Monday, May 25, 2009

Books for Vacation

Beach reading!!
Well, we've got our books all ready for this summer's Cape Cod vacation - books are priority number one when it comes to vacation planning. Here's what's on the list this year:
  • "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou - I've wanted to read this story of Maya's childhood for several years, and happened upon it recently at Barnes & Noble.
  • "The Outermost House" by Henry Beston - Beston wrote this story about his year of life on the Outer Cape, and what he experienced each season. I started it last summer and am about 3/4 of the way finished, so will hopefully be able to complete it this year.
  • "In the Footsteps of Thoreau" by Stuard Derrick - another book started last summer, it maps out the trail Thoreau took as he walked all of Cape Cod. It is broken down into walks that can be done in less than a day, and includes directions and anecdotes, along with quotes from Thoreau. I'm hoping to complete Walk #8: The Outermost Walk this year - it's approximately four hours long, and will take me out onto Nauset Spit and past the location where The Outermost House sat before it was washed out to sea during a violent winter storm.
  • "Cape Cod" by Henry Thoreau - we found this last summer at the lovely Ebb Tide Restaurant Gift Shop. I'm about 1/3 of the way through this first-hand account of Thoreau's walk along the Cape, including many illustrations of his hand-drawn maps.
  • "Most Loved Treats" by Jean Pare - no vacation reading list would be complete without at least ONE cookbook! This one is all about special cakes, desserts, and other treats. Some of them are bound to be good for Christmas baking and neighbor gifts.
  • "Essential Guide to Cake Decorating" by Alex Barker - just one more cookbook...I couldn't resist it, and it was on sale. It has detailed instructions and photos that teach about fondant, which I've never worked with, along with other useful decorating techiques. exciting to think about relaxing on the beach, under the umbrella, or inside the cozy cottage, lazily reading books all day. Pure heaven!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cell Phone Photo to Twitpic

Airstream Sovereign spotted at a red light today!Most of my Tech Tip posts are written so I can remember how I did something the next time I try to do it again!

I just had success with photographing this Airstream trailer trundling along the street in front of me, using my cell phone camera and uploading the photo to Twitpic. From Twitpic, the photo can also automatically post to my Twitter feed. Here's how it works:

  1. First, of course, you need a Twitter account, which automatically gives you a Twitpic account; then you can just go to and log in to it using your Twitter username and password.
  2. In Twitpic, click on Settings, where you'll see your Twitpic mobile upload email address.
  3. In your cell phone, create a new contact named Twitpic.
  4. Next, scroll until you can see the email address box for the contact; key in the email address listed on your Twitpic Settings page, and Save the contact.
  5. You are now ready to send a photo, so...take a photo with your cell phone. Then, select the photo and click on Send Photo. Key Twitpic into the To field, and use the Subject line to write in a description of the photo. Press Send.

That's all there is to it! Your photo will post to Twitpic, and also to your Twitterfeed, and you'll feel all techie!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

iPod Songs: Wabash Cannonball

The story behind the song(s)...

By now, you've probably read my growing up story. My father called us gypsies, and we stopped our home on wheels just about anywhere at all (but usually in rural areas) as we wandered around the US. The modern term for what we did is "boondocking," but for us it was just everyday life - no modern conveniences, and water was lugged from nearby rivers and streams. Nowadays there are lots of books and online guides with tips for successful boondocking, but we somehow managed to get along without those. In fact, I think we could have written a few of them!

In the confined space of our gypsy wagon, and with 9 children, 2 parents, and several pets, there's wasn't room for toys or games, so we created our fun in different ways. We hiked just about anywhere you could hike. We played with things we found in nature. And, in the evenings after supper, we sometimes sang songs around an outdoor campfire.

My father played the guitar, the fire crackled, the stars shone in the dark night sky over Death Valley or a California beach, and we sang these songs. The Wabash Cannonball is one of my favorites, although I like all of the ones on this playlist. Listening to them on my iPod takes me back to those campfires so long ago, and our times out in the boondocks.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Canning - Victoria Sauce

In the manner of Alaskan Dave Down Under, I thought I'd document the making of my annual batch of Victoria Sauce (a fabulous rhubarb chutney that's great on ham or pork).

To do this, I highly recommend a canning pot, which, in addition to the large pot, also has a handy metal rack for holding, lowering, and lifting the jars and lids in and out of the water baths. I'm doing without, however, because we gave our pot away a few years ago, and I'm just using a large stockpot.

One thing you'll DEFINITELY want, though, is a Ball Canning Utensil Set, in addition to jars and fresh lids. The Utensil Set has a handy gripper for raising and lowering jars, a magnetic lid grabber, and a wide-mouthed funnel, which keeps your jars clean (this assures an effective seal).

Here's the canning process I use:

  1. WASH and rinse jars, and set out to dry on a clean dishtowel, while you bring your large pot of sterilizing water to a boil.

  2. STERILIZE jars and lids by submerging in simmering water that fully covers them. Be sure jars are not touching to avoid breakage, and leave in water for 15 minutes.

  3. COOL jars and lids by using tongs and lid grabber to pull jars and lids out of water. Set them out to dry on the towel.

  4. COOK the item you're canning while your jars sterilize. In my case, I'm making Rhubarb Victoria Sauce chutney. I love the sweet-sour scent that fills the kitchen when making chutney.

  5. FILL jars, just to bottom of jar threads - the filled jars need a bit of air room at the top. Use the wide-mouth funnel when filling jars, which prevents spills on the jar top edge - very important! Wipe all jar top edges to remove any spills, just to be on the safe side.

  6. LIDS and bands are then screwed on firmly, but not extra tight.

  7. BOIL covered jars for 30 minutes.

  8. COOL jars by using tongs, pulling jars out of water, and setting them on towel. After about 1/2 hour, check to make sure lids are slightly indented for a complete seal. If you find any that have not done this, set them back into the boiling water again. That should do the trick. Label jars with pretty labels available in the grocery or craft store. My favorites are some that I bought a few years ago, made by Susan Branch - so pretty!

PS - I swear by the Ball Blue Book, which is full of detailed canning instructions, plus lots of great recipes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

4,000 Questions - #12: Values

Here's the background info on the 4,000 Questions posts...

Question #12: What is the one family value you believe in the most?

Growing up, it was a given that individual differences were acceptable and "normal." We were living a rather unusual life ourselves, so not only was this value spoken and implied to us as kids, but we also lived it every day.

We learned that everyone should be able to make choices that suit their own lives and personalities, and that there is no right or wrong way to live, as long as you're not breaking the law or otherwise infringing on others.

It's obvious that this value has been embraced by my family. Anyone stopping by for a visit during a holiday celebration will find such a mix of characters and lifestyles, and every one is "right" for that person.

I try to continue to live this value, and am so glad I learned it as a child. I hope I'm effectively passing it on to my daughter.

What is the one family value YOU believe in the most?.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Photo Expedition - Route 22

On Mother's Day, my daughter lets me choose the locale, and we head out on a photo expedition. This means taking a camera along, with plenty of charged batteries, and seeking out beautiful photo opportunities and taking hundreds of shots. It's fun, creative, and helps us look at things a little more closely and with an eye toward framing a great shot.

This year, we decided to head south down scenic Route 22 just over the border in New York. Here's what we found as we meandered along

(NOTE: I can't figure out how to slow down this slide show. If it's running too fast, just hover over it until the control buttons appear, then click Pause. You'll be able to continue playing it when you're ready, or use the arrows to view one photo at a time.):

We had a lovely meal (late lunch, early dinner) at the quaint and cozy Hillsdale Crossroads Diner. It was pleasant inside, with friendly servers, interesting old farm implements hanging from the ceiling, and the requisite aluminum diner backsplash. They serve breakfast all day (hallelujah!), so I had my favorite corned beef hash and poached eggs. My daughter had the special - popcorn shrimp and fries.

Crossroads Diner on Urbanspoon

After that, we turned around and headed home again...still finding many great shots along the way. And, we still made it home with plenty of time to spare for uploading photos and creating slideshows!

PS - If you head out on one of these rural road trips, be sure to gas up the car ahead of time, pack water bottles and snacks, and bring cash! It can often be quite some time before you can get these items. We ended up needing cash to pay for our meal, as the restaurant didn't take cards, so went to the nearby gas station ATM. It only could dispense ONE $20 bill!

Alphabet of Daily Life - K

K is for the Kitchen...

This is the heartbeat of our home, where just about EVERYthing happens. When we first moved into our house, the kitchen needed our immediate attention. We had to get rid of the faux flagstone floor, the pink countertops, and the pink, black and cream striped wallpaper scattered with pink flowers. I also did my first tile install, including use of a wet-saw, by putting in a tile backsplash over the counters.


Obviously, all of the cooking takes place in the kitchen. After a long day at work, it's nice to just pour a glass of wine, put a good CD into the under-cabinet player, and set to cooking.

I have a beloved cookbook collection (they MUST have pictures...after all, how would someone know how the end result should look without a photo?). And, the cookbooks are used to plan out menus, both for our weekly repasts as well as for parties and holidays. We try to eat something new as often as possible. It's also not at all unusual for us to serve a completely new dish that we've never tried before to guests. So far, everyone's lived.


Yup, love to can (but not fruits and vegetables). I make chutneys or preserves. My all-time favorite is Victoria Sauce which is a rhubarb chutney; we use it on ham and pork, and also give it out (very parsimoniously) as gifts. I used to have a fabulous old canning set, but gave it to Goodwill in the midst of our moving-into-our-new-house frenzy. So, I now use a large stockpot. It does the same job, but without quite the same degree of convenience.


The handy counter height table and chairs we added to the "empty" side of the room make great homework and other writing or creative work space. My daughter will often do her homework here while I'm cooking.


For some reason, during holidays, EVERYONE ends up in the kitchen. I'm cooking away, usually handing out cooking tasks to others, and everyone mills about or sits at the table, chatting and sniffing the good scents. We're wondering if our recent living room remodel will entice everyone to move into that room or if they'll still stay in the kitchen?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hilarious "Diary" About the Gym

Note: I did not write this! Someone emailed this funny story to me, and it made me laugh. And, I had just published the Elliptical Trainer Tips post, so this was especially timely. I tried to find an author's name somewhere, but didn't spot, if you are the author, my apologies for not crediting you - please let me know.

Our business photographer happens to go to the same gym I do - Planet Fitness - and we recently commiserated about trying to build up our stamina as well as our muscles. Here's the funny email he sent to a group of us who are all painfully trying to get in shape...


Dear Diary,
For my birthday this year, my Husband (the dear) purchased a week of personal training at the local health club for me. Although I am still in great shape since being a high school football cheerleader 43 years ago, I decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and give it a try. I called the club and made my reservations with a personal trainer named Christo, who identified himself as a 26-year-old aerobics instructor and model for athletic clothing and swim wear. My husband seemed pleased with my enthusiasm to get started! The club encouraged me to keep a diary to chart my progress.

Started my day at 6:00 a.m. Tough to get out of bed, but found it was well worth it when I arrived at the health club to find Christo waiting for me. He is something of a Greek god - with blond hair, dancing eyes and a dazzling white smile. Woo Hoo!! Christo gave me a tour and showed me the machines. I enjoyed watching the skillful way in which he conducted his aerobics class after my workout today. Very inspiring! Christo was encouraging as I did my sit-ups, although my gut was already aching from holding it in the whole time he was around. This is going to be a FANTASTIC week-!!

I drank a whole pot of coffee, but I finally made it out the door. Christo made me lie on my back and push a heavy iron bar into the air then he put weights on it! My legs were a little wobbly on the treadmill, but I made the full mile. His rewarding smile made it all worthwhile. I feel GREAT-!! It's a whole new life for me.

The only way I can brush my teeth is by laying the toothbrush on the counter and moving my mouth back and forth over it. I believe I have a hernia in both pectorals. Driving was OK as long as I didn't try to steer or stop. I parked on top of a GEO in the club parking lot. Christo was impatient with me, insisting that my screams bothered other club members. His voice is a little too perky for that early in the morning and when he scolds, he gets this nasally whine that is VERY annoying. My chest hurt when I got on the treadmill, so Christo put me on the stair monster. Why the heck would anyone invent a machine to simulate an activity rendered obsolete by elevators? Christo told me it would help me get in shape and enjoy life. He said some other crap too.

Christo was waiting for me with his vampire-like teeth exposed as his thin, cruel lips were pulled back in a full snarl. I couldn't help being a half an hour late - it took me that long to tie my shoes. He took me to work out with dumbbells. When he was not looking, I ran and hid in the restroom. He sent some skinny broad to find me.Then, as punishment, he put me on the rowing machine -- which I sank.

I hate that crazy Christo more than any human being has ever hated any other human being in the history of the world. Stupid, skinny, anemic, anorexic little aerobic instructor. If there was a part of my body I could move without unbearable pain, I would beat him with it. Christo wanted me to work on my triceps. I don't have any triceps! And if you don't want dents in the floor, don't hand me the darn barbells or anything that weighs more than a sandwich.The treadmill flung me off and I landed on a health and nutrition teacher. Why couldn't it have been someone softer, like the drama coach or the choir director?

Satan left a message on my answering machine in his grating, shrilly voice wondering why I did not show up today. Just hearing his voice made me want to smash the machine with my planner; however, I lacked the strength to even use the TV remote and ended up catching eleven straight hours of the Weather Channel.

I'm having the Church van pick me up for services today so I can go and thank GOD that this week is over. I will also pray that next year my husband will choose a gift for me that is fun -- like a root canal or a hysterectomy. I still say if God had wanted me to bend over, he would have sprinkled the floor with diamonds!!!

Elliptical Trainer Tips

I've been trying to make the switch from the treadmill to an elliptical trainer (the machine with foot pedals and moving hand grips) because I understand that it provides a better lower body workout. However, on the treadmill, I can easily do 3 miles at a Level 15/Random, but could only do 5 minutes or less at Level 1/Random on the elliptical. So, I asked others for advice. They all looked at me like I was nuts when I said I could only manage 5 minutes.

Being a problem-solver, I decided to figure this thing out. I've managed to move up to 10 whole minutes, using these tips:

  1. Keep your feet near the front of the pedal, rather than the back. People who can do it will tell you to keep your feet toward the back, to achieve better results. Don't do it! The further back you put your feet, the further you have to reach for the hand grips and the more uncomfortable the workout. Save it for when you're a pro.
  2. Do use your heels to push the pedals down, rather than your toes. This will give you a better back-of-the-leg workout, and will save the front of your thighs from screaming after only a few minutes.
  3. Don't bother using headphones to watch one of the gym TV shows. First, since the headphone jack is powered by your workout, power stops if you stop or slow down too much. Once power stops, you have to turn the jack back on and re-select your channel, volume, etc. Second, you'll get into a much better groove if you listen to your own iPod or listen to the gym music - it helps you get into a nice stride that makes the workout feel less painful.
  4. Use your arms to power the hand grips back and forth, rather than letting your legs do all the work. This not only gives you an arm workout, but also lightens the burden on your legs.
  5. Keep your speed up to at least 2.5. If you go slower than this, it's really tough on your upper thighs. Slower is actually harder.
  6. Don't go backwards at first. People will tell you that this gives you better results. However, if you are unable to do it for more than 5 minutes, it's not much of a workout. Instead, stick with going forward until your muscles have become used to the movements.

Following these tips will hopefully help other newbies avoid the "jelly legs" that I was getting by doing all the wrong things myself!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sanguine Sangria

We have a new favorite thank-God-it's-Friday-it's-been-one-helluva-week's a Mexican restaurant called Xicohtencatl and is pronounced she-ko-ten-cat.

It's in Gt. Barrington, which is a bit of a drive for us, but a pleasant one, especially in spring when everything is fresh and green and the tourists have not yet descended.

The decor is bright and excitingly ethnic with lots of color everywhere, and the Mexican music in the background adds to the light and festive mood. The outside seating is delightful - either on the the porch or down on the stone patio. We sat inside when it was still chilly in March, but were thrilled to be able to sit out on the porch this time, watching the setting sun. The porch ceiling above our heads was painted fuschia and orange, while the walls and porch posts are bright yellow.

On both of our visits, I've ordered the red sangria. Let me tell you how it tastes. For anyone who's seen the movie "The Big Night," you'll recall that Italian restaurant owners Primo and Secondo decided to hold a final dinner party with their dearest friends, and made one of their mother's very special recipes. The guests sat around the table, quietly savoring the delectable food...the best they'd ever tasted. Finally, one of the guests, Pascal (a jealous competitor), solemnly arose, walked slowly around the table toward chef Primo, took Primo's face in his hands and said in a husky voice, "God damn it, I should kill you! This is so f***ing good I should kill you!"

Yeah, the sangria tastes like that.

Xicohtencatl Mexican Restaurants on Urbanspoon


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