Peat and Repeat

Just because a recipe made its way into a church cookbook doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good. That’s a lesson I learned many years ago when I was cooking for a family of five.

Apparently the same holds true for recipes that are delivered by a meal delivery service. A lesson I learned recently,  as a part of my attempts to master the art and science of cooking for one.

Cooking for Five

When my kids were growing up they were all very active in sports, at school and hanging out with friends. Evening mealtime was a very important time of the day for our family and we made it a point to sit down together whenever we could – no cell phones allowed, to share a meal and the highlights or sometimes lowlights of the day.

The older they got, the more difficult it became to come home from work and prepare a home-cooked meal and we found ourselves eating out way too often; a fattening and expensive habit. I wanted to find a way to help us all eat healthier, at home, and at the same time take the drudgery out of the daily task of figuring out what to make for dinner and then prepare it.

The answer was a weekend of mass meal preparation. Over the course of a few years, I fine-tuned my technique for prepping somewhere between 20 and 25 meals from taking up an entire weekend to a single day. Somehow, I found a way to complete everything from grocery shopping to cleaning up in a little over eight hours. The answer to the question “what’s for dinner” changed from “ugh, I don’t know” to “let’s go pick something out of the freezer.”

It was a family affair and usually included loud music, dancing and off-key singing into the head of a wooden spoon which did a fine job of doubling as a microphone. The day always ended with dinner at Fernandos, our favorite Mexican restaurant. After all that food prep, I figured I had earned the treat.

The one downside to this approach was that it was tempting to make the same meals over and over again because I had learned how to prep them and practically knew the recipe and ingredients by heart. In an effort to add variety into the stacks of plastic storage containers and gallon-size freezer bags that filled the freezer, I started including a few new recipes in each of the monthly meal prep events.

Peat or Repeat

For many people, I would guess that hearing the words “peat and repeat,” may conjure up a memory of the riddle: “Pete and repeat went fishing. Pete fell out of the boat, who was left?”

In our house, it had a double meaning. Each time I served one of the new recipes, the family would vote on whether or not it was worthy of repeating. The meals that didn’t make the cut were voted off the table and categorized as a “peat,” the opposite of repeat.

The worst peat I ever made didn’t even make it to the table, let alone a family vote. It was a recipe for barbecue chicken from a church cookbook. To this day I don’t know what I was thinking when I combined ketchup and frozen lemonade concentrate poured it over the chicken and turned the crockpot on before leaving for work. (I know!)

I’m not sure why I thought that just because a recipe made it into a church cookbook meant that it was going to be good, but I did.

Thank goodness I was the first one home that day. I walked in the kitchen and almost gagged when the sickly sweet smell of ketchup combined with lemonade hit me. I didn’t think twice and while holding my breath, I unplugged the crockpot and dumped its contents into the trashcan in the driveway.

Needless to say, that recipe was an unequivocal peat and we had dinner at Fernandos that night.

Cooking for One

There have been a lot of changes in my life as I’ve transitioned from the time in my life when I regularly cooked for five and sometimes more, to most often trying to figure out how to cook for one.

Oddly, or maybe not, it’s been one of the more difficult things for me to figure out. The first challenge for me was getting used to the lack of a need to have leftovers on hand to serve as midnight snacks during impromptu visits from my youngest son and his friends. The second challenge, and not a small one for me, was in finding recipes that serve one and appealed to me.

There are some pretty good resources out there and I did manage to find more than a few that seemed worth trying. This led to challenge number three, grocery shopping for recipes for one and also challenge number four, having the motivation to cook after work.

I tried a meal delivery service in an attempt to solve three out of four of the excuses for not preparing healthy meals for myself. After one too many ingredient substitutions, the worst of which was when they sent brussel sprouts instead of asparagus, I canceled the service. Once again found myself falling back into the habit of eating at restaurants, one in particular, far too often.

A little over a month ago, I decided to give a different meal delivery service a try and I’ve been trying new things. For the past few weeks, I’ve been “zesting” limes and lemons, charring corn and goodness knows how many other new food preparation methods that were previously unfamiliar to me.

Much to my surprise, I’m actually enjoying learning these new techniques and with the exception of one “peat”, I’ve been very happy with all of the recipes. The ingredients are intended to make a meal for two, but I find the serving sizes to be more than generous and in some cases, could feed at least four. This means I have just the right amount of leftovers for meals throughout the week and I have variety.

It’s worth noting that my grocery bill has gone down, I throw away less food – in particular, produce because the service sends me just what I need. I’ve even made a few of the “repeats” on my own.

As with a church cookbook though, not every recipe is worthy of a repeat just because it’s featured as a menu selection on a meal delivery service website. Although I’m sure the odds are probably higher than the church cookbook.

Going forward, for me, any recipe with couscous or cooked spinach is an automatic peat, or in this case, a do not order.

Silence Has a Sound

Tonight the walls of my apartment reverberated with memories of laughter and love.

The silent air is filled with the sounds of playful bickering over the rules of a game, of philosophical conversations that are “to be continued” and of memories that extend way beyond the past two weeks.

The sound that greeted me tonight was different than a few weeks ago.

Tonight, the quiet wasn’t so lonely – the sound of silence felt like home.

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I Accept My Talents

I wrote the following as a part of my “All is Well in My World” art and journaling project on July 7, almost exactly two years ago from today.

The project was inspired by the teachings of Louise Hay, author of “You Can Heal Your Life.” She has an amazing story and her beliefs are very thought provoking.

She firmly believes that we can heal what ails us through the power of loving oneself and that aches and pains in each part of the body are associated with things like past experiences, negativity, fear, and a lack of self love. Based on personal and very real experiences, I believe there is a great deal of truth in what she teaches. I do believe that our “issues can get stuck in our tissues” and a lack of self love can hold us back by keeping us in a state of shame, fear and believing that we don’t deserve all of the abundance life has to offer.

I’ve recently come to realized that I have a recurring and ongoing fear of the future and money; it stems from a series of life events that began in my early 20’s and contributed to significant feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. I’ve processed, released, forgiven and moved on from many of these memories and as I do, my life becomes richer,I am more at peace and I have faith that the future holds wonderful outcomes for me.

The funny thing about letting go of doubt, anger, resentment, shame, fear and/or sadness that we associate with particular events in our lives, is that those same feelings can resurface when we least expect it. Sometimes they are intertwined with other past events that deepen the grove in our record that keeps us from moving forward, toward our greater good.

More than a few of those feelings emerged this morning, which prompted me to re-read and re-share the entry associated with this affirmation: “I stand tall and free. I love and approve of of me. My life gets better every day.” and “I move into my greater good. My good is everywhere, and I am secure and safe.” ~ Louise Hay

I Accept My Talents

07/7/2014

I embrace my talentsBooming thunder, flickering lights, and a brief power outage caught me off guard tonight. Just as I was settling in to write I could no longer see the keyboard.

Thankfully the power outage lasted only a short time, however the storm is raging on. In an odd way, the sudden squall provided the perfect inspiration for tonight’s thoughts.

Unlike many writers and artists, I wasn’t born with a passion to create, at least not that I was aware of.

When I was young, school systems and teachers considered reading, writing, and arithmetic to be important and subjects like art and creative writing were merely electives best suited to becoming a hobby. The focus of the education system, coupled with the fact that I moved 9 times before I turned 15, and the reality that there were no obvious clues that there was an artist hiding inside led my parents to guide me toward a practical path.

Truth to be told, I was better at math than I was at art and there were very few opportunities to explore writing that extended beyond my interpretations of novels by famous authors like Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allen Poe, and Henry David Thoreau. I excelled at math, but literature courses were what I enjoyed most.

One of my favorite memories was a weekend field trip to Red Cloud, Nebraska – the home of Willa Cather. I don’t remember any specifics outside visiting her tiny home and afterwards sitting around a campfire talking with my classmates and our AP American Lit teacher. Who knows what we talked about or how much sense we made, I’m sure we thought we were profound.

To be honest, I don’t remember whether or not I actually loved “My Antonia” or pretended to because I wanted to impress my instructor. I do know there was a part of me that dreamed of being the woman, from the middle of nowhere, who wrote a book that both entertained and inspired people to think.

My journey to understanding and accepting my talents began about five years ago, during one of the most difficult times of my life.

In a late night and tear-filled conversation, my best friend challenged me to find a creative outlet as an alternative to escalating patterns of self-destruction.  The next day a flyer for ed2go.com arrived in the mail. The brochure promoted online learning opportunities and the featured area of study was creative writing, an event that I can attribute to nothing other than serendipity.  I registered for a class to learn about how to write romance novels. (who knows  it may still come in handy someday.)

I posted my assignments to the classroom forum using the pseudonym “Lady.” I used the penname for over a year in various 6 week courses before I gained enough confidence to sign my own name to what I wrote. Today I write with confidence both personally and professionally.

In 2012 I dusted off my desire to draw, bought a sketch book, and took the bold step of registering for the Intermediate/Advanced level drawing class through a local organization, The Artists of Yardley.

I was petrified the first day of class.  My one and only “real” class took place twenty-two years prior to that, and I was positive that my place was in the beginner’s class, which had sold out. After conquering my first fear, which was to enter the classroom; I perched in front of the easel stiff and nearly paralyzed, staring at the sunflower we were supposed to reproduce.

Petals, stems, and leaves seemed to fly from the fingers of the other students and they all finished their unique and amazing sunflowers by the end of the three hour class. My pencil drawing took me nearly three months to complete. During each lesson that followed, my instructor encouraged me and helped me see my artwork through her eyes and not through the eyes of a perfectionist (me). Over the past 2 ½ years my comfort has grown and my style has begun to emerge.

It may sound strange, but sometimes when I read something I wrote it makes me cry, other times it makes me laugh. When I look at things I’ve written or drawn as though the creator is unknown, I think things like – “wow, that inspires me.”

Today, I no longer introduce myself as a “want-to-be-writer” or an “aspiring artist.” I own who I am.

Today, I accept, embrace, and am thankful for the talents and gifts I have been blessed with and can share.

Make Art and Share it With the World – The Sidewalk Chalk Project

I grew up in the Midwest and there was nothing better than a warm Spring day to shake off the chill of winter and enjoy being outside. As the days heated up, the countdown for school letting out for summer began. My childhood memories of summer are full of things like sleeping in, chasing fire flies, swimming pools, games of kick the can and decorating the neighborhood with sidewalk chalk.

Not all children are as fortunate as I was, we certainly weren’t wealthy but I always had everything I needed and then some. Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of just how very fine and fragile the line is between those who have and those not.
I can’t say that I’ve experienced it first hand, but I would imagine that summer days are just as easily filled with boredom and feelings of hopelessness rather than joy and lightheartedness if your family is on the verge of poverty.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by what feels like a state of scarcity in our world and to convince ourselves that the problems are too big for us to influence or change.

The Power of One

My friend, Jennifer Broderick, an artist in Ohio is an amazing example of how “just one person” can make a difference. Earlier this spring, a neighborhood with sidewalks decorated with sidewalk chalk art caught her eye, as did the evidence of a lack of financial means. Over the course of a few weeks and more than a few walks, the sight of children playing outdoors and the smiles on their faces was the start of something big.

Toward the end of April, Jennifer posted some pictures of her driveway which was covered in big X’s and O’s; it turns out that she had started leaving packages of chalk and notes of encouragement outside her house to inspire the children in the neighborhood to continue to play outside. Her post motivated more than a few artists from across the country to contact her directly and offer to donate chalk and money to help her with this inspirational project.

Driveway covered in sidewalk chalk
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broderick

A few instant messages later, I placed an order for a package of big, fat pieces of sidewalk chalk in assorted colors and thanks to Amazon’s most excellent product recommendation engine, the order also included a gallon of Miracle Bubbles and a dozen wands. I thought that the bubbles would be a great extra surprise and something the kids would enjoy.

The image of kids playing with the bubbles was so delightful and distracting that I neglected to update the ship to address with Jennifer’s information and the order was on its way to Pennsylvania thanks to Amazon’s exceptionally fast fulfillment process.

Two days later the unopened box occupied the space next to my piano and my intention to send it to Jennifer was thwarted by news that caused an unwelcome turn of events in my own financial situation. In light of my change in circumstance, it seemed like spending money to ship the chalk and bubbles wouldn’t be prudent.

For the next couple of months, I enjoyed following the progress of Jennifer’s sidewalk chalk artists as their works of art transformed her neighborhood into an outdoor art show.

Sidewalk Chalk Heart and Circle Art
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broderick

Project Sidewalk Chalk had evolved from Jennifer leaving sidewalk chalk on her front stoop to a full-blown community outreach project. Throughout the summer, she is attending numerous events to hand out individual packages of chalk to over 300 children within the community. Each donation includes a warm personal note from Jennifer explaining a little about the project and to spread the message: “Remember to be safe, make art and share it with the world.”


In the meantime the sidewalk chalk I’d purchased was still taking up space in my living room and I continued to debate with myself over spending the money to ship it.

What was holding me back? The bubbles. I knew that the shipping cost for the chalk and the bubbles combined would be more than what I had paid for the entire order, it didn’t make sense to pay return shipping on the order for the same reason and so the box continued to take up space.

Last week I had an “aha” moment! The bubbles and the chalk did not have to stay together and if I just shipped the chalk it would be affordable and although my personal situation hadn’t changed it felt like the right way to spend a few dollars. I wrote Jennifer a note, drove to the local shipping store and sent the chalk to Ohio with a prayer of thanks and a smile.

The only thing left was to figure out what an empty nester was going to do with a gallon of Miracle Bubbles and a dozen bubble wands.

Facebook to the Rescue!

I took a picture of the bubbles and accessories and posted it in “Lower Makefield is a Great Place to Live,” the Facebook group for the community I live in.

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Almost immediately a woman from the area responded, “I’d be…I have granddaughters that love bubbles.” I sent her a friend request and an instant message to make arrangements, it quickly turned into an “It’s a small world” kind of moment.

She had been blowing bubbles with her grandchildren a couple of days before; they enjoyed it so much she used up an entire bubble wand and she was planning to buy more before they visited her again. Her youngest grandson is 15 months old and has Downs, she was also using the bubbles as a way to potentially help him to gain fine motor skills by reaching out to grab at them while one or more float in front of him.

As we made the pick up arrangements, we discovered that not only do we share the same zip code, our houses are less than 5 miles apart, her husband was a former patient of my chiropractor and she and her husband did some work with a lawyer who rented office space from my chiropractor when she owned the building. Crazy!

The bubbles are now in the loving hands of a grandmother and her grandchildren. 124 pieces of sidewalk chalk made it safely to Ohio.

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Jennifer privately shared a few pictures of children who had already received their gift; they were adorable! We want to keep them safe, so I can’t share the pics publicly – but I’m sure you can imagine the smiles that surrounded the “Thank You” sign as they posed with their sidewalk chalk for the camera.

Believe in Possibilities

Sometimes it can be tough to believe in positive outcomes, especially if you’re going through a stretch of “bad luck.” Like many people, there have been times in my life that have really tested my faith and my ability to be optimistic.

I’ve always considered myself to be a “cup half full” kind of person, however I’ve come to the realization that there is more to having a positive outlook on life giving lip service to the belief that “everything will be alright,” but letting the chatter in your head control your actions.

One of the many blessings in my life are my parents, they have lived through many difficult situations and have always maintained a positive outlook on life. My dad is a big believer in the power of a PMA, aka – positive mental attitude, and he lives it every day of his life. That’s not to say that there aren’t days that his optimism wavers, he’s human after all.

PMA could also stand for, perseverance means achievement; my dad faces every obstacle head on and somehow finds now to make the word No mean Next Opportunity.

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The drawing is from an art journal that I created as an outlet for my thoughts and emotions and to help me remain focused on the positive as I’ve been working my way through a recent set of challenges.

Near the beginning of this most recent “Adventure,” my friend Marilyn, gave me a beautiful postcard with this very meaningful quote from Art Mitchell – “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

The message really reinforces the way my dad approaches life and never gives up.

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Father’s day seems like perfect time to share a personal story of perseverance and growth, with many thanks to my dad for his unwavering support and for being an amazing role model for all of us. I am deeply grateful for all he has done for me and I know he is a big part of the reason that I am the woman I am today.

A look into the past….

On a warm September day in 2008, I watched the movers load our belongings onto the truck with mixed emotions and a few tears on my face. My thoughts ping-ponged back and forth between sadness and joyful hope. It was difficult to be leaving friends, family, a beautiful home and everything that was familiar and safe.But it was exciting to think about the possibilities that our future in Pennsylvania held.

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When I accepted the job in Pennsylvania, it seemed like nothing could go wrong and the future held nothing but rainbows and unicorns. Maybe I wasn’t quite that optimistic (or unrealistic), but I was really confident that it was the best thing that could have happened for my family and myself both personally and professionally.

We put our house on the market and my seven month commute between Omaha, Nebraska and Philadelphia began. It was a rather grueling trek back and forth, but it offered the opportunity for my daughter to finish out her senior year of high school without moving.

My youngest son was 12, and although I knew it would be difficult for him to move and adjust to a new school, new and very different living arrangements – I was confident that he would be able to adapt and in the long run it would help him grow and develop in positive ways.

Our move to Pennsylvania has been full of new beginnings and life changing events, but not at all in the way I would have imagined them to unfold.

I had landed my “dream job” with a financially sound company, or so I thought. The job was great, but the financial health of the company was not; two months after my start date, they declared Chapter 11. I was scared, but because I was the primary income earner, we had no choice but to move and hope for the best.

The real estate market in Omaha was depressed, just like everywhere else in the country. In spite of St Joseph statues and wonderful real estate agents, we were unable to sell before we moved, which meant that our new home was going to be in an apartment.

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It certainly wasn’t the end of the world, but it was such a major change for all of us and it was not what I had hoped for. My unrealistic and unhealthy belief at the time was that we moved “because of me” so it was my responsibility to make everything perfect and as familiar as possible rather than asking for help and support.

After moving the challenges and obstacles seemed to gain momentum and magnitude.

In those days the voices in my head were working overtime.

I spent every minute of every day worrying. I hashed and rehashed the decision to move.  I beat myself up about the fact that the house back in Nebraska hadn’t sold and we were losing money every month. I speculated about the viability of the company I worked for and whether or not it would emerge from Chapter 11 and if I would be spared from any future layoffs.

I blamed myself for my husband’s unhappiness and deepening depression. I spent hours agonizing about my youngest son Christian and the fact that the ‘normal’ trials of being in eighth grade were amplified by a new school in a new state, being the only child left at home, and having to make new friends – something that is easier said than done when you’re the new kid from Nebraska and you started school almost three weeks late. I wondered if we’d be able to afford to fly my oldest kids, Jeff and Katie, out for occasional visits and I held myself accountable for it all, most of all, for the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to fix any of it.

There was no escaping the voices and daily I slipped further and further into a self-imposed state of emotional isolation. At work I found myself going through the motions and while I interacted with my direct reports, a handful of co-workers, and of course my boss. For the most part, I kept to myself and limited my contact with people to office hours only. I quit calling or even sending email updates to friends, and I talked to my parents and kids only when I thought I could fake a positive attitude.

I had no choice but to drag myself into work every day and do my best to appear upbeat and confident.  As the primary and now sole income earner I couldn’t afford to lose my job and it was the only escape I had from the dreary apartment and my relentless anxiety.  The voices took a back seat for a while every day while I managed my way through the work day. They were always there but just not as loud. By this point in time I’d had years of practice in compartmentalizing my personal life and my work life.  Lessons learned early in my career taught me to keep people at arm’s length and keep my personal life to myself.

Back then I didn’t realize or understand one of the underlying messages my dad lives,believes and had tried to communicate to me – worry doesn’t change tomorrow, it just takes the joy out of today.

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There were so many things I didn’t understand during that time in my life; concepts and practices that would have helped me maneuver more easily through a divorce, the financial strain and embarrassment that accompanied nearly foreclosing on my house and the challenges and blessings of being a single mom in a city half-way across the country from my family and closest friends.

I’ve not only made it through the majority of the initial challenges that came after my move; life is much richer because of them. It sounds strange to say, but I’m actually grateful for them because I’ve learned:

Self Love is the first step…

Self love is not the same as self indulgence or self acceptance. It means that we treat our bodies and our minds well, enjoy the person we are in the present, forgive and release the people and things from our past that hold us back and embrace our future with confidence.

I could write an entire book about the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years; lessons about being present and not dwelling on the past, tools for facing difficulties with positivity instead of catastrophizing and letting the negative chatter in my head control my actions.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned, and the most important one is that we only destroy our selves and sabotage our happiness when we hang on to regrets from the past, refuse to forgive ourselves for being human and compare ourselves to others as a way to measure success.

I suspect my dad finds the whole ‘self love’ thing to be a bit ‘woo woo,’ but I think that’s because he has an innate understanding of the importance of it.

Being Present is the next step…

I have never met two people who are as good at making the most of every experience as my parents. We moved a lot while I was growing up, and each time we moved they approached it as though it was the last place they would ever live and quickly made friends and became a part of the community.

My parents don’t “vacation,” they take trips. Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Hawaii with them. The entire trip was amazing, but I think if I had to pick, I’d say Wednesday was my favorite day. The last thing I expected that morning was for my dad to announce that he wanted to go zip-lining. His exact words (or close to) were, “I’m going to be 80 this year, who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to go zip-lining, so let’s do it.”

Talk about being present in the moment and making the most of things! I know for a fact that there were plenty of things on his mind that were “worry worthy,” but instead of focusing on things outside of his control, he chose to embrace the moment and experience something new.

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He may sometimes get lost in his own thoughts, but he definitely knows how to live life to it’s fullest and doesn’t let challenges or obstacles weigh him down.

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Believe in Possibilities….

Believing in possibilities is so much easier and rewarding than speculating about all of the possible negative outcomes that may (or most likely not) happen as a result of a current situation.

As Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Many, many thanks to my dad for all he has taught me about the power of positive thinking and the importance of believing in possibilities.

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Aloha and Mahalo, My Trip to Hawaii

Aloha,

Several months ago my parents called and asked me if I’d like to accompany them on a trip to Hawaii in February of 2016. As you can imagine, it took me less than a nanosecond to say, “Yes!”

I’m a toes in the sand kind, warm weather, sun and water loving kind of girl, so a trip to Hawaii was like a dream come true – especially during the month of February when there’s not a lot of sunshine and it’s cold in the state of Pennsylvania. As happens when you’re anticipating a big event, from the time we made the reservations through the end of the year it seemed like February would never get here, then all of the sudden I was boarding the first of three flights – final stop the Kona airport.

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After picking up the rental car, the first order of business was to find the local Walmart and stock up on breakfast, lunch and snack food; we didn’t want to hassle with going out for breakfast in the mornings and it also seemed smart to reserve our eating out dollars for dinner. The second order of business was to check into a beautiful two-bedroom condo at the Wyndham Resort in Kona while my dad looked into the possibility of booking an excursion to the peak of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and the highest point in Hawaii.

The expeida.com girl remained cheerful, but carefully calibrated our expectations by explaining that this particular expedition is usually filled within weeks if not months of the available dates. She called to make the inquiry and her smile broadened as she said, “there was a cancellation for three people on Monday?!”

My dad didn’t waste any time, “That’s amazing, let’s book it.”

It was the first of many serendipitous moments throughout the upcoming week.

My parents are not exactly what you would call planners when it comes to traveling; they like to take more of a “figure it out along the way” kind of approach so on Sunday we gathered information about the various excursions and booked a Volcano Tour and a luau in addition to stargazing on Mauna Kea. The remaining days were left open for exploring the island on our own.

In order to keep the roadside views uncluttered and natural, there are very strict signage rules on the island, so it’s not uncommon to receive an answer like this when asking for directions:

“Oh, you want to visit the coffee and nut man? Ok, here’s how you get there – go out of the driveway to the right and at the first stop sign, go right to the top of the hill, Lunapule Rd. Then go to the top of the hill and turn right at the stop sign, that’s Walua Rd. 

At the intersection, go to the yield sign and turn right on Kuakini Hwy; this will merfe into Hwy 11 Southbound. Keep going until you reach the 5th stop light, Halekiki St, and turn right – there’s a gas station on the right side. Now go down the hill to the second fire hydrant on the right.

You’ll see a driveway and a sign that says “Captain Cook Trading Place”, pull into the driveway. The coffee and nut guy is next to the granite and tile warehouse on your left – you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see boxes piled up to the ceiling.”

Thank goodness the directions were also written down!

Between counting stop signs and fire hydrants, trying to find the coffee and nut guy was a lot like being on a scavenger hunt. I have to confess that we ended up using a bit of modern technology to find him, but only after we tried and missed the destination more than once.

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The coffee man was nowhere in site (apparently he works his own and very elusive hours) so we opted to have lunch at the local eatery next door to the Captain Cook Trading Company.

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When the first bite of my crab-cake melted in my mouth, I would have sworn that I was dining at 5 star restaurant rather than sitting on a folding chair and sharing the equivalent of a card table with strangers.

As luck would have it, another serendipitous moment occurred and the coffee man arrived and opened for business just as we finished our lunch.

Surrounded by boxes of coffee beans and macadamia nuts, Emmerich (aka the coffee and nut man), shared his wealth of knowledge about the island and the process of roasting coffee beans to perfection. I didn’t get a chance to sample the coffee, but if it’s half as tasty as the macadamia nuts, it’s wonderful.

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Each one of our excursions deserves it’s own narrative, so for now I’ll just share a few of the highlights.

Monday we headed to Buns in the Sun, a local bakery and the meet up place for the trip to the peak of Mauna Kea. I’, not sure which was more amazing to be “walking in the clouds” at 9,000 feet above sea level or seeing the galaxy just beyond the Milky Way first hand.

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On Tuesday we set off with no particular destination in mind other than to visit a small artist’s community on the northeast coast of the island. Our adventure led us to the edge of the island and one of the most spectacular views of waves from the Pacific Ocean rolling onto a sheltered black sand beach.

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The entire trip was amazing, but I think if I had to pick, I’d say Wednesday was my favorite day. The last thing I expected that morning was for my dad to announce that he wanted to go zip-lining. His exact words (or close to) were, “I’m going to be 80 this year, who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to go zip-lining, so let’s do it.”

The drive there was almost as exciting as the actual zip-lining experience, but that’s a story for another day. The tour guides were awesome – two young guys who had just the right combination of personalities to be encouraging without being condescending and enthusiastic without being annoying.  I never imagined I’d see a waterfall in Hawaii, let alone while I was zipping across a valley going 50 miles per hour.

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Thursday, where to begin? There’s no way I can capture the day in only a few words. To sum it up, we had a private tour of parts of the island and the National Volcano Park. Yep, as it turned out, the other six people who had made reservations for the same day as us cancelled at the last minute and we ended up with a personalized adventure.

We saw sea turtles sunning on a black sand beach, walked through a lava tube had lunch on coffee plantation and learned about the rich history of Hawaii from our guide and companion for the day, Jim Carey (not the actor in case you’re wondering). Thanks to him, it was an incredible and unforgettable day.IMG_2706

Last, but certainly not least, on Friday we had a free day; I hung out by the pool and my parents spent more time gallivanting around the island, in the evening we attended a Luau – apparently it’s “state law.” 🙂

The dancers were mesmerizing, the food was delicious and the setting was spectacular.

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Some days it still seems like the trip was just a dream, but the pictures prove it wasn’t.  Words cannot begin to describe how absolutely magical this trip was. I will never forget it and will always treasure the memories.

Mahalo (many thanks) to my parents for this amazing experience, I’d have to say that I think I have the coolest parents on the planet!

Whose Dog was That?

If you’ve ever owned a pet or have watched a dog run out into a heavily trafficked street, you’re familiar with the feeling of a racing heart, a tightened chest and a knotted stomach – even if it’s not your pet.

I was standing on the sidewalk outside of the bike shop in Park Rapids waiting for my friend to finish up his phone call when a small brown puppy raced out of the park and turned the corner onto the sidewalk adjacent to highway 34, the main drag between Park Rapids and Dorset Minnesota. Her bright red leash bounced off the pavement as she raced past me.

Soon after the dog ran by me, a woman emerged out of the same clearing and then out of nowhere a lanky teenage boy wearing a bike helmet joined her in the chase to capture the runaway pup. I’m not really sure how I thought I could help, but  without thinking at all, I followed their lead and took off down the sidewalk as a part of the rescue mission.

We all alternated between running and walking, it’s really impossible for a human (even a teenage boy) to keep up with a dog who doesn’t want to be caught and has no clue about things like the dangers of cars and really fast traffic. I jogged behind the puppy, trying to catch up while I was mentally willing her to stay on the sidewalk but fearing that she’d run into the highway.

Puppies are like toddlers, they’re oblivious to things like oncoming cars – you guessed it, after a block or two she darted off the sidewalk and onto the highway. My heart stopped, and so did all the cars. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not only did the cars behind her stop – the traffic on the opposite side of the highway slowed to a near stop; I believe that against all odds, she could have run across all four lanes and still been safe.

is that your dog
After a few blocks of running she headed back toward the park and I watched the teenage boy try and cajole her into coming to him. I figured it must be his dog and the adventure was over, so I slowed down to a walk and thought about turning around.

From behind me I heard a woman saying, “That’s not my dog, but thank you, thank you for your help!”

She jogged past me trying to catch up with the teenager and the puppy on the boulevard.

Before I could turn around, a horn beeped twice and a red minivan pulled up along side me, “Tell her the dog’s name is Bess and I found the owner,” the driver said.

“The dog’s name is Bess?”

“Yes, and I found the owner through Facebook!”

Feeling I now had a purpose I ran as fast as I could to relay the news.

“Her name is Bess and the guy in the red van knows who her owner is,” I shouted as I ran past the woman who had thanked me.

Bess had thankfully run back onto the grassy area next to the highway, but she had no intention of being scooped up by some lanky teenage boy.

“Is that your dog?” I asked.

“No, is it your’s?” he replied.

“No, but I think her name is Bess.”

Just then she scampered off behind a fence and onto a back porch.

As though we had met each other before, the lanky teen and I signaled each other silently. I took guard duty at one side of the porch and he rounded the corner to take his post on the other side. We each waited for Bess to come scurrying out so we could take her to safety.

Neither of us caught her, but we successfully set a trap that led to her safety. Bess didn’t know it, but when she figured out how to run past the two of us she ended up running right into the arms of the woman who had started the rescue chase. Thanks to Facebook and the help from some strangers, Bess and her owners were reunited.

So, all this while, my friend has finished his phone call and is trying to figure out where I disappeared to.

I waved when I saw him walking toward me.

“Were you chasing a dog?”

It took a while to explain. 🙂

A Week with the “Big Kids”

Kayaking on Big Sand

My oldest two kids are 1 year, 2 months, and 28 days apart in age and there is a five year difference between my youngest two. I think we started calling Jeff and Katie “the big kids” on the day Christian was born.

When the big kids were deciding on which college to attend we “wisely” advised them to choose a school that was within driving distance and not more than one plane ride away from Omaha. A seemingly brilliant approach to minimize travel expenses and ensure that we’d get to see them more than once a year.

Shortly after Jeff’s second semester of college in St. Louis I accepted a position with a company in Bristol, PA and began a 7 month commute between the Midwest and the East Coast. We physically moved our belongings to our new home the weekend after helping Katie move into her dorm room in Chicago.

They both successfully completed their degrees and landed jobs in their respective cities right out of school and so for the past six years we’ve lived more than double the distance apart from each other than I had anticipated. Circumstances over the past four years have left Christian and me with a lot of together time and unfortunately time and resources to spend individual time with Jeff and Katie haven’t been available.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the special opportunity to spend a week at my favorite place on earth with the “big kids.” Christian just started a new job and had to stay home so he could go to training. It was strange not having all three kids with me, and we definitely missed Chris, but it was also fun to have some time alone with Jeff and Katie.

Getting to Northern Minnesota is no small feat. I flew from Philly to Chicago and spent the afternoon writing in the cutest coffee shop ever while I waited for Katie to get home from work.

Cup and spoon coffee shop sign

Thankfully she conquered the spaghetti squash without a trip to the emergency room and we feasted on a delicious lasagna dish for dinner.

Katie cutting a spaghetti squash

Jeff arrived from St. Louis around 10 pm and we spent some time chatting and fine-tuning logistics for the 12 hour drive the following day.

I didn’t sleep a wink that night, most likely because of the three large glasses of tea I consumed late in the afternoon. I was super happy to learn that we could put Katie on the rental car as an extra driver so I could curl up in the back seat and snooze.

The lake was gorgeous and perfect for water-skiing. Jeff and Katie had their swimsuits on and were in the lake before their duffle bags were unpacked.

Big Sand lake First night sunset

They each got in a high speed tour around the lake just before the sky turned dark and ominous.

dark cloudy sky over the lake

The first few days were windy and a little on the cool side, so we entertained ourselves with trips to the local farmers market stands, the local candy store, and a variety of shops.

vegetable Market

We read books, took naps, and ended the day with a round of cards.

playing cards in the cabin

The rest of the week flew by filled with kayaking excursions and pontoon rides.

090 Kayaking on Big Sand

Beth, Jeff, and Katie on a pontoon

The pontoon is my favorite place to take pictures from. I could spend hours touring the lake at a leisurely pace while watching the clouds change in shape and color.

sunset picture from a pontoon ride

My brother and his family arrived mid-week and we finished out our vacation with lots of beach time and even a late-night girls only swim under the stars.

fun in the sun

One of our all time favorite activities is to attend the performance at the Woodtick, a small theater in Akeley, MN. It’s a musical variety show with local musicians and it’s a hoot!  There’s lots of campy humor and hand-clapping music.

The music ranges from Irish Ballads to silly songs to modern day hits and some good “ole timey” tunes as well.

Northern Minnesota is the land of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Across the street from the theater is the largest statue of Paul in the area, maybe even in the world. 😉

It’s a family tradition to take pictures in front of the statue before the performance. This year a nearby stranger offered to take the picture of the group. It’s not often that they turn out all that well, but I think this one did!

010 the whole family in paul bunyans lap
The week flew by far too quickly and before we knew it, the big kids and I were facing our 12 hour drive back to Chicago. I opted not to drive and instead spent the majority of the trip finishing an ink drawing I’ve been working on. (talk about role reversal. 🙂 )

Forest drawn in Ink

Now it’s back to reality and fall is just around the corner.