Thursday, October 02, 2014

Save Weiss Lake



I recently wrote about the lake near my home.  I described the water, the trees, the wildlife, etc.  I wrote about the lake as a place of reflection and meditation, of serenity and solitude.  I neglected to mention that the lake, my lake, is sick.  Weiss Lake, the place that has become not only my home, but also my creative haven, is in serious condition.  Years of abuse, pollution and outright neglect have left the once-pristine lake a place of refuse and decay and most people are not interested in changing that.

There is however, a glimmer of hope.  For the past year and a half, I have had the privilege of serving as Secretary for the aptly named Save Weiss Lake Foundation.  The Save Weiss Lake Foundation was created by a handful of local citizens who cared enough about the sad condition of the lake to form a group to try to make it better.  The Save Weiss Lake Foundation is now an official 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with currently around 150 members.  We have regular monthly meetings and most recently had our first annual Member Meeting in which we discussed our progress thus far.

So why am I writing about this in my blog?  Simple.  We need help.  At this moment our voice in the community is very small.  However, the more members and support we have, the larger and louder our voice will be.  A stronger voice means we can get more done in terms of community and political backing.  In the world of politics, money and numbers speak, and we currently have little of either.

Weiss Lake was once buzzing with tourist activity.  People came from all over to enjoy the beautiful lake and its surroundings.  With the deterioration of the lake, the tourists have fled to greener pastures and clearer waters.  The once flourishing independent restaurants, hotels and stores have shut down and for the most part, have vanished completely.  The condition of the lake is not just an ecological concern, but an economical concern as well.

It's also a matter of public health.  The pollutants in the lake, whether from septic pipes or dumped trash are poisoning the water and the aquatic life.  Weiss Lake is not just a recreational area.  For many residents, it is a daily food source.  The long-term health ramifications of eating fish from Weiss Lake are still unknown, but it seems clear that this could be a problem for people who eat from the lake regularly.
                                                          We want to keep this...
                                     
                                                             From becoming this.

Save Weiss Lake Foundation needs a lot of support and aid in order to address the issues with the lake and see them remedied.  The good news is that you don't have to live on the lake or even in this state to help!  You can be a part of making the world a better place right from wherever you are, and it only takes a few moments.  If you wish to do a good work and support a great cause, I urge you to visit Save Weiss Lake.  Read about the lake and our efforts and consider becoming a member, or at least making a small donation. This is a volunteer organization, so all funds go directly toward lake-centered projects and research.  Join us in making a great place even better and safe for future generations to enjoy.  It's an investment in the future, not just of Weiss Lake, but of a whole community.

Please visit http://www.saveweisslake.org/ for more information, to become a member, or to make a donation. You can make donations via our PayPal account, so all transactions are quick and secure!  Thanks in advance for your interest and assistance.  Every person and every little bit counts.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Trying Some New Meds

After much research and Pinterest pinning, I think I have finally hit upon a plan of action for dealing with my issues of mental, emotional and overall physical health.  I have always preferred a more holistic approach when dealing with ailments.  I don't like being medicated.  For one thing, my body is overly sensitive and drugs affect me more potently than they would an average person.  I also don't like putting "unnatural" things into my body.  If I can't get it from my food, I don't want to ingest it.

I have come up with a list of natural "Meds" that I hope will help me get into a better state of being.

Med 1:
Think extra virgin olive oil-covered John Stamos.

Mediterranean Diet-
I've read for years about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and have always leaned toward that style of cooking.  I use a lot of extra-virgin olive oil and fresh vegetables.  I try to cook fish as often as possible.  I don't fry food; I bake or grill or saute. I am going to try to incorporate even more fresh veggies and fruits and eliminate most processed foods from my diet.  I started doing a gluten free challenge several weeks ago and have noticed a big difference, so that will play a part as well.  Gluten free can be challenging, but I've found some really great alternatives to the things I love.  I've also discovered lots of great recipes using leaner cuts of meat and healthy proteins.  I have a regularly updated pinboard dedicated to the Mediterranean lifestyle here: Mediterraneans Don't Need Prozac.  I will also be re-instituting Meatless Mondays.  For info on that, click the following link: Meatless Monday Recipes.

Med 2: 
Lama lama lama... ka-dingita dinga dong


Meditation-
The term "meditation" means different things to different people.  For me, it isn't necessarily sitting cross-legged and chanting, but more a time of quiet reflection and peaceful thought.  I tend to rush around from thing to thing every day without taking any time to unwind and just sit and enjoy a moment.  Whether I spend the time in prayer, listening to calm music or just occupying one of the rocking chairs on my front porch in the early morning or evening, it will be time well-spent.  I plan to try a return to yoga.  I tried some simple moves and stretches years ago and greatly benefited from it. I have also found that keeping a journal or diary (or blog!) is a great way to work through my thoughts and emotions and can be very cathartic.


Med 3: 




Media (As in Social Media) Limits-
 While social media sites like Facebook can be great for keeping up with friends and relatives, they can also be a big distraction and time-suck.  I live out in the country and don't often see my friends and family.  Facebook is a nice way to stay connected, but I've found that more often than not, I waste valuable time reading through the events of people I rarely speak to on a normal basis.  I lose myself in the endless procession of cute kid pics, inspirational memes, Buzzfeed quizzes and funny videos.  And don't even get me started on Candy Crush.  Social media, like junkfood, is fine every now and then and within limits.  I can't live on brain junk.  I need real, valuable experiences outside of cyberspace.  Yesterday I cut back my Facebook timeline to the bare minimum.  I kept all my friends, but there are only a handful that I'm actually following.  I've also deleted all the apps junking up my sidebars.  It looks a bit sterile, but in a good, I-just-bleached-the-bathtub kind of way.

Med 4: 



Medium (Moderate) Exercise-
I have never been the athletic type.  I'm the sit-and-read-a-book type.  For years, this wasn't a problem because my metabolism was fast and furious.  However, as I've gotten older, my metabolism has slowed considerably and I can no longer just sit around.  I have to do at least some moderate activity.  I enjoy walking and here in the country there is plenty of room to just amble about.  I also have a walking partner. Her name is Lady and she is a very energetic and enthusiastic canine companion.  We walk just about every morning when it's cool and quiet. I enjoy the sunshine and Lady sniffs everything in sight.  I also plan to head back to the gym to spend some time on the bike and maybe even do some light weight training.  I'm not so concerned with losing weight as I am with just being healthy and in shape.

I am very hopeful that these new "Meds" will help me in my quest for total health and wellness. They're natural, simple and most importantly, enjoyable!  I will try to keep updates on my progress on here.  Of course, if anyone has any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Be well!







Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Lost Hour

I was told, "Go slowly.  Enjoy the day, minutes. You rush and are stressed and anxious.  Stop. Breathe. Relax.  Look around you and appreciate what you see.  This is good for your mind and your spirit.  Go slow and enjoy."

Today I sat by the lake and watched the waterfowl.  One large white egret flew over and landed on a stump that was sticking out of the water.  He stood there tall like a sentry, keeping watch over everything going on around the lake today.

It was a beautiful day and the water was still warm and the fish were very active.  Quite often there were bubbles or splashes and ripples from the flip of a tail fin.

The island in the distance looked like just a cluster of green, while the mountains beyond were deep blue.  Some days the lake is still enough to reflect the clouds in the sky, but today there were many boats out, churning up the water and making waves to lap the shoreline.  The sun was on my shoulder like a warm, comforting hand.



The tree closest to where I sat had already changed color from green to gold, and its top branches were completely bare, just scraggly sticks scratching the sky.

The lake shore was lined with moss-covered rocks and I've always considered them to be beautiful. It's almost as if the rocks that dare to sit closest to the water's edge are given a soft, emerald cloak as a testament to their courage.


I sat by the lake today.  I just sat and watched and thought and scribbled a few notes.  I didn't plan or schedule or think about what I had to do next.  I didn't even look at my phone to check the time.  An hour passed and I didn't realize it.  And I was very glad.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Retail Therapy in Rome... Georgia

It has always been a dream of mine to visit Rome, Italy.  It's in one of the top slots on my Bucket List.  However, until I make some more money with this writing thing, I'll have to settle for somewhere a bit closer.  Today I headed off for a little Roman adventure in Northwest Georgia.  Rome, Georgia is a funky and vibrant little city situated on the Etowah, Oostanaula and Coosa Rivers about an hour's drive from Atlanta.  Diverse and urban, Rome offers a lot to do and experience.  The historic downtown area is lined with brightly painted shops and interesting restaurants.  There are also lots of bookstores, antique shops, and watering holes.  The red brick pedestrian paths are spotted with nice benches under colorful crepe myrtles.  Parking can be difficult on the street, but if you don't mind a walk, there are parking decks and pay-for-parking lots.  My advice is to park wherever you can and walk.  There is plenty to see along the way.

Downtown Rome, Georgia has plenty of pedestrian pathways for easy access.



I started off my downtown excursion by checking out my favorite bookstore, Paradise Lost Books. It's a very small used bookstore, but it is packed with an ever-changing assortment of previously owned and loved books.  For the amount of books crammed into the tiny space, it's surprisingly well organized and the prices are very reasonable.  Be sure to greet the friendly shop cats that roam the store when you check it out.

My other favorite Roman bookstore is Dogwood Books and Antiques.  This cool store has a great selection of antique and vintage books as well as collectibles and memorabilia. There is even a cozy reading nook upstairs. 

When I had finished foraging for books I was hungry, so I headed to Harvest Moon CafeThis neat little café offers sidewalk tables, an indoor/outdoor patio space and a cool interior seating area.  The indoor dining area is funky and cool with décor pieces by local artists, a number of cow-themed objets d'art, and some really awesome flatware chandeliers. There is also a bar upstairs on The Moon Roof and an event space, The New Moon Venue.  Harvest Moon Café has an excellent menu featuring favorites like chips and fries made in-house, pasta salad and the devilishly delicious Hot Wicked Pimina Dip.

I normally get the French Dip sandwich, hot rare prime rib with provolone on a toasted hoagie roll and served with au jus.  Today however, I opted for the meat and two veggie plate.  I ordered grilled tilapia as my meat, but was told the tilapia had been changed for either trout or salmon.  A tough choice, but I went with the salmon.  For my veggies I ordered garlic mashed potatoes and fried green tomatoes.  Since it was really beautiful out I decided to sit at one of the sidewalk tables.  The wait staff is always friendly and attentive and my glass was never less than half full of sweet tea.  My food arrived promptly and I couldn't wait to dig in.

The lunch menu at Harvest Moon Cafe is superb and relatively inexpensive.


While the garlic mashed potatoes could have used just a bit more seasoning, the fried green tomatoes more than made up for it.  The cornmeal crust was light and crispy, not at all soggy or greasy.  The tomatoes were nice and juicy and sweet.  The salmon was perfectly grilled, flaky and wonderfully seasoned.  A piece of cornbread came with the dish and it was super moist with just the right amount of heat from some sweet jalapenos. It was overall an excellent lunch: great food, nice atmosphere, excellent service.

I had planned on getting dessert next door at the Honeymoon Bakery after lunch, but I was much too full, so I decided to take a stroll downtown and do some shopping instead.  There are a number of excellent vintage and upscale consignment shops downtown, but my personal favorite is POSH.  This is the kind of store you see in magazines and on television.  It's super hip with cool lighting, tasteful displays and an excellent selection of upscale clothing and accessory items at great prices.   

POSH is a frugal fashionista's paradise!


After scoring some remarkable deals on some quality pieces for fall, I was feeling a bit noshy, so I headed back to the Honeymoon Bakery for something sweet.  The bakery is amazing.  The pastry case is stocked full of delectable items like cookies, cupcakes, tarts and even jumbo-sized Rice Crispy treats.


The Rice Crispy treats are the size of bricks!  Delicious marshmallowy bricks.

Honeymoon Bakery also makes custom cakes for weddings or other events.  They even have a nice assortment of gelato.

Soooo much better than plain ice cream!

 On this particular day though, I was after only one thing.... cannoli.



Honeymoon Bakery has the best cannoli I've tried so far.  The shell is nice and crispy and coated on the inside with a thin layer of chocolate.  The marscapone filling is sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the whole thing is drizzled with chocolate.  I took mine to go and sat out on one of the street-side benches and enjoyed it slowly.  Ah, la dolce vita!  

Other notable places in downtown Rome include:

The Historic Desoto Theatre: Home of Rome's Little Theatre, a community theatre company, this venue also hosts shows and concerts.

La Scala Mediterranean Bistro: My favorite place in the world to eat is pricey, but more than worth it.  The tomato basil soup and portabella ravioli are excellent.  

Old Havana Cigar Company: With its comfy leather chairs and top-notch selection of fine cigars, this cigar bar has an appealing speak-easy vibe to it.  They also have drinks and live music.  

There is much more to Rome, Georgia than the downtown area, but that's another post.  For more information on this cool city, check out: http://www.romegeorgia.org/ or visit their Facebook page at:Georgia's Rome








Monday, July 21, 2014

Meatless Monday Recipes

A while back I instituted Meatless Mondays at our house as a way to not only eat healthier, but to save money as well.  Meatless Mondays were hugely successful and no one seemed to be bothered by the lack of a meaty main dish.  Unfortunately, we ran into a snag when our collective schedules went berserk and we just started grabbing whatever was handy.  I plan on reinstating our Meatless Monday practice ASAP.  Here are a few of our favorite recipes:


Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells



from myrecipes.com


I know what you're thinking, "Spinach?  My family will never eat that."  Trust me, they will not only eat it, they will love it and beg you to make it again.


Eggplant Parmesan



from recipe.com


If you haven't tried eggplant, you should.  It's mild, but meaty and delicious!


Perhaps you're not into veggie dishes that are covered in tomato sauce and cheese. If that's the case, here are a few recipes for you:


Veggie Stir-Fry



from bbcgoodfood.com


This makes a really nice summer dish.  It's quick and easy and you can add whatever suits your family's tastes.


Portabella Mushroom Burger

from simplyrecipes.com


Portabella mushrooms, like eggplant, are meaty.  They have a nice beefy flavor and lend themselves perfectly to burgers. Pair this with some sweet potato oven fries and you'll have a super tasty and healthy alternative to fast food! 


And for days when no one can really agree:


Personal Homemade Veggie Pizzas
You can use a premade crust, a mix, or a made-from-scratch crust for your pizza.  Use any sauce you like and then let the family members choose their toppings from an assortment.  We like mushrooms, spinach, peppers and even artichoke.  The pizzas cook up in minutes and everyone is happy!


Click here for more tasty veggie pizza recipes


Happy Monday!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Would You Like Chips and a Drink?






I have recently embarked on a career as a freelance writer.  It's a bit of a challenge at times, but for the most part I enjoy it.  I certainly can't complain about getting paid to do something I've been doing for free for years.


There is, however, a certain soullessness to it.  Normally I write for myself and about the things I want.  Now I'm writing per someone else's specifications and instructions.  I'm given a recipe of sorts with the basic elements included and told to write a story within certain guidelines and in a predetermined length of time.


It sounds like a piece of cake, right?  It is a piece of cake.  A sad premade store bought cake with a generic "Happy Birthday" scrawled on the top in purple icing.





Wow, thanks... Who's Tracee?


Again, I'm not complaining.  This is part of the process of me getting to where I want to be.  I want to make a living as a writer, but for now that means cranking out these little formula stories for peanuts.  I'm building a reputation and a résumé to back it. 


It's still a bit spirit-killing after a while.  What I'm doing and what I want to do are about as far apart as a chef is from a Subway "sandwich artist."  The chef makes the menu based on the ingredients he decides and gathers.  The customer doesn't get to choose or substitute menu items. He eats what the chef prepares.  And he likes it. 



Oh, you're Vegan?  Foie gras it is.


The sandwich artist on the other hand just stands behind the counter and waits while the customer chooses everything from the bread to which kind of cheese and which veggies and how much salt.  It doesn't matter that the customer wants meatballs with American cheese and mayonnaise.  It's his choice and the sandwich maker's responsibility to give him what he wants and take his money. 


That's what I am right now, a literary sandwich artist.  Clients tell me what they want and when they want it and it's my job to put all the ingredients together in a way that makes some sort of sense.  I give them their product and they give me money.  It isn't a bad line of work and it's a means to an end.  I certainly don't want to do this forever, but I'll do my best while I'm working at it. 



Who ordered the "Bad Boy Rock Star Romance" with extra cheese and a hefty sprinkling of *UST?


I'm still writing for pleasure too, although I haven't had much time to actually write or type anything out.  There are lots of ideas floating around in my head, I just have to find a moment to work through them.  I know it's important for me to nourish myself, and so I've still been reading and formulating ideas for my own work.  And to be honest, freelancing is pretty good daily practice.  It's something I have to do almost every day in order to meet my deadlines, and that means I exercise my writing skills every day.  Not a bad habit for a writer.


I get a bit depressed sometimes because I have friends who are way ahead of me in the game.  They're having books published and doing readings and signings and I'm making the literary equivalent of a Cold Cut Combo.  I know I'll get there though.  I've taken a huge step just by putting myself and my work out there.  After years of hiding my scribbles in notebooks and in code-named computer documents, I have pieces out there in the world with my name on them.  That's something I never considered possible.  I'm learning that when I override my near-crippling fear of failure and take a chance I can do some pretty amazing things.  Sure, right now it's turkey on white bread with chipotle sauce, but not forever.  I won't always be the sandwich artist.  Some day I'll be the chef, and that'll be suh-weet.









*UST- Unresolved Sexual Tension




Thursday, July 03, 2014

Frugal Grocery Shopping for Real People

We've all seen the shows, articles and videos of the SUPER COUPON CLIPPER.  These people spend hours every day scouring newspapers and websites for coupon deals and then they take their stack of coupons to the store and buy $500 worth of baby wipes for 99 cents. Their pantries look like apocalypse bunkers, shelves stacked high with a hundred or so cans of baked beans that they picked up for half price.

Good thing Jeb down the street hoarded all those can openers.  He'll sell you one for $5,000.


This is not that.


There is a way to shop frugally that doesn't involve spending half your life cutting coupons out of newspapers and magazines.  This more active approach is also fun, like a treasure hunt. You never know what you're going to score!


First off,


Use a Smaller Local Grocer
Out of necessity my family is forced to buy some goods at the Big Box store. We mainly use it for things like paper products, personal care items (shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) and a few other things. 
For most of our grocery shopping, we use a local grocery store.  The one we shop is from a smaller chain and has a very "small town grocer" feel to it. The faces are all familiar, the employees know us, and the store itself is much easier to navigate than the soulless Big Box store.

I get paid in smiley buttons!


Get the Store Savings Card
It may seem like a hassle, but take five minutes and fill out the form and slap that little plastic card on your keychain.  This entitles you to weekly in-store savings without having to use coupons at all.  Usually, the items on sale change week to week, so there's always something new and useful to save a few cents on. I signed up to get email updates, so every week a new list of products comes to my inbox.  I can even print out a shopping list right from the site.
For our store, signing up for the savings club means special savings events as well. A few years ago, I scored a free twelve (12) pound turkey by spending a certain amount with my card before Thanksgiving.
Our store also has a special feature that hooks my card up electronically with my son's school's Box Tops program.  I don't even have to cut out the Box Tops.  When the products are scanned at the store, a certain amount is donated directly to my son's school from the company!

I know it's on here somewhere...


Hunt for the Red Tags
At your store the clearance tags may be green or yellow or aquamarine.  At ours they are bright red, and for my husband and me, this is the most fun part of the frugal shopping experience.  It's kind of like hunting Easter eggs; you scan the area carefully and when you see a red-tagged item you toss it in your basket.

What? It was on sale.


Our store usually gathers produce items, dairy, and even meats that will soon be past the sell-by date and sells them at a lower (often MUCH lower) price in order to get rid of them.  I've scored a tray of peaches for around two bucks, Brie for $1.99, and Greek yogurt cups for 45 cents each.  The Holy Grail for us though, is the red-tagged milk.  It's a great shopping day when you can get a $4 dollar gallon of milk for a buck simply because it's one day away from its sell-by date.
The only caution for red-tagged item is the shelf life.  Since the items are so near the sell-by dates they'll need to be used or frozen quickly, so don't get overzealous and buy more than you can use.  If they go bad, you haven't saved any money at all.


Make Friends with the Meat and Deli Workers
This is where having a small local store really comes in handy.  Instead of an ever changing cast of characters behind the counters, you usually have a handful of well-known faces in these areas.  This makes it easier to form relationships and even partnerships with the folks sorting the chickens and slicing the ham. Why is that important?  Making friends with the butcher and the deli worker can often get you an "in" when it comes to sale or specialty items.  For my husband and me, it means extra bits stuck here and there because we're loyal customers. 

What do you mean, "Do I like the movie Gangs of New York"?


Take a Chance on the Store Brand
There are some things I will not buy in generic brands, but for plenty of other items the store brand is just as good, if not better than the name brand version. Canned goods are one example.  I usually buy the store brand version of canned soups, pasta for the kiddos, tuna, and broths. They are much cheaper, but still good quality. Store brand baking goods are usually fine as well: flour, sugar, spices. For those items, the store brand offers a good product at a fraction of the name brand cost.

Just as nasty as Kool-Aid, but for half the price!




Hit Up the Dollar Store for Bread
I know what you're thinking. "What?!"  But trust me, this has been a HUGE money saver for my family.  We like our whole wheat bread, and since my husband and the kids take their lunches to school and work, we go through an insane amount of bread.  Rather than resorting to sub-standard, or heaven forbid, white bread, *shudder* we discovered that our local dollar store carries name brand high quality bread in limited supply.  About twice a week, a bread truck brings a small quantity of unsold or left-over bread from suppliers and stores.  It's completely fresh and nowhere near the sell-by date and it's $1.  We're talking three and four dollar loaves of whole wheat bread here. For one (1) dollar!  My husband and I usually buy several loaves at a time and stick them in the freezer.  When one loaf starts getting low, we take another out of the freezer and let it thaw out overnight and it's ready for the next day. 
There are plenty of other grocery goods you can buy at the dollar store, but you really have to carefully weigh the price with the amount you're getting.  Sometimes it's worth it, sometimes it's not.  The bread is definitely an unbeatable buy.

I'm sure it works just fine...