Saturday, January 31, 2015

January Skier's Soup

I first made this soup on New Year's Eve in Colorado for my family when they came in from Skiing/Snowboarding at lunch. Everyone liked it.

I've made it a couple more times in the month of January, even though no one was skiing. It was still good.

I modified the recipe from one I found on Mennonite Girls Can Cook.

January Skier's Soup

1 pound ground beef
6 cups water
2 sliced onions
2 large carrots, sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 can tomato soup
28 ounces diced tomatoes
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. basil
2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

Brown ground beef in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
Turn heat down and cover pot. Simmer for one hour.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Sign of the Times

So I was sitting at a table at Starbucks today waiting for my friend, Denise, to show up. I didn't mind that she was ten minutes late because I was amusing myself by watching a group of four middle school students on a double date.

Fortunately, each couple was sitting about two feet apart from each other on the small couches. They were sipping their Frappes and discussing who was going out with whom.

Do middle school children now meet at Starbucks after school? I guess so. I wondered how they got there. The school is not within walking distance. Maybe the bus dropped them off there.

I know these kids are in Sixth Grade because I recognized one of the boys as a former student of mine. The last time I saw him, he was in First Grade. He looks just like his older brother.

When I was in middle school, we met up at the roller rink. We sipped sodas and chased each other around the floor. But I know I'm an old lady now. Times have changed. Yes, they have.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker was recommended to me by someone in my book club.

A young, crippled woman (Mi Mi) and a young, blind man (Tin Win) fall in love in the late 1950's in Burma. Then, circumstances beyond their control cause Tin Win and Mi Mi to become separated for their entire adult lives. 

Tin Win regains his sight through the help of a rich uncle, and he is sent to America for schooling. He becomes a successful New York lawyer and marries an American woman.

One day, many years later, Tin Win suddenly disappears. His daughter, Julia, travels to Burma in search of him after finding an old love letter in his belongings. There, she learns the story of her father's secret past.

This book is a touching story of unconditional love. I enjoyed the setting and learning about the customs and beliefs of the Burmese people. I would give it four stars.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

I love these friends! We had an amazing time together in Naples.

Every morning was leisurely. We woke up, got our coffee and tea, went out on the porch, and talked for two hours before we started the day.

And each day was relaxing. We either went to the beach, the pool or shopping. Can't get any better than that! It was truly a rejuvenating weekend.

Everyone got along great. There wasn't any fighting unless you count the heated discussion that ensued on Saturday night on how often you wash your towels.

We started celebrating my birthday on Sunday night when Karen bought me a slice of Salted Caramel Cheesecake. It is the best dessert I've ever eaten. The birthday celebration continued the next day at the pool when they brought out cupcakes to eat after lunch.

It is good to laugh hard belly laughs once in awhile, and when I am with this group, I get my fill.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Technically, a sabbatical is an extended period of leave from one's customary work, especially for rest or to acquire new skills.

This is blog post number 1,138, so I do qualify for some time off.

I'm not going to rest and I'm not going to acquire new skills, but I am traveling, and I don't want to take my computer with me.

Don't worry, it's only for five days.

When I return, it will be my birthday, and I will share what happened on my girlfriends weekend in Florida.

The cruise girls are back together, and Karen is going with us! That means nothing but more trouble.

See you all soon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Everybody Writes

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley is written to help people who write online content and social media marketing. Even though my blog is not meant to bring in cash, I still found the tips in the book to be very helpful.

The author's first premise is that everybody writes. On a daily basis, we write emails or post to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. And since we all write, we might as well do it better.

She also says that anyone can be a good writer. Contrary to popular thought, writers are not born with special abilities. If you want to be a good writer, you must do two things: read a lot and write a lot.

It takes practice and consistency. It is better to write for a short period of time each day than to write for a large chunk of time once a week.

When writing online content (on blogs and web pages) it  is best to keep things simple. Short paragraphs, short sentences and straightforward words make it easy for people to pop in and read what you wrote without feeling like half their day is gone.

She goes over some helpful grammar and editing tips, how to properly give credit for referencing another person's material, how to write catchy headlines, and examples of many productivity tools.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chicken Spaghetti

Yummy! This was delicious.

As you can see, I made enough for a large crowd. Don and I could eat only so much. Leftovers are available.

This Chicken Spaghetti recipe was modified from one I found on Pioneer Woman.

I took a few shortcuts because that's just the way I cook.

Here's my version:

Chicken Spaghetti

2 cups rotisserie chicken, cut into small chunks
1 lb. thin spaghetti, broken into 2 inch pieces
2 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup diced red pepper
1 medium onion, diced
1 t. Lawry's Seasoned Salt
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook spaghetti until al dente (about 6 minutes)

Combine all ingredients (except 1 cup of cheddar cheese) in a large bowl.

Place mixture in a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
Bake about 45 minutes.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Smoothie Pops

When I make a smoothie, there is always at least one serving left over. If Peter is home, he will drink it. Don isn't always in the mood.

If I put the leftover smoothie in the refrigerator, it never tastes the same six hours later.

So I got this idea from the 100 Days of Real Food website to make ice pops from my leftover smoothies.

I purchased a Norpro Silicone Ice Pop Maker Set and put my extra smoothie inside the four molds.

Now I can have a healthy frozen treat later in the day. And as a bonus I'll feel like a kid again!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

When I first started reading this book, I thought it was fiction. But soon I realized everything in the book was true.

The author, Katherine Boo, spent almost four years immersed in a Mumbai slum in order to understand the people who live there. At first she was a spectacle, but the longer she stayed, the more she faded into the background and the more people went on living their lives as usual.

The Annawadi slum is located on the outskirts of the Mumbai airport and luxury hotels, behind the signs that read "Beautiful Forever."

The families that live there are consumed with surviving and making a living the best they can. Some gather garbage from airport trash cans, some steal pipes from new construction, and some sell their bodies to police officers. 

Bribery and corruption are rampant within the community and with government officials who take advantage of the poor. Unfortunately, more than a few people consider their circumstances too overwhelming to continue living.

The people of the Annawadi slum are intelligent and hard working with amazingly tough lives. Their resilience and fortitude are unbelievable. 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers was one of the top ten books of 2012 according to the New York Times, and it won the National Book Award that year as well. I highly recommend reading it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Riley Needs a Long, Long Walk

It's been cold too long! When Riley doesn't get exercise, he gets into more trouble than he normally does.

We haven't walked with Jake since before Christmas, and other than that, he's only been on a couple of short walks in our neighborhood. I'm a wimp when it is below 20, and Don doesn't do walks.

This morning, Riley ate two muscle building protein bars that Daniel gave Peter for Christmas. They were in a gift bag on a tall dresser for awhile, but eventually they made their way to the floor in Peter's room.

Peter had been keeping his door closed for a couple of weeks to protect a painting he made for Kendall, but after he gave that to her, he wasn't concerned about his bedroom door any more.

It didn't take Riley long to sniff his way into that gift bag. What does it do to a dog when he eats 64 grams of protein in one sitting? At least he didn't eat the third bar.

He's still alive. He hasn't thrown up. He hasn't made a mess in the house. He actually seems quite normal except for the occasional whine.

I feel like we are fighting a constant battle around here. We can't leave the house without asking, "what can Riley get into?"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Since this past summer, Don and I have been routinely playing Peter and Kendall in Euchre. It's always a close game, but tonight we won 10-8.

Euchre is a card game that I have loved since my days in undergraduate school at Akron U. My fellow Business School classmates and I would play endless games in between classes.

This card game may have been introduced in the States from immigrants who came from Cornwall, England. These days, it is still popular in the Midwest states.

For Christmas, I bought Peter an official Euchre game. Unfortunately, the cards are an ugly green color. I was excited about the two official scoring wheels until I realized I am unable to turn the wheel. Don had to keep score for us. It has something to do with my thumbs.

We don't keep a running score for who has won the most games, but I am pretty sure Don and I are ahead.

We just love sitting around enjoying time with these two no matter who wins.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Exposure: Digital Field Guide

Daniel gave this book to me and Katherine (we have to share it) for Christmas. It is a used textbook from one of his digital photography classes at Miami.

Daniel said if I read this book and understand exposure, I will be able to take great pictures. I read the book and took notes. I learned almost all of this 30 years ago when I was into black & white photography, but when you don't use it, you lose it.

Now I think I understand it all again. I understand that aperture is the opening in the lens that lets light in. An aperture of f/8 on a 200 mm lens means that the opening would be 25 mm, which is 1/8 of 200 mm. The smaller the aperture number, the larger the opening. Aperture is used to control depth of field in a photo. I should use aperture priority (Av) as my camera mode when I want to blur the background and focus in on the subject (shallow depth of field).

Shutter speed controls how long the lens stays open. Shutter speed is expressed in fractions of a second such as 1/250 or 1/1000. The larger the bottom number, the faster the shutter speed. I should use shutter speed priority (Tv) as my camera mode when it is important to capture action.

The third component of exposure is the ISO. The ISO does not change how much light hits the camera's sensor, but it does change the sensitivity of the sensor. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor will be. The problem with increasing ISO is that it causes digital noise in the photo. This is what we used to call graininess back in the days of film.

Proper exposure is created when the combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO is just right for the lighting and purpose of the photo.

The book also covers tips for taking portraits, shooting landscapes, photographing weddings (something I would never do!), sports photography and taking pictures of your pet (my favorite).

Now all I have to do is figure out how to transfer this information to the knobs and dials on my camera. Then I'll be all set.

I just ordered another field guide which is specific to my camera, the Canon EOS Rebel T3i.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Freeze It

Just another selfie
While riding my bike this morning in my basement, I turned the TV to the Food Network channel. The Pioneer Woman was on, and her theme for the day was Soup.

I have been craving soup for about a month, so I watched carefully as she made tomato soup, kale and potato soup, hamburger soup and spinach soup. The one I liked best was the tomato soup.

Ree made her tomato soup to put in the freezer. That got me thinking that I should make some meals for the freezer. I know Katherine has been wanting to make freezer meals too, so here are some to get us started:

Tomato Soup with Parmesan Croutons by Pioneer Woman

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole by Six Sisters

Swiss Cheese Chicken by Or So She Says

Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole by Money Saving Mom

Lasagna Roll-Ups by Pioneer Woman

Simple Meatloaf by Mavis Butterfield

Homemade Frozen Pizzas by The Kitchn

And this is a good post by Pioneer Woman on how to prepare your foods for the freezer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Orphan Train

Before reading Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, I only knew a little about orphan trains from the books on the subject that were in the VCA library.

I did not know that between the years 1854 and 1929, two hundred thousand children were transported from the East Coast to towns in the Midwest to be taken in as extra farm or household help.

Some children were fortunate enough to be adopted into a new family and loved. Some were treated cruelly.

This story is about one of the orphan train children, Vivian. She is now 91 years old and living in Maine. It is also the story about a 17-year-old girl named Molly who has been in foster homes her whole life. They have a lot in common.

The book bounces back and forth between Vivian's story and Molly's story until the end when their paths cross. Molly helps Vivian clean out her attic as part of her community service work for stealing a book from the public library. As Molly helps Vivian process the early part of her life, Vivian helps Molly become stronger and more confident in hers.

Orphan Train was a great read. It made me want to find out more about this aspect of our country's history.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Longest Roll of Cling Wrap

This is my brother Patrick. He is holding in his hands the world's longest living roll of cling wrap.

When I was at his house on Christmas Eve, I needed to wrap up some of my leftovers, so I asked him if he had some cling wrap.

As a matter of fact, he did. He pulled out an industrial size roll of cling wrap that was getting down to its last years.

Then he told me something that almost made me pass out. He told me this was the roll of cling wrap that came from our mom's house when she died. I inherited some of my mom's dishes. Patrick inherited this roll of cling wrap.

Now, our mom died in November of 1991. That's 23 years ago, and I remember her using this roll of cling wrap years before that.

We don't know where she got the roll of cling wrap. I'm guessing her cousin Jenny got it for her from the O. K. Potato Chip Factory where she worked. She was always bringing factory items to our house along with large tins of potato chips.

The original box probably looked something like this. I just researched and found out that commercial food wrap comes in rolls with 2,000 feet of wrap. That's the kind of roll this was.

I don't think Patrick should use the roll all the way to the end. I think he needs to save just a bit of it to pass down to his daughter Stephanie. What an heirloom this is!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bread & Wine

Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist is the first book I read this year. I cheated a little because I started the book in 2014, but I read two-thirds of it in 2015, so it counts.

Kendall gave me this book as a Christmas gift. She said Shauna Niequist is one of her favorite authors. Other books she has written are Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet. Shauna also has a new book coming out in March called Savor: Living abundantly where you are, as you are.

I loved this book. Every chapter was an essay on a little piece of the author's life with a recipe to go along with the experience. I want to try almost every recipe.

I could really relate to Shauna. She and I have several things in common: we both cry when watching people cross the finish line at marathons, we both fear yeast, and we both hate wearing bathing suits. I think that makes us kindred spirits.

Her essays are very well written. I can see why Kendall likes her. She makes you laugh and she makes you cry. She also makes you very hungry.

The overall theme of the book is about opening up your life and your home to people around your table. Don't be afraid to invite people over just because your house isn't picked up or your decorating isn't worthy of a magazine page. What's important is connecting with friends and loved ones. What matters is being there for each other.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Favorite Photos from the Week

I was successful in getting a portrait of this girl while blurring the background and a little of the foreground.

This guy has it all going on: GoPro on his head, phone in one hand and e-cigarette in the other.

A contemplative moment for a young girl waiting in the lift line.

Not sure why I like this one, but I do.

A ski resting on the hillside.

Inside the Park Hyatt hotel lobby. Practicing the silhouette effect.

Steam rising off the pool at Beaver Creek Lodge (where our condo is).

Thursday, January 1, 2015

It's a New Year

Hello 2015.

Time to set some goals. Some of them will be the same goals I set last year, and the year before. Never give up, I say.

1. Be intentional with my time. Plan. Work the plan, and accomplish something worthwhile every day.

2. Read 100 books. This will be difficult, but I'm going to give it a try. And I will write a blog post on all of them - the good, the bad and the ugly.

3. Take one good photograph a week. One a day was too much for me. I'm going to try one a week now, following the challenges Daniel wrote down for me in the little black journal he gave me.

4. Lose that doggone extra weight! Yes I can...yes I can...yes I can.

5. Be more hospitable. I want to have more parties, more dinners for six, more people over after church.