To Alex -

To Alex...who is far away in person, but never far from my heart. I miss you. Enjoy these snippets of everyday family life here in the states.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fine day for a paddle.

By the way, I did pass the Night Navigation class, with flying colors, and I'm pleased I practiced because they weren't kidding when they said it was a tough course.
Today was finally beautiful and warm. The sun was radiant, the morning promised only gentle breezes and the temps were predicted to be mid 50's. You know what that means, paddles must get wet. I made the obligatory phone calls to see if anyone was available to join me, they weren't, so I loaded up the boat and took myself to a quiet little lake where the Sandhill Cranes are known to nest. It's an ideal spot for birding with all the cattails and wetland areas, plus the lake is in the middle of a state game area, which means no houses. There are water trails and creeks to follow which lead to other lakes with houses, but this particular one is undeveloped.
Look who I found, just a dancin' and a jigglin'.
He's clearly happy and having a good time. Yes, he really was jumping up and down like this. His girlfriend is just to the right of this picture so I'm sure he was showing off for her. This link lets you hear the call and see the jumping.
 Such odd looking birds with an equally odd call.
Okay, so I went out to the lake to paddle, but I found that it was still nearly frozen solid. There was an open channel I could paddle to get to the lake, but once there I was only able to paddle a little ways along the shore before I ran into the sheet of ice. Apparently, 60 degrees doesn't melt the ice that fast. Something comical, the Goose in the back slipped and fell just after I captured this shot. I laughed, out loud. I hope I didn't embarrass him.
Clearly, I wasn't going to get much paddling in, but since I was also prepared for birding, I backed myself into the reeds where I could be out of the breeze, took off my shoes and kicked back to watch the scenery. I kind of liked that I was out there barefoot, not wearing a coat, and yet the geese were walking on ice.
Ah, welcome back, Spring.
Red-winged Blackbird keeping me company. I have a fondness for these birds as their call always reminds me of warm summer days spent outside when I was a child.
I happened to glance down while I was in the shallows and saw this. Could it be? Is it? It was frozen in the muck and even after digging and digging at it with my paddle, I still had to stick my hand in the icy water to retrieve it, and yes, it was a blue Mason jar. What the heck? 
Oh, no, Goose, I don't see you hunkered down in there. I swear, you're totally camouflaged in the reeds.

I don't have pictures because they were too far away, but I also saw swans, Mallards, a couple of raptors and a few unidentifiable birds.
See, it was a Mason jar...and a green wine bottle also had to be retrieved. By the way, the water was so cold it made my fingers hurt.
Yep, fine day for paddling, for birding and for treasure hunting.

Friday, March 22, 2013

This moment...

linking with SouleMama...
Enjoy what's left of your snow days....they are leaving for awhile.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Back to the woods.

I love the woods, I really do. Oh, how it feeds my soul, walking up and down the trails, listening, looking, letting my mind wander. It feels so good!
I went out early on Saturday to see if I could find a couple markers before my girlfriend and her son showed up. The woods were certainly changed from Thursday. It had snowed so the pine and cedar scents that filled the woods on Thursday had disappeared and where there had been many birds chirping and chattering to each other, there was now only silence except for the crunch, crunch of my boots as I walked. Oh my, did I ever walk. By the time I left the woods, I had been out there for 10 hours. I found my markers, I ended up in a swamp that I didn't mean to end up in, I cooked dinner in the woods, I heard Barred Owls again, and I ended up exactly where I was supposed to be in the dark. That's a good day!
I tried a different Orienteering course on Sunday, Van Raaltje Farm in Holland. This one gave me bearings on each post for the next post I was to find and if I didn't find the correct one, I couldn't go on to the next - in theory. In reality, it was far too easy for me after traipsing around the woods the past few days, finding my way with a compass and a map. It was good for a beginning course, but I'm not a beginning Orienteerer. Still, I was outside, the sun was shining brightly and I was content.
Ooooh, my Night Nav test is coming up in a couple days. That will make me LN5 certified. Here's  what the instructors say about the course: "This course ranks among the highest levels of land navigation and exceeds the requirements for a NASAR SARTECH I (Crewleader), the pinnacle of search and rescue training.  It is more difficult than Adventure Racing and is considered an advanced Orienteering course.  The course is designed to match the difficulty of the US Army’s Advanced Land Navigation Course used for Pathfinders, Rangers and Special Forces training."
That's pretty bad ass!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ready or Not!

But of course I would rather be ready, so I went on a quest to find markers. My night navigation test is coming up in just over a week so I'm doing what I can to prepare, however finding one's way in the daytime is nothing like finding one's way in the dark.  I have no idea what my test route will be until just prior to the event so even if I find all the markers ahead of time, it doesn't help much once I'm given my coordinates (I could be running from 6, to 13, to 23, etc.), but this does allow me to practice using real skills. Off I went!
The sun was shining, the temps rose to 42 degrees and the woods smelled heavenly of cedar and pine. Oh my...lots and lots of bird calls, and even though I heard the Sandhill Cranes, loud and boisterous, I couldn't find them on the lake. The only one I did see was flying far overhead. Noisy little buggers, kind of creepy sounding too. They sound like what I imagine Pterodactyls sound like, right before they attack you. *grins*
There was still a fair amount of snow on the trails and they were quite slippery. I was wishing I had brought along the Yak Trax.
What a gorgeous color of red, all rich and damp and humus-like.
  Still snow and ice left on the North side of hills and valleys.
I approached this one from the easy side without knowing it. I would not have wanted to come through the backside and fight all those prickly vines. I must be doing something right because I walked right up to this marker even though I was off trail and bushwhacking to get here. Then again, that's the point of orienteering, to get where you're supposed to be.
This one was tough! I had to adjust and then correct my route several times because I couldn't get through the scrub. It also seriously messed with my pace count, but when I realized I had a rise on my right and a swamp on my left, which were both on the map, I knew the marker had to be close. It was, 10 feet to my right, which makes perfect sense since I started about 10 feet out from #9 to get around all those pricker bushes. After this, I cut back through the woods to pick up the trail as it was time to call it a day, it was getting late and the woods were noticably colder. Brrr....time to head home. I was very chipper on my walk back to the car and felt pretty darned good that I had found 8 out of the 29 markers. A girlfriend and I are going back out to find more of the markers and this time we'll stay out after dark for real practice and to see how we do. I'm saving a couple really tough ones to try in the dark. That should be interesting. Perhaps I'll do another post to show you the tools I'm using. I've got a sweet flashlight that will light up the forest like a champ with a super long beam and 520 lumins. It's an amazing tool!
I have to tell you about a feeling I had out there in the middle of the woods with no trail in sight. In the past, when I've found myself off trail and not knowing quite where I was, I would get a tightness inside my belly, a sort of low-grade panic feeling. This time, armed with a compass, map and skills, I had not a bit of worry. I laughed out loud when I realized I felt as comfortable out there in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by scrub and swamp and forest, as I would be walking around my own yard at home. Being prepared sure feels good!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spicy Beef Roll-ups

Mornings are my dream time. I usually get up early and by the time I leave for work (when I was leaving for work), I already have a project or two completed and it makes me feel good, so productive. Right now I'm sort of digging having time to cook in the morning, although I do end up eating some strange foods for breakfast, but please, define breakfast food.
Today I tackled a recipe that I've had for, oh, at least 15 years. (I know you have some of those too) It was tucked in my 'someday' recipe folder, but never made it out to the menu board. As part of my energetic use your time wisely plan, I'm cleaning out the recipe folder and what that means is I'm having a helluva good time in the kitchen. If I'm going to keep a recipe, it has to be made soon and it gets bonus points if it uses ingredients I already have in the house. I had every item for this one. The adapted recipe is based very heavily on the original, which came from a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. (Thank you $100 Winner, Katherine St. Pierre) Here goes.
Spicy Beef Roll-Ups
1 lb ground sirloin (you don't want this greasy)
4 t cornstarch
4 t soy sauce
1 t sugar
lettuce leaves
2 1/2 T hoisin sauce
2 t ground ginger
1 T rice wine or dry sherry (I used Marsala wine)
2 t sesame oil
1/4 to 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T oil
2 carrots, shredded
1/2 c diced sweet peppers (I used a mix of red, orange and yellow)
1 Mexican onion, slice the greens, dice the bulb (these are just large green onions with a larger bulb)
1 c cooked rice
In a bowl combine beef, cornstarch, soy sauce and sugar; set aside. In a small bowl combine hoisin sauce, ginger, wine, sesame oil and crushed red pepper.
In a large skillet, stir-fry garlic in hot oil just until it gets fragrant. Add beef mixture; stir-fry 3-5 minutes or until done. Stir in hoisin mixture, carrots, sweet peppers and onions. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Add cooked rice and stir to combine. To serve, place some of the meat  & rice mixture into lettuce leaves, fold in sides, roll up and eat immediately.
I had to put some in a jar for freezing or I'm afraid I'll eat the whole batch. Good grief!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

May I please have a word with you?

I love books, love how easy it is to learn anything your heart desires, love the different writing styles, love how I can get lost in stories, and I really love going on little adventures with some of the characters. My morning was spent perusing the bookshelves of my local library with the plan of picking up just the book on Orienteering. I have my night navigation test coming up in a couple weeks and it's a tough, tough course. 50% failure rate, and I just wanted a little extra boost to see what I should know that maybe I don't yet. Kjellstrom is highly recommended on the subject and since he introduced the sport of Orienteering to the U.S., I didn't think I could go wrong with his book.

Then, I glanced through the shelves above and below and found The Happy Camper by Kevin Callan. If you know Kevin then you know he is a very funny guy. I've been to seminars at which he was the guest speaker and he had the room rolling with laughter 5 minutes into his presentation. Very funny guy. That book sort of jumped in my arms. Then I found the book Up about a woman who hikes to the New Hampshire high points with her 5 y/o daughter. That sounded interesting after taking my 8 y/o grandson backpacking last year so I put that in my stack as well. And then, a little further along on the shelves was the book In Beauty May She Walk, which is about a 60 y/o woman through-hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Huh, another woman with Sisu. Gotta read that one too.

Just for kicks I wandered a few rows down and ran across the upholstery book, which has good basics for upholstery like how to measure and which handy tools to use to make the job easier. Who do you think just might have a couple of antique chair frames in the cellar that just might need to be reupholstered? Ahem...into the stack as well.
Let's not get started on how happy the building itself makes me. It's so pretty!
Do you see the images of three women in the marble at the top of the stairs?
 Next time I'll take pictures of the outside architecture. Wow!

Friday, March 8, 2013

I can do it myself!

I've had some free time lately. Once I finished the necessary falling apart over it I turned it into a blessing of sorts because now I get to work on my list of unfinished house projects. Each of these projects takes a consistant slice (or two, or three) of dedicated time that I didn't necessarily have before. Another added blessing is that these projects are costing me little or no additional money. I have the supplies already.
My latest project was to regrout the top of the bathtub where it meets the tile. I live in a house that was built in the 40's and I've tried very hard not to change things that would compromise the integrity of the original home. One of those items not to change was the beautiful pink tile in the bath. If pink isn't your thing you'll think this is hideous, but the tile is in perfect condition and there is no reason to change it. Besides, I've learned to work with it. But if I'm going to keep the tile it has to look really good. No dirt, no mold, no gunk in the corners, so every once in a while I have to redo the grout and silicone caulk. I'm here to tell you that though this is time consuming, it is by no means difficult. In fact, it's so easy it borders on ridiculous when I look at how intimidated I was the first time I did this. I laughed at myself the first time I 'got at it' and realized I had nothing to be afraid of!
These are the tools of the trade for this project. Putty knife, grout remover, premixed grout, sponge, clear silicone caulk and a caulk gun.
This little baby is the tool that makes it all so easy. It really is called a grout remover and those sharp little points scrape out the old grout like nobody's business. It's just a cheapy I picked up at Menards. Just scrape it along and the grout comes right out.
These are the steps I used. They're not complicated, but they can be time consuming and require a bit of muscle work at times.
1. Use putty knife to remove old silicone caulk.
2. Use grout remover tool to remove old grout.
3. Wipe clean and allow to dry completely.
4. Use putty knife to push new grout into gaps and smooth with damp sponge. Allow to dry overnight.
5. Apply caulk over dried grout and allow to cure. Voila!
Told you it was pink!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Skillet Baked Pork Chops and Sweet Potatoes

I'm not sure where I got this recipe or if it's been modified, I just know it's delicious, and crazy easy, and suits me just fine since I can't seem to stay out of the kitchen lately.

Skillet Baked Pork Chops and Sweet Potatoes

1 T oil
2 pork chops
1 large sweet potato, cubed
1 small onion, sliced into rings
1/4 c fruit juice, apple or orange though I used an orange/mango blend
1 small apple, chopped
3 T maple syrup
3 T raisins
1/4 t cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour oil into cast iron skillet and brown chops on both sides on the stove. Remove chops from pan and set aside for a bit. Add sweet potato and onion; cook just until the onion starts to soften; add juice and bring to a boil. Add apple, syrup, raisins, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Place chops on top of potato mixture, cover with foil and bake in oven for 30-40 minutes, until chops are finished cooking.


Monday, March 4, 2013

A little something different.

A couple years ago I stayed in a rustic cabin for New Years Eve. There was no power and the only lighting at night came from several tea lights burning on the table. To keep from leaving burn marks in the wood, I placed the candles inside clam shells I had picked up earlier on the beach. I thought they looked sweet and quaint, and the image has been tucked in the back of my mind ever since. The other day as I wandered about the house, cleaning this, rearranging that, I started thinking about those candle holders again and thought something similar might work in my bathroom. I still have a small basket of shells left from making this wreath a while back and I found what I needed as I was digging through it.
It's quite simple. One very rustic looking shell glued with E-6000 to the top of  another piece of shell that had been worn smooth from the waves. I just made sure it sat level before I glued it. Very simple and now I have a little something different made from something dear to me. Yea, me.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

I love...

when I open this antique secretary and discover, again, that I've hidden treats inside.
You would think that I would catch on since this cabinet was handed down to me 30 years ago and I often stash treats in here. It's kind of a joke on me, but I truly am always surprised to find goodies inside and it gives me a little start followed by a smile. My hope is that I never catch on...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

I tried something new.

Taiwan son sent me a lovely piece of linen a few years back that had been dyed with tea - he did it himself. I use it as a runner on my coffee table and I've received many compliments on the fabric so when I wanted to change out the white sheers hanging on my living room windows, I knew just the thing to give them a bit of subtle color. Tea dye. I asked him how to do it and he sent me here, which gave me a good idea of what to do, but you hardly need directions and I didn't really follow what I read.
You just make very strong tea in a mason jar which I left to steep overnight.
Put hot water in the bathtub (a pink tub is best), add the tea and put your material in to soak.  I left it for a few hours and gave it a mix every once in a while. Looks pretty disgusting doesn't it?
Then I squeezed all the water out and hung them over the tub to dry. Easy, and no more white.