March 29, 2010

Round 3 Coming Up!

Round one, if you remember ALL the way back to my last post, was our trip to Colorado. We went to hear our daughter's college choir perform during a stop in Denver on their spring break tour. Do we ever get tired of seeing these mountains as we drive around Denver? NO! Even people who've lived there a long time never take them for granted.

The concert was terrific, and you would never know that these 50 people had been together on a bus for nearly 4500 miles by the time we saw them! They were still fresh and entertaining, and the young women we hosted were delightfully upbeat. In this photo, there are a number of alumni from the audience joining the choir for one song. Their enthusiasm speaks to the fact that this college has a wonderful lifetime influence. You could feel the love!

On top of the concert, we enjoyed visiting with our family, having brunch with good old friends, and two visits to Whole Foods...ahhhhh.

Round two involved a house full to the brim with people we love. They came from across the country - Colorado, California, and Alaska - all to celebrate my grandmother's 100th birthday. Every one of them made supreme effort to be at the party and honor her, and that was special. Even our girl left her college at 6:30 AM on a Saturday morning to make her way there. I know my grandmother loved seeing them all.
The energy and interests of a two-year-old boy kept us entertained all weekend. He is passionate about anything on wheels, and we had a good time showing him the huge "tractor trucks" in our farmy town, otherwise known as John Deere machines!

This little smile was the starting point for many belly laughs, and lots of good memories! He had my brother and my husband wrapped around his little finger. I'm happy that my sister got to see her grandson, and we're glad his mommy, my niece, made the effort to travel with this little man, and that my mom drove them out here!

The main event of round two involved a family luncheon and then an open house birthday reception for nearly 100 people! Her party was a wonderful success. This picture of my grandmother as a very little girl was part of the decor, and it wasn't until I put it on the blog here that I realized how much my little sister resembled my grandmother when she was young.

And here is the beautiful face of a 100-year-old lady who is all class, and has always been. There were pictures of her at the party and a fantastic video was running that my aunt put together, which told a lot of the story about the life she's lived - a life of hard work, honesty, and steadfast love for her family. I have the opinion that her quiet faith, along with her wonderful dry wit, have been a foundation throughout her 100 years of life.

Have we had any kinks in these first two rounds? - well yes. One blizzard, one flat air mattress, one and a half bouts of stomach flu, one dead car battery, one stuck gas nozzle during a fill-up, some bad directions from a Garmin, one smoke alarm on the fritz and beeping during the wee hours, and one husband who forgot to turn the heat back on when we closed the windows for the day - leading to some chilly house guests in the overnight - sorry! But these are not deal breakers, they're simply things we quickly joked about and things that will be good for story time for years to come.

Round three...dear daughter and at least one other will be here for Easter weekend. We are so grateful for the love in our lives.

March 18, 2010

Road Trip Time

In the midst of sprucing up the house for our pending birthday party guests, we decided to take a trip to Colorado over the weekend - it was a moment of spontaneity, enthusiasm, and slight insanity that led to this decision! Our DD is currently touring the Pacific Northwest with her college choir over their Spring Break, and they'll land in Denver on their way back to school. We lived in CO for years and have family and friends there, so it seemed like a good plan to visit everyone and get to see the choir sing as well. We'll host our daughter and three others at my brother's home overnight. He and my sister-in-law have generously offered the use of their home even though they will be heading out for their own Spring Break adventure - thank you again!

As usual we'll look like the Clampets heading down the highway. We're taking everything but the kitchen sink, including bedding for the overnight choir members, snacks, drinks, maps, reading material, an I-pod full of audio books, and a jar of my homemade salsa for the breakfast burritos I'll be making for the singers before they hit the road again.

I've also gotten a couple of on-the-road meals put together. It saves money and our health to bring along fruit and veggies all cut up and ready to eat. For one meal we'll have curried chicken salad with cashews, served over baby greens. I'd say that's a little better for us than a Big Mac and fries, and there's also the fact that fast food makes us both really tired, so that's never a good thing for us to eat while we're driving!

Here's one of our red-winged blackbirds up from the pond. He came to let us know that the bird feeders need to go back out! However, there will be a little more nasty winter weather over the weekend, so that will have to wait. And we're literally praying that our road trip won't be cursed by the Winter Storm Warning that's in effect for Denver all day tomorrow, and praying that the choir's tour bus doesn't encounter any messy roads - oh bother, as Pooh says!

March 13, 2010

Early Spring in Iowa

Or you could call this post - Shades of Gray and Brown! It's not the most attractive sight right now, but Iowa is coming alive again. We have plenty of dirty snow, but it's exciting to see that it's melting, and it makes you breathe a sigh of relief!

Unfortunately, under all that melting snow is plenty of evidence of critter mischief that's been going on all winter. What a mess.

And speaking of messes...there's plenty of mud to go around too. Muddy ruts are common right now, and this little stretch is the same one that caused car after car to get stuck in the ice and snow in front of our place over the winter. So, we'll take the mud gladly, since it means we no longer have the one-lane snow tunnel to traverse!

The more "major" rural roads have fresh, intermittent patches of gravel to tide us over until the thaw is complete.

The thaw is taking it's time on the pond, but the red-wing black birds are beginning to show up already. The males come back early to reserve their spot in the reeds.

The garden thaw is complete, and it's a perfect muddy slosh. However, the bluebirds are already flitting from post to post. That flash of color out back is a rush!

And speaking of birds returning, honking geese have been going over in amazing numbers. Their flight patterns are fascinating. We're in between two major flyways, both called "Mississippi" flyways, so that explains the concentration of travelers.

And there's no more hopeful spring sight than buds on flowering trees! For me, this always represents the best kind of hope, not the twisted political messages, but the forever message of hope from God. Hope that comes from promises that have lasted through the ages and will never, ever be broken!
"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you." Psalm 32:8

March 9, 2010

The Will to Grill

It takes a sturdy man to put on his wellies and his rain coat, step out in the rain and fog, and get that steak grilled in early March!

He hardly complained at all about how cold he was out there. I kept telling him through the window that he should really buck up since it was nearly 40 degrees according to the kitchen thermometer!

We've been chomping at the bit to fire up the grill, but until this week, it's still been mired in a frozen drift of snow. Recently we've had very mild temps (for us anyway!) and it's been raining, so that snow is disappearing fast. The grill is loose at last and tonight we enjoyed out first marinated, grilled steak of the year. So delicious - some for dinner and some for later this week. Will it be steak salad, stir-fry, tacos...

Hope your grill is fired up and back in the game! Spring is here!

March 4, 2010

Freezer's Getting Full!

I'm still making deposits to the freezer bank and I'm just about done with everything that can be made in advance. As I've written, I'm expecting company at our house for my grandmother's 100th birthday celebration. I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone and I want the time to be about visiting with one another and not about standing in the kitchen every couple of hours, cooking and making messes! From the Once a Month Cooking cookbook, I made twice-baked potatoes, which have lots of goodies like cheese and spinach mixed in. I knew you could buy these in the freezer section of the grocery store, so I was really happy to find the method in this cookbook. The author has done a lot of work to find out what freezes well, and what doesn't. The other dish pictured here is called a Farmer's Casserole, and it's just layers of hash browns, ham, cheese and green onions covered with a milk and egg mixture. How nice it will be to pull these from the freezer, thaw them out, and pop them in the oven. It did occur to me today that I'll have to keep myself organized so I don't forget to thaw them!

This is a cake made according to a recipe in The Cake Mix Doctor Returns! The complete recipe instructs you to bake this in three round pans, and then they are layered with fresh strawberries and a whipped cream/sweetened sour cream filling. I thought it would be a great base for a more straightforward strawberry shortcake, so this too is baked and in the freezer. I sure hope that strawberries are good by the end of March, which they usually are. What a fresh taste of Spring this will be at the end of an Easter-style dinner!

Our most current issue of Cooking Light had a recipe for Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes. It's in the very back in their Hall of Fame section. I decided to make it into a do-ahead project by mixing all the dry ingredients together, including using powdered buttermilk instead of fresh. We buy powdered buttermilk and regular milk in bulk from our food club and keep it in the fridge. I seem to come across so many recipes that call for buttermilk, but I find that it's hard to keep on hand. Keeping the dry buttermilk powder solves the problem nicely. For this pancake mix, I wrote the wet ingredients that need to be added on the front of the bag, so we won't even have to dig out the recipe when we make them. And, for another taste of Spring, I'll make a rhubarb sauce for the pancakes, but that will have to wait for a couple of weeks.

I do realize that March can be a very snowy month, but the fact that Easter is coming just after this party, has moved my mind forward to warmer weather thinking, and that's a good thing! And by the way, something in a big planter, which has been out in our garage all winter, knows what the calendar says too. My now famous, never-dies-no-matter-what mum... has started greening up again! How does it know?!

March 3, 2010

Traffic Patterns

The deer have been absent for most of the winter - too much snow, too deep, and too frozen. It was as if they had disappeared, though we knew better than that! Now they're back and making tracks. In these pictures, there are no human foot prints, only animals. If you click on the first photo to enlarge it, you can see that most of the tracks go right around the perimeter of the garden, which is a good thing since that indicates that the electric fence is still effective. At the back left corner, there is a lot of activity at the pile of last year's corn stalks, which the deer have worked over again and again. They've also been digging a considerable number of holes to uncover grass, and of course leaving behind lots of fertilizer. Should be an interesting mowing experience in a few weeks - blahhhh!

Not all the tracks come from the deer. Some little bitty creatures have been out and about. We've seen an inordinate number of possums along the side of the highway lately. Hopefully these tracks are made from something a little cuter than that!

And now for the mystery tracks! What in the world?? Obviously it was something underground, at least I think that's obvious. These very consistent circles go right under the fence wire and along the trellis, then out under the back fencing wire. Could it have been a mole that was frozen under the snow and kept trying to break through every few inches? Got an idea? Leave a comment if you do!

March 1, 2010

More Money in the Bank

I decided to make and freeze my own portions of cookie dough, just like the grocery store sells, only better! This is peanut butter cookie dough that I scooped out with a small dough scoop, and froze individually on a cookie tray.

Once they were solidly frozen, I popped them into a freezer bag and now I can pull out as many as we want and bake them fresh! It really is worth a little effort now to make my own "convenience" foods for entertaining. Not only does it save time and give me options, I know exactly what's in these mostly organic cookies, and exactly what's not - preservatives, emulsifiers, corn and soy bi-products, - yuck!

I also made a healthy cereal snack mix. This is my newest container craze. It's an Oxo Good Grips air-tight container. Amazon is selling this one for a much better price than I paid at our local hardware store, but then there's that nice issue of supporting small businesses! I got this because I've recently realized that my Tupperware is nearly 17 years old! Now that's quite a testimony to that product, but it is suffering from too many dish-washings and needs to be replaced and/or supplemented. I love the way these lids seal and the fact that they're clear.

Wouldn't it be awesome to have a pantry that looked like this?! They come in all kinds of wonderful sizes and even in great sets of ten. Since we plan on continuing to purchase bulk items and get our pantry well stocked, I think we'll be investing in some more.

This last bit of money in the bank is in the form of getting the party decorations done waaaayyyy ahead of time. Boxed up, ready to go, peace of mind, and getting excited to be there with everyone and celebrating with no holds barred! I've been working on Happy Birthday placards for the tables, daffodil centerpieces, and garlands. There will be little bowls of chocolate kisses too, and I'm warning my Dad right now, that I will be flicking his chocolate-loving little hand if he tries to attack them before the guests arrive! What fun to work on this project, and what a privilege!