My husband knows me so very well. One of my favorite presents for Christmas this year is my Penna Keyboard. There is something deliciously satisfying about the tactile experience of a good, old-fashioned keyboard. Years ago, I got the Hanx Writer app by Tom Hanks (yes, THAT Tom Hanks) that at least allowed the sound of a typewriter on my iPad; however, I still pined for an old school word processor just so I can have keys that depress. Since I prefer writing in the fantastic Scriviner app, I never pursued the word processor desire and lose the ability to work and type right in the app.
The Penna Keyboard is the best of all worlds. The keys (round Retro Chrome Keycaps on my version) have a pleasing click-clack and are very responsive. The keyboard can pair with up to five devices and, since it is not OS-specific, so I can use it on any device as I float between my Mac, iPad, and PC… and even my iPhone.
Since I just opened my new toy this morning, I’m still getting to know all of the features. Despite looking like an old school typewriter, all of the key options you’d expect to see on a quality Bluetooth keyboard are included, and then some. Multi-media keys control things like volume and screen brightness, while the clever little faux return carriage lever allows you to record and automatically retype favorite keys or sentences.
Overall I’m super excited and suddenly inspired to write. Whether that’s from the keyboard, the vacation time, the wine, or some combination, we’ll never really know. I’m humoring my husband now by writing this blog post about the Penna Keyboard using the Penna Keyboard, but I think I’ll finish up the dozen or so posts sitting in draft and retro-publish them this week.
…And no, it’s not by posting the Suicide Prevention Hotline to your social media feed.
On May 30, 2011, I tried to take my own life.
The last thing I did before I committed to killing myself was throw my phone into the river behind my house… So, telling me to call the suicide prevention hotline wouldn’t have helped. Not right then.
Chicken Bog is one of my all time favorites. Just about every Low Country Southerner over the age of 25 has a “recipe” – unwritten know-how passed down from their granddaddy or grandmama. Most of the renditions are similar, and everyone believes their recipe is “the best.” Depending on your tastes and preferences, you’ll probably think they’re right. I’m always willing to taste a new version!
One of the best places to try all the different variations is the Loris Bog-Off held every October near Myrtle Beach. The basic ingredients are the same for each – chicken, rice, and sausage. It’s the spice selections that gives each recipe its uniqueness. The vast majority I’ve seen stick to the old-fashioned stove top way of cooking, but you can find the a few slow cooker recipes on the Internet.
If a slow cooker is unusual, using an Instant Pot might be downright blasphemous. I searched and searched for a decent recipe for the Instant Pot and never found one, so I decided to convert my recipe for the Instant Pot. The challenge was that I didn’t exactly know what I put in the traditional recipe. With Chicken Bog, you use the spices your grandparents used; however, there’s no “measuring” – you simply add the spices until it tastes the way it’s supposed to taste. So, step one – document the actual recipe; step two – document my modified version of the original recipe since I converted it to make it ever-so-slightly healthier (yeah, it’s what I do); and step three – convert for the Instant Pot.
Below is the result, which got thumbs up all around from the family. This version makes about 8 servings.
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into cubes
1 to 2 Tbs Olive Oil**
1 onion chopped
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp Seasoned Salt (I use Lawry’s)
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
4 tsp Butter Buds or 4 pats of unsalted butter**
1 14-16 oz package of smoked sausage (I use Turkey Polska Kielbasa) sliced
3 cups fat-free chicken broth (optional you can use low-sodium)
1 1/2 c long grain white rice (do not rinse)
Set the Instant Pot to Sauté. Add 2 Tbs Olive Oil. [**Note: if you prefer, you can use 1 Tbs oil plus butter, omitting the butter buds from the recipe. Using butter adds 50 calories and 5.5 grams of fat per serving.]
When the oil is hot, add garlic and onion. Just as the onion becomes translucent (but not browned), add chicken. Cook chicken for about 4 minutes, while adding the spices and stirring occasionally.
Add sliced sausage and cook for 1 more minute. Turn off the Instant Pot. Add chicken broth and rice, stirring lightly (just enough to ensure the rice is completely covered by liquid). Install the lid and turn the vent to sealed. Push the Manual setting, ensure the pressure is on High, and set for 10 minutes. Once complete, allow to vent naturally for 10 minutes and then use Quick Release. Stir then set for 5 minutes before serving.
Some notes: If you’ve never had Chicken Bog, you may be surprised by the somewhat “mushy” texture of the rice. Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong when it turns out that way. That being said, if you don’t like the texture, you can always decrease the liquid by 1/4 cup and use the Rice setting, instead… but know that you’ll be making Chicken and Rice, not Chicken Bog, and everyone from the Low Country of South Carolina will know it. 🙂
Also? As mentioned above, you can use low-sodium chicken broth, which reduces the sodium to 863 mg per serving… but whenever I do that, everyone just adds table salt because, well, because we’re Southerners. :::shrugs:::
New York City has been a favorite destination of mine for decades and it’s fun for me to see how the city has changed over the years. I know a lot of people who don’t want to go to NYC today because they’re old enough to remember its not-so-distant dark past. In the 70s and 80s, the dangerous city warned people away as it hovered near bankruptcy, cutting firefighters and police officers to the quick and cautioning people that being out after 6 PM meant risking your life. Looking back, I should have been afraid, too, but having earned a lifetime membership in the International Thespian Society as a kid, MY New York got its heartbeat from its theatre. It never occurred to me that maybe New York wasn’t the place to travel with kids.
Luckily (and with a great deal of strong leadership and hard work), real change from a tourism perspective began to show around the late 90s. By the time our older (now 26 and 28 years old) kids were old enough to start appreciating travel, taking kids to New York was considered relatively safe, so long as you took certain safeguards. Interestingly, the first time I took my kids to New York was the first time I ever felt a pang of nervousness and a genuine awareness of which neighborhoods we visited at which time of day. We avoided Central Park and only used the subway once (just to show them what it was like).
Today, I have no qualms whatsoever taking kids to New York. Obviously, parents must take the same general, common-sense precautions they should when traveling with children to any big city, but I would, and have, visit all five boroughs with kids. Perhaps a sign of the times, however — we had to have an impromptu Internet Safety lesson when we realized our stalker was tracking our every move on our son’s (now private) Instagram account. While we’re well-practiced at obscuring personal details to throw the stalker off our scent (I’m rarely where the Internet says I am at the time of my posts), we had neglected to share these good online habits with the kids. Once we got back off the grid, we all felt perfectly safe everywhere we went in the city.
Now we have learned over the course of many family vacations that life is easier of you settle a couple of things before you ever leave home. One, every child gets a set amount of spending money that they may spend however they wish. This eliminates any “will you buy me… (ice cream, toy, etc.)” conversations and meltdowns. Two, have each person select one “must-do” thing that interests them, and then fit in other small things around those plans as we had time and interest. This helps a lot with age differences and with the inertia that comes from trying to force everyone to agree on everything. Generally we find that everyone ends up picking something that everyone enjoys, even if it isn’t something everyone would inherently choose themselves.
Emma selected the Central Park Zoo. I absolutely adore Central Park – a love that grew out of my running hobby, but like a lot of “touristy” places in New York, I had never been to the Central Park Zoo. Tip learned the hard way: if you go to the self-serve kiosk, you can only buy the “Total Zoo Experience,” if if you just want the zoo (and petting zoo), skip the kiosk and get in line.
The zoo itself if pretty small so it only took us an hour or so to see everything. We spent the rest of our afternoon exploring the rest of Central Park. The kids enjoyed Alice and Wonderland, but seemed to enjoy climbing all the rocks the most.
You never know who you’ll run into in Central Park
When the Central Park skating pond isn’t frozen…
Playing in Central Park
Harwood said he wanted “food” – meaning anything ethnic and/or not easily found in the South, so Harwood got to recommend where we ate. In addition to the massive amount of street food, Harwood also chose: Serendipity 3, Max Brenner’s, “real” NY Pizza delivery, Cafe Lalo, Sprinkle’s Cupcakes, and Tony’s Di Napoli. This was great fun, but be forewarned of the 10 pounds you’ll gain if you give a male teenager with no metabolism cap all food decision authority.
My choice was a no brainer since my Yankees were playing the Red Sox. It was off to Yankee Stadium, baby! The lesson learned on this one: if you’re going to take kids, consider an afternoon game. Poor Emma feel asleep somewhere around the 6th inning since the game didn’t even begin until 7:30.
My husband selected the American Natural History Museum that, despite the crowds built up by the afternoon (driven indoors by the rain, I presume), was a huge hit with the tween, the teen, and the adults. In hindsight, we would do museums on weekdays and other not-as-touristy stuff on weekends. The cafe is expensive for not particularly good food, so I recommend hopping out to the slew of food trucks lining the streets around the museum for lunch instead.
Even at the fast clip we have in museums, we didn’t see but maybe half of all the museum has to offer and we were there when the museum opened. It really is worth carving out an entire day AND planning out what you want to see so you know what you can leave for the next trip.
A quick thought on being there when it opens: don’t bother. The line is deceptively long (seriously the place is gigantic) and if you wait another 30 minutes, you’ll walk right in. We experienced the same at the Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC.
In addition to our pre-selected “must-dos,” we all agreed on a couple of places we wanted to see. In all the times I’d been to New York, I’d never seen the Statue of Liberty, so we carved out a morning to visit, along with a trip to Ellis Island. We enjoyed the boat ride and did a small amount of sightseeing, but I have to say, like with many places that solely exist to draw tourists, I can probably live the rest of my life without feeling the need to do it again. We had intended to look up my grandpa who came through Ellis Island from England as a kid, but found out you can access all the same information online for free without waiting in line (no, there’s no giant book you flip through – it’s on the same Internet you have at home).
We had much more fun wandering through the stores selling all the things the kids love. We hit Dillon’s Candy Bar, the Nintendo Store, The Lego Store, Strand Books, and a group favorite, Forbidden Planet. We collectively chose to skip stuff like the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, and the 9/11 Memorial. I’ve been to each of these and can say I’ve never seen a kid who didn’t look bored there. With so many (fun!) kid-friendly things to do, there’s really no reason to stick to tourist traps.
One of Emma’s favorite local amusements was the Hippo Playground in Riverside Park, since hippos are her favorite animal. We thought about making the trip to Coney Island to hit up Luna Park, but that train ride takes OMZ fo-ev-ah, so we decided to wait for another time when we could see the mermaid parade. The list of things we did not get to do is long and the kids are already asking when we’ll go back. I go at least 3 or 4 times a year for various reasons, so I’m sure they’ll get another chance soon. I’m thinking they need to see New York at Christmastime – that’s when the city is REALLY magical.
It’s almost time to say goodbye to summer, so we’re taking one last trip to the beach. I hesitated a good bit before agreeing to the trip — so much suffering going on in Houston and Florida from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. My friends in these areas insist they’re okay, including the ones in Avon Park who are still without power. But they won’t leave because of the looters and there is little good I can do down there right now other than be completely in the way. My husband convinced me to take a romantic weekend getaway to relax and shake off the worries of the world for a few days.
We’re going to one of our favorite places, Hilton Head. While packing, I started thinking about the big coastal towns in South Carolina and how they all have completely different personalities. If you’ve never been, allow me to introduce them to you.
At the top of the state is Myrtle Beach (and North Myrtle Beach). Since so much of our family is from that area, we end up spending a lot of time there. Myrtle Beach is a tourist town. Think Pigeon Forge, Branson Missouri, or the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, but with an ocean instead of mountains or a giant waterfall as its focal point. If you get bored, there’s no helping you.
Charleston sits just south of the center of the coast and if you’re looking for someplace that oozes Southern, this is it. I prefer the beaches over Myrtle Beach simply because they’re less crowded. The charming downtown area has a crazy number of amazing restaurants and some touristy stuff, but not like the loud “WELCOME TO VEGAS” feel of Myrtle Beach.
The southernmost spot on the South Carolina coast is Hilton Head Island and easily my favorite of the three. My husband and I visited a couple of times when we first dated, but then my husband had a horrible experience there and refused to go back for several years. Thankfully, he eventually disassociated the place from that experience and we returned, loving it even more than we did before.
Where one visits Myrtle Beach to play and Charleston to “experience,” one goes to Hilton Head to relax. Everything runs a little bit slower in this calm and laid back place.We like the Omni Hilton Head Resort, but there are plenty of fantastic resorts to choose from. Savannah Georgia is only an hour away, making for an awesome day trip. Among my top suggested Hilton Head to-dos: The bike trails, Pinckney Island, shopping the outlet malls, some of the most challenging golf courses I’ve ever seen, and my favorite — absolutely nothing. That’s our plan for this weekend. Hang out by the pool, spend some good quality time together, read a book, maybe write some, and a whole lot of napping. Bon Voyage!
Over the course of my travels in India, I’ve found myself in some strange predicaments. Once, I was in the home of a middle class family in the mountains, ready to pounce on delicious local food after a long, back-breaking journey. But when I arrived in the dining area, I found myself joined only by the men of the family, as the women served, and then waited on us from a distance.
I sat in awkward silence, not sure if I should join the women in the kitchen and further the house’s patriarchal traditions, or eat with the men as the women waited. I could imagine the same scene playing out in hundreds of households across the country.
At the end of the awkward (though delicious) meal, the elderly male head of the household said to me with a disconcerting confidence: I think I’ve figured out why you ate so little, it was probably because…
While it’s entirely possible that I suffer from too many hobbies already, I decided to start building my 1:12 scale dollhouse. This is the first one I’m building totally ground up, and I can only find time to work on it in spurts, so I expect it to take a LLOONNGG time to finish. My husband just moved all of my craft stuff into the family room so I could still hang out with him and the kids.
My last house, a 1:24 scale pre-built, I didn’t enjoy as much I think mostly because of the difficulty in working with that size having long fingernails. (How precious can it get? IKR?!?) I still have quite a bit of decorating to do on it, but I’m setting it aside until the granddaughters are a little bit old so they can help me finish it and then have it to play with, since I already have all of the furniture for it.
The plan for this next dollhouse is a coffee shop / bakery — largely because I’ve already bought most of the accessories and need someplace to display them. 🙂 I couldn’t help myself. Cute stuff is cute. I have a couple favorite shops. When I’m in New York, I can’t resist The Tiny Dollhouse on East 78th Street, which is where the coffee shop idea started. Long story short, I fell in love with an espresso machine. I didn’t buy it when I first saw it due to a bit of sticker shock (I mean seriously – how can something so tiny cost that much??) combined with having already overspent my shopping budget for the trip. I couldn’t stop thinking about, tho, and went back to pick it up a few months later, along with a host of other coffee shop awesomeness.
Closer to home, I love Miniature Memories in Charleston, SC. There I found some more accessories to bring the coffee shop to life. Inspired by my favorite coffee shop here in Columbia, SC, The Local Buzz, I picked up some more books and puzzles and games. I’ve been ordering little things here and there from online shops, too – and perhaps planning the next few projects while I was at it. I put a lot of my ideas and inspirations on my Dollhouses and Miniatures Pinterest board.
Between visits to Charleston and my last couple trips to NYC, I have collected close to 50 pieces. If I don’t get around to building this house soon, I suspect my husband may ban me from bringing any more of this adorable stuff home.
I have plans on building some of the accessories myself, but we’ll see how ambitious I feel after I get the house built. This weekend I’ll be dying the shingles and varnishing the floors so they can dry all week. Over the next couple weekends, I’ll tackle the giving the exterior its first coat and sanding. Today the kids and I picked up an awesome family room present for my husband’s birthday this week — He’ll be nicely occupied for a while, LOL.
Meg first appeared to me as a nimbus of curly red hair, looming above my top bunk late at night. The hair, backlit and aglow, was so remarkable that I reached up and patted it as though it were a rare creature. Meg offered the nervous, extra-buoyant “hi” of the girlfriend meeting the boyfriend’s kid for the first time. In reply, I stroked the hair.
I was five; she was 25. Just a few weeks before, she had met my dad at an art opening. He was up-front about the fact that he was 37, divorced, with a 15-year-old and a five-year-old. She was working the second shift at a hospital, reading dense Buddhist texts, hanging out with a band of artists whose blue velvet berets and psychedelic hand-stenciled trunks would later color our house. They met…