vulnerable path

Make yourself a stronger woman.


Intention: Simplify

There is a woman that lives on my street who I see walking to and from the bus stop every day. I see her in any kind of weather – the most sweltering days of summer and the most brutal days of winter. She rides the bus to her job at our local big box department store, where I have seen her several times. I don’t know her name, and I’ve never met her. But I envy her.

It seems to me that she has a simple life. And sometimes I wish my own life were this simple. She doesn’t drive and, as far as I know, doesn’t own a car. And yet it appears that she is managing just fine. Wouldn’t that be great? No car payment, no insurance payment, no gas bill, no repairs. Ah, such a relief!

The grass is looking greener to me right now because my own vehicle has broken down once again. I just had it in the shop a week ago for a few minor repairs that cost me $350.00. One week later, I’m calling my auto club to request a tow truck. And this time, it isn’t something minor. With more than 227,000 miles on my Subaru, I’m faced with the prospect of having to replace it. Bus fare looks like a much more affordable alternative.

In suburban areas of the US, we are a society that has become dependent on private transportation. Owning a vehicle has become a necessity, rather than a luxury. I consider myself very fortunate to have driven this car for 13 years. There are not many people who can say that. I certainly got my money’s worth.

But let’s face it, I’ve gotten myself into a dilemma. I haven’t planned for a way to replace it. There’s no room in my current budget for the expenses of a new car.  I’ve carried on for years, spending money that should have been saved for a moment just like this.  I admit I’m a terrible saver.  Like many Americans, I happily ignored my impending problem and have lived beyond my means.  I have some tough decisions to make.

I keep thinking about why I need all this stuff.  How did I become this person who NEEDS cable, phone, Internet, cellular service, rent, gas, electric, water, insurance, garbage removal, lawn service, gym memberships, salon services, clothing, clothing, clothing, food, food, food!  Are all of these things really critical to my quality of life?  I have begun to question almost every purchase I make. I think 2015 is going to be a year for re-prioritizing — how I use my money and my time.

I started this blog as a creative outlet, but also as a way to bring my attention to things in my life that I wanted and needed to change.  To go on this spiritual journey, I have to shine the light on all areas of my life that need work.  I’ve shared stories here about the emotional heartaches that I’ve gone through and how I’ve overcome them.  I’ve blogged about setting intentions to focus on my physical, mental, and emotional health.  Looks like it’s time to also add financial health to that list of intentions.

With all these things on my mind, I knew it was time for some Kitchen Therapy!  Christmas is a few days away, and it’s a great time to make some sweet treats to give as gifts.

Kitchen Therapy:  Session Five

cookie_collageSometimes it’s OK to be a cheater.  At least when it comes to cooking!  Today I took some easy short cuts to make two traditional holiday cookies.  Thanks to ready-to-use cookie dough, I made Christmas cut-outs and peanut butter blossoms.  The sugar cookie dough was packaged in sheets.  Just cut, bake, decorate.  We have a collection of antique cookie cutters that were my Grandmother’s.  I love to get them out at the holidays.  A few more modern ones mix in.  I’m not the most creative cookie decorator — egg wash and sanding sugar are good enough for me.

I tried a new twist on the peanut butter blossoms.  As they came out of the oven, I topped each cookie with a mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup instead of a Hershey Kiss.  So yummy!  Trouble is, the chocolate softens on the warm cookies.  My trick is to put the cookies in the refrigerator for a few minutes to re-harden the chocolate.  Once cooled, you can pack them into containers.

I did not cheat on making these coconut confections!  I absolutely love coconut, but this recipe took some muscle.  It used two cups of confectioners sugar, four cups of unsweetened, finely shredded coconut, and one 14oz. can of sweetened, condensed milk.  I mixed by hand.  Then divided the mixture into two equal parts.  I used red food coloring to dye one part.  Mixing the color thoroughly was a lot of work!  Using a 9 inch square pan lined with non-stick foil, I pressed the red layer down into the pan first.  Then topped it off with the white layer.  It firmed up in the fridge.  Cutting was easy with a wet knife.

dipped_collageEverything is better with chocolate.  So it seemed fair to soothe my spirit with a little melted Ghirardelli today.  I cut a small slit into each dried apricot, then slipped a whole roasted, salted almond inside.  I melted 60% cocoa chips in a glass bowl in the microwave.  Only about 20 seconds at a time, then stirred to melt the chips.  I dipped half of each apricot into the chocolate and placed them on parchment paper to harden.  Can’t let any chocolate go to waste, so I used up the leftovers on marshmallows.

These little gems make great hostess gifts or a nice addition to a Christmas cookie tray.  I packaged up small portions in plastic wrap and Christmas themed cardboard boxes.

I didn’t come up with a solution to my car dilemma, but I enjoyed getting lost in the kitchen for a while.  Somehow I also managed to finish most of my gift wrapping.  I think I’m almost ready for the holiday to arrive.  I know I’m ready for some peace and simplicity to arrive!

Merry Christmas!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


A taste of gratitude

There is a scene from the classic holiday film, Home Alone, where Kevin McAllister goes out to find Santa Claus.  Kevin has spent several days home alone, without his very large, annoying family.  He has enjoyed every minute of the solitude, eating whatever he wants, watching movies he would not be permitted to watch, and even going shopping on his own.  Yet he seeks out Santa Claus to ask for only one thing this Christmas:  he wants his family back.

Life is like that sometimes.  We only realize what we are grateful for when it’s gone.

About a year ago, I began a gratitude practice.  I decided to take a moment at the end of each day to focus on what I am thankful for.  There’s an “app” for that – I downloaded “Gratitude Rock” to my smartphone and set a reminder to make an entry in its journal every day.  The holidays can be a very depressing time of year for some people.  And I was surprised to find myself feeling blue, in spite of all the festivities going on around me.  The gratitude practice really helped.  It didn’t take long for my mood to turn around.  And I noticed something else too.  It wasn’t “stuff” that I was grateful for – it was people.

I was thankful for my family who helps me with my Christmas tree tradition.  Even though they have their own tree to deal with, they take time to help me.  We set out very early on a Saturday morning, bundle up, and trudge through a local tree farm to cut down the perfect Spruce.  My sister and brother-in-law and my niece help me set the tree up in my tree stand and get it turned around just right.  Then they go off to do the same thing at their own home.  My Dad joins in too, helping me get all the lights on it.  Then my daughter and I spend several weeknights decorating it.  When it’s all done, that sparkling evergreen is a wonderful symbol of family connection and love.

There is no better reminder of the abundance in our lives than when we sit down to a massive table spread with Thanksgiving dishes.  Our senses are overwhelmed by all the colors, textures, and flavors of this special meal.  We are compelled to sample everything!  Along with our turkey this year, we had cranberry sauce, potato filling, sausage stuffing, green beans and asparagus, creamed corn, and salad with hot bacon dressing.  The people in our lives are a lot like this.  Some tender, some sweet, some kind of sour at times, and maybe one that’s a bit burnt around the edges.  Yet I appreciate all of them and the lessons and love they have given me.

In honor of this mixed assortment, and with a heart filled with gratitude, I give you another installment of Kitchen Therapy.  Here’s the recipe for my contribution to this year’s Thanksgiving spread.

wild_rice_collageWild Rice Stuffing

6 T butter

18oz. frozen pearl onions

4.5 C chicken broth

3 T chopped fresh thyme

1.25 C wild rice

1.25 C white rice

6oz. chopped dried apricots

1 C dried tart cherries

1 C raisins

1 C chopped pecans

onionsMelt 2 T butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and sauté until browned, about 15 minutes or more.  Season with pepper and a little salt.  Never rush to caramelize your onions.  All those browned bits of deliciousness are the signature of this dish!  Set onions aside for later.

Bring 4.5C broth plus 1 T thyme to a boil in a large stock pot.  Add wild rice, bring back to boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add white rice, cover, and simmer until all rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes longer.

Stir in apricots, cherries, raisins, and up to 2 T of thyme (to taste).  Cover and simmer 3 minutes.  I love this dish for its contrast of sweet and savory, along with the mix of textures.  The wild rice and pecans are crunchy; the aroma of thyme and saltiness of the broth are balanced with the sweetness of the fruit.

Stir in onions and 4 T butter.  Mix in pecans.  Transfer to a greased casserole dish.  Serve immediately.  Or keep at room temperature and re-warm in oven prior to serving.

stuffing_editedDon’t worry; this dish makes enough so you will have leftovers!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014

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Diplomacy is a dish best served by a Girl Scout

Open mouth, insert foot. I’m not exactly known for my diplomacy.  I admit, it’s something I need to work on.  I remember the first time someone pointed this out to me about myself.  I was young and naïve, thinking that is was OK for me to say whatever is on my mind.  And an older woman who I worked with at a local arts organization conferred the advice upon me:  You really need to learn to be more diplomatic.  I didn’t even know what that meant!  Now I realize that it was probably some of the best advice I’ve ever been given.

There is a quote that goes, “Diplomacy is thinking twice before saying nothing.”

As a volunteer Girl Scout leader, I rely on the graciousness of others to be able to fulfill my mission. We have partners in the community whose generosity enables us to bring our programs to our scouts.  These partners are providing meeting space, materials, and places to conduct fundraising activities.  I couldn’t do what I do without these partnerships and I am very grateful for them.

This week, I found myself across a table from one of these partners with whom I needed to resolve a few conflicts. There had been some complaints that we had not cleaned up after ourselves while using their space.  During this meeting, an inference was made that our lack of tidiness was a reflection of the quality of the program we present.

Wait; let me get this straight. So if I leave a mess behind, then I am likely presenting my scouts with a careless, messy program too.  That’s like saying if I have dust bunnies on my floor at home, then I surely do not love my family very much.

I’m not justifying being messy.  We certainly need to be respectful of the space we use and leave it better than we find it.  But that remark stung, and I balked.  “Are you questioning the quality of our program?” I blurted out.  And with that, my diplomatic intentions went out the window.

Anyone who knows me knows how much effort I put into my Girl Scout program. I care about it deeply.  I invest a tremendous amount of time into planning and preparation.  I try to send these young women off with something of value that they can use in their lives, both to be better as individuals and to help make the world a better place.

But there’s the key: my friends KNOW me.  This person, with his inferences, doesn’t know me.  And I doubt he knows much about what Girl Scouts do.

In anticipating this meeting, I had spent a lot of time thinking about how to create compassion between us. How can I help this person to understand my mission and want to work with me rather than reject me?  My younger self would never have taken this approach.  She would have plotted out a defense against these accusations.  But these days I find myself trying harder to understand other people’s perspectives and trying to find common ground.  So I tried my hardest to not show how offended I was by the remark.  I’m not sure I was successful.  But I reached for the information that I had brought along to show what we do in Girl Scouting and how it aligns with his organization’s goals.

To approach our relationships with compassion requires us to be respectful listeners, to set aside judgment and look for the reasons behind other people’s actions. Our willingness to take the time to get to know others helps us to establish a relationship of trust, and to ultimately make connections – to build bridges rather than destroy them.  I’m working on it.

Sometimes I still need to back-peddle and remove that foot from my mouth!  A piece of pumpkin chocolate chip cake would taste much better.  Those of you who know me know I needed some Kitchen Therapy after that meeting!

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Cake

cake_collageI found this recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website.  You can find the whole recipe here.  The recipe calls for bran flakes.  And I wasn’t so sure how that would work out.  I was surprised to find that you can’t even tell they’re there!  And I think the flakes thicken the batter and help to suspend the nuts and chips better.  I cut back on the sugar a little, adding only one and a half cups.  This cake is quite moist.  I served it at a school event, and the kids devoured it!

Prepping ingredients is my favorite part of the cooking process.  It’s relaxing.  I get all the ingredients ready before I begin.  I like to be organized!


batter_collageLittle surprise that I also clean up as I go along.  I can’t leave the mess until the end.  I doubt that a clean sink is a sign of the quality of my food, but it makes me happy nonetheless.

I have a very old mixer.  It is a hand-me-down from my Mother.  It’s not a shiny Kitchen Aid.  No stainless steel bowls for me.

mixerIt has small and large glass bowls.  And two mixing blades, instead of one like modern mixers.  And the large glass bowl has a few chips on the bottom.  The cord barely stays connected to the mixer anymore.  Sometimes the cord falls off in the middle of mixing.  Fuses get blown.  But I can’t seem to part with this cherished antique.  Whenever I use it, I know my Mom is with me.  And I think about all the love that has been cooked into our family recipes over the years.

I don’t think the old Sunbeam Mixmaster will last until my own daughter is whipping up cakes and cookies for her family.  But I hope there are a few things here that will become her treasures.  What object of mine will she hold dear?  Maybe it will be my iron.  She’s been using it lately for Perler bead craft projects.

It’s a Black & Decker with a non-stick coating.  I told her that my Mom bought the iron for me when I was in college.  She paid for it with S & H Green Stamps.  I had to explain to my daughter what Green Stamps were.  Now we earn gas extra rewards points at the grocery store.  Back then, the grocery perk was Green Stamps.

finished cakeMy Girl Scouts voted to earn a badge called New Cuisines this year.  Lucky for them that they have leaders who love to cook.  We will be exploring foods from around the world and from our heritage.  It’s an opportunity to learn about other cultures and to get to know each other a little better.  It’s a great tie-in to the ongoing discussions we’ve been having about stereotypes, peer pressure, and friendships.  Food unifies us.  I think I can also teach them a lesson in diplomacy if we invite our community partners to join us and sample our fare.  I’ll let you know how that works out!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014



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Kitchen Therapy

When the leaves begin changing colors and the temperatures start to drop, I get the urge to cook! I abandon my kitchen for most of the summer.  Summer is salad time, and grill time.  But with the arrival of the fall season, I am ready to get back in the kitchen and pull out my favorite recipes.

veggiesIt’s time for warm kettles full of soup or chili. One-pot dishes are my favorites because I love prepping ingredients, chopping onion, celery, and carrots for a hearty chicken soup.  Or dicing up red and green peppers for a vegetarian chili. Cooking is meditation for me.  It’s therapy.  A good pot of soup not only nourishes the body, but its creation nourishes my spirit.

My local farms are bursting with pumpkins, squash, and apples. October is the beginning of the best cooking months of the year, with Thanksgiving and Christmas right ahead of us.  The house fills with the aroma of baked pumpkin loaves and apple cobbler.  My daughter and I have made a tradition of baking and decorating Halloween cut-out cookies.  And, of course, we must roast our pumpkin seeds the same night we carve our Jack-o-lantern.

I’ll be getting my Thanksgiving Day assignment soon. My favorite contributions are home-made cranberry sauce and wild rice stuffing.  What wondrous treats will my brother-in-law concoct this year?  He has upped the ante on Cope’s corn, all creamy and sweet, with chewy chestnut pieces and a secret blend of seasonings.  It’s blue ribbon!  And if we are all really lucky, my niece’s friend Lindsay will show up with a pecan pie.

Then it will be Christmas-cookie baking day. We’ll converge on my sister’s kitchen with a slew of batters.  We’ve been doing this annually since my Mom was still alive, well more than 20 years ago.  Mom and Grandma started this tradition, and our children have grown up with it.  My Dad attends every year and helps roll those chocolate snow-caps in powdered sugar.  There will be tins stacked full of chocolate chip, soft sugar cookies, ice box nut wafers, chocolate snow caps, peanut-butter kisses, and white chocolate macadamia nut.  It’s baked love.

To quote one of my favorite chefs,  “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” Anthony Bourdain

And now, for today’s therapy session: Minestrone Soup.

4 slices bacon – about ¼ C chopped

1 C chopped onion

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 pound ground beef, or more

1 C chopped celery – I like mine sliced on the diagonal

1 C chopped carrots

2 C tomato puree

2 (14.5oz) cans stewed tomatoes – may need to cut into smaller pieces

1 (14oz) can beef broth

1 (10.5oz) can condensed French onion soup

Water – 2 to 5 Cups (to taste)

¼ C red wine

1 t dried oregano

1 t dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 C shredded zucchini – a great way to hide a veggie from the kids

1 C spinach, rinsed and sliced

1 C or more small pasta – shells or elbows, cooked separately

1 (15oz) can garbanzo beans, drained (or any you prefer)

¼ C chopped parsley

In a large stock pot, cook bacon and drain off fat. Add onion, garlic, and beef.  Break up beef and cook until no longer pink.

mixture_2Add celery, carrot, pureed tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, broth, condensed soup, wine, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.  Simmer until carrots and celery are tender.  Add water until soup reaches desired consistency (taste test).  Stir in zucchini, spinach, beans, parsley.  Simmer until spinach and zucchini have cooked.


Add cooked pasta and simmer a few minutes longer.  Serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


© Vulnerable Path, 2014

better soup photo

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I belong with Pig Stomach


My family has a unique tradition.  We celebrate my Father’s birthday with a special meal — Pig Stomach.  If you are German, or Pennsylvania Dutch, you might have heard of this dish.  But more likely, you think we’re nuts!  Yet, this is what we do every February.

My Father turned 87 years old this year.  As he tells it, this was a dish that his Mother used to make.  He’s not quite sure how it became his special meal.  After he married my Mother in 1950, she learned how to prepare it.    The actual stomach of a pig is stuffed with diced potatoes and sausage meat.  It is sewn shut and either boiled and then browned in butter, or baked to a golden brown.  The once a year feast also includes Angel Food Cake and Pineapple Delight for dessert.  We have been making this meal for our Dad for as long as I can remember.  When my Mother passed away in 1992, the torch was passed to my sister.  She and her husband are foodies, so the recipe has been jazzed up to include peppers, onion, various types of sausage, and different blends of seasonings.  There is often a fruit cup appetizer, endive with hot bacon dressing, vegetables, and bread as well.  No one goes home hungry.


IMG_3039Our family not only converges for my Father’s birthday, but also for a few other birthdays, holidays, and summer picnics.  It’s not unusual for some of us to not see or speak to each other except on these occasions.  Our busy lives have taken us in different directions.  We live far apart.  But we still pick up right where we left off.  We catch up on careers, school, kids, pets, activities, and travels.  We are all very different.  But this is our common bond.

It’s fun to invite a newcomer to Pig Stomach dinner.  If they can accept Pig Stomach, they will probably make it OK in our family.  Otherwise, that’s not a good sign.  That person might not value family tradition the way we do.  I’m not saying all of us just love the stuff.  There have been years when someone refused to eat it.  There have been years when we have made a roast on the side!  But respecting the tradition is what matters.

Pig Stomach isn’t the only special meal either.  There is also my Grandmother’s pork loin platter, mounded with mashed potatoes, and encircled with creamed spinach, carrots, hard boiled egg slices and bacon strips.  There is Filled Noodles.  There is spaghetti and meatballs with triple almond fudge cake.  My sister and brother and I cherish these family traditions, and we have taught our own children their importance.

IMG_1732It’s been said that we cannot give our children what we don’t have.  Our parents had an abundance of love.  The kitchen was always filled with it.  The orchestration of a family dinner was how our Mother and Grandmother  literally fed us love.  Love was stuffed into that Pig Stomach.  It was baked into that pumpkin pie.  We were marinated in it like a pickled egg.

Love and belonging are something we all crave but sometimes find lacking in our lives.  The world, or at least a few of the people in it, have rejected me at times.  Heck, I have rejected myself a few times!  But it’s within our families where we first learn love and belonging.  Family traditions like ours continue to reinforce it as years go by.  Family gives us stability, security, and our sense of identity — all part of the recipe for healthy, grounded children.  It was truly what my parents fed me that gave me the strength to handle the things life brought my way.  I always knew who loved me.  I knew who accepted me in spite of my mistakes.  No matter what has happened, I have found kind words, reassurances, and encouragement in my family.  It’s where I am worthy.  It’s where I am healed.  A good Pig Stomach dinner will always nourish my soul.


© Vulnerable Path, 2014


Want to join the conversation?  I’d love to hear your comments.  What does love and belonging look like in your life?  Do you find it within your family and family traditions?