2017 goals… looking ahead to a good year

According to “The Internet” and practically everyone I know, 2016 sucked.  And I can’t say I disagree… I think we’re all hoping for a better year ahead.

Recently I was listening to a podcast by Dave Ramsey, and he was talking about how to plan your financial future. Dave’s life is dedicated to teaching people how to find financial peace and personal wealth, and his method is very simple: give every dollar an assignment.  Don’t just float through your month earning and spending, he teaches – have a goal, make a plan, and make every single dollar work toward that goal and propel you forward.

Dave’s teachings led me to an epiphany: this same concept applies not only to money but to goals and dreams as well.  At work, I’m a very thorough planner – I look ahead a year or two and make plans about where I want to lead my team, breaking that down into smaller steps to figure out how we’ll get there.  My team and I are never just drifting – we are always working toward the place we want to be a year from now.  This planning (and a lot of dogged determination) leads us to great accomplishments.  So why am I not applying that same planning and determination to my own personal goals and dreams?  I have things I want to DO in this life!  Why is personal enjoyment and my bucket list not worthy of the same dedication and drive with which I achieve my work goals?

For 2017, I’m making a plan.  It’s not a plan for which I have to be accountable to someone else, or justify my results to anyone but me. But it is, nonetheless, a plan.  It’s all simple stuff – I’m not dreaming of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or anything.  But my 2017 plan includes building in more time with friends, more visits to family, and visiting a few new states (visiting all 50 is on my bucket list).

There are some personal and financial goals not included here, but in terms of fun stuff, these are my goals for 2017:

  • Enjoy 8 books (either by reading or listening).  I used to be a very avid, albeit slow, reader. Since the divorce, I find that I have more diverse uses for my personal time as well as a shorter attention span.  But this year I want to make a point of enjoying 8 good stories.
Jodi Picoult Leaving time

Just finished this audio book, and it was outstanding! Read or listen to this one. It’s an interesting story, and you will learn to love elephants along the way.

  • Take 2 classes just for fun.  (All last year I toyed with taking a wheel-thrown pottery class but never actually did it. This year, it’s a goal.  Other possibilities are flute lessons and a cooking class.)
  • Take three day-trips or overnighters (either alone or with someone else).   I’ve been wanting to visit Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center for years.  This year, I’m going.  I have a brand new car for the first time ever, so I don’t have to worry anymore about the safety concerns of taking an older car on long drives.  New car + places to go = FUN.
  • Check one new state off my go-to list.  So far I’ve made a memory in 20 of the 50 states. I’ve been waiting to do a long weekend in St. Louis for years.  If I stop for a day to check out Brown County, Indiana along the way, that will bring my total to 22!

Indiana and St. Louis trip

  • See at least 10 movies this year.  So simple, right?  But I get busy in the evenings and don’t carve out the time to make plans with friends or take in a flick by myself.  I only have 9 left to see to meet this goal, since my girlfriend Ginny and I saw Hidden Figures last night – it was excellent!  I hope we are telling important stories like this in classrooms and not just in movie theaters.
  • Spend more time with family this year.  I have family in both Philadelphia and Richmond, and I’m planning visits to both this year.

Richmond and Philadelphia trip

  • And last, but definitely not least, spend more time with friends.  I am blessed with a wealth of good friends in my life, but we’re all busy and too much time can pass between visits. This year I’m planning to spend more time enjoying their company by scheduling times to see each other, rather than waiting for opportunities to arise. (Ginny, Tracy, Karen, Joni, Laura… this means you!)

Having these goals makes me feel so excited about 2017. Time to get out the calendar and make some plans!  What are your plans for this new year?


Gonna Eat That: Pecan Poundcake

Recipe reviews and tried and true recipes from my kitchen

Oh. Em. Gee.  You have to try this recipe for Pecan Pound Cake from AllRecipes.com.   It’s everything that a cake should be – moist, sweet, and delicious.  I omitted the butter flavored extract simply because I didn’t have any, but it was amazing anyway.  I shared this cake with several friends, all of whom were as excited about it as I was. My girlfriend Ginny’s husband loved it so much that he asked if he could either have the recipe OR pay me to make him one.  If you love Pecan Sandies cookies, you’ve really got to try this.

The next time I make this recipe, I’ll top it with a butter rum glaze.

Pecan pound cake

Pecan pound cake recipe from AllRecipes.com. Dee-flipping-licious.

A year of firsts and lasts

Election season is finally over.  The nation is either celebrating or grieving the selection of a new president, and I’ve just put a big project to rest: for the past few months, I’ve been volunteering my time as the co-chair of a local levy campaign.  The levy would have funded road repairs and improvements in my town – but it didn’t pass.  City officials heard much public input over the type of levy they put forward for voter approval, and I hope they will come back with a more passable proposal in 2017.  But either way, the campaign is behind us, and my stress level is lower and my to-do list much shorter. Amen to that.

I have worked on levy campaigns in the past through my job, but this is the first campaign I have led as a volunteer.  And as 2016 is drawing to a close, I’m realizing that this has been just one of many firsts for me this year.

I had the opportunity to travel three times this year – to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Boston.  Pittsburgh and Boston were both firsts.  Pittsburgh is an awesome town. Before that trip, one of my coworkers told me that Pittsburgh has its own energy and sense of life that other cities don’t have – and she’s right!  I didn’t spend much time in Boston, since that trip was for work purposes, but I got a taste of history (and lobster) there, and I’m ready to go back for a longer visit.

This year brought me my first Cincinnati Reds game, my first Pittsburgh Pirates game, and my first visit to Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park to watch my Phillies play on their home turf.  Great games. Of those three parks, Cincinnati’s stadium is my favorite.

I did some renovation work in my kitchen this fall (pics soon), so it was my first experience with demolition as well as tile work.  I have a bruised fingernail as proof – but the kitchen looks worlds better. Through the work, I have gained an even deeper sense of “home” in my new place and a greater sense of capability in myself.

And this year also brought some sad and difficult firsts – things I learned about death, grieving, and the qualities that make (and don’t make) for good friendships.  Everything that begins must end.  As I have experienced those many firsts this year, I have also learned that for every first, there is a last.  And after every last, there is a new chapter just beginning.

What’s Blooming Now

It’s a cool, shady morning on the patio, and lots of things are in bloom here – the perfect spot for drinking my coffee – and I thought I’d share some flower photos with you.

When mom was here in early May, we planted some flowers together over Mother’s Day weekend.  Mom planted a big pot of zinnias and coleus right by my front steps, and they are going gangbusters now!  A few weeks ago, the zinnias didn’t seem to be growing very vigorously, and mom told me to start watering more frequently.  That did the trick – it was like hitting the “on” switch, and they started to spring up right away.  I love having this healthy pot of color as a greeting at the front door.

Impatiens and coleus

There is a big rose of sharon by my patio, and this week it started to bloom. It’s gorgeous!  The bees love it, and since there are so many blossoms to keep them busy, they have no interest in bothering me while I sit here and watch them enjoy it.

White rose of sharon with hot pink center

There have been great sales on flowers over the past few weeks, and I found this pot of yellow zinnias at Walmart for about $6. they are adding color on the shepherd’s hook at the edge of the patio.

Potted yellow zinnias

And these big, multi-color zinnias were $4 at Walmart, as well:

Multi-color zinnias

And last but not least, a pot of wave petunias in red, white, and blue-ish.  (Ok, they’re really purple, but in the picture they look pretty blue, and that’s the idea, right?)  I have never had great luck with petunias, but someone told me recently that they secret is to keep pinching them to keep them blooming and to prevent that straggly, leggy look.

Wave petunias in red, white, and blue

What’s blooming at your place right now ? I’d love it if you’d join me on Facebook and share some pics of your own garden!

Enjoy your day!

7 super basic tips for new gas grill users

7 basic tips for new gas grill users

For about two months now I have been experimenting with my gas grill. Until this spring it has always just been a big, black, shiny contraption in the corner of my patio, used mainly by “guest grillers.” I don’t know why it took me until age 45 to discover how easy and convenient it is to use it. I suppose it was a bit intimidating – maybe I thought it would explode (what with the flammable gases and fire and such – after all, there’s a button on the front marked “IGNITION” in bit letters. Eek!).

Despite my former grillaphobia, it turns out that I really enjoy using it! I’m sure this won’t be a surprise to those who are familiar with grilling, but it really cuts down on dirty dishes and keeps all the heat from cooking outdoors, rather than heating up the kitchen. And, of course, you just can’t beat that flavor.

I was afraid of my gas grill! Eek!

If by chance you too are a total newbie at grilling, here are 7 super-basic tips you need to know about grilling. (Note, these tips assume that you have a gas grill in good working order.)

1. Open the lid. Crucial step #1 is to open the lid before you turn on the gas. This is a safety issue, and it matters because you do not want propane filling up the enclosed space that’s created by the closed lid. (A bunch of propane in an enclosed space + a spark for ignition = BOOM.)

2. Turn on the propane and light the grill. Hopefully your grill came with instructions – mine are printed right onto the front panel. (If yours are missing, check the manufacturer’s web site – you will probably find an owner’s manual for your grill there which includes the step-by-step instructions.) Even though grills vary, the basic process should be pretty similar for all models. Now that the lid’s open, you can turn on the value that’s on the top of your propane tank. Turn it until it is completely open. That brings propane up into the burners. Then, with my grill, the instructions say to turn on the middle burner (the “ignition” burner), to high, which allows gas to escape through the holes in the burner. Then I hit the ignition switch, which provides the spark to catch the propane on fire. Once the center burner has flames coming from it, the grill is lit, and I can turn the other two burners on to “high” and they will come on as well. At that point, you can close the lid and allow the grill to sit for 20-30 minutes or until it’s preheated to your needs. Preheating matters – don’t skip it.

3. Brush the grates – twice. Once the cooking grates are nice and warm, brush them with your grill cleaning brush to get rid of any charred bits. Then use a basting brush and lightly oil the grates in the area you’ll use for cooking.

4. Use pans or grate for veggies, fish, fruit. If you’re cooking a meat, you can put the food right on the grates. But if you’re cooking chopped vegetables, fish, or anything tender that might break apart and fall through into the fire, use a pan, grill basket or rack, or foil pan to provide a less penetrable surface for foods to slip through.

5. Direct vs. indirect heat. I believe a chef or expert griller would give you better advice about this than I ever could. But, as a brand new grill user, I have had a lot of success with indirect heat. This means burning a fire on one part of the grill but placing your food on another. When the food doesn’t sit directly over the flame, it gives you much more control over how fast it cooks – and also, how fast it burns. You can move food over the flames to get a bit of that awesome charred flavor, but if you’re a new griller like me, you might try indirect heat until you get really comfortable with grilling.

6. Use a kitchen timer and an instant read thermometer. Some packaged foods, like turkey burgers, will give you specific cooking instructions, such as “grill over direct heat for 5 minutes per side.” In that case, use a kitchen timer and just follow the directions. If you’re cooking cuts of meat or poultry, use an instant read thermometer and refer to a list of safe food temperatures.

7. Turn off the propane. Once you’re done cooking, turn off the burners. That will extinguish the flame, but you still have one more step. Before you close the lid and go enjoy your meal, close the valve on the tank underneath the grill. Otherwise, the rest of your propane will continue to leak out, and your tank will be empty the next time you want to get your grill on!

If you give it a go with your gas grill, I’d love to hear how you make out. I don’t guarantee that the tips above will give you tender, juicy, perfectly cooked food, but I can almost assure you that you will not blow anything up if you follow these steps.  Anyway I hope you’ll enjoy grilling as much as I have this summer, and leave a comment below to let me know how it goes!

Happy grilling, people!

Life is good outside my front door

Life is good. That’s not only what it says on my front door, but also how I feel when I pull into the driveway now and see the cute little shade garden that my mom and I planted on Mother’s Day weekend.

Life is Good

This little garden area has needed attention since I moved into the condo last year on July 2. There was a random mix of oddly placed plants, including some unkempt ivy, a smattering of daffodils, some chives, and two tulips. My front entry was sporting some sad feng shui.

shade garden before picture

My mom’s a great gardener. She has a real eye for design, and I had a pretty clear idea of what plants I was interested in. At my last home (pre-divorce), I had deep, curving beds filled with perennials, and the north-facing bed was dedicated to shade plants. My favorites there were a fern, some hosta varieties, and a groundcover called bugleweed (or ajuga). I knew I wanted to mix in those faves into this new shade bed, and my mom encouraged me to add some annuals for color, including impatiens and coleus. Plus, she helped me pick out a couple of eye-catching pots, and we laid everything out so there would be clusters of different plants as well as some tall focal points. Here’s how it looked before we started digging – everything just sitting in its place waiting to be planted.  We laid everything out in its proposed positions, then shifted it around until it seemed just right.

shade garden layout

Planting with two people makes it move soooo much faster!  It took us maybe an hour to have everything settled into the ground.  My mom planted the big green pot (which was a steal – we found it for $30 at Home Goods!).  She has a knack with containers that I just don’t have.  The white pot of begonias was a bargain for $5 at Menard’s.  In fact, the entire project including two ceramic pots, the hanging basket, perennials, annuals, stepping stone, trowel, and potting soil was less than $150. Not bad!

shade garden after planting

And totally worth it when I look at the new, cheerful view from my front door.

bicycle doormat at my front door

Many thanks to my sweet and generous girlfriends who surprised me with the bicycle doormat and front door sign!  Home, sweet home!

Biking in Baja

It’s May 1!  That’s exciting since it’s the first day of National Bike Month.  And since it’s cold and rainy in Ohio, and not a great day for a ride, this is the perfect time to share with you some beautiful prose and photographs by Susanne Wright, a friend and fellow bicyclist I met through the Slow Bicycle Movement group on Facebook.  Susanne is a freelance writer and tutor living in Mosier, Oregon. She loves books, bikes, beer – and now Baja.

Cactus blooming in Baja

“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

My husband and I recently bid goodbye to our family dream home of twenty years; the house my husband built almost single-handedly when our children were babies, and life appeared long and broad before us. In a way it was and was not. Work, family, commitments, schedules, and long driving commutes all contributed to time passing ever so quickly. Now here we are, my husband and I, more than halfway to the other side of life, still lovers and friends, driving away from the SOLD sign at the end of our driveway. We have a new dream and this one includes Baja and our bikes. We are exhausted as we head south – a two-year remodel, home sale, and move will do that – but we are also giddy with anticipation of what the next three months in Baja will bring us. We already know about Baja’s bright sun, clear blue sea, gorgeous sunsets, and cervezas. What we have yet to discover is Baja on bikes.


With a retirement check covering our asses, er, expenses, and our mountain bikes strapped securely inside our towed trailer, we roll ever southward from the rain forests of the Northwest to the mountainous Baja desert. Five days later we finally arrive in that special place on earth where rare cardon cactus forest meets the deep blue Sea of Cortez; a sea so rich in life, so diverse, so biologically blessed, Jacques Cousteau named it the “world’s aquarium.” Its shores just also happen to be crisscrossed with single track.


We have one particular ride in mind; a metaphor for our life’s journey thus far. Not a single track to ride one behind the other but a remote road we can ride side by side. Enduring years of hurricanes and drought, this path has evolved into broad stretches so smooth it resembles hardwood and we effortlessly float across but then again, there are rutted, washed out trenches hardened to deep scars, and we traverse at our peril. Unexpected forks in the road force quick decisions which path to take; and just when I think we’ve almost made it, the sand deepens, becomes loose, and my fat, rugged tires instantly fishtail and I am dumped to the ground.


At the end of this track lies la bufadora, a gusty marine geyser, and if we are lucky she is
blowing. The road narrows as it winds up the side of a sand dune. We huff our way to the crest and suddenly before us, a bright, sparkling, turquoise sea. We straddle our bikes, silent, taking it in; the tumbling surf, mountainous Isla Cerralvo ten miles out, the briny scent of a shifty onshore breeze, the thunderous percussion of la bufadora, and new, undiscovered trails of spiny green cactus forest. We look to each other. Our water bottles are full. Our adventure is just beginning.


Patio Project

Ok, so, after a long dry spell, let’s try to get back to normal life here, shall we?

It’s finally springtime in Ohio!  And my new place has a patio, which until recently looked like this.

A few of my patio, from standing inside the living room.

A few of my patio, from standing inside the living room.

When I moved in last summer, working on this patio was the least of my worries.  (Remember there was a crazy long list of indoor projects that needed to be tackled!)  So I used it a couple of times last year and figured I’d get around to it someday.

Well when we were blessed with a warm spring day a few weeks ago, I got the itch to do something pronto and make this patio more usable.

The first thing I had to do was get rid of the old.  The Adirondack chairs you see out there were a gift from my aunt and uncle, and I had used them for years until they rotted. Those had to go – and since they were too heavy for me to lift, I unscrewed each of them into three pieces and hauled them to the dumpster on my little red wagon. The fire pit, rusty tables, and old whiskey barrel had to go, too (much to the dismay of the colony of earthworms who were living underneath.)  Did you know that when you list free stuff on one of those Facebook selling walls that people do battle to be the first to claim it?  Seriously – even rusty and old stuff!  Those were hauled off to a new home within an hour.

So I swept it all up, ignoring the giant crack in the patio which is going to be ignored this year and perhaps next year, too, until I can afford to redo the concrete.  (It adds character.  Or that’s what I’m choosing to believe.)  And then… furniture!

Big Lots has a pretty good selection of mix and match patio furniture, and I was able to find a new set that I liked for a decent price.  Four chairs, the table, umbrella, side table, and throw pillows were under $300.

And with new furniture, the patio is taking shape!

And with new furniture, the patio is taking shape!

I added a few little floral accents, too…


A plant stand from my old kitchen looks cute in the corner – I think I need a couple more plants!


A hanging pot in the corner with what I think are geraniums. And, a little yellow ranunculus to be planted in the ground.


And here’s the cute bicycle planter that was given to me last year.  I’m planning to spray paint it a bright color so it really pops on the patio!


And here’s the view from the grassy, shaded area just off the patio. A very kind person has offered to power wash the patio for me which should help clean up the concrete and make this area look nice and bright!  And I have a few little accents still to add – I’ll post pictures of those soon, as well.

Looking back on all the places I’ve lived, I believe this is my first-ever patio or deck.  I’ve never really had an outdoor living space like this, so I’m looking forward to making some great new memories with friends on the patio this year!

Happy spring!

Thoughts on loss

Thoughts on loss

For the past month, I’ve been in a far away place. Most of the fun things I talk about and share here (makeup, cooking, recipes, and even biking) have been far, far from my mind. If I’d been writing during the past month, it might have been a three-part series called, “On Loss.”

  • Loss: Part 1 would have been about the loss of a long-term friendship which had been wandering off course for some time and which recently came to a painful end
  • Loss: Part 2 would have been about my best friend’s adult son, who committed suicide in a dramatic and thoughtfully planned way
  • Loss: Part 3 would have been about one of my dogs and her sudden passing from cancer

For a number of reasons, as the last month has unfolded, I did not write this three-part series. One reason is obvious and simple – my real life and real loved ones needed my attention. Another reason is because even if I had the time to write it, I didn’t have the peace of mind. When I sit down to write almost anything, it begins with a jumble of ideas that are at the very cusp of converging into some rational thought. I can’t sit down at the keyboard until there is some semblance of organization to the jumble – for me, putting words on the screen is when they go from being disjointed to cohesive. And lately, all of these thoughts on loss have been too disparate and raw and splotchy and mismatched to put my fingers to the keys. But the main reason I haven’t written this three-part series is because I just didn’t know how much I wanted to share.

It takes courage for a person to let others see their painful, messy side. I don’t often have that courage and keep the messy stuff to myself. When a situation is painful enough, I’ll let it show a while, but only to those I trust the most, and sometimes just long enough to get some support. Then I cover it meticulously and put it back inside. That way I can take it out and deal with it alone in my own time and on my own terms. But no matter how deliberately I turn away from that pain, it’s only ever a few steps away.  It can be held at bay to serve my convenience – to make it through a work day, perhaps – but nevertheless, it demands to be dealt with.

This month I have been overwhelmed by the courage of my best friend and her family as they have openly and willingly shared their pain. My friend’s dear son Taylor is gone and is never coming back, and in her circumstances I know I would have exposed that pain to a chosen few, just long enough to survive it, and then crawled back inside my shell to lick my wounds alone. Her approach has been the opposite – to totally reveal herself (mainly via social media) about her family’s loss, about her utter helplessness and emptiness, about the Taylor-shaped hole in her heart. Rather than taking a few steps away to deal with it privately, she prefers to open up and let others in. It is as Rumi says: “The wound is where the light enters.”

I cannot say how much I admire the bravery necessary to bare her soul in this way. And, I can’t begin to describe the outpouring of love and caring she has received in response. Even when she’s busy at work or occupying her mind with other things, I know her pain is only a few steps away – and, with the support of hundreds of connections, ties loosely made during 50 years of living, support too is always within reach.

Loss is vicious. Grief begs desperately for immediate relief, but no cure exists. Time helps, but not completely and never fast enough. All that’s left us is to patiently wait, putting one foot in front of another, mechanically functional, until we can arrive at a place where there is a new normal. Loss is near. Grief is near. But if you can bare it (and bear it) with others, support and love are also just a few steps away.

So having suffered a terrible time and learning new lessons about living more openly and sensitively, now I’m going back to putting one foot in front of another and moving on from what the past month has brought. Back to blogging, makeup, recipes, and the weightless fodder that brings me so much pleasure. And surely brighter skies and smoother roads, too, are just a few steps away.

In honor of my dear friend Ginny and her son, Taylor, please consider performing a random act of kindness, such as paying for the person next to you in the drive-through line or grocery store. Then share your story of kindness on the Paying Forward For Taylor Facebook group. These stories of kindness are both a way of remembering Taylor’s gentle, loving spirit, but also of sharing with Ginny and her family a moment of sweetness that has resulted from their recent tragedy. She and her family take solace in these stories. Thank you for paying it forward.

Gonna Eat That (While Blogging): Mashed Avocado Spread

Recipe reviews and tried and true recipes from my kitchen

Maybe it’s because I was starving, but this tastes soooooo good.  This is what I’m eating while working on the blog today.  It’s a ripe avocado seasoned with some garlic powder, garam masala, and kosher salt. Mush it all up and spread it on a couple of rice cakes. Gluten-free, healthy fat, crunchy goodness. This will not be my last go-round with this particular treat. Yum!

Mashed avocado on a rice cake

What I’m eating while working on the blog today: mashed avocado on a rice cake.

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Stephanie's bookshelf: read

Leaving Time
Miracles Happen: The Transformational Healing Power of Past-Life Memories
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
Yellow Crocus
Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble
The House at the End of Hope Street
Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It
First Frost
Waking Kate
To Heaven and Back: The True Story of a Doctor's Extraordinary Walk with God
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Kitchen House
The Woman Who Heard Color
The Millionaire Next Door
The Shoemaker's Wife
Gone Girl
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife
Going For Broke

Stephanie's favorite books »


The Beauty of Midlife