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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Another Year Bites the Dust

The year 2011 has been full of ups and downs. My sister got married to a great guy, connecting our family with a phenomenal family. That was most definitely an up. My mom died on December 17th, leaving a big void. That was most definitely a down. I left my weekend job in June (up), but the resulting loss of income has strained my finances to the breaking point (down). I’m looking forward with anticipation to 2012. Let’s see what the Universe has in store for us this time around!

In the interest of self-betterment, I have developed a list of goals for 2012. The word “resolution” grates on my nerves, as it suggests that there was something wrong with me to begin with. Since we all are constantly learning and changing, I don’t think it’s the word to use. So here is my list of goals for 2012.

1. Spend More Time with Family and Friends

This sort of speaks for itself. 2011 hammered home the fact that family and friends are of paramount importance to me. To that end, I would like to spend more face-to-face time with the important people in my life. Not Facebook time, not texting time, real time. I would like to visit with my sister at least once a month. I would like to visit my Dad twice this year. I would like to take my daughter out for dinner once a month. I would like to have a date with my husband every month. It could be as simple as curling up on the couch, watching a movie while munching on popcorn. But we have to do SOMETHING together.

I am also in the early stages of planning a road trip this summer to visit family and friends around the country. From elementary and high school friends scattered around the country, to my Dad in New Mexico and cousins in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Ohio, I want to see them all. It will be great fun to sit down and share a meal and lively conversation. There are a lot of really interesting people in my life and they add a vibrancy that I appreciate. Life is short. What am I waiting for?

2. Create a Reasonable Budget

Money is always an issue for me. Working as a teacher’s aide, I bring home about $100 a week after taxes. That’s not a whole lot of disposable income. My husband contributes to our household account once a month, but it always seems like the money is all gone a good week before the month ends. I am going to sit down today and figure out a way to economize on groceries, which is a HUGE chunk of our monthly expenses. I know it’s all in the planning, so I’ll create weekly menus. I used to do that. Then I got all cocky and started buying $3.99 half pints of fresh raspberries. I also need to remember the phone bills, the Netflix account (which I’ve already cancelled half of), birthday presents, etc. There’s a way to do this; I just have to write it all down and stick to it.

3. Get in Better Shape

On 11/11/11, I began a weight loss journey that has me feeling GREAT. I started doing a workout from Team BeachBody, and eating healthful meals. There’s also a nutritional shake that I am drinking, although I’ve had to cancel autodelivery of that, due to finances (see #2). I’ll use my shake supply until I run out. So far, I’ve lost 12 pounds and nearly 12 inches, which is GREAT!

The challenge is now to continue on the journey while staying within a reasonable budget. I have two workout DVDs, so I’m set on exercise. I also have a yoga workout series on VHS that I use. I can always strap on my beat up old sneakers and go for a walk or stack wood or rake leaves. Lots of opportunities to stay active, which was the missing component in my life. The food part – no problem. Plus, my good friend Jolie has motivated me to stay the course. Her perseverance and enthusiasm are inspiring.

#4. Stay Ahead of the Dust

Ugh. Cleaning. I hate it. Always have. There’s something so incredibly distasteful about cleaning. The end product is WONDERFUL. I love being able to see through the windows and walk around the house in my bare feet without stepping on grit that came from unknown locations. I’ve long maintained that gravity is stronger in our house than almost anywhere on the planet. Everything winds up on the floor. Dirt, dust, pencils, papers, rubber bands, plastic bags, clothing, plant matter all mysteriously leap to their doom in this house. I bet there’s some convergence of cosmic energy right below our foundation that causes this phenomenon.

Whatever the cause, I vow to stay abreast of cleaning. That means a schedule must be created. Mondays will be floor day, Tuesdays – ┬álaundry, Wednesdays – bathrooms, etc. I think that’s really the only way to get it done, since maid service is not in the budget.

#5. Live an Adventurous Life

I love adventure. From traveling to new places, to learning new skills and trying new foods, I love it. This year I would like to dip my toes back into adventure. My road trip – perhaps solo – will be one. Rick has an art show in Florence, Italy in March. I might go with him. That’s another. I want to develop a new income stream. Many people have said I should cater parties. That’s a possibility – I was a food vendor at one event this past year and loved the experience. That would be another adventure. I would love to sit in on a session of Congress when I’m in Washington, DC. I would like to learn to scuba dive. I want to eat poutine and fois gras in Montreal. Teach myself to make tofu and corn my own beef. Go on a kayak trip in the Adirondacks. Climb a mountain – a real one. Go zip-lining somewhere. Start writing a book. Attend sacred ceremonies in religions I have only a nodding familiarity with (Buddhist, Muslim, Pagan, Hindu, etc.). There’s so much to do and learn and experience. It’s well past time to get moving.

So, those are my five big goals for 2012. There are other, smaller goals (like trying one new recipe a week, going through the bookshelves and weeding out all those books I “had” to have, etc.), but if next year ends and I’ve accomplished these five things, it will have been a smashing success.

I wish you all a wonderfully healthy and happy 2012. Blessings and light for the new year. So mote it be.

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Expectations vs. Reality

Yesterday was a HUGE day of lessons for me. My daughter and I decided to go to NY shopping for a dress and shoes for her for an upcoming wedding, as well as a pair of earrings for me. She had an idea of what she wanted and I thought it might be fun to go to the world-famous Macy*s at Herald Square. That’s the renowned Macy*s of Thanksgiving Day parade and Fourth of July fireworks fame. The classy Macy*s from Miracle on 34th Street. What we got was something completely different.

To start with, we missed the train. Well, not quite. We were standing on the platform next to the train waiting at the door. The train pulled away. We actually made the train but the conductor wouldn’t let us on. I expected the conductor would open the door to the train and let us on. The fact that we hit the platform 30 seconds after he closed the door, and were technically late, didn’t occur to me. However, it certainly occurred to him. Expectations vs. Reality.

I hurled a few choice words at the train as it lumbered away down the tracks. Then I stomped up the stairs to the ticket machine, and, with tears in my eyes, kicked the stupid machine. I really did. I kicked a ticket machine. I was SO frustrated that our trip had just been delayed a full hour that I lashed out at the poor, defenseless unit. There’s probably a security guard somewhere reviewing yesterday’s surveillance tapes wondering what the heck my problem was. But one kick, which torqued my big toe, was all it took to realize I was overreacting. I took a deep breath and was OK. Louise and I spent the next hour throwing cherry pits at the third rail (and yes, I hit it once. I also apologized to Louise for making a scene.).

When we finally got to Macy*s, the cabbie asked if going in the 7th Avenue entrance was OK. Of course, pretending to know what I was doing, I said, “Sure! That’s fine.” Umm… I’ve never been to Macy*s in my life. I expected it to be like the big Macy*s stores I’ve been to. High ceilings, recessed lighting, adequate space and shiny display cases. The reality was nothing like that. This store, immortalized in films, is a shabby, cramped, noisy, smelly, messy store. Few of the clothing racks are actually sorted so one needs to pick and choose through the merchandise. I expected the latest designer fashions, I expected beautiful clothing, I expected well manicured salesclerks assisting customers. The reality was that the Macy*s women’s dresses department looks like Filene’s basement after a bridal sale. The dresses are dirty and torn. They look like fashion from the 90s, all frumpy polyester and ruffles. Horrible stuff. And my manicured salesclerks? Try hard working stiffs just like me. Boy was that an eye-opener.

I also expected to be able to find my way around the store. After all, a 9 floor department store MUST have directories, right? WRONG! There is one directory in the center of the store in a stairwell. There are no signs hanging from the ceilings to guide shoppers, no signs at the head of the escalators to say 2 floors down you’ll find the ladies’ room or 3 floors up is the bridal department. AUGH!

Completely disappointed, we finally gave up on Macy*s and made our way out of the store through the phenomenally boring jewelry department (I can get the same stuff in our local mall). The crowds were so dense I grasped Louise’s hand to keep from losing her on the way out. We wandered north through the sweltering heat (in the mid-90s) north from 34th to 47th Street. We stopped at a few small stores along the way, in great part because they have their doors open in summertime and the frigid air beckons from the sidewalk to all passersby. At one I actually found a pair of earrings to go with the dress I’m wearing. SCORE! We stopped in a shoe store, and Louise found a great pair of sandals, which they didn’t have in her size. She tried on a fun pair of lace stiletto boots that fit, but cost $180 and would NOT be appropriate for an entire day on her feet. We kept going, because we wanted to check Forever 21, a shop that generally has some really fun dresses. Expectation? That we would find some fun dresses. Reality? We found NONE. We didn’t even find any shoes.

Since it was now 6:30 pm, and we were hot, tired and hungry, and had only one pair of earrings to show for our effort, we decided to hike back to Grand Central and take the train home. On the way, I spied a Dress Barn on a side street. Guess what? … We found her dress there. Silver and black with a tulle ruffle at the bottom. It looks fabulous on her, it flatters her figure and it was in a place we didn’t expect.

I’ve noticed that, when we need them the most, Life gives us lessons. Yesterday I received the gift of two. One was yet another on the impermanence of time. We all have a finite amount to live our lives in. We can choose to freak out and kick the ticket machine because an hour was wasted, or we can relax and spit cherry pits at the third rail for an hour. I now choose the latter.

The other was something I’ve struggled with all my life – expectations vs. reality. When life gives you an experience to live through, don’t enter it with expectations, because the reality the Universe has in store for you may be quite different. How you handle that difference is a telling barometer of how you live your life. Be open to anything and embrace it with open arms.

Yesterday I learned that I have a lot of learning left to do.

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Travels with Tony

Last night I had another one of my super-vivid dreams. People who are into dream analysis and psychic phenomenon would say that dreams like this are actually astral travel, also known as astral projection. The spirit leaves the body and goes traveling around the cosmos, interacting with other beings while the body slumbers on. If you’ve ever experienced the sensation of slamming into something as you wake up (I have), that’s the soul slamming back into the body as the body wakes up.

I don’t know if I think this is a reality – the jury’s still out on this one – but I do believe that the body and soul are two separate entities, and so, for me, such a thing is in the realm of possibility. I sure hope it’s true, though, because last night I was walking around Europe with my rock-star culinary idol, Anthony Bourdain (sigh….). He’s a writer of such incredible food books as Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, and host of the Travel Channel’s No Reservations show on Monday nights at 9:00. He travels, eats, writes, and exposes us to parts of the world we can only dream about visiting. He visits locals and treats them with respect, showing the viewers exactly what life is like in other parts of the world. He’s ridiculously imperfect, too, which is part of his charm.

I have no idea why I was traipsing down side streets with Tony, but there I was, talking and “fixing” one of his shows. He was funny, intelligent, and a little snarky, which makes some people detest him and others, like me, love him. We were on some cobbled street, it was a sunny day, and I was skinny – that’s how I knew it was a dream. We had a meal, (I remember pork was involved), laughed, drank too much wine and then he got sick had to lie down. Can you believe I got Tony Bourdain sick from too much pork? Jeez, only me.

So, in his honor, and with the fervent hope that I did actually share a meal with him someplace in the universe last night, I offer the following pork recipe. It’s from the Les Halles Cookbook, page 171. Super easy and delicious, it makes a great entree for company. Serve with potatoes of some sort, a crisp-tender pile of green beans and a crusty loaf of bread to get every little bit of the sauce.

Cote de Porc a la Charcutiere

  • 1 T oil
  • 1 T butter
  • 4 pork rib chops, about 10 oz. each
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup dark, strong chicken or veal stock
  • 2 T dijon
  • 10 cornichons, thinly sliced
  • 1 sprig flat leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 375F. In an oven-safe saute pan, heat the oil, then the butter. Season the chops (on both sides) with salt and pepper, then sear in the hot pan for 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for another 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and remove the chops. Set them aside on the platter, loosely covered with foil, while you make the sauce.

Return the saute pan to the heat and add the onion. Cook until golden brown. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and reduce by half, scraping, scraping of course. Add the stock (and you really do need a good, dark, strong stock for this). Reduce the liquid by half. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the mustard. Add the cornichons, the parsley and any nice juice that has run off the cooked pork chops. Adjust the seasoning. Arrange the chops on the platter and pour the sauce over. Eat.

Note: You can always finely┬áchop the cornichons and put the sauce on the plate under the chop, instead of on top. That’s what this picture by Sean at TakeThouFood.com shows. Those are purely aesthetic changes that I wouldn’t make until you’ve made it the Les Halles way first.

Enjoy this super-easy dish, and next time you see Anthony Bourdain in New York City, tell him mamadeon says “hello”.

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