Here in the Heartland

Today I’m writing from southern Missouri, in America’s Heartland, close to where the Ohio River collides with the Mississippi at the bottom of Illinois. Every day has been chilly, damp and dreary just as I expected.

I know this country. Decades ago at this same time of year, when I was 7 months pregnant my husband and I packed up and hauled a dozen horses and a half dozen truck and trailer loads full of belongings across the country to start over again right here in America’s “Heartland”. This is where he grew up and knowing that a grandma would be right down the street was reason enough for me to give it a try.

When we arrived we stayed with his parents in their home situated on his grandparents’ 40-acre farm. We took walks through the defunct pastures and down the tree-canopied defunct railway that bisected the property. He rigged horse stables and pens together in the weathered old barn and when the deep chill of winter finally broke I dug a vegetable patch in the barnyard.

The soil was damp and loamy, scented with decomposed manure’s soft pungency. Sunshiny yellow daffodils sprouted randomly at the barn wall’s circumference.  The pastures greened with the spring warmth and tiny iridescent green leaves covered the old trees along the railway. Almost instantly spring had arrived in the Heartland.

I daydreamed about eating red ripe tomatoes and sweet peas off the vine as I worked the soil. I marked rows, dropped seeds and waited for my garden and me to give birth.


Away from the barn, we drove through the country to meet my husband’s friends, past old strip mines and woods suffocated with tangled vines and overgrown underbrush. We visited the horse trader whose mumbles about horse genealogies made the book of Genesis look like an adventure story.  And the coon-hunter, who, in a slow monotone drawl—praised—his—fast—hunting—dogs—for—treein’—dat—dar—coon—n—keep—em—der—til—mornin’. (Sounds like some excitin’ hunting now don’t it?)

But back at the barn there was more happening than either of these two men could have kept up with. Within hours green sprouts appeared on the garden’s surface. I mean, I’m here to tell ya, those seeds were barely in the ground long enough for that horse trader to get through even one mare’s lineage.

When night fell we nestled into our guest room and listened to the thunderstorms. Violent thunder. Winds. Cracks of lightning. Another thunderclap followed by a flash of lightning, again and again. And thick rain as if we were standing directly behind a waterfall. I feared for my fragile little garden greenlings.

peas on vine

In the morning I ran to the barn in and what do you think I saw? I swear those darn greenlings had grown an inch overnight. Stronger than I could have imagined. After pulling equally prolific weeds and feeding the horses we hopped in the truck and headed off for another day of visiting Heartland natives.

Again that evening rain storms moved through. The next morning, with ruler in hand, I’d surveyed my garden. Another inch on the tomatoes, green beans, peas and corn. Feathery stalks promised carrots within days, and lettuce would be on the table by the weekend. It was unbelievable, this life in the heartland. So lush and green and ready to grow that I dubbed it “the Jungle”.

Within weeks I was cradling my newborn, picking carrots and eating peas off the vine.* I could hardly wait for the tomatoes and corn to ripen to perfection and plate the combination for dinner. Oh how my mouth salivated just thinking about it.

3827465303_ecbc5ffcc5_zBut I was robbed. Literally. A heartland jungle Grinch snatched them right off the vine. Stole every last tomato from every last plant. Gone. Just like that. The peppers too, and most of the corn.

A few days later my dog disappeared.

I couldn’t believe it. I never expected such surreptitious acts, particularly in a place named Heartland.

After all that we took matters into our own hands. With a newborn in tow, we packed up and disappeared from the Heartland. It was not what we expected. But then again, starting over is like that. You never know what you’re going to get.

 *If you get a chance to eat fresh peas off the vine, I suggest you do. Few finer treats exist on the planet.




Living with a Chronic Condition: Wanderlust

Every one of us has unique quirks, neuroses and/or conditions that we have to live with. Mine is chronic wanderlust.

RV at Mesa Verde National Park

I’m rarely stationary.  Once I bought a home-on-wheels to accommodate it. I’ve since switched professions from Workcamper to Corporate Road Warrior.

Now I travel via planes, Ubers and rental cars and sleep in hotels. This job requirement keeps my wanderlust in check. It only took me 40 years to figure out that I could actually live with it instead of living in spite of it.

Man-made Rush Hour

Traditional job counseling directs us to get a college degree, pursue a passion. We’re taught to present our talents and abilities to potential employers via resumes and interviews. But we’re not taught to look at the conditions of we will work in or the environments that affect our productivity.

Some fortunate souls instinctively choose professions that match their personal preferences. Other, like me, had to figure it out through trial and error.

For example, when I was in high school I was hired by a Jewish woman to help her prepare for guests invited to her home for Seder dinner. I came hours before the guests arrived to assist with cooking and cleaning the kitchen. I stayed to serve the dinner and clean up following the meal.

I loved it. I loved the interaction with her guests and the meal presentation and the love that was shared around the table. She valued and respected the time and energy I put into my work. Before long I was hired each month, and then each week to help her or one of her friends or relatives.

In college, I worked at a department store in a mall. I loved selling find jewels and gold. But I hated the stale air, the incessant and conflicting music tracks constantly playing in other departments surrounding me in the store.

After college, I graduated to more professional positions where I chose salary, benefits and prestige rather than evaluating the workplace environment and how often I’d be able to get outdoors for some fresh air.

Had I known how important task-diversity and travel opportunities were to me back then, I probably would have traded my college education for a motorhome. Not everyone is cut out for college. And not everyone is cut out for a desk job. And it’s time we started counseling young people accordingly. Where and how you work is equally as important as what you do for work.

Now I have a job that fits me better than any job I’ve ever had before. But, it is by no means perfect. No job is. (That’s another thing that kids should know. I know that advise would have been valuable to me!)

Mount St Helens from the air

I love my job. I love the variety of tasks. I love the challenges. I love teaching and encouraging the people I train. I love the opportunities to travel and explore this amazing country we live in. But sometimes I have to do things I don’t like doing — like getting to the site.

For example, today is a “travel day”. Travel days, to get to where I do my work, are usually long, and surprisingly exhausting. I sip coffee at home, watch the sun climb up over the horizon onto a painted pink sky over a calm majestic ocean.  After a shower, I toss my wardrobe into a suitcase, hop into an Uber for an hour ride to the airport. I’m herded through security, ride the APM (Automatic People Mover) to the gate where I wait for my plane. It’s delayed. I wait longer and finally board.  A short flight and I’m dropped at a gate at my layover destination where I frantically swerve through travelers, climb the escalator, board a packed inter-terminal tram and race to the gate where I catch my next flight. After the second flight, I trek through the airport to baggage claim, then grab a 40-minute train ride to another hotel where I hail a cab to my hotel. Done and dog tired.

Assisted Rush Hour

That, my friend, is a travel day…. all 14.5 hours of it. In 5 short days, I’ll take another more-or-less similar trip to another part of the country.

This is how I live with chronic wanderlust. The travel days are grueling but quickly forgotten because job satisfaction, relationships, and adventures happen the minute they end.

Evaluate your work environment, responsibilities and salary equally and blaze a trail to a job and an environment that suits you!

Apps, Apps and more Apps!

While I’m on the subject of food (see last blog) I’m thinking about apps.

Haha, ohhhh! Where you thinking Apps as in phone apps? Well, if you’ve spent a great many years working in restaurants and hotels like I have, then “apps” has two meanings. The first of course are those delicious little bites that usually wreck our appetite before dinner. (Restauranteurs prefer the phrase “wet our appetite”, but let’s be honest here. Does this look like a starter or a meal?)

Anyway, here’s another one of my favorites. (Even if you don’t love octopus, it’s a beautiful presentation, right?

Grilled Calamari & Spanish Octopus

BTW, I usually order appetizers as my entrée, which keeps me in line with my daily calorie limit. (Here I’m enjoying Happy Hour at the Strater Hotel’s Office Spiritorium with my son.)

The other apps, of course, are the ones we put on our phones. Apps take up valuable space on your phone and since I don’t upgrade my phone when suggested, I was app-challenged. I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t download or work properly until I realized that I was overworking my phone, kinda like overfilling my belly and then wondering why I didn’t feel like running on the beach.

I had downloaded apps for making personalized imoges, photo editing, movie making and games for my grandchildren. (Yes, I have grandchildren, but that’s another blog.) And then, when my phone crashed, I went running to the Verizon store to find out what was wrong.

Of course they sold me a new phone. I was long overdue, and I wanted to play with all the cool apps I was learning about, so I agreed.

The Verizon salesperson advised me,“Yep, these games are what are using up all your memory. Don’t fill up your new phone with them.”

I felt like a total loser. I didn’t realize that I had so much entertainment at my fingertips.  I sit in airports and airplanes judging people mindlessly playing Solitare and Candy Crush for hours. I don’t have any app games on my phone. And then I realize that the Verizon dude is looking at the 6 games I have downloaded — preschooler games. (Now who’s judging who?)

At any rate, I guess I hadn’t removed the ones I didn’t like and now he was inferring that I might make immature decisions regarding my new memory space.

I didn’t. I’m actually as frugal with what apps I put on my phone as I am about what foods I select from a buffet. I listen to what my friends and colleagues are using and then I choose what’s best for me.

If you’re like me, you learn about new apps almost every week. So, I’m thinking that everyone knows about scanner apps. But apparently not, guessing by the number of times I’ve recommended it to others. I showed it to another corporate traveler this week and am blown away that someone who has to submit Expense Reports lives without it. Actually, it’s a must-have for practically everyone I know.

I started with the CamScanner app 3 years ago. It worked great back then. But since then the makers have monetized it so much that it’s difficult to get around all of the ads and get my work done. So, I switched to the iScanner app and man is it nifty!

Hidden in plain sight!

A scanner app is super-duper helpful. If you need to copy and email anything to anyone, all you need to do is open the app, snap a pic and save the image (even to PDF if you want). Done. It’s so simple a pre-schooler could do it. (Say, maybe I can teach my grandson how to submit expenses instead of putting together Paw Patrol puzzles.)

*** In researching links for my favorite scanner apps (Camscanner & iScanner) I came across a scanner built into My Google Drive! Simply click on the plus sign where you can add a new document and you’ll see the scanner. Sometimes the best tools are hiding in plain sight!

There’s More to Life than a Size 6 Waist

Last you heard from me I had made a New Year’s Resolution to get in better shape this year. I’m sure I’m not alone as this is one of the most “popular” resolutions in our country. So, how ‘you doin’?

Italian Ricotta Cheesecake & Cappucino in Boston’s North End

If you’re like me you’re tired of it. Tired of the incessant voice inside your head saying no to an occasional dessert and begging you to take a 20-minute walk on the wild treadmill. Tired of “shoulding” on yourself at the end of the day, when, yet again, you’ve found countless other things to do besides those short 20 minutes of physical activity.

I reasoned with that pesky voice inside my head, reminding it that my goal is consciously making healthier choices, and, in that regard, I have made progress. “But the excess inches on your waist remain fully intact,” the voice shoots back.

Lox & Benedict at the Delta Armory Hotel in London, Ontario, Canada

I tell the voice I’ve resisted snacking between meals most days. And the voice replies, “the number on the scale clearly indicates that not snacking is not making a difference.

And so begins the ping-pong of giving myself credit and taking it away.

I read a blog post by BlissfulBritt who writes about keeping her body healthy and quieting the voice inside her head.

“If I’ve learned anything from this need for control over my body it’s that trying to fix something you have very little control over is exhausting.”

Seasons 52 Wild Mushroom Pizza

She’s writing about a disease. I don’t have a disease. I have a warped body image. I’ve been trying to lose those extra pounds and inches since my 13th birthday. And, for a few brief moments in time I’ve succeeded. But I succeeded mostly because of illness, and stress, and misplaced priorities.

The fact is that I do watch what I eat. I do exercise 3-4 times a week. I do consciously make healthy choices. And I do LOVE food!

I can see from the photos on my phone that I’m 100 times more likely to snap and post a picture of a beautiful salad than a selfie. Reviewing my camera roll I noticed that most of the food I love is fresh, clean and good for me.

East By Southwest Sashimi in Durango, Colorado

So, like BlissfulBrit, I’m exhausted from trying to control my body. It may not be the shape I want, but it’s the shape I was born with. I haven’t abused or neglected it, and most of the time I’m pretty darn good to it. I know my limits.

So I’m going to follow Brit’s advise — give it some grace and acceptance. And start over. I’ll keep on eating what I love and finding fun ways to keep it in motion. Now, on to more important things.

Check out my YouTube video  to see a fun dessert served by lumberjacks in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

New Year’s Resolutions: One Choice at a Time

We’re already on Friday of the first week of the year.  How are you doing with your New Year’s Resolutions? Have you lost any weight? Seems like everyone wants to lose weigh in the new year. But quite possibly our bodies naturally urge us toward healthier eating simply because we’re excessively toxic from Holiday treats. Not making the switch would be self-destruction.

I didn’t do so great on my New Year’s Resolution to lose weight this week.  Since I prefer outdoor workouts I could blame my lack of motivation on unusually frigid temperatures. It snowed in Florida this week! What better excuse than that? Thank God that God provides, but if he hadn’t I’m sure I would have found some equally creative excuse not to get my workouts done. I’m just not that into them.

I need a different motivation. I need a motivation with a positive spin. Like, instead of dropping pounds I’m focused on building a healthier body. Actually, to be completely honest it’s a matter of vanity. I want to look better in my clothes. And I know for a fact: I do feel and look better when I choose to exercise.

This week I’ve been in my Florida home. Unlike when I’m working, (staying in hotels and eating in restaurants) I can eat what I want when I want here. I don’t have to pick between fast food restaurants, upscale restaurants, gas station restaurants and grocery store delis. I’ve made healthier choices this week. I’ve picked fruit salad over microwave popcorn.  I’ve enjoyed homemade dinners with fewer fats and fillers than pricey restaurant dinners. It’s been heaven. Maybe the cold weather has kept me inside but the ability to eat real foods has made a difference how I feel.

I may have skimped on my outdoor activities this week but I did make some good choices toward my goal of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In the long run, I made progress.

Next week I’ll take a few more steps (literally) toward my goal of losing 2 inches and 5 pounds by my birthday in February.  One day at a time. One step at a time.

One choice at a time.


Key West, Key Lime

It’s a 13-hour drive from Florida’s northwestern state line to the southernmost city, Key West. But from where I live in Cocoa Beach, it’s about six hours, and with three carefree travel companions, it promises to be a great destination for a weekend getaway.

After cruising at breakneck speed past Miami the highway bottlenecks into a narrow two-lane highway funneling traffic through the Southern Glades Wildlife Preserves. Bumper to bumper vehicles inch south, well below the posted speed limit. I imagine that most travelers are like us, anxious to get off the mainland and onto the northernmost Key (Largo), which makes this traffic jam even more stressful and slightly irritating. But just about when I think I’ve had enough the bridge to the island is in sight and within minutes we’re in Key Largo. Ahhh, I hear the Beach Boys and feel the southern tropical winds blowing.

Here we stop to decompress, enjoy a leisurely dinner, spend the night and wake refreshed for our short 97-mile cruise to our destination tomorrow.

20170624_184904We pass on the restaurants the hotel staff recommends and eat at Snapper’s where the fish is fresh and our patio table is right at the water’s edge. When dessert is offered I order a piece of Key Lime pie. And, caught up in the Islanders’ easy-going spirit, I suspend my calorie-counting habit and declare this to be a Key Lime Pie Challenge Weekend.

I’m intrigued by this pie. Such an odd combination of tart fruit in a creamy substance. As a foodie, I’m curious how the lime mixes with the cream without curdling it. And I’m never quite satisfied with the amount of pucker I get out of a bite. I always want more. I hope the Challenge will finally satisfy my desire.

Months ago I purchased a bottle of Key Lime Juice from a Florida citrus grower so I could make the pie at home, but after researching the ingredients and the calorie count per slice (a whopping 553!) I decided against it. The juice is still in my refrigerator, used to freshen a gin and tonic when a real lime is not readily available.

defaultSnapper’s Key Lime pie is average. The lime flavor is sufficient, the graham cracker crust adequate and the garnish (a dot of whipped cream) is imitation. I’m hoping the next pie will be worth the calories.

The next morning we hit the road again. I’m grateful that I’m a back-seat passenger. Driving is tedious and slow through the small towns on each island. But the scenery between the islands is stunning. We cruise through Plantation Key, Windley Key, Islamorada, Long Key, Duck Key and Marathon Island after which we reach the Seven-Mile Bridge. Seven miles long. Views from the bridge are like the finale of a fireworks display — unexpected and ever-changing colors spilling across the shallow sea on either side of us. Dotted with mangrove islands and hemmed in with a century-old defunct railroad bridge that parallels the highway the waters are clear blue, turquoise, and gilded-gold by the shallow sandbars off the islands’ coast.

After passing through several more small Keys we arrive at our destination, the Casa Marina Waldorf Astoria Resort. It’s the only hotel on Key West Island with its own private beach — and what a beautiful beach it is! Eyeing it from the resort’s lobby I’m tempted to lounge there all day, but we have plans. (There’s a Pie Challenge happening and I’m the judge!)

We quickly drop our bags in our rooms and head downtown to walk Duval Street (the main drag) from one end to the other. Key West feels like a smaller and slightly calmer version of New Orleans. We do the normal tourists things — window shop, pick up a few souvenirs, and eat dinner at a recommended seafood restaurant. They entice us to try their Key Lime pie but we opt to return to the Resort where we can enjoy dessert at a comfortable table…by candlelight…on the beach.

key lime pie casa marinaCasa Marina Key Lime Pie is made with a pistachio crust and served a la mode, with Key Lime ice cream. I taste the ice cream first. Delightful! My mouth puckers. It’s the tartness I’ve been looking. But when I follow that spoonful with a spoonful of pie I’m disappointed again. The filling falls flat. The pistachio crust is unique but doesn’t enhance the pie’s flavor enough to warrant it’s expense. Another average Key Lime Pie, but with really good ice cream! That’s a plus. We turn in for the night with visions of a better Key Lime pie in our travels tomorrow.

The next morning we’re running on a schedule. We’re tripping to the famous landmarks — the Southernmost Point on the island, the Route One Marker, and Hemmingway’s House. But first breakfast. Rumor has it that Blue Heaven has the best Key Lime Pie of all the islands. We’re hoping to find our winner.

key lime pie blue heavenOur benedicts are delicious and the Key Lime pie is exceptionally delicious. Topped with inches of meringue (most likely for presentation and perceived value), the pie is as tart as I’d been dreaming a pie could be. In addition to naming it a winner, I’m elated to put an end to consuming the excessive calories in each piece we’ve tasted.

Now, time for some walking, starting with the 3 blocks to Hemmingway’s House where we encounter 6-toed cats, an old urinal converted to the cats’ watering dish and a “wall of wives”. No wonder he was such a great story teller!

p.s. Each link in this blog is worth clicking. The Florida Keys are rich with natural beauty and fascinating personal histories. 



Hayward, after the Flowage

Day 2 in Hayward Wisconsin begins with a stop at Hayward Bakery & Cheese Shop, the local bakery where they still bake doughnuts every morning from scratch! It’s rare to find a freshly baked doughnut made with real ingredients so I must indulge.

Live-the-swanky-life-wht-swanky-stuff-and-Dakota-cigarsWe munch down our treats then wander through downtown, window shopping the local merchants including Dakota Cigars and Swanky Stuff. (Swanky Stuff — gotta get me some of dat!)

A few hours later we’re standing at the door of the Moccasin Bar…and Wildlife Museum. We step inside and are instantly captivated by fine specimens of cougar, lynx, bobcat, and bear in their taxidermal states. We stroll to the bar and order beers — $2 beers. Yes, we already like this place.

Like 3 periscopes we twirl in our seats, eyeing all the taxidermy exhibits around us. Birds, ducks, geese, pheasant, otters, beavers, badgers, more small furry animals than I can name or remember, trophy-sized muskie, and pike, walleye, bass, and sturgeon.

Most intriguing were the dioramas of chipmunks and other small critters depicting, well, as far as I could tell, the life of Wisconsin hunters, fishermen and trappers.

I leave you with these to decipher on your own.  You MUST click here!