Monday, April 30, 2012

24 Hours and Counting Until...


One of my earlier childhood memories is making a May Day Basket for one of our elderly neighbors.

Using construction paper and ALOT of tape, I made my very first May Basket! Then we drove to this woman's house, and hung it from her tree. My mom told us to knock on the door and run away. So, we knocked, but this lady was very spry and she opened the door and spotted us before we could get back to the car!

After talking with someone about this tradition earlier this week, I was prompted to actually look up the tradtion and how it started. There is a ton of background to May Day depending on which area of the world you are from, but this is the closest I could come to the tradition I celebrate!

According to Wikipedia..

"In some parts of the United States, May Baskets are made. These are small baskets usually filled with flowers or treats and left at someone's doorstep. The giver rings the bell and runs away. The person receiving the basket tries to catch the fleeing giver. If they catch the person, a kiss is exchanged."

Well. Well. Well.

I didn't know this about a kiss being exchanged! Perhaps my whole May Day experience will have to change. :)

Do you have any May Day memories? Also if you haven't made any, here's an idea to get your inner Martha Stewart started!

Happy Spring!

Michelle Strombeck

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Oh, Elihu!

My first major crush was on David Cassidy. After that came a variety of actors, singers, athletes, and other unattainable males. But lately my crushes are on the ultimate in unreachable men. Dead ones.

This is less disturbing than you imagine. Think about it. If all wonderful men from the beginning of time were gathered in one room, the vast majority would be dead.

That didn’t come out right. But you know what I mean. I learn about a man of courage and character who lived long ago and wish I could have known him.

My current crush is Elihu Washburne, patriot, friend to Presidents Lincoln and Grant, courageous ambassador to France during some of its darkest days, and a radical who fought slavery and injustice.

So when my husband, (on whom I’ve sustained a crush for over 2 decades), suggested we spend a few April days in Galena, Illinois, I jumped.

My man Elihu lived in Galena.

Unfortunately, his home is closed till May.

But his friend Ulysses S Grant also lived in Galena, and Grant’s home was open and a delight. All of Galena is a delight.

The small city is tucked in the driftless zone of western Illinois, spitting distance (if someone other than me is spitting) from the Mississippi River. The glaciers that scraped along Wisconsin, shaving it low or shoving it high, missed this part of Illinois where the hills roll and valleys sprawl and bluffs rise.

Galena’s Main Street shops cower between two steep ridges. Intrepid (or just foolhardy), houses and churches and statues grip the rocky sides of those ridges and gaze smugly down at the merchants.

Galena. A river even runs through it. This town has everything, including my favorite dead man. Really. Elihu is buried in Galena.  It has too much for one post. If I remember, I’ll share more of Galena next time I drop by the Barn Door. It is definitely a two-post town.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rose McCauley, Christian Author: Book Review of The Map Quilt a new book by Lisa Li...

Rose McCauley, Christian Author: Book Review of The Map Quilt a new book by Lisa Li...: Book Review of The Map Quilt a new book by Lisa Lickel The Map Quilt is a delightful read by Lisa Lickel. It is a the second book in t...

The Mechanical Gardens

May 12, 2012 will be our thirty-ninth anniversary. For the past eight years, we have given ourselves the same gift for our anniversary, a membership to the Chicago Botanic Garden. As often as we can, we wander aimlessly through the three hundred and eighty-five spectacular acres. Located on Lake Cook Road in Glencoe, Illinois, the Gardens are only forty minutes from our home and we consider it our own big back yard.

There are twenty-four different gardens. There is nothing quite as nice as a stroll through the English Walled Garden to take pleasure in the tea roses, flowering trees, annuals in large cement planters, trellises with ivy. I imagine Elizabeth Barrett Browning sitting on one of the stone benches, surrounded by aromatic boxwoods while reading a novel or writing poetry. Perhaps, it was a garden like this that moved her to write, "Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pick berries."

Crossing an arched bridge, you come to the Garden of Three Islands. Meticulously pruned pines, Japanese maples and stone lanterns create a tranquil environment. The Three Islands are surrounded with large ponds that add to the peace and calm.

Each season has special delights for visitors. Daffodils, tulips and flowering quince are ahead of schedule this year. Soon, the orchard trees will bloom and the vegetable gardens will be filled with young plants.

In the winter, tree lined paths twinkle with thousands of lights. A miniature train display fills two rooms of the exhibition hall and creates Christmas cheer.

When our first set of grandchildren were small, we often took them to the Botanic Garden to spend the day. We would walk for hours and eventually end up at the Garden Cafe for a slice of pizza for them and coffee and iced tea for Grandma and Grandpa.

One hot summer day, we stopped by the water fountain in the Rose Garden. While I held their shoes, our grandchildren ran and splashed in the cascading water with a dozen other children. Until, that is, a garden official appeared and scolded adults and children alike. Knowing she was right - it is dangerous to run and slide on slippery cement - we put on our shoes and obediently scurried away. Our grandchildren still laugh about the day "Grandma got us in trouble at the Gardens."

Another time, we asked the two of them where they would like to spend the day. Five year old Kevin shouted, "How about the Mechanical Gardens." Ever since that remark, the Botanical Garden has become affectionately known as the Mechanical Garden.

If you are in the Chicago area, you might want to spend some time enjoying the 2.5 million plants and flowers at the Botanic Garden. It is a jewel of the Midwest that is truly crammed with heaven.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Festival of Faith & Writing 2012

by Sandra Heska King

Last week I attended the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. This is a three-day biennial literary celebration where writers and poets and readers and students and teachers converge from all across the country--and even outside. This was my first year, and I just soaked.

My only disappointment is that it was impossible to be everywhere at once--that I often had three or four sessions marked in a one-hour slot.

I thought today that I would simply share some of my favorite quotes from my notes.

"So we gather here to celebrate faith: faith in the creative process, of course. But especially religious faith of many varieties, and the aspects of faith that intersect in rich and enriching ways with the literary arts." ~Festival 2012 handbook

"Behold! Look! See deeper than with just your eye." ~Luci Shaw (Opening chapel)

"Story makes us more human and more humane." ~Gary Schmidt (Where the Servants Dwell)

"Anything worth saying is unsayable. It's why we tell stories." ~Gary Schmidt 

"The most uncomfortable things are the things you have to write about." ~Judith Shulevitz (Cultivating Curiosity)

"If you died tonight, what stories would die? How would the world be poorer?" ~Susan Izaacs (Write Your Life)

"When an author creates an audience, he/she creates an audience for others doing the same." ~from a session on The Double Faces of Ambition with Luci Shaw and Jeanne Murray Walker

"Underneath comedy is a lot of pain . . . venting takes away some of its power . . ." ~Susan Izaacs (Grumblings, Angry Conversations, and Sad, Sad Songs: The Art and Joy of the Lament)

"One third of us are lamenting at any given time, but we don't acknowledge it." ~Gregg Demey (Grumblings, Angry Conversations, and Sad, Sad Songs: The Art and Joy of the Lament

"Poetry sees possibility in the pain." ~Ann Voskamp (How to Write it So They Will Come)

"Every moment of our lives can be a cathedral of grace." ~Ann Voskamp

"When you feel empty, that empty space is the right creative space . . . The exact moment to begin creating is when you feel you have nothing . . . When you've got nothing to give, come to the screen empty and let God fill that screen. ~Ann Voskamp

"To move a soul, you have to go to the place that brought you to your knees." ~Ann Voskamp

"All art is coming to an altar, sacrificing self . . . It's not supposed to be comfortable. It's a place to come and die." ~Ann Voskamp

"Name the hard things to prevent blindness . . . Name the things people would rather not see . . .  Find ways to live with gratitude for words." ~Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (Caring for Words)

"The universe is made up of story . . . In the beginning was the Word--and it exploded into story." ~Clare Vanderpool (The Transformative Power of Story)

"Pay attention. Everyone you meet is telling a story." ~Clare Vanderpool 

Your writing voice is basically how you talk. "Your voice leaves an imprint as unique as your fingerprint." ~Larry Woiwode (Tensions of Voice and Style)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Crockpot Cooking Helpful Hints and Advice

When I think Midwest Cooking, I think Crockpot!  Comfort food on a cold evening or easy cooking so we can go to the beach in the summer...

Here's 10 tips for crockpot cooking. 

From  page 9 of Creative Slow-Cooker Meals
1.  Don't fill your slow-cooker more than 2/3 full.
2.  Cooking for one hour on high is equal to two hours on low in your crockpot.
3.  If there's too much liquid in the dish, you can thicken the juices by removing the lid and cooking on high for the last half hour of the cooking time.
4.  In most slow cooker recipes, vegetables do not need to be initially sauteed.
5.  Most meats, except fish require 8 hours of cooking on low.
6.  You will usually need to coat the crockpot with nonstick spray.
7.  Do not set the stoneware liner on a stovetop burner that is lit.
8.  To avoid heat loss, don't open your crockpot unless absolutely necessary.
9.  To avoid curdling, generally add milk products during the last hour of the cook time.
10.  Your crockpot can be a tortilla warmer, pancake warmer, punch bowl, fondue pot, ricemaker, etc.  You get the idea, now what ideas can you think of for additional uses for your crockpot stoneware liner?
For the complete page 9, check out free pages from the book including page 9. Click here 


Creative Slow-Cooker Meals:  Use Two Slow Cookers for Easy and Tasty Meals, Harvest House Publishers, 2012, perfect for a Mother's Day gift click here to check out

What was your favorite Mother's Day Gift that you received or gave and Why?  Please leave your answer as a comment

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Co-ops: Green in More Ways Than One

I live in the land of 10,000 lakes and just about as many co-ops. Food Cooperatives, that is. A food cooperative is basically a collectively-owned grocery store. There are different styles of co-ops, but all share the common values of group management and decision making, social responsibility, and equality.

So what’s the big deal? What’s so great about a co-op? In a word: lots…especially if you live in a metro area where growing your own food is difficult. Ever since a co-op opened a few blocks from my house, I've discovered that it's a fantastic place to shop. There's a ton of benefits. Here are just a few.

Local Produce
A huge bonus of toodling over to my neighborhood co-op, Linden Hills, is that I don’t have to wake with the roosters to fight the crowds at the farmer’s market for fresh produce. Another highlight is that even though I don’t exactly live elbow to elbow with the nearest farmer, the profits from my purchases don’t go too far from my neighborhood, which increases the local economy.

Food To Feel Good About
There are not a whole lot of super processed items to clog your arteries or wreak havoc with your blood sugar when you shop at a cooperative. In fact, if you’re in a pinch for dinner, it’s a great place to pick up an already prepared meal, hot and ready to go.

Info Galore
If you’re big time into holistic/natural healing, or even if you’re simply curious about alternatives to heavy duty pharmaceuticals, there’s always someone at the co-op who can answer your questions. I’ve even scored some great new recipes from other shoppers just by popping in for a few items.

Lean and Green
Another benefit to co-ops is that they usually have a huge bulk foods section. Not only is this easier on the environment by saving on packaging, but it saves on the ol’ pocketbook, too. Take spices, for instance. Have you seen the price on a small container of nutmeg in a regular grocery store? Yeah, I didn’t even qualify for the loan. At the co-op, you can fill a small baggie and save oodles of money.

Budget Smart
And another money saving benefit is that each member is part owner. Not all co-ops offer to share the profits amongst the members, but many do in the form of a year end dividend.

The Minneapolis area (where I’m at) has a total of 12 food cooperatives. Next time you’re in a big city, check out their co-op for some excellent food. And even if you’re in a smaller town, look for a cooperative anyway. Last time I was on the road, I was surprised to find some of my favorite co-op foods in the three-block downtown metropolis of Waupaca, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Our Neighborhood Emu

This handsome/not-so-handsome fellow is an emu. They are powerful birds, fast movers, and as far as I can tell, pretty peaceable.

I once saw our neighborhood emu with a white cat in a very sociable scene. The cat sat with neck stretched slightly, head tilted upward while the emu's head was bowed down as if in conversation. I'm sure if Alice in Wonderland was around she would've approved and sat right down for tea and a chat.

Another time the emu was supping with a squirrel. The emu's plate is a large feeding board atop a tree stump. The squirrel was sitting on the feeding board with the emu bending its long neck to eat next to it. Both were in very relaxed stances and I had the impression that this was a regular event, similar to Wednesday night family dinners at my mother's.

My own interaction with the emu is to call, "Hello, Emu." In response, he raises his head and steps toward the fence as I pass by. It may be my imagination, but I think he wishes I'd stop for a visit. It must be lonely being the only emu.

What is the most unusual animal resident in your neighborhood? What odd pairing of animals have you seen?

Mary Allen is writer who enjoys the Midwest where she lives with her husband and a very fine German Short Hair Pointer. She loves The Word and teaching it, reading, writing or playing with words and served as La Porte County Poet Laureate from 2010-2011.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Visit Wisconsin series - Circus World Museum, Ringling Brothers

Circus World Museum

Baraboo, Wisconsin – Ringling Brothers original winter headquarters
Circus World's Opening Weekend
Saturday, May 19, 2012 - Sunday, May 20, 2012   9 am–6 pm
Baraboo was the winter headquarters for Ringling Brothers Circus. The Wisconsin Historical Society has taken over the grounds where the circus folk once squatted, preserving circus memorabilia, commissioning circus miniature scenes, and draping the walls of the former elephant barns with gaudy posters and other scraps of circus history.

Big Top Circus Performances
Photos courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society official Ringling Brothers web site.

Step into the magical world of the big top at Circus World in Baraboo. Discover the National Landmark Site and original buildings of the Ringling Bros. Circus. See skilled acrobats, horses, jugglers, dogs, clowns, aerialists and elephants in 10 shows daily, May 19 to September 3.
Witness the new Tristan Crist Magic Theatre with jaw-dropping illusions that capture the imagination. Explore vast collections of authentic circus wagons, advertising posters and big top memorabilia for a full day of family fun, history and entertainment.

In Kid's World Interactive Circus, young guests create a circus performance of their very own. This popular program is held in the main circus ring of the Hippodrome at 9:30 am.

Share laughter, joy and amazing circus thrills in the comfort of the Hippodrome building as Circus World presents the "Best of the Big Top" with world class circus artists in performance.

Address: 550 Water St., Baraboo, WI Directions: On Hwy 113 (Water St.) downtown. Hours: Late May - Early Sept. Daily 9 am - 6 pm (Call to verify) Phone:             608-356-8341     

Information courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society and Roadside America.

Big Top Circus Performances

Circus World's Opening Weekend
Saturday, May 19, 2012 - Sunday, May 20, 2012   9 am–6 pm

Circus World's summer performance season begins with magician and illusionist Tristan Crist and his new show, "Theatre of Illusion." Brand new exhibits, the KidsWorld Interactive Circus, the Lucky Star Miniature Trick Horse Show, the Circus Skills Adventure, the Novelty Instruments Concert and the Guided Circus Wagon Tour give guests 10 great shows daily for one low admission price. Enjoy a full day of family fun, history and entertainment at Wisconsin's most exciting attraction.

Ticket Info:
Adults $14.95, children 5-11 $7.95, senior citizens (65 and older) $12.95

Visit the Events Calendar Page to see the summer's exciting show schedule.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Eating Worms

It’s funny the things you remember about your childhood.  The last few days I’ve been thinking about my mom and worms.  My mom did not like worms as far as I can recall.  However, she did talk about eating them on occasion.

One day when my sister and I were complaining about how the other one received something better than we had, mom told us a joke.  In this story, a mother leaves the father alone to take care of their little boy.  She leaves very strict instructions.  “Give him whatever he asks for – no exceptions.”

Shortly after the mother leaves the little guy asks for a snack.  His dad responding by asking if he wanted ice cream.  No.  What about a cookie?  No.  The little boy declared, “I want a worm.”  His father tried to talk him out of this gross request but the more he said the louder the boy cried.

So, the father went out to the back yard and found a big earthworm.  When he came in the house, the little boy asked him to cook it.  The father did as he requested.  The son told his father to cut the worm in half and eat part of it first.  At first, his dad refused but the boy cried and screamed, “I’ll tell mommy!”

Dad gave in, picked up half of the worm and ate it as fast as he could.  The son screamed even louder and cried, “You ate my half of the worm!”

My mother said, “Some people will never be happy no matter how hard you try, so don’t try.”  I’m pretty sure my sister and I stopped complaining – at least for a few minutes.

Pastor Mark Haines

Friday, April 20, 2012

Retreat, Rest, and Restoration

Lake Superior at Sunset
Life is filled with its joys and its sorrows. Stress in varied degrees permeates our daily routines. Oftentimes, schedules get thrown off course due to crisis, unexpected surprises too.
When talking with friends, I’ve noticed there’s a need for balance. In general, we want to participate in the success of our families and will do whatever is needed to make things easier for all around. There are times, however, that we take on so much that the weight of our commitments become cumbersome and exhaustion demands we pay attention to our well-being.
Whitefish Point
I’ll confess; I’ve been caught in the cycle of doing more than I feel capable of handling. Carrying the load of multiple people, especially if God has not given grace to do so can, and will, leave me feeling as though I am crumbling from the inside – out. I’ve found myself in areas that are gray and blurred where I wonder whether God is with me.
Lake Superior
It’s in the midst of these places that I cry out for retreat. The perfect retreat created in my mind is a room facing the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. I could get lost in this place. No one calling my name. No agenda. No one asking when is, or what is for supper. I often wish I could be back at my friend’s home where I could stare out her back window at the mountain ranges and fields stretching for miles. Or if I could return to the Keweenaw Peninsula’s Brockway Mountain Drive where at the top I could gaze in any direction and see God’s amazing creation, be it the National Forest or Lake Superior. I wouldn’t mind, even, sitting beside a campfire watching the sunset over the Tahquamenon River at the river mouth near Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan.
A view from Brockway Mountain top
Getting away from my corner of the state seems to be the drug of choice. Somehow, I am able to shut out all those things that prove worrisome and turn my focus on the One who has it all under control. He’s not worried. He provides rest, for our soul and our bodies when needed. Watching the sun set, or rise, reminds me that there’s Someone greater than all that is bound to this earth. Staring out, awestruck, at the sapphire and emerald depths of Lake Superior help me to see that the One who created this beauty has not run out of ideas to express His creativity.
Our campsite next to Tahquamenon River
My mind settles and worries back off. If only for a moment, I’ve found rest and am strengthened; ready to take another step toward finishing the race set before me. 

My gifts from God. (2007)

Come Rain or Shine, Keep Dancin'
K. A. Jacobsen

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sewing with Family

Granddaughter sewing on a comfort before we arrived to visit at their home in California. Grandma was impressed.
Stitching carefully
Entering the project

And gaining the reward. Enjoying the comfort on their bed.
Grandma notices the girls are outgrowing their clothing. And decides to enlarge their patterns and make new skirts. Denim was requested (because it is easy to match with any top, Granddaughter said.)

I don't know when son-in-love took these two  pictures.
We purchased 12 yards of denim fabric and by the end of the trip the girls had 8 denim skirts to share. Knee length, mid calf and long. Granddaughters are wearing two pleated skirts. One brown denim and one navy. The rest hang in the archway.
The Granddaughters and Daughter made French Country Aprons. 
Including one for me and for the doll.
Now husband and I are home in Ohio but we have our memories.
Thanks for stopping by. Until next time . . . Sharon A Lavy

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ligthen Up - Get Over Yourself

 It's time to lighten up.

Why are we so concerned about how we look? What will people think?

Life is too short to care what a total stranger thinks of you. And, by the way, they probably aren't paying any attention to you anyway. And, if you are fortunate enough to get a chuckle or laugh from them, then good for you. You brightened their day.

Here are a few more pictures that could fall into that category.

The wigglies on Halloween.

Hanging with my favorite green guy.

One of my BEBs hamming it up.

The wigglies are all ready to help Rudolph.

Red Velvet Cake induced pre-coma moment.

The wiggilies in their natural mode.

Laughing so hard it's about to come off her face.

Even the critters at the barn get in on this one.
The new Farmer and Wife picture - without the pitchfork.

File:Grant DeVolson Wood - American Gothic.jpg

You can follow the regular "happenings" on the farm by reading

Also, I am the guest today on a great blog called Grandma's Briefs. You can check her site and my interview by linking to

One more for good measure.


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