Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hiking The Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Sometimes long weekends can make the best vacations.  Since me and Soko retired two years ago, our life has become one long weekend.   But if we want to go on vacation with our friends and family we have to wait until they have vacation days or a long holiday weekend off.   My sister, Sandie, had a four day weekend because the pre-school she works at was closed for Rosh Hashanah.   She wanted to make the most of it so she invited me and Soko to go hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains with her and her husband, Mini.   So they headed 12 hours southwest and we headed 7 hours west and we met in Gatlinburg, TN.

Me and Soko actually drove through the Great Smoky Moutains to get there, entering in Cherokee, NC and exiting in Gatlinburg.  On our way through, we stopped at the Sugarlands Visitors Center and picked up a hiking map and information about the mountains.  When we met up with Sandie and Mini we looked through the information to figure out which trails we wanted to do.  The trails were rated from easy to strenuous.   And they were categorized by the main description of the hike.   We could choose from loop hikes, hikes with views, waterfall walks, hikes to old-growth forests or pleasant strolls and riverside rambles.  We also looked over the potential hazards.  We read that we should avoid any snakes we see as two species of poisonous snakes live in the Smokies.  We did see a snake that Mini said was only a garter snake but we kept as far away from it as we could anyway.  And luckily we didn't see a bear, but we knew if we did see one we were not supposed to turn our backs to it.  We were supposed to act aggressively and try to intimidate the bear by talking loudly or shouting at it.  I'm pretty sure that my reaction would have been to turn my back to it and run which is totally the most unsafe thing to do according to the article.  I'm really glad we did not see a bear!

For our Day 1 hike, we decided to do a trail that was rated moderate and led to a waterfall.   We drove our car into the mountains until we found Trillium Gap Trail.  This would lead us to Grotto Falls.

There were lots of roots that we tried to maneuver around but there were so many roots, especially as we got nearer to the falls, that we had to walk on top of them, very carefully.  

There were also streams with lots of rocks to climb on that tested our balance.  The rocks were pretty dry though or they would have been slippery and harder to get across.

We took our time and took breaks when we needed to catch our breaths.

We were treated to a beautiful site at the end of the 3 mile trail.  We were able to walk under the falls and the mist from it was very refreshing.  We sat and enjoyed the view for awhile before we headed down the trail.  

What I learned from this hike was how much easier it was to get across the very rocky streams and root filled parts of the trail after I picked up a stick to use as a hiking pole.   It really helped me to keep my balance and not fall at those tricky areas.  We were passing people all day who were using some kind of stick or pole, either singularly or as a pair.  I will look into getting a trekking pole before my next hike.  I researched a bit and saw that they have ones that fold and can be carried in a backpack.  I ditched my stick when the path got clearer because I got tired of carrying it so the folding stick will work perfectly for me.  Besides for helping with balance, you can use your pole to help you on steep inclines and declines and they also take some weight off your knees.

Day 2

For our Day 2 hike, we chose a hike rated moderate with a view.  So off to Clingmans Dome Tower Trail we went.   This was a much shorter trail, 1 mile,  and it was also on a paved road so sounded easier than our Day 1 hike.  We were warned, though, that the trail was very steep.    

They were not kidding about the steepness of the trail.  Now we knew why the trail was rated moderate and not easy.  We (I should say "I") had to make lots of stops to catch our breath.   

It was disappointing that we when we finally made it up that mega steep trail we found out that the tower was closed.  It would have been fun to go up there to see the view, but it was really foggy that day so we probably wouldn't have been able to see much anyway.

We got over our disappointment quickly when we saw the Appalachian Trail sign.  Clingmans Dome is actually the highest point of the Appalachian Trail at 6,643 feet.  Now I get why the trail was so steep!  

We decided to hike the Appalacian Trail since it was right there but only went a few feet in and back out again.  We would have to be a little more prepared than we were to hike the longest hiking-only trail in the world.  I don't think the Appalacian Trail will ever make my "Must Hike" list.  Hiking 2,200 miles and through 14 states is a little too much hiking for me.  

What I learned from hiking the very steep Clingmans Dome Trail is that I was not wearing the right shoes at all.  My toes were killing me after smashing into the top of my sneakers as we made our way back down the trail.  This made the decline much harder for me than the incline.  Before my next hike I will get some hiking boots.  I have started to do some research into finding the best boot for the kind of hiking we will be doing.  What I definitely know is that I will make sure that I get boots that fit properly.  I read that I should be able to fit my finger between my heal and the back of the boot.  This assures that there will be plenty of room for your toes not to hit the front of the shoe.  Also, ankle support and sole rigidity is important.  There are many choices of materials used to make the boot that will give you more or less support but will also make the boot heavier or lighter.  The article I read suggested a combination of nylon mesh and leather.

We had a great time with Sandie and Mini enjoying the great outdoors together.   We made plans with them to see and hike as many National Parks as we can once they retire.   That gives me about 5 years to find the perfect trekking pole and pair of boots!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why These 5 Destinations Are On My Bucket List

This is a sponsored post.  All opinions are my own.

I'm sure you have your bucket list of places you would love to see.  I know I have mine.  It was longer but we have booked a cruise that includes docking in two ports that were very high on my bucket list, Rome and Venice, Italy.  We will be taking that cruise to celebrate our 40th anniversary. That won't happen until next October but that dream is finally going to come true.  We found a good excuse to get us to Italy, now we need to find a way to get to the rest of my list.  I am down to five destinations that I really need to see.  Three of them are here in the USA so there is a good chance that I will be able to check off my list at least three of the five.   I am hopeful that we will get to all five though.  Why are these destinations on my list?  Because...

1.  Moline, Illinois.  Ok.  Maybe you have never heard of Moline, Illinois.   Neither would I if my dad wasn't born and raised there!  I have been to the neighborhood in Osaka, Japan where my mom spent her childhood.  Me and my sisters were very fortunate to have had the amazing experience of spending entire summers living in the house she grew up in..  It gives you a sense of who you are to know where your roots are.  Lately I have been very curious to know about my dad's birthplace.  I realize it is not going to be the same town anymore.  I'm sure it has changed a lot in the last 70 years.  I feel a connection, though, and need to go there at least once.  And who knows it may turn out to be the best place ever and I will want to visit again.  It is slightly famous and known by some for housing the John Deere tractors.  I was surprised to find that out a few years ago when we passed a John Deere truck on the road and I saw Moline, Illinois on their logo.  I will definitely go to check out the John Deere headquarters.   Have you been to your parent's hometowns?  Maybe you are living there right now.  If not, you might want to put it on your bucket list if it's not there already.

2.  Redwood National Park.  After singing about the Redwood Forest as a TA in a preschool for 16 years, I really have to see these awesome trees for myself.  (The Gulf Stream waters are not on my list though!)   That is only one of the many parks I want to visit.  There are 59 National Parks in twenty seven states.  I have been to three National Parks.  We just recently went to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that borders on Tennessee and North Carolina.  We met my sister and brother-in-law there and hiked a couple of trails on that trip.  (I will post about that trip very soon.)  We hiked Arcadia National Park in Maine on one of our group camping trips many years ago.  That was one of our most favorite camping trips and the one that is talked about the most.  And we toured the amazingly beautiful Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona when we were on vacation in Las Vegas with a group of over 20 people.  So many of our best vacation memories are from our adventures in these National Parks.  If you have some National Parks on your bucket list and you are a senior, find out about a great deal you can take advantage of here.

3.  Alaska.  I have been in Anchorage, Alaska but never ventured out of the airport.  I heard Alaska was gorgeous and I finally want to actually see it.   I would probably look into doing a cruise and look for one that includes these popular cruise destinations.   1.  Hubbard Glacier, at 76 miles is the largest tidewater glacier in North America and looks gorgeous from pictures I've seen.  It is probably one of those things you have to see in person to get the full effect.  2.  Glacier Bay National Park would give me a chance to visit a national park and go whale watching at the same time.  3.  The city of Skagway, established during the Klondike gold rush, for the experience of seeing an authentic Alaskan mining town.   4.  The Inside Passage is thought to be one of the most beautiful places in all the world.  I heard it is most gorgeous in the summer and fall.  5.  I would love to see the Northern Lights but the best time to see them is in winter and I don't think they make a jacket warm enough for me to go to Alaska in the middle of winter!

4.  Australia.  One day my dad announced that we were moving to Australia.  He had had enough of the stressful life he had as a ticket agent for Air Canada Airlines and he was ready to live the laid back, stress free life of an Australian.  He had never been to Australia but this was the vision he had of what life was like down under.  We actually got to the point where I thought "I better go say goodbye to my friends because this is really happening!"  Needless to say we never got there because it is still on my bucket list.  Besides for seeing if my dad was right about how wonderful it is to live in Australia, I would love to see a koala in the wild.  I would love to go to Raymond Island, Victoria for that experience.  There are so many koalas in that area and you can even see them in the front yards of peoples's homes!  You can also see kangaroos, echidnas and rainbow lorikeets there.  One of the 7 wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef is in Australia.  I hear that the marine life you can see there is incredible and can be enjoyed on a glass bottom boat which is great news for a non-snorkeler like me.   I worked many years in NYC and loved it.  I would like to visit one of the large cities, like Melbourne, to see how it compares to the cities we have here.  And finally, I would love to check out a beach.  I think that Bondi Beach would probably be the one I would want to go to for not only the beach but also for the shops, cafes and restaurants that lie across the street.

5.  The Netherlands.  When my daughter, Lisa, was in 5th grade, the VanMastrigt family temporarily moved into our neighborhood from The Netherlands.  Lisa and Myrthe VanMastright became close friends and it was such a shame that it was only for a year.  But it was so nice to get to know all of them even if it was for just a short time.  Not only did we enjoy their company, we also enjoyed getting to learn some things about their country.  We didn't see much of Baus as it was because of his job that they were here so he was always working, but we saw a lot of Myrthe and her mom, Wilma.  They were so cool and made The Netherlands seem like a cool country to live in.  Myrthe and Wilma were two of the happiest, friendliest and easygoing people I have ever met.  I have a feeling that maybe there is a whole city of people just like the VanMastrights in The Netherlands.  They lived in the city of Amsterdam which has the reputation of being a party city.  I would love to see it.  It's a big city with many monumental buildings, lots of bridges and many museums.   The Anne Frank Museum is there.  I would like to see that.  I think it would be very interesting.  I heard that the coffee shops are unique in Amsterdam.  I would love to have a cup of coffee in one.  I would definitely have to see a windmill because when I've thought of Holland I've always imagined seeing windmills and wooden shoes everywhere.   The city of Leiden is where I would go to see the windmills along with tree-lined canals, wooden bridges and nice parks and gardens.  And finally, I would love to visit the city of Gouda to see lots of old buildings and eat my favorite the cheese!

Are any of these destinations on your bucket list?  What is on your list?  We would love to know!

This post was inspired by Australian Andrew Charlton.  Learn about him here.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

In And Around Gatlinburg, TN

My sister, Sandie, had a couple of extra days off from her job at a preschool and wanted to know if me and Soko would like to meet her and her husband, we call him Mini, in Tennessee.   She thought it would be fun to hike the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains.  (Read all about here it in an upcoming post.)  So Sandie and Mini drove 11 hours from NY and we drove 7 hours from NC and met in Gatlinburg, TN.  By the time we all arrived in Tennessee and checked into the Holiday Inn Express Gatlinburg Downtown, it was too late to go hiking.   We decided that going out to get a late lunch then checking out the downtown area would be the itinerary for Day 1.  

When we were together in Florida in August we sat down to make some plans for our Tennessee vacation.  While we were searching for the best places to eat in Gatlinburg, we came across reviews of a quaint little restaurant in the middle of nowhere and knew we had to eat there.  So off to The Wild Plum Tea Room we went.

We learned that the restaurant was inspired by the tea houses of Austria where the atmosphere is welcoming and relaxing and where you could gather to enjoy each others stories and  eat fresh food. The Wild Plum Tea House uses whatever is growing in their garden and seasonal and fresh foods. The menu changes daily depending on what foods are available.  

We had a couple of choices of where we wanted to sit.  We chose the porch but could have chosen the outdoor deck or inside dining room.  If you had your dog with you it would not be a problem as you could sit on the deck with your pet by your side.

Sandie ordered the Wild Caught Yellowfin Tuna that you could have sushi style, seared or cooked through.  She had it seared and paired it with a Kohlrabi and Kale Slaw.   Sandie thought the fish tasted like it had just been caught and loved the slaw.  Soko had the Salmon Burger.  He chose to have it on a bed of lettuce rather than on a bun.  He enjoyed the chunks of salmon as opposed to the usual shaved salmon (my recipe!) in his burger.  He also had the slaw as his side.  I had the Lobster Pie which had chunks of lobster in an artichoke cream sauce.  I thought the sauce was delicious and liked that it was not thick and heavy.  I had a Quinoa Salad with grapes and radishes.  I thought the grapes went perfectly with the quinoa.  Mini had the Bison Burger which was stuffed with smoked Gouda cheese. He had never had bison before and said it was much leaner than a beef burger which he said was what he enjoyed about it.  He had it with the soup of the day which was a Harvest Pumpkin Soup.  I had to taste his soup because he was making it sound like the most delicious soup he ever had in his life.  It was really good and that's coming from someone who is not a fan of anything pumpkin!  Me and Sandie ended the meal by sharing an amazing blueberry concoction that was topped perfectly with cinnamon ice cream.  (No picture...we ate it too quickly!)

On our way out, we were lucky enough to run into the Chef/Owner, Kacey Rothwell.  She asked how we enjoyed our meal and thanked us for coming.  We told her how we loved our meals and that we will definitely come back if we are ever in the area again!

We only had 2 1/2 days to explore Gatlingburg and really wanted to spend most of our time hiking the Great Smoky Mountains.  So after lunch, we decided to just drive through Pidgeon Forge, Gatlingburg's neighboring town to get a glimpse of Dollywood.   It is all about Dolly Parton for sure in this area.  She is probably the most famous person ever born here.  We drove by her two dinner theaters.  Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede is all about singing and dancing and a salute to the USA  and features 32 horses that skilled riders do all kinds of tricks with.   Dolly Parton's Great Smoky Adventures is a show that has more of a story line and gives you an idea of the what it was like in this area and how people lived here in the 1930's.  Besides for the Dolly Parton offerings, there were a ton of other attractions on Pidgeon Forge's main strip including Elvis & Hollywood Legends Museum and the Titanic Museum.

After our tour of Pidgeon Forge, we dropped off our car at the hotel.  We were very happy with the location of the hotel which was only a block away from the Downtown Gatlinburg main strip and right next door to Saint Mary Catholic Church.  Their 7:00 pm Saturday mass worked perfectly for us that weekend.  It was also right across the street from the Log Cabin Pancake House, The restaurant is on all the "top 10 places to eat in Gatlinburg" lists and they have great reviews on Yelp.  They had people waiting outside to get in every time we passed.  We never ate there as our Holiday Inn had a really good breakfast and it was included with our reservation.  (If you are trying to be a bit frugal on your vacation and trying to get the best deals, it's always good to check to see if the hotels you are considering have breakfast included.  If you choose a more expensive hotel that includes breakfast it might be a better deal than the cheaper hotel with no breakfast, especially if you have your kids or grandkids with you.   You can also grab some fruit for snacks to take with you when you go venturing out later on.)   We were also right up the block from the Gatlinburg Space Needle.  If you go over 400' to the top of the tower you will be able to enjoy the sights of the city of Gatlinburg and see the Smoky Mountains.  We didn't go in the tower but I did want to see it and take a picture of it so I was excited that it was just down the block.  There are so many things to do in this town.  Me and Soko did an over-nighter in Gatlinburg with our kids years ago and did Gatlinburg's Mysterious Mansion which is a self-guided tour of a haunted mansion,  The kids enjoyed it a lot because they didn't take it too seriously.  I was a little scared but that's just me.  We also did the Skylift Gatlinburg which was really fun.  You could get off at the top of the mountain to enjoy the sights then hop back on the sky lift for your ride back down.   I can recommend both of these attractions if you are looking for things to do here!

So what did the four of us do in downtown Gatlinburg?  Shopping and walking and enjoying each other's company pretty much.  We don't get to see enough of Sandie and Mini anymore since we moved to NC 2 years ago so we worried less about sightseeing and more about just spending time together.  We did have a fantastic time in the touristy downtown area.  I actually do love walking around with all the other tourists and shopping for souvenirs when we are on vacation.  I was thrilled to see one of those shops that will carve your names or whatever you want into wood pieces of all different shapes and sizes. You only see these guys in places like this.  I needed something for our place in Florida and got one at a very reasonable price and I love how it came out!

The downtown area was celebrating fall and everywhere you looked you would find beautiful fall displays and landscaping.  It added to the enjoyment of walking around the town.

Me and Sandie ventured into alleyways off the main road that led to loads of small, mostly crafty, stores that had the most unique things to buy.  We looked in the sock store where you could buy socks covered with soccer balls for your favorite soccer player.  You could buy socks for your cat lover, dog lover, fisherman and everyone else on your list.  We looked in a linen store that had the most gorgeous embroidered tablecloths but at $100 each they were a little to expensive for my budget.

Soko and Mini ventured into a shop that sold moonshine and both walked out with 3 mason jars full.  Mini paid to sample 15 different flavors of moonshine.  He was a very happy camper after that!
We found lots of things to buy and enjoyed walking through town   We stopped by Ripley's Believe It Or Not.  The huge robot made out of car parts was pretty amazing and I am sure there were lots of cool things to see inside but it was time to go back to the hotel to relax by their indoor pool.

We ended up relaxing by the pool for only a few minutes because when the last of the kids left the water slide area we had to get in there to try out the slides.  Those slides were so much fun and another perk included in the price of the room!   Needless to say, we were all snoring by the time our heads hit our pillows that night.

Stay tuned for our adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains and what I learned about hiking that I will use on our next hiking trip.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Great Deals For Seniors Only

One good thing about getting older is that some businesses are very kind to us seniors and will give   us discounts.  I use my old age status to get a break anywhere I can.  If I see a sign in a storefront or at a ticket window about senior discounts, I will definitely ask if I qualify.   And sometimes I won't even ask and I will get the discount which makes me feel really old until I convince myself that the cashiers assume I am old enough because I am with Soko who won't dye his gray hair!  But some places don't have any signage or anyone there that will offer that information so I decided to research to find the best places to get discounts, especially for travel discounts.

l.   Hotel Discount - AARP - You can get 5% - 15% off your hotel stay at some hotels if you mention AARP.  I have my card on my iphone so it's always with me because the hotel clerk will sometimes ask to see it when you are checking in.  If you don't have an AARP membership, check to see if the hotel has a senior rate.   Good to know:  Sign up for hotel rewards cards as long as they don't cost anything.  We have the IHG card which I know we will never be able to use to get a free room but when we check into a Hilton we are greeted very nicely and we have been given complimentary water bottles.  Also, because we signed up for a card, we are on their email list and once found out that they were having a special sale that ran during the time we had a hotel booked. Soko called and asked for the special sale price which was about $20 less than we were paying and got it!

2.  Travel Discount - Southwest and a few other airlines offer senior discounts of usually 10%.  Sometimes their "best rate" discount is better than the senior rate though.  If you rather stay on the ground when you need to get somewhere, Amtrak gives seniors who are 62+ a 15% discount on select destinations.  If you prefer taking a bus, Greyhound offers seniors 62+ a 5% discount on their unrestricted passenger fares.  Good to know:   You may be able to get a full refund on your senior ticket if you have to cancel your airline reservation.  Read the fine print or call the airline to make sure of the airline's policies.

3.  Car Rentals - Almost all of the big car rental companies offer discounts for seniors.  Some consider age 50 to be eligible and some consider age 60.  Good to know:  Budget offers a 10% discount to seniors but you may be able to get up to a 30% discount if you go through AARP.

4.  Restaurants - There are many, many restaurants that have senior discounts.  Age requirements start from 50 if you are dining at a restaurant that accepts an AARP card.  Most discounts are 10%.  I like being able to choose a meal from the senior menu that some restaurants offer, Perkins for one, because not only is there a discount but the portion is smaller.   Good to know:   AARP members can get a free donut when they purchase a large or XL coffee at Dunkin' Donuts.

5.  National Parks -  America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass - Annual.   $80.00 for a senior (62 and older) lifetime pass.   Good to know:   Admits the vehicle of the pass holder and their passengers into parks that have vehicle entry fees and/or admits the pass holder and 3 adults into per person fee areas.

6.  Local Discount Cards - Check to see if your state and then your city is a participant in the Senior Citizen Discount Card program.  Some of your local businesses offer discounts with this card. You have to be at least 60 to get a one.  I have used it to get a 10% discount at a restaurant in downtown Wilmington, NC near where I live.

7.  Entertainment - Discounts and age requirements vary from theater to theater but you can get a discount at many movie theaters, if not all.  Also check for discounts at the museums near you for any discount.  The New York Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago both offer discounts.  Also, like the NY Yankees, your favorite baseball team may offer you a discount if you are old enough!   Good to know:  If you are a snowbird like I am and your winter home is Florida, Busch Gardens Tampa and Sea World Orlando offer a $3.00 discount on a one-day ticket to seniors 50+.

8.  Grocery Stores - If  you have a Harris Teeter in your neighborhood like we do, and you are over 60,  you can receive a 5% discount on Thursdays.  Check your local Piggly Wiggly, Pathmark, Meijer, Hy-Vee, Hannaford, C-Town, Albertsons, Publix, Bi-Lo, Kroger and ShopRite.  These stores offer senior discounts but sometimes it is the decision of the particular store to offer the discount or not.

9.  Retail Stores -  Bealls will give you 15% off your entire purchase on Mondays if you join their Monday Club for seniors 50+.  Kohl's gives seniors 60+ a 15% discount on Wednesdays.  Michael's gives seniors 10% off their entire purchase everyday and so does Banana Republic. Other retailers that offer discounts are Belk, Bon-Ton, Dress Barn, Lens Crafters (with an AARP card) Ross and Stein Mart.  Good to know:  You can get 15% off eligible services and products and 5% off domestic and international shipping services at UPS if you have an AARP card.  We didn't know that!

10.  Car Maintenance Discounts - Jiffy Lube offers 10% off services and parts and Midas and Vavoline offer discounts for seniors but you will have to check at your local shop because not all of their shops participate.

I would love to hear from you if you know of discounts anywhere else.   Please send us a comment so I can add it to our list!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Miso Ramen Inspired By Chaplin's

When my daughter, Lisa heard we were going to take a weekend vacation to Washington, DC recently she told us we had to go to eat at Chaplin's.  Now hearing that name, I would not think that she would go on to say that they had some of the best ramen and gyoza she had ever had.  I was a little skeptical but I trusted her taste buds and penciled Chaplin's in for one of our dinners.  We were not disappointed.  In fact, we would take another trip into that area just to eat there again!

I had the miso ramen and Soko had the Chaplin.  I've had some delicious miso ramen before.  One of my favorite things to do when I up north was to go Japanese grocery shopping at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, NJ and then have dinner or lunch at Santouka.  They offered a shio, shoyu or miso ramen.  I always got the miso which was absolutely worth the wait on their long line of customers.   And at Ippudo, located in Osaka, Japan.  Ippudo also has restaurants in New York City if you don't want to travel as far as Japan to try them but I heard that their ramen is better in Japan. They served amazing ramen in Japan.   I have to say that Chaplin's soup compares very favorably with the other two restaurants.

When I eat ramen at home, though, I open up the package of noodles which comes with a small packet that contains the soup flavoring mix.   I will either add celery stems with the leaves on them to the soup at the same time I put in the noodles or an egg that I break up into the soup after the egg has cooked for a couple of seconds.    It's yummy and perfect for a quick lunch but Chaplin's inspired me to try to create a soup from scratch.

Chaplin's miso ramen, as described on their menu, lists ground pork, pork butt chashu (a slice of marinated and braised pork), bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, onion, scallions and nori (seaweed) so that gave me an idea of the ingredients I would have to round up but I needed some help in getting started to create a broth.  I found a recipe for miso ramen at one of my favorite blogs, Japanese Cooking 101 and pretty much followed their recipe.  It matched Chaplin's ground pork base so I thought it would compare nicely to their soup.  I also followed, and slightly changed,  Noriko and Yuko's  (the hosts of Japanese Cooking 101) recipe for making the pork that Chaplin's used as a topping.  I skipped the bamboo shoots and onion toppings.





sliced pork*
bean sprouts

For Soup Base

9 cups water
3 garlic cloves crushed
2 Tbsp. ginger sliced
3/4 lb. ground pork
5 scallions
4" x 2" piece of dried kombu (dried seaweed)

For Soup Flavoring

8 Tbsp. miso paste
3 Tbsp. sake
1 1/2  Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. chili paste

3 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 garlic clove minced


1 lb. ramen noodles cooked as directed

(If you can't find ramen noodles you can use thin spaghetti and follow these directions:  In a large pot, boil 12 cups of water and add 3 Tbsp. of baking soda - watch carefully as it may boil over.  Then add your spaghetti and cook as directed.  The baking soda will help to give the spaghetti the same texture and taste of ramen noodles.)


Prepare toppings and set aside.

Put soup base ingredients together in a large pot and boil for 15 minutes.  Strain the broth into another pot keeping all the broth and discarding the other ingredients.

Add the first five soup flavoring ingredients and let simmer in broth on low heat.

Cook noodles as directed.

Add the sesame oil and minced garlic to your soup at the same time you are adding your pasta to the boiling water.

Place cooked pasta in bowls.  Add soup and toppings.

*Yakibuta Recipe

2 lb. pork shoulder butt
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1/2 cup sugar
3 thick slices ginger root
1 clove garlic

Marinate the meat with the rest of ingredients in a plastic bag for 4-5 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350F and bake for 1 1/2 hours.  Keep the marinade to baste the meat a couple of times.  Let stand 30 minutes before slicing.


I cooked the yakibuta the night before I made the soup and had it with brown rice, stringbeans cooked in the marinade and Japanese pickles.  You can use the marinade also for a dipping sauce - strain to remove the ginger, garlic and fat from the marinade then cook and simmer the sauce before using.  

I thought this recipe was oishii (Japanese for delicious) and came pretty close to being exactly as I remembered it at Chaplin's!  

Before we eat anything in Japan we say "Itadakimasu" which means you are thankful for the food and also means "Let's Eat!!!"

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Update Old Photo Albums

My kids enjoy looking through our old photo albums.  There's something about flipping through the pages that doesn't compare to sliding from picture to picture on their phones.  It's especially fun for them to share the old photos with their better halves.  Our "new" kids, son-in-law Pete, daughter-in-law Nicole and soon to be daughter-in-law Chrissy didn't know our family and friends until we were all much older and they find some of our pictures to be adorable but most of them to be hysterical!   They'll snap pictures of our pictures to save to their phones or to send to one of our family members or friends who they think will find the picture as hysterical as they do.  Older son, Joe makes sure he points out the mushroom haircut he endured throughout his entire childhood and younger son, Mike will still ask why I needed to dress him and his brother alike when they were far from being twins since they are a good 3 1/2 years apart.  And forget about the "tail" he wore all those years when I wouldn't let the barber cut that one piece of hair in the back of his head!  I must have styled daughter, Lisa to her liking because she never complains or it may be that she doesn't think it's as funny as her brothers to poke fun at my mothering skills, or lack of I should say!

But the the pictures we enjoy more than anything are of the vacations we took.  Every year we went on a camping trip with four to five other families.  We have camped in almost every state along the east coast with our best friends.  The photos jog our memories of the fun we had, the things we learned about each state and who we enjoyed it all with.  Every year we also went to Florida to visit Grandma and Grandpa.  Our photos remind of us of how much we loved spending time with them and how they loved playing cards with us and joining us on our visits to Disney World, Sea World and every other amusement park in Florida.  We have lots of pictures of the wonderful times we spent with our family and friends in Japan and the vacations the five of us took by ourselves to Washington, DC, Ohio and so much more.  If we didn't have our pictures we would never remember what we did where.

So I've always kept our photo albums out and accessible to everyone but they were getting so worn and old and becoming such an eyesore in our living room.

 I really didn't want to buy brand new albums and not only have the expense of replacing them but also the task of transferring every picture from the old to new so I came up with this idea of updating our albums.  If you have old photo albums that need a quick update this was a pretty easy fix.  

What You'll Need:

* Roll of mailing paper (a brown paper grocery bag also works)

* Clear contact paper

* Card stock

* Number and letter stickers

* Ruler

* Scissors

* Paper edger scissors

* Glue dots

What You'll Do:

Place photo album on the mailing paper and measure leaving 3" from each side of the album and 1 1/2' on the top and bottom then cut.

Measure 1 1/2" from bottom and top and fold.

Fold the two sides over and insert the front and back covers.

Taping the corners of your photo album cover will help to keep the cover on your album.

Measure and cut one 11" X 2" piece of card stock and another of contrasting color that measures
 9 1/2" X 1 1/2".

Trim the edge of the smaller piece of card stock with your edger scissor.  Identify your album by using your number and letter stickers.  Attach your two pieces of card stock with the glue dots. 

Cover with clear contact and attach identification strip to covered photo album.

That's it!  Now call over a family member or friend to sit with you on the couch and enjoy looking through your photos together!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Free Things To Do In Las Vegas

I have been to Vegas many times because my mom had a passion for slot machines.  I would bring her and either my daughter, Lisa, or my sister, Sandie, would join us.  We would leave Mom at her slot machine and we would go and find things to do on the strip or downtown.  There is so much to see and do in Vegas and lots of it is free!

1.  Check out the hotels.  If you walk it will be a totally free and fun thing to do.  Every hotel is different and lots of them have something extra besides their unique decor to get you to stop by for awhile.  You'll want to see the gorgeous flower displays at Bellagio's Conservatory & Botanical Gardens.  It's absolutely free and well worth the walk to see it.  It's really impressive.   Across from Bellagio you'll find Flamingo Las Vegas.  They have a wildlife habitat there that we love.  You can see many different kinds of exotic birds, fish and turtles and of course, flamingos.  When you're downtown take a look at the 61 pound gold nugget at Golden Nugget.  They paid more than $1,000,000.00 so that it could be displayed and enjoyed by everyone visiting the hotel.  You can't see a nugget bigger than this anywhere in the world.   Just a little heads up - the hotels are not as close to each other as they appear to be and you might be walking miles depending on how many hotels you plan to see in one shot.  Some hotels though are easily accessible to each other via a free shuttle or tram so well worth looking into as you're planning your tour of the area.  Also the bus that runs up and down the strip is reasonably priced though not free.


2.   Collect the hotels player's cards.  Me and Lisa spent most of our time, on one of our many trips to Vegas, just going from hotel to hotel signing up for their player's cards.  Almost all of the hotels will give you something free to sign up.  We got free play money to use on the slot machines, decks of cards, tee shirts and more.  We had a great time collecting our free gifts and some of them wound up being souvenirs for the hubbys we left at home!

3.  Enjoy free shows offered at the hotels.  One of our must-sees when we are in Vegas is the Caesar Palace's free show Fall Of Atlantis.  The gigantic talking statues along with the special effects makes this show very entertaining and attracts many viewers so get there early to get a good spot to watch it.  The spectacular outdoor water show presented by Bellagio is not to be missed.  The combination of the dancing water, light show and music is such a treat for all your senses.  Do you love circus acts?  From the trapeze artists to the clowns you can see them all at Circus, Circus.  It's the only free circus I know of so go and enjoy!

Caesars Palace

4.  Find free things to see and do along the strip and downtown.  You can find lots of free things to do when you venture out of the hotels and onto the strip and downtown.  Visit M&M World to see more M&M's in one place than you'll ever see then enjoy the free 3-D movie starring Red and Yellow.  Head downtown to the Downtown Container Park, created from recycled shipping containers, especially if the kids are with you.  They'll enjoy the playground, that includes a 33-foot-tall slide and over sized foam building blocks, while you enjoy the food from one of the restaurants in the park.  We really enjoyed the tacos at Pinches Tacos and the brisket at Big Ern's BBQ.  (We did have to shell out some cash for that!)   Stay in the downtown area until evening to enjoy the Fremont Street Experience.  You'll find free live music there and make sure you look up as you stroll down the pedestrian mall to witness an amazing light show suspended 90 feet above the ground.

These are some of the free experiences we've enjoyed in Vegas.  There is a lot more free things to do and see there that can keep you very busy.  You probably won't be able to do it all in one vacation. Vegas can be a very affordable vacation for retirees on a budget as long as you don't run into too many one-armed bandits!