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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Sleep is not a happy place for me these days for whatever reason. I suppose I could blame this on the pandemic. Why not? Everything these days seems to be blamed on the virus. If I do sleep, my dreams, if I’m lucky enough to achieve that level of deep sleep, are plagued with crazy scenarios and angst filled situations. Last night I was at a doctor’s appointment. There were two men in white coats attending to me, and neither of them were happy with my person. The individual I identified with as being the head cheese, if you will, was an insipid little man who kept rolling his eyes at me when I made a statement as if I was a ridiculous person who had never said a word worthy of paying any attention to. Hmmmm. What, one might ask, is this dream trying to tell me? I put my purse down on the chair next to me and a team of cleaning people rushed into the examining room, whisked up the offending purse, plopped it in my lap, and proceeded to de-lice the entire area around where I was sitting. Thank you? The doctor kept reading aloud out of my chart in almost a whisper. Since I am not a lip reader, I kept saying I couldn’t hear him, triggering another round of eye rolling in both men. Fine. Finally, I determined he was saying I was very ill. According to his version of the story he’d told me this last visit and I hadn’t paid attention. Huh. As I found this a little off putting at 3 a.m., I woke myself up. Lying under the sheets now feeling totally unsettled, I padded into the kitchen and pushed “brew” on the coffee pot. Coffee makes everything better, or at least it does for me. There is something so satisfying in taking that first sip off of your morning cup of freshly brewed beans. It’s like that first bite of an In ‘n Out cheeseburger. That first sip, or that first bite, always seems the most satisfying of the lot.

Love is sort of that way as well, don’t you think? In the beginning so new, so fresh, so full of promise. That golden glow when a couple is first discovering each other. The honeymoon period before there are shared experiences of piles of dirty laundry, overdue bills, hours spent walking the floor with a crying baby, nights hung over a toilet after eating bad Chinese. Just two people totally wrapped up in one another. If we started at the other end of the spectrum when we first met and worked our way back to the beginning most likely there wouldn’t be as many babies to walk the floor with in the middle of the night.

I come to this avenue of thought because Prince Phillip passed away. He and Queen Elizabeth were married for 73 years. I always wonder what the secret is to the extreme longevity of some relationships. I’m sure part of it, probably a large chunk, is compromise, patience, and a certain amount of me time. Now in their case, I would also suppose their union did not suffer breaches from the usual make or break moments we commoners do. The only breeches in their lives covered their behinds while galloping along well manicured polo fields. One of the top reasons couples fight is money, and in their case I feel I can say safely they weren’t sweating their next mortgage payment on Buckingham Palace. Still, whether your coffers are well padded or not, some natural leaks occur in the dam in all marriages, I should think after years and years of waking up to the same person on the pillow next to you. The lives of royals would be totally unique, of course. Queen Elizabeth would not be wiling away her days trying out a new dish soap for grease control, or sewing curtains for the spare room. One could only imagine what life might look like beyond the palace walls when the cameras weren’t rolling or the servants not present in one of the many common rooms. The Queen said he was her rock. As the women in my family were wont to say, “lovely”. Sometimes I got more of a slippery slope of pebbles and loose gravel feel from the men in my life, but that’s for another blog another day.

After all those years losing a spouse would be like using a part of yourself I would imagine. So many shared experiences and memories would have been created together they must feel like they’d lost half of their whole. My kids dad died at thirty-three. I remember at the time thinking, no matter where I went in the world I would never see his face again. Death is such a final note, you have to lean in on your faith in whatever you believe once that door is shut to make have the end of the song make sense. Faith, for each of us is a very personal thing. I try never to ask anyone to walk my walk nor do I opt to walk theirs when it comes to the hereafter so I shall leave it at that.

After Rick died, a friend gifted me with an “Angel Reading”. Basically, an angel reading is a visit with a psychic who tunes into the guides and angels surrounding you. I am very open to all ways of thinking when it comes to this, largely because no one up to this point has come up with the definitive answer to what actually occurs. That being said, I am willing to look at all options lying on the table. I do know for sure after he passed away there were signs everywhere he was still in the neighborhood. Several months after he was gone, a realtor friend of mine took me to look at this wonderful little house for sale in a neighboring town. At the time I was toying with the idea of buying rather than renting, before deciding renting offered me less restrictions. In one room of the house, the owner had decorated the bed and shelves with pillows and pictures with handwritten messages scrawled across them. My friend noticed even before I did, every one was either something Rick regularly said to me and several contained a nickname he used for me “little one”. Both of us just stood there in that room for the longest time amazed. It was as if he had written me a love note. I’ll never forget it. Truly I almost put an offer in on the house because of it. Another odd occurrence during that meeting was the “angel reader” was she mentioned Rick came and sat on the end of our bed. This gave me goosebumps. They began at my toenails and worked their way up to the top of my skull. As I have said ad nauseum, I am very neat. When I make a bed, that bed gets made. A military sergeant could stop by and I bet I’d pass inspection. I was a motel maid for a year in my misspent youth, and I after making twenty beds a day got pretty efficient at it. But, I digress. Anyhow, each day I would make the bed, no wrinkles, no bumps. My grandmother made her bed every morning before relieving herself. She told me it was in case she died while on the toilet, and whoever picked her up for in the meat wagon noticed her covers askew. Again, I’m off to the left here. Each day after I made the bed, an hour or so later, or whenever I went in the room next, I would notice at his end of the bed there would be what I would call a perfect “bum print” on the blanket. I can’t explain it, but I assure you for the first month or so it was there like clockwork, and then one day it wasn’t. It never was there again after that day. Go figure. Perhaps he stayed to make sure I was all right before going on to where he had to go. That being the case or not, it makes me to happy to think it was him checking in one last time.

Quite often partners sharing so many years together pass away close to one another. One departs, and the other literally dies of a broken heart. According to the news stories, the Queen has been preparing for the loss of her husband for some time. I thought I was prepared as well. I knew that I would lose Rick months before the actual day he died. But, you are never really prepared for such a catastrophic occurrence in your life, I don’t think. Perhaps knowing it is coming gives you time to plan, but I’m not sure it eases the pain of losing someone you love when it actually occurs. Death is as much a part of life as breathing and a heartbeat, yet we know so little about it. It is not a subject we here in America are comfortable with, so I shall move on to lighter fare.

To veer off the highway on another subject entirely, I have had my vaccinations and am ready to do a little exploring. The new man in my life at the hails originally from Montana. Born with the wind in my sails, I have been fortunate enough to cross the U.S. and Canada numerous times, but Montana is one state I have never stepped foot in and would love to add to my list of those visited. The big sky country, as it is referred to because it is told the sky seems more blue and more vast when in Montana. Sounds lovely (in the summer), and I am looking forward to seeing it. It would not be for me in the winter. Winters there are brutal and I am done with digging myself out of anything other than a huge plate of curly fries. A road trip is my favorite way to travel. Truth be told I’m a poor cruiser. I don’t like being stuck on a huge ship with nowhere to go but above deck or below, with a group of people I’ve never met, and nothing to do but eat. I prefer to have the freedom road travel provides. It’s wonderfully unburdening to be able to stop whenever the mood strikes you or go wherever the wind moves you. Though I do enjoy flying, when in an airplane all you see is the city below as you ascend and another city when you descend. Otherwise, most of the time the view out the window is clouds, clouds, oh, and did I mention clouds? If I’m in the mood to get somewhere fast, flying is the obvious choice, but at the moment there is nothing pressing getting me to get from point A to point B, so I prefer driving along at whatever speed I choose to drive and getting there whenever I do.

Another mode of transportation I enjoy is going by train. When I was four, my mother and I boarded the Trans-Canada train in Montreal and went west all the way to Vancouver before stepping back off. What a wonderful trip that was. Though very young, I can picture myself kneeling on the plush cushions in the Pullman car, face pressed against the window, watching the glorious vistas of the snow capped Rocky Mountains whizzing by.

At any rate, as you might have noticed I’m all over the map today. Wish that were more literal than figurative, but for now, I shall plan my trip and look forward to finally seeing something beyond whatever lies within a twenty-five mile radius of this house even if only in my unsettled dreams.

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone. – George Eliot

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Need and want are interesting qualifiers. Since I’m home more than not of late, I find my mind enjoys a little word play now and again. I need air to live, for example. I want to win the lottery (from my lips to your ears). I don’t want an obscene amount of money mind you, just enough to allow me a little latitude when it comes to fulfilling some of the items on my bucket list. Too much money can be both a blessing and a curse. If it brought you undying happiness why is it so many privileged people find themselves unfulfilled and unhappy? Truth is, I have had lots of money and no money in my lifetime and haven’t found that having a well padded bank account contributed to my happiness significantly except for the freedom it provides. When I was young I was never in pursuit of great wealth. I didn’t marry for money any of the four times, and this is well reflected in my present financial state; not on the street, but certainly not on my way to total solvency either. Have I done anything myself to earn large sums of money? Nope. Do I wish I had lots of zeroes behind the numbers in my bank account? At times.  Not because I have my eye on a red Ferrari or there’s a Coach handbag I’ve been admiring. That answer, would be only because I would love to have the freedom to travel, and financial stability allows you room for that. After seeing to my family’s welfare and world peace, of course (thank you Miss Universe), if suddenly independently wealthy most likely I would rarely be home. Rather you would find me sipping ouzo on a lovely patio in Greece, cruising down the Danube, or exploring the Chichen Itza ruins. Ahhhhh, what lovely thoughts on this Covid-19 driven Monday.

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Boo, of course, would have to accompany me. Though she believes she runs this saloon, in truth when it comes to what we do and where we go it is I holding the wallet with the credit cards not she. Perhaps she would ride on the plane with me as my support animal. God knows she qualifies. Knowing Boo she would want to be in First Class. It would be nice to travel first class for a change, rather than in steerage like I usually do. I have only flown first class once, and business class twice. Each time it was a luxury to have both elbow and leg room to spare. The airlines are squeezing you in so tight these days it can actually be hazardous to your health. The only time I flew first class was to Hawaii in 1983. Such a treat. Now, from what understand first class passengers have pods for sleeping and other amenities reserved for the rich and famous, but even back then the perks were obvious from the moment you sat your behind in your comfy, roomy seat. In tourist waving down a flight attendant is like finding a sales clerk in Kmart. I remember once in Kmart after actually locating someone who worked there, I inquired as to where I might find the candles. His response, “In the candle department, I believe.” All that in-store sales training really paid off.

In coach when flying if you need immediate help your heart attack will simply have to wait until your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position and your seat belt is correctly fastened and the guy in the window seat has made it back from the bathroom. In first class if you as much as crook your finger a flight attendant appears like magic at your aisle offering you a refill for your drink, a glistening smile, and another pound bag of nuts. On the flight to Hawaii where I flew first class they actually sliced delicious slabs of perfectly cooked prime rib at the aisle, served with a twice baked potato and fresh asparagus with Hollandaise sauce on a real plate. So far superior to the unidentified meat in a plastic tray you are treated to in coach. Whoa. You pay for the prime rib several times over when you consider the difference in price between coach and first class so perhaps in the end you’d be better served to cook one at home and pack yourself a sandwich.

When this pandemic allows for activities beyond my front door a road trip is planned with a friend to Montana. I have been through, lived in, or visited a good majority of the United States. Montana, is not one of them. I’ve been close by, having driven through Wyoming. Beautiful. I’ve got a friend in the Boise area and have cruised as far north as Priest Lake in Idaho which is close to the Canadian border. I’ve passed through Nebraska, but missed the Dakotas and generally visited most everything south east of Montana at one time or another. If not for the virus holding us captive I think it would be fun to take an extended road trip and cover the spots I’ve not seen yet. For example, I’ve been to Phoenix numerous times, and seen Sedona, but I have yet to take in the majesty of the Grand Canyon nor have I had a glimpse of “The Thing” much advertised on Interstate 10 as a tourist attraction not to be missed.

When I was small, I lived in my maternal grandparents house from just after my first birthday until nearly nine. My mother and I went to live with them when my father died unexpectedly at twenty-five. My grandmother, a lovely and accomplished woman in so many ways, never drove a car. For someone who never took the wheel, she thoroughly enjoyed being in the car when someone else did. Many weekends during my childhood were spent on the back roads of Nova Scotia exploring all the wonderful sights to be seen in that beautiful part of Eastern Canada. Often we took a day trip down the Cabot Trail, a must see if you are in the area or would stop for some fabulous seafood at one of the many restaurants littering the picturesque outer areas of the province. Always I loved those trips. The window would be half open and untethered by seatbelts as we were in those days, my nose would at the top of the glass taking in all the images whizzing by as we drove along.

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My first long road trip was from Nova Scotia to California with my mother and my recently acquired step-father in the summer of my ninth year. Our transportation was a shiny new Buick sedan of which I took up one half of the rear seat. With nothing pressing to get us to Santa Ana and my new “father’s” first day on the job still a month away we stopped often on our route.  In Chicago we began our southwestern trajectory on Route 66. I believe we ate at every Howard Johnson’s along the way. Never heard a complaint from me. They had 28 flavors of ice cream and as a chubby little girl my goal was to sample every flavor. In New Mexico we visited the Carlsbad Caverns. All these years later I can still picture those eerie caves with the beautiful formations. Funny how some experiences imprint themselves on your mind. The painted desert was also on our playlist, as was Las Vegas. Never having seen a desert nor a cactus (Nova Scotia is not known for either) my nine year old brain was like a porous sponge soaking up all these new and fascinating visual experiences.

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Some of us choose to remain close to home on our life’s journey. For me, there has always been the urge to see what lingers just beyond the rise of the hill. As I get older it sometimes feel my world has gotten smaller, but still if given the opportunity to cruise over the crest of the ridge again straddling the back of a Harley, I know I would grab it in a second without hesitation.

Aging is just another crossroad on our journey, one more experience to be embraced. If lucky, we are all going to get a little ripe around the edges and the best way to approach it, for me at least, is to make it yet into another adventure. There is no guarantees at any age how many years a person will continue to inhabit this earth, so with that in mind I feel deeply the importance of living fully each and every day. Make it a good one.

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My seventh day in Northern Manitoba with my farm family was to be spent with Chris and the children. What a lovely day it was. On this particular day I was pulled into service in the kitchen, a job not unfamiliar to me. That evening there was to be a party in my honor which was such a lovely gesture on their part. Chris, as usual, would be doing the catering.  In her typical efficient way, she had printed menus for her guests. One was handed to me before we began dicing and chopping to provide a glimpse of what we were to be preparing. Breakfast that morning was self serve. Cold and hot cereal with a large bowl of fresh fruit and a plate with a variety of Chris’s homemade breads were set up on the dining room table for anyone to help themselves. Three golden crusted pies were lined up on the sideboard by the open dining room window to cool with strict instructions from the cook not to be touched.

Reading the menu I could see it would be a busy day. The cocktail hour was to begin at 5:00 out by the patio. Icy margaritas, wine and beer would be served for the adults enjoying a cocktail, and lemonade and sweet tea for those too young to imbibe or not inclined towards adult beverages. The appetizers, mostly comprised of ingredients from Chris’s impressive garden, were to include pastry wrapped asparagus with mustard sauce, sausage stuffed mushrooms, and deviled eggs as well as whatever contributions the guests provided. For someone who had spent little time in the city Chris had a very sophisticated palette. I noticed her reading material included magazines such such as Bon Appetit and Food and Wine, magazines I also enjoyed.

Eva and I were dispatched to Chris’s garden to gather some of the necessary ingredients. What an amazing touch the woman had with growing things.  Some of the vegetables in the massive garden area I had never actually seen on the vine before. I was fascinated to peer inside one enormous leaf only to find a cauliflower tucked under the wing of one fold. Up until then I had only seen cauliflowers in the vegetable section at the market. Carrying the baskets provided by our hostess for our harvest, Eva and I filled each to the brim with huge beefsteak tomatoes, green onions, sweet peppers, bouquets of basil, springs of mint, summer squash, cucumbers, and whatever else was on our list.

The main course was to be lamb. I was pleased no lambs were included in the cast of barnyard characters on the farm so it was not to be a family member served to the guests. Chris explained they got their lamb locally which didn’t surprise me. During my stay I had seen several large flocks grazing in the area. Though I had not mentioned it, coincidentally lamb happens to be one of my favorite meats. Growing up it was often the main course at my grandmother’s table alongside a bowl of mint jelly or creamy mint sauce. I assumed, since mint had been included on our shopping list, one or the other might be showing up that night as well. This was not to be lamb as I had ever prepared it before, however. Several whole lambs were going to cooked outdoors on a spit. Sounded wonderful. When I was living in Alabama I attended a huge backyard party where a whole cow was cooked on a spit. Watching that spit revolve all afternoon was too much for my delicate nature bringing out in me the urge to rescue the poor thing and run away with it. Brings to mind a quote from Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,”He took the Who’s feast, he took the Who pudding, he took the roast beast.” I vowed to avoid the spit area later in this day and simply enjoy my dinner.

Back in the kitchen the aromas were beginning to titillate my nostrils. The lamb was to be served alongside a cheesy, creamy zucchini gratin, crispy Greek lemon potatoes, several salad selections including a fully loaded garden salad and Chris’s simply amazing yeast rolls. Oh yummy for my tummy. I was put in charge of the Caprese Salad, creating several eye catching plates of ripe ruby red tomatoes alternated with slices of mozzarella cheese. This was finished off with fresh basil, and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If an organ could do a happy dance my stomach would have been in the middle of the macarena.

After a quick lunch, the girls were relieved of their aprons and left to play outside allowing Chris and I to to concentrate of the tasks at hand. There is something immensely satisfying to me in the preparation of food. Perhaps it’s the colors, or the aromas, or just the immense gratification you get when someone puts a bite of a dish you’ve prepared in their mouths and says “yum”.  A meal, to my mind, should be party for our senses. We eat with our eyes, our noses, our mouths and even our ears. There’s nothing as tantalizing as the sound of a good piece of meat when it hits a hot grill. Good food arranged artfully on a pretty plate is just appealing. No matter how mouth watering your food may be, if you just throw it on the plate and hand it to someone to eat, the full enjoyment of eating the meal is somehow diminished. As good as the meat and potatoes on the left might taste, a person might not feel as enthusiastic about taking a bite of it as they might what is displayed on the plate to the right.

The Caprese salad plated and wrapped, I asked where to store it. The kitchen had one large side by side refrigerator and every inch of storage space was already accounted for. Chris directed me to the sunroom. The sunroom was at the back of the house. It was a large shotgun style room with a bank of windows running along both ends and the yard side. During the warmer months Bob P. said the screens kept the air flowing in and the bugs out making it a lovely place to sit and let your bones dry out after a long day of work. On the inside wall there was a side by side refrigerator and though I had not seen it Ray had mentioned a large walk-in freezer in the barn where they stored butchered meats.

Setting the Caprese dishes on a shelf in the refrigerator I remembered Chris asking me to grab several jars of pickled green beans which she said I would find in the cupboard next to the fridge. Having been told the Mason jars were in alphabetical order (of course) I easily located the appropriate jars under the sign marked “G”. Like many farmer’s wives, Chris said she canned and preserved several times a year for off season months. Looking at the amount of jars, it seemed an excessive amount of food for five people but at harvest time it was my understanding there were plenty of mouths to feed, and if not I believe most preserved items enjoy a fairly long shelf life.

Mid afternoon with everything done and tucked away we separated to catch a shower and clean up for the evening ahead. I had not thought to pack a dress for a week on a farm, so Chris, about the same size as myself, offered me a choice of several light summer dresses from her closet.

Always I have gotten butterflies when having to integrate with a large group of strangers. It’s not that I’m an introvert, I actually love interacting with other human beings, but too many of them at once I find a little overpowering. Once dressed I wandered out in the garden to find Bob J. already dressed and seated in the shade in a lawn chair. After surveying me with his gaze as if checking for weapons he commented that I cleaned up very well. In the world of Bob J. I believe this was a compliment, so I took it as such. In turn I thought he “cleaned up well”. Face free of stubble, hair combed, a freshly pressed shirt tucked into a well fitting pair of clean jeans, most attractive. We sat next to each other for a while enjoying the lull before the storm. He shared he was glad I’d come and that his family had been pleased with how I’d rolled up my sleeves and got dirty along with the rest of them. I thanked him knowing it was high praise from someone who did not relieve himself of praise easily. The moment hanging between us was broken by a truck driving through the gate allowing the energy to dissipate. Excusing myself, I went inside to let Chris know our first guest had arrived and to see what I could do to help.

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About forty people ended up filling the chairs out back, some filtering inside after the sun set and the bugs made their nightly appearance. The margaritas were as promised icy cold and tart and if possible each course served was better than the one preceding it. The lamb, well I don’t have words. Ray had cooked it to perfection. It was tender and juicy and, yes, served with mint jelly and sprigs of fresh mint. The tables were set up eight to a table with a smaller table for the children of which there were exactly ten. Twinkling lanterns were strung from tree to tree to provide illumination. Each table was beautifully decorated with long trails of wildflowers. A young man I recognized from church the day before sat on a bale of hay entertaining us with country music and playing his guitar. Desserts were served with a lovely after dinner wine. Chris’s triple berry pie, a recipe I use to this day, was the star sitting alongside a glass bowl of trifle, an assortment of cakes and plate after plate of cookies and bars. About nine, people starting peeling off and heading towards their vehicles as the next day was a work day.

What a wonderful night that was. Everyone pitched in. Once the last guest’s taillights had disappeared down the road we all carried something into the kitchen. Eva and Dawn, running on a sugar high, had to be carried sniffling into bed. Chris and I stayed up late and washed dishes putting leftovers in containers to be stored in the fridge. When finally I walked down the hall towards my room I realized I would really miss this new family of mine. It was a night I shall always keep with me, and of course the blueberry pie recipe.

Chris’s Triple Berry Pie

Double Crust Pie Shell

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
4-5 Tbsp. milk

Combine flour and salt in small bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture looks like course crumbs. Sprinkle with vinegar. Gradually add milk tossing with a fork until a ball forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins.

Divide pastry in half leaving one ball slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger of the two to fit 9″-10″ pie plate. Transfer pastry to pie plate. Trim to rim. Brush bottom of shell with 1 Tbsp. water whisked with 1 egg white. Reserve the rest.

Roll out second shell to fit over top of the first. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling

2 1/2 cups blueberries, sorted and any stems removed
3/4 cup raspberries
3/4 cups blackberries
3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. water

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over berries. Using your hands gently turn until well coated. Pour into prepared shell.

Lay top pastry over berry mix. Press and seal edges with bottom shell. Trim as needed. Cut four slits in center to vent. Brush top with remaining egg white/water mixture.

Bake for 50 mins. or until browned and bubbly.

Cook on wire rack.

 

 

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Day two on the farm in Manitoba began before the rooster crowed, literally. The alarm dutifully did it’s job at precisely 5:30 rousing me from a well deserved sleep. Jet lag had settled in the night before following a long flight from California the day prior added to my first full day of work on the farm.

Liberally slathering sunscreen on my already pink-tinged face, I pulled on a pair of jeans, a clean tee shirt, and slipped into my work boots. Excitement began to build as I brushed my teeth and walked down the hall towards the kitchen. Pushing open the door I was greeted by the now familiar faces already seated around the table.  While filling my plate from the mosaic of dishes arranged on the center island I found myself thinking a five-star hotel could not have provided a finer breakfast. First came a plate of blueberry pancakes. Piling several on my plate and drowning them in syrup, Bob J. explained these had been made with wild blueberries his granddaughters had picked for me to enjoy. I thanked both girls for their efforts, and moved past the pancakes to help myself to a light as air homemade biscuit which I topped off with a generous ladle of thick, creamy sausage gravy. A chafing dish of fluffy scrambled eggs came after that, and to complete the menu, the most decadent cinnamon rolls my mouth ever had the pleasure to welcome.  OMG. They were hot, sticky, gooey bundles of wonderfulness dripping with butter. Chris, the family chef, must live in the kitchen to produce such amazing displays. Yum and double yum.  All this with two little ones running around beneath her feet. Amen to you girl, that’s all I had to say. Made me want to break out my “Women Rule the World” apron and slap that baby proudly on.

I took a seat at the empty chair at the table. The girls, done with their breakfast, had been asked by the their mother to remain at the table until the adults were finished eating. Both children provided me with little glimpses into their lives. Eva, the oldest, said she would be celebrating her birthday in two days. When asked how old she was going to be, she held three fingers up while proudly replying “four”. Dawn piped in one of the dogs had puppies which she would show me later if I’d like to see. I assured her I would love to see the new arrivals, adding a visit to the puppies to my to-do list. It was obvious their mother had time for something besides cooking. The girls were nicely dressed, the matching bib overall shorts outfits neatly pressed with not a spot to be seen. Eva, blessed with a huge mass of chestnut hair, had it pulled it up tightly into a thick pony tail, secured by two yellow ducky clips.  Dawn, younger by a year and a half, wore her hair down in long ringlets of gold living up to her lovely namesake the goddess of the morning. Completing the picture, her sweet young face was accented by a sun kissed band of tiny freckles running up and over her upturned nose. Both girls were very well behaved. While at the table they received just one admonishment, this from their grandfather who didn’t appreciate Eva referring to her sister as “a poop-head”.

While the two Bob’s were discussing the work schedule, Ray turned to ask his wife what she had on the calendar. Wiping her hands on the dish towel Chris said once the kitchen was empty she and the girls were going to harvest vegetables from the garden before starting her day.  Taking my now clean plate over to stand next to her I asked what “her day” usually looked like. The first chore on her list, she said, after the humans had been attended to, was feeding the livestock housed within the gates of the compound. This included an assortment of chickens, pigs, goats, dogs, and two horses. Chris went on to say there were always pens to be cleaned and fresh hay to be hauled in and laid down.  There were twenty plus hens and one rooster occupying the hen house. Eggs had to be gathered and the bedding changed for these tenants as well on a regular basis. My guess was free moments were at a minimum for this lady as she went on. Three times a week the horses had to be groomed and exercised. Ray, usually in charge of this, left it to her when there were crops to be seen to. I suddenly felt tired. A simple “I keep busy” would have sufficed. As she went on I wished I could slip back under the covers for a short nap. In between all her chores she raised two toddlers plus cooked and cleaned for the family. Perhaps an amen wasn’t enough. I began to suspect the woman should be knighted.

As for my day, it had been decided I would accompany Bob J. and Ray to the feed and grain while Bob P., the elder statesman of the group, stayed around the compound to keep an eye on the children. Bob P. mentioned he was going to town for supplies later in the week and if interested in seeing the town I was welcome to join him.  Accepting the invitation I was ushered out the back door to head to the feed and grain.

Piling into the cab of the old work truck I was positioned once again between the two men. We drove down yet another deeply rutted dirt road before pulling out onto the main highway. Now, in Northern California this main highway would have been considered more of a byway but in the area we were in I believe it was the main traffic bearer. At least it was paved, unlike most of the roads connecting the farm. Whether it was the truck had no shocks at all or they were just old and worn I don’t know, but with each rut in the road it felt like another vertebrae snaked it’s way into the back of my brain. Ray, definitely the conversationalist of my two companions, talked to me about the fields of crops we were passing, explaining what this row was growing and the next in between filling me in on the general history of the people living there and the area as a whole. Asking what crops were grown on their farm he explained we would be working in the fields later in the day so he would show me first hand. Apparently there were also sprinkler systems to be maintained, animals to be monitored, and then later in the day, very late I was to find, the tractors would be put to work spraying the crops. Nap please.

Being in the middle afforded me an equal vantage point to observe both men simultaneously. Certainly they were drastically different physically. Ray, the taller and leaner of the two had dark red curly hair reaching to just above his shoulders. Slightly balding at the top, he covered the thinning spot with a ubiquitous ball cap displaying an embroidered maple leaf across the front. The only time I saw him without that hat during my stay was at meals when Chris insisted it be left on a hook by the door. Bob J., easily three inches shorter than Ray, was by far the sturdier built of the pair. In comparison to Ray’s mop of longish curls, Bob’s brown straight hair was tidily trimmed over his ears. Both his face and neck bore the imprints of a typical “redneck” tan which had turned the skin above the collar line a deep rusty gold. The bronze color contrasted startlingly with the most gorgeous pair of sea blue eyes ringed by lashes most women would most likely die for. He wore his fifty two years easily, nothing telling his age aside from a touch of gray sneaking in around his temples and a latticework of fine lines branching out from his eyes and mouth. All in all a very attractive man. Uh, not that I noticed.

Aside from looking like polar opposites, Bob leaned towards being on the quiet side. Ray, on the other hand, was prone to story telling, stealing the spotlight whenever he could. Ray shared his impressive repertoire of jokes with me at every opportunity often laughing uproariously before the punch line had even been delivered. Bob, I noticed, mostly surveyed the sky during Ray’s joke telling giving me the impression he’d probably heard these stories many times before.

Thankfully the truck slowed, coming to a complete stop in front of a bank of silos giving my spine a chance to realign. A train track stretched as far as the eye could see on either side of the massive buildings. Bob J., explained local farmers had used this grainery to store their crops until it closed, along with many others in the province, several years back. He spoke at length about the dwindling labor pool and crop processing and shipping issues making it difficult for the farmers to get their grain to market. Many families worked farms that had been handed down generation to generation for decades and were deeply vested in their land and their way of life. There was something incredibly lonely about the tall empty buildings before us. It reminded me of many small towns around the area where I lived in Arkansas. A deep country way of life leaning precariously on the precipice of extinction. Towns marked by banks of store windows bearing wax “x’s” with dusty main drags where old men sat in front of empty shops drinking sweet tea in worn rockers remembering better days. Young people mostly moved on in those no name towns to the larger cities for a chance at better jobs and a higher standard of living. Always found something profoundly sad about watching a town die.

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When he was done bringing me up to speed on the silos, we moved on down the road twenty minutes or so. Under a huge sign reading “Feed and Grain” the truck turned into a large parking lot looking more like a pick up dealership. Trucks of all shapes and sizes filled the parking spots, some hauling trailers and some not.  It seemed there was a stock auction that day which explained all manner of livestock peering out of windows in trailers or simply standing in the beds of the trucks. Huge chutes were releasing grains into pick up beds as we walked inside the massive warehouse. A welcoming gush of cool air washed over us as we walked into the main store area. Jeans and boots were definitely the outfit of the day. Pallets with enormous bags of food were being checked out by the cashiers. I wandered off as Ray and Bob J. went about their business. While perusing one aisle I heard a small tinkling noise. Looking down I was pleasantly surprised to find a small pig returning my stare. Around her neck was a pink and white bandana and below that hung a studded collar with a tiny gold bell dangling from a hook. “Oink”, it said. “Hello” I said in return using my native language, not well versed in pig. I was to find out shortly this was a mini pig fittingly answering to Petunia. Petunia it seemed was owned by the proprietors of the place and somewhat of a local mascot of sorts. If cuteness could be bottled this little one’s owner could be making some big money.  Petunia and I accompanied one another down several aisles before she left me to follow a family with a small dog on a leash. Fickle these pigs.

Mini-Pigs

An hour later with all their purchases loaded in the truck we turned back toward the farm to have lunch before going out to the field. Lunch? I had packed in enough food in a 48 hour period to sustain me if lost in the wilderness for two months. Like a camel I could probably have lived on my stored fat indefinitely. However, once again seated in that comfortable kitchen I found myself tucking away another delicious meal followed by a bowl of fresh fruit and cream. Amazingly I could still button my pants.

Ray stayed behind after lunch to help Chris in the barn, leaving Bob J. and I to ourselves giving me time to find out more about my long distance friend. I shall begin there at my next writing.Each day added a dimension to my adventure. Many things I’ve done in my life have held a little risk. Let’s be honest nobody says “I do” four times in a lifetime if there isn’t a bit of daredevil in their soul. Many things I regret, many things I treasure. It you never color outside of the lines how will you know what you might have missed? Day Three coming soon. As always stay safe. Hopefully their will be hugs and a rejoining of the mainstream not too far in the foreseeable future.

 

 

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Last night was one of those stress filled nights where I found myself doing yoga at 2 a.m. in an effort to calm my chattering brain. Lately I invest a lot of energy trying to live in the moment I am currently inhabiting. In spite of my finest efforts, now and again my mind goes rogue bombarding me with what if’s and unsettling scenarios for the future. During these episodes like Michelangelo on steroids, my psyche begins frantically painting scenes of Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, and I sitting on the street corner with a sign reading “Need Help” or me ending up in some sort of group establishment known for its abysmal food cohabited by people wiling away their hours plucking imaginary berries out of the air.  None of this is based on any fact, mind you, but in the wee hours when darkness is upon me my thoughts can play tricks on my intellectual properties allowing doubt and misinformation to cloud all rational thinking processes.

Fear truly can rule you if you allow it run unchecked. Reality is sufficiently frightening without giving fear free rein to step up and fabricate things for you to worry about. Feelings and thoughts are just that, feelings and thoughts. They are not tangible entities but rather fluid malleable parts of us we can bring to the forefront or make disappear at whim. You are at the controls, sort of like when parents tell their offspring, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out”.

Fear is not new to me. Truth is I’ve done a lot of things in my life that have terrified me. Sometimes you have to stare down your fears and kick them to the curb. At one point I actually suffered from anxiety attacks while married to my ex-husband, David. Now to be clear, I am not for a minute suggesting my ex caused these attacks to occur (I’m also not suggesting he didn’t), simply stating they manifested themselves when I was married to the man. They began at the onset of our ten years together. Much of our time was spent traveling across the U.S. working for a large, very well recognized, construction company. Like hermit crabs we transported our home with us setting up camp in each new location as one job closed and a new opportunity presented itself. The first move, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, was to Washington state. More specifically, Longview, Washington. We worked and lived there for eleven months before packing up after accepting the next job offer which was to be in Ashdown, Arkansas. Our household goods at the time were stored in the Bay Area. Not contemplating returning for some time we decided to drive to the San Jose area, spend a week with my family there, load up his truck and my car with the contents of our storage unit and make a beeline for Arkansas. Along for the ride were my Shih Tzu, Sushi and Kitty, my twelve year old gray tabby. At the end of our journey together these two animals had logged enough miles to be honorary long-haul drivers.

We set out on that trip each in our respective vehicles. These were what I call the “lean years” for us. His beater Ford truck was nearly as old as I was and my car at the time was a K car purchased at auction. A comfortable car for driving, the outside no longer matched the well preserved interior as a result of an unfortunate rear ender I’d been involved with prior to leaving for Washington. In an effort to keep the repair costs down, as it wasn’t a new vehicle either by any means, the body shop had actually riveted the hood back together leaving it sporting a somewhat Frankensteinish appearance. I know.  Between the rivets on my hood and my husbands severely overtaxed truck bed the characters in Grapes of Wrath had nothing on us. Both animals rode with me. Sushi generally occupied the shotgun seat with Kitty preferring to ride in the area below the window above the rear seat where she could catch some sun. Cats, unlike their canine counterparts, do not signal when they need to relieve themselves, so it was necessary to have the litter box on board on the floor in the back seat. This, as you might imagine, was not always a delightful addition to my trip.

There were so many scary parts to that trip I hardly know where to begin. At the time I was madly in love and off on a new adventure. “Damn the torpedoes full speed ahead” sort of thing. My car had been having brake problems, something we had decided to address on our arrival in Arkansas. If you are scratching your head at this statement, may I join you? Why on earth we would take a chance on traversing high mountain roads with an old truck loaded to the max with hhg’s and an old car with poor brakes escapes me, but what can I say? Nothing, exactly. Sometimes shaking your head is all you can do.

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We reached the top of the Continental Divide as the sun was getting ready to go down. It was summer, but the temperature was cold enough at that altitude to elicit a shiver when I stepped out of the car.  I had pulled to the side of the road in response to David’s signal he was doing so. After stepping around the side of the truck I realized why. Our second flat tire on the truck was apparent on the right front.  The first one was while going across the Great Salt Flats of Utah, which I will discuss as I continue my journey in upcoming blogs. Perhaps brakes and tires might have been two checks we needed to make on our “Preparing for Trip List” prior to hitting the road. I hear you. I don’t believe it helped that the poor old truck was toting a load on it’s back nearly as tall as it was long, but the why’s of the situation really are a moot point at this writing. Choice A, with no Choice B on the horizon was to change the tire in the darkness with the help of a flashlight which was our only available source of illumination. There were no cell phones back then so if you got in a situation like that in a remote place you either took care of it yourself or stayed until hopefully help showed up. David, always helpful, suggested that aside from holding the flashlight it might be advantageous to keep an eye out for bears or mountain lions. “Really”? Luckily knees knocking together is not a known lure for wild beasts so we got the tire changed before being eaten which was definitely a bonus to my way of thinking.

Once the new tire was in place David lit a cigarette while we discussed going down the other side of the mountain. Since my brakes were not performing at optimum capacity the steep grades could present a bit of a problem should I need to say, stop, at some juncture. Being consumed by a bear was starting to look pretty good to me. The plan, hold your hats here, was that David would go first in the heavy truck. As we wound around the mountain careening through the darkness should my brakes go out I was to ride up onto his bumper and he would bring me to a stop. Valium please.  Make it two. As we crested the mountain in tandem I said a silent prayer we would get to the bottom via the road and slowly stepped on the accelerator.  Several times when we hit substantial grades I was only able to maintain a narrow margin behind the truck’s bumper. Even the dog was sweating. Finally, angels on my shoulder, we miraculously hit level ground with all body parts attached. Life, was they say, is good.

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There was an eclipse that night. We secured a room at a local motel. Interesting place. The owner had taken over an abandoned storage facility and converted it into motel rooms. Probably a great plan in conception but perhaps not so great in execution. The ceilings, for example, were really low. Had David been a couple of inches taller then his six feet he might have had to bend slightly to go from room to room. Also, even without the eclipse the fact there were no windows in our unit made it really dark when we switched off the light. Lying there without the tiniest benefit of illumination in the room I can remember breathing into my diaphragm three or four times in an effort to slow down my still hammering heart before drifting off to sleep. Looking back I have to say, even though my life was chaotic in the best of times it certainly was never boring. I guess that’s a good thing in hindsight.

Somehow I made it through those years. Being afraid and pushing through it probably gave me an edge when dealing with the loss of Rick a year and a half ago and all that has come after it.

Have a great and adventurous weekend!!

 

 

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For some reason I’m dragging today. Perhaps the weather shifting from shorts appropriate 80’s to overcast 70’s in the blink of an eye has something to do with it. Also, it could be the pending nuptials and all that entails. No answers here.

Actually I’m looking forward to going to Arizona again. This will be my fifth visit to the state. During several marriages the subject of actually living in Arizona has been broached. Each time it was vetoed by me. Not because I don’t enjoy it while I’m there. I do. Well, I do when the heat is at a tolerable level. I’m not a cut out for intense heat. Desert vistas are beautiful to my eyes in a stark and minimalist sort of way, but I prefer more lush surroundings where I make my home. A personal choice, naturally, as many people immensely enjoy living there from the looks of the expansion in the metropolitan areas. Obviously somebody noticed I preferred cooler climates when I was waiting to be born, and set me down in Nova Scotia where I could thrive.

After five visits you’d think I’d have stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Each time a trip there was planned, and each time something got in the way. Perhaps my lack of coordination would have me catapulting over the edge into the great abyss, so the universe is trying to save me from myself. A close friend took a raft trip along the canyon floor. For him, it was the trip of a lifetime and he talks of it often. That would definitely be a vacation I’d like to add to my bucket list. This visit won’t be the one to break the chain either as there will be little opportunity for sightseeing. We’ll be landing on a Friday and departing on a Sunday with a wedding and rehearsal dinner squeezed somewhere in the middle.

Yesterday we ordered a suit for Rick. It’s been quite a while since life necessitated him wearing one and when we took his choices out and looked at them we decided they would be better suited for one of those sepia pictures of the old west you can have taken in Las Vegas than father of the bride material. Also, the good life has added an inch or two here or there, well mostly there, so both sides of the waistband refused to merge no matter how much we coaxed them.

My mother, who rarely misses an opportunity to worry about something, suggested I might need a coat. I assured her unless left in the middle of the desert at midnight I’d probably be able to avoid hypothermia without one. Been awhile since I’ve boarded a plane, at least three years. The last was when my mother and I flew into Toronto and on to Guelph, Ontario for a bit of a family reunion. I’ll have to refresh my memory or update it as to what is and what is not allowed to be packed. I took hair spray on the Canadian flight, confiscated at customs. Apparently people remove the insides of aerosol cans and place less desirable things inside. Who knew?

Rick, coming from Egypt originally, always get nearly strip searched before boarding. He handles this good-naturedly, because he understands it is necessary to keep us safe. However, it usually results in us boarding the plane a bit later. The last time I flew with my mother before she became a U.S. citizen, I thought I was going to have to leave her in Canada. Her green card picture was the same one she’d had taken when we originally came to the U.S. when I was a child. Not one to admit her age, I would assume there was some vanity involved here, but customs agents aren’t known for their good humor and understanding natures. All I saw was my mother being whisked into a side room for questioning. Picturing my mother’s mug shot on a police department wall, I followed after her. Questioning the obviously vicious felon, they finally released her in my charge with instructions to get a new picture taken before her next flight. She showed them, she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen before she would go to Canada again.

The push is on for me to become a citizen. I know, I know. I’ve been here since grade school. Why I drag my feet I have no solid excuse for. There’s something about leaving the last of my heritage behind that makes me hesitate. In the end I will probably opt for dual citizenship, allowing me to hold on to what Canadian parts I still have in me. So for now I sit on the fence, or border as it may be. This is something I’ll figure out down the road when I’m planning my trip to the Grand Canyon.

These green beans are absolutely excellent and look pretty on the table.

Garlicky Green Beans and Peppers

1 lb. green beans, trimmed
1 large red bell pepper, cored and sliced thin
1 large yellow bell pepper, cored and sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
Pepper and salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
Zest from 1 lemon
1 Large tomato sliced
1/4 cut Feta cheese, crumbled

Place beans and peppers in large deep skillet and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to boil over high heat. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking until vegetables are tender. Drain well and pat dry with paper towels.

In same skillet heat oil over high heat. Add red pepper flakes and garlic. Cook and stir until garlic has lightly browned, about 2 mins. Add green beans to pan. Continue cooking, stirring and mixing, for about 3 mins. Add thyme and lemon zest. Mix well.

Transfer into microwavable casserole dish. Place sliced tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with Feta cheese. Place uncovered in microwave and cook on high for 4 mins.

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My last post for this year. Time to get ready to spend Christmas with my family, and I might imagine you to be doing the same.

It’s been an interesting year, and has passed in the blink of an eye. I can’t believe we’re celebrating our second Christmas in our new house. Seems as though we were pulling things out of boxes and finding spots to store only yesterday.

Yesterday I traveled first by bus, then by train, to visit my mother in San Jose. A total of 8 hours. It was a home game for the 49ers so the train was full of avid fans all dressed in red tee-shirts depicting their favorite players and ready to party. I brought my headsets. Whew. As I’ve said before, I love the train. Ambling along the tracks with vistas of the ocean whizzing by outside my window. Very peaceful. Buses, however, not my favorite form of transportation. This was the first bus trip I’ve signed up for since Eve ate the apple. The last one was to accompany a friend on a three-day junket to Las Vegas. What a disaster that was. People were encouraged to bring setups if they chose to enjoy an adult beverage along that way. From the looks of things several hours into the trip that included everyone who boarded the vehicle, including the driver. Now, it’s not that I’m not a fan of enjoying a cocktail. Certainly I have enjoyed one or two over the years. But being locked inside a moving silver bullet with 60 drunk strangers and one bathroom with no light is not my idea of a party. I’m just saying. About three quarters of the way there, after the “guide” assigned by the tour group had been pelted with sandwich material from the lunches distributed, our bus hit another bus and we spent the first evening getting off the bus, gathering our belongings, and boarding a new bus. Finally we arrived at our hotel well into the witching hour with apologies from the tour line and $20 worth of chips and a fruit basket for our trouble.

Rick stayed behind this year. I’ll be back in time to put out cookies for Santa and cook the bird. He did drop me off at the bus stop. For some reason I thought there would be a place to wait inside. What a princess. I hear you laughing. There was not. At the station there was a roundabout with a series of outside seating areas each marked with the buses picking up there. Before leaving the house I discovered I couldn’t take a suitcase of the size I had already packed, so I did a quick reshuffle to a duffel bag ending up bringing one pair of mismatched pajamas, two pairs of jeans, no socks, and several shirts and sweaters none of which matched. Good news, I did remember clean underwear. Mother says this is the most important item on the list.

A half an hour early Rick wanted to stay with me. There were three men, two young and two old, waiting at my stop and one woman about sixty. Insisting I would be fine and well over the age of consent, I should have no problem waiting for a bus. Naturally my warm jacket was sitting on top of my suitcase at home with all the clothes I wasn’t going to wear. Five minutes into waving goodbye to my car I regretted the decision. A steady misty rain began to fall, as did my hair and my disposition. At one point, lips turning a lovely shad of teal, I had wrapped my sweater totally around my face and was doing a piece from Riverdance.

One of the men standing on my side of the road with a skateboard was a smoker. Later he was to tell me his name was Snoopy. I don’t mind, I used to smoke. Signs posted said there was a smoking area across the street, so he dropped his board and crossed the street to light up in the appropriate area marked for doing just that. A gentlemen sitting near the area began a yelling match with Snoopy ending up with the two men standing chest to chest nearing an altercation. Snoopy was yelling about his right to puff and the other guy was yelling about his right to lay him out in the middle of the street. Rick?? The lady who had been waiting with me returned from the station to tell me the bus was sold out and she was leaving so there I was on my own, Lucy to Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Linus. Thankfully the bus pulled up before a total melee broke out or I froze to death where I was standing.

Between my duffel bag and my carry on my arms increased in length at least by an inch. With no wheels, the load was heavy. My bag got stuck and a guy came to my rescue, unpinning it and cramming it in an overhead bin. I might still be there arguing with it had he not. There were six stops on the way to the train station and a packed bus. By the time we pulled into the train station the gentlemen next to me and I were registered at Pottery Barn.

At any rate I’m glad to be here. I whipped up these beans before I left and they were delicious. Have a happy holiday. See you in 2015!

Three Bean Crockpot Hot Link Bake

1 lb. dry pinto beans, rinsed and soaked
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 16 oz. can white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 16 oz. can Rosarita green chile and lime refried beans
32 oz. chicken broth
2 cups water
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
3 hot links, cooked and cut in 1/2″ slices
Cooked rice
Sour cream
Salsa

Spray 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray.

Rinse and sort beans. Soak beans overnight covered with large amount of water in covered container or pot in refrigerator. Rinse well and place in slow cooker.

Heat olive oil over med. heat in large saucepan. Add onions, green pepper, and garlic. Cook for 6 mins. until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat and add to slow cooker.

Add all remaining ingredients. Cook on high for 3 hours. Reduce heat to low and cook for 8 hrs. longer stirring twice. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

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