Monday, January 20, 2014

Getting My Vitamin D

After all the cold weather in December and early January, people were beginning to expect a very cold winter. And don't get me wrong, it's not too late for that, by any means! But lately, we've been enjoying almost spring-like temperatures in the 30's and even 40's. Our snow is almost melted, which could actually be a very bad thing if the temperature suddenly plummets again. A thick layer of snow is what protects all the plants from tragic and early demises each winter.

Besides, snow is kind of critical for skiing and sledding.

But if you can't have sledding and skiing, at least there's some great hiking around here. Saturday was a beautiful day with temperatures warm in the 20's and 30's. There was a bit of a wind so I had to bundle up, but otherwise I could almost have gone without my jacket.

I took both dogs with me for the company---and to protect me from any rabid pheasants I might run across. Cooper is loving all the wide open spaces.

I only walked about 4 miles, but I think the dogs ran about 5 times that. They would plop down in the snow and take snow baths when they got too hot.

It was so pretty and peaceful. It's actually kind of hard not to be peaceful when there's not another soul for miles. 

I hiked through several different types of fields on my walk. First there was a whole field of bare dirt, plowed under by the farmers in the fall in preparation for spring planting. Then there was the wild, uncultivated parts that farmers are subsidized to leave undeveloped. That might be great for the wildlife, but they are considerably less fun for humans to traipse through. The nice, smooth-shorn slopes of the alfalfa fields were a delight and I heartily recommend them. Wheat stubble looks easy to walk through, but by the end of a 3 hour hike those little trenches filled with snow are a lot more challenging than they appear!

 It was such a treat to get outside again. Winter can get to feeling a little claustrophobic at times...I'm grateful for good health and a functional body that allows me to get outside and enjoy myself. Even if I do have to come home and take a nap afterward!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Punting It Down the Field


When I was little, I was often told how much I looked---and acted---like my mother. I was little. I was cute. I was funny. She enjoyed the comparison

As I'm getting older, more and more often I am hearing from my mom, "You are just like your father." Usually this happens when I am displaying characteristics such as determination (stubbornness), confidence (close-mindedness), and focus (obtuseness).

Evidently my genes didn't splash only in her side of the pool.

But there is one key way I am totally unlike my father, much to his everlasting regret. And that attribute was on full display yesterday.

My dad would make a Boy Scout look bad. His motto is "Be prepared----for anything and everything up to AND including world destruction." The back-up systems of his back-up systems have back-up systems.

He's tried to instill the same ethic into me, especially now that I live out in the country by myself. And to a certain extent, it's worked. I like having lots of back-up systems. That way, I have lots of things that can quit working before I ever actually have to do anything about it!

This same mentality carries over to my cars. As long as they are still running, I can deal with minor annoyances like most of my lights not working, or a door that's stuck on with duct tape. But eventually I reach that certain point where something must be done. The last headlight flickers out, or the last working door stops opening. And that is when I put my Extreme Back-up Plan into action---the CFD.

Call For Daddy!

Last spring, I bought a new-to-me car. Well, I started making payments on it, and this month I made the final one. It is all mine now, so naturally it is time for things to start breaking. When I bought it, it already had the funny little quirk that the gas tank door wouldn't open unless you used the manual release in the trunk.

No problem. I could handle that.

Then, when the cold weather hit, I started having trouble with the trunk. It wouldn't latch properly.

No problem. I could jiggle the latch around until it caught.

Everything in my system was going ever so smoothly until the day came when the trunk wouldn't open and the gas tank door was latched shut. At least I still had a full tank of gas, right? No need to worry about it yet...

But yesterday, a whole 6 months worth of chickens came home to roost when I couldn't open my trunk, couldn't open my gas tank, and was out of gas. Time to implement the Extreme Back-up Plan!

Is it just me, or is the Extreme Back-up Plan getting noisier? Seems to have a constant low-level grumbling noise emanating from the motor and something like the sound of teeth grinding in the gears. I should probably have that looked at----but no need to rush.

Why do today what I can put off til tomorrow?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Worm

When Finley was a young, impetuous pup, he had a number of strange chewing habits. He loved to steal picture frames and chew the supports off the back. He loved to eat the binding off of books, especially leather ones, and a number of very nice Bibles bit the dust. He also had a bit of a bra fetish and snatched one whenever he was able so he could run gleefully through the house with me in hot pursuit.

We don't talk about that much.

Thankfully, maturity has brought wisdom, and with wisdom, an end to those puppy peccadilloes.

But now, another has risen to take his place in the book chewing department. Pearl, one of our cats, loves to chew on anything paper that has corners. Sadly, this includes all books, my stock of circular-shaped books being very low at the moment.

My mom gave me a new book on photography for Christmas, The Unforgettable Photograph, by George Lange and Scott Mowbray. Well, actually it was a joint gift and I am supposed to share it with my sister---which I will---eventually.  Pearly found it entrancing. Fascinating, even. In short, she devoured it.

She wasn't the only one that enjoyed the book, though I chose to do it in a somewhat less literal sense. I must confess that my ego found it a little simplistic the first few pages---you know, the whole "I already know that..." kind of thing.

But I ended up really enjoying the book, in part because of that self same simplicity. It wasn't about the technical side of photography. It didn't try to teach me how to be a world-famous photographer OR rub it in that I could never hope to be a world famous photographer like him.

"You can feel the flow of moments, like feeling the flow of music. That feeling is essential to taking good pictures; it's as important as having a good eye. Ask yourself. 'What makes this moment and these people extraordinary?' Ask that, rather than, 'What's the pose?' or "How am I cropping this?'"

The book simply encourages its readers to love pictures and to use them to tell their own story. It was a fun reminder to throw perfection to the winds and just get out there with a camera. To be in the moment, thinking and feeling---then to try to capture those thoughts and emotions in a photograph. Most of all, to have fun telling my story.

And right now my story is cold. And snowy.

There really isn't much else to tell in North Dakota in the winter...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Chocolate Cherry Explosion Cake

If you like maraschino cherries and chocolate (I know, who doesn't?), than you will love this recipe. I got it from a lady at our community Thanksgiving dinner and am passing it on to you. Something this yummy is too good to keep to myself!

The idea is simple, as all great ideas usually are. The cake uses the same basic idea as a pineapple upside down cake, but you make with chocolate and cherries instead.

To make the cake, pour 2 jars of maraschino cherries WITH JUICE into the bottom of a greased casserole dish. (I found that it does tend to overflow during the baking, so putting a pan on the rack underneath will save your oven unnecessary hardships.) Sprinkle brown sugar over the top. Then slice a stick of butter or margarine into thin pieces and spread them over the cherries and sugar.

Pour the chocolate cake batter into the pan and bake at 350 until the cake is done by the usual signs---toothpick in the center comes out clean, top is firm to touch, cake has pulled away from the edges, etc.

Below is the cake recipe I used when making the chocolate cherry cake. I got it off  The Little House Living blog, which you can see here . It's a very simple cake to make, quick and easy. An added plus is that it uses no dairy or eggs---that means it's almost healthy!

Chocolate Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cups oil
2 cups water

Mix all the ingredients and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

Thank you, Lady of Mystery, for your delicious idea. Next time, perhaps you can give me a nice exercise video to balance things out!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Tale of Two Parties

It is way past the due date for Christmas posts, but I can't help myself. My two annual Christmas parties are pretty much the sum of my yearly social whirl. Without them, my calender is a virtual desert of drear.

So tell about them, I must...

Both parties were squeezed in the last few days before Christmas, but thankfully, my guests still came even though they got somewhat of a late notice. Try the day before kind of late.  True, 3/4ths of the guest list were my own family and HAD to come, but I was still grateful.

The first party in line was the Super-great Fantabulous Present Exchange Party of 2013. It was touch-and-go whether I'd have enough gifts this year, but God worked everything out perfectly. Not quite as dramatic a story as Elijah and the ravens, but it was still a blessing.

See, this year, Noni purchased enough gifts for her family to bring to the exchange, and I was looking forward to the treat of not having to get everything myself. What a great sister!

And then she showed up at the party vainly clutching an armful of ornaments to her bosom and saying, "But I thought THIS was the ornament exchange party!" 'Tis truly a cherished memory of the season.

All those lovely gifts she'd purchased were still sitting at home.

But with the little extras I'd pulled together at the last minute and one of her ornaments ("Hmmmm, I wonder what could be in this package...") we had just enough for everyone.

The next party in my busy social whirl was the Super-great Fantabulous Ornament Exchange Party of 2013. I actually accomplished one of the Christmas goals I made last year here and hosted it as a community event. If I'd gotten the flyers out more than a day ahead, I might have had a larger attendance, but starting small can be good....Less stress makes for a happier (and less psychotic) host.

We started out with an old Christmas party game stand-by---a tree decorating relay. I didn't have any green streamers, so we called the pink and yellow colors "tinsel". We had a girls' team and a boys' team, and oddly enough, the boys' team won the decorating challenge. It was a little hard on their hapless tree, but I took one for the team. 

(Is it just me, or am I looking a little wild-eyed in this picture?)

There were a few other games, which thankfully we survived with no limbs broken or teeth knocked out. Somehow every one ended up being played with the intensity of contact sports! What happened to Peace on Earth?

Life and limb still intact, we moved onto a less hazardous portion of the evening. Every year we make ornaments at our exchange party. Some of them have become favorites through the years. Some of them haven't. But I'm pretty sure that this year's creation will be in the former category.

What did we make? Why an army of angry zombie owls, of course!

They are actually toilet paper tubes covered with printed paper---fun to make, and very cute, but they look very intimidating display all together. You wouldn't want to mess with these babies!

If you ever find yourself with nothing to do, or, worse still, are running out of excuses to keep you from working, look up toilet paper roll crafts online. Some of the things people do with them are absolutely incredible! I for one, will never look at a lowly cardboard tube the same way again.

It amazes me that something so mundane, ordinary, and useless---something we toss in the trash without a second thought----can be turned into a beautiful work of art. Kind of like what God does with us. We may not look like much right now, but in the hands of the Master Artist, we transform.

God sees us, not as the worthless cardboard tube we appear, but as the wonderful child of God He created us to be.