Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Last Day of Summer

Today was an absolutely perfect day. I'd say it was Indian summer, but we haven't had a frost yet, so technically it was just an average fall day...but technically it's not fall yet, either. I've probably experienced many days just like this in my life, but haven't stopped to appreciate them. This summer was so cold and wet, however, that I was really ready to appreciate the sun on my shoulders, the bright flowers in the garden, watching Riley lay in a pool of sunlight on the lawn, and all the little things that maybe I hadn't noticed before. I'd say that's true of life in general - you need to pass through a dark period to realize how special the ordinary things are.

Although the calendar begins in January, fall has always felt like the time of fresh starts for me. As the world slows down, and mother nature prepares to hibernate, I feel invigorated. So today was a perfect day to bid goodbye to summer, and bid hello to whatever the next few months have in store for me and those I love.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Travel Musings...the Homogenization of American Dining

I've been doing a fair amount of travel around the country recently. I remember taking business trips years ago, and enjoying visiting new cities, and discovering local specialties in local restaurants. It seems no matter where I go these days, I'm greeted by the same chain restaurants we see at home. Lunch at Panera Bread. Dinner at Texas Roadhouse, Longhorn Steakhouse, or Olive Garden. I've dined at these same establishments in Nashua New Hampshire, Bangor Maine, Boulder Colorado, and Oklahoma City to name a few.

Last week in Boulder, I asked the gentleman at the desk in our hotel where the best place to get a steak was-- assuming there would be a local secret place he would point me to. He paused, and said: "The best place for steak around here is the Texas Roadhouse....or maybe the Outback." I asked him "Isn't there somewhere local--not a chain-- that you'd recommend?" He said "Nope. Those are the best places around."

I'm sure I missed out on some great local restaurants that I didn't know how to find. And I wonder if the little local "special places" are getting forced out by the giant chain restaurants, the way Walmart and Target are impacting local retailers.

Something to think about the next time I head out to Chilis.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

DI Global Finals 2009

Jenny and Andrew leading the Massachusetts Delegation

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I had my fill of robo-calls last election. So imagine my horror this week when they started again. I live in a small town of about 8,000 people, with maybe 4,000 registered voters. One selectman seat is up for grabs. One candidate has made 3 robo-calls to me, the last an hour ago, urging me to the polls. (I already voted). The other has also reached out to me 3 times - but each call has been a personal call, made by someone I know, who was ready to engage me in a discussion of the issues and answer any questions.

Guess which candidate I voted for?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Patriot's Day Reflections

Patriot's Day, for the uninitiated, is the anniversary of the day the day the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. Although it's celebrated on the third day in April, the actual event occurred on April 19, 1775...234 years ago today.

I sit here in my kitchen, 16 miles west of Lexington Green, enjoying the freedoms that were purchased when the farmers and townspeople of Littleton, Acton, Bedford, Lexington, Concord, and all the other small towns in the area, marched to meet the British on the April morning. Their goal was simple, to be able to live their lives in peace, free from government making decisions for them. The consequences of their outrage have affected almost every citizen of the plant over the last two centuries. That's not what they were thinking of that morning, wasn't about a grand dream, or building a world super was about being left alone to live their lives in peace and, hopefully, prosperity.

Individuals coming together because they worried about their families and their future, standing their ground, and taking courageous actions - changed the world.

So for me, the "take away" from Patriot's Day this year is this: Courage.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

2009 Worcester City Meet : Women's Discus

Katie MacDowell crushes it at the Worcester City Meet.

The images say it all. Three years after last touching a discus, she's still got it!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Absolute Best Corned Beef and Cabbage

While corned beef and cabbage, also known as NEBD, or New England Boiled Dinner, is a St. Patrick's Day staple, I generally make it several times a year. While contemplating the hash I'm going to make from the leftovers tomorrow, I thought I'd share my fool proof method for corned beef and cabbage.

*What You Need:
*4-5 pounds of flat cut ( more expensive but much leaner and easier to carve than point cut) corned beef brisket
*6 onions
*2 large celery ribs, with leaves, sliced into 2 inch chunks
*16 cloves
*1 bay leaf
*6 peppercorns
*Several springs of parsley
*1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, or a sprig of fresh
*2 large garlic cloves, peeled
*8 potatoes
*6 carrots
*1 medium head of cabbage

*Step 1: Cook the beef with seasonings
1.Remove the meet from the package and rinse.
2.Discard the seasoning packet the manufacturer included.
3.Place the meat in a large pot.
4.Take 2 of the onions, peel them, and cut into quarters. Stud each onion quarter with 4 cloves, and add to the pot. Do not worry if they fall apart.
5.Add the celery, bay leave, peppercorns, parsley, rosemary and garlic to the pot.
6.Cover all with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.
7.Remove the meat to a second large pot. Strain the liquid over the meat, and discard the vegetables and seasonings.
8.You can stop and refrigerate the meat over night at this point, or continue.

*Step 2: Add the vegetables

1. Peel the remaining 4 onions and the potatoes and add them to the pot.
2. Bring everything back to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Peel the carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks, and add them to the pot. Adjust the heat if needed to keep it simmering.
4. Cook for 30 minutes.
5. Core and quarter the cabbage, and add it to the pot.
6.Bring everything back to a boil, reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes more, or until everything is tender.

*Step 3: Serve and enjoy
1.Slice the meat across the grain and place on a platter, surrounded by the vegetables.
2.Serve with brown mustard, Irish Soda bread, fresh butter, and plenty of Guinness.
3.Any leftovers should be stored in the broth, and reheated in the liquid.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Home Affordable Refinance and Modification -Not!

I think that home ownership is a good thing. I think that helping people avoid foreclosure is a good thing. I realize that sometimes life throws you curveballs, and we all should be prepared to help people out.

However, after spending several days going through the provisions of the Home Affordable Refinance and Modification Plans, I am concerned about several provisions. I am not supportive of using my tax dollars to lower interest rates to 2%. I am not in favor of forgiving debt for mortgages that are underwater.

I would have thought a better situation would be to lower rates to market, and then to extend the length of the loan to lower the payments to reach the 31% threshold that the plan seems to consider bearable. While in some cases this might produce very long term mortgages, I think its a more equitable solution in the long run. It allows people who are having trouble stay in there homes and allows people who can't refinance at lower rates because they are underwater to refinance. It does not reward people who assumed excessive amounts of debt by letting them out of their obligations.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Watchmen - Creating Dr. Manhattan

I was invited to ''Watchmen'' tonight by my son--as he needed an adult escort. We both thought that the movie didn't live up to the hype. Although the movie left me flat, the special effects used to create Dr. Manhattan were pretty amazing.

Posted via web from susan's posterous

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cute Photo of the Morning: Red Panda in Memphis, Tennessee

"Gentle, friendly, and shy, the red panda looks like a cross between a small bear and a raccoon, although it isn't actually either. Red pandas belong to their own family called Ailuridae. They live in the cool high altitude regions of southeastern Asia and survive on a main course of bamboo leaves with an occasional flower, berry or acorn on the side..." (source:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Easiest Beef Pot Roast (aka Crock Pot, part two)

Back in the day...(before kids)I would whip up complicated gourmet meals with expensive ingredients. Dinners consisted of multiple courses paired with matching wines. Working from home, as a corporate refugee, with college tuitions, a mortgage, and no bailout in sight, my culinary endeavors are simpler these days.

While not quite as simple as the chicken recipe I posted a few days ago, this is the simplest beef recipe I know. It is also a favorite of the two teens that still live at home--who are not known as adventurous eaters. When you make it the first time, don't be tempted to play with it by adding anything else--its amazingly good with just these three ingredients.

What's Needed
*2 1/2 - 3 lb. beef pot roast (chuck or bottom round both work well)
*1 can Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup
*1 can Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup

1. Place beef in crockpot
2. Open soups, and pour over beef
3. Cover the crockpot, and cook on low 8-10 hours, or on high 4-5 hours

Serve over noodles or mashed potatoes, with whatever vegetables you have around.

Back in my gourmet days, I would have sworn that I would never have made a recipe that required canned soup--let alone two cans. But given that Campbell's is one of the companies that's doing well in this wretched economy, I suspect I'm not alone.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Easy Crock-Pot Chicken, with Bonus!

This is so simple, it probably doesn't even count as a recipe. Its the simplest meal I know, and guarantees moist flavorful chicken.

What's Needed
*Whole chicken
*Two lemons
*Seasonings of choice- I use garlic pepper and tarragon, but you can just use salt and pepper if you like--or let your imagination go wild.

1.Poke the lemons with a fork a few times.
2.Pull the giblets out of the chicken and discard.
3.Place the lemons inside the chicken.
4.Place the chicken in the crockpot.
5.Sprinkle the seasonings on the chicken.
6.Cover the crockpot, and cook on low 8-10 hours, or on high 4-5 hours.

That's it! Now for the bonus.

*When you take the chicken out, there will be juices left in the pot. You may spoon some over the chicken when serving, but there will probably be excess. Leave whatever you don't use in the pot. After you've carved the chicken for serving, put the carcass back in the crockpot. Add 2 carrots, 2 celery ribs, 2 onions, and 2 bay leaves. Don't worry about peeling the vegetables, just wash them and chop them coarsely. fill the pot with water to cover the carcass, and turn it back on to low. Allow it to simmer from 4-12 hours. Strain and discard the carcass and vegetables, and you have a flavorful stock ready to freeze or use for soup.

If you have any left-over chicken, you can use it to make a great chicken pot pie.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

White House Uses Taxpayer Funds to Get Stimulus Passed

Consider this: The United States is in a grip of a raging crisis. George W. Bush is at the helm, and is positive that he knows how to fix it. The Senate and Congress, both with Republican majorities, have crafted a bill that accomplishes his goals. The problem? He's one vote short. A strong advocate of the bill is out of town dealing will a personal tragedy. President Bush sends a government plane, at taxpayer expense, to bring the senator back to cast the crucial vote. The bill passes, and the government pays to return the senator back home.

Pretty outrageous, don't you think? The party in power uses taxpayer money to further their agenda, because, in their opinion, its important--and after all, they know what's best. When asked, they won't tell how much the plane cost. Arrogant. Outrageous. Abuse of Power. Those are the headlines you'd be reading.

Well, that exact situation happened this week, with a twist. The White House sent a plane to Ohio to bring Senator Sherrod Brown back to cast the deciding vote for a very partisan stimulus bill, in a rush to get it passed before anyone could read it.

It is not appropriate for the party in power to spend everyone's money to further their agenda.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Beverly Eckert, September 11 Widow

I grew up in Rockville Centre, New York, a commuter town outside of New York City, that lost more than 20 people on September 11. Two of my classmates from Cornell died in the Twin Towers, as well. The day was a black hole for me, and for a long time after it, hearing the words 'September 11", brought back powerful feelings of loss and horror.

Over the past several years, with the phrase "September 11" being tossed around like a political football, the words have lost their impact. It all came rushing back to me this morning, though, when I awakened to hear that Beverly Eckert, widow of Sean Rooney, was killed in a plane crash on her way to announce a scholarship in his name at a high school in Canisius, New York.

Her death has brought out the conspiracy theorists in the blogosphere, as Ms. Eckert had refused the settlement offered to families of 9-11 victims, electing to sue. She stated:

"I've chosen to go to court rather than accept a payoff from the 9/11 victims compensation fund. Instead, I want to know what went so wrong with our intelligence and security systems that a band of religious fanatics was able to turn four U.S passenger jets into an enemy force, attack our cities and kill 3,000 civilians with terrifying ease. I want to know why two 110-story skyscrapers collapsed in less than two hours and why escape and rescue options were so limited.

I am suing because unlike other investigative avenues, including congressional hearings and the 9/11 commission, my lawsuit requires all testimony be given under oath and fully uses powers to compel evidence."

She was a brave woman, who picked herself up after a tragic loss, and used that loss to work for good in the world. She used her the past eight years to work for a cause she believed in. And now, on her way to honor her husband's 50th birthday by setting up a scholarship, she perishes, as he did, in a fiery plane crash. Is there a deeper meaning here? A conspiracy? A government plot?

In my opinion it was just a tragedy--a horrible senseless tragedy--for all the passengers on Continental Flight 3407, and the loved ones that are left behind.

Life is short.

Use each second wisely.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Twitter Success Story - More Financial Aid!

Two days ago, Christopher Penn of Financial Aid Podcast posted this on Twitter:

"Any parents following me that are appealing for more financial aid midyear? DM or @ please! (need your help w/CNBC opp)"

I thought of my brother, who'd been laid off in December, and his daughter who is a freshman at an expensive private college. He'd gone through all of the school's procedures, filled out the "mid-year change in circumstances" forms, and had received a "Sorry, this year is all set" note back from the financial aid office. I wasn't sure if this was the type of situation that Chris was looking for, but sent him off a tweet in response anyway.

He responded, I sent him my brother's contact information, and that was that.
Or so I thought.

At 7:30 that evening, my brother called, telling me to make sure to watch CNBC's ''On the Money'' at 10 pm, as he was going to be calling in with a question about how to get your financial aid package adjusted if your circumstances change.

You can watch the exchange here:

Hugh asked his question, and Chris gave him some advice.

The morning after the broadcast, Hugh crafted a note to the school, using the tips Chris had given him. An hour after hitting "send", he received an email back, letting him know that his daughter's grant had been increased for the semester.

Twitter FTW.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham

This is an absolute favorite at our house. Its simple and comforting, and a great way to stretch that last bit of ham into a full meal.

What you need:

*5 lbs. of potatoes
*1 large onion
*1-2 cups leftover ham, cubed
*2 T chopped fresh parsley
*3 T butter (plus a little extra to grease the pan)
*3 T flour
*Salt and pepper
*1/4 tsp paprika
*2 cups skim milk

*Sharp knife (or food processor)
*4 c. glass measuring cup
*Stock pot large enough to hold potatoes and onion
with several inches left over
*9 by 13 roasting pan

1. Preheat oven to 375 F
2. Prepare the Potatoes and onions
*Peel and slice potatoes and onion about 1/8" of an inch thin
*Place potatoes, onions, and parsley in pot, cover with water
*Place the pot on the stove, turn heat to high, bring to boil
*Cook for 5 minutes after it begins to boil.
3. While the potatoes are cooking, make the white sauce
*Place butter and flour in the 4 c glass measuring cup
*Microwave on high for 1 minute
*Add milk, whisk until well blended
*Microwave on high 3 minutes
*Microwave on high 3 minutes
*Whisk, add salt and pepper to taste, as well as 1/4 tsp paprika
*Set aside
4. Assemble the casserole
*Grease the 9 by 13 pan
*Spread half of the potatoes and onions in the dish
*Pour half of the white sauce over the potatoes
*Layer the ham on next
*Spread the rest of the potatoes on top
*Finish with the rest of the white sauce
5. Bake for 45 minutes- 1 hour until browned and crispy at edges

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Bright Side of a Snow Storm

A snow storm that spreads over two days can been an annoyance--or a luxury.

I'd like to focus on a few of the good things:

1. Hot Chocolate. Of course you can make it any time, but there's nothing like hot chocolate sipped while looking out the window at falling snow.

2.Exercise. Clearing a walkway is more fulfilling than using exercise equipment.

3.Time. We've had the Band of Brothers DVDs sitting unopened for a while, and last night my 16 year old decided that we should watch them. Its been great watching these with him--its given us an opportunity to talk about things that we usually don't get around to.

The snow will end in the morning; we'll clear it up and get back to our usual routines. Instead of viewing it as an annoyance, however, I choose to view it as a gift - a special interlude in our too busy lives.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mice in Cars

I've been battling mice in the house ever since the cold weather set in. With two dogs, we can't use poison, so we set out traps. We catch some, but there seem to be an infinite supply of the little creatures. I'd become resigned to these uninvited guests, figuring that putting up with mice is one of the consequences of living in a semi-rural area.

This morning, however, the battle escalated. Tom started the Suburban and its electrical system was obviously a mess -- the car started and then seemed to die. He managed to get it to the repair shop. Several hours later he was presented with a ziploc bag filled with shredded materials -- the remnants of a mouse nest. They'd chewed through the wiring.

We're now at war.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Colbert on Gupta as Surgeon General: ''Penis in Peril''

Stephen Colbert had a funny segment on some of Obama's cabinet selections. After lampooning Bill Richardson and Leon Panetta, he has fun with Sanjay Gupta, in a segment that the Colbert Report called "Penis in Peril".