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fidget

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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1
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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1
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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final
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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1
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
Salt

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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eggs

Another holiday has surfaced. Bunnies and chocolate eggs line the shelves in the market, and Easter finery has being purchased and pressed to make a good showing in church on Sunday. Rewind a few years and my mother would have been buffing a sparkling shine on my Mary Jane’s and retrieving the obnoxious flower adorned hat from the box in closet. For this reason, and many others I am glad it is 2016.

Growing up in my grandparent’s house, Easter revolved around the three f’s. Faith, family and food. My mother stopped attending services during my formative years. Mainly, I believe, after a test of her faith when my father passed away unexpectedly at the age of twenty-five. My grandmother, however, could be seen seated somewhere towards the front of the church religiously (if you will) every Sunday morning. Always she wore a hat, dress, and hose. Her zippered bible was held tightly in her gloved hands on her lap, her head slightly bent in meditation. On most visits my small being could be seen shuffling and squirming in the seat next to her waiting for the sermon to end so we could get home to whatever delicious piece of whole meat was cooking the oven. The main meal was served at noon on the Sabbath. A light supper followed around 6:00 p.m. after my grandfather finished his rounds at the hospital. Trays were set up in the family room on the second floor in front of the small black and white television set, a recent addition. It got three channels if I recall, and on Sunday nights was tuned into “I Love Lucy” and “Ed Sullivan”, both shows my grandfather never missed unless called in for an emergency.

It seems funny to think of Lucy as prime time at this juncture in my life. I’m sure both grandparents, gone a long time now, would be amazed at the advances in technology since the days when they were first introduced to the boob tube. Certainly there was no DVR, with only 3 channels it would have seemed overkill. All in all a simpler time to live. With World War II a distant memory, life settled into a sort of a steady pace. Certainly there were heinous events to deal with, but not like we see in our headlines today.

I was reminding my grandchildren recently my childhood was not without boogey men. The cold war came into being while I was still in pigtails. Regularly in school we were instructed to get under our desks during a bomb drill. The “Red Menace” overseas was a ghostly presence and spies populated the movies presented on the big screen as well as our neighborhoods and offices. What we’re dealing with now seems far more sinister, somehow. Although any threat to your homeland and well being can be viewed as such. The intention seemed clearer back in the day perhaps or the enemy more distinct. Whatever the case if I was overseas I would light a candle for those we have lost and remember how precious freedom is during this election year. One has to wonder when watching this political campaign what is to become of us after the election in November. Canada is always a good option for me. I’m still on the roster there.

Today, however, I am thinking happy and uplifting thoughts while my potatoes happily boil in anticipation of being thrown in the bowl with the celery, onion, and pickles to become my Grandmother’s Potato Salad. I have the handwritten recipe still in her familiar script, though I rarely refer to it these days having made the potato salad many many times over the years. Often I am asked for the recipe and have shared it, even going so far as to print it out in handout form so I don’t have to repeat it. Each time I hear back it didn’t come out as tasty as my version. Why that is can probably be explained simply by my familiarity with the ingredients or the weight of my cook’s hand over the bowl. Each cook has their own touch with a utensil. Once a lady gave me a look as if to say, “you withheld one of the ingredients, right”? Wrong. I would never do that for several reasons. One, it isn’t very nice, and secondly my name will come up when someone tastes it at a party or gathering when someone whispers “this potato salad sucks”, and someone whispers back “It’s Susie’s recipe”.

This year Easter coincides with my mother’s birthday which falls on the 26th. We will be celebrating with lobster tails and twice baked potatoes. Yummer.

I hope you and yours have a safe and fun Easter as well as the rest of an uneasy world. This is a repost for friend Amy.

These colorful bites add a little color to your table.

Colorful Deviled Eggs

13 large eggs (1 as a spare)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 Tbsp. yellow mustard, prepared
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash of salt
Bread and butter pickles for garnish
Paprika
4 Food colors

Place eggs in cold water to cover in large saucepan. Bring to boil and remove from heat and cover. Allow to sit for 20 mins. Run under cold water and peel.

Slice each egg in half lengthwise. Scoop yolks into mixing bowl (I use a small spoon to clean them thoroughly). Mash yolks against the side of the bowl with a fork until a coarse crumble.

Add mayonnaise, mustard, pepper and light salt. It is easy to over salt so taste and add sparingly. Set aside.

Fill four bowls 1/2 full with warm water. Place five or so drops of food coloring in each bowl to create four separate colors. Equally distribute the white halves in the bowls and allow to sit until color sets. Remove with slotted spoon and pat dry with paper towels.

Place yolks in pastry bag or cut one diagonal slice off the bottom of a large resealable plastic bag and squeeze decoratively into colored bottoms. Put a small nibble of pickle on top and sprinkle with paprika.

I like to add parsley to the plate for contrast.

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1
Was I to assign an adjective to this week I believe I would go with “weird”. In retrospect, I feel my monthly horoscope omitted some of the pertinent details in its projections for March. According to the writer of my favorite monthly star cast, the planets were aligned to provide a list of wonderful exotic adventures and undeniable riches for those born under my sun sign. I was excited! I immediately purchased a flat of lottery tickets which are now decorating the bottom of my trash can in the kitchen.

Friends far more versed on the nuances of predicting events through the alignment of the heavens tell me my rising sign as well as the time of my birth are important in narrowing the scope of the reading. Okay. My rising sign remains a mystery, to me at least. My exact entry into the world was in the wee hours of November 1st in a time before Starbuck’s, cell phones, and hand held devices.

I view horoscopes purely for entertainment, weighing astrology with an open-minded approach as most things I don’t fully understand. Who knows, in truth, what makes our world go round? None of us yet, as far as I know, have been handed the book with all the answers to the puzzles of our universe. Until such time, I  remain curious and willing to embrace whatever information is floating about as at least a possible clue to the secrets the world holds.

This month, so far at least, the lady at the helm of the horoscope site veered far off course when writing my forecast. Rather than reaping riches, I seem to be tossing money in the air. The adventures missing their mark wandering far from “exotic” leaning more towards “erratic” or “hectic”.

My first week of good fortune, I began with a visit to the emergency room. Two days prior to my visit I began a regimen of thyroid pills. As I have written many times I am not easily coaxed into taking medication. My daily intake of pharmaceuticals includes a small dose of blood pressure medicine and three times a week I pop a pill to keep my cholesterol in check. Other than that I’m a pharmacy free zone. I like it that way. However, after a recent physical it was found my thyroid was a bit “sluggish”. Not a big discrepancy, but enough for my doctor to feel I could benefit by taking something for it. Fine. The pill, a wee pink oval, was nearly invisible nestled in my palm.  How such a tiny thing could pack such a wallop continues to amaze me. For the first day or so I just felt slightly off. On the third day, however, my heart apparently decided to fight back against the new interloper and went on a rampage. The pounding going on beneath my ribs was accompanied by a screaming in my ears that would have drowned out a jet engine. Okay. Not enough weirdness, my feet curled and the calves of my legs cramped concurrently. According to Rick all this plus my beet red face was enough to convince him to either dial 911 or consult an exorcist. He chose the former. Afterwards he did tell me Linda Blair looked better in her worst scenes in the movie than I did when he picked up the phone. Not particularly a flattering analogy, but I digress. Fortunately, the symptoms began to subside after about a half an hour. Still, the ever-vigilant medical people felt I needed to go to the hospital be checked out further.

While en route to the hospital I could see the EMT tearing open plastic bags containing this piece of equipment and that. Not my first ambulance ride picturing the mounting bill which was adding to my discomfort. The last time I was transported by ambulance an item caught my eye when I received the substantial bill. A $50 charge for a heated blanket. I don’t remember seeing the blanket in my bag when I was released from the hospital five days later, so I have to assume the $50 fee was for the heat. I’ll update you when this bill comes in and let you know if there was a charge for the air I breathed while on the road. Once in the ER the usual battery of expensive tests were performed. The diagnosis at the end of the day, an unfortunate reaction to the medication. Ya think? When I called my doctor the following Monday to report the incident she asked if I’d be willing to try the medication again. Uh, let me think. NO!

The dust settled on that incident. An eerie quiet descended, allowing me to take a breath for a day or two. Having had a life full of craziness, I have learned from experience if the buzz of life tends to fall silent, it’s time to put on my hard hat and wait for whatever is on its way. I didn’t have long to wait. Yesterday round mid-afternoon my son called to chat. We were enjoying a rare uninterrupted conversation when a sudden huge crash from the back of the house brought things to a halt. Rounding the corner in the master bathroom I found Rick, last seen taking a shower, sprawled across the bathtub both legs straddling the rim. Time to hang up. He is telling me he slipped while reaching for a towel but didn’t appear seriously hurt. Inside the tub was the glass shower door pulled off when he fell thankfully still intact. The door had him jammed up toward and underneath the faucet. Every time I attempted to pull the door up, it jabbed into his side. Darn, darn, darn (or worse). “Okay”, I said to myself, “think”. I couldn’t get into the tub to get a better angle because the other door was up against his legs. Do other people find themselves in similar situations, or is it just us? I handed him a towel and stroked my chin with one hand.  This was not going well, Ollie. Other than redialing 911, I was out of options. Rick outweighs me by 100 pounds so just hoisting him up was not on the table. Being a helpful partner I said, “is there anything you need”? Thinking a moment he replied, “is there any corned beef left”? Really?  Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts to extricate him, I went off to see if I could locate a neighbor.  Finding a willing victim to help me, the bruised Rick was hoisted out and his pruney body dried off and dressed. The neighbor, most likely traumatized, headed home.

Thinking this was surely the end of my good luck, this morning I was running late for a meeting. Grabbing my keys I pressed the button meant to open the car doors  and nothing happened. Getting later by the minute I inserted the key in the lock (been awhile since I did that) and voila. Inserting the key in the ignition not only did the car not start but now the key was stuck. Goodie. Dialing road service I reminded myself to get some sage while out to remove the evil spirits from the house. Well, there might be some.

The handyman is here fixing the shower stall and contrary to my horoscope he’s not paying me for the privilege. So, I write this hard hat in place wishing you good luck on your day.

Another day in the life of Susie, thank you very much.

This is my go-to sauce for spaghetti. Sometimes I add meat and other times, like the recipe below, I like the vegetarian version.

Spaghetti with Tomato Basil Sauce and Zucchini

Tomato Basil Sauce

l large onion, chopped
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
32 oz. crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Heat olive oil in large deep saucepan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and continue cooking for 3 mins. Add remaining ingredients. Cook on med-high for 15 mins. stirring often to keep from burning.

Spaghetti with Zucchini

1/2 lb. thin spaghetti
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 orange bell pepper, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Mix in 1 Tbsp. olive oil and 1 Tbsp. butter. Keep warm.

Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in large skillet. Add onions and bell pepper. Cook and stir over medium heat for 6 mins. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Add zucchini to skillet. Cook and stir another 6-8 mins. or until zucchini is slightly browned and tender but not mushy. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve sauce over noodles an top with zucchini mix. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4

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