What a wonderful treat!  My work day is slightly delayed today – I have a training class offsite that starts later than normal for me – so in addition to getting to sleep in a little we woke up to a smattering of lightning and gloriously loud thunder boomers all around us.  Rain is pouring down at a rapid rate and the fairway that borders our property to the north is a small tributary.

I have always enjoyed thunderstorms but I know they frighten some people.  I recall a childhood friend – always much more rough and tumble than I ever was or hoped to be – who I discovered in high school was terrified of storms.  To say I was surprised to learn this would be an understatement.  I also have a few relatives who dislike thunder and lightning and a recently acquired blogging friend who recently reported her fear of them.

It’s been a little dry lately so the rain is most welcome at this time.  What won’t be so pleasant later in the day is the heat and humidity so much moisture in the air is sure to deliver.  The next few days here in central Iowa look to be upper 80s, low 90’s.  Our local news channel forewarns of ‘big heat’ ahead on their website.

For now though as thunder continues to rumble in the distance I’m enjoying a few moments of calm, dashing off this quick post, before we head into the city to begin our day.  As usual I struggle today trying to figure out what to wear – it will be stifling hot and sticky outside but sure to be frigidly cold indoors (blasted A/C!) – so as always I’ll dress in layers, make sure I have hot tea or chai on hand to keep me warm and hope for the best.

Have a great day everyone!

IMG_0037 I don’t know about other areas of the U.S. (or other countries for that matter) but here in the Midwest bike trails have been developed to run along pathways formerly used by old railway lines. This weekend my husband and I walked one of these bike trails, the High Trestle Trail where we began our brief excursion at the trailhead in the small Iowa town of Woodward.

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The path we travelled was pleasantly wide enough for bikes to pass by easily and was lined on either side with lush green vegetation, wild flowers and ivy climbing over anything in its path. It somewhat reminded us of the kudzu we’d seen once during a visit to North Carolina. Bunnies ran across the trail and into the brush while butterflies and birds swooped in and out of all that beautiful greenery. It was beautiful and peaceful and invigorating all at the same time!

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As the name implies this bike trail makes its way to an old trestle bridge. Unfortunately this particular visit did not allow us time enough to explore and photograph it further on what was turning out to be a very splendid summer day; we did, however, hike this trail on my 55th birthday two years ago in February.

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It was relatively warm for a winter day, sunny and just a little breezy. Bill and I hiked out to the bridge late that afternoon (coming from the opposite direction than we did this past weekend) and since it was our first visit there we didn’t know what to expect. My husband likes to tease me about being ‘high maintenance’ (I’m not. Really. Well, okay. Maybe a little…) but this is my kind of day and my kind of adventure! The fresh air, the open vistas, walking through nature. I love doing this sort of thing. After about a half an hour trek we finally made our way to the bridge itself.

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The view was incredible — all that wide open space — and we were up so high. This was, remember, a former railway line and we were on top of a trestle bridge that, according to their website, is 130 feet high. With such a grand viewing platform it was only a little surprising when we caught sight of several deer running out into the clearing from the woods nearby. It was the highlight of an already wonderful day!

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Readers familiar with the area will be quick to point out that my photos fail to include what is best known, perhaps, about the High Trestle Trail and that is the view after dark. Unfortunately, we have yet to visit the trail for a nocturnal hike (definitely on my Local Bucket List!) and there are no words I can employ to adequately describe the bridge at night. Please check out the website and their photo gallery for a grand array of photos — including those taken in the evening — to get an even better idea of what this wonderful Iowa treasure has to offer!

Some Iowa natives grumble about the weather here (our winters can be brutal and the summers dreadfully hot and humid). Others complain of nothing to do and being stuck in ‘fly over country’. Some young people are often anxious to leave the area for ‘greener pastures’ only to return to the comfort and tranquility of life here in the Midwest after a few years. Count me, however, as one proud Iowan. We may not have grand canyons or great lakes but I think the beauty and peacefulness of places here in Iowa such as the High Trestle Trail have a charm all their own and I am glad to call this place home.

As adventures go, my foray into The Land of Blog has been fairly low key. No racing pulse, no sweaty brow nor dangers posed to life or limb. Instead of physical exertion or a challenge of stamina, employing words and images to convey the musings of my mind in a way that inspires and entertains is a summoning of intestinal fortitude on an entirely different plane.

I don’t know when the seed was first planted but for many years I have given thought to writing a book. The problem I faced was lack of a story. I knew that I enjoyed writing. Sometimes thoughts and phrases would pop into my head and I wanted to create a vehicle in which these random words could travel. I’ve given thought to writing about growing up in a family of six daughters and even came up with the literary names I’d give to each of us in the fictionalized account I might someday write. That, however, was the extent of it.

Then I began to learn about something called a blog. Wikipedia defines a blog as ‘a discussion or informational site’ on the internet ‘consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order’. There are several posting web sites and web publishing tools available to get started with the process and for hosting your blog. As I started to research the mechanics of creating and assembling a blog I also pondered what it was I wanted to say, what I wanted to write about.

Just as there is a learning curve to the intricacies of blog development within the hosting tool of choice it is perhaps even more of a challenge trying to figure out writing style, blog statistics and methods for reaching out to (and retaining!) new followers and increasing the number of views and visitors to your blog let alone deciding what it is you want to post about every day.

One thing I’ve discovered in just these short three months (to be precise two months, twelve days)  is that it sure is difficult to know what will ‘connect’ with my readers. I’ve written some posts that I am certain will elicit several views, ‘likes’ and comments and get nothing but crickets. On the flip side, other posts send my site stats soaring and while I am always ecstatic to see my numbers going up, up, UP it is sometimes puzzling to understand why this post and not the other. Go figure. Lesson One: You write for yourself and not for the kudos and congratulatory comments that may (or may not) come your way. I have several posts on my blog that, while I was sure they would trigger positive reactions but didn’t, I am nonetheless quite proud of them and happy with the results.

Writing is scary. You’re putting yourself out there – proverbial warts and all – and really exposing yourself in an entirely new way. Many people post on Facebook and other social media but writing on a blog – and saying what it is that’s on your mind in a more expanded fashion – opens you up to rejection, reader comments that can be either welcoming or bruising, and perhaps worst of all indifference.

Still, we bloggers continue on because we love the words, we love the images and we enjoy the writing. Whether it be the clunk and growl and rattle of the written word or the luster and shimmer of a well-orchestrated symphony of letters arranged in a precise manner to convey the stories we wish to tell we blog because it makes us happy. Perhaps our pulses do actually race a bit. And while our brows may not be sweaty, at times our palms are! To us this is adventure of the highest order. This we must do.

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During the last several weeks and months, in just my own small world alone, there have been a number of untimely deaths. The startling news of each passing is always totally unexpected. All of them individuals in their 50s and 60s with retirement and travel and grandkids and exciting new adventures either already underway or on the not too distant horizon. Hopes and dreams shattered, the very existence of loved ones reeling with loss put on hold.

Whenever lives are cut short as a result of health-related problems it always gives me pause. There is, of course, the heaviness of tragedy – the hardships, grieving and loss to be endured by those left behind but also the reminder for all of us of our own frailties and vulnerabilities, our very mortality.

Fittingly – with the sad, stunning demise of Robin Williams still all too fresh in our minds – the battle cry of ‘Carpe Diem!’ which his character encouraged his students to embrace in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society is one we should carry in our hearts if not on our tongues as well. We should strive to live and love with abandon with an eye toward keeping ourselves healthy in the process. With the memory of these recent deaths I’ve become more cognizant than ever that I want to remain healthy. I want to live a long, happy, productive life with my husband. I want to travel and enjoy leisurely sunsets. I want to climb mountains, linger along the water’s edge, hike in the woods, fly kites, drink good wine with friends and family, groove and sway to the blues, kayak, go camping, play board games and go golfing with my life partner. I want to see my son married someday and perhaps start a family.  I want to cook and bake and snap photos and write and read and laugh and love!  I want to create memories of special holidays and milestones with friends and family.  But mostly I just want to cherish the everyday joys of life.

Life-sustaining, life-enhancing diet and exercise, mood and attitude and life-affirming, nurturing relationships should be our highest priority. Somehow knowing and acknowledging the payoff of caring for self through a positive lifestyle makes the goal of good health appear easier to attain, doable.

The alternative is simply, utterly unthinkable. Seize the Day! It truly is all we have right here, right now. Make it happen.

 

 

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Gas? Or Water? Does anyone else remember playing that game as a kid? Walking down the street and spying one of those city utility caps in the sidewalk. Stomping your foot to cover the letters and asking your friends or siblings to guess which one — gas or water.

Strolling through our neighborhood tonight with my camera I smiled when I saw this.  It reminded me of those silly sidewalk games we used to play so many years ago.

Another street game, of sorts, took place when we went to visit my grandmother who still had three daughters at home when I was very young. One of my aunts was just two years older than me and when you threw in a cousin the same age as me there was the inevitable two against one — and I was always the ‘one’.  Mary and Denise would sometimes blindfold me and walk me to a remote area of the small town my grandma lived in, leave me there to count to one hundred before I could remove the scarf covering my eyes.  I would then try to determine where I was and run back to grandma’s house.  I thought I knew the town pretty well since we all played there together so much and because, well, it really was a very, very small town.  There was that one time though — and to this day I can still picture looking around in astonishment and having absolutely no idea where I was — when they escorted me to a section of town I’d never been to before.  I believe it was on the very outskirts of this tiny Minnesota community along the Iowa border.  I recall being a little scared but ultimately (obviously!) I found my way home.  To this day Mary and Denise love to tease me about it and at a recent family reunion they laughingly attempted to haul me off yet again to another hiding place.

Oh.  And for the record — it was water.

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I’m no sports analyst nor am I even an avid golfer.  Health problems have prevented me from even carrying up my clubs from the basement this summer.  However, I do like to golf and I have attended my fair share of PGA golf tournaments and enjoy watching golf on TV.

Since Tiger’s fall from grace golf has seen the emergence of a number of worthy contenders — new talent to carry the mantle worn by Tiger in recent years past.  While he has also been plagued by on-going health issues it seems he lost his mojo shortly after the infamous altercation with his wife was made public.  Disclaimer:  Count me as one of several who were both disgusted and appalled by Tiger’s self-destructive behavior.  But the guy has more than paid the price for his transgressions and now, while previously cheering against him following the revelations of his self-centered and narcissistic actions, I now wish him well.  I’m afraid though it may be too late.  In some ways, much like Michael Jackson, another phenomenal talent or the recently deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tiger’s behavior seems to have been his own undoing.  And what a shame that is.

With Tiger’s departure from Sunday tournament play – his signature red shirt glaringly MIA – a new slew of players have injected the game with talent, fun, style and grace:  Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Ricky Fowler and still, thankfully, Phil Mickelson.

I like all of these players and sitting here watching a tight final round of the 2014 PGA Championship (late in the day following a rain delay with several holes yet to play) it’s hard to know who to root for.  I think this is fantastic for golf and great for the fans as well.  I don’t think you need to be an avid golfer or sports analyst to see that!

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Get off your earmuffs and hear the call of the jay, the splash of the jumping trout, the roar of a waterfall. Brush the dust of habit away from your eyes and see the lacery of the pine needles, the vivid coloring of the cliff or wildflower, the majesty of the peaks. In other words, take stock of the world in which you live. ~ Arthur C. Carhart, US Forest Service, 1922

Just like that, when you ‘brush the dust of habit away from your eyes’ it’s funny how much of the world does come into focus. Things and people and places and events that we take for granted every day without so much as a shred of thought or acknowledgement sometimes take hold of us. Guiding us toward truths that have always been right there, patiently and quietly waiting for us to notice. It’s moments like these when we come to realize what is really important: family, health, friends, passion and purpose.

Look around you. What are you waiting for? There’s a big, fat, magnificent world out there with beauty and elegance and simplicity and calm at every turn. All yours if you will only open your eyes and see.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  A quick Google search reveals that Samuel Johnson is (perhaps incorrectly) credited with this little nugget.  Different sources suggest otherwise or provide variations on the theme such as ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ or ‘nice guys finish last’.  Fair enough.  Whatever the phrase I understand the thinking behind it and know that it applies in spades when it comes to our kitchen-related activities.

While I love Adventures in Cooking and even more so Adventures in Baking I’ve started to detect a bit of a pattern.  Can anyone else relate?  It usually goes something like this…

Busy weekends:

  • Places to go, things to do, too much time frittered away (let’s not get into that…)
  • No time to cook or bake. Out we eat for the rest of the week.
  • Or pull out frozen leftovers (if we haven’t done that already the week before).
  • Peanut butter sandwiches. Grilled cheese and soup.
  • Hey. Air-popped popcorn with very little butter and a couple quick shakes of salt provides needed fiber, no?

A calendar respite:

  • Peruse dust-covered cookbooks and bookmarked web sites, categorized computer folders. My beautiful Amana Colonies walnut recipe box filled to over-flowing with magazine clippings and recipe cards.
  • DECIDE.
  • Compile Menu Planner for the next seven days in a spiral notebook.
    • Name of recipe
    • Name of cookbook with page number
  • Compile grocery list.
    • Group ingredients together by recipe
    • No use buying sour cream if I can’t find the other ingredients for XXX Casserole
  • Drive to the store (assuming something more interesting to do doesn’t come up).
    • If it does, plan to go later. Tomorrow is another option.
    • Otherwise, we’re on our way.
  • Saturday
    • See previous bullets.
    • Do we have what we need? BEGIN.
    • If not, see ‘Drive to the store’. Rinse, lather. Repeat.

Dad_ColorRem·i·nisce: indulge in enjoyable recollection of past events

Strolling through my photo archives looking for ideas and inspiration for the photo book I made to give to Mom when she moved out of her old house and into the new one I had fun reminiscing about this man I knew as Daddy. Our family has many stories and examples that perfectly illustrate my dad’s character – both the good and the bad! Of course I know this can probably be said of most people but those who knew him will likely tell you that my dad was one of a kind.

Dad enjoyed a drink (or two or three…) and many of the stories I’ve heard about his younger days usually occurred as a result of tipping the bottle a few times too many. Driving down country roads with a cooler in the back seat led to much silliness and zany antics. Like the time he and a friend high-jacked a tractor parked at the end of a corn row, put it in gear and let it slowly drive across the field with nobody to pilot the darn thing.  Or when he and another buddy stopped at a dangerous intersection, took off their belts and whipped the ground yelling ‘Bad corner! Bad corner!’ Mom tells of how Dad would carry a chair out to the middle of a crowded dance floor and pretend to be casting a fishing rod and then laughingly scold the dancers for tangling his line.

There is a somewhat risqué (but entirely fabricated!) story Dad liked to tell of how he met Mom. She would just roll her eyes and sigh ‘Oh Richard’. Dad would explain (with a twinkle in his eye) how he was crawling around under a booth in yet another dancehall — they both loved to dance! — when he first laid eyes on Mom. ‘What are you doing down here?’ my mother supposedly asked him. ‘Oh, just looking for my glasses. How about you? What are you doing here?’ ‘Oh, just looking for my panties.’

After my dad died Mom and I were cleaning out the office in the sawmill one day when suddenly Mom started to both laugh and cry. We had stumbled across an old wallet in one of the drawers. Not understanding the significance of this discovery I asked what was so funny. Apparently Dad used to hide old wallets, like this one, with a dollar bill tucked into the lining inside an open knot of one of the logs loaded on the sawmill ramp. When a new and unsuspecting hired hand proceeded to roll the log up the ramp he would then whoop and holler at his ‘good fortune’ at finding this not-so-well hidden treasure.

Whenever Dad was on the phone talking business, us girls would giggle and grin and nudge each other as we waited for him to end the call because he would always wrap up the conversation with a curt ‘You bet’. We would all burst out laughing – until that one time when he calmly told the party on the other end of the line ‘Yes. Thank you. Goodbye’. He looked up with a smirk — and a ‘Gotcha’ expression on his face — and laughed at us instead. By golly, he knew!

A favorite story of mine is one I will always remember fondly and with an appreciation of how his mind – churning, twisting and turning and thinking, always thinking! – worked. Mom and I were discussing a precancerous mole that I had just had removed from my belly. She and I talked about how one of my other sisters had also had one removed a few years earlier and that the doctors had been quite concerned. It was a fairly serious conversation. Dad sat there silently, biding his time. When there was a lull in the conversation he quietly observed that one time he’d ‘had a gopher’ on his leg. It didn’t sink in at first. I just looked at him blinking, trying to understand but once I did I was a goner! I laughed and laughed. After I stopped laughing, I’d think again of what he had said and would laugh still more until my stomach ached and big, fat tears rolled down my cheeks. Oh, how Daddy loved to make us laugh.

My husband knows this last story by heart because he has heard us girls tell it over and over again. The best ‘Dad’ story begins with a long-distance phone call.  He had just gotten out of the shower as both my parents were getting ready for a big fish fry at the Timber Inn (the tavern my dad had built on our property a few years earlier). Back then it was a serious matter getting a long distance telephone call especially if it was related to business so it was important that he take – and finish – the call. While he was on the phone one of our cows broke through the electric fence. We girls tried again and again to corral it but our efforts were unsuccessful. We gestured frantically for Dad to get off the phone and come help us. Finally he finished the call, hung up the phone, grabbed a pair of pants and ran outside. Fortunately the cow had a rope attached to the collar around its neck and Dad was able to quickly grab hold of the rope. Success! He had the cow. But the cow was apparently in no mood to be had and struggled mightily to free itself from the hold Dad had on him as he ran along the busy highway that ran parallel to our property. Finally Dad had no choice but to grab the rope with BOTH hands. The result of which is that at this point gravity took over and his pants dropped to his ankles. Just as a highway patrolman drove by!

These stories of my dad– and so many others like them – helped all of us get through that dark and difficult time after he died. He was an amazing, wonderful (yet exasperating!) person and I sure do love and miss him immensely.

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I’m chagrined to admit that some of my recent posts have been peppered with a spray of negative words and tone when what I seek to portray instead through my blog is positive energy and optimism. Health wise, I think I may have turned the proverbial corner. The coughing and hacking have greatly diminished and soon I’ll be able to return to my RA meds to put an end to the debilitating stiffness and painful swollen joints that continue to hold me back. Hopefully I’ll return to the swimming pool in no time picking up where I left off in my quest for a healthier, more physically active me. Likewise I have already started to resume my daily walks. Granted right now it’s just baby steps but a definite move in the right direction. My mother has now successfully and triumphantly made the transition to her new abode, leaving behind the home she’s known for more than 55 years. The move was relatively painless and without incident. Mom embraced the change and that has made all the difference.

And now, as they say, it is time to move on…

Despite the challenges of the last month or so I truly am happy and content with my life and I am enthusiastic about what lays ahead. I’m just this side of the energy and motivation I require to pursue many of the things that I love: hiking and walking, swimming, Adventures in Cooking, Adventures in Baking, drinking wine in front of a roaring fire or listening to music at a local winery, driving country roads with my camera close at hand hunting for photographic inspiration, football games this fall (the first game of the season is less than a month away!) and otherwise enjoying time with family and friends. If I regain the strength in my hands and wrists in time I hope to get in a round of golf or two yet this summer and ride some of the many beautiful bicycle trails in the area. In September we’re visiting the Estes Park area in Colorado for a week and I’m starting to tingle with anticipation for the adventures as well as the relaxation that awaits us there.

I have an amazing husband who is oh, so good to me. He is handsome, sweet, sexy and kind and there ain’t nobody makes me laugh like he does. I often tell people Bill and I can have a blast together just sitting by ourselves in a car in a deserted parking lot. We are so well suited for each other and ours is a strong, happy marriage. For that I am supremely grateful. My son is thriving now at this stage of his life: loves his career teaching chemistry at a community college near St. Louis, enjoys playing in a blues band with like-minded musicians and he has met a wonderful young woman who matches his kookiness, enthusiasm, creativity and passion for life every step of the way!

None of these things has changed. These very aspects of my life – beautiful and real and quite comforting – have been there all along. I just needed to escape the fog of despair and frustration of being sick for so long. To be sure the RA continues to kick my arse but history has shown the medications to be effective in treating it. Hopefully soon I’ll be back on track with my meds and feeling strong and healthy again. Patience Grasshopper. Patience.