Monday, December 30, 2013

Reflections and Resolutions

Something To Think About

As the end of another year quickly approaches, I'm thinking about what I can do to make next year a better year.
3 different incidents that occurred in recent months stick in my mind. All 3 happened while I was standing in line at a check-out.
In the first, I was the 3rd person in line. The first was a lady who had a number of grocery items. She didn't have enough money to pay for them.
The gentleman in front of me took out his wallet and offered to cover the difference. She wouldn't accept the cash, but put a few items aside.
Had that been me standing behind her, would I have offered to pay the difference? Probably not; using the excuse that I don't carry cash in my wallet.
In the second incident I was again #3 in line at the check-out. Any elderly woman was anxiously thumbing through her wallet, searching for that elusive reward card that would allow her a discount on her purchases. The customer ahead of me offered their card, which then cut the first customer's bill in half. Yes, the person who offered their card would get the reward points, but an elderly person who was more  than likely on a fixed income, was able to cut her bill to a decent amount.
But that isn't the point. The point is, someone was kind enough to offer the use of their card. Would I have done that if I had been second in line? Would I have even thought to do that?
The 3rd and final incident happened in a fast-paced grocery store, where a overflowing basket can be checked through in mere moments. A man had been in line with his cart, behind another customer with that overflowing basket of items. The man stepped away from his cart and hurried to find an item that he obviously had forgotten to pick up. Before he got back, the abundant cart of groceries was scanned and paid for, and it was his turn. The next customer in line pulled his cart out of line and took his place. He returned seconds later, mumbling under his breath when he saw what had happened. I didn't feel sorry for him. After all, he left his cart unattended. But then I reversed my thinking. Yes, there were other customers, but, are we all in such a hurry that we cannot wait 15 or 30 seconds, or even a minute?
My resolutions for 2014:
1) Keep a few dollars in my wallet, just in case.
In case of what?
In case somebody needs my help.
2) Think of others and what their circumstances may be. Can I help them in any way, even with a simple gesture such as a swipe of a reward card?
3) Third and final, slow down. I don't move very fast physically, but I'm always watching the clock, calculating the minutes, letting life pass me by.
I hope that I can stick by these 3 simple decisions.
I think it will be easier than chasing that elusive January 1st diet, or giving up drinking soda.
Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

From the Kitchen - Outside the Nest

NA Irish Cream
Here's a nice little recipe for those who want to celebrate New Year's Eve, but they don't want to imbibe. As is, they don't wish to drink alcohol.
That being said, I love Irish Cream. But, let's think about this for a minute.
If I walked into my local grocery store liquor department, what are my chances I'll find NA Irish Cream?
How many times will the clerk roll his or her eyes, when I so sweetly ask for it?
Well, I don't need to embarrass myself. I can simply pick up a few items from said store, and commence to mixing.
I start with Vanilla Almond Milk, vanilla flavoring,  instant coffee, and Cream of Coconut.
Place it all in a large measure. Brown sugar: optional. The Almond Milk and Cream of Coconut have sweetener in them. This is a matter of taste.
Then I take out this gizmo, my handy-dandy hand blender, and I give it a whirl. A regular blender would work just as well.  Mix until smooth, pour in a container, chill.
It always tastes better when served in a pretty glass.
So thick, so rich, so decadent. There's a slight hint of coconut, but the vanilla and coffee flavor it so well, you might just think you're drinking the real thing.
Is it ever good.
Happy Saturday, and Happy New Year.
NA Irish Cream
1 Can Coconut Cream
3/4 C Vanilla Almond Milk
1 Tbsp vanilla extract or flavoring
1 Tbsp brown sugar, optional*
1 Tsp Instant coffee (regular or decaf)
Combine all and blend until smooth. Store in refrigerator. 6-8 servings
*Taste before adding sugar. Add sugar according to your preference for sweetness.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Horsin' around

Horsin' around
What do you get when you combine a cheese factory, 356 horses, a neighborhood full of compassionate people, and a whole bunch of cowboys and cowgirls?
The ninth annual Horsin' Around Horse Ride, of course.

They come from far and wide, and set up camp.
They pull their rigs, both big and small.

There are plenty of signs to point the way.

Hi. How ya doin?

Over the river and through the woods.
We'll OK, more like over the hill and through the woods.
To the Back Forty Sugar Shack they go.

There's even a speed limit sign! In the woods! 

That's right, buddy! Slow those clip clips down!

But officer, I just want some whiskey for my men, and beer for my horses.

You look like you've had enough already Toby. Or are you Willie?

This looks like a good place to stop and stretch. I've heard they've got food and drinks.

Let's just sit a few minutes. Hey, maybe my seat won't get so sore if I ride this way.

Scuse me sir. Could I have a scoop of oats?

There were pretty cowgirls

and cowboys galore.
They circled the wagons, and demanded some grub.

There were cowpokes all sizes, some ever so small.

No matter their size, they rode really tall.
There were big and small, we welcomed them all.

Then there were these,
The reason for this year's ride.

The old cheese factory is humming, like a busy bee hive.
For you see, this ride is organized each year, with someone special in mind.
This club comes together to help someone in need.
What does it take to make it a success?
Unselfishness on the part of so many.
 Uncountable hours of volunteering.
Family and neighbors helping.
Gallons of homemade soup. Stacks of hot dogs. Mounds of turkey and pork sandwiches. That's only the tip of the iceberg.

The surrounding landowners allow access to their property for camping and riding.
There's the bake sale, the live auction, the donated items for the raffles.
This year there were 300 pink carnations donated by a kind soul for cancer awareness.
There's live music. There are vendors selling their wares.

But back to Team Bystol. The money raised will help a young lady by the name of Brittney Bystol, who was diagnosed with malignant melanoma.
It's all about reaching out a helping hand to one in need, whether we know her or not.
It's about friendship, compassion, opening of our hearts for one in need.

And, it's about a lot of Horsin' around. 


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Quilt Block of Life

It Takes a Congregation
We've all heard the saying, 'It takes a Village'.
At St. Jakobi Lutheran Church, it takes a congregation.
We have been holding the Potato Pancake Dinner for as long as I can remember.
My earliest recollections are of a dinner that started in the afternoon and ran into the evening, most likely to allow the farmers to enjoy the meal.
We now hold it starting at about 10:00 in the morning, right after our worship service is finished, and ending around 1:00 in the afternoon. The first customers arrive before 9:00 a.m.
The amount of work to goes into such an event is huge. The planning committee starts working months in advance. They complete the scheduling of workers, and determine what donations will be needed. The food and all the supplies need to be ordered. 
When the date finally arrives, things get really busy.
Friday night finds workers setting up the tables in the gymnasium.
Others are in the kitchen, covering the floors and walls to protect from the grease. The grills are put in place, as are the fans that fit into the kitchen windows in order to draw out the heat and smoke that seems to clog the close quarters.
Saturday brings the next batch of workers who peel the potatoes and get them ready to go into the grinder. The grinding takes place as needed, while the mixer and the fryers are hustling about inside.
Still others are busy at home, baking pies that will be served with the meal. You name the kind, it'll show up here.
Finally Sunday morning comes around. The first shift starts at 7:00 a.m., preparing the sausages, getting the grills hot, cooking up the big pots of coffee.
The pies are cut, ready to be served.
There's a special recipe for the pancakes, and not just anybody is allowed the honor of the stirring and measuring. The recipe has been faithfully followed for years, the reason that throngs of people stand in line, patiently waiting for their turn to sit and partake. 
There have been years when the weather is quite warm, attracting the long-legged wasps. Other years have brought bitter cold or poring rain.
Some may wonder, 'is it really worth all the trouble, effort, work?'
The funds raised over the years have been used for numerous projects. Some years our bank accounts were low, and we needed the money to stay afloat. Other years found us in need of funds for special supplies and  projects that we would not be able to afford, were it not for the Pancake Dinner.
For most, it means a few short hours out of each year that they are asked to help.
When the last person has eaten, everything is washed up, packed up, put away for another year.
Each year brings a new quilt block of life; perhaps a bit grease-stained and a smelly. There may be splotches of syrup, or maybe a berry stain from that piece of  blueberry pie. 
We sit back and sigh, relieved that another dinner has come and gone.
Was it all really worth it? What have we accomplished, besides raising some money?
It has become a long-running tradition, that would sadly be missed by many folks in the area.
For the congregation, it provides friendship, fellowship, laughter.
We work hard; we work together.
And above all else,
We have the best potato pancakes ever!


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Quilt Block of Life

Threshing, Thrashing
Thresharee, Thrasharee

Sixteen years ago, several of my family members, along with friends, started buying up old farm machinery. Their purchases included tractors, binders, blowers, and the most prized possessions of all, the threshing machines. They knew the year, the make, the model of each one. Old barns, granaries and farm sheds were scoured for those elusive missing parts that were needed to make the machinery work. The older of the group was about to show the youngsters what real farm work was all about. Thus began the start of the Annual Richmond Thrasharee. 

As I researched the correct spelling, I found that threshing is the modern spelling of thrashing. I had to do the research because I had a shirt printed with ‘Thrasharee’ on the back, and I was informed that the word was spelled incorrectly, which technically isn't true. There is no word  'Thrasharee' or 'Thresharee'. Those are made up words. According to one of the participants creating this event, it was more like thrashing than threshing anyway. 

After the equipment was assembled and the grain fields were planted, we gathered together to watch those old dinosaurs come to life. How exciting to see the man who was standing on top of the lumbering machine hold one finger in the air and twirl it around, signaling another on the tractor to set things in motion. There was something magical in watching the heavy belts twisting between the tractor and the threshing machine. The noise was loud, the air filled with dust. Grain spewed from the chute. The stalks, now considered straw, dropped from the machine, to be picked up and used for bedding. The man standing on top watched to make sure the sheaves were going in straight and it wasn’t plugging up. Others were on the wagons pitching the bundles, or on the ground, making sure nothing was overheating or causing any problems. During those first years, the crew was very ambitious. They bindered the oats and set up shocks. When one of the neighbors saw the shocks dotting the hillside, he called to his wife and asked her what the year was. He wondered if we had somehow slipped back in time, when that was how the grain was dried before the threshing took place. 

The tradition continued on from year to year; some years bringing inclement weather and few visitors, while other years found us sweltering under a hot sun and fighting the swarms of mosquitoes and flies that persisted in irritating us. The visitors wandered around the equipment, asking questions and shaking their heads in wonder. Many had never seen such a sight. 

 We began assembling food, and, as is often the custom, bringing a dish to pass. Our parents joined us, sharing tales of long ago, when threshing grain was a way of life and not something to entertain the neighborhood.
Before the days of combines, the threshing crew would travel from farm to farm, setting up the equipment and pounding the kernels from the stalks that had been drying in upright bundles. The farm wife was responsible for providing the meal for the crew. A full meal would be served at noon, including a tasty, enticing dessert. For my mother, it was her chocolate pie, made from scratch and wearing a golden covering of fluffy meringue. 

The tradition of the Richmond Thrasharee has continued, the crowds growing each year. This past weekend saw the sixteenth year, with new faces and old coming together to share wisdom, knowledge, friendship, and good eats. What better way to learn a bit a history, savor a few memories, create a colorful quilt block of life.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Person of Interest

Friends and Pickles
Today I'm blogging about a
friend of mine who actually takes the
time to plant a garden and then
does something with the harvest.
Hi Midnight. Yes, I came to
see you. Where's your brother, Tiger?
Hiding again, like always?
Meet Wendy, keeper of the garden.
She was busy picking,
prepping, assembling,
and sterilizing.
She says the steam does
wonders for the complexion
when she reaches in to get a jar.
That's right. She sterilizes
her jars in the dishwasher.
And, she washes her cucumbers on
the delicate cycle in her washing machine.
This girl is on top of things,
let me tell you.
Time to pack those pickles.
She's doing it by feel because
she had to take her glasses off
because she was getting
a facial at the dishwasher.
Next she added the brine,
which she had been heating
before I even got there.
She is so organized.
Then it was time for a hot bath.
She had the water heating earlier as well.
In the bath they go,
for five minutes or so, once the
bubbles are rising again.
That gives us time to chit-chat,
which we do a lot of.
Meeting face to face  saves minutes
on the cell phone.
We talk about work and family and
life in general. We laugh, we cry,
we grumble, we share fears
and frustrations.
We've been friends for a long time,
through good times and bad.
Working in the same office forged
our friendship, aided by the fact
that we lived in the same area all
our lives, and her dad and my
husband were friends way back.
We still both work in the same
field, and I don't mean the hay
field either. That makes for
interesting conversations.
What's that Midnight? You like
my purse? Put it on your Christmas
list. I'm sure Wendy will get you one.
Oops, more than five minutes have gone by.
Time to take them out.
We all know that too much time in a
hot bath causes wrinkles.
Last step, let them cool and mark
the date on the lid.
And there you have it. A few hours
spent with a friend, and something
was actually accomplished besides
our throats getting hoarse
from all the yacking.
That was last weekend.
Today, we're going shopping at
the Amish grocery store.
Gotta go now.
Happy Saturday

Saturday, April 6, 2013

It Takes a Village, or at Least a Township
Spring is finally making an appearance; barely. The sun is shining; sometimes. The snow is melting; in some places. The ice is forming at the 'Back Forty Sugar Shack'; definitely. 
For my family, along with a number of relatives, neighbors, and friends, spring means tapping the maple trees.
This is my nephew, Eric. After working all day, he runs around like crazy in the woods, checking the buckets to see if the trees ran.
Well, ok, the trees don't run. They stand still. The sap runs.
Yup, they ran. I mean the sap ran.
You gotta have a special tank that rides in a wagon behind your tractor.
Well, my family has to have that. Others may use a four-wheeler, Gator or Rhino.
I see all kinds of pickup trucks driving past my house, and they have these white tanks on the back. Some may be going to the 'back forty', and some may be going to another neighbor who also processes the sap.
This is my brother, Curt. He's retired, so he gets to cook during the week when the others are working.
Note the winter jacket, and a sweatband. What's wrong with that picture?
The sap is in the pan on top of the fire box. They start cooking when they have at least 1200 gallons of sap.
Yup that's right. 1200 gallons. That's a whole lot of sap, and a whole lot of collecting. That's why it takes a village, or township.
When they get the fire going in the sugar shack, and the sap is cooking, it's quite a sight from outside. There's smoke,and there's steam. When the neighborhood sees that, they know what's going on, for sure.
They cook and they cook and they cook.
Finally!!! I didn't think they would ever get the sap cooked enough to turn it into syrup.
I can taste it already.
Scoop some vanilla ice cream in a bowl. Stir up those pancakes, and heat up the griddle!
Wait. What?
What do you mean, there's another step? Are you sure you're cooking syrup? Looks kinda like a still to me.
Come on Frank, my pancakes are frying. My vanilla ice cream is melting. I can't wait any longer!!!!!
Smell that pure maply goodness.
Taste the flavor that no extract can ever replicate.
It doesn't even taste like a tree.
How do I know what a tree tastes like? Don't ask. 
There are no rules of etiquette when it comes to eating Pure Maple Syrup from the Back Forty Sugar Shack. When I see all the work that goes into making it, I have the right to lick my plate or bowl after I'm finished eating.
My house, my rules.
 I don't want to waste a single drop.
Thanks to Emil, another of my brothers, who was kind enough to tramp around in the snow and snap the pictures for me. Ah, family. You gotta love 'em.
Next week, a recipe using some of that pure maple syrup.
I gotta go now. I don't want my pancakes to get cold.
Happy Saturday