The Road Less Travelled

road-less-travelled3We’ve just returned from another road trip and, once again, so thoroughly enjoyed the option of taking the road less travelled.

Last February, we drove to Texas and chose the road less travelled because we wanted to avoid as many major metropolitan areas as possible – especially Dallas. So, in the process, we found ourselves on many back roads, most of which offer a variety of interesting areas missed when taking the faster, busier interstate routes. For example, we never would have discovered the mysterious “Forbidden Zone” I wrote about back then had we not taken that route.

We often choose to travel the Nebraska back roads on our way to Denver as well, in order to avoid some of the hectic semi activity on Interstate 80. And, this trip was no exception. We drove from home to Kearney, NE, travelling Nebraska highways rather than Interstate. We enjoy seeing the country churches and the family farmsteads and prefer the slower pace that these roads bring to life.

This year, on our return home from Denver, we decided to travel by way of the Black Hills. We wanted to visit Hot Springs, the southern Gateway to the Black Hills…mostly because we had never visited that area, but also because we had been told that it is in the Banana Belt of South Dakota. For whatever reason, that sounded intriguing. So we did. We spent just one night there but we did a lot of driving around exploring the scenery, soaking up the history and experiencing the small town lifestyle that the area had to offer. It was quiet and thoroughly enjoyable.

At dinner that night in Hot Springs, Ken asked me how I felt about doing a little exploring on our way back to Sioux City. Over the years, we have made numerous trips to the Black Hills, always via Interstate 29 and 90. This time, he wanted to do something different…to return home via Highway 20 across Nebraska…just to see what it was like. So we did!

Once again, The Road Less Travelled offered us a new adventure with lots of intriguing eye candy along the way. Beautiful farmsteads, old barns, small towns and loads of beautiful fall foliage. After so many years of always living our lives on fast forward, there is something so very enjoyable about slowing things down a bit. There is so much out there to see.

It was a fabulous week, ranging from visiting wonderful restaurants, the arts district, Botanic Gardens and various other adventures in downtown Denver to a step back in time in the hills of South Dakota and along the back roads of Nebraska. We’re home again now but the “high” of our just completed vacation remains. I had to smile, watching Ken out on the deck grilling last night…in the dark, now, as fall closes in on us, but still enjoying his Bluetooth music and his glass of wine. We will begin planning our next road trip soon, but, for now, our “staycation” is pretty enjoyable too. Life is good!

Later.

A SUMMER SONG – 1964

chad-and-jeremyI heard a song the other day that is a blast from the past…Chad and Jeremy’s, A SUMMER SONG. It is a typical song from the 60’s about a dreamy summer love. But for me, it speaks rather of my love of summer.

 

 

 

“They say that all good things must end one day

Autumn leaves must fall.

But, don’t you know that it hurts me so to say good-bye to you.

Wish you didn’t have to go

No, no, no, no!!”

That is how I feel every year when the nights get cooler and the days get shorter and I know that it is just a matter of time before shorts, t-shirts and flip flops are but a memory, frozen in time. So, I decided to try to come up with some positive things about the end of summer…something to help hold the negative thoughts at bay. And, here it is…my

Top Ten List of Reasons to Embrace the Changing Season

10.  Bing cherries may be done, but Holiday grapes are just coming in. LOVE those Holiday grapes.

9.  Once the cold temps have freeze dried everything that is growing outside, the water bill goes down.

8.  With nothing growing that they can destroy, the squirrels can just do their thing and not bother me in the least.

7.  More time to devote to working on my book and using the treadmill.

6.  We will get back to enjoying our afternoon Nespresso breaks.

5.  My cuddly Restoration Hardware blanket will once again become a cocoon for me to hibernate in.

4.  No good grilling weather means more time to enjoy cold weather comfort food like crockpot meals and Smokey Bacon Chili over baked sweet potatoes.

3.  The “clean out the basement” project that I deserted last spring is still there, waiting for me to resume once the weather turns.

2.  Save money on pedicures. No need with your feet crammed into weather-resistant boots all the time.

1.  No bug bites for the next six months.

What do you think? Will it help?

Later.

 

 

 

 

Re-Inventing Pasta Sauce

Well, I have been working on re-inventing retirement for the better part of a year now, and a few weeks ago I talked about how we have been re-inventing one of our favs…pizza

This morning I woke up thinking about the bowls full of perfectly ripe grape tomatoes we have been picking almost daily and decided I wanted to try something different with them. There were way too many to just throw into salad, so I decided to make pasta sauce. But, I didn’t want to make just a juicy pan-cooked sauce. I wanted something different. Here is what I did.

I took out a large sheet pan and put as many grape tomatoes as I could fit in a single layer on that pan. I also had a handful of sweet, baby onions that Ken had dug a few weeks ago, so I washed and peeled those to add to the pan. Then, I smashed a half dozen cloves of garlic and threw those on…drizzled olive oil over all and seasoned with salt and pepper.

I popped the sheet pan in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes to get the mixture nicely carmelized. In the meantime, I went out and cut a bunch of nice fresh basil to throw into the sauce when I blended it.

I was so pleased with the results. It was nice and thick and absolutely delicious. Now, how to use the sauce. I had just picked a spaghetti squash as well so decided to make spaghetti squash casserole…another one of our favorites. That would allow me to also use some of our bounty of peppers. So, basically, a spaghetti squash casserole is cooked spaghetti squash with your choice of additional ingredients. This time I used Italian sausage, three kinds of chopped peppers, chopped onion, my freshly made sauce, a handful of grated Italian cheese, and some mozzarella to top it off, just because.

It was delicious…and pretty healthy too since you are eliminating all the carbs in the pasta. Another version of this that we love is Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Casserole. There are plenty of sites where you can find these types of recipes, but one of our favorites is Paleomg.com

So…still loving the freedom of retirement, the time to do what makes us happy including working in the garden, and the fun of experimenting with different ways to enjoy the bounty that we have produced. If you happen to try this sauce, let me know what you think. In our house, it’s a keeper!

Later.

Pizza Night

Sunday is typically pizza night at our house. But this is not the stereotypical “senior citizen” habit of doing the same thing, on the same day, at the same time every week kind of thing. We REFUSE to go there. This is just a “We love pizza” thing and the Sunday night part of it is a throwback to when we were working and it was an easy way to end the weekend. No…we no longer order pizza very often…we make our own, experiment, change it up and just have fun with it. Sure…it is more labor intensive than ordering pizza and takes longer…but we have time. And we enjoy it.

We have done the cauliflower crust. We have made regular homemade pizza crust and grilled it. We have done a spaghetti squash pizza casserole (not really pizza but uses pizza ingredients and it is DELICIOUS). Our pizza toppings range from the traditional to more artisan options like prosciutto, fresh mozzarella pearls and arugula.

So last week, when I ran across a blog post about zucchini pizza crust I just had to try it. Perfect time of year for it, right? And, it was delicious! That said…I plan to experiment with some tweaks next time, mainly because we are basically thin and crispy crust lovers and that seems to be very difficult to accomplish with most of the crusts we have tried. This crust was not crispy, though it did hold up to hand-held eating. I have some ideas that might crisp it up a bit, so will try that next time, but the flavor was amazing. It made WAY more than I expected it to so we have enough pizza for two meals and then some.  We will see how it reheats. But, take a look. Delicious?

If you like to live on the wild side when it comes to cooking, check out the recipe here. We didn’t do the brown sugar tomato part of it, but if you’re into that, knock yourself out. And if you have suggestions on other great pizza experiments, let me know. We’re not just reinventing retirement, we’re reinventing pizza!!

Later.

CONSIDER THE FLOWERS…

It seems like I know so many people who are on their own cancer journey right now, and I couldn’t help but think of them when I came across this blog post I wrote back in April of 2010. It had been a particularly long and harsh winter that year. Snow, cold and then more of the same…over and over. But when it ended…this. IMG_2042

I felt I wanted to share it again in hopes that it might bring comfort to some who are going through trials of their own right now.

THURSDAY, APRIL 8, 2010

Shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer, someone said to me that, as hard as it was to imagine at that moment, I would come through this experience a stronger and better person. I thanked them but assumed it was another one of the things that people say to try to make you feel better when there really is nothing much they can say. However…

Ken and I were outside looking at all of the spring-flowering bulbs coming up the other day and I couldn’t help but think about how ironic it is that, in spite of an unusually rough hard winter, the bulbs weathered it well, and, in fact, appeared stronger than ever. There are more of them…more of them are blooming…and the tulips seem to have more buds than ever before. In spite of being buried under 3 feet of snow for months on end, they are now making their presence known in a way they never have before. Could this be what that person was referring to?

I too have gone through some long, trying months but have managed to weather the storm so to speak. I am dealing with things I never imagined I could deal with and, as difficult as it is some days, I am holding up. In retrospect, I think maybe I am a stronger person than I was before my diagnosis.

Last week, while waiting in the blood draw area at the Cancer Center, I met a lady who must be the epitome of “strong”. She has breast cancer as well and she told me that she had been in remission for 11 years but her cancer had recently returned and she was back on chemo. I almost cried for her. I said that I couldn’t imagine how disheartening that must be. She said, you just do what you gotta do. Funny, because whenever people ask me how I can manage to be so strong in the midst of all this, that is pretty much what I say. It is what it is. I’ve often wondered how I would react to finally making it through all of this…to finally reach the end of that tunnel and then have it come back. I’m not sure I would be able to handle it. But, this lady is. And, so do many others. I think they, and I, just draw on a strength that we have within us when the time comes that we need it. That is what my flowers did over the winter. And, that is what I have to do now to get through the final 8 treatments in chemo round 2 and then the subsequent 9 months of chemo round 3 and radiation.

I don’t want to spend the better part of my day at the Cancer Center tomorrow…but I will. And, I will do OK. And, whatever side effects come my way this week, well, I’ll handle those too. Because I have no choice, obviously, but also because I am becoming a stronger person all the time. Just like someone told me I would. I see that now.

Later.

Fast forward to six years later. I am healthy, a much stronger person and living life reimagined. 🙂 To all of you just hanging on and putting one foot in front of the other to make it through each day, hang in there.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD

When I set out to do my best to reinvent retirement, it never occurred to me that one of the things this would involve would be our eating habits. I mean, ever since I was diagnosed with cancer I have focused on healthy eating. But, over the last several months, we have entered a new adventure of experimenting with the Paleo lifestyle. We are not fanatics by any means, but lean toward this lifestyle whenever possible. And what is fun is that both Kelli and Matt are doing the same thing so we are constantly texting and sharing recipes. The last couple of nights have been phenomenal.

First Kelli shared a recipe she made that sounded so good it turned out that we and Matt and Sara both tried it on the same night…Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Zucchini Noodles. IMG_2034It was unbelievably good and we will definitely make it again. It is Zoodles with a sweet red pepper and goat cheese sauce to which we added broiled garlic shrimp.  What’s not to like…right?

Tonight we experimented with a recipe that Matt sent…Buffalo Chicken Casserole. Crazy good and unlike anything we have tried before. It is spaghetti squash with chicken, veggies and eggs plus HOT SAUCE.IMG_2037

It is so uplifting to have the time to research and experiment with new cooking venues. I love to cook. I love knowing exactly what is going into my body. I love that Ken is getting into not only experimenting with new healthy lifestyles but also is getting into assisting with the process. It is healthy and it is social. It is FUN!! I may, from time to time, share additional recipes that we experiment with. It is a NEW twist on life. It is another example of Reinventing Retirement.

Later.

VIENNA WAITS

My initial post on this blog almost a year ago now, announced my impending retirement. blog quote smallA friend commented by welcoming me to Vienna with the lyrics to the entire Billy Joel song. It’s a great song about slowing down and taking time to live….hence retirement…and my favorite part of the song is

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old”

I bring this up now because that friend, Howard Jones, released his second book today…”Searching for Dunderhead” and that is an inspiration to me to push forward on my own project. It has long been my dream to write a book. In Howard’s case, retirement has allowed him to climb mountains, sail the seas, go on safaris, become an accomplished photographer and write two books. (I think it’s two) He personifies the lyrics, “You can get what you want or you can just get old.”

I follow numerous blogs on the subject of reinventing retirement and, regardless of the names…Encore Voyage, One Mom’s Journey, Out of the Frying Pan, they all seem to have one common thread…the quest to live this new life we’ve been given to its fullest. For many people, that means travel. For others, a second career path, adventure, or following a dream. Regardless, it seems we’re all searching for Vienna via our own path. And that’s pretty exciting.

“And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old
… Vienna waits for you”

Later.

MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY…

No one spends any time thinking about the fact that they can see. Right? It’s just a blessing that we enjoy without thinking about it. But consider all of the glorious things you experience in life because of your ability to see them.  The faces of those you love…the magnificence of the oceans…the majesty of the mountains…the happy, the sad, the beautiful, the ugly and on and on and on. It is so hard to comprehend life without sight.

I have been forced to live with the knowledge of that possibility becoming a reality for some time now, though I had never really given it a lot of thought. It has been years since I was diagnosed with Dry AMD …earlier than most…but in the last several years, because of the rate at which it is progressing, I have been warned repeatedly that I am at high risk for Wet AMD, the more advanced and serious form of the disease which often leads to loss of central vision.

Following cataract surgery last June, I was given a new lease on life with the correction of my vision to 20/30…not as good as many experience but a significant improvement for me. But, my euphoria was short-lived when my 6 month follow-up showed that the improvement I had experienced last summer had completely disappeared. My eye doctor believed that the AMD might have advanced to the Wet version and scheduled me into the Retina Clinic. That was a cold day in February when I checked into the clinic expecting bad news. So, I was extremely excited when the doctor, following his exam, told me that he was virtually certain that it had not yet progressed. But, because of the rapid deterioration of my vision, he wanted to recheck in a month. So, I did that – today.

One of the ways that they have you monitor the progression and watch for changes is through the use of an Amsler grid. You cover one eye and look at the grid. All of the lines should appear straight and all areas sharp.

If you experience any waviness in the lines, or areas that are gray, it can signal major problems. I will admit that I have never bothered much with the grid. Despite what they told me, I never really felt like it was going to become an issue for me. But since January, I have been doing a better job of checking so was quite upset to discover that some of the lines had now become a little wavy. That is why, when I showed up for my appointment this morning, I was once again steeling myself for possible bad news. But it wasn’t. Well, it was, but not THAT bad.

He still believes that my AMD has not progressed to Wet, though, again, cautioning me that it is a very strong possibility. What he believes is causing my vision issues right now is a macular pucker or wrinkle, known in scientific terms as an Epiretinal Membrane. He believes that it accounts for the waviness I am seeing in the grid as well as the fuzziness in the vision in my right eye. It can cause swelling in the macula and hence, distortion in your vision. The good news is, he said that it appears as though there has been a small decrease in the amount of swelling since my last appointment. Hopefully, there will be more. No guarantees. I did google it when I got home to look for possible causes and treatments. I noticed that this sometimes happens following eye surgery. Hmmm. Could it have resulted from my cataract surgery? He didn’t say that and I am not a doctor but sounds like a possibility to me. I also found that in some cases with severe loss of vision, they can perform surgery to remove the wrinkle, thereby restoring some of the vision you have lost but it appears as though that is a last resort. Whew – so here’s the deal. It is NOT, at this point, Wet AMD. There is a possibility, if some more of the swelling recedes, I will regain some of the vision that has been compromised. And, if not, I will ask if I might be a surgical candidate. So, that said and done…there is still hope, on a number of different levels. And, as long as I have hope I am OK. Hope springs eternal someone once said and that works for me!!

Later.

 

EYE ON THE PRIZE

Last week I spent some time talking about the ability of the smallest of things to offer a spirit of adventure…like the Forbidden Zone, the Ghost Shrimp hunting and the crawfish boil from our recent Texas vacation. We’re home now, but that doesn’t mean the adventure has to end. Many of you won’t “get” this, but I just purchased a Jiffy greenhouse and some plant stakes and am really excited about beginning this year’s gardening adventure.

IMG_2011As much as I LOVE the beach, coming home to find the snow all but gone was incredibly uplifting and now March is upon us…the beginning of meteorological spring. So, I’m gathering my equipment and getting ready for a great gardening season. Just need some seeds now.

Gardening really is an adventure at my house because the cards are definitely stacked against us. We have limited space. We have a myriad of trees which shade nearly every square inch of our lot. We have an abundance of rabbits. And, the squirrels…I can’t even begin to explain how surly and combative they are and how much they LOVE to destroy everything we do outside. From our landscape to our potted plants to our garden and EVEN eating our deck, our hoses and electrical cords. Yes, it’s a battle. But, every spring I accept the challenge again with the renewed hope that this year we will come out on top.

If we had more space, more sun and greater knowledge, I would plant so much more. But since all three of these things are in short supply, we will probably stick mainly with tomatoes and peppers once again. I really, really would like to do at least a few green beans and zucchini though, so I probably will. And, if I can keep the squirrels out of the pots, I will use them for fresh herbs once again. Who knows, maybe we will even experiment with a few other things.

Yep. Call me crazy, but I look at that unopened Jiffy greenhouse and smile at what it represents. I am excited for the coming of spring and the gardening adventure that it will bring. I have my eye on the prize, critters be damned!

YOU’RE GOING TO COOK WHAT??

PouringCrawfish2Continuing some of the tales of our latest Texas adventure today, I can’t fail to mention our Superbowl Eve experience…our very own Crawfish Boil, compliments of Kelli and Brett.

They had introduced us to crawfish a couple of years ago when we spent a week-end in Galveston during one of our visits. We went to an outdoor bar where we were served two big buckets of crawfish. Talk about a “Big Gulp”! I had never eaten crawfish before and was not at all certain that I wanted to, but I’m a player so I decided to dive in. Well…partially dive in, I guess. I’m told that diehard crawfish eaters suck the head. I just could not wrap MY head around that so settled for just pulling the meat out of the tail. It was GOOD and I count that as one of my more memorable experiences. But this year, Kelli and Brett wanted to take it one step further. My sister and brother-in-law were driving up from North Padre for the Super Bowl and we were planning our own Saturday night Crawfish Boil. What an adventure!

With crawfish season just getting underway in Texas, Brett was able to go out and buy a HUGE bag of crawfish – 15 pounds to be exact. They put those in a big cooler and washed them thoroughly. They would be added to a very large pot of boiling water later. We would use the grill for that in order to keep the entire operation outdoors. Crawfish Boils can be messy affairs.

We added small red potatoes and small ears of corn to the water and brought it to a boil. The crawfish are added last. I have to admit that I had almost nothing to do with the preparation of this meal. This was all Kelli and Brett and they did an awesome job.  Since eating crawfish can be a messy experience it is best done outside with newspapers spread on the tables. So, that is what we did – except that we ate in the sun room rather than on the patio. February evenings can still be a little cool.

They brought in large platters of the delicious critters and we all just dug in. Does this not look like a great adventure? Like many other things, it is as much about the experience as it is about the food. It was a first for most of us and what a great time we had.

As I said yesterday, retirement is not a time to just sit back and rock. It is a time to get out there and explore – to experience new things. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy life. And that is exactly what we are doing.

Later.