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?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"E"arth

I love visiting the mountains and although I grew up and lived most of my life in Denver, I never spent enough time admiring nature. I was always working or traveling elsewhere.

Trees in foreground, snow covered mountain in background
"Long's Peak from North, Rocky Mountain National Park,"
Colo. The U.S. National Archives.
My dad liked to go fishing with his work buddies or go camping with the Boy Scouts. Sometimes my brother and I would go along and hike the trail before the entire troop went camping overnight. Again, I wish I had spent more time in the mountains when I lived nearby.

One of my first Colorado mountain experiences was when I was in third grade. I went up for a half-day mountain/state park excursion bus trip to Balarat with my public school. When we arrived, we were taken on a tour of the grounds and went on a hike to identify plants and wildlife. It was so beautiful and interesting that I even momentarily forgot about certain blood-sucking ticks that were waiting to feast on us. We were certain to wash our clothes and shower when we got returned home, though, just in case.

I went to college at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and worked as a secretary to earn money for school at the National Wildlife Federation Law Office. It was here that I learned about the terrible, lasting effects that we humans can have on nature, as we drill for oil and strip mine. I typed up legal briefs written by environmental lawyers that included broken reclamation project agreements after companies vacated the properties. I learned to have incredible respect for God's creation, Earth, the delicate eco-systems and wildlife that inhabited nature's precious land.

View at timberline, dark foreground, light snow capped
mountain, gray sky, "Rocky Mountain National Park.
Never Summer Range," Colo. The U.S. National Archives.
One of my favorite drives is on TrailRidge Road in the Rocky Mountains. The road climbs about 4,000 feet in a matter of minutes, going from lush forest of aspen, blue spruce and ponderosa pines to the wind-whipped treeline and brush, succumbing to the alpine tundra. Depending on the time of year, you may even see snow. I loved seeing the hearty birds, marmots, elk and chipmunks. Did I mention that the road in many places is narrow, especially if you turn onto Old Fall River Road, which hugs the mountain in a single-file road? It’s not uncommon for one car to pull over to allow another to pass close-by.

When my husband and I were dating, we suggested that his parents, Bernie and Dorothy, who were visiting Denver, go up to Estes Park and take the scenic Trail Ridge Road drive. With a leisurely drive to and from Estes Park, including the trip over Trail Ridge Road, and a nice lunch in town, the entire journey can take the good part of a day.

I planned to work a half day and meet Joe for lunch. We figured we’d see his parents mid-afternoon in time to make plans for dinner. I arrived at Joe’s dorm and was greeted by Joe and his parents. I said how sorry I was that they didn’t get to go to the mountains.

They remarked that they did make the trip! They had thoroughly enjoyed breakfast in Estes Park and then drove on Trail Ridge Road through the mountains to the other side. It seems that Bernie was quite the expeditious driver and made the trip in about 5 hours, while Dorothy prayed the rosary during the entire narrow mountain road.

Friday, April 4, 2014

"D"onkeh

I like animals - I always have. Domestic or wild, I have a deep respect for all living things (except for wasps and spiders but that's for another time).

© 2005 by Diane Weidenbenner
When I first moved to Indiana, on my way to work, I would drive by this beautiful donkey. He was never busy doing too much but he always looked content. I think he belonged to the farm that was nestled next door to his field.

He had soulful eyes and beautiful fur. One day I decided to make friends with this handsome animal so I pulled my car over, went across the road and began talking to him across the field.

Before long, he came over and put his nose through the fence. I don't know how to tell the age of donkeys but I felt like he was a senior citizen. His whiskers were soft and wiry and he liked his nose scratched. He was personable and gentle. He never tried to bite or be aggressive in any way. I was in love!

What a great reminder that no matter where I was, I could experience something new and peaceful and gentle. To open myself up to new possibilities and exciting new adventures. You see, my husband and I relocated to Indiana from Denver, Colo., after I'd lived in Denver for 42 years. I never even entertained the thought that I might live anywhere else. God opened up a door for me to work with a Christian organization and be able to do new, creative things. I just had to move to a new place, leaving a lifetime of friends and experiences behind. My husband says I was in denial. He would pack box after box while I sat in my home office and continued working at the marketing firm that my business partner, Mercy, and I had, right until the day we were supposed to leave Denver.

I don't think it became real until the first week I drove to my new job, through a bit of countryside, past this donkey with the comforting spirit and beautiful fur.

I saw the donkey most of the year and then, one day, he was gone. I don't know what happened to him and I've often thought of asking the farmers if they knew. He was one of my first friends in a new place I learned to call home. He was one of the rural blessings that I would experience after my move to Indiana.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

"C"amera

Bales of hay are common around the midwest. They do
remind me of Tootsie Rolls. © 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
It seems like I've always had a camera. Of course my first was a Ricoh film camera. I traipsed around Europe with 28 rolls of film and swapped them out as they filled up with memories. I then had to save up money in order to get them developed after I returned to the States.

When I did finally have the money, and the gumption to fill out all those film envelopes, six months later, it was exciting. Through those developed photos, I relived the highlights of my vacation all over again. I took way more pictures than most people in order to make sure that I got a good shot of the things that I liked. My friends and I would get together and share our pictures, and it was amazing how we were at the same places but saw very different things and captured different moments in time through our lenses. Viewpoint is everything!

Fall leaves in Indiana make for beautiful close-ups.
© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
My next camera was a panoramic camera which I also took on vacation one year, along with my film model. There's nothing like a photo of the Roman Colosseum in wide-angle. I'd like to include one in a blog but didn't have time to scan it so perhaps I'll include it when I get to the "Ps". How do you like that for a teaser?

I now have a Canon Rebel DSLR camera which I really enjoy. I've gone from one extreme to the other, hardly ever getting my pictures developed. I want to remedy this, because I miss looking at the prints. I make some of the better shots into cards and give them away to friends for special occasions.

A lake in Brown County State Park. Thousands of acres
to investigate and oh, the possibilities!
© 2013 by Diane Weidenbenner
I'd like to take a photography class to learn more about controlling the camera's various buttons. I experiment with them now and read the manual, but I would learn much from a professional. Not to mention all the gadgets I would learn to use with my camera, like external lighting, filters, etc.

My friend, Sandy, and I drive around and look for awesome photo opportunities. It's a wonderful pastime and always a welcome adventure.