Hacks from my Happy Place – XIV

I am officially turkey’d out! I only cooked about half the amount (pounds) of turkey I made for Christmas, 2019, but somehow, after everyone took a share, I still had a lot left! I’ve used it in place of chicken for a couple of recipes, and there is still some left! So…. I got a small head of cabbage and will use the last of the turkey in place of chicken to make some of my delicious cabbage soup.

I like mashed potatoes – I grew up on a meat and potatoes regimen so that shouldn’t be a surprise. However, I abhor the chore of peeling and dicing potatoes in order to make them. Living alone, I’ve pretty much gone to those packets of “instant” potatoes that look and have the texture of mashed potatoes, if not quite the same taste. Well, I’ve been crazing a meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy and corn and I didn’t want the instant ones. However, I also did not want to peel potatoes either! So, I took a chance and bought Bob Evans mashed potatoes that can be microwaved. The packaging says it’s made from real potatoes and butter, so I decided to try them. I give them an 8 out of 10. They definitely have a more potato taste than instant. They serve up creamy and thick. They don’t start getting watery after being refrigerated but keep their texture. This will be a hack when I want good mashed potatoes without the work to make them!

I also have to give a shout-out to Campbell’s for their slow cooker beef stew packet. It is basically the stew-flavored gravy. I had some pot roast with onions, carrots and red potatoes in my freezer, and I was bored with it as it was, so I simply warmed the ‘gravy’, cut up the meat, potatoes and carrots into smaller pieces, heated it all through, and added a drained can of peas at the very end. For me, the sauce needed more pepper (it was plenty salty enough), but otherwise, I’ll give it a 7.5 out of 10. It was actually almost too salty, which is maybe why I added more black pepper, but it has a definite beef stew taste and a nice consistency.

As much as I like to cook, when I’m only feeding me, I don’t feel it’s worth the effort to make everything homemade. These two new shortcuts definitely gave me what I was looking for. The Campbell’s sauce has even inspired me to check out their other slow-cooker sauces and see if I can add something new to my usual repertoire of entrees.

Speaking of slow cookers, if you have one, you know about the slow cooker bags from Reynolds, right? If you don’t, please let me enlighten you. Basically, they are like the oven bags made to cook your meal inside of. Since slow cookers offer a ceramic inner bowl which is not non-stick, many of the things you cook in it will stick/crust to the sides. The bag insert simply cooks everything inside the bag, making clean-up a virtual breeze! Even when I’ve occasionally put a small hole in a bag – for instance, when moving a roast around – the drippings are minimal. After cooking, you simply let the bag cool, lift it out carefully, and drop the entire thing in the trash. A quick swipe with a soapy dishcloth to the ceramic interior, and you’re all set for the next use! I LOVE them!

One more idea I wanted to share with you… For most of my life, I’ve always preferred “salty” snacks over “sweet” snacks, but over the last 2 or 3 years, I’m more apt to go looking for something sweet. I still buy salty snacks, especially when they are on BOGO or a 2-for-sale-price deal. However, I no longer consume a half-bag (or more) with unconscious eating in one sitting. And after I’ve had one or two servings, I’m then bored with the taste and don’t want any more! I’m fortunate that my bestie and her family enjoy salty snacks, and I give them a lot of them once I’ve tired of them. However, I had the thought just the other day that a lot of them could be used in making main meals. Anything flavored – like Doritos, for example – can be crushed up and used to coat meat like fish, chicken, pork, etc. instead of bread crumbs. Others can be crushed up and sprinkled on top of casseroles to add an extra flavor and texture. Things like regular-flavored potato chips can be crushed up and used instead of bread crumbs in meatloaf. The best thing may be that they can be stale and still work in that way! So, while I’ll still give my bestie a lot of snacks after I tire of them, having some of them on-hand may help me create a variety for something I already enjoy!

Speaking of enjoying – all of the forecasts show that we’re going to be getting our first ‘official’ snow tomorrow, followed by our first truly cold weather streak. I’m going to have lots of comfort foods from my freezer to enjoy! Decisions, decisions!!!

Pros and Cons of CBD Oil

I’d mentioned some time ago, in one of my posts, that I had started using CBD oil, and a reader asked if I would share more about my experience. It’s about time I answered that request.

Although I take several prescription meds and a few well-known OTC ones, when the hype first came out about CBD oil and its ability to provide pain relief, I was 100% skeptical. Open any social media site and you will be immediately bombarded with ads for anything from “Better than Viagra” to “Instant Corn and Callus Removal”. CBD oil seemed, to me, just another hyped promise that wouldn’t deliver.

Even after my brother told me of a friend who found great benefit and relief from the product, I was still cynical. All I knew about CBD oil was that the hemp plant was involved. I have an addictive personality to begin with, and a fear of being under the influence of a substance that would cause me to behave in dangerous ways. No way was I going to try something that might cause that kind of experience!

Back in April, I started seeing a chiropractor on a regular basis. I initially went because of some what seemed “usual” tightness in my neck as well as my back and hips feeling tight and unwilling to move. It turned out I was in pretty bad shape! Regular appointments helped, but never for long. Due to my health insurance, I had to start to spread the appointments out further, which meant more days of pain than of relief. And again, my brother suggested CBD oil.

By then, the fact that I wasn’t getting full long-lasting relief in my hips made me re-think the idea. I spent hours over the next several days doing research. There are two types of CBD products, and they are made from two different parts of the hemp plant. I started signing up for all of the “free sample, just pay shipping” products that were being advertised. I got quite a few different products, ranging from 100mg to 1000mg. I opted for the oils even though there are other types of products. Some of them came in a specific flavor, some had a variety of flavors, only one had a natural (tasteless) flavor. The ideal way to ingest is to place the drops under your tongue, but you may also add them to food or liquid.

I finally decided that I liked the idea of 1000mg in the ‘natural’ flavor because I could add it to my coffee. However, before I made a purchase, I asked my chiropractor what he thought about the product, and he uses it. He told me to do a search for “CBD Oil Coupons” (it’s not a cheap product!) which I did and found a coupon for 15% off with a company who had the exact product I wanted. The company’s name is CBDmd. I ordered.

After about 2 weeks, I noticed that I no longer had constant pain in my hips. I know that could be contributed to the chiropractic work, but as stated before, the treatments didn’t seem to last. Within a month, I reported my hip pain going down from an easy 7-8 on the pain scale to a pretty consistent 1.

Then, one day, I was suddenly aware that I had no hip pain! None! That was pretty remarkable! For a while though, I could trigger it unknowingly with certain activities and movements.

Long story short, I am glad to say that I no longer have any hip pain, no matter what I do. I’m more active now than when the pain kept me from being active, and the pain has stayed away! I no longer have to go through the torture of having my hips adjusted at my chiropractic appointments. I don’t walk stooped over like an elderly person shuffling along.

So, the pros and cons of CBD oil? Con is that it’s still expensive, and obviously not covered by any health insurance since it is an OTC medication. Pro is that it has worked a miracle at ending my hip pain, and worth every sweet penny! Besides, the company I buy from runs specials, and I take advantage of the savings whenever I can.

POST SCRIPT NOTE: You will find that different manufacturers will recommend different dosage amounts, regardless of the strength of the product. It is recommended across the board by users I’ve spoken with to start with 5 drops per dose, and increase the number of drops per dose after 7 – 10 days if you don’t see significant improvement in your pain. It is also recommended that you take one dose in the morning and one at night — I’m very bad at remembering afternoon medications, so I take my two doses in each of my first two cups of coffee each morning. I’m currently sustained well at 10 drops per dose.

The Best Christmas Story You Never Heard

I’ve copied this word for word from the Facebook page of one of my very long cherished friends (we were BFFs in high school). I as well, hope it is true – and am choosing to believe it to be!

I truly hope this is true … The Best Christmas Story You “Never” Heard

Here’s a ‘today’ Yule story that occurred 3 weeks ago – and now, in time for the holidays, I bring you the best Christmas story you “never” heard.

It started last Christmas, when Bennett and Vivian Levin were overwhelmed by sadness while listening to radio reports of injured American troops. “We have to let them know we care,” Vivian told Bennett.

So they organized a trip to bring soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital to the annual Army-Navy football game in Philly, on December 3, 2019.

The cool part is, they created their own train line to do it. Yes, there are people in this country who actually own real trains and Bennett Levin, a native Philly guy and a self-made millionaire is one of them.

He has three luxury rail cars. Think mahogany paneling, plush seating and white-linen dining areas. He also has two locomotives, which he stores at his Juniata Park train yard. One car, the elegant Pennsylvania, carried John F. Kennedy to the Army-Navy game in 1961 and ’62. Later, it carried his brother Bobby’s body to D.C. for burial. “That’s a lot of history for one car,” says Bennett.

He and Vivian wanted to revive a tradition that endured from 1936 to 1975, during which trains carried Army-Navy spectators from around the country directly to the stadium where the annual game is played. The Levins could think of no better passengers to reinstate the ceremonial ride than the wounded men and women recovering at Walter Reed in D.C. and Bethesda, in Maryland.

“We wanted to give them a first-class experience,” says Bennett. “Gourmet meals on board, private transportation from the train to the stadium, perfect seats – real hero treatment.”

Through the Army War College Foundation, of which he is a trustee, Bennett met with Walter Reed’s commanding general, who loved the idea. But Bennett had some ground rules first, all designed to keep the focus on the troops alone:
No press on the trip, lest the soldiers’ day of pampering devolve into a media circus.
No politicians either, because, says Bennett, “I didn’t want some idiot making this
trip into a campaign photo op” and no Pentagon suits on board, otherwise the
soldiers would be too busy saluting superiors to relax.

The general agreed to the conditions, and Bennett realized he had a problem on his hands. “I had to actually make this thing happen,” he laughs.

Over the next months, he recruited owners of 15 other sumptuous rail cars from around the country into lending their vehicles for the day (these people tend to know each other).

The name of their temporary train? The Liberty Limited.

Amtrak volunteered to transport the cars to D.C. – where they’d be coupled together for the round-trip ride to Philly – then back to their owners later.

Conrail offered to service the Liberty while it was in Philly. And SEPTA drivers would bus the disabled soldiers 200 yards from the train to Lincoln Financial Field, for the game.

A benefactor from the War College ponied up 100 seats to the game – on the 50-yard line – and lunch in a hospitality suite.

And corporate donors filled, for free and without asking for publicity, goodie bags for attendees:
From Woolrich, stadium blankets,
From Wal-Mart, digital cameras,
From Nikon, field glasses, and
From GEAR, down jackets.

There was booty not just for the soldiers, but for their guests, too, since each was allowed to bring a friend or family member.

The Marines, though, declined the offer. “They voted not to take guests with them, so they could take more Marines,” says Levin, choking up at the memory.

Bennett’s an emotional guy, so he was worried about how he’d react to meeting the 88 troops and guests at D.C.’s Union Station, where the trip originated. Some GIs were missing limbs.

Others were wheelchair-bound or accompanied by medical personnel for the day. “They made it easy to be with them,” he says. “They were all smiles on the ride to Philly. Not an ounce of self-pity from any of them. They’re so full of life and determination.”

At the stadium, the troops reveled in the game, recalls Bennett. Not even Army’s lopsided loss to Navy could deflate the group’s rollicking mood.

Afterward, it was back to the train and yet another gourmet meal – heroes get hungry, says Levin – before returning to Walter Reed and Bethesda . “The day was spectacular,” says Levin.

It was all about these kids. It was awesome to be part of it.”

The most poignant moment for the Levins was when 11 Marines hugged them goodbye, then sang them the Marine Hymn on the platform at Union Station.

“One of the guys was blind, but he said, ‘I can’t see you, but man, you must be beautiful!’ ” says Bennett. “I got a lump so big in my throat, I couldn’t even answer him.”

It’s been three weeks, but the Levins and their guests are still feeling the day’s love. “My Christmas came early,” says Levin, who is Jewish and who loves the Christmas season.

“I can’t describe the feeling in the air.” Maybe it was hope.

As one guest wrote in a thank-you note to Bennett and Vivian, “The fond memories generated last Saturday will sustain us all – whatever the future may bring.”

God bless the Levins … and God bless the troops, every single one.

A Princess Tale

Some years ago now, I had the privilege of meeting Marnette. It happened when I was managing a hotel and she was going to be the tour guide bringing a busload of guests. Through the several phone calls back and forth to cement the contract and rooming list, we became fast friends. On the day that the bus was due to arrive, she called me with an ETA for the group and I told her that I hoped she didn’t mind, but I had upgraded her to one of the few suites on our property. When she said that wasn’t necessary, I simply replied, “Every woman needs someone in their lives to treat them like a princess, and I’m that woman in your life.” For a long while, I called her and referred to her as “Princess”, which eventually got cut down to the “Prin” she remains today.

Prin was working for a tour company out of Ohio at the time. I don’t know if she took that job because she already had the traveling bug, or if she developed a traveling bug from the job, but it didn’t take long to learn that her motto was, “Have suitcase, will travel”. Her husband, Gary, is avid about running marathons, so she was off with him to whatever place he was going for one, always including at least one overnight stay. And before and after the actual race, she’d be off site-seeing, studying the architecture, the art and the culture of the area, snapping photos and posting them on Facebook. She also took the time to type in what each photo was, so those of us who saw the posts got an education while simultaneously virtually traveling with her!

She did!

When she decided it was time to think about retirement, she chose to ‘semi’ retire; she truly loved her job and her boss, but her husband, who had retired already, was ready for her to be free of the obligation so they could spend more time in their “happy place” – a motorhome located in Hilton Head. While she was semi-retired, she decided that she wanted to expand her study of our world in other countries. Well, after all, “Have suitcase, will travel!” And off she went – Ireland and China are two places I can think of off the top of my head because she sent me trinkets from those trips. And in between times, she got her husband to go on a cruise with her and he found that he enjoyed that type of travel, so cruises were added to the itinerary.

I can only begin to explain all of this gal’s travels. In my deepest wishes, I wish that she’d convert her photos, the accompanying information about each photo, and her experiences into a book. It would make a great coffee table book for anyone, and for those of us who have had the privilege to travel vicariously through her to all of these places, a priceless sentiment.

But that’s not the tale I want to tell, merely the background to it. Just before Christmas, I received a package from Marnette in the mail. I suspected that it might contain another craft she’d made and wanted to gift to me, so I stuck it under the tree to be opened with other gifts. Since I’m the host for Christmas, I always make sure everyone else opens their gifts first, for selfish reasons. I don’t like having any attention on me always, but even more, I get that “joy” experience if a gift I chose was well-received. When it was my turn, I saved this box for last, wanting to “oh” and “ah” over the gifts from the people who were here first.

And then, I opened it. It was not a craft. It was, according to the accompanying note, some of her cherished belongings, many of them from her various travels. She and her hubby had decided to sell their home in Ohio since they live in Hilton Head except when they are traveling. Their motorcoach cannot begin to house all of the things that were in their home in Ohio, and so she had to make some very tough decisions on letting go of things. Now, Marnette will be the first to say, “They’re only things”, but each one connects to one or more of her memories.

Okay, I was stunned. I was speechless. Each new object was unique, and I know the care she would have taken choosing it for herself. For me to be a recipient of so many things was overwhelming. I’ve since lovingly touched each thing multiple times – some are easy to plan what to do with, others a bit more challenging. But I didn’t do anything with them right away. I needed to send a thank-you note, and I looked at the blank notecard I had chosen for many, many days, trying to find the words to express how deeply honored, of all of the friends and family around her, to be chosen for even ONE of these items. Even now, after my feeble attempt to express my joy and gratitude has been sent off (and which I hope she gets before I post this!), I still look at these items astonished and in awe.

I wish I could introduce each and every one of my readers to this incredible person. She has been a totally non-judgmental rock in my life through her friendship and love, and I have no doubt you would all love her immediately as well. She’s just one of “those people” – those rare breed of people we seldom get to meet, much less know, who shows their genuineness for life in every step she takes, and freely shares those steps she takes with others. Her heart is kind and pure, her values top-notch, and I have been blessed – and will continue to be blessed – by being able to call her a true friend. This is the best I can do:

You are the PRINCESS among princesses, Marnette!

You Make It Seem Easy

“You make it seem easy,” I said with a smile,

Though I know you work hard and always go the extra mile.

“You make it seem easy,” I said with a frown,

for compared to your talent my own lets me down.

“You make it seem easy,” I said with my words,

knowing that you would listen, knowing that you had heard.

“You make it seem easy,” admiring your strength,

to commit to your task at any great length.

“You make it seem easy,” I said without thought,

because I’m sensible to know that it often is not.

“You make it seem easy,” and I will be forever proud,

praise for your talent I will always shout clear and loud.

NOTE: This attempt – and I do mean ATTEMPT – at poetry is dedicated to my beloved and loving brother, Brad. He has found his niche in writing poetry and has committed to publishing a blog post every day. Again, I urge you to check out his writings at commonsensiblyspeaking.wordpress.com.

Life in Contradiction

Only my brother could take two adages I told him that were contradictory and turn it into this! Enjoy!


They say, “Look before you leap”,

A moment to consider cost.

But don’t dare fall asleep,

For “He who hesitates is lost”.

“If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try again”, damn it all.

It may be a much kinder friend indeed,

Saying, “Don’t beat your head against a wall”.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”,

No sweeter words will you ever find.

But you will be left to ponder,

Why is “out of sight, out of mind”.

“Two heads are better than one”,

Or, at least, some say that’s true.

But any father would encourage son,

“Paddle your own canoe”.

And, if it true, that “haste makes waste”,

And we should take the time we can.

Then why are we constantly faced,

With the fact, “time waits for no man”.

We’re still learning how the human mind ticks,

And “you’re never too old…

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Hoopla and Hullabaloo

Those are the words I use to define the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. No matter how well prepared we think we are for the rush of three holidays that span roughly 5 weeks, as we move from one to another, the pace quickens to the point where we seem to get one holiday over and stress to prepare for the next one. And then, finally, January 2nd comes, and our rushed pace, except for the dis-assembly of holiday decorations, is over.

While I don’t appreciate the stress created from moving so quickly from holiday to holiday, gathering and preparing for each one, it’s almost like, after it’s over, the adrenaline rush just dies. We don’t slow down, we simply stop! It’s like being in your car, traveling along a highway, then seeing a sign that says “reduced speed ahead” so you slow down just a little and then, from out of what seems like nowhere, there is a traffic light, on red, stuck up in the sky in front of you. You stop and however safely you do so, you come to a full and complete stop and just sit there. The light will eventually change and you’ll keep moving along, but it’s a long time traveling on a rural-type road until you get to another highway where you can speed up.

For those of us who live in areas where winter is one of Mother Nature’s nasty moods, we all begin to think about what she might have in store for us, just waiting around the bend in the road. No one makes any serious plans to see or do something, never knowing when she will strike with fury. We tend to muddle along the road, anticipating her wrath because it WILL arrive at some point, and hoping that her tempestuousness will be mild.

For the winter season we are in right now, the Farmer’s Almanac predicted that December wouldn’t hold a lot of coatings of white blankets on the ground, which turned out to be true. But it also forecast that January and February is when she will unleash her outrage upon us. For me, the Farmer’s Almanac predictions for weather are like daily horoscopes – I don’t really believe in the actual forecast of either, but I still pay attention with a “just in case” attitude.

Oh, how sometimes I wish I could return to my childhood each winter – when joy erupted for a “school closings” day announcement on the TV/radio and we were so excited to bundle up like the Michelin man and go play in the white stuff for hours, ignoring wet feet and runny noses and fingers that felt like icicles! I miss that innocence with which I could appreciate the snow because I didn’t bear the responsibility to clear vehicles, shovel walks, try to travel to work on treacherous roads. We’d come back in after hours of play, shed the wet clothes, climb back into our warm pajamas, and have either tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches or hot chocolate and toast. All of the goodies we’d gotten for Christmas were still new to us, so we could laze around reading or playing games.

Now, no longer children, we see snowfall as an inconvenience, no matter how much we enjoy its initial beauty. And we have no adrenaline left from our hoopla and hullabaloo holidays, so short daylight hours and cold winter temperatures mixed with no big holidays to prepare for makes the winter seem to last forever…

I’ve been trying to think about ways in which I could create a little bit of that excitement, if not every day, at least once a week, to get through what feels like that forever of winter. It shouldn’t be a hard task, since even having a list of errands that need attention gets me out and about. I’ve become a bit lazy in that regard, planning all of my errands for the same day, figuring I’d do everything while I was out and about. Maybe it’s just as simple as splitting them into different days so that I have cause to be out and around people more often. Maybe getting some fresh air, no matter how cold that air is, will be enough. Maybe remembering that the snow didn’t kill me as a child and going out in it to play will help.

Any ideas from any of you???