Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dreaming of my Grandparents' Home

This morning, I think I was dreaming about being at my grandparents' home in El Paso, TX (their Mountain Walk Drive home, not the Blue Ridge Circle one) just before I woke up.

In that nebulous no-man's-land between dreaming and waking, I vaguely recall waking up in the spare bedroom at my grandparents' at breakfast time (never mind that I was usually awake well before breakfast). The scents of percolating coffee and frying bacon, the clink of utensils, the sunlight peeking through the edges of the window shade and curtains - I was certain that I was registering these stimuli as though they were actually filtering into my brain via my senses.

When I opened my eyes, I was genuinely surprised at finding myself in my own bedroom hundreds of miles away from El Paso, so sure was I that I'd awakened at my grandparents' home.

Needless to say, I've had a bit of "homesickness" lingering around me today, noticeable when I have time to sit down and take a moment to relax. I think the cloudy weather is partly to blame; overcast skies always spark a bit of blues and homesickness for the Southwest, where we usually have about 300 (or more!) days of sunshine.

Anyway, a week ago, I'd visited my parents. While I was there, my mom had given me an album of photos she'd organized after going through my grandmother's belongings and finding her many photos.

I was looking at these newly acquired pics this morning, and decided to share a few of particular interest to me after this morning's dream of waking up at my grandparents' place.


This first pic is of my grandmother. There's nothing written on the back. I'm going to assume she's not much more than one year old, if that? Circa 1925-1926.


This next pic is of me, at my grandparents' Blue Ridge Circle home. The back of the pic says "Aug. 1974 3 yrs. 9 mos." in Oma's handwriting. 

It looks like I've found one of Oma's perfumes. Or maybe it was my mom's, since it looks like Chanel No. 5, which is one of "her" perfumes.



So, I had to include this next one, simply because it looks like I was instructed to dab a little perfume behind my ear. Because that's how you wear it, right? I can see that the lid is on the coffee table next to me. (The same thing is written on the back of this pic.) I'm assuming my grandfather took both this pic and the previous one. 

A pic of my Uncle Ralph is on the table behind me. 

I definitely remember the glass-cube window in the foyer behind me.



This last pic, I'm sure, was taken by my grandfather, using my camera. This is in the backyard at the Mountain Walk Drive home - the same home I dreamed I'd woken up in this morning. 

I'm going to say this was taken in the early 2000s. There's nothing written on the back. I'm assuming I'd had this pic printed when I'd gotten home after visiting them, and then I sent it for them to keep. 

It's been fun looking through these "old" pics, some older than others, and finding ones I haven't seen before, or finding ones, I'd forgotten about.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

On HAT's Birthday

I decided I needed to post something today, which would've been my Uncle Hector's 61st birthday.

His initials were HAT, but he would often "sign off" on emails, texts, messages to me as "UH" (for "Uncle Hector").

This past weekend, I was given a photo album of old photos. These pics had been my grandparents' but had been in my mom's possession after my grandparents passed away; my mom organized them and stuck many of them in an album for me.

In the album that she'd given me, I found a photo of my uncle that I don't remember having seen before.


On the back of this photo in my grandmother's handwriting, it says Nov 1974. "UH" would've been 19 years old in this pic.


I'm posting one more (this is one of my own photos that I'd taken myself); this one is of "UH" and Liv as they read a book together. This was in my grandparents' den, when we all happened to be visiting my grandparents in El Paso, TX.


He was in what I called his "Johnny Cash" period of dressing all in black (hence the "Man in Black"/Johnny Cash reference, LOL).  My grandmother once asked my uncle why he always dressed all in black. His response? With a chuckle, a shoulder shrug, and a smile, he said, "It's easy to always match."

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Start of Summer Fun (2015)

Here are three of my favorite pics from the beginning of our summer in Culver, IN (for Culver Summer Schools and Camps).

They were taken about a week before camp started, when I was in some orientation/in-processing, and had a bit of time to take Liv on a walk to stretch her legs.
 
On my first day of orientation, Liv had been so cooperative, either drawing on her sketch pad, reading, or quietly using her iPad, while I sat in the first of many day-long briefings. At one point, we had a 10-15 minute break, so I let her run down the sidewalk and back to burn a bit of energy. This was on campus near the building where we were having our orientation meetings that day.


One evening, we had some time to go into the town of Culver for a treat (the local coffee shop, the Culver Coffee Company, had ice cream). After getting our treats, she'd wanted to take a walk by Lake Max.

 
This was late one afternoon, when we were to meet the rest of my senior counselor teammates for dinner at one of the buildings near the lake. Since the campus is mostly pedestrian - we were to park our cars at the other end of campus- Liv and I walked. She had run ahead a bit, to look at something that had caught her attention.

While some staff members had golf carts (and a golf cart would've been convenient for those times I had to cross the campus quickly), I liked the health benefits of having to walk as much as I did during those seven weeks Liv and I were on campus.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Time to Grab Those Colored Pencils

For Christmas, "Santa" gave me one of those coloring books for grown-ups - one with a "Day of the Dead" theme.

Here's one of my first finished pages.


Friday, January 15, 2016

Culver Discovery Flight 2015

During my summer at Culver Summer Schools and Camps in 2015 as a staff member, I was able to do something spectacular.

They have an aviation program for students who want to learn how to fly a plane (they'd had one in the past, but it was put on hold for a few years, but a revamped program is now up and running).

Well, for those new or returning students (and staff members) who are curious about what it's like and want to get a taste of flying a plane, Culver offers what's known as a one-hour "discovery flight." Three students (or three staff members) can sign up with the Culver aviation department to get a discovery flight scheduled.(Oftentimes, the older kids in Woodcraft - the 9-14 year olds - will take a Discovery Flight and then are interested in signing up for aviation classes when they return to Upper Camp; I believe they need to be at least 14 years old to take actual aviation classes.)

Then, after the trio's discovery flight is scheduled, Culver will transport the students via shuttle bus (while staff members drive themselves) to the Starke County Airport for their flight. The three students and an instructor pilot head off in a 4-seat Cessna, one student in the front along with the instructor pilot, and the other two students in the back. After a safety check around the aircraft by the instructor pilot, and after ensuring everyone is buckled up, the instructor pilot will give the student in the front seat a brief explanation of various instruments in the cockpit.

Then off they go, with the instructor pilot in control. After they're in the air, the instructor pilot will decide when it's a good time to hand the controls off to the student in the front. At that point, the student in front will actually be flying the plane, able to move the controls this way and that, and able to get a feel for how the aircraft responds to the controls (the instructor always there to give guidance or take over if safety dictates).

At this point, the student in front gets to fly the plane for 20 minutes!

After 20 minutes, the instructor takes over and they land at the airport. The three students play "musical chairs" and the other two students get to take turns sitting in front and flying the plane for 20 minutes each (the instructor pilot taking off and landing for all three).

Needless to say, I was able to take a discovery flight!

At the beginning of the summer, when all of the staff members were there the week prior to the start of camp, we were getting various in-processing briefings, one of which was by the Director of Aviation. At some point in her briefing, she was telling us about the discovery flight opportunity for anyone curious about Aviation. And . . . she said that the opportunity wasn't limited to just students! If any of us staff members wanted to take a discovery flight, we would just need to get two friends and get a discovery flight scheduled!

Well, at some point that week, I was talking to a new friend/fellow senior counselor, and I'd said, "You know what? That discovery flight opportunity sounded like a lot of fun. I'd love to do one!" And she said, "So would I!" And that's when the lightbulb went on over our heads.

She found a third person who was interested in going with us. The only problem now was trying to schedule it in - we were so busy as senior counselors that we kept saying, "Maybe next week . . . "

Finally, we ended up saying, "We've got to do it now, or we'll miss our chance."

So, July 27,2015, it was!

We were SO excited! And the exciting part was that they had three instructors available and three aircraft available, so we each went up at the same time (taking off one right after the other), so we didn't have to wait our turn - we were up in the sky at the controls at the same time.

And it was SO MUCH FUN!

We were able to fly over the campus, and Lake Maxinkuckee, and I was able to take two laps over the Riding Hall. It was awesome seeing the campus from a plane.

The only downside for me was that I was flying and couldn't take pics. So I only took two pics at the beginning, when the instructor pilot was taking off - just before he handed over the controls. (And I hadn't thought to give him my phone so he could take pics - of the riding hall AND of my being at the controls - until later on that day, when it was too late.)

Here we are, taking off:



Here we are, leveling off and the instructor is just about to have me take the controls:

Ahh, Indiana in the summertime . . .

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Panoramic Views of Our Summer Home

Last summer, Liv and I had the opportunity to spend our summer at Culver Academies' Summer Schools and Camps.

Back when I was a teen, I'd spent two summers at Upper Camp (for kids 14-17 years old) and had a BLAST! And then I ended up having the opportunity to go to high school at Culver Girls Academy.

In May 2014, Andrew, Liv, and I went back to Culver to celebrate my 25th reunion with my classmates (and I'd been to each of my previous 5-year reunions at the 5, 10, 15, and 20 year points). During our time there in 2014, Liv was old enough (at 8 years old) to experience a "Mini Woodcraft Camp" which is an abbreviated version of their summer Woodcraft Camp (for kids 9-14). This is a fantastic experience for kids, where they learn leadership skills and responsibility, and can experience a whole host of activities, from equestrian sports to sailing, ice skating, astronomy, soccer, archery, and even Quiddich (from Harry Potter fame), among many other things.

Anyway, during our weekend at Culver in 2014, since Liv LOVED her experience at Mini Woodcraft, Andrew and I looked into what we needed to do to get her there for Woodcraft 2015.

To make a long story short, Liv ended up attending Woodcraft  2015, and I ended up employed there as a Senior Counselor for a new Upper Camp (14-17 year olds) unit - the girls' mounted unit! So we were both able to spend the summer on a beautiful campus on Lake Maxinkuckee (aka Lake Max).

Since I've been away from blog-writing for a while, I thought I'd ease back into it by sharing a couple panoramic photos of the Culver campus I'd taken with my smart phone.

This first one was taken during the last week of camp, the last week of July 2015. (Click the pic and it should give you a larger view.)

The building off to the left is Eppley Auditorium, where theater, dance, and musical performances (both student and guest performances), movies, meetings, acting/theater/dance classes, and awards ceremonies take place. 

The buildings on the right side of the first picture are academic buildings.

I took this second pic on August 1, after camp was over, and we were ready to head home, after dropping off some final out-processing paperwork related to my employment. I had wanted to take a quick walk around campus one last time, kind of mentally saying goodbye to a place that I cherish.
You'll see the Culver Memorial Chapel just to the left of center, with its steeple pointing skyward. The castle-like building to the right of the clump of trees (in the middle) is the Riding Hall. This is the home of the famous Culver Black Horse Troop and Culver Equestriennes.

(That red line on the ground in the second pic was part of the boundaries of a huge relay race that took part over the summer.) 

Okay, so I was originally planning on just posting the two panoramic pics, but I got carried away explaining. So, there you go. A couple pics with a lot of background information. I will be back soon to post more pics.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Year in Books (2015)

Hi everyone! I know I've left my blog in a sad ghost-town state. But I'm back to close out 2015, though, and will try to post a little something monthly (or, at least a little more regularly) in 2016.

As in years past, I have been fond of closing out the year with a "year in books" that Lisa over at Two Bears Farm got me hooked on in 2010.

The idea was for me to answer the following prompts with titles of books I had read in 2015 (and they are basically the same prompts from year to year, since I started doing this).

Here's my year in books:
1..  Describe yourself:  Messenger (Craig Johnson)
2.  How do you feel?  Endangered (C.J. Box)
3.  Describe where you currently live.  Peril at End House (Agatha Christie)
4.  If you could go anywhere, where would you go?  Duma Key (Stephen King)
5.  Your favorite form of transportation?  Divorce Horse (Craig Johnson)
6.  Your best friend is: Radiant Angel (Nelson DeMille)
7.  You and your friends are: Junkyard Dogs (Craig Johnson)
8.  What's the weather like?  The Long Winter (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
9.  What is life to you?  Medium Raw (Anthony Bourdain)
10.  Favorite time of day? The Dark Horse (Craig Johnson)
11.  Your Fear?  The Pharaoh’s Secret (Clive Cussler)
12.  What is the best advice you have to give? Wait for Signs (Craig Johnson)
13.  Thought for the day:  Brush Back (Sara Paretsky)
14.  How I would like to die: A Serpent’s Tooth (Craig Johnson)
15.  My soul's present condition:  Rock With Wings (Anne Hillerman)

It's a fun little "creative" exercise, don't you think?

I hope you all read lots of good books in 2015. I sure have some books I'm currently reading, as well as a nice stack waiting on my nightstand (and wishlist in the coming months). 

And since I don't have any pics of books, I'll add a pic of Liv on the Culver Academies campus, with the Huffington Library in the background. 

This pic was taken during the summer of 2015, during Liv's first (bronze butterfly) summer in Culver's Woodcraft Camp. I had signed her out on "permit" on a weekend afternoon to go out to to lunch and hang out a bit. 

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy whatever you have planned for New Year's Eve (we're staying home with a game of Scrabble and sparkling grape juice for Liv and mimosas for the adults). I also hope that 2016 is full of positive experiences for all of you.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Seven Things I Know About Writing

Hi everyone. I know I have let my blog drift away for a few months now. I was off to a pretty good start at the beginning of the year and then, well, you know how the song goes . . . life is what happens when you're busy making other plans (or something like that, but you know what I'm talking about).

Anyway, my friend (and fellow Lake Forest College alumna) Jessica, over at Little Merry Sunshine, tagged me to write about "seven things I know about writing." (By the way, when you get the chance, please go read her blog!)

Well, what better way to get back into blogging than to write about seven things I know about writing, right?!

Here we go. . .

1. Be prepared.

Whether you're writing for work or school or for fun, make sure you get organized and you have everything you need before you sit down and start writing.

If I'm going to sit down and write at the library or a cafe or at a desk/office, I need to make sure I've got my preferred writing implements: a nice notebook (this is what I use) and my favorite pen . . . or sometimes, a laptop and power cord and a table near an outlet.

This may seem obvious, right? Sometimes, in my rush to get to work (especially if I have a good idea I want to get written down right away (!!) before it disappears), I've occasionally forgotten one of these things, and then I spend a few minutes distractedly getting back into the writing mood because I've had to make due with something else (like a pencil and the back of an envelope). 

2. Make yourself comfortable.

The way I make myself comfortable is by making sure I have my beverage of choice (and maybe a snack) within reach. Oftentimes, I'll have a reusable water bottle filled with ice cold water (it's gotta be super cold) and also an iced coffee (usually during the day, because I need the caffeine).  In the evening, I might have an ice cold bottle of beer (but that depends on whether I'm writing for school or for fun). For a snack? I always seem to gravitate towards Chex Mix. It helps me concentrate. Liv calls it "brain food" - that snack, whatever it may be, that helps one concentrate. Seems like I really like need Chex Mix if I'm writing something scholarly.

Also, if you know the room you're going to be writing in will be either chilly or warm, make sure you're dressed appropriately. There's a room in the University of Iowa library that I liked studying in, but it always seemed overheated, so I always made sure I wore a short-sleeved shirt (underneath a sweatshirt I could take off) if I knew I'd be in there.

Make sure you've used the restroom ahead of time, adjusted your chair just the way you like it, have your music (on your smart phone, iPod, computer, CD player . . . ) and earphones (if you're in a public area) . . . or no music at all (whatever you feel like), and get everything situated just so. Get all these possible distractions taken care of before they become distracting, so you're not interrupting yourself later.

Seems like getting all these things just right will turn into "chair glue" and keep you writing for a good length of time. I know it helps me remain in my chair (hence, "chair glue") for a while.

3. Want to be a better writer? Read. Read a little more. And then read some more.

By the way, Jessica also mentions point this in her blog post. (If you haven't already, go read her post after you finish reading my post.)

Read a variety of things: fiction (mystery, suspense, drama. . . ), non-fiction (biographies/autobiographies. . .), historical fiction, newspapers, blogs, National Geographic . . .whatever seems interesting. Try reading stuff that you may not find so interesting.

Why? Among many other things, reading helps get your little gray cells going. It helps you figure out what you like about written works, what you don't like. It can improve your vocabulary, help you learn things, and well written stories can take you on awesome adventures.

And, besides, if you're going to write accurate non-fiction (or believable fiction, for that matter), you're going to end up doing research, which is going to require reading. 

4. Be true to your own voice.

I love reading mysteries. Suspense, thrillers, action, whodunnits - these are what usually draw my attention. Sure, I enjoy reading other genres, but the "What could possibly happen next?!" types of books are the ones I really enjoy. Of course, I have certain favorite authors in these genres. And if one of my (living) favorites comes out with a new book, I'm right there at the bookstore or library waiting to dive in.

However, don't try to compare your own writing to your favorite author's writing, or you'll just get frustrated. Well, *I* get frustrated, when I catch myself comparing my writing to, say, Tony Hillerman's or Nelson Demille's. My writing could never compare to any of my favorite authors' differing styles. (If you were wondering, some of my very favorites include Tony Hillerman, Robert B. Parker, Nelson DeMille, Sara Paretsky, Sherman Alexie. . . . )

Find what's beckoning you to write and go with the flow.

I had a professor in a graduate literature/writing class that I am very good at creative non-fiction. It seems to come naturally to me, so that's what I've been working on lately. 


5. Writer's block happens and 6. Take a break.

These two go together (for me, anyway). I take writer's block as a signal that it's time to take a not-too-long break. Take a walk. Swim some laps. Take a kick-boxing or spinning or yoga class. Tai Chi. Whatever.

I've found that just getting up and moving around helps me get my little gray cells back on track.

I like trying a different art form (because, really, writing is its own art form). I usually like photography, even if it's "just" Instagram. Practicing another art form usually helps dislodge my writer's block. Even going to a museum and looking at art helps.

(And sometimes, just getting up and staring out the window for a little bit helps.) 

Then I can come back from my break with some good ideas.

Another thing about taking a break: when I finish writing a piece, I always like taking a break, usually no more than 24-36 hours, before going back and doing a final proofreading. I like completely stepping away and letting my brain not think about the piece at all. That way, when I go back to proofread, I'm looking at it with fresh eyes.

7. Enjoy the journey.

It should be fun (mostly). Once I get an idea and I'm in "the zone," I can lose myself in writing and not realize a couple hours have gone by (if I'm on a roll, and haven't run out of Chex Mix).

For me, finishing a piece is very satisfying. 


By the way, if you ever catch me writing, or, more accurately, staring out the window, I might be daydreaming about White Sands National Monument.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Gourmet Pizza, Take 2!

On Monday, February 2nd, I shared our "homemade foodie adventure" we had here at home with some gourmet pizza.

I had based my own pizza creation on two recipes I'd found for fig and prosciutto pizza, because it sounded really good - just the right balance of sweet, salty, savory, tart.

Well, since I'd been way too heavy-handed with the fig preserves and way too light with the prosciutto and sauteed shallots on the first attempt, I decided to try again. I mean, I knew with the first attempt that this creation had awesome potential. I just had to tweak my recipe a bit.

In addition to using a LOT LESS fig preserves, I made a couple other changes:  The first time I tried this recipe, I'd used two fairly small shallots. This time, the two shallots I'd picked were much bigger. Also, the first time, I'd used the pizza dough marked "thin crust." This time, I used the regular/non-thin crust dough. And instead of baking the pizza on a sheet of foil on top of a baking stone, I used a 12" cast iron skillet.

So, this past Sunday (Feb 15th), I tried again.

Ingredients:
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
Pizza dough (you can make your own. I used the dough that comes in a tube in the grocery's refrigerated section.)
Fig preserves (just enough to lightly cover the dough, leaving a bit of room at the edge for the "crust")
Prosciutto
Ricotta Salata cheese (which is crumbly, kinda like feta)


The instructions:
First, I preheated the oven to 500°F and took the pizza dough out of the can and set it aside. I wanted the dough to get somewhat close to room temperature so it would be easier to handle.

Then I thinly sliced the shallots and sauteed them in 2 tablespoons' worth of olive oil (plus an added few drops partway though sauteing).

Once they became soft, I added two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (and then a small splash for good measure), sauteing them a little bit longer, until they seemed glazed. They took on a sort of plum color due to the balsamic vinegar.

I then set the shallot mixture aside and let it cool.

At this point, I took my 12" cast iron skillet and worked the dough into a circle rough imitation of a circle. It ended up not filling the bottom of the 12" skillet completely, but I didn't mind that.

Then I added the thinnest layer of fig preserves onto the dough, leaving about an inch around the outer edge, for the crust. It was such a thin layer, you could barely tell it was there, aside from the bit of gloss the preserves left on the dough, and the occasional bit of fig.

Next came the prosciutto. I hadn't torn/cut it into smaller bits. I just layered the prosciutto as it came out of the package.

On top of the prosciutto, I sprinkled the cheese and  the sauteed balsamic shallot mixture, sort of haphazardly, as I was going for an "artistic, foodie" look.

Into the oven it went. I set the timer for 10 minutes, and checked on it through the oven window on occasion.

After 10 minutes, it looked like it needed to bake a little more. All in all, it spent about 14 minutes in the oven. I think I should have taken it out at about 13 minutes, as the bottom of the crust was just on the verge of burning, getting black around the edge of the "circle."

Here's how it turned out: 

(Note: my large cutting board is lime green. The color made the pizza look really weird and alien-like, and really, really bad. So I used the B&W option on PicMonkey to make the cutting board a light gray (as best I could), so the pizza would look at least sort of good.)

Okay, so this pic (taken on Andrew's smart phone) really doesn't do the pizza justice.

But let me tell you, it tasted AWESOME!! Yum! It was so good!! I can't wait to make it again.

It made two good sized pieces each for two adults. 

Liv refused to taste it again. And Andrew? Well, he ate one piece, and picked the prosciutto of his second piece, leaving his second piece all picked-over. Which was too bad, because if he hadn't, I would've saved it for my lunch the next day.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

It's Almost Time!

In eastern Iowa, Girl Scouts can start selling Girl Scout cookies on February 13th (including taking orders). We are ready!

As you can see, my trunk is loaded with cases of Girl Scout cookies - 22 cases (meaning 264 packages!) of cookies, to be exact!

That's a lot of cookies.

So on Feb 13 (and not a moment sooner!!), Liv can start taking orders and getting cookies to her customers.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Bejeweled

I like Mother Nature's winter fashions (so long as the roads are clear). The sunshine and blue skies help.



This is a tree outside my bedroom window (on the eastern side of my house). It had a lot of snow blown onto its limbs during the blizzard we had last weekend - a bit of snow continued to stick to the branches, even a couple days later.

However, add a sunny, seemingly "warm" winter day, and some of the snow starts melting.

But then, when the temps dip to around zero, all that melting snow turns icy.

Then we get a lovely "glittery" tree.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Not the Usual Pizza This Time

Saturdays are usually pretty busy for us. I usually chauffeur Liv around to various extracurricular activities. We're usually out of the house by 9 AM and don't get home til around 3 PM. Then we have about an hour to hang out before we leave for our weekend church service from 4:30-5:30 PM.

Oftentimes, Liv will ask if we can just order a pizza on Saturday evening. Since a couple of the local (chain) pizza places deliver (and I don't have to cook or clean up), she typically doesn't get an argument from me, after having driven what seems to have been 200 miles back and forth, back and forth. . .

This past Saturday, though, I had a better idea. I was going to try making a "gourmet" pizza at home, just for something different. Earlier in the week, I'd gotten the ingredients for this pizza I'd been wanting to try. I have been meaning to try it for months, now, and last week, I finally found the last remaining ingredient at a new specialty store/food co-op that opened up in December 2014.

Yes, I know. What kind of pizza is it?! Fig (or fig preserve) and prosciutto pizza.

I'd seen a catalog for fancy chef tools, and inside, it had the most scrumptious-looking pizza among all their beautiful chef/cook tools. It was a fig and prosciutto pizza. Andrew and I had tried prosciutto on other pizzas in the past. A few times, we'd had prosciutto added on a pizza we'd ordered at one of our favorite pizza places in the Boston area, as well as adding onto pizzas we made at home, using one of those pre-made pizza crusts, that you get in a package in the "Italian" section of the grocery store.

But this time, I was going to make a completely different kind of pizza - no tomato-based pizza sauce, no shredded mozzarella, no pepperoni, no pre-made pizza crust out of a package. It was going to be this "gourmet" pizza I'd seen in the catalog.

Well, I did kind of get "help" on the crust. Instead of using the pre-made one, I got a "can" of raw pizza dough from the grocery store's refrigerator section.

I was going to see if I could buy a couple balls of raw pizza dough from our favorite local pizza parlor (not one of the chains that you'd find anywhere, from LA to NYC to Miami). This is a local place and they don't even deliver. There are only two of these pizza parlors and one is just about a 5 minute drive from our house (the other is about 15 minutes away from us). But I ended up not getting the chance to do so. So the "can" of dough would have to do, as I have little (no) experience making doughs from scratch.

I ended making my own recipe based on two fig and prosciutto recipes I found online (one being that one I'd originally seen in that catalog).

Here are a couple of the big changes I'd made off the bat: instead of using either a red or yellow onion, I used a couple shallots. And while I could've used fig slices (fresh, not dried), I opted to go with just the fig preserves for now (that last ingredient I'd found last week).

First, I preheated the oven to 500°F. I have a pizza stone, which I put in the oven before preheating.


Ingredients (the ones I used):
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
Pizza dough (you can make your own. I used the stuff in a can, for "thin crust")
Fig preserves
Prosciutto (to taste)
Ricotta Salata cheese (crumbly, like feta)

What I did with the ingredients:
I sauteed the shallots in a couple tablespoons' worth of olive oil. Once they became soft, I added a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Then I sauteed that all together until they seemed kind of glazed.

Then I set the shallot mixture aside and let it cool.

In the meantime, I had a baking sheet lined with foil (which was supposed to be parchment, but I realized too late that I was out of parchment). I sprinkled a little flour onto the foil. Then I took the dough out of the can and split it in two. Then, using my hands, I shaped two pizzas out of it (note to self: next time, let it come to room temp, as cold dough is hard to work with).

Then I scooped fig preserves onto each. I hadn't measured, but it was about a few tablespoons on each. It ended up being about the same amount you'd use if you were using pizza sauce instead of fig preserves. (Note to self: This was way too much.)

Then I took the prosciutto and coarsely tore it into smaller pieces before putting it onto the pizzas.

Then I sprinkled on the cheese. I sprinkled on an amount that seemed just right - not too much, not too little.

Here's where I added the shallot mixture, half on one pizza and half on the other.

I baked the pizzas at 500 for about 8-9 minutes.

 Here's what they looked like.

Liv tried a piece, picked at another, and gave her "Yuck!" face. Needless to say, she was not pleased. She said she never wants it again.

Andrew and I both agreed that I was a little too heavy-handed with the fig preserves. The pizzas were way, too sweet. He said he'd like it again, and I definitely would like it again - so long as I'm sparing with the fig preserves. We realized that the flavors would be very good together - the sweetness of (just a little fig preserves) with the saltiness of the prosciutto, and the tangy/sweet flavor of the shallot and balsamic vinegar mixture.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Let it Snow!

Well, the Midwest is getting snow (and winds, lots of high winds!) again this weekend. It started raining here yesterday afternoon and into the evening. By around 7 PM, it had started changing over to snow as the temperature dropped. And it has been snowing ever since, even still, at 3:30 PM. I think new snow is still falling but it's sometimes hard to tell with the heavy winds blowing and causing lots of drifts.

There has been heavy snowfall around my neighborhood. A couple cars have already gotten stuck on our street before snow plows started clearing our neighborhood roads.

In the meantime, Liv and Jock have been enjoying the snow (but not for too long because the wind chill's right around zero).

Jock really seems to enjoy playing in the snow. Here are plenty of Pembroke-Welsh-Corgi-in-the-snow pics, most are kinda blurry because he was having so much fun zipping around quickly.

Bookin' it through the snow!

Over the drift

Peek a boo, Jock!

Running along the fence line

I included this pic, even though Jock's a blur, because of how quickly he ran to me and turned around for another lap in the snow!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Oh, Deer! A Weekend Surprise

So, we've been hanging out at home, today and totally enjoying some unexpected sunshine through our southward-facing living room window.

Jock had been lounging quietly, too, but had suddenly started whining and acting restless. Not unusual - maybe the Dachshunds next door were outside. Or maybe the wind was blowing just so. Who knows. 

All of a sudden, Livie shouts, "Hey, look! Deer! Deer! Look! Daddy! Mommy! Look out the window!"

When I looked out the window, I saw what she was so excited about. Three deer were just on the other side of our backyard fence, right here in suburbia!

The view of two of them, through our very dirty window!

At this point, Jock was barking and whining and getting at the sliding door that leads to our deck. He really wanted to get out there and chase them. It was at this point that they had gotten startled and started heading toward the elementary school's field right across the street. And it was at this point that I realized there were four deer (not three) out there. 

That was unexpected!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Royalty and Popular Songs

Liv and I have been keeping busy this month with all sorts of activities, from school/homework to Girl Scouts, swimming (at our local Y's indoor pool), riding, and Pony Club.

Liv and I are quite proud of her improvement this past weekend at her riding lesson. She's been working on learning how to post the trot, and yesterday while riding Prince, she was really getting the hang of it! (Posting is, in the simplest of terms, rising and lowering yourself to the beat of the trot - a horse's two-beat gait - up on one beat, down on the next beat, up on the next. . . .) Once you get the hang of it, it oftentimes seems easier than sitting the trot. This is very exciting, as it shows great improvement. Plus, she'll be able to get tested for her first U.S. Pony Club rating (D-1) within the next couple months!

Pony Club is a great organization that teaches kids proper horsemanship/maintaining horses' well-being/learning to ride in a safe, smart manner. D-1 is the beginning level. Each level is standardized and has certain expectations that they must meet or exceed in order to be rated at a certain level, and they build on the knowledge these young horsemen/women learned in the previous levels.

Here she is, mid-lesson giving Prince and herself a breather after having maintained a posting trot for a few minutes. This is the first time she has been able to use a couple gifts from "Santa" -  her new "children's length" (shorter) stirrup leathers (that are still a little long so we had to roll 'em, anyway) and safety stirrup irons, which have a thick "rubber band" type thing on the outside that will release if she were to fall off, preventing her foot from being stuck in the stirrup; if her foot were to get stuck in the stirrup during a fall, it's dangerous, as she could get dragged around.

Prince, by the way, has been enjoying the weather. It's been in the mid-40s F here in eastern Iowa during the day these past few days.

Needless to say, the paddock where Prince is kept has a muddy spot or two. And he thoroughly enjoyed rolling in a "nice" gloppy spot not too long before we arrived for Liv's lesson. When we got there, his neck and head were COVERED in mud. Her instructor had said he had been perfectly clean not two hours earlier!

So Liv and another young girl at the stables worked on getting the mud curried off of him (at least his midsection and rear end were covered by his blanket, and were relatively clean). If you click on the pic, you can see that he still has some remaining dried mud on his mane (neither girl was quite tall enough to get that part thoroughly cleaned).


Another fun thing she's done this month is art. She had received a gift card from "Santa" from the local art studio, The Dreaming Bear, where she loves doing artwork. A couple weekends ago, she made a fantastic piece of art (a winking fox). She based her paint scheme on a song that's been popular somewhat recently:
To tell you the truth, I'm still not sure what he says.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Just Remembering

Today is my grandmother's birthday. She would've been 90 years old today.

So, in her honor, I'm posting a few of my favorite pics of her and the Southwest.

In no particular order:
The street where she and my grandfather used to live. I took this pic when we were there for her funeral.
 
Near her house - these are the Franklin Mountains, which she saw daily.

Liv, near a yucca plant at White Sands National Monument.

A dune at White Sands National Monument. My first visit to White Sands was with my grandparents, when I was very little.

Oma's birthday, 2011.

Me, my mom, and Oma, right around my college graduation, May 1993.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Jock's Snowy Morning

Alright, so many of you are probably aware that the Midwest got hit by a snowstorm yesterday and  it lasted through the overnight hours. We ended up getting approximately 6.2" in my neighborhood.

Plus, we're going back into the deep freeze this week. When I headed out with Liv to take her to school this morning (after a 2 hour delayed start), the temp was -5°F with a wind chill of around -19°F. Let me tell you, she was bundled up. Long underwear, clothes, snow pants, snow boots, neck gaiter, winter coat, mittens, hat. She said her snow gear is SO WARM (thankfully!!) and the walk to school - 0.26 one way/door-to-door (we're literally right across the street) - is short.

We're supposed to be above 0°F for a high temp (though in the single digits, around 8°F). Tonight, though, it's supposed to be -11°F; who knows how cold the wind chill will get. Tomorrow? A high of -5°F and tomorrow's low expected to drop to -18°F. No wonder we've got a wind chill warning, huh?!

It really could be worse, though! Liv and I are reading The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In this book, Laura describes blizzard after blizzard the Ingalls family endures in their house in the Dakota Territory during the winter of 1880-1881. She often mentions the bitter cold they were enduring this particular winter, and how, when she was in bed, she would look up at the ceiling and see how frost coated the ceiling board nails thickly in white. (They could also see their breath upstairs in their bedroom!!) 

And at one point, she mentions that, when Pa went down the street one day (they lived in town at this point) to find out the news from other townsfolk, he'd mentioned, upon his return home, that it was around 40° below!! 

A high of 8°F doesn't seem so bad, especially when the sun is making a weak (but hopefully not brief) appearance.

Anyway, I did entitle this post "Jock's Snowy Day." Yes, my original intent was to share a few pictures of Jock's enjoyment of the snowy back yard. He was born in August 2014, so last year was obviously his first winter. He LOVED it. He loved rolling in the snow, running around in the snow, eating, it, sticking his snout into snow drifts and rooting around . . . I was hoping that this winter, he'd be just as enamored of the white stuff as he was last year. 

Yep. He sure is. 

 

These were taken this morning, during Liv's two hour delay. She watched a bit from the window while I went out to take a few pics of Jock. I didn't get any of him while he was rooting around (SO FUNNY!) because he'd hear my camera's buzz while I focused on him, and he'd immediately whip his head around and look at me. But you can see the snowy effect of his rooting!

We didn't stay out long because of the wind chills, and the fact that his veterinary hospital posted about only taking dogs out for elimination purposes only while we're in this deep freeze. But I figured a few minutes here and there would be okay.

And then Liv had to go to school. I usually take her to the corner, and then the crossing guard takes over, but since we were a few minutes early, the crossing guard wasn't there, yet. So I walked her across the street onto school property, and she trotted off from there. 

When I got back into the house, I found Jock. Since both Liv and Andrew had two weeks off (one from school and the other from work, obviously), he grew accustomed to having all three of us around. But Andrew left for work after snow blowing the driveway and sidewalks, and then Liv was off. So he found his spot at the window by the front door (with his chew toy and the towel I use to dry him off after coming in from the snow) and began pining away for his two missing humans. 

Poor Jock. Hopefully he'll get used to the regular routine soon. (He's no longer at the window, but under my desk right now as I type.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Year in Books 2014

Knock, knock, knock . . . Hello? Any readers around?

Yes, I know it's been a long, LOOONG time since I've posted. I think my inspiration to write disappeared when a creative nonfiction piece I wrote for a writing competition in mid May didn't get past the contest's initial round.

Well, I think that was the last straw, actually. Inspiration had been slowly seeping out of me, as I haven't needed a creative writing outlet (namely, this blog) to balance out the (currently on hold) academic writing for grad school. I also think that I was meeting my creativity needs through a visual outlet by posting on Instagram, instead of being verbally creative here at Under the Desert Sky.

But I've realized something,  I miss my blog! So I'm making a New Year's resolution to get back into posting something on a "regular" basis - if not daily or weekly, at least monthly. How does that sound?

Plus, I didn't want 2014 to fizzle away without any posts since May 2014!

And in previous years, I really enjoyed the "Year in Books" meme that Lisa over at Two Bears Farm got me hooked on, starting with the book list for 2010.

Basically, you want to answer the prompts with book titles you've read in 2014. 

So here's my year in books, 2014 style (some are repeats I'd originally read in previous years, but had wanted to revisit. Most are first-time reads.)  . . .


1.  Describe yourself: Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
 
2.  How do you feel?  Damned if You Do (Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone) by Michael Brandman
 
3.  Describe where you currently live.  The Round House by Louise Erdrich
 
4.  If you could go anywhere, where would you go?  A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller by Frances Mayes
 
5.  Your favorite form of transportation?  Ghost Ship by Clive Cussler
 
6.  Your best friend is: The Replacement Child: A Mystery by Christine Barber
 
7.  You and your friends are: High Profile by Robert B. Parker
 
8.  What's the weather like?  Stone Cold by C.J. Box
 
9.  What is life to you?  Mirage by Clive Cussler
 
10.  Favorite time of day?  Night and Day by Robert B. Parker
 
11.  Your Fear?  Death Without Company  by Craig Johnson
 
12.  What is the best advice you have to give? For Immediate Assistance, Pray the Memorare by JCD Rev. Francis J. Hoffman
 
13.  Thought for the day?  Hold the Dark, by William Giraldi
 
14.  How I would like to die: By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
 
15.  My soul's present condition:  Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson
 
16. My family is: On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I hope you enjoy the list. Please visit "The Happily Ever After" blog (written by Christine) for this meme's prompt, My Life According to the Books I Read in 2014


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Living with Laura

Hi everyone! I've been a completely uninspired writer lately. And uninspired writers rarely get words on paper.

But I have a fun activity I wanted to share. Last weekend, Liv and I attended a Girl Scout "Living with Laura Ingalls Wilder" day at a local outdoor "museum" called Ushers Ferry Historic Village, which is a replica of a small town at the turn of the 20th Century. They do various activities depicting life in a small Iowa town during the 1890-1910 years.

Anyway, as a Girl Scout Brownie, Livie had the opportunity to earn a "Laura Ingalls Wilder" patch. In addition to reading at least two of the books in the Little House series, written, obviously, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, she had some other activities she had to do to earn the patch. This "Living with Laura Ingalls Wilder" day fulfilled all the patch requirements (aside from the reading). Since we are already on book 5 of the series (By the Shores of Silver Lake), she was able to earn the patch by the end of the day.

We started the morning by checking in at the village church at 9:15.This pic is just inside the entrance. I liked the lovely stained glass (which isn't showing up very well due to the sunlight coming in from outside). I was going to get a pic of her outside the church, too, but at the time, other people were arriving and mingling outside; I was going to get a pic later, but I ended up forgetting.


Once the program started, we got to hear a Laura expert in period costume (a fan and re-creator who has done a lot of studying up on Laura's life) tell us about Laura and her family's life. She highlighted different stand-out stories from each book.

One story that Liv and I loved was from Little House in the Big Woods, when Pa was gone for a few days (hunting or trapping, I think?). One evening, Ma had Mary stay in the house with little Carrie. Ma and Laura went out to the barn to check on the cow before going to bed (maybe they were going to get some milk, too, but I don't remember that detail).

Well, it was dark out, and upon arriving at the barn, Ma had Laura help by holding the lantern. They had noticed that the cow was out in the pen, instead of in the barn. Well, they couldn't figure out why the cow was out, because Ma was sure they'd closed the barn door when putting the cow in from the field earlier. (Now remember, it's dark out.) So in order to get the cow to walk forward so they could get her into the barn, Ma smacked the cow on the rear end.

But at that moment, Ma realized that the dark shadow she saw standing in front of the barn wasn't the cow. It was a bear! Very firmly and very calmly, Ma told Laura to back away quietly and calmly. She said that when she gave the word, Laura was to run as fast as she could to the house.

They both hurried back to the house and got there safely! (The cow, by the way, remained safe inside the barn because it had been so sturdily built.)

One of the things I learned was that Charles "Pa" Ingalls' fiddle still exists! We even got to hear a CD of a musician playing period music with Pa's ACTUAL fiddle!

Now, Pa's fiddle is very important. One of Laura's reasons for writing the books was to remember and share the joy Pa's music brought to the family and community. She wanted to remember those days and pass along what her favorite songs were. Liv and I enjoy getting to the parts in the book where Pa plays his fiddle. Laura's stories were a big reason why Liv chose to learn how to play the violin! So to find out that Pa's fiddle still exists in a museum . . . well, we were excited about that.

Apparently it is brought out once a year during a festival celebrating Laura's family. It is played by a musician in a folk-music band, playing music from Laura's time period. I believe the museum is in the Missouri Ozarks. Click here for more info.

Oh, another thing that I learned was about Almanzo Wilder. Apparently, someone in his family took part in the Crusades. This family member was in a predicament and was saved by someone known as "El Mansoor." The family was so grateful, that they wanted to pay their respects to this person, so Almanzo's parents chose the name "Almanzo." But in real life, it wasn't pronounced like it was in the TV series. The "man" in Almanzo rhymes with "hand" (or "ran" or "pan"). I never knew that. (Apparently, Dean Butler, who played Almanzo in the TV series knows this and pronounces it the way the real family pronounced it.)

Oh, and in real life, Laura actually called Almanzo "Manly" as a nickname! But his nickname for Laura wasn't "Beth" like it was in the show, it was "Bessie," (still based on her middle name, Elizabeth).

After learning a bit about Laura's family, we went to different parts of the town to learn about life in Laura's day.

Walking through town.


Learning games Laura and her sisters used to play:




Making a serious face at the doctor's place


Making biscuits using a recipe from the day. The helper actually baked them in a wood-burning oven!


Learning how to sew! (Mary Ingalls made her first basic quilt when she was about 5 years old!)


In front of the school, next to the bell (it was actually pretty loud! We could hear it across the "town"!)


In school, writing on slate tablets with chalk!

They also got to make little dolls out of remnants or scrap pieces of fabric. (I hadn't gotten a good pic of them while they made those.)

There was SO much information that we learned about the real Laura. It would take a lot of reading if I were to have shared all the info with you. But I hope the info that I shared was interesting, anyway. I hope all you Little House fans out there enjoyed "tagging along" with Liv and me on our "Living with Laura" day!

P.S. Here's a pic of a quilt a fan made, showcasing the Ingalls girls (and their first and middle names). Cool, huh?!
 
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