Friday, August 29, 2014

Oh boy...!

Life is a journey, not a destination. So is my blog. Road leading to T. C.
Steele's workshop in Brown County, Indiana. © 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
Life got the better of me and I did not finish the Blogging A to Z Challenge. There, I said it. It's out there. I'm a loser with a capital "L"!

I am also excited because the Blogging A to Z Challenge is offering a second chance, of sorts, to 1) continue visiting bloggers who participated in the original 2014 challenge and 2) finish my own challenge.

Since life is a journey and not a destination, I have a second chance.

So, I am in the process of finishing my A to Z Challenge so that when people visit my blog, they will know that I am a work in progress. I have not given up. My hope is that by the end of September, if not before, I will be at Ze End.

I'd love it if you'd come along for the ride!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Newport Beach - a gift from a loving God

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
There is something magical about the beach. I never gave it much thought until two of my good college friends from California showed me pictures of the beach at sunset. What a spectacular site. Just as I cherished the beautiful, lush mountains from Colorado, they had the same fond memories of spending time at the beach. I have since been to several beaches: those in California, Florida and Mexico. One of my favorite places to visit is Newport Beach, near Los Angeles, California.

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
The evening tide comes in to meet the sand as if on schedule and it leaves a gift or two on its way out, whether it be a seashell, sand dollar, crab or stone. Or, you find something less mysterious and more out of place like fishing line or a plastic straw from trash that's been dumped. After the water retreats, the sand is washed clean and smooth, like a chalkboard ready to capture the next visitor's story.

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
The birds seem to know that it's feeding time when the waves come in, and they stick their long beaks into the water and sand, finding the most delectable treats. Seagulls dive in and land like the beach is an airport runway. They leave tiny tracks as they hop across the sand, hoping to find the next great treasure.

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
Dry sand shifts as you walk and gives under your feet where you least expect it. Wet sand is sturdier but your shoes or bare feet make tracks just the same. The sturdy poles leading out to the pier seem to disappear into pools of sand and water. They mark the height of the tide.

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner

It's amazing to stand in the water and have the waves ripple over the shore, spilling into your shoes. One wave might not quite make it but then the next may overtake you. Anticipation becomes everything!

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
Each beach has its own personality. Newport Beach is known for its easy access and comfortable atmosphere. It's not in a terribly commercial or artsy district. You'll find families, young people and even family pets visiting after work or on weekends. There are also restaurants, pizza-by-the-slice shops and t-shirt/souvenir shops, but nothing detracts from the beauty of the ocean and the relaxing sound of the waves.

The complexity of the beach, the tide, the amazing wildlife in the ocean - the rhythms of nature - all point to a Creator that is miraculous and beautiful and and as intricate as its creation. We only have to spend time at the ocean, or in the beautiful forests of Colorado to understand that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"M"ail

This mailbox belongs to a good friend of mine, and her cat
Galley, of course. I think he's waiting for the Petsmart circular.
© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
My dad was a mailman. He actually delivered mail come rain, snow, sleet or sun. It was during the days when you knew your mailman by first name and he received Christmas presents during the holidays, like baked goods, fruit baskets and of course money. As kids we preferred the baked goods!

During the summer my mom would take us to visit him on his route. We'd deliver a cold Pepsi to him or eat lunch with him. He was one of the hardest working men I know. My dad was approached several times for management but he always declined, as he preferred being outside during the day.

Back then, the mail was important and not just for the bills one received. We would get letters from my aunt Jeanette (I still look forward to her Christmas letter). When I was young, I had a pen pal in Sri Lanka and we used to exchange letters. It was the highlight of my day when I received a letter from her, with the most unique stamps and official-looking postal messages. When I traveled, it was a requirement that I send post cards with highlights from the trip. It didn't matter that I usually returned home before the post cards did.

With e-mail and texting, communication has changed. I'm not as excited to open the mailbox because there are usually only bills, sales circulars and the occasional misplaced envelope for our neighbor. Even some of our bills are now coming through e-mail, although I still prefer the physical bill - it seems more real somehow.

What are your memories of the U.S. Postal Service? Do you know your mailperson's name? I think I'll ask him or her the next time I see them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"L"ife in the country

I appreciate where I live, in Terre Haute, Ind. Recently I saw an episode of TNT's Cold Justice where the prosecutor and detective reopened an old murder case and proceeded to solve the mystery, from our town. During the episode, they referred to us as a small town. Hmmm, I'd never considered Terre Haute a small town, even though I used to live in Denver, Colo., and knew it was quite different. The more I pondered this fact, the more I began thinking about those things that happen "in the country" that you don't experience in a bigger city. These are just a few of my thoughts:

1.  Roadside food. I don't mean diners or even kiosks, I mean stopping along the road to collect (sometimes) luxury food items for dinner. Morel mushrooms can be found by the side of the road or deep inside the forest. It's not uncommon in the spring to see a truck or car that has veered off the side of the road. At first glance, you think they've wrecked but, no, it's just a lucky person stopping off to pick morel mushrooms. They go for about $28 a pound at the local grocery store. Wild blackberry bushes are also fair game and can be found in many areas. On my drive home, there is usually a cardboard sign with a phone number to call, to order and pick up your blackberries. In the country, many people share their vegetables (freely) or inexpensively sell their brown eggs roadside as well.

© 2011 by Diane Weidenbenner
2. Tractors at gas stations (self-explanatory - see photo).

3. Getting to know people's names everywhere you go. At the local Burger King, Big Lots, Menards, Dairy Queen, you get the picture. I can't tell you how many times I've been called "Hon!" I guess there are worse things to be called. If you spend any length of time with someone (say your having a pedicure), you feel like you've made a new best friend by the time you leave. My friend, Sandy, and I go garage sailing and it never fails - we discover that we know the person or they know someone who knows someone who we know. I also learned that I shouldn't run out without putting basic make-up or styling my hair because I will inevitably run into someone I know or work with, at the grocery store, movie theater, farmer's market, Good Will, etc., or end up in a news report with the sweat dripping down my face. Attractive, I know!

4. Referrals are gospel. If you need a plumber, you ask for a referral. If you need snow removed from your 3-foot ice-packed driveway, you ask someone for a referral. Forget Angie's List which hasn't made the impact in Terre Haute that it has in other cities. You ask a friend and you find someone who owns the business, has their family invested in its success and cares about the product or service that you receive. If someone is not honest or trustworthy, word gets around quickly also and you know who NOT to call for help.

5. People like to help other people. I've been stuck in the snow and out of nowhere a father-and-son team appear to help push me safely out of harm's way. During a terrible wind/rain storm when a tree branch went through my mom's roof, her neighbors helped move the heavy branches and even offered to patrol the neighborhood with their shotgun until the electricity came back on. One guy actually had surveillance cameras on various sides of his house and informed my mom that if there was ever any suspicious activity, he'd let her know. Okay, that was a little creepy but it was the thought that counts, right?!

I could go on but you get the gist. For the most part, the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences. If all this means I live in a small town (with a big heart), I'm okay with it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"K"ir

I first discovered the Kir, a French cocktail, while traveling with a friend. It's a simple yet tasty drink made by combining dry white wine with a splash of blackcurrant liqueur and served in a wine glass or champagne flute.
File:Kir cocktail.jpg
By Stuart Webster from Southampton,
England (Kir) via Wikimedia Commons

Chambord is used when available but for the less extravagant, Hiram Walker makes a Crème de Cassis for about $12. It can also be served with champagne in place of the wine, and would be called a Kir Royal. The drink became popular after WWII, when Félix Kir (1876-1968) who was mayor of Dijon in Burgundy, served it at receptions to dignitaries, promoting two vital products of his region.

It's a refreshing beverage for spring and summer and is usually a hit at parties.

What is your favorite spring/summertime cocktail? Care to share your recipe?

Friday, April 11, 2014

"J"icama

File:Pachyrhizus erosus 2.jpg
Photo of jicama. By Eric in SF (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
via Wikimedia Commons.
Have you ever eaten at a ritzy ditzy restaurant that served jicama, aka Pachyrhizus erosus? At first glance, it's nothing special. It's usually cut into thin strips or small pieces and is white.

It's actually a large, tuberous root from South America and Mexico and is a relative of the potato. (The rest of the plant is actually poisonous.)

It can be eaten raw or cooked and has a sweet, crunch, nutty flavor that's a cross between an apple and a water chestnut. I've also experienced it at up-scale salad bars.

It adds a nice sweet crunch to salads, salsas, relishes for fish, etc., and it's usually paired with salt, lemon or lime juice, chili powder, ginger, orange, red onion, sesame oil and/or soy sauce. I've almost purchased it at the store several times but in it's natural form, it doesn't look at all like it does on the salad bar. I must be adventurous this year and try it.

Here is a recipe for Mango, Jicama and Radish Salad with Peanut Dressing (compliments of Food Network) that looks like a winner (it looks delish and simple). Nice spring/summer cold salad to serve alongside grilled salmon or tilapia or added to fresh fruit combinations.

Do you have a favorite recipe that includes jicama?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"I"nspiration and jigsaw puzzles

Early morning sun peaking through a wooded area in Terre
Haute, near Deming Park. © 2012 by Diane Weidenbenner
Inspiration is one of those things that you simply can't define, explain or control. It's intangible. Yet, when you have inspiration, whether you are a writer, painter or other type of artist, it's the most wonderful experience in the world.

That's what photography is like for me. When I take my camera along, I have no set expectations of what I might see or photograph.

It depends on available light, the time of year, whether I have a telephoto or regular lens on the camera, and whether I'm paying attention to my surroundings. When all these conditions are optimal, I may get a photo that I really love, that's one in a million (for me as a amateur) and that has character. It can be a photo of wildlife, of an Amish buggy driving by or a landscape photo with just the right amount of humidity and rays of light shining through the trees, as shown above.

Take this Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Some days it's easy to think of a topic to write about. I quickly find photos available or I can go back into my archives to find one or several that are appropriate.

Other days, I write a blog because I've committed to writing a blog that pertains to each letter of the alphabet, per day, except Sundays, through the month of April and I want to succeed. Sometimes it isn't until I'm smack dab in the middle of a blog that I find that one random thought connects neatly with another, and then another.

It's like working on a jigsaw puzzle and finding two pieces that fit perfectly together. After several pieces come together, I get a more complete picture of what the final outcome will be. Inspiration is a lot like working on a puzzle for which I don't have a box lid or sample photo from which to build the image. As I write, the puzzle is formed by fitting more and more pieces together until it's complete.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"H"ummingbirds

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
Now that spring has sprung, I can't wait for the inquisitive, charming ruby-throated hummingbirds to return. Last year was the first year that we had a feeder and faithfully tried to keep it stocked with precious sugar water. We had at least two hummingbirds visit fairly regularly and they stayed quite late in the season last year.

In previous years, before we had a feeder, I'd go out front on our porch and was met by a friendly hummingbird, who would regularly visit at dusk. At first I thought it was a large dragonfly but I figured out that it was indeed a hummingbird and it would zoom in, at eye level, hover like a helicopter and then fly off to a butterfly bush or lilly plant.

We also have Rose of Sharon in our back yard and they've been known to visit me there as well, again at eye level. They are one of the smallest of bird species and yet they have one of the best personalities of any wildlife that we've experienced in Indiana.

© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
I've read where you can train them to eat out of your hand, but I don't want them to become that familiar with me, in case Hershey is nearby and decides to try an eat one.

I'll post new photos for this hummingbird season when they arrive. I think they pack pretty light, or else they wouldn't be able to fly so fast!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"G"rimm

Photo from TV set of Grimm, posted 12/23/13, Twelve Days
of Krampus.
There's been a resurgence of fantasy television shows - namely Grimm (NBC) and Once Upon a Time (ABC), among a few others. Once you've watched a few episodes of Grimm, you'll understand why it's so addictive. It's like an accident that you can't turn away from, where no one of consequence is mortally wounded.

Grimm is a drama based loosely on the classic Grimm Brother's Fairty Tales. I'm not sure if it's because fairty tales and fantasy stories (including aliens) were an early part of my childhood development or if the show captures my attention because it's well done. It can be seen on Friday night and it, coupled with pizza, my hubby Joe and a glass of wine, equals contentment after a long week at work.

The show, which is in its third season, is based in Portland with some scenes filmed in Austria. The show centers around Portland Homicide Detective Nick Burkhardt (played by David Giuntoli) who discovers that he is a "Grimm" at the beginning of the series, an inherited trait from his ancestors. With the designation comes special gifts as a criminal profiler that allows Nick to see whether a person is normal or if he or she is part monster. He even befriends a few reformed monsters who help him on cases and solve mysteries. Sean Hayes is executive producer which also adds to its appeal.

The cast is engaging and the make-up/transformations are really interesting. One type of monster resembles a fox, another a wolf and another, something creepy, dead and scary. There's humor in the midst of excitement and terror, and even the careers of the characters are unique: Monroe is the current in a long-line of German clock-makers and repairmen, Rosalee owns a medicinal herb shop, and Juliette is a vet (how appropo!)

Are there any "must-watch" TV shows for you this season and why are they appealing to you?




Monday, April 7, 2014

"F"ur

Oliver, aka "Ollie, has some of the softest belly fur I've
ever seen or felt on a cat. He turned 10 this spring.
© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner

If you own a cat, dog or other cuddly pet, you know there is just something sweet and blessed about fur.

Recently our dog, Hershey, got banned from the bedroom while my husband, Joe, and I sleep. If we’re watching TV or reading, Hershey is allowed in the bedroom and even (gasp) on the bed.

Something happens to him, however, when we fall asleep and he chews holes in our comforter, extracting the stuffing and carrying it around the house like it is a badge of honor.

Because Hershey is no longer allowed in the bedroom at night, our three, sometimes four sweet cats, who used to sleep near us before we adopted Hershey, are now enjoying the bedroom again, sans Hershey. Although most of the cats get along with him, he can choose to chase them around for entertainment purposes (his, not the cats) so a good night’s rest is not attainable.

Gracie, a rescue cat that we just
couldn't send back outside after she
was fixed. She's about 7.
© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
A few weekend’s ago, I was reminded as I awoke in our bedroom with several of our cats on the bed that kitties have the best fur in the world. It’s soft, warm, clean (our cats stay indoors) and they like to cuddle so it’s abundantly available.

It was so comforting to wake up next to a purring, warm, soft bundle of fur (again, referring to the cats, not Joe, although Joe is pretty warm and cuddly too).

How many of you like to cuddle with your pets/animal family members?