Monday, December 22, 2014

Going International!

Exciting things are brewing over here. It's taken a few weeks to finalize a big decision: we are relocating to Europe! This is what it feels like sometimes
A path dimly lit! You are fairly certain there is a path, and you hope that by trusting these small nuggets on information, you will find your way to the destination. 
This is one of my favorite quotes. I kept this newspaper page from 1991, when I studied in Vienna and enjoyed reading the International Herald Tribune every day. We're not moving to Berlin, but it still feels like a sentimental connection---plus we'll be able to visit Berlin any time we want!
We'll have plenty of outdoor cafes to sample. The basket-like chairs are typical beach seating with built- in shade, while everyone else has umbrellas (and ashtrays!). But the coffee and desserts are spectacular :). Of course, we'll have to let the snow melt before it looks like that!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Off the Beaten Path: Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon

We drove into Sequoia National Park from the south, and found the hairpin turns up into the mountains to be manageable. The Rangers at the visitor center were helpful, and provided us with a more detailed map than the one we had. We stayed in the Park, at Wuksachi Lodge, rather than drive in and out each day. The scenery was gorgeous, and the stargazing was phenomenal.

For those of you who live closer to sea level, the elevation of 7,000 feet may not be bothersome, but stay hydrated and stretch before you embark on your walking, climbing, and hiking adventures. We tackled Moro Rock first, and I felt nervous about the spaciousness which left me feeling like an ant! I don’t believe that my fears about safety were warranted, but I was glad that Mr. Spice walked down ahead of me.

We walked around Crescent Meadow, which was lovely. This is a great place to build in some picnic time and relax. Remove from your vehicle all food, beverages, and hygiene products that may have a fragrance, and store in one of the metal “bear boxes” next to the parking area. 

I thought I went to the gym often enough to also visit the Crystal Cave that afternoon. I managed the hike down and back up, but was really worn out by the combination of activities. I feel kind of wimpy admitting my pain, but would rather save someone else the pulled hamstring! The cave was neat, and I’d recommend it. Bear box near the parking area again, and this time we saw a bear on the way back up from the cave- far enough away to not be nerve-wracking.

Finally, Mr. Spice insisted on a visit to the General Sherman Tree. I was pretty wiped out, but didn’t want to sit in the car while he saw the giant sequoia! “Its’ only half a mile each way” is irrelevant if the total for the day is 9.5 miles. Perhaps my physical exhaustion tainted my impression of the tree, but I liked the General Grant Tree in King’s Canyon the next day much better. 

We departed Sequoia and headed north through King’s Canyon, detouring at Mr. Spice’s request to see another grove of sequoias. I cannot recommend this stop highly enough- it was really neat! Autumn is a good time of year to visit without tremendous crowds! If you've visited these parks, do you have a favorite part?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Weird dream turns hopeful

I had a dream a few weeks ago. During the dream, I felt frustrated, nervous, and rushed. I was limping around because one of my feet had a hiking boot on it, while the other foot had only a flip flop. This was very annoying, because I typically wear matching shoes! There was more to the dream, but the footgear was key.

Part of my life coaching class includes dream analysis, and a fellow student helped me out with this one. I won’t bore you with all the steps involved, but after asking me several questions, it became apparent that the mis-matched footgear is symbolic of several aspects of my life. 

For most of my life, the hiking boots in my dream matched what I was doing: work 49 weeks out of the year, take 3 weeks vacation, repeat. I’ve always been good about using all my benefit days, especially with family members in more than 1 country, but I don’t literally hike for work.  Even though hiking isn’t my favorite pastime, I don’t mind wearing sturdy boots during colder weather for obvious reasons. I’ve never owned high heeled winter boots!

Until now, flip flops have been stored at the back of the closet until summers in the garden or vacations to warmer climates… a couple of months for the former, a week per year if I’m lucky for the latter. I’ve been spending more time in nature since getting laid off from work, and have also been wearing more casual clothes, resulting in more flip-flop usage! At the same time, I feel pressure to be “productive”, as if I’m doing something useful with my life…wait, does that mean I can’t do worthwhile things in flip flops? Hmmm, that’s worth examining.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Feeling Lonely and Scared

During my husband’s 15 month deployment in 2005-2006, I experienced the usual separation pains. I’ve admitted them to other military families since then, but feel better able to articulate some of my thinking now, thanks to the life coach training that I’m currently enrolled in. I hated the thought of returning after work to an empty house (well, God bless the cats, I meant empty of people). Maybe my limiting belief was “I shouldn’t be alone on a Friday night.”
Cats always help with scrapbooking; nearby is yellow deployment support scarf (gift from friend).
I kept myself so busy that eventually I realized that it wasn’t sustainable. I had no clean clothes, no food in the fridge, and no peace and quiet. Of course, I was avoiding the peace and quiet in the first place, because then my fears could be heard: “he’s going to die.” Now, I am pretty sure that some of you are saying, “don’t worry so much”. Others, however, are probably agreeing, “well, the Green Zone (Baghdad, Iraq) isn’t the safest place on the planet”. I’ve recently learned from Martha Beck and Byron Katie that our inner lizards love to holler “the sky is falling!” even if it isn’t, and our thoughts may or may not be true.
Airport Chapel
He didn’t die, and the sky didn’t fall on our home. I feel survivor guilt for those who experienced a different outcome. During the deployment, I had to learn how to be by myself. At first, I cried a lot and had a hard time falling asleep. Our clergy-person at the time, Tim Rogers at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Salem, MA taught me a faith-based mantra to help calm my thoughts: breathe in while thinking one or two words, breathe out with another word or two. For example, “Come, Holy Spirit”. It could be any words that comfort you, from “help me, Jesus” to other meditative phrases.
I worked, volunteered, and eventually figured out that I could have time with friends and also evenings at home alone. It’s NOT true that “only pathetic people are home alone.” Sometimes friends visited with scrapbooking supplies, while other days found me scrapbooking with help only from cats! My neighbors were good to me, bringing me a big bowl of corn chowder and helping with snow removal. I prayed, assembled care packages, planned our mid-tour leave, and eventually cried a bit less and was able to sleep a bit better. My life coaching business can help others who are seeking to balance alone time and together time with others.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Chicago (not off the beaten path)

I don’t think we discovered anything new, but enjoyed our experience in Chicago. If you’ve never been, I was confused about the hotel address, when compared with a nearly identical rental car address: why is the word “upper” in one of them, but they seem to be in the same place? I was absolutely amazed to see that there were not TWO streets stacked up on top of each other, but THREE! The “pretty” stuff is on the top level, and there are garages and service entrances on the lower streets. Wow! Amazing and a bit dim at night. 

We started off with a walk along Lake Shore Drive, and an evening river/lake cruise, which we enjoyed very much. An ok hamburger and turkeyburger at Chicago Burger Company (be prepared for astronomical prices) and a good but not spectacular ice cream at Fanny May’s rounded out the night.

The Art Institute was fabulous, but military spouses beware, we get no discount unless our service member is with us (um, hello, we’re not often together!). The museum café was pricey but tasty with healthy choices. A Segway tour of the lakefront was fun, and the Field Museum was amazing. Who wouldn’t be impressed with dinosaur skeletons? Or a small room with gemstones on display?

Check out the food court in the basement of Macy’s on State Street- custom salads are yummy.  All in all, Chicago was an interesting place to spend a few days. It was hazy, hot and humid in August, so if your travel schedule allows for a spring or fall visit, you may feel more comfortable then.
Do you have a favorite Chicago destination?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Unemployment Uniform (or, saving shoes until a puppy destroys them?)

At first, I thought it would be GREAT to not dress up for work every morning. Being “reasonable”, I decided to limit my wearing of yoga pants all day to Tuesdays, which is my yoga class day. For a while, I was annoyed when I had another meeting on a Tuesday, preventing me from wearing sweat pants. But the remaining days I pledged to wear jeans and a decent t-shirt. No more dry cleaning bills for me, except job interview suits and blouses!
How did my thinking about that change? One of my former colleagues had joined Toastmasters International at the insistence of her boss at the time. She was terrified of public speaking but became proficient and much more confident. I decided to attend a Toastmasters meeting with someone from my church who was giving a speech, though I confess at the time, I believed I would benefit more from networking than learning speaking skills. I got dressed up for the meeting, and was amazed to hear some compliments on my outfit, which I hadn’t received in MONTHS. I also said “ah” more than five times that day at the meeting, and realized that I needed to join Toastmasters.
I concluded that my jeans and sweatpants days were not good for my self-esteem. I also learned that I’m excellent at public speaking when it’s a topic I’m comfortable around in front of an audience I feel connected with (but could strengthen my impromptu speaking skills). I wore a nice outfit today when I gave a speech at Toastmasters, and after the meeting, the staff at my hair salon commented on my better-than-usual apparel. One of them said she saved her nice shoes to wear on special occasions, but a puppy recently chewed on 3 pairs!
I’m not going to wear “dry clean” clothes every day, but I’ve decided to look at what I can wear next that I haven’t put on for months. At least now I can see what I have because I cleaned out my bureau and closet shelves since I have time! I’m also going to dig into the china cabinet and use special glasses and plates more often than just on holidays, even if they can’t go into the dishwasher!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Off the beaten path: Massachusetts

When you see these photos, you may think: “No way in heck that’s in Massachusetts!” Hence, off the beaten path in Gloucester, MA (which some people may in and of itself find to be off the beaten path).
The medieval-style castle was entertaining to tour and fun to photograph. The website for Hammond Castle advises guests that the building is not wheelchair accessible. Keep in mind that it’s not truly medieval, but the architectural design does include narrow stairs and multiple levels.
The grounds are peaceful, especially on a foggy day. The interior isn’t as dark as the photo suggests, but seems mysterious because I was enchanted by the windows and didn't mind that they were the focal point of the shot.
Do you have a favorite off the beaten path destination? Where?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Lower Gluten/Lower Sugar Banana Bread

I haven’t made banana bread in years, although I love it, because of the perception I held that my family recipe was unhealthy. Past substitutions of whole wheat flour and a simple reduction in the amount of sugar have not always resulted in a “new and improved” recipe! After recently trying a number of excellent grain-free recipes that used interesting nut flours and honey or maple syrup instead of sugar, I decided to make-over the famous banana bread recipe…but didn’t have the confidence to make it entirely grain free.
Photos of banana bread in the making are singularly uninteresting, so I’m showing unrelated photos of a marvelous recipe  I didn't change at all, except to substitute blackberries and nectarines.
Here is the new banana bread recipe:
Blend ¼ butter, ¼ cup oil or applesauce, 2 eggs, and 3-4 mashed bananas. Add 1 cup whole wheat flour, ½ cup flax meal, ½ cup almond flour or hazelnut flour, ¼ cup coconut flour, ¼ cup white sugar, ¼ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup maple sugar, and ¼ cup honey or maple syrup. Add 2 and ½ teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, and a pinch of salt.
I got this idea from Kitchen Concoctions
Bake in a loaf pan at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until browned on top and not jiggly in the middle. I really liked this version, finding it to be almost too sweet for me, even though I reduced the amount of sugar from the original recipe! Next time I would leave out the ¼ cup of white sugar.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Off the Beaten Path: Paris, France

I’ve shared photos of some major sights in Paris here and here, but I truly enjoyed some less famous spots in town. For example, Sacre Coeur and surrounding streets are well worth the time to wander around and travel to. We used the hop-on-hop off bus for our short trip, in order to see as much above ground as possible, and would recommend Sacre Coeur. This is not to say that Notre Dame can or should be omitted from the itinerary; simply that they are different and uniquely majestic. Here is a view of the Arc de Triomph from the Eiffel Tower. 
I did not need to see the Louvre again, but Mr. Spice wanted to see the Mona Lisa. To tell the truth, I much preferred the Musee d’Orsay, but didn’t take a photo of the outside because it was a rainy day. The artwork and restaurant at d’Orsay were terrific, and the neighborhood across the Seine from the Louvre is neat. Did you know that there is a museum specializing in tapestries? Why yes, there is (Cluny)! And other interesting historical items/ architecture, complete with gardens.
Many tourists consider a visit to Versailles mandatory. We like train rides, so didn't hesitate going there, but felt overwhelmed by the massive gilt chambers (and the entrance fee!). Classical music is fine, but I found it odd that the shrubs in the garden had hidden speakers that blasted it. A local restaurant outside the gates provided a tasty meal, and small side streets showed the architecture of the people, not royalty.
All in all, you can’t go wrong in Paris. But there is more to be seen around the corner from the main tourist locations.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Off the Beaten Path: Barcelona, Spain

When Mr. Spice was deployed a few years ago, my Mom and I went to Barcelona between Christmas and New Year’s. There was an internet café across the street from the hotel, so I could check e-mail twice per day for updates from my soldier in Iraq.
The architecture in Barcelona was eye-popping, and this building is not particularly off the beaten path- but it sure is unique. We are both good at reading street maps, so we wandered around somewhat aimlessly, feasting on tapas (small snack-sized dishes) every so often. How I wish I had photographed those plates! The BEST calamari on the planet…not sure if Barcelona is an ideal destinations for vegetarians/vegans, as I noticed- and ordered- an astounding array of meats on the menus. I'm sure there are vegetables to choose from in restaurants, but I'd wonder if they're cooked in without any meat products?
We took a day trip out of town, to Montserrat and the Abbey. I would recommend getting away from the hustle and bustle if you have time. The quiet moments outside the city were refreshing. I’ve benefitted tremendously over the years from the forum on Tripadvisor, where I can learn the answers to many of my questions, and can post new ones (after researching what’s already on the forum first)!
Finally, we loved the market, and breathed deeply the fragrances of fruits, meats, flowers, and more. Be savvy of your surroundings, and don’t leave your wallet in your back pocket, or in a bag without a zipper. We never felt unsafe, though we weren’t partying into the wee hours of the morning. We did play cards in the hotel lounge, though! Kanasta, anyone?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The great paleo experiment

My neighbor wrote a book, which helped me to understand one person’s transition from a vegetarian diet to an “ancestral” way of eating. I don’t tend to jump on the latest diet bandwagon, but after attending a discussion group about the book, I decided to learn more about grain free eating. Websites and library books helped me to gain an understanding of the philosophy, and I’ve tried a few recipes.
The first one is adapted from “Practical Paleo” by Diane Sanfilippo. I could not bring myself to use a dozen eggs in one dish, because I’ve worked so hard over the past decade to lower my cholesterol without medication. I used 6 eggs and 6 servings of liquid egg substitute. Do any of you have experience with paleo-style eating while keeping cholesterol levels under control? Many recipes I’ve seen so far include bacon (which I love!), butter, and lots of eggs. 
In the two and a half years I’ve been blogging here, I rarely rave about kitchen tools, but I’m gaga about my new julienne gadget! Wahoo, that was fun! Here is the recipe with my modifications: beat 6 eggs in a large bowl. Add 1 and ½ cups liquid egg substitute, 1 zuccini (shredded or julienned- about 1 and ¼ cups), 2 large carrots (1 cup shredded/julienned),  ½ teaspoon rosemary, ½ teaspoon sage, ½ teaspoon salt. Stir and pour into well greased* 9x13 pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. * don’t be like me and try to use “I can’t believe it’s not butter” to grease the pan. No photos of a pretty serving of this dish because it stuck to the pan…though it tasted fine. Use real butter to grease the baking dish.
I’ve enjoyed this crustless quiche, and look forward to new flavor combinations (mushrooms, caramelized onion, etc.). What is your favorite Paleo cookbook, website, or recipe?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Off the Beaten Path: San Diego

Our vacation began in the city, which we explored for a few days before heading north. I realize that San Siego is a major city, and of itself, is not considered off the beaten path. However, some people go to see LA or San Francisco first, while we enjoyed San Diego and surrounding areas. Sea World is probably not “off the beaten path” either, but I’d like to recommend the starfish pool there!
Some tourists may skip one or more naval vessels open to the public, but we appreciated the exposure to military culture. Mr. Spice decided that he was glad to be in the Army, preferring to sleep in a tent than the cramped quarters below-deck! Thanks to all our military members, veterans, and their families. Shortly after this vacation several years ago, Mr. Spice deployed to Iraq.
We breathed deeply of the salty air on the way to La Jolla, and strolled along this beach, as well as Coronado. I noticed that the Pacific Ocean smells different from the Atlantic, and seems to have a different “personality” in southern California than what I’m used to in New England.
If you have time to drive north through Carlsbad, we'd recommend the Museum of Making Music (so enthralled there, no photos!). What are your favorite "off the beaten path" locales in the San Diego area?