30 July 2010

Prairie in July

Believe it or not, before the agricultural revolution, Iowa used to be mainly tall grass prairie. Over time, our state has lost over 99% of its prairies. This makes me sad.

Thankfully, there are a few prairie restoration projects underway throughout Iowa. I feel fortunate that one of them (although not an "official" project) runs through the middle of our community. It's always relaxing and interesting to walk through our small prairie. At different times of the summer, the landscape may look gold, purple, or white, depending on which flowers are in bloom.

This week, Queen Anne's Lace is the star. These dainty white flowers dot the prairie landscape, punctuated by milkweed, yellow coneflower, and the very stately compass plant.

I'm looking forward to my next prairie walk. What a treasure, right in our back yard!

Feline Friday: A Funny Kind of Love

Occasionally, we need to pick up both kitties at the same time -- one under each arm -- and haul them somewhere.

We've noticed that every time we carry them both together, the same thing happens:

Lily slings one arm lovingly around Tinsel's neck. Awww!

Then Tinsel then leans over and bites Lily. Not hard, but just enough to say, "Keep your stinkin' paw to yourself!"

You see, after four years together, Lily still wants Tinsel to love her. And after four years, Tinsel still can't accept the fact that Lily's here. :)

29 July 2010

Pioneer Woman to the Rescue

Yesterday was one of those days. It started when I somehow dropped my lipstick into the toilet. Next, I left the store without one of my bags of groceries. (Thankfully, a nice grocery store boy flagged me down as I was leaving the parking lot.) Later, I dropped my favorite mug, shattering it (and my warm and cozy coffee memories) forever.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I decided to try a new recipe for dinner. Everyone knows I'm fairly inept in the kitchen -- even on a GOOD day! But last night, Pioneer Woman came to my rescue. Dinner was a success in my estimation: Nothing burned beyond recognition, no ingredient forgotten. In fact, it tasted like REAL FOOD!

If you're not a fan of Pioneer Woman, you should be. I started visiting her blog for her witty writing and beautiful photography, then I stumbled upon her fantastic recipes with step by step photos, surely designed with me in mind. Every recipe I've tried has been great.

Last night, we tried Pasta with Pancetta and Leeks with salad and garlic bread on the side. It was pretty close to fabulous, in my book.

I had to substitute capocollo for pancetta, since I couldn't find the latter at the grocery store. Capocollo is fully cooked, so I suppose it doesn't generate quite as much fat as pancetta, but it worked fine for this recipe.

The recipe also called for three leeks. Two would have been just fine, since the leeks I bought were ginormous. Leeks are actually kind of beautiful when cut, don't you think? I would also make just a tad bit more sauce next time. The pasta wasn't dry, but the sauce was so good that I would have liked a bit more of it.

It's rare when I find a recipe that I can make successfully and that the people in this house will actually EAT. This one's a keeper.

Thanks to Pioneer Woman, the day ended pretty well!

26 July 2010

Butterfly Bush

Last year, I planted a butterfly bush in an unfortunate spot. I really didn't expect it to live, so I wasn't too worried about my hurried choice of location.

Fortunately -- or unfortunately -- the butterfly bush DID live, and now it's very tall. Of course, it's still in the unfortunate spot. So I've been thinking about moving it, once the growing season is over.

But this past weekend, I noticed that the bush has become quite the hangout for the local butterflies. Yesterday I saw several different kinds of butterflies stopping by.

This "flurry of activity" is causing me to re-think my plans to move the bush. The butterflies obviously love it and the bush seems to be thriving.

Maybe we'll just make the best of it.

22 July 2010

The things you find in your closet (continued)...

I recently cleaned out a large walk-in closet and found all sorts of goodies. One of the most interesting finds was a box of notes from my elementary through high school years. It's been rather amusing -- although slightly mortifying -- to read through them.

Included in the box were a few notes I left for my parents over the years, including this one, probably written in 9th or 10th grade.

Click on the letter to read the task list I left for my poor mother. Line my purse? What the heck? That's no small task. Iron my scarf? I guess that's understandable, because we all know I lacked (and still lack) domestic skills.

But "get me up at 5:30 to load my purse"? Why was filling my purse with the day's supply of cosmetics such a complex endeavor that it necessitated rising at dawn?

Now, my hair -- precisely coiffed a la Farrah Fawcett -- was entirely another matter. It took an enormous amount of time (and no doubt hazardous amounts of hair spray) to curl it properly every morning.

I must say that I have NEVER received a note like this from my own daughter. Thanks to my mom, she is equipped with all the domestic skills I still lack. She could line her own purse (if she actually used one) and iron her own scarf (if she ever wore one). And her hair? Pretty much straight.

*sigh* I guess we're raising her right!

21 July 2010

19 July 2010

The things you find in your closet (continued)...

I recently cleaned out a closet and uncovered a variety of treasures, including a lethal weapon from Guatemala, my diary, and my beloved pencil box from elementary school. I'm so glad that my mom kept it! (Truth be told, she kept most everything.)

Those of you who grew up in the 60's and 70's will recognize the artwork on this pencil case! I remember thinking it was the absolute GROOVIEST pencil case imaginable at the time. I kept it tucked in my desk all through my late elementary school years.

It's like a time capsule! Let's take a peek at what's in the top section. A few observations are in order here:

* Look at those pencils! Of course, my pencils started out full size but as they got shorter, I relished moving them from the long compartments into the shorter ones. I definitely had the "sorting" compulsion even back then!
* In those days, we could get pencils with very cool designs on them. Note the STRIPED pencil (you all know how much I still love stripes!) and the paisley pencil. I remember absolutely coveting those paisley pencils.
* Check out those colored pencils...all with my initials on them! I must have had my dad carve them with his pocket knife. Heaven forbid those colored pencils should fall into the wrong hands!

But the best part about my pencil box was the tiny SECRET drawer at the bottom. Inside the drawer are a few small papers, bookmarks, a Colonial Bread nail file, a comb that looks like it belonged to my dad :), and a MAP!

I remember slyly pulling that map out to look at when I was done with my school work. One of my teachers even mentioned this to my mom at parent-teacher conferences. The funny thing is that I'm a terrible map-reader to this day! Obviously, I was only looking at the rainbow colors. :)
So as I was cleaning out the closet, I put together a container of treasures I want to keep. I carefully put my pencil box back together just as I had found it and tucked it inside the container for safe keeping.

If anyone ever tries to take my pencil box, I may have to go after them with that knife. :)

16 July 2010

Feline Friday: Afternoon Nap

If you're a kitty, there is nothing better than an afternoon nap in a sunny spot.

So sunny that you have to cover your eyes!

And if you're REALLY lucky, somebody might even rub your belly!

14 July 2010

The things you find in your closet...

I've been cleaning out a big walk-in closet this week. It's been a voyage of discovery, actually, as I unearthed all kinds of long-forgotten treasures including my childhood clock, my high school diary, and this lethal weapon:

Perhaps you're wondering why in the world we have such a thing in the closet. Spouse is the one who really should respond to this question, as this little knife belongs to him. He brought it back from Guatemala many years ago for reasons that are still a little unclear to me. (Obviously it wouldn't have quite made it through the TSA airport screenings these days!) Let me tell you, this knife is LONG! I pulled out my Accu-Cut (no pun intended) ruler to give you a better perspective on the length.

Okay, now this little bugger is going back into its protective case and will be hidden far from anybody's reach.

So, if there are any serial killers out there reading my blog (Do serial killers read blogs?), do NOT come looking for this knife! It's really not that sharp anyway. :)

13 July 2010

The Puffball Saga Continues

Some of you may recall that Lily is fairly obsessed with puffballs. She bats them around, carries them, and ultimately loses them under the fridge or stove. Sometimes they land in a bowl of water.

So I recently bought her an entire bag of puffballs, thinking this would solve the problem of the missing puffballs. But this only magnified the issue: Now we may have 20 puffballs missing at the same time!

So we frequently find Lily in this position, staring down a puffball which is beyond her reach.

Between the fridge and the wall, under the fridge, under the stove...you get the idea: Any place her arms won't reach or chubby body won't fit!

We've taken to keeping two yardsticks out at all times, one by the stove and one by the fridge, to facilitate Quick Puffball Retrieval. (Bonus point: Find the tops of Lily's ears in the above picture!)

And here she is, Happy Kitty with Puffball, once again!

All is good, for at least another 5 minutes!

12 July 2010

Gardens in July

I worked really hard on my flower beds back in April and May, hoping that I could correct the problems which have plagued them for the past few years. I was pretty happy with the way things looked until this month. Unfortunately, now that the plants are full size, it's apparent that I STILL have spacing problems. In some areas, I still have too much space between plants. In others, the plants are crowded against each other. Obviously, an amateur gardener's work is never done!

In spite of the spacing issues, I still have quite a few good things going on in parts of the yard. Here are a few photos:

Top row: Phlox planted last season; coral bells and oregano; fan flower hanging basket
Middle row: globe thistle; one of many patio pots; astilbe
Bottom row: coral bells; heliopsis; more phlox, transplanted from our first house

I'm very pleased with the two fan flower hanging baskets I'm trying out this season. The area in front of the house gets a lot of sun and wind, so the baskets tend to dry out quickly. In years past, I've tried a variety of flowers including bacopa, which sometimes got so dry between daily waterings that it looked like a Halloween decoration! So this year I asked the nursery to recommend a plant that could handle wind and sun. I am very pleased with the fan flower baskets which tolerate both and still look great.

10 July 2010

New Garden: Progress

Around here, gardening is a trial and error operation. Lots of trials, mostly errors. So I get really excited when something actually works (i.e., GROWS) the way I intended.

This little strip of garden along the back side of our garage is an example of my limited gardening success. Previously, it was filled with LOTS of coreopsis and a few leftovers from previous gardening errors. You may remember that this past May, I tore it all out and started fresh. It was so bad before I started that I figured it couldn't possibly look any worse.

The above photo was taken on the day I planted the new garden. I felt cautiously optimistic!

Photo #2 shows how it looked about a month later. Everything was still alive! This is always a good sign.

And here's how it looks today! The plants are growing nicely and my little patch of phlox (planted last season) is looking great.

Several plants have bloomed, and others should be flowering soon.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed about this garden. So far, so good!

06 July 2010

Scrapbook Your Vegetables

Here's a sample layout I just finished up for Memory Bound using Cosmo Cricket's new garden-themed line, "Garden Variety". With colorful, double-sided paper and smiling chipboard vegetables, this line is perfect for the aspiring gardener!

It is also perfect for my state fair vegetable competition pictures. I love going to the Agriculture Building at the fair each year to check out the beautiful garden specimens, including flowers, fruits, and vegetables. I'm always inspired by what I see!

05 July 2010

Getting Oriented

At the end of Finding Nemo, Nemo's dad lets go of him and sends him off to his first day of school with the words, "Now, go have an adventure!" I feel a little bit like Marlin right now as we prepare to send our daughter off to college. It's a big step which brings with it some apprehension but, like Nemo, she has what it takes to be successful!

We just returned from our orientation at Indiana University and I think each of us feels a bit overwhelmed by all the information we received. Maybe that's called "DIS-orientation"! Overall it was a very successful weekend.

It looks very likely that she'll have a place in the cymbal line of IU's marching band, although she still needs to complete the official audition process during band camp. It will be pretty exciting for her to play in IU's beautiful stadium! Of course, we cannot wait to go watch!

Music education and performance majors spend the majority of their time in the music buildings, taking classes and practicing. This is one of several buildings. IU is breaking ground on a new music facility (with a percussion wing) this year which -- hopefully -- will be completed within the next three years.

This is not an oven mitt or the Hamburger Helper guy! It's one of 13 harps sitting in the hallway of one of the music buildings. :)

And here's the best part of the orientation: A big smile.

Now, go have an adventure!

02 July 2010

Feline Friday

Here is Lily's newest technique for enjoying leftover cereal milk:

Dip the paw, lick the paw. Dip the paw, lick the paw.

If you do this very nonchalantly, no one will even notice!

01 July 2010

Mickey's and Minnie's Houses

In my opinion, no visit to Magic Kingdom is complete without a stop at Mickey's and Minnie's houses. Located in ToonTown at the back of the park, these little cottages are worth the walk.

The day I visited, a two-hour rain storm served to thin out the crowds, so I walked right in to each of the houses with no wait. As you can see, Mickey's kitchen is a real mess! His bedroom, however, is neat and tidy with all of his suits and gloves perfectly arranged in his wardrobe. But I think that the best part of Mickey's house is his garden, located just out back. The pumpkins growing there are shaped like Mickey heads!

Click on the collages to bigify!

Minnie's house is one of my favorite things to see at the Magic Kingdom. I especially love her refrigerator which is filled with -- you guessed it -- CHEESE! Push a button on her microwave and popcorn begins to pop. Push a button on her oven and a delicious cake begins to rise.

Did you know Minnie is crafty? She has a craft room for painting and sewing! Some of her quilts and paintings are on display in the hallway. She has won many ribbons at the fair!

And next to the telephone, you'll find Minnie's bulletin board with her to-do list. Click on the collage to read her daily activities, my favorite being "mousercize"!