Baked Scalloped Potatoes au Gratin

I love to eat.

Over the past few months I’ve developed a real passion for potatoes – any kind of potatoes – cooked any old way.
When dining out a few months ago I had a scalloped potato and ham dish that was scrumptious, and today, as the feel of Autumn is in the air I had a craving for that yummy dish. Comfort food.

So, I tried to replicate the dish at home. Here’s how I proceeded:

Start by peeling the potatoes and cutting them into slices about 1/4 inch thick. If they were large potatoes I cut them in half and then sliced them so each potato piece was approximately the size of a 50 cent piece.

Next I parboiled the potatoes for a very short time, just until they began to lose their hardness.

While the potatoes were cooking I melted some butter and sautéed chopped garlic and onions. No measurement – just use the amount you like for taste. If I were to guess I would say I had about 3 cups potatoes, 2 garlic pieces chopped, and 1/2 medium onion.

When the potatoes were very lightly cooked I drained them and mixed the garlic/onions with them. I then put them in 4 oven proof bowls I had purchased for Onion Soup au Gratin.

I then made a roux with butter, flour, milk, heavy cream, and a variety of cheeses. For this first attempt I used a combination of Cabot Alpine Cheddar, Dubliner, and Jarlsburg. Again, I didn’t measure anything, but would guess I used 2 tablespoons butter melted in the saucepan, then added 2 tablespoons flour and mixed before slowly adding approximately 2 cups milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream, stirring continuously. When that had thickened I added about 1 cup of diced mixture of the cheeses and stirred until the cheese melted.

Next I poured the roux over the potatoes in the baking dishes and finished it with a mixture of bread crumbs and grated cheeses sprinkled over the top.

Bake them in a 375 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes (until they are bubbly and the crust is browned).

I gotta’ say – it was a scrumptious dinner!

Lessons from School

Today was the official first day of the new school year. Though it wasn’t really a difficult day it seemed it. The challenge was the transition back into the school year from the summer work schedule which is so much more relaxed. I find during the summer months at work I have plenty of time to contemplate, to plan, and to reflect on every choice I need to make. Today, with everyone back and being thrown back into it, suddenly it feels like I am back to no time to think about questions, and problems, and solutions. Suddenly, from one day to the next, it’s back into the hectic high school day.

So I ended this day as I often do – taking a brisk walk in the woods behind my house. And brisk it was – that being one way that I often relieve stress at the end a day – bulling and jamming my way along the trail while my mind spins just as briskly trying to work through all the challenges of the day. I was about two and a half miles in before I realized what I was doing and reminded myself to slow down and take time to actually notice and enjoy my beautiful surroundings. Only seconds after this realization I looked up and there stood a yearling watching me from only about 10 yards away. I stopped and acknowledged her – inviting her to pass. She did not. I could hear what I thought was another deer in the woods nearby and asked the yearling if she were waiting for her friend. She did not respond. I finally decided she was waiting for me to pass, so I continued up the trail, turning briefly to watch her bound off into the trees, white tail bobbing.

There you go, I said to myself. Lesson learned. Slow down and take time to appreciate the world around you. Sometimes you have to get outside of your head to see what’s really important. That was the impetus I needed to shift my thinking and spend the rest of my trek thinking about my day in a different way. I asked myself what went well that day – what did I appreciate?

There were several things that came to mind. First was the student, who last year raced into my office, offering no greeting but instead a steady stream of complaints and an unwillingness to listen. We worked on that a great deal last year. I viewed each visit from him as a learning opportunity. Well, today he came into my room and we worked together and resolved his problem in less than 2 minutes. He went off politely and very pleased with the outcome.

I also appreciated a co-worker’s enthusiasm for his students and the program. Despite wanting to talk about more change on the first day of school, I must acknowledge that his heart is in the right place and I have confidence that his passion will allow him to come up with a great plan.

Thinking about the several people who are new to our school I value how they have been able to step in without hesitation and do an amazing job of helping the school run and serving our students well.

My personal goal for the year is to carry this lesson with me – to take the time each day to get outside of my head and the problems to be resolved and appreciate all that is right with the world.

A Sister’s Birthday

This is my sister Diane Colby Zaun D’Leon. Today is her birthday and she would be 58 years old. However, in 1985 she passed from colon cancer at the age of 26. While I miss her physical presence on a regular basis and think of her often, I continue to celebrate her birthday because it is a day that always makes me remember the joys of having her as a sister.

The three girls in my family were all born in July and we used to have group birthday parties with the family. We had two cousins who also had July birthdays so they often joined the group party. For many years my mother and aunt would take us all to the Highland Lodge in Greensboro for a special birthday lunch and we always looked forward to that.

Who would think that after 32 years one would still miss someone so, but I do miss Diane. She had the kind of loving and gentle spirit that is easy to get attached to and so easily missed. I am gifted with many opportunities to think about her and cherish every one.

Each year at the high school we graduated from, I make a presentation to a graduating senior in her honor and I think about the similarities I see between Diane and the recipients of that award. They are always other gentle and caring souls who I know will make a difference in the lives of others, just as Diane did. This year’s award was especially meaningful to me because it would have been Diane’s 40th reunion. During alumni festivities I knew that her classmates would be remembering her fondly. Looking over the photos from that weekend I see many faces of her friends from those years and can recall them together on the track at school, or trotting horses around the yard.

Daily I drive past our childhood home and see her hanging clothes on the line out back, or somersaulting across the front yard. And when I occasionally drive by the home where our grandmother used to live I am reminded of the many hours of fun we had there. Each fall we raked up leaves and jumped in them for ; we had family reunions there in the summertime, spending hours in the playhouse; we learned to sew and bake from Gramma Colby; and we shared years worth of traditions.

When I play board games with my granddaughter I am reminded of hours spent on the living room floor at home or at card tables at Grammie’s playing Checkers, or Chinese Checkers, or King’s Corner. Colby Diane and I laugh and tease one another just as Diane Colby and I used to do.

Occasionally I run into classmates and friends of Diane’s and I will forever see them as they were in their teenage years, worry free and enjoying life.

Today I am thankful for the 26 years I knew my sister. She was a strong enough spirit that over the past 32 years I feel her with me daily and I am thankful for that as well. She was a gift to many she encountered in her short life and I know that many of those people remember her with great fondness from time to time. And isn’t that a strong testament to a person’s spirit? To be remembered with great fondness is indicative of a life well lived. It’s not so much about the years in your life, but about the life in the years you have. Diane’s 26 years were full and well lived.

Happy Birthday Sister!

Life on the Bike Trail

I am sad to say I have not been for a bike ride on the Kingdom Trails yet this year.

Between work, the oh so wet weather in April and May (and some of June) and interests in other things like boating and golf and gardening, I have just been too busy.

However, last weekend was NEMBAFEST here in Burke, VT ~ which means it was one of the biggest bike weekends on the trails, which do pass right in front of our house. The White School trail passes through our property and so it is not uncommon for us to see bikers passing by.

This year, since we had company and were planning a family barbecue, I knew I would be around the house all day so I decided to count the number of bikers who passed through on Saturday. I used my little chalkboard to keep the tally throughout the day.

As we sat on the deck, visiting with our guests and counting bikers, my husband had the brilliant idea to ‘honor’ the 500th biker that passed. Everyone was in agreement and so we watched and waited. When the 500th biker came around the corner we all started to hoot and holler and yell for her to stop.

I think our yelling scared her a bit – she thought we were yelling because she was going the wrong way or had run over something. We assured her that we were simply entertaining ourselves and she graciously posed for pictures. Here she is with my landowner husband.

We hadn’t really planned this adventure so didn’t have a big prize for her, but we did sent her on her way with an ice cold Corona. I think she was appreciative – and very relieved that she hadn’t actually broken any biking rules.

By days end we had a total of 585 bikers pass by and we enjoyed every single one of them.

Just another day of fun and adventure on Sweetwater Lane.

Benefits of Yoga

It has been a stressful few weeks at the job. I love my work and can identify wonderful things that happen there every single day. However, sometimes it can be trying. Sometimes people seem to be at odds with one another; sometimes someone misinterprets your words or actions; sometimes I misinterpret the words or actions of another; sometimes students are angry, frustrated, embarrassed, or sad; sometimes co-workers are angry, frustrated, embarrassed,or sad; sometimes educational decisions make no sense for students. . .

Today at work a colleague was expressing her frustrations with recent challenges in the work place and in the middle of her diatribe she stopped and said, “You are so calm, despite everything that’s going on. It must be your yoga.”

Oh, yeah.

She is correct. Yoga has most definitely had a calming influence on me. Yoga and aging. The two together are a sure cure for angst and sleepless nights. At times it is difficult to define the benefits of yoga because there are so many. For me, yoga has gone from a practice to a lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that I practice regularly, which is probably what makes it a lifestyle.

Moving through a series of asanas (poses), using my breath as a guide, allows everything else to melt away. When I step on the mat and take a moment to set an intention and look inward, my body leads the way to exactly what it needs at that moment. By focusing inward I am able to get outside my head and let go of all the thoughts from the day that are the real stressors. For me, the practice of yoga, and mindfulness through yoga, has helped me to be aware of the thoughts that come into the mind, but not to dwell in them. I have learned, through practice, to notice and let go.

Once I can get to that place of noticing and letting go I am then able to select the ideas that actually need my attention. By noticing and letting go I can later determine which of the ideas that come into my head actually need more of my attention. I find that most do not need much further reflection on my part ~ the comment a co-worker made to me is not my issue, so I can let it go; the opinion expressed to me by another is simply that – an opinion and does not warrant more of my energy. Yet, the student who came to me recently with a concern may need more of my time and energy.

Honestly, it only takes a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness, and for me it works best when I do a few asanas at the same time, getting my body moving a bit while using my breathing in an intentional way. When I have a choice to spend 10 minutes obsessing in my head over something I can’t control, or taking the time to let a multitude of ideas pass through my mind, notice what comes, and then let it go, I can take control of what I need to focus on.