Thursday, May 5, 2016

An Iowa Hobby

My husband and I always said we'd know we'd gotten old when we started birdwatching.

Well, do these photographs tell you anything?

Here in our Northern Iowa back yard, the greatest show this spring is the cardinal couple who've taken over our back courtyard. They do allow occasional robin visits, but only under certain conditions ...

Bounded on one side by an old carriage house, a fence on the second side, and our house on the third, the courtyard offers some protection from the wind and weather. This couple decided they liked the lot and became permanent residents. At least for this year.

Rain or shine, the mama hangs in there.

And we've found joy in observing her faithfulness in keeping them warm during some nasty cold April weather.

Seemed like more than twelve days until they hatched, but that's the time period, ornithologists say. Here, she's above the nest, keeping a watchful eye while taking a break. 

My husband shoots pictures from the upstairs window, and I guess he bought a pretty good zoom lens when he decided to take up this hobby. The white spots on the mama's back are raindrops on a dreary, stay-inside day.

He also snaps shots from much closer to the nest, now that Mama is busy gathering worms to feed her hungry brood.

It's fun. Quiet, simple, old-fashioned, rural fun.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Simple Honeymoon

The other day I was talking with someone who is getting married soon and the plans were still coming together. They were working with a small budget since the couple is also buying a small home to start their life together. They hadn't decided on where to spend their honeymoon. I suggested the same low-budget place we spent ours 47 years ago--the state park.

In south central Ohio is the Hocking Hills area and Lake Hope State Park. It was a lot more rustic years ago but there are still cabins there even though the lodge is gone--lost in a fire a few years ago. I remember those three days well. We were so in love. . .

And we were so hoping no one would realize it was our honeymoon. Unfortunately, we were the only couple there those three days. The rest of the population was made up of a group of rangers who had assembled for a seminar or meeting or some such thing. We stood out as the honeymooners.

It was quiet in the evenings though and we could hear the leaves rustle a bit (it was September) when the cool wind blew through them. We could also hear the distinctive sound of acorns as they fell from the large oak tree that stretched over the roof of our cabin. You could hear "thuck, thuck, thuck, thuck" as a nut fell through the leaves and branches and then a loud "PING!" as it hit the tank that held the heating oil for winter.

We explored the caves and creeks and trails but hadn't really found anything to claim as a souvenir. (At that time, there were no gift shops around.) Just as we were ready to leave, I bent down and picked up an acorn. It was our only souvenir.

Later, I encased it in plastic and it has moved with us from house to house finding a niche to be displayed as a reminder of our simple honeymoon. It was the first trip we ever took together. I'm glad we started out simply. Kind of like a simple acorn that grows into a strong oak tree.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Tasty Trinity

by Connie Cortright

Now that it's May our thoughts turn to Memorial Day later this month and summer. Vacation. Camping. Cookouts. All those fun relaxing days. (I wish.) And of course S'mores.

How did the combination of graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate come to be? It seems that the convergence of those three ingredients happened shortly after the three were produced for mass market. Hershey's bars were made during World War I and shipped overseas for the troops, but after that, the company expanded the market domestically. Graham crackers were introduced and marketed in 1925, and the marshmallow was hooked up with the campfire idea back in 1917. In fact, a brand of marshmallows sold starting in 1917 under the name of Campfire Marshmallows.

These three ingredients came together during the early 1920s when the marshmallows were roasted over a campfire and squeezed between the two graham cracker pieces along with a square of Hershey's chocolate. This yummy treat was brought into modern culture when the Girl Scout Handbook titled "Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts" published the recipe in 1927. At that time the treat was called "Some Mores" since everyone wanted more after they tasted the first one. Sounds reasonable to me.

By 1937 the recipe circulated far and wide and was generally a favorite for all campers or anyone who sat by a campfire. The title of the snack changed to the short-hand version of "S'mores", which is still the common name for this treat today.

Since then, S'mores has become a staple for anyone with a campfire. Today you can get S'mores in any type of snack items from ice cream treats, to pop tarts, to cupcakes, or pies with the same three ingredients and same great taste.

In fact, there is a National S'mores Day on August 10. So practice up your S'more making until that important day this summer and enjoy this favorite treat over a campfire, or sitting in your kitchen.

Has your mouth started watering yet?

Information taken from History of Marshmallows and History of S'mores

For more historical tidbits, check out my blog Through the Milk Door

Friday, April 29, 2016

When (pic)monkeys attack

Recently I learned about a free photo editing site called picmonkey.
You're all in trouble now.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Life is like my Bottom Office Drawer

by Mary Allen

This is a reprint from my Hoosier Ink Blog. I thought it better than not posting at all while I'm recuperating. God bless you.

My bottom office drawer is filled with items which once had purpose. Short, white phone jacks; thick, yellow USB cords; blue cords with funny square ends to them that no one knows that they do; enormous grey plugs that look as if they mean business; and, six surviving cords from deceased laptops and printers roil about in my bottom office drawer. Each one was carefully placed in the drawer by me at some time in the past. Some of them are even labeled.

I didn’t throw them away because I expected them to be used again in the future. Plus, after laying out so much money, it felt wasteful to pitch them when the computer died, the monitor remained black, or I changed service providers and they didn’t want the old modem returned, a definite red flag as to why I shouldn’t have bothered to keep it any longer, either.

Recently, I reached into the bottom office drawer and the cords came out en masse. Also entangled in them was the cup heater, the direct line house phone (in case the power goes out), various program start-up-rescue disks, and several miles of thin, flat, black phone line. All that and I still couldn’t find the cord I needed. I was sure I’d labeled and stored it there.

I have a theory how this happens. It’s an enchanted drawer. Once the drawer closes the cords come alive and entwine like baby rattlers in a snake pit. The big nasty snake-cords eat the more benign snake-cords and have hybrid baby snake-cords that don’t belong to anything, which is why the drawer remains messy and full of useless cords that spring out at me when I open it.

A writer’s life is a lot like that drawer. We each have items we keep that were once useful. It could be articles we’ve written when we started out or blogs and activities we do that no longer serve a constructive purpose. When we try to keep all these once-useful things life gets messy, tangled, and bogged down.

A writer’s life, like that bottom office drawer, needs spring cleaning. What no longer has a direct use, makes a connection, or serves an immediate purpose must go. It’s not as simple as hacking away what was once a joy, but now is a chore. Sometimes “chores” feel that way because we’ve crowded them with other activities that cause us to lose focus. This means we have to lift each activity to God and ask what He wants to do with it. Only He has the foresight and insight that we don’t.
How about you? What in your life needs to go? What needs straightening? What needs to be rescued from the bottom office drawer and moved to a place of importance on your desk top?

May God whom I serve, bless you, guide you, inspire you, and speak through your writing this year if you are a writer. If you aren't a writer, may he'll use one of his other myriad methods. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

For the Love of Grilled Cheese

What kind of a Wisconsin girl would I be if I didn't point out that today is National Grilled Cheese Day? Not to mention, I'm working on a new book right now that takes place in the middle 1920s, right around the time the grilled cheese sandwich first made it's regular appearance in American kitchens. (Hm... maybe I should have a grilled cheese sandwich book release party when the book comes out...) Even though cooked cheese dishes have been around for centuries, the availability of inexpensive sliced bread in the '20s seems to have brought the modern grilled cheese sandwich to fame.

I adore a golden brown, crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside, stretchy-when-you-bite-it grilled cheese. I used to work in a little cafĂ© that made the best. We used one slice of cheddar, one slice of provolone, and one slice of swiss on a piece of fresh-baked bread of choice, and we cooked them in a convection oven rather than on stove top. Talk about luscious! I want one now. I'd like to try this same combination with a piece of bacon just to be decadent. I sometimes like my grilled cheese with ham too, and at home they cook best in a cast iron skillet, heated up fast then turned all the way down to low and cooked with the lid on.

Not quite the way Johnny Depp made his in Benny & Joon (with Mary Stuart Masterson & Aiden Quinn).

I like my grilled cheese with just about any kind of soup, though the most popular in our house remains tomato or vegetable beef (right out of the can). How about you? Do you have a favorite grilled cheese recipe or combination?

How about a grilled cheese sandwich for supper tonight?
Make it a yummy one!
Naomi Musch

Monday, April 11, 2016

Wisconsin Parks - Merrick State Park

Focusing on Wisconsin's Wild Side

Again this spring and summer, I'll share some of my favorite parts of Wisconsin with you. One of my life list goals is to visit every state park at least once...maybe the natural areas, too. I have been to most of them, I see, but a few of the more exotic ones that need alternate transportation (sort of like trying to visit the state capital of Alaska), were only a gleam in my eye last year....Big Bay, I will get there someday!

(Photo from nearby Alma, WI--another cool place to visit, panoramio,com)

This month, since my parents and husband and I drove into Merrick State Park a couple of weeks ago, I'll share about it The camping areas were partially submerged at the end of March, but you can still winter camp if you are so inclined, or need a scout badge...the park is open year round.

Merrick Park is over on the central western side of the state, along the shores of the Mississippi River, and in fact five campsites are on an "island"--well, a little arm-- that sticks into the river. There is a great boat landing and watercraft for rent. Two nice campgrounds. From the air it looks like this.

Like all Wisconsin State Parks, vehicles need to pay to drive in--either a daily pass or a an annual one can be purchased. Camping is extra. The parks are all unique and have different features, like beaches, hiking trails, geological features, fishing, camping, playgrounds, picnic grounds, biking.

Merrick State Park is known for its proximity to the Mississippi River of course. Boating, fishing, camping, are what makes it special. Its 322 acres also contain a variety of wildlife in marshy areas, so birding is good, too. There are 65 campsites, 2 easy miles of hiking trails, a marked canoe trail, and a storied history. Here's a map.

Story goes that a Minnesota grocer named Latsch was canoeing when a storm blew up. He paddled toward land and planned to wait out the weather, but was ordered away by the irate farmer who owned the land. Latsch got back by buying up the couple hundred acres in the area. Eventually he donated the land to the state for conservation purposes, and asked that a park be named for Wisconsin Civil War veteran and steamboat pilot George B, Merrick. Now that sounds interesting! Besides, the Great River Road is just cool.

Contact information
For information, contact:

S2965 State Road 35 
P.O. Box 127 
Fountain City, WI 54629


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