Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Just Write {2}: Our Bedroom

I’m sitting on the foot of our bed with my laptop and a library book. I have about an hour to kill while I hide from the TV downstairs. My husband is watching one of two shows he records that I can’t be in the same room as. One because it is too violent. I had to draw the line when I saw brain chunks on the sidewalk during a typical episode. The other is too scary. I have an extremely active imagination and an already complicated relationship with sleep. Anything that makes it more difficult for me to fall or stay asleep has to go.

I hide out in our bedroom with the electric fireplace running so that it covers the sounds that carry so well up the stairs. Usually I read, but sometimes I pay bills or play Candy Crush. Tonight I’m just writing. I do a lot of “just writing” in my notebook. I've already written at least 5 pages in it today. But rarely do I write anything in our bedroom.

I painted the walls yellow when I first bought the house, before I started dating my husband. The carpet is dark brown, and although it desperately needs to be replaced, I enjoy the combination of colors. It makes me think of brown-eyed susans, which I love. I should get some for the yard. There are flowers in a painting between the windows, but not brown-eyed susans. The flowers were painted by my grandfather. I have his artwork in almost every room in the house. There are more flowers on the glass lamp that I got from my great aunt’s house after she passed away and before it was sold as is, contents included. Over the bed hangs a plywood moon with stairs and a star with an empty shelf. It hung over my father's bed when he was a boy. I thought it was something he and or his father had made, but I recently saw something very similar at an antique show. The small shelf always held a ceramic deer, but when my parents moved it from my bedroom at their house to this bedroom, the deer stayed with my dad. I haven’t found anything I would consider replacing it with.

I love being able to look around the room and feel so many connections to my family and to our shared past. There is, of course, even more history in this room than can be seen with one’s eyes. There are nights when I stood soaked in pee by my father’s bedside until he woke, slipped off my wet pajamas, and pulled me into bed with him and my mom. There are the times my sister and I laid on the waterbed as teens, one on each side of my mom, just talking and laughing. Dog pee that we tried to cover with perfume. An escaped finch recaptured in the cup of my mom’s brassiere.

There are no photos displayed in the room, nor is there a TV. My rules. Not my husband’s. Every now and again he pitches for a TV, but I hold firm. TV watching can be done downstairs in the living room. Where he is now, and where I will return to shortly. After he goes to bed I will watch my soap opera. I don’t subject him to such nonsense.

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This is my second installment of Just Write, "an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments." You can read about this project at The Extraordinary Ordinary. If you decide to participate, you can link up on Heather's post from yesterday. You can read my first installment here.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Experimenting with Chia Seeds

It started with overnight oats. I first read about them on Kath Eats Real Food. Although somehow I failed to notice that the whole point is to eat them cold. Um, no. I cannot and will not eat oatmeal cold. That's just wrong. So I threw the oats in the microwave for 30-45 seconds to take the chill off.

For the first attempt I used banana flavored yogurt, milk, oats, chia seeds, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of cinnamon sugar, but it was way too runny and I did not care for the flavor.

The second attempt I used only oats, milk, chia seeds, and maple syrup. Much better!

The third attempt was also a bust. I substituted apricot marmalade instead of the maple syrup. No good.

Not the marmalade, that was fantastic. My sister brought it back from France for me. I think it will be much better on an English muffin. Yum.

So I started looking for other things I could do with the chia seeds. And that's when I read about chia pudding. I modified mine by using regular milk instead of almond milk since that's what I had in the house. I decided to start with a small batch:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • slug of maple syrup (tbsp?)
It turned out a little runnier than I expected, but it tastes great.

I may or may not make the overnight oats again, but I'll definitely be making the chia pudding again. I'll just add a few more seeds or use a little less milk and hopefully that will thicken things up a tad.

Let me know if you have any fun recipes that use chia seeds.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Lessons learned from high peaking this year

It's looking more and more like our mountain climbing season may be over for the year. I have little interest in climbing peaks during the winter months (cold and snow, um, no thanks). My goal was to climb 5 High Peaks this summer, and I actually summited 8, so I am thrilled. Of course, that doesn't mean I wouldn't want to climb more (More! More!) if the opportunity were to present itself. But with 3-4 hours drive each way, jobs, dogs, and a toddler, it isn't exactly easy for my sister and me to make the up-and-back trip to the mountains.

I put together these thoughts on what I learned (or re-learned) from hiking Adirondack High Peaks this year.

1. Wear a comfortable bra. For me, this means a regular day-to-day type of bra. NOT a sports bra. They are too tight and restrictive, way too uncomfortable for 10-12 hours of hiking (plus 3-4 hours of driving up).

2. Change into clean, dry socks on the summit. I've always carried spare socks, but I almost never actually put them on. For prima donna feet like mine, this turns out to help a lot.

3. Carry (and apply) bug dope. And I mean whenever there is a chance of biting insects. Don’t rely on trip reports from the forum. Everyone has a different tolerance level for biting insects. And while I have an exceptionally high pain tolerance level, my tolerance for biting insects is LOW. Very, very LOW.

4. Lacing techniques do matter. For best results, I need to knock my heel down into place before lacing my boots, then twist the laces twice to lock the laces on the lower portion of the boot (surgeon’s knot). On the upper portion instead of pulling the laces through the open hooks from below, I hook them over the top.

5. Take 5 minutes to apply moleskin or a band-aid or to tighten laces during the hike. The hassle will be worth it at the end of the day.

6. Snack, snack, snack. Don’t keep pushing until the summit for lunch. Grazing along the way will keep energy levels up.

7. Don’t forget a bandana. Or two. In fact, always carry a spare.

8. If the weather calls for pants, make sure they are stretchy. If the pant legs put up resistance with each step, unnecessary energy will be expended. Plus, I just can't stand to be uncomfortable in any situation, but on a hike it is extra important to not be bothered by something like pants (or bra, see above).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Just Write {1}

Sitting here looking out the window, wishing there were fewer clouds. More blue, more sun. The house was cool this morning, and I was hoping for enough sunshine for the solar to run. It’s not looking promising though. I don’t want to turn the heat on yet. Plus, I still haven’t vacuumed the baseboards, so I’d have to put up with the stench of burnt dust. Although even when I vacuum there is no way to completely eliminate the smell.

Only one small patch of blue remains visible above the chapel roof. The wind has also kicked up and the crabapple leaves are tossing in the breeze. The colors out my window are less vivid than I remember from last fall. The ivy on the chapel seems less red and more brown. The honey locust leaves seem less golden and more green. And yet both are falling already, so it seems unlikely they will continue to develop more intense color. Maybe the photos in my mind from last fall were shaded by Instagram filters. It seems everything is these days.

I love this view. I could stare out the window for hours. And yet I would give it up in a heartbeat if it meant never having to come here again. Freeing myself from this toxic environment. I would miss this view. I would miss the pigeons that settle on the top of the chapel dome. They are absent this morning, as are all of the birds that typically enter my viewfinder. I have always liked pigeons. Why others harbor such animosity towards them is a mystery to me. I had a pet pigeon once when I was a child. At least, I think I did. Memories, they are slippery things. Why would I have had a pet pigeon? Where would I have gotten it? Did it really get eaten when it was being cared for at someone’s farm while we were on vacation? Fantasy or reality? In this case, I really don’t know.

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This is my first installment of Just Write, "an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments." You can read about this project at The Extraordinary Ordinary. If you decide to participate, you can link up on Heather's post from today.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Morning Hike at Great Bear

Saturday afternoon was supposed to bring rain, so I got up and going earlier than usual. I'd been looking forward to hiking at Great Bear Recreation Area all week. There were 8-10 cars already in the lot, but only one person had signed the register before me. I think people forget (or are unaware of) how important it is to sign the register. In this case, it is less about alerting authorities if you don't return to a trailhead (this register only requires you to sign in, not check out) than about showing usage for the recreation area.

I headed out on the 3 mile loop, but it wasn't long before I was wishing I'd opted for the longer route (~5 miles). I still felt that way when I got back to the car. I guess that will make me that much more eager to go back soon and hike the longer route!

I've spent time at Great Bear since I was a kid. My mom would take us girls and often our friends and hers for picnics, swimming, exploring, playing, hiking, and reading. It was a super fun place for kids with lots of ruins and old buildings to explore. Over the years the area which is now used for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing had apple orchards and was a source of spring water. One of the old pump houses is still standing near the river.

piles of stones cleared from farm fields
A volunteer organization, the Friends of Great Bear, helps with trail maintenance and has done wonders to improve the park in many ways.

one of the many foot bridges in the park

Great Bear is my favorite place to hike locally. And with my hike there yesterday I can also cross an item off my list of October goals.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Update: The Soap Situation

Recently I happened to reread a post I wrote back in June, 2008 in which I talked about my struggle to abandon my use of shower gel and plastic shower poofs. Truthfully, I'd forgotten about this reluctance that I had once felt since I am now a die hard fan of the bar soap. That got me thinking I should write an update on where I stand with soap usage these days.

At that time I lived alone so having bar soap by the kitchen and bathroom sinks was fine, but my husband prefers liquid hand soap and frankly, it is easier and cleaner than having bars gumming up the joint. So we have glass dispensers that we refill from large jugs of liquid soap. We don't buy individual plastic single use bottles of soap, so at least we are on the better end of what is perhaps not the ideal choice.

In the shower, as I mentioned, I have long abandoned the shower gel and poof combo. I buy locally made soap at the farmers market. It is also one of my favorite souvenirs to buy when traveling, and my family does the same thing when they travel, bestowing me with much appreciated bars of soap upon their return.

I like supporting the local economy, especially since most soap makers are small, family-run businesses. I also like avoiding the use of extra plastic for the bottles to hold the liquid soap and the energy required to transport the plastic bottles. Not to mention the disposal of said bottles.

These are the bars of soap I have waiting to be used currently: one from the local farmers market, one purchased at the Golden Harvest Festival from a local crafter, one brought back from Montana by my parents, and one from sister's recent travels in France. I love the variety and uniqueness of each bar.

Maybe someday I'll learn how to make my own soap. Although that sounds like an awful lot of work...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh

I love plants and trees and flowers and pretty much everything you might find at a conservatory. Several years ago while visiting my mother in Detroit we toured the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle. I was smitten. This past weekend when we were browsing local attractions in Pittsburgh I saw there was a conservatory near our hotel. Of course, I wanted to go.

On Saturday morning we checked out of our hotel and walked to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Below are a few of the photos from our visit.

Chocolate Tree



Starfruit - Tropical Fruit & Spice Room

Bananas - Tropical Fruit & Spice Room

Desert Room

Broderie Room
This is the last post from our recent trip to Pittsburgh. You can read about the Pearl Jam concert we attended here and see some of what we saw on our walks in the city here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Visiting Pittsburgh

Our hotel was near the University of Pittsburgh, so on Friday afternoon we walked around and checked out some of the cool buildings on and near their campus.

Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum

Heinz Memorial Chapel
I am always drawn towards doors. The older and more ornate the better.

Stephen Foster Memorial
Log Cabin
We stopped for an early dinner at Primanti Brothers before the Pearl Jam concert. In case you haven't eaten there before (this was our first visit), all sandwiches come topped with french fries, cole slaw, and tomatoes. I ordered the Cheese Combo, but to be honest I was not a fan. My husband really enjoyed his sandwich (hot sausage), but I was unimpressed with mine. I could not taste the cheese at all and the coleslaw was just oily cabbage. So it tasted like an oily cabbage and slightly burnt french fry sandwich. I will not be anxious to eat there again.

On Saturday morning as we walked to the Phipps Conservatory we encountered these crazy padlocks. We had no idea what they were all about until my husband googled them. As it turns out lovers go to the bridge together, hook their lock on to the chain link, and then toss the key into the gorge below to ensure ever-lasting love. It is sweet and has created a cool street art installation.

Love Locks on Schenley Park Bridge
I will share photos from our visit to the Conservatory later this week. You can read about the Pearl Jam concert here, which was the reason we were in Pittsburgh.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pearl Jam in Pittsburgh

My husband is a HUGE Pearl Jam fan. HUGE. He even has a tattoo of some of their song lyrics. He's seen Pearl Jam in concert once before, and so when the tickets went on sale for the fall tour, we both jumped on our laptops and tried to secure tickets to multiple venues. Buffalo sold out before we could get tickets, but we managed to score two for Pittsburgh. And with that our road trip was born...

I haven't been to a concert in a few years (last seen: Tim McGraw at the New York State Fair), but I quickly remembered how much I love the vibe when everyone is over the moon excited for the same reason. I love that feeling.

The concert was awesome. And then this happened...

One of our high school classmates on stage with Pearl Jam! Holy crap. OK, so he's famous in his own right, but I still think of him as the tall, somewhat goofy boy who had a locker near my best friend's. What a weird world. (Sorry for the intentionally vague reference, but still cool, right?)

I've never been to a concert when the band keeps playing music after the lights get turned on. So much fun!

I'll share more about our one night trip to Pittsburgh later this week.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


  • wanting to try overnight oats now that the weather is cooling down 
  • getting psyched to see Pearl Jam in concert
  • enjoying the humorous writing style over at I, MayB. If you enjoy a good chuckle on occasion, you should check out her blog.
  • trying to find new blogs to read, so suggestions would be much appreciated!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

After Work Walk

Sometimes I grow tired of walking in my neighborhood. It's a typical boring suburban housing development. One of the older ones with no sidewalks and no manufactured ponds. So today after work I decided to swing into another neighborhood on the way home. A higher end golf community with a walking trail.

pretty yellow poison ivy

The trail runs between the links and the river, in low lying, somewhat swampy terrain. I tend to avoid this trail during mosquito season because it appears to be prime breeding ground. I thought I would be safe today (it's October after all!), but I still managed to find a few of the little pests.

I also found these eye catching plants and trees.

Old Man's Beard

Virginia creeper

Gleditsia triacanthos

Definitely better than walking the streets of my neighborhood, dodging cars and dogs. I need to stop here to walk more often!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Wardrobe Purging

At least twice a year I sort clothes, make a list, bag them up, and drive them to the closest donation center. In between trips I pile clothes-to-donate on the bed in the smaller spare room. When I wear something that is uncomfortable and annoys me all day, it goes directly into the pile (after laundering, of course).

This weekend I put together another load (one of my October goals, by the way). The picture below shows the start of the pile and list. In addition to the clothes, I also donated two pairs of sneakers and a bridesmaid dress from 8+ years ago.

I went through my closets (yes, plural) and my dresser drawers and was dismayed at how few items I was willing to part with. I have SO many clothes. I read somewhere that when you purge clothes you should only keep items you really LOVE. If I did that, I would be left with four t-shirts and nothing else.

Even my usual process of setting aside items that are uncomfortable fails me on a regular basis. Today, for example, I wore a red zip-front sweater from Eddie Bauer that was a Christmas gift from my step-mom. I dislike sweaters of all varieties and I can't stand anything with a collar (or neck of any style), but I can't bring myself to donate the sweater since it was a gift and is not that old (relatively speaking). And yet, it makes me unhappy EVERY time I wear it.

What is this all about? How can I learn to detach myself emotionally from pieces of clothing? I don't actually want to own this much stuff!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Saturday Afternoon Walk

I was hoping for a lovely, crisp, fall-like afternoon for my walk today at Second Home Nature Center, but that was not to be. It was muggy and grey with occasional sprinkles, but it was still well-worth being outside. The lighting was not ideal for photography, but I still managed to snap a few interesting shots with my phone.

The dead crow was startling, not something you see on a regular basis. (This is not staged at all. The sugar maple leaf was there when I arrived on the scene.)

The boardwalk was SLICK. I must admit I walked more gingerly than normal after the last time I slipped on wet wood.

I just love the redness of the red maples.

This giant beetle kept trying to scurry away from me as I was trying to take its picture. Must be shy. (Finger for size reference only. I was not molesting it in any way.)

You can read about my last walk at Second Home Nature Center here.
Or compare today's photos with ones taken in July in similar spots along the trail here.

Thursday, October 03, 2013


While I love, love, love October I care not a whit about Halloween. In fact, I despise costumes and trick-or-treating. I also don't consider myself a superstitious person. I don't think twice about black cats or walking under ladders. Broken mirrors are merely small messes that require cleaning up and cemeteries are cool places to go for a walk. You certainly won't see me holding my breath as I drive past one.

At one point in my life I only picked up pennies that were head-side up. Then for awhile I picked up any penny I ran across because money was more important than luck. Now I just find pennies to be a nuisance. I throw mine directly in the coin can at home, rarely keeping more than 4 in my wallet. And I don't bother to pick them up anymore. Ever. (Sorry, Mom.)

The only common superstition I can think of that I do subscribe to in any fashion is knocking on wood. Don't get me wrong, I know this one is just as silly as the rest of them, but for whatever reason it seems to be a habit of mine. I don't even care about the wood part. I'm more than happy to knock on things that are clearly not made of wood, like the steering wheel of my car (that's a story for another day) or my own head.

Another thing that I do that some people would consider superstitious is my preference for not talking about something because I don't want to jinx it. Again, I know this sounds silly, but I don't like to put things out into the universe for fear they then will never happen (or they will come true, depending on the scenario, obviously).

A few weeks ago, after we had set up camp at Cranberry Lake, we headed out for a drive to explore the area and to find firewood to buy. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and my husband was admiring the scenery and not paying attention to his speed. The second he saw the trooper he knew we were going to get pulled over, and we did. I won't go into details but after the initial conversation and handing over of documents when the trooper went back to his vehicle, my husband said he wouldn't give him a speeding ticket. And while I certainly hoped he was correct, I NEVER would have said anything like that out loud. Yes, my husband was basing his confidence on prior experience and a natural optimism I don't share, but I still would never have put it out there. It has nothing to do with being wrong. I don't care a whole lot about that. I just don't want to give the universe an opportunity to screw me over.

Sounds crazy, right? C'est la vie.

And for the record, my husband was correct. He was not given a speeding ticket. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

October Goals

First, let's review how I did with my September goals...

1. Complete the 30 Days of Lists project. Success! I wrote each & every one of the 30 lists. Not only that, I wrote all but maybe two of the lists on the day the prompts came out. The one(s) that had to wait a day were because we were campering and had no internet access.

2. Continue to meet &/or surpass 10,000 steps a day. Success! I thought this goal might be in jeopardy because of my tailbone injury, followed by a nasty cold. But, according to Fitbit, my daily average for September was 11,019. It certainly helped that I hiked three High Peaks on September 1st, which was over 40,000 steps in a single day.

3. Finish 5 books. Success! I read these 5 books:
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Finding Griffin by Barbara Delaney
  • The Midwife's Here! by Linda Fairley
  • Midnight in Death by J.D. Robb (Full disclosure: This is a novella. But still, a book!)

4. Continue to post to this blog 2-3 times a week. Success! My September total for blog posts was 13, so I clearly met this goal. It was a great help that I posted each week about the 30 Lists project.

Now onto October...

1. Continue to meet &/or surpass 10,000 steps a day. Again. And always.

2. Finish 5 books. This was quite a challenge for me in September. I finished the 5th book on September 30th, so I know there's a good chance I might not make this goal for October, but hey, gotta aim high, right?

3. Continue to post to this blog 2-3 times a week. This may be closer to 2 times a week without the extra posts for 30 Lists.

4. Use arm weights 4 or more times a week. I have small (maybe 2 lb) dumbbells which I would like to try to use more frequently than I do now. Which is, um, never.

5. Hike at least once at Great Bear Farms and walk at least once at Beaver Lake Nature Center. It's super important to me to spend time in the woods.

6. Take one load of clothes to the Salvation Army. And shoes and whatever else I can find that we don't need/want anymore.

So that's my plan. Do you have any goals for the month ahead?

*Edited on 10/4/13 to add #6 to the list of goals.*