asked him I’m sure he’d describe it in much the same manner. The single level home boasts three bedrooms, a small family room, a living room and a recently remodeled kitchen, in addition to two bathrooms. Listed as 1600 sq. ft. and change the pictures showed well tended yards of adequate size front and back with well manicured lawns with landscaping. Two weeks ago it sold in a bidding war between eight interested parties for well over $1,000,000.00. My mother frequently asks me why I won’t move back to the area. Housing would be the first reason I would site. Two bedroom apartments in the same location are renting on the lower end for around $2,700 a month. Never does it cease to amaze me that so many people can afford the ticket to ride.

Truth is even if the inflated prices fit into my budget, I would not choose to drive endlessly in parking lots searching for an open spot, move at a snail’s pace on the freeways at rush hour, and live butt to butt with my neighbor. Not my style. Silicon Valley does up the ante on what your net in your paycheck. I have to give it that. Salaries are high there and work, particularly for the technically gifted, is plentiful.

In my heart of hearts I guess I’m a bit of a country girl. I love the sound of the wind moving through tall grass, and the stark contrast of white clouds against a blue sky. For me less is more, to put it simply. As a kid I wanted to grow up on a farm. Of course I did not. My home base until nine was Halifax, Nova Scotia. Farming was a big part of life in the maritime provinces, but my life only touched it peripherally from time to time when visiting my uncle’s farm in Cape Breton or passing farms on visits about the province.

I have friends who shake their head when I talk of wide open spaces, preferring the quick pulse of the city and all that urban living offers. Don’t misunderstand me, I love to visit the big cities losing myself in the sea of humanity found there from time to time. There are downsides to living where we do. Shopping is limited, but the upside to this is that I spend less because there are fewer places to leave my money behind.

When in my early twenties I took a car trip across the U.S. with my first husband and two young children. Our trip began in Southern California and ended in Lynn, Massachusetts a year later. While driving through Colorado we decided to take a detour north through Wyoming. Looking back I wish I’d insisted on seeing Montana as well. I haven’t made it back that way since, but I still have chapters to write, so I believe I’ll add it to my bucket list. At the time we had friends living in Wyoming. Hearing of our odyssey they had invited us to stay as long as we’d like, which turned out to be several days. How impressive that area of the country is. Mountain ranges spring up out of nowhere, and the glorious rivers and lakes. Endless picture taking opportunities could be found around every bend in the road. Their house, well perhaps house would might have been considered a generous adjective, was a well used vacation trailer converted with the help of a welding torch into several living spaces. To the right of the trailer was a school bus colorfully decorated with flowers and peace signs which we were told was to be our quarters for the night. Free spirits drifting wherever the wind whisked us, I had gotten used to the notion the lady’s room was not always going to be attached to my sleeping quarters. The facilities in this case consisted of a wooden structure to the left of the pasture with the ubiquitous half moon carved over the rustic door signalling a toilet below. My friend instructed me on the intricacies of using the building. Basically sit and do what comes naturally. At the same time she cautioned me to take a flashlight with me at night if the calling came as the small structure occasionally had been called home by a black widow or two and even once had attracted a curious skunk. Interesting a skunk would display curiosity about such a place. Like tends to hang with like I would suppose.

Though the accommodations were perhaps less than posh, the surroundings made up for it by a thousand percent. Fields of tall grass glittered and glinted in the afternoon breeze the sea of green only broken up here and there with patches of yellow and purple wildflowers. Butterflies danced and frolicked between the buds, and huge pods of puffy clouds passed across the brilliant blue sky. Early summer when we arrived, a large area of tilled land towards the back had begun to show the results of early planting, green leaves poking up along the neatly furrowed rows. All in all it was a feast for the eyes. No wonder those among us with a yen for the solitary life set their sails in this direction.

The huge barbecue built by the owner provided most of their meals. A gifted hunter, Miles, our host had venison soaking in milk for dinner and golden ears of fresh corn peeked out of their husks next to red potatoes in the huge ceramic bowl in the kitchen. There was a colorful salad of fresh fruit, and homemade bread to go with our meal. We sat at the picnic table by a small creek zigzagging across the property and drank wine together under the stars when the children were tucked in bed for the night.

The light spilling out of the bus windows caught a snapshot of a passing gray fox carrying a rabbit in its mouth before I turned in for the night. Saying a silent prayer for the small bunny, I shut off the light and slept soundly in the stillness. I never forgot the sounds of the place, with no traffic, voices, or hustle and bustle to drown it out. The tinkling of water rushing over the smooth rocks, a bird whistling to its mate, wind rustling through the boughs of the tall trees. Natures music, I would suppose.

I had 2 cups of leftover Chili Verde Pork loin which I added to this soup. Absolutely delish and meal in itself. If you are using plain pork loin add a small can of diced chiles or use diced tomatoes with green chiles.

 Pork and Beans Soup with Tortilla Crisps

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 orange pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups diced cooked pork loin* (chile verde if possible)
8 cups chicken broth
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/8 cup chopped Cilantro
Shredded Mexican blend cheese
Slice Avocado
Sour Cream
Lime wedges

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and peppers and cook 6 mins. until vegetables are tender. Add minced garlic and cook 1 min. Add pork and seasonings and cook and stir for 3 mins. Add remaining ingredients through pinto beans. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins. Stir in cilantro.

Serve with cheese, crisps, avocado slices, sour cream and lime wedges if desired.

Tortilla Crisps

4 corn tortillas
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Baste tortillas on both sides with oil. Using pizza cutter cut tortillas in strips. Place a piece of tin foil on cookie sheet. Spray with cooking spray. Place strips on sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10 mins. or until lightly browned.

If you are using plain pork loin add a small can of diced chiles or use diced tomatoes with green chiles.

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