Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ay-yo, No Comprendo...Adventures in Español

Second language learning is a funny thing. There is little else that can make you feel like a badass and then a buffoon in a New York minute.

When you're on, you're on. But when you're not...¡Ay Dios míoThank God for hand gestures...which, by the way, I have found, usually freak out those who do not talk with their hands.

I am a second language learner. I have been trying to learn Spanish now, mas o menos, for a while. I guess you could say that I am a textbook learner. I went through a silent period, where I took everything in, trying to make sense of what I heard...even though it sounded like one veeeerrrryyy long word. And then I began to experiment with vocabulary, identifying words like a toddler, using association, rather than translation.

As a visual learner, I quickly learned that I could remember vocabulary if I could see what the word looked like and how it was spelled. I began soaking up vocabulary like it was my job. I put post-its on everything, and soon, I could identify scores of nouns. I also practiced pleasantries, suitable enough to score me a café con leche or maybe even sangria and tapas in un bar madrileño. Winning!

While that in itself was grand, sentences began to take on more importance as it looked like a life with my husband was becoming more of a reality. With a mother-in-law that did not speak English, it became quickly apparent that como esta usted just wasn't going to cut it. I wanted to be able to talk with her, to hear her stories, to learn from her experiences.

No worries...I am a visual learner. Seeing the words kept me on top of my game. I was confident, as someone strong in my first language, that I would be strong in a second language.

And then I had to conjugate verbs.

If I could live in the infinitive case forever, indeed, I would be winning again. But, alas, it could not be.  I could avoid it, but the past and future tense would forever haunt me with Dickens' Scrooge-like torment.

We practiced at home. I went to Spanish school. I studiously worked through my Spanish textbook and workbook, wearing out pencil erasers as I battled verb tenses and direct and indirect objects. I began to speak in short sentences, but became frustrated with the level of "baby talk" that I could generate on my own. I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn't have the words to express myself.

And what made matters worse more complicated, is that in order to be successful, one must truly live in the language. When we're in Spain, it gets a bit easier, because except for my husband, everyone speaks Spanish all the time, and my older relatives speak the regional dialect, Gallego, which is another story altogether.

When you think in a language, you just do better. But working, living and thinking in an English world wreak havoc on my ability to flip the switch between language. At the strangest times, I would look at English speakers and think Spanish, and then think English when I should be using Spanish. And then there's my Spanglish....

Verbos, I would lament to my mother-in-law. Those darned verbs were doing me in. For as much progress as I was making, it seemed like I was stuck in neutral. And at times, it felt like I was beginning to roll backwards down Mount Español.

In Spain and desperate to communicate with my new family and friends, I struggled to pick out words familiar to me and make sense of what people were saying and asking. I was triple processing everything, deciphering first what they were saying, then the answer, and finally, how I would answer. By then, the conversation had moved on. Not winning.

In exhaustion and a bit of self preservation, my brain shut down when it hit the saturation point and Charlie Brown's teacher took up residence in my brain like a long lost friend, sheltering me from the frustration of my inability to communicate.

God blessed me with a husband who has the patience of a saint and the ability to talk me off the ledge when my emotions ran the gamut, from frustration to desperation. Lovingly and compassionately he reassured me that I was making progress...that it would take time. And it does. Experts say that it could take 7-10 years for an adult to become fully fluent in a second language.

But patience is in short supply when you are immersed in a language you don't fully understand. It becomes a matter of survival, not convenience.

He was right. I have made great gains. I can carry on a basic conversation in Spanish and I think I would be okay if I got stranded at the market...but don't tell him that.

I have learned that, while eventually I may see a degree of fluency comparable to some native speakers, there are some things I simply may never understand.

And that's okay. Because when your heart's in it, your brain will follow. And that's winning.

How about you? Inspire me with your efforts to try something outside your comfort zone.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Recipe Alert: Fish from a Super Cute Chef...Not Me

Growing up in New England, my fish was eaten mostly on Friday, and what I ate fit into the trifecta of New England seafood offerings: 
  1. fish and chips,
  2. lobsters and steamers
  3. and the fisherman's platter consisting of whole clams (since everyone knows clam strips aren't real clams) and sea scallops, with fries and coleslaw, of course
But, when I met my husband, my Friday fish got a flashy Spanish makeover.

I still adore the Holy Trinity of New England seafood, but, my mother-in-law's baked fish is a treat that gives me the health benefits of fish without the guilt of the hot, drawn butter that bathes my lobsters and steamers, or the deep fried decadence that comes with my fish and chips.

And, look at this chef...

 Who can say no to her?

So, savor the simplicity of this easy preparation of any fish you want. We have used salmon, cod, haddock and pollock. Work with what you like.

Not a fish fan? Try it with chicken or pork, or over portobello mushrooms or peppers.

Make it yours.

She uses:
  • 2-3 pounds of fish
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup +/- fresh parsley, minced together with the garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion*, julienned
  • 1 medium or large sweet pepper*, julienned
  • 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce, or enough to taste
  • sliced mushrooms to taste, if you like them
  • 1/4 cup +/- for sprinkling on the top
*I love the baked veggies, so I always ask for more. Use as many or as few onions and peppers as you like. You could probably also throw in sliced zucchini or summer squash too...really, any veggies you like. This is what she uses, and it's fabulous.

Here's how she does it:

  • Preheat the oven to 350.
  • Rinse the fish and pat dry. Place in a large rectangular glass casserole dish.
  • Mince the garlic and parsley together.
  • Rub the garlic and parsley over and under the fish.
  • In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and pepper about 5 minutes. Add the spaghetti sauce to coat.

  •  When the veggies are well coated, cover the fish with the veggies.
  • Sprinkle the top with mushrooms, if you like them, and the rest of the garlic and parsley, if you have extra.
  •  Then add the bread crumbs.
  •  Bake the casserole of fish at 350 for about 45 minutes. Let it rest about 10 minutes or so and then dig in. If the fish was previously frozen, you may have extra's all good. Spoon it over boiled potatoes, which, by the way, are fabulous with the minced garlic and parsley sprinkled on top with a drizzle of Spanish extra virgin olive oil.

 Buen provecho!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Missing the Heart...An Educational Tragedy

I am a middle school teacher. That very statement often solicits reactions of both sympathy and blessings, and I am always happy to accept the latter, but most people have it wrong.

Middle school rocks. And we, the adults in charge of shepherding our kids through it, are blowing it. Big time. If we don't fix it, and soon, the results will be tragic. The school is on fire and it seems like we're busy sharpening pencils for high stakes exams.

Middle school students are caught in developmental purgatory. They are richly diverse...culturally, academically, socially, physically, emotionally and socioeconomically. And most are simply hoping to make it high some sort of life that everyone tells them is about to start.

It's no secret that our schools are in crisis. We are losing our kids, because in trying to solve the equation for success, we miss the mark...their hearts...their passion...and it's resulting in a lack of proficiency. And it's that lack of passion, not proficiency, that is plaguing our kids.

Kids haven't changed, but the world has. From birth, we have empowered kids...encouraged them to ask questions, to speak their minds and to think for themselves. Why should we be surprised that the factory model and curriculum canon no longer work?

In our schools' defense, I acknowledge that students come to us, often with significant gaps in their skill sets. And poverty impacts student achievement in ways that most will never understand. 

Scaffolded skills are key to higher achievement levels. But, in the quest for students' academic gain, we've lost sight of students' passion and their hearts.

And they're checking out. Big time. And if they don't care, they won't achieve. Period.

Most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards and it's easy to understand why.

There's a sense of desperation tied to raising student achievement and the feds are betting the house on these national standards. 

Regardless of what people think of the CCSS, what's most important is that we ignite or reignite students' passion and inspire them to pursue lifelong learning.

If they're engaged, they'll achieve. But if they could care less, we're doomed.

I'm only one person. So is every other teacher. There's so much beyond our control, but for the most part, we can control what happens within  the walls of our own classrooms. The change starts with us.
  • Middle school curriculum, on its own, will never make or break anyone. Start with relationships. Continue to build relationships with kids. Encourage and practice kindness and empathy. Lead by example. 
  • Know their interests. Share their excitement. For example, achieving a new level on a video game may not seem like a lot, but if we compare it to a milestone we've been trying to reach and it's easy to see...everything is relative.
  • I tell my students that there is so much more to them than how they perform in any given classroom. Know who they are and what makes their heart pound, for better or for worse.
  • Ask their opinion and then, let them share that opinion. Bring current events into the classroom.  Let them bring current events into the classroom. You'll find out quickly where their interests lie. My middle school students will be voting soon. And they vote every day with their dollars. Knowledge is power; help them understand the power they do have and how to use it to their advantage.
  • Share our passions. Lead by example. Give them hope beyond the walls of your classroom. For example, I love to share my travel experiences with my students. They need to know that there is life beyond our school. They have choices and new chances every day. We all do. Use them for good.
  • Build curricula around students' interests and inquiry whenever possible. The English Language Arts standards are ideal for this. Do whatever has to be done to make curriculum relevant to students' interests and useful for their life skills, not just their test taking skills. They need to find value in what they learn. Doing it because I said so doesn't work. It rarely did and it still won't. Sometimes standards can seem obscure and their only value lies in making the next level more accessible. Acknowledge it for the stepping stone that it is and move on.
  • No one likes to fail. Regardless of how a student presents, everyone wants to be successful. Unfortunately, in many schools, for many students, academic success is tied to issues related to compliance, like homework. Standard proficiency is one thing, but punishment is another. Consider alternate paths to demonstrating proficiency. If a student is a caregiver, is hungry, neglected or abused, homework understandably lies at the bottom of the priority list. Knowing our kids helps us to know that and act accordingly.
  • Most importantly, schools need to remember that students are still kids. They need to move. They need to talk. They need to play. Some experience stress and worries that no child should ever encounter. There are multiple resources online dealing with classroom activities that honor and respond to the needs of middle school students. Their heads won't work unless their hearts do. Sometimes, we're all they have.

Teaching is a gift and a blessing I have been honored to have. But school systems, in their desperate quest for higher student achievement, are missing the mark.

Schools are losing their kids. And they're losing good teachers who want nothing more than to inspire their students to achieve and to become lifelong learners. Something has to give, because if we continue on this trajectory, we risk alienating an entire generation, inadvertently encouraging illiteracy and apathy.

And that would be tragedy of catastrophic proportions.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Relatively Healthy Crock Pot Beef Stew

I have been making this beef stew for years. It is so easy and so delicious, you'll never go back to the stove. And, given the frigid temperatures we have had here in the Northeast, it's the perfect meal to come home to after a long day. Also, it's not greasy, so it's relatively guilt free. 

Here's how I do it. I have a smaller crock pot, so adjust amounts based on what you have. This makes about four servings.

I use:
  • 1 package of lean stew beef, cut into smaller bits and trimmed of any visible fat
  • 2 sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 2 red potatoes, cubed or quartered, depending on size
  • 1/2 butternut squash, cubed or a package of already cubed squash.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, to taste, whole or chopped
  • Carrots to taste...really, any other veggies you like. Sometimes, I use chopped, peeled parsnips as well. 
  • 1 can of baby peas, if you like them
  • 1 can of beef broth or its equivalent in beef stock
  • 1 can of fat free or low fat cream of mushroom soup
  • Salt and pepper to taste

That's it. If you like a thick broth, coat the beef in flour before you put it in the crock pot. The starch from the veggies will thicken it a bit, especially if you have leftovers.

I put everything in the crock pot, put it on low and let it go. It's ready when I get home (6-8 hours later). It is delicious and so easy.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Was Featured!

Another wonderful surprise greeted me this morning.

After being featured earlier this month as Blog of the Week by the Northeast Bloggers' Network, I awoke to see another wonderful opportunity to network with other bloggers...this time with teachers who travel and who are interested in travel and teaching abroad.

Thank you so much to Lillie at Teaching Traveling for featuring me among her profiles of traveling teachers. I am continually reminded of how blessed we are as bloggers to be part of such a supportive community. I am so grateful for this opportunity.

Thank you again to Lillie and to all of you who visit and share your thoughts with me on this journey. You are all very appreciated.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Baked Brie...Best appetizer ever!

If you like cheese, that is...

 Elegant and easy? Sign me up!

One of the easiest and most popular appetizers I served over the holidays, and still make for parties, was my baked brie appetizer. Easy to customize, this is a crowd pleaser that you can make yours with a few simple tweaks.

Here's what I did. You will need:
  • One brie wheel
  • Crescent dough sheets or phyllo dough...your choice.
  • Preserves or jam of some sort...I used Fig Preserves.
  • Honey
  • One beaten egg with a splash of water for an egg wash
  • Sliced almonds, definitely better if toasted. 
  • 2 Granny Smith apples
  • Lemon for juicing
  • Grapes
  • Other accoutrements, such as
    • Dates, pitted or not,
    • Figs...I used dried
    • Dried cranberries/craisins
    • Walnut halves
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 for Crescent Roll sheets, 375 for phyllo dough.
  2. Spread the crescent or phyllo dough...whichever you want to use, onto a floured surface.
  3. Spread preserves or jam onto the dough, saving space around the edge to close it up.
  4. Place unwrapped brie onto the dough (keep the white coating).
  5. Pull edges up over the brie to seal...I went corner to corner.
  6. Seal the edges the best that you can, and then tip the brie over onto a non-stick cookie sheet, sprayed with non-stick spray.
  7. Paint the brie with the egg wash.
  8. Bake at appropriate temperature for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
  9. Let the baked brie rest for about 15 minutes prior to serving.
Now, prepare your platter.
  1. Place a small pool of honey into the center of your platter.
  2. Place the cooled brie into the center.
  3. To toast the almonds, place in a dry, non-stick skillet. Swish around the pan, around 2-3 minutes, until brown. You will start to smell them. Be careful...they burn quickly.
  4. Drizzle the top of the brie with honey and sprinkle with sliced almonds.
  5. Arrange sliced Granny Smith apples, tossed with lemon juice to avoid browning, around your cheese. Garnish with small grape bunches or whatever you'd like.
  6. Finish your garnish with figs and dates, walnuts and cranberries...anything you like to eat...make it yours.
  7. Put out some multi grain round crackers or crostini and you're good to go.
Super easy, elegant and delicious. What more could you want?


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Romantic Weekend Getaway...Playing Tourist in Your Own Town

Hooray for long weekends! We are winter weary, so this mid-January escape is the perfect remedy to carry us through to Spring. This weekend, we are playing tourist our own town...beautiful Boston.

Go, Pats!

If you're looking to love up your own long weekend, here's five easy tips we use:

1. Check Priceline. The ability to bid on a hotel price may intimidate some, but you can learn the game and come out a winner. Start low and gradually increase, $5-$10 at a time until you win your bid. This weekend, we hit the jackpot and until Monday, we will be calling the Boston Park Plaza our home.

2. Check discount sites like groupon, living social, goldstar and whofish for things to do in town. Often, you can find deals for tours, restaurants, shows, and museum discounts that might be exactly what you're looking for. 

3. Theme it up. We were engaged in Paris, so it becomes fun to reminisce about our time there and sip coffee in Parisian-style bistros. Love Rome? Sip cappuccinos in a local coffee bar. Barcelona your thing? Find a tapas bar and buen provecho!

On a weekend like this, when football fans gather to watch playoff battles, a sports bar may be just the thing to rally hometown loyalties, or to root for the team who can beat your rival. Go Pats!

Photo courtesy of

4. Culture Club. Find a local museum and see what's on exhibit. Who's playing at the local jazz club or acoustic open mike? See what's going on in town and try something new.

Boston has scores of options, and this weekend we may be headed to the Museum of Fine Arts to see John Singer Sargent's Watercolors or to the Museum of Science to explore Our Global Kitchen...Food, Nature and Culture.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of Science,

Also, trade shows may be a draw. For example, here in Boston, we have a camping and RV show this weekend that may give us some ideas for summer trips or more extensive long term travel.

5. Second Honeymoon. Weekends away are a great time to break from the routine. It's fun to let romance rule the day and soak up the love. We'll have to go back to work soon enough.

Our tentative itinerary is set and we can't wait to get away. Enjoy the weekend and let everything you do come from a place of love and gratitude.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Planning Our Bilingual, Bicultural Wedding

Planning a wedding can be a daunting task. There are to-do lists that never seem to end, budgets that continually swell, and stress levels that can turn the most mild-mannered, even-tempered love-struck bride-to-be into a head-spinning, ear-smoking Bridezilla. I lucked Bridezilla for me...I swear!

I always thought of myself like Carrie Bradshaw...someone who was missing the "bride gene." I knew that I wanted a beautiful wedding that reflected the joy we had in becoming husband and wife; but, honestly, I was more excited about the life of adventure that would follow the wedding...traveling the world and building our home and life together as husband and wife. The details eluded me...I trusted the professionals we hired and went with the flow.

Despite the laid back approach, a perfect wedding we had, filled with love, laughter and precious moments that make me smile when they dance within my memory.

My husband is fluent in both Spanish (his first language) and English. My brothers-in-law are also fluent in English, but, my mother-in-law speaks no English at all. We knew that we wanted her to be able to participate in all parts of the wedding, so we planned a bilingual, bicultural wedding that honored both of our cultures, and also one that celebrated us as a couple.

Here's how we did it:
  • The music that greeted our guests consisted mostly of Spanish guitar music, including
    • Concierto de Aranjuez
    • La Leyenda del Beso
    • Recuerdos de la Alhambra

  • We knew we wanted a bilingual ceremony, so we needed a bilingual officiant. Luckily, one of my husband's colleagues, a retired judge with whom I had also worked with at school, was just the person for the job. He knew my husband personally, which added a comforting, personal touch.

  • We included readings in both languages, including a piece by Charlotte Bronte, a piece by Pablo Neruda... "Soneto 17," here in English, but read in Spanish.

  • And a piece from Walt Whitman that spoke to our wanderlust:
I give you my hand,
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law:
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
~Walt Whitman
  • We exchanged our vows in English first and then in Spanish. That was one of the most tender moments of the ceremony, as I struggled to pronounce the Spanish, which, for some reason, we never thought to practice.
  • Our dj and emcee were bilingual and did wedding announcements in both languages.
  • During our cocktail hour, while the wedding party took photos, guests were treated to a bachata demonstration and lesson.

  • At dinner, our dj played music from Latin and Spanish artists, such as
    • The Gipsy Kings
    • Joan Manuel Serrat, a Spanish artist popular in Uruguay
    • Cristina Pato, a Galician bagpiper
  • We served wine from South America, from Chile and Argentina.
  • Our wedding cake was vanilla with dulce de leche filling, popular in Uruguay.

  •  Our first dance song was beautiful and bilingual, "I Belong to You" by Eros Ramazzotti and Anastasia. For those moments the song was played, we were frozen in time.

  • All of our tables were named after places we visited in Paris, where we were engaged.

  • We included parents and children as we danced with our respective parents...all fathers and daughters were welcomed to join in as I danced with my own father, and all mothers and sons were welcomed to join in as my husband danced with his mother.
  • Our honor attendants...his brother and my best friend, spoke their toasts in both English and Spanish. She did great!
  • We honored all married couples who paved our way with a special Anniversary Dance.
  • Because we love to travel, we chose a suitcase for the cards with which people gifted us.
  • The people who we asked to participate in our wedding are all dear to us, making their participation a precious gift to us on our special day.

In our eyes, our wedding was just perfect, celebrated with the people we love the most. People stayed and danced and celebrated with us until the last dance was played. 

The day went by far too quickly, but it was one that will be forever etched in our hearts as one of the most beautiful, magical days of our lives.

What awaits us down the road that may equal the joy of that day, only God knows. But making our day a reflection of who we are as individuals and as a couple added to the joy that surrounded us on that day and with every precious memory.

Amor para siempre...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Three questions that could change your day

At the end of the day, some of us collapse into bed, our minds swirling with to-do lists and angst over what may not have gotten done or done well. Some are riddled with worry over what's to come or focused on the void with what never came to be.

I like keeping things simple. I try to focus on what I can control, and what I can control is my thinking. When it seems like chaos surrounds me, the best choice for me is to consider what I can do, plan, and go from there.

If nothing else, before you crash for the night, answer these three questions and see if it makes any difference in how your day ends and the next one begins.

1. What went well, or what did I do well today?
Focus on the positive and be grateful for something that went well because of you, or something with which the universe gifted you that day.

2. Is there anything I could have changed? 
If not, let it go and move on. Sometimes, the only thing you control is your reaction to the energy around you. You can't control others; only you.

If the answer is yes and maybe there was a better way, do it better next time. When you know better, you do better.

3. What's my plan for tomorrow?
Knowing your plan for the day gives you focus. You know what has to get done, generally speaking, and you hit the ground running. Meeting your goals is within reach.

Experiment. Ask yourself one, two, or all three of these questions. Sometimes gratitude for what we have in any given day, an understanding of our own power, and the focus on our own goals get lost in the minutia of the day or in the chaos of others. Maybe the answer to a good night's sleep is only three questions (and answers) away.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Play List of Your Life

Earlier this week, NPR put out the call for listeners to share the play list of their life.  

"Music," they charged, "It has been there with us from the beginning — sometimes in the background, sometimes center stage. We listen. We sing. We play along. We compose. We remember."

It's true...we all have a play list. We have songs that cut to our core, that conjure a tear or cause us to smile at the very hint of their first note. 

If you could tell your life story — chronologically, up to now — in six songs, what would they be, NPR asked.

It took me some time. I shared the challenge on my Facebook page when I first saw it, but I really had to think. What were those songs that defined my experience?

And so we have it...

1. The Score of The Sound of Music. We were a Sound of Music family. We gathered around the television every year without fail to watch the young novice, Maria, sing her way into the hearts of the Von Trapp children and their hunky Austrian papa as well. No doubt, this score, from My Favorite Things to Edelweiss, is a touchstone in the playlist of my life.

2. Rio...Duran Duran. As a child of the 80s, the video generation who saw the birth of MTV, I was enamored with all things British Pop. At some point, I crushed on every member of this ubiquitous boy band. While they had a multitude of chart topping hits, Rio, seems to be a signature song and one that I will sing every time I hear it in an 80s flashback.

3. Paradise by the Dashboard Lights...Meatloaf. I can't really explain this one, except for the fact that it always seemed nearby me and my then BFF. Whether it was on the radio cruising up to the beach or blaring from the speakers in the dorm of Guild Hall, the story of young love lust is one I will always remember.

4. Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude...Jimmy Buffett. I spent much of my 20s and 30s as a card-carrying Parrothead. I was so captivated by all things tropical and pirate that I escaped my own latitude and moved to South Florida. What I learned is that it's not the latitude, it's the attitude. I still love Buffett and channel him whenever I need to be in a Keys state of mind.

5. Concerto de Aranjuez...this was the opening sequence played in my husband and my wedding video. I walked down the aisle to a guitar version of Canon in D by Pachelbel, but this piece will forever be associated with that perfect day.

6. And now, here I am, in my 40s. Life is good. I have to go with one that makes me smile, even when I think about it. Thanks, Bob Marley for those Three Little Birds because I know that "every little thing's gonna be alright."

That's my six. What are yours? What's the play list of your life?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Trip to the Island...La Toja, Spain

Imagine a church covered completely in sea shells...its outer walls adorned with messages from pilgrims who seek its sanctuary and tourists who seek its quirkiness.

Iglesia de las Conchas

Passersby glance and then move closer, curious as to the messages left by those who came before.

Such a church is a reality on the La Isla de La Toja (A Toxa in Gallego, the language of Galicia), across the bridge from El Grove (O Grove) in the Rias Bajas (Baixas), meaning "lower rias," in Galicia, Spain.

The island of La Toja is a summer and fishing resort in the south of Galicia, which boasts warmer waters, a luxurious mineral spring-fed spa, a casino and golf course, creating a playground for the wealthy.  

La Toja known throughout Europe for its therapeutic, healing thermal spring. Legend has it that a man left his dying donkey on the island, only to return and find him youthful and spry. It is used by the famous soap company, La Toja, which has been making mineral salt based soaps since the early 20th century.

Granite engravings lining the streets downtown.
Galicia is known for all-things scallop shell,
the symbol of St. James, the apostle of Christ.

During low tide, you will find women of all ages, harvesting clams and other shellfish from an area that celebrates the bounty of the sea every October in a grand seafood festival.

La Toja is a fun destination, about six hours from Madrid and only an hour from Santiago de Compostela.

Take the trip, sip the Albariño (Galicia's white wine) and take in all that this lovely little island has to offer.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Back to Basics

I've lost my way. I got complacent and careless. Old habits seeped in, and with it came 30 pounds.

I have ignored it, berated myself, wished it away and cowered in shame and feelings of failure for too long.

But I'm done. I have to be. I have fought obesity my entire life, and that SOB will not win. Food, as much as I love it, will not have the upper hand.

Starting today, January 11, 2014, I will take back control in the way that I know how...back to basics.

I know that I cannot exercise out a bad diet. Diet is 80%...if I'm not eating well, I'm not feeling well, and if I'm not feeling well, I'm not moving. And on the flip side, if I'm feeling well, I'm eating well and moving more.
I'm in the ditch...I need  to make a turn for the better. 

For me back to basics is
  • tracking and, at times, weighing and measuring my food--knowledge is power
  • paying attention to hunger signals
  • knowing why I'm eating...and it better be because I'm hungry
  • eating protein and veggies first
  • getting enough water
  • moving my body every day, mixing it up and trying new things
  • getting strong and staying strong--no excuses
  • today's starting weight...177. Goal weight by April 11th...147.
  • check in on the 11th of each month with progress update...stay accountable.

I'm scared. I'm afraid  that I will fail and be back at 300 pounds before I know head has certainly planted those seeds before and it has done it again.

It won't be easy. Anyone who has ever struggled with weight knows this. At times, it will hit the fan and hunger, as well as the sugar/carb demons will rear their ugly heads. I know this...I haven't struggled with obesity because I handle them well.

I know the time is now to do some weeding in my brain. I need to pull those negative seeds of self-doubt and re-seed it with positive and motivating messages. I have to count on all I have learned though my journey to get through day by day, meal by meal, if need be.

My dear followers and me to stay accountable. If you know personally, check in and ask me how I'm doing. If you know me virtually, please do the same.

And if you're on the same journey, please let me know and I will do the same for you.

I'm done. I cannot will not be done in by a fork or spoon.

Just like that...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pin It: Quinoa Stuffed Portobellos

We love mushrooms*...giant Portobello caps, pre-sliced white buttons, baby bellos, exotic essence, everything that won't make us sick.

We grill them, sauté them, shake them up with butter and wine, and mix them in our soup and with our egg scrambles.

And last night, we stuffed those babies with quinoa and made a meal of them. And it was fabulous.

**Not a mushroom fan? Stuff peppers. Or squash. Anything goes.

If you're experimenting with Meatless Monday or trying to add more vegetarian options to your repertoire, this is a hit. The flavors are reminiscent of old-school Italian, but without the weight of a cheese-encrusted, deep fried meat. If you want to add more protein, try adding grilled or baked chicken, or, you could probably add shredded chicken into the stuffing itself. If you want to keep the vegetarian option, you could probably add cannellini beans to the mixture as well.

Make it yours.

Here's how we made ours.

Kelly's Quinoa-Stuffed Portobellos
  • 6 giant portabello caps
  • Prepared quinoa  (2:1, stock:quinoa...or 1 box of prepared couscous)
  • 4 minced cloves of garlic
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 sweet pepper, finely chopped
  • Chopped stems of portobellos
  • Torn spinach leaves to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, or a combination of cooking spray and a tablespoon of olive oil.
  • 1 cup crumbled feta (I use low-fat)
  • 1-1-1/2cup spaghetti sauce
  • 1/2-1 cup shredded mozzarella (I use low-fat)
  • Preheat your oven to 350. Spray a cookie sheet or foil-lined cookie sheet with non-stick spray.  
  • Prepare the quinoa or couscous. Set aside. HINT: Cooking the quinoa or couscous in stock will add flavor. Water, while acceptable, adds nothing.
  • Wipe the mushrooms with a damp paper towel to remove any dirt. Carefully remove the stems, slice off tip and then chop the stem to add with the other veggies. Place the uncooked caps onto the lined, greased cookie sheet.
  • In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and then add the garlic.
  • When the garlic is soft, add the onion, pepper, mushroom stems, and spinach leaves.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Remember, the feta is salty, so be conservative with the salt.
  • Add enough spaghetti sauce to coat the veggies. You don't want it too soupy, because you're adding this mixture to the quinoa.
  • Once the veggies are cooked, add them to the quinoa or couscous.
  • Mix in the feta cheese and stir until well blended.
  • Put a bit of spaghetti sauce in each empty cap, and then fill each cap with the stuffing. I use an ice cream scoop to make sure each cap is evenly filled.
  • Drizzle spaghetti sauce over the top of each filled cap, and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

  • Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top is melted and they look done.
  • We served ours with a side salad, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
There are  so many variations to this recipe. You can go Mexican with black beans and taco flavors, or if you love all-things Thanksgiving, go Pilgrim with sweet potato or pumpkin, cranberries and walnuts.

So many options, so many shrooms.

Experiment and enjoy! If you have a favorite, please come back and share...I'm always looking for something new. Cheers!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Over the Moon!

This morning, I awoke to the nicest surprise...

I was named Blog of the Week by The Northeast Bloggers' Network, a network of bloggers living, working and writing in the Northeastern United States.

As someone looking to write strong, compelling content and build readership, this was an encouraging kick-start for my goals for 2014.

I am so thankful to Northeast Bloggers for featuring me this week. As I meet and network with other writers, I am continually reminded of how lucky we are to be part of such a wonderful, supportive community. I look forward to paying it forward and helping others along the way.

Thanks again! Cheers!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Three Travel Resolutions You Can Keep

Resolutions are easy to come by this time of the year and usually, by February, many are long forgotten. Many people resolve to be happy and others resolve to get healthy.

If travel is on your radar for 2014, here are three resolutions you can make that you can keep.

1. Save like a boss. Maybe 2014 is the year that you take a big trip, and maybe 2014 is the year you save for that big trip.

Start small.

The 52-Week Money Challenge is being pinned ad nauseum because it can work. Start small. If the suggested amount is too much, cut it in half. If it's no problem, double or triple it.

Make saving something that is non-negotiable. Save before take-out and eat a sandwich. Drink your coffee at home or put it in a to-go thermos. Save before the movies and catch a documentary on Hulu or go to a matinee. Save where you can. It adds up. No excuses.

2. Plan. Feed your wanderlust and become an expert on where you want to go. What are the neighborhoods you want to explore? What are your must-see sites and experiences? Start a file on your computer or go old-school and build a folder. Create a travel vision board.

Become a social media hound for your destination and see what's hot...not as a tourist, but as a local. Follow Twitter and Facebook sites of tourism centers based in cities of interest.

Are there travel memoirs from writers in your destination or in activities you want to experience? Don't plan your visit with an itinerary, because flexibility is key, but, educate yourself and build excitement.

3. Start small. Explore your capital city like a tourist. If you were having visitors in town, where would you take them? Does your capital city or other metropolitan city in your area offer a tour? Any museums? Explore.

Sometimes, when people come to town and see the sites our capitals have to offer, we shrug and say we've  never been. Why not? Try a new restaurant or a corner coffee shop. Sit in the park with a book. Pack a picnic. If others are willing to explore your capital city or metropolitan center, shouldn't you? Sometimes a day or night out, even a weekend away, is enough to rejuvenate us and kindle a spark for bigger or more extensive travel.

If 2014 is your year to hit the road, congratulations! But if it's your year to plan, plan with gusto. Save like a boss, plan your heart out and start small. When you're ready to go, you can say, ¡Buen viaje!

PS--If you haven't already, get your passport. Here's the link for the online application. If you already have it, know when it expires.