A Few of My Favorite Things

Don’t get your hopes up! This is not a play on Oprah’s famous ‘favorite things’ giveaway episodes… I ain’t got nothin’ for ya’ll! But as I have been doing some winter hiking and snowshoeing in temps far below freezing, it has made me think about the importance of having the right gear for the right job — no matter what the activity.

So I thought I would compile a simple list of some of my favorite items for some of my favorite hobbies. Perhaps you will find something that you like, too, and please comment back with any of your favorite things that I might want to explore!

HIKING:
Ahnu is a new brand for me that I found this summer when researching trail sahnuhoes. I found this Sugarpine Mesh shoe, bought a pair for Idaho, and fell in love! They are so much lighter than my old hiking boots, they fit true to size, and needed no breaking in at all. I logged over 250 hiking miles in my new, blue pair without a single blister or foot issue, so got a purple pair, too! The color makes me smile.  

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So when looking for a winter boot, I went right back to Ahnu again, and their Montara model has not failed me! My feet are always dry and toasty warm as I explore the North Idaho snow. I cannot recommend this brand highly enough!

QUILTING:
I have made numerous rag quilts over the years, but took my first REAL quilting class this past November. I have to give a huge shout out to Jan and Diane of the Quilter’s Cottage in Fallbrook for being amazing teachers and mentors in this new hobby of mine. And once again, I learned that the right equipment makes a world of difference in the accuracy, efficiency and pure enjoyment of the activity. As does quilting by the fire while watching the deer play in the snow outside!

Precisicutteron in fabric cutting is vital to not having ‘wonky’ quilt squares — yup, I learned that very technical quilting term in class! This Martelli Rotary Cutter is a gem and so comfortable to use. Wicked sharp, tooclover, so be careful.

Next up is pinning. The lining up of all the edges, corners and points plays nicely into the exacting part of my personality! I love the challenge, and these super fine pins by Clover slide through fabric so easily.

Finally, I splurged a new sewing machine that is AMAZING!! I have loved using my mom’s machine from the 70s, however, the tension is always off, and the thread breaks every five minutes, so sewing on it has become anything but relaxing!  Jan and Diane let me try a Bernina Sewing Machine (B350), and I knew immediately I needed to invest in one. It is definitely a want, not a need, but if you are a sewer or crafter, it is worth every penny!  It’s so easy to use and offers enough bells and whistles to fit my needs for a long time.

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PHOTOGRAPHY :
One of the very first questions I am asked as a photographer is, “Are you a Nikon or Canon girl?” Canon all the way for me! It’s what I grew up on, so to speak — it’s wh7dat I know. If looking for an entry level DSLR, you cannot go wrong with the Rebel line. My Rebel served me well for many, many years, however, I upgraded to a Canon 7D two years ago, and it has all the creative features I need, plus video! lens

And my go to, favorite lens is the Canon 17-55mm, f2.8-22. It produces clear, crisp images every time and is excellent in low light.

 

COOKING:
It’s only been in the last five years or so that I have fallen in love with cooking. I was always decent at it, but with a busy life, it was just not something I devoted tifood-processorme to until recent years. And I have found that the equipment you use sure does matter!! Especially with the prep work! I could not live without my Cuisinart 14-Cup Food Processor. This appliance is a work horse for chopping, shredding, mixing, and more, and with all the entertaining we do, it has been so incredibly helpful.

 

Speakinbowlsg of meal prep, any home cook should learn the art of mise en place. It’s a fancy, French term meaning ‘putting in place,’ which simply translates to prepping ALL your ingredients before starting to cook. Brilliant idea and sure makes creating delicious dishes all the more relaxing and joyful! I love these little bowls by Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman (all her recipes are a hit as well!). They are happy and beautiful, and work just perfectly for the smaller ingredients such as spices, butter, choppedcast-iron herbs, etc.

Beyond the prep, for actual cooking, nothing beats a cast iron skillet.  I have a few different sizes by Lodge and do not know what I ever did without one. Ribeye steaks seared in this skillet and finished in the oven are to die for! I doctor up this Alton Brown technique/recipe with different herbs or spices, but it’s a great starting point.

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Anyone who knows me, knows I am a soup lover through and through. Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall… year round, soup is a go to meal for us and an enamel cast iron dutch oven, regardless of the brand, is key! Saute, sear, deglaze, simmer… it does it all and more! Plus it is fabulous for braising and making dishes like chicken cacciatore and osso bucco. I remember being turned off by the price of one, but the investment will last a lifetime. And all the color choices are oh so fun!

So there you have it!  Just a few of the things that make our lives a little bit easier. Now I’m off to grab that camera of mine and go exploring as the sun rises.  Enjoy your day!

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It’s Not Just Football

100_0084-1Pat and I got word that the Chargers would be leaving San Diego as we drove up to Idaho on Wednesday. Actually, our cell phones have been quite busy these last two days with texts and calls about it all from family and friends. The disappointment runs deep for us, for all devoted Charger fans, and it made me reflect on why that is so.

Before I go on, I completely understand that it is “just” football! That there is real pain and suffering in this world, so please recognize I’m only talking here about this small piece of our lives — I do have perspective! — but also thought the topic deserved some focus.

After living in a zillion different places, we moved to small town Carlsbad on Labor Day Weekend, 1972. Seriously, my mom and dad moved something like 24 times in the 16 years of marriage up to that point, and I had been in four different schools by 4th grade. So, I think we all were ready, in our own ways, to settle down and embrace being a part of a community.

My dad was a businessman and understood the value of making and building relationships. So in that first fall, he started taking a couple of us girls to Carlsbad High School football games. His thought process behind this was that football was the Monday morning topic around the water cooler in offices everywhere, so we needed to be able to join in the conversation. It would help us with our work relationships and be a part of the office camaraderie. Pretty savvy on his part, I must say! I can clearly remember sitting in the stands with him and my sister, Lisa, explaining to us all about the four downs and yards-to-go. And from there, two die-hard football fans were born!

From fulling enjoying the high school football games, the late ’70s and early ’80s brought added excitement as our San Diego Chargers enjoyed the days of “Air Coryell!”  QB Dan Fouts led an amazing team of players, like Charlie Joiner, John Jefferson, Chuck Muncie, and my favorite, Kellen Winslow. Lisa and I were forever hooked on our beloved Bolts.

Fast forward to meeting Pat and finding out he, too, moved to the area in 1972 and he, too, became a huge Charger fan in the same years. For our entire marriage, we have had Sunday Charger dates to watch the games together, and soon, his brother, Mike, became part of the tradition. My family and friends just know that our Sunday plans during football season revolve around game times. It’s ‘our thing,’ and we are both completely and equally passionate about games. We analyze and cheer and yell and pace and help boost each other through the losing seasons.

And talk about camaraderie with others, Dad was so right. One of the first texts about the move to LA was from three of my work buddies and fellow fans. And then there was the great football connection I had with my students either enjoying Monday morning Charger talk together or talking smack with students who were Bronco or Raiders fans. For years, I had ‘jersey day’ on Fridays in my classroom and have proudly worn Antonio Gates’ #85 for almost decade and a half. I also have my football texting buddies as we text throughout the games and celebrate great plays together.

So the discussion turns to what do we do now. Pat and I have talked about choosing another team to support; he likes the Broncos, and a couple of years ago, I thought about the Seahawks as my back-up team in case this happened. And now here we are in the northwest, so that makes sense. I’m just not so excited about it yet. But they are in the playoffs!!  hhmmm….. something to think about…

I told my work friends, though, that if Rivers and Gates go with the Chargers to LA, how can we not support them? Because in fact, we are fans of the players, not the owners, not the NFL. And I told Pat last night that as long as one of those players is playing, I will watch — I won’t wear an LA jersey, but I will forever cheer on the two of them. They are class acts! Rivers has been such a huge part of the San Diego culture and Catholic faith community here. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be on him and his young family. Do he and Tiffany uproot their kids’ lives and move to LA? Or does he commute? Tough decisions for all the players.

Side note:  I had the privilege of photographing a Catholic charity event a few years ago and snapped this photo of the Rivers. Baby #6 was two weeks hold and asleep under the table!

img_1137So like one friend said, she feels like a girl without a team, and I agree, and am not sure what we will be doing on Sundays this coming fall. Charger fans are all in the same boat, and in the big picture of life, it is a very unimportant conundrum to be in. But it just goes to show, that it is much more than just football. For many, it’s the end of football relationships and lifelong traditions.

Fellow fans, what are you choosing to do?

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Seeking Adventure!

Are we nuts??  Tomorrow morning, in the deep of winter, we are leaving the temperate weather of our SoCal home to head north to what I lovingly refer to in my mind as our ‘Little House in the Big Woods.’  Yes, as a kid, I was enthralled with Laura Ingalls Wilder, but that’s a story for another day.

For the past five days, I have been checking the weather at least 10 times a day at three points along our route: Salt Lake City, Missoula, and Sandpoint. We will definitely hit rain and snow along the way, but hopefully we will steer clear of ice. Our truck is packed, and I have a few provisions in case we get stranded… a couple of blankets, a few bottles of water, and some beef jerky. Not much, but enough to see us through, if necessary. And through it all, I am completely giddy with excitement — literally ready to burst with joy! Is it totally weird that I am sort of hoping something goes wrong? I’m crazy, right?  Of course I want the guarantee that we survive whatever befalls us, but the thrill of the unexpected, making do, or being tested in some way gets my adrenaline pumping every time!!

I’m a planner, but I crave the unknown.
I’m a rule follower, but I thrive on pushing the limits.
I might be afraid, but I leap anyway.

It is forecast to be one degree when we get to the house on Wednesday evening. One single degree above zero! That makes me laugh out loud to see us unloading the truck in that kind of cold. It’s been 30 years since I left Denver and probably 45 since Pat lived in New York. We don’t know what cold is anymore which makes it all the more fun. We have absolutely no clue what’s in store for us on our trek north and the few weeks we will spend up there, and I can’t wait!

For full disclosure, I must make it known that my sweet husband is totally catering to my need for adventure. If it were up to him, we would not be going anywhere near Idaho until May! I am so thankful I’ve got a guy who ‘gets’ what I need and is willing to go on this trek together with me. How lucky am I?!

The Joy of Learning

b78a63b3fd0ee7792d6a65e1d9fffea0I love school!  I guess that’s a good thing since I was a teacher, huh?!  But that simple fact was the reason I finally chose teaching as my career path.

I remember one fall day in Colorado, 1985, with college graduation coming quickly in the spring, thinking I’d better buckle down and decide what I was going to do with my life. I had changed majors three times (math, nursing, psychology), and I knew for a fact, that my dad, who had paid many pennies for my education, would want to know ‘the plan.’ There was no way I could graduate and not have ‘a plan.’ Plans are a big deal in my family! *grin*

So as I looked around campus that day, I realized how much I loved learning… and not just learning, but the whole school environment.  There is a pattern and rhythm to the days, to the seasons of the school year.  There is a constant buzz on campus as students and staff chatter and debate about important subjects, new ideas, their personal lives, and more. Schools offer a great deal of predictability and stability, while at the same time classrooms and teachers provide opportunities for exploration, adventure, and creative expression.  What a great balance!  It came clear, at that moment, that I wanted to continue my life in education and be a part of all the things that I loved about school.

In a few days, it will be seven months (already!!) since I ‘graduated’ into retirement and left that comfortable, steady environment to seek a new life.  And I am so excited to say that my love of learning has continued and grown exponentially outside the classroom! Instead of heading off to a training on the newest tech program or report card system, I get to take quilting classes and research new recipes to create.  Might sound boring to some, but I’m in heaven!  Instead of staff development on the new math pedagogy, I have the freedom to go on photography field trips and learn new editing skills and build my business.  Sure, I am ‘only’ seven months in, but I have yet to even imagine being bored. My mind is always challenged with new ideas, mostly creative endeavors these days, that actually have my head spinning lately!

As for my soul’s desire for exploration and adventure…. our north Idaho life has fulfilled that greatly since June.  And right now, my research is focused on finding good winter gear for snow hiking and snow shoeing (we are virgins!).  Again, I am learning so much, and our Rocky Mountain home awaits our arrival next week!!

I honestly did not have any worries about retirement, but I did wonder a lot. I wondered if I would miss the kids, miss the teaching, miss that campus buzz I mentioned, or miss the learning that was required of me. Yes, I do miss the people, my friends, but I have been blessed to embrace the world as my new classroom and have found a new rhythm to my days as I move through the seasons.

2016 has been an amazing year for Pat and me. It was filled with so many gifts and blessings as we embarked on this retirement journey together, and I am grateful to God for every moment. I cannot wait to see what 2017 has to teach me…. I’m sure it will be an unforgettable adventure in learning!

Mitch Miller, Gingersnaps, and Mom

I am so very excited for Christmas this year! Obviously it’s because I have more time to enjoy all the different aspects of the season… playing carols on the piano, baking, Advent readings at Mass, spending time with loved ones, parties, cozy fires, Christmas movies, and the list goes on!  In all my eagerness, my cards were ordered, delivered, addressed and ready to mail out three weeks ago. The sign of a retiree, for sure! And I wanted to start decorating two weeks ago, but held off until after Thanksgiving. My niece and I have had so much fun shopping for decorations during this time. She has her first house to inspire her, and our 26 years of decorations needed some new life. It’s been fun!

A friend and I went to dinner and a play the other night, and on the drive home, we chatted about favorite holiday memories from childhood. We started with the basics, that first one or two that are at the forefront of your mind every Christmas, but as we spoke, more layers were uncovered. It was great to share, laugh, and learn even a little more about each other after all these years.

It’s hard to pin down one favorite Christmas memory. You see, my mom loved, loved, loved Christmas, and every single special memory involves her. Our house had decorations everywhere.  Some gorgeous, like the carved nativity scene, and others tacky, like tinseled garland hanging around every single door frame in the house. And oh, mom was the queen of ugly Christmas sweaters back when we all thought they were awesome. I still have one of hers that I will never part with. And food!!  My mom was an incredible cook, and she enjoyed making amazing meals… all with lots and lots of butter, as it should be!

But of all my memories, I think the one I’d say I appreciate most was her love of Christmas carols. She had two sisters who lived about an hour away, so we were often on the road back and forth, and more often during the holidays. Being the youngest, I was with mom alonmitche a lot on these trips and during Christmas, we would play Mitch Miller’s Holiday Sing-a-Long album. What an awesome album! Both of us knew every word by heart, and her favorites, Silver Bells and O Holy Night, quickly became my favorites. Christmas carols are still the very best part of the season for me.

But, of course, baking and candy making is a very close second! Mom always made the Kraft Fantasy Fudge recipe, Icebox Cookies from her childhood, and an amazing Gingersnap cookie from a recipe she found in the 70s.  All of it was so delicious and what fun it was sharing time in the kitchen.  I have carried on all these traditions, and our friends across the street beg me for ‘Mom’s Gingersnaps’ img_1595year round.

So today, I spent the day in the kitchen, listening to carols, and loving the season the way my mom did. As usual, I delivered gingersnaps to our friends and was told, ‘Your mom would be proud.’ She’s never far from me, and I am so grateful she filled my heart, soul, and childhood with such loving celebrations of Christmas.

And yes, that is ELEVEN pounds of butter in that picture!
What’s your favorite Christmas memory?

It Started with Hello

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So many people have asked what life in Idaho is like; what we first noticed about it.  And ‘hello’ is the answer.  A single word, with such a big impact.    

Last June, when Pat and I arrived in Sandpoint for the first time, we made a quick stop at the Safeway in town to grab a few essentials before heading out to the house.  We were exhausted, but split up and went our own way to gather the items we each needed, so that made it much easier.  As I moved through the aisles, I was greeted by each and every stranger.  They made eye contact with me.  They said hi, or hello.  And they even stepped aside and let me pass first when we converged a few times.  It sounds so simple, and not something that should be out of the ordinary, but it was.  

Although Southern California has the reputation of being ‘laid back,’ our lifestyle is anything but that, in my opinion.  And it often borders on being frenetic as we race from one event to another.  People rarely have the time ~ or make the time ~ to greet a stranger or ask a store clerk how their day is going.  And if two strangers make eye contact, often it seems that a wariness passes between them, and they quickly glance away.  And all of this only happens, of course, if they look up from their cell phones long enough!  

If you know me, you know I have the ‘gift of gab,’ as they say!  This gift did not come from my shy mom.  Nope, our outgoing, boisterous dad did a great job of teaching his four daughters how to talk to anyone in any environment about anything.  And it’s a trait I so greatly appreciate and has helped me tremendously in my life.  So I typically have been someone who does regularly make eye contact with strangers, says hello, or asks store clerks about their day.  But I will be honest, this openness has led to some not so great experiences with people at times.  So over the last few years, I’ve curbed my open nature a bit.  I’ve become a bit more cautious, a bit more like those I mentioned above who allow a wariness to come to the surface.

The list of polite and friendly people grew and grew throughout our long stay up there. We learned that there is a caring and genuine nature in the people of our new hometown. There is a deep sense of community, and everyone takes pride in being a North Idahoan, and American, and sincerely appreciate connecting with others.  I had some wonderfully spontaneous conversations with store clerks and others, and I learned so much about our town and found some great hikes, restaurants, etc. based on recommendations.  But mostly, I learned about the wonderful people we now call neighbors.  

So my lesson was learned.  We came back to our SoCal home a month ago, and I decided to put my latest, cautious attitude aside.  I wanted to be myself again.  To greet people, make eye contact, say hello and hopefully make their day a little brighter as our northern friends did for me.  And it’s been an interesting experience.  

Most recently, I took a walk at the Oceanside Harbor.  It was a busy Saturday morning, so lots of people to greet.  Some flat out ignored my hellos, others were cautious, but responded, and many replied with a warm smile and returned my greeting.  And I know my day was brighter and lighter having received those hellos and smiles in return.  What goes around, comes around.

I started to do some research for this post on the power of a smile, and here is a link to the first and only article I read.  It was enough to cement the idea that our human connection all starts with hello.  Hope you enjoy it!

M’m, M’m Good!

2b5427b55d53a46fc07ace42fd6af19bCampbell’s must have revered Andy Warhol when he helped create and advance the ‘pop art’ movement with this painting in 1962. It is just one of the many soup paintings he is famous for.  I have no doubt that soup sales skyrocketed after this! In fact, Warhol reported that he, himself, ate Campbell’s soup every day for 20 years… and that was just one of his many quirky habits in a very colorful life.

My mom was an incredible cook, but when she needed a fast and easy weekend lunch for her four daughters, nothing was simpler than heating up some Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. And I’m sure many of you can agree, that a bowl of smooth, tomato soup paired with a gooey, grilled cheese sandwich is the ultimate comfort food of our childhood!!

But soup was something I left behind when I left home. I never ordered it in a restaurant, and making homemade soup seemed complicated and a mystery to me. As my interest in food and cooking has grown over these past years, I’ve really become a soup lover again and now make it at home and even order it when dining out year round. It’s actually a perfect food in my book for many reasons:

  1. It can be light or hearty; an appetizer or whole dinner (or even breakfast in my world!)
  2. Many soups are quick and easy to make (not as complicated as I thought!), and leftovers are delicious
  3. Recipes double and triple easily to serve a crowd
  4. Most soups freeze well, so double the recipe and stock up
  5. It’s filling, which helps manage weight
  6. Soup, salad, and bread is a great meal to take to a friend in need

As fall is upon us, and winter is around the corner, you might want to try one or two of my favorites below. I hope they warm your body and soothe your soul on these cooler and shorter days ahead!

Sicilian Sausage Soup I typically double the sausage, using half sweet, half hot, and cut the orzo in half to save on carbs. Also, use whole tomatoes instead of diced. The skins are icky (that’s official chef lingo!!).

Shrimp Soup  It’s called Brazilian Shrimp Soup, but it needed more punch, so I usually add chopped jalapenos and some red curry paste. Making it for friends tomorrow… hope they love it!

Thai Coconut Chicken Soup  This one gets raves and couldn’t be easier  to make as it sits in the slow cooker all day! I’ve done it with and without browning the chicken and both work, if you want to save a step. I add the peppers with the mushrooms, otherwise they get too soggy.

Bacon-Cheddar Cauliflower Chowder  This soup is my latest and greatest find!  A good food processor is a must-have to make it easy to make. And it is a ‘chowder,’ so it won’t be super smooth. Instead it’s hearty and delicious! I’m sure broccoli would work well, too, just haven’t tried it yet. Ooohhh… I wonder about eggplant…?

Italian Meatball Soup  This soup is so simple, it’s not really cooking.I found this when I started celebrating National Soup Day in my classroom. Some of the groups of kids chose this recipe to make and it was delicious. I’ve made it several times since. You can also add other veggies obviously. I’ve added spinach in the last 30 minutes or so and it really ups the nutritional value and flavor.

French Onion Soup I’ve tried about five different recipes and this is the very best!! It is a bit more time consuming, but well worth the effort! My mouth is watering as I think about it. And I bought these crocks from Amazon. Great for serving this soup, or any other for that matter.
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Soup’s On!  ENJOY!!