Travel, Food, and Slices of Life

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Learning Along The Pathway

When I was growing up my Dad would often drive into town and pick up the Sunday New York Times. As I got older I enjoyed reading not only the magazine but I started perusing the classified, looking for my “someday” job and apartment. Oh, the dreams I had of what could be……and then life took another pathway.

I’ve had a checkered past. I earned a degree in geography and urban planning, but  my first job out of college was for the Tennessee Supreme Court in the court administrator’s office. They were starting a judicial PLANNING division and so, since I had a degree in urban PLANNING, I was hired. It was fun but as I realized I was getting further from my education, I looked for and moved to the planning job.  For three and a half years I actually worked for a planning and engineering company and really enjoyed it. But again……life took another pathway.

There was a death in my husband’s family. His mother asked us to move to Connecticut to take care of the estate issues. We lived in the house rent free and would until it was sold. One of my tasks was to determine the market value of the property and in doing so, we listed it for sale and boom! we needed to move within a couple of months. I was looking for work as a planner but we were in the middle of a recession then and jobs were scarce. So… life took another pathway.

I started working as an real estate agent for the broker who had listed the house. While I did well, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Showing houses was a challenge because I did not know the area well and there were no apps with a talking GPS (hey, no cell phones at all)  in those days so I had to rely on paper maps, all the time portraying an image of competence to the buyers.  That was stressful enough but the part that made me more uncomfortable was listening to a homeowner extol the cost of the renovations he had made when it looked like a piece of incompetent amateur construction.  And then Baby #1 was born and I no longer wanted to put in the long hours needed in that kind of sales position.  Once again…. life took another pathway.


When I told the broker I was going to let my sales license go he persuaded me to start an appraisal division of his company. I built the reputation and business started coming in nicely and then I needed to hire some staff. The broker told me he was moving to California and was selling the real estate business, including the appraisal division. I said no way, it may be your name but it was my blood, sweat and tears. He very much understood and so, I soon owned it. I got a partner who had the bookkeeping kind of background and so we went on, growing during the 1980s real estate boom to 12 employees. (Although I planned longer, I only was able to take off one week when Baby #2 was born.) And then there was another blip in the financial market and property values started to decline. Where there is no room for a second mortgage or a current home value did not support getting the mortgage refinanced, there are no appraisals. We closed the business and…… life took another pathway.

By this time I had had baby #3 and no income. My husband got laid off. We ended up moving from Connecticut to Tennessee where I stayed home with the baby. Then my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer and after surgery, radiation and chemo I got a job at Vanderbilt Medical Center, working for one of my husband’s eye doctors. I had looked for a managerial position at Vanderbilt and when HR asked me what salary I wanted I thought about what I had made in the good years in Connecticut and then made a “cost of living” adjustment and said $30,000. They laughed…too high apparently. Anything lower would not help the family so I changed my resume to administration instead and ended up taking that first position as an AA for $18,000. I figured if I was not going to earn enough money I might as well not be in charge of anything. And so….. life took another pathway.Image result for vanderbilt university medical center

After five years of learning eye health jargon, things changed when the doctor in charge left. My position was eliminated but I was not, so HR moved me to another place in the hospital. The boss was, to put it nicely, a challenged individual. I left and move over to the university side of Vanderbilt to the Department of French & Italian. More new things to learn and master. And then my husband died and there I was a widow with a young child. Graham entered my life and I sure made him work to woo both of us. And there I was again….my life took another pathway.

My kiddo and I joined Graham when he went on sabbatical to Colorado for six months. I thought a start together in a neutral location would be good. We made friends and when it looked like he might be offered a job there I started looking for work. I had a sweet sweet double interview with the statewide blood bank and they offered me a position for a beautiful salary. I came home from that interview to be told we were moving back to West Virginia.  Ha ha…guess what….. my life took another pathway.

Looking for work in the Rust Belt was a challenge. I finally was hired as a practice manager for a financial adviser. Since it was a start-up I accepted a lower than desired salary with the promise of bonuses that would boost it to the sky (dream on, eh?). That never happened. After three years of building that business into something sustainable, I asked for a $10,000 raise and he basically countered with 50 cents an hour. I resigned. This time, definitely my choice…..my life took another pathway.

I started to build up my book selling business that I had been running on a small scale for about 12 years to provide additional income. I was able to match that prior salary for the next two years while having the time to also get involved in the farm-to-table movement and helping build The Wild Ramp. All the time, we were planning for my husband to retire when my kiddo left for college and so……my life took another pathway.

We moved to Oregon just about four years ago. I applied to about 50 jobs, making sure each cover letter and each resume was custom tailored to each specific job. I never heard from 46 place, but had four interviews. One had the grace to tell me I was overqualified and they were sure I would be bored and quit. I countered with an comment (I had nothing to lose)  that at this age I would love a job I could do with one hand behind my back. But no job was offered. (Ageism is one more hurdle to getting a job that needs to be fixed.  Date of birth information can no longer be asked, but they can and do asked for education information, including year of graduation. I think you agree, most of us complete high school at age 18, so extrapolation is easy.) So feeling ready to do anything….. life took another pathway.

I took a summer job as a farm hand. Yes, me. I never ate so much ibuprofen in my life but I did it and learned a lot more. In all my effort with The Wild Ramp I had probably visited 100 farms and had heard their stories. Now I got to get a (very small) taste of the life farmers live.  And the experience confirmed something I already suspected: I am not a farmer. But I need my farmers (we all do) and respect them highly. And so, taking a plunge……my life took another pathway.

I started up the commercial food processing business, Can-Do Real Food, to support local farmers by preserving their surplus produce by canning and dehydrating. (This gives the farmer another income, provides consumers a way to have a taste of the local summer harvest any time during the year, and reduces food waste.)  When we moved to Oregon I learned to can, so I had one year of canning at home. Other people have forgotten more than I have learned but it has been a pretty amazing experience. You can read more about it at the Can-Do Real Food blog. 

In the past year I had been dealing with a knee that has been injured but there is nothing surgical that can be done to fix it. It forces me to walk a bit wonky which has now affected my hip joint on the other side. I am in a new world of hurt and so…..I suspect my life is about to take another pathway again.

Through all these years (63 and counting) I have received continual education. The first part is one we all are fed K through  12. The next was the narrowing down of a field of study (college). And since then, through work and seminars and conferences and self teaching, the learning has continued and increased.  I urge everyone I love to never stop exploring, never be afraid of change.

I know jargon related to the legal profession, the medical profession, the academic profession, and now food processing (and government regulation thereof).  I wonder what’s next!  Whatever it is, I strongly doubt I will ever live in New York City!





Silly Me Smart Me

I did something silly at my age. I took a part time temp job, helping at a farm. The farmer looked at me and asked me if I knew it was hard work. Oh, yes, I assured her, thinking of all the farmers I had met in West Virginia and now here in Oregon. Intellectually I know it is hard work.  She then asked me why I thought I could do it. Well, thinking of several people, I know there are some people my age and older farming. And thinking of a few others, I know there are people my weight farming. I assured her if I did not injure myself, I would be there each and every day until the rains came and her need for an extra pair of hands ended.

The first day we picked beans. The farmer and the other helper kneeled or leaned over, bending at the waist. I knew my arthritic knees and my lower back would never forgive me, so I semi-squatted and soon discovered my quads and my hamstrings were a bit angry at my decision. It definitely was mind over matter to walk anywhere for the next couple of days.  Ibuprofen helped. So did lots of MSM and glucosamine and heat and ice.  And being stubborn.2014-09-17 08.52.38

I2014-10-05 08.03.22 talked to Beth Ann Earl of Noni’s farm in Huntington, West Virginia who told me to sit down and scoot along. Compensate for my age and body. Stretch.  I have two pairs of jeans that may not be wearable out in public after this job, but I can pick beans with the best of them now. LOL  The last of the beans which have been drying on the bush need to be harvested and laid out inside the high tunnel, joining other beans, some popcorn, and the onions.

2014-08-31 13.23.10The farm is organic, which means no herbicide. That also means an amazing crop of pigweed.  Not wanted, but it turns out I’m a pretty darn good weeder. Dubious honor as the garden is 200 feet long and a kazzilion rows wide. I also scooted along much of this process too, carrying the weeds to the ends to load on to the 4-wheel to bring to the compost pile. Fun driving the Kubota!. 2014-08-29 12.20.13I’m pretty proud how wonderful that garden looks now.2014-10-05 11.51.14

I started working a couple of months ago and it was pretty warm.  Recently we had 2 days of light rain, just enough to split the tomatoes. The forecast looks like this may be the last summer weather, as the rain is showing daily for the following week.

At that point we’ll shell the beans inside and then she’ll probably let me go. I will be looking for a desk job next. 2014-10-05 09.56.31

Don’t get me wrong. This was a great experience. After visiting farms in West Virginia and really getting to know many of the farmers supplying The Wild Ramp Market, I had a great respect for the work they do. Now, understanding how it really truly feels, my admiration has soared.

We consumers take the food that appears in the store for granted. We have abundant supply of an amazing selection of food. If you buy from the supermarket, items come from all over the world. If you value the effort and want to support the local economy, you purchase from local farmers and you follow a more seasonal approach in your diet. Either way or a combination, realize this:

Our small farmers are finding it harder and harder to make a living. Industrial farming does not look like the story book version of a farm. Industrial farming typically grows one kind of crop, year in and year out, feeding the soil with chemicals to try to restore the nutrients. Small farms may be conventional, using chemicals, but many make an effort to farm in the time honored way, whether certified or not, organically with a variety of crops and rotation of the land with cover crops helping restore the nutrients to the soil for the next edible crop.2014-09-17 08.52.45

You can tell the way I lean. I love my local farmers. I was happy with all we could find to eat in West Virginia and feel abundantly blessed here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  You can eat well too. Without the sore muscles.



Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.                                                                                                                                                                                  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Have you begun to notice that we have a problem with water?  Or several, actually.

First, there is shortage. California, for example, is in the third year of a drought and reservoirs are drawn to lows never seen since the days they were first being filled. lake shastaaThis photo, taken by Graham while I was driving on I-5 in northern California, shows how that the water level in Shasta Lake is about 50 feet below normal. The local tourism newspaper is trying to put a good spin on it saying that fishing is great since the fish are all concentrated in the areas of deep pools. In reality, this is a sign of bad trouble.

Agricultural production in California provides nearly half of all fruits, vegetables and nuts consumed in the United States. This year farmers are finding the reservoirs are unreliable so much of the water is coming from underlying aquifers.  UC Davis, the premier agricultural college in the state, warns that continued use of the aquifers means it will be dry within 2 years.

No water……for much of California.  The results of that are going to be horrible.Folsam damElsewhere, like Charleston, West Virginia, throughout much of the states that have fracking, and other areas where industrial dumping occurs, ground water and surface water is becoming more and more polluted with hazardous effects on health.  In West Virginia the dump may have been accidental but as soon as the corporation declared bankruptcy and reorganized with the expedited assistance of the court system, the collusion of the people in power was shown. There seems to be little concern about safety of our water. I wonder what the people in power are thinking; do they think they are immune?WV water

Hydraulic fracturing to drill for natural gas occurs in many states and although the mining companies have always assured people that there is no danger, many environmental changes have occurred in those areas since the operations began.  Besides the increased earthquakes throughout Oklahoma, the chief concern is ground water pollution as well as surface water pollution. The EPA has been conducting a study with results expected this year but many other organizations have documented the substantial decline in safe drinking water in those areas.  In addition, many of the areas where companies have enticed landowners for fracking leases are agricultural, which means pollution effects on animals and crops are also beginning to be identified. That means the food you purchase to eat, even if it is organic, could be affected if it originates close to a well.Fracking Farmland 615px

If you shrug this off, thinking you are not affected since you don’t live in these areas, you need to think again. Perhaps you don’t cook so you don’t purchase fresh produce. Perhaps you don’t eat almonds or walnuts or other nuts. Or perhaps you just don’t do the grocery shopping. Prices in supermarkets around the country are showing higher prices for fruit, vegetable and nuts because of the long term drought in California.

Please recall one fact you probably learned in school. Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, with 90% of that in the oceans. All water that flows over the land ends up in the ocean. All aquifers have some connection as well.  If you use well water, you are pulling from an aquifer. When you water your lawn, when you take a shower, that water goes into the ground via a septic system or it enters the sewage treatment system and therefore flows back out into a stream or river.   As waters mix with contaminants, it gets polluted.


ground water polutionThink you can manage by using bottled water? Did you know that no one checked the quality of the water in those bottles so it actually may be more polluted than your tap water. I won;t even talk about the wasteful use of the plastic bottles right now.

waTERThe bottom line: there are many countries in other parts of the world, places we consider Third World, who have long been suffering from a shortage of safe drinking water. The United States is rapidly falling into their level. Some areas of the nation have 5-30% of the people receiving polluted water through their public water supply.




A Medical Hurdle

This story is for those of you who really hate the concept of  universal healthcare:

My last job working full time was for a financial adviser.  It was a small business and  did not offer many benefits, including health insurance. But that was okay, because my husband had the state employee’s insurance plan through his job at Marshall University. It was restrictive outside of West Virginia. For example, he needed an eye surgery and the best care was in Kentucky. Living right on the Kentucky line, we chose to pay more than drive further to Morgantown.PEIA

Once he retired, we fully expected my health coverage would end immediately and were pleased I could pay fully for coverage to continue for two years. As expensive as that option was, it would give me some time to find something else once we moved to Oregon.  And I was happy it was coverage by Aetna. I had lived in Hartford for many years and felt that company had good policies and attitudes.Aetnalogo

When the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed into law by Congress and approved by the Supreme Court, I was relieved that I did not need to find another 9-5 job with a large company or the state government to get insurance, as all those jobs were an hour away. I started looking into the Cover Oregon plans and determined I would save $100 a month once enrolled.cover oregon

Meanwhile, using my post-retirement West Virginia insurance, I started establishing relationships with new medical care and filling my prescriptions at the local pharmacy.ritedaid

Until yesterday, when I went to pick up a refilled prescription and a new medicine that my new doc felt was necessary to replace one causing some blood chemistry issue.  The pharmacy told us that our insurance had dropped us. Said they had dropped Graham so they had dropped me. But Graham, being on Medicare now, had never been enrolled. Just me.

We have received no communication from this insurance company. It was past 4:30 eastern time so have to get through the weekend and then we will call on Monday. We paid cash for the medications, thankful they were generics and only double and triple the cost we were used to paying.scrip-shopping-cart-md

This is the way insurance companies act. And now, we will have to fight for the coverage we were told would be offered for two years.fight

Having lived through Dave’s long fight with cancer, I know very well first hand that often people who are ill, or dealing with someone who is very ill, have no spare energy to fight battles like this. But this is the way our current healthcare coverage system has existed for years.  I often had to fight for the promised coverage.

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Some Best Places to Eat

We are foodies, no bones about it. I’m a pretty good cook but Graham is so much better and while I can make some good chow, he can serve a dinner that many homestyle restaurants can’t. So when we travel, we enjoy discovering places that offer well prepared meals.

I thought I would present a few here that we have experienced, so if you are in those areas, you can share in our delight.

The Brooklyn Seafood, Steak and Oyster House, located at 1212 2nd Avenue in Seattle, Washington was recommended by the concierge at Graham’s hotel when I joined him for one of his professional conferences. Located in downtown Seattle, it provides one of the widest selection of oysters in a seafood rich city and has been recognized by the locals in the areas as one of the premiere restaurants in the city. Flights of small samples of 3,4 or 5 different items are offered for red wine, white wine, white wine with oyster pairings, micro-brews, beers and oyster pairings, vodka, vodka and oysters with caviar, scotch, vodka, tequila, port, and dessert wines. They are strong on Washington wine offerings. Menu options are broad and well prepared.

On a trip to Newport, Oregon a couple of years ago I had searched the internet and thought I had found a great option for fresh seafood, but a chatty gentlemen at our bed & breakfast asked where we planned to eat and quickly persuaded us to change our plan. I had not found the place he suggested because it was not listed as a restaurant, but as a fish market.  Local Ocean Seafood is located at 213 SE Bay Boulevard, Newport, OR at the harbor where the fishing fleet is docked. Fish in the display case for purchase to take home indicate not only what the fish is, but whose boat and how it was caught. The market has a small open concept kitchen and tables for about 20 people. To say we ate fresh seafood is to simply say grass is green, the sky is blue. But you know that day when the sky was such a beautiful shade of blue you always compare to it now? And the beginning of spring when you notice the grass is different? It’s that kind of fresh.

Heading across country we can highly recommend Cafe Cimino in the tiny town of Sutton, West Virginia to be on your own foodie magnet radar. I’ve written about this wonderful world class restaurant and bed and breakfast in my custom trip planning blog before and it is well worth it to press the point again. Chef Tim Urbanik uses the freshest and most local ingredients he can find to prepare menus that tease your snobbery down to real eating. We have gotten to  know Tim and Melody and Tim’s son Eli well and I assure you that together they will provide an escape from the routine. 

Located in beautiful Lancaster County in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, Lily’s on Main has captured the concept well. Designed with an art deco theme to coordinate with the reclaimed and renovated theater next door, the restaurant at 124 East Main Street offers a wide variety of well prepared seasonal dishes.

One place that ended up a great surprise was a small corner bistro in the Bolton Hill neighborhood in Baltimore located at 1501 Bolton Street. We asked the woman at our b&b where to eat and she said “Oh, the place down the block is pretty good.”  Well, B is a gem! It was a beautiful summer evening and we sat outside. Service was warm and friendly, the food was flavorful. Using local ingredients from their own farm source and preparing all recipes from scratch makes  a difference few people experience. And the people in Baltimore who have been there agree and have awarded it prize after prize.

One thing that all these restaurants have in common  is that they use local  ingredients as much as possible. Not only are local ingredients fresher and higher in nutritional content that anything that has to be shipped hundreds and thousands of miles, a kitchen that takes the time to use high quality foods to prepare dishes will provide a taste to the diner that few ever experience. Go…eat…enjoy!


Learning New Ways

Life takes such interesting meanderings. Who would ever have imagined that a person growing up in the area of New Jersey which is NOT the “Garden State” would love visiting farms as I did in West Virginia the past two years?  As I met the farmers I came to admire their ethic of hard work and passion for producing healthy flavorful food. I know I could not easily take on their life; I work pretty steady but not the kind of hard labor these people do to feed us. I respect them deeply.logo

Here in Oregon I am in the midst of one of the nation’s best growing areas. Renown for its pinot noir wines, the Willamette Valley also produces much of the country’s grass seed and landscaping plants. But in between, in all the beautiful farmland, are the family farms where vegetables, fruits, nuts and animals are raised.Sheridana

I met Jana when she came to pick up some of my moving boxes when I advertised them on Freecycle. We sat on the porch chatting (can you imagine me NOT sitting and chatting with someone?) and I learned she and her husband had moved from Colorado to Oregon to try to do what they could to produce as much of their own food as possible. They currently have goats, sheep, rabbits and chicken and expect to again have cows. Her kitchen garden is still producing abundant amounts of tomatoes and peppers, cabbage, squash and volunteer tomatillas.garden

I mentioned to her that I wanted to learn to can and she invited me to join her in preparing some tomatilla salsa. What a wonderful time!!!

First we needed to peel off the outer layer and wash the tomatillos.

First we needed to peel off the outer layer and wash the tomatillos.

Once washed, I then de-stemmed and cut them into quarters

Once washed, I then de-stemmed and cut them into quarters

Then into the food processor to do the chopping.

Then into the food processor to do the chopping.
salsa simmer

Simmering on the stovetop with the peppers and other ingredients added.

In the jars ready for the hot water bath

In the jars ready for the hot water bath

Yumminess for us!!

Yumminess for us!!

I picked up some tortilla chips on the way home and Graham dug into it with a huge smile!!!tools

I need to pick up some more jars and some other tools and I think I found an interesting recipe for something to do with all those apples next!!


Hillbilly Hot Dogs

Hotdogs generally have not been included in my regular diet for a few years as I moved away from processed foods, but an errand one of the last days I was in West Virginia took me right past an icon of the region, Hillbilly Hot Dogs. photo 1

Presented on national television by Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Guy Fieri enjoyed the fried dogs with a multitude of toppings. http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/homewrecker-hot-dog/35982.html

gas stationHillbilly Hot Dog’s restaurant is over the top in terms of decor, poking fun with a high level of mirth and sarcasm at the way the outside world views the people in this region. photoa

WV dog and cheese fries

West Virginia Hot dog and cheese fries

huntstandWhile you could eat at the in-town Huntington version of the restaurant to enjoy all the flavors offered at the Lesage place, if you have the time, drive out to the first place. It only takes about 20 minutes from downtown Huntington and your enjoyment will extend from your taste buds to your funny bone.

Click for the full menu

Hillbilly Hot Dogs
6951 Ohio River Rd.
Lesage, WV 25537
(304) 762-2458


Saying Goodbye with a Smile by Looking Ahead

Leaving home in a sense involves a kind of second birth in which we give birth to ourselves.
Robert Neelly Bellah


New York City photo taken in the early 1960s as we drove to my grandparents in Brooklyn.

I have enjoyed my 6 years in West Virginia and have made many friends that I will hold close to my heart even as I move 2500 miles west.   Having grown up in the New York City area, I was indoctrinated as a child that City was the center of the universe. Perhaps your own upbringing gave you a similar concept about your own town or region or state.


Photo taken summer 2012 while onboard the paddlewheeler that offered a dinner cruise….downtown Huntington from the Ohio River.

My parents took my sisters and me camping around the United States every summer so I was exposed early to the beauty of this nation, its natural treasures and its history and culture. In my adult life I moved from New Jersey to Tennessee, to Connecticut back to Tennessee and then on to West Virginia with shorter stays in Pittsburgh, Pueblo and Europe. My mom asked me once why I chose to move so far away from my home town and I reminded her it was, perhaps, her own fault, as she and dad had shown me that there were other places.  But it was my decision and I have enjoyed meeting people from all over the country who have taught me that regional differences aside, we are basically the same with similar wishes for our lives.

Decisions to move have never been made lightly and this move took about six years to consider.  Even as I jumped into projects and activities in Huntington, West Virginia, I knew I would be leaving. It did not stop me from being involved. In fact, just the opposite. It provided a tremendous boost to my effort, to get as much done as possible in the time I had left.logo

logoI have found over time that jumping in and getting involved is the fastest way to make friends in a new place. When I am active doing something I enjoy, the people I meet most often have a lot in common with me and connections are made. It is those connections, those friendships, that make a place enjoyable.

It is also what makes the decision to leave bittersweet.  I will miss them, but I hope I have left them with positive memories of me.

As for me, it is not that I am leaving West Virginia but I am moving on to Oregon.  It is this FORWARD movement that shapes my view. Come with me.