Riding a train through small town America

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So many of us take for granted, that although there are millions of people using the New Jersey and New York train systems every single day, there are even more millions and probably billions, who have not had a chance to ride the train; in specific, from New Jersey into New York City.  So, this is a little memoir of my most recent trip which helped me gain a fresh perspective after I realized I got on the “slow” train, which makes additional stops in several small towns along the “northeast corridor” through North Jersey.

So, I got on the “slow train”, darn it.  Luckily, I left in plenty of time to arrive to my meeting in NYC, so I wasn’t in danger of being late; just annoyed.  However, once I settled in and realized there was nothing I could do and I didn’t have enough battery on my cell phone to constantly monitor my facebook page and 3 email accounts, I actually looked outside the window.  Do you know what I saw?  Small town America.  Real people and places whizzing by that cloudy piece of glass they call a window.  I first sat up and started paying close attention when the train began to slow down, arriving at its first stop.  Looking down from the train trestle, I noticed some women outside the local VFW hall, cigarette in one hand, a cup in the other.  “Haha, I thought to myself.  I could use a tall drink right about now, too.”  What are they doing there at 11:30 in the morning?  Is this their “Cheers” where everyone knows their name?  Where they feel loved and accepted?  Or are they avoiding the mounting piles of dishes in the kitchen at home?  Next door to the VFW, I noticed a car up on blocks with 2 denim-clad legs sticking out from underneath.  Watching the mechanic fiddling around under the vehicle for a brief minute or so before the train took off from the station, I became more amused by my “slow train” trip and started playing a game with myself to notice as much as I could.

Since this is NJ, the “Garden State”, there were definitely a lot of beautiful, fluffy trees along our one hour plus ride into the city, so it would catch my eye anytime I saw an opening between these gorgeous, green giants.  So many homes were built close to the railroad back in the day, because these were clearly not new homes I was seeing with beautiful, old, architectural details.  In fact, I could even see Fido’s toys in one backyard along with the neighbor’s piles of trash in theirs.  I found it interesting how some people take such good care of their property, while others let piles of garbage and junk accumulate.  Is there a rhyme or reason to it?  Maybe the neighbors were going through tough times, or maybe they just had other priorities than keeping their yard clean.  No judgment here, just an observation since my yard is no perfect oasis.  While I was posing that question to myself, some movement caught my eye as another view rolled by like a motion picture.  I got to see a little boy, about 12 or so, running as fast as he could around the baseball diamond to get to home base!  How fun!  They were playing ball in the middle of this sunny day.  No one watching from the stands, but these little guys were having a lot of fun.  Maybe playing hookey from school?  Ooops, someone got called “out”, I could tell by the hand gestures…What a cool capsule of small town America!

Moving right along, there are definitely some areas I would NOT like to get off the train.  Miles of graffiti and broken out windows tell tales about this next town, with what seemed like every other building surrounded in barbed wire fences and even a junk yard Rottweiler barking his head off at the passing train.  What happened here?  It looks like a warzone.  Once again, not judging, but what made what was probably a beautiful area into such a hate-filled place?  I could feel the anger oozing and pulled my jacket a little tighter.  Even the honeysuckle vine seemed to be struggling to come up through a massive pile of rubble along the side of the train tracks.  The train platform at this station looked mighty lonely.

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Next stop, I saw some construction workers on lunch break sitting on the truck bed flap and eating lunch.  It was nice to see them smiling and clearly enjoying some time off the clock.  As we pulled away from the station, I realized these are the guys who probably put out all these new orange cones on the side of the track.  What a job to maintain this railroad!  I wonder what have these tracks seen in their years and who have they transported through the ages?  Meanwhile, the happy couple behind me on their first visit to the big city are happily chattering away, comparing opinions over the latest celebrity gossip magazine.

As we get closer to the city, I see more and more seabirds flying around.  There are also many more billboards and posters, advertising everything from the hottest new show on Broadway to choosing the hospital of your dreams.  Boom!  And then there was complete darkness; riding under the Hudson River.  That means my “slow train” is finally coming to an end.  I’ll just put this journal back into my purse now, careful to avoid the warm, gooey peanut butter and blackberry preserves sandwich that I didn’t eat.

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Thanks for sharing this trip with me and letting me practice my writing on you.  After all, that’s what blogging is, isn’t it?  A chance to hone our writing skills while sharing our feelings and experiences with people we may never meet.  So, until next time, I’ll be taking the “slow train” on purpose.  I highly recommend it. ;)

 

 

 

A cake for dad

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Sounds like a good movie title, huh? :)

Well, this is a little overdue, but I made this delicious German Chocolate Cake for my dad’s birthday a couple of weeks ago.  And let me preface with this; it was my first time baking in my new “old” home, complete with a circa 1950’s oven, and…my first German Chocolate Cake from scratch.  So, as you can see from the photo below, things turned out pretty darn well I’d say!

This is a great recipe I found on Allrecipes.com.  http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Willard-Family-German-Chocolate-Cake/

Ok, and here’s another kicker for you; I made this “German” chocolate cake without the German chocolate baking squares.  I’m chuckling to myself at the irony, but it turned out really fantastic with a substitution of chocolate chips instead.

I added the “drizzle” too which was really easy to do; melt some chocolate and a little coconut oil in a bowl in the micro or a pan over the stove.

My “Granny” used to make this for my dad’s birthday every year when he was a child.  I wish I had her recipe, but I can only imagine how wonderful it was.  Meanwhile, I send out loving thoughts for my dad – I’m so glad I was able to do this for you this year.  You see, it’s been years and years since we lived close enough to spend the birthdays together as a family.  So, this past celebration was very special to me and I wish you many more happy, and healthy years, dad!  I love you!

 

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delicious flashbacks

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I’m back and boy, have I missed blogging!  In fact, since a dear member of my family has been in the hospital, Sheila, (my computer) I haven’t even thought about posting anything.  She may be able to get off life support and come home soon (fingers crossed), but she’s still at Dr. Erica’s office. :)  So today, I saw a glimmer of hope; I’ll write on my break at work today!

Over the Labor Day weekend, I made these two “flashback” recipes that were featured on my blog last year.  Since many of you are new followers, please take a look around my 2013 posts because this girl posted every day for 365 days last year.  Sometimes, I look back and think, “How the **** did I do that; amidst a cross country move, leaving a job with none to go to, finding a place to live, and everything else that went on in 2013?”  I don’t know, but I did it and I’m still a proud woman of my accomplishments.  Most importantly, I know I could not have done it without the “Big Man” upstairs.  He’s a great blogging mentor, :) so thank you, God!  You rock!

Entrez (means “enter” for the non-french speakers in the house) recipe #1:

Blueberry Banana Lavender Muffins.

Oh.  My.  Gosh.  They are still as good as I remember and I’m pretty sure Yankee Candle should pay me for the use of this scent for a new candle.  Here’s the original link with the recipe: http://365daystounstuck.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/day-199-lovely-lavender/

And recipe #2:

Chocolate Coconut Frosting Shots.  Get this;  they are almost healthy!  Maybe not if you eat the whole batch like I have been known to do, but 3 tiny ingredients make for an amazing treat.  If you follow Chocolate Covered Katie, who is an amazing cook/baker of all things sweet and healthy, it came from her site originally.  But here’s my link from last year with the recipe:  http://365daystounstuck.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/day-72-did-you-say-frosting/

 

So, thanks for walking down memory lane with me today.  I hope you try these!  blue1 choc2

 

 

 

 

food on your face

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Today, rather than expending my energies by ranting and raving my unusually aggressive opinions on facebook regarding a video I saw, ( it was a really minor thing, some kids at the Jersey shore were chasing a seal, which is extremely rare for these parts.  They didn’t hurt it, but I was insensed by the parents’ lack of say, “parenting”, or maybe the lack of common sense that this is a precious wild animal…not a play toy to put braids in its hair or play paintball with, but to enjoy from afar), I am going to share with you what happens when I get an overabundance of delicious strawberries!

Ok, there is no real good way to take pictures of having smashed up strawberries on your face that isn’t going to evoke images of the AMC’s fall premiere of The Walking Dead, but you will get the idea.  The facial mask I made was probably not as pureed as it should have been, but it still smelled like heaven and yes, it tasted great, too.  Aside from the grit of the rice, because I used a coffee grinder to pulverize plain, uncooked rice instead of buying rice powder, it worked pretty well.  I felt clean and certainly yummy.  Fingers were sucked on after application and I can’t say an occasional blob of strawberry goo didn’t pop into my mouth, too, but all in all, it was fun and turned out great.

Here is the original recipe I used and doctored up just a bit by substituting honey for the milk because it has great moisturizing properties, and it tastes better:

http://www.savvymiss.com/beauty-fashion/beauty-tips-beauty-advice/beauty-archive/article/strawberry-milkshake-facial-317/news-browse/4.html

And heck, if you’re reading this and you aren’t into health and beauty, looks like you found yourself a DIY Halloween makeup recipe, at least!

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To just…write

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As I gazed down at the gutter on our walk this morning, littered with a Hello Kitty sticker and a few scattered leaves, I thought, today, I want to just write.  For me.  No pressure to create a new recipe, make a challenging craft project or worry about how many “likes” I get on this post , but to just ramble a few words and sit back and reflect.

We’ve been in our new “old” home for a mere 3 1/2 months and although it seems like it’s already been years, I need to stop and just reflect a bit.  To stop stressing over the pile of unopened boxes, the ever-growing list of upgrades that the house needs and the money we need to sink into making the yard perfect.   Instead of worrying about my new job which isn’t my exact favorite thing; staring at spreadsheets and columns of programming jargon,  and worrying about driving into the 2nd most dangerous city in the US on a daily basis, I need to just chill.  Reflect and be grateful.  Yes, I have a tendency to get impatient when things aren’t perfect or don’t conform to my plans, but heck, I have a job!  I have gotten caught up in a wave of urgency and busy-ness that is constantly telling me, “you need to keep looking for another job that pays better” and “you have to get the house in ship shape order in case anyone drops by”.  trees1

How about I just sit the heck back and enjoy it?  Enjoy the people at my job; they are some of the most fascinating I’ve met in a long time.  The woman who brings in her “welfare food” to share and the one who eats a salad consisting of all croutons, cheese and no veggies.  Or just take a few minutes to sit in the grass and enjoy my incredible yard even though I can hear the constant whizzing of cars on the turnpike.  Heck, I didn’t even have grass at our home in Colorado. I mean, look at these trees!  trees2 trees3I’m truly in a suburban oasis of sorts.  Where else can you access two of NJ’s busiest freeways, smell the roasting of coffee beans from the coffee plant a mile away and still catch a glimpse of a family of wild turkeys strolling across your front yard?

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Today, I will just chill and write and take a deep breath.  Re-set my internal need for being busy and be grateful for how far we’ve come.  Last year at this time, I was just starting to load the moving pods to move to the Jersey shore.  Little did we know we’d be where we are now.  I mean, God was so patient with me in particular.  He made it all possible to move to the shore where I thought I’d be happy.  Then, the worst winter in decades turned my thoughts of “wow, how fun to have the whole shore to ourselves” into, “holy crap, I can’t live another day without being near family and friends or a Starbucks.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’d take a 50 acre farm anyday, but there’s something to be said about being around people.  So, He knew what He was doing and it’s all a part of a bigger plan.  I couldn’t see His plan then, and I still can’t see what He has in store for us next, but, I’m going to sit tight for today.  Sit tight, enjoy my house, the gorgeous trees, my new neighborhood, and just be.  I couldn’t be more happy with where we are now and what God has done for us in the last 365 days.  I didn’t think I would ever be happy in south “jersey” but I am, darn it.  And He had to bring us through the dark times to open our minds to His plan.  See?  His plan was for us to be here all along.  My plan that I forced on Him of living at the beach ended up to be a bad idea. I said last year, “ok, I’ll move to NJ but only if we can live at the beach.”  And He let that happen, but He also had a perfect way of gently showing that it was not the place for us.  It was hard, but the changes we experienced over those dark months at the shore showed what He wanted for us and our “wants” aligned with His wants.  Now THAT, is beautiful!  And now that we’re here, it couldn’t be any sweeter.   I. Am. Blessed.  Besides, a new Whole Foods just opened up down the street. ;)

 

a sensual experience

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I love food.  And I also love summer.  So, naturally, I love summer foods.  How many of you have had the pleasurable experience of eating something so delicious, so bursting with flavor that you ate it with your eyes closed and savored each and every morsel?  Today I did that.  I’m sure I’ve done it many times before, but today, it seemed like a mini getaway.

Fresh, summer produce gets me excited.  Meandering through the rows of gorgeous plant matter at the farmers market is such a treat.  This past week, I carefully picked out my peppers to roast because nothing says summer to me like roasted peppers.  After living in Colorado, famous for their incredible southwestern influenced roasted chili peppers, I knew I had to find an equivalent in NJ.  Alas, they don’t roast peppers at the farmers market here, but they have some great choices to take home and roast my own!

Today I used New Jersey “long hots”, sliced them up, and put them on a baking sheet with some olive oil.  I also cut up some fresh onions and beets to add to my roasting pan.  The smell of roasted peppers and onions is simply sinful!  I roasted in the oven for about 15-20 minutes; just until they are browned and soft-at about 350 degrees.

Now here comes the cool part-the meal!  I made some massaged and oiled kale (which is by far the best way to eat the stuff), tossed it with some fresh tomato, an ear of fresh, raw corn cut off the cob, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, some almonds for protein, some delightfully pungent goat cheese and then topped off my salad with the roasted veggies right out of the oven.  And of course, a sprinkling of coarse sea salt and pepper.

Voila!  Roasted farmers market veggie salad!  You can use almost any veggie to roast and top your salad; mushrooms, cauliflower or even broccoli make for some good choices and it’s such a filling and satisfying meal.

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Thanksgiving in July

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I’ve already heard it; “you’re crazy, cooking all that stuff in the middle of summer,” but for some reason I’ve been dreaming about turkey (not so much the turkey, but the mashed potatoes…yummm :) ) and stuffing for the last couple weeks, so I thought I’d just do it. However, I lightened everything up for a “summer” makeover, including this awesome gluten free dressing with fresh herbs.

Gluten Free Stuffing with Fresh Summer Herbs

1 bag gluten free stuffing mix
8 oz chopped mushrooms
fresh sage, finely chopped (about 5-6 leaves)
fresh thyme, finely chopped (about 4 sprigs)
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 large green onions, chopped
8-10 large kale leaves, finely chopped (spinach or chard would work well)
1/4 c salted butter (or a vegan alternative)
1 can chicken broth (or veggie broth)
2 eggs (or egg alternative for binding since gf bread doesn’t have the protein “glue” to make it stick together as well as regular bread)

Saute the onions, celery and kale in butter. Once softened, add the mushrooms and cook over medium until soft. Add fresh herbs and saute for about 3 more minutes. Then, transfer to a large bowl to cool to lukewarm. Add 2 eggs and broth, mix up and season with salt and pepper. Pour into greased baking dish and cook at 350 for 30 minutes.

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