Monday, February 28, 2011

Another round of tornadoes and 70 mph winds hit us late last night killing power to 43,000 electric customers. We took cover sometime after 11 PM when one was spotted on the ground about 5 miles from the house. Danger quickly passed; however,we didn't get to bed until midnight- at least. That's pretty late when you have to get up at 4 AM!

I discovered that our internet service was down this morning so I had the great idea to go into work early, have some coffee in the cafeteria, and catch up via WiFi on my work laptop. In addition, out in our area it would not be unusual for a tree to come down, blocking the road. I needed some extra time in case I had to divert. It's about a 45 minute drive for me going in early, without traffic. I was just about there and my cell rings. It's my call chain telling me power was out with no clear timetable for repairs so they decided to close.

"What!" I said "I'm almost there!" Well, that'not really what I said but I don't use that language here (LOL). I find the nearest exit, turn around and drive the 30 miles back home surprising my husband who couldn't figure out who was opening the garage.

Now what do I do? I realize that might be a strange question, most would probably yell out big WooHoo! But I get bored easy-not the sort of bored where you want to clean the oven or anything, but the sort of bored where I need to be busy. Aha! I have to finish my quilt block before Wednesday so I'll do that and maybe pick up the embroidery. After breakfast!

Tom (Catawissa) is a great cook. He can make a phenomenal dish from absolutely nothing. He would be perfect for Iron Chef. I did take a cat nap awakening to the smell of fried potatoes with onions, garlic and chopped ham, seasoned with Montreal Steak seasoning, hot sauce and butter (a hint of bacon grease for flavoring). It was hard to get going after that but I soldiered on.

One of the quilt pieces isn't exactly spot on perfect, but that's OK. Neither is the embroidery but that's OK too. I need to re-do the "D" using only 1 thread thickness plus learn some stitches. It's just something fun.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stanberry Strange

Strange animals watch the passersby on US Highway 136 in rural northwest Missouri. When my mother was cleaning out my grandmother's home she had to drive through Stanberry, MO and was so surprised that she had to pull over and take a picture or two.

A local resident, fond of welding, created various animal sculptures ranging from cattle to a dinosaur. These are created out of scrap metal, old milk jugs and oil barrels to name only a few. I rediscovered this photo yesterday and decided to look the town up on the internet. It seems that the sculptor is a local celebrity ! I'll post a link that will display some of his other works.

Rural Missouri Website

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Do You Know This Painting?

Inspired by The Little Way, I wanted to find out something about this picture. I brought this back from my grandmother's old house but I don't know what it is called. I have to apologize for whatever glare might be on it, we have so many windows that it is almost impossible to not have a reflection. This is obviously a print but I liked it so it hangs in the hallway. I started looking around and found that we have quite a few religious objects. One of my favorites is the trio of angels I found many years ago on sale. They have pounded copper wings, fabric gowns and ceramic heads.

I picked up the windowsill Marys at a church rummage sale. They hadn't been selected by the end of the day, neither had the plastic statues in the other window. I felt so badly for them that I made sure I picked them up when it was a $1 bag time.

The other two wooden angels were from my grandmother's house as were the two ceramic Marys on the dining table.

The crucifix was my husband's first communion gift. I'm not sure where we picked up The Holy Water fount but you can see how hard our water is!

Our Lady of Guadalupe sits over our couch in the living room. It goes very well with the paint color that I chose after finding a pretty fall leaf. The intensity changes with the sun, ranging from a deep pumpkin to a yellow orange. Room color is a fairly new thing to me and we went all out. A pumpkin color for the living room and burgundy in the dining room. If my husband had his way every room would look like a Mexican restaurant. (He won't get his way). He hates the nice blue I painted Sean's old room, which would have been pink had I known Taylor would be in there soon.

Being a fan of primitives, I found this decorative plaque in an Amish village so I hung it in our foyer above the opening into the hallway. Hopefully the angels take it literally! Sometimes I think they do.

It's Ham !

It's ham! After curing for the past 34 days our ham is ready. It's salty, smoky, tender and quite delicious. This is quality ham. The pig was raised by neighbors who grew their own feed. It was then butchered locally. Our local grocery has their own brand of sliced ham for $7.69 on sale, more if you want Boar's Head. We paid about $1.23 per pound to do it ourselves, and it was easy. Coat and inject it with the cures, refrigerate for five days, recoat the surface and then refrigerate for 2 days/lb. After refrigeration, scrub the ham to clean it, place it in the smoker for several hours. After it was smoked we soaked it for 6 hours. Then we boiled it in a large cooker for 7 hours. Allow it to drain and it's ready to slice.

The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kathy's Top Picks- The Places I Have Been

The weather gave us a little slap in the face yesterday sneaking in some early morning sleet and freezing rain. The highways were transformed into veritable pinball machines as vehicle after vehicle hit the black ice, bouncing into and off of each other. The worst was a 31 car pileup, consisting of everything from semis to sedans, shutting down a major highway for hours. I somehow managed to arrive at work unscathed and warm as toast. Unfortunately this puts an end to our precious few days of fair weather and syrup making so I have time to jot down a few observations. I started thinking about some of the places I have been blessed to visit so here they are:

Number 1: Home
There is no place that I would rather be. This is my refuge, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city, a place where things are a little slower and neighbors come five acres away- which is still a bit close. Our business district consists of a gas station, two bars and two churches. There used to be three churches until recently so it looks like the bars are winning out. Oh, and last year there was a produce stand but it was alongside the road so I don't know if she will be back or not this spring.

Number 2: Bethany, MO
This is where my grandmother used to live as well as the Harrison County seat. The town looks tired, in need of some sprucing up. Some homes are immaculate, some barely standing, often times right next to each other. It's OK to be the town character, everyone knows you and tries to make sure you can make a few bucks doing odd jobs. The ladies care. They attend one of several churches, organize the fundraisers and make sure the funerals are nice. They know how to cook. You can walk down to the court house on the town square, past the newspaper office and onto the bank. You used to be able to stop in the dress shop, the one with two whole dressing rooms, but it disappeared along with several other of the downtown shops sometime after Wal-Mart arrived . Before you leave you have to have dinner at Toot Toots, a family run restaurant out by the highway where they make a carrot cake that is to die for. It must weigh 10 lbs and supply 100% of your daily vegetable requirements. Fridays are bonus nights-two buffets, one all fish and shrimp, fried clams and hushpuppies. Not a place to go if you are on a diet!

Number 3 Hot Springs, AR
This is where Mom lives, actually she lives on the outskirts owning a point on Lake Hamilton which is the middle of three lakes connected by dams. Her house is one room wide and follows the point so every room has a view of the lake. At night the lights from the dam twinkle off the water. You can sit out on the deck or take a late night boat ride on the 26 mile lake. Perhaps an evening swim or throw in a line. Hot Springs is a town where you can't tell the nice parts from the not so nice parts- they all look alike. There's a mountain in the middle of town with an observation tower at the top plus overlooks on the curvy drive up. Below you can look down towards Bath House Row where thermal baths are still available or look to the distance to see Mom's lake area. The ducks pick up tourists in town and drive into the lake for a tour. Ducks, for those not familiar, are canopied boats with wheels which are licensed for the road. If you want something more traditional, take a cruise on the Belle. Plan your trip to avoid the main roads near Oaklawn Race Track during track season.

Number 4 Silver Dollar City, Branson, MO
I love this theme park. I lived in Aurora, MO until we moved to St Louis when I was in first grade. We were close enough to Branson to frequently visit Silver Dollar City, back when there were no rides and admission was free. For those of you who have never visited, it is a trip back to the past with the thrill rides tucked into the landscape so the quaint village feel is still the main thing. You take a tram from the parking lot which drops you off at the front gate. Typically there is a banjo, fiddle or dulcimer player entertaining you while you get the tickets or meet up with friends. You might enjoy a homemade apple turnover before the opening ceremony, mandatory before the city opens it's shops and attractions. There's a swinging bridge, a funky house full of impossibilities where water runs uphill and you are often off balance. You have to have your photo taken in the jail or the coffin leaning up against the nearby building. You might eat a wonderful meal of ham and beans in the mine train restaurant, everything tasting a little like the tin plates. Everyone watches the fudge and taffy making, the knife maker, glass blower and potter. Make sure you ride the log flume and Fire in the Hole, an indoor roller coaster through the old burning mine town, probably one of the oldest rides and a favorite of even very young children of acceptable height. I won't disclose the surprise ending. Don't forget to visit the Floozies over at the saloon show and watch out for the stick up while you ride the steam train. The final touch is a tour through Marvel Cave which sits beneath the park.

Number 5 Charleston, SC
I have never visited a city where the natives were as nice and friendly. Real Southern hospitality. I was on a business trip with only a few hours of free time. I was staying at the Embassy Suites, the original Citadel and on the National Register of Historic buildings. It was perhaps 10 blocks from old Charleston so I put on my tennis shoes and footed it downtown to take a carriage tour, the best option when pressed for time. On my way I ran into the nicest people. One couple, younger adults, perhaps in their 20s, asked me if I would like to hold their hedgehog. Yes, their hedgehog! It was a baby hedgehog, all balled up just like Sonic. What a treat! Make sure to have some she crab soup, even if you don't like crab- it's a must in Charleston. Visit the Battery, a rainbow of antebellum homes, porch ceilings painted light blue to fake out the ghosts. Make sure to eat at a little corner diner for lunch and top it off with an evening meal at SNOB (Slightly North of Broad).

Number 6 San Francisco, CA
I love Tony Bennett and I too left my heart in San Francisco, "high on a hill it calls to me . . . " The cable cars, artist, China Town, BART, Fisheman's Warf, the bay, Ghirardelli chocolate. Take a side trip to Sausalito or scenic 17 Mile Drive between Monterey and Carmel. There's nothing like it. I would not want to live there but I'd love to visit again.

Number 7 The Meramec River
My mother would roll over in her grave if she saw me on the river- and she isn't even dead! It's a total hoosier holiday (apologies to anyone from Indiana). It's a day of jon boats with jets flying through two inches of water. It's coolers, canopies and lawn chairs, bbq over an open fire, hair tossed up in a hat and floating in the spring fed river. It's a little music in the background- or not, it depends. It's watching the tattooed ladies in bathing suits way too tight, drinking a few beers (sometimes one or two too many for me. Of course it only takes three!) It's skipping stones, trying to catch minnows with your hands, turning over rocks to see what lives beneath or finding lucky stones with the kids. That's a rock with a hole through it- only 1 hole. It's meeting other river folk as they float by, sometimes stopping to have a chat and let the kids play together for awhile. Sometimes it's the guys taking off for a boat ride while the women and kids play on the beach. It's listening to the bull frogs and watching the herons fly. It's relaxation.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Stitch Through Time

"Embroidery is the thread that connects women through all the centuries of our history, no matter how much our lifestyles change."
Tucked into a corner of a nearby True Value Ace Hardware, way behind the homegoods, candles and small appliances, sits a rack of hot iron transfer patterns, tea towels, needles, hoops and floss of every hue. I was immediately drawn to the hot iron transfers with quaint images of kittens performing a different household chore for each day of the week, roosters serenading hens outside the barnyard, teapots dancing among the flowers of Monday through Friday plus this primitive country setting.

I can imagine my great, great grandmother mentoring her young daughter as she created her first sampler. They would be sitting near the fire, the mother leaning over her daughter's work, checking for proper stitch length and tension. There would be a tabby cat at their feet purring contentedly as it licks its paws after finishing a saucer of milk. Someone might be reading aloud from the Bible or playing a happy tune on the fiddle.

I have seen quilts called crazy quilts where a mishmash of fabric is pieced together and often times decorated with stitchery, ribbons, buttons or other trinkets. I thought it might be nice to make one of these, perhaps embroidered scenes of favorite memories using techniques similar to the example below. As soon as I master both!

crazy quilt link

embroidery quote link

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Are You Going to Scarborough, Deer?

The guys were hard at work, laboring over another batch of maple syrup, a back breaking task requiring a large dose of manly man meat- deer patties. Take about a pound of ground deer and add egg, Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, onions, garlic, red wine, Worcestershire sauce, salt, basil and a combination of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Grill it, put it on a bun and top it with your favorite condiment- in this case ketchup or barbecue sauce. Wash it down with a beer or two. Restorative.

Just joking about the back breaking task. It is perhaps better summed up by the phrase, "watching a pot boil." Today's output: 1 1/2 quarts.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Made with Maple

Mother Nature gave us a break, gracing us with 70 degree temperatures that made me think twice about taking a vacation day before the Old North Wind begins to blow. Unfortunately the day was already scheduled with meetings, presentations and tracking down missing freight at several reclamation centers across the country. My world has been so busy these days I have to set a reminder in Outlook to go home .

How wonderful it was to find that my husband had started the Weber kettle plus had potatoes already baking in the oven, leaving us time to relax on the deck before we lost the sun's warmth. We listened to the first spring peepers while watching the moon rise, orange and full on the horizon.

After dinner I washed the dishes while my husband whipped out the cast iron skillet surprising me with his famous sopapillas topped with vanilla ice cream, our recently produced maple syrup plus a dash of cinnamon.

What a way to top off a lovely 70 degree day.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Sweet Ending - Maple Syrup Time

Things that are good in life are worth the wait! We had fairly nice weather yesterday, at least compared to how terrible it has been so far this year, so we decided to take advantage of it and boil the sap we collected from our maples. Notice we are still sitting on two inches of packed snow and ice!

This is a long process. Not difficult or even requiring much activity, other than waiting. Truly, watching a pot boil, and boil, and boil. You get the idea. We started with two 7 1/2 gallon jugs which eventually boiled down to almost 2 pints- yes, almost! The ratio is 40:1 sap to syrup.

Here it is, the boil. We had one wood fire and one turkey fryer set up so we could cut down the time needed to reduce the sap. Normally this is started just after dawn and we're still boiling after dark. One of our neighbors tapped his trees too so this was a group effort.

We finally reduced the 7 1/2 gallons down to one pan, pictured here. We took it in indoors and finished it up there, monitoring the thermometer so it would not suddenly turn to candy or sugar,which it can do in a heartbeat. You should not perform the entire procedure indoors due to the amount of moisture that is released in the process. I assume your kitchen would be overwhelmed with water vapor, in fact 39 gallons of vapor if you produced 1 gallon of syrup.

The end result was two pint jars not quite filled to the top: one for us, one for the neighbor. This batch is exceptionally dark with a higher sugar content. I placed a can of corn next to this for comparison. We'll continue to collect sap and produce more syrup as long as the temperatures cooperate. Last year we produced almost a gallon, far more than we needed so we sent some to family and friends. We also froze a few jars. It never froze solid which made it easy to scoop some of the sugary goodness out and drizzle over ice cream or top off a sopapilla.

the guys boiling sap

pancake image credit

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Mark on our Doors

My husband stained our interior doors today, a full 10 years after moving in. "There's no sense in rushing into things," he has always said. To give him credit, he put a lot of thought into this project. The interesting thing is that now each of our doors now has a cross on it, becoming visible only after the dark stain was applied. While this might upset some people, I think I rather like it.

click to enlarge

Our priest has blessed our house a few times in the past. He visited each room anointing windows and doors plus adding blessed medals on top of the jams and on the window panes. I am certain visitors will wonder about our crosses. It should make for some interesting discussion.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Menagerie - What You Can Find At Our Place

This tiny baby skunk wandered into our yard last summer, winding around the trees and over fallen branches. It was so very tiny, as small as the palm of your hand and completely oblivious to all the cats, kids and adults walking next to it. As busy as a bee it would dig here and there looking for whatever it is that skunks find tasty. We made sure to stay on the safe end of it, just in case.

Soon it wound its way down to the small pond, around the retaining wall and up to our front porch steps following the planter box area to dig under bushes. You can see how very small it is when you compare the little guy to the dandelion leaves. It visited only for a couple of days before it moved on to greener pastures. We have always known there were skunks in the woods, primarily by the linger aromas; however, this is the first time we saw babies.

A mama raccoon is also a frequent visitor. She would come out before it got dark and was obviously nursing, hungry as could be. At first I was concerned about her appearing in the day time until I discovered it wasn't all that unusual. She may have been trying to sneak in some leftover cat food before it was gone and be home long before her predators came out. You see, she is blind in one eye and at a disadvantage.

When the weather is nice I spend a lot of time outside, we all do. The animals have come to regard us as normal, especially me since I often sit alone with the cats. This little mama was timid and I didn't want to scare her so I would make sure I had cats on my lap and continually speak in soft tones. Little by little I would get her accustomed to my moving around. I couldn't prevent her from being on the porch and wanted to make sure she would not be spooked if Taylor walked out.

You might think they are growling and seem vicious when they eat. Really, it's just the way their mouths work, not menacing at all. She and the cats would take turns with the food, in fact if a cat wanted her turn she would bop poor mama on the head. Mama would back away and the cat would get its fill.

It seems like she started believing she was one of the cats. The only time I let her get close was when she was getting the leftovers from a cherry pie tin. She licked and licked that pan until it was scooting all over the porch, all the way up to my chair.

This isn't my first experience with raccoons. For years at our old house a mother raccoon would bring her babies to me so I could distribute yellow creme filled sandwich cookies. I know they shouldn't eat those things but this was so cute. I was behind a screen door that had an animal guard on it. The mom and her babies would reach their hands through the openings and take the cookies from me. I had opened them up to make eating easier. Just like kids, they licked the creme out of the center first, discarding the cookie until all the cream was gone. Then they would eat the discarded cookies.

We have, of course, various deer that come to visit. Most will tolerate us for a few brief moments and then run off into the woods white tails in the air. I wish I would have had a camera ready one early morning as a young deer met one of our cats who was perched on a fallen limb. The deer slowly approached the cat. The cat walked to the end of the branch. Closer and closer, each a bit nervous but curiosity winning out. When they met at the end of the branch they touched noses exploring each others smells. It would have been a Kodak moment.

They seem to feel safe when our chickens are out, sometimes coming over to check out the chicks, as do the turkeys.

Ricks turkeys

There is a collection of strays, all tame and vying for attention. Some making themselves very much at home.

Of course there are birds, some that make nests on top of our porch ceiling fans and others that defend their favorite nectar fount. Then there are the ones that provide us with eggs.

And the bees that visit the flowers.

I can't forget the really scary wildlife: The Wild Ones! Beware.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Picnic in the Snow

Snow Games

I must be getting way too used to snow. At first I didn't even notice the four extra inches that dropped out of the sky overnight until my husband mentioned it. I even walked out onto the back deck to put a tray of birdseed on the table rather than wade through the snow to get the feeder. Wade through the snow? I cleared the deck after the last snow so there WAS no snow last night on the deck.

Now someone had to plow but my husband was in the middle of a bad migraine. I volunteered even though I didn't have any idea of how to operate the plow which is attached to our four wheeler. The neighbor was taking care of plowing the street and salting the hill. Tom usually helps him but not this morning.

Tom gave me some basic instructions. Make sure to lower the plow just until you feel it start to raise the four wheeler. Don't forget that it's on a angle so you have to align yourself properly to push the snow aside. You have to raise the plow before you back up or you'll drag snow back with you, etc. You have to go sort of fast too. And, don't go so fast that you go over the edge where there is a drop off. Lots of instructions in a couple minutes. Our drive is long, not an entire road but not the typical subdivision drive.

It's now or never, . . .just do it. . . . . . Loved it!

Find that snow bank and . . .BAM! . . . . Smashed to smithereens! Fun, fun, fun!

Tom is feeling a little better now so he cleans up the part of the driveway where you just might go off the side and come crashing down the hill end over end. The neighbors are here and the snow games begin. The kids have tied their sleds to the four wheelers and the guys take them for ride down the road, over hills and through the maze of trees- not too slow but not too fast. To the girls it must have felt like light speed. Those girls were screaming as if they were on the Screamin' Eagle coaster at Six Flags!

It's above freezing and the sun is shining, really quite comfortable. I pull out a lawn chair, grab a soda and my current silly girl novel. One of the stray cats is sitting on my lap and we're doing just fine. The guys bring the kids back and they are hungry with a capital "H". Hot dogs they cry!

OK, I go in and make some plates up with broiled dogs, buns, apples with peanut butter, nachos and some swirled sting cheese. The guys have set up more chairs and a table on the plowed, yet snow packed drive and we're having a picnic. I can't help but wonder what the neighbors thought as they drove by. Was it, "Look at the fun those neighbors have" or "Now we know they are crazy!" Either way probably works!

Hope your day was as much fun! :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gizmo- He'll be Missed

Gizmo at Christmas

Our cat died today. I came home from work and he greeted me as usual, following me upstairs while I changed and then scampering down the steps with me close at his heels. While we were having dinner he stretched out in front of the fire and never woke up. My husband mentioned that something seemed wrong so I went to check, but it was over.

He wasn't an old cat, maybe 7 or 8. My daughter rescued him from a box along side the road during a rainy season. Someone had abandoned a mama cat who had just given birth to several babies. The box had fallen into the ditch at the side of the road and the ditch was filling up with water fast. Some of the kittens were starting to crawl out, none had their eyes open. Gizmo had become trapped in the sheet and would have surely died right then.

Against our better judgement, we took them all in. We're suckers for the animals and now we had several all in one shot. My brother and sister in law took some to split up the load but both of our houses were now filled to the brim with cats.

He was probably the best cat we had. Besides jumping on counters he was well behaved and loving. I'll miss this one. Tom said Gizmo was acting normally today -but his eyes seemed a bit different than usual.

His sister died a few months ago, again just out of the blue. She had been climbing the stairs and died right outside of our bedroom door, back feet outstretched and hanging over the top step. No evidence at all of distress. I am wondering if we have another batch of "bad" catfood, or do these strays have a genetic defect? They were both indoor cats so there was no chance of contracting a disease from a passerby

This was the last of our indoor cats. We have not been indoor animal free for almost 30 years. There are still seven strays outside that we feed. I should mentioned that they are all tame, in fact if I recline in the chaise on the porch I will no doubt have four cats on my lap and perhaps one or two waiting their turn. We won't bring any more inside. I think they contribute to my husband's migraines since he seems to do better away from them.

This will be a big adjustment. It will be very strange to be able to leave food on a counter and not cover the furniture. I'm not sure I know how to live that way.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

When Deer Come A-Calling on a Snowy Day

Click on photo to enlarge- you'll be glad you did.

They come from the woods in small groups winding around brush piles and downed trees, eyes bright and ears on alert for any unusual noise that could signal danger. The allure of tender morsels hidden beneath a light blanket of snow overcomes the natural tendency to keep their distance, typically preferring to blend into tree bark and brambles. Today they approach our courtyard where the honeysuckle awaits, flowing out towards the side yard. They freeze upon hearing a stray cat, crying for food, cross the courtyard and scamper onto the porch. White tails begin to flick erratically and you can almost feel the tension in the air. In an instant one decides to take flight leaping and bounding over logs and branches which causes the other three to follow suit. Such beautiful animals.

A view from our top floor.