Sunday, May 29, 2016


In the mid-1990’s the movie ‘Baby’s Day Out’ was released. The comedy centered on a baby who is kidnapped, then escapes to climb out open windows, into gorilla cages, and across construction sites. Ha ha. So much funniness. My younger sister, who was busy defending her first-born infant daughter from the ravages of the world, (night drafts, mosquitoes, diaper rash, colic, etc) couldn’t even watch the trailers for this movie. She kept picturing her own precious little one a hundred feet off the ground, creeping along a steel beam. With no camera crew or special effects artists to rescue her.

I couldn’t laugh at her.  As a little girl, the movies and books I liked least were the ones in which parents died. I grew up, but not out of my projection of my own loved ones’ faces into the heart-wrenching, gut-twisting scenes in books and movies. I ensured the safety of my fiancee during our courtship by avoiding romantic tragedies and books about star-crossed lovers. After we married and had babies, we installed child-proof locks, outlet covers, avoided allergens, and banned any portrayal of a child in peril. Even in fantasy stories. If a danger could be conceived of, it lurked outside my children’s door.

I’m in a mess of a time right now. My boys survived childhood without once falling from the top of a construction site, and made me a grandmother. I’m doing my bit to protect this next generation by once again boycotting baby-in-danger forms of ‘entertainment.’ But I’ve discovered  that I also can’t watch battle scenes. Because the fathers of the babies I need to guard are now soldier age. When I look at the faces of the boys heading into the fray, whether Narnian Crusade, Middle Earth Battle or World Wars, I see my sons’ faces.

My wildly untamed imagination, my ridiculously hyper-extended sense of empathy and identification, sees the mothers behind these boys* who take up arms and prepare to do battle. The women who would gladly give their own lives for their sons—can’t. 
“They also serve, who only stand and wait.” **

And pray. Pray for their child dressed up like a soldier. For strength and safety of body and mind, of purpose and spirit. Today, Memorial Day, I think of those boys and girls, men and women, who died too soon in crusades, battles, wars. And I honor the mothers, who watched and waited and prayed until the day came when they learned the answer to the prayer was “No.”

These mothers couldn’t turn off a television show, walk out of a movie or close a book to avoid their loss. It respects no refusal. My prayer is that great loss merits great Comfort. With them, I look for the day when He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

*I understand that countless daughters have served and died in battle. As a mother of only sons, theirs are the faces I superimpose on the warriors.

**John Milton, “When I Consider How My Light is Spent”

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

May 2016 Turkeys

May means turkey hunting to our family. Once that involved long treks to the southern part of the state. In recent years, the turkey population in northwest Indiana has increased. Large flocks strut in open fields, fly daringly across major highways, and excite house pets by visiting yards. This means that the chances of bringing home a turkey to grace the table are much improved.

Many hunters no longer rise in the pitch-dark of predawn to be at the Fish and Wildlife areas at 4:30 AM in hopes of filling no-show slots for the privilege to hunt on state-owned property. Instead, private property hunts are popular. Pick a farm. Any farm. Get permission. With your hunting license and bird permit safely stowed in your pocket, you've got a good chance of seeing turkey during your morning hunt.

Just because you see a lot of turkeys doesn't mean you will kill a turkey. Picking a suitable spot, skill is required for calling the bird in close, and enormous amounts of patience and quiet are integral to the hunt.

This was a banner year for the family. My oldest grandchild took her first turkey a couple of years ago, causing her two siblings to rise to the challenge. This year between juggling a job and school, she hunted only twice, sharing good times with dad and grandpa, but not bagging a turkey. The younger two went more often and flaunted that they are each one up on her. Their tales of the hunt are animated. Their eyes sparkle, their smiles broaden, and their hand gestures are grandiose.

I recall well the heart pounding, adrenaline-induced pumped feeling that makes your hands shake and your aim questionable and time seem to stand still. In 2002 my husband called a bird in to me in the wooded point off of a field.

Light was starting to pale the sky. I took my time settling into a comfortable position on a pad on the cold ground. I adjusted the mosquito netting around my glasses, pulled my gloves on, balanced the shotgun. A squirrel played in branch overhead. Behind me, John let out a few yelps and coos on the hand box. I took a breath and quieted myself, prepared for a long wait.

Instead, my eyes fastened on the unmistakable curved head of a turkey rising above a fallen log. I stared. It didn't move. I aimed. It didn't move. I thought, "It's a decoy. Somebody else must be hunting here." The turkey head didn't move. I turned my head towards my husband and mouthed over my shoulder, "It's a decoy."

Beneath the mosquito netting, his face was intense, his eyes, wide with urgency. His lips mouthed, "Shoooot!"

So I did. The turkey, which had slipped in hidden from my sight by some scrub bushes, could feel the tension in the air and had risen to make a run for it, but I made the perfect head shot in one try. My first turkey.

Proudly I slung it over my shoulder and hefted the big boy all the way back to the truck. It felt as light as a feather. We then toted my turkey all around the county showing it off to the people who were important in my life and laughingly recounting details of the hunt. By the time we were done, it felt as if it weighed fifty pounds. It's actual weight was 24 pounds 11 ounces. It sported a 12 1/4 inch beard and 1 1/2 inch spurs. For a few hours I held the title for largest bird in the county.

I was a little worried that our table would be bare this year because my husband had passed up some choice chances. He explained, "If you take your bird on the first day, then your season is over. You've got to extend the pleasure." My view is, get the food on the table first and then go out sighting until your heart's content. He did come through on the last day with the turkey you see a the top of this blog. We'll look forward to some moist, corn-fed turkey on the grill this summer.

Until next month, take your fun where you can and share it with family,

Mary Allen

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wisconsin State Parks - Wildcat Mountain

Vista from the top of the park.
This is a Wisconsin DNR Photo right from the website...believe me, I'd be shaking too much to show you mine. Since I'm only trying to sell you on going to the park, I figure they won't mind.

Wildcat Mountain is a pretty cool park--if you have nerves of steel and guts for hairpin turns and no problems with heights or motion sickness. Don't get me wrong, I love the place, but mostly it's a big hulking menace in between where I live now, and where I'm moving next year. I do hear there are plans at some point to do something to make State Highway 33 somehow either smoother or go around the mountain, but until then, I only drive during the day and summer, and slow enough to enjoy it.

So...the sweet thing about this park is that it's in our famous Driftless Area, surrounded by the Kickapoo River, and some big creeks, the Cheyenne and Billings. There are four short hiking trails, the longest a steep two and a half-mile trail loop through the park--I've only been on part of it, to be honest, and fifteen miles of horse trails. This link describes them. One of the trails goes to what's called the ice cave, which you sort of have to visit in winter to see the giant icicle that forms to get the picture. Oh, there are cross country ski trails too. You can also rent canoes for trips on the Kickapoo in nearby Ontario, Wisconsin, and there are some pretty nice local  nature areas to visit as well, like the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

Horses in corral
Hmmm---there are 25 campsites up on top of the mountain. I see there are showers now, so that's a bonus. For horse people, there are 24 campsites where your horses can stay with you, as well as a primitive canoe site, first come-first served, no fee. :)

The view from the top of the mountain is worth it for intrepid folks, I will say...though I have never chosen to camp. The park actually covers over 3500 acres, which I didn't realize...lots of room to explore, though much of it is vertical. I guess you can tell I've grown less crazy about heights in my old age. It's beautiful, well worth a visit, and yes, named after a poor mountain lion/bobcat creature caught killing local sheep and never stood a chance back in the nineteenth century.

Fees apply, though not if you're just driving through.

Contact information
Wildcat Mountain State Park
E13660 State Highway 33, PO Box 99
Ontario WI 54651

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.


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