Saturday, October 29, 2011


I think I am fairly addiction free.  I mean, I don't smoke, and drink pretty moderately, and I don't think I have a food addiction though french fries and a heaven made of chocolate have crossed each other in my dreams.  Perhaps a chocolate covered french fry.  I don't need gourmet coffee, though I do require it hot and like a big dollop of white, as my grandpa used to say.  I don't think I'm addicted, but I do find it one of life's necessities to get me going in the morning. 

But I will admit I love books.  I love the smell of the printed word in hardcover or soft.  I love the feel of a good solid book in my hand and the look of volumes of books lined up like soldiers on my several bookshelves.  I find them comforting on my coffee table and the last thing I will often see on my nightstand as I drift off to sleep.  I love curling up in a warm blanket, a cup of hot coffee and a good book on the damp and cold of many days.  I like a good book with a bowl of popcorn and nothing on tv.  I am happy when I can lay on a hammock on a hot summer afternoon, and be transported somewhere, anywhere that story can take me.

I discovered the love of reading in the second grade, though I think the seeds of words were planted as a child when my mother read to my brother and I.  We most often requested a book of fairytales but any book would do and some of my happiest memories are curled up next to my mom, my brother on her other side, lost in the words and world of Rapunzel, Rumpelstilskin, and my favorite, The Wild Swans.  Bible stories and Little Golden Books, we loved them all.  In the second grade, on a trip to the school library, I checked out my first book, "Bambi's Children", and was hooked.  I would read it every chance I could find and even sat under the covers with a flashlight to keep reading.   I climbed a maple tree out back to read in the leafy branches.  I sat on a porch swing and read, and I lay on the floor next to a heat register to read during the coldest parts of winter.  The school library was my good friend, but I longed to own honest to goodness books.  Books that weren't little golden books or thick paged Bible stories.  I wanted to own a hardcover book with multiple pages. 

I picked strawberries with my mom that summer at my great aunts house.  I remember thinking the strawberry patch looked endless, and picking strawberries was something I did, but eating as many as I wanted, soon lost its lure, and it was just seeing how fast I could fill the quart boxes and working my way down, down that long patch.  My payment for helping pick strawberries was a trip to town and I got to pick out two real books of my choice.  I became the proud owner of "The Bobbsey Twins", and so started my love affair with not only reading, but owning books.  I asked for books for birthdays and Christmas.  I asked for a book in my Easter basket.  When my class at school had book sales, I begged for books, and I usually was allowed to order at least one or two.  When the big cardboard box would arrive with our order at school, no one was more excited than I to get my "order", and be allowed to get new books to take home and enjoy and enjoy.

In the fourth grade I joined my first book club and became a Happy Hollister fan.  I collected probably 15 of the books from this set, and loved them but along about fifth or sixth grade I discovered Trixie Belden.  For the next few years though I continued to read everything I could, I collected Trixie Belden every time I earned extra money.  No books I owned were read and reread as much as my Trixie books.  I read Nancy Drew and even some Hardy Boys, but just never connected with them as I did Trixie, and her brothers, Brian and Mart, her friends, Honey and Diana, and Honey's adopted brother, Jim.  All these years later I still have a set of my Trixie Belden books, not packed away, but on a shelf in Annie's old room.  I don't know why I've never packed them away, I just like seeing them still sitting on a shelf, worn, but well loved.

The end of my 8th grade year, my grandma and my mother took me to see "Gone with the Wind".  GWTW was brought out only every 8 years to the theaters and it was my introduction to the tradition of going to see it.  I was enthralled by the movie and read the 800 page book that summer.  It would start a tradition of sorts where I would read GWTW every year.   I had a wonderful English teacher my freshmen year of high school who encouraged reading and even had us read a book in class, "The Outsiders" which  ultimately became another beloved favorite.  In my junior year, I took a class that allowed me to just read books.  Classic books, modern books and books of my choice.  I read "The Catcher in the Rye", "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men".   I read "Christy", "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Member of the Wedding".  I became hooked on James Michener and had a decade or more following "Hawaii", "Centennial", "Chesapeake" and "Alaska".   I read "The Covenant", "Texas" and "Poland".  I read "Space".   After Michener, John Jakes came out with his Civil War triology and later his historical fiction of the United States.  I went to college and then married and found new books to love.  I went through a time with babies where I was lucky to read the newspaper, but there was always a book tucked somewhere and my book shelves expanded.  I used the library, but just couldn't resist a book store and my ideal vacation always involved at least one good bookstore for me. 

My love affair with books didn't end with fiction.  I bought books on antiques, on gardening, and on quilting.  I bought coffee table books with pictures that took me away to places I would never visit.  I bought books on artists I loved and wondered where the talent came that allowed their pictures to breathe life.  I bought cookbooks of all kinds.  I bought my share of self help books and books on raising good kids, and books on figuring out aches and pains.  I was Gidget and thought any thing I needed to know could be learned from the pages of a book. I learned, that while I could learn much from those pages, much of my life lessons would come from just living. 

I now have more time to read and it has become one of my greatest pleasures.  When I run into another person, (usually a woman), who reads as I do, I almost hungrily quiz her for what she's reading and what she suggests.  If we've read the same books, I compare notes.  Everyone tells me I need to join a book club, but that is easier said than done, out here in my quiet country where most of my friends share books with each other and then pass those same books on to others.  So, it was with great pleasure that I sat and talked to a fellow woman reader, the other night and we talked books and authors we liked, and a warm glow spread.  Books have that way about them....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

I will admit it.  I am addicted to recipes.  I love nothing better than going through my favorite magazines and finding recipes that look too good to be true.  I have thick binders full of recipes, gleaned over the years from magazines, newspapers and more recently printed online.  One in ten are never tried out, but I am getting better...I think.

My early marriage was trying new things and learning the old standards of my mother and mother in law.  Trying to convert recipes down to two sized people took some doing and before I knew it those recipes had to expand to include kids.  A few recipes became family favorites and now 20 years later are still standard fare at a potluck or requested for a dessert when my wandering children are home.

I adopted Kurt's mom's favorite cut out cookie for Christmas.  Actually she borrowed the recipe from her sister in law, a standard Swedish version of a cut out cookie that employs of all things, hard boiled egg yolks.  It makes a thick cut out cookie that is not overly sweet with a lemon-y tang to it that I have come to love.  A bit of plain old powdered sugar icing makes it perfect.  It is not only Kurt's favorite, but both boys wait for the rolling pin to come out.  I also make Kurt a plain white angel food cake every year for his birthday.  His mother did, and its his favorite, so he gets one.   I have made her pasta sauce in the past, and its one Ryan likes to make, but it never tastes quite right to Kurt or I, so on that I am still experimenting.  If you've got any killer pasta recipes, send them my way. 

I didn't bring many of my favorite things from my own family, aside from my mom's pie making ability and a chocolate chip cookie recipe that got me through two boys and one daughter's baseball and softball years.  That cookie recipe came from Mom but by way of her best friend in our country neighborhood, Joyce.  Mom tried it, liked it and it was one of the first cookie recipes I made all by myself and went with me to my new married home.  My kids grew up and that cookie and the cut outs were probably the two constants.  Pie making was just something I learned to do and a good way to use up fruit of all kinds.  When the boys requested my apple pies, I knew I had it made.

Nope, not many things came with me that I loved.  Potato pancakes, I absolutely love, but have had little luck getting any of the kids to more than tolerate.  Kurt will eat them but doesn't crave them as do I.  Even more than potato pancakes are fried apples.  The smell of bacon and apples cooking in a big iron skillet on a late summer's morning immediately transports me back to the cottage at Sand Lake and Grandpa and Grandma getting breakfast ready.  Fried apples signalled the waning of summer but also was the essence of summer and the times spent at Sand Lake in that wonderful cottage which will always be part and parcel of my childhood. 

Popovers, anything with shrimp, magic cookies, fried eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches, fish sticks and caramel frosting... Those were the foods of my childhood.  I made an apple cream cheese bundt cake yesterday from a recipe I had ripped from Southern Living magazine.  It has become one of my favorite places to pull recipes not only for the traditonal bent they still esteem but also the wonderful pictures that make every recipe seem a must try.  I had a Bible Study yesterday and a birthday for one of the ladies.  A perfect time to try this cake.   It was complicated, not so much the ingredients but the time and bowls and measuring cups it required.  After mixing the cream cheese layer and the basic apple-spice cake from scratch, and layering the cake and the cream cheese in layers, it was baked in the oven.  Later in the afternoon I mixed up the "praline frosting" for the top.  From the point of putting butter, brown sugar and a bit of milk in a saucepan to heat up and bring to a quick boil, stirring constantly, I knew where this frosting was going.  It was the caramel frosting of my youth.  The frosting I loved so much I didn't need the white cake that generally went underneath.  The frosting I would make myself and hide under the bed to take spoonfuls when only the sweet, tooth aching, deliciousness would raise up whatever childhood angst I was suffering.  Nothing was so bad that caramel frosting didn't make it better.

But I left caramel frosting back in my childhood.  It never became part of my kids birthday cakes and since frosting in a can came out shortly after Annie was born, and since most cake icing was beyond my best culinary skills, I latched onto the wonder that made spreading frosting effortless and lasting forever.  Caramel frosting became a dim memory and something spotted only on occassional excursions into Amish country and baking as it seems to have survived well in their dessert schemes. But then last night I made the praline frosting for the apple cream cheese bundt cake, aka caramel frosting with a dressed up southern name.  It was heaven.  One hot spoonful and making it to the cake was in serious jeopardy.  Funny, how food can conjure up memories no matter our ages.  Good memories and in the case of my mom and M&M's really bad ones. 

The praline frosting made it to the bundt cake and it was a very good cake and would have been good but not quite as good without the frosting and sprinkling of toasted pecans, but the licking of the bowl and the stir spoon brought back the sweetest of memories and that's priceless....

And sometime ask me about Mom and the M&M's...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Murphy's Law

Many times I wait for that other shoe to drop, generally on my foot.  I wait for the bad news, because life surely can't go on being pretty good.  So, I worry when the stock market drops, when gasoline skyrockets, and when another health issue erupts.  Some would say its the inevitable course of aging, to worry.  Well crap, another myth shattered when I finally get there.  When I was young I worried, different things, whether I would get picked to sing in the Christmas choir, (couldn't carry a tune in a bucket), but I loved music, so I always hoped.  I worried about school and tests.  I worried if I would get asked out to the big dance, later proms, (and I mostly didn't).  I worried about choosing a college, and leaving home for the first time.  I worried all through college about passing, virtually each and every course I took.  I worried about finding a teaching job at a time when we were flush with tenured teachers.  I worried about substitute teaching, and would that be enough of a profession for me.

After marrying came a whole new set of worries with children.  Name me a mother, and her name will be "WORRY".  Making ends meet while raising the kids was MY job.  I kept the accounts and I was responsible for seeing that home and hearth were kept together.  Some days I just felt like it was going to blow up around me.  Times of unworried happiness were fleeting and I always seemed to worry about what might happen more than what did.  Somehow, we managed to keep home, remodeled and functional through the years.  The kids grew up and went out on their own with only minimal damage to their psyche's, (depending on the day you inquired), and didn't write any "Mommy Dearest" books about me, (I think). 

Of course, now when I see retirement at the end of that long tunnel, my house decides it needs a complete maintennance overhaul.  Its a sad fact of our modern life, that nothing is built to last.  If you get a car that runs for 10 years on just the oil change and grease up, you'd better hang onto it, because you'll never find a car that good again.  If your washing machine is going on 18 years and has never really needed repair, don't throw it out for the newest in front loaders which will offter headaches every other week as soon as the service contract expires.  You will find yourself settling for more time spent doing laundry, just to baby the machine along and save yourself a call to a repairman.  Everything in the world of appliances is run by computer chips now, and when they fail, there is simply no way to work around them.  If the appliance goes while under warranty (or service contract), and they seldom do, most likely they will just replace the faulty appliance rather than fix it.  Through all of this I look at much of my home with the jaded, cynical eye of one who knows, I am living on borrowed time because this shoe will fall right on my head.

And so it was that we found early this spring our twenty year old, plus, french door set was rotting in the wood frame.  I had an estimate on the door, a year ago last autumn when it became apparent it was letting lots of cold air in and the door would not stay latched without locking it.  I weather stripped around the door as replacement was kind of a hefty price tag at a time I didn't really need to have that kind of expense.  The weather stripping worked fine and I thought perhaps would get me a couple more years out of the door.  But then last spring I found the pile of what I thought was sand just inside the door on the floor.  Ants were the culprit and they do this kind of thing every spring in areas that are sandy.  But when I kept sweeping up the piles and they kept returning, I realized slowly that it wasn't sand at all but sawdust piles.  That prompted me to open the door and check for rot.  I found a hole at the bottom of the wood frame and when I pushed against it, I found hollowness up quite a way in the frame.  The wood had rotted due to snow and rain being trapped between door and frame.  That kind of settled getting the door replaced.  I considered this Kurt's pervue, and Kurt being the great procrastinator he is let it go for the summer.  But by mid August I started pressing my point that it would have to be replaced. 

Korey suggested calling my nephew, Shawn who works for Pella.  Slapped my forehead, never thought of him.  So Shawn and I began an online email dialogue about french door systems.  He sent me 4 designs varying in price.  I had hoped that we could get a door system that fit the old door's specs exactly and perhaps with some carpentry help, pop out the old door and install the new one on a weekend.  Unfortunately, and here comes into play that Murphy's Law thing, the old door had been customized and was more narrow and shorter than standard doors.  The customized Pella doors Shawn quoted were twice as much as we wanted to pay.  That blew the idea of being our own installers out the door, so to speak.  We ended up going with a better standard door for the money, but having to hire our "guys", the two young men who have done most of our remodel work the last 5 years to install it. 

The new door was to be delivered on a Tuesday morning, and Scott, one of the twosome, of Scott and Ben, of Hometown Builders, said he would be here to help unload the new door.  He was and the new door arrived 5 minutes ahead of its hour leeway times.  They unloaded the door and since Ben was with Scott, and the day was to be perhaps our last good day of weather before a week of forecast rain arrived, they decided to install the new door that morning.  I scrambled to remove everything from that room that might be shook from shelves or covered with dust. 

They began the process of taking out the old door.  They removed vinyl siding from the outside of the house to get at the old door.  They had been working an hour or more when Scott called me outside to inform me, "my house was falling down" .  They had removed the house siding about 3 feet further to an inside corner of the house.  Scott peeled back the 1/2 inch vapor backing because as he said, something didn't look quite right.  Sure enough, the plywood sheathing from the 22 year old remodel had completely rotted.  Water from the gutter that ran away from that corner had backed up due to debris and ice floes over the years and gotten behind the vinyl siding and dripped down the plywood walls.  Not only was the sheathing completely rotted, the studs behind it were rotted to half their size, and the floor plate showed rot as well as the rim skirt for our bedroom above.  When I asked if it could be fixed I was told yes, but they would have to get some OSB board and new stud two by fours at their place.  Repairing all of the damage and resheathing and water proofing took the rest of the morning and much of the afternoon.  About an hour before they left for the day, they got the new door in place.  Scott said they would come back the next day and trim out the door and replace the vinyl siding on the outside. 

Well, on Wednesday, a damp morning erupted into full blown wind and rain.  Scott and Ben dropped off the trim stuff, but said it was too wet to work and they would try on Thursday.   The wind picked up and the rain was driven all afternoon.  Luckily, if you can call any of this, lucky, the wind was out of the NE and the house blocked the wind and rain from the wall repair for the most part. 

I decided to keep busy on this rainy, blustery, big hint of winter day, when I really wanted to curl up with a big blanket, a pot of coffee and a new book.   I thought I was being sensible when I got out the steam cleaner for the carpet and decided to do a couple of small areas in our bedroom that were showing signs of dirt.  Hauled it upstairs, filled it and positioned it.  Clicked it on.  A terrible noise, smoke belching out, and black pieces spitting out from bottom.  A distinct smell of charred rubber before I could get it shut off.  This can't be good.  Ryan was the last to use it, borrowing it a month ago to clean carpets at his home.  No mention made of my cleaner suddenly turning into hazzardous waste material.  Somehow, this seemed pre ordained as just one of those days.   So I got out the hand held mini steam cleaner and went at the most noticeable spots.  Heard something rattling in that.  Pulled it apart and a screw and plastic pieces rattled out.  Finally found where they went.  While no major big deal to actually using it, the thing is only two years old and not used every day.  Life with plastic means something will always break off that can't be fixed....Arrrgghhh.

All of this was kind of my sign to just sit down for an hour and have a big pity party.  I would be making a trip to Chicky vacuum repair and see if it would cost more to repair my 10 year old Hoover steam cleaner than buy new.  I'm hoping its just a belt of some kind, but not especially confident it will be that simple.  Something else major would have to give as its just the way life is going.  After an hour of pity, it was time to start dinner.  I was trying out a new recipe and as always it made a large mess simply for going straight by the book, and many pans and jars and spoons all over.  Got the casserole in the oven, Kurt arrived home and took the dogs outside.  Fifteen minutes later the lights flickered then stayed off.  Yup, this had to happen.  The wind was doing 30 mph now and the rain was really coming down or across as it were.  When the power failed to reappear after 45 minutes, we called into Hemlock and found a pizza place open and ordered a large with everything on it.  We decided to drive around before picking up the pizza to see where power was and wasn't.  Miles of Hemlock Road had power, alternate miles didn't.  Mom was out of power, but the mile to her east wasn't.  Most of the town of Hemlock had power, but MacDonalds, the Marathon gas station and Rick Ford were down.  We saw flashing lights on a side street, and Consumers Energy trucks and a tree service were around a downed maple tree.  As we drove home we thought at least we knew where and what had caused the outtage and that since they were there it would be an hour before it was back.  A pizza later, and still no power.  We drove around some more and found that the pattern of black farms and houses was strange indeed.  The power crews were still at the site of the downed tree but the tree service trucks were gone.  We came home and lit candles and ran flashlights and were generally in a sour mood.  Nothing can make independent people, (at least people who always think they could be pioneers), crankier than losing their satellite tv's, running water, heat and internet service.  I called the hotline for the power company to see if they had any idea of time we might get our power back.  I was told 4 p.m. tomorrow.  WHAAAAAT?  That was almost 24 hours we would be without.  Well crap and double crap and alot of words I can't write here.

We settled into chairs in the living room.  Kurt in his recliner and I surrounded by blankets and candles to, at least read a book.  Kurt fell asleep and I read by candlelight and tried to reconcile that Abraham Lincoln studied by firelight, and he didn't do too badly, but the rest of me wasn't having any of it.  At 10 p.m. I had just about decided to call it a chilly night and blow out the candles when the lamp next to me suddenly popped back on.   HALLELUJAH!!!!  

I woke Kurt and did a happy dance.  I got to watch "Psych" in almost it entirety, and was extremely grateful to whatever of the power crews had worked to get us up and running.  I cleaned up kitchen until almost midnight, but was happy to know I could clean up the mess.  We whiny humans need to be shook up in our comfortable lives in which needless worry overtakes us all too often.  For the rest of today and I hope for a good time after, I will be grateful I have lights, I have heat, and I have hot and cold running water.  I can blog this into my laptop, and I can watch Sports Center if I so desire today, (I don't). 

If I hadn't had to have my french door replaced they would not have found the rotted wood and repairs down the road would have likely been much more costly.  Though its still raining and the siding and trim still aren't back up and though I'm not sure how much additional it will cost to get my steam cleaner fixed, its truly, only annoyances in life.  Not worth the time or the fretting. 

Murphy's Law seems to hit us all at some time or another, no matter how well intentioned or good we be.  But its a good lesson and one I really needed this year, and there may be something after all to this wisdom in maturity thing.  That and a healthy dose of Murphy....

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My Mother's Hands

They always say you can tell a woman is aging when she looks down and sees her mother's hands.  I did that five years ago and thought when did that happen?   I never really thought I looked like my mother.  No one ever told me I was the spit and image of her growing up, aside from the fact people said my brother and I resembled Mom's side and my younger sister and my youngest brother were my dad's.  I had my mother's brown eyes, we all did.  My dad's green eyes would wait a generation and be found in my son, Korey's direct gaze.  I inherited my mom's hair, fine and straight as the proverbial string.  She got it from her mom, my grandma, and I passed somewhat follicle challenged hair to Annie.  But I got the Walter nose, and the Walter voice which I would often say gets me heard at every auction I ever attended.  These things I knew early on, but it was the more subtle inheritances that would come into play later on.

After a ride on a four wheeler in my early forties, I had a left ankle that ached for weeks.  Through the following fall and into winter the ankle and foot would ache more and finally after consulting a podiatrist, it was found my dad had also given me the gift of flat feet.  Oh goody.  After trying rehab for the ankle, surgery, and finally just a set of good orthotics, I resigned myself to the fact I wouldn't be wearing spiked heels or even bunny slippers much any more and that sensible shoes would be the rule for me from then on.
I marched through my forties just trying to figure out motherhood as my kids left home, the changing of life in many ways and how in the heck to deal with it.  I had depressions, one a real doozy, but somehow slogged through to my fifties.

After I hit the big 5-0, I began to notice that my skin was doing funny things.  The fact that it was losing feature and gaining wrinkles by the boat load, I couldn't talk away as laugh lines I had earned in a good way.  Nope, it was crow's feet, and smile lines and lines that went vertical instead of horizontal and began traveling on down my face.  I was pretty sure I could handle all that, but when the age spots started erupting on the sides of my face, it wasn't Mom I looked at but Dad as those were all from him.  More goody.
Spider veins I got on the sides of my legs in the exact same places my mom had them.  Annie is so thrilled with that to look forward to.  And now my hands which seem to be aging in warp speed, as every picture seems to scream at me.  So, I thought I had my mother's hands, but when I looked at her tapered, still polished nails, her hands actually looked better than mine.  I didn't have my mom's hands after all but a grandma's hands that came by way of my dad.  The arthritis in my hands which plagues me increasingly in swollen joints during the cold months is showing in my hands.  Looking at a picture of an otherwise smiling me, in which I thought I looked danged good for my age, showed the flaw in that image, and it was my hands.  Looking at my hands I immediately thought of my dad's hands, large knuckled and clumsy in trying to do delicate things he still always had been able to do the intricate things his daily life as a farmer had required.  Yup, my hands were his hands in female form.  Its not something I'm crazy about but if I can continue to go through life with only this vanity besieging me, I'm okay with it.

You all think, I am only concentrating on what I inherited that was less than appreciated, but I know better.  I got my mom's artistic sense.  Her love of writing and my dad's love of telling a good story combined in me.  I got his head for math, though I never really liked having it.  My mom gave me the love of flowers and gardens, my dad, the outdoors and to look at the place I lived with fresh eyes, every day.  My parents gave me a sense of history and where I come from and have always lived.  I hope they gave me a kind heart, and left in place, the golden rule.  These aren't the things you can read on my face but they are who I am. 

I may not have my mother's hands and may wish I did, but I hope I have their fortitude and toughness when the world tips in ways I couldn't anticipate.  They gave me a firm foundation in Faith, and the heart to keep seeking God in new ways and to re trust the Promise.  They gave me the world to seek it out and make my way.  I think I got the best of all of them, and hope I can give the best to those who follow after me...

OK, So I'm not that Good

The air has turned cooler, in fact, fall has blown in and our usual October weather of clouds, breeze and temporary damp leads me to want to write, snuggled in a big throw, a quiet house, a whiny black lab, (she was left home while Gauge got to go hunting.  Not a happy camper), and my worn beyond redemption, flannel bottoms and big old MSU sweatshirt.  I am ready to flood the world with my newly minted grandma wisdom. 

When I started this, I had sub conscious aspirations of being the Michigan version of Erma Bombeck.  I'm pretty sure that isn't even terribly original, but I talked myself into half believing it.  I wanted to be witty in my writing, when I couldn't be in real life.  I wanted to show that we can always see the funny side of any life situation, even when I knew life wasn't very funny right now, and didn't look to improve tremendously in the next year, let alone decade.  I didn't lack for subject matter, heck, every day something happened to even me, but getting older, has kind of meant I'm only sharp for certain parts of the day and those parts invariably were in the mornings and by the time the second or third cup of coffee had rolled around, I felt motivated more to the bathroom and actually moving around then writing in a stationary position, even with added wiggle room.

Unfortunately, life just kind of got in the way of my humor.  Today, in a quiet morning with nothing particular that I had to get done I decided to see what other blogs were out there.  Scrolling down a list of possible titles, A Southerner in San Francisco caught my eye.  Probably because Korey and Jen are in San Fran, but I liked the "southern" bent to it, though for pete sake I'm from Michigan, born and raised.  Anywho, I started reading and immediately found a kindred soul, and one that was a better Erma than I ever hoped to be.  The fact that the blogger was a man didn't put me off, his reminisences of time spent being a boarder at Mrs. Johnson's and her "to die for" fried chicken sparked an interest.  I am, an unabashed, "foodie", not always the eating of it, though that definitely has its place with me, but I have become a recipe-a-holic, looking for healthier, tastier, regional and sometimes just plain nostalgic foods and ways to prepare them.  Now mind you, there are just Kurt and I around and family meals are rarer than the hen's teeth I seek to own some day.  But still I can't pass up a magazine tossing without first making sure the recipes have been thoroughly dissected and if it passes the sniff test, ripped out for further catalouging.

So, the fried chicken recipe blog caught my eye as it seemed so incongruous with the title.  But I was mesmorized by the other blogs just for the month of October and spent a very enjoyable lost hour reading this southern transplants look at life from the humorous and very human standpoint.  I'm not that good, yet, but connecting through the written word, to me, is always a good thing, and shows where I can find many more things to smile about than I thought yesterday.  Maybe tomorrow will not be a good day, but today I can look out at the cloudy, windswept fall of Michigan and say, "its time to bring in the tomatoes", and heck, I'll smile at that....

Friday, October 14, 2011

October and Baseball

Yesterday afternoon, I got the gift of attendance at Game 5 of the Detroit Tiger's baseball quest to make it to the World Series.  My friend, Sally called and had an extra ticket.  Did I want to go with them?  Are you kidding?  But its Standing Room Only.   Are you kidding, I don't care, and yes count me in.

And so we met at Sally's on noon of a Thursday.  The day before the game had been delayed over two hours due to rain and so the game could go off uninterrupted.  It still managed to mist on and off throughout the early evening and most of the fans and spectators looked wet and miserable.  I'm guessing losing another extra inning game against Texas didn't make them any happier.  I debated what to take to wear as rain was still in the forecast though the morning here had been dry if cloudy.  I finally took an extra sweater, rain coat and rain poncho, deciding I would decide when I got to Comerica and viewed the Detroit weather up close and personal.

Five of us headed to Detroit.  Sally, me, her daughter, son in law, and his son.  We were a disparate but happy group.  Upon parking and walking to the ball park, we talked to ushers about where the SRO spots were and then decided where we wanted to stand in the great areas surrounding the diamond.  Getting there over two hours early allowed us to pick where we wanted to stand.  We chose a shoulder high wall on the top of the bottom section down the third base line.  From where we stood we had a great view of Justin Verlander pitching and the batter, catcher and umpire.  We staked our claim by standing in the spot and spent the intervening two hours, going singly or in two's to get beer, use the bathrooms and of course get ball park food, leaving at least 3 to keep our spots. 

The stands looked slightly empty in this do or die game for the Tigers and Detroit and the larger state of Michigan, but by the time the National Anthem was finished, the stands were full and we were all ready to rumble.  JV didn't have his best stuff and that was evident in the first inning when Texas scored on a couple of hits.  Our turn came and we went down, 1,2, and 3.  Manager Jim Leyland had pretty much the same line up just tweaked here and there by moving some around, nothing major.  We all hoped that we could somehow keep Texas at bay while waiting until we could score.  The atmosphere was electric but there was an air of trepidation because this was it for Detroit.  Win or go home for the winter. 

I went out for a bathroom run and to stop for a beer.  While waiting in line, a roar went up from the crowd, and sure enough I had missed a home run by Alex Avila, our poor, beat up catcher.  His first of the playoff series, in fact pretty much his first hit.  Before I could get to the counter another roar went up and another hit.  When I got back to our spot, I was told I needed to go on a beer run every time we batted.  I told them the beer was too over priced for that to happen, but I did practice turning away at key times and come the 6th inning after we had gone a run ahead, we broke the game wide open.  A single by Raburn, a double by Caberra, a third base line grounder that should have been a double play but hit the third base bag and took a wicked hop right over Beltrie's head.  Next up "V-mart" took an at bat to be proud of and ended up hitting a ball into the right field corner, a diving Cruze couldn't come up with.  A triple and then Delmon Young with seemingly no effort put one over the wall.  So, a single, a double, a triple and a homerun to cap it off.  Four runs and an add on homerun in the 7th had us up 5 runs going into the 8th.  JV took the mound with an already high pitch count into the over a hundred pass, and getting two outs, allowing a single and then Cruze, the newly minted Tiger killer with two strikes put one out of the park, shaving our lead down to 3 runs.  Justin was pulled and Phil Coke came out to be the relief and would be the set up man and the closer for this game.  The 9th inning came and a tense couple of batters as Coke battled through a homerun, now we had just a 2 run lead, a man on and the tying run up to bat, but he got the ground out.  Comerica erupted....

What are the memories from this magical win that allowed the Tigers and all of us to smile another day and hope for a few more minor miracles from our beat up, "Boys of Summer".   I will remember the people stopping in their travels across our path at the wall and smiling when a hit was made or the roar of the crowd signaling a homerun.  The waving white towels we were given, and the usher, gleefully high fiving all of us after every run was scored.  High fives were everywhere.  Paws, the costumed Tiger mascot, stopping and allowing picture after picture and a pat on the head for me after.  The "Tiger girls" who worked the crowds, cheering us on to cheer on our Tigers and handing out smiles and Verlander capes at the end of the evening.  People laughing and talking to one another.  The wonderful gentlemen behind us with the season ticket seats who warned us to keep our eyes on the lefties batting as their foul balls would land right in our vicinity, and many did come close though no real cigars to catch.  The nice young man I stood next to from Grosse Pointe, quiet and alone, he none the less, smiled and laughed along with our crazy group. 

We hung around to see the crowds disperse after, happy and tired.  We watched the ground crews come out and took final pictures of the huge scoreboard lit with the next game, date and time in Texas.  We knew we had encountered a magical time.  The night had remained mild and rain had held off until we walked back to the parking ramp, our Tigers had won, and while we knew it was still an uphill battle to win two games in Texas, we were given that chance. 

As Victor Martinez said later that night, "what have we got to lose?"   Indeed what have we got to lose.  The Detroit Tigers will play that kid's game of the ultimate stick and ball again, and as we drove north home through the rain slicked night, we all considered ourselves the lucky ones.  We had reached for the stars for that one evening and been awarded one more day...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Okay, I'll admit it I was addicted to "Dancing with the Stars".  Never got into "Survivor", "American Idol", "The Apprentice", well maybe for half a year on that one.   I never watched "The Deadliest Catch", "Ice Road Truckers" or "Ax Men".   Reality shows have mushroomed like toadstools around a decaying tree trunk.  They are now every where on tv and with so many subtleties and angles, its hard to get what is real, as in reality and what is manipulated, for how real is it when you are being followed by a camera and talking to some one holding the camera. Its not like I go around talking to the dogs, (well, I do some times), or that I expect it to end on tv, but I watched "Dancing with the Stars"  from the first it was on, and it has always held my interest...until this year.  I guess its not really an addiction because I find myself losing interest.  Maybe its because they seem to be throwing the kitchen sink of people and types on this season's show.  Its not that I care about types, its about the dancing, the costumes, and watching someone that's good but maybe not great evolve into something I love watching by the end of series.  But this year, the personalities seem to be taking precedence over the dancing.  And the voting seems to get sillier, as decent dancers are sent home, and dancers who have nothing going for them except some kind of noteriety are left on.  So my addiction wanes, and I guess its not really an addiction for all that.  Its not like I can not stop myself from watching, in fact, I've gotten better and better at it.  Its just not special anymore and doesn't appeal to me as it once did.  Maybe real life has inserted itself or maybe I have just tired of it and the networks saturation of reality viewing.  Its probably me, but it could be you, or the overkill.  I'm voting for the overkill.

Chynna Phillips was voted off the island or dance floor as it were.  She made a blunder in the week's routine, but still she is better than two or three others still there, but they are novelties, she was not.  And so it goes...

I think I have an addiction to coffee as I really do not want to go the morning without my cup of joe.  I believe the consequences would be dire.  But "Dancing with the Stars"....well, maybe I'll watch one more week.... 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The New Giants

Yesterday, on what was a gorgeous autumn morning, Kurt called to tell me to come pick him up as the truck had broken down while he was hunting with Tally.  I assumed he was over by my mom's down in the creek flats where he had blasted 3 wood ducks on Saturday, but as he gave me directions I realized he was the opposite way, well into Gratiot County on a country road in the land of the "new giants".

So, it was without the usual grumbling that I went to get him.  My route took me down unpaved roads, and through countryside alive with brilliant color.  Farmers were humming in the fields as harvest was now started in earnest, and the warm, dry days won't last for much longer.  I found he and Tally where they had directed and after we unloaded the truck and stowed things safely in the car trunk, he left a key in the gas tank for the wrecker which he had called.   I took the leisurely route home as I told Kurt, I wanted to see the wind turbines off Lincoln Road again.

Two weeks ago my mom had told of going to her brother's, my uncle, to see the new wind turbines being erected in Gratiot County, and pretty much right across the road from my uncle's house.  We had known of the wind turbine project for some time and how the farmers and landowners in Gratiot were being approached to lease land for these structures to be erected.  My uncle has held out from agreeing to these turbines, believing that this may not be the best deal for the farmer's involved.  But many do not share his philosophy and my mom came back from the tour, telling me how big they are and how many of them there are already.  The following Friday evening we had a chance to go see Hemlock high school's football team play at Alma in what would be a game of undefeated teams.  While a crisp night, it was a good night for football.  I jumped at the idea, though we hadn't even been to a "home" football game this year, partially, (well mostly), to drive through the area of wind turbines before dark and get my own up close and personal views. 

As we approached Meridian Road which is the dividing line between Saginaw County and Gratiot, the road curves through a woods.  Kurt told me once we rounded the curve I would be able to see the turbines.  I don't know what my expectations were, I had certainly seen pictures of wind turbines lined up like soldiers in the prairie areas of Texas, but what I saw did not even register on the expectation meter.   When we rounded that curve, I truly, felt my mouth drop open in awe.   Lined up across the familiar landscape horizon rose giant structures that dwarfed the trees below them.  Three pronged mammoth blades hung stationary for the moment from bases that would have shrunk giant redwood trees.  They appeared almost as alien presences, something out of a science fiction movie, silent and brooding over the earth, far below.  It was as if someone had dropped single skyscrapers into different farm fields.  It literally took my breath away as we drove by them, row upon disparate rows .  They were not lined up as soldiers, but in no discernible pattern, and they seemed to be every where on each side of the road.  I could not take my eyes from them.

As we drove further west the turbines gradually thinned down, but we could see driveways and turn arounds built into fields where future turbines would be erected.  We spied one large crane hanging the turbine's blades, and it was hard to imagine the size flatbed truck that would have been needed to transport such gigantic structures.  I had heard stories from people who lived by the freeway, recounting seeing huge trucks pulling flatbed trailers with these blades aboard.  They marveled at these parts moving by.  But the actual viewing of them against the sky was something akin to building the Mackinac bridge in a farm field.  I would guess that Lincoln Road will be seeing unprecendented traffic for the next months as it was better than taking the Christmas light tour. 

The game turned out to be exciting, and a near down to the wire win by Hemlock, trumped only by the time running out, heroics of Alma.  I got to take a nostalgic trip back to the town of my college days, though we never really got over to campus, it is always fun to go back.  It is not far, but seems light years away at times.  It was another time in my life, and now one of fond and fuzzy memories. 

Every once in a while we need to be shook up and struck speechless.  I hope the wind turbine experiment works and that they will in the very near future be seen as nothing more than satellite towers.  But for now it was well worth driving a bit out of my way on a nice autumn morning to see the "New Giants"....

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Barn Dance

A week ago, on a night that was fraught with rain, blowing wind and cold, after what had been beautiful early autumn weather, we drove down for a barn dance.  A barn dance and everything it conjures up.  Porter Waggoner style band, slicked down hair and cowboy shirts.  Picking and grinning.  Straw bales to sit on and country style food which would include some kind of barbeque.  Women in gingham dresses with stiff crinolines underneath.  Yeah, I was letting my imagination of what I remembered barn dances to be and HeHaw carry me away.

The owner of the huge farm where we train was having a stock auction the next day.  This was a thank you to all who would attend and those of us who train dogs were invited also.  Our friend, Jim, spends countless hours working on the conservation end of the farms, and when Mary inivited us, it sounded like fun.

The main farm is an old beef and dairy operation.  It has a couple of huge old barns, in various stages of being repaired and preserved.  There is an auction building, a couple of houses and the owner's attractive office.  The barn dance was being held in the largest of the barns in the mammoth haymow.  It was likely 20 feet from the peak of the bow roofed barn to the haymow floor.  A narrow stairway led the way up.  Upon ascending to the haymow, we were amazed at what had transformed.   Twenty or thirty round tables were set up with white linen tablecloths and pots of autumn flowers.  Bales of straw were scattered around giving the barn dance ambiance.   A bar complete with neon lights and beer on tap and a huge buffet were set up on one side.  The smell of grilled steak permeated the mow area. 

We found seats a few rows back where a well known country band was playing.  Great food and very good company and music that made my country loving toes tap.  While not many of the training group were there, we found people we knew.  Now I tell all this because I am not a stranger to barn dances in a haymow.  Though most of my memories of my only other haymow dance are on fuzzy 8mm film, there are warm, multi colored remembrances of little girls with sailor hats and bandanas wrapped around their necks who danced together all night.  It was myself at maybe 4 or 5 and my aunt who is my senior by 5 years.  My brother and I were her constant companions for our first decade of life.  The barn dance as far as I can remember it, was music, darkness and tall people.  I vaguely remember the straw strewn about and the thrill of being with the adults, but past that I really only have the pictures and the film.  My grandpa was the one of the original home movie guys and there was seldom a celebration at his house that did not include blinding light bars and the whirl of his movie camera.  I am preserved, for better or worse, on that 8 mm film somewhere now stored between the aunts and uncles. 

Why that particular memory has stayed with me for so long, I'm not sure, but it was a warm memory, and I still remember how special I felt with my sailor hat and red bandana scarf.  This barn dance was much more luxurious and the food probably better than the potluck I am sure was the standard at my grandparents barn dance, but after all these years I still smile when I think of that dance in the haymow, and the good fun and friendship that exuded from the big old barn which had housed dairy cows earlier in the day.  It was friends and neighbors taking time to just be together, knowing how to have fun in the simplest of ways.  Knowing how to laugh and sing and rejoice.  They worked hard during the week, but never missed opportunties to party in the old fashioned sense.  They knew their place in the world, even if that world was only the county wide.  It was simplicity with no agenda and something I miss more than anything. Perhaps it is why that barn dance stands out in my mind. 

This barn dance was fun.  It was a novelty for most there.  It was about smart leather coats, Miranda Lambert renditions, and catered food with grilled steaks.  Many who attended I am sure thought they had found the authentic barn dance, 2011 style.   But I know better, and while one was pleasant and something different, the other was the stuff my memories are made of....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Twilight Season

When I think of Twilight; and no its not the vampires I am talking about, I usually think of long summer twilights when the setting sun and the stars arriving out can linger for a couple of hours.  The heat of the day is not lessened by the vanishing ball of fire and you sit outside amid buzzing insects, the last calls of the birds and the spector of bats swooping against a pink flushed sky.  Summer twilights we take for granted as they are just a part of the long summer days, when we don't think much about night, except as a brief respite from the day's glare.  We walk, ride bikes and sit on front porches on summer twilights.  We stop and talk to neighbors and still have time to get home before the velvety blackness encircles us. 

But come the autumn months we rush to beat the darkness as days shorten with rapid intensity.  Last night I walked outside in the back yard after taking a bike ride an hour earlier than I had just a month ago, because daylight leaves that much quicker.  And as I was walking outside to take down laundry that had dried nicely in a freshening fall wind, I glimpsed across our pond.   The sun which in its summer zenith sets far too its north and is right in line for the autumnal equinox is now already off to its southern border.  But the cattails, (which we tried to eradicate with no success this summer), waved gently in the soft but still northern autumn breeze.  A fish broke the ponds smooth surface, sending gentle ripples across its calm face.  The tree swallows which swoop over the pond during summer twilights catching water bugs by the hundreds are already gone heading early for southern areas to winter.  Canada geese occasionally land on our pond during the day at this time of year, but never are in sight as evening approaches. The pond seemed to be a lesson in all things country in those moments I watched.  Calm and quiet, awaiting the bitter winds that will sweep it and the cold that will coat it with layer upon layer of ice.  But for now, it was country, enjoying the quiet and peace that can be autumn here.  I wanted to put into words what I saw and what I felt, but sometimes words just fail, it is incredible and it is as soft as a warm scarf around your neck on a chilly night.  It is comfortable and a predesscor.  It tells volumes but you have to listen, look and just feel.

I had to stop my rushing for just a few minutes to watch the sun sink behind an orange sky.  One that matches the color of maple trees in high color.  An incredible bit of peace settled over as I took the moments to just looks and be glad for the propane I had grumbled about in escalating prices, but that I had bought in bulk, and how it would keep me warm in my house during the frozen months of winter here.  I was peaceful as I have seldom been in this last decade about the "Harvest Season" and the putting away and the tucking in.  Gardens are cut down and the last green tomatoes brought in to ripen slowly, wrapped in newspapers in a dry place.  Pumpkins, now bright orange and ripe are brought in and set on porch stoops and around montages of corn stalks and equally bright pots of chrysanthemums.  They await the final carving of their faces into jack o lanterns to delight the trick or treating neighborhood children, and moreso in a nice way, the oldsters who remember when halloween was a magic, honest scary time, not a day where evil could be unleashed. 

Farmers still bring in the crops and I still live in the country where I can witness that renewal of what has always been, the bringing in of the harvest.  It never fails to bring a peace to me, though for many years it was the passing of time too quickly that it meant, and I struggled with the passing of time.  I'm not sure that I have overcome totally, the feeling that time slips through my hands like water, but I have retained some of the peace that Autumn always meant to me.

We will soon bring in the outdoor furniture, take down the window boxes of faded flowers, and empty the pots.  We will mend what we can before winter, and put away the rest.  Some things will wait until spring, but we do what we can to be snug for winter's onslaught.   

I watched the sun slip down and shadows grow rapidly.  Sunset and twilight in Autumn is a liquid thing, sending ripples quietly and quickly out.  It is dark much too soon, but it is still there.  Winter sunsets are gone before we blink as we rush around on what we still consider afternoon, plunging us into darkness and long evenings that seem that much longer for the dark of them.  The stars came out shortly after the sun dipped and was gone, and the fall star gazing is always magnificent, but I think I will remember the twilights....