Friday, August 31, 2007

Here's looking at you.

In the course of my lifetime, I've unofficially tried every diet under the sun; the coffee only diet, a favorite of mine, the high protein diet, the grapefruit diet, the fresh fruit diet, and the starvation absolutely no food diet. I've unofficially done weight watchers, and seriously thought about Jenny Craig. Yeah, I lose weight but no sooner is it off and it's right back on. It's gotten so bad that I don't need to go out and buy new clothes when fashions change. I have three sets of clothes: fat, halfway there, and then my size 8. Where there is one in my closet and two stored in my attic. Right now, I'm in my fat clothes.... thinking about getting out the halfway there. And for the first time in eight monthes, I'm smiling.

After a soul searching coffee session, BigMama sent me an email invite to join; an absolutely free online fitness tracking system. It offers exercise suggestions, motivational essays to read, complete with a million other subscribers and their stories, and a nutritional tracking program. I took one look and was hooked.
Everyday I log exactly what I've eaten. The biggest surprise is what I call hidden calories. Foods that I thought were okay to eat, (like california rolls). Where in one meal, I've consumed enough calories for 6 people to survive a week. So, it's not really a diet. I know my caloric, veggie, water, and exercise goals and I check that I am keeping these goals. It's a live it. I love it.
I can live this way. Making smarter food choices. And by making the same or similar choices each day, I've learned that having a yogurt and watermelon for breakfast is a wonderful choice. Damn the sugar covered cereals, or bagels mounded with cream cheese and lox. It's been a month and I don't even want these foods anymore.
Seriously, my name is ptcakes and I'm a carbo-holic. So, here's looking at you. A rediscovering me, with a lifestyle that will soon fit into my jeans. Thanks, BigMama!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Second Chances

Two years ago, my little Janey Appleseed started an apple orchard in pots. As time has gone by her orchard was pruned down from a dozen spindly trees to five fairly healthy ones. To the point where I had to admit, yes, you can grow an apple tree from a seed.
Her pride and joy was the biggest and the best looking out of the bunch. Proudly showing it to anyone who came within ten feet of our house. Even I was having visions of an orchard in our backyard. Then we went on vacation.
Or I should say, then we returned from vacation. For as I walked up the stairs to unlock the door, I saw the deck littered with brittle brown apple leaves. I was in as much a case of shock as a person can be over a potted plant. Our little orchard king was dry, leafless. While next to it, his buddy was still fully dressed in green. What happen? The trees offered no answers.
I ran into the house, grabbed a glass of water and administered the only first aid I know to a plant. Later that night, well after bedtime, Janey came to my bedside. "Mom, I think my tree is dead," she whispered.
"I know. I saw. But I watered it anyway."
I thought she was about to cry. "Me too."
The next day, a bit more normal for sleeping in my own bed, I tested the plants "deadness" by trying to break off an end of one of its branches. The plant still had pliability. There might be some life left in the sapling afterall. I poured on more water.
Later on Janey noticed there were bumps on her tree. (Leaf buds to those who have some botanical experience.) "Do you think it's still alive?" she asked.
I didn't want to make any promises. "It could be." And as she gave it more water, I thought, if this plant survives it's going to need a bigger pot.
Three days later, the kitchen door burst open to the sounds of a major stampede. "MOM, leaves, there are leaves... my tree."
Her little tree is back. And I'm reminded that even when things don't look good, with a little faith, hope, love, and in this case, water there are second chances. Never lose hope.
And we're skipping the bigger pot idea. Our orchard king and his friends are getting a nice spots in the backyard. I'm having visions again.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

In the groove

Last Mother's Day, when I got my new motorcycle helmet, the man behind the counter said something about riding in the groove.
I replied, "The what?"
"You'll know. When the bike becomes a part of you, and you are a part of the bike."
I didn't think it would be possible. For me, then, the Suzuki was a tool. A way to get around cheaply. A vehicle that a middle-aged momma didn't really require. And for most of the summer, Old Suzi, sat in the garage as I shuttled children, groceries, friends, about the United States in the Big Rig. And life was good, until somewhere between Illinois and Colorado.
There I saw motorcyclists everywhere. Individuals, groups riding huge touring bikes as well as fast little sportsters. And as they would accelerate past our beloved behemoth, I would feel my right hand slowly grip as if accelerating, and my left foot desparate to flick in a shifting manner. For hundreds, if not thousands of miles, the words "I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike" ran endlessly through my head. Until we landed home, and there was Old Suzi, still patiently waiting.
Some evenings, we head out for a church meeting, other nights it's to meet for a walk. And then there are those nights, with no place to go, and no one to meet that we head out for a quick spin that turns into a ride in the groove.
My head focused on the road conditions, the traffic, and nothing else. My hands and feet working the controls while the rest of me exists only for the pleasure of feeling the wind.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

One of my favorite photos, again...

This is one of my all time favorite photos. It's amazing how a photo op can happen in the space of a heart beat and then never happen again. Hovering just beyond sight, a stand still moment. Hidden behind dirty dishes, or somewhere in the quiet.
In this photo, who's the more curious? The bear or the child? Or was it both on that lazy day at a crowded zoo. I find life, whether cut short or left to linger longer, is much better for these placeholders.
And to the bear, that little girl is off to high school today.

And I must really like this picture, as I've posted TWICE...crazy momma.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A swirling to-do list

As we get ready for the start of school in two days, (GASP!), we are also preparing for three, (Count, two, three) trips. And as I wonder if I should just get a permanent forwarding address, deep down I know it's no joking matter.

The first is our annual family camping trip. Last year, a hurricane blew through our site, and we lost our kitchen set up and screen house. No one hurt. It made for a good story. This year's trip will face a worse foe. The knowledge that my father in law is dying. So, while some of the northeast contingent gathers around the campfire, he's walking the final few miles in Florida. He just found out. We just found out. And I'm seeing my Grandfather's face the day before he passed away.

I woke up this morning, with a headache.
The list banging from one temple to the next.

Find the math and reading logs.
When was the last time we flew anywhere?
Air out the sleeping bags
Make a shopping list
Did I use travelocity?
Find the camp fuel, check the batteries
When is the best time to pull the girls out of school?
Make ice for the coolers.
Forget convenient; do it!
I haven't seen their school shoes all summer. Do they even fit?
Pull out the camping supplies. Don't forget dish towels and clothes.
Add matches.
Pick out a first day outfit.
Make a hotel reservation.
Wash out the lunch boxes.
Rent a car.
Pack up the backpacks with glue sticks, tissues, hand soap, pencils and a notebook.
Pack for cool weather -- winter hats for everyone.
Pack for hot weather -- should I bring the bathing suits?

Press the funeral clothes...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I can't

"I can"t do it."

Every time one of my young ones is faced with a challenge, whether small or large, the first words out of her mouth is, "I can't do it." It's not a simple statement of fact, but a whining that cuts me to the core. I'm so tired of hearing it. That defeatist attitude, even before any trying occurs. What's with this?

I used to ignore it, but the whining escalates into a tantrum, then a meltdown. Yesterday, I handled it by saying, "Then stop trying. Put it away and forget it." This is my attempt at not being negative, and to let her focus on the positive. Find out what she likes to do, what she can do. And let her take it from there.

But I ask, if a caterpillar doubts it can fly, will it ever become a butterfly?

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Camp

We had the opportunity to stay at a "camp" in Vermont for the better part of a week. Despite camping my whole life, I had never had the opportunity to stay at a camp. It was interesting.
The cabin, which easily slept eight, was on a lake. In addition to providing all the water sports we could want, the lake also provided the cabin with water. At the shore you could watch the fish schooling about the water intake. Signs inside the cabin suggesting boiling the water before using it for cooking or brushing your teeth were printed on stand out orange paper. We opted to truck in our own water for drinking and cooking.
For the better part of a week, we spent endless hours fishing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, playing games, knitting, reading, chatting or just relaxing. At night, for a bit of heat and fun, we'd start a fire in the fireplace and roast mashmallows for s'mores.
School starts in a few days. What a great way leave summer behind.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Despite having an advanced degree in Plant Biophysics, during which, at times, it was required that I grow my own spinach plants, the truth be told -- I'm not much of a gardener. And up until this past spring, in addition to my perennials, which take care of themselves, I hadn't planted more than a half a dozen basil plant -- for pesto.
Still each spring, I would look out into our garden areas and envision beautiful flower beds, surrounded with even edging, not a weed in sight. What I got every summer are weed patchs with the odd Brown-Eyed Susan or daylily sticking up here and there.
Well this spring, I vowed it would be different. We would have a real vegetable garden with tomatoes, peppers, basil, corn, green beans, and giant gourds. Why these plants? The tomatoes, peppers and basil -- from the gardens of my youth, and corn, green beans and giant gourds -- because two years ago when I was all gung-ho about gardening and let the kids pick packets of seeds, those are what they picked. Would they grow after sitting about for two years? Only planting them would tell.
So in the spring, with all my usual gardening enthusiasm I planted. Well, I first I composted -- innoculating the soil with enough cantaloupe seeds to fill 50 acres, and then I planted, and watered, and weeded.
The store bought plants of tomato, pepper, and basil all did well. As of writing this blog I have enough basil to give pesto to everyone in our hometown. And enough tomatoes that our lycopene levels have increased 100 fold. The peppers were a surprise. Turning out to be mislabelled -- we thought sweet when they were hot. We haven't eaten as much of them. But I just found a maple pepper pickle recipe I might try.
Of my "from seed" attempts, the cantaloupe were the first to emerge. And I must admit I weeded out about half of these rogue plants. Followed by the beans, then the corn and finally the giant gourd. Little spindly plants -- that didn't look much different from the cantaloupe. Did I really plant gourd? And what does one do with giant gourds anyway?
June and July -- I watered, weeded, fertilized and waited. Then August, and our vacation came. Two weeks we would be gone. Who would watch the garden? Luckily friends and neighbors offered to water. And when we came home I found everything bigger, everything fine except the gourds. I had planted three mounds of 8 seeds. When I left I had thinning vines. When we got back we were met with plants that are threatening to take over the parking lot next door to our house.
Still, what does one do with a giant gourd?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Where there is a will...

or a cantaloupe seed, there is a way.
For a month now this little plant has been growing out of the side of our compost barrel. At first, I laughed, but I wasn't surprised. Due to the amount of cantaloupe we eat, there are a lot of seeds in our compost. And subsequently when we add that sweet smelling loveliness to our gardens, we end up being over run with cantaloupe plants. (No real fruit, yet.)
But this is the first time one has had the initiative to put down roots in the barrel. I've stopped turning it's garden paradise. With that much determination it should be given as much opportunity as the next plant. So when I water the gardens... I water the barrel. God knows it doesn't require fertilizing. If the plant ever produces fruit, it should be a cantaloupe to beat all cantaloupes.
In the past, these opportunistic plants have managed to produce softball sized pretty much tasteless fruits. But I've noticed in among the green beans and corn, two pretty healthy looking fruits. So maybe this year, these willfull plants will finally produce fruit for us, and seeds for the compost barrel.
The great circle of life right here in a suburban compost barrel.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Shrine

As we parked at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo I noticed a tower about another 1,000 feet up the mountain. The zoo map mentioned that if you wanted to go to the shrine you'd have to drive. No pedestrian traffic allowed. So after feeding the giraffes, and budgies, finding the mountain goats, marvelling at the mountain lions, oogling the orangutans, and laughing at the merkats, we decided to head up.

"What's a shrine?" asked one of the little ones, as we drove the scenic road up the mountain.

"A memorial," I said. "Usually religious, but not always." I, of course, was sure this was an abbey or convent sort of place. But I was wrong.

It is the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun. A beautiful structure, with rooms full of photographs, quotes, and letters of Mr. Rogers. (This image is of one of the windows that you walk by as you climb the five flights of stairs inside the tower.)

Prior to visiting the shrine I knew very little about Will Rogers. After visiting, I know a little bit more. But the more I know taught me that he was quite the entertainer and even more so the outspoken humanitarian.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Zoo With A View

While in Colorado Springs we went to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. And I would have to agree with this Spectacle Bear, who had climbed to the top of a tree in his habitat. It's a zoo with a view.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Garden of the Gods

A picture paints a thousands words.
If you ever get to Colorado Springs this is the place to:
go for a walk
go hiking
go rock climbing
watch birds
see interesting plants

decide to become a geologist

watch the storms roll in

have a picnic

take 512 pictures, maybe more
and so much more...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I'll let you in on a secret

All I want for Christmas is a leg lamp. (Is it too early to start a Chrsitmas list?)

It's strange, I know. But it's true. And I'm just as puzzled as you are about this. It's not like my camera, which has now taken just about 14,000 shots, or trusty mixer that has stood the test of time and survived a divorce. It's a lamp in the shape of a woman's leg with fish net stockings. Something I would never wear, in public.

Could it be that the lamp represents a dream? A prize long sought, after a hard working life. It's not much, but in the movie, A Christmas Story, it is a validation for one man's life.

I hope my reasons are not so deep. I look around at my children, my family, my five Boston Globe articles, my completed book, my Girl Scout troop, and wonderful friends and know that my life is good. No stamp or major award required. Still I seek the leg. And as I type this I suspect the lamp represents a timelessness of family struggle followed by quiet success. That despite life's furnace problems, playground bullies, turkey stealing dogs, secret decoder rings that don't stand up to snuff, and a near miss with shooting one's eye out, in the quiet of the night, with or without a leg lamp in the window, there is love.

Still, if Santa should grace our humble hearth with this much sought after lamp, rest assured I'm not crazy, when you see me standing across the street from my house loudly exclaiming, "You should see it from out here!"

Monday, August 13, 2007

Do you recognize this house?

This house is the home of a man and his FRAGILE "Must be Italian!" dream.
This house is part of the Bumpus doggy raceway.
This house - a place of Orphan Annie radio and Ovaltine decoder rings.
This house is where a little boy gets so bundled up, he can't put his arms down.
This house is located at 3159 W 11th St. Cleveland, OH 44109. Approximately 23 hours worth of driving from Colorado Springs and four hours away from a divy hotel in Niagara Falls.
This house is where it's Christmas 365 days a year.
This house is a little over four miles away from the Rock'n Roll Museum.
This house has a leg lamp proudly displayed in its picture window.
This house is a shrine.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Home again home again....

We had a blast, for the most part, on our 14 state driving extravaganza. But what made it even more wonderful was when we got home everyone pitched in and helped with getting us back into the house. That was my true vacation.
In the usual ptcakes style, this image in from the last stop we made on our way home. We spent a full day at Niagara Falls. From early morning till late evening. Sure we wanted to see the sites. But even more so, we were avoiding our divy motel room. With its shattered door jams and own species of mold in the bathroom. But we camp... so it was sort of like expensive camping, complete with bugs.
Hey, everyone should have a divy hotel room store to share. Now me and mine have ours.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


when going anywhere, the journey isn't a task. Something to be tolerated.

It's part of the fun.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Why is it?

Why is it only at the end of a vacation that I truly get a sense of where I have been?

The eldest is training for the fall soccer season. Everyday, rain or shine, it's out for a run. With the goal being three miles in less than 28 minutes. (goal obtained -- goal beaten) So whether we're home, or on the road, there is the early morning stint of hitting the pavement.

While on vacation we had the pleasure of padding around Prospect Lake. In full view of Pike's Peak and The Garden of the Gods. The early morning air was blessedly crisp. The path crowded with over friendly auburn squirrels, Canada Geese and a multitude of nameless ducks.

Our last day, and our last session at the lake, I took a good long look around and then pictured the track at the local school back home. And as wonderful as it is to have a convenient place to exercise, I know I will miss gazing upon these sun-kissed peaks.

Monday, August 06, 2007

We've ...

Vacations are remarkable things. For a week now we've been in vacation mood.

We've been to a mining museum, where we panned for gold. Visited a ghost town, where we panned for gold. And watched my niece compete in an figure skating competition, where she won -- gold.

We've had the chance to strap on ice skates and took a lesson from one of the best coaches in the world. First we learned to fall. Then we all learned to skate forwards, backwards, stop, and spin. I've never had more fun on skates. We've all discovered that we want more.

We've listened to stories from the old country and weighed in on both sides of the discussion on which is better capitalism or socialism. I find I'm still on the fence. Seeing good in both courts. But life, in general, is like that.

We've had some wonderful home cooked Russian meals. Meals that even the picky little one loved and begged for the recipes -- "So my Mom can cook this at home."