Gonna Eat That: Black bean and jalapeno soup

Recipe reviews and tried and true recipes from my kitchen


I came home from work tonight, tired and hungry, and there was nothing premade in my fridge.  So, on the verge of blowing $20 and calling for pizza delivery, I decided to throw a bunch of stuff in a soup pot and see if I could scare up anything edible.  The result turned out to be deeee-licious.  If you like black bean soup, give this version a try!

By the way, I’m not posting a picture of this one.  Have you seen black bean soup? It’s not photogenic.   It may not be pretty, but this one tastes great.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • Two 14.5-oz cans black beans (one can rinsed and drained; for the other can, use the entire contents)
  • Hot water (measure using empty bean cans; I used 3 cans for a more liquid soup; for a thicker consistency, use 2)
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 tsp chicken-flavored Better than Bouillon soup base
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt


Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large stock pot.  Add celery and stir frequently until it has softened a bit.  Then, add minced garlic and stir for 1 minute.  Add black beans to pot and then hot water and the remaining ingredients. Stir it all together and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a slow boil, leave soup uncovered, and cook for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.  Use a hand blender to puree some of the beans, or transfer half the soup to a blender jar and puree one-half of soup, returning it to the pot and re-warming it to finish.

Serve with sour cream if desired.  This has moderate spiciness and great flavor!  It would be great with a thick slice of crusty bread.

Painting with acrylics

One of my goals for this year is to take a class, and I believe I’m going to start with an acrylic painting class.   A million (27) years ago, I studied fine arts in college and have always had an interest in the arts and art history.  So I’m looking forward to resurrecting that creative part of me and spreading my artistic wings this year.

There’s a great cultural arts organization in my town which offers art classes, but they’re between sessions right now and I didn’t want to wait to get started, so I searched the web and came across a really great online painting resource, Will Kept Art School.  Will is a UK-based artist who does beautiful drawings and paintings, and he offers a great deal of both free and paid art instruction on his web site. I will be signing up for one of his paid acrylic painting classes soon, but in the meantime, I have been watching several of his free tutorials both on his web site and on YouTube. Will’s videos are a great primer to help you get past the fear of a blank canvas.

After looking through my own photography, here’s the picture I chose to paint.

Orange Lacewing Butterfly

I took this picture at the Butterfly House on Put-In-Bay Island several years ago.  The species appears to be an Orange Lacewing butterfly (Cethosia penthesilea paksha), which is native to northern Australia and Southeast Asia.  (According to Google, this species is unique in that it appears very different with wings open than with wings closed. Nature is unthinkably clever, isn’t it?)

Anyway, the first steps were to crop the photo to a square, underpaint the canvas using a mid-tone magenta color, and sketch out the major shapes on the canvas in pencil.  Then, following Will’s instructions, I used a big filbert brush and blocked out the blacks, white, and midtones in big, messy patches of color.

Following this step, I walked away from the canvas thinking I surely could not paint and should perhaps go back to knitting.  It’s hard to imagine that the above could turn into a painting.

The next night I re-watched one of Will’s tutorials and realized that I was on the right track, but that the greens I had mixed myself were too blueish.   I picked up a tube of Liquitex Basics Hooker’s Green as well as Liquitex Basics Raw Umber and a smaller, size 4 filbert brush.  Now I had the tools to go back to the canvas and try to refine the colorful blobs.

After 2-1/2 more hours in front of the easel, here’s the current state of the painting.

Obviously there is still plenty of work to be done here.  Some of the leaves still need to be shaped out, and the background needs refining. Plus the butterfly itself needs to be a bit more crisp in certain areas.  But so far, I’m enjoying the relaxation that painting brings and thrilled with how things are coming along.  Now I can’t wait to sign up for an actual class!  If you are interested in painting, I would love to hear from you and check out what you are working on.  And if you’ve considered painting but been a bit intimidated by how to get started, I definitely recommend checking out Will Kemp Art School online!

Once this painting is done, I’ll be sure to share a picture.  Please, share yours with me, too!

How Vitamin D has improved my life

I haven’t been sick in 14 months. For me, that’s a pretty big deal.

Let me give you a little bit of history.  In December 2014, just before Christmas I got wicked sick with a sinus infection and bronchitis which lasted for about a month.  Sick as a dog.  Missed almost a week of work.  Then, about six months later in July 2015, I got it AGAIN.  This time it lasted for six whole weeks and took a giant chunk out of the middle of my summer.  I couldn’t ride my bike for two months, and friends and coworkers were even commenting on how seriously sick I had been during the past six months.  In early December 2015, it got worse – I came down with pneumonia.  I laid in bed for an entire week and was sick for a month.  Health wise, it was a very bad year.  It seemed that every cold that went around my office hit me hard and stuck around forever.  I started to worry that in addition to my asthma, I might have some awful underlying lung disease.  I started to worry that this was my new normal.

I asked Dr. Google why I was sick all the time, and so severely, and I kept stumbling across information about vitamin D deficiency.  That’s where things took a positive turn!

Vitamin D totally changed my health

Right after Christmas 2015 and the bout with pneumonia, I started taking 10,000 units of vitamin D each day.  (That’s a mega dose, by the way.)  Within a few weeks, I really did start to feel a bit better.  I stayed on that mega dose through spring and summer 2016, then decreased my dose to 5,000 units daily.  Colds went around my office from time to time, and though I might get a stuffy nose or a bit of a head cold that lasted for a few days, I never fully got sick.  My body seemed more able to fight off whatever germ tried to settle in and make itself at home.  Throughout the fall and winter, I stayed on that 5,000 unit vitamin D dose.  And here we are in February 2017 and I’m STILL healthy!  It has been 14 months since I have been what I would call sick.

One day at work, I was sharing with a friend about what a difference vitamin D supplementation has made in my health.  Apparently, his doctor had advised him that by and large, most Ohioans probably have some degree of deficiency, since we don’t get enough sunshine for our bodies to produce an ample supply on their own.

None of the above is medical advice, mind you.  I was never diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency and have no proof that’s what was affecting my health.  But as they say, the proof is in the pudding. If you have been frequently sick, or more seriously ill than those around you when colds and other bugs sweep through your community, you might want to talk to your doctor about vitamin D.  It has truly made a big improvement in my health.

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.


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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