Tuesday, March 6, 2018

What is Mother Nature Thinking?

We've been having "typical" Iowa weather lately. It's March 6th, and we've already had sunny, warm weather (in the 50s), gusty winds, heavy rain, chilly weather . . . you name it.

Last year on this day, we had a tornado watch, which turned into a warning, complete with sirens going off, and us heading to our "tornado corner" downstairs.

This year? Well, yesterday as I was on the road from Des Moines to Cedar Rapids, I drove through torrential rains on I-80, and drove into freezing rain as I entered the Cedar Rapids area. Then it turned into snow. And today, we've been having gentle "snow globe" snow.

The trees, however, are still coated in ice from yesterday's freezing rain.

I had my daughter take a pic of some of the trees we see on our drive to school.

They look cool and they seem to have a "Sleepy Hollow" vibe, in my opinion, with the dark, wet trunks. (By the way, I enjoy the Johnny Depp "Sleepy Hollow" version from 1999).

Currently, I think it's about 30°F right now, with the wind chill in the 20s.

A couple more Instagram pics: one from yesterday during the freezing rain, and the other from this morning during the snow. . .

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pediatric Visits

As I've mentioned before, Jock and I are a therapy dog team. I took him to obedience classes, then he and I passed his AKC Canine Good Citizen test, and then I went through Pet Partners so he and I could be registered as a Therapy Animal Team. We go to a local assisted living/hospice center on a weekly basis to visit with elderly hospice patients. We also go to the University of Iowa College of Law during mid-terms and finals, to provide stress relief to the students (and those faculty and staff members needing some stress relief).

However, I have always wanted to take Jock to visit pediatric patients in the hospital. Since I haven't been able to get to get through to the volunteer program coordinators at the local hospitals, I decided to check out whether I could volunteer at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital.

Well, I found out that they do take therapy animal teams as volunteers! They have a program called "Furry Friends" where they allow Pet Partners therapy animal teams to visit the kids in the hospital (and they also allow families with dogs to bring their family pets in for visits).

So yesterday, Jock and I went for an initial interview at the University of Iowa Hospital with the team who coordinates the Furry Friends program.

And it went well! Jock was calm and charming. The interviewer and her two assistants loved Jock. They asked me about my experiences with volunteering as a therapy animal team and where else Jock and I have volunteered. They asked how he does with kids of various ages, and other questions of that nature. It definitely felt like a positive experience.

Jock did have a funny reaction in the elevator (his 3rd time ever in an elevator), though - when it started moving and it felt like the floor was dropping out, he splayed out his legs and put his belly to the floor. But he remained calm.

So now our next step is for me to go to a general volunteer orientation (without Jock) to fill out paperwork and get some training specific to this hospital (rules and regulations, and that kind of stuff). Then I'll get a University Hospital volunteer ID, do a shadow visit with a more experienced therapy animal team, and then we'll be assigned a certain area within the children's hospital! Oh, and I need to have Jock's vet fill out the University's vet form, to ensure Jock is healthy.

Oh, it was a good thing is that I left really early, yesterday. I wanted to make sure I got there in time, due to possible winter road conditions. Also, I wanted to be sure I got there in time to find parking (they have multiple parking garages), and find my way to where I was supposed to be in time. The only problem was that the parking garage was mucky from winter road grime, and the outdoor walkway was super cold - Jock started limping as we made our way though the slushy parking garage and slushy outdoor walkways. His feet must have been icy cold. Good thing I had brought a towel, so I could wipe his cold paws off as soon as we got in. He was back to normal once I wiped off the cold slush off his cold feet.

Jock was pooped out by the time we got home. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

My Year in Books 2017

Hi everyone! A few years ago, I started doing the “My Year in Books” at the end of the year, because I saw it on a friend’s blog. Go check out Lisa’s blog (where I first saw “My Year in Books”); her blog is called Two Bears Farm. The first time I had done “My Year in Books" was because she had done it on her blog. I believe she had done it because she'd found it on someone else’s blog. But I don’t think that blog is up and running anymore, since I can no longer find it. 

Ever since I first participated in the year-end “My Year in Books” theme, I’ve made it a habit to wrap up my year in books on or around December 31st.

The idea is that you take the following prompts and "answer" each one with the title of a book you read during the year. 

So here is "My Year in Books, 2017 Edition"!

Describe yourself: 
Song of the Lion, by Anne Hillerman

How do you feel: 
(Robert B. Parker's) Debt to Pay, by Reed Farrel Coleman

Describe where you currently live: 
The House of Secrets, by Brad Meltzer

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: 
Odessa Sea, by Clive Cussler

Your favorite form of transportation: 
The Western Star, by Craig Johnson

Your best friend is: 
Deal Breaker, by Harlan Coben

You and your friends are: 
MatchUp, by Lee Child (Editor)

What's the weather like: 
Vicious Circle, by C.J. Box

Favorite time of day: 
Nighthawk, by Clive Cussler

What is life to you: 
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

Your fear: 
Typhoon Fury, by Clive Cussler

What is the best advice you have to give: 
Cross the Line, by James Patterson

Thought for the day: 
The Cuban Affair, by Nelson DeMille

How I would like to die: 
(Robert B. Parker's) The Hangman's Sonnet, by Reed Farrel Coleman 

My soul's present condition: 
Fallout, by Sara Paretsky

So there you have it! What were some memorable books you read in 2017? 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Last Time for the "Actual Santa" duties?

My child is 11. We haven't discussed Santa at all. I just go on as though I think she still believes in him. She doesn't deny she doesn't still believe. She just doesn't admit he's "not real." It's some sort of unspoken gray area, like "knowledge" of his "actual existence" is just fading away with time.

Seems like I'm the only one showing excitement tonight, Christmas Eve, about filling the treasured Christmas plates and glass one more time, the Christmas plates and glass we got when she was nearly one.

The Santa plate is usually loaded with a ton of cookies (I eat some and the rest go to her grandparents on Christmas Day); the reindeer "bowl"? Usually either baby carrots or uncooked oats (which go back where they came from once she's asleep). And then the glass is full of icy cold milk (yes, I drink most of it when I eat a couple cookies.)

She is getting ready for bed at the moment, the Christmas dishes still unfilled. After dinner,  I was the one who mentioned we'd get them prepared just before she went to bed. She didn't even react. (Maybe I'm just excited about it because the cookies and milk are my dessert....maybe this is her unspoken answer that she doesn't believe in Santa anymore?)

As soon as she's ready for bed, I'll tell her to get the Christmas dishes ready for Santa. I'm going to go through this charade one more time. I'll probably do it again next year on this day, if she doesn't object. Maybe she'll let me pretend one more time.

In the morning, under the tree, there'll still be gifts from family and gifts "from Santa" in the morning - the gifts from Santa being in her stocking - gift cards for iTunes, the book store, a new memory card for her camera, some treats (chocolate covered espresso beans and candy canes, etc).

In the meantime, Merry Christmas, everyone.

Some of the decorations at our church during Christmas Eve Mass. 

Jock's View

Jock LOVES playing in the snow. And we're finally getting some, though it seems to just be a dusting.

When it's time to come inside, he parks himself in front of the sliding glass door, to survey "his domain."

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas Time 2017

I used to live in the Southwest (El Paso, TX, Tucson, AZ, and Alamogordo, NM). I feel like the Southwest is most like "home" to me, even though I've lived all across the country.

But, since I no longer live there, I enjoy having little touches of the Southwest where we now live (eastern Iowa).

I have some chile* pepper lights, some Southwestern ornaments on the tree, and a Southwestern style ladder I'd gotten in Santa Fe way back in 2006.

*(Note, I didn't say "chili" pepper: "chili" is that stew-like meal with meat, sometimes beans, and chili powder spices, along with other ingredients. "Chile" is what you call the actual "chile peppers," such as jalapeƱo, Serrano, Hatch, habanero, etc.)

Anyway, I always like the glow of the chile pepper lights that I wrapped around my Santa Fe ladder.

I'm sitting in the kitchen with Jock and a cup of coffee, enjoying the Christmas lights and the Christmas tree, before the rest of the family gets up.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Thinking of Summer 2018 Already

While I certainly don't mind cool (or cold) weather,  I LOVE autumn, by the way, I love the first snowfall (or any light, fluffy snow), and the beauty surrounding the holidays. . . I have to admit I've been planning our Summer 2018 activities already.

By the way, here's my view as I look out my bedroom window (currently 30°F with a 25°F wind chill):

See, my daughter attends Culver Summer Schools and Camps - more specifically, she attends Culver Woodcraft Camp. She has attended for the past few summers, and LOVES it. She has a couple more summers before graduating and becoming an alumna of Culver Academies.

The application for the following summer usually happens mid-autumn (usually around October) of the current year.

So technically, we've been planning for summer since October. Even though there's no doubt in our minds that she will be accepted (and already has been at this point), we still have to fill out the application (the sooner the better), so the camp's administrative staff can process it and hold a spot for her in her unit. I say "the sooner the better" because as fall turns into winter and then spring, there ends up being a significant waiting list for kids trying to get a spot in camp (they only have so many cabins and beds).

The "Culver Academies" also function as a high school during the school year (of which I'm an alumna), so they are busy year-round. And it's on a beautiful campus, so I find myself daydreaming about being back. The campus is mostly pedestrian, with various parking areas around the edge of the campus, so it's nice being able to walk around (which helps me get my steps in every day, and also it's just good to get out and walk).

A few pics of the beautiful campus:
 The view from the front porch of my daughter's cabin. 

View of Cardinal Creek. 

 Interior view of the Culver Memorial Chapel, from the balcony. 

Exterior view of the Culver Memorial Chapel, from the northeast corner. 

Lake Maxinkuckee and the Culver Ledbetter

So. . . in looking for a few pics to share I got carried away browsing through all the photos on my phone, remembering good times from this past summer. 

My prompt for sitting down and writing this post, though, was an actual detail my husband and I are working on in planning for next summer. We are looking for a dog-friendly rental for us to stay in while we spend some of our time out in Indiana, in Summer 2018. A little earlier this morning, I had gotten an exciting text from our realtor friend who has a fantastic house available for us. We stayed at it before - for the last week of camp in 2016, and we all liked it. Plus, it was in a convenient location in town.  

Unfortunately, it was not available for us at all in 2017. Rentals go FAST in this town in the summer (it's close enough to both Chicago and Indianapolis, and on a beautiful lake, so people go there to spend their summers in a beautiful lake town), so you have to plan well in advance to secure a reasonably priced place. Also, people like getting rentals for the school year (approximately Sept - end of May), if they have children attending the boarding school. 

We are getting a head start, and lining up a rental NOW (or rather, soon after the holidays), so we have a place to spend with our daughter and Therapy Dog Jock. 

The realtor's text got me all excited about heading back next summer! I think I'm as excited as my daughter. She gets fun in the sun with her friends, and I get to go back and walk a beautiful campus, and seeing my daughter have a blast, and catching up with my own friends who are back with their children and/or nieces and nephews, and some who are there in an administrative capacity at the Academies. Plus, there are some good restaurants in the area. 

Anyway, now I have to try to be patient for the summer! 

Anyone have plans of their own for next summer?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Jock's Therapy Updates

Hi all! Thought I'd give an update on the therapy animal visits Jock and I do.

So, we had a few visits in October and November to the University of Iowa College of Law, where Jock provided much needed stress relief for future lawyers in the midst of their fall semester midterms and preparations for finals.

The students often get down on the floor with him. I usually have a towel for him to sit on, but he moves off it, as he sees fit, if he needs to cuddle up with someone.

He really seems to enjoy our visits to the law school. He usually has "repeat visitors" that love getting down on the floor and sitting with him for a few minutes, as time allows between classes. He also seems to have a "Corgi Fan Club" because there are a number of law students who LOVE Corgis. 

We even had a visit one day, when a bunch of students had called over one of their professors (in between classes) to introduce him to Jock. This particular professor actually got down on the floor - flat out on his back! - to get a selfie with Jock. He was excitedly uttering, "OMG, it's a Corgi! We have a Corgi here! I've got to get a pic!" SO FUNNY! 

I was impressed, though.  I guess I think of law professors as being straight-laced, in suits (or other very lawyerly outfits), and being quite stern or serious - not the kind of person in a nice sweater and corduroy pants, who laughs a lot and gets down on the floor with the visiting therapy dog. 

We weren't able to get out there during December, while they have finals. We will be back during the spring semester, though. I'm looking forward to it, because the students and faculty/staff appreciate it so much. They get so excited!

Jock and I also do regular visits, about once a week, to a local assisted living facility. We actually volunteer through a hospice service, who placed us with a few patients at this particular nearby facility. At this point, we're down to one patient assigned to us, with whom we visit once a week. We also stop and say hi to a few staff members who like to greet Jock as we walk down the halls. 

They usually have seasonal decorations both inside and outside the facility. I usually try to get a pic of Jock next to one of their cute decorations, when the seasons change. 

And lastly, Jock and I have an interview of sorts at the University of Iowa (UI) Stead Family Children's Hospital in January. I've been wanting to take him to visit a pediatric ward at the local hospital, but they apparently have a wait list or something at the two local hospitals. And the one has very limited hours in which they allow therapy animal visits (during the evenings when I'm busy taking my daughter to extracurricular activities). 

So I reached out to the UI Children's Hospital, to see if Jock and I can start volunteering there. They actually have a therapy animal program called "Furry Friends," where they have therapy animal volunteers come in on a regular basis to visit with the kids in the hospital. 

There is a detailed process to become a therapy animal team with the "Furry Friends" program, including a detailed application, background check, some training, and this interview. 

So, hopefully, we'll be able to start volunteering to cheer up the children at the hospital early in the new year! Keep your fingers crossed that it doesn't take too long before Jock starts brightening these kids' days. 

Okay, that's it for now. Hopefully, I can do these therapy visit updates a little more regularly, and they won't all be this long. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

It's That Time of Year

Hi, Santa! I want some squeaky toys, and more tennis balls, and treats, and time to run around, and . . .

Will you play with me?!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A "Welcome Back" is in Order

Hi all: I know, I know! It's been MONTHS since I've last posted.

Gotta explain: my desktop computer died earlier this year, and it was my only computer. Didn't have a working laptop or tablet, either. Just the smart phone. And it's a pain in the you-know-what trying to do blog posts on a tiny screen typing with just my thumbs. So I "gave up" posting while I was temporarily computer-free.

I mean, I can use the public library's computers, but when I'm at the library, I only have limited time to get other, higher-priority things done, saving the blogging for "when I have time at the end" . . .which usually ends up not happening. And when I'm rushing through my limited computer time, the "creativity muses" don't tend to stop by. Hence, no blogging occurred for me at the library.

However, thanks to the recent generosity of my mom, she helped me buy myself a new laptop as a Christmas present from her (and myself).

So, this is a "welcome back" post.

Now, I know the last thing I posted about was about our dog, Jock, being a new Therapy Dog. Well, he's now got a year's experience under his belt! And he's getting really good at it.

As a matter of fact, we were visiting one of our regular hospice patients recently, and the fire alarm went off (it ended up being a false alarm). As I'm sure you know, it's an ear-piercing, uncomfortably loud sound, those fire alarms. Jock was a very good boy, though. He didn't cry, whimper, bark, or freak out in any way, during the fire alarm! He stood next to me quietly, but in an "on alert" stance, ears up.

When the alarm was silenced, one of the hospice employees commented on how calm Jock was during the alarm!

Here's Jock next to the bed of one of our regular patients. 


He and I have also been to the University of Iowa's College of Law a few times, providing law students with stress relief. Now, thats a lot of fun! They get really excited to see him, and so do the faculty members. One law professor even got on the floor and took a selfie with Jock! And we have some "regulars" who are HUGE Corgi fans, who always spend a few minutes with him. 

Bt the way, if you're on FaceBook, you can look for "TherapyDogJock" to find his page, where I post pics of him, and informational tidbits from his veterinarians' office and Pet Partners

I'll be back again, soon, to post something new! It's nice to be back. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jock the Therapy Dog!

Hi everyone! I'm here! I'm here! I haven't gone away forever. I have been busy doing some important community service with handsome Jock, our Pembroke Welsh Corgi. We are now a therapy animal team. Yep, Jock is a therapy dog!

In the autumn of 2016, Jock and I started our special journey. I actually had to start it on my own - I signed up with Pet Partners, a national organization that registers therapy animal teams and provides therapy animal handlers with learning opportunities via classes like "Infection Prevention and Control: Therapy Animal Visitation in Healthcare Settings" or working with specific sets of folks, such as veterans, or patients with dementia or Alzheimer's. 

I first had to take an animal handler course. Since there wasn't an in-person workshop available near me, I had the opportunity to take the online class. The class objective is to teach a (potential) therapy animal volunteer how to work with his or her animal in a variety of settings, as well as teaching the volunteer the basic ground rules of being a therapy animal team. The class also teaches the difference among: therapy animals, service animals, and emotional support animals. (You can read the full explanations here, on Pet Partners' "Terminology" page.)

Basically (to quote Pet Partners' "Terminology" page), therapy animals (like Jock) provide affection and comfort to various members of the public, typically in facility settings such as hospitals, retirement homes, and schools. These pets have a special aptitude for interacting with members of the public and enjoy doing so. Therapy animal owners volunteer their time to visit with their animal in the community.

Service animals (or assistance animals) on the other hand, are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. So a guide dog would fall into this category. These animals are allowed by law to go wherever their humans are allowed (restaurants, airlines, etc).

Emotional support animals, are also known as "comfort animals" and provide emotional or therapeutic support to their individual humans. (They don't have the same rights to go anywhere service animals go.) These animals are often dogs, but can be other animals, as well.

Speaking of other animals, did you know that Pet Partners registers nine species of animals as "therapy animals"?! Not only do they register dogs, they also register rabbits, certain breeds of birds (like parrots), horses, llamas, alpacas, rats, cats, and guinea pigs! Cool, huh?

Anyway, after I took the online class and passed the exam, I had to schedule an in-person evaluation for myself and Jock. We did that on November 20, 2016.

We had to follow the rules for a therapy animal visit (for canines), so within 24 hours of the evaluation, I had to ensure that Jock was bathed. I also had to be sure his nails were trimmed to an appropriate length, and didn't have any sharp spots.

He had to have his collar and leash that he'd be wearing on visits (just a standard nylon collar and leash - no training collars). He'd passed his AKC Canine Good Citizen test a couple years earlier, so this evaluation wasn't really "new" because the evaluation tested for similar things.

The evaluator had us perform various exercises, such as:
  • walking a pattern (to ensure Jock would "heel" appropriately and with good manners and not pull on the leash), 
  • sit (or down) and stay, 
  • not get upset at a sudden loud noise (a heavy (or metal) object was dropped a few feet behind him, and they watched to see his reaction - he could startle, but if he got scared or aggravated, that wouldn't be a positive thing), 
  • walking past a "neutral" dog (a calm one that couldn't care less that another dog was in the room with it), 
  • being brushed and handled by a person unfamiliar to him, 
  • his reaction to meeting someone in a wheelchair or walker . . . 
 and some other things.

Well, we passed! And within a few weeks, after ensuring Pet Partners had Jock's health form filled out by his veterinarian (detailing that he is in good health and is up-to-date on his vaccinations), we had our ID badge that I need to wear on all visits.  Therapy teams, by the way,  need to be re-evaluated every two years to ensure we remain equal to (or exceeding) necessary therapy animal standards.

So, what have we done as a therapy animal team so far? Well, our first therapy dog outing was to the University of Iowa School of Law (in Iowa City, IA) during finals week in December 2016, to provide stress relief for the University's law students. Jock really enjoyed having all these students coming up to him and petting him. And they were so grateful to have a few minutes with a cute dog.

There was one student in particular who was SO THANKFUL we were there. She couldn't stop telling me how much she appreciated having a therapy dog there, even if she could only spend five minutes with Jock. That right there made me so happy I decided to become a therapy dog team with Jock!

We have also started going to an assisted living facility near our home, to visit with a couple residents whose families requested a therapy dog visit. When Jock and I go there, we make sure to visit these two residents, but we also visit with other residents who happen to be in the day room/living room during our visits.

We need to wear special name badges at the assisted living facility. Jock gets his own badge, and his title is "Friendly Visitor." Awwwww! Here is his ID's photo (awwww!):

At the assisted living facility, there are two residents in particular who now seem to recognize us; their faces light up with joy when they see us. It is truly a special thing. The lady gets so happy and is so excited when I take Jock over to her to pet him. The other resident, while he seems to have no interest in petting Jock, seems to get a lot of joy simply by watching other residents (this "senior" lady in particular) fawn over Jock.

I'm hoping in the future (within the next couple months) to start volunteering occasionally at the nearby hospital - hopefully in the pediatric section. And, as a veteran myself, maybe Jock and I can start working with veterans in the future.

Oh, and if you want to learn more about Pet Partners, please check out the Pet Partners website.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Year in Books (for 2016)

Hi everyone! Happy New Year! 

I know my posts have been few (VERY few) and (VERY) far between during 2016. But once again, I’m back with my annual “books for the previous year” post. Lisa from the Two BearsFarm blog originally got me started on this meme a number of years ago. I can’t seem to find the blog that had originally hosted this meme, so I’m posting this as a stand-alone. But please! Feel free to visit Two Bears Farm because she has a lovely blog covering everything from rural living, kids’ adventures, exercise, horses, and more. . . .

I usually like to post my "My Year in Books" on December 31st, so my list is reflecting "the current year's reading," but Andrew was on the computer a lot these past few days. And we had been at my parents' for Christmas. Since I don't have a laptop, I wasn't able to work on this post until now. But here it is, finally - my "My Year in Books" for the year that just ended. . . .

Here’s the deal with this post: using only titles of books that you read during the year that just ended (2016), complete the prompts below. Try not to repeat any book titles.
Describe yourself: 

The Horse Whisperer, Nicholas Evans

(Note: This is a re-read for 2016. I’d originally read it when it had first come out in 1995. So, a 21 year period between the first and second readings! I love the movie, which I re-watch once in a blue moon, and wanted to revisit the book. There are always extra (sometimes minute) details in the book that I sometimes forget about.

How do you feel: 

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

(This is another 2016 re-read. Well, I actually listened to it, to be exact. I was going back and forth between eastern Iowa and Northwestern Indiana a few times during the summer, and had already had the audiobook. I’d first read the book in, oh, probably 2007, after it was already in paperback, and I loved it! And then I’d seen the movie with Dakota Fanning and Queen Latifah, and loved the movie, too. I felt that it was true to the book’s essence and not just “based on” the book. I’d listened to the audiobook in 2015, but listened to it again in 2016. It’s obviously a favorite.)

Describe where you currently live:

The Professor’s House, Willa Cather 

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Off the Grid, CJ Box

Your favorite form of transportation:

The United States Pony Club (USPC) Manual of Horsemanship, Susan E. Harris

Your best friend is:

The Highwayman, Craig Johnson

You and your friends are:

A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Laurie R. King

What's the weather like: 

Havana Storm, Clive Cussler

(Again, a re-read via audiobook. I did a lot of driving during the summer of 2016, so my library’s audiobooks were MUCH appreciated. When driving alone, I especially like listening to stories I’d thoroughly enjoyed having read in the past. Occasionally, I wasn’t able to really pay attention to the audiobook, like during heavy traffic in the Chicago area. So having read the book already (even if it had been a few years ago), I felt like I didn’t miss anything by not having paid attention for a certain section of the audiobook. When driving with my husband, I try to get books that we will both enjoy, but also I like getting books that I maybe haven’t had the chance to read, yet. When I’m the passenger, it’s easier to dedicate my full attention to the audiobook, because when I’m driving, I’m mostly focused on the driving part.)

Favorite time of day:

Night Fall, Nelson DeMille

(Yep. Another re-read via audiobook, checked out of our local library. My husband and I listened to this on our way from Northwest Indiana during our trip there July 22-31, 2016. I’d originally read this when it had first come out in 2004 and knew it would be a book he’d enjoy listening to, during our 8-hour one-way drive.)

What is life to you:
An Obvious Fact, Craig Johnson

Your fear:
The Emperor’s Revenge, Clive Cussler

What is the best advice you have to give:

Age is Just a Number: Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life, Dara Torres

Thought for the day:

Christmas in Absaroka County, Craig Johnson

How I would like to die:
Cross Justice, James Patterson

My soul's present condition:
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King

So there it is. 

And now for a couple resolutions: keeping this blog from drifting away from me, like it has in the past few years! And continuing to read more than I did last year!  

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.

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")
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.
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