Saturday, May 27, 2017

Report: Week 12 of Retirement (or How I Chose the Name for my Blog)

The pursuit of perfection has been a ‘hobby’ of mine for as long as I can remember.  Former work colleagues will acknowledge this with a knowing smile; my work ethic and high standards were well-known.  Family and friends will also recognize this trait, as applied to topics as various as gardening, Halloween costumes, board games, cross-stitch projects and cooking.
With Number One Son (#1S), this characteristic evolved into a family joke that came to be called “Letting Go of the Bay Leaf.”   During his high school years, I was looking for a way to spend time with him, and we agreed that we would cook one meal together each week.  We used the Web to choose a recipe, and then engaged Spousal Unit to buy the necessary ingredients. 

As many of you know, bay leaves are a common ingredient in numerous dishes.  Inevitably, the recipe will instruct you to remove the bay leaves after the dish is cooked.*** This led to quite some discussion – do the bay leaves really add that much flavor that it is worth the aggravation of the ‘seek and remove’ routine? Why add them at all?  I argued that anything listed in the recipe should be included – the recipe was my definition of perfection, and anything less than that would not do!  Over time, I learned that it WAS possible to exclude the bay leaves and still have a perfectly delicious result. (It helped that Spousal Unit refused to buy bay leaves.) From that point forward, #1S would encourage me to ‘let go of the bay leaf’ in other situations when perhaps perfection was not required. 

So, when it came time to choose a name for my blog, #1S immediately suggested “Letting Go of the Bay Leaf”.  I did consider other options. Good friends proposed numerous ideas, all relating to Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey (Honey Jack) – inspiration might have come from a bottle!  At a family breakfast, Spousal Unit offered “Wandering Aimlessly” and “Skidding in Broadside”, both of which have strong family meaning.  On vacations, I usually had the map and ensured that we covered an area completely, whether it was Walt Disney World or a cute village.  No wandering aimlessly for us!  Skidding in Broadside is derived from a Hunter Thompson quote, which has been our family motto for almost 10 years.  My test blog was called Toes in the Water, partly a metaphor for dipping my toes in the waters of retirement, and partly a reference to the Zac Brown song.  Ultimately, I felt Letting Go of the Bay Leaf was the most apt description of how I want to approach my retirement years, so here we are!

So, how is it going, this pursuit of a more relaxed state of being?  For the most part, it has been a seamless transition and every day is a new adventure.  At the same time, there have been adjustments.  In running a household, there is ‘work’ to be done, and we are figuring out the proper balance of ‘fun’ and ‘work’.  There has been some re-negotiating of who does which tasks and when. Spousal Unit had managed the family as a stay-at-home Dad for 15 years, and now I was ‘intruding’ on his schedule and way of doing things.  We’ve had to consider how to decide when something is a priority – when you have a lot of time on your hands, it can seem like nothing is a high priority.  For many years, we have had limited time together, and now we are together almost 24 hours of every day.  Is it OK if we want to have time to ourselves to go fishing (Spousal Unit) or to blog (me)?   As in most situations, the key has been communication; I am grateful that we came into retirement with a firm foundation of trust and open communication.  And above all, I just ask myself – should I be letting go of this ‘bay leaf’?
*** Some members of the laurel family, as well as the unrelated but visually similar mountain laurel and cherry laurel, have leaves that are poisonous to humans and livestock.  While these plants are not sold anywhere for culinary use, their visual similarity to bay leaves has led to the oft-repeated belief that bay leaves should be removed from food after cooking because they are poisonous. This is not true — bay leaves may be eaten without toxic effect. However, they remain unpleasantly stiff even after thorough cooking, and if swallowed whole or in large pieces, they may pose a risk of harming the digestive tract or causing choking. There have been cases of intestinal perforations caused by swallowing bay leaves, so unless the leaves in the recipe have been ground they should be removed from the food before serving; otherwise the risk of a surgical emergency remain.  Thus, most recipes that use bay leaves will recommend their removal after the cooking process has finished.

Linking to Mosaic Monday

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Walk in the Woods

Well, folks, time for another re-wind!  Back in April, as part of our Nashville, Asheville, Charlotte, Virginia road trip, we visited a nephew in Lynchburg.  A fellow hiking enthusiast, he served up one for the memory banks – McAfee Knob.

The Knob, which falls along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), is a quartzite and sandstone formation jutting horizontally from the ridge.  It has an almost 270-degree panorama of the Catawba Valley and North Mountain to the West, Tinker Cliffs to the North and the Roanoke Valley to the East.  Red-roofed farmhouses, dilapidated barns and winding country lanes are visible from the elevation of 3,197 feet atop Catawba Mountain.  The Knob is named after James McAfee, a Scotch-Irish immigrant who settled in the Catawba Valley in the late 1730s.
Spring flowers were out in abundance on the trail, and I was fairly trigger happy, as you can see in the collages below.  A shout out to fellow blogger Beth from Garden Grumbles  – she gave me a link to the US wildflowers site, which has been immensely helpful in identifying these beauties. 
I have a new appreciation for violets – who knew there were so many, with widely varying petal shapes and colors, and leaf formations.  I have definitely learned that I need to get a good shot of LEAVES – it is critical to the process of elimination when considering flowers that may look similar.
In preparing this post, I learned that McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed spots along the A.T.   I don’t think there is a correlation, but the Knob was featured in the 2015 major motion picture A Walk in the Woods, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.  In fact, the movie poster shows Redford and Nolte standing on the Knob.  The movie is based on travel writer Bill Bryson’s 1998 autobiographical book, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.  Our family are big fans of Bryson – if you have never read one of his books, I highly recommend them.  They are funny, insightful about different cultures, thought-provoking and feature quirky trivia.  So, I love the serendipity of hiking somewhere that has also been trod by Bryson!

Linking to Mosaic Monday

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Simple Pleasures

In the last few days, I have taken great pleasure in the simplest things. 

First, flowers from the Spousal Unit.  He was doing the normal shop at the grocery store, and stopped by the flower section.  Here’s the story as he told it to me:

Spousal Unit: I would like some flowers for my wife.

Store employee: Is there a special occasion?  Maybe Mother’s Day?

Spousal Unit: yes, it’s Thursday.

Second, weeding in the yard.
Front flower bed - in progress
Front flower bed - finished

Back flower bed - in progress
Back flower bed - finished

Doesn't it look so much better?

Third, our new (used) lawnmower.  Our lawn here is small; we will only be here for a few lawn-mowing months; our next house will not have a lawn – for all these reasons, we didn’t want to invest in a new machine.  Spousal Unit called on a few ads for used mowers, but to no avail.   Then, he had the brainstorm to visit the ReStore.  As a result, we are now the proud owners of this manual reel mower with grass catcher. $25.  And it did a superb job on the lawn. (For Spousal Unit, there is significant sentimental value in the reel mower since his father used one for many years in the UK.)

Fourth, sunset at Whitefish Lake.  Spousal Unit and I were listening to live music at the Lodge, and I ducked out to capture this serenity.

Fifth, a Mother’s Day dinner prepared by Spousal Unit and Number One Son (#1S), with my requested menu.  Mouth-watering in every respect.

Sixth, a Scrabble battle to the finish with #1S.  I don’t think he let me win just ‘cause it’s Mother’s Day!

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex ... it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."  Unknown

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Biltmore Beauty

Forgive me if I re-wind the calendar almost one month, to April 8.  I have had so much other content for the blog recently that there was no room for our trip to the Biltmore.  In 1895, George W. Vanderbilt opened Biltmore as an escape from everyday life for family and friends.  Since 1930, it has been open to the public, and what a boon for tourism and employment in the area!  It currently employs over 2,000 people to tend the house, gardens and Antler Village and Winery. 

While we enjoyed the house, the gardens were the true highlight.  First, the outdoor beds with spectacular tulips.  The gardener on-site that day told us they plant 100,000 tulip bulbs every fall.  And then they PULL THEM UP AND THROW THEM AWAY after their prime.  Apparently, they are so hybridized that they only flower well once.  From the showy colors that we witnessed, it is as though the tulips know they only have this one chance!  Note the picture in the upper-left-hand corner of this collage – this is how natural tulips look.
Second, the greenhouse took our breath away.  This collage shows only a sampling of the orchids and other unique plants we found there. 
In one arm of the greenhouse, a cellist played, and the mellow strains of her music wafted outside the
open doors to the patio beyond, where we ate our home-packed snacks.

When we could tear ourselves away from the greenhouse, we visited Antler Village and simply had to sample the beverages.  Although it was a little breezy, we suffered through with cheese, crackers and olives on the patio outside the tasting room.  A little later, we occupied a couple of Adirondack chairs in the bright sun while listening to a folk band.  I am pretty sure Spousal Unit caught 40 winks.   Must have been the beer ….

Friday, May 5, 2017

Day 7 - Whitefish, Montana

I know you all have been waiting (with bated breath) for the Day 7 segment.  Sorry to keep you in such suspense!  We arrived on time mid-afternoon on Wednesday, and the remainder of the day was quickly consumed with logistics.  So, it wasn’t until Thursday morning that Spousal Unit was able to engage in negotiation with the cable company for service (I could do a whole segment on the joys of dealing with these folks, but no one wants to hear the whining).  And just now, we have service and I have been able to post!

As you can see from the picture at left, the drive from Cut Bank, Montana to Whitefish, Montana is stunning, especially at this time of year.  With the snow on the mountains, they stand out in sharp contrast with the prairie.  At times, the white peaks fan out 180 degrees in front of you.  At least with my current photography skills, there is not a way to capture the beauty with justice.

As I previously mentioned, Lewis and Clark passed this way, and Highway 2 periodically features signposts of the intrepid explorers.  At times, these signposts correspond with another sign: “Historic Marker, ½ mile”.  It is one of my great regrets of this trip that I did not have the opportunity to stop at these markers and learn more about history; I was very reluctant to prolong the trip for the cats.  Nevertheless, I have been able to glean some information about these markers from the almighty World Wide Web after the fact.

In Cut Bank, Camp Disappointment was the northernmost point reached by Lewis on his Marias River exploration. (I am not clear on how it got the moniker, but I have some clues based on how it looks today.)

Battle of the Bears Paw Mountains: 800 Nez Perce Indians attempted to journey across the Montana Territory on the way to Canada, as a result of disputes over a treaty regarding a reservation.  Their march to freedom was blocked, and the survivors surrendered after this battle. 

Blackfeet Indians: the Blackfeet are the largest tribal group in the state, with over 15,000 enrolled members.  Folklore has it that the name is derived from the typical black color of their moccasins.  The Blackfeet Reservation covers 1.5 million acres and is bordered by Canada on the north and by Glacier National Park on the west.   The tribe engages in tourism, grain farming, ranching, oil and gas development, wind generation and timber harvesting.

Before I knew it, Highway 2 was skirting the southern edge of Glacier National Park, and the two-lane wound tightly along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.  Let me tell you – it looked high, fast and cold!  Definitely an outcome of a snowpack that is triple a normal winter, and a spring that has been wet by historical standards.  Once I reached West Glacier, everything was familiar and like coming home.  Hungry Horse and the Huckleberry Patch, Columbia Falls with Big Sky Water Park, the Blue Moon Saloon with western dancing lessons on Wednesday night.

Finally, we arrived at the town house, home for the next 9 months or so.  The menagerie was glad to unpack the cars (completely) and get settled in.  At least, when we weren’t too busy looking at the view from the master bedroom!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Day 6 - Malta, Montana

Twenty minutes after leaving Buffalo Gap, we entered Montana. WE MADE IT!  And then, for the next four hours, we had open roads.

Spousal Unit took advantage of this opportunity to put the Audi TTS through its paces - 125 mph at one point.  I would love to know what his co-pilot (Tom the parakeet) was thinking as they sped through the vast farms and ranches.

At points, rain clouds could be seen in the distance, with the trailing dark arms that indicated precipitation.  I was grateful for the occasional rain shower to rinse off some of the dust from the ranch roads.

In one field, I saw a group of pronghorn grazing with the cattle.  Pronghorn are one of the only remaining large mammals to roam the Great Plains.  Running at speeds of upwards of 60 miles per hour, they are North America's fastest land mammal.  Pheasant seem to have an obsession with the road - in addition to several that ran across the highway in front of me, there were an equal number squished on the tarmac.

The pheasant were not the only casualties this trip - about an hour after starting out today, an oncoming semi tossed a large rock at my windshield and incurred a large divot.  Our general contractor warned us this is a common occurrence in Montana, so now I can say I have THAT out of the way!

In general, everything is bigger in Montana - farming equipment, snow plow blades, the size of the parks.  The American Prairie Reserve in mid-Montana is bigger than Rhode Island.

Overnight we are in Malta, a town nestled along the Milk River (think chocolate milk), the railroad that runs from Chicago to Whitefish and beyond, and Highway 2, which will take us to Whitefish tomorrow.
Our quick tour took us to Trafton Park, featuring a short trail along the Milk River.  We soon discovered the view below, and engaged in brainstorming about the cause: Art Installation? Junkyard that fell into the river during a flood?  A creative method by the homeowner to retain the shore when the waters get high?  In talking later with a local, we were none the wiser: she said it has been that way as long as she can remember.

We sampled the cuisine at the Great Northern Hotel, Lounge and Steakhouse.  (It is the only hotel in town that has inside parking, which is a significant advantage in the winter.)  I recommend the Mint Chocolate Chip Pie.

So, tomorrow, we will finish our emigration, and we are very excited.  To celebrate, we cracked open a bottle of Honey Jack, which we have been saving since last Memorial Day.  This wasn't just any bottle - it is one that was given to us by dear friends at that time, with a note that said "Can only be opened in the state of Montana".  Guys, it's open now!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Day 5 - the beauty of North Dakota

Today was a wonderful respite after four days on the road.  Leaving the cats and the bird comfortably ensconced in Number 13 at the Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch we went to explore this stunning slice of North Dakota. 
We chose this area as a stopping point due to its proximity to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and what a wise move!  From the moment we entered the park, we encountered a wide variety of wildlife and vistas that evoked “Wow” at every curve.  At some point, you just have to stop taking pictures!  Here are a few highlights:
Prairie dog towns dot the landscape, and we were lucky to capture this curious fellow close to the road.  At one town, a hawk flew nearby and they all scattered. 

We have all heard the story of the decimation of the bison, and the subsequent miracle of their recovery.  This is but one example of the contribution of Teddy Roosevelt.  In the 1880s, Roosevelt witnessed overhunting, overgrazing and other threats to the natural world.  Conservation increasingly became one of his major concerns.  He would surely be gratified to know that through careful management, many animals that nearly became extinct are once again living here.

We were also astonished to see groups of wild horses; we saw four different bands in distinct parts of the park.

Although we did not get pictures, we also spotted mountain bluebirds, grouse, pheasant, deer and turkey.

Of course, the scenery was also indescribably beautiful.  360 degree panoramas abound, featuring the broken topography that characterizes the Badlands.  The Little Missouri River winds through the park, playing peekaboo with the cottonwoods that line its shores.
It is still very early spring in these parts, but we did see a few brave flowers along the Maah Daah Hey trail.  Maah Daah Hey is a phrase from the Mandan Indians meaning "an area that has been or will be around for a long time." The Maah Daah Hey Trail is a 144-mile non-motorized single track trail that winds through the Little Missouri National Grasslands in North Dakota's Badlands to form the longest continuous singletrack mountain biking trail in America.

"I have always said I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota."  Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

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