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?!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

For HAT on 8 Mar 2014

For the man of many words, I'll leave it brief and let the photos speak for themselves; so here you go, Uncle. 

We miss you, too.

And because you and I both thoroughly enjoyed this movie, here's the trailer for Sherlock Holmes:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Three of My Winter Essentials

The past few days, Liv and I have had an icy walk to and from school. Even though I've salted my driveway and the sidewalk in front of our house, the city has sanded the streets, and the school has salted their walkways, there are still icy spots that are unavoidable.

Especially at the corner where Liv and I (as well as lots of other students) cross. This particular corner's at a somewhat low area where water naturally pools. So when we have weather just warm enough to start melting ice and snow, water pools at this corner. Then it gets below freezing, and that (seemingly giant) pool of water freezes up like an ice skating rink. It makes crossing the street a bit hazardous. We don't want to slip and fall, especially since it's at the corner - I'm always worried that either Liv or I (or another kid) will slip into oncoming traffic.

That got me to thinking about the winter weather gear that I'm glad I have.

Quite a few years ago - it must've been when I was in college and was home visiting at Christmastime - my brother Joe and I were at our local mall. He didn't have a car/ride and wanted to head to the mall to pick up some gifts; I was more than willing to go with him. I liked spending time with my brothers, and if that meant taking one of them to the mall, I was all for it.

Well, we'd walked past one of those kiosks that sells all those toasty warm shearling products. I tried on a pair of mittens and said I loved them and would have to come back another time to get them. (I don't remember why I wasn't going to get them right then.) As we walked along and Joe made a purchase for our youngest brother, Alex, and maybe another purchase for somebody else, he decided he had to go the the men's room.


He came back grinning, and I somehow noticed that he was hiding attempting to hide an extra bag among the other bags he already had. He ended up saying something like, "If you were to get those mittens you liked, you would pick the small ones and not the mediums, right?"



Fast forward to Christmas day.

He'd gotten me those mittens. And I still have them, as evidenced by the photo above. They are SO WARM.

I'd used them a LOT (except for skiing/sledding, because I'd go with mittens that are a bit more water repellant), and they went with me wherever I moved - although when I was stationed in Tucson, AZ, they remained in a box of winter weather gear (like my snow parka and winter boots).

When Andrew and I ended up being stationed in Boston, and I knew I'd need these mittens at some point, I actually couldn't find them! They were lost! So Andrew, upon finding a similar pair at a similar kiosk at our "new" local mall, bought me a new pair.

The original mittens that Joe had gotten me were in that winter weather gear box and it had been temporarily lost on our household goods' journey between Tucson and the Boston area. I was glad the box finally showed up, though unfortunately, another couple boxes were lost for good.

Anyway, these mittens are perfect for those low wind-chill days when I'm walking Livie to and from school!

My other favorite winter gear invention: YakTrax.

These are things you put on your shoes that help you maintain traction as you walk on icy or otherwise slick paths, kinda like tire chains for tires. A few years ago, I'd bought a pair of the "walking" variety. They're thick rubber "webs" with metal coils that go on the bottoms of your shoes. They really help reduce all the sliding around you do on icy surfaces.

That's my very poor, poor quality photo of what they look like. (Yes, it's gunky out there with the sand and the salt and the gunk.) You can see a better pic of one here.

I actually meant to wear these one morning when I ran outside while visiting my parents over the holdiays (treadmills get boring FAST in the wintertime). But I hadn't realized that Andrew had brought them inside; I thought they were in my car. So when I got to the trail head, they weren't there. But I went running anyway, and slipped on a nasty patch of ice, wrenching my right foot and aggravating the just-about-completely healed tendonitis. I took a couple weeks off, and that morphed into a couple more weeks off and. . . well, I need to get back to running. I'm just about out of the habit.

Anyway, my third favorite winter thing?

My peppermint mug. Usually used for coffee, and occasionally for hot chocolate. I use it mostly in the winter, because it seems like it's a wintery themed mug, right?

Anybody else have winter gear you just can't live without?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Liv's First French Baking Lesson

While we were at my parents' for Christmas, Livie got to do a special activity. My mom had had a very special guest staying at her house while we were there. Pedro. Pedro used to work at one of the US Embassies in South America, as well as honing his culinary skills in Paris, of all places. He knows his way around a kitchen like any celebrity chef you'd see on TV these days.

Well, one day, my mom said that Pedro had mentioned to her that he had the perfect activity for Livie. He wanted to teach her how to make an apple tart. He had this French recipe he wanted to teach her; it was one he'd seen young French children her age making all the time, during his stay in Paris. He said it would be a perfect first "from scratch" recipe. And it would be delicious.

So one afternoon, after tending to their "mise en place" (getting all their ingredients ready and kitchen tools set out in their proper places), they got right to work on the recipe.

 Pedro's ensuring she's getting all the pastry ingredients in the bowl.

He's giving instruction on how to mix the pastry ingredients."Use two hands on the mixer."

She is doing it herself!

Adding some final wet ingredients.

Time to add the apples on the pastry dough. Abuelita is "supervising."

Almost done! She's adding golden raisins that had been soaked in . . . something with cloves (I've forgotten exactly what it was).

 It's ready for the oven!

After smelling its heavenly aroma wafting from the oven, it was FINALLY ready.

Liv gets the first piece.

It was DELICIOUS!! Now I just have to email Pedro and ask him to send me the recipe so that Liv can make it again.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I DO Love Those Southwestern Mountains

Okay, I've been meaning to share a couple more photos of the Southwest, namely a few more mountain shots. These pics were taken while we were in El Paso and Alamogordo in November 2013.

Now, keep in mind, I took the pics while we were driving, so they aren't high quality shots. But they are still visual memories for me . . . until the next time I make it back "home," whenever that may be.

 My grandparents used to live not too far from the base of this mountain (the one with the noticeable "ridges" at the top). Needless to say, I saw these mountains (the Franklin Mountains) every day when I visited my grandparents in El Paso. Not knowing when I may be back in El Paso, and knowing that I probably wouldn't have a better chance at snapping a pic, I went ahead and took a shot while we were driving on US 54 in El Paso. Probably on our way back to Ft. Bliss.
I don't remember which day I took this pic (using my camera, not the iPhone), but it seems like it was midday. Probably, it was either the day of the visitation (Veterans' Day) or the next day (my birthday/Oma's funeral).

Now this next pic (also from the camera) was from Sunday, November 10, 2013, the day Andrew, Liv, and I had gone to White Sands National Monument. We'd spent pretty much the whole day in Alamogordo, NM, either visiting White Sands, or hitting some other "major attractions" while we were there, so Livie could see where we used to live. (The last time she was there, she was about 1.5 years old, and thus, doesn't really remember it.) 
 These are the Franklin Mountains, again, as we're heading southward on US 54 from Alamogordo, back to El Paso. As you can see, the mountain peak with the "ridges" on the top is the one near where my grandparents used to live. This was taken late in the afternoon, probably around 4:00-5:00 PM Mountain Standard Time. There was something about that time of day that made it feel like I was "going home" to my grandparents' house, even though we weren't. It was as though I was where I was supposed to be.

 Okay, so I've shared this pic of the Organ Mountains in a previous post about White Sands, but I really do love these mountains, so I'm sharing it again. 

We're obviously at White Sands National Monument. I had to stop and just stare at the Organ Mountains, trying to somehow lock in the moment: the sounds of the wind, the voices of Liv and Andrew as they explored, occasionally hearing other visitors' voices (or the faraway sound of traffic from miles and miles away) carried on the wind, the sound of local fauna (mostly birds), the scents - there's nothing quite as beautiful as the scent of the desert Southwest, the feel of the breeze on my skin, and the sun shining on me. I was trying my hardest to make this a visceral memory, not just the one I saved on my camera.
If you click on the pic, you'll be able to see a somewhat larger version of it. In the middle of the photo, you can see some jagged peaks. Those are the Organ Mountains, just bordering Las Cruces, NM. Once, long ago, a friend of my grandmother's told me that they were called the "Organ" Mountains because the jagged peaks looked like the pipes of an (instrumental) organ. Interesting, isn't it? I always love hearing "the rest of the story," to quote Paul Harvey.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Here's to Oma! (It would've been her 89th birthday today.)

Here's to Oma on what would've been her 89th birthday (today, January 8th).

Dance away, Oma!! Dance away. 

Oma's favorite music (Glenn Miller and his genre):

And good, ol' Frank Sinatra. (This song was the last dance at my wedding reception.) We'll see you again, Oma, but not yet. Not yet.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What's on Tap for 2014?

Well . . . let's take a look. Get ready for a ton of pics! ;)

More running . . . injury free!

More riding (for Liv, and maybe me, too - I miss it). 

My "Alumni Weekend"/25th reunion at Culver Academies in May!

 The Iowa State Fair!

An air show, hopefully!

An air show with the USAF Thunderbirds, I should clarify!

Continuing grad school (for me, and elementary for Liv)!

 And more obedience training for Jock!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Year in Books, 2013

A couple years ago, Lisa over at Two Bears Farm got me hooked on this meme from The happily ever after blog. I've come to really enjoy wrapping up the year with this post, so here goes.

These are all based on the list books I read in 2013. (I didn't read nearly as much as usual, in part, because I wasn't in school either semester, nor did I have the urge to read as much as usual. I can't wait to do this list again in 2014, because I should be back into my reading groove by then, as well as getting back into grad school classes.)

Here's how you play along: answer the questions by using only the books you read in 2013. Fun, huh?! I think so!

1.  Describe yourself:  The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
2.  How do you feel?  Out of Range by C.J. Box
3.  Describe where you currently live.  Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
4.  If you could go anywhere, where would you go?  In Plain Sight by C.J. Box
5.  Your favorite form of transportation?  Night Passage by Robert B. Parker
6.  Your best friend is: Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman
7.  You and your friends are: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
8.  What's the weather like?  Below Zero by C.J. Box
9.  What is life to you?  Trouble in Paradise by Robert B. Parker
10.  Favorite time of day?  Zero Hour by Clive Cussler
11.  Your Fear?  The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer
12.  What is the best advice you have to give? Chocolat by Joanne Harris
13.  Thought for the day?  Merry Christmas, Alex Cross, by James Patterson
14.  How I would like to die: Ghost Sickness by Luis Alberto Urrea
15.  My soul's present condition:  Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
16. My family is: Force of Nature by C.J. Box

A view from the University of Iowa Main Library (a row of foreign language books). I took this pic in the spring of 2012 using the Instagram app on my iPhone.

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2014 brings you many blessings.

(And I'm planning on writing and blogging much more than I have in 2013.)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Oma's Christmas Magic

The past couple weeks, and especially these last few days, I've been excitedly anticipating Christmas . . . with a pinch of sadness thrown in. See, it seemed like that usual gleam of magic the Advent and Christmas seasons bring was slightly tarnished without Oma's presence.

I'd hear a Christmas song on the radio, whether it was one of Oma's favorites, or perhaps an arrangement she would've loved . . . and I'd start missing her. And then I'd start thinking that Christmas just isn't the same without one's grandmother, especially since grandmothers seem to possess a bit of a magical aura about them by their very nature - mix that with the Christmas season (Santa, winter wonderlands, presents, hot cocoa, cookies . . . ), and, well . . . it just hasn't quite felt right this year.

But then the other night, it struck me. My grandfather's voice. (He passed away in 2008). It was as though he were telling me, "Just look around. Your grandmother's magic is there. Just look."

And what did I see?

(I've posted a similar pic of these lights before, in case you remember them.)

 Liv and I were driving into our neighborhood one evening after her violin lesson. And we drove past some of our favorite holiday lights.

Every time we pass these lights, Liv and I always exclaim, "The cactus, palm tree and 'bus'!!" The family that lives here usually puts up these lights yearly. One year they didn't, and we were SO disappointed! I always say that I love the cactus lights because it reminds me of the Southwest. Liv loves the palm tree and the "bus." It's actually an RV (but we call it a bus, LOL), and the lights around the two wheels move, so it looks like the wheels are turning.

Well, I thought to myself, Okay, so there's magic around. Momentarily smiling, but still not quite feeling it.

I guess I needed another reminder.

Here are Liv and Jock, during Jock's first time playing in the "deep" snow (he's a Corgi pup, so it's deep to him).

That helped, but again, it didn't last more than that afternoon.I guess I needed a little more help.

Okay, so how about Liv's colorful hat with the two pom poms?

Or the park at the center of our town? See the Christmas tree on the right? Or the lights on the trees on the left? It's pretty magical. Especially since they have a whole festival the first Saturday in December every year. They have carriage rides, hot cocoa, musicians playing Christmas carols, popcorn, a reindeer . . . 

And one of our favorite pizza places, Zoey's. Yep, that's a boat up there on the wall. It's always there, but just decorated according to the season (it usually has spider webs, fake bats, and a fake skeleton in October).  Now they've got great lights, stockings, a lit wreath, and a lit Christmas tree.

And tonight, Santa is on his way. While we wait, we had Christmas Eve dinner, just like we would've had in New Mexico - tamales (!!) along with tracking Santa's progress via NORAD's Santa tracker.

I'll sign off with a "Merry Christmas!" to you all, and one of those songs I heard on satellite radio that I'm sure Oma would've loved.

I heard this on satellite radio recently. It's called "Santanooga Choo Choo," performed by the Airmen of Note, one of the US Air Force's jazz bands. Oma absolutely adored listening to Glenn Miller's music (and music like his). So when I'd heard this specific song, especially since it was performed by an Air Force band, as I'm an Air Force veteran . . . well, I knew it must've been Oma's way of telling me to get in the Christmas mood! 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The "Second" 11th Anniversary

Andrew and I have two anniversaries every year. Back when we were planning on getting married, we were still in the Air Force. I was up for a new assignment in the next few months (due to report in September of 2002), but Andrew still had just under two years at the assignment he'd been in at the time.

Well, since we were planning our "church" wedding in a beautiful and extraordinary cathedral in Chicago (Holy Name, for those of you familiar with Chicago) for December 2002, what could we do about our differing assignment lengths? If we stuck with just the wedding in Chicago, we'd probably not be assigned together anytime in the near future. It would be hit or miss. Maybe we'd get an assignment together in the future, but more than likely, we'd be on vastly differing assignment schedules for the rest of our time in the military.

So what could we do? We had a justice of the peace ceremony in June 2002. It was the two of us and a few of the guys from Andrew's office acting as witnesses. Andrew even showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, if you can believe it! I was actually a little more "dressed up" in nice pants, a nice shirt, and a blazer.

After the ceremony (actually a few days later . . . once I headed back to Tucson, where I was stationed at the time),  we were then able to do the paperwork (showing the personnel department that we were married), and from there, we were able to get on the same assignment schedule. With a copy of our marriage license, the personnel center would be able to get us to the same base, and for the same time periods.

Voila! We both got an assignment (different units) at a base just outside of Boston, where we would report to in September 2002.

In the meantime, planning for the December 2002 church wedding was still going on.

What a party it was! Lots of family and friends attended. This was the ceremony with the dress, Andrew's dress uniform (the "Mess Dress" which is the Air Force equivalent of a tuxedo), and the cake, and the nice reception afterwards . . . there were lots of smiles and wonderful memories of that frosty, wintery day in Chicago, with the twinkling lights, Christmas decorations everywhere, and magic in the air . . .

 Oh, one memory I have to talk about - when my dad was walking me down the aisle, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was my Aunt Lily running down an outer aisle, my cousin Sylvia tagging along behind her. Next thing I saw, Aunt Lily was snapping pictures of me with her little point and shoot camera. Later, Sylvia said she was a bit embarrassed. I told her not to be, as I was sure the memory of Aunt Lily running down the other aisle to get a pic of me would be one of my favorite memories.

And, yes, I'm going to take this opportunity right now to share a bunch of pictures. 
(All photos in this post are by Brad Baskin.)

 I've got three of my good friends from Culver Girls Academy in attendance.

Here, Andrew is hamming it up for the camera. 

 My three bridesmaids and I pose for a picture. My mom ensured that the florist would have one of my favorite flowers, Stargazer Lilies, in the bouquets, along with roses. Since it was wintery, the florist also included some cool evergreen in them, too.

 Andrew and I pose with the groomsmen. Everyone is laughing because Andrew is pinching my backside just as the photographer took the pic. 

 And, of course, I have to include a pic with my grandparents. Oma laughed and smiled so much at the wedding. She was so happy that day (both of them were). It is such a lovely memory to think back on her smiling face. 

I just have to include this picture, too. This is how Oma smiled that whole day.

 What wedding post would be complete without a picture of a wedding cake?

So that's why we have two anniversaries. Today is the "second" 11th anniversary for us. Happy Anniversary to Andrew!

And to end the post, this is our "First Dance" song, called "You are my Home," by Chayanne and Vanessa Williams. It's from the movie, "Dance with Me."

P.S. Andrew was in the hallway as I listened to the song. I asked, "Do you know what this song is?" "I don't remember the name of the song. Don't worry, though. I remember what it was from!" LOL
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