Monday, February 28, 2011

Message to Mother Nature

Well, unlike all my northern neighbors, I'm a wimp when it comes to winter. And that's a huge understatement. Here's how I spend my winters. --->  So when one of my near-and-dears sent an email to a small loop we're a part of, I asked if she'd be my guest today.

Dee Yoder, an Ohio resident who is as tired of winter as I am, has recently signed with agent Terry Burns of Hartline Literary Agency. Dee's writing always puts me right there in the moment, and today's guest post does it again, albeit much differently than it usually does.

And now, here's Dee...

Forecast: 6-7 MORE inches of snow:

There will be more of this:

And this:

She wants us to:

But I have a message for Mother Nature: "Look into my eyes":

"You will bring SPRIIIING..."
"You will bring SPRIIIING..."
"You will bring SPRIIIING..."

Thanks for bringing us this message to Mother Nature, Dee. We look forward to her getting it.

This will be me as soon as Mother Nature gets the message...

Until then, I'll be dreaming of Spring...

Patty Wysong Finding the extraordinary God in our ordinary lives.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cookies Like Momma Used To Make

One fond memory of husband's childhood, is the wonderful sugar cookies that old Mrs. Bectel used to make. The corner store sold her cookies and everyone wanted the recipe. But she would never give it out.

One day Mrs. Bectel died. Surely her daughter would now bake and sell the cookies. 

But she hadn't even given it to her daughter. The recipe died with the Mrs. Bectel. 

That may well have been the worst tragedy in husband's young life. And when we married I heard about Mrs. Bectel's wonderful sugar cookies. 

I loved to bake and I tried to make some. They were always so-o-o close, but not quite.

Last month, when sister and brother-in-love stopped in to tell us good-by on their way to Florida for the winter, she handed him a package of sugar cookies.

 He smiled and opened the package. He took out a cookie and put it to his lips. He closed his eyes . . .
And savored the flavor. Almost, almost . . . He tried another to make sure.

What are some of your favorite memories?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ten Things Mom Discovers When Spring Arrives

In the rhythm of life the Midwest annually awakes from the cold night of winter to the fresh dawn of spring. Thus the changing of the seasons offers the observant Midwest Mom a host of new revelations of truth such as…

1.  If your favorite store is still offering “After Christmas Bargains,” they are dealing in stolen goods.

2.  It is no longer chic to wear your snowshoes in church (nor ice fish in the baptistery).

3.  Your sweater with the big moose is scaring children in the nursery.

4.  It is time to take the snow shovel out of the front seat and let your spouse sit there again.

5.  When Little Ricky asks for salt at the table, don’t hand him the 20 lb pound bag.

6.  Your daughter will burst out in tears if you try to use your husband’s pick-up truck with the hydraulic blade as the limousine to the spring formal.

7.  You should consider taking down the Christmas lights after Memorial Day (the tree with all the needles on the floor might need watering as well).

8.  The cheap tickets you just bought on-line to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics probably aren’t a good investment.

9.  You should probably check if your child says, “Mommy, Timmy just put his tongue on the bumper of the car and it won’t come off.”

10.  If you discover there is still skin on your arms even though you haven’t seen it for four months.

Cheryl is not putting her shovel away yet and tries to make you laugh about the everydayness of life at Momlaughs

Friday, February 25, 2011

I See Green Things

One of the shortest summer seasons I remember was the year we had a shut-down knock-out blizzard in April, the week before Easter; another one May 10, and the next one October 10 of that year. The year I got married on June 4, we'd had snow the week before. In a state where a person can be outside comfortably without a coat from June into September, you hunger for green amongst the white of snow. Hope might spring eternal, but spring is an eternal hope in Wisconsin, where we saw the ground for a few minutes earlier this week before we got blasted with another foot and a half of snow on Monday.

A special friend, Susan, gave me an amaryllis bulb a few years ago. We were amazed at the growth the first year, the blooms the second year, and...bust the third year. I knew I was asking for a lot by taking the thing out and trying to force it again. I fed it, hubby repotted it, we let it eat sun outside on the deck until dusk started falling about six pm, then I cut it down and stored it over winter.

After Christmas I took it out again, planted it and waited, sure the crispy brown dead-looking bulb was never going to grow. It greened up right away! In a year where the ground has pretty much been dead white since November, I am enjoying this hint of life.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wintery Weather

For the past week or so, my daughter has asked me the same question almost every day.
What day does spring start?
Earlier this month was Groundhog Day. You know, that day when that silly rodent in Pennsylvania lets us know if spring is coming early, or if we still have six weeks left. And, of course, you know he's just as likely to be right as wrong. 

I don't pay any attention to him, by the way. This year, I laughed. You see, he saw his shadow (which, contrary to logic, by the way, means six more weeks of Winter). And here in Michigan, we were in the middle of a blizzard that day. NOBODY saw their shadow, because the sun was completely hidden behind a deluge of snow. If I recall, we got a foot and a half of snow that day. Everything was closed.

It was a good two weeks before it warmed up enough for us to see our grass again. And less than a week later, the green was again covered with white. Such is the weather in the Midwest.

And of course, even when the "regular" calendar changes to spring on March 20 (yeah - that's the date I gave my daughter), there's no guarantee that the snow will stop, or that the weather will be any less wintery. The very first time I shoveled snow (and there was quite a bit of it) was on the first day of spring in 1996 (I moved to Michigan in summer of 1994, by the way).

But we can still hope, can't we?

Paving Rough Roads With God's Presence

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Ride of Your Life

Something fictionish for today...

The cage jerked and began moving. Cindy's heart pounded. “Lord, what have I gotten myself into?”

Across from her, Heather laughed nervously and Gram patted her hand. “Did I ever tell you that your grandfather wanted to propose on a ferris wheel but was afraid he'd drop the ring? Even after 45 years, he's a romantic at heart.”

The cage rocked gently as it rose higher and higher, and Cindy's knuckles grew whiter and whiter. When they were at the highest point her fingernails were chalk white and she was quietly gasping for breath. Below her she could see people walking around with their cotton candy, but that was all she had time to see before her stomach started rolling and twisting. Panic was beginning to set in.

A squeak from her daughter drew her attention. Heather was white as a ghost. The mother in Cindy kicked in. She focused on what her mother said. “I never knew that, Mom.”

“Gramp and I have always loved ferris wheels, but when he saw his idea wouldn't work he took me to the lookout point. It was the highest point we could get to.” Gram smiled nostalgically but Cindy hardly noticed, as she was too relieved to be on the way down. The lower they went the more color seeped back into her knuckles and once they were near the bottom she pulled each finger from its stranglehold on the seat. She shook them out and rested them in her lap, but that only lasted until they began going up again. When they were half way to the top her hands were clamped back on the seat.

“It's crazy to be this scared,” Cindy said. “I know I'm safe, so why am I so afraid?”

Her mother laughed. “Did you forget you're afraid of heights? Oh, not little heights, only the big ones, like this.” She waved her fingers around her head. “Looking far in the distance helps. Heather, do you think we can see Kincaid's barn from up here?” Heather frantically looked for it and as she did she seemed to relax a little, even though they were just past the highest point.

Cindy, who sat facing them, had her eyes fixed on the parking lot she could see in the distance. She noted the kind of trees that surrounded it and the trolley winding through the rows of cars. The farther out she looked, the less her heart raced.

“You know, riding a ferris wheel is a lot like trusting God.” Gram said as they slowly went down. “Oh look, there's Millie Hunter, from church. Wave, girls, maybe she'll see us.” They managed small waves and Gram beamed when Millie waved back.

“How is riding a ferris wheel like trusting God, Mom?” Cindy's heart was speeding up again and she was thankful for the distraction.

“Well, like you said, you're safe on here, even though you don't feel safe. It kind of feels like you're hanging out in the middle of nowhere, doesn't it?” Their faces turned whiter. “But you really aren't,” Gram hastened to add. “There's plenty of safety features on these things and they inspect them every day. Oh, look, Heather!” Gram pointed. “There's Kincaid's barn! Can you see it?”

“Yeah, I see it! It's even big from up here, Mom. Next to that big barn, their house sure is small!” In her excitement Heather had forgotten to be scared as they rounded the top.

“There. You see? When you get your eyes off where you are, and look around, you can see so much. Fear blinds you to the really wonderful things in life.” Gram reached over and gave Heather a squeeze.

Cindy sighed in relief as they went lower. “But, Mom, how is this like trusting God?”

“Oh dear, did I forget that part?” Gram laughed. “If you're safe on a ferris wheel, don't you think you're even safer tucked in God's hand? You might as well just relax, trust God and look around, knowing He's got it all under control. Don't let fear blind you and you'll see the most spectacular things. You'll see God working and then you'll see where you can jump in and work with Him. You may end up in places you never thought you'd go to, and do things you thought you couldn't, but with God holding you you'll be safe with Him. Trusting God really is the ride of your life.”

“...He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.”
~Deuteronomy 32:10-11 (NIV)

Patty Wysong Finding the extraordinary God in our ordinary lives.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter Wimp or Warrior?

Last time I checked, spring begins on March 21. Actually, you can pretty much count on the vernal equinox ALWAYS falling sometime around March 20 or 21...if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. Which I do.

That being said, and noting the fact that everyone's calendar is still on the February page, what is the big deal with having a snow storm? Newsflash: It's still winter. Seriously people, get a grip.

When did we begin this downward spiral into crisis mode every time a few snowflakes accumulate? Granted, 14" within a twelve-hour period is a fair amount, but do we need to gnash our teeth and weep as if a snowpocalypse has ended the world?

I suppose the current frenzy could be blamed on media hype, but that's merely the tip of the iceberg. Personally, I think there's a deeper, more insidious cause.

We are a nation of wimps.

Think about it. Did our forefathers even own a pair of Sorrels? Would a Viking warrior be caught dead in Thinsulate? Generations managed to survive without Smartwool, Uggs, or North Face apparel. It's time to man-up, or woman-up as the case may be.

So I throw back my head and laugh at you, winter. Go ahead and let 'er rip with all your blizzardly bluster. Nostril-freezing windchills, frostbite inducing temperatures...bring it! Norwegian blood flows in my veins. I can take it all and more.

But when March 21st rolls around, knock it off. I'll be ready to garden.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Signs of Spring

Girl Scout Cookies! Yep! I don't know about you, but I know spring is coming when I see the familiar boxes of cookies sitting on the counter. I was never in Girl Scouts. Always hated anything having to do with nature, and so learning how to start a fire while sitting in a funny dress and hat seemed odd to me.

However, I love the cookies, and one kind in particular..Samoas. They are the circle carmel chocolate cookies with coconut. Every year though I always have the same questions. WHY has no one made a knock-off Samoa cookie? Surely, the Keebler elves could whip up a batch in their spare time. All they have to do is sit up in that tree house all day long. Get Busy little elves! Chop! Chop!

Think about it. All of the really good Girl Scout cookies have a similar cookie which you can find in the grocery store. Thin Mints. Check. Trefoils...otherwise known as Shortbread. Check. Do-Si-Do's...their version of Nutter Butters. Check. The new Thank You Berry Munch Cranberry Cookies. Meh! Don't need em.

But as far as I'm aware, there are NO cookies which compare to the Samoa in the stores. I don't really want to be a food scientist, but I think about going back to school every year around this time to become one.

Another question. Why did they decide to change the delivery method of the cookies? For years, you would place your order, and then wait for months when FINALLY some little beanied girl would appear at your door with the long-anticipated cookies. I heard it had to do with saving money. Times are hard, and the Girls Scouts can save money by giving you your cookies as soon as you hand over your half of your wallet to pay for them. Money well spent, but in my opinion, part of what makes these cookies so good is the wait. The anticipation.

As I've been ranting to friends and family members about my whole Girl Scout cookie dilemma, I came across one thing which melted the icy edges of my Samoa-clogged arteries....hope you enjoy!

Eating a Samoa and waiting for Spring...


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Freezing Rain and Snow

Life is rolling along, everything’s going so well.
Then the news…
We’re in for snow, freezing rain and ice.
Yes we are. We live in Michigan.
As writers, we can experience the same thing.
We have a request for a full read, or that contract is
just around the corner.
Then we’re told, the editor doesn’t want it.
What we hear is, the editor doesn’t want us.
Ice, snow, and freezing rain.
Whether you live in Michigan, where this is common,
or somewhere else, try and remember, God is in control.
Following the freezing rain, there
WILL be a sunny day.
If you're experiencing a time that has you down,
Look up!
God is still in control!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Went Viral - Wouldn't Recommend It

Last time I wrote about the mini blizzard of 2011.

Today, how about the attack of the viral kind.

Rarely, do I get sick. I do not do sick very well. When you are sick you have to stay in, lay down and stop your life. All three of those things are not welcomed.

It all started on Thursday evening around 9:00 when I started getting this annoying cough. By Friday morning I was determined to ignore all symptoms that were assaulting my body. By Friday evening I wasn’t so cocky and had to pay attention to the enemy that invaded me. After all, he came in with a dump truck and ran me over a few times and left an elephant on my chest. No matter how many spasms and oxygen deprived minutes from non-stop coughing the critter would not be moved. Add to that the fact that with every wracking cough my brain was hurtled against my skull.

Saying I had a headache would be equivalent to saying Donald Trump needed some change.

In my 76 degree warm home I was still shivering with long underwear, flannel pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, full length heavy robe and wrapped in a blanket. There was nothing within a foot of me that didn’t ache. The back of my knee caps hurt, when I breathed out there was a rebounding pain in my chest and I would have taken any drug to make it better, legal, safe or black market.

Saturday morning I got dressed and went to the med station sans make-up or hair that had been coifed. You know I’m near death if I leave home like that. 

Thankfully I was ushered in immediately and was left draped over the chair. The first two who saw me said “Sounds like you have influenza. Did you get a flu shot”? “No” I croaked.

After being “tickled” in the nose (by the way, never trust a doctor who says he is going to “tickle” you. It’s the same as when they say “this may cause some discomfort”. Doctors lie.) I found out it was not influenza just a nasty 5 – 7 day lasting virus. Go home and go to bed and drink plenty of fluids. I did get a prescription for a cough medicine.

I had about enough energy to go to the drive through pharmacy at the large grocery store nearby before collapsing. On my way to the drive through Son #4 called and asked if I got the toilet paper for the barn that they needed a week ago. “Crap” I thought – in more ways than one. I had to get TP before going home. I would never make it all the way to the back of the huge store to get the TP and survive.

So, I dropped off the prescription and drove a block away to the corner drug store where I thought I had a chance of physically making it into the store and back out without falling flat on my face. It took the whole 20 minutes to accomplish what would normally have been a five minute deal.

Thankfully when I returned to the drive through the drug was ready and I made it home without lapsing into semi-consciousness.

The rest of Saturday, Sunday and Monday was spent in the recliner, slurping the cough syrup and falling asleep to more Lifetime Movies than anyone person should endure in their lifetime.

Other than a blizzard I have not been stuck at home for five straight days (I didn’t count the trip to the med station considering I had this weird black buzzing cloud around my head the whole time).

Thankfully, I am down to the annoying cough and a few aches now and then.

The sad thing is that I was home for five straight days and not a single thing on my to do list got done.

I learned a few of things. One – just when you think you can’t feel any worse, you can. Two – this too will pass, if you can live long enough. Three – I am a total whiner when sick. Four – when they say five to seven days, just because you are an overachiever, it won’t change. Five – I need to be grateful every day I am not sick. More so than I thought I was.

One realization that might help the male species out there. When you are sick and you are going through the hot, cold, shiver, sweat stage of the flu, that is what your wife is going through on a regular basis. Flu symptoms are the nibblets that hot flashes and hormonal issues cut their teeth on. So, be a good man, be kind, gentle and attentive because the next time she is suffering remember, like the flu, this will too will pass, but it will be back again and again and again.

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Friday, February 18, 2011


Winter in Michigan - adored by some, dreaded by others, but ignored by no one. There's nothing worse than being cold and wet when it's 15 degrees outside, so the appropriate clothing is necessary. Puffy coats, fuzzy hats, and boots.

I bought these boots 10 years ago as soon as I decided to move north. They stop just below my knees and are rated for -20 degrees (they had some rated for -50, but if I'm out in that kind of weather I hope someone will shoot me). I have never, ever been cold in these boots.

My newest additions aren't quite as tall, but they're just as cozy. That shiny tan softness at the top travels through the whole boot, wrapping my lil' piggies in warmth.

I love my boots, but...

I have this thing with shoes. Some people comfort eat, I buy comfort shoes. I'm not always the trendiest gal when it comes to my clothes, but I get compliments on my shoes all of the time.

That's why winters are rough on a gal like me. I want to stay safe and warm, but the dogs are barking, "Put us in something cute - please!!"

Really, who am I to ignore their cries? After all, I owe them so much.
 So I bought them another pair of boots.

I wouldn't exactly call them sensible. Or practical. Or warm. But do you see how cute they are?! My feet would be cold, but they would be happy.

I was paying for my boots at the counter when my gaze drifted toward the clearance rack. That's when I saw them - not quite a boot, not quiet a shoe. Nothing wintery about them, but, oh, so fun. The guy at the counter knows me (I'm a regular) so he drops a hint that they might be lowering prices later in the week, just in case I want to stop back.
Heck yeah! Lucky me, last week was my birthday. Nothing like a happy birthday check from Mom and Dad to support my shoe problem. So I did it. I went back. I bought the booties. My feet are ecstatic (though frozen).

Living in the tundra there's a lot to be said about being prepared for the weather. But being me, there's even more to be said about 70% shoes at my favorite store. Besides, there's only 4-6 more weeks of winter. I can make it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Plowed In

We live on a cul-de-sac. Cool, huh? Yeah, well, most of the time. The great thing is that it's relatively quiet, with no thru-traffic. But there is one thing about living on a cul-de-sac - particularly the left side of the very end of the cul-de-sac- that really sucks. 

When I first rounded the corner of our street a couple weeks ago, a few days after the huge blizzard of 2011, I was thrilled to see that the plows had been through. For a brief glorious moment, I forgot where the plows always end up pushing all that snow...

Yes, that is the end of our driveway. 

As I got closer to my house that day, I remembered. Because we live on the left side of the cul-de-sac and don't live in England, the plows scoop up all the snow as they're rounding the bend in the right-hand lane, and leave it in a heap at the end of our driveway. Ugh.

After deciding that trying to barrel my little Mazda 6 through that mound wouldn't be the smartest move, I pulled my car around and parked it on the street. I got out and stared at the pile for about five minutes while repeating "are you kidding me?" a gazillion times.
Then I cried.

It just so happened that my husband (the snowblowing fairy I so often take for granted) was out of town for a couple days. So it would be up to my son and me to take care of Mount Everest. And the thought of my newly relaxed muscles from the massage I'd gotten just that morning becoming sore and tense again made me cry even harder.


I indulged myself in a moment of self-pity and then pulled it together. Since it wasn't likely that temps would suddenly spike to 80 degrees and melt the snow for me, if I wanted to get into my driveway - and ultimately the garage - I needed to grab a shovel and start digging.  

When I first faced the pile, it was hard to think of anything except all the work it would take to remove it. Looking at the flattened pile an hour later, the sense of accomplishment I felt was amazing. I had conquered the snow mountain (with a little help from my son). I am woman, hear me roar!

Do you ever feel plowed in? That you're the only one who's got a "snow pile" to dig out of? Does your mountain look too big to dig out of at all? It's easy to become disheartened, angry, and frustrated by "stuff." But, at least we have a few promises to hang onto. Promises like:

"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." - 2 Corinthians 4:17

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." - Psalm 46:1

"The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble." - Psalm 9:9

What "snow pile" are you facing today? I want to encourage you to grab a shovel and start digging. It won't be easy and you might end up exhausted, but you will get through, with a little help from THE Son.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Something Fictionish - Noisy Quiet

You know, us Barn Door folks actually are writers in addition to bloggers, even though most of us don't highlight our "other" writing here very much.

But I enjoy writing fiction quite a bit - have written lots of short stories over at FaithWriters, and am working on longer works as well.

I thought you might enjoy this short piece I wrote. It's based on an actual trip I took, with only the slightest bit of artistic license. Enjoy!

Noisy Quiet

"What are you doing up there?"

My husband, three inches taller than I am, is looking up at me, probably convinced I'm insane. And maybe he's right.

"It's beautiful from up here."

He chuckles. "It had quite an impact on you, didn't it?"

I nod. "Come on up."


I've never known quiet to be so noisy before. It's a good thing I'm exhausted.

The mattress looks inviting, but I suppose I should get out of these clothes first. It certainly can't hurt, with the sweat dripping down my body.

I peel off my boots, knee socks, pants, long-sleeved shirt, and, of course, my hat. I slip into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt--an outfit much more fitting for the air temperature.

I examine the bed for creepy crawly things. Finding none, I smile. I stretch out on my cot and look straight up. At least I can't see the sky.

Don't get me wrong--I like a star-studded view as well as, if not better than, the average person. But if I had to choose between protection from the elements and those beautiful twinklers, there's no contest. Dry is definitely my preference.

You see, it's supposed to rain tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. You get the picture. Walking around in it is one thing. But trying to sleep? Can't imagine it's doable: at least not for me.

It's not like I'm a victim of false advertising. This is the rainforest, for goodness sake. It's not like I was expecting five-star accommodations or bright, cloudless skies. When I offered to pay my own way to go on an Amazon rainforest adventure with three dozen middle schoolers, just so I could write a story for my local paper, and maybe get published in a national magazine, I knew I wouldn't be ordering room service. But somehow, the ruggedness--the roughness--of it didn't hit me until now.

Oh well. Part of the adventure, I suppose. I close my eyes and listen to that noisy quiet.

My ears are practically overloaded. There are at least a dozen different sounds, none of which appear to be man-made. The croak of frogs sounds familiar, but the other noises are completely foreign. Birds, perhaps? Maybe a monkey? Some animal I've never seen? Most likely. But perhaps, before the end of the week, I will.

I don't think I have ever been this enveloped in God's creation: certainly not since I acknowledged Him just five months ago. Nearly everything around me is evidence of His handiwork. How could I have ever believed this was an accident: a series of random scientific processes?

I think back over the day. The airports were a madhouse: especially O'Hare. The tween chatter didn't help much either. However, the beauty of the Andes as we soared above them did. And what a contrast between where we'd spent the first part of the day and the sparseness and primitivity of the Iquitos, Peru airport. I laugh, remembering the monkey on the shoulder of the elderly woman, and the fact that it almost grabbed the hat off my head. Then there was the hour-plus canoe ride up the Yarapa river, and the incredible view of the native people and wildlife along the shorelines.

Once we arrived at our home for the next week, we were all quite eager to get our legs moving. The plants were so vibrant. Even the insects were more brilliant in color. I was so engrossed; I didn't even notice the heat.

I focus again on the many noises of the wildlife around me, trying to guess what each animal sound is in turn. I may never know if I'm right, but it doesn't hurt to guess.

I have a feeling this is going to be quite a trip.


"Come up there? No thanks." He sits on the ground and looks up at me perched in our tree. "You just enjoy it yourself."

"I will." I close my eyes and listen to this different noisy quiet. Sure, I hear cars zooming past our house. But my ears, perhaps sensitized over the past week, pick up at least two different birds, the wind rustling through the leaves, and the movement of the grass as my husband shifts on the ground. For a moment, I forget I'm in my own front yard.

It was here waiting for me. Too bad I had to go all the way to the Amazon to realize it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Farming In Winter

The green fields of corn and soybeans in Iowa, long since harvested, have been replaced by a snow-covered expanse of frozen crystals that shimmer in the sun like diamonds. But while the rich earth is sleeping beneath the ice, the farmers who tend the soil in spring and summer are hardly at rest.

Just ask John Van Zee, third generation Iowa farmer who with his wife, Kathy, works their farm year round. A recent phone call to John found him in the cab of his snowplow, graciously answering this blogger’s question: Just what do farmers do in the winter? His answers came quicker than a breeze in a blizzard.

“We plow snow and feed the cattle. I take care of our neighbor, who is on oxygen (plowing his driveway). You just do what you gotta do.”

He was equally matter-of-fact about the numerous obligations and activities he and Kathy perform all through the cold season. While Kathy works another job outside the farm, John makes sure their 50 head of beef cattle are fed and watered, along with the herd of sheep, their donkey and their dogs.

“It’s like the Wild West out here.”

John attended a crop insurance meeting the day prior to our conversation, and missed a farm machinery show in Des Moines that he was looking forward to attending. The recent snowstorm changed those plans.

He recently renewed his pesticide license, continually studies the agricultural market, and does tax preparation for the farm. When he is not busy (LOL) he sells farm real estate.

He does all this, besides fine-tuning his plans for spring planting. Once that season arrives, the row crops of corn, soybeans, and sometimes hay and oats have to be put in the soil. Then it’s another season of rousing the sleeping soil awake.

But John wouldn’t have his busy life any other way.

“It doesn’t get any better than working for yourself.”

He and Kathy have raised three children on this farm. The water is still pumped by a windmill built by his uncle in 1923. His land boasts a three-story barn—it has a basement—that was built in 1887 and is still used for lambing and for housing young calves. The barn has survived two tornadoes.

Just like this stalwart structure, John hopes that his farm will survive the changing environment that has forced many farmers to sell their land. He’s hoping that others will carry on the legacy on his farm for years to come.

“We are on this world for a short period of time. We want to try to preserve the land for future generations.”

Regards From the Frozen Tundra of Iowa!


(Photo above NOT from John Van Zee's farm. Stock Image.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lovely Fruit

Happy Valentines Day!

from The Barn Door Crew.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Boys with Girls, and God's Other Amusements

Billy's hand emerged from his pocket, his fist gripping a dark, damp, bulging body. Webbed feet and long legs dangled at limp angles below Billy's wrists. In slow motion, one leg would spring up seeking traction, dangle, then the other would do the same.

Mary recoiled, her face puckering. "Ew! It's gross! Why have you got it in your pocket?"

Billy grinned and shrugged. One bare, dirty foot rubbed the other. "Shucks, Mary. It's just an old bullfrog. I got him for ya down at Sever's pond."

Why do boys do that?

My friend's 8 year old son snuck up on her and give her a little pinch, evoking a small scream. He laughed. "Ah, so satisfying," he said as he sauntered away.
My own mom used to tell me that you could tell a boy liked you if they teased you. It must be true. To induce disgust and shock, is to boys, a badge of awe and respect, I guess.

My middle son, Cade, is 21, and he, like his brothers, thinks of 4 things: hunting, trucks, work, and of course, girls. In fact, I suspect, thinking of girls is pretty high on his list.

Cade has always enjoyed biology. Recently, while cleaning out a deer, he felt the strangest thing. It turned out to be a tiny, baby deer in the womb. He pulled out the entire bag and examined it in the light. He marveled at the way he could see through the ambiotic sac and even through the tiny deer, with its miniature hooves and ears, and its less-than-toothpick-sized ribs. It was amazing!

But soon, his thoughts turned to other things, like what girls would think of such a sight. So, what was his plan? To save it for a few days in his refrigerator -- to show girls. Please go ahead and roll your eyes with me.

My oldest boy, Quinn, just married. Now that's fun! There's nothing like watching a courtship, or newlyweds together in their strange dance of love and teasing.

Boys with Girls. What fun to observe! Agur, son of Jakeh, said it right in Proverbs 30:18-19, "Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maid."

The way of a man with a maid. Boys with girls. Will we ever understand how they work together?

On a completely different note, if you have the chance, stop on over to The Barn Door's sister site, The Book Loft, where this weekend's spotlight is on my novel The Green Veil. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the excerpt, and see lots of names in the drawing for the free book!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Port of Entry: Coming to America

The Perssons who became the Piersons, after they came to America (My grandfather is on the back row.) They ended up in Minnesota.

It is always interesting to me how people got to this country. I like to hear the stories. Around here where I live, most people's ancestors end at Grandma and Grandpa, and they'll say, "Wahl, I thank my people came from North Carolina, but we been on this here land since 1832.You ain't from around here, ar-ya?"

Nowadays with genealogy being a hobby, some of those people have traced themselves back to the Mayflower and they belong to an exclusive Mayflower society. Wahl, I have some ancestors who met them when they got off the boat. Doesn't seem to have the same prestige. Go figure. (Cherokees. Can we say Trail of Tears? Yes, I have a diverse heritage.)

But on my mother's side with the Swedes, here's the story. My grandfather, Jonas Persson, lived in Skane, Sweden (Southern Sweden, so I'm Southern on both sides of the family) and he was a fancy baker by trade (oh, yeah, the baking is in the "blood." Boo-ya!)

There was this guy named
William Widgery Thomas who was the American Ambassador to Sweden. He turns out to be well-documented in Portland, Maine and supposedly said for his reason for bringing the Swedes over, "Besides all other reasons, I believe these honest, pious, plodding Swedes would form an excellent balance to the fickle, merry, light-hearted Irish, who are now crowding in such goodly numbers to our shores."

I don't know about you'ins, but I'm part Irish, too. (I'd hate to be just a "plodding" sort.) And that sounds a little politically incorrect to me, but alas, he was a well-respected man, whose family boasts of being the first whites in their area.Hally-lew-yah. Can I get an "Amen?" No? (But don't think I'm not grateful for him, Mr. Thomas, because I am. I figure God used Mr. Thomas to get us here. And I'm truly thankful to be All-American.)

Thomas commissioned a special boat to bring 51 special tradesmen to America from Sweden and settle them in a settlement called New Sweden, Maine. My great-grandfather above was one of those guys.

No wonder I couldn't find him on any of
the lists that have become public. Hannah, his wife, was from Smaland, Sweden and they lived in New Sweden, Maine until 1882 before taking off (those wild and crazy kids!) for Minnesota. Why they would head for Minnesota just shows they wanted land. Land was for the taking after the Homestead Act. If any of you live in Minnesota, you know about the "state bird"(called mosquitoes) and how it took a special breed of people to stick it out on those homesteads. My people did it.

At this time of year, I really appreciate my Swedish and Norwegian roots because those people liked food. And I like food. And I like it even more when I'm snowed in. Which proves that I have just enough Swede for food abundance appreciation with a good cuppa coffee (and enough Irish in me to enjoy it!) Gotta love our backgrounds. Many of the Swedes left Sweden because they were starving. And America had plenty of food. We get smorgasbord from the Swedes--and I have the recipes to prove it.

However, my favorite story from Sweden is called Godnatt, jord (Goodnight, Earth) and this isn't from my family, but hey. Some writer named Ivar Lo-Johansson (and I'm related to some Johanssons.) The character, Mikael, knew there was some glowing life out there and his hunger for it, drove him to steal money for books. This family was direly starving and he's stealing money for books! (Sounds like my kind of guy, because besides food, I love stories and books.) So, the Swedes were a hardy bunch, literate and had the ability to keep a buoyant spirit while being worked to death. Maybe Jonas just didn't know any better.

Where Great-Grandma Hannah was from (Smaland) they shaped their breads like birds. Oh,and you have to have seven kinds of cookies. Now, I'm going to tell you this really mean story that happened to me right here in the Midwest concerning cookies. (See how we're getting to the main point?)

I used to participate in a cookie swap at Christmas (in another place where I lived.) I love recipes, and I loved the cookie swap! One lady there (my age) had a particularly tasty recipe for Swedish Melting Moments cookies. She was praised far and wide, and she would bake for a solid week, and freeze her cookies, getting them out for various social events throughout the holidays. I wanted that recipe. Even though I probably had ten recipes (and continue to search) for Swedish Melting Moments, those were really good. I'd get about one cookie a year.

So, I asked her if I could have the recipe. I promised to only bake them for  my family. (In case she worried I'd upstage her.) She said, "No problem! I'd love for you to have it." But she conveniently never gave it to me. (Believe me, I asked several times.)Now, she lives far away and I live the other far away--and I still don't have that recipe.

I still consider it annoying when people horde their recipes. I mean, I can understand it if you have a special recipe and you have a bakery or restaurant and you continue to pass it in your own family. But if you're not a "professional" making a living at it--just share it! (Big puppy eyes.)

I've given my recipes to bed and breakfast places who did use them for their reputation of their inn. If you die, and you die with your recipe, for which you are famous--what good were you? You stingily take that recipe to your grave? Now, to be fair, my mother-in-law, Imy, who is one of the best bakers ever, has tried to teach me about the fine art of pie crust--and I have her recipe. I have tried, without success to make it as good as she does. So you can share the recipe, but maybe it's just not the same. You have to bring something to it. Maybe it has to do with enjoyment or the "sharing" of the delicious baked item, too, but I will never be able to replicate her recipe. I think it may even have to do with her hands--the size or something--or maybe with her patience (which I don't always have so much of.)

So, in the spirit of my ancestors being fancy bakers, and because of all the bad weather we've had, and I just got a new mixer and oven (story on my blog) I want to share one of those Swedish Melting Moments cookie recipes with you. Not as good as You-Know-Who's, but we take what we can get.

 Swedish Melting Moments Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 cup butter
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 TBS. powdered sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract

Cookie Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 TBS. melted butter
1 TBS. lemon juice
 1 TBS. orange juice

Cookie glaze: Combine ingredients; whisk until smooth.
Cream butter in a large mixing bowl; gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Sift in flour and cornstarch; mix well. Add flavorings, blending well. Chill 1 hour.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Flatten each cookie with the bottom of a small glass dipped in water. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. (Cookies do not brown, but should be cooked through the center.) Carefully remove to wire cooling rack (cookies are very fragile.) Spread cookie glaze evenly over each while still warm. Cool and store in airtight containers.   Yields 2 dozen cookies or a lot of crumbs. (They break easily....)

Crystal Laine Miller



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