All of Us!

All of Us!
Finally! All together with enough time to spare (??) to capture a picture of all six of us in the same spot, same time. Now this is a precious photo! I tried to get one last year for our Christmas card and didn't succeed. So when I had the chance I threw out the lasso and rounded everyone up (at my niece's graduation party) to grab a couple snapshots. My oldest son, Casey, and his girlfriend Nika are on the left; and my youngest son, Brady, and his girlfriend Jenne on the right; that leaves Bob and I in the center. (Bob is the one who doesn't look very happy about having his picture taken!!)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shari' Bucket List: Check One Off for New York City

I have a confession to make – okay, now that I think about it, I think I have started out this way before in some of the other blogs. I’m beginning to sound like a repentant Catholic in a confessional or a politician caught with his pants down ... so maybe I should change my discourse and instead say ... I have a statement to make.

I have never flown before. Hmmmm...maybe I have mentioned that before. It all pertains to my paternal grandfather’s untimely death in a small, single-engine plane crash in 1968. I was young but still remember the catastrophic event very well. Because of that, I have been somewhat afraid to fly. So most of my travels have all been by car.

In less than two weeks, I will change all that by hopping on a jet plane and flying to New York. Another checkmark on my bucket list.

Now bucket lists have become a familiar term since the movie, “The Bucket List” with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholas. I think that it made people become more aware of their mortality and what they want to accomplish in their perusings of life on this Earth. Many may not actually sit down and write out a detailed list of their bucket list, but most merely do what I have done – grasp a mental picture of the things you want to do and put it on that imaginary roster of things to tick off once you have accomplished them.

On this trip, I intend to grab my imaginary pencil and check off quite a few things. Those that I know for sure are: (1) Flying, check; (2) New York City, check; (3) a Broadway play – in this case, I’ve already bought tickets for Wicked (check); which will be playing at (4) the famed Gershwin Theater, (check). Now to accomplish a few more checkmarks, I am hoping that our schedule fits in (5) Statute of Liberty, (6) Empire State Building, (7) 9/11 Memorial – I know that since the Memorial inside is booked up for that week that I may not be able to get inside to see that, but I will be able to at least walk around and view the outside areas, (8) Central Park. Now I have a few more things that The New Yorker and New York Magazine have suggested, so that will be just a little more frosting on my cupcake if I get to those, too.

I’m hoping that I can spend my time wisely but still be able to gawk and ahhhh over lots of other things. My mental plan for the plane trip is already the following: (1) first-and-foremost, hopefully, not to get air sick, (2) to take pictures flying out, flying in and the clouds, etc., along the way, (3) I’m taking my IPad so that I can do a little reading of any books I may have downloaded that I have started, (4) I’m taking hardcover books that I have bought and want to read – Son of Stone by Stuart Woods and my new memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy book by Caroline Kennedy, (5) my laptop is coming along so that I can download my pictures along the way to document my trip and share with others, plus I can write some new and finish some old blogs along the way. A bit ambitious for vacationing, but I am never one to sit still too long, unless, of course, I am reading or writing.

Now, having said all that, my camera intends to be my best friend on this trip. I am thankful that my son Casey and his girlfriend Nika will be there to guide my along the way and share the wonderful memories I hope to incur.

My biggest fear – is not really flying per se – but getting through security at the airport. I bought a new suitcase that will hold at least half of Manhattan (if not all) which Casey has not seen yet but I could hear the wince in his voice when I told him about it. All his fault, though, really. He is the one (aided with a few comments from Nika, too) that said I need to pack less going out, leave more room in my suitcase to bring things back after shopping out there. I am never, never, ever a light packer, so my compromise was – (you guessed it) get a bigger suitcase. I also purchased a matching carry-on bag that will fit my laptop, my IPAD, my camera, some food, my jewelry, one book, my diabetic supplies, and other “necessities.” I know that once I get through security I need to get a bottle of water and a bottle of orange juice. I’ll pack some candy bars and fruit for the possibility of a diabetic low while on the plane. The orange juice is always my “go-to” but I want to have a backup plan.

I’ve already viewed and noted the TSA’s list of what-to-do’s and what-not-to-do’s when going through security. It was noted that since I am a diabetic, I need to have all my diabetic supplies (which by the way are not limited) displayed in a quart-size see through baggie and that I must tell the first security officer at the beginning of the line that I am a diabetic and have diabetic supplies items that need to be viewed. So I know it will take me a little longer to go through security. Casey will have already flown to New York the week before, as we will be going out during one of his weeks working in New York. So, Nika drew the short straw and will be my flying companion on the way out. I’ll start to experience anxiety the minute we get out of the cab at O’Hare Airport, unless Casey’s friend, Blake, drives us – then it will be probably before I get out of his car because I am sure he will have to tease me a little on the way. So, the possibility of going into a “low” while standing in line, the odds are highly in favor of a yes on that subject. Having said that, I’m not even out of the car or standing in line yet, and I’m already anticipating stress. Next will come making sure I have my e-ticket info with me. (Better get that put on my checklist right now – yes, I am very, very anal – I have lists upon lists for packing, etc.!!) ( that I am thinking about my lists, I better make sure I also put down my e-tickets for Wicked too – list is getting longer!) Okay, where was I – oh, yea, at the ticket counter. Getting my ticket, then going to stand in line to go through security. This is where I hope I don’t run into any problems with my insulin, etc., because if something gets broken there, I’m in a world of hurt. Now, I understand that the TSA workers are not the Gestapo. In fact, we have represented a few, but it is what you see or hear on TV, movie, etc., that always puts a little bit of apprehension in lining up for the TSA firing squad. It may not hurt at all. Maybe better to expect and be prepared for the worst, that way I will be wildly surprised and appreciative.

If I make it through security with no mistakes in my packing, etc., I will be a happy camper, errr, flyer.

When I first was planning this trip, I wanted to take the Amtrak train out. Only because I love to see the country. I’m in a car driving around almost every single day of my life. I love to look around and see what is out there. Probably comes from growing up with a father who loved to take Sunday drives, drive at speeds not exceeding 30-40 m.p.h. because he was always looking out the window admiring what this farmer was doing, what the weather was doing, and what amazing things God had created to see on each trip in the car. I’m the same, so that apple didn’t fall far from the tree. But since it would take a day-and-a-half to get out there by train, I decided to forego it this time and do the plane both ways instead of just on the way back. I’m hoping that by looking out the plane window, I can see some of the little things we take for granted while standing on the ground and looking up. This will be exciting.

I’m just hoping that while I’m climbing up the air ladder a little closer to God, that he doesn’t come up with anything too exciting – because, frankly, I’ve put that to the back of my subconscious mind. I’m looking forward to trying to get through a few more items on my bucket list first so he better not mess with that.

A man never wants to mess with a woman’s list – not a good idea at all!!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm A Bloomer!

See that flower down there – it is a bloomer. See the other group of flowers over there – they are a family of fellow bloomers. I have decided to become a bloomer; and I think we all should become bloomers! My blooming idea is a label I have put on my change in attitude. I’ve decided that I will no longer hold grudges. (See–resolutions are not just for New Year’s). Recently, I’ve heard and seen on TV that holding grudges can reduce a person’s life expectancy. A grudge sits like an ugly little troll on your shoulder and in the back of your mind, picking away at a corner of your happiness only to possibly fester into something even uglier still.

I think the younger generation has a great slang saying, “Don’t be a hater!” It is so true, even if sometimes it is used in parody at fun-filled sporting events, backyard basketball games, etc.

From now on, I’m making peace with myself and peace with the world. If something is said or done that upsets me or I don’t like, I will label it a disappointment, fold it up, and tuck it away in my pocket. If my pocket becomes full, like taking out the kitchen garbage, I will discard them and wait for the next pocketful to do the same. But I refuse to hold onto them for too long of a period. If they grow old in my pocket and I forget about them, they will eventually fall apart in the wash.

Sometimes things are hard to pick up and put in the pocket, but I will be resilient in doing so. The saying that it is easier to forgive than forget, is true; but forgiveness makes me feel better. Forgetting can be done just as easily as my pocket metaphor afore-described.

Do you know that Wiktionary defines a grudge (as a verb) to “to grumble, complain; to be dissatisfied. . .to be unwilling to give or allow (someone something).” The Free Online Dictionary describes a grudge (as a noun) as “a persistent feeling of resentment, esp(ecially) one due to some cause, such as insult or injury.” A persistent feeling of resentment – those words – just saying those words – makes me feel sour; who wants to become a sour person? Not I, said me.

I recently saw an episode of Dr. Oz where he raised the question of “Is holding a grudge bad for your health?” The answer was “Yes. Research shows that feelings of anger, hostility and resentment are risk factors for heart attacks.” Okay, do I (or anyone else) really want to pile on another risk to my health? Hell, no, not me. Hence, my own campaign to rid my life, my body, my mind of those feelings.

I know it is hard for people to do this. After traveling down this road for some time, I finally hit a fork in the road and decided that it was time to make a decision. I want to make my life better, healthier. If that means filling my pocket with little scraps of disappointments, so be it. As I said before, it doesn’t take much effort to reach in there, pull a few out and throw them away. You lighten the load and you feel a heck of a lot better. I’m not a saint, I never pretend to be. I’m not a therapist nor a psychiatrist nor a psychologist nor a mental health practitioner; and again, I don’t pretend to be. But if this will help me to become a better person and restore some harmony to my well-being and relationships with others, then (in my own mind) I'm a healer. Definitely, I may not have discovered the Fountain of Youth, but maybe something much more worthwhile and important to my life – the Fountain of Lightening the Load A Little At A Time.

Everyone should try it – blooming, unequivocally, costs a lot less than Valium.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

All The Girls Got It Going On

Peonies, oh, how I love peonies! These are just a couple shots of my peony bush in front of the house as it is just starting to bloom. I received this bush from Bob for my birthday a few years back, so it along with us, are maturing together. There are a couple other peonies on the side of the garage but they are still small and so when they bloom they aren’t as impressive, but I ‘m sure, in time, they will be.


My memories and love of peonies go way back into my childhood. My mom had peony bushes planted throughout our yard. There were some white ones and some pale pink ones. I always loved the peony-blooming time of the year. It always followed the lilac-blooming span so I could go out and cut lilacs for a while and then after that, I would clip off some peonies for arrangements in the house.

The peony bushes didn’t get their full appreciation when we – my brother and I – were little nubbins running around in the yard. We had a fence around the yard that kept us and the dog in. The peonies were planted along the edge of the front yard nestled up against the fence and in the backyard. The fence, well-intentioned, kept our dog in for a while until he finally started to tunnel underneath the fence. Once we found his little getaway exit, we were able to escape to, until my mother frantically found out what was happening. The hole was filled and a more vigilant patrol of our whereabouts ensued.

After a couple years the fence came down, and then the rest of the world was able to more fully appreciate the peony bushes.

After Bob and I bought and moved to our farm, a peony bush was one of my top priorities on my planting-to-do list. Accordingly, one year I put it on my birthday list, and was so surprised and thankful to see that he had bought me one. I planted it right in front of the house so that I could look out and see it daily while it was in full bloom. It wasn’t an enormous plant when he purchased it, but it didn’t take long for it to take off and after a couple years it has bushed out nicely. I have always put stakes around it to aid the delicate stems in holding up the gigantic blooms. I’ve always felt that the stem of a peony plant must have always had a strong “back” in order to shoulder the substantial weight of its magnificent blooms. If only the blossoms would survive longer than they do.

Can I give you a little Greek mythology lesson on the peony? The peony is named after Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Asclepius became jealous of his pupil; then Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower. Paeon, a physician to the gods, obtained the plant on Mount Olympus from the mother of Apollo. It is said that once planted the Peony likes to be left alone and punishes those who try to move it by not flowering again for several years. Once established, however, it produces splendid blooms each year for decades. Believe me, I don't intend on moving them if I don't have to.

Mythology also tells that mischievous nymphs were said to hide in the petals of the Peony thus causing this magnificent flower to be given the meaning of Shame or Bashfulness in the Language of Flowers. I have a glider that sits next to the peony bush by the front walk. It is a very satisfying atmosphere to posture myself in the glider and take in the stupendous fragrance emanating behind me. When I see the magnificence of its blooms and take in the aromatic scent, I can understand why little nymphs would like to hide in the petals.


It is the same when wandering through my backyard when the lilac bushes are in full bloom. In fact, I generally don’t even have to wander into the backyard. All I need to do is walk out the front door and I am swept away with the grandiose bouquet that surges forth from lilacs bushes.

There is a whole lilac family of girls in my backyard – I call them the “girls” because of their age, height and the magnitude of their blossom-bearing abilities. There are the Mother and the Grandma who are very aged and consequential in size. The Mother spans 15 feet or so and sports a height of 10-12 feet; and the other, the Grandma, is approximately 20 feet in length/width and is probably at least 12-15 feet tall. When Bob got a chainsaw last year, and since both of these old ladies were no longer producing the quantity of lilacs I had wished, my plan this year was to do some really good pruning on some of their more gnarly and interestingly-shaped branches. I’m assuming, now, that they are not hard of hearing and understood my intentions considering the fact that this Spring they proved they were not neither baron nor infertile anymore by producing tons of lilacs in spots I hadn’t seen in years. Which, in itself, is a lesson to all you doubters out there, we women can sure surprise the hell out of you when we want to. (Sometimes we just need a little prodding). Fortunately, for these old colorful flirts, there will be no trim jobs this year, except around the bases. Their limbs will stay untouched; hence, they can try to surprise me yet another year.

Additionally, there are three more offspring in the backyard, two of which I did not even realize at first were lilacs. There is the Aunt, the Older Sister and Baby Girl. The Aunt stands South of the Mother while the Older Sister and Baby Girl stand in a westerly line with the Mother. Baby Girl is just West enough to peek around the corner of the house to see the statuesque Grandma watching over her. The Aunt and Baby Girl were shaped like lilacs but for years never produced any flowers. I thought they might just be another wanton sapling looking for a place to roost and bear its soul. Without anything productive paying its rent, I was not going to have any part of it – hence the contemplation of cutting to topple its essence. A couple years ago, Baby Girl (now about 5 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide) came out in full glory. Just in time, too, as she was about to be chopped down. Again, I was ambushed by this little delight when all of the sudden it bore blossoms in a voluminous fashion. It was as if she was trying to stand up and shout “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar!”

The Aunt, on the other hand, who I assumed was just a baron old spinster, surprised me last year by also producing a mountainous array of lilacs. This maiden is as tall as the Mother but having not borne offspring, she has maintained her girly figure and is not as wide at only about 5 feet or so. The Big Sister, on the other hand, realizing that she is the matriarch forerunner, has always earned her keep since we have been there. She is about 5 feet in width with a height of about 6-7 feet. And she stands about 10 feet from her Mother.

I have another hole in the yard which I have never filled it and it is directly West of Baby Girl. I am not sure if at some point in time there was another lilac in there or what but I have never filled it in. Recently I had purchased an Elderberry and was going to plant it in there but I somehow changed my mind. For some reason, I feel that if I planted something else in that spot, other than a lilac, it would be almost sacrilegious. It is like there is a bloodline being followed in this straight path across the backyard almost circling back to Grandma.

Since all my lilacs are lavender in the backyard, I have been mulling over adding a white or pink lilac in this devoid little spot. It may be the start of a whole new pedigree in the O’Connor Lilac Girls’ lineage. She would then become the new lil’ baby girl in a group of overbearing, dignified visions of the fairer sex.

Hmmmm . . . I’m thinking there might be a new baby at the farm very soon!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Just Make My Day

The temps are hitting close to 100 degrees today, way off whack for this time of year. A few weeks ago we were below average on temps and now the last couple days we are way above average. What gives? All I know, is that I do, do love it. Yes, I can say that when I work inside all day during the worst part of this, but to me it beats the below zero temps and long, cold nights of the winters past.

Having said that, I do not like . . . I say . . . when I water my plants that every little gnat, mosquito and flying insect has to jump on their horse, drive hundreds of miles at speeds of 200-miles-an-hour plus just to feast on me or annoy me.

I started watering my plants with my two big watering cans this morning around 5:30 a.m. and now I have bite marks and bumps all over me. One hand was watering the flowers and I was waving the other hand like I was in a parade and brandishing a queen’s-wave but in fast motion. And then next I had to fill up Wolfie and the cats’ outside water dish and the hummingbirds had also drained their feeder. I was thinking of spraying myself down with Off but just couldn’t stand the thought of doing that for a few minutes after which I would be quickly jumping in the shower. So I let them feast!

Crap, really, who in their right mind would get up early and be out hunting humans already that early in the morning! Really!!?? I suppose they have learned from years of experience – when it comes to feast or famine – let’s go the O’Connor Farm Banquet. The chef there will be serving up meals at different times of the day, and if you are patient, early in the morning she comes out to serve up some appetizer – Shari on the Barby! It may be a little raw but it is tentacle-licking good. Egads! Maybe I should be slathering on a little honey mustard for a little extra tang.

Oh, and yes I did mention watering cans. Unfortunately, I’m still using the watering cans because I haven’t had time to get my hoses down from the garage ceiling – or should I put the blame on Bob as it is his job to put them up there in the Fall and again his job to take them down in the Spring. It is his job today (on his honey-do list) to get them down for sure because (1) I need them to water my bigger gardens, and (2) he informed me that he needed one of my hoses to run down to the free-stall barn sprinkler system.

Geez, now I have to pick up another one on my way home tonight, but that is okay – it is either that or my plants will whither away to nothing. And I can’t have that.

The one real problem I have . . . (well, I don’t really have a problem with doing it as much as the problem is . . . well . . .) I am going to be going into somewhere that has plants and I am a sucker! I have it written in invisible ink on my forehead and when I walk into a plant store or nursery it flashes and blinks like a neon light on a dark alley street at night – “SUCKER” “SUCKER” “SUCKER.” Honestly, it is there! I can’t see it when I look in the mirror; you can’t see it when you look at me; but you get a clerk behind a counter and it is almost blinding to him/her. They start ringing up digits on the cash register before I start to cross the threshold. I think they have special lighting in stores for people like me. And, yes, I know there are others out there. You may not admit it, but it is probably you . . . yes, you, the one reading this right now. Yes, I admit it – I am pitiful; actually, more like pathetic! If they made puppies to look like plants, there would no longer be humane societies to house these little infants – they would all be at my house. I’d be a puppy farm.

I know I should try to control my urges, but, again, they are urges, they are demons; they hit me at my most vulnerable times – like now, when I have new beds that have a need to be filled. The word has probably spread and all the plant clerks are looking for the woman with the flashing neon sign on her forehead.

Well, let me just tell them something . . . be forewarned . . . I’m coming to a store near you tonight and you just go ahead and try it . . . go ahead –


Thursday, June 2, 2011

They'rrrrrrre Back!

My hummingbirds are back!

I thought it was all very apropos that today I write about my hummingbirds in honor of my Aunt Doris’ (Auntie) birthday tomorrow, June 3rd. As I have written before she loved hummingbirds, had feeders out for them on the front of her house where she would sit and watch them. She incited in me an interest in them. During her struggle last year when she had fallen ill, I nicknamed and called her “my little hummingbird.” As recalled in one of last year’s posts to my blog and in her eulogy, she went “home” the same day my hummingbirds came home to me.


My hummingbirds seemed to be a little later this year. I’m not quite sure why that is but I think they are mad at me. I tried a new nectar for them early this Spring. I call their nectar their “hummingbird cocktail.” It was in powder form and it seems to dissolve fast in the water – by that I mean after a few days in the feeder it goes from bright red to no color at all. And we all know that the first thing that draws a hummingbird to its feeder is the bright red color. I bet there is not even any sweetness to it. Me thinks I’ve been hoodwinked!

I’ve always been one to make sure that “all my little pets” like what they eat. I’m convinced it is truly because of me that they become as picky as they are. Take my kids, my husband, Pongo, my cats and Wolfie, for example. I have found what they like through trial and error and that is what they then get fed (as in the case of my “human pets” – they get their favorites more often than not).

Summarily, my hummingbirds are rebelling against me, too!! Heck, I also think even all my birds have done the same thing. I tried one type of bird feed and they didn’t seem to like it. I found another and they gobbled it all up and now I have a more diverse species of birds than I have ever had before.

Consequently, I picked up a concentrate liquid form of nectar, the same that I used last year. I’m hoping that at cocktail time, this is what hits the spot for them. I’m pretty fussy about my cocktails, too, so why shouldn’t they be!

I think they were showing their distaste in what I was feeding them by having a little riot. Bob was standing outside the front door close to the feeder the other day talking to me through the screen door. Two hummingbirds kept buzzing him, as if to say – “tell that old lady of your’s to get her butt out here and give us some good food!”

My interest has grown so in hummingbirds that I thought maybe I would share a few facts with you about them.


Dressed For the Occasion. Did you know, that hummingbirds are the tiniest birds in the world? And that they can flash their bright colors as well as hide them when needed? That the bright radiant color on hummingbirds comes from iridescent coloring like on a soap bubble or prism? That the name given to the bright flashing colored feathers of a hummingbird’s neck is a Gorget? An average-sized hummingbird will have about 940 feathers. (Is that considered outfits in a hummingbird's closet? Maybe I want a hummingbird's closet?)

You’re A Smart Little Birdy Aren’t You. A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom. They are very smart and can remember every flower they have been to and how long it will take a flower to refill? (Hmmmm...I wonder how we exactly know that? But this sounds like it might just pertain more to the female species than the male! Aren’t I right? I mean I can remember every nursery/flower shop I have been to, the prices at each, what they have in their inventory. I’m thinking it is the same thing!) Hummingbirds can hear better than humans? (A female thing, again, I think because sometimes my husband can’t repeat to me what I just said to him!) That hummingbirds can see farther than humans? (Well, no bifocals needed there!) That hummingbirds can see ultraviolet light? And they have no sense of smell? (That might be a good thing considering some of the places they go!)

Honey, We Are Now Going to Get Personal About Your Looks! A hummingbird will use its tongue to lap up nectar from flowers and feeders. It’s tongue is grooved like the shape of a “W”. (They must be Badger fans from “W”isconsin). They have tiny hairs on the tip of their tongue to help lap up nectar and it’s beak is generally shaped like any other bird beak, just that it is longer in proportion to its body. The edges of its top beak will overlap the edges of its bottom beak; (In humans, I think that is called an overbite!) and it’s bottom beak is slightly flexible. They do not drink through their beaks like a straw, but lap up with their tongues. (At least there is no slurping going on at the trough there!)

Every Breath You Take, Every Move You Make. Did you know the hummingbird’s heart beats up to 1,260 times per minute and about 250 times per minute at rest? (If I flew as fast and zipped around like they did, I think my heart would be beating like that, too!) And, speaking of its heart, it is 2.5% of the total body weight. It will take about 250 breaths per minute while at rest. (Can’t imagine that at the speed they dart around that they would have time to breath then either); but their metabolism is roughly 100 times that of an elephant. (Mine must be close to that of an elephant’s!)

Winging It. Hummingbirds have very weak feet and can barely walk, hence they prefer to fly; but they also like to perch and spend most of their life perching. (It must be that metabolism thing again because geez if I spent most of my life perching, I would be an elephant!) An average-sized hummingbird will have about 940 feathers.

Size Does Matter. Female hummingbirds are usually larger than male hummingbirds (You go girl!!). Its body temperature is 107 degrees Fahrenheit and on average they are 3.35 inches long from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail. Hummingbirds weigh anywhere between 2 and 20 grams, e.g. a penny weighs 2.5 grams. (I think the hummingbirds that feed at my place must be on closer to the 20 grams size, as they are a little piggish when it comes to eating!!) Thirty percent of a hummingbird’s weight consists of flight muscles (e.g., a human’s pectoral muscles are about 5% of body weight).

It’s All About Her!! Female hummingbirds find iridescent feathers attractive. (Is that the same as checking out a guy's butt?) Hummingbirds do not mate for life. (hmmmm....) Female hummingbirds do all the nest building. (Oh, couldn’t I just go on about that one – stop me now!!!)

Him, Him, Him. Male hummingbirds do not help raise the young. (Enough said on that one!)

And Don't Forget the Babies . . . A hummingbird baby is about the size of a penny. Females will lay a clutch of two eggs. Baby hummingbirds cannot fly and will remain in the nest for three weeks. (All I can say from experience, it seems they “fly the nest” way too soon. I’d hate to be a hummingbird momma!) Most hummingbirds die in the first year of life, have an average life span of about 5 years, but can live for more than 10 years. The oldest known hummingbird was a Broad-Tailed Hummingbird that was captured and tagged 12 years apart.

I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane. A hummingbird can fly an average of 25-30 miles per hour, can dive up to 60 miles per hour and its wings will rotate in a full circle. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have been known to travel 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico to breeding grounds; and it is estimated it takes about twenty (20) hours to fly across the Gulf of Mexico. Some hummingbirds will travel over two-thousand (2,000) miles twice a year during migration times. The Rufous Hummingbird travels the farthest north of any other hummingbird to migrate –all the way from Mexico to Alaska. (So much for flying South for the Winter!)

Good Night, Sleep Tight, It’s Time for Torpor. When hummingbirds sleep at night, they go into a hibernation-like state called torpor. They enter torpor to conserve energy. When they go into torpor, their metabolic rate is one-fifteenth (1/15) of normal sleep. Torpor can save up to 60% of a hummingbird's available energy and when in torpor, their heart rate can drop to as few as 50 beats per minute and can lower the body temperature to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. (In humans, this up and down body temperature thing is called menopause!) When hummingbirds go into torpor, they will appear as if they are dead and have occasionally been found to be hanging upside-down. (Human definition: a drunken stupor!) It can take up to an hour for a hummingbird to fully recover from torpor. (Not fair!! I’d rather have the hummingbird’s hangover than a human’s!) Torpor can be fatal to a weak hummingbird. (No different here!)

Belly Up To The Bar! Hummingbirds need to eat on average 7 times per hour for about 30-60 seconds and can eat anywhere from half (1/2) to eight (8) times its body weight a day. (Egads!! If that was me, that would be a lot of food!) They can double his/her weight before migration. (Yea, well, I’d be grounded for sure!) A hummingbird will visit an average of 1,000 flowers per day for nectar but also eat small soft bugs for protein. (Following the daily hummingbird food pyramid . . . I think we are missing some important parts here, though). A hummingbird will lap up nectar at a rate of about 13 licks per second. (Hmmm... I’ve seen some people eat that fast, too!) Hummingbirds will not get addicted to a hummingbird feeder filled with nectar and will leave when they need to. (Good thing – or we would have nectarholics flying the skyways! Or maybe those are the ones that buzz you so close to your head!)

When Digging Up A Little of Your Past, We Find . . . Hummingbirds are only found naturally in the Americas, can be found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile. They are the second largest family of birds in the Western Hemisphere with more than 300 types or species of hummingbirds. Most of the types or species of hummingbirds are found in South America. The country of Ecuador has the largest number of types or species of hummingbirds. While there are more than fifty (50) types or species of hummingbirds that breed in Mexico, there are more than fifteen (15) types or species that breed in the United States and more than three (3) types or species that breed in Canada.

Who, Who, Are You? Hummingbirds are all part of the Trochilidae family of birds; Trochilidae is from the Greek trochilos, meaning small bird. (Oh, there was a rocket scientist there somewhere!) There are two sub-families of hummingbirds: (1) Typical hummingbirds, and (2) Hermit hummingbirds. Typical hummingbirds are found more in North America while Hermit hummingbirds occur from southern Mexico, through Central America, to South America as far south as northern Argentina. Most hummingbird types or species do not migrate. The smallest hummingbird is the Bee Hummingbird and the largest is the Giant Hummingbird. White hummingbirds (or albino hummingbirds) are not a separate hummingbird type or species. They are regular hummingbirds that never developed color in their plumage. (Someone should introduce them to some bronzer!)

I Know Where You Live! The typical hummingbird nest is tiny, about the size of half an English walnut shell. The outer part is covered with moss and plant fibers. Sometimes it is shingled with lichens. The rest is made of plant down and spider webs. They do not re-use the same nest, but often build again at the same location, occasionally right on top of the old nest. (I think that is for resale purposes – they always say you should remodel every 10 years!)

The Way You Do The Things You Do. Hummingbirds don't really sing, they chirp. (Don’t know if I have ever heard them chirp; it is usually just a buzz). Their favorite color is red (Duh!!) and like tubular type flowers the most. Hummingbirds pollinate flowers by rubbing their forehead and face in each flower as they get the nectar. (Necking, anyone? Oh, wait, wouldn’t this be more like Eskimo kissing?) Many plants depend on hummingbirds for pollination. (It’s an onerous task, but, hey, someone has to do it!) They get their name from the humming sound produced by their wings when flying. And the last, but not least known fact, Early Spanish explorers called hummingbirds flying jewels.

Flying jewels – now, isn’t that apropos!! Yes, Auntie if you could see my hummingbirds now. I think that they have migrated south from your place to mine to take up a new residence. No one is feeding them at the old homestead, and as I have pointed out, they sure do love to chow down. I hope that I am giving them an adequate amount of nectar and plants for them to frolic in. I’m trying to put in plants that are loved by both hummingbirds and butterflies in a lot of my new gardens.

Besides adding beauty to the landscape, if nothing else, these little flying jewels can bring just a little more of you back to me.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weebles Wobble And, Yes, They Do Fall Down

I did it! I finished Bed No. 1 – well, it is as finished as I can do right now. Yes, I will have to add some more to it, but I don’t quite feel the urgency as much any more as I did before. It took quite a few bucket loads with the skidloader to get all the mulch put down, but a couple lows later – as there was a lot of shoveling and forking, and I was done.

Bob and I had gone to Farm & Fleet yesterday and as long as we were there, I wanted to pick up the obelisks that I had wanted for my birthday. No one got them for me, so as a little present to myself, I picked them up and an even greater gift was that they were also on sale. Yippee for me! Bob, on the other hand, did not find it amusing because we already had a cart full and I was able to get one on top of the cart – sort of looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but it did the trick. That left him to carry the other one. Unfortunately for me and fortunately for him, that stopped me from doing any other shopping.

His frustration, however, did not stop there. Once we got to the car, we then had the daunting task of trying to put these towers of frustration into the car. By sizing them up, I knew they were too long to lie in the back seat. Bob didn’t think so (because women are usually wrong about things like that!!), but he quickly found out this time he was wrong. Then he tried to stick them in the trunk and the bases were too wide to go in that way. After a little constructive "criticism," I told him I thought I had it figured out, to which his words were – "you bought ‘em, you had better figure it out." My reply was simply action, not verbalization. I opened the back door on the driver’s side and put the back seats down, slid the "towers" in (we had already stacked one over the other) and, finally, they were in. All it took was just a little womanly coaxing and ingenuity.

He also had a couple choice words to say about the fact that I had picked up a couple pink flamingoes, but my old ones were faded and the sticks were too bent and it was time they hit the flamingo retirement home; so I had been in search of a new set of younger birds and I just happened to find them there. I told him, everyone knows, every garden has to have a set of pink flamingoes! It is just natural, common sense. I now had flamingoes to roost in my gardens again.

After we stopped to eat at the Draft House in Verona and shortly before we left, sister-in-law Faye and niece, Jessica, came in and we visited with them for a bit, and then we headed for home. Once unpacked, I wanted to hit the flower beds again.

Bed No. 1 needed its final weeding before I could do anything further. I grabbed my trusty little cooler with my gardening tools inside that I also use as my stool to sit on when I am weeding. I can only kneel for so long because of the screw I have in my right knee from my ACL/MCL surgery. It lays on the bottom of my knee when I am kneeling and hurts badly when knelt on, so a little stool does the trick. My cooler does double duty. I can also put my camera in there to take pictures when I want.

I was just about done with weeding around my tulips and some of the bare spots that I had left for some future plants to call home when Bob came back to see how I was doing. I actually had my back to him as he was first approaching but then had picked up the cooler to change to another spot when I spied him. He was trying to sneak up on me to scare me, but fortunately for me, he didn’t. So, as we were talking, I moved to a spot on south end of the bed and set the cooler down on a mound of mulch that I had placed earlier around one batch of tulips. I plunked my butt down and was intensely looking for the roots of some weeds when I put my head up to say something, straightened my back and then the dang-dest thing happened – I feel backwards and thought that would be it – just a little tumble backwards. But, no, I did a full tumble – ass over tea kettle. If I would have been graceful about it, it would have been a practiced tuck-and-roll. NOT!! This was a full backward head over heels topple that left me sprawled out on the grass, with dirt and red mulch stuck to my backside. I looked to Bob hoping that he would have a sympathetic look on his face, but I knew better. As he exploded into laughter, my first thoughts were that he was either going to have a heart attack from laughing so hard or pee his pants. (I was secretly hoping for peeing his pants but then I figured I would have to clean that up, too.) The first words were, "where was your camera when I needed it?" To which my reply, luckily, was that it was right next to him sitting on a lawn chair and fortunate for me he didn’t have it in his hands. His next words were, "it reminded me of a Weeble tumbling over." Hahaha!! Not funny!! Well, not comical as I toppled over; later on, I could laugh at it but I can quickly get over it. Bob, on the other hand, can’t. In fact, even today, Bob still bursts out in laughter and says, "I don’t know what I was thinking about needing a camera, because it is still stuck in my mind and I can’t stop laughing about it." Ugh!! I have to admit, though, that I bet it was quite a comical thing to see.

As he slunk away to start milking, giggling to himself like a little school girl, I finished up weeding and then headed to get the skidloader. Just as I was finishing up I was starting to go into a low and knew that it was supposed to rain that night or in the morning, so I wanted to finish things up. I got one more bucket full and grabbed the fork and started pushing mulch around until I was happy and just about ready to fall on the ground. I had just enough energy left in me to safely crawl back into the skidloader, put it away and still be able to walk to the house. Once I got my low under control, I went back out and pushed the mulch around a little more, and then set out my obelisk. The flamingoes also found a little spot to in which to roost.

Again, as with Bed No. 2, I am pretty satisfied with this bed. I can’t wait to see the blooms from all the plants in this large bed. Although, it is, as I said, quite large, it will be a nice break to the bean field once that matures behind it. Usually, there is corn that is planted in there, but this year it is beans so from the road that goes past the farm you might be able to see some of its glory once it, too, matures.

The only thing, hopefully, that you can’t see from the road, is a middle-aged Weeble tumbling over. Hmmmmm . . . what was that about Weebles – oh, yea, Weebles Wobble But They Don’t Fall Down.

I guess no one ever told them that once they get to be a certain age, their wobble and tumble turns into a very unbecoming tuck-and-roll.

I Confess -- I'm An Addict

Question: What do I have in common with a crack addict, an alcoholic and a gambler? The answer: Addictions. I am going to confess to everyone that, yes, I, too, have an addiction. I feel and know what it is like for the crack addict to want/need that next fix, for the alcoholic to drool waiting for his next drink and the gambler who is all consumed about when and how to place the next bet. Mine, is Spring and getting dirt under my nails! Bad, huh?!?! – take me away now!!

I get a craving, a bad, bad craving once the snow starts to melt and Spring is on the forefront. There is a storm brewing inside and it is waiting to explode. I love to be out in my gardens, (that is unless it is 110 degrees outside and new congregations of weeds have moved in to greet me) They can sing their hallelujahs somewhere else because I absolutely hate weeds. But yet I certainly seem to still have a little place in my heart for them. Take yesterday, for example. One of my new beds got ahead of me – okay, a disclaimer here, there are more like three beds, but yesterday I had one bed that I wanted to concentrate on. Anyway, before I could get it mulched, a new village of weeds had sprung up. I am sure they moved across town from the last bed I cleaned out and thought this looked like virtuous ground to hang their hats. I let them for a week or so and then it was time to Clean Up Dodge! Marshall Dillon would have been proud of me.

I had gotten back from helping plant flowers/perennials on the graves, mowed the yard, needed more gas to do the rest of the farm, and decided before I ran to town to get gas, I would tend to Bed #2.

I know what you are thinking. Why does she call it Bed No.2? Simple, my dear Watson. Last Fall I dug up three of my back yard flower beds – all three were looking pretty pathetic. So I had Bob roto-till them up and I planted between 250-300 tulips, allium and muscari bulbs. This Spring, I am happy to report, they all came up.

The beds are distinguished as follows: Bed No. 1 is my oblong 30 ft. x 8 ft. bed running north/south along the west end of the back yard. It is individualized by the colors in the pink/purple/lavender families.

Bed No. 2 (my project yesterday and today) is an oval shaped bed approximately 15 ft. x 12 ft. running north to south on the east end of the back yard. Its makeup are colors of red, white, blue and yellow accent.

And, Bed No. 3 is an oblong bed along the fence line of the south end of the back yard approximately 15 ft. x 8 ft. running east to west. This bed is pronounced by colors of yellow, orange, salmon, and apricot. Now you will understand my madness when I talk about my beds in the back yard.

Back to Bed No. 2. I decided this was to be my bed of choice for the day to clean up. It already contained some exotic lilies that I had planted a couple years earlier that I left in there last Fall along with the tulips. After my birthday, I put in the following plants that I received from Casey/Nika and Brady/Jenne for my birthday: Annabelle Hydrangea (white), two Longsfield Twin day lilies (red/yellow), and Hot Papaya coneflower (red).

Now I needed to weed around those and the tulips, so I pulled out my little cooler that I use as my stool which also contains my gardening tools and went to town "cleaning up Dodge." What a wonderful feeling that is once you have accomplished something like weeding it out completely! Euphoria sets in . . . along with an aching back. Next, the plan of action called for running to town to get gas for the lawn mower and making a trip out into the country about 5 miles from town to a great nursery called The Salad Garden to see what other perennials I could find and add to my beds.

Pongo and I jumped in the car and headed off to the Land of Oz. I needed a fix and I needed it quick and now!! And, oh what a fix I got! Visions of sugar plums could not have been sweeter than what I saw. After a careful and meticulous scan of the inventory, I grabbed a wagon and started picking up what I wanted, concentrating carefully on what each bed needed and already had. In the end, I walked out with the following for each bed.

Bed No. 1 already had a Mistical Pink Mist coneflower, three Cote de Azure Asiatic lilies (purple), Meringue coneflower (green), Rose Returns daylily, two Pink Double Delight coneflowers, and three Oriental Lily mix daylilies (purple/pinks). I picked up two Wine ‘n Roses Wiegelas (deep pink flowers w/dark purple foliage), two Pow Wow Wild Berry coneflowers (hot pink), two Obliqua Pink Turtle Heads, and three Wartburg Star Hardy Asters.

Bed No. 3, already had: three Cappuccino Tango lilies, Limelight Hydrangea (lime green), Sundown coneflower. I chose three Sundown coneflowers (orange). Notice the slip-up here! Yes, I just bought three more of what I already had – the Sundown. But these are so pretty, that won’t bother me a bit. I always say that you should plant in groups of three, so one extra is not going to hurt. It will just add to the beauty!

And for Bed No. 2, my current project, I opted for: two Fireworks Fountain Grass (burgundy striped), two Lo & Behold Blue Chip butterfly bushes, Songbird Bunting Columbine (blue), Songbird Goldfinch Columbine (yellow), Karl Forester Feather Reed Grass (white) and a lime green Heuchera. The bed also already had six Exotic Mixed Lilies.

As soon as I got back from the nursery and after getting gas, I unloaded the car and set off to position my plants. Once I had them situated, I dug into Bed No. 2, as I wanted to get this one finished off as best I could. With the plants in, I could now see where I still had areas that needed planting, but since it was starting to get dark, I figured I would have to mulch in the morning and that night I would have sweet dreams of what other plants I wanted to put in this bed.

Today we were planning on going to the Green County Dairy Breakfast, unless it was raining. I decided that I better get an early start outside because if we went and in order for us to get there in time before they finished serving, I would have to be in the barn by 7:00. So I headed outside around 6:00 to do the mulching on Bed No. 2. I pulled the skidloader out and could feel that rain seemed imminent. I called Bob and asked him what he wanted to do. We decided with it looking like rain, we would forego the Dairy Breakfast but would do some errand running instead. Okay, that left me a little more leeway on my morning.

I scooped up a big load of mulch and as careful as you can be with a skidloader full of mulch, headed into the back yard, hoping not to do too much damage to the grass along the way. Two skidloader buckets later and a lot of shoveling and forking later, I am done mulching. And, I have to say it looks marvelous. As you can see, it even now has some visitors -- my garden gnomes have found a new home.

It just needs a few garden ornaments to finish it off and about two or three more plants in the back and Bed No. 2 can be put to rest. Oh, yes, I have to say, she looks so pretty, like a shiny new penney with its copperish-red dressing of mulch. Now I have to wait for all the plants to start to bloom. Fortunately, I think I can do that because I know it was all my own blood, sweat and tears that went into it. That is a good feeling. It may not be the prettiest thing to anyone else, but to me, it is that feeling of accomplishment, like looking at your newborn baby cradled in your arms.

It is a rush. My high -- that feeling of closing your eyes, rocking on your heels and then. . . wait for it, here it comes . . . ta-dah . . . aaaahhhhhhh . . .there it is. Yep, I can feel it pulsing through my veins right now. Now, I think, this is what every addict seeks – that high and final feeling of euphoria.

And the finale – I open my eyes and my high puts a big, ole’ smile on my face.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Old Lady Might Just Be Getting A Little Too Tired And Cranky

I’m having visions of flowers springing up all over! Yes, the tulips I planted last fall came through amazingly! I am quite happy at the crop that sprouted this spring and at how well they have lasted throughout the ups and downs of temperatures. (See some pictures of my tulips, above). First, we had a weekend of 80 degree weather in late April that got every bulb revved up for the countdown to bloom time. Then, as usual, we slid into some unsightly weather after that. But undaunted by the extreme temperature fluctuations, the variations of tulips and muscari proved to rally against all odds. The alliums are up but haven’t bloomed yet, so that will be lovely to see, also. And my daylilies have grown and are showing they are ready to start stretching their wings, too.

A couple weekends ago I also got out and did my first lawn mowing of the season. I followed that up by trying to use up some of the mulch from last year and spread it around the Spring bulbs that came up in those beds that had not yet been mulched. Now that I can see where everything is planted, it is time to mulch. So I had Bob order 15 yards of mulch today. He thought that might be too much since last year we didn’t quite use everything, but then I reminded him I had three beds that I didn’t mulch at all last year because I was going to dig them up in the Fall and replant them. I’m assuming he just didn’t want that big of a pile staring him in the face again. As I am also sure, he remembers quite well from last year when we grabbed the skidloader, wheelbarrow, some rakes, pitchforks and gloves and set out to mulch, that we (errr, me) had a bit of a problem in keeping my blood sugars under control. It was such physical work that it kept sending me into lows every half hour. So he tried to take the brunt of it (and I am sure he will remind me of that again this year when we start putting down that mulch again).

In the past I have usually used lots of cocoa bean mulch. If it wasn’t so expensive and/or could have gotten it in bigger bulk than just bags, didn’t bio-degrade so fast, wasn’t bad for the dogs (if they eat it), then I would love to continue using it. It smells so good after it has been put down and it looks marvelous! But since after using it for just a couple beds, I can turn my pocketbook upside down and nary a single coin will fall out – I think is better to stick to a $400-500 40-yard load of shredded/colored wood mulch.

The dilemma I have this year is my rose bed. We are supposed to be putting in a new septic system – that is, if we (hmmmm....more like, Bob) ever decide on the final project contractor, etc. (I suppose I have to start throwing out a “honey-do” list again.) The plans that were drawn up puts the line from the house to the holding tank going right through my rose bed. Nonetheless, what I should be doing right now is digging up that rose bed and replanting them – so I guess I have to put that on my “honey-do” list and Bob’s “helper-honey-do” list.

When I mowed that first time this year, I cleared out some areas that I hadn’t mowed in years up above the “white heifer barn.” It is quite hilly so there were a lot of trips up and down a slope that is not meant to be mowed sideways. By doing these areas, I added a couple more hours to my mowing time so I am now looking at being out there for a good 6-7 hours at least.

This past weekend was a little bit harder to time the mowing because it had been drizzling on Friday and Saturday. But by Sunday I knew I had to mow what was now looking like a hayfield because it couldn’t wait any longer. The nice warm weather from last weekend combined with some rain made everything grown expeditiously. Yes, I do mean everything. The weeds sprouted like crazy, too. I started mowing and only got the front yard done had just started on the back yard when I was having problems shifting the mower. I shut her down and went and got Bob who crawled under her to get a peek at what she was being so cranky about. That is when he noticed all the oil that was covering a lot of her underbelly. Then we noticed that streak of grass that I had just mowed had a shiny shimmer to it (oil!!). We pushed her to the front of the house and took the cover off to see her oil-slicked guts. Bob then started her back up again and a spray of oil came off one of the hydraulic hoses. Initially, when I first explained what was happening and he first came out, he told me he thought the hydrostat had gone and she was done. I was beginning to get sick thinking about it. But now he thought, hopefully with either a new hose or alternatively soldering or welding the hose that was on there, we might be able to get by. So we were going to have to wait no matter what until something could be done with that hose.

Nevertheless, I desperately need to mow and have nothing to do it with at the moment. Hopefully, Bob will pick up the part today, be able to put it in and I can mow tomorrow. If the welding on the part doesn’t work, to put it bluntly, we’re screwed; the next step will be getting a new lawn mower.

My baby (Cub Cadet lawn mower) has certainly served her purpose well. We bought her (you will note that yes I am referring to her in the female sense as she has been a workhorse – hence it is a she) . . . anyway, Bob bought her about 17-18 years ago. I remember the day he got her from Studer’s in Monroe. I was appalled that he/we paid $2,000 for her at the time. She was used then – we figure she must now be about 30 years old – not sure what that makes her in human years – does this count like “dog years”???? hmmmm . . . but she has given us very little problems. She came with her own tiller and she has definitely paid her “rent” by the work that she has done.

The problems now are that she leaks hydraulic oil a little (a lot more after she blew a hose last weekend), and she might be a little cranky to start once in awhile, but heck what woman isn’t!!!! hahaha!!! What she likes is that she gets a good workout in the Spring, Summer and Fall months and she gets to vacation all Winter. (I’m thinking I like her job already!!) Yes, I might have accidentally rammed her into a few trees once in awhile just because I was trying to get too close, but a good headbutt every once in awhile hasn’t knocked any significant screws loose – or at least any that she has shown me cause to be concerned about.

I’m hoping that with this new little minor transplant we have for her, that she won’t give up and want to take a permanent vacation. If so, I don’t blame her entirely – especially since now she has to put up with Wolfie who likes to run around in front of her, taunting her, when she is trying to get some work done. She hasn’t had to put up with a young, pesky (outside) dog before, so maybe she might be thinking it is too late to teach old dogs new tricks.

Frankly, girlie, I’m hoping not.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Brownies Are A Girl's Best Friend

Comfort foods . . . brings to mind sweet treats. Back to basic, home baking. Whenever I need a quick fix for a sweet in our house . . . which is when the last of the treats just started heading down the digestive tract and Bob is pointing to an empty cookie jar or a crumb-free cake pan, I turn to my old, hand-me-down, brownie recipe. Deep Dish Brownies. It is a favorite in our house so it is always a good turn-to when the tears are running down Bob’s face because he hasn’t had sugar for 24 hours.

One Friday morning, was just the time for this old favorite. It was early, the little critters were fed, I had just had my breakfast and I knew we had errands to run, so a good portion of my day would be shot. If I needed to get some baking in, it had better be now. It was 6:30 a.m. and time to fire up the oven. I quickly pulled my Deep Dish Brownie recipe out and in a matter of 10 minutes, the brownies were in the oven. That is what I love about this recipe – it is quick to mix up. I will have to say, though, that it is heavy in the ingredient aisle. I do a double batch which fits in a 9x13 pan, which I use a pyrex high side one (deep dish) because in my regular 9x13 pyrex pans, it will raise so high that it is hard to keep a lid on it without squishing them. I could put this in a jelly-roll pan, but for God’s sake – this is a deep dish recipe, so you want it to be nice and thick, not thin, so I go for the 9x13 deep dish pyrex. (You can also use a metal pan, I just prefer glass.)

It bakes for 45 minutes and that was just enough time for me to be able to get my exercise in, too. So in went the brownies, timer set, and I jumped on the treadmill for a good 45-minute workout. See . . . baking is healthy for you! (Hmmmm . . . a twisted mind is a good thing to have!!!!!!!)

Comfort foods in my house (and mind) come from sometimes digging into my index card recipe box. When pulling out any of these recipes, you will find time-honored, stained recipe cards filled with great recipes and even greater memories. Most of these are the hand-me-downs. Ones I received from my mom, grandmother, aunts, or old friends and other relatives. I have my Grandma Sponem’s Butterscotch Pie or raised doughnuts or frycakes, my mom’s pie crust or brandy slush, an old, old friend’s Buckeyes, my cousin’s wife Karen’s yeast rolls or her scalloped corn. In my recipe files, these go way back, thirty or more years at least but have been tried-and- true recipes for three-quarters to a full century. These are the ones that you can remember by heart without having to look at the recipe. And this brownie recipe is one of those, indeed.

I have added the recipe below, but I always double it to put in a 9x13 pan.


3/4 cup butter, melted
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Blend melted butter, sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Add eggs, beat well. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, gradually adding to egg mixture until well blended. Spread in a buttered/greased 8-inch square pan. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes. Cool, and cut into squares.

Please enjoy! I know I do every time I take a bite and try to savor the moment. It is a moment between me and one of my best friends – we don’t get together too often, so when we do I don’t like to rush it. I want a relaxed conversation between the two of us. Me, I do most of the talking – the conversation goes mostly like this:

"Mmmmm . . .haven’t seen you in awhile."
"Mmmmm . . .why do I wait so long?"
"Mmmmm . . . yes, we have to do this more often."
"Mmmmm . . . you certainly are an evil little thing aren’t you?"
"Mmmmm . . . okay, one more bite and then I have to go."
"Mmmmm . . . until we meet again, old friend."

Parting ways is sometimes hard to do!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Our New Hired Hand, Maybe

We received a surprise on Thursday - a little addition to our family . . . maybe.

When I pulled into the driveway later Thursday night after work and was making the bend to turn into the garage, I noticed something unfamiliar sitting on the front steps of the house. At first glance, I screamed because I thought it appeared to be a wolf. Now, don’t go laughing at me and everything, imaging I was thinking I was Little Red Riding Hood or something (and “my, what big eyes you have . . . “) but from first glance it did appear to be that. Then as I got up alongside for a more accurate view, I noticed it was just a big dog. What actually, I thought, materialized seemed to be more like a cross between a collie (yes, Lassie) and a . . . wolf.

Now, I know that there have been wolves released out in our parts, so it isn’t my imagination going wild. He had a tan color and a longer-looking snout, so I don’t think I was that far off. Bob, on the other hand, would beg to differ. He thinks he looks like a cross between a collie and a coyote. (We have coyotes out and about around us, too).

Anywho, we thought it was our neighbor’s as they had been down the day before looking for their dog. Upon placing a phone call to them, it wasn’t though. Their dog had been killed, probably run over, and moved about eight miles away. All I can say is, shame on that person. Man up if you hit someone’s dog. If it is in the road and unavoidable, it is unavoidable. But if not . . . man up, and if you have a beef with someone, don’t be so petty and childish as to kill their animals. Man up! That aside, he didn’t know whom this dog belonged to either, but thought he might have seen it wandering around a few days before.

So back to “my” dog. He is kind of shy and we have determined that if no one comes to claim him, then we will (may) keep him as a farm dog. We have been in need of a farm dog. Someone to keep the racoons away from the silage bags and the possums and coons out of our garage. We have a door to the garage that is nailed shut as it is rotting and no good and we haven’t gotten around to replacing it yet (that and the garage door itself). The cats have pried back a corner at the bottom so they can crawl into the garage in the winter time. And we let them. Poor things. The only problem is, we now also have a resident possum that likes to sneak in there, too. And, let me tell you, this thing is not any small little timid possum. This sucker is huge. It is as big as some of the biggest racoons I have seen – and we have some big racoons around our parts. Them damn (pardon my french) raccoons have dug holes in our silage bags, made themselves at home in the silos and they seem impossible to get rid of. And we also have a three-legged racoon that keeps coming into the garage when the door is open. A dog could possibly do the trick.

But we don’t want a dog that is going to chase the cows. They do fine on their own walking out of the freestall barn up to the milking parlor. They don’t need any extra help. But someone to help watch over them would be nice, too. Hence, the problem. We need a trained hired hand. Someone who has been there, done that. Those are sometimes hard to find. But, Wolfie . . . (yes, I have already named him and what a catchy name it is, too! Don’t you agree?!!) . . . Wolfie may just fit the bill.

He seemed quite shy at first and not knowing where he was from or how wild or possibly dangerous he may be, I kept my distance the first night. This also meant that when I let Pongo out so that he could do his duty, I had to go, too, to stand watch. Pongo is a little shy about doing his duty, and rightfully so, and now he is having someone watch, let alone follow him around when he has a job to do. But, alas, he had to put up with his guardian angel doing just that.

Wolfie stepped off the front steps when we came out and he jumped down off to one side or the other, giving us space. I talked to him as I went out, keeping myself between him and Pongo. He shied away.

The next morning, Friday, he was still there. We put out a couple calls and no one seemed to know who he belonged to. Could be the Amish down the road, but they would certainly come looking for him if they had lost their dog. I wasn’t sure what to do about feeding him because, as Bob said, he may hang around if you do, and we weren’t sure just yet if we wanted him to “hang around.”

Later that morning, we picked up our taxes in Mt. Horeb, ran some errands in New Glarus, Monroe and Argyle, went out to lunch and returned home around 3:00. When we returned, Wolfie was still sitting on our front steps. I told Bob that I was a little worried that maybe he was hungry or hadn’t eaten for awhile because I had never seen his tail come up. He always had it tucked under his stomach – he either was scared, hungry or being defensive, or a combo of all three. But I couldn’t stand to see him hungry, so I made the decision then and there that I would feed him. I had to do a little cleaning of my fridge, but I was able to get some scraps together for him. I put them in an ice cream pail and set it out for Wolfie to decide if he liked what was on the menu at the O’Connor farm or if he was going to leave without a tip. I let him be, and a half hour later, I got my tip. I went out to check on him and he was plunked down on the mat in front of the door. When I opened the door, he jumped up but did not go far. I stepped out, talked to him a little and that is when I saw his tail come up and start to wag. I extended my hand out and, with a few nervous baby steps, he came over and licked my hand. Not that my hand wasn’t shaking a little bit anyway, just because I wasn’t sure if he was still hungry (his pail was empty) and I wasn’t really serving up hand for supper. But he licked my hand. How nice. I was pleased, he was pleased.

If he is going to stay, however, I have to make sure things are okay with him and Pongo. Anytime Pongo goes out, he is right there on top of him sniffing at him. Now Wolfie is about 4-5 times bigger than Pongo, so Pongo is not quite sure what to make of this. He sort of looks up at me like “whatcha got me into here, Momma?” I just tell him to do his duty and try to coax Wolfie away from him best I can. There have not been any fights yet, but then again Pongo hasn’t growled at him either. Pongo and Paris (Brady’s dog) haven’t come to a good understanding yet, either. Paris is young and spunky and all over Pongo because she wants to play. Pongo is old and grumpy and not in the mood when Paris is around. So, we have another hurdle to get over here, too, if . . . that is, IF, Wolfie stays.

And, there is also the thing about Bob. He hasn’t gotten close to Bob yet either. So he hasn’t been following him up to the barn or around the farm. He has been doing his exploring all on his own or following the cats around. Oh, yea, there is that, too. The cats are scared of him. Their tails fluff all out when he comes around. The first night there wasn’t a cat to be found anywhere, not even in the garage. I think they didn’t dare come out of their hiding spots to make the trek to the garage. Now they sashay along a little until they spot Wolfie and then they are streaks of fur heading to the nearest high spot of building. If Wolfie sees them, he trots to them. Unfortunately, for him the cats are long gone by the time he gets there. I’m not sure if he means them any harm or is curious. But if he hopes to call this place home, he has to get along with Pongo and the cats. Anything else is intolerable.

So, now, a couple days have gone by and he is still sitting on our front steps. We haven’t seen a possum or a coon in the last few days, so he must be auditioning for a job. He may have gone just a little bit overboard, though, but that is okay as long as you don’t get too close to Wolfie or at least pet him for too long. Yes, he must have chased a skunk away that second night, because Wolfie is not smelling very pretty these days. Bob has noticed more paw prints around the farm, too. It looks like he has ventured down by the freestall barn, but we have not heard any commotion, so maybe he is keeping watch over our flock (herd), too. He has now been getting real dog food and water so he seems content. And, he lets me pet him (when I can get past the smell).

Maybe he is looking for a home. Well, we are kind of a looking for a cheap hired hand; maybe he will do just fine.

Oh, and if you are wondering when I named him Wolfie – it was that second day he was here and he had cleaned up the food, wagged his tail and licked my hand. I thought Wolfie was appropriate because of his looks. Actually, I’m hoping that he is less of a wolf in sheep’s clothing and more of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Oh, scratch that, I’m beginning to think he is looking less like a wolf and more like a Collie – more like a Lassie – I just need to put a little more meat on his bones.

That is, of course, if he proves that he is a trustworthy asset to our farm crew.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is It A Doughnut Or A Donut?

So, is it a doughnut or a donut? Doughnuts have a disputed history. One theory suggests that doughnuts were introduced into North America by Dutch settlers, who were responsible for popularizing other American desserts. In the 19th century, doughnuts were sometimes referred to as one kind of olykoek (a Dutch word literally meaning "oil cake"), a "sweetened cake fried in fat."

History of the Doughnut

Hansen Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was only sixteen years old. Gregory was dissatisfied with the greasiness of doughnuts twisted into various shapes and with the raw center of regular doughnuts. He claimed to have punched a hole in the center of dough with the ship's tin pepper box and later taught the technique to his mother.

According to anthropologist Paul R. Mullins, the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. By the mid-19th century the doughnut looked and tasted like today’s doughnut, and was viewed as a thoroughly American food.

And, did you know that there is a National Donut Day? National Donut Day is on the first Friday of June each year, succeeding the Donut Day event created by the Salvation Army in 1938 to honor the women who served donuts to soldiers during World War I. The holiday celebrates the doughnut (a/k/a "donut") — an edible, torus-shaped (i.e., ring-shaped) piece of dough which is deep-fried and sweetened. Many American doughnut stores offer free doughnuts on National Doughnut Day. In 2009, both independent doughnut shops and large national franchises offered free doughnuts in the United States.

National Doughnut Day started in 1938 as a fund raiser for the Chicago Salvation Army. Their goal was to help the needy during the Great Depression, and to honor the Salvation Army "Lassies" of World War I, who served doughnuts to soldiers.

Soon after the United States entered into World War I in 1917, the Salvation Army sent a fact-finding mission to France. The mission concluded that "huts"* that could serve baked goods, provide writing supplies and stamps, and provide a clothes-mending service, would serve the needs of US enlisted men. Six staff members per hut should include four female volunteers who could "mother" the boys.

*The canteens or social centers that were established by the Salvation Army in the United States near army training centers were called "huts".

About 250 Salvation Army volunteers went to France. Because of the difficulties of providing freshly-baked goods from huts established in abandoned buildings near the front lines, two Salvation Army volunteers (Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance) came up with the idea of providing doughnuts. These are reported to have been an "instant hit," and soon many soldiers were visiting Salvation Army huts.

A legend has spread that the provision of doughnuts to U.S. enlisted men in World War I is the origin of the term doughboy to describe U.S. infantry, but the term was in use as early as the Mexican-American War of 1846-47. By the way, it is still a fund raiser run by The Salvation Army.

And, there you have it, my history lesson about doughnuts, or donuts.

Donuts -- A Comfort Food

In my last post, I talked about comfort foods. One of the more comforting foods on my list are homemade raised doughnuts. I say this because when I think about these types of doughnuts, I remember all the times making them with my mom when I was growing up, and/or being at my Grandma Sponem’s and helping her make them, or coming to her house after she had made them, and/or raiding the kitchen when she wasn’t looking. Oh, it isn’t like Grandma would be too upset, but she never wanted you to spoil your appetite before a meal. I have to say, that no one could ever make these like my Grandma Nettie. She was the consummate cook, baker and bottle-washer.

Fortunately, she passed those most treasured recipes on down the line to my mom, too. Of course, maybe my all-time favorite of her’s would have to be butterscotch pie. I think I have finally mastered that one, so that it is now somewhat closer to her’s. It has now become traditional that I make that pie for such holidays as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My mom, however, has perfected the raised doughnut part. And, she has spoiled the grandchildren (okay, and us kids, in-laws, too!) with bringing them to any get-together we have. They (we) all look forward to a tray (or two or three) of these pastries. Yes, they are a dessert, but if Mother brings them, she inevitably puts them out with the appetizers and there are none usually to be found when it comes time for dessert. It is first-come first-serve, and if you snooze, you lose, when it comes to my mom’s donuts. I have seen near hysteria break out when there is only one left. It can become a free-for-all to see how is going to get it.

Getting Down To The Nitty-Gritty: Mix, Rise, Fry, Eat

I had pulled my raised doughnut recipe out recently and was waiting for just the right time to make them. Needing a little comfort food on this cold, rainy-is-it-going-to-turn-ice-or-snow kind of day, Sunday proved to be just the right time, so I gathered all my ingredients together and started my dough. (See pictures above for some of the ingredients, 2nd row center, and the donut utensils, 2nd row right, I used). Note that in the picture of the ingredients, the yeast has already risen almost to the top of the measuring cup (about ready to spill over the sides) before I had mixed it into the rest of the ingredients. It does rise fast, so watch out!

(I should add a disclaimer here about the pictures above before I go any further. I am just learning to add the pictures, so yes they do look like a jumbled mess at the top; but hopefully, I'll master that, too, soon.)

Once I followed through on the instructions of the recipe (which I have provided below) and my dough was mixed, I set my mixing bowl with the dough in it to raise on top of my stove. (See picture above, 3rd row, left). I had things in the oven plus a beef broth simmering on the stove, so it proved to be just the right environment to help the dough double in size. I also placed a warm dish towel (doused with hot water and wrung out) over the top to aid the warm environment needed.

When the dough had doubled in size (see picture above 3rd row, center left), I punched the dough down, took out half of it, gently folded it over a couple times (which is really not a fold but more of a molding motion), and placed it in the middle of my floured workspace on my kitchen island. (See picture above, top row). I then rolled it out into a large oval and began the cutting process with my donut cutter. I carefully flipped each donut from hand to hand to shake off any excess flour and placed each on a lightly floured jelly roll pan. I did the same with the donut holes. (See picture above, 3rd row, center right). You will also note that the pans are laying on my apron-of-choice for the day. Since I was dealing with the flour, white was the way to go. I received this one from the Cooking Club of America, to which I am a member, and it also has my name on it. I think I will find this handy in the years to come, so that I will be able to remember who I am!!

Once I had all the dough rolled out and any scraps re-rolled, I started my lard on medium low to render it down to a nice hot oil. (See picture, 3rd row, right). With a candy thermometer in my oil, when it had reached 350 degrees, I carefully started dropping the donuts three at a time adding a couple donut holes, too. (2nd row, left, above, shows the frying process). It does not take long for these to fry so you have to be careful. You don’t want them to brown (which did happen towards the end with a couple of mine).

My process goes like this: the donuts go into the frying pot; then when they are done I pulled them out with a fork, they are then placed in a large oval shaped metal strainer I have that sits inside a cake pan with a paper towel in the bottom. Each is then transferred to another cakepan with a paper towel in the bottom to be stacked sideways to drain some more.

When all the donuts were fried, I started my glaze which only took a couple of minutes. Once the water boiled, I took it off the heat and started whisking in the powdered sugar. I think I used slightly over the amount needed (of powdered sugar). I next then dipped one side of the donuts in the glaze and set them out on the trays that I used before. They now were covered with wax paper to catch the glaze drips. (You can use a rack also, but I currently don’t have enough to cover this batch). (For pictures of the finished product, see the bottom three pictures on the left, above).

Now, the only thing left to do besides clean-up, was to taste test.

Oh, yummmm! Yes, I have to admit . . . that is the best part.

And, now that I saved my oil, maybe next weekend, I will have to make frycakes . . . oh, be still my beating, grease-soaked veins!!!

Raised Doughnuts
2 oz. yeast (3 pkgs of dry)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1/3 cup butter
1-1/2 cups scalded milk
2 eggs beaten
5 cups flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Stir yeast and 1 T. of sugar in the warm water. Let stand 5 minutes. Scald milk and put butter and rest of sugar in milk. Cool until luke warm and then add yeast and eggs.

Add flour (now will be a soft dough). Let raise in warm place until doubled. Turn out on board. Cut in 1/2 (if doubled recipe); punch down and roll out until 1/2 inch thick; cut using donut cutter; let raise on pans (that have a touch of flour on them) in warm place.

Doughnut Glaze
1/2 cup boiling water
1-1/2 lbs. powdered sugar (or more if needed to get glaze consistency)

Add water to sugar. Dip hot doughnuts into glaze; move to cooling rack.