Yum! Tastes like Summer!

I suppose I am not unlike most people that I find myself making certain foods during a particular season, and it doesn’t feel like that season until I make that food item. For example, when I make apple pie in the fall, then it truly FEELS like fall. I have found that summer isn’t truly summer until I decide to make a couple of different food items. Last summer I was traveling a lot, and I was really too busy to cook a whole lot, so I never made my traditional “summer” items. So, really guys, I am still waiting for LAST summer to happen. Does that mean I can opt out of this 2020 one? Because if I’m being honest, it kind of sucks so far. Anyway, let’s talk about food that will herald that arrival of summah. (Not a typo – just introducing a different accent into my written words, which is totally normal. Right? RIGHT?)

The first “taste of summer” necessity is homemade ice cream. However, I will admit to being kind of picky about what I like in homemade ice cream. I am not a fan of anything with eggs in it, or anything that needs to be cooked before freezing it. I like simple. Many years ago I ran across this recipe on AllRecipes.com and it quickly became my favorite for several reasons. For one, it tastes like the base of a Dairy Queen blizzard – rich and creamy. Second, it is totally customizable. I’ve added Oreos or fruit halfway through the freezing process and it always comes out great. If you do not want to add anything to the actual ice cream, it is amazing served with fruit or with cookies crumbled over it. The one downfall, and it’s really not much of one, is that it freezes pretty hard, so any leftovers will need a few minutes to thaw a bit in the container before dishing it up. It is just going to challenge the instant gratification monkey in you. (What? You’ve never heard of the instant gratification monkey? Then you MUST read this and watch this Ted Talk. Hilarious!) Anyway, when this ice cream is fresh made, though, it is like soft-serve ice cream. You will have a hard time not going in for multiple “taste tests.” Not that I know anything about that . . .

I was initially going to take a pic of some ice cream on a spoon, but then I thought it would look better in a cup. And THEN, guys, I was tasked with the difficult job of having to EAT the ice cream after I took the picture. I cannot express to you enough my frustration that I get all the hard jobs.

The second “taste of summer” is homemade ranch dressing. I know what you’re thinking — how could anyone top the Hidden Valley brand? Well, I once thought that stuff in the green bottle was the nectar of the gods . . . that is, until I tried it homemade. I started with using Pioneer Woman’s recipe but I pretty much add all the ingredients to taste now, not worrying about measurements. I usually use fresh herbs (parsley, dill, and chives), but if you cannot get fresh herbs, I like to have some of the Lighthouse freeze dried herbs handy. (Go ahead, click on the link – I get nothing for it. LOL) Although I use fresh garlic cloves, I also like to add a little garlic salt. For whatever reason, garlic salt has become my “must have” addition to pretty much everything I make. Even ice cream! Kidding.

One taste of this stuff, and you will wonder how you ever ate boring ol’ salad with that substance in the green and white bottle.

Do you have a favorite taste of summer? Leave me a comment letting me know your favorite ones!

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The Sound of Silence

Ever since I was a child, I have sought out the silence. I’m sure this ties into being an introvert; we tend to shy away from the bright, the busy, and the chaotic. However, the older I get, I realize that those times when I am surrounded by dark and quiet are some of the most important moments of my day.

Right now I am sitting behind my computer, which at the moment is right by the open window facing my backyard. It is just before 5 a.m., so the birds are beginning to sing. The only other sound is my pond, gurgling away. Although I do not consider myself a “morning person” by any means (being social in the morning takes effort), I am a morning person when it comes to hoarding the peace and calm that the morning hours bring.

If it were just a smidge warmer outside, I would probably make a cup of coffee and go sit outside. However, being that May is rather unpredictable with temperatures, this morning is hovering in the ’50s, which is a bit chilly to sit out in the jams and robe. So that is why I’m sitting where I’m sitting now, next to the open window. I kind of get the effect without freezing my buns off.

Perhaps I seek out the silence even more now because the rest of the world is too damn loud, screaming about viruses and race and the economy and China and whatever else the current talking point is. In the interest of covering my own behind, my disclaimer is that I am not belittling any of it. It’s just that for an introvert, the blathering becomes an echo chamber that leaves me exhausted. Being on Facebook means getting a steady stream of other people shouting their opinions all freaking day long, and by the end of the day, I am so weary of all the people who think THEY are right and I need to listen to what they have to say. That’s the beauty of technology, I guess. In all reality, I am not required to listen to what they have to say. My phone screen makes a satisfying *click* when I get tired of all the ranting and raving.

I think this “quarantine time” has helped me rediscover the importance of quiet. I’m old enough to know myself now. This time is crucial to my well being. I know that in a few hours, the rest of the world will awaken, the keyboard warriors will once again be posting whatever memes make them look smarter than the rest of us, and I will be waiting once again for those moments in the day where I can retreat to a world that makes much more sense – one where I can watch TV with my husband, eat dinner with my children, and shut out the noise when it all becomes too much.

*click*

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A Night with Night Ranger

A friend of mine recently started a blog and one of his recent posts reminded me of a story from years ago. I have not met many celebrities over the course of my life and tend to clam up around anyone who has made a name for themselves, so my stories are few and far between. But this one time, many years ago, I lived an ’80s dream.

Born in the ’70s, growing up in the ’80s, I was a child of ’80s music. Sometimes a song will come over the radio that catapults me back into the days of wearing Madonna-esque clothing (although I was a tomboy and really just wore the same jeans and T-shirts until middle school). Night Ranger songs tend to have this effect. Isn’t it strange how a song can help you remember things that you thought had faded from memory? Smells have that same effect; I keep a perfume that I used to wear in high school simply so every once in a while I can take a whiff and remember how it felt to be 16 with no mortgage to pay and a back that didn’t hurt all the time. It’s a strange effect, really. I can no longer wear most “real” perfumes because they give me an instant headache. However, I do like the nostalgia they evoke. Anyway, back to Night Ranger.

It was the summer of 1996. I was newly graduated from college and living with my sister in a very small town (think a couple hundred people) in southwest Minnesota. The town had one bar, but the place seemed to draw some pretty big names due to some fantastic networking by the bar’s owner. That summer, we found out that he had somehow convinced Night Ranger to play at the bar, and that is where the adventure begins.

The night was surreal, really. The bar’s ballroom could hold a few hundred people, but it was nowhere near the stadium you’d expect to see one of your favorite bands in. Yes, I know — by the mid-’90s, Night Ranger wasn’t exactly a big draw anymore. However, when you have those bands that mean a lot to you, it’s pretty darn exciting to have them play mere feet from you, playing songs that you love. I know that night I caught a thrown guitar pick, but I cannot for the life of me remember where I stashed it.

The extra surreal part came after the concert was over and the bar closed. The owner allowed some of his favorite people to stay behind and, well, party with the band. After many beers that night plus twenty-five years behind me, I cannot recall exactly what was said, but I know I had an extended conversation with Gary Moon about — get this — education reform. I had the chance to talk with the guys of Night Ranger about anything in the world, and I end up in a conversation about that. I never said I was cool . . . or smooth. That right there just proves it. Whatever the case, Gary had some sort of interest in the subject, and we talked for a long time about it. Maybe it was refreshing to have a conversation about something other than himself and his music career; who knows.

As the night wore on and the crowd thinned, someone brought up the subject of their tour bus, which had been pulled up right outside the bar. Somehow my sister and I were brought out to take a peek on the bus. Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re all thinking about the hijinks that happen on tour buses. This honestly was a peek. We went up the stairs, looked in, said, “Wow, that’s cool!” and then got off the bus. No Penny Lane stuff going on that night. Not from me, anyway.

I think the thing that gets me the most is that in 1996, cell phones were not what they were today, hence no instant access to a camera. I have NO PICTURES from that night – only the story to tell.

I’ve since seen Night Ranger several times since that night but have never gotten the chance to meet them again. Gary Moon has since departed from Night Ranger and is doing his own thing now, but I would like to think that if he ever needs to have a deep conversation about the state of Native American education in today’s school systems that he knows who to call.

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Um, toads? Don’t you know about the “new normal”?

I’ll admit that I am more than a little weary of the new talking points of this time period, including the one I used in the title of this post. New normal, social distancing, and whatever adjective ad execs and politicians want to use in front of the word “times” – challenging times, unprecedented times, difficult times, extraordinary times, uncertain, etc. I am mildly annoyed that I have to sit through commercials that now talk about COVID and social distancing. Good lord, enough already.

At my house, however, nature knows no social distancing rules. The toads have invaded my pond and they are NOT 6-feet apart.

I know my pond has been the subject of this blog before, but for those who may not be familiar with the backstory, let me digress for a moment.

When I was a child, my parents built a house on the family farm. Next to our house was a stream which led to a river. I am not exaggerating when I say that I spent HOURS next to that stream, watching the creatures that lived in its watery depths. I observed them, noting weird species that I had no idea existed, like caddisfly larvae, which would create their own little housing case that they lived in until they matured. It was a weird, secretive world where I could just watch and learn.

Several years ago, I became weary of the ultra-tame deer around here eating the produce in my raised garden beds, so I ripped them out and decided to put a pond there. Now, a sane person would have gotten ahold of a mini excavator or something to do the digging. I was fresh from a breakup and a little angsty, so I decided to dig it myself. By hand. Initially, I thought my children would find it fun to help with the project, but they tired of it after about an hour or so. I was on my own after that. So I dug. And dug. And dug. And dug. Pretty soon I had a pond that was about 10′ long, 6′ wide and 3′ deep. I had no idea what I was doing, really. I just knew I wanted a big pond that was large enough to house frogs, toads, and possibly fish.

Since then, I’ve been utterly amazed at the creatures which inhabit the pond each year. I’ve learned that early on, small chorus frogs will be the first to discover the pond. (Yes, some frogs try to winter in the pond, but they always perish.). There will be some wonderful singing that lasts for a couple weeks, followed by some frog eggs. Then the toads will discover it and fill the air with their shrill singing, and then their eggs will appear. Soon the pond is full of tadpoles, and I often have to shut off my pond pump for fear of the little guys clogging it up and burning it out. (Yes, that actually happened. Gross.)

This season has been an unusual one because everything has happened so late. (Not a fan of 2020 so far – just sayin’.). The frogs visited, sang, and then seemed to go away without laying any eggs. However, when I rinsed out the pump filter a few days ago, I did notice a tiny, almost microsopic tadpole. Just where these frogs laid their eggs is a mystery, as they usually lay them in the shallow shelf of the pond, but not this year, evidently.

A few nights ago, I started hearing the toads sing. I found out recently that the toads are of the American toad species. First there was one, then two, then all of a sudden I have a freaking party going on in my back yard. The sound they make is deafening at times, and sometimes I pray that my neighbors don’t secretly hate me because of the extra racket I create in this neighborhood.

Last night was one of those nights that you wish you could bottle up and keep forever. No wind. Mild temps. And in my yard – the singing of the toads. Click on the link to hear the toads singing in full force.

https://www.crackediceandchrome.com/0514202039c.mp4

All of a sudden, I have toads everywhere. Yesterday I saw two of them getting “friendly.” Today? Three mating couples at the same time, with one of them leaving egg strings as they swam around.

Yup – I am definitely going to have to shut off the pump soon. Consider this post an official birth announcement, I guess.

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The Power of an Idea

Last week, my husband and I were sitting on the back patio by the pond. We had just spent the past two days going around buying flowers at different greenhouses – mostly perennials, as I am trying to make landscaping as maintenance-free as possible. The area that was just to the left of the pond is full of colorful perennials, and I love going to the backyard when everything is in full bloom and just marveling at the beauty of it all. My backyard is my little haven, but it needs a couple of things: some privacy (I have two houses that angle toward my backyard and nothing to shield them) and even more color.

I turned to my husband and said, “What if we put yet another perrennial garden to the right of the pond, leaving a little walkway in between? Then in the middle of summer this whole area would be full of flowers.

In typical “me” fashion, I grabbed a can of spraypaint right then (leaving my coffee to get cold) and outlined what I had in mind. My husband liked the idea, so we changed into work clothes and started digging out the grass.

After we dug out the grass, we then had to go hunting for some edging. The one local store that carries it was sold out (go figure), so we had to travel 25 mins away to a different town to get it. There went an hour of our work time. By suppertime, however, we had our new planting area all ready for the next steps.

The shape of the left side follows the curve of the pond if anyone is wondering about the weird shape. I envision that we will soon put in some stepping stone to serve as a path between the two features. We then put down the landscaping fabric and decided which perennials will be placed where.

Then we planted. That night, we sat out under a beautiful evening sky and marveled at the color of the blooms and how it all added something special to the ambiance of the pond. In hindsight, I should have taken a pic of the finished product.

The next morning, I eagerly made coffee so I could go sit outside in the early morning hours to enjoy the flowers. Before that, however, I had gone outside with my phone in order to get a pic of the new perennial garden to include on this post. That, my friends, is when I faced the horror of living where I live.

All of the blooms — ALL OF THEM — had been chomped off by the deer in the middle of the night. Now I just had a bunch of greenery, but no color.

I should be used to this. When I had a garden a few years ago, this happened regularly. I had tried everything to keep them away – soap shavings, human hair, human pee, coyote pee, egg/cayenne pepper spray, and on and on. Nothing worked for very long. After getting frustrated that the deer obliterated my green beans for the millionth time, I ripped out the raised garden beds and started digging the pond that I have now. (That is also the primary reason why I have horrible back pain, but that’s another post for another time.)The deer around here are super tame; there have been times that I have walked out of my backyard and they are standing 15 feet away. Their heads jerk up initially, but then if I didn’t move, they would go back to eating. I swear that these deer think they’re dogs.

I went to the local store and bought some stinky spray to keep the deer away, and I think it has been working. I mean, I have no more blooms for them to eat, so all I can judge it by is how much more everything else has been chomped down. So far so good. Since I did not get a pic when everything was newly planted, I will have to settle for showing you today, post-deer obliteration. I am anxious for the plants to regenerate and bloom once again. And when they do, this time I WILL get a pic!

I scattered some tomatoes in pots so they are getting the good sun that hits this perennial garden. I like the extra pop of color that the red mulch adds, and eventually the blooms will also add color.

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The paranoia is thick!

So, the quarantine days drag on. I think if I lived in a larger town, the stifling feeling of all of this wouldn’t be so bad, but as it is, we have few options for shopping. We have a grocery store. We have a Dollar General. Truthfully, that’s about it. We had one of the last K Marts in the country, but that closed down this past winter. It’s just four people in a too-small house in a too-small town.

It’s spring — or what passes for spring in the Midwest, anyway. That usually includes a snowstorm or two. We got dumped on a couple weekends ago, and it has been frustrating to wait for warmer weather. In the Midwest, it is usually the norm that when a nice day arrives, it will be accompanied by gale force winds. A calm, nice day around here is a rarity.

This whole quarantine stuff has been a fascinating look into human psychology, I must say. I have observed my own reactions to having days on end of unstructured free time — the advantages, the pitfalls, the frustrations. I am a high school teacher, and I am in weekly contact with my students as much as possible. While I expected all of them to be enthusiastic that school has been canceled for the rest of the year, I have heard from several who say that they miss school and desperately want to go back. I feel a little torn, to be honest. I am finding the time to do things that I haven’t enjoyed in a while – keeping up with this blog, for example, and painting, and reading. However, I miss seeing my students and giving lessons in a classroom. I am frustrated that my students will miss out on an entire quarter’s worth of information. I am providing whatever instruction I can, but the number of students who have gone MIA now that school has been called off is growing by the week. On the plus side, My husband and I have discovered countless movies we have enjoyed — we take turns introducing each other to movies we consider “must see”), and we have stumbled across rather horrific shows such as Tiger King and The Wild and Wonderful World of the Whites of West Virginia. I think I watched both with my mouth open in amazement.

In my brief outings, which usually involve a run to the grocery store, I have noticed a subtle shift in the way humans interact with each other. Like my title says, the paranoia is thick. When I come down a store aisle where someone else is, they turn and look at you with a suspicious glance – something that would not have happened before. If anyone happens to cough because of whatever reason, there are actual stares and visible judgment. I watched a store clerk being asked to go home after a customer complained because she had allergies and was coughing a little. Yes, I understand that some of this paranoia is based on a real need for being careful, yet I am amazed that we have evolved into being paranoid and sometimes downright rude. I was talking with one of my students the other day – a girl who was adopted from China as a baby. She talked about visiting a Target in a nearby town and noticing people glancing at her and then moving away. I am not surprised, but like I said, all of this provdes a very interesting look into psychology and the breakdown of what used to be considered “Midwestern nice.”

Be safe, but remember to treat each other as human beings.

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An Easter to remember

Well, this “stay at home” stuff is an introvert’s dream, but even introverts hit a wall, and I think I’m getting there. I mean, it would be one thing if the weather was consistently nice and I could get outside of this small house to get some exercise. I did – for a few days. I got all the remaining leaves out of my yard and burned them. I got my pond up and running, which is probably the earliest I’ve ever had it cleaned out and functional. But then Mother Nature decided to play a little joke on us for Easter Sunday, and this is what the pond looks like today.

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I quarantine; therefore, I write

Like many people in the United States, I have suddenly become a homebody. I realized that my “Gee, I have no time to blog” excuse no longer applies, so here I am. Blogging. Thinking. Cleaning. Playing games with my family. Cleaning some more. Sneaking peeks at the CDC website to see what the newest bad news contains. Telling my kids that no, they cannot go hang with friends, although some days I am so tempted to just tell them to go wherever they want. I mean, MUST video games and movies be SO DANG LOUD? Repeat, repeat, repeat.

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Life is short; use the good china

Yes, I know it’s been a while.  It took me a couple minutes to remember how to log back into WordPress.  THAT is how long it’s been.  I had to enter my password three times before I got it right.  Wordpress seemed to give me the stink eye when I successfully logged in, as if to say, “Oh, and NOW you want to see what’s been happening after all this time?”

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A tribute to a great man

Although I certainly didn’t just sit on my duff all summer long, for I took lots of trips and was able to take care of a lot of house clutter, the pace of life has certainly picked up in the last week alone.  School started.  I got the stomach flu (which I’m currently still “enjoying”).  My grandpa died.

Out of all those things, it’s the last one that has me reeling.  I can handle hectic weeks.  I can handle the stomach flu.  But I always dreaded the time I’d have to say goodbye to my sweet grandfather.  He was a good man who lived live with vigor.  He beat colon cancer but suffered through countless intestinal issues from the mid-90’s until he died.  Even through it all, he made sure to let those around him know how much he loved them, admired them, and he made sure to thank anyone who helped him.

Writing is definitely cathartic, and I sat down a day after my grandfather’s passing to write a tribute to him.  I wrote it for myself, but I shared it on Facebook so that those who knew my grandfather could enjoy it as well.  Now I’m sharing it with all of you.  Even though you didn’t know him, we can all learn from the gracious way he lived his life.

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