Monday, March 22, 2021

Out Beyond the Valley of Trees

The mist of May is in the gloamin', and all the clouds are holdin' still. So take my hand and let's go roamin', through the heather on the hill...”

~ Lerner & Loewe, Brigadoon, 1947

A walk around Loch Lomond

I went for a stroll around my neighborhood and my mind this past weekend. The actual walk took me around Loch Lomond, the neighborhood lake that usually reminds me of one of my favorite Hollywood[Broadway] musicals, “Brigadoon”; the story of a modern man jaded with life who discovers love in an idyllic yet impossible place. This weekend's early spring air was crisp, the sky clear and blue, the birds singing like they were putting on their own musical.


Amidst such natural beauty and seasonal promise, my other 'walk' took me “out beyond the valley of trees”; a place of peril for a lonely, aging romantic approaching his own gloaming. For, like spring itself, I find myself in a season of change; alone for the first time in my life, losing yet another 'dream car' I could never really afford, living through a noisy and disruptive home renovation that continually reminds me of another Hollywood film, “The Money Pit”.

Merriam-Webster defines “Romanticism” as:

:a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms.

“A predilection for melancholy”. Raised on 1970s (and earlier) television shows and movies that almost always featured a romantic plot element – thank you Bobby Brady and Lerner & Loewe – I learned early on that romance was something to value, to strive for, even long for above all else. Merriam-Webster further reminds us that Western European culture has exalted romanticism, an ideal characterized by melancholy – an emotion associated with sadness, depression, even suicide – for centuries1

As a WW (formerly Weight Watchers) member and part-time Wellness Coach, I know that it's healthy to question habits and ideas that don't serve us. Learned, sometimes habitual responses to life's challenges, are often founded on ideals – like romanticism – based in emotions, not rational thought. As someone also challenged by depression and related ails, I know that – just as Juliet's knife was deathly sharp – emotional responses to challenges can lead to unhealthy consequences.


The list of woes from this weekend's walk, for example; were they true? Yes; but were they the entire truth? While I do now live alone, I also interact with more people at work and in various after-hours pursuits than ever before; the current home improvement project, while disruptive, is transforming my house into a more beautiful place; and, though I'm still struggling with the impending loss of my latest 'Rocinante'2 (truly “An Impossible Dream” from the very beginning, I know), I've already found another 'horse' to ride.

Which leads me to a final Brigadoon-inspired thought, well captured by Mr. Lundie, the musical's 'spiritual compass':

Oh, there must be an awful lot of folk out there searchin' for a Brigadoon.”

True indeed. But, if we're totally honest with ourselves, is that a good thing?

1 Pyramus and Thisbe”, the story of two tragic lovers in Roman poet, Ovid's, Metamorphosis, was written in 8AD.

2 Don Quixote's horse in Miguel Cervantes' 17th century romantic novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha, the literary basis for the musical “The Man of La Mancha”.

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Monday, September 28, 2020

Balance on A Budget

For most of my life, I've struggled with balance. Literally speaking, I never learned to skateboard as a child, I'm a danger to myself and others on the ice, and let's just say that I'm perfectly happy that cameras were uncommon back in 1976, the one time I tried to surf. Less literally though more significantly, balancing life's demands has always been a challenge for me: school versus work, parenting versus work, partnerships/relationships versus work, health/fitness versus work; and you wouldn't be wrong if you've sensed a theme.

When I first started working at age seventeen, a rural and isolated childhood characterized by limited esteem was almost immediately supplanted by a sense of success; work friends, money and recognition for a job well done. From that point on, everything else in my life took a backseat to work. It made perfect sense, too, as my father had worked seven days a week throughout most of my formative years. When other demands arose ̶ college/grad school, a second job ̶ I also did what my dad had done, focusing on work and additional responsibilities at the expense of family and friends.

It's taken me most of my adult life to realize that hard work and singleness of focus untempered by thoughtfulness and love is a recipe for regrets. Life is complex and control is often illusory, a lesson that ̶ had I learned it earlier in life ̶ might have helped me balance the importance of people and health over eventually disappointing career aspirations. To quote the great American philosopher, Dr. Seuss:

So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act.”

While I'd be disingenuous if I said I've finally mastered a balanced life, the recent blessings of grand-fatherhood and being a WW Wellness Coach have at least increased the day-to-likelihood that I'll think before I step... Rather than stepping because that's what I've always done. Which brings me to the impetus for today's thoughts: aspiring towards greater balance ̶ with forethought but on a budget ̶ amidst the realities of a global pandemic.


Like many underappreciated gifts, our hearts are key to living a balanced life. Without healthy hearts, we lack the stamina that life's [hopefully]long journey requires. A healthy heart also supports a heightened metabolism that can lead to reduced body fat and greater overall health. Being an avid walker who ̶ because of the impending winter and pandemic-inspired concerns with public gyms ̶ soon won't have anywhere to walk, heart health was top-of-mind when designing a home gym to compliment my home office. After much research[forethought], my home gym now includes a refurbished[on a budget] and warranteed addition from a well-reviewed supplier.


I previously alluded to the illusory nature of control, a concept often equated with strength. While it's true that I'll never be strong enough to overcome any challenge, regular strength training benefits range of motion and mobility while building muscle mass that helps burn calories. Recognizing that public gyms are filled with large and often expensive strength training options, the home gym solution I opted for is space-friendly, uses my own weight for resistance and has satisfied many health-conscious consumers.


Something I probably mention too often in the WW meetings I lead is the importance of “the most important muscle in our bodies”, as I then point to my own head. Though the reference is tongue and cheek, our mindset influences every aspect of our lives, heightening the importance of pleasant aesthetics and atmosphere in any environment focused on enhanced health and wellness.

Balance, Revisited

Again, I don't claim to have mastered balance in my life; nor am I deluded enough to think that I'll ever be free of missteps or a host of other human failings. That said though, the concept of our lives as a journey elevates the importance of every small step, and making every small step count. To quote another philosopher, Lao Tzu, who preceded Dr. Seuss by a few millennia but also appreciate the importance of small steps:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A Peculiarly Odd & Onerous Proposition

Self-realization. I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "I drank what?" ~ Chris Knight (played by Val Kilmer), “Real Genius” - 1985

When I was four, I'm told that I climbed up the back of an armchair, a youthful indiscretion that resulted in a fallen chair and a split chin. I have no recollection of my nascent climbing exploit. I do recall the aftermath, however. An aged family doctor near retirement and four painful stitches administered sans anesthesia, to the accompaniment of my own strident screams. I don't think I've looked forward to a doctor's visit since.

Fast forward to less than a month ago, and my most recent medical encounter. After successfully deferring a 'regularly scheduled physical' for more than five years – partially due to relocating almost an hour away from my previous doctor's office – I finally went 'under the glove' (so to speak), receiving my first full physical exam from a female practitioner. The entire procedure was professionally administered and, er, very thorough... Though the situation left me feeling extremely uncomfortable. Before anyone labels me as sexist, though, I readily admit that any and all discomfort on my part was likely psychological, and not a reflection on the quality of care received.

Fast forward to today, and the 'opportunity' realized from last month's physical. In the course of my
recent appointment, I was asked a number of questions about my prior medical history, including questions about a specific, er, 'procedure' that is commonly prescribed for patients in my age group (i.e. quinquagenarians)... a procedure I have – to-date – consistently managed to avoid. My new Physician's Assistant was very persistent, though, seemingly caring significantly more about my health (or significantly less about my personal discomfort) than I do. In the end (no pun intended), my intransigence was rewarded by what sounded – at least initially – like a less uncomfortable alternative... The Cologuard test.

Without sharing specific details, I suppose that, in hindsight (again, no pun intended) the test itself is well designed and, to a certain extent, even, er, 'ergonomic'. That said, you're still left with your, er, 'sample', which you then have to ship... In as inconspicuous a fashion as possible (or at least that was my goal). Thankfully, the test's accompanying shipping instructions stated that it could be returned via any UPS Drop Box... Failing to mention that said UPS Drop Boxes are designed for significantly smaller, er, 'samples'... Something I realized after standing in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded parking lot for several minutes while trying to inconspicuously force my ... er... into... um...... never mind.

Eventually, I was able to place my 'sample' on the counter of a very crowded and well-lit UPS Store for expedited shipment. I suppose I should be grateful that, today's discomforts aside, I've still managed to avoid a 'coming of age experience' most would agree is more intrusive. Still, when such uncomfortable, medically-related situations arise, there's a little four-year old inside of me left painfully scratching the four stitches in his chin.

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Sunday, September 24, 2017


"Everything's fine. Look, I made a lot of martinis. That's all anybody every drinks at these things. You know, martinis?" Spencer Tracy, "Father of the Bride", MGM, 1950

In the movie, "Father of the Bride", Spencer Tracy (the father) is continually trying to regain control of an uncontrollable situation... A wedding. In one scene in particular, Tracy is put in charge of serving drinks at the reception, a responsibility he's been given simply because (unbeknownst to him) those truly in charge want him safely out of the way. He uses the opportunity to try to take control yet again, though, mixing up pitcher after pitcher of the only drink he thinks anyone will want... A martini. And, when the guests proceed to order anything but martinis, he is 'forced' to drink them himself.
The reception scene from MGM's classic film is both humorous and cautionary. As someone who's spent quite a bit of time "Searching for the Perfect Martini" (both metaphorically and literally), I can certainly empathize with the movie father's approach to controlling the uncontrollable... while appreciating the humor of his failure. Many a heroic tale has taught us that Tracy's character should have been able to rise to the occasion and find the ideal solution, becoming the savior of the moment... versus the comic relief.   
As a Weight Watchers member, though, I've learned to appreciate that 'uncontrollable situations' and 'ideal solutions' are simply examples of all-or-none thinking. By focusing on incremental goals and smaller (and therefore more achievable) solutions, we can overcome obstacles over time that, previously, might have seemed insurmountable.
Case in point? Old favorite recipes......
Many of us have special recipes we once enjoyed but have since given up on, perhaps because we're embracing healthier lifestyles or avoiding particular foods (e.g. foods high in sugar, saturated fats, etc.). Changing such recipes would be impossible, after all, as the changed recipe wouldn't taste as good as the original, or would fail to live up to our memories. We simply need to find entirely new recipes that are healthier... albeit less delicious... right?
Perhaps... Or perhaps not... As the original recipe above and the 'tweaked' recipe below recently proved.

  • 6 medium peaches, peeled and sliced
  • Butter-flavored cooking spray
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup Splenda
  • 1/2 cup Brummel & Brown spread (w/yogurt)
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9x13 pan with butter-flavored cooking spray. Cover the bottom of the prepared pan with sliced peaches, spray with butter-flavored cooking spray, sprinkle with cinnamon and set aside.

Pulse rolled oats in a blender or food processor until the consistency of flour. Combine the oat 'flour' with the Splenda. Place the Brummel & Brown spread in a microwave-safe bowl, cover, and melt in the microwave for 15-30 seconds (in 10-15 second increments). Add the melted spread and egg to the oat 'flour' and Splenda mixture, combine to make a batter, and spoon the batter evenly over the peaches.
Bake for 45-50 minutes. Serve warm. Top with 1/4 cup Halo Top Vanilla Bean Light Ice Cream or fat-free whipped topping.

Serves 8, 4 WeightWatchers Smartpoints per serving (5 Smartpoints with light ice cream or fat-free whipped topping).

A note to social media users: Here is a sample tweet you can use to share this recipe: 
  • A few thoughts on #control, accompanied by a @WeightWatchers-friendly #peachcobbler #recipe: #foodblog @Splenda

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Taco Wednesday

In a recent post, I shared a few thoughts about change. With the vernal equinox mere days past, signs of spring -- including new families of whitetail deer -- serve as reminders of the natural constancy of change.

The seasons and Mother Nature aside though, change is something I think many of us struggle with on a number of levels. For example, as a [relatively]new Weight Watchers leader, I'm often challenged to find fresh ways to present core concepts like mindfulness, activity/fitness, asking for help, etc. By thinking that I need to come up with an entirely new and unique approach to a topic, I allow myself to get overwhelmed by the challenge, forgetting something I sometimes share with fellow Weight Watchers members...... How to eat an elephant.

It's easy to get overwhelmed when you dwell on the end goal versus the journey. Focusing on each step (or 'bite') not only breaks down the [seemingly]insurmountable into the achievable, it forces us to live in the moment, allowing us to savor -- and learn from -- our experiences. Letting go of all-or-nothing thoughts like "How am I going to put a fresh spin on activity/fitness" and, instead, remembering the whitetail deer encountered on a recent Spring walk, can bring to bear new perspectives that enable surprising results.

Recipes can also benefit from small changes or tweaks. For example, I recently made my first taco salad (believe it or not), a dish I've always avoided because "it's unhealthy". Breaking a recipe down to its foundations though, allows you to apply what you've learned from past cooking experiences... Like using ground turkey instead of ground beef, baking your own tortilla chips, or leveraging reduced-fat (or calorie-free) ingredients.

I hope you enjoy the results of such little changes as much as I did!



Baked Chips & Salsa

  • 4 small corn tortillas
  • Olive oil spray
  • Sea salt
  • Salsa, fat-free
Taco Salad
  • 1 lb. ground turkey (93% lean)
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • 1 8 oz. bag of shredded lettuce
  • 1 14.5 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 c. Grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/4 c. Reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 c. Calorie-free chipotle ranch dressing

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a cookie sheet with olive oil. Cut tortillas into sixths using a sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Arrange cut tortilla pieces on the prepared cookie sheet, spray with olive oil and sprinkle sea salt on both sides, and bake for 10 minutes or until crisp.

Cook taco filling per seasoning packet, setting aside/freezing half (i.e. (2) 3 oz., cooked portions) for future salads. Separate shredded lettuce onto two plates. Distribute the rest of the ingredients onto each plate, crumbling six of the baked tortilla chips on top of each salad and serving the additional chips on the side, with salsa.

Serves 2, 12 Weight Watchers SmartPoints per serving.

A note to social media users: Here is a sample tweet you can use to share this recipe: 
  • Avoiding Taco Tuesday? Enjoy a @WeightWatchers-friendly Taco Wednesday instead: #tacosalad #RecipeOfTheDay #recipe #foodblog
Additional acknowledgements: Portions of the above recipe were adapted from Slender Kitchen's Baked Tortilla Chips recipe

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Thursday, March 09, 2017


For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...” - Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, RSV

I walked by a budding pussy willow tree the other day. The snow and ice have melted, song birds are singing in the [still baren]trees, and the boisterous calls of Sandhill Cranes are wafting on the blustery winds. Hints of Spring... harbingers of change.

Change can be thought of in many ways... As disruptive and dangerous, healing and hopeful, frightening and fractious. The results of change are seldom predictable, inspiring uncertainty in some, trepidation in others. Change is seldom entirely new or alien, though. An evolution of what was, a rebirth into what is, a rebalancing of life... Not necessarily for good or bad, but because life is dynamic and ever changing. To quote from the Tao by Lao Tzu:

As it acts in the world, the Tao is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward; the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much and gives to what isn't enough.

While I embrace such ideas, I find myself constantly challenged to bend without breaking... to find and recognize the good and the positive in life... to save and cherish such finds so that they can be used as needed to balance out the bad and the negative. Sometimes, when the winds of change are blowing especially hard and life seems particularly overwhelming, the thought of breaking can seem almost comforting.

And then the boisterous calls of the Sandhill Cranes return to the blustery winds, reminding me that, for everything, there is a season... A thought that partially inspired the following recipe; a balancing of my favorite season, Autumn, with my current season, that of a Weight Watchers member (and Leader) continually in search of yummy food. Enjoy!


  • 3 honeycrisp apples, medium, diced
  • Butter-flavored spray
  • 2 tbsp. uncooked oatmeal
  • 2 tsp. unpacked brown sugar
  • 4 tsp. Splenda
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 individual containers of Fit & Active non-fat vanilla yogurt

Preheat oven to 425F.

Combine all ingredients except the yogurt in a mixing bowl. Separate the combined ingredients into two oven-safe ramekins. Cover ramekins in foil and bake ~30 to 40 minutes, until the apples are nicely baked and a little caramelized. Serve with chilled non-fat vanilla yogurt.

Serves 2, 5 Weight Watchers SmartPoints per serving (Note: Substituting a 2 SmartPoint vanilla yogurt will reduce the SmartPoints to 3 per serving).

A note to social media users: Here is a sample tweet you can use to share this recipe: 
  • Missing #Autumn? Try this @WeightWatchers-friendly #breakfast: #RecipeOfTheDay #recipe #foodblog #apples @AldiUSA
Additional acknowledgements: Portions of the above recipe were adapted from ”Mom's Apple Crisp” recipe on

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Sunday, November 27, 2016


The sky is grey and the weather's cold in my little corner of the Midwest today. Such post-Thanksgiving Day weather is hardly unusual , though it and the afternoon's uncommon pursuit, working on a car again after a decades-long hiatus, had me contemplating something decidedly unusual... Holidays.

Holidays, including this past Thanksgiving, are characterized by traditions that can't help but stand out from the day-to-day: Lavish meals that include uncommon dishes like green bean casseroles and multiple desserts, time spent with distant family and sometimes a random stranger (or two), parades led by overweight elves, sports played by overpaid atheletes.

Oddities aside though, I do appreciate the recent reminder of the need to be thankful. Beyond the day's successful car repair (hardly a given, considering I'm not even an amateur mechanic, much less a professional), I am grateful for a number of things... Family and friends, a good job, my health. And, on this cold, grey, Midwestern day, I'm especially grateful that, this Thanksgiving of Thanksgivings, I was blessed with the opportunity to help two groups of fellow Weight Watchers members navigate the perilous waters of a holiday almost entirely characterized by food, in my new part-time role as a Weight Watchers Leader.

The following Weight Watchers-friendly recipe was inspired by such thankful thoughts. Enjoy!


  • 3/4 c. egg substitute
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. finely-diced mushrooms
  • 1/2 c. finely-sliced green onions
  • 4 slices cooked, finely-diced turkey bacon
  • 2 slices finely-diced, reduced-fat swiss cheese
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • Cooking spray

Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine ingredients. Fill each cup of prepared muffin pan approx. 1/2 full. Bake for approx. 14-16 mins. Allow quiches to stand for a few minutes before serving (NOTE: Leftover quiches can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer for future meals).

Serves 7, 2 Weight Watchers SmartPoints per serving.

A note to social media users: Here is a sample tweet you can use to share this recipe: 
  • The #holidays have you exhausted? These @WeightWatchers-friendly mini-#quiches are a yummy way to simplify your holidays: #RecipeOfTheDay #recipe #foodblog
Additional acknowledgements: Portions of the above recipe were adapted from Weight Watchers Mini Zucchini Quiche recipe 

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