Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Just Love My Landscaping

While planning our new house, my mind often wandered to landscaping. Visions of the Missouri Botanical Gardens in my home city floated in my mind...then I would come crashing back to reality. Reducing our utility bills with shrubs and trees probably should have come to mind, as this side benefit becomes more important all the time. My thoughts, however, were of blending the sharp edges of the house into the countryside and of shifting an open field into a beautiful, shady retreat.

White Hydrangea

Last fall, we worked as a family tackling our first project, the front landscaping, with two willing participants and three forced-labor children. The first job, unloading a truckload of composted manure...a shovelful at a time, was not terribly popular.

Moonbeam Coreopsis
Next up, spreading a truckload of mulch, which we purchased at Hardwoods, Inc. in Belvue, Kansas. We have a very old truck that we took over and had them fill for a couple of nickels. Well, a few more than a couple, but it was very inexpensive. Again, we all grabbed shovels and blanketed the area with fragrant cidar mulch.

Pink Blushing Knockout Rose

The final step was, of course, my favorite part, digging the holes for the plants that had been delivered by Master Landscaping of Manhattan. Jill at Master Landscaping drew our design taking our ideas and giving them a lovely polish.

Little Princess Spirea (in front), Royal Star Magnolia (on the end)

When we built the house, we decided a sprinkler system was more important than a refrigerator or windows. Even so we still wavered back and forth because of the expense. I'm pleased to say we have all three. So after planting, the hubby re-adjusted the sprinkler system to water the new plantings and we sat back to watch. (sat back...ha ha ha...more accurately, we were freed to work on something else).

The front landscape has many purposes...

Prairie Fire Crabapple with Veronica all around

Not only beauty, but a park for the animals...

an extra run space for our basketball playing boys.

... and for us, landscaping is a relaxation opportunity...strolling to take in the bursting blooms, pulling a few weeds and breathing in the fresh air.

The Great Wall

We had a bit of a drainage problem after the house was completed, so earlier this spring we had the handy-dandy, earth-mover man come and re-work our driveway.

As an added bonus, his work created a place where we needed a rock retaining wall. In my imagination, this wall would offer endless landscaping opportunities... or at the very least add some interest to the front yard. The only downside is most of my outside "images" involve work for the husband. Fortunately on this one he didn't seem to mind.

We headed down to the local stone yard and selected a tumbled limestone called Dover Shell. This stack was delivered Saturday morning.

After the rain stopped and the area dried up enough, Bart got busy on this weekender project. He measured, dug, selected, hauled and leveled. Repeat, repeat, repeat!

As I watched and took photos I could feel some words bubbling up and pushing to get out..."would you like some help?"


My job was backfilling behind the stones. I felt a compulsive need to try to separate as much dirt as possible from the gravel. ho ho hee hee...I'm afraid, I wasn't much help.

About as much as the cats....

...who had a compulsive need to walk the wall.

The hubby finished up on Sunday evening.

Isn't it cool???

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Summer Lunch?

My friend, The Country Doctor's Wife is truly a fountain of wisdom, especially on matters of customer service, family relations and cuisine. I have no doubt that the new editions of Emily Post and Rachel Ray will carry numerous quotes from her blog. So when she paired two garden favorites together for lunch the other day, I followed suit.

After all, this spring I dove into the gardening world once again with an unparalleled enthusaism - reading organic gardening books and magazines, and dirting my hands whenever possible. I've studied and tried mouthwatering recipes based on homegrown vegetables and fruits, and have worked to bring more cooked-from-scratch meals into our home. As called for in the recipe, I have fresh homegrown tomatoes and cucumbers.

Aren't they lovely?

Something, however, went seems to have gone wrong. I've made a big mistake in following the recipe and I'd better consult CDW on this mishap.

Some pizza rolls showed up on a plate...

...my plate!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Just Wondering

How do you convincingly explain to a boy that socks were not meant to be disposable?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Playing Student at Back to School Night

Last night was Back to School Night at the Middle School for Middleman. It started with a free hot dog dinner... if you serve free food, they will come. I pitched in a little in the meal prep and geez, that time was priceless. Lots of sage advice on handling teenagers flew around during the assembly line work. Thanks, ladies.

Following the meal and a welcome from the principal, the students with parents in tow completed a super-shortened school day. A bell rang and we headed for the first class...gym. The gym teachers worked hard to fill the 8 minutes and warned we may have to fill the extra time by running laps...huh? Isn't this pretend school? All concentration was lost as I imagined us old-fogies hoofing around the gym... thankfully the bell rang... onto the next class.

We moved through Middleman's schedule, sitting at his desk and glimpsing his view for a few moments. We heard the philosophy, guidelines and expectations of each of his teachers...got to size them up. They gave us varying ways to contact them and were quite sincere in their desire for us to use them. I couldn't help but be impressed by the number of teachers who off-handedly expressed a love for their subject! Their pleasure at starting a new year was leaking out everywhere. It was contagious. I even appreciated hearing the "new" late work policy - the third "new" late work policy in three years. They were not ashamed of improving it and working to pull the best out of the students. Not even a hint of a "this is the way it's always been done" attitude. I liked that.

We also gained an understanding of the amount of energy consumed by our son each day. He needs to hike from one end of the building and back no less than five times a day. Doesn't leave much time for socializing, daggumit! Must be why he loves getting to school early and eating lunch.

The demands on Middleman's time, energy and attention are great. Back to School Night helped me know caring people are in the building, willing to help...gives a Mom great comfort. It's going to be a good year!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

One of Our Own Earns Prestigious Award

Brook, Greg, Piper, Brett and Maddox

As many of you know, our brother-in-law, Greg, has served in the military for his entire career. He has earned many promotions and honors, including his most recent promotion to major. As a career military person, Greg volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan. Last July, he traveled to the southern region of Afghanistan very near the Pakistan border...not a safe place. He remained for almost a year, returning in April to a very happy family.

We learned yesterday that he has been awarded the Bronze Star. This medal may be "awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguishes himself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service." This is a great honor and one that we are not surprised Greg has earned. He is a man of high character, courage and innate leadership ability.
Congratulations, Greg! Thank you for devoting your life to serving our country.
P.S. If you decide to deploy again, voluntarily, we may have to hurt you ourselves... xoxo

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Cow in the Backyard

Yesterday, I had coffee with my neighbor and she casually mentioned to me that she was thinking of getting a cow...maybe, two cows. These would not be pets. They would be cows for eating. The neighbor on the other side of her has wanted to do this as well and they have been toying with where to put fencing and exactly how this would all work. She visited with a knowledgeable farmer from our church, who mentioned that we (here's where we come into the picture) have some nice brome grass on our field back by her barn. Cows really like brome grass, she explained. Maybe we would be interested in a side of beef?



Stutter, spit, choke...

You better let me think about it...

At the dinner table last night I brought up the subject.

My husband's response, "Excuse me...???"

My oldest's response, a silent, you've-completely-lost-your-mind stare.

My middleman's response, "We're going to have a cow in the backyard and then EAT it?" Earlier this summer, one of my kids said that the potatoes we had dug from the garden were gross because they were so dirty. We have become a bit removed from "the how" of our food reaching the table.

My youngest's response, "I think we need a leapord or a lion in the back pasture, not a cow."

After the idea sunk in for a while, and brains whirled about the workings and meanings of such a quest, the thought of raising our own hormone-free, pasture-feed beef seemed to take on a bit of acceptance. I just mowed that field over the weekend and coincidently kept thinking surely there's something interesting we can do with this pasture...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Family Reunion - Part 2

Did anyone tell, notify, alert...uh, warn, the wonderful people at Marion Lake that our family was coming?

This was Reunion Command Central...the location of the food, the air-conditioning and the weather-wimps (just kidding Boppa (Jess) - 100 degrees outside, yummy food and drink inside - I'd say you were the wise one).

As I mentioned in Family Reunion Part 1, one fascinating aspect of reunions are all of the pictures and stories that are shared. We all enjoyed reviewing and discussing the pictures.

Let's talk a moment about food, shall we? Is it possible for two or more people to gather without an overabundance of food? I think not! One of the reunion traditions I enjoy are the family recipes. Here, Nana and Brook are making Momo's biscuits. We also had Momo's fruit salad and Tutti Fruiti Ice Cream.

Need I say more???

Well, maybe a little more...we had two additional delicacies that were beyond compare! One was the fried fish dinner, which is also a reunion tradition. John catches the fish at area lakes and then uses his special recipe batter and cooking method to make us all drool, fawn and beg him for more. Here he is between his two brothers, Ken and Brent.

Susie showed us how to make a special Swedish dessert, Osta Koka with Lindenberry Jam. It was wonderful and tasted like a custard or thick pudding with a sweet, tangy topping.

Taste aside, the real fun was making it.

The day was steamy and the lake was inviting. Jarod was the hero of the day, he took all who were up for a ride out on the boat.

Jarod pulled my boys around for a little kneeboarding. Later others went skiing and just for a ride.

Later in the afternoon, Jennifer and Susie demonstrated an ancient family tribal dance with Maddox as the upside down princess.

Here's the whole gang. Aren't we gorgeous??? *You may click on the picture to see a larger version.

Thank you, Susie, for all your work planning this year's reunion. The lake is an undiscovered jewel, the food was, as always, wonderful and the time spent together, priceless. See you all in 2010! Did I hear Maine? Wyoming?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Freshman. Already?

Oh, mercy! Another milestone. My oldest son left this morning for his first day of high school! High school!!!

For years parents of older children have advised appreciating every moment as it goes by so quickly. I have smiled and nodded thinking they were overdramatic and sentimental. After all we are talking about 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for fourteen years!

At times over the years I have to admit to thinking, "oh, when they are grown up and we have the house to ourselves, we will...", especially when the boys fight incessantly over a game, track yet another pound of mud into the house, or dirty every dish we own.

But somehow those words would echo in my mind..."it goes by so fast". I would think to myself, don't wish this time away, just round 'em up and get them washing dishes. Ha! ...or sit and listen to their stories.. ...or watch them puzzle out a problem. ...or marvel at the 7th-8th grade growth spurt. ...or enjoy another sporting event.

Fumbling with the camera and a deluge of emotions, I watched him walk away. He's so ready for more challenges, more learning, more life. Am I ready? Yes, I think I am. I'm so proud of the young man he's become and am anxious to see him tackle, sometimes fall and get up again in all things high school. Go for it, Oldest!

*Incidently, those girls saw me lift the camera and teased him, so I'm in big trouble when he gets home!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Family Reunion - Part 1

There's something special about this couple. It's not just that they are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in this picture. It's also not that this man was a Kansas State Representative from 1939 to 1946, which is interesting to me since I come from a politically active family. What's special is these people are my husband's grandparents.

My mother-in-law, Lauranell, stands on the left next to her father, mother, sister, Ramona and sister, Elna. Her brothers, Kenneth and Pete are in the back.

My mother-in-law's family has hosted bi-annual family re-unions for many years.

This reunion photo is from approximately 1955. My father-in-law is on the right in the back row and my mother-in-law is to the left of him holding my husband's oldest sister, Brynn.

Since marrying my husband, I have the pleasure of attending these events. We have traveled to Maine, Colorado, southern Kansas, Kansas City and across town (to my mother-in-law's house). One of the intriguing parts of these gatherings are the old pictures and many stories that are shared. Much talk of the original family home takes place.

This beautiful house was designed by my husband's grandmother and was built in 1910 for $10,000. The house and family farm were located in the sweeping Blue River Valley that is largely under Tuttle Creek Lake today. The main reason my husband's grandfather ran for office was to forestall and hopefully eliminate the plans to build the Tuttle Creek Dam. The project was postponed for many years, but in the end the periodic flooding in the area along with significant flooding in 1951 made the construction of the dam inevitable.

An attempt was made to move the house, but it failed when teenagers, I'd like to think, accidently started a fire in an upstairs bedroom as the house stood on girders ready to be transported. The fire quickly consumed the entire house.

Many special pictures and memories are shared at family reunions while new ones are made.

Check back for more on this year's reunion!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why All The Violence, Batman?

Raising boys sometimes means disappointing them. My boys will not be seeing the new Batman movie. My husband and I reached this decision by seeing the movie ourselves.

For my husband's birthday, he wanted to go out to dinner and a movie. We dined at Coco Bolo's in Manhattan, Kansas, the most enjoyable time of our evening. We then went to see "The Dark Knight". Why not? All of our boys have asked to see it and the movie has grossed a record-breaking $400 million dollars in just 18 days. Clearly masses of people are watching this movie. We also thought "Batman Begins", a prequel, was a compelling story and our boys have watched it.

I became rather uncomfortable early in the movie. I just could not get past the intense scenes of violence. The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, is particularly sinister with depraved, unpredictable cruelty. Also disturbing was the reaction of a young lady in her 20s sitting next to me in the theater. She frequently laughed, particularly at the dialogue and actions of The Joker. At the end, she jumped up and said, "I loved it"!

The movie was rated PG-13, which covers movies appropriate for children ages 13 through 17. At 17, a movie is branded R, which can be the kiss of death for box office revenue. It appears the Motion Picture Academy felt this movie skidded in at 16 years, 11 months and 30 days. Although an R-rating would have made our lives easier, since my 12 and 14 year-olds expected to be able to see this movie, we didn't hesitate to explain to our boys that they would not be seeing it any time soon. We explained that the dark, cruel nature of the movie was disturbing to us and we didn't want to share it with them.

Wrapping my mind around our society's apparent entertainment by senseless violence is very hard for me. One might say at least it's on the big screen and can be explained away as fiction. It seems to me that I have read a number of articles about desensitizing based on viewed images and copycat crimes based on movies. I'm just uneasy with the thought that we may be entering a historical time when the crowning jewel for movie makers, box office cash, is based on the level of creativity in shocking the audience with new forms of contrived violence. Isn't there enough horrible violence in the world already?

It's my sincerest hope that in our sophisticated world, we will transcend the fascination with guns and weaponry, the need to vanquish "the enemy" and the images of one human beating another to a pulp. A naive thought, maybe, but one I just can't give up on.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Homegrown Veggies = Shrimp and Feta Pasta

With tomatoes ripening in the garden, I pulled out my husband's favorite recipe, Shrimp and Feta Pasta.

Here's the cast of characters...

Mostaccoili noodles, olive oil, basil, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, tomatoes, green onions, shrimp and feta cheese.

My favorite part comes after simmering the sauce ingredients, tossing it all together and eating it!

This is not a great food picture... When I'm not as pressed for time, I throw in some chopped tomatoes and onions at the very end to enliven the color combo. I'll just ask you to take a leap of faith and try this recipe for yourself.

A note: the green onions, tomatoes, parsley and corn were all from the garden. Can you believe that??? I'm still trying.

Shrimp and Feta Pasta

1 1/2 lbs. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
A sprinkling of lemon juice
6-8 green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
A smattering of olive oil
3-4 ripe tomotoes, chopped (peeled if you like)
1/2 cup or so of white wine
2 teas. chopped fresh basil (1 teas. dried)
2 tblsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 teas. salt
A dash of pepper
1 cup cubed feta cheese (cubed, not crumbled, I buy a block and cut it up)
1 12 oz. package Mostoccioli or Penne Rigate noodles

Wash and pat shrimp dry and sprinkle with lemon juice.

Start the pasta cooking and cook according to directions for al dente or just tender.

Circle a pan once or twice with olive oil and saute the onions and garlic until tender...a couple of minutes. Add tomatoes, wine, basil, half of the parsley, salt and pepper. Lower heat and simmer about 15 minutes until sauce thickens slightly.

Stir in shrimp and lemon juice. *I sometimes add some reserved tomato and onion at this point for more dazzling color. Cook over medium heat until shrimp turns pink and is slightly firm, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cheese and sprinkle with remaining parsley. Toss shrimp mixture with noodles and serve! De-lish!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Family Fun at The Ozarks

It was a foggy, mysterious morning... ha. Not really, it was blazing hot and suffocatingly humid, and my camera went into shock and fogged over. Perfect weather for a mini-vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks. No, really! The water is readily available for boating or swimming until you are exhausted and then you can collapse in the air-conditioning of the cabin.

My father has a cabin at the Lake. I was surprised when my brother pointed out that this is the fourteenth summer! As I thought back on those first getaways to the cabin, I remembered my oldest, now fourteen, swinging in a bear swing hung from a branch of a stately oak growing up through the middle of the deck. Yep, fourteen years.

We had the pleasure of traveling to the cabin this past Thursday. We were joined on Friday by my brother, Marty and his family. We did, however, face a few challenges at the beginning and end of this trip. We started with a boat that refused to run and an attack on my sister-in-law of a chigger army and ended with a blown-out tire on I-70 in east KC and lost keys that found their way to the inside bowels of the boat under the engine. I'm pleased to say, we managed to pack some fun into the middle.

The chigger bites may have had something to do with the two furry characters in this photo. Leslie and I were the usual escorts when these girls needed to go outside. She's definitely sweeter than me, as her doctor told her it's the worst case of chigger bites she has ever seen. Itch, scratch, groan...

We have a double-decker dock and the kids love to jump off the top deck... love, love, love it. They endlessly entertained themselves making up different ways to jump. I supervised...well, I read my book and sort of supervised.

Saturday brought boating fun...knee boarding, wake boarding and tubing (in my brother's boat). Saturday evening brought a boat cruise.

Boating is such a wonderful experience.

Not only does it style your hair...

It brings out your children's desire for world peace.

Talk about styling hair.

On Sunday we piled in the boat and traveled to Ha Ha Tonka State Park. On a bluff overlooking the lake, a man built a stone castle for his new bride. As these stories go, the man died before he was ever able to live in the mansion and the house later burned leaving only a partial stone shell. Park visitors may climb 316 steps or follow a meandering path to reach the castle. Bart and I climbed the steps, something we did years ago. Funny how it seemed as though they had added 150 steps and somehow thinned the air.

At the base of the bluffs is a frigid spring. How do I know? My nephew took us all to a spot where the water from the spring rushes by out into the big Lake. The adventure is to jump into this water and float out. Say what??? Not wanting to be a wuss or a sissy, I jumped in. Suppressing a scream as thousands of needles pricked my body, I floated out. Refreshing was how my sister-in-law described it! Refreshing? All the boys jumped in over and over and over...can you explain that to me?

It was a wonderful mini-vacation filled with moments of contemplation...

and silliness...

Thanks, Dad, for having the cabin, taking care of it and letting us come visit!