Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cannibals on the Crawfish?

Scuttle over the Chicago River with the ubiquitous foot traffic, and try to get out of the fast-moving current of humanity for a moment. You might notice  several plaques and impressive landmarks marking the site of Fort Dearborn. In the early 19th century a small fort surrounded by a few small cabins stood on the banks of the wide river, before a massacre destroyed the outpost. If you can imagine away the Michigan Ave. skyscrapers and the concrete and Wacker Drive traffic and masses of people and replace them with a quiet settlement, your creative powers outdistance mine.

Stroll through Aztalan State Park in south central Wisconsin, with only a small child as a companion, and you can’t help but notice unassuming signboards and markers.

They tell about the Crawfish River. It wasn't always shallow and muddy. Once it was filled with 'a variety of 'fish, turtles, freshwater mussels, aquatic mammals, water fowl and edible plants.'  (and, one hopes, crawfish) The Crawfish was a major transportation route. Other signs explain why there are taller-than-houses wooded stakes in the ground and graduated platform mounds. They tell of a  thriving and sophisticated culture that settled here around the time of Robin Hood and the Crusades and the Song Dynasty. Hundreds of people farmed and fished and hunted and traded with peoples as far away as the Gulf of Mexico. Try to imagine this uninhabited landscape filled with a busy, productive civilization. They built the huge platform mounds for religious and/or ceremonial reasons and food storage systems and stockades for protection from the elements or unfriendly neighbors.

Some speculate (on scanty bone evidence) that they practiced cannibalism.

These people, who seem more related to the Aztec tribes than any found in northern America, showed up (from where? no one knows) around 900 AD. and then, a few hundred years later, just…disappeared. No one knows where or why. Did the Little Ice Age of about 1300 make growing crops difficult? Were their stockades inadequate protection against enemies? Did disease ravage the community? Or did they just want to leave?

We don’t know. They left nothing behind except what can be found in the acres now called Aztalan. They are not part of any oral tradition of any other Wisconsin tribes. Archeologists and people like me, who love history and mysteries more than we enjoy swarming multitudes of fellow tourists, hang out at places like Aztalan. Along with one small grandchild.

We all agree that whatever the reason these intelligent, hard-working and cultured folks left the blue skies, green grasses and blue waters of Wisconsin, it wasn’t because they grew tired of the scenery.

If you go:

Aztalan State Park is in the Town of Aztalan, (near Lake Mills, Wisconsin) on the east side of Jefferson County Highway Q, just south of County Highway B. Coming from the west on Interstate Highway 94, reach County B by going south on State Highway 89 to Lake Mills. Coming from the east on I-94, take State Highway 26 south to Johnson Creek to County Highway B.
It is open year-round from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My town is going to the dogs

by Deb Donahue

My town is going to the dogs. And it’s about time, too. When I lived in the big city, there were lots of options for dogs to let their hair hang down and have a little fun.  Dog parks abound in the city, and dog owners seem to understand that their pets need canine companionship. 

Until recently, there was only one dog park anywhere near my town, and that small square of fenced in grass was only established a few years ago. Last year, however, The Rotary Club opened up a new city park that includes two large fenced in areas, one for large dogs and one exclusively for the small, shy breeds, called Mickey's Meadows.  I was thrilled.  Until I found out that no one seems to know what to use it for.  Very rarely do I ever find another dog there when I visit with my small mix-breed, Sophie.

Mickey's Meadows

What is this this strange being here!?
Going to a dog park does more than give the dog exercise.  If that were the only goal, taking them for walks would be the only activity required.  Heck, it would benefit the humans, as well.,  Who couldn’t use a little workout twice a day? Dogs need to socialize with other dogs in the same way humans need to interact with other humans.  How would you like it if you were raised by apes and never allowed to come within 100 yards of another human being? You’d probably assume you were being kept from them because they were dangerous to you.  You might even start to think that you were an ape instead of a human, and that they were aliens.

I have noticed, however, in the small Midwestern towns around me, that most dog owners seem to think that attaching a chain to a tree in the backyard and clipping their dog’s collar to it once or twice a day is all the recreation their pooches need.  Even many neighbors who do take their dogs for walks tend to cross the street to avoid walking by me and Sophie.

Me? Mean?  You're joking, right?
Now I suppose they are worried that Sophie might not act friendly toward their animal and so are moving to avoid potential harm to their pet.  But I ask you, can anyone look at this smiling face and think she was going to eat their Rottweiler? I can only suppose that they don’t trust how their own dog will act.
When we walk by certain houses, we set off doggie alarms block by block.  Little ones bounce up and down in front of their picture windows warning Sophie to keep moving.  Large and small pups tied up in their back yard lunge so hard against their restraints I’m worried they will choke themselves. These are all signs of animals that don’t seem to recognize their own kind, or at least have no idea how to socialize with other dogs.

So I am starting a small dog meetup group that meets once a month for an hour.  I even created a Facebook group called Sophie Loves Playtime and am hoping it will serve as a gathering place for local dog owners to socialize and set up play dates between their dogs other than just once a month.  I created postcards that I hand out when I see other people out walking small dogs.

So far we have had three to eight dogs attend each gathering, and Sophie and I have gone to the park a couple of other times to meet up with friends one on one.

If you are a dog owner, I hope your pup has lots of opportunities to meet and greet friends from their own species.  If there aren’t any, I encourage you to try to create some. Trust me, it will be worth it when you see your dog happily playing tug of war with her best friend ever.

Deb Donahue can also be found at WordPress.com, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Amazon.com.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Walk Your Houseplant!

Walk Your Houseplant!
By Robin Steinweg 

Yep, you heard me right, walk your houseplant. Chances are good that you’ve never before provided this service. I don’t mean to guilt you, but think about it: has your houseplant ever sassed you? Disobeyed you? And have you ever gone out of your way to give it more than its basic needs?

Seize this opportunity to give back to the houseplants who provide you with quietly efficient air purification and lush beauty. Today is Take Your Houseplant For a Walk day!

Here are some ideas for the celebration:

*Plan your route: is there a stream you could walk along? Perhaps a park would please your plant. You might visit a florist or a nursery—or a conservancy. Would your plant enjoy city gardens? Tropical or desert domes? Or boldly stroll downtown. 

*If you are embarrassed: wear a disguise and go to another community or take the back alleys. Wait till nightfall. Keep it in a basket, but give it a peek now and then when the coast is clear.

*Time challenges? Take your plant along to the bank or the grocery store.
*Physical challenges? The perfect walker.

*If the weather turns inclement: dress your plant in a plastic grocery bag-rain poncho (or baggie), or make it a paper hat and put sunglasses on it. Give it one of those umbrellas you see in tropical drinks. Caution--do not apply sunscreen!
*If you can’t decide which plant to walk: take them one at a time for brief walks. Or better yet, take them all at once!

*Organize a Moms & Toddlers Plant Walk: let the little ones plant cuttings a week in advance, in teeny little pots, and then all go together for their walk. This teaches the toddlers how to care for their plants’ emotional needs as well as practical plant husbandry.  

Use their pull toys...
*Organize a Neighborhood Plant Walk: there is safety from ridicule in sheer numbers. Walk around the block and end up in someone’s back yard where the plants and the neighbors can socialize. Provide water for the plants and iced beverages for the humans.

*Are you strong enough to walk your houseplant? Try these:   

Let us know where you walked your houseplant!     

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Hesitant Heiress Presents . . .

 This week, I was awarded the pleasure of an interview with debuting author, Dawn Crandall, and two friends she featured in the first of her three Everstone Chronicles, The Hesitant Heiress: Amaryllis Brigham and Nathan Everstone; although, it did take some convincing to get Mr. Everstone to agree, and he was rather tightlipped about his motives and intentions on various issues.
This leaves me with the urgency to implore you to set your calendar for August 1, 2014; at which time, you may obtain your very own copy of Amaryllis’s account as told by Dawn.
Nevertheless, I offer my deepest appreciation to the two of them for taking time from their hectic summer schedule of balls and such to help celebrate the telling of Amaryllis’s story.
Now. Before we dig into the interview, I would like to share, briefly. Since Dawn was sharing the secrets of Amaryllis’s heart, this work was portrayed in the 1st person; hence, my desire to peek into Mr. Everstone’s psyche.
Normally, I am somewhat lost on 1st person accounts, more because I—apparently—like action and settling into various viewpoints. The Hesitant Heiress, however, captivated me from the beginning. I found myself turning pages to learn whether Amaryllis would finally see the truth about her worth. The fact that this young woman had one handicap—inability to see her true value—endeared me to her as I too struggle with trusting that words of praise are genuine. 

OK. Let’s hear from our guests.
·      Congratulations on your debut novel!
(On a personal note: I know I’ve said it, but can’t say it enough, how amazed and awed I am at how God orchestrated this whole thing. The timing of your placement in the Genesis contest, the contract, and the parallel activity of finding out God was sending you a gift you and your husband had only dreamt about: Rhett. I’ve hung out here in the bleachers watching things unfold since meeting you in West Branch. What an awesome God we serve!)
·      What was your inspiration for Amaryllis’s story?
I took parts of certain things that have happened to me over the years, as well as parts of my own character and infused them into this story. At least for this first book, I did somewhat base it off of things that had happened in my own life around the time I met my dear husband. I did wonder if he was interested in someone else—I couldn’t tell if he was serious about me, or if I just happened to be “in the line of fire.” I also had someone else interested in me at the time who insisted that I was meant to be with him… it was quite an eventful summer, full of drama and all kinds of what would eventually become plot fodder. J
·      I generally find 1st person narratives difficult to hold my interest. This, however, kept me engaged until the end. I’m not sure if it’s the difference between a romance telling or 1st person in general. What made you want to write in 1st person?
My favorite books were always ones written from first person POV; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Christy by Catherine Marshall, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte… and with the way the story formed in my head, it was just the way it needed to be told. And it comes quite naturally to me, I think because of the many years I kept a journal through high school and college. 
·      I’ve read somewhere that we learn about ourselves as we create characters’ lives. Would you say this is true for you and Amaryllis? For Nathan?
Yes, as I wrote Amaryllis and got to know her, poured a little of myself into her, I realized I would actually respond to most of the things she goes through in much the same way. If you want to know what I’m like, it’s basically her.
I loved getting to know Nathan as I wrote the book. He was a mystery to me at the beginning! Who was this guy?—and why was he perfect for Amaryllis? That’s always the first question I begin with when writing. Because the book is all from Amaryllis’ perspective, I really had to dig into Nathan and to understand why exactly he was doing and saying everything (that part is so fun! That’s why I love writing first person POV!). I don’t know if I learned anything about me FROM him, but I sure did learn about myself in regards to how Amaryllis responded to him.  
·      Did you ever find yourself talking to family and friends about Amaryllis and Nathan, as though they were flesh and blood friends?
I used to talk to my husband about the characters and the plot for hours at a time. I just needed to say what was going on in the story out loud, mostly for myself! He’s not a writer or a reader, but has more of a mathematical brain… so this kind of drove him nuts. Being a guy, he thought I was trying to get him to help me fix something, when really, I just needed to talk. It’s not the same when no one is there and you’re talking through a plot to yourself…

·      Listening to you tell the story of how you met and fell in love took me back to a bus ride with a group of ladies when we’d taken turns sharing our love stories. How does it feel to finally get to tell your story?
I love revealing to others how God can help shape a lonely-hearted, vulnerable, very distrusting young woman into someone willing to make friends, try to get past her fears and trust others with her heart. Even if the way was rocky, and I wanted to give up more than once—God was victorious in conquering my heart and getting me to the point of trusting others again.
·      How often did you find ways to keep Dawn distracted with your story? Were you as persistent and insistent as I’ve heard authors say their person’s of interest (because I have a feeling you’d rather I not call you a character) are for them?
All Dawn thought about for about three years straight—first while she worked as a receptionist and hardly had anything to do but answer the phone, she would write bits and pieces of scene ideas, dialogue and character development. There was no story at that point, but it was forming. And then while she was a nanny for a friend’s infant she would write chapters on her iPod, and later her iPhone while the baby was napping… never letting a spare moment escape without getting into what was becoming the story of my life.

·      As a woman, I could relate to Amaryllis’s inability to trust in word alone. Perhaps if we could get a glimpse into your thought patterns, it would be easier.
·      Was it as frustrating as it seemed that Amaryllis didn’t believe your intentions?
Yes, yes, and yes. Never had any woman reacted to me quite the way she did—and I believe it had something very much to do with why I kept coming back. I figured I’d get through to her eventually, but then she’d just keep re-erecting that wall she liked to hide behind. But there was something about her, about getting someone who had such a hard time trusting anyone, to trust me—that was what made me want to keep trying.
·      I have plenty more questions, everyone, but they would spoil the story. Thank you for your time. I can't wait to read book 2. 
But until then, let me encourage everyone. This book is going to keep you turning pages! 

(Note: Dawn provided the advanced readers' copy so that I might read and offer a fair and honest review.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Salad Days

Is there anyone out there like me who's garden is going crazy-nuts with the lettuce? Sheesh. I'm talking bumper crop here, folks. And it just keeps on growing. I've never had such a lettucey-green thumb in my life. What's a person to do with so much of one veggie?

Make salad, of course.

So I've dug deep into my salad recipes and decided to share a few with you. Run out to your garden, snip off some lettuce, then come on back here to find out what to do with it. Go on. I'll wait.

Now then, here we go . . .


Salad Base: lettuce, 1/2 cup almonds honey roasted, 1 can mandarin oranges, drained

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/3 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons poppyseeds

Mix up the dressing in a jar and shake it really well. It makes a lot so you'll be able to use this for salads to come. Works fantastic on pasta salads also.

Put the lettuce in a bowl and sprinkle the nuts and oranges on top, then cover with dressing. Yumm-o!


Salad Base: lettuce, 1 can black beans, 1 large orange bell pepper, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, 2 cups corn (off the cob and cooked), 5 green peppers

1 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. vinegar
1/8 tsp. salt

For dressing simply puree all the ingredients in a blender or food processor.

For salad, chop up everything and mix it up in a bowl. Pour dressing on top. Yep. It's that easy.


Salad Base: lettuce, kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, red onion thinly sliced, cucumber (sliced and seeded), crumbled feta cheese

6 Tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic finely minced
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dried or fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste

For dressing just put everything in a food processor and whip it up.

For salad, combine the ingredients in bowl, saving the feta to sprinkle on top. Dress just before serving.

Those are my latest 3 favorites. Now if I can just figure out what to do with all my basil besides make pesto. Any ideas?


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