God sometimes gives us unexpected gifts. Our gift has been a grandson who enlivens our lives and makes retirement very different than the one we anticipated. He is a special joy. And that's "Casey." In 2006 we fulfilled our dream of living in Italy for a year. It was every bit as wonderful as anticipated. This blog begins in 2005 as we prepared for that experience. Since then we have explored many places together. That's the "Travel." And finally, I am a person of opinions--spiritually, politically, on just about anything and that's the "Other Stuff." Welcome to my blog.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Gift...A Christmas Memory

Do you have poignant memories of Christmas past? Ones that seem to appear unbidden when a wisp of song floats in the air or a blurry picture shimmers momentarily.

My mother died in 2004 but in reality she left us several years before that. We watched as she slid into the state of dementia where the mind slips away. So, it was a time of rejoicing when she went to face her Jesus.

One of my favorite Christmas memories features mom. Every year I would ask her what she would like Santa to bring. And every year, for as long as my adult mind can remember, her answer was "Nothing. I don't want anything."

So, one year, perhaps the last when her mind was still there, I decided she would get her wish.

I beautifully wrapped several boxes--each nested into the preceding one. There was much colorful tissue paper and many beautiful bows. And then, finally, when she reached the last box which would hold the treasure I had found that year, under layered red and green tissue was a lovely printed note that said: Dear Mom, this year I have for you that which you have always wanted.....Nothing. I love you.

Unfortunately, I did not have the fun of watching the opening ceremony as Mom was with my brother and his family in Northern California. Fortunately, I had alerted my sister-in-law that everyone should watch as the beautiful package bloomed. The report back was that the room posed transfixed while the boxes appeared from within each other and, then, Mom burst into uncontrolled laughter, followed by everyone else as it was passed around.

The Opening

I treasure the gift of laughter I was able to give Mom and the memory now treasured by everyone who became part of it.

Mom at 90

My brother, mom and me 
Her 90th Birthday Celebration

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, December 10, 2010

And God Reigns Eternal

Busy, busy, busy relegates blog to end of list but......this is far better than any words I might share anyway. Enjoy. I tear up each time I listen.

(You can see it better if you double click on the video and watch straight from You Tube.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Birthday Morning

Well, I became ?1 on Sunday--really quite a lot older than I thought--a shame, really.

The day started out with a birthday cake, of sorts, which I will share with you due to its uniqueness.  Can you figure it out? It was doubling as breakfast--I suppose.

Yep--frozen waffles, strawberry ones, alight with candles. Actually, these are the second batch of candles as it seems the first batch suffered the sad fate of melting into the hot waffles which then became quite waxy--as I've been told. Did I love this cake? You betcha (in the words of our newest Shakespearean pundit.) How much more fun is this than frosting with garish red and blue roses scattered about? A lot! Creative? Oh yes! From the mind of a 12 year old? Of course.

After this sumptuous feast (which I didn't eat), Ken and I dropped Casey off at church and went on our way to a lovely overnight at a wonderful spa/resort in the Temecula wine country. Of course, on the way, we stopped at a couple other wineries to sample their wares and enjoy the absolutely beautiful day God had given us.

Thornton Winery--Great Tapas and Wine 

One of the nice bonuses of lovely wineries are the shops where you find unusual gifts for hard-to-buy for friends--such as my Italian family. Now I can't wait until Christmas to find out if they like what we found. We do--in fact, we bought a couple things for ourselves, too (surprised?)

Eventually we wended our way to the South Coast Winery and Spa Resort. Son Jeff had given us a generous gift certificate for Christmas last year so we figured it was time to enjoy it. The property is very beautiful and the villas quite luxurious, with private patios, great beds, set among the vines. Nice! Of course, I needed to sample the spa by having a relaxing massage and then we rested until dinner--a hard day.

Before leaving the next morning, we had a tour of their winery which included a very nice wine tasting session, pairing 8 different wines with fruits and cheese. I had never understood how various wines do so well with blue cheese, pepper cheese, swiss, more, grapes and strawberries. This was a nice ending to a nice celebration. Then it was time for the leisurely drive back to San Diego--ready to hug our 12 year old and help with his homework. Life does goes on.

Thank you Jeff for the gift and the child-care. I love you!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Beer Cupcakes?

In Italy we have a favorite small local enoteca, Enoteca Fuoripiazza, where we go when at the last minute I decide that cooking just isn't in the cards that night. The food is simple but always fresh. Luca and his crew take good care of us. It is low key, relaxing and comfortable. Oops, almost forgot to mention that their  wine selection is totally outstanding. We love it there; in fact, can't wait to pop in and see the smiles next summer--and hugs.

So it was a real sense of homecoming when we discovered our own little enoteca not far from us here in San Diego. It's in a very small, neighborhood shopping center--well, center is sort of an overstatement as there is just a specialty grocery store and a handful of other small shops--beauty parlor, cleaners, etc. For years there was a wine shop with a deli counter which we infrequently entered.

Now they have transformed into a great little bistro/enoteca with both inside and patio dining areas. The menu is simple but good, the staff fun and the atmosphere lively. This is combined with their shop which has an incredibly  fantastic wine selection--including several of the wines from the vineyard where we lived in Italy. They have also expanded to offer great craft beers from local breweries.

The name of this place is--drumroll-- KNB Wine Cellars--Grapes, Hops, Fine Food

 So this is now our go-to-place when we don't want fancy, but do want good food and a pleasant, kick back time--when I don't want to cook. Well...if we did this every time I didn't want to cook, we would be there much more often.

Last night we were there and had a chance to talk with Kat, the wine buyer. We mentioned the Viticcio Chianti Classico Riserva which she doesn't stock--but now will. This will make a pretty complete selection of wines from our Italian home which makes us very happy.

Anyway, back to the title of this entry--beer cupcakes. We've eaten here several times now but have always passed on the cupcakes as beer is not my thing and it just didn't sound appealing. Last night, though, we were talked into trying them for dessert with the promise they didn't taste like beer. And, guess what--they are deliciously good and tasty-not at all beery.

I really liked the Stoned Portzilla!! Yummy good. As usual, I forgot to take a picture of these--even though my camera was on the table. Next time!

So, when you come to visit--we'll take you to our new favorite in the hood.

Friday, November 05, 2010

An Interesting Question From a Friend

Not too long ago, I was in New York City enjoying time with friends--and it was a good time, indeed. Need more of these escapes--good for the soul.

Anyway, before I left home, I prayed that God would open up an opportunity for me to talk about my faith. Two important parts of me are that I am a "born again" Christian and a strong, opinionated democrat. For many people, that is a contradiction. This is really sad as I am not such an anomaly, there are many, many of us; however, the "liberal" element, which ironically I in many ways am a part of, has chosen to paint all evangelical Christians with the same broad brush. Additionally they narrowly define what a "born again" believer believes-abortion, gay rights, sanctity of marriage--as if there are not hundreds of other issues of importance and which create opinions and commitments and which differentiate people.

On the flip side of this is the Christian-right which believes, if not so stating at least by implication, that one can not be a true Christian and be a democrat. I can not count the number of times I have been with friends or in church groups where there have been negative references to Obama, Obamacare and other democratic foci in which I believe. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, it has always been. These same people were anti-Clinton (before the scandal), anti-Carter, who has been the most outspoken evangelical ever in the White House, and all other non-right wing republicans. My usual MO is to remind people that there are some present who feel differently--partially to keep myself from getting angry and partially to cause people to reflect a little.

To be truly fair here, it is important to clarify that I have believing friends who fall in the same political spectrum as I and I have many friends who tolerate my wayward ways. We have other things to focus on and share--common beliefs in Jesus as the Messiah and biblical truths. And, then, there are some whom I just avoid--which is also true of some rabid democrats who pop up from time to time.

So back to the beginning, the last night in NYC my friend, who is Jewish, said to me: Jane, I have been wanting to ask this, I hope it's OK. (of course.) I know you are a born again Christian and I know that you are a strong democrat (or some such words) why are you so different from the right-wing Christians I know and work with?

This opened the door to explaining how and why I am, who I am, despite growing up in a very republican conservative home. I believe the words of Jesus and writers of the Old Testament, too, who command us to care for the needy, the poor, the children, the widows in our midst. I believed in the words of the Sunday School song I sang at 4 years of age Jesus loves the little children of the world--red and yellow, black and white--all are precious in his sight, which is why I was active in the civil rights movement of the 60's and 70's. I believe in the equality of all people which is why we adopted both white and black babies while living in radically conservative Orange County.

I am formed by these simple understandings which to me are the bedrock of the democratic goals and philosophies. I do not see this in the republican party which, to me, does not acknowledge the government's responsibility to address needs; while many of my Christian friends (not all) will most certainly strenuously disavow what I say, I don't see compassion, sense of Christ-like brotherhood and accountability. Yes, there are huge amounts of money given to missions and the poorer peoples of poor nations, there are meals and rides for members of a congregation, there are church efforts (limited by their nature) for local concerns but where is the large scale commitment or sense of responsibility to the people of our nation--the United States of America, those without adequate health care, the homeless of San Diego, the mentally ill of California? I see a party whose goal is to have lower taxes which by default means inadequate government services--not taking care of the needy, the widow, the children, the hungry, the ill, the poor--those that Jesus singled out and loved.

Beyond my experience, I look and cringe at the behaviors of some who profess Christian faith and who are most media prominent. The lack of civility in discourse, the "no" mentality rather than the "let's see what we can do" mentality. Gross name calling and insults for the sake of insults. The USA Today two weeks ago had an opinion article about this which expresses my feeble thoughts much more succinctly and coherently--In God Fearing USA, Where is the Decency?  This is what scares me about what is happening in our country.

It scares me that we have people in leadership roles stating that their focus for the next two years will be on destroying the presidency rather than working together to solve problems of great magnitude. It scares me that republicans want to dismantle the rather incomplete health plan that finally passed last spring. That the focus of those who are coming to Washington from the Republican party and its sidekick the Tea Party is to gut social security, medicare, the health plan, the efforts for economic recovery, educational goals, several foundational amendments is beyond scary. That many people idolize a woman who promotes hate and insurrection and yet wants to become the leader of the free world boggles my mind.

So I am a person who believes in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, who believes in heaven and hell, who believes that without accepting Christ there is no heaven, who believes that the Bible is the Holy Word of God Almighty from Genesis through Revelation. As I told my friend, I believe that our Jesus is her Messiah. I believe that there will be end times. I do not believe in hate, fear mongering, hierarchical sin.

I am also a person who believes that the democratic party, despite all its inefficiencies and deficiencies, its at times misdirected ways, and its human failures, most pursues the spirit and commands of Jesus. I do not believe that they do so out of the same spiritual beliefs and foundations or commitment to Jesus that drive me but I do believe that they want some of the same things. I do not see this in the republican party; I do see it in some of my republican friends.

So, my friend, this is how I can be and why I am both. I think that my party affiliated friends understand this better than many of my spiritually affiliated friends. This makes me sad.

This is the link to a recent NPR program which I wish more people would hear. It speaks to the fallacy of our health care system and the wrongful fear so many people have regarding a national health care plan--Changing Health Care  The link to the audio is at the top of the article. This is long so you may want to start at minute 5. TR Reid, who has traveled the world investigating health care in the large democracies, shares his learnings. His most telling statement is that the other countries have health care for all citizens because they believe it is the moral thing to do. He says we are not to that place yet. Sadly, he seems to be correct.

The Healing of America by T. R. Reid

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Penne with Shrimp and Spicy Tomato

While I am mulling over my next intended blog piece which will be controversial, I think, I decided to post this recipe as we like it a lot and it is super easy. If you are like me, "easy" is a magnet and when combined with really good, you have  a winner.  This is truly a one and only one pot pasta meal.

Penne with Shrimp and Spicy Tomato Sauce

¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1½ teaspoons paprika
1½ teaspoon ground cumin (I used less)
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
¾ cup canned crushed tomatoes in puree (I used diced and smashed them)
 1/3 cup cilantro or parsley chopped
¾  lb penne rigate
1 lb medium shelled shrimp
  1. In a bowl whisk together everything but pasta and shrimp and cilantro.
  2. Cook penne until almost done. Add shrimp and cook about a minute longer or until shrimp is done (don't over cook)
  3. Drain and toss with the sauce (which is not heated.) Sprinkle in cilantro
Yummy good and very pretty but.....I forgot to take a picture yesterday--as always. This one is by Thorsten on Recipezaar.

The recipe suggests variations:
  1. Use mozzarella in place of shrimp. Toss cheese in at the end.
  2. Use grille sausage cut into bite size and toss with sauce.
  3. Use grilled or sautéed vegetables in place of shrimp.
I've prepared this several times now and we are always happy, happy with it.

From: Recipezaar

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A NYC Sunday With Friends

In Torino (or Turin) there is the ultimate foodie store--Eataly. Ken and I made a pilgrimage there in 2009 and spent time wandering the various sections with every type of gourmet food you might want plus at least 2000 types and brands of pasta. The bottom or basement floor is wines and beer--of course, all Italian. Amazingly enough, we left empty handed. Sometimes there is so much to buy that it is simpler to just look--I often feel that way in department stores here.

Anyway, the opening of a NYC branch of Eataly a few months ago gave the perfect reason for a gathering of friends. So when Sunday arrived the catalyst for the the long trip from California also arrived--the day to see what Eataly, USofA style had to offer.

But, because the other focus of these few days (and why it was possible to spend 4 days walking and still gain 2 pounds) was eating, we started the day with breakfast at the Blue Dog, a casual, neighborhood, friendly eatery with good wholesome food offerings--and, filling.

The gang at breakfast: Carol, Sheri, Kim Chris (left) Ken, Jan, Jane, Terry (right)
From the Grey Dog we walked to Eataly but first detoured to the charming, fun Chelsea Market, another food haven inside what was the old National Biscuit (think oreo, etc.) factory. If I lived anywhere neat NY, I think this would be a frequent visiting place for me. Many of the same specialty shops we saw in Greenwich had branches here plus there is a great market with many products found in ordinary grocery stores in Italy. We needed more time there but were due to meet the rest of us in Madison Park across from our proclaimed destination.

Eataly was OK but disappointing when compared with Turin--much smaller, fewer specialties, ONLY 4 flavors of gelato, merchandise pretty crowded together resulting in not much traffic flow space. There is a large selection of olive oil from the various regions of Italy--that is the section I would most frequent. I was disappointed because they did not have Casey's favorite grocery store cookies--Ringos. Bummed!

But, don't get me wrong, we did have a good time. After rambling through, we finally settled in at the bar and enjoyed a glass of very good wine--thanks, Chris and Kim. I enjoyed having the time to just sit and talk with Kim. When you are with a large number of people, it is hard to fine one-on-one time with anyone.

Leslie, Terry, Sheri
Fuzzy picture of Kim and Chris

Although I think the thought was that we would eat lunch here, because most of us had just completed an awesome breakfast at The Grey Dog, we just weren't hungry--forgetting that we had joined up with people who were probably very hungry. I do wish they had spoken up as I am quite certain I could have been coerced into eating at the fish restaurant overseen by the same chef as Esca where I had that great meal on Friday lunch. I did feel bad later when they mentioned that they had expected to eat.

I am proud to say that when we were through, we bravely tackled the subway and proved that if you keep trying, you can win. Got on at the right place, got off at the right place--all of us at the same time. Done good!

Back at the hotel we all congregated in our room and had a good time talking about I can't remember what--just girl talk--sort of like the much younger dorm-living days. It was fun and relaxing. Carol and Sheri soon left for a quick early dinner before catching their bus back to Philly. Leslie left to fly home to Georgia. And, Rosie, Vicky and I were ready for another night in NYC.

The three of us had a quick dinner at a Mexican restaurant next to the hotel and then Vicky and I headed to the theater while Rosie planned on exploring Rockefeller Center.

Vicky and I had previously purchased our tickets to see Fela at the Eugene O'Neil Theater which was just a few blocks "down and over" from our hotel--an easy walk. Both Vicky and I enjoyed this rather unusual show--not one that would appeal to everyone; it is not the typical Broadway musical; it is not a happy romance; it is not one that lifts you or that when you leave you feel rejuvenated and up beat.

In the order of some other 20th-21st century plays and musicals, Fela is a political tour de force portraying events in Nigeria during the late 20th century as much of Africa erupted and unscrupulous men became unspeakable evil dictators. Fela Anikulapo Kuti was an entertainer who became an opposition voice and as such was persecuted and destroyed. Eventually he died of complications from AIDS.

The music and dancing were awesome, frenetic, intriguing, loud and fascinating. I had no idea bodies could move like that for so long. Vicky says the dancers will pay a physical price in later years; I think she is totally right.

For Vicky and me the choice of show was a good one. I am glad we went.

And this was the end.....I had my hotel room to myself the last night--I liked the aloneness time. The next morning it was the shuttle to LaGuardia and the long flight back to California. Casey and Ken met me with smiles and hugs.

I so enjoyed the smile on the face of an observing man as Casey ran and hugged and snuggled and was happy to see gramma/mom. It was as if we had given a moment of pleasure to a stranger.

It was good to be home.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Readings Before Tuesday

Yes--I know, there is still Day 3 in NYC to do but....these writings in the NY Times opinion section are worth reading before voting--particularly by independents who are still deciding and by moderate republicans who are frightened by the tea party peoples.

Divided We Fail by Paul Krugman

The last line is where I am.

Can't Keep a Bad Idea Down by Thomas Friedman

In this one, be sure to read the last 5 paragraphs listing the US's world standing on key factors impacting a country's relevancy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Walking Greenwich & So Much More

Saturday morning broke sunny and warm--nice for October in NYC--making me glad that my winter parka was still in the back closet at home, thanks to wise advise from friend Vicky. We people from SoCal do not acclimate well to cold--which is anything below 60º. I even opted to leave my light leather coat from Florence in the hotel closet.

Sheri, Carol, Leslie and I found the subway, which I kept calling the metro, causing constant correction, which makes no sense to me as the card clearly says metro.
We correctly got on the train that was going to where we needed to be for the short jaunt to where we were to meet our guide for the Greenwich Village Food and Culture Walking Tour. At this point we were without Vicky and Rosie who still needed to get to the hotel, register and, hopefully, get the subway/metro to where we were before the tour started. I was worried about this.

Sephra--Great Guide
At the meet-up point, we met Sephra who was a pure delight. I really think she was a poorly paid comedic actor who was supplementing the pantry as a guide. She was cute, funny, knowledgeable, personable, friendly and pregnant. By the time the other members of the tour arrived, we knew the tour was going to be a fun 3 hours.

Sheri, Leslie, Carol and Me

Finally it was time to start walking but Vicky and Rosie were still on the subway/metro somewhere. Fortunately, our first food stop--Joe's Pizza--was almost on top of the exit stairs so just as Sephra began extolling the virtues of the "slice of pie" we were about to enjoy, our two women popped up and joined us--perfect timing.   
Rosie, Carol, Leslie, Me, Sheri, Vicky
The next three+ hours we walked the village, stopping every 5 minutes or so for a bite to eat at a vast variety of establishments. By the end of the time, we had consumed a whole meal--no need for lunch. Sephra shared stories and legends of the village. We learned where Lady Gaga got her start as a waitress (failed); the location of the origin of off-Broadway theater; where Tom Cruise was dining that night (unless Sephra was joshing); where speakeasies plied their trade and lots more. Next time I'm in NYC, I think I'll do another one of their tours; hopefully Sephra represents the quality of all the guides. She was a joy.

About now we were tired and full so decided to return to the hotel, kick back and prepare for what we knew was going to be an excellent Italian dinner. Things got a little complicated trying to figure out which subway line to take back and where to get off; finally after a 6 way discussion, we were pretty sure we knew. And we did--except we got off a stop too early and so extended our walk for several blocks and another meander through Times Square. OK--I thought, more exercise, more lost pounds--more on that later.

After mastering the subway/metro, we decided that we should use it again to get to dinner. How hard could it be? We just had to transfer trains at one point--not hard to do in Europe or England--but, there they have signage and boards that make sense, even when in another language. Whereas NY requires psychic powers or the wisdom to seek directions from someone in the know--which we discovered is not someone trying to read a subway map. Eventually we did get the connecting train, after searching for and finding the two block tunnel we needed to traverse to the other tracks.

So the six of us were on board a very crowded car, relieved when we studied the route map and knew we were headed the right way. When we arrived at our station, Sheri, Leslie, Rosie, Vicky and I pushed our way out the door, following the lead of real New Yorkers, relieved to be free. But.....as the train pulled out, we saw Carol, mouth agape, staring at us from the other side of the window, on the way to the next stop. Now what to do?

We five headed on to the restaurant, skittish by now so stopped 3 times in 2 blocks to get directions, hoping that Carol would find her way. After a harrowing experience at the next stop, which was virtually deserted, she arrived by taxi, a little disheveled and flustered, but nothing that a glass of wine or two couldn't repair.

Now onto Pepolino--yes! What a great meal we had--so Italian! It was almost like being in Italy except a little more crowded and noisy than restaurants there. There was such an aura of authenticity with the totally Italian staff, wines and food. And the food-----was delicious. I started with a fig and ricotta bruschetta antipasto followed by a whole, grilled branzino, which is often my choice in Italy. It was delish! Everyone raved about their meal--even Leslie after she sent her first primi back for being too salty. 

I know that there are 100's of good restaurants in NY, but, if and when I go again, it will be difficult not to return to Pepolino. We have nothing this good in San Diego--or at least as far as we have found.

After dinner, prudently, we took taxis back to the hotel--no more subways this day.

And so ended day two of our adventure. It was well worth the long travel from California. Tomorrow--breakfast with more friends, Eataly and the theater.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Flying On A Jet Plane

This is what I am doing right now.....sitting in comfort--well, sort of--in first class from LaGuardia to Lindberg (that's NYC to SD.) This is called a "through" flight which means little since we change plans in Chicago and have a two hour layover....but...the flight number stays the same. There is so much that I just don't understand about airline mentality.

Anyway, this gives me time to write a blog entry so that it won't be hanging over my head when I get home to Casey and Ken. So much, I am sure, to catch up on there. Did they get the halloween costume? Homework finished? Book read? Was everything peaceful and serene? I'll be happy if all is well and I don't need to "fix it." We shall see.

NYC was fun...a lot. All the meeting-ups happened with perfection. The hotel in some mysterious, psychic fashion knew we all belonged with one another and had our rooms together in a cute, separate, hidden wing of the hotel. As they had no clue about our connection, the serendipity of this is intriguing.

We all were very pleased with the charmingly named The Hotel @ Times Square, recommended to us by our friend Kathy Woods, who worried that we would not like it. So...Kaydee, you are in the clear.

Actually, the hotel is not on Times Square but a few easy blocks away which is good, for who would want to really be staying where half the world's humanity roams day and night? We did form one with the masses a few times when we walked through on the way to elsewhere. I haven't been there for years but can't say that it was any new or different from years past.

Friday lunch friend Leslie, from Georgia, and I "dined" at Batali's pesce (fish) restaurant Esca which was excellent!! With a bottle of excellent white wine from Le Marche, selected for us by the wine guy, accompanying my so good grilled bluefish with little dried tomato garnishes, I was happy. Oh, I did start with soft, creamy, fresh, flown in yesterday from Southerrn Italy, bufala mozzarella garnished with tiny leaves of argula. I wonder if Batali will migrate to San Diego?

By the time we meandered our way back to The Hotel @Times Square, Sheri and Carol were there so I traded Leslie in for them and we explored our way to Rockefeller Center and environs. Thought I would buy a cute little halloween candy at the Chocolatier for Casey but at $20 a lollipop, he is being deprived.

New Friend Carol, Sheri and Leslie

Sheri and Me
Dinner Friday was at the Spice Market which was good but not as spectacular as I had anticipated. On the way there, Carol, Sheri and I had a hard time flagging a taxi. One finally stopped and said he was off duty but would kindly take us there for $30; we said no. But, we were tired of hustling a ride and the time of our reservation was approaching, so we settled on $25 which would include a tip. The taxi back was $8.10

After dinner Sheryl from NYC took us on a stroll along the new New York park The Highline which runs above the street along tracks that used to run between factories. We had a good time with Sheryl who gave us many good insider tips

This is one of the five courses at the Greek Market. Very tasty!

Almost time for my next flight..I'm in Chicago. This is a good stopping point as it is the end of day one

I can upload here so will do installment two once home.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Off to the Big Apple

I am excited! Sometimes it is just good to be with women friends--no men allowed. Can't say that I have ever really done this before except for conferences or a day trip or...the time I traveled Italy by myself for 10 days. Need to do that again one of these days. I found that although I missed Ken and home, I really enjoyed the adventure and freedom of accountability to no one except me. Moving from place to place and meeting up with friends was quite liberating.

So Thursday morning I take off for 5 days in NYC with several friends coming from various places--Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida and then me all the way from SoCal. It will be fun. Several of us are staying at the same hotel--which we hope is bedbug free. (Note: need to remember to keep luggage off the floor.) When I called to ask what they had done about bedbugs, it was as if I were from another planet--bed bugs? We don't have bed bugs. Sure hope not.

Our plans revolve a lot around food. In fact the impetus of the trip is to visit Eataly, the US mecca of the famous food emporium in Torina, Italy. You may think you have been to a foodie haven somewhere but all else pales against Eataly--particularly if you are an Italy0phile. In fact, this is sort of appeasing myself for having missed a trip to the real place in 2010, the first year I've missed Italy since 2000. I am homesick.

Opening Day at Eataly New York

Our homage to food includes:
  • Friday lunch: Esca--Mario Batali's Southern Italian Seafood Trattoria.
  • Friday Dinner: Spice Market--Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Asian inspired cuisine. I've eaten at several of his restaurants over the years and they are wonderful regardless of the focus. Can't wait.
  • Saturday Noon: A walking tour of Greenwich Village, stopping at several eateries for tastings.
  • Saturday Dinner: Italian meal, of course. Pepolino. Reviews are excellent and it sounds like it will be fun and not stuffy. A time to enjoy and laugh with friends.
  • Sunday: Breakfast at the Grey Dog, a walk through Chelsea Market and then off to Eataly where we will wander, roam and, of course, have lunch. My big question is: What will the quality of the gelato be?
And... that is the end of the food orgy, I think. Sunday night most people head home but a couple of us are staying for a night at the theater. We are going to Fela which promises to be a rip-roaring, loud, fun evening of music and dance encompassing a moving story. Can't wait.

Going to NYC and not shopping seems a travesty but, that will be another time. This is a time for fun, laughter, sharing and caring. I promise to post pictures worthy of culinary envy.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Teachers Make a Difference

I've been in a writing slump. Happens sometimes.  Not sure if it's because life suddenly becomes boring or because I miss the interesting stuff that surely happens all around me each day. Common sense tells me there are thousands of things to light a thought which in turn can trigger a muse. So...I think that I've just allowed a spell of lethargy to take over. Va bene (ok)...we need vacuums sometimes to give overworked brains a rest.

Now, I do want to share what I have been focused on this week. It is not a new thought nor earth shattering or unique to me. At the same time, it is not one that everyone shares. I hope to set that straight right now.

Mrs. Henetz 4th Grade
Teachers are important and they do make a difference in lives which means, ultimately, in changing the world. And...I am convinced that the vast majority of these changes and contributions are  positive and good. Most teachers are good at what they do. I know this from the perspective of having been a recipient of the wisdom of teachers and from having been a teacher, an observer and evaluator of teachers and, most importantly, a parent, past and present.

This past week I had reason to reflect on the teachers Casey has had in the last 7 years and realize that out of those 21 dedicated people, only 2 have been duds. This translates into two teachers who not only did not motivate him but instead squelched his enthusiasm for learning, damaged his self-confidence and  negatively impacted his performance.

His second grade teacher was such a one--for some reason she insisted that this very bright boy was "slow."  Fortunately, we were able to compensate for her by what we did at home. I have often wondered, though, what happens to children in the clutches of someone like she but who do not have compensating home environments. We lose kids this way--sometimes very early in their young lives.

Mrs. Hanna-Kinder
Then there are the ones who fall into the ranks of the truly gifted teacher--the one who magically reaches all the students, motivating performance high above the expectation. As I review Casey's school years, I am so pleased to realize that he has had at least 6 teachers who fall into this category--and there are two more candidates in his current 7th grade schedule. He has been fortunate.

Mrs. Kang-2nd Grade
One of this year's crop is his advanced algebra teacher (yes, in 7th grade--when did we/you take it?)  Last year the other of his two poor teachers was his advanced pre-algebra teacher who managed to demoralize Casey, he who at one time scored 600 out of 600 on the state math test, into doing so poorly that he was not recommended for the sequential 7th grade class--advanced algebra.

I lobbied with the vice-principal and counselor to put him into the class anyway, convincing them he deserved the chance. They struck a deal with him that if he did not have at least a B by the end of the first 6 weeks, he would need to repeat pre-algebra.

Mrs. Johnson-5th Grade
And this is where the new candidate for exceptional teacher comes into play. His algebra teacher has him turned on, excited and confident. He is currently carrying a 103.9% average for his work. She is the antithesis of his 6th grade teacher.

Yes, a teacher can make a great difference. We expect kids to have good attitudes but forget that often they will simply reflect the attitude of the adult at the front of the room.

Maestra Anna Maria and Agatha 3rd Grade Italy
And...I believe that he may well have two more such teachers in his life this year. If so, he is a very lucky boy.

The pictures on this post are of those teachers who have made a positive difference in Casey's life. I say thank you to each of you and know that your legacy lives in him.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Trying Something New.......

Blogging from the iPad has had some limitations. A major one being not able to post photos to an entry. Another was not being able to compose off-line.

Well, tonight I learned through a friend about a couple of apps that blow away these problems. Thanks, Roz. These two are so cool!

I am composing this off-line using the app Blogpress. When I am through I will have the option of saving it as a draft to be posted later or posting it immediately to my regular blogspot blog.

Because I am testing various program features, I am uploading a random picture currently in iPhotos on my iPad. Let's see if it works.

Meet Jordan and Justin beginning their terrible twos.

This has been an experiment. Hopefully, successful.

Yes! It worked!

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nary a Prophtess in Sight

When you are my age--not quite ancient--you have had a variety of previous lives. Some quite forgettable, some equally memorable but most just the stuff of which our years are made. Somehow during that time we progress from infant, to child, to adolescent, to young adult, to mid-life and beyond.

In one of my lives I was an educator and, I like to think, a good one. I began in junior high school (this was before the transition to middle schools) where I taught English and for a brief period, social studies. Classes were strictly divided by ability--high, medium and low; although in an effort to fool the kids and parents, they were called x, y, z. Interestingly, these levels usually differed in color.

Classes ran about 40 or so; desks were in straight lines from front to back; the worse rule infraction was an occasional gum chewer; seldom was a student "sent" to the office; parents arrived in droves for open house and much learning was rote. Yes, this was a long, long time ago, for sure.

I arrived on the cusp of change and so soon my classes sat in semi-circles;  students were allowed to dialogue which introduced noise; rote, except for spelling, gave way to inquiry and debate; personal interpretation of what the author may have meant overshadowed multiple-choice. We began to teach our kids to think independently, creatively. They even were allowed to do the unthinkable--question the teacher.

One of the areas with which I met success was helping students learn how to write--well. This was before the days of "random" writing where kids learned to write in the absence of learning structure, sentence variation, grammar or anything else that might restrict creativity. In my mind, these were the lost years of instruction as witnessed today by the number of "grown-ups" who have difficulty creating the written word. Bizarrely, at this career point, I was an administrator and so was tasked with making certain that teachers taught this free-thought writing approach.

It is totally possible and a reasonable expectation that students write well structurally and still be creative and mesmerizing--a la the great writers. Fortunately, the pendulum has swung some and teachers now focus on creativity and style. Unfortunately, many of these teachers are a product of the "lost years" and so are having to do some catch up themselves. This is not a huge problem as all that I knew about writing and the teaching of writing I learned as I taught.

Anyway, all of the above is lead-in to my current failure.... Casey. He has  no interest in my stored wisdom as he writes for his English class. He clearly labors under the thought that I can't possibly understand what he and his teacher know. Having thrown at him the totally logical thought that we pay for his Italian and algebra tutors, but that he has a free English tutor, you would think he would be thankful. No! He turns his back.

In a way it is simpler; I can just turn him over to Mr. Silvestri and not worry --forget that my very insightful input might help his grade--no matter. Yes, life gets easier sometimes if you just let go.

It has been said: "I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown."
Luke 24:4

The hometown is right here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Super Good Fish Tacos

Yep--another recipe from non-Dolly Domestic. Truthfully, I am much more at home writing about Kenya or Italy or Casey or SP than I am about cooking; however, once in awhile I do have some culinary star to share. Such is tonight. This was our second time with these and we loved them both times--even Casey--he who doesn't like much. The sauce is what makes these a cut above others.

Crispy Fried-Fish Tacos
1/2 cup mayhonaise
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 pound tilipia fillets, cut into 4 by 1 inch strips
2 large eggs, beaten
3 cups panko

Shredded cabbage
Lettuce leaves
Sliced Scallions

  1. In a bowl, whisk the mayonaise with the hoisin sauce, relish and lemon juice.
  2. In a large, reusable plastic bag, combine the flour, garlic and onion salts and white pepper. Seal bag and shake. Add fish and shake to coat.
  3.  Dip fish in the egg and then in panko. Transfer to wax paper.
  4. In a deep skillet, heat the oil to 350°. Fry fish  over moderate heat, turning once, until golden. Drain on paper towel. 
  5. Serve fish with warm corn tortillas.
Garnish with hoisin sauce, shredded cabbage, shredded lettuce, cilantro and sliced scallions.

And, as usual, I forgot about taking pictures so just use your imaginations. You can send me a photo when you make them. They are yummy!

From: Food and Wine, 2010

Monday, September 06, 2010

Amboseli-The Last Adventure

Last stop on safari--Amboseli National Park. We really weren't ready for our  grand adventure to end but what can you do? 

What we did was enjoy each moment left to us--savoring each landscape, each sunset, each wildlife sighting. Mt Kilimanjaro shone for us each morning as we opened tent flaps; Masai children greeted us with smiles and song.

We arrived to this wonderland on a small Cessna--just big enough for the pilot and we three. Casey, in the co-pilot's seat, peered out the window at the animals below-not sure that this was all going to end well.

Landing completed this very cool experience as there, in the middle of the bush, was a shack, a vehicle and our driver with cold drinks and treats. Soon a chief from one of the scattered Masai villages arrived on his motorcycle welcoming us to the Amboseli Bush. We were in a world far from our own.

After another 45 minute drive over boulders, bush and ruts, we arrived at our new oasis--Satao Elerai--a beautiful, camp, seemingly arising magically from nowhere. Below us was a water hole being visited by a herd of elephants. Birds filled the air. It was warm and silent and majestic.

 That afternoon we visited a Masai boma (village) which was similar to but different from the Samburu village we had been in earlier on the safari. The huts were a little more refined, the layout a little more communal. Daily life though was about the same--wood gathering, games, school for the children, basket and jewelry making. Life is hard but routine.

Satao Elerai leases its land from the Masai community and works with the villages through The Satao Elerai Community and Wildlife Trust in efforts to protect the wildlife and eco-systems in that area. The trust also provides clothing and medical help to the people of the boma we visited.

The next three days we saw the animals of the bush--elephants, giraffes, lions, buffalo, birds and more. Although we had seen such animals many times by now, the thrill hadn't left. Each new encounter was as awesome as the first time. How can watching an elephant community in their own environment, relating and interacting oblivious to  intruders become boring? No way...........

Does the ethereal beauty of giraffes ambling through trees and bush become mundane? I don't believe the Masai think so.

There was so much we saw, leaving us with vivid kodachrome memories. Here are a few more--samples of what is there. Really, you do need to go--it is unlike any vacation you have had before! This was our second, Tanzania in 2002 and, I think, Botswana will be next.

We worked with Southern Cross Safaris in planning our individual safari; however, they do offer small group safaris, also.

I also recommend Menengai Holidays. Daniel is a delight to work with and offers quality programs.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lake Nakuru--Baboons, Rhinos and More

Lake Nakuru has just about everything in terms of Kenyan wildlife but what truly distinguishes it are the pink and white flamingos--sometimes upwards of a million covering the surface of the water, making it seem as if there is no lake. They stand in one legged splendor, bent over claiming the algae on which they thrive.

In recent years, the land around the lake has been designated as Lake Nakuru National Park. Not only is it populated by many species it is, importantly, a sanctuary for the endangered Black Rhino.

Actually, these are white rhinos--white rhino aren't white.
In the early 1900's there were several thousand Black Rhino in Africa but by 2004 the number had dropped below 2500. Poachers decimated the numbers as their horns were sought for many purposes, including by the Chinese who would pound the horns into powder to use to stimulate sexual stamina and fertility. The horns are also used to carve decorations and jewelry. Though poaching is now illegal in Kenya and other African nations, it continues to flourish as poachers, using AK-47s, seek out both rhinos and elephants.

One of our favorite memories of Lake Nakuru is the antics and delightful entertainment provided by the baboons--who seem to think that the world is theirs alone. They are the antithesis of solitary souls but instead form large family and community units. Children are watched over and tended to as in the most protective human family. Mothers patiently groom children and provide free transportation. We spent a good 15 minutes watching young ones playing on a tree root, looking just like a bunch of children playing on jungle gyms in the neighborhood park.

We were hoping that we would see the elusive leopard here--but, no such luck. Kept telling our guide his tip depended on his spotting one for us but in 13 days, that never happened. We did get a great lion shot though.

This park is not far from Nairobi and other larger towns and so it is a field trip destination for school children. There were many school buses in the picnic area--all the kids in their uniforms and being just as enchanted with the resident baboons as Casey was. Fortunately, the park is large enough that it isn't a matter of being behind a caravan of buses while exploring --that would be a rather not pleasant Disney Land feeling, I think. It is a pretty cool field trip, though.

Nakuru is a small park, unlike the Mara and Amboseli which comes next. We spent just one day there; however, we saw many many species--giraffes, warthogs, buffalo, zebra, rhinos,eagles, maribou storks, heron and more--but no elephants; they are not in Lake Nakuru Park. Also, missed the pythons which were in hiding that day.

Buffalo and Friends
Our Digs at Lake Nakuru