Friday, March 29, 2013

Cats and Politics

I've been toying with this post all week, unsure how far to wade into this debate. Generally speaking, I don't put my views on display. My views are my own. If you ask in a calm manner and accept that I have formed my views over time and with sufficient research, on my part, I will tell you what they are. But I've left hot button items out of this blog as I find they are counter productive to making this space some place people want to return to. I've decided, however, that this topic warrants my wading into the fray, particularly as spring is here and with it, the return of songbirds to the Upper Midwest.

Of issue is whether the trap, neuter, release program (herein called TNR) of managing feral cat colonies really does work to manage those colonies or if we are only fooling ourselves. Critics of TNR cite a Smithsonian study which claims that billions, yes, that's with a "b", of birds are being killed yearly by "free roaming cats". (The link is to the online blog story of the actual study.) The release of this study kicked up a huge outcry that cats need to be eliminated from the environment altogether in order for the ecosystem to stabilize and recover. For an example of what happens when a predator at the top of the food chain is unleashed on an ecosystem that has no defenses against it, one only has to look at Guam and the brown tree snake or Hawaii and feral pigs.

We all like to hear bird songs, right, excepting, perhaps that robin who likes to sing outside my window at 5:30 a.m. in the morning when I'd rather be sleeping. If cats are killing billions of birds, we need to do something about this. I'm right there with you, except, this isn't the case and I'm going to ask you to do something rather radical about this.

New Mexico State University, New York City, Chicago, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, University of Hawaii, are just a few of the places who have approved, endorsed and implemented TNR for the control of feral cats. The venerable Humane Society of the US also endorses and promotes TNR as the method for stabilizing and reducing feral cat colonies. So why the controversy?

First some definitions. TNR should be used on "feral" cats. By definition, a feral cat is one that has had no interaction with humans. These are not the Mijas or Pilchards of the world. These cats are wild. They would not make good pets. They have not been socialized. Generally, they live in a colony, breeding at will. Any city or town can have a feral cat colony.

Second, cats are the #1 euthanized animal in shelters. Best Friends has said in publications that in some shelters, a full 75% of the cats brought into a shelter are killed, usually within 24 hours. There aren't enough people willing to adopt a cat out of the shelter so, due to space, a cat that comes in on a Monday, probably won't be there on Tuesday. This is particularly true of a feral cat that is not socialized to be friendly to humans.

Third, TNR is the process by which a feral cat is trapped, neutered and returned to the area where it currently lives. At the same time, a cat is given shots, and one of the ears is docked, meaning the tip is removed, to show that it has undergone veterinary care. Feral cat colonies that are managed by TNR have care givers who provide food and shelter but the cats are not removed from the area they call home.

As with any predator, a feral cat, and even a domesticated cat allowed to freely roam, has territories. They will hunt prey within that territory. Territories overlap and cats not neutered will fight. If you've ever heard two males defending their overlapping territories, it is one of the most awful sounds you'll ever hear. Cats that are neutered will not fight beyond the occasional spats that all animals have. They are healthier than their unneutered cousins, as well.

TNR will, if religiously practiced on a cat colony, over time, reduce the number of cats in that colony. Think about this. It won't reduce the colony immediately, but it will, as old age takes cats over the Rainbow Bridge, reduce their numbers naturally. Colonies with managers have people who notice if a cat is sick and remove it from the colony. A colony that grows up together is not that accepting of more cats moving in. And, if cats do join the colony, a manager of that colony will see to it that those newcomers are also neutered and vaccinated.

It would seem this is sound, logical animal management. But the controversy is when birds are added to the mix. Cats kill birds. Birds are on the list of prey items. In the nearly 30 years of having cats in my life in Wheaton, my cats, allowed to, up to Mija and Pilchard, roam free during the day, killed 3 birds; two grackles and a sparrow. More baby bunnies were brought home than birds. If I were to extrapolate those numbers, and that would be a huge leap into math where I'm not at all comfortable, that's hardly the billions of birds killed by free roaming cats that the Smithsonian study claims. Cats who are domesticated will still kill birds if the opportunity presents itself. Make no mistake about that. I saw it. Some cats will just kill because it triggers the predator nature in them. Some will kill and eat even if Iams is in the dish on the floor of the kitchen. It's hardwired into a cat.

It's this hardwiring which, I think, causes people to view TNR with such a jaundiced eye. It's not going to matter what you do to manage a feral cat colony, they are still going to kill birds. Part of this is truth. We cannot change a cat's nature. They have to have meat in their diet because their bodies do not produce taurine, vital to life. Cats get that from meat sources. It's added to cat food and it comes naturally in the bodies of their prey. Just providing food to a cat colony is not going to stop them roaming about and killing birds. The only way to save the birds is to remove the cat.

On the face of this, it seems logical. But what happens is that when a colony is removed, a new colony moves in. There are millions of cats with no home. There are not millions of people willing to spend the time to socialize feral cats and give them forever homes. A British study, which I can't find, but I have read, found that rodents made up 80% of a feral cats diet. Only 4% was birds. The rest of the diet was miscellaneous food, either cat food or garbage. That's a lot of bunnies and mice and moles and voles. Vermin. Those creatures we consider to be pests because of their destructive habits to our gardens.

Farmers have long had cats to keep the mouse and rat populations in check. They might nab the occasional pigeon in the process, but here's something else to consider. A bird that is caught by a cat was probably not well to begin with. I watched as my cats would try to stalk a healthy bird. If one of the cats was outside, I always knew where she was by the sound of the chickadees yelling at her. Cats have a burst of speed, but it's nothing compared to a healthy bird.

This all comes back to what is the best way to manage cats and birds. First of all, and I feel very, very strongly about this, if you have house cats, don't let them go outside except under highly controlled situations. I used to just throw open the back door and let the cats go. This is not healthy for the cat. Fresh air and sunshine is good, but they can get that by sitting in a window. If you do take them outside, you need to be with them at all times. And don't toss the cat out at night and let it in in the morning. I just want to throw you outside and let you find shelter overnight. Your cat will adapt to sleeping at night instead of trying to survive. I can't tell you how many times I've been awakened by a cat and a raccoon arguing over someone's garbage. The cat is going to get the worst of that fight.

And, if a cat is caught, unless it's microchipped, it's going to a shelter where you may never see it again. Even the most social of cats isn't going to be social when tossed into a cage where there are sounds and smells it has never experienced. Just don't let your cat out, okay? Are we clear on this?

Second, support TNR efforts. I've read everything in this debate and I agree with Best Friends and Vox Felina, both to the right, that studies showing cats kill billions of birds, introduce rabies or toxoplasmosis into the human population are flawed. I had one cat with fleas and he got them from being outside where, did you know this, he got them off the ground where squirrels are. Fleas and squirrels go together in great symbiosis. (Cats can get ticks, too. Do you want to deal with that? No? Then don't let your cat out.) Managed feral colonies have caregivers who take care of the area where the cats live to reduce flea and tick infestations. As I said before, sick cats and that would include cats who may have been exposed to rabies or toxoplasmosis, are removed from the colony and are given veterinary care. This includes shots for distemper and feline leukemia.

Lastly, the National Audubon Society came out in support of a gentleman who advocated poisoning and killing cats to remove them from the ecosystem. This harkens back to the days of poisoning wolves to get them out of Yellowstone. We have long discredited that type of animal management. Why would we condone it here? If you are a member of this organization and you love or even like cats and want to see them cared for properly, then write them AND remove your support. I am appalled that such an organization would latch onto studies with huge flaws in them and ask that one whole animal class be exterminated. Managed cat colonies are not the biggest threat to songbirds. Habitat loss is. Instead of focusing on the real problem, the Audubon Society has chosen to focus on this small part, which, in reality, doesn't have anything to do with the loss of habitat.

Yes, I am a cat lover but I'm also a bird lover. Everything I've read on this subject leads me to conclude that managed cat colonies do not harm the bird populations as much as human fragmentation of their habitat does. Read the Best Friends blog. Read Vox Felina. (Again, both are to the right and, in full disclosure mode here, I support, financially, Best Friends for a number of reasons. TNR is just a small part of their advocacy for animals; cats, dogs, horses, pigs, rabbits, etc.They were one of the leading advocates for the dogs seized from Michael Vick's dog fighting compound.) Google TNR. Visit Alley Cat Allies, the oldest managed feral cat advocacy group in the US.

I leave you with one thought. If this were a discussion about dogs, what would the outcome be?

Beverage:  Dunkin Donuts tea


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Soon There Will Be More

This guy or gal, has been living under the deck all winter. On Saturday, he or she was emboldened to be out in the sunshine while I emptied the car.

It never ceases to amaze me when they are just right there, almost within touching distance. I've seen the squirrels chasing each other in the springtime mating dance. If there is one rabbit, there are bound to be more long about May.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


Monday, March 25, 2013

One Year, An Overview

It was a year ago that I received the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Thursday, March 29th, my world view shifted. I had a last glass of alcohol on Friday, March 30th. I started taking methotrexate Saturday, March 31st. It's been a process, with ups and downs. Where am I?

Well, Thursday, March 21st, I had no pain, none, nothing. No joint ached or gave me any pain. I've been dealing with very painful knees and they had nothing to say to me on the 21st.

I didn't realize I was pain free until about 9:30 in the morning when I came back to my desk from the microwave where I'd made hot water for tea. Wait. I'm moving freely and without pain. I had to actually think about it, take a mental survey of my body parts.

  • Thumbs - okay
  • Wrists - okay
  • Shoulders - okay
  • Hips -okay
  • Knees - okay
  • Ankles - okay 

Everything's okay and not hurting. Someone pinch me or something.

This has been my companion for over a year now.

I have used it to get out of bed, out of the recliner, off the floor when I've had to get down there to clean, go up and down the basement stairs or ever the deck stairs, and simply to stand up and get my feet under me to start walking. I have it hanging on the office door, but I have not used it since my flare up at Christmas.

Since early February, I've been going to physical therapy in an effort to strengthen the hip and upper leg muscles which will then help the knee joint. The cartilage in my knee is wearing, but it does that in everyone's knees. Eventually, you won't have any or it will be a thin strip and osteoarthritis sets in. If your other muscles are strong and as healthy as they can be, you'll avoid knee replacement or, if it's necessary, come back from the surgery much faster than someone without such healthy muscles. I try to do my exercises daily and no, I fail, but there are some I can do every day that help the knee. It paid off and was proof of what finding 15 minutes a day can do, last Thursday when I was pain free.

Do I miss alcohol? Sometimes. It seemed, in spring of last year, everywhere I went, there were advertisements for all the good beers that I certainly would try either because the name was interesting or because I knew the brewer wouldn't make something awful. And I couldn't have any of it. Now, I barely notice the bottles or the advertising. I still have bottles of spirits in the basement as I can cook with alcohol. The alcohol burns off in cooking, leaving the flavor. Beyond that, I don't miss it, not at all.

I get around just fine, although the whole point of getting the knees to work without pain was to begin walking for exercise again. I've learned so much about this disease and what are the things I should be doing to manage it. I take my pills. I consult with my doctor. I need to lose weight. One of the problems with RA is that it will increase cholesterol in the blood stream which can lead, as we know, to plaque build up in the arteries. I'm not genetically programmed to have high blood pressure so I would like to keep it that way. But when walking around the house just doing chores makes my knees scream in pain, something had to be done.

I hope, this year, to take real vacations, go places, see people and do things. I have adapted to a more limited mobility but my doctor believes that was just temporary. I have actually enjoyed learning about rheumatoid arthritis and how I can combat it. I should look into RA support groups, too. There is strength in numbers.

So, this new path I find myself on still has the same sunshine, the same cats, the same chores, the same places for gratitude as the old path. Nothing has changed and everything has changed. I find it's not about my physical limitation, it's about what I think I can't do. It's about speaking up when it hurts. It's about working together with my doctor and my body to figure out how best to make me the best I can be. If ever a year for gratitude in the small things, this has been it. The things that get me down are not from my health. And I have learned to be even more grateful for robins and sunshine and pencils and purring cats and clean underwear and frozen dinners and friends.

Perspective. I might finally have that.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea



With the arrival of my tax refund, I looked at ways of slightly improving life in the house. Twenty-five dollars spent here or there can give me long-lasting pleasure. One of those $25 expenditures came during February.

It's a big box and has been sitting in the living room for over a month. With all the snow and cold we had, I just didn't feel like opening it up, that the contents weren't ready to be put on the deck. Inside the box is, you see, a new birdbath.

This is a real bird bath, one made for containing water. It's not a lid, although it's the same size as the garbage can lid I've used for 3 years now. Here they are, side by side.

The garbage can lid is much lighter in weight. It's also deeper. But they hold the same amount of water. I could get a stand designed to hold up the bird bath, but I have seen squirrels drink from this and the stand would make it too high for them. So, I'm using the same set up as with the can lid. I have these plant discs that keep a flower pot up off the deck and allow air to circulate under the pot. I've put the bird bath on two of those on the deck.

The dark green color will absorb more heat from the feeble rays of winter sun and therefore has the possibility of more open water in the winter. If I had an electrical outlet on the back side of the house, I could consider a bath heater but that's more of a pipe dream purchase than a real purchase.

Stanley helped fill the bath with water and we are now ready for the birds as they filter back from their winter vacations. I may have to watch water evaporation more in this new bath than in the lid, owing to the dark color.

With this purchase, the garbage can lid can go back to doing what it does best, sitting on one of the garbage cans and getting blown about the yard when the wind picks up.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


I Think That's Sunshine

I know it hadn't been that long but it seemed as if sunshine was something forgotten in these parts. We might get a partial day and back the clouds would come and with them, snow. The one sunny day would be in the middle of the week, with the weekend cloudy and gray. Last Saturday, we saw the sun.

I ran some errands. When I unloaded the car and had presence of mind to just stand on the deck, I heard the sound of spring. The geese are flying around looking for water. I don't recall if you hear this kind of honking overhead when they head south for the winter. I think you only hear this in the spring. I couldn't see them but it was a veritable cacophony of honking Sunday at noon.

So, I threw open the back door and encouraged the ladies to come outside in the sunshine.

It's interesting to watch them interact with fresh air and sunshine. With their more highly developed sense of smell, I'm sure they smell things I can't and, possibly, don't want to. They both sniffed the air and examined the deck. After sniffing everything, they sat down to warm their backs.

This was fine until the neighbor opened his garage to take out trash. The sound of the garage door opening and then the banging around of his garbage cans sent both of them scurrying inside. This was good for them. I think they needed to smell the smells of an awakening spring. It's been a calm weekend, I think, because they had a chance to be outside in the sun.

Later in the day, Mija decided more sun was what she needed and stretched out on the rug in the office.

It's impossible to resist not reaching down and petting her.

Flat Stanley got into the act too, coming outside on Saturday to enjoy the sun.

Today, we're back in the heavy overcast with snow flurries. At times like this, I remember the feel of sunshine on my face and know that spring is close even if old man Winter is having the time of his life messing with us.

Beverage:  Root Beer


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy Spring?

The sunshine this morning has been a blessing. It's been so gray and overcast that I think everyone's spirits are getting down. It's hard to be grateful for anything when you feel oppressed by the weather.

Spring arrived here at 6:02 a.m. We were, last night, supposed to awaken to overcast again, but I am truly grateful for the sunshine. It's still clear as a bell as noon approaches and I type this.

It is quite frosty, however. The wind chill, something you don't think about in spring, was 5 degrees this morning. That's a brisk westerly wind snapping the flag on the flagpole across from the office.

Yet, there is promise. I see spring bulbs poking through the ground. A couple days of 50 degrees and there will be flowers.

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold tea


Needs a Better Name

This idea off the Pillsbury web site is worth exploring in the future. They call them "Hand Pies". This is the version I made.

Take a tube of Pillsbury Grand biscuits. I used the buttermilk flavored version. Press 4 of the biscuits into 5 inch rounds and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

In this version, I took deli thin sliced turkey, which I have on hand, and added a half slice of provolone cheese to two of them and a generous grab of sharp cheddar grated cheese for the other two. Then, you take the other four biscuits and roll them to 6 inches and cover the four you've made. Take a fork and press down around the edges to seal. Take one egg and a teaspoon of water, mix thoroughly and brush the tops with the egg wash. They will look like this before going into the oven.

Bake for 13-18 minutes in a 375 oven. I baked them for 15 minutes. They look like this when removed from the oven.

Although the seams are visible, they did stay sealed. They were hard to get off the cookie sheet however. 

These are rather large, for a sandwich. The best way to eat them is to cut them in half. If you eat them right after baking or after reheating by microwaving them, the insides will be hot. Just a note. 

The next time I make this, I will add more innards. There is not enough cheese for my taste. I like the cheese to ooze out of a sandwich like this. They were good and, at 15 minutes, cooked completely through. I took one to work the next day, curious about how they would reheat. Two minutes on high and it was heated through. I had to really work on cutting the crimped edges, however. The extra dough flattened in that area got a bit hard when reheated.

You can see there's almost no sign of the provolone cheese. I tasted it but in visual terms, it appeared it was completely gone. More cheese for sure next time.

There were a number of suggestions for fillings, both savory and sweet, for this idea. I'm going to try it with sloppy joes. I love sloppy joes but taking the components to work and assembling the sandwich there is something of a chore. Putting the filling inside something like this would make it easy to transport and eat.

When I do this again, I will use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into rounds. Hand pressing made them a bit uneven. I'd like more ingredients inside the pies so it's going to take some experimentation to figure out the load capacity, the point at which, during the baking process, the top become separated from the bottom due to the amount of filling contained therein. I thought of sprinkling poppy seeds on the top after putting on the egg wash. I'll bet adding a Hershey bar to the inside and putting chocolate sprinkles on the top would be a great dessert. I will also lightly grease the cookie sheet for easier removal after baking.

The Pillsbury web site has yielded one failure and two keepers. Not too bad. Let me know if you try any of these. Next up are barbecued chicken tenders. They do need a new name for these. "Hand pies" just doesn't cut it.

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold tea


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Chocolate for the Whole Body

Cooking Light magazine is one of the only magazines I still get. It's also one that I read shortly after it comes and I can usually find something in it each month to add to the stash of recipes that I'll never make or make once and then wonder what I was thinking when I thought this sounded good.

Every month, they spotlight some fruit or vegetable or grain or other plant material that is "all the rage" in cosmetics or other preparations designed to "take years off our frames". My opinion on that is a blog post in and of itself. In February, they, of course, featured chocolate. One of the products they featured is at the upper right, Premium Dark Chocolate body scrub by a company named Shea Terra. The blurb in Cooking Light described the body scrub as smelling like "ultra-rich brownies". Well, that alone sold me on at least trying it. Plus, if you check out their web site, they also sell organic chocolate and the white chocolate with strawberries bar caught my eye. Here is the contents of the box.

I've used the body scrub twice now and would recommend this. When you open the jar, which took one of the rubber discs Meredith sent me last year, man was it on tight, this is what you see.

Too bad I can't do a scratch and sniff because this smells exactly as advertised, ultra-rich brownie batter. The ingredient list reads like something you'd throw together in the kitchen; organic sugar, chocolate liqueur, shea butter and pumice. It is really dense and the only quarrel I have with the product is that it's hard to get a handful out of the jar and to get it working. Part of the top had dried a bit when I opened the jar this past weekend, but I added about a teaspoon of water and that got the consistency back to spreading quality.

I used this on my legs and elbows. The aroma filled the bathroom with chocolate. You can do a lot worse if you love chocolate. It takes a bit to rub on and I had chunks of the amount I scooped out on the tub floor. But once you get going with it, it spreads very evenly and rinses off cleanly. My dry skin instantly felt softer and that softness lingers for a couple of days. It's wonderful to use before shaving but it's not for use on the face. They have other products for that area.

This jar is going to last a long time. You don't need much. It was reminiscent of the hand made coffee grounds exfoliant Melody gave me several years ago. Hers was a bit messier than this but made with the same sense of responsibility towards the earth.

And you're wondering about the candy bar. Here is the shocker, it was so rich, I couldn't eat the whole bar in one sitting. I know. I know. You have just fainted. It was wonderful. Organic chocolate marketed by corporations and, let's face it, no matter how Shea Terra bills itself, it's still a corporation, can be somewhat tainted in the drive to expand market share. Corners get cut and, really, I have only what I can scrounge about the Internet to go on. Shea Terra seems to do exactly what it says, provide quality products using sustainable resources and give people the chance to better themselves through that sustainability. I'm paying for an easing of my conscience, but, I feel I've received an exceptional value for the price.

I have not tried the Argan and Ghassol bar sample they sent. This is a product for use on skin and hair in the bath. I also have not tried the African Blue Calming oil, again for the bath. I don't really take baths so it probably won't get used. If one of my readers would like to try it, let me know. I'm happy to send it to you.

If you're looking for something exotic as a gift, go here. Although I've only tried the body scrub and a chocolate bar, I feel confident the other products offered will be just as good.

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold tea


Crafting Valentines

I meant to post photos of the valentines I received in the Aunt Peaches great Valentine's Day swap. The lady running the Aunt Peaches blog, linked to the right, conceived this idea three years ago. Your requirement was to provide a name and working address and then agree to make 3, count 'em 3, handmade valentines and send them to the people whose names she provided. You can read about my handmade valentine's here. It was a lot of fun and I think I might just do the same thing again next year.

I only got two out of the exchange, not the three you were supposed to get. I kept holding off posting photos because I wanted to post when all three came, but number three has never materialized so it's time to post what I received. Ironically, both of the valentines came from Washington state. I have written thank yous to the creators because, well, it's just something I try to do when I receive a gift. Meredith will testify that she gets all teary-eyed from my thank yous but it's part of living a grateful life, being thankful and expressing that gratitude and thanks for things people do. I don't always succeed at that but I try.

Anyway, I was quite astounded by the packages I received. Here's package #1.

The creator of this package must have a really good sewing machine because the words "Valentine" and "Love" were stitched. She put a lot of time into these fabric "found" valentines. Look at all the buttons and the ring on the ornament. I have visions of her combing flea markets for baubles. I have that container of buttons and, for a minute, I thought about writing to ask if she wanted it. But then I realized that this creation gives me ideas for how to use what I have.

I thought the glittered wishbone was inspired, but I haven't the heart to make a wish and use it. So, it sits in its package in a drawer waiting for the time I forget why I have it and use it. The ornament will be kept for Christmas and, well, I ate the chocolate bar. It was really good.

Here's package #2.

I really liked the simplicity of this design. I've looked at the heart from every which way and it eludes me how she made this. It's "just" tissue paper but it's all puffy, although the post office did its level best to squash it. I added the pencil to my craft stash for upcoming projects. And the calculator, no, it's not edible, but man does it smell like chocolate. I stuck it in the desk drawer in the office and, a month later, I'm still smelling chocolate.

This was fun and I will, most certainly, do this again. Once I sign up, I need to make my valentines then and there and not wait until I get the names to whom I'm supposed to send and have that few days of abject panic when I can't think what I'm going to make. Of course, that panic led to something I'm thinking of making for all my friends so perhaps it was a good thing.

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold tea


Monday, March 18, 2013

Added to the Stash

I love flannel sheets. I use them all year. You'd be amazed at how cool you feel in the summer when lying on a cotton flannel sheet. And what could be better on icy winter nights than a couple of blankets, flannel sheets and a purring cat?

Sheets wear out. It's usually the bottom sheet that goes first. I've had the top sheet to a couple sets of flannel sheets that haven't been a pair in years. It's impossible to find just the bottom fitted sheet. Regular cotton sheets come in mix and match but flannel? Nope. It's all or nothing.

Flannel costs more, too. The same sheet set can be a third more for flannel than for regular cotton. I subscribe to This web site offers a daily deal and then other ancillary deals. I got my digital camera there. I was poking around in the site last month and they had flannel sheet sets for $20. Twenty dollars. At the time, I couldn't find any that I liked for less than $30. So I got a set. I always wash sheets before using them and, over the weekend, it was time to fold the new set and add it to the shelves.

The leopard print is the new set. It feels really luxurious as I fold the sheets. But what to do with the two top sheets I have. They are in exceptionally good condition. Just giving them away seems wasteful. If I had small children, we could make a fort out of them and the dining room chairs. That was so much fun when I was little. Yes, it took up the living room because you have to leave it up once you've crafted it, but I have great memories of sitting in the fort reading stories to the dog we had at the time. (Don't be surprised about the dog. We had dogs and cats on the farm when I was growing up. I like dogs, as long as they belong to someone else.)

Since I have no young people visiting, I couldn't think of a reason to hang onto these. Then it hit me. Remember my receiving a couple boxes of fabric from my mom last year? Inside one of those boxes was the quilt pieces my Great Aunt Tillie had started but never finished.

To honor her, my grandmother and aunt Irene, I vowed to finish this quilt. It's a project for next year, to be sure, as I'm in the middle of another project I'm having great fun doing. I don't know what color of fabric I'll use to stitch the hexagons together but I know what I'll use for backing material, one or both of these sheets. In fact, given the size of the sheet, it will be a good marker for how much fabric to buy to complete the quilt.

Seems fitting. A quilt was usually made of the leftovers. Viola. I am ready. So, I tossed these into a box in the closet to sit and wait for their reuse.

Beverage:  LaCroiz Berry Sparkling Water


Puffing Up Sunday Brunch

I've been such a slacker with breakfast lately. It's just too easy to have a bowl of cereal and continue on with the day. While that is the weekday routine, on weekends, I like to treat myself. But the strawberries went bad and the yogurt wasn't on sale and the last box of croissants tasted stale. Meh. They can't do much to a box of cereal.

Plus, the long days of cloudy weather influence what I really want to do in the kitchen. The pattern since the next to last week in February has been three days of clouds with two of those yielding precipitation; one day of mostly cloudy; one day of sunshine and back into the clouds. I'm really tired of turning on the weather and hearing the words, "Alberta Clipper" in the forecast. I like winter weather. I wouldn't like living where it was 72 all year. Still, the nearly constant cloudiness puts a damper in what I want to eat and cook.

Sunday, I felt inspired. I spent part of Friday poking around in the Pillsbury web site. They have lot of recipes for fast food. I'm interested in that. A roast that takes 2 hours to cook is not as enticing, at this stage of my life, as a sliced beef dish that takes 15 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook. I can do that. So, there was interest in this Puff Pancake with Caramelized Fruit.

I like making puff pancakes. I have two recipes already, one with applesauce and one with sausage and cheese. I need another pie pan. I'll have to add that to the list of things to get when I have a few extra pennies. I should get a glass one.

Technically, there is nothing wrong with this pie pan other than it's old. The cracks in the glaze were more evident after I made the pancake. But, realistically, my making a lot of pies to justify the purchase of a glass pie pan is very slim. If I'm inspired to churn out pies, I'll cross the need for another pie plate then. The pancake puffed up just like it was supposed to.

A note to myself, I need to prep the fruit BEFORE making the batter. This is something the recipe doesn't say. I guess they assume cooks know to do that, but I would bet many do not. While the pancake was cooking, 14 to 18 minutes, I was supposed to be cooking the fruit. I spent a majority of that time peeling and slicing the apples and pears that went into this. So, the pancake was done just as I tossed the fruit into the frying pan to cook. I kept the pancake in the oven to stay warm, but I think that dried it out too much and led to it being hard to cut when serving time came.

You saute 2 pears and 3 apples for a couple minutes and then add a half cup of dried cranberries and a cup of packed brown sugar. The brown sugar caramelizes with the juice of the fruit.

I tossed in dried blueberries and cherries, which is what I had on hand. I think varying the fruits would make this very interesting. I'm not real fond of peaches, but sliced peaches and apples with raisins has an appeal. I would NOT use canned fruit as that would just fall apart in the cooking process. In fact, the pears I used were probably too ripe for this. They started to break apart while this was being cooked. You cook the fruit part for 10 minutes.

The recipe says it makes 4 servings so the puff pancake is quartered and the fruit scooped on top.

I added bacon I cooked earlier in the week. A glass of orange juice and this was an excellent start to the day. Plus, I have 3 more sections to eat. I divided the extra fruit into three containers. If I want something other than Cheerios in the morning, I can make this. I don't think I'd freeze it so it should be eaten soon. I think supper looks like a good time.

Beverage:  LaCroix Berry Sparkling Water


C Is For Cookie

It was baking time this weekend. I owe a couple people cookies and I felt inspired to make that happen.

Saturday, I opted to make "cat cookies". The recipe is on the Pillsbury web site and they just looked cute. You take one tube of refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough and cut it into slices. Pecans make the ears. Pretzels make the whiskers and plain M&M's make the eyes and nose. Sounds simple enough. Here they are before baking.

Dawwww. Yeah, they look cute. They were a bear to make, however, and I would not call this "kid friendly" at all. The recipe says to freeze the dough to make it easier to slice. Once frozen, an hour in the freezer is recommended, slice the dough into 24 cookies. I had the dough crumble on me when frozen. I have no idea how they got 24 cookies out of a tube of cookie dough. I wound up having to smush the dough into rounds because it would not slice cleanly.

And using chocolate chip cookie dough is not a great idea when you are going to attach items to it. I realize they were going for a "calico cat" motif here but think about this. You already have your dough packed with mini chocolate chips. Now, you're trying to attach pecan halves, pretzels and M&Ms to said dough. Trying to find a section of dough where there wasn't a chip already embedded was difficult. I think this would have been better if they had recommended their sugar cookie dough. I don't know that it would have sliced any cleaner but I wouldn't have been as frustrated in attaching items to the dough.

They baked up nicely.

They taste just fine. Yes, I had to try one since I'm sending these on. If I decide to do this again, I'm using sugar cookie dough that I make myself.

Yesterday, Stanley helped me make the next batch of cookies.

These cookies were made to use up the bag of M&Ms. Yes, I could have just eaten them, but, making cookies and sending them on is much more fun. It's a cookie dough that replaces chips with M&Ms.

These are great dunking cookies. Utilizing a few of these and a mug of milk and you get your required 8 ounces of dairy. I will let you determine your number in "a few".

Tonight, I will box these up for shipping on the morrow. It's been awhile since I've felt inspired to cook. This is a good thing. Perhaps it's because spring "officially" arrives on Wednesday and I think robins are back. I thought I heard the warble of one but I have not seen any. The cardinals are tweeting their mating calls. Warm weather is coming. I'm inspired.

Beverage:  LaCroix Berry Sparkling Water


Thursday, March 14, 2013


In 1964, a book was published about a boy named Stanley Lambchop. It seems that, during the night, a bulletin board fell on him and squashed him to 1/2 inch thick. His adventures became a series and, in 1995, inspired a teacher in Canada to start the Flat Stanley project. Kids make replicas of Stanley and send them, either to other kids in other schools, or to friends and family members willing to take Stanley on adventures. The son of my friend, Meredith (the one who keeps me in chocolate), is involved in the Flat Stanley project and Stanley is visiting me.

Stanley has had some adventures already. I'm not going to post all the photos I've taken of Stanley doing things. That will be a post for after I send him back home. I did this for my oldest niece when she was in school. I remember taking Stanley to the opera then.

I have taken Stanley to the office.

He seems to be a helpful chap but he had some problems picking things up off the table.

The deadline for Stanley to be home is April 8th so I have him visiting for 3 weeks total. I have plans for this boy, yes I do.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Some Assembly Required

If you live outside the middle of the country, something loosely defined as Colorado east to Ohio and Missouri north to the Canadian border. This sight on the roads is possibly as unfamiliar as the colored implement being hauled about.

Someone's getting a new tractor, a John Deere, made in Rock Island, Illinois. You might have the image of a tractor as being something like this, taken at a "Farm Days" event in southern Illinois.

While there are farmers who still utilize this and, at one time, this was top of the line, many farmers have something with an enclosed cab that's got more bells and whistles than an airplane. It has evolved that farmers who must spend the day outside want to be comfortable so their "work space", the cab of the tractor, should have a radio, a CD player, a GPS, a place to hook up an MP3 player and a computer, as well as be heated AND air conditioned. If you can't control the climate where you have to work, at least surround yourself with a climate you can control.

In the past, you went to the implement dealer in town to get yourself a tractor or you might have bought Reuben's when he had a sale because he and Agnes were moving into town and quitting farming. If you're buying one of the latest and best models, which cost the same as a Bugatti, you might still go to the implement dealer outside of town, but chances are very good your tractor is coming from John Deere; shipped on a flatbed just like the one that passed me outside of Davenport. I can't be sure this is the same tractor, but it's close. Taken from the John Deere web site.

Other than they both work in the field, there's not a lot to compare between the two shown. The 9000 series, which I'm fairly certain is what was being transported, bears no resemblance to what I learned to drive on. I did note a few other striking differences.
  • You could move the middle tractor from point A to point B without needing "Oversize Load" tags and
  • You don't have to put it together once it arrives. 

Beverage:  Water


Where Have You Been

With a flurry of posts, I have returned to blogging. It's been quite a week just passed. There was mandatory safety training, but there was, also, a trip west, to Iowa, in the teeth of a late winter storm.

I knew I had to do this job. I'd put it off for a few days and then real life intervened and I was needed in the office and it was inconvenient for the client for me to come. That forced me to drive west into what looked to be fierceness and potential blizzard conditions. I was so nervous about this, I didn't sleep well on Monday night, March 4th. I was up and out the door by 7 a.m. on Tuesday, March 5th.

My thinking was that because Interstate 80 is sort of the artery of the nation, states are going to dedicate resources to keeping that open. So, instead of driving directly to my mother's, I opted to stick to the main Interstates. Plus, if something bad happened, my chances of getting help were exponentially greater being on that road than being on State highway 64.

I left in the snow. Roads were, as the top photo shows, wet. I had spent a lot of time on Monday night looking at the weather charts and maps, plotting my route versus what the weathermen were predicting. There was no doubt about it. I was driving straight into this. Tuesday morning, I threw an extra blanket, water and my last box of Girl Scout cookies into the back seat.

It was fairly smooth driving. For the most part, the road in Illinois was wet. I had to slow down three times because of slush on the highway. It was a steady 60 miles per hour dropping down to 45. The only times I got very nervous were when I was passed by a semi and slush from the wheels covered the windshield for 10 seconds while the wipers worked furiously to clear the crud.

There were never white out conditions and I saw some plows just sitting in the median waiting for something more to do. It was still heavily snowing at the Mississippi River and Davenport. But, after filling the Jeep with gas, I headed west and the snow disappeared. By Iowa City, the pavement had nearly dried.

By Cedar Rapids, it was dry.

Traffic was steady. Had something gone wrong, I would not have been alone for long. This was very comforting. The storm warning was still up on the board outside Iowa City although the storm had, for the most part, passed through Iowa by the time I got there.

The road to mom's house was a experience. You turn right off the highway onto a gravel road.'s only been plowed one lane wide.

Oh boy. Well, stop, breathe, put the Jeep in 4-wheel drive and go slow. I can handle this. I crossed one road, plowed about as well as this and headed towards the next cross road, Fairchild. About a quarter of a mile from the cross of Wileys and Fairchild this one lane plowed went to this.

This wasn't even plowed. The wind had not picked up at this point, that was to come with the setting of the sun. Oh brother. I'm going to have to make my own track to the farm. Heaven help me if I have to move over. I know this road but I don't know exactly where the ditches are and they are filled with snow.

I got to Fairchild and this is what Wileys Road looked like.

From Fairchild east to the farm, and beyond, Wileys had been completely plowed. My mother wasn't sure why. There are no kids on this stretch of road. Back where I was, there are kids and a school bus would have needed to navigate a one lane stretch and then figure out whether to go through the unplowed portion, had there been school, of course. This is the kind of weather they close schools for. I still drove gingerly to the farm. I put the Jeep in the ditch at Christmas. I wasn't taking any chances.

The next day, roads had been cleared and the drive home, after meeting with the client, was much more calm. I chose to take Highway 20 across northern Illinois. It's a heavily traveled road and I felt 24 hours would have given the plows a chance to make it a good drive.

The thing about these late winter snows is the high moisture content. East of Galena, the snow stuck to the trees left a gorgeous image.

Farther east, along highway 20, the hills of western Illinois were lovely.

I came home to the remnants of 8 inches.

It sort of looks like frosting or marshmallow fluff. A neighbor had, during the storm on Tuesday, blown out my driveway so I didn't have to plow through 8 inches to get to the back.

There was melting already going on. I shoveled a bit off the deck and left the rest. Pam came by on Wednesday morning to check on the girls and had shoveled off a bit of the front steps.

By Sunday, all of this was gone, and then some.

Now, will this be the last dumping of the season? I sort of hope so. While standing in my house watching it snow is delightful and seeing the aftermath outlining the landscape can be breathtaking, I'm ready for spring. I need new tires on the Jeep so travel in snow isn't something I really want to do anymore. Surprisingly, I didn't have my RA flare up on me. I thought for sure I'd have a flare, since I'd had a flare at Christmas. Not at all. I planned for the worst and got the best. I'll take that. Now, bring on spring.

So, that's where I've been. 

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold tea