Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bia and Joe Go Off-Roadin'

Just when we thought we knew all the biking paths in and around the Augusta Canal, we discover another one: a mountain bike trail maintained by SORBA (Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association of Augusta). You have to know it's there because it's off the beaten path (to get to it you have to leave the canal and follow the railroad tracks about 25 yards until you come to a sign marking the trail).

You'd never know it, but it's there!

And there are rules ... who knew? Odd days you go to the left (clockwise); on even days you head right (counter-clockwise).

See the blue pathway marked on the map?
That is 2.8 miles of pure mountain bike trail.

This is the real stuff, folks. The path is about a foot wide, and it follows a winding route through dense woods, up and down hills and gullies, and alongside the Savannah River. The path was muddy, sandy, bumpy, and a veritable mine field of tree roots. Joe had one wipeout, and I had to walk my bike down all the steep hills because my front brakes weren't working (bad timing), but 2.8 arduous miles later we emerged victorious.

Then we biked home.

We discovered a secret swimming hole ... complete with swinging rope.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Battle that Mom Won

Remember Jonathan's senior photo session? The one to which we had to drag him? The one of which he complained and complained about? The very one in which his outfit of choice was a Celtics t-shirt?

Well, I won every battle on that front.  (You go, Mom!)

And I must say ... he cleans up very nicely.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bia's Pasta e Fagioli

I have lots of recipes for minestrone, but this classic recipe for pasta e fagioli is one of our favorites. It is perfect for a blustery winter day, and served with a tossed salad, freshly baked artisan bread, and a glass of vino rosso ... it is the ultimate comfort food. (In all honesty, sometimes we go without the salad and just have pasta e fagioli and bread.) (Oh, and wine. Don't forget the wine.)

This recipe makes enough for our family of five, with plenty for leftovers. If you have a small family, the recipe can be halved.

Bia's Pasta e Fagioli

Olive Oil
3 carrots, diced
2 onions, diced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes (I use the Cento brand)
4 potatoes, cubed
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. oregano
2-3 chicken bouillon cubes
salt & pepper, to taste

32 oz. carton low sodium chicken broth

1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, partially thawed and cut into small squares

1 small pkg. ditalini pasta
Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated (for garnish)

1. Cook carrots, onions, and garlic in olive oil for 20 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients except beans and spinach. Add one half of the chicken broth (or enough until everything is submerged in liquid). Cook until potatoes are tender.
3. Shortly before serving, add beans and spinach. Bring to boil. Add the pasta and more broth (if needed). Cook until pasta is al dente.
4. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve.

Some additional notes:

-Even though I buy frozen chopped spinach, it is still too stringy for my crew. But when I partially thaw it and cube it ... no more spinach strings!

-Pasta e fagioli tastes even better the second day (it's true!), but because the liquid will have been absorbed overnight, simply add more chicken broth before heating it up. I keep the leftover carton of chicken broth in the refrigerator just for this purpose.

-The amount of chicken broth you add during cooking is a personal preference: if you want a thicker pasta e fagioli, add less broth; if you like it soupier, add more. We like it somewhere in the middle (see photo below).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Cereal Bowl Birthday Tradition

It's funny how traditions are born. When the boys were younger and celebrating a birthday, I would leave a surprise in their cereal bowl for them to find when they came down for breakfast. A pack of Pokémon cards, some gum, a funny note ... just something small as a way to kick start their birthday.

One year, the night before Jonathan's birthday, he announced that he couldn't wait to see what would be in his cereal bowl the next morning.

I had completely forgotten. That is to say, I didn't so much forget as think that he had outgrown this ritual, but evidently I was wrong. So after he had gone to bed I made a quick run to Target.

That was the year I realized that our simple ritual had grown into a family tradition, one which has included years of cereal bowls and Matchbox cars and Kit Kat candy bars, and one which continues today, even for an 18-year-old.

Today is Jonathan's birthday, and this morning as I was setting up Jonathan's treats I recognized what a bittersweet moment this was. That little boy excitedly opening a pack of Pokémon cards has grown into a fine young man. Next year Jonathan will be away at college on his birthday, and while other traditions will most certainly evolve, the fact is he won't be here ...

And I will miss our cereal bowl birthday tradition.

The Cereal Bowl Birthday Tradition:
various candies (wrapped because it's fun to UNWRAP), chocolate donuts, $5 gift card
for Chick-fil-A and McDonald's (it's all about the food), and a 2-liter bottle of
Blue Voltage Mountain Dew because he has been begging me for weeks to buy some.
Today I did.

Enough said.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Your Guess is as Good as Mine

This morning we packed our van and headed to Clemson to visit Nicholas. And when I say packed our van, I mean it: two new pillows, a foam mattress pad, a case of Propel water, his electric guitar and amplifier, groceries, and some pots and pans because (surprise, surprise) he wants to do more cooking. I also brought a crock-pot of chili and all the fixings for chili dogs so we could all have lunch together, as well as a birthday cake so we could have a pre-birthday celebration for Jonathan.

Great day. This year Nicholas and his roommate are living in a duplex, so it was fun poking around to see how they are with the housekeeping. All good, except ... well ... I leave you with the following photo:

Why are the toilet paper rolls lined up on the toilet tank?

A. Nicholas and his roommate are keeping track of how much toilet paper they use.
B. They are planning an arts & crafts project involving toilet paper rolls.
C. There isn't a trash can in the bathroom.
D. No reason, except they're guys.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Good Samaritan: A Modern Parable

The past few days the weather has been just gorgeous, and so in preparing for a bike ride this morning I decided to bring my camera. There is a certain spot along the canal that, if you didn't know better, you would think you were in the rugged wilderness of Colorado. And with the crisp, blue sky and the sun's rays dancing among the trees, I knew it would be a perfect morning for photos.

When I reached the area I wanted to photograph, I got off my bike to walk alongside the canal's edge. I took some pictures, then walked a little further and took some more. Suddenly, a cyclist whirled past me at a high speed, only to come to a screeching halt in a whirlwind of dust. He turned around, and came back toward me.

"Are you okay?" he asked me. "I saw you  pushing your bike and thought you might need some help."

Of course, I was perfectly fine, but it didn't escape me that I was experiencing the biblical parable of The Good Samaritan in a very real and modern way.

As far as parables go, it's one that offers drama: a mugging, a near-death, and ultimately the rescue by a kind and caring stranger. Perhaps one of the reasons the parable resonates so well is because all of us, at some time or another, have played all the roles in the story. There have been times we have needed help, other times we have been the source of help, and sometimes (and this may be painful to admit) we have walked on by.

To further complicate matters, life is messy, and in our ongoing quest to find the perfect job, have the perfect marriage, raise perfect children, and develop perfect bodies we do not like to be reminded that, in fact, we are living in an imperfect world. We don't want to be in the position to need help, or to complicate our lives by becoming involved, or to face moral decisions of what is the right thing to do.

Ever since his election Pope Francis has said that he prefers a Church which is bruised and dirty from having been out on the streets; that we need to come out of our comfort zones – leave our schools, churches and homes – and go out to confront illness, poverty, ignorance, injustice, prejudice, pain … all those elements of humanity which are messy. All those things which make people not experiencing them, uncomfortable. Offended, even.
Which is why the parable of The Good Samaritan reads like a modern-day how-to manual on what it means to truly love our neighbor.
In the end, I was grateful this morning that I didn't need help from my kind Samaritan, but I was also very, very touched that he didn't know that, but went out of his way to stop anyway. And because he stopped, two strangers spent a few minutes talking, sharing, and marveling at the beautiful sunrise over the Savannah River.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday's Tip of the Week: Now You See It, Now You Don't

Laundry ... sorting, pre-treating, washing, ironing, folding, putting away. It never ends (N.E.V.E.R.) but it's either laundry today or naked tomorrow, so the laundry we must do.

Over the years the laundry room has become the place where I sort out life one load at a time, including how to handle this never-ending chore. Here's what works for us ...

Everyone in the family has a laundry hamper in their room into which they place their dirty clothes. When a hamper is full, it is carried downstairs and, once the clothes are sorted, they are loaded in the washing machine and the empty hamper goes immediately back upstairs.

But what about the clean, folded clothes? How do they get back upstairs?

Allow me to present Tuesday's Tip of the Week: The Collapsible Laundry Basket.

After the clothes have been removed from the dryer and (hopefully) folded, I place them into one of these baskets. One collapsible basket goes a long way because TWO full loads of folded, clean clothes can fit inside, and because it is collapsible and has handles, the basket is very light and easy to carry upstairs. Then, once the clothes have (hopefully) been put away, the basket is collapsed and stored in the laundry room. No bulky laundry basket taking up space, getting knocked over, or used as a depository for all things not even remotely related to laundry.

Of course, with laundry anything can happen, but the clutter associated with laundry and the more traditional laundry basket is manageable with the collapsible laundry basket. And honestly, anything that helps reduce clutter works for me.

What about you? Do you have a laundry tip to share?

The Collapsible laundry basket.
Now you see it ...

now you don't.