baked pumpkin oatmeal

I realize that pumpkin is a fall food for many people, but I really enjoy it during every season. This baked pumpkin oatmeal recipe turned out great.

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The only modifications I made were a substitution of walnuts for pecans, and I baked it in a 9″x9″ pan. This would be a great dish to make for a breakfast or brunch party!

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wild animal sanctuary

We visited the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado on a warmish January afternoon. It was amazing to see the lions, tigers, coyotes, wolves, bears, and other animals roaming freely in their large habitats.

It was a pleasant surprise to see two bald eagles visiting the sanctuary as well.

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bright nights

Bright Nights in Springfield, MA is a great holiday activity for a cold night. Since we went a few days after Christmas, it wasn’t super busy – we arrived about five minutes before it opened for the evening and only had a few cars ahead of us waiting to get in. The last time we came to Bright Nights was about three years ago, and it seemed to have grown considerably since then. We were able to drive steadily at our own pace, and spent about 30 minutes enjoying the many detailed light displays.

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If it hadn’t been such a brutally cold night, it would have been nice to take advantage of the place to park, get out of the car, and ride a carousel and enjoy warm drinks. Maybe next year!

magic wings

On a cold winter New England day, a warm, humid butterfly house is just the place for me.

The Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens, in South Deerfield MA, is a great change of scenery and climate during the winter. You’ll find yourself immersed in beautiful flowers and greenery, with butterflies flitting all around you (and sometimes even landing on you).

In the main butterfly room you’ll also see uncaged birds (including a hummingbird and parrot), a tortoise in a large open pen, and a small koi pond. An adjoining room contains numerous terrariums housing many species of amphibians, reptiles, and insects.

the amazing world of dr. seuss

On our Christmas vacation, we visited the Springfield Museums. This museum complex includes five museums and a sculpture garden, so you could definitely spend the whole day exploring (if you can handle that much museum time in one day). The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden has been here since the 1990s. In 2017, it was joined by the newest museum in the complex, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss.

Housed in a beautiful old home, the first floor of this museum includes many rooms with interactive kid-friendly exhibits and lively, colorful representations of characters and scenes from popular Seuss books such as The Lorax, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, and Horton Hears a Who!.

The upstairs of the museum has more adult-oriented biographical and historical information about Seuss himself, and the basement offered some hands-on craft opportunities for children.

what i’ve been reading in 2017

Like I did last year, I’ve tried to capture the essence of each of the books I read this year in as few words as possible.

  1. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (non-fiction, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik): a girl nicknamed “Kiki” grows into an activist supreme court judge and feminist icon
  2. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (non-fiction, by Jennifer Senior): sociological studies show how kids affect parents
  3. The Old Man and the Sea (fiction, Ernest Hemingway): an epic showdown between a tough old fisherman and the potential catch of his life
  4. The Cow in the Doorway:  Love and Loss in the Time of Pot and Protest (fiction, Gino B. Bardi): a young man’s incredible yet relatable freshman year at Cornell during the Vietnam War
  5. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (non-fiction, Trevor Noah): funny stories interspersed with profound observations from the experience of growing up mixed-race as apartheid ended
  6. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (fiction, by Junot Diaz): a geeky Dominican-American boy struggles with life and love, probably thanks to a generations-long curse on his family from an evil dictator(!)
  7. The Blue Castle (fiction, by L.M. Montgomery): in the 1920s, a single young woman leaves fear and convention behind
  8. Jane Steele (fiction, by Lyndsay Faye): a young woman’s journey as a murderer/hero in 19th century England
  9. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (non-fiction, by Jon Krakauer): systemic issues in Missoula, Montana led to controversy over the number of uncharged rapes occurring at the University of Montana
  10. Ways to Disappear (fiction, by Idra Novey): a literature translator finds adventure in Brazil when her author suddenly disappears
  11. Feminist Fight Club (non-fiction, by Jessica Bennett): a cheeky, fact-based guide to working while female
  12. The Dead (fiction, by James Joyce): an Irish dinner party followed by revelations about love and death
  13. Heart of Darkness (fiction, by Joseph Conrad): an English captain’s mission on the Congo River in the 19th century
  14. Valley of the Dolls (fiction, by Jacqueline Susann): following three women through friendship, love, fame, and self-destruction in the 1940s-1960s
  15. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (fiction, by Ransom Riggs): peculiar children are living in a time loop managed by a bird-woman, but none of that seems so crazy when you’re reading the book
  16. Dear Emma (fiction, by Katie Heaney): a very loose recapitulation of Emma in the age of social media, with a college advice columnist as the protagonist
  17. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (nonfiction, by Claude M. Steele): an examination of how stereotype threat can affect anyone in specific conditions, and some evidence-based advice to mitigate this effect
  18. Anatomy of a Misfit (fiction, by Andrea Portes): the third-most-popular girl at a cliquey high school makes decisions that could ostracize her from high school society, or upgrade her to the most popular girl in school
  19. At Fault (fiction, by Kate Chopin): questionable romantic choices are made by several parties on a Louisiana plantation
  20. The Virgin Suicides (fiction, by Jeffrey Eugenides): five teenaged sisters in 1970s suburban Detroit commit suicide, as their community watches and tries to understand why

Some books on deck for 2018 are The Book Thief (by Markus Zusak), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (by Fredrik Backman), Notes from a Feminist Killjoy (by Erin Wunker), My Heart and Other Black Holes (by Jasmine Warga), and The Hate U Give (by Angie Thomas). Do you have any book recommendations?

mini meatless meatloaf

For our annual Thanksgiving potluck dinner with friends, I brought these mini meatless meatloaves. They were really tasty and filling, and went well with the stuffing and roasted vegetables and other typical Thanksgiving foods.

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I used this recipe, but doubled it to make 15 muffin-sized “meatloaves.” I followed the recipe, and for the open-ended parts of the recipe I used one can of black beans and one can of canellini beans, a mixture of zucchini and carrots, and Glutino gluten-free breadcrumbs. I used a food processor rather than chopping everything super-finely and mashing it all together. One major difference from the recipe was that I had to bake these for more than 30 minutes, but I’m not sure if that was due to altitude or imprecise measurements on my part.

These mini meatless meatloaves are great for bringing to a potluck, as they will work for many dietary restrictions, and are easy to serve since they are already in individual portions. I highly recommend labeling them though, because it’s not obvious what kind of food they are when you look at them. I think some people may assume they are a dessert food since they look muffin-like, and it could be an unpleasant surprise to bite into one of these when you’re expecting a sweet muffin flavor. If you’re expecting something savory, though, these are awesome!

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brewery lights

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, we went to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Lights in Fort Collins. This is a great free activity for families, anyone who likes Christmas lights, or people who like Anheuser-Busch beer. We really enjoyed the Christmas tree maze and riding the little train that went through a snowman tunnel and past many of the lights.

 

The train ride costs $1 per person, but entry is free and there is free beer as well. Other food and drink were available for purchase.

old town holiday lights

The holiday lights in Old Town Fort Collins are such a lovely sight each year.

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phoenix, arizona

I went to Phoenix, Arizona for a few days in October for a conference. First of all, the short flight from Denver to Phoenix was beautiful. As we flew over the mountains in Colorado, I could see Great Sand Dunes National Park.

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Shortly after arriving at my hotel, I went for a walk to Nami, a vegan ice cream and pastry shop. The menu was full of enticing options, but I settled on a decadent “fluffernutterin tSoynami.” This amazing vegan and gluten-free treat was made of swirled chocolate and vanilla soy/coconut soft serve ice cream with peanut butter, banana, rice mallow fluff, and toasted marshmallow syrup stirred in.

Throughout most of my conference, I ate at or got take-out from Kaleidoscope Juice. Despite the juice-centric name, this restaurant has all sorts of great food. The protein bowl with tofu, brown rice, and ginger miso dressing was fantastic, and so was the gluten free protein waffle with fruit and coconut whipped cream.

I also enjoyed several kinds of Kaleidoscope’s gluten-free muffins (almond, blueberry, and pumpkin) and one of their smoothies. It was a relief to find a restaurant in downtown Phoenix that worked so well with my dietary restrictions.