Thursday, May 25, 2017

Houseboats on the Mississippi

"It's lovely to live on a raft.  We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our back and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened . . ." --Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Recently, the husband and I spent a couple of days driving around Wisconsin and down the Great River Road.  Some of the prettiest country I know is along the banks of the Mississippi in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern Iowa and Illinois. It's not the most dramatic scenery in the world, but it has a simple, quiet, ancient beauty that soothes my soul.

On this last trip north, we accidentally missed a turn and crossed the Highway 25 bridge into Wabasha, Minnesota, which proved to be a fun detour.  We wound up spending the night in Winona.  In the morning, we decided to head back across the river to Wisconsin on Highway 43.  The highway crosses Latsch Island, also known as Island Number Seventy-Two. We hopped off the highway on the island and discovered a whole world of houseboats.

Houseboats along the Mississippi River in Winona, Minnesota

The houseboats vary greatly in style and quality.  Some are two story marvels that look like "regular" houses.  Others appear to be little more than hobo shacks, ramshackle affairs built of spare parts.  Many of the boats are hooked up to electricity, and some have TV antennas rising above the roofs.  There are several porta potties on the island, so I don't think they have plumbing (how could they?).  According to an NPR story I read, some of the houseboats are occupied year round. Can you imagine how cold they must get, not to mention problems with river ice?  While not for me, it looked like a laid-back life, filled with wildlife and beauty.

The Wagon Bridge on Latsch Island

The houses are best seen from an old bridge called the John A. Latsch Historical Wagon Bridge (or, of course, from the river itself).  We drove over the bridge (five miles per hour speed limit!) into Wisconsin, but had to turn around in a fishing camp because the road was blocked.  As we returned to the island, we had a marvelous view of the houseboats.  Not worried about traffic, we stopped on the bridge so I could snap some pictures.

By the way, you may remember how I rhapsodized about some battered cheese curds in Dubuque, Iowa back in January 2016.  I can also vouch for the Leinenkugel's battered curds at the Fill In Station in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.  If you're ever in the area, check them out! 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Coming Back Into the Light

It's been a while since I've written a post.  You may remember last August I wrote about my brother's paralysis and death (cancer).  At that point, I tried to make a conscious decision to live life more fully (hence the kayak purchase). Things didn't go exactly according to plan.  I spent a lot of time in Tennessee over the next couple of months, clearing out my brother's house and selling it.  Then my father began to decline further (Parkinson's).  Long story short, he passed away at the beginning of December.  Luckily, I was able to be with him.  I drove home with pneumonia (didn't know it until chills started halfway through the drive) and spent several weeks recovering.  Then my mother decided to move into assisted living, so that turned into another four weeks spent in Tennessee.  There's still my parents' condo to sell and all the possessions to redistribute.  So all in all, the last eleven months have been a little overwhelming.

Dad and me around 1960, reprinted from a color slide

The bad days, however, are becoming fewer.  I am starting to see the light again.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Looking for Adventure

Last weekend, we went a little crazy and this happened.

We bought ourselves two kayaks.  We're ready for adventure.  Honestly, when I saw the kayaks strapped to the car, I could hear "Born to Be Wild" playing in my head.  I feel a little like a middle-aged cliche, driving a Subaru with kayaks on the roof, but it's going to be fun.  We took them out for their maiden voyage to Shabbona Lake State Park, about thirty minutes away.  It's a small lake, only 318 acres, and is used for fishing and float boats only, no speed boats. Perfect for getting the feel of our new kayaks.  And we weren't the only ones who thought so; we met another middle-aged couple, who had brought their new kayaks to Shabbona for their first trip too.

Hard to paddle in the lily pads, but I wanted a close look at the flowers.

We found an area covered with lily pads and water lilies.  We saw a couple of herons, lots of purple martins and dragonflies.  A lovely, peaceful time.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sweet Corn

It's sweet corn time here in Illinois.  Every year, I tell myself I'll buy extra corn and freeze it, but I never do.  Only this year, I did!  Last week, I stopped by a local truck/farm stand and picked up four baker's dozen ears of bicolor sweet corn.

The counter became a shucking station.

When I was growing up, my family grew corn in their gardens, and I have lots of memories of my mother and aunt "putting up corn," which meant shucking, washing, cutting off the cob, partially cooking it, cooling it, and putting it in quart freezer boxes.  As I got old enough, I helped out.  First with shucking, but later with the whole job.

Washed and ready to cut off

My grandmother, then my mother and aunt, made what we always called "fried corn."  It is cut off the cob and placed in a non-stick skillet (although I'm sure my grandmother used cast iron as there was no non-stick in her time) with water, butter, salt and pepper.  It is simmered for thirty or more minutes, until it is cooked down and creamy.  No milk or cream is added, however, only the milk from the corn itself.  That dish really is my youth.  I love fried corn.  I even, or actually especially, like it when the corn is not tender and sweet.  Sometimes my parents bought a field corn, trucker's delight, which is not sweet and can be kind of tough.  It became something of a joke in the family because that was actually my favorite for fried corn.

Ready to cook and freeze
It's a fair bit of work, even with only four dozen ears, but it will be so worth it come winter when I can pull a taste of summer out of the freezer.

Ready for the compost pile

Monday, August 1, 2016

Saying Good-Bye

The last two months have been very hard.  The last two weeks even harder.  On July 15, I learned that my older brother, my only sibling, had passed away at age 59.  It was not unexpected.  He had battled stage four renal cancer (metastasized to the spine) for five years.  I remember so clearly the day I found out he had cancer.  It was like someone punched me in the gut.  I went out to the hammock, sat there alone and cried.  Your sibling is you, part of you -- your first friend, your childhood ally (and sometimes enemy), the one who has known you all your life.

In early June, we stopped by my brother's farmhouse in Tennessee.  He lived alone with his dog, Walter, and saw a hospice nurse once a week.  "I don't know if I'll make it until the Fourth of July," he said as we said good-bye at the door.  Three days later, I was on my way back to Tennessee.  He had woken up paralyzed from the chest down due to growth of the tumors.  Even after he was hospitalized in the palliative care unit, he continued to make plans -- I was instructed to bring in his coffee maker, a cart to put by his sink, his laptop, sugar packets, rubber bands, you name it. I was told what to get out of his house -- "You're in charge," he said, then questioned most of my decisions and instructed me in detail via cell phone what tools to pack up and take home to my son.  The big brother until the end.

After two weeks, I came back home.  I had planned to go back to Tennessee the last week of July.  I had the completed paperwork from the veterinarian which would allow Walter to visit him at the hospital already in my car glove compartment.  Then just after midnight on July 15, I got the call.  Even though I knew it would happen, I still felt that it was sudden, unexpected.  I wandered around the house, held Walter's face in my hands and told him how sorry I was that he was now an orphan.  I paid bills, I packed a bag, and I spent the next eight hours alone in the car driving back to Tennessee.  It was the worst drive I've ever had.  As the sun came up on an absolutely gorgeous day, all I could think about was that my brother would never see another sunrise.  That he wouldn't see the beauty of the world again. Even as I thought these things, I still couldn't really believe or understand that my brother was gone.

So good-bye to my brother, my first friend, my childhood co-adventurer and fellow explorer.

On a roadside, somewhere in Germany, around 1961.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Waiting Room Magazine Cuisine

One of the best things about going to the dentist is the magazine rack in the waiting room.  I don't subscribe to many magazines, so being in the waiting room is like getting a glimpse into other worlds -- Midwest Living, Simple, who knows what I'll find?  On Saturday, after chatting with the receptionist a few minutes -- how's the family, how 'bout this weather (snow flurries) -- I settled down with a magazine with lovely pastel Easter eggs on the cover.  Partway through, I came across a recipe for beef brisket that looked fresh and different.  I showed it to the husband; he agreed.  I thumbed through a few more pages.  Then I thought maybe I should write that recipe down, so I started to rummage in my purse for a pen and scrap of paper.  The door opened.  "Come on back."  I hastily put the magazine back in the rack and meekly followed the hygienist.

With my teeth cleaned, X-rays taken, and a figurative pat on the head from the dentist, I returned to the waiting room. The husband was still in the back, so I figured I'd get that recipe.  The magazine was gone!  No pastel Easter eggs to be seen in the rack or on the chairs.  Hummpf.  Some other middle-aged lady (there had been one in the waiting room) had no doubt taken it with her back to the dentist's chair.

When I got home, I began searching online for the recipe.  I didn't know what magazine it was, only that it had Easter eggs on the cover.  I searched for a recipe with the ingredients, and I struck gold.  I found it in Good Housekeeping. The name of the recipe is a mouthful, Soy-Braised Beef and Tomato-Mint Salad.  Here's the link.  

I made it for last night's dinner, and it was a hit.  It's super easy, too, as the beef cooks all day in the crock pot.  I served it, as suggested, with jasmine rice.  Next time, both of us agreed, maybe replace the red onion with green onions or shallots.  The onion flavor was a little strong.  (The husband said this first and he loves onions.)  In the magazine, they used whole mint leaves, which looked prettier, but my mint leaves were gargantuan, so I chopped them.  One important note: I used low sodium soy sauce and it was plenty salty.

photo from Kikkoman web site

Speaking of soy sauce, did you know that much of the Kikkoman soy sauce produced in the U.S. comes from Walworth, Wisconsin?  It's a tiny town just over the Illinois border.  We used to live seven miles from Walworth, so I usually buy Kikkoman.  I remember the first time we drove north on Rt. 14 into Wisconsin and I saw that big Kikkoman plant sitting out in the middle of a field.  Such a surprise.  But it makes sense, since the Midwest grows a lot of soybeans.  Might as well put the plant near the source, right?

Anyway, next time you're at the dentist, keep your eyes open, be sure to have a pen and paper, and don't let anyone snatch your magazine and carry it to the back before you get your recipe.  But if that does happen, there's always the internet.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Garden Time Approaches

It's officially spring according to the calendar and even judging by the temperatures and vegetation here in northern Illinois.  On our morning walks, we've noticed more activity from groundhogs and muskrats.  The robins are back, the chipmunks are out, and a pair of adorable rabbits have made themselves at home in our yard (which, however, has not been great for my flowers).

Bad bunnies!  See how they've been eating the daylilies?  They've also sampled the crocus and pansies.

I'm always thinking about how to improve the general looks of the garden -- what to move, what to add -- and recently I've become kind of enamored of willow fences.  Then the other day, I was in a local home improvement store (Menards) and saw peeled willow screen panels (46" high by 36" wide).  The wheels started turning.

We live in a fairly typical in-town location with neighbors on each side.  Our rear neighbors have a wood stockade fence which provides a perfect screen to the back.  Our side neighbors' yards are more open to ours.  On the east side, we have a small area by the garage that years back we converted from very spotty lawn to purple wintercreeper.  It thrives there.  I have flower beds on either side of the creeper.  My long bed of daylilies, however, just sort of mushes up against the neighbor's yard, which is a combination of ground cover and smallish trees.  I decided the willow screens would be perfect for adding some structure to that area of the garden.

I'm really pleased with how it looks.  Right now, I admit, it does look a little like it's just stuck in space there, but the hydrangea to the rear will leaf out and fill in shortly, and we decided to extend just to the birdhouse as a logical stopping point.  If we had kept going, we would soon have had to wrangle our way around a fair sized walnut tree.  Plus, at $16.99 per panel, six panels seemed like plenty!

We attached each panel to its neighbor with zip ties and anchored each panel into the ground with those green metal plant stakes.  I like the fact that it's not at all permanent and we can easily take it out in the fall (or before if I decide it doesn't work after all).

For the most part, I plan to leave it unadorned, but I may let some morning glory vines grow on it.  I have some sprouting that I hope to train up the birdhouse pole.  Maybe a few on the screen would be nice too.

I'm so glad it's warmed up enough to get outside.  Now when will those daffodils bloom???

Morning glory seedlings!

Monday, January 25, 2016

By the Light

Saturday was our wedding anniversary.  We spent the day in Dubuque, Iowa.  It was our second quick visit to Dubuque, and I have to say, I really like that town -- the bluffs, the river, the architecture.  I need a third visit, an overnight, where I can explore more fully.  I'd like to check out the Shot Tower and ride the Elevator (closed in winter), which is a terrifyingly steep railroad up to a scenic view.  While we didn't get to do much, we were lucky enough to find a terrific place for lunch downtown.  A local recommended a darling little cafe/pub called First and Main.  She also specifically recommended their cheese curds.  She acknowledged that it sounded kind of weird to suggest something so ordinary, but, oh, they were not ordinary at all.  They were the absolutely most amazing, lightly beer-battered, melt-in-your-mouth cheese curds I have ever eaten.  If you're ever in Dubuque . . . .

On the drive home, there was a beautiful sunset.  This is what it looked like at sixty miles an hour.

Then the moon rose.  Many of you saw that moon on Saturday.  I couldn't take my eyes off it; I think I really was a little moonstruck.  Luckily I wasn't driving.  I tried to get a photo of the moon at sixty miles an hour too, but that wasn't working out too well, so finally the husband careened into a side road, and I snapped a quick shot.

More time and camera adjustments would have been better, but we knew Alfie was at home, eagerly awaiting his dinner.  And anyway, this picture is enough to remind me of that enormous moon hitting my eye like a big cheese curd in the sky (or something like that).

Monday, January 11, 2016

Warming Up a Cold Evening

Brrr! Where's that El Nino they promised us this winter? It was four degrees yesterday, so I made a spicy skillet jambalaya to warm us up. I got the recipe from the January issue of Country Living magazine, but I'm sure there are lots of others online. I used chicken andouille sausage, which lowered the fat a little, and added a bit of smoked paprika to up the smokiness of the dish.  It was flavorful, but not too hot.  A warming bowl of jambalaya and later an episode of Downton Abbey -- not bad for a cold, winter evening.

P.S. A digital stove tip: Recently the digital control on my gas stove goofed up. It would not go above 287 degrees. I called the repairman, who came out, unplugged my stove and plugged it back in. Problem solved. Only $76 to unplug the stove. I hope this tip can save someone else a service call charge. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . . Bedlam

It's been a hectic few weeks here at the Posy house. We ended November with a broken clothes dryer and a dicey sewer. The second week of December found our yard populated with plumbers and equipment for three days.
Just what you want in your yard two weeks before Christmas.
Luckily, we did not have to replace our drainage line, despite the fact that it is clay tile that is almost a century old. Our house predates the installation of sewers in our town by a few years, but I'm guessing they got on line fairly soon. The first sewer system in town was completed in 1908. And while they are still intact, those clay tiles allow tree roots to infiltrate everywhere there is a joint. With our big hackberry tree as well as shrubs, etc., our pipes were pretty well clogged with tree roots. That is more than you wanted to know about that, I'm sure, but suffice it to say that it was a big (read expensive) job, so I've told the husband to expect a roll of toilet paper as his Christmas gift. He thinks I'm kidding.

In between appliance deliveries, plumber visits, etc., I have managed to get all my Christmas baking finished. Five types of cookies and also mini peanut butter cakes. None of which I have pictures of because I popped them all into the freezer. I polled the family at Thanksgiving and got two requests for Italian wedding cookies and one for orange chocolate chippers. I also made a batch of cream cheese-walnut cookies, a favorite around here. The new cookies this year both came from the December issue of Country Living magazine: red velvet cookies and triple chocolate hazelnut.

I've been feeling a particular sense of urgency in my Christmas planning this year as I will be away from home the entire week before Christmas. I'm hoping to get home by evening on Christmas Eve if everything goes according to plan -- God willing and the creek don't rise (or, more appropriately, the snow don't fall). So even though, as I told the husband last night, I feel like I'm living on a knife's edge and it won't take much to push me over, it actually is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Mini nutcrackers standing guard in the entry hall.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Snow and Dreams of Warmer Days

It's not even Thanksgiving, and in northern Illinois, we have snow.  Lots of snow.  I'm guessing there are about five inches on the ground.  The ground was fairly warm, so the earliest snow melted.  It's a heavy, clingy, beautiful snow. The birds have been caught a little by surprise, I think, and have been crowding the bird feeder all day.  Here are a couple of beauties waiting their turn.

And to think, only a month ago, I was enjoying warm, sunny weather in Florida and Savannah.  I've meant to share my Savannah pictures with you, but haven't had a chance.  Here are just a couple of snaps from that trip.

Lovely Round Island Park just south of Vero Beach, Florida
While I do love snow, I wouldn't mind being down south again for a day or two.  We visited family in Florida, then took a little detour to Savannah for one night.  I was really impressed by the view of the salt marshes.  The photo below was taken from the car as we went over a very tall bridge into Brunswick, Georgia.  

Salt marsh as seen from bridge heading into Brunswick, Georgia

For one last glimpse of warm weather, I'll leave you with a shot of Bay Street in the historic district of Savannah. Whether it's warm or cold, I hope things are lovely where you are.

Bay Street, Savannah, Georgia

Saturday, November 14, 2015

It's My Birthday, And I'll Eat If I Want To

Yesterday was my birthday -- a Friday the 13th birthday, my luckiest day.  I was born on a Friday the 13th.  My next Friday the 13th birthday won't be until 2020.  To celebrate my special day, I made myself a cake.  A whole big cake just for me (okay, I shared with the husband).

It isn't fancy.  In fact, I even used a mix!  I tried to make a pudding poke cake, which sounded kind of fun, but my pudding was a little too set up, so it didn't flow into the holes.  So instead, it's a chocolate cake with pudding filling and whipped cream.  I expect we'll wind up throwing some of this away, but that's okay.  I'm worth a cake on my special day!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Outside My Office Window

I've been semi-chained to my desk lately, and while I am working hard, I keep getting distracted by feathered visitors outside my window -- cardinals, chickadees, finches, nuthatches, and sparrows (lots of sparrows).  And then there's this one cheeky guy that runs off everyone else:

He catches my eye every time. (And yes, my bird feeder is really dirty!)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Prairie Pinks

Prairie wetland area, mostly green and brown

When I think of Illinois prairies, I picture mostly yellows and browns, especially in the late summer -- the goldenrods, black-eyed Susans, various types of sunflowers, grass seed heads, Monarch and Sulphur butterflies -- but there are also many touches of pink and purple, especially if you look closely.

Obedient Plant (?)

Alfie and I had a long ramble in the prairie today.  First we tramped around the wetland area.  Despite the lack of rain the last couple of months, the wetland was full and wet. Enormous frogs hopped further into the water as we passed by.  I would have taken some pictures, but I didn't have my long lens, and I do NOT get close to frogs.  I am creeped out by frogs and toads ever since as a young teenager I accidentally squashed a toad while wearing thin-soled house shoes.  Ugh, even thinking about it gives me the heebie jeebies.

Near the wetland, we saw something nicer than frogs: fun little flowers called Blue (or Swamp) Vervain and Pink Lady's Thumb.
Blue Vervain on left and Pink Lady's Thumb on right
After getting our fill of the wetland area, Alfie and I crossed over to the dog portion of the prairie where he could run off leash and sniff and explore to his heart's content.  While he nosed into holes, the creek, and a neighboring cornfield, I found additional pink and purple flowers.

Bees hard at work on Joe Pye Weed (or maybe it's Queen of the Prairie?)
Thistle and Coneflower
The bluish-purple wild bee balm was beginning to fade, but there were still enough blossoms to feed a hungry Monarch butterfly.

Finally, Alfie and I were both getting tired.  We stopped by a sunflower-framed bridge for a short rest and a drink of water for Alfie, then headed home.  Thanks for coming along!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Louise's Basket

I really don't buy much in the way of home goods these days, honest. But this weekend, we passed by a group of three little antique shops in Starks, Illinois, a crossroads near Huntley. The husband has a particular fondness for a couple of these shops because in the past he has found vintage hand tools there, notably several hand drills which he cleaned up, oiled, and gave to our kids. He's currently on the lookout for some kind of tool thing, I can't remember what, so we stopped. My favorite of the three shops is called Rose and Rooster or Rooster and Rose, some such name that sounds like a British pub. It is a tiny little shop that is packed and stacked to the point that I always walk carefully through, clutching my purse to my side to prevent knocking something off. I think I always buy something there, so it's lucky I don't go very often. My latest find: a small picnic basket.

At thirteen inches wide by eight inches deep, it's not too small, not too big -- just right.
The shape and style first caught my eye; it's so much like the baskets my mother-in-law used to buy. Then, the surprise inside: it still has its grid which provides a protected space for a pie or other delicate item to fit on the bottom.

What clinched the sale, however, was the handwritten name on the front and inside of the basket.

Louise Gerhardt had written her name and the name of her small Illinois town on the basket. While I have no connection to this family or even the name Louise, the personal touch of the hand printed name just grabbed me. Baskets like this date from the 1940s according to an article I saw online.  I imagine Mrs.Gerhardt taking this to a church supper and making dead sure she got her basket back. She lived in a town not too far from us. I Googled her name and town (the husband said he knew I would), and found that she was born in 1899 and died in 1978. She and her husband are buried in a town in the southern part of the county.

I found some very similar baskets for sale online -- one for $58 and one for $72.  Want to know how much I paid? $12.76 including tax. I call that a deal. It needs some cleaning up, but I love my new/old picnic basket. Thanks, Mrs. Gerhardt, I'll treasure your basket, and if I take it anywhere, I'll make dead sure I get it back.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Yikes! Where Did Summer Go?

I know it's still summer, still warm and humid here in northern Illinois, but I'm feeling like summer is beginning to wind down and fall will be here before I know it. One indication of a looming autumn is my garden. The last daylily bloomed this week. The late summer surprise lilies are still in bloom, but already beginning to fade.
My garden gets bedraggled in August. Asters: I think asters might be an answer. There used to be an older lady, Eve, in our neighborhood who grew gorgeous purple and pink asters along her parkway. Her yard was a cheery sight as the dog days of summer faded away. Once her husband caught someone picking the flowers! I guess the woman thought the parkway was public property. Sadly, Eve is gone and so are her asters.

My summer has been busy; I've been
working, visiting family, and crocheting.
Right now I'm making some retro-y pillow
covers that I'll show you when I've finished
the second one.

In the meantime, I can show you a Queen Ann's
Lace scarf I completed recently. My daughter
had given me some luscious alpaca yarn for
Christmas (Cascade Yarns Baby Alpaca
Chunky Paints), which worked up beautifully.
Maybe the fall colors of the yarn are what make
me think summer is over.

These autumn colors and the fallen leaves I've
been finding in the birdbath need to be a spur to
me to finish all the projects I had planned for the
summer. I have another pathway to dig, shrubs
to prune, birdhouse to clean out, etc., etc.

Hope you're enjoying whatever season you're in!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Beans, a Bathroom, and a Beetle for Good Measure

What do you get when you mix garbanzo beans, a bathroom renovation, and a red beetle?  A post about my summer. Here it is, already July.  The summer is flying by.  Summer is the time we do a lot of grilling and I begin to crave salads.  Yesterday, I finished up a bowl of tabouli at lunch and immediately wondered what kind of salad I could concoct for dinner (without a trip to the store).  Answer -- garbanzo, tomato, basil.  Yum.

There are lots of versions of this salad on the internet, but this is my take on it.

Tomato Garbanzo Salad

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
2-3 tablespoons finely minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt

Mix together beans, tomatoes, basil, onion, and garlic.  Whisk oil, vinegar and salt together in small bowl and pour over the salad.  Mix well.  Cover and chill for 30 minutes to an hour.  Use slotted spoon to transfer salad to serving dish. 

In other news, we spent nine days last month at our daughter's house continuing the bathroom remodel.  We worked probably eight hours a day, but we were really down to the wire at the end.  The husband was grouting the tiled walls the Saturday she and I moved her furniture in.  Fortunately, the plumber came promptly the following Monday to hook up the faucets, etc.

There is still work to do -- priming and painting and some trim work -- but the hard work is all finished.  New cement board and drywall, tile floor and walls (hard to see here, but there is white subway tile up about four feet and all the way to the ceiling around the tub), new sink and medicine cabinet, new wood trim around door and window and a new bifold door.  The old door opened in and hit the sink.  It had to be closed in order to wash one's hands.  Not ideal.  We had hoped to install a sliding door, but the walls were not large enough to accommodate one.

I think it turned out pretty well.  But about that floor . . . .  The one-inch hexagon tiles come on a mesh sheet to make application easier.  The trouble is, the design has a lot more black in it than what you see here.  "Too busy. Too much black."  So the daughter pulled off about thirteen black tiles for every square foot of tile. That meant that when laying it (while the daughter was conveniently away at work), we had to hand insert white tiles in the wet mortar. Tedious.  Then when grouting, some of the hand-inserted white tiles shifted or even came loose.  A nightmare.  As long as no one looks too closely, however, it looks fine.  As I told the daughter, we weren't charging her for labor, and you get what you pay for.

Finally, I'll leave you with a picture of a little critter we saw at the prairie the other morning.  A cute milkweed beetle resting on a milkweed that is ready to burst into bloom.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

What I've Learned in May

Honeysuckles blooming in May
On this last day of May, I've been thinking about all the things I've learned this month.

Early in the month, I learned that I am not a hang-tough-and-fight girl, at least when it comes to illness.  The husband and I both came down with some kind of virus. The only symptoms were a cough and extreme fatigue. It was the fatigue that got me.  I hadn't been sick in several years, not even a cold, and I was NOT a trouper.  I just wanted to lie down and die.  I realized that if I had a serious terminal illness, after I died no one would say I had fought a courageous battle.  They would have to say, "She just lay down on her couch and gave up."

Second try?  Taken from our upstairs porch.

I learned anew that nature is red in tooth and claw.  You may remember last year when I rhapsodized about our little robin fledglings.  The robins returned this year and built a nest in the same spot on top of the bat house.  I kept anxious watch and soon spied three tiny heads.  Then one day, I was standing in the yard and I heard a tremendous squawking.  I looked up and saw two adult robins chasing a hawk away from the nest.  The hawk had come in like a silent assassin.  I never heard a thing until it was too late.  Sadly, all three baby robins were gone.

There is a robin sitting on a new nest nearby, however, so maybe the same robins rebuilt and are trying again.  This nest is on the house; I hope it is more protected from hungry hawks.

I also learned that time, like birds, really can fly.  Our youngest starts his first grown-up job tomorrow.  He has essentially forbidden me to mention him in my blog, so I can't reveal much, but we are pleased and excited for him. Our other child, our daughter, closed on a house this month on her 26th birthday.

It's a little cottage not far from the library where she heads up youth services.  It's a darling house and, with a little work, will be quite charming.  But here's the thing: I'm pretty sure this new homeowner was in kindergarten only a couple of years ago.  When I think about my kids, it's like a movie with flashbacks and flashforwards.  They are toddlers, then -- whoosh -- they are adults with paychecks and mortgages.

Related to the passage of time and the daughter's house, I learned that I am not as young as I once was.  Of course, everyone knows that's true, but a little physical home rehab work makes it all the more obvious.  The husband and I have done a lot of rehab work over the years -- tearing out plaster and carpet, building walls, stripping woodwork and wallpaper, endless painting, etc., etc.  Much of that, however, was done when we were in our salad days.  I spent about ten days at our daughter's house this month, painting, ripping out a bathroom, and let's just say: my salad days have wilted.
We made good progress.  We got the bathroom down to the studs and subfloor. The bathroom looks like tile in the pictures, but it was fake tile hardboard.  Around the tub, the hardboard was covered with another surface!  We repaired and filled woodwork and repainted the larger bedroom (pink with white trim!).  In the bedroom, I re-learned another lesson.  Knotty pine must be primed with shellac-based primer.  Kilz does NOT cover knots.  I knew that, but was stupid and didn't think it through.  So now her sloping pine ceiling has four coats of paint -- Kilz, paint, Zinsser BIN, paint.  Whew!

Finally in May, I learned that a climbing hydrangea is worth waiting years for.  I planted a hydrangea vine quite some years ago, more than five for sure.  Last year I had one bloom and was very pleased.  This year, it exploded. Absolutely worth the wait!