Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Wovel

Announcing...the WOVEL!

Faster and safer than a shovel.

Cheaper, smaller and more eco-friendly than a snow blower.

The wovel attaches a wheel to a shovel, using basic machines (wheel, lever, etc.) to propel the snow to the side of the driveway. Okay, I didn't do so well with that section of science. I just know it works. 

In less time than it takes our neighbors to get their snowblowers up and running, Don can wovel our entire driveway in 10 minutes flat, and have energy left over to help other neighbors with their driveways.

Don's chiropractor likes it because it is gentle on the back muscles.

Don bought his in January 2011, but it took us three years before it got some serious use, and led to conversations about it. It is worth it for the magic of keeping snow storms away for three years. ;)

To learn more about the wovel visit:

It is available at Amazon for $139.00, plus free shipping.

Pole Farm (Lawrenceville, NJ)

When we bought our home fourteen years ago, one of the big draws was having Village Park in our neighborhood. I had been rollerblading in that park for years. I loved it! Don said jokingly that we would never end up using the park once we moved to Lawrenceville. Happily he has been proven wrong.

The paths are paved and it truly wonderful for roller blading, walking, hanging on the playground, etc. What has made it even better is that it connects to the Pole Farm, a.k.a. Mercer County Northwest, a.k.a. Mercer Meadows. The name keeps changing, as does the park itself.

A friend forwarded me the following link from the 2011 presentation describing past, present and future plans for this location:

An article about their plans appeared in 2013:

I visit this park fairly often. I do tend to stay away in January and February due to deer hunting. I tend to turn right at the tree line. Last week I turned left instead and saw:

The last time I visited this side of the park I ended up going over a bunch of new bridges like this one, complete with new signs.

I see the new two story structure is an observation tower. Considering last year they removed many of the trees and brush, there is no reason to climb up to see anything. Hopefully new growth will be happening soon. The parl feels awfully bare these days, even when it is not winter.

Future plans call for the Pole Farm Historical Exhibit (number two on the left). 

A little history about this location. For nearly 50 years, most international calls went through the "poles" of this AT&T transmission site. This was back in the early days of trans-Atlantic phone calls.

Also new to me on this photowalk was seeing a sign next to one of the abandoned poles. 

Back in 1975 when AT&T no longer had a need for a pole farm they tried to sell the land to an apartment developer. Then there was talk of building a golf course on this property. Thankfully people protested and plans changed. The county stepped in and purchased the property. Best as I can tell, it was opened to the public in 1998, about the time we bought our home. It was very rustic -- good for hiking and birding, but not running. It went through a series of "improvements," some of which washed away during a good rain storm. In 2013, the path seemed to change every time I went for a run on it. It was quite frustrating to have a path marked out, only to not be able to find it a later. The bridges have changed the paths, too. 

A nice addition has been a latrine. I know it is too much to ask for a water fountain, but 3 miles from home is a water fountain in front of the Hunt House. There are also two water fountains in Village Park. Of course, I pack my own.

Today we get to enjoy this land. I'm liking the current round of improvements and look forward to mapping out new distance routes.

Baltimore: American Visionary Art Museum

I recently posted on Facebook our plans to spend an afternoon in Baltimore. The forecast was for a brisk and windy day. I wanted to see something new. The overwhelming consensus was to visit the American Visionary Art Museum.

Don, Ashley and I spent about an hour walking around all three floors. The word that came to mind to describe the collection was eclectic. Ti be honest, we just didn't get it.

As we were walking out the door, a docent was preparing to lead a tour. We were so glad we joined his group! The gentleman reminded me of Jerry Stiller. He started by asking the most basic question: 

What is Visionary Art?

Um, yes, we should have figured that out by then. But, no, we hadn't. Sounds like no one else understood the concept, either, though he said middle schoolers often at least attempt to answer the question. Our middle schooler kept quiet.

Visionary artists are untrained artists who use the materials at hand to bring to life their vision of a piece of artwork.

The website describes it in a far more verbose way:

"Visionary art as defined for the purposes of the American Visionary Art Museum refers to art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself."
Many of the artworks our docent shared with us were prisoners and people in insane asylums. Ahh... slowly, through his explanations the artwork came to life. I didn't always care for the work -- such as Frank Bruno's apocalyptic art. I also didn't understand how a 3,000 piece Pez collection fits in with the theme of visionary art, but I appreciated it more. 

I also appreciated that someone took the time to create a museum dedicated solely to self-taught artists.

Thank you, Facebook friends, for the suggestion. 

Other suggestions for Baltimore included:

Birthday Celebration -- 120 years

120 years. That is a long time to live. Well, it helps if you split the celebrations between two people celebrating a milestone.

On December 26, my dad turned 70.

Nearly two weeks later, on January 8, Don turned 50.

One of my 2013 resolutions was to host an open house. That didn't happen. We ended 2013 with hosting an intimate Christmas Eve dinner for 8. That went well, so we invited 25 people over for a buffet-style sit-down dinner for the birthday boys.

It has been a long time since we have had that many people over during the cold months. To add to the challenge, we left our Christmas trees up so people could enjoy them. Or was it because I was too lazy to take them down yet? Either way, it made setting up tables a bit of a challenge!

In the end, we had seating for 8 in the kitchen, 8 more in the dining room (the first room to fill up) and 7 in the family room, and tray tables in case everyone actually came. In an effort to make this as eco-friendly as possible, we took out the extra place settings we have been storing in the basement since our wedding, and used every last glass and piece of silverware in the house. Any more would have had us eating in shifts.

As I was setting the tables moments before the guests arrived (I didn't want the cats sitting on the tablecloths), it dawned on me how much one has to purchase up front in order to be eco-friendly in the long run. We ended up buying paper napkins because I didn't have nearly enough cloth ones. Other than that, there was not a lot of waste.

I made a photo album for my dad for his birthday using his birthday pictures from the past 45 birthdays (since I was a baby). You can see it HERE.

We gave Don a bobblehead made in his own image. He placed the order. I don't know the name of the company. I can tell you, they were very fun to work with. The package arrived very quickly from China. They worked with Don to make it exactly like he wanted.

The party was a great success. It was great seeing everyone at our house. It sparked our interest in doing more entertaining in 2014. Maybe this will be the year I actually host an open house. Stranger things have happened.

Panda Bao Bao Will See You Now -- National Zoo (DC)

I wish I was that creative with creating headlines. Instead, I owe this headline to the Express, a free paper found in Washington, DC. Note that Bao Boa rhymes with "now now."

After surviving the polar vortex of 2014, we were rewarded with a 57 degree day in Washington, DC. Two days earlier, Bao Bao (the 5 month old daughter of pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian) made her public debut. As Ashley is a huge panda lover, we made the trek down to DC to join the fans. 

The line moved nicely. We first stood in a pre-line, then the regular line. We breezed past the 90 minute wait time sign, then the 60 minute wait time sign, only to stop at the 30 minute wait sign for about 10 minutes. We didn't mind that because we were fully entertained watching Tian Tian play with a blue plastic milk crate (look beyond Ashley's panda, Bialashu's shoulder). It was so so so so cute.

Then we passed that check point, only to wait 35 minutes in another holding area. Here we were entertained watching Bao Bao sleeping. Aww... panda cubs sleep up to 20 hours a day. It takes a lot of sleep to grow.

While waiting in line I noticed Ashley was not the only one to bring her stuffed panda. 

Our excitement kept growing. Finally we moved to the next holding area. We were told that groups of 80 people would be allowed into the panda house at a time. Do our best not to be the 81st person. Yup, we were numbers 81-83, or the new 1, 2 and 3. Agony waiting another 10-15 minutes!!

Finally the doors opened and we were allowed inside the panda house. Where was Bao Bao, though? She was still sleeping in the exact same spot. What the panda cam failed to show us was that from our angle all we would see was the side of the wall. Don picked Ashley up and she snapped this picture of Bao Boa's shoulder (?) for us.

After standing in line for 90 minutes, and standing on our tippy toes for another 10, I was ready to do it all over again, but the zoo had already closed the line. Guess we'll drive back in the spring to try again.

The National Zoo has taken some lessons from Disney. The end of the line dumped us into a gift shop. I don't know how we left without buying a single panda item. Possibly because Ashley already has quite a large panda collection.

Afterwards, we met up with Cousin Sara and visited a bunch of other animals before driving home. We missed seeing the new tiger cub. So, another good reason to visit again.

Other DC ideas for future trips:
  • Postal Museum
  • Arlington Cemetery, Arlington House
  • Spy Museum
  • Newseum
  • American History Museum
  • Gunston Hall
  • Lincoln's Summer Cottage
  • Ford Museum
  • Monuments
  • National Museum of Health and Medicine (Silver Spring, MD)
  • Custis-Lee Mansion
  • Holocaust Museum
  • White House
  • Comet Ping Pong (restaurant)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Susan B. Anthony and Abraham Lincoln

What do Susan B. Anthony and Abraham Lincoln have in common?

a) They both adorn US Currency
b) They were both born in February
c) They both lived during the 19th Century
d) We had dinner with both of them 
e) All of the above

Yes, oddly the answer is E, all of the above.

Abraham Lincoln lived from February 12, 1809-April 15, 1865.
Susan B. Anthony lived from February 15, 1820-March 13, 1906.

We continued a six-year tradition by dining with Susan B. Anthony and Abraham Lincoln on a chilly Monday evening at the Cock and Bull restaurant in Lahaska, PA (Peddler's Village). This year my parents came with us, which added to the conversation.

Each of these actors is phenomenal. They make you believe you have stepped back in time. It makes for some really good conversations because you can ask them anything related to their character, and they will answer you. Last year Ashley was working on a project about Lewis and Clark. Interviewing them was like interviewing the 19th century explorers (it was a project on historical fiction, so they were truly assets in guiding further research).

Don asked Susan B. Anthony about her views on bicycling (many suffragists from her era embraced the bicycle as a way of freeing up women so they could go more places on their own). She admitted she never rode a bicycle (she felt she was too old) but admires it for the younger generation. Then she turned to Don and asked "did you hear otherwise?"

Later while talking to my mom she talked about the importance of women being allowed to vote. My mom mentioned that she and my dad often cancel each other's votes out. Noticing the huge bandage on my dad's nose (he had minor surgery on it earlier that day), she made sure that the discussion did not turn violent.

The funniest moment to me was when Susan B. Anthony confided that she no longer wears a corset. Oh my! I believe that falls under the TMI category.

We asked President Lincoln what he thinks about the Ford Theater. He told us about the three Booth brothers, all fine actors. Edwin Booth saved his son, Robert Todd Lincoln, when the boy was nearly crushed by a train. Less than a year later, John Wilkes Booth assassinated the President.

The Colonial dinners run annually on Mondays from January through March at the Cock and Bull. 

LASIK surgery - 14 years later

In 1999, a month before my 30th birthday, I took the plunge and had LASIK eye surgery. In less than 30 second in each eye, a laser corrected my vision from -5.50 in one eye and -6.0 in the other to perfect vision. 

It was wonderful.

I took a nap after the surgery and woke up to near perfect vision. I could watch it improving bit by bit until it was perfect.

It came with a lifetime guarantee.

I loved being able to see perfectly all the time -- I could even read the clock in the middle of the night. The first time I felt the breeze on my eyeballs I was taken aback -- I'd always had glasses or contacts between my eyes and the elements. 

I had a baby, and did not have to juggle contact lenses or glasses and her. Pure heaven, in so many ways!

I did not love the starburst vision at night that seemed to last for years. It was just recently that I realized it has been a while since my vision was like this at night:

The lifetime guarantee did not include normal aging. The anticipation was that around the time I turned 40 I would need reading glasses. 

My eyes chose a different path.

My left eye shifted so that it is a great eye for reading. My right eye is pretty decent at distances, though the astigmatism has returned. In other terms, I have mono-vision and do not need reading glasses. (Yeah, me.) On the other hand, I have mono-vision and this means if the right eye is blocked by a pole or a person, I can't see very far. In those cases I move my head so I can see by the eye needed at the time. Since this happened naturally, I don't even realize it is happening. I think to have surgery to have this happen would be a big pain in the head.

About 9 years later I noticed I was having troubles driving at night. The solution was to use glasses while driving. Aw...nuts. I was still fine for driving during the day, so the solution was to keep a pair of glasses in the car and wear them when I drive. Still not the end of the world.

Each year I noticed they were a little worse, so the eye doctor upped the prescription.

Last year Ashley got her first pair of contact lenses. This has encouraged me to give contact lenses another try. By now, nearly 15 years later, my left eye is -2.25 and the right eye is -0.75, just enough that I am having troubles reading the giant signs in Wegmans from a distance. And enough of a difference that I am wearing my glasses when I drive both at night and during the day.

I convinced my eye doctor to let me try contact lenses again. He is not convinced that I will love them, so he signed me up for one lens (the distance eye) and daily lenses rather than monthly ones like Ashley. Why doesn't he think I'll like them? Because now reading books and computer screens is a challenge and I spend more time doing that than watching TV.

Ashley loves that I have a contact lens like her. She is trying to teach me the best way to put it in. In the 15 years since I last wore them, they have become thinner. Really, it is not just my imagination. My prescription is not as strong. It doesn't correct the astigmatism and technology has gotten better. It flops about on my finger. Instead of one try to get it in, it takes me about 10. Still not too bad.

I wore them all last weekend while away. I have not worn them while I'm home (I'm mostly in the house anyway).

Now about that lifetime guarantee. I thought that meant I would have another few seconds under the laser and VOILA my vision would return. Nope, it turns out you can only have LASIK once. If I want that touch up (which I still might want someday) I have to use PRK, and older technology. Instead of hours of recovery time, it would be a week to two weeks before I could drive again. Seriously? Who has that kind of time to wait for the eyes to transition.

I've since been told the LASIK benefits will last about 10 years. Choose your 10 years carefully. Ashley is already anticipating having the surgery when she turns 21. We'll see. So far the experiment the eye doctor is doing with her (using bifocal contact lenses to slow the decline in vision) is working so well her eyes did not change in the first year. She goes back in six moths for another check up.

In the meantime, I am figuring out the best path for me. Wearing glasses while driving. Wearing a contact lens when I'm out and about for hours on end. Wearing neither when I am just home.

Yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

If you have more questions about LASIK, let me know.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Meatless "Mondays"

One of my 2014 resolutions is to eat less meat by making one vegetarian family dinner a week vegetarian. Knowing that it won't always be possible for that day to be Monday (such as next week when we have plans to go out to a Colonial dinner where vegetarian options do not exist), I use the word "Monday" in quotes.

Ashley asked me if her lunches also have to be meatless. As she tends to have mac-n-cheese on Mondays, I really didn't think this was an issue, so I just told her it is up to her.

As a "bribe," Ashley has been told she can sleep in our bed on the nights she eats her meatless meals without a fight. I know she is 11, but for some reason she feels our bed is the coziest. Rather than having the fight every night, we have it tied to something specific. No, spaghetti dinners do not count. Must involve trying something new and eating it all.

I'll add to this post throughout the year.

2015: January 12: A recommendation by Candace Pottle for meatless enchiladas

November 24: I made a large batch of fake meat crumbles with black beans, corn and other veggies and ate it for three nights in a row (sort of makes up for last week).

November 17: I had made a large pot of chili and skipped Meatless Monday.

November 10: The problem with taking too long to update, is I don't remember what I made for dinner a few weeks ago.

November 3: I made ziti tonight. While that may not sound overly creative, it pushed Ashley in a new direction -- meals with cheese! The plan was to make lasagna, but I took too long to start cooking and, well, went with a different noodle, but many of the other ingredients instead.

October 27: Leftover beef stew. Yup, not meatless. Made up for it on Tuesday with spaghetti. Really made up for it on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with meatless fajitas.

October 20: I was a complete carnivore this week. I made a huge pot of tacos with real meat. Before long, the week was over. Oh, we did go out for Chinese food with a friend on the 20th and each ordered a chicken dish. 

October 13: Back by popular demand: make your own pizza night with meatless toppings.

October 6: Quinoa and veggies.

September 29: Quesidilla Monday with Don't Have a Cow "beef" strips. They liked the make your own aspect of dinner.

September 22: Spaghetti squash with butternut squash sauce and chickpeas. Umm...other than overcooking the squash, it was a good idea. Since it did not turn out well I had lots of leftovers for lunch.

September 15: Returned to a favorite: taco night.

September 8: As I was between trips (Roller Coaster Race and Ohio), I cleaned out the fridge. Sauteed veggies and put it over quinoa.

September 1: (Labor Day) Hot and sticky day. Grilling veggie burgers outside, picked up salads from Wegmans and adding corn on the cob. Keeping it simple. Hope to get more creative when the fall weather returns and I feel like turning on the oven again.

August 25: A little bit of this ... a little bit of that. I sauteed some butternut squash, black beans and tomatoes (or whatever I had on hand) and put it over spaghetti. Kind of a "clean out the fridge" sort of meal.

August 18: Back home from Montreal I kept it simple this week -- veggie burgers on the grill with corn on the cob and a salad. Summer meals should be easy.

August 11: We had lunch at Lola Rosa, a purely vegetarian restaurant in Montreal with my friend, Marlene. The website is in French, but the menu was in both languages. I had vegetable chili. Don had a hemp burger (which is what I had the last time I ate there). Marlene had nachos and a salad. Oh, we also split an order of poutine since we were in Montreal. This one was made from sweet potato fries, black bean sauce and cheese curds. Gotta have the cheese curds.

August 4: Eggplant Parmesan. Not bad, just time consuming. I made pasta in case it was not a hit. Ashley ate at a friend's house. Don and I enjoyed it. 

July 28: Quinoa with veggies. Not very original, but always a hit!

July 21: Eggplant meatballs RECIPE . I had this recipe at least a month before I finally made it. The eggplant has to be cooked, then pureed with a couple of other ingredients, then shaped into balls and cooked. Overall, it took over an hour. They weren't hard to make, just a bit time consuming.

July 14: We have fallen out of the habit of making new meals, especially on Mondays, but are making strides in having more meatless meals throughout the week, just not always on Mondays.

June 16: We are out of town and dined at a restaurant that does not have vegetarian options. Even their salads have either chicken or bacon (or both). On Tuesday I had a fried tomato sandwich. Will return to the habit when we are back home again.

June 9: Meat crumbles with butternut squash and tomatoes. Served over rice.

June 2: I don't remember. 

May 27: In honor of Ashley's birthday we had a picnic. All of the side dishes were vegetarian. I thought about making the guests eat veggie burgers, but decided to offer meat versions. I had a veggie burger. The next day Ashley had a black bean burger, too.

May 20: A repeat of Cinco de Mayo to use the leftover ingredients.

May 13: Returned to an old hit since we were already a day behind and didn't have time to be creative. Probably a good thing that we did since I later found out the oven was broken. (Since fixed by Don.) Meatless tacos cooked in a skillet with some butternut squash and tomatoes added in for extra flavor.

May 5: In honor of Cinco de Mayo I made Skillet Mexican Zuccini dish from a recipe forwarded to me by Robin. I added black beans to it and put it over rice. I gave Ashley the option of eating hers as a taco, and option she took.

April 28: Quinoa with sauteed broccoli and butternut squash. Ashley made the quinoa. Another hit.

April 21: I followed Diadra's spaghetti squash recipe (see below), but left out the egg whites and added cheese on top. It was a huge hit. The request was next time to add more fresh tomatoes to the top of the spaghetti squash before baking. A very light dinner.

April 14: I hit food rut already. Oh no! Must return to seeking recipes. I took meatless crumbles and put them in the crockpot. Added beans and corn to it for taco night. Yup, not original. I tried adding some veggies, but they turned our horribly. Suggestions for next week?

April 7: We had company over and ate leftovers. Yes, we fed company leftovers. Go tattle on us to Martha Stewart. I ate a veggie burger with my meatless meal, but offered beef burgers and portobello mushrooms to the rest of the family and our guests. The rest of the meal was meatless, even the vegetarian baked beans. Next week I hope to return to the meatless bandwagon.

March 31: It just didn't happen, and might not happen this week. On Saturday I bought some good chicken from The House of Meat that I do not want to go to waste. I've noticed I've been cooking more meatless meals, so I don't feel as compelled to have to do it on Monday. 

March 24/25: Dee gave me a recipe for Quinoa Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Apples. I added rosemary to the recipe. It was a hit with everyone. Added bonus: we have lots of leftovers! Monday was busy, so Meatless "Monday" happened on Tuesday this week.

March 17: Tech week. Don did a fly through and ate leftover Hawaiian pizza (ham and pineapples on pizza). Hmmm... Ashley and I made our own meatless pizzas. Tuesday I regrouped and we ate beef stir fry with leftover vegetables in a tahini sauce. The tahini sauce was a fail in Ashley's eyes. Glad she is trying new foods, but I can't convince her that sauces are okay, too.

March 10: Lazy night -- gnocchi with pasta sauce. I was surprised Ashley tried it, but she did. I love gnocchi, but until this week I could not even get her to try it. She won't order it anytime soon, but she did eat it.

March 3: I made Shepherds Pie, or some variation thereof. No one seemed to like it. It didn't help that I was lazy and made fake potatoes for the first time (and messed those up) and didn't have the right kind of soup, so I used what I had. On the plus, the family said to try it again sometime with sweet potatoes on top instead of instant white potatoes. They love sweet potatoes. Will try again in about a month. Will do Johanna's recipe next time, but with sweet potatoes.

February 24: I had a request for a meal with beans in it, so I made meatless tacos again. I was planning on making Shepherds Pie a la Johanna, but that will wait until next week. The tacos were devoured.

February 17: I actually made this on Sunday, and had the leftovers on Monday. I made a "Don't Be a Cow" chicken and butternut squash stir fry. My mistake was adding in Fava beans. Fava beans earned a thumbs down from both Don and Ashley, and even a nose scrunch by me. They ruined an otherwise quick and easy meatless meal.

February 10: Spaghetti Squash with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce a hit with Don and I. Oddly a miss with Ashley. She went into it thrilled we were having spaghetti squash. Ended up realizing she did not like pumpkin THAT much, and she choked on some of the squash (or so she said). Might make it as a side dish some time.

February 3: I was all poised to pick up a spaghetti squash and make that, but Wegmans was out of spaghetti squash. Kind of kills the meal if it is missing the main ingredient. I made tacos with crumbled fake meat. We all devoured it. Ashley said she likes the texture and taste of the fake meat better than when I use real hamburger meat. 

January 27: Veggie Lasagna in the crock pot. At 2:30 I tossed spaghetti sauce, veggies, lasagna noodles, mozzarella cheese, and ricotta into the crock pot, set it on high and hoped for the best. It was very good, and devoured very quickly. We have left overs for Tuesday night.

January 20: Martin Luther King Day. We ate at Mimi's Cafe on the way home from Washington, DC. A vegetarian friend had warned us there are very few vegetarian options. As I am not a big salad eater (and most of their salads have chicken in them anyway) I postponed to Tofu Tuesday. On Tuesday I made Don't Have a Cow "beef" stir-fry with sesame noodles. Everyone ate every last bit on their plates and there was enough for dinner the next night.

January 13: Went out to a Colonial dinner that did not have any vegetarian options on it. They did have fish, but as I don't normally have fish, I did not have it that night, either. We did have spaghetti for dinner on the 11th in anticipation of not celebrating Meatless Monday on the real day.

January 6: Make your own pizzas -- I decided to go with an easy one to start. Don made the dough on Sunday. We chose our own vegetarian toppings. It was a success.

Future dinner ideas:
From Gabrielle:

From Diadra: Roast 1 spaghetti squash and shred one cooled. Spray the bottom of a 9 inch pie pan. Spread shredded squash in the pie pan. cover with a layer of sliced tomatoes. then top with sauteed veggies. I sauteed carrots, onions, zucchini, mushrooms and spinach. Mix 8 egg whites and 1 whole egg and pour over veggies, top with 4 oz of shredded cheese. bake at 375 for 40-50 mins.

Also from Diadra: I have a great crock pot recipe for White bean and spinach burritos

From Corinne: Eggplant Parmesan

From Sandy: sesame noodles

From Tracey: Black bean soup, stuffed shells, you can leave the meat out I'd basically any soup and just add more veggies, roasted veggie sandwiches.

From Sue: stuffed shells, quiche, grilled cheese sandwiches, quinoa salad, potato leek soup, Mac and cheese, butternut squash and spinach Alfredo, stuffed portabello mushrooms

From Johanna: Veggie Shepherd's Pie--Yve's Veggie Italian Ground Round, but original would work too. The secret, I have found, is to doctor up the soy protein so it tastes like beef. I sauté onion and garlic (and mushrooms sometimes) then add the veggie ground round (last time I also seasoned it with a bit of steak spice!)...then add about a cup of water and your favorite gravy mix and voilà! The layer it up with some corn and potatoes...I also top with cheese...because I can. :) I actually fooled my carnivorous brother into having seconds!

From Ellen: lasagna lends itself to a hearty veggie version. Mexican food can easily be veggie with use of rice and beans and whatever else you like. You can do tacos, quesadilla

Also from Ellen: For soups, we use beans or lentils, and either use water or veggie stock. I start off with a little olive oil, sautée celery and onion and whatever other vegetable you like, add in canned beans or lentils and liquid. You can season it with salt and pepper, garlic, hot pepper flakes, fresh herbs (black bean/ cilantro). You can be very creative. Or you can roast veggies and make a soup with them and add barley. Or brown rice.

Also from Ellen: Another great idea is stir fry. You can make a yummy broccoli cashew stir fry and serve it over rice cooked with coconut milk. Sesame noodles is another idea.

Also from Ellen: Wraps with hummus, shredded carrots and red cabbage, shredded cheddar, tomatoes, and sunfliwer seeds. You can also do that in a pita.

Also from Ellen: I roast a lot of vegetables. We split an eggplant open, criss cross the side, brush with oil and add fresh rosemary and thyme. Roast until golden brown. Add goat cheese to top and melt.

Also from Ellen: Omelets and frittata's are great.

Also from Ellen: Roasted tomato soup and great grown up grilled cheese.

Also from Ellen: Veggie pot pie, spanikopita, stuffed grape leaves....there are a lot of good ideas:)

From Martin:

From Wendy: Try veggie tacos with rice and beans and all the fixings, pasta primavera with salad, tofu is easy and versatile too.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Colonial Ball 2013

About five or six years ago we attended our first Colonial Ball in Trenton. That year neither Ashley nor I had a ball gown, so we just wore fancy attire. Carin made Ashley a Colonial gown, which she wore to future balls, including this year. Yes, 5 years later Ashley was able to squeeze into her ball gown. Fortunately mine still fits. Ashley has grown taller, but not wider. She added a skirt from her friend Maia's dress up collection and was good to go (so long as she didn't make any sudden moves or breath in too deeply).

This year we got smart and invited Maia along to dance with Ashley. Maia wore the dress Ashley wore two years ago. As the dances are all partner dances this made our group and even four. We met Neil and Patti (below in red) and my parents and Hayden. Dad was happy to be able to sit out some dances and let Hayden dance with mom.

As an added bonus, I met up with Doreen, a friend from high school who is a re-enactor.

The ball is part of Patriots Week. It remains a bargain at $15 for adults and $7.50 for children. The first few times we went, Ashley was the only child, so they let her slide in for free. With listing a price for children, more people have felt comfortable bringing their children. The addition of small ones has made the ball feel less formal. This year for the first time, I could even follow most of the steps. 

A word to the wise...when offered a "tour" of the historic building, turn them down. The "quick tour" turns into an hour-long sales pitch on becoming a mason. While it is a worthy cause, no one wants to spend an hour of a three hour ball being educated on how the masons are a worthwhile organization, at least if you are a man. Women need not apply, but are welcome to sit in on the presentation. If you are that interested, just look them up online and make an appointment.

New York City at Christmastime

A couple of days after Christmas we were blessed with a 50 degree day. Together with my parents we went into New York City to see the Christmas displays. This was a nice twist on our usual tradition.

We were not alone in this plan. We estimate about 5 bazillion others were with us.

Since there were five of us going into NYC, we drove and parked in the Port Authority lot. After sitting in traffic for an hour, we were really glad we scored a space in this lot.

We walked up a couple of blocks to The Counter for lunch. The Counter is a burger place Bill told us about last year. They boast hundreds of thousands of different variations of burgers. For us, the bigger draw was that they have gluten-free buns. Dad said it was the first GF bun he has had in years.

From there we walked through Bryant Park with their kiosks set up for holiday shopping. The line for ice skating was way too long, besides none of us were interested in skating.

We headed down to Macy's to see the window displays. None of us were overly impressed. As has been the case the past few years, the focus has been on electronics and not so much on the action in the windows. This year the Broadway side of the building told the story of a boy dreaming about a winter wonderland. It didn't do much for us. Had we walked over to the 34th Street side we would have seen their traditional "Miracle on 34th Street" display, and probably all oohed and ahhed over them. I should have read the Mommy Poppins blog before going. Since it was after Christmas, we skipped Santaland.

We walked a few blocks down 5th Avenue and stopped at the Lord and Taylors windows. These evoked the era of high glamour Christmas shopping, circa early 20th Century. I liked these better than Macy's, but still was not enthralled this year. It could be by this point the crowds were getting to us, and Ashley was super tired of being in NYC (to be fair, she didn't want to go at all). Even though it was old-fashioned, the displays included two spots to stop and take a picture to text to yourself.

We were all a bit tired of the crowds, so we walked over to 103 Park Avenue to see the building where my mom held one of her two jobs in NYC (the other was in the Time Life building). She pointed out where her office had been located, and told us stories about her first boss, and meeting Aunt Doris. We walked past Grand Central Station (should have gone inside) and back to the crowds on 5th Avenue.

The last set of windows we visited were at Saks. This was my favorite set of windows. They told the story of a young Yeti who left his home in Siberia to become an artist in NYC. He finally lands the dream job of making snowflakes for Saks. It had an old-fashioned feel of using animatronics, yet felt fresh.

By this point it was starting to get dark and we had hoped to be on the road, or at least Ashley had hoped to be on the road heading home to Chinese food (yes, we know they have Chinese food in NYC, it was the HOME part of that she wanted). We continued the parental torture by taking her up to the tree. It is hard to go to NYC during the Christmas season without the official tree picture. Rather than fighting the crows by coming straight down the center, we cut over a couple of blocks and came in from 49th street.

Before going into NYC that day, I should have done more research. I knew there was a store I wanted to see that was "up near 60th, but not on 5th Avenue," but the name escaped me. A quick Google search brought up what I wanted: Bloomingdale's on 59th and Lexington. Mommy Poppins wrote this about those windows:

Bloomies celebrates the holidays around the world. Each window features a colorful, over-size gift box that rotates to reveal a different seasonal scene. Look for famous landmarks from France, Italy, Great Britain, China and, of course, NYC!

Barney's at Madison and 61st would also have been a good one to see:

Barneys collaborated with rapper Jay Z and visual artist Joanie Lemercier for these stunning, offbeat windows. The four futuristic set pieces are inspired by the spirit of NYC and incorporate dazzling light shows, real-time digital mapping and a mini-theater. Visitors can actually become part of the display by climbing inside the last window to take a virtual ride on Santa's tricked-out sleigh over midtown. While "flying," your model-like guide snaps pics of your party, which can be sent via email or text. You can also get one free printout per group on the 9th floor. Incredibly, there was no wait for the ride when we visited but staff told us there is often a long line so try to go early in the day before it gets busy. 

In the past they have been my favorites, but I knew I was pushing my luck that Saturday, so I quit while I was ahead. Maybe next year I'll read this blog post before heading up. Maybe next year we'll go closer to Thanksgiving and avoid at least a couple bazillion of our "closest friends." At least the day was pleasant, and the company fun.

Maybe by next year one of us will have a Smart phone and be able to do research on the fly. That might be asking too much, though.

2014 Resolutions

Based on my success with posting my 2013 resolutions, I decided to do the same this year. I found a monthly update in the comments helped me to stay on track.

1) A carry over from last year: host an open house or other large party. This still overwhelms me and brings me out of my comfort zone, but I really enjoy catching up with friends.

2) Plan to run/power walk at least 520 miles this year -- that is only 10 miles a week, but as we anticipate a large snowstorm, it feels like a challenge. I might revise this mid-year.

3) Read at least 100 books, which is similar to what I read this year. Still, it is a nice round number. Keep the books updated in my Goodreads account

4) Meatless "Mondays." We've dabbled with the idea of going vegetarian, this year I plan to make a real step in this direction. The quotes around Monday are because we already have plans to go to a Colonial dinner on one Monday, and there is nothing vegetarian on their menu.

5) At least one race in either a new state, or out of the country. States raced in so far include: California, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. That leaves a lot of options open.

6) A chip time of under 35:00 in a 5K (so close on this one). A PR in a half would be nice, too (under 2:43:36).

7) Becoming a better photographer. Yeah, that goal is too vague. Attempting a 365 photo project.

8) I want to add a professional goal for 2014, but I don't have one just yet. 2013 took me on many wild adventures. I'd like to continue looking for a permanent position (with benefits) while continue to build my freelance business. I know, I probably should stick with one or the other.

9) Environmental goals:
a) Participate in town-wide composting program (signed up, but more families are needed).
b) Get rid of two items for every one that comes into the house, with the except of consumables (such as food and toiletries). I'm behind in this goal as we bought a mirror and a Christmas tree on day 1, but did not discard anything. Not sure how this will work since ideally I want to give things away (one man's trash is another man's treasure) but then the items will be in a holding pattern in our basement.

2014 Predictions

Each year as we wrote our annual paper version of The Pillsbury Press we would make predictions about the upcoming year. Unfortunately we never wrote down what we thought would happen to compare it with what did happen.

For the first time, here is my list of predictions for the New Year.

1) Our travels will keep us in North America, but should include at least one trek into Canada. Aiming to go to Columbus and Boston to see family, and California for a friend's wedding. 

2) I will continue to do freelance work, while a part of me yearns for a regular paycheck and all the good that comes with it.

3) Ashley will still be at the same school. 

4) We will take more trips to follow Don's biking adventures (so far 3-4 planned) than to follow my races (so far none planned), and I'm okay with that.

5) At least one of us will have a SmartPhone. Ashley will have a cell phone by the end of the year, and cease being the only kid on the planet without one.

Yes, we are looking at a quiet year for 2014. Looking forward to seeing what really happens!

Happy New Year!

2013 Year in Review

Overall 2013 was a pretty good year.

We ended the year where we started. Still living in the same house. Ashley is still at the same school. Don is still working for Comcast.

My search for a career has taken me from writing, to subbing, to being a librarian for a month, to social media.

My running has taken us Coast to Coast, Ohio, and throughout Mercer County (Princeton, Trenton and Mercer County Park).

Our travels have taken us three Disney parks: Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Tokyo Disneyland.

We went to a movie premier, starring some friends.

I achieved most of my goals for 2013.

Sightseeing took us from Philadelphia, and New York to Japan.

We spruced up the first floor of our home.

Ashley went to her first sleep away camp and had lots of other firsts, such as getting contact lenses.

I look forward to the adventures we will have in 2014.