August….Some Goal Setting


Inertia often wins in this house. I’ve got a whole encyclopedia of excuses (some of which have actually been perfectly valid). I am famous for starting projects and never finishing them. (I get bored. I’m also starting to think I have a bit of ADD.) Concentration, let alone determination to get a task accomplished, is a really variable commodity. I have two friends who have encouraged me to set goals: Major Julie (who gets a frightening lot done while holding down a full time job and having a menagerie of kids and animals at home), and Sarah from Things I Make. (Sarah manages to quilt/sew, decorate stunningly beautiful cookies, and chase around two amazingly active and articulate children.) I am in awe of what they can accomplish over the course of a day.

So in that spirit, I am going to Make Some Goals for August. These goals reflect all sorts of aspects of my life, like fixing up the house and garden, dealing with my digital nightmares, and getting organized. I figured if I blog about it, you can all hold me accountable if I don’t get ’em done. Plus, I get to make lists, and crossing items off my lists is one of the greatest joys of my life.

So here’s my list of goals for August. I am hopeful that I didn’t bite off more than I can chew. What do you think, am I being realistic?

  • Read 2 books. (Currently checked out of the library: August: Osage County  by Tracy Letts, and Drive by Daniel Pink (who spoke at Sarah’s college graduation and was fantastic). Cookbooks do NOT enter into the 2-books/month equation.
  • Fix all irrigation problems. I’ve mentioned before that dealing with irrigation is the bane of my life. I have several areas in the front yard, and at least 2 in the backyard that have issues. I’ve managed to avoid large water bills by turning off various stations, but even in the front yard (where the water is still ON), I have dying roses. Unacceptable.
  • Add mulch to the back rose bed. This will take a LOT of mulch. But it should help keep the roses hydrated.
  • Get the carpets cleaned. This requires cleaning up huge messes around the house before a steam cleaner can even enter the premises.
  • Get skylight film installed. I am hopeful that this will help our dining room be a comparable temperature to the rest of the house. (It’s currently a LOT warmer.)
  • Move photo albums. We have stored our non-digital photo albums in a server in our dining room. Problem is that when they are located there, nobody looks at them. My “ah-ha” mment occurred when I was at a friend’s house and saw that she had hers on her bookcases. Why didn’t I think of that? Maybe then I can actually enjoy all those photos that I took over the years…
  • Organize and shrink all my digital photos. For some stupid reason, photos taken with an iphone are usually about 2M in size. Ridiculous. I need to shrink them down and then I bet I can backup all my data far more easily. This process will not be trivial. (WHY are they so huge? I need to find an app to shrink them before I transfer them to my computer.)
  • Get on the exercise bike 3 times/week. (I have never managed to have the self discipline to do this on any consistent basis.)
  • Update this blog 3 times (this entry doesn’t count). It’s not like I haven’t had anything to say….

I’m hopeful. And I’m working on nullifying all those excuses that get in the way of my being productive. (And this doesn’t factor in any of the started crafts projects that I really ought to get done, but…there are only so many hours I can potentially waste in a day!)

How do YOU stay engaged in getting things done?

Beef Veggie Soup from Memory


Many years ago, when I still lived in Maryland, my parents and I used to frequent a lot of craft shows, festivals, and the like. One of our favorite shows was the annual fall festival in Thurmont, MD. Invariably the weather would be cool and brisk, and there’d always be some vendor who was smart enough to serve a phenomenal beef vegetable soup.

Then I discovered that one of my co-workers, Liz Smith (are you out there, Liz?) regularly made this soup up at her farm in West Virginia. She had a big garden and did lots of canning, so she always made huge quantities of this soup. But she used a pressure cooker to cook the beef, and that always intimidated me, so I never got around to making it.

Years passed. I moved to California and lost touch with Liz (although thankfully I have reconnected with many of my other old buddies from the National Agricultural Library). And as I’ve become increasingly adventurous with cooking, I decided to see if I could recreate this soup – a dish I hadn’t tasted in over 30 years. I am convinced, however, that there is a distinct connect between taste buds and memories, and figured this would be a reasonable experiment. So I dug out Liz’s recipe and made some modifications. Here’s what I started with:


And then there was the beef…


The first potential problem was cooking the beef. I still didn’t have (or want) a pressure cooker, so I seasoned the beef with salt and pepper, and then opted to brown the chuck roast in a big pot and then finish cooking it in the oven. Liz’s recipe cooked the chuck roast in a cup of water with a bouillon cube; I opted for a can of consomme and about a half a can of water.



While the beef was cooking, I started prepping and assembling all of the veggies. Liz’s recipe called for quantities like “quarts of tomatoes” and “quarts of green beans.” I didn’t have any of that. So I took some wild guesses and started throwing ingredients together.

Once the beef was cooked, I took it out to rest for a few minutes on a cutting board. Then I skimmed off the surface fat from the broth.


Next, I chopped any veggies that needed to be chopped,  and then added them to the broth.


Then came all of the veggies.


Next, I cut the beef into small pieces and added them back into the broth along with the remaining seasonings.


Oops! This pot wouldn’t hold everything AND the remaining liquid (still to be added)…how about another pot?


Much better! Finally, I added the tomato juice and mixed everything together.


Yup, that fit a LOT better!

I brought it all to a boil, and then let it simmer for an hour (it’s done once the potatoes are tender).

Liz and the various festival vendors always added some sort of noodles (e.g. elbow macaroni) to the mix at the end, but I decided to leave it out. I like it both ways.

Served with some crusty bread, it makes a great meal on a sloppy winter’s day.



Beef Veggie Soup
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: American
Serves: a small country
  • 2 lb. chuck roast
  • 1 can consomme
  • ½ can water
  • 1 package frozen green beans
  • 1 package frozen corn
  • 1 package frozen peas
  • 4 handfuls baby carrots, sliced
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • tomato juice
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • handful of dried parsley
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 can lima beans, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 cups elbow macaroni noodles, cooked (optional)
  1. Brown chuck roast in 2 TBSP oil in a dutch oven. Add consomme and water. Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours, or until tender. Remove beef from broth, skim fat from surface. Chop/shred beef, return to pot.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to the pot.
  3. Bring to boil, then turn down heat and simmer for an hour or until potatoes are tender.
  4. Optional: add cooked noodles at the end of cooking time.



Getting Home Shouldn’t Be So Hard

Oh, the jet lag. This is just one of the by-products of a big trip to Australia/New Zealand. While the trip was fabulous, I had no idea that merely getting home could be such an arduous “adventure.” It’s yet another reason why maintaining a sense of humor is not only important, it’s vital.

We’d been away from home for over a month, culminating in a few days visiting friends in Melbourne. After all the previous traveling, it was wonderful to just unwind and visit (and play with an adorable 1-year-old, who really bonded with Larry). We flew back up to Sydney the night before the first leg of our scheduled flight(s) home, thinking that we’d get a decent night’s sleep near the airport and be able to get to the airport easily in the morning.


We arrived at our hotel near the airport, exhausted, but without incident. But that’s where all sense of normalcy ended. We checked into what was probably one of the smallest hotel rooms ever; there was a structural pole in the middle of the room, and there were about 4 inches around the sides of the bed in which one could move. We were sufficiently tired that we figured we could deal, and got ready for bed.

As I pulled the covers off the bed, a giant cockroach scampered out from beneath the blankets. I was sufficiently freaked that I didn’t get a chance to kill Megabug; it wisely headed under the bed where I couldn’t get to it. There was no way I was crawling into that bed, so we called the front desk attendant.

The attendant then showed up in our room with a can of roach spray. I was not keen on staying in the same room after the spraying of pesticides, so we were moved into another room (the hotel was going to clean up our room in time for some other folks who were checking in later that evening). So far, so good. The pole in that room was all the way on the side, so it didn’t interfere with normal movement and gave us a few more inches of space. We thought all was well.


About half an hour after we’d gone to sleep, we were jolted awake when our heads were sprayed with cold water. It seems that the air conditioner, which was located on the wall over our heads, decided to spew water all over us. Strangely enough, even though Larry turned the entire unit off, it continued to blow frigid air (to the point where the room became an icebox) as well as spray water. The front desk could do nothing for us; there were no available rooms left in the hotel and given it was the middle of the night, there were no repair people available. We ended up shoving the bed against the far wall (which was only about 3 feet away) and attempted to sleep.


Larry was unable to sleep after all this nonsense, but was able to determine that if he rolled up a towel and put it on the ledge underneath the air conditioner, he could stop most of the spray from reaching the bed. This worked well until each towel became saturated and fell onto the floor from the weight of the water. So every few hours, Larry came back, picked up the fallen towel, and replaced it with a dry one. When he wasn’t on towel duty, he ended up hanging out in the lobby (where there was NO ONE but the shuttle driver around). I managed to scrunch down to the end of the bed and cover my head with the blankets. Sheer exhaustion won.

I woke up in the morning feeling like something was crawling up my leg – I couldn’t find anything (and this could have been purely psychosomatic), but I jumped out of bed anyway. Larry came in and asked me how I wanted to deal with paying for the room. Based on the look on my face, he decided to turn me loose on the front desk attendants.

Strangely enough, I didn’t even need to rant in order to get a full refund. Merely complaining about how unacceptable our accommodations were in a calm voice did the trick. Score 1 for civility. For once.

Once we arrived at the Sydney airport, we discovered that our connection in Fiji (from Nadi to LA) was canceled. Apparently scheduling a flight without actually having a plane available isn’t all that unusual. This became especially problematic since I was scheduled to work on Monday. Then again, I was seriously becoming confused as to what the current day was. That pesky International Dateline thing kept rearing its ugly head. No worries, I’d just let my boss know about the snafu.


For some bizarre reason, the international terminal at the Sydney airport does not have wifi. Anywhere. The domestic terminals do, but not international. If there is a hidden message in here somewhere, I am missing it. At any rate, I managed to find a terminal that provided free Internet access via some random provider, so I was able to access email and let my boss know I would be AWOL.

Ok. No worries, we got to Nadi, Fiji, where apparently it’s a sauna. Washington, DC in August pales in comparison.

Those of us trying to get to LA were herded like sheep (and yes, I know what this looks like, I was just in New Zealand) through a series of lines where we were eventually told that we couldn’t fly out until Sunday morning. And we had to be back at the airport to check in at 4:30 AM.

It took about 40 minutes to get a shuttle bus from the hotel that was literally across the street from the airport to pick us up, but we were dropped at the hotel and the hotel folks were really nice. They helped us deal with our luggage, provided a room that was three times the size of the one in Sydney (and the roaches were the size of a dime, and limited to the bathroom, at least initially). They provided us a nice dinner, even with ice cream for dessert, in a room so heavily air conditioned that when we left it, our glasses immediately fogged up.

An actual human being gave us our wake-up call at 4:15, and we staggered out to the shuttle and got to the airport at 4:30 AM. Even at that hour, the climate was crazy hot and humid. But the Nadi, Fiji airport had it covered, with air conditioners like this:

(I did mention that a sense of humor was required, right? Here’s Larry, putting forth his best effort at 4:30 AM with piles of luggage. And it was his birthday.)

We had hopes that we could still get home on Sunday (given that International dateline thing), albeit very late.


We landed in LA at about 8:30, and it took so long to get our luggage and get through customs (which we had to do before the airline would book us a connection) that we were too late and were herded yet again through a series of lines that culminated in our being told we’d have to stay overnight in LA and have to get home to San Jose on Monday morning. The day really took a lousy turn when we realized that Larry had left his ipad – a birthday present from last year – on the plane. On his birthday.

Fortunately, we got to stay at the Hilton at LAX. Beautiful place, decent food, really nice people. Downright luxurious after the last two nights. I can’t even fathom how much the airline had to shell out for this place…(the place in Fiji was listed at $165!)

We’d had the foresight to schedule our trip home for 11 AM so that ostensibly we’d have time to check with lost and found at LAX for the ipad, and not have to get up at o-dark 30 again. We were SO close to actually getting home.


Strangely, American Airlines had no record of Air Pacific’s booking for us at 11 AM. There was a supervisor at the counter, so after about 30 minutes of finagling, she managed to get us seats on that flight. At least she got Larry a seat. We had to deal with the resurgence of a problem that had occurred when we first LEFT on our trip: somewhere in the booking process and many changes of flight information by the airlines, my last name was truncated. Therefore, the name on my passport didn’t match the name of the reservation and TSA will not let you onto a plane under those circumstances.

This was supposed to be fixed back on 11/3 when we left; we had spent an hour on the phone with the airlines, had to miss our flight to LA from San Jose, and ended up paying to get the name changed on the reservation AND having to buy a ticket from another airline (since AA had no available flights for us). This was FIXED, or else I wouldn’t have been able to leave San Jose. Why was this rearing its ugly head AGAIN?

Apparently Air Pacific had exchanged the ticket to be under my correct name, but did not give any indication to American Airlines what the exchange was FOR. 30 minutes later and multiple calls to Air Pacific (which apparently does not answer its telephones with any regularity), I had a ticket.

But then there was the issue of luggage. American thought that we were restricted to 2 checked bags. We had 3. We had not previously paid for any bag fees. American thought that we needed to pay for the 3rd bag. Then they couldn’t figure out how much to charge us for said bag. At one point they wanted to charge us by the kilo since we’d started out in Australia and that’s what they do there, with a cost of $273 for the one bag.

ANOTHER 30 minutes later, the American counter person said that the system was no longer asking for bag fees, so we somehow got the bag covered without cost. I have no idea what happened.

Larry had about 20 minutes to run next door to the Air Pacific counter to see about lost and found items. Unfortunately nobody was there. He figured his ipad was gone forever. What a lousy birthday.

We got on the plane and finally arrived home on Monday about 1 PM. Even the huge piles of mail did not affect my sense of relief.

But the most incredible thing occurred: Larry got an email from the airline saying that it had found his ipad and wanted to make arrangements to get it back to him. WOW.

So while getting home was incredibly hard, the vacation was fabulous. More on that soon. Once the jet lag abates.



The Homeowner’s Lament…

Oh irrigation system, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:

You clog in ways that make no sense.

You leak in areas I can’t even get to.

Your emitters break at the drop of a hat.

You surprise me with increased water bills, even when I check to make sure that everything is running “properly.”

Your tubing is nonstandard, and therefore a pain in the neck to replace.

Your pop-up sprinklers may pop up but not actually disperse water.

Or they may not even pop up at all.

Because I depend on you so much (since we don’t get rain for 6 months out of the year), I can’t just move plants around as I see fit. I have to move YOU around too.

You are unfortunately an all-too-necessary bane of my existence.

I had already come to grips with the all the home maintenance issues I need to deal with and haven’t until now (thank goodness for a contractor across the street). Soon we will replace an exterior door and part of a wall (termite/water damage, anyone?), replace all the electrically-connected smoke detectors (they are long out of warranty), finish installing a new screen door, and a few other  items around the house. I’d prepared myself for that. It’s frustrating that we’ve reached the point in our lives where household repairs aren’t nearly as easy for us as they used to be (and some things I could never do, like deal with electrical stuff). So now we get to hire more people. I suppose I could rationalize that we’ve paid our dues when we were younger and took care of all sorts of stuff ourselves, so now we’ve earned the opportunity to be able to hire others to do the difficult stuff. Sure I can. But it almost feels a little like defeat. Heck, and because I’m shrinking, I even have more trouble getting the filters out of the heat/air conditioning registers in the house because they are well over my head.

But I’d accepted all those things. And then I heard a little too much water from the irrigation system this morning. So I figured I’d better do a run-through of the yard and see what was wrong. I should have stayed in the kitchen.

There are approximately 5 leaks in the front yard. This means I have to dig up the yard in the wrongfully-wet spots just to see if I can figure out how to fix it. (Did I mention how much I hate dealing with irrigation issues?)

Then there’s the lawn sprinklers. Fortunately they are mostly ok, but one pop-up doesn’t dispense any water. I am guessing it’s clogged; I have to figure out how to take it apart, clean it out, and put it back together again. But there’s one zone of pop-ups that doesn’t even come ON, and yet I can hear water running. Oh joy and delight.

There are two areas of the yard where I can’t even see what the irrigation is doing. I’d pretty much have to hack plants back and dig around just to see if all is well. That’s going to get done LAST.

So much for my trying to plan for some landscaping upgrades. I had so hoped that come October (when the rains come), I’d be able to fix up one corner of the yard where I have a tree and a garden bench, and the edging along the lawn where I have some overgrown plants. Maybe in December. Maybe next year.

Maybe I’ll just go watch the football game.

It Took a Village to Give Me My Day of Rock Stardom

(Sorry for the lack of postings for a while; life intervened. Here’s just one of the ways in which it did…)

I have come to realize that in order for me to grow as a person, I need to do things that aren’t necessarily comfortable. I find that while this process may be good for me, it’s really hard for me to do. It’s so easy to not challenge myself and be complacent. But there was this one nagging idea I’d had that wouldn’t go away….

About 2 years ago, I had a wild (delusional?) idea that to celebrate my 50th birthday, I wanted to have one moment in the spotlight – where I could be a rock star. Clearly this idea occurred during one of my less-than-lucid moments; how do you transform from a meek, middle-aged housewife to a rock star? (I may be about Sheryl Crow’s age, but I sure don’t look anything like her…)

The other fundamental problems with this plan are: 1) this is completely out of character for me; I’m not a performer. 2) I’m definitely not a singer, and 3) I haven’t regularly played the piano in 35 years.

I mentioned all of this to my friend, Chantelle, who is a gifted music teacher/choral director/all-around awesome person, and she didn’t even bat an eye. She just replied, “Count me in!” I was encouraged, but then I proceeded to do virtually nothing about this for the next year and a half.

By Spring, 2012, I started to wonder if this was really an endeavor I could pull off. I had a tentative set list of songs that I liked (some of which had special meaning for me), and asked Chantelle if I was being completely nuts in even thinking about this. She thought I wasn’t nuts (!!) and then proceeded to line up backup singers, accompanying musicians and even tentative rehearsal dates within a matter of about 20 minutes. I was blown away.

Then I realized I needed a venue. I had waited too long to book our local synagogue and discovered that I had waited too long to book a LOT of places. Panic began to set in.

The more I thought about what I needed to do, and all the logistics involved, the more I thought about backing out. It all seemed way beyond what I could do; I didn’t have a venue, and it just seemed to cause undue stress. But that’s when my friend, Lucille, stepped in.

Lucille and I have been friends since we built a sugar cube castle together in 3rd grade. We know each other far too well, and when she realized I was completely thrashing, she suggested that we have the party at her house. Her comments were, “Just have it here. Parties are easy. The only part you have to figure out (besides the music) is how to get people up and down the driveway.”

You see, the driveway isn’t trivial. It’s 1/3 mile long, and the house sits atop a fairly sizeable hill. But there was plenty of room on the property, so we just had to figure out logistics of getting guests up and down the hill. Enter younger daughter, who called up some of her friends and they graciously agreed to form a shuttle service (as well as help out with food).

Various friends also stepped up to help out with providing chairs/tables, schlepping all sorts of items, baking my birthday cake, etc. My friend Kent agreed to photograph the event (and even provide backup videography). My family continued to be amazingly supportive. (I am still in awe of elder daughter’s organizational lists.) Both of my girls agreed to sing with me – and younger daughter even wrote a song. Even my sister-in-law, Ilene (a professional singer) agreed to sing while I attempted to play the piano.

But I still felt grossly inadequate to the task. Because it really was all about the music, and my skill set was at best incredibly rusty. It doesn’t help that when it comes to music, I am a perfectionist. I may not have that great a voice, but my ear is good enough so that I can tell exactly when I go off key. The 35-year-hiatus in playing the piano regularly made me feel like I was using someone else’s hands on the keyboard. And there was always the underlying worry of embarrassing myself in front of all of my friends. What was I thinking, trying to be a performer when I’d never really done so before?

I had voiced some of my concerns to my friend, Grant, who also happens to be a professional musician. He reminded me that I needed to acknowledge that the journey is just as much a part of the reward as the concert itself, and to just appreciate each moment as it occurs. If any mistakes occurred, it would just be part of the process and I needed to just go with it and move on. These words of wisdom sounded great, but I wasn’t sure if I could actually implement them.

And so the day came. Rehearsals had gone well (and had been a LOT of fun), but I had barely rehearsed with Ilene and realized that playing the piano with an audience was much different than practicing on my own. Mother Nature also decided to throw a monkey wrench into the mix by having the one heat wave of the year occur then. (The temperature had been in the low ’80s, and that weekend hit the upper 90’s. Heatstroke, anyone?)

It really did end up being all about the music. Despite the extreme heat (and my melting in the sun), the attack of nerves that made my hands shake uncontrollably during the piano pieces I played, and even missing the right notes vocally, it was glorious. And what an amazing thing it was, to look out at the audience and know that every single person there wanted me to succeed. I am still incredulous at the love and support I experienced that day, let alone the fact that we’d all pulled this off.

Who knew that a 50-year-old middle-aged housewife could be a rock star for a day? Apparently my friends and family did, even when I didn’t.

Maybe next I’ll try archery.