Saturday, August 31, 2013

Missing the Mountain

Sometimes it's just the mountain and me; no iPod, no phone, no companion. At times like that, I find myself lost in thought, and it is almost as if I am performing a walking meditation.  It is a time for reflection, and immersing myself in the moment.  When I listen to music on my iPod, I may be able to go faster, but I miss the birdsong, the sound of running water and the movement of rocks and vegetation, every time I startle the rabbits and deer and birds. The smell of sage and sweet mountain air fills my nostrils. Hiking brings me to a place untouched by technology, and cares, and worries.

This is a picture of a deer that stopped grazing long enough for me to take its picture.  It wasn't disturbed by my presence, and I felt privileged to share this moment with him.

I have missed hiking this summer.  In June, my rheumatologist scared me out of doing any activities that could potentially cause more damage to my back.  I've had three months to think about it, and I have determined that I am not going to let fear dominate my thinking any more.

It is the one activity that I can share with all of my children and my husband.  We all benefit from being together outdoors.  I don't know if I will ever be able to describe fully what being immersed in nature does for me.  All I know is that not having that experience lately has taken some of the luster out of my life, the wind out of my sails.

Living a fear-based life is living a life unfulfilled.  That is not the life for me.  This week, my husband has tried to help me come out of a brief bout of depression.  He has given me space and time.  He recognizes that these things will help me find my joy again.  When he asked me if I would like to hike, I felt myself perk up a little.  When he asked which trail I'd like to try, he already knew the answer.  The waterfall trail above Cherry Hill!  I have a feeling that once my hiking shoes are kicking up dust, my life will fall back into place.  My level of happiness seems to coincide with the level of activity in my life.  It's time to get busy!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Reconnecting with Life at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival

This hasn't been a good week for me.  Life is full of ups and downs, and I've been riding in this little valley for a little too long now.  I've tried reading scriptures. I've made some feeble attempts at praying.  Why is it when we need prayer the most, we feel so inadequate at it?   I've listened to music.  I've tried to write about my dark thoughts, but that's just too scary, so mostly I just try to clean up old drafts so I can post SOMETHING.  I've started reading The Merlin Trilogy as a diversion. I've tried some new recipes.

When I feel like this, I withdraw.  I tend to answer questions with short responses, not wanting to bother with too many words because that would probably get feelings involved, and I'm keeping pretty busy stuffing those down at the moment.  I know I'm not fun to live with at times like this.

My husband has given me what I need most; time and space.  He hasn't rushed me to get out of this spot.  I figure while I'm down here, I better learn whatever there is to be learned, because once I climb out, I don't want to have to come back any time soon for any refresher courses.

A few weeks earlier, a friend of mine who teaches sixth grade had invited me to join my old fifth graders on their field trip to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. (It's going on this weekend, August 30-31, 2013)  It sounded so fun to me...being in Provo Canyon, listening to stories, and reconnecting with those wonderful children who have touched my heart forever.  Going on a field trip with hundreds of pre-teens may not sound like a fun afternoon to you, but it was just what this old soul needed.

When I asked my husband if he wanted to go with me to meet my kids on their field trip, he knew how much I needed to be there.  While he got ready, I ran to the store to stock up on a special treat for the kids:  Caramel Tootsie Pops.  I had given them to my homeroom last year, and they were a big hit.  I'd share them with the whole crew, for old time's sake.

Mark asked me which way I wanted to go to the festival, and gave me several different options.  I simply said, "Take the scenic route."  And we did.  We drove along the Weber River of Morgan County, passed the Devil's Chute, and noticed the first leaves turning a rusty yellow in the Uintas.  We drove through Heber Valley, where I spent many weekends during college, gathering supplies for backpacking trips near Kamas and Strawberry Reservoir, and on our way home, stopping by Granny's for a milkshake, or Dick's for frozen lemon custard.  A flood of sweet memories rushed over me as we drove through Heber City, and then made our way onto Highway 189 toward Provo Canyon.  When we spotted the big yellow school buses parked at the Mount Timpanogos Park, I started looking for my kids.

My friend Kim, with Kim and Reggie Harris, storytellers extraordinaire.
When we finally arrived (the scenic route takes a couple of hours, instead of the one hour I had anticipated), the storytelling festival was wrapping up with the last two stories.  I found the group in a spacious white tent, cooled with fans softly humming.  Kim and Reggie Harris were captivating this large audience of middle schoolers with a beautifully told story of Martin Luther King, Jr., through music and words.  Have you ever tried to entertain ONE teenager for an afternoon? They had those kids on the edge of their seats.  All of them.

As I was listening to Reggie play the guitar, I felt a presence to my right.  I looked up to see Seth,
my sweet, wonderful Sethers, standing in the aisle, grinning down at me from ear-to-ear.  I got up and took him in my arms for a big hug.  We all scooted seats so that he could sit by us.  Bad feelings can't stay around very long when Mr. Seth is nearby.

When I got up to take pictures of Reggie and Kim, my kids noticed I was there.  As I listened to the stories, I took a few pictures of my kids.  Oh, I had missed these people.  Occasionally, someone would turn around and wave enthusiastically, or I would catch an eye of one of those darling kids.  I was so glad to be there.

The last storyteller was Andy Irwin.  He held our attention with his stories of growing up in the south.  He told tales of tadpoles and best friends, of back to school shopping and the next to the last day of summer vacation.  As an audience, we participated as he had us repeat lines of his song.  The kids laughed as he roped them in with his sound effects and perfectly executed comedic timing.

When the last applause died down and children started milling about to head back to the buses, I was overwhelmed with hugs and greetings.  Mark passed out the Tootsie Pops while I took pictures of my awesome kids and received so many hugs.  My spirit was soaring.  It needed this...being surrounded by love and fun and positive energy.

On our way home, I squeezed Mark's arm.  I held his hand.  I thanked him for the most wonderful day.  "Welcome back, Denise."  I can feel my heart softening, and my spirit nudging me back into this wonderful life I've been taking for granted by hiding from it.  It felt so good to be outside, surrounded by people who love me, with my husband by my side.  It's good to be back.

I love my kids...all of them.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

*The EASIEST Chili Cornbread

I was in a panic about what to take a potluck dinner tonight. My step-sister had shared a yummy recipe with me for Chili Cornbread that I thought was a good possibility because it was so simple, and we had already spent over two hours in the kitchen making that infernal vegetable juice. (I really need to get a better attitude.  I'm working on it.  Sort of.)

The original recipe was pretty simple: Add 1 pound of browned hamburger to 2 cans of chili; top with Jiffy cornbread made with Mexicorn. Bake.

I wanted even SIMPLER.  The less time in the kitchen, the better, on days like today.  Anyone who wishes for more time for reading and relaxing can relate!

Here's what I did for The Easiest Chili Cornbread.

3 cans of chili (I used Stagg brand: Silverado beef, Classic, and Vegetable Garden)
2 c. Fiesta blend cheese, divided in half.
1 can Mexicorn, undrained.
1 bag of Marie Callendar's Lowfat Honey Butter Cornbread (sounds like an oxymoron to me, but I'm not going to argue...I just want to keep things easy)  May  I suggest here that you might want to forego adding the Mexicorn and keep it REAL simple by just buying the cornbread mix that already has the corn and peppers added to it?  Next time, I will.)

1.  Spray large casserole with Pam.  Pour in two cans of chili, sprinkle 1 c. cheese over that, then pour in last can of chili.

2.  Mix up cornbread according to package instructions.  Then add in the UNDRAINED Mexicorn, and one cup of cheese.  Mix well.

3.  Top chili with cornbread mixture and bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes, or until cornbread is golden brown.

It doesn't get much easier than that, folks.  Now we just need to head up the canyon, and our dinner can keep warm in the oven while we visit.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! Blueberry Chia Jam

With a little trepidation, I'm going to try chia seeds again.  If you recall, the last time I indulged in Chia Pudding, I was swooning, but not in a good way. (Earlier Chia experience)   I still don't know if my vertigo was chia-related, so I'm proceeding with caution.  At this moment, blueberry chia jam is bubbling on the stove. I made a teeny-tiny portion...only half of this recipe, just to see if it affects me the way the pudding did, and to see if my husband will like it.  Mark loves jam, so I'll let him eat the "lion's share."  I just want to try it again.

3 c. blueberries
1/4 chia seeds
1/4 c. agave nectar
1/4-1/2 c. apple juice to thin jam while simmering
2 teaspoon of vanilla

I used frozen blueberries.  I've noticed that the berries at Sam's Club are nice and small, while the ones at WalMart are very large.  I prefer the ones from Sam's.  I thawed my berries in the microwave on high for 2 minutes.  Then I mixed the berries and agave nectar in a saucepan over low/medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the chia seeds to thicken, simmering for 15 more minutes.  As the jam thickens, I added a small amount of apple juice to keep the jam from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Add the vanilla after removing the saucepan from the stove.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Is it the best jam on the planet?  Okay, no.  Is it fruity and sweet?  Yep!  My husband loves jam and is trying not to eat so much of it, but this, he could eat without guilt. He liked it enough to have extra bread after dinner to slather it all over another slice!   If I were to tweak it, I would possibly add a little Stevia, just a little, to move the sweetness level up toward that of a jam.

The possibilities are endless...flavor some plain Greek yogurt, add to a bowl of oatmeal, top your whole grain pancakes, garnish a dish of ice cream... I also plan to try this with other berries.  The nice thing about blueberries is that the chia seeds blend in with the color perfectly. Mmm... A jam chock-full of antioxidants, omega-3s, and fiber...without tons of sugar and preservatives?  Mission accomplished.

My Own Little Comedy Central

Love these kids!

"Want to play domestic violence?" Dylan asks Jamie. He is holding a frying pan over his head.

"As fun as that sounds, I don't think so."

"I'll let YOU hit ME."

"That sounds a little better."

"I'll have the headache, but you'll get the mugshot."


While we were considering our options of activities for the next day,  I suggested the "stuffed animal" museum.  I couldn't remember the name of it. Bridge was envisioning stuffed toys and didn't want to go.  Dyl told him it's really cool, actually, with all of the taxidermy exhibits.  (Rosenbruch Wildlife Museum, if you're ever in Saint George and need something to do besides bake your brains in the sun.)  Dylan then suggested another option, the new rec center.  "It has so many neat things...a lazy river, swimming pool, rock climbing, go carts, skydiving...Um, I made those last two up."

Dylan wanted to know if I wanted to go fishing with them.  He wanted to teach Bridge how to bass fish.  Dylan was telling me it's very scenic at Sand Hollow... a nice walk down to the spot... a road to walk along...

Jamie interrupted, "Why don't you tell her what it's REALLY like. I don't think you're painting a very realistic picture of what it's like there.  Unless you're fishing, there's nothing to do there except... sit."  

LONG, PREGNANT PAUSE.  It's very obvious Dylan has already taken his cute wife to this outdoorsy "paradise."  He was sitting there, looking at her with a dumbfounded expression on his face.

Jamie started to do the backstroke: 'Which... can be... really... FUN, but there's just not much out there.  There's nothing to do...except... sit.  Really.  You need to be honest with her."  Ha ha ha. I love Jamie!

She was right.  Not much to do but sit, but I came prepared, and brought my journal, and things to keep me cool.  I simply sat, and enjoyed watching my boys spend time together fishing on the shore.  Thanks for the heads-up, Jamie!

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Good Day to Be a Grumpaluffagus

To start us off, I'd like to borrow a little text from A. A. Milne:

"Good morning, Pooh Bear," said Eeyore gloomily. "If it is a good morning," he said. "Which I doubt," said he.
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it."
"Can't all what?" said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
"Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush." 

I'm GLAD it looks stormy.  I love it when the weather is like an accessory to my mood.  Dark grey clouds.  Overcast day.  Just rain already.  That would be even more perfect.  Then I could walk in the downpour, and get drenched, and really have something to gripe about.

When I went to bed last night, I told myself things will look better in the morning.  Or not, I guess.  I slept well enough.  I had a bunch of bizarre dreams, and was only too glad to drag myself out of bed and away from that emotional upheaval.  I sat in the hot tub in silence, not even bothering to turn on the jets.  I didn't want to endure the noise.  Maybe a shower would wash away the troubling thoughts that have been dogging me lately.  Or not, but not even I would want to be with myself if I started to smell like my mood.  In a futile attempt, I spritzed on my Clinique "Happy" cologne for good measure.  Bleah.  It didn't do anything to lift the dark cloud hanging over my head.

Everything is irritating today.  The lawn mowers came as soon as I decided I needed a nap. The house has been too hot.  Now it's too cold.  When I went to look in my stash for chocolate, the cure for all things negative, I unearthed three Sugar Babies and one single, solitary Milk Dud. These are dark times, indeed.

The dove that I like to think was a MOURNING dove, that just seems appropriate for today, had been trapped in our garage while we were gone last week. Feeling certain he was on death's door from dehydration and starvation, I put water and flaxseed out for him.  And no, I don't have any idea if doves eat flaxseed.  I only know that SOME birds eat SOME seeds, and I figured it was better than nothing.  I didn't dare feed him the chia seeds, for fear he'd react like I did, and actually feel worse with vertigo.  He went from listless and eyes closed, to being alert and moving a bit in just a short amount of time.  It felt good to care about something for a moment.  I pushed his little water dish closer to him, and just like that, he flew away.  Ungrateful cur.

So when this mood lifts, and it will, I will forget about how it felt in this moment to feel such dissatisfaction for my relative life of ease.  My husband just walked in.  "What are you doing, Dee?"

"Writing about feeling grumpy.  I'm hoping writing about it will make it go away."  He chuckled as he headed back down the hall.  That isn't funny, I thought.  Nothing is in my current mental state; everything is gloomy.  I'm having an Eeyore moment...feeling like a Grumpaluffagus.  And there's nothing anyone can do to make it better.

I'm off to find some real chocolate.  Just in case it could help.  Stranger things have happened.

Fall in Love

Can you feel it? There's a change in the air that is nearly imperceptible if you are not looking for it. I know everyone has their favorite season. Allow me to have mine.  

Yes, winter is wonderful with gentle snowfalls, crisp air, and temperatures that drive us indoors to enjoy fireplaces and hot cocoa and hearty meals. Spring is lovely with its tulips, daffodils, and budding trees. There's nothing like a summer vacation to recharge the batteries...swimming and, so fun. But there's just something about fall.

When I've had it with the heat, and pulling weeds, and air-conditioning; when I finally give up on "getting that body bikini-ready in two weeks" (it must have to do with my STARTING POINT); when I'm done with baking in the sun; I look forward to fall most of all!

Pumpkin Oatmeal.  Mmmm...
Nothing makes me more sentimental than looking at fall leaves, and smelling that earthy smell mixed with pine trees and decaying leaves in the mountains. I love the day I finally get to pull out my sweaters. That means I can finally hide underneath the soft knitted yarns the body that never got ready for a bikini the previous season. Pulling on jeans and a sweater takes me back to high school days in Virginia. Cozy, comfortable, calm.  Mmmm...

I'm not a big cocoa drinker, but I always buy it to have on hand, just in case! Recipes featuring pumpkin, apples, spice, or caramel speak to me. Every available fall-scented candle is on stand-by, ready to fill our home with enticing fragrance.  
Pumpkin Custard from
Cracker Barrel

Last fall, Cracker Barrel offered the most scrumptious dessert. I happened to be there for breakfast, but that didn't stop me. Ordering that bowl of Pumpkin Custard 'n' Gingersnaps was a decadent pleasure that to this day makes my mouth water.  How I hope they offer it this year, too!

Today I baked Amish Friendship Bread. Smelling the cinnamon wafting through the house made me feel so serene. Bridger put on his hoody, and sat on the porch playing his guitar while we waited for the muffins and loaves to bake. This morning was a sneak preview of another wonderful fall to come.

Just a few days ago, I caught my first glimpse of autumn in the canyon.  There was a fleeting flash of red in the trees as we sped by on our four-wheelers. My heart skipped a beat, and I grinned from ear to ear. It's coming. It's just around the corner. Until fall is in full costume here, I will satisfy myself with pictures from our previous autumn.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Life Is Better When You're Laughing

Welcome to my kitchen. It's five A.M. during another autumn's morning, and music is softly playing in the background. The house is scented with spicy candles, and Amish Friendship Bread is baking in the oven. The scene, so domestic and heart-warming. It's like something out of a Dickens novel.

Oh, but not a half hour before! At that point, I was in the middle of a big mess, listening to the New Age music station on TV. I was sweeping up 5 pounds of flour to a tune that sounded uncannily like Tubular Bells (that would be the theme song from The Excorcist, in case you didn't know), and I was wondering why the dough was so dry. It didn't take long to figure out that I had forgotten to add the wet ingredients to the sour dough starter.

These are the moments I wonder WHY I ever set foot in the kitchen in the first place. Surely, I'm not alone here. Who hasn't forgotten to secure the lid on the Vitamix, only to see a volcano spew out of the top all over the cabinets? Who hasn't spilled copious amounts of sticky liquids all over the counters and floor? Who hasn't had too much liquid in the Kitchenaid, and watched it slosh over the edges, only to realize you've created your personal version of The Great Flood right in your own kitchen?  Who hasn't dumped a gigantic bag of cereal all over the floor? Who hasn't invited the dog inside to clean up said cereal? Okay, that last one might just be me, but I'll bet I have some of you commiserating with me on a couple of kitchen catastrophes.

Modern conveniences are supposed to make life easier, but sometimes they get me in trouble. The power of a Vitamix...the churning of the Norwalk juicer...the mixing of the Kitchenaid...all of these have lead to some terribly disgusting messes. Sometimes an appliance doesn't even need to have a high-powered motor in it to cause problems. Take my little Tupperware chopper, for example.

Tupperware brand products are something I've only received as gifts. I'm too much of a tightwad to invest in something so fancy as Tupperware, but I can certainly appreciate its quality. 

About 27 years ago, friends at school gave me a Tupperware bridal shower, and then a couple of years ago, my son, who is in his mother-in-law's downline as a Tupperware "consultant," gave me several wonderful items for Christmas. My favorite thing is the big bowl (the Thatsa Mega Bowl). I use it for my homemade roll dough. It's the only bowl big enough for my huge recipe that calls for over 14 cups of flour. My other little treasure is a food chopper.

Today I was using my Tupperware "Chop 'N' Prep Chef."  Have you seen one of these?  It has a pull-string mechanism similar to a lawn mower starter that spins three chopping blades inside of a clear plastic bowl. It was doing a beautiful job of chopping a variety of vegetables for our quiche. I was just thinking to myself how I love that little gadget, when all hell broke loose. I picked it up by the lid and spun around to show my son how cool of a contraption it is, when the cup fell from the lid, spewing its contents all over the wooden floor and the rug in front of the sink.

Sometimes I hate myself in the kitchen," is what I remember saying to him, as he watched, dumbfounded from his perch at the kitchen counter. First, I took a picture of the mess, and then I began the laborious task of picking up all of the little shreds of veggies off of the floor.

At times like these, I feel like I'm Paula Deen and "I Love Lucy," rolled into one not-so-funny, and oh-so-messy, episode.

Below is a clip from one Oprah Winfrey episode I was so glad I watched. Paula Deen was "in the house," whipping up a recipe, when she did something that endeared her to me. Take a peek. Within the first 45 seconds, you'll see I can totally relate to her in this situation:

Life is definitely better when you're laughing!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Dodging the Bullet

"Today is a wonderful day
For I am going away.
Not to the circus, not to the pool.
Can't you guess? I'm going to school!"

That little verse is followed by a bunch of "tra-la-la-la-las" that I will spare you of reading. I GET to go to school today.  I don't have to go; I am not required to go.  It is my PRIVILEGE to go!  And I am so excited!

I woke up at 4:30.  By 4:45 I was bounding out of bed.  I needed to get ready!  Wait, I'm a retired teacher.  I don't HAVE to go anywhere.  But that's the point.  Today, I GET to go.  And I am so happy.

My friend invited me to help in her classroom today.  I will check in at the office, wear my VISITOR badge, soak in the fifth grade vibe, have fun, and then check out of the office.  I will not go home and worry about lesson plans this weekend, or grading papers, or pressure from parents.  Today it is an honor to be a volunteer.  I feel nearly giddy!!!

My principal will probably think, "I knew she shouldn't have retired.  She wasn't ready.  Look at her; she's already back."  Oh, but I was ready.  My energy levels were waning. I found myself fumbling with words...with WORDS!  Word geeks don't do that!  Remembering over 100 children's names used to be a cinch.  Not any more.  It took me so long to accomplish the same things I used to do quickly.  I could feel the changes coming, and this old dog just didn't feel like learning all of the new tricks the state department of education would be requiring.

Winston Churchill said, "Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result."  I am feeling the exhilaration of having dodged a bullet.  

Now I can go to school when I feel like it.  No one will be observing or evaluating my performance.  No parents will call me late tonight with concerns about a child.  I don't have to learn the newest ways to teach, which are just the older ways to teach, revived again.  I don't have to learn the new curriculum. No district meetings will be required of me...not faculty meetings nor team meetings.  *sigh*

Let's get this day started!!!
The Queen of Fifth Grade Graces Her Former
Kingdom Once Again.  (HAH!)

"Will It Go Round in Circles?" The Spiral Slicer Sure Does!

Kitchen gadgets are not really my thing.  I don't like clutter-y kitchen counters, and I don't like to clog up my kitchen cupboards with little appliances that are not going to see a lot of use.  That being said, I totally fell for the concept of being able to make noodles out of vegetables.  As soon as I knew what to look for on Amazon, I ordered it.

This handy, dandy contraption is a called a spiral slicer.  It comes with three blades that allow three types of noodles to be made:  spaghetti, linguini, and ribbons.  It sells for about $33, plus shipping.  We've been trying to incorporate more vegetables and complex carbohydrates in our diet.  This has been a fun way to do it.

It will slice any firm fruit or vegetable.  This summer I want to try some of the cucumber salads with a noodle instead of the traditional slices.  It cut an apple into spaghetti  beautifully. My idea for a dessert wasn't that great, but I still want to experiment with that.  For folks who aren't worried about carbs, the potato noodles would be great fried, in soups or casseroles.

The spiral slicer is very lightweight.  I pack it in the car when visiting our big kids because they're all interested in trying new gadgets AND eating healthy.  It's traveled to the southern end of Utah to Dylan's, and all the way to Colorado to Sierra's.  Sierra had so much fun with it, she ordered one for herself!

Pros:  Low-carb eating with favorite pasta dishes is do-able. It is easy to use, and pretty easy to clean.  It requires no electricity to run.  Kids enjoy using it; our adult kids AND our young granddaughter.

Cons:  It's not something I use every week, so I feel a little guilty about the space I've devoted to storing it.  The blades are extremely sharp.  I've lost a little skin using it, but I figure it just ups the protein in the dish. (KIDDING!!!)

Our fifth grade granddaughter had fun helping me in the kitchen.

Bon app├ętit!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Futzing and Puttering

The soft summer breeze is blowing through the open window.  There are storm clouds gathering for another afternoon rain.  Marley is sleeping at my feet while the washing machine takes on another batch of clothes.  We've been for our walk, and now I'm waiting for Mark to finish with some of his chores so we can go to my friend's garden to gather food for tonight's dinner.  We're going to have Quiche with a Spaghetti Squash Crust because I know G. has plenty of spaghetti squash to spare. (Recipe here: Quiche with Spaghetti Squash Crust)

Days like this calm my nerves.  I'm able to take deep breaths and put worries aside.  How thankful I am for a feeling of peace.  I'm not gung-ho about deep cleaning, as many of you know, but I'm all about doing a little this and a little that.  I write for awhile, put a few things away, write a little more, browse the internet, jot down some more ideas, and do a little more organizing.

I'm still asked often, "Well, what are you going to do now that you're retired?"  This is it, folks. Futzing and puttering, puttering and futzing.  I don't have to rush anywhere, and the only schedule that I keep revolves around Bridger because HE has a schedule.  I take my time because I don't have anywhere to go or anything scheduled.  I'm just taking one day at a time, with some future plans to visit our kids up north, down south, in Denver, and ONE day...out to Mississippi to see our southern belles.

Here's to meandering through the day, and enjoying each moment as it comes.