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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.

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Yesterday keys exchanged hands and now someone else calls the place his own. As I surveyed the property of my childhood home — the home my mother lived in for more than 55 years — one last time it was surprising to feel not so much sadness and loss but rather relief. Weeds were everywhere and trees so overgrown as to block out views of the house and other buildings from the road. The house itself, badly in need of some tender loving care, looked tired and forlorn. Over the years it has just gotten too much for Mom to keep up. She said the work was more than she could handle. Knowing she couldn’t do the work herself and seeing how much needed to be done was bringing her down. Mom loves to tinker, to keep busy. She took pride in her gardens and her many bird feeders. These past few years, due to recent health problems and getting older, she was able to devote less and less time to her passions and now the new owner, a retired single gentlemen in his fifties, has his work cut out for him. Hopefully curb appeal is as important to him as it was to my mother and he’ll restore the place to its former glory.

For Mom there was also the expense of keeping the old homestead running – the electric and heating bills for both her house and the apartments was astronomical compared to what they’ll run in the new place. She had to hire out to help with the mowing and repairs and snow removal and that only added to her expenses. Property taxes were another consideration. There was also the isolation she felt at times being out there alone, especially in the winter months when an ill-timed blizzard could make her a prisoner in her own home for days on end. Yes. The time had come for her to leave. Once she made that decision the other pieces quickly fell into place.

The new house is smaller and newer and yet it has five bedrooms, two of which are actually quite small. Three bedrooms are on the main level and two are in the finished basement. There is also a full bath in the basement and plenty of room for staging family get-togethers at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Four of us girls live out of town and the other two girls live not too far from Mom so the bedrooms will work quite well for our needs.   She has a nice open kitchen with a breakfast bar, a place to set up her sewing room, a nice-sized patio and best of all closer proximity to all her friends. She is very excited about her new digs and all of us girls are thrilled for her. My mother is a busy woman. Not only does she have a new house now to settle in to but she leaves for Ireland in a week! You’re doing it right Mom. You’re doing it right!

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Science has never been my strong suit. Blame it on cultural conditioning — the thinking in some circles (while I was growing up) that decreed math and science as school subjects for the boys while reading and English and social studies were topics that girls excelled in. Or perhaps it was merely just a lack of motivation on my part or (more likely) just that I was indeed more interested in reading (which I always have been).

So while I plodded along during science class – always doing my homework and paying attention in class – when it came to studying the weather I truly did struggle to comprehend. Show me pictures of the different cloud types and I simply drew a blank: whether grade school, junior high or high school science class, I was at a loss to differentiate an altocumulous from a cirrus. To this day I still don’t understand how high pressure vs. low pressure impacts the seven-day forecast.

As a non-traditional student, first at a local community college and then later in pursuit of my bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University, I originally set out to major in mathematics. I remember being very surprised to learn that one of the students in my calculus classes wanted to major in meteorology. He told me he’d always been fascinated by the weather. This was a foreign concept to me. Fascinated by the weather? Seriously? Of all the things to be fascinated by in this huge, beautiful, complex world of ours it would never have occurred to me that weather might be at the top of the list for some folks. Before I finished with my degree I would meet two others similarly enthralled with the science and ‘mystery’ in the skies above us – one of whom is currently a meteorologist for one of the local channels here in Des Moines.

Older and presumably wiser now I do have more of an appreciation for the weather if not exactly for the science behind it. I have always loved thunderstorms and I say this only half-jokingly but someday I would like to actually witness a tornado with my own eyes. Hurricanes are one phenomenon of nature that is hard for us land-locked Midwesterners to comprehend – thankfully! – but I am still in awe of the power and forcefulness (and the destruction) these storms are capable of unleashing. Living on a golf course that is fully open to the western sky, winter storms and blizzards are a mighty sight to behold as the winds and snow come ripping along the fairway outside our north-facing windows. Trudging through waist-high drifts once the storms have passed it is utterly amazing to ponder how such wind-blown beauty could possibly result from laying on one small snowflake upon another and another and another again. Over and over. Mind-boggling, really.

So yes, I suppose you could say that I too now have a fascination for the weather and what can be wrought by the wrath and fury (and delight) of Mother Nature. Now if I could just get this low pressure thing figured out…

 

Based on a recommendation from my son I am currently reading a book set in Alaska during the early 1900’s about a family struggling to settle the land, far from home, against a backdrop of a fierce and beautiful terrain. I’m struck by the descriptions of the mountains and frozen creeks and thick forests, the wildlife and the wind and the snow and the cold as well as the rugged individuals who have chosen to live there. It is an interesting tale and nudges me toward contemplation. How different things are now, in our lives of relative leisure, than they were back then. Would Bill and I have what it takes to endure, to thrive – to survive! – in this environment?

Self-sufficiency isn’t largely associated with those of us who call this country here home. We want for pretty much nothing in comparison to the characters in this story or, in fact, to those people living in hard-to-fathom conditions in many underdeveloped countries around the world.

And yet I wonder. If we were to walk – to bid adieu to the hustle and bustle of our technology-driven lives with 24×7 news, entertainment and more information than we sometimes know what to do with it – where would or could we go? Yes, perhaps Alaska. More of a wild frontier than anything else we have here in the intercontinental United States. Could we truly find a place of solitude that has not yet been touched by the ravages of modern man? And if we were able to, would our soft minds and bodies be able to adapt? Would we miss our devices and our television and the instant gratification to which we’ve become accustomed or would we relish their absences – growing and discovering more about ourselves than we ever thought possible?

To live off the land while being subjected to it at the same time. To quickly learn we have more strength and resolve than we currently realize. To move forward – always – one step at a time while accepting there will occasionally (and likely!) be setbacks. To hunker down within ourselves and find out what is truly important. To understand what our priorities really are or should be.

Yes. I think we could do that or rather I’d like to think that we could. It is both scary and wondrous to consider living our lives in such a challenging manner.  Whether we might choose to pursue such a life remains to be seen.

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ~ Charles Darwin

July is almost over. And for me that’s just as well. June was pleasant enough – a sampling of what was yet to come. July is where high crimes and misdemeanors take place: crazy days of heat and sun and parties and swimming and picnics and baseball games and lakes and golf and, well, FUN! An ill-timed trio of infections put the kibosh on any hope of that for me this year. And now they’re reporting that July is one of the coolest on record. Enough. July – we are so over you. At least I am anyway…

All well and good. Time to move on. Except that August is normally a hot, humid, miserable month. Oh, it’s great for water sports and swimming, true. But the days start getting shorter and it can be difficult to plan anything with family and friends since this is traditionally when many people go on their summer vacations. There’s the state fair to contend with as well and school seems to start earlier and earlier each year. With the ungodly warm temperatures and all that humidity many people start to yearn for fall during this time. Indeed, for the most part August is a bust.

September is actually the only real true hope I have for ‘summer’ this year. By then, however, I’ll be ready for football and tailgating and cooler weather. This is when I start to gaze longingly at the funky sweaters and jackets and sweatshirts hanging in my closet. I’ll pull out my boots, dust them off and try them on to experiment with different outfits hoping to land on an exciting new look. Cooking starts to sound appealing again with thoughts of comfort foods and soups and stews and apple desserts and pumpkin bread swirling around in my head. I’m ready to pull out the dead, wilted flowers from the pots and containers – they are no longer able to pull off the objective in my efforts at curb appeal and truth be known haven’t for some weeks now. Mum’s the word and I want to fill every pot and planter with their beautiful reds and yellows and other autumnal shades and colors!

Until then we still have a few days left of July to contend with. Pulling up my big-girl panties and dealing with it. July is essentially lost to me forever this year. I’m getting a little healthier but just not quite there yet. There will be other July’s, other summers. This one just didn’t quite work out the way I hoped that it would. Shrug.  In the scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal.  But I sure would have enjoyed sitting outside enjoying the fireworks on the 4th of July — the weather was spectacular that night.  Next year — there is always next year!

Several years ago my dad commissioned an acquaintance to create a totem pole for the old homestead. He was quite proud of the results and enjoyed showing off the ‘zombies’ as he once described them to me. Fortunately it occurred to me a couple of months ago after Mom put the place up for sale that maybe I should capture their likenesses for future reference, like maybe when the Zombie Apocalypse they foretell finally does arrive. This way I’ll know what to be on the lookout for.