Sunday, April 22, 2007

Our Wonderful Weekend at Laguna Beach

In the midst of a negotiations crisis, it was heavenly to be able to get away for a weekend at the beach. Yes, it was a "working retreat," but it was still a retreat. I joined 14 colleagues from several other local chapters (Redlands, Jurupa, and Rialto) at a planning retreat for our Uniserv. We stayed at the Inn at Laguna Beach, which is truly ON the beach.

Don and I drove down early Friday afternoon, through the pouring rain, and found the place easily. We were lucky enough to get a room with an ocean view. It had a porch we spent many hours on, where we could sit and watch not only the waves, the boats, and the dolphins, but the people: a walking path goes right by our room. This walking path is used by everyone, it seems, and while we may have seen them, they never noticed us. So we still felt "isolated." All the walkers would come up the hill from the beach, and stop to rest at the bench in the photo to the right. This is the view from our little porch.

We drove down to Dana Point so Don could check in on the sportfishing trip, and then we ate dinner at Wind & Sea - a great restaurant on the harbor. He had the Sesame-Crusted Ahi, which he'd had when we came down here 4 years ago, and I had the Seafood Combination - shrimp, scallops, and albacore. Delighful!

Saturday morning, Don got up really early, and went deep sea fishing all day while I spent the day in our planning session. I got lucky - it was in THIS room. And I sat in one of the chairs facing the ocean - where I found myself staring often. We finished early, and I was able to spend some more time on my little porch, reading and watching the walkers and the waves.

This was our view in the other direction :

Dinner Saturday night was at Las Brisas, a very nice Mexican restaurant next to the hotel. What a feast! Appetizers: jumbo fried shrimp, calimari, guacamole and chips, tuna salad, chicken skewers, and roasted tomato salsa. Salad: mixed field greens, candied walnuts, cranberries, feta cheese, grape tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigrette. Entree: Filet Mignon with truffle sauce, golden beets, asparagus, and a potato-corn dish (that I didn't eat). Dessert (which was shared by Ashley, Dan, Don, and me): cheesecake, chocolate cream puffs, creme brulee with fresh berries, chocolate layer cake, and chocolate-coated strawberries.

We waddled back to our rooms.

This morning, we awoke early to make coffee in our room so we could sit outside again for an hour before we walked up to the restaurant for breakfast. We saw a large pod of dolphins heading south, but didn't see any whales. Breakfast was at The Cottage, and I re-dedicated myself to low-carbing. The Eggs Florentine hit the spot.

After a short business meeting, we had to leave. I hated to check out. But we had to go home. Maybe we'll go down there again sometime. Maybe I can convince my executive board to go there for their retreat in the fall!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Losing the Clutter

This post has only a little to do with food; but I wanted to share what's been happening in my home the past week. When I was in Texas visiting my brother, I picked up a book called Cut the Clutter and Stow the Stuff: The Q.U.I.C.K. Way to Bring Lasting Order to Household Chaos, by Lori Baird. A little leafing through showed me that this was a book that was going to need more attention. Carol told me to take it home with me to California, and she also gave me two others.

I spent the drive from Kerrville to El Paso reading those books, especially the first one. I made lists. I planned. I envisioned. And by the time I got back to California, I was ready to go. See, I'm going to retire from teaching in 4 years - less, if our district offers an early retirement incentive. And then we're selling this house and moving into a fifth-wheel or a motorhome and hitting the road as full-time rv'ers. We're going to have to get rid of a LOT of stuff, and I might as well get started now.

First, I went around the house and filled up two garbage bags with junk. Some of it was really trash, that had accumulated on tables and dressers and other places, and some of it was really junk that I knew I was never going to need.

Next, I went to my closets, and pulled out jackets, skirts, blouses, purses, belts, dresses, and jeans that are either too big (hooray!), out of fashion, or just plain not "me" any more. I filled up two large boxes, which I took to the thrift store near my office on Monday. Then I took all the torn and stained clothes, including a bunch of t-shirts that I'd held on to for sentimental reasons (even though some were way too small), and threw them away. Another two garbage bags full.

Knowing that I won't need all my rubber stamps, and seeing that there have been dozens that I bought and haven't used, and won't use, I put them up on ebay. So far I've sold 25 of them for an average of $4 apiece.

I found some other great things to put on ebay - a piece of software that I bought and never opened, some shoes that are brand new, a few upscale clothes items that I knew would sell, and have already made $300. I'll start putting the better decorative items up (crystal, Hummels, etc.) soon, and am finding things to get rid of every time I turn around.

Yesterday after breakfast I decided to tackle the refrigerator. I've neglected the fridge for years. It was really grody (old word from college meaning disgusting or gross). I threw out 5 jars of apple butter made two years ago - botulism anyone? I also tossed some salad dressings and other condiments way past their use-by dates. The actual cleaning of the refrigerator took me almost THREE hours. That's because it had been so long. Now I know exactly what's in there and where, and have promised myself to clean it more often. I should have take "before" and "after" pictures, but I forgot. One night this week I'll do the front of it - where we have probably 30 magnets, each with its own picture, note, or other piece of ephemera.

Today I cleaned up my scrapbooking area, and have started to toss things I don't need, and organize everything else. I think I'll put together some assortments of things to put on ebay. I've accumulated so much STUFF!

This is so fun. It's so liberating. And it's even a bit lucrative! A few months ago I bought a large, plastic, blue piggy bank - it has no cork, and is made of the kind of plastic frisbees are made of - so you can't get into it unless you use kitchen shears to destroy it. I've been popping all my silver in it, and now I'm sticking large bills in it. Once it's so full I can't cram anything else in it, we'll open it and buy ourselves something special for the trailer/motorhome.

Why is this food related? Well, the refrigerator is cleaned and organized, and next I'll do the pantry and cabinets. I guess I'll finally get rid of the electric skillet Don bought me for Christmas in 1980, the year before we got married. And which waffle iron do I keep - the regular one that makes 4 squares at a time or the Belgian one? Do I really need 5 large skillets? And what about the Royal Doulton mugs and saucers that we've NEVER EVER used?

What have you done to get organized lately?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

One of my favorite breakfast restaurants is a great cafe in Yucaipa called Kopper Kettle. I have breakfast with a few friends every Friday morning, and it's also the place where our bargaining team eats every negotiations day. A few years ago, they started to make pumpkin pancakes during the fall, and they were so popular that they now are a permanent item on the menu.

Kopper Kettle's pumpkin pancakes are served with a fabulous toffee butter sauce, which the waitress tells me is made the same way you make Hollandaise - with egg yolks and butter, but then lots of sugar - brown sugar, I think. I don't know, and I don't want to know, since I can use up a day's worth of carbs in one serving.

I've decided to eat my pumpkin pancakes with sugar-free maple "syrup," and have found both Mrs. Butterworth's and Log Cabin brands to be pretty good. I've tried Carey's, and it's a little medicinal. I found a good recipe for whole wheat pancakes, and have made up a big batch so Don can have leftovers (in bags in the freezer).

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

2 cups white whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk or sour milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree

In a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and ginger. In a medium size bowl combine eggs, buttermilk, olive oil and pumpkin puree. Mix well. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and combine well. Cook pancakes on a hot griddle.

I'm Baaaack!

UPDATE: First of all, Don's eye is much, much better. The inflammation is all gone. The glaucoma/pressure is back to normal. He is developing a cataract, which is normal, and the doctor anticipates removing it sometime toward the end of the summer, after we return from our vacation. He still can't see very well out of it, but that should improve with time and after the cataract surgery.

My daughter has had a setback in her condition. She has, as you know, a temporary ileostomy, which should already have been closed. But the j-pouch created last October has shrunk (doctor speculates due to lack of blood flow) and there was a leak into the abdominal cavity as well. (That's what caused her infection and subsequent hospitalization back in March.) In addition, the anal opening had shrunk. So two weeks ago, the day before we left for Texas, she had surgery to dilate the anus and to try to remove some scar tissue from the j-pouch. The doctor feels that the pouch has shrunk to the point where it will be unusable and is recommending that the ileostomy be permanent. She is adamant that it NOT be. The only way that can happen is for another major surgery to create a new pouch. She is insisting on this, and we'll see how things go the next few months. It's still minutely possible that the little pouch she has will be usable.

We had a great spring break, where we left town and I didn't think about work much at all. First, we spent 5 days at the beach. Camp Pendleton, the Marine base in Oceanside, has a great RV campground right on the beach. We spent 4 lovely nights there - the 5th was a howling windstorm. The weather up until the windstorm was perfect, and Don was able to go deep sea fishing as well as fish from the breakwater. I read and did some stamping and creating cards. I listened to a lot of music, did a little shopping, and worked on de-stressing.

We came home on Wednesday, T's surgery was Thursday, and then, since she was okay, we left Friday for Texas. We drove the northern route (Interstate 40) and spent the night in Grants, New Mexico. The hotel had bedbugs, which I learned after I developed a nasty rash on the inside of my thigh. Luckily, Mom had some hydrocortisone and it's now just about gone. We stayed at Mom's house Saturday, Sunday,Monday, and Tuesday,and were able to see my younger sister as well. Mom enjoyed cooking for us, and sent us home with a huge box of books for me to read. My sister,, who has lost almost 50 pounds the last year, sent me home with a huge box of nice work and casual clothes.

On Wednesday we drove to Kerrville to see my brother, who lives in a beautiful geodesic dome house on a hilltop overlooking the city. We had a restful visit with him and his wife, and left the next morning for the long drive home.

Thursday night we had reservations at the on-base billeting/hotel at Ft. Bliss in El Paso. Normally, the billeting hotels are like regular hotels, and I'm sure the main building at Ft. Bliss is nice. But it was full, so they put us in the annex, which was a converted barracks building. AAACCCKKK. No air conditioning, a full-sized bed, thin walls, and hard-as-a-rock couch. Both of us couldn't sleep on the bed, so I slept on the couch (my choice). It stayed hot and stuffy the whole night. It was so bad that the next night's Econo Lodge in Phoenix seemed luxurious by comparison.

We arrived home around 9:30 Saturday morning (we got an early start in Phoenix), and I immediately began my new, fun project:


While I was in Kerrville, I picked up a book on my sister-in-law's table called Cut the Clutter and Stow the Stuff, edited by Lori Baird. I borrowed it, and then spent the drive home reading it, taking notes, and making lists. You see, Don and I plan to sell our house in about 4 years, and buy a motorhome or 5th wheel and hit the road full time. Between now and then, we have to get rid of a great deal of clutter, which I've let accumulate over the years.

On Sunday, I threw out 2 trash bags full of junk and old, useless clothes. I then listed some clothes, rubber stamps, and kitchen items on ebay - and will continue to try to sell as much as I can on ebay. So far I've sold 8 rubber stamps, 3 foodsaver canisters, an unopened package of software, and a shirt. That's about $150 I've made so far. On Monday, I delivered a huge box and 5 hanger's worth of clothes, purses and belts to the thrift shop near my office.

This is so fun! And it's getting to be so easy, now that I've made a dent in the clutter. My eyes don't pass over it any more like they used to - I'm constantly picking things up and throwing them away - asking myself - do I use this? Do I think I'll use this? Can I sell it? Can I donate it? Can I give it as a gift?

Just having more room to move around will be worth it, and by the time we're ready to hit the road, we should be down to the basic essentials.

Anyone want a chipped, but still pretty Hummel figurine? How about one that has a staff that's been broken and glued back together? They're adorable, and if they were in perfect condition, they'd be worth a lot of money. But I can't sell them since they're not perfect. So if anyone wants them, let me know.

As far as cooking goes, it's great to be back in my kitchen. I'll be writing and posting again about food soon. I've gotten to the point where I'm cooking a lot of things I've already written about, so sometimes I just don't bother to post. I only want to write about new things. Maybe I'll work on some other aspects of food blogging. We'll see.

Thanks for reading all this, and thanks for the words of support while I've been away.