Friday, September 30, 2011

Time Management

My apologies if you've been checking in, looking for a posting from me.  I'd actually like to think that someone MIGHT have been doing that.  For 10 days now, I've been thinking, "I have to blog.. I have to blog."  

I didn't realize how hard this blogging would be.  Trying to come up with something to write about .. without having a "theme" for the blog ... is quite a challenge.  I'm beginning to understand writer's block! So, I decided I would just sit down and start writing "stream of consciousness" and see what I could make of it (remember the old exercises in journalism class?).  However, then I couldn't find the time (subconscious procrastination?)!  Yikes! There are 86,400 seconds in a day ... how could I not have found 30 minutes out of 864,000 seconds to write something!  Maybe I should think about time management.

Now that I've had time to reflect on it, I have been pretty busy during those 864,000 seconds and I did some pretty terrific things during them.

  • I have been with 7 of my 8 grandchildren ... sporting events (Megan, Landon and Cam), birthday present deliveries (Lauren and Emily), student recognition award ceremonies (Daniel) and the joy of a bonus hug and kiss from one (Nathan) while delivering birthday presents to his sister. The 8th one (Delaney) eluded me only because she was out of town playing in the state baseball tournament at the times I saw her siblings.  However, I hear she hit 2 triples in one of the games, so "Way to go, Delaney!"
  • Shared meals with several different groups of friends:  coffee and bagels with a neighbor who had just retired after 25 years as a nurse; breakfast with an 84 year old friend who sat behind us at 5:00 Mass every week until she and her husband had to leave their home of 50 years and move to a senior high-rise; lunch with a friend I have known and worked with for 25 years; Mass and dinner with a group of friends we've known for 30 years; a wonderful dinner my husband cooked for another friend turning 70; lunch with my 92-year old mother and my best friend; and lunch with my former boss (who retired the same day I did) and our former secretary.  
  • Baked my first peach pie of the season (delicious!)
  • Volunteered for 8 hours at the local library
  • Saw the movie "The Help."
  • Played 36 holes of golf (and bid adieu to my golf league until next April) 
  • Cleaned house
  • Did 13 loads of laundry
  • Cooked a few meals (Ed would tell you "a very few" and, looking at all of the meals I shared with others listed above, I'd have to agree)
  • And a bunch of stuff I've forgotten!
No wonder I haven't had time to blog.

It is October 1. Summer is definitely behind us, despite a few warm days this past week and a few that will come in October. As I write this, the sun is out .. the leaves are changing ... and the feel and smell of fall is in the air.  The maple tree in our back yard is usually at its peak on our anniversary ... October 9.  Today, the top of it is a brilliant red ... right on schedule for its annual spectacular dress-up of our back yard. 

A few days ago, a couple of our neighborhood wild turkeys (the two-legged kind) visited the ground under our bird feeder (deliberately feeding wild animals is now illegal in our community ... interesting what issues our politicians can fix while the recession runs rampant and homeless people and hungry children increase by the day).  The turkeys don't make an appearance most of the summer, but they abound in the winter, so I'm preparing myself.

And as I write this, it is 85 days, 10 hours and 36 minutes to Christmas (less by the time you read this!)  I'd better get busy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who is Aunt Velma?

It's been a busy week since I last blogged.  We just came off a 3-day weekend which included 2 games of golf, an overnight stay at a friend's cabin, and some gambling at Black Bear Casino in Carlton, Minnesota. 

I golfed better than I have in a long time and gambled ... well, let's just say I didn't lose everything I brought with me, and that's the same as winning, in my book.  We were with good friends and ate, drank and made merry the whole time.  Great way to see an end to summer (the cool, windy weather and mist in the air was NOT great!)  If the weather had been a bit warmer, I'd say I had experienced a little slice of Heaven!

But speaking of a little slice of Heaven, I wanted to share a great new recipe with you that I made when we got home from our 3G weekend (golfing/gambling/giggling!)  

As usual ... the background.  Every September, we make an annual trip with some friends to Grand Avenue in St. Paul.  So off we went last week, choosing a weekday since we are now all retired.  It was fun to leisurely stroll down the Avenue four abreast, without having to worry about bumping into other people, or making way for someone to pass us.  Stores were equally wide open and we didn't have to fight off crowds while making our ice cream cone selection at the Grand Ole Creamery or ordering Bloody Marys at Axel's Bonfire (yes, we have eclectic tastes).  I do have to admit the people watching isn't as good on a Tuesday, but the hassle-free shopping made up for it. 

One stop we always make is at Penzey's Spice Shop.  Even if you don't cook much (and I don't!) the smells in Penzey's are worth stopping in .. and the look and sound of shoes on the wooden floor transports me back to my childhood visits to the Robbinsdale Library!

While Ed and our friend, Linda, shop for spices and herbs (those perfumey green things that can ruin the perfectly good taste of anything you add them to), Rod and I walk around and marvel at the names of some of the products (Tuscan Sunset, Northwoods Seasonings, etc.) and pick up the free 3x5" recipe cards scattered around the store.  The recipe cards always feature at least one product that is available at Penzey's, with the goal of getting a customer to buy the product in order to produce the item pictured on the card.

This year I picked up the recipe for "Aunt Velma's Chocolate Cake."  I don't know who Aunt Velma is, but the cake looked delicious .. moist and chocolatey with a white buttercream frosting.  Plain and simple, but gourmet good in my mind (e.g., no green things floating around in it).

I made the cake Sunday afternoon and the finished product was just as good as the picture promised.  I don't know who Aunt Velma is, but she is one heck of a cook.  Hope you try the recipe (see link above) and fall in love with Aunt Velma just like I did.

I've got a few other cards that I picked up that I'll try as the fall season progresses.  None of them has Aunt Velma's name attached to them, so I can't predict they'll be as good as the cake, but I'll keep you posted.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reality TV Shows and Vegetarians

I'm not much of a TV watcher.  And I really don't consider myself a Reality TV watcher at all.  Shows such as "Dancing with the Stars," "The Bachelor," "Big Brother," or "Survivor" hold no appeal for me whatsoever.  In the past, I've been less than charitable about people who do watch them (without throwing anyone under the bus, or naming names, I'll just say I do live with one such person!)

However, over the last few years, I've become hooked, quite accidentally, on a couple such shows, The Amazing Race and Biggest Loser.  The Race hooked me because my husband was watching it on Sunday nights while I worked the New York Times crossword puzzle in the same room.  Was I feeling a bit smug that I was engaged in such an intellectual pursuit, while HE was watching such drivel? Hopefully, not!

Little by little, bits of the action started worming their way into my subconscious.  I mean, how could I resist a woman my own age (a bit past my youth!) riding an elephant, or two members of the Harlem Globetrotters maneuvering a waterslide in Dubai, or men with very hairy bodies undergoing Brazilian body waxes, etc.?   Soon, I found myself taking the phone off the hook at 7 p.m. on Sunday evenings so there would be no chance of my missing one single minute of such riveting television.  The crossword puzzle?  That would still be there on Monday.

The Biggest Loser ended up on my list of "must see" TV while I was walking on my treadmill one night a few years ago, and happened onto one of the weigh-ins while "surfing" with the remote.  I hate exercising, so spending 30 minutes on a treadmill is pure torture and I'm always looking for a way to make it less painful. Mindless distraction seemed a good method, and Biggest Loser seemed an appropriate choice.

That night, I found myself upping my treadmill's speed and incline after watching people weighing 150 lbs or more than I straining to complete their time on a treadmill that STARTED at 3.5 miles an hour (usually my ending speed after 30 minutes) and ended on incline levels that felt like climbing a small mountain to me. After that first night, I didn't miss an episode. I have to admit though that I usually watch them while sitting in my recliner eating buttered popcorn and drinking a glass of wine.  That exercise stuff is way too much work.

Recently, I've added another show to my list. The Great Food Truck Race. On the Food Network of all channels.  This show has quite an interesting premise, especially for someone like me who thinks of a truck as the main character in a country western song, not as a food prep station.

GFTR is on Sunday evenings and last night's episode ended with one of the 4 "finalist trucks" being disqualified for cheating. One would think that all of the contestants would know the rules so this sounded like a pretty stupid mistake.  The disqualified "truck crew" didn't make any protest ... just left the scene.  I know they edit these shows, so possibly there was some exchange that got edited out.  I'm dying to know more about what happened (the emcee gave viewers just a bare bones account), but, apparently because of the confidentiality agreements all contestants signed, no other information has been released and the disqualified contestants can't say anything until a certain amount of time elapses.  So I guess we have to wait until spring to hear their side of the story.  I'll definitely keep watching.  Hmmm ... is there something promotional going on? 

Courtesy of last night's show, I've now discovered a new blog that I'm going to follow.  It's called The Chubby Vegetarian.  "Chubby" was featured on last night's show and I checked out his blog today. Since I have a daughter who is a vegetarian, I'm always interested in foods I can serve that might appeal to her.  Check out the "Tiny Yogurt Parfaits" ... something even a non-vegetarian like myself might love! 

I found Chubby's blog interesting and easy to navigate, so I've put his link on My Blog List shown on this page.  Check it out, especially if you're a vegetarian .. or even if you're not.

By the way, the Chubby Vegetarian is anything but chubby. Bet he doesn't watch the Biggest Loser while eating popcorn and drinking wine!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Musings on an Autumn Day

We are experiencing some beautifully warm days in Minnesota right now.  Kids are back in school and so neighborhoods are quiet, streets are busier (at least during rush hour), high school athletes are knocking at our door selling booster club coupon books, and, periodically, I smell woodsmoke as the air crisps up.

I'm volunteering at the library today.  It is quiet here.  You can tell school is back in session.  Only adults at the computers ... it's too early in the day for school to be out, so the kids won't start strolling in for another hour or so. Right now the computer screens are filled with job applications, e-bay listings, email archives, and Food Network recipes. When the kids arrive, the screens will light up with You Tube, Angry Birds, Facebook and Disney.  In a few weeks, I expect to see the kids coming in working on school research papers, science projects and SAT pre-exams. The signs of the season as exhibited on computer history logs.

Yesterday, I made homemade spaghetti sauce!  Haven't done that in years.  I get the urge to "hunker down" when fall comes.  Apparently, spaghetti sauce is the first step in my hunkering this year.  My husband thought he had died and gone to heaven.  He loves Italian food ... me, not so much ... thus, the reason why it's been years since I last made sauce.  I had even gone out and bought Italian meatballs to add to it (this hunkering only goes so far!) and a nice loaf of French bread (I try to be globally diverse).  I was just getting a pot of water ready to cook the spaghetti when, out of the blue, my husband asked me to iron a pair of shorts for him.  Thinking that was an odd request at 4:00 in the afternoon, and seeing no need for him to change clothes, even thought it was HOMEMADE spaghetti, I suddenly remembered that we were going out for dinner with friends that night!  I had totally forgotten!  And to think that just one week before that, I had passed the memory portion of my "Welcome to Medicare" physical with flying colors. So, guess what we're having for dinner tonight?  

Tonight is the first home football game for our granddaughter's high school.  She is a varsity football cheerleader and so I will go and cheer on the players and the cheerers! I'm happy it's 80 out today.  I won't need to bring hand warmers and a stocking cap to the game.  Having been a "brr-baby" all of my life, 80 degrees is my idea of perfect football weather!

Next weekend we are planning a trip "up north" with friends for golfing, gambling and good fellowship (this may include a glass of wine or a beer or two).  The golf course is part of a resort that includes a casino (another of my loves!), so I'm planning to bring a lot of golfballs (tough course) and a lot of pennies (tough casino!).  I'm hoping for success on the course and on the slots!

Tomorrow would have been my father-in-law's 93rd birthday.  He died 6 months ago today.  It is so hard to believe he's been gone that long.  He was "Pap-Pap" to our kids for his whole life and "Dad" to me ... he is dearly missed.  

Autumn seems to be a time of reflection and preparation. Reflection on the fun of the summer. Preparation for the excitement of the holiday season ahead and the cold winter months of hibernation.  Hope your autumn days are filled with gentle contentment.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Fruits of our Labors

Today is Labor Day and I've been to several stores already where people are working; my husband has cut the grass and climbed up on the roof to trim tree branches (with a recently replaced knee that was a little scary and I don't think he'll be doing it again); and I've spent a couple of hours in the kitchen cooking with the fruits of someone's garden ... ours, our daughter's and farmers across the United States whose peppers, avocados, onions and other wonderful bounty has now reached Cub Foods in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.  So, yes, it is a day of Labor!  

Right now, two beautiful loaves of zucchini bread sit on my counter, along with a quart of homemade fresh salsa, comfort food made with produce harvested at the end of summer, evidence that summer is almost over.  Not only is it Labor Day, but my thermometer said 47 degrees at 7 a.m. today; yesterday, we golfed wearing light jackets; and for the last two days, the constant thrumming of the air conditioner has been blissfully quiet.  Fresh air coming in the windows allows for the smell of fresh cut grass and fall blooming flowers to come into the house during the day and provides good sleeping at night!  School starts tomorrow ... we will have to remember to watch out for the kids standing in the semi-dark at the bus stops; I saw the first red leaf on our backyard maple tree; and I could smell a wood fire burning when I got the newspaper this morning.  Yup, reminders that summer is ending are all around us.

I love Labor Day and what it heralds ... the beginning of fall.  I DON'T love what comes after fall.  I suppose if I had ever learned to enjoy being all bundled up so that I waddled when I walked, or if I had learned to enjoy having icicles frozen to my eyelashes while I skated on frozen water (actually, I did enjoy and do that as a kid) or if I had learned to go south for the winter, then I might not hate the thought of winter.  

But since I am a true Brr-baby and never learned any of that, I will just be grateful today for the fruits of our labors:  a day of rest, beautiful sunshine and leaves starting to change color, zucchini bread and fresh salsa.  And, no, I don't intend to serve them together.  There are tostita chips for the salsa and good creamery butter for the bread.  And the best part of the day?  I don't have to go to work tomorrow!  Life is good and we are blessed.  

Happy Labor Day to all of you who labor.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Yesterday was Day #3  of golfing with grandchildren this WEEK and Day #7 of golfing with grandchildren this SUMMER.  

Golfing with #8 grandchild, Delaney, completed my personal goal to golf with each grandchild this summer.  It was my retirement gift to myself and it seemed like such an easy commitment at the time I made it.  12 weeks of summer ... 7 grandchildren .  Piece of cake, I thought!

I hadn't planned on June being a washout (and we traveled 2 weeks out of that month as well) and July and August seemed to fly by, filling up quickly with other commitments:  a trip to Chicago, golf with friends, taking mom to the doctor, golf with husband, contract work for my former employer, golf tournaments, sports schedules of the grandchildren themselves, work schedules of the grandchildren, and, oh, did I mention golf?  Well, you get the picture.  

All of a sudden, I realized there were only two weeks left until school started and I still had 3 kids to get to the golf course.  Enter "Power Golf Week."  And I prayed for good weather.

Yesterday, was Delaney's day and it was a gray, cool morning.  I worried whether we'd get the game in, and packed the golf umbrellas into the cart, along with a vest and sweatshirt.  Delaney was dressed in shorts and golf sandals (cute green toenail polish poking through) and a green sweatshirt - a stylin' chick ... how many girls do you know who wear sweatshirts to match their toenail polish?

Delaney turned 10 in May and, like the others, hasn't golfed much in her young lifetime.  But that doesn't stop her from having a darling set of pink clubs in a pink bag and even some fancy pink balls  (those quickly disappeared in the trees, the creek, etc.).  She is an excellent softball player, so I worried about whether she'd try "for the fences" on every swing.

Much to the contrary, her swing was a small half swing that quickly became very effective.  She was hitting balls 75 and 80 yards by the time we finished and her putting stroke was pretty accurate and showed a nice touch.  She was happy to drive the golf cart (after we were out of visual range of the clubhouse, of course) and, like the others, accepted the loan of my hybrid club and adapted to the heft and feel of it pretty quickly.  It is so much fun to see the smile on the face of a kid who has just hit the ball fairly well.  You know you've just planted a golf seed in fertile ground.

We moved along very quickly.  I think the weather (not to mention the State Fair) kept attendance down on the golf course, so it seemed like we hadn't been out there very long before arriving at hole #7.  With a note of sadness in her voice, Delaney said, "Oh, are we almost done already?  That sure went fast."  It was the same sentiment expressed by her siblings on their golf days and I had to agree.  Not only was the game over quickly, but the special 1:1 time seemed to fly by as well.

Delaney drove the cart like a pro, although reaching the pedals was a challenge ... I told her that even adult women (like her grandma!) have trouble with that.  This game continues to be geared toward men and the distance from the bench seat to the gas pedal in a golf cart is just one more example of that.  I think we need golf carts with adjustable seats and rear view mirrors.  Not only do I have to sit on the edge of the seat while driving, but I'm positively at a loss when I have to apply lipstick!  

A visit to the restaurant at the golfcourse completed our date.  The new grill at this course has some items that I fondly refer to as "Gucci" food; e.g., not basic Minnesota comfort food.  One example is the Ciabatta buns that all the burgers are served on.  Delaney likes ordinary food, and so we were happy to learn that she could get her bacon hamburger on a plain old hamburger bun.  That and the great fries the restaurant serves certainly left both of us full and satisfied ... with the food as well as the companionship of our day.  

Today is September 1.  It's 89 degrees right now, with a heat index of 101.  A high of 79 is predicted for tomorrow, so this probably is the last "real" day of summer. I'm happy to report that my summer was a spectacular success, thanks to my wonderful grandchildren and their willingness to spend a day Golfing with Granny.  I don't know about them, but I'll sure remember it forever.