Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Disaster Averted

I think... I hope anyway. And I hope that, unlike a pie crust (which is what it acted like), these don't get tough with handling. They look pretty good anyway. And they're all ready for the grandson's artistic touch. Better him than me. I think I'll save the last stick of Crisco for my Christmas pie making.

Cookie Help!

All right all you excellent bakers out there... what the hell is going wrong with my cookies?! This is an old family recipe and I've made it hundreds of times. But it won't roll out! Here's the recipe:

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies
4 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg; set aside. Cream butter, sugar and egg till light and fluffy. Beat in sour cream and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well combined. Form dough into a ball, wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Divide dough into 4 parts and roll out one quarter at a time, keeping the rest refrigerated. Roll dough on well-floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. Bake 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees. Decorate with sprinkled sugar, almonds, raisins, candy or whatever.

Pretty straight forward - right? Granted, I haven't baked any cookies in, oh, say 15 years. (My butt and DH's belly doesn't need the extra expansion boost.) But, come on! The only reason why I'm doing this now is that Quinten asked if Grandma would bake some Christmas cookies for him to decorate when he comes up. How could I say no?

The only thing I did differently this time is use butter flavored Crisco instead of real butter. Is that what's going on? Usually you have to leave it in the refrigerator or it gets too soft to roll. This time the dough is like...I don't know...pie dough? It rolls much better warm. Did I screw up?

Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

He's Back!

He's back!! Gasp! (Damn camera...)

Cardinal Envy

A few days ago, while letting the dogs outside, I was blown away by the sight of a cardinal feeding on the ground under my bird feeders. I know that cardinals are indigenous to Iowa and can be found all over the state. Heck, mom used to have a ton of cardinals at her bird feeder in Turin. But, in the eighteen years we have lived in West Bend, I have NEVER, EVER seen a cardinal. Even during our crop rides. We've seen eagles, hawks, orioles, woodpeckers, goldfinches, scarlet tanagers, tons of red-wing blackbirds and even yellow-breasted blackbirds. The strangest bird we saw once was an American bittern. But I've never spotted a cardinal - until four days ago. I was so shocked I just stood there, mouth and door wide open, my heart racing a hundred miles an hour.

As I ran back into the house I kept praying "Please, please! Tell your family and friends that you found some good food. Maybe they'll come too!" Soon, as I watched from my kitchen window, a female flew down and joined her mate. I was in heaven! I watched those two birds all that day and the next. And they haven't been back since.

I'm just crushed! I've even dreamed about them - cherry red against the white snow. They were so beautiful. Now, don't get me wrong, we have a ton of birds at our feeders. Finches (purple, house and gold), a little nuthatch, dark-eyed juncos, an occasional blue jay and, of course zillions of sparrows. The strangest birds we ever got was a merlin which had killed and was eating a sparrow under the tree, and a hawk that stopped in for a drink of water and to preen his feathers on a branch of a tree right outside our window. But never cardinals. Damn.

I'm pist that I didn't get a picture of them. I love my point and shoot camera, but it just isn't good for taking pictures of skittish critters - like birds. If ever I get an SLR, it will be to take these kinds of pictures.

I'm so hoping they remember the good food and easy water found in my back yard and come back to make my day bright once more. Cardinals just make the world seem happier.

(Note: I was going to link to each bird so you could see a picture of them, but that's too many links. Instead, just go to enature and you can see and hear them for yourself. It's a great website that I use regularly. Enjoy!)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Blog Thoughts

As I was taking a break yesterday, thinking about my posts, the strangest thought occured to me: Someone, somewhere in the world, was right now reading one of my posts.

I know this becase of my Site Meter report I get every Sunday. It told me I had an average of 55 hits this past week, with an average time spent at the page around a minute and a half. Since I don't post very often (ahem) that means that they're reading old posts. Probably found on some search for something and they decided to read what I'd written. That just blows my mind!

HEY, PEOPLE! How ya doin'? Um... you can comment if you like. See, I moderate my comments. Which means when you write something I get an email asking me to accept or reject the comment. So, if you read something you like, tell me about it! Doesn't matter how old the post is, I'll know if you say something.

(Meanwhile, the 3 or 4 people who read my pitiful attempts at writing whenever it pops up on their RSS readers are going, "Holy crap! Two posts in one day!!" Yep. I'm going for a record here.)

Putting Up The Tree

I'll admit it - I hate the holidays. From Halloween until January 30th I walk around in a black cloud of Scrooge-ness, scowling at children and snapping at my husband. Christmas music makes me grind my teeth as I hurry past the stores lighted with Christmas trees and plastic Santas. And the decorating! Oh boy, do I hate decorating! I put off putting up the Christmas tree until the last possible minute. Each year I vow I'm not going to do it. But, of course, I do.

Two years ago, in an effort to lighten my misery, I bought a pre-lighted Christmas tree. It was only about $20 bucks from Amazon, so I thought I'd give it a try. Needless to say, I didn't put it up last year because that sucker weighs about 10 TONS and there was NO way I was dragging that up from the basement! DH and I debated just decorating it where it stood and putting the presents under it down there. (If you could see our basement - and you will - you'd know what a joke that is.) So, up went our little 3' fiber optic tree once again.

But this year! This year was different. First of all my daughter and grandson were with us for Thanksgiving - for the first time ever. (It actually felt like Thanksgiving this year.) Since she knows how much I hate decorating, she volunteered to bring up the tree, set it up and decorate it. Yea!

Of course, it came with no instructions so I called Bettina and she sent over Dani and Dustin to help her get it put together. Naturally, I took pictures. They kinda suck, but oh well.

The kids had fun and I didn't have to do a thing. Sounds like a good thing to me! Of course, all the rest of the decorations are still in their boxes so I really do have to get in gear and decorate the rest of the house. (grumble grumble)

Happy Holidays everyone!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jay's Omlets

No - not that Jay. Jay Bargman! Like most men in rural America, Jay wears many hats: Husband, son, father, farmer, trucker, auctioneer. But in his soul Jay is a chef. And a damn good one too! Our local Lions club definitely benefited the day Jay joined. Instead of dry pork patties served at the annual summer barbeque we now get a spread fit for a king. One year he even served Bananas Foster (he decided not to flambe them for fear of burning down the shelter house).

His abilities and skill know no bounds. Take this omlet breakfast we went to today. I don't know where he got the idea, but Jay has come up with a way to cook as many as four omlets at once. He thought up and made most of the tools you'll see in the slide show himself. Maybe I should list "inventor" as one of his hats.

Of course, he doesn't do this alone. He'll probably serve close to 200 people in four hours this morning. As this is a fundraiser for Larry Hough (Larry lost everything in a house fire a few weeks ago), Larry's family and friends are working in the kitchen - cutting up the ham and vegetables, whipping up the eggs (secret recipe there - sorry), melting butter and cooking the sausages. Just like in a real kitchen, Jay has his line chefs working hard. But the master is out front, working his magic.

Thanks Jay!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Take Me Back to the 60's

I found this the other day and thought there might be a few people out there who could relate.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

November Rose

I have roses blooming in November! I guess this "global warming" ain't all bad.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My Summer at Hogwarts

Like millions of others around the world, I eagerly awaited the final book in J. K. Rowling's amazing Harry Potter series. When it hit the shelves in July I snapped it up and devoured it in a day and a half. The Queen of Blue Balls had made me wait two years between fixes and the suspense was killing me. When I was done it was like "Huh? What? I don't remember... How did he... What the hell!!" I knew there was nothing for it but to re-read the entire series in order. Which I did. The entire month of August. I barely went on-line except to read my emails and complete my Pogo challenges. I wanted nothing to distract me from my immersion into Rowling's world of witchcraft and wizardry. I came through the other end feeling drained and forlorn. It was over. I would no longer have this wonderful world in which I could escape and I was lost.

It pisses me off when I hear people dissing the Harry Potter books. Rowling's genius lay in her ability to pull the reader into an entirely believable world. She could have set it up as a group of kids on a sheep ranch in Montana and it would have been just as interesting. The theme is an old one - Good Kids vs. Bad Adults; Extraordinary vs. Ordinary; Good vs. Evil. By setting her book in a magical world, one that existed along side our very ordinary one, she made sure her books had a universal appeal. Kids and adults from Bangladesh to Bangor, Maine could read and understand the trials and tribulations of little Harry Potter.

J. K. Rowling is also directly responsible for my return to the written word. When I was younger I would often have two or three books going at the same time - one at school, another one or two at home. That stopped in 1997 when my mother and brother died within weeks of each other. I found that I could not read more than two sentences at a time without my mind wandering. This makes it very hard to follow a story, so I quit trying. Until Harry Potter came along that is. Rowling's writing focused my mind, drawing me out of myself and into her world with a clarity that had been absent for too long.

I've read that Rowling said the idea for Harry Potter came to her all at once and that the books practically wrote themselves. You wonder if the muse will ever strike her again. And if it does, will she be able to pull it off like she did with this series. Is there another story burning in the back of her brain, eager to be set free? I wonder. In one way, I hope so. In another, not so much. Maybe she shot her wad with this book and her next will be a disappointment. But whatever happens - Thank You J. K. Rowling for setting me free!

Listen! Can You Smell That?

They say that writing is a habit. The more you write, the better you get. The more you write, the easier it becomes. Since I seem to have gotten out of the habit of writing this summer, let's start off with something easy - like a memory:

When I was young I could smell the change of seasons weeks before they actually arrived. In January I could smell the damp earth of spring and the air held the promise of warmth in its molecules. By April I could smell the heat of a July summer day, and in late August it was the smell of leaf litter and burning leaves that clung to the wind. But winter was the most notable. As early as September I could smell and sometimes taste the biting winter wind all crisp and clean long before it swept down upon the plains from the frigid north.

I kept this ability to smell changes in the air into my teens, with the bitter winter air being the last to leave my senses. But I remember this strange power and wonder if others had the same experience.

It wasn't just seasons that assaulted my senses either, it was people as well. I don't mean this in the bad body odor way. I mean that every person - every family - had it's own, unique odor. I could smell it the minute I walked into their homes or if two or more family members were together. My family included.

Sadly, (or maybe not...) I lost this ability early on in childhood and frankly never thought about it. Until one day I was rummaging around in a junk store, looking at the old dresses and hankies, when I smelled Aunt Della. The smell of her hit me so hard and the memories came so suddenly that I looked around fully expecting to see her standing there, smiling at me like she did when I was little and was digging through her drawers looking for dress-up clothes. I was so shaken I could only stand there, clutching that dress to my face while her memory filled me with longing.

I did not buy the dress because I knew that it could not be her's. She had died in Iowa and I was in Pennsylvania. Maybe my memory was off. I was an adult, after all. But Aunt Della had come from Pennsylvania, along with her sisters (my Grandma Moss and Aunt Emma) when they were just little girls. Their parents had driven them out in a covered wagon with all their worldly possessions. Could this dress belong to a distant relative whose family still had this same smell? Who knows. I certainly don't. But it's fun to think it might be so.

Age (and cigarettes) have taken this heightened sense of smell away from me. But the memories of the change of seasons lingers. And for that I am truly grateful.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Congratulations Dani and Kyle!

September 7, 2007

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While eating lunch on Friday I got a phone call from my best friend, Bettina.

"Kyle got his orders. He leaves on Monday. The wedding is at 2:30."

This was not unexpected. He's known for weeks that it was possible he would have to go to Iraq. You see - he's a Marine. But they were prepared for this eventuality so when he got the call on Friday morning, Kyle called the courthouse to arrange for the judge to marry them. He'd asked Dani's parents weeks ago for permission to marry their daughter, then they got their license and rings and waited to find out if they would be able to have a "normal" wedding. Both Dani and Kyle are college students at Iowa Lakes. Kyle is in the officer training program there and we had hoped that he could postpone his deployment until he had finished his courses. It was not to be.

It was my honor and privledge to witness the marriage of Danielle Forsythe and Kyle Egland on September 7, 2007. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kyle and Dani as they start their new lives together, and we wish them all the love and happiness their hearts can hold.

Edit: Kyle's orders were changed late yesterday (9/10/07). He and the other officer candidates will be allowed to finish college! He'll be back home by the end of the week. We are all very happy to hear this.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Corn Defense!

My good friend Joe Pastry is back from vacation and has written a series of post in defense of corn. After Michael Pollen's book Omnivore's Dilemma came out last year, the blogosphere has been vilifying corn, the people who grow it and the companies that manufacture products made from it. Now they're all weepy because the price of corn has finally caught up to the price farmers pay to produce it and that has driven up the price of corn-based products. And don't give me shit about the subsidy of Ethanol. Farm subsidies have been in place for years (thankfully) and are what allows a farmer to make a living growing something that costs $10.00 a bushel to grow and the market pays $3.00 a bushel to buy.

I'm not a very smart woman and can't really put into words what my heart knows is true. If you've ever read Joe you know that his knowledgeable and prolific posts on any subject that catches his fancy will guarantee that you will understand that subject when he gets through with it. His use of humor and science make it a pleasure to learn. And, boy, have I learned! Everything from MSG (naturally occurring) to the molecular make-up of starch.

I can't tell you how happy I am that this week he's taking on the "corn devil" and I urge you to check him out immediately. (Caveat: scroll to the bottom for the first post and work your way up.) Way to go Joe! And, thank you!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jay's Chicken

I've told you before about Jay's Chicken. This amazing process was repeated last night at the American Legion's annual Chicken and Sweetcorn fundraiser. (I hope this slideshow thingy works!)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Putting Up the Corn

While sitting in the yard, watching the impending storm approaching, our neighbor stopped his truck by my gate. "You need corn?" "Ummm..well, yea!"
We'd begun to think that this drought had affected the sweetcorn harvest. Eastern Iowa has been getting deluged this month, but everything had passed right over us and we were dry. The farm where we usually pick sweetcorn had announced a failed harvest between the lack of rain and the coons. So any chance of getting corn was a welcome chance indeed.

True to his word, ten minutes later, with the rain coming down in great big buckets full, Chuck pulls into the driveway to deliver some corn. I ran out to meet him, greatful for the rain soaking me through. "Is this enough?" he asks, holding up a 5 gallon pail full of sweetcorn. "Plenty! Just put it here on the lawn" I tell him and then spend the next 20 minutes or so bagging it up in plastic grocery bags to bring into the back porch.

The next morning the sun broke through clean and bright without a hint of humidity. It was a perfect morning for shucking corn and putting it up in the freezer. And for taking pictures (naturally). The boys were very helpful as well. And a flexible cutting mat is a must! I did 43 ears of corn that day. Of course, now everyone has sweetcorn ready and DH went out yesterday and picked two dozen more. They went into the freezer as well. Sweetcorn and home-grown tomatoes - it doesn't get any better than this! I love summer!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

RAGBRAI Time Again

If it's July and you're in Iowa, then it's time for RABRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa)! (Follow the link if you want to learn more about the event. ) It's the biggest party of the year with upwards to 15,000 cyclists from all over the world participating. Even Lance Armstrong is going to ride the whole way this year (or so the rumors say).

They start off dipping their back tires in the Missouri River and ride the week across Iowa until they hit the Mississippi River where they dip their front tires. It's totally fun for everyone (not to mention a HUGE economic boost to the small towns they go through). Registration is limited to 8,000, but many bikers join to ride along for a few days and never register. There are many, many support people who follow along as well. So, not only the towns that they stay in, but the towns that they pass through, are included in their party.

As we were sitting in the Painted Pony yesterday, twelve very wet and very nervous cyclists burst into the bar about six o'clock shouting "There's a tornado out there!!!". Another thing about Iowa in July is that horrific storms and tornadoes can blow up in a heartbeat in this heat and humidity. Luckily there was no tornado but these poor folks had been caught in the torrential rain and straight-line winds (I heard reports later of 70 mph winds). They'd ridden in from Iowa City and had stayed the night before in Humboldt. They got caught in the downpour about 3 miles south of town and hid out in a machine shed.

A lot of people will ride from their homes out to the start of the trip. Iowa City is a LOT closer to the Mississippi than it is to the Missouri, so they'd already been on the road for two days. The group had men and women every age (20-somethings to 50-somethings) and, in spite of their frightening experience, they came in good spirits.

After eating supper they got back on their bikes to ride to Mallard (where I'm sure they would stop and party some more) and finally on to Emmetsburg where they would spend the night. By this time it had started to pour again and even though we tried to get them to stay in West Bend for the night, they started off on their next leg of the trip. Well - most of them anyway. Two women with more sense than the rest asked if we could take them to their motel in Emmetsburg. They'd had their fill of riding in the rain and were tired after eating. So we loaded their bikes in the back of the truck and headed west to Emmetsburg.

This is just something that Iowans do for RAGBRAIers. When we lived in Onawa, RAGBRAI started off from there two times. Both times we opened our home to those bikers who were not lucky enough to get a motel room or who didn't feel like pitching a tent for the night. It was quite a sight I must say. Bodies and bikes everywhere! Since living in West Bend, RAGBRAI has come through twice as well. It takes quite a while for 8-10,000 bicycles to ride through your town, especially when half of them stop to party for a while. (Man! Those people can drink!!) We've met some really nice people, just like last night. It was a blast.

Oh - and this picture? I took this of my neighbor's house yesterday. See that spout thingy on the edge of her house? It was raining so hard and the wind was blowing so strong that the rain was blown out of her downspout. Imagine trying to ride a bike in this.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Q and his mom went home after the 4th of July and I've been hitting it hard at the office, trying to regain some control. I've mentioned before that our office is the Chamber of Commerce Treasurer and it took two days just to wade through all the deposits and paperwork from the Fireworks Golf Tournament and the 4th of July. I love having Quinten for a whole month, but we definitely need to work something different for next year. From mid-June on, Chamber is in overdrive with it's fundraising and July 4th celebration preparation. I really need to be available for check writing and other duties.

Things are getting back to normal here at home and at the office. I still haven't read all my blog friends' posts, but I've learned that I don't need to. I know you all are fabulous writers/cookers/photographers/etc. so I'll just jump in where I can. When my mind stops whirring I'll start posting again, too.

I hope all your summers are going swimmingly. Have a cool drink, watch your gardens grow, see a ball game, go to the races, eat some barbeque and in general enjoy!

Definition of Summer

The definition of summer. Period.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Country Club Planter

Several years ago the country club updated their tee boxes by adding landscaping bricks around them. To do this they asked for donations, which we gladly gave. They also put a raised bed at the entrance to the club and I have the pleasure of planting this every year.

I finally got smart and planted Stella de Oro daylilies and Salvia "Purple Rain" so that I wouldn't have to spend a fortune on annuals. This year I also added purple Wave petunias in keeping with the purple and gold scheme. That's our school colors, don't ya know.

I thought you might like to see this garden as it's looking really good right now and I'm pretty proud of it. At least one of my gardens looks good!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Grandma Love

[I've had this post slogging around in my head for a while now. I wasn't sure whether I should post this or not, but... here goes:]

I hated my grandma. There, I've said it. And I have a hunch the feeling was mutual. My first vivid memory of her was when she slapped me in the face. Mom had left me with her while she went somewhere. I suppose I was pitching a fit - I was only about 4 or 5 years old. She just turned around and slapped me right in the mouth. I never trusted her after that.

As I grew older I discovered she was a bitter, hateful old woman. I have to assume she wasn't always this way. I'm sure as a young woman she was full of hopes and dreams. I know that Grandpa Moss left her for another woman. Perhaps she drove him away, I wouldn't know because he died before I was born. Maybe that's why she was the way she was.

As a grandma today, I find the whole thing very sad and confusing. Grand kids are the reason you don't kill your own kids while growing up. What was even worse, she was the only grandparent I had as my father's parents died right after I was born. I used to envy my playmates and their excitement when visiting their grandparents. I couldn't understand why grandma was never happy to see me and had only harsh words for me. I still can't to this day.

It broke my mother's heart when I expressed my feelings towards her mother. She tried to assure me that Grandma Moss truly did love me, but just didn't show it. She would tell me the story of how, in 1952 when I contracted polio, it was Grandma Moss who drove the car to the hospital in Sioux City when the local hospital couldn't treat me. Of how I almost died in my mother's arms in the backseat of grandma's '52 Ford while grandma careened up Highway 75 in a desperate attempt to get me to help. Today I find the picture of this rather amusing. I remember grandma driving that Ford. 50 mph was her normal speed and she was so short she could barely see over the massive steering wheel. I'm surprised she didn't totally wreck.

Brother Max used to tell an amusing story about grandma, too. When Iowa passed the minimum wage law, it was his responsibility to tell grandma she must pay her help $1.25 an hour. He said she banged her hand on the table and declared, "There ain't a woman in the world worth $1.00 an hour!" That's my grandma - always generous to a fault.

Grandma Moss' sister Della was my "true" grandma and I called her that from the start. I dearly loved that woman. Her husband died, leaving her to raise her five children alone on a dirt farm in the hills. She survived by selling milk and eggs and renting the 40 acres she owned out to a local farmer. She had more than enough love to share with me and I took full advantage of it. Grandma's farm was my haven and her smile lit up my life. I guess I really did have a grandma after all.

Quinten is a lucky boy - he has many sets of grandparents who all love him. That's a nice thing about blended families. He's staying with us this June and our lives are once again full of activity. T-ball, swimming, golf, carnivals and celebrations abound, making the days fly by.

Grandma Moss certainly taught me one thing - how NOT to be a grandma. I'm loving this part of my life. Quinten has taught me that there is nothing else in this world more important than spending time with him. And I'm taking full advantage of that.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day, 2007

Because of the price of gas, and the fact that the pickup only gets about 18 mpg, I've decided not to go decorate this year. This makes me very sad because Memorial Day is my favorite holiday and there's not many family members left above the ground.

I was looking over last year's posts on my Memorial Day roadtrip and decided to share them again. If you wish, you can view them here, here and here.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day! I'm going golfing.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Sunday morning I got this shot of a male Ruby Throated Hummingbird taking his breakfast outside my kitchen window. He and his brethren are on their way to the northern reaches of the world to mate and raise their families before returning to the islands for the winter. Beautiful!
(P.S. I need a better camera!)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thoughts of Spring

It's hard to express how spring affects me. Winters seem so long and bleak. Even the blizzards are welcome because then at least something is going on outside. After the mad rush of the holidays, the bitter cold of January, the muddy mess of February and the winds of March, April is so welcome with its gentle warmth and sunshine.

The early flowers, like Daffodils and Tulips, are blooming and the Forsythia is putting on its show. The birds have shed their drab winter coats and found their voices in an effort to attract a mate. You no longer have to wear coats and mud boots just to walk outside. People are out cleaning up their yards of the detritus from winter and working their gardens in anticipation of planting. And the farmers are going gangbusters in the fields.

By the middle of the month the first shoots of corn are peeking out of the ground. I cannot describe the thrill I feel when I drive along the road, looking at all the neatly furrowed fields and I spy that first shoot of green. It affects me the same way every year - I never get tired of it.

I imagine the farmers must feel the same way. That's probably why they break their backs, their hearts and their bank accounts just to see this sight. A farmer I knew back home was asked what he'd do if he won the lottery. "Farm until it's gone" was his answer! Farmers are the biggest gamblers I know. They place a lot of time, effort and money on a piece of dirt and hope that they can get something from it. Kinda like gardeners - only bigger.

Even though these pictures should represent a new field in April, they were in fact taken just last weekend. This year our April had a little bit of January, February, and March all thrown together. It was below zero for the first part of the month, then it blizzarded in the middle of the month and ended with flooding rains. Most of the farmers now have all their corn planted and are working on their beans. There was an old 'saw' that said corn must be all in by May 10th to be knee-high by the 4th of July. I'm told that isn't the case with the new hybrids they raise today. Thank goodness.

Now that May is almost over, the "gentle warmth" is being replaced with the oppressive heat of summer. School is almost out for the year and mothers everywhere are groaning. My garden is in and so far the rabbits haven't gotten too carried away. I imagine that the dogs running in the yard have something to do with that. The yard has been mowed, the grill and outdoor chairs cleaned, the garden tended, and the back porch had it's yearly cleaning. All is right with the world.

Monday, May 21, 2007

New Fence

We have - make that I have - wanted to fence in our back yard for years. We live on an extremely busy corner (this is the main road to the school and the swimming pool) and I always worry that our dogs will get away from me and get run over. It's been a miracle that, of all of the animals we've had since living here, only one cat was ever killed on that street.

Finally DH and I decided that a fence really was in the best interests of our boys, as well as my piece of mind, so I ordered it from the lumber yard and had Pat and Ben Ulrich put it in. Pat is one of Daryl's sons and has moved back to West Bend to help his dad and brother's with all the construction work they do. And these guys do everything - from roofing, framing, any type of construction work to, well, putting in a fence!

Here's a few pictures of the job:

And here's what the boys think of their "new" yard!

After a dozen full out runs around the fence, they have declared that this was a VERY good idea. Thanks Pat and Ben - great job!

Farmers Compost

The fire department was called out last Friday for a fire near Rodman. When they came back I asked one of the guys what the fire was and he told me that a farm compost pile had caught fire. Compost pile?!? I knew they generated heat, but to spontaneously combust?!? "It's the carcasses" he says. "They generate more heat than leaves."


"Yep. Farmers compost their dead critters."



But, I've always been told not to throw meat or dairy in my compost pile because it will attract varmits. And, what about the rendering plant guys. I thought they picked up the dead animals.

"Don't know anything about that," he said. "You need to talk to a farmer who has one."

And so I did. The farmer tells me that since the BSE (mad cow) scare, renderers don't have much of a call for their products so they've raised the price of picking up dead animals. "Used to be $10 an animal, now they charge as much as $30. That's just too expensive."

And so you "compost" them?



"Just cover them with manure and dirt."

Doesn't it smell?


How long does it take for the animal to...ummm.. disintegrate?

"Depends. Hogs pretty fast; cows take a couple of years."

What about the bones? Archaeologists dig up bones thousands of years old. Surely the bones take some time.

"Not really. Hogs completely disappear; cows' skulls and hip bones can take some time. But you can drive over them with the tractor and they just crumble."

(I don't even want to ask about the hoofs. The hoofs scare me.)

Can you use this "compost" in your fields like I use mine in my garden?

"Absolutely. But, actually, there's not much of a pile left after the bugs get through with it. I've been doing this for years and you really can't see much of a pile. Of course, this only works when you have one or two animals which die in a year. When the big hog confinements lose a couple of hundred hogs due to disease, then they call the renderers to dispose of them."

Thank God!

Friday, May 18, 2007


And, of course, we can't forget our other boy - Dusty!


For some time I've wanted to have Elvis' picture taken by a professional photographer. Since he is so black, his beautiful face is just lost in a black void on my camera. I knew that I would need proper lighting to get a good shot of his expressive face. So, last Saturday, DH and I took him to Lisa Thompson at The Darkroom in Algona. Here are the results. Isn't he sweet?

Thanks Lisa!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In Case You Haven't Noticed ...

.... I haven't posted much lately. Two weeks ago I started on a colostrum regime. I did this mainly for the health benefits which were purported to occur using colostrum. My friend Kathy had been using Lepi-Trim for a couple of months and for the first time in years she could walk and sleep without pain. She's had both knees operated on for cartilage problems several years ago and she could barely move without pain. The weight loss she experienced was just an added benefit to go with the renewed energy she felt.

I read up on colostrum a bit and could find no ill, or side, effects to taking it and decided to go ahead with the program. I received my package of pills, powders and potions two Saturdays ago - the same day I woke up to an abscessed wisdom tooth. Having read that colostrum will boost your immune system (and having called the dentist only to find out he was gone until the next Wednesday) I decided to go ahead and start taking the stuff. Saturday and Sunday my jaw was so swollen I couldn't shut it. The dull, throbbing ache pretty much assured me I was in the middle of an abscess-induced nightmare. So, I took Tylenol for the pain, took my colostrum pills, used an ice pack and basically never moved off the couch. The only thing I could eat was luke-warm broth and I didn't really feel like eating that.

Sunday night I notice a reduced swelling but figured it was the Tylenol and ice. Monday morning the swelling was almost gone as was most of the pain. By Monday night I could eat and by Wednesday all swelling and pain was gone! (Unfortunately I still have to go to the dentist...ugh.)

I told you all that to tell you this: some people experience a "healing crisis" when they first start taking colostrum. I've read that, as the colostrum drives the toxins out of your body, some people actually feel worse for a while - bloating, diarrhea, rash, etc., etc. My healing crisis has been a full-blown case of the worst palmar pustular psoriasis I've ever had. (Yes-it's just as icky as the name sounds.)

The upshot is that it is arduous to type (and file and write..) so I've not even been leaving comments on blogs which I read like I usually do (not to mention posting anything here). Is it painful? Well, since I compare any "pain" I have to childbirth, then - no - not really. Annoying, more likely. But I have been staying away from the keyboard and even the mouse doesn't feel good in my hand. On the bright side, I've got a ton of energy so I've been getting stuff done around the house and yard that I've put off for lack of initiative. So that's a good thing.

I've got a bunch of stuff in my mind to post, but that will wait. I just wanted you (3 people who read my blog) to know that I have not died. Indeed - I feel great! I just don't feel like typing right now.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fern Leaf Peony - 2007

This is quite a bit different from this -

The above picture was taken last summer. That early April freeze really took it's toll on my Fern Leaf Peony as well as the Surprise Lillies which you can see in the background. I'll be very "surprised" if they bloom this year.

Below zero temperatures, blizzards and now rain has made this an interesting spring. I did get my garden in the last weekend in April though, and am I glad I did! I usually wait until Mother's Day to plant just to make sure we aren't hit with any late frosts, but we decided to work the ground as soon as it dried out to get our plants in. It was a perfect weekend with temps in the high 70's. The soil was pure heaven to work with. Then it rained the entire next week so we were really glad we hadn't waited.

Needless to say, the farmers are beside themselves with worry. The corn isn't all planted yet and the rains keep them from working the fields. But farmers, and gardeners, are a patient lot.
On another note - it was absolutely gorgeous this past weekend. DH and I golfed and gardened. It was a perfect Mother's Day. I hope all you "mothers" out there had a wonderful weekend as well.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Kitchen Tools

I decided I'd better make some bread pudding today to use up some old bread we had and, besides, it's DH's favorite dessert. While cubing up the bread to put it in the bowl, I thought about some sort of kitchen gadget I'd seen "out there" (on the web) that was touted as perfect for cubing bread. I thought that maybe you might need such a thing if all you did was cube bread all day, but for six slices of bread, that might be a little bit of overkill. Which lead me to think about Ivonne's (my baking goddess) question to me way back when we were making crostata. She asked me if I had a food processor. Not an unfair question to be sure, especially in today's world. But it got me to giggling, then finally laughing uncontrollably.

After I got the dogs quieted down and assured that, no - mom has not lost her mind (completely), I decided to post my "food processor".

AND, it comes complete with attachments!

On the left is my pastry blender and on the right is my food chopper! See? I'm completely modern and up-to-date in all the latest kitchen utensils. And, yes, that is a cast iron knife brought from the nursing home. Even though I've bought two new knives from Pampered Chef (and they are lovely knives) this is still my "go to" knife for chopping. It's light weight and easily sharpened. It does, however, tire my hand if I have too much chopping to do (like during apple season). Maybe my new knives will be used more then. Who knows.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Spring Planting

On my way home from Algona this morning I passed a farmer in his big John Deere 4-wheel drive tractor sitting forlornly at the entrance to his field. Looking in my rear view mirror I saw him back slowly out onto the highway. Like many others, he is chomping at the bit to get into his fields and start planting.

This time last year most farmers around here had their corn completely planted and were bravely holding off planting beans until May or June. The last two years have been extremely warm and dry during April and have allowed the farmers to get a jump on spring planting. But the 8 inches of snow we had two days ago (!) have made the fields impossible to work. Luckily we had a very mild fall and winter which allowed them to get most of their spring field work done. Now all they need is a few warm (please God!) days to dry off the fields and they'll be working day and night to get it done.

Coming from "the bottom" ["The bottom" is what the valley between our hills and the hills of Nebraska were called. Long ago the Missouri River cut a wide swath between the two, leaving fertile ground behind. I'm guessing it was about 20 miles wide and FLAT, FLAT, FLAT! Onawa is located on the bottom. I think that's why I always hated that town - it was too flat.] in Western Iowa, this drive to get into a field amuses me. Farmers around there are never in a hurry - mostly because they're farming gumbo. The standard "joke" is that gumbo is only workable one week out of the year. If it's too wet you can get a tractor stuck tighter than a tick on a mule. But when it drys out its like trying to farm cement and will break a cultivator like a candy cane.

I'm feeling bad for the farmers. I guess my little patch of garden is not such a big deal after all. Last night the weather guy said that the normal temperature for this month is supposed to be in the 60's - it's 48 right now and is the warmest it's been since the "heat wave" in March. Snow storms in Texas, tornadoes in Mississippi and cold up here in Northern Iowa. This should be an interesting year, to say the least.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Spicy Coleslaw

Today is the Chamber's Annual Meeting and DH told me that "he'd" been asked to bring a salad for it. (Board members usually provide the side dishes.) When he told me this on Sunday, I knew exactly what I was going to make - my Spicy Coleslaw.

I make this throughout the year because it is so simple and so good! I'm not fond of mayo-based slaws, so when I found this recipe several years ago I was thrilled. It sounds like a whole lot of pepper, but, trust me - this slaw rocks!

Spicy Coleslaw

1 16 oz. package of coleslaw mix

5 green onions, chopped

2/3 cup olive oil (Important - use the good stuff for this!)

1/4 cup white vinegar (I've used wine vinegar and tarragon vinegar also)

1/4 cup water

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Whisk together the dressing and pour it over the cabbage and onions. The longer it sits the better it gets. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Winter Onions

Don over at An Iowa Garden has been posting pictures of all the beautiful little early spring flowers that are poking their heads through the leaf litter in his yard. Since it was in the 60's here yesterday (!!!) I took the opportunity to take a walk through my yarden and see what was going on. You can imagine my surprise to see these things peeking out of my herb bed!

I remember planting some green onion bulbs last summer before the herbs got too full. But, as you can see, they quickly disappeared beneath the chaos and so I forgot about them.

Several years ago I bought some "winter onions" from Millie Madsen. She told me to plant them and forget them and they will winter over and come up in spades the next year. And let me tell you - she wasn't lying! They totally took over my behind-the-garage garden. They literally spread all over the place. And, frankly, I didn't care for the flavor as they are very strong.

So, when I pulled these yesterday, I knew for sure that I'd gotten hold of some winter onions. Whew! They may be small, but man, are they mighty! Now I have to decide what to do with these puppies. I'm thinking French Onion Soup. Or maybe the compost pile.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Playing in the Dirt

Oh, poo. Now that I've told you the Obama story, I might as well show you what he did yesterday.

After the big toy soldier battle he had to bury the dead. Little boy fashion, he's digging a shallow grave with a stick (and his hands) to bury them in. The recent ice storm brought down plenty of branches for this grave task. (sorry...couldn't help myself!)

It's a good thing grandma has a nice "new" bathtub! This is the first week where the weather has actually acted like spring and he has been taking advantage of every minute. It's his spring break so we have had him all week long. (Spring break? In grade school???)

While he was busy digging, I baked some cookies. The gooey, double chocolate kind. Of course, he gets to lick the bowl.

I don't know whose luckier - us or him.

Bragging Rights

Last month Barack Obama was campaigning in Des Moines and unless you live in Iowa, you probably didn't get much coverage of this event. If you do live in Iowa, then you saw it continuously talked about for two days on the TV networks. And in that coverage you might have heard about the question a first grader asked the candidate. Ahem..... yep. That was my grandson Quinten!

The fact that his mother (my daughter) would take a 7 year old to a political rally is amazing in and of itself. But when they opened the question period after his speech, Della said Quinten's hand just shot into the air. Since they were sitting towards the back and were pretty much invisible to Obama, a lady sitting behind them got up and went down to his aides to let them know a little boy really wanted to ask Mr. Obama a question. Della said when she saw an aide walk over to them with the microphone, she just about had a cow since she wasn't sure what would come out of Quinten's mouth.

Quinten is pretty sharp. He's known who the President AND Vice President are since he was three. Nothing much gets past his keen observations. When he was younger he and grandpa would watch Face The Nation, Fox News, and the rest of those Sunday morning political shows. It gave him great pleasure to watch grandpa yell at the TV. "Is he an idiot, grandpa?" he would ask when Don's face turned red. Now that he's older, he really doesn't care for that anymore, much preferring Sponge Bob to O'Reilly. (I have to agree with him there.)

So what did Quinten ask Mr. Obama?

"President Obama, when did you know you wanted to be President? Who was your favorite President when you were growing up?"

Yes, he really did call him "President Obama". Does this kid know something we don't?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Orange Geranium

Every year I plant geraniums somewhere in my gardens. I love these plants for their colors and ease of growing. This past summer Millie (of Madsen Greenhouse) had a true orange geranium and I fell in love with its cheery face. So much so, in fact, that I dug it up and brought it inside with the other plants in the fall.

I know that geraniums do very well in pots over the winter because I've seen them in other people's windows. I always felt that they were so cheap and so plentiful during the growing season that there was no need to go to the trouble of digging them up and over-wintering them inside. But this color was so unusual that I just couldn't part with it. To my delight, not only did it thrive, but it just keeps blooming!

My Iowa Garden had a picture of her beautiful peach angel wing begonia and it inspired me to try my hand at photographing my little beauty as well. I think they turned out pretty well. I was worried that the color wouldn't come through, but it did.

Since March 20 (Tuesday) is the first day of Spring, (and since it's snowing right now...) I thought I'd brighten up my morning with some pretty pictures. Enjoy!

Friday, March 16, 2007


It just occurred to me (on my drive home from the grocery store) that most of my ideas for blog entries happen while I'm driving. I can think of the neatest things to talk about. In my mind I have the entire post drafted exactly how I want it to read. But the minute I park the car and enter the house I immediately forget what I wanted to say! Probably because the dogs are barking and jumping because they have to pee, or I have to put the groceries away, or the phone rings and DH wants to know where I put some paper at the office. I'm not complaining, mind you. It would be a barren life without the dogs or the chores or my work. And, of course, without DH to liven up my days. Time enough for that when I'm at the nursing home.

I get why people bad-mouth nursing homes. I really do. Having grown up in one I know that (for most people anyway) it's the last step to the grave and they fear that. I figure you have to die somewhere and, besides, all my friends will be there too. As long as it has an internet connection I'll be happy. I can just picture myself, sitting in my pedchair in my baggy jeans and sweatshirt with my laptop blinking happily back at me. I just hope I have something to say besides how shitty the food is.

You might have noticed that this isn't strictly a "food blog" or a "garden blog" or a "pets/kids blog". It's more of a ME blog! It's about things that affect me in my life today and what's affected me and shaped me in the past. It's me trying to convey a small piece of my life and my memories while I can. It's not only about me, it is also for me. So when I'm sitting there in my chair at the nursing home I can re-read these silly posts and remember and (hopefully) smile.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, I'm only 56. I'm a LONG way from going into a nursing home! It's just something I was thinking about in the car on the way home. See? Told ya.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Taste of Smells

(I started this post a couple of weeks ago, but lost my train of thought. I know - hard to believe, huh. )

DH was fixing himself breakfast the other day and kindly offered to make me some toast while he was doing his own. I told him "No thanks. I like the smell of toast but don't like the taste of it." He looked at me for a moment. "That's an odd thing to say," he said while buttering his toast. Which got me to thinking... (always a bad sign).

I know that smell and taste are closely aligned. Anyone who has had a head cold can attest to that. When we are presented with a new food, we smell it before tasting it. At least I do. For some reason the taste of toast is disappointing to me. It doesn't somehow live up to it's odor.

I was like that with marijuana too. I love the smell of it, but it tastes horrible to me. (Hey! I grew up in the '60s! Don't shake your head at me - everyone has skeletons in their closets.) Every time I tried smoking it I threw up. I figured I must have been allergic to the THC - or something. And I've met other people who have said the same thing.

ANYWAY... the point is... how can something smell yummy but not taste yummy? On the flip side, how can something smell so ungodly foul and yet taste (to aficionados) heavenly? I've always wondered who was the first human brave enough to crack open a durian and actually eat it? (I've read that the orangutans love them too. The first human probably took that as a signal that it wouldn't kill you to eat it. But still... the smell!)

....to be continued... I hope...

(Now that Joe Pastry is posting on taste I think I'll go ahead and post this even in it's uncomplete, half-assed form. Maybe I'll remember what I was going to say.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Party Shrimp

Ilva from Lucullian Delights and Joanna from Joanna's Food have started a new blog called The Heart of the Matter. If you have followed the link to Joanna's blog you will have read what brought her to this search for heart-healthy recipes. It's a scary possibility many of us "middle-agers" face. Thankfully her husband survived his brush with death and this has given Joanna the incentive to change their life styles.

In an effort to glean heart-healthy recipes Ilva and Joanna have called a one-off event for finger food that is good for you. To that end, I am submitting the following recipe for Party Shrimp. I haven't the foggiest idea where I found this recipe but I've made it a few times (most recently at the Daytona party) and it's always a hit with guests. The nutrition data is for the entire recipe via Nutrition Data.com.

Party Shrimp
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

2 lbs. cooked, peeled shrimp
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chrushed
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Dash of ground red pepper
1 lemon, very thinly sliced (DH and I don't really like the extra lemon in this so I leave it out)
1 med. red onion very thinly sliced
1 (4 oz.) can whole ripe pitted olives, drained
2 tablespoons chopped pimento (I never have this on hand so I leave it out too)

Whisk everything in a medium bowl and toss with the shrimp. Cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator at least an hour. It is simple to put together and looks pretty in the bowl.

Nutrition Data:
569 Calories; Fat 36g; saturated fat 5g; trans-fats 0g; Cholesterol 429mg; sodium 5913mg; carbs 15g; fibert 3g; sugars 3g; protein 48g.

(Remember, the nutrition data is for the whole recipe. )