Pork, Sauerkraut and Potatoes.

Dinner had been done for over an hour.  I love that we were still tonight, seated around the kitchen table ..

…………

As a child .. almost every night was spent at the dining room table, together.  Family meals were our norm.  Most often, my dad would be at the stove already hard at work on some never measured out concoction that would taste fantastic when all was said and done, before our mother would ever get home.

We would all then sit down to eat.  And talk.

In our various family forms since my daughter came along, we have done the same.  But the time I currently have at the ranch has allowed me a lot more time to cook, think about meal planning and to stay seated at the table well past dinner being done to hang out, talk, enjoy each others company.

………..

Tonight, it was a dish dad used to make all the time.  My first attempt.

DSC01148

Pork chops, potatoes and sauerkraut.  Dad would usually throw it all in the pressure cooker.  (“Don’t touch it, it can explode,” dad would say of the pressure cooker.  I have been afraid of them since.)  I threw tonight’s meal in the oven.

An hour and a half later .. it was done.  The Cowboy had just come back in from working with one of the horses.  Our 11 year old was shortly behind him after spending time on her favorite horse as well, despite the frigid temperatures.

They both were cold.

DSC01137

The food was hot.

“That was really good,” said the Cowboy.

My daughter simply cleaned her plate (minus most of her sauerkraut) and then asked for more.

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Time to meander …

Amazing what new discoveries are out there .. when you take time to walk.  And simply look around.

This past Saturday took an hour and walked the Farmer’s Market and upper end of State Street in Madison.

Little window shopping proved an appetizer for return trip soon with the kids.  New niche candy shop and bakery just a few doors from each other.

There’s been boom in niche chocolatiers, cupcakeries ..

A big fan of breads and as communities look to shop and support local business, I wonder if this is something we’ll start to see more of.  Apparently the case in some parts of the world.

http://www.businessday.com.au/nsw/smaller-bakeries-rise-as-famous-names-feel-the-squeeze-20120727-2302d.html

Get out and enjoy …

Strawberry picking ..

This is perhaps the first day of downtime I/we’ve really had in a long time ..

And we’re still on the go.

I’m incredibly behind on writing.  I gave myself the gift of not feeling guilty I wasn’t living up to my goal of one post a day .. and instead tried to focus on getting in a workout and simply getting done what I had to get done each day.

………………..

On the go today though consists of doing a lot of whatever we feel like doing, which fired up about.  The Cowboy and the kiddos are here .. my daughter is with her dad, so they’re a bit bummed about that but once in awhile the split can be a good thing .. as we all continue to adjust to time together, how that works and what that means.

Plan for the day was:  Blog.  Play guitar with the Cowboy and big sis.  Sidewalk chalk with the boys.  A little badminton.  Change for the bus.  Farmers Market.  Strawberry picking.  Barn.  River/pool.  Guitar store.  Grill out.  Hang out.  We’ll probably do most of the following but strawberry picking is out apparently.

http://www.pickyourown.org/PYO.php?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wisconsingrown.com

90% of the crop

Feel bad for the growers .. also sad for any potential pickers because it is such a quintessential summer tradition for so many families.  Had hoped to take the kids for their first pick.  If you’ve never been ..

Imagine the feeling you get opening up a package of great looking strawberries from the store.

Now multiply that times like 500.  Not only is it heartwarming watching kids (young and old alike) discover row after row the beautiful, ripe fruit .. but the sight of the bright red juice running off the side of their face as they pick one .. then eat one .. and repeat until often they can eat no more .. with strawberry stains that most likely won’t come out again on their white shirt that you forgot you probably shouldn’t have sent them in ..

Next season .. for now, off to the Farmer’s Market.  We’ll have to settle for donut sprinkle stains.

No soup for you ..

When is the last time you had REALLY good customer service?

I mean, the kind of help or over the counter service that just stopped you in your tracks and had you saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know people/businesses did it like this anymore?’

Perhaps the better question is, how many businesses have you decided to not return to because the service was appalling?

………..

Let me just start with two thoughts:

1.)  I believe we are technically – all in the customer service business .. unless of course, you don’t have a job.  But even job hunting means, essentially, that a potential employer is the customer.  Doesn’t it?  And you had better leave a good impression if you truly want to make the sale/get the job.

2.)  I know there are days when I can do a better job myself of working like whatever I am doing is the only thing that matters on earth.  I know this.  I admit this.  And I continue always to try and do better, keeping others in mind.

Well .. three thoughts.

3.)  I have just returned from a week and a half away.  Which, for those of you who have ever left for that period of time know, most likely there is no good ‘real food’ to eat upon return.  If it was good and fresh when you left, it is now moldy.  I will spare you a photo of what was in my refrigerator that is now thrown out.  Needless to say, Monday, I had not eaten .. really, any breakfast, lunch or dinner (until now, and at 8:00 pm I just wrapped up a run to the grocery store)  other than a packet of oatmeal, two pieces of plain bread and an apple all day.  So I may have been a bit hungry and ornery because of it, as I wrote what follows.

BUT ..

……………

8:28 pm Monday (and I know this because I make a point to look at my watch).  I walk into a local business that I frequent often after a grocery store run.  I am looking for a coffee, bottle of wine to take home to sip on this week and perhaps a cup of soup.  I am famished.  The place closes at 9 pm, something I am keenly aware of. There are 32 minutes to close.

8:31 pm.  I walk up to counter having found a bottle of wine for purchase, order a latte and ask if I might still get a cup of soup, thinking, I know they’re closing soon.  I don’t want to ask for anything that might have them doing a bunch of work.  But soup, soup should be do-able.  That’s what I’m thinking.

Clerk at register asks woman who might usually be helping prep food but who is instead now washing dishes if soup is still available.  Dish washing woman who is cleaning out soup containers says:

“No.  It’s past 8:30 and the kitchen is closed.  We’re done serving.”

She proceeds to say not missing a beat, “Were you going to stay here?  You know we close at 9.”

I smirk, thinking, if I owned this place and knew what just flew out of her mouth, I’d be absolutely appalled.  She is more worried about getting out of there by 9 or as close to it as possible than making sure a customer is happy and satisfied and will care to come back because the experience was just that good.

“Oh yes,” I say.  “I am well aware of what time you close.  I came in thinking there was still enough time I might get a cup of soup.  I haven’t eaten all day.  And I’m hungry.”

She paused.  Stepped back.  And then returned about a minute later after I finished paying for what I could get (wine and coffee), “Well, I guess I could still heat a cup up for you if you’d like.”

“No thank you,” I replied.

At that point there was nothing she could have said to me short of perhaps, ‘I’m sorry’, to get me to even think of staying.

8:32 pm I again look at my watch as I stand, waiting for my latte.

……………

Because I have had many a wonderful experience at this particular establishment, chances are, I will return.  I peripherally know the owners.  I know they run a good business.  And I want to support small local business wherever and whenever I can.  Even if its through a cup of coffee.

But if that’s my first experience in a place, I’m just saying, I may not ever return.

Monday night .. I took my business next door.  My dinner business anyway.  Where I am perhaps all too often a regular as well (because I’m terrible about cooking for myself on nights when its just me.  Plus the margaritas can’t be beat).  Where I have never had anything but the utmost awesome service.  And where I sat down to write .. this post.  Over food.

Which was all I was looking for and hoping for tonight.

Listen.  I’m not trying to be snitty here.  I promise.  I’m just wanting to offer some thoughts .. my own perspective, some of which I hope wear off at some point on my daughter.

I have worked in the service industry since I was about 15.  Actually, before that.  I mowed lawns starting around age 12, had a paper route and babysat all I could to put money in my savings when I was a kid.  But by the time I was 15, I started washing dishes and waitressing.  Back then, it was all about trying to keep coffee cups full on Saturday and Sunday mornings for all the regulars at the Poynette Cafe, how quickly I could remove their plates once their toast was done and hope then that I had served them well enough to earn more than a few quarters per table.  It was tough work, but I realized it couldn’t be about me and what time I hoped to rush out of there to get home or to see my friends.  It was about making sure the customers were happy, that they would come back, bring friends and hopefully tip more next time because I/we took good care of them.  And .. in almost every circumstance, I was also taught that it didn’t really matter what I thought.  About anything.  If I thought their food was done right but they said it wasn’t .. if they ordered one drink but thought they ordered another .. whatever .. the customer is (almost) always right.  And if we didn’t have what they were asking for or when they wanted it, we tried to offer up solutions.  With a smile.  And we stayed late to accommodate.

Sure, it’s not like that in every business.  But, it is in many and unless being rude is your company’s schtick .. what are the consequences?  For the employee or the employer?  Business owners I know say they are having a tough time getting good young help, who most often fill customer service positions.  Among the issues I’m told, too often young workers are so tethered to their iPhones/Android or Facebook they don’t even think to peel their eyes away from a computer screen to acknowledge a customer has even walked through the door.

Has good customer service died?  I don’t think so.  In fact, because we’ve gotten so far away from it, I believe we’re seeing a resurrection of it.  And I know for a fact, this particular place I stopped last night prides itself on it.

However ..

“Some people love to please others and some people love to just be done working and could give an eff (word has been changed to protect my G rating) about you,” says owner of second place, understanding how I came to sit at his table again tonight.

“Can I quote you on that,” I ask.

“Certainly,” he replied.

I can think of shoe departments I won’t purchase from again because nowhere .. anywhere .. was there someone to help, restaurants I won’t return to because the service was as bad as the food, stores I could care less to spend money in and gas stations I can’t stand because pay at the pump should mean pay at the pump, not come inside to pay and we’ll hold extra funds from your debit card for our own use for a couple days and then return it when we feel like it.  Consumers have plenty of options anymore and we need to remember, it pays to vote with our wallets.

Listen .. I don’t consider myself high maintenance.  But I do know common courtesy with me and others would go a long way .. again, a reminder for me to check my own attitude at the door when I head each day into my own job.

Next time if presented with the same scenario, I’m thinking it might be easy for an employee to simply say something to the effect of, “You know what, we just put the soup away, is there anything else we could get you?  A roll?  Anything?”

I might still have said, “No thanks,” knowing they were cleaning up to get out of there and not wanting to inconvenience anyone.  But I would have left feeling much better about the exchange and might have continued to freely tell everyone how much I love your place.

Stillwater …

If you’ve never been to Stillwater, Minnesota, you’re missing something.  It is a beautiful .. quaint little town along the banks of the St. Croix River (I thought it was Mississippi but, wrong.) just as you cross the border from Wisconsin into Minnesota.  Or, I guess.. the other way around, too.  Leaving Minnesota heading into Wisconsin.  Whichever direction you’re coming from, it’s just a few miles off the highway.  And well worth the trip.  There is a great downtown and a gorgeous landscape surrounding the small town.

http://www.countryliving.com/antiques/shops-and-shows/getaway-st-croix-valley-1106#slide-1

Lot of antique shops.  Well, a lot of quaint little shops in general to be honest.

Golf courses.  Water recreation opportunities.  B&B’s.  And of course.. some great restaurants.

I’m pretty sure the Cowboy and I checked out each and every one of them in the three hours we were there.  The day we actually met, in person.  Late last June.

Because I was hungry for breakfast.  I had just come from a long run.  And it was past noon.

As we were told, ‘no breakfast anymore’ walking from place to place, we finally settled on a nice bistro on the edge of town (no more restaurants to hit).  We sat in the window at a table for two.  And I quickly realized it didn’t matter what was on the menu.  I was happy to just delve into the person sitting across the table from me.   (Take that however you want.  But at that point it was all about the convo.)

…………..

Another old friend I just ran into and who knew something about someone in South Dakota  said to me .. ‘how exactly, did you meet again?’

………….

Six years ago .. the Cowboy got a call from a friend to show some horses.  He was living in Oklahoma  at the time.  It was to rope at the World Appaloosa show in Fort Worth, Texas for a horse trainer from Wisconsin.  He went.  They won.  They have been great friends and worked together ever since.

Which brings us to a year ago…

That same trainer…

Became my trainer for an event I was asked to do along with some others for the Midwest Horse Fair last April, I believe it was.  We worked together for a few months.  Unlike the Cowboy, I …didn’t win.    But the Trainer and I became fast friends as well.

(He shall from this point forward be called the Trainer.  Because he and his family have now become a big part of both our lives.  Chances are he will make some reappearances in future blogs.)

Fast forward to a Memorial Day weekend trip the Trainer took to South Dakota with a client of his.  They went to the Cowboy’s to have him teach the client how to rope.  They roped.  They drank beer.  And one night the Cowboy got our his guitar and started to play.

“You have to meet a friend of mine,” says the Trainer to the Cowboy.

He bugged him about it again the next day.  The following day on his drive back to Wisconsin, the Trainer calls me and says, “You’re not dating anyone right now, are you?  Even if you are..  I’ve got someone you need to meet.  Go on Facebook or something .. Friend the Cowboy.”

I’m pretty sure both of us laughed and said .. ‘Yeah, sure. Get right on that’… because neither of us was wanting or looking for anything at the time.

Which may be why this has been so good.

We did nothing but talk for what seemed quite a long time.  Great conversations.  Long conversations.  About everything.  Including why neither of us was in the market for a relationship at the point.  Usually it was from about midnight-3am on many a night last June.  And then we thought, perhaps it might be nice to meet.  Because while neither of us was looking to get into another relationship, there was something there.

On a weekend when both our plans got canceled for other reasons.. mine, a trip to Nashville to scope out some potential life changes and him, to North Dakota for a roping school which got rained out..  we decided on a whim, to meet.

But where..

One of my best friends had out of the blue, said, we’re home with no plans, come to Minneapolis and see us.

The Cowboy said, I have a friend who’s been at me to come rope.  He’s just outside Minneapolis.

And on that weekend, we met.  For lunch.  Which turned into an afternoon.. one of the best afternoons of my life, thus far I’m pretty sure.

Other than the distance.. we have been together since.

Stillwater deserves a return trip .. I’m thinking.  And breakfast, lunch or dinner.. will be great.  As long as the company is the same.

‘Try this,’ my 10-year-old says..

I was going to post earlier today .. the answer to ‘Most Asked Question #2‘ when it comes to me and the Cowboy.  The, ‘He lives there and you’re here?  How did you meet?’ post.  But that’ll come later, I guess.  My internet is giving me hell.  I didn’t get a chance to tweak it.  That’ll happen yet tonight, I would imagine.

In the meantime, I’ve had the most wonderful afternoon with my daughter.  And given I want her to have as much of me and ‘us’ documented to remember .. I’m going to take this moment to write about our evening.  Because there is much to be savored.  Literally.

………..

There is a store in Madison where, every Wednesday, when I pick my daughter up from school for either the two days I have her each week or the 5 .. we stop to pick up fresh produce.  Because neither she nor I can get enough of it …

Other stores carry produce.  I shop there too.  But usually, none can compare to what we find at this particular Madison based store.  It is just that good.  Or, at least we know it’s that good.  Because, well, because there are samples.  For EVERYTHING.

“Mom,” she says, chasing me around the store with another sample of something.  Always.  “Try this!  You HAVE TO TRY THIS!  Can we get one of these?” she says.

Great marketing.  It works.  We usually walk out with far more than what we would have gotten otherwise.

Regardless..

I’m estatic we have a chance to get home tonight and do little other than finish up homework.  Hang out together.  Cook.  And give the dogs some exercise after being cooped up much of the past two days while the rest of the Midwest comes to life now that spring has sprung.

I put the pork chops in the oven, get the snap peas ready to go for when I return.. and go for a run with one of the dogs.

I was gone 15 minutes.

I come back, she’s cutting up a pear.  I think little-to-nothing of it.

I go back to getting dinner ready.

“Please keep working on your homework,” I say.

I find a granola bar wrapper.

And, as I go to put the other groceries away, I find the cheese, open.

“Did you eat more than the pear?” I ask.  “You’re going to ruin your appetite and we have a nice dinner tonight.”

“What,” she says.  “I only had cheese, a granola bar.. and, I had a pear.”

She pauses a few seconds.

“And I’m still hungry.”

We sit down moments later to a wonderful meal of pork chops, steamed sugar snap peas, fresh salad topped with strawberries and cantaloupe to round it out.

She’s right.  She is still hungry.

And these are moments that remind me, despite how often I’ve been told by her father over the years I am far from being the best mother (to put it mildly) .. make me feel like if I’ve done anything right, she will grow in so many ways, into a healthy young woman.

My 10 year old is growing, in more ways than one.  Precious moments like these, I’m so grateful to realize pass us by too quickly .. to not be savored.

Now about that ice cream for dessert …

Weight …

I don’t usually step on the scale.

As long as I feel good.  My clothes fit and I’m eating right and exercising, I’m pretty content.  I don’t talk, or try not to anyway, about feeling overweight (for me).  Especially around my daughter.

But I stepped on the scale the other morning.  Because, well, lets just say my clothes don’t fit me as well as they used to.  As well as say, even a month ago.  I was pretty sure even before stepping on, that I had about 5 pounds I might want to lose.

You didn't think I'd actually step on it, did you ...

The scale confirmed my suspicions.

……..

People will say ‘you look great’ or ‘you don’t need to lose weight.’  I’m not looking for gratuitous compliments here.  Sincerely.  Overall, I’m happy with myself, my life and my appearance.

But if I could just fit my thighs into that favorite pair of jeans to fit again….

At $200/pair it seems anymore for something cute I’d rather lose weight than buy another pair to fit expanding body parts.

The Cowboy says, ‘Go buy a bigger pair of jeans.  You look good.’

………

We all know when we’re about to fall off that cliff.. a cliff that will be tough if not impossible to climb back up.  We feel it.  I’m pretty sure, actually, that I’ve felt it about every spring now since turning 35.

What’s so special about 35 you might ask?

Ah, you youngster.

It’s like hitting a wall where metabolism is concerned.  Not just my own experience.  But that of many, many a girlfriend.  No one ever told me ..or maybe they did but I didn’t hear.  So I was relatively ill prepared.  Let this be a heads up, my dear daughter.  And anyone else that might be looking at this still young and blissfully eating whatever you want and drinking triple vanilla lattes along with cheese curds or pizza and beer a few late nights each week.  Ahem.  Not that I know anything about that.  (All the health/fitness experts say that’s one of the first things that needs to be moderated in any diet.  Alcohol.  For the record.)  This is not knowledge my mother passed along to me.  And she is no longer around to share what may lie ahead.  It all would have been helpful.

So ..

With 40 around the corner…I’m concerned another wall may be waiting.

I have some work to do.

(Cowboy says, laughing hysterically today as I’m thinking about what pics to post with this.. ‘Want me to take a picture of your gut?’  Um, no.)

……..

My biggest challenge has always been, short of high school, making time for workouts that will do more than maintain where I’m at.  Especially since meeting the Cowboy.  When he is here visiting, the time is precious.  And, the last thing I feel like I should be doing is spending an hour at the gym.

I run my dogs most days of the week anywhere between a mile or three.  I do lunges down the middle of the street.  I’m not afraid to look like a goofball, which I’m sure I do on occasion.  Like, when one of my dogs tripped me while we were running yesterday.  The multiple steps I faltered, tried to regain my footing and ultimately tumbled onto the pavement, had to have been a spectacular sight.  The guy walking down the sidewalk with his dog (the reason one of my dogs decided it was a great idea to lunge in front of me) just stood back and asked, ‘Are you ok?’  I mumbled something along the lines ‘I am fine.  Please, keep walking.’  Then got up, brushed myself off, gave my dog a dirty look – she knew she did me wrong.  And we went on our merry way.  I do pushups on whatever works, the curb or park benches and sit ups at home.  So it’s not like I’m totally slacking.

But the older a woman gets (probably men too but believe men are generally blessed with higher metabolism), I’ve always heard, the tougher it is to take weight off.

……..

I ask the Cowboy this morning .. “What are your fitness goals?  Do you have any?”

He laughs.  He’s in relatively great shape.. he’s hot, actually, I think ..  but he also has a relatively physical job.

He goes back to playing guitar.

My daughter says, “I want to be just like you.  All slim.  And have a waist just like you.”  She’s serious.

Now I’m laughing.

“Seriously,” I say.  “Do you have any fitness goals?  Aren’t we going to run a race together this summer?”

She thinks for a moment.

“I want to learn how to really become a good hip hop dancer.  And, get the dogs to be sled dogs.”

We’re all laughing.  The Cowboy chimes in.

“I would like to be on a running schedule says the Cowboy, 3 times a week at least 1 to 2 miles.”

……….

It’s a good goal.

But if I’m taking off the five and toning up the arms…. (also important.  My daughter last fall pointed out they were a bit, um, not toned) I need to do more.

I’ve got a fall marathon in mind.  Without bigger goals the 5 pounds will become 10, I’m  sure.

While I’m off to a relatively good start.. I hit the gym the other morning for weights and have run the past two days, we missed our run this morning.  Thanks to laundry, getting ready for school and returning phone calls before I had to head off to work.

Perhaps we’ll fit one in before fish fry and a Lake Louie Porter this evening.   Mmmmm.  (Just one though anymore.  Yes.  I have officially become a lightweight.)


Or.. a Winter Skal.

If not, I definitely won’t be stepping back on the scale.  Anytime soon.