Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Are you crazy? Three weeks in a pop-up camper and a mini-van with three kids!!!

In 1988, my husband and I had the crazy notion to hop into our mini-van with a 12-year-old, a 9-year-old, and a 6-year-old, pull a pop-up camper across the middle of Canada and back across the biggest part of the United States for three weeks. It was the best trip we've ever taken, but it had its moments.

The rocks came from around Thunder Bay.

1. We left home on the third week of July. Home was Ironton, Ohio.

2. We had a flat tire on the camper. Luckily it came with a spare.

3. Spent the night in a provincial campground on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. Shortly before we got into our comfy slideout beds, an intense thunderstorm began. It rolled in and out of the lake all night long. Husband and I didn't sleep a wink...the kids never heard a thing.

4. Our second son contracted an intestinal virus from drinking unsafe water. That was unpleasant.

Between 4 and 5 we saw wheat fields....lots of wheat fields.

5. One of the most beautiful sights in the United States....Glacier National Park. If you've never been there, put it on your bucket list. I was scared to death of running into a grizzly bear, but we didn't see even one. We did see mountain goats and a badger. It wasn't without incident though. Unbeknownst to us, my niece had been trying to locate me since the day after we left home. The nice $3,000 check from our credit union that I had cashed for the trip? I had signed it for my husband (don't tell me you haven't done it before!) and the credit union had refused to honor it because of the hinky way I signed it! My niece just happened to be in the bank and one of our friends who worked there asked her if she knew how to get hold of me. How in heavens name she ever tracked us down at the campground where we were staying, I have no clue! But Husband got it all straightened out and it was all good. Thank goodness we lived in a small town!

6. 1988 was the year of the big burn in Yellowstone National Park, but we enjoyed every moment we spent there even though the air was smoky and near the south entrance you could see the fires burning in the distance. That entrance was closed, so we had to change our plans to see the Grand Tetons.

7. So we headed up to the Battle of Little Bighorn National Historic Site. A more desolate place you will never see unless you're on the moon. It was hotter than Hades and there were signs everywhere warning not to veer from the paths unless you wanted to encounter rattlesnakes. Uhhh, you don't need to tell me twice!

We were fortunate to have a Native American tour guide who gave their side of the story. Why the United States ever wanted control of this godforsaken part of the country is beyond me.

8. Greybull, Wyoming...nice little town...nice private campground. The kids were getting on my nerves while I was trying to cook supper, so I told them to take a little walk. Two hours later, after we frantically had searched the entire town, they ride up to the campsite in a police car! Aimee (the 6-year-old) hopped right out of the squad car and started telling us that "she wanted to go to someone's door and ask how to get back to the campground, but that the boys were being stupid and didn't want to because they were embarassed"! Thank God, the police officer had spotted them after we reported them missing! You have to remember this was 1988 and it was a very small town. We were very trusting then.

9. We camped one night in Rapid City, but there were forest fires there, too, and it was so smoky that it was hard to breathe. So we moved on.

10. Fort Robinson, Nebraska was the last U.S. Cavalry outpost in operation. It was really interesting and at that time you could actually stay in the officer's quarters, but it required reservations. The best part was the rodeo. Normally, there are real cowboys putting on the show, but they were all off fighting forest fires in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. So, they turned it into a little kids' rodeo....and I do mean little! Some of the little cowpokes were only 3 or 4 years old! It was soooo cute!

11. Grand Island, Nebraska...our first sight of green grass since we left home (it was a very hot summer). Unfortunately, along with the nice green grass were swarms of mosquitoes! We stayed inside the camper until we left the next day!

12. By day seventeen we were getting a little road weary and the campground we had booked was one of those places where on the weekend all the locals go to camp and drink and play cards and music and drink. I said unh-uh, no way! So off we went to find a hotel and a restaurant. The only time we stayed anywhere but the camper and only the third time we had eaten out in 17 days. I'm a trooper.

We called home to make sure everything was okay and found out that Husband's 93-year-old grandfather had passed away the day before. So we headed for home right away.

13. We only got as far as Evansville, Indiana when the camper's spare tire went flat while we were driving. So the tire was ruined as well as the rim. Luckily we had AAA, but it was Sunday and no RV stores were open. We had the tow truck pull the camper to a service station and made arrangements to leave it there until Husband could come back and get it.

14. We made it home in time for the funeral the next day, with everyone intact and a smidgin of our sanity still within reach. Would I do it again? You betcha! But this time with grandchildren instead of children and a full-size camper with a bathroom!

(This is a duplicate post from Lens.Us.Together)

Monday, January 25, 2010

An abundance of bread

A few weeks ago I started volunteering at our local food pantry. I've wanted to for a while, but they never had an opening until recently. One morning a week I help three other women sort and bag day-old (or a few days old) bagels and artisan bread and assorted pastries that are generously donated by a nationally-known bakery and cafe and by a nationally-known (there's one on every corner) coffeehouse. Mixed in with the whole loaves of bread there are sliced breads that have been half used. They don't like giving those out to the people who patronize the food pantry, so the lucky recipients are the volunteers. A nice little bonus for a job that needs no compensation other than the feeling you get when you know you are helping other people.

The first week I was there, I received a huge bag with probably ten large loaves of artisan bread. They told me I could feed it to my chickens. After bringing it home, I realized that the bread was much too good to feed to the chickens, and anyway they didn't need to be eating that much bread. It's like chicken candy to them. So I rebagged it, gave some to my kids, and put the rest in the freezer. Yesterday I thought the whole family was coming for dinner so I thawed one of the loaves of seeded sourdough. It ended up with nobody being able to make it. So, what do you do with a huge loaf of white bread? You make bread pudding!

Assemble the ingredients:

6-8 cups cubed stale bread
3 large eggs
3 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
(homemade organic, if you know someone who makes it)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter the inside of a 13 x 9 inch baking dish, or equivalent deep casserole dish.

  1. Beat the eggs well, then add the sugar and beat.

  2. Beat in the vanilla, butter,  and cinnamon, then the milk.

  3. Pour over the bread cubes and stir in the raisins. Let sit for a few minutes so the bread absorbs some of the milk.

  4. Pour into the baking dish and bake 30-45 minutes, or until the top looks brown and crusty.


Melt 3 tablespoons butter in small pan.
Whisk in 3/4 cup powdered sugar and 3 tablespoons heated rum or whiskey until smooth.

But, I still had half a loaf left over after making the bread pudding. So I made croutons. The store-bought ones can't compare to homemade, and they're so easy.

Cut the slices of bread into one-inch cubes. I used about 6 large slices. Toss in a large bowl with a couple tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, one teaspoon Italian seasoning and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 for about 14-15 minutes, giving a stir about halfway through. Cool on the baking sheet and store in a plastic bag.

I ate all the ones that were almost burned. I don't mind making that sacrifice.

I couldn't just have bread items for dinner, so I made a soup that we love.


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onion, or one large
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 1/2 cups diced red bell pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon crushed fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 bay leaves
1 pound mild white fish, such as halibut or tilapia, cut in bite-size pieces
1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 pound bay scallops
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

  1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and celery and saute for 3 minutes. Add bell pepper and saute for 7 minutes. During the last minute stir in the dried herbs. This helps release their flavor. Stir in garlic, chicken broth, wine, vinegar, tomatoes and bay leaves; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

  2. Add fish, shrimp and scallops. Cover and simmer 5-8 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Add the parsley at the end.

  3. Serve with crusty bread or top with homemade croutons.

NOTES: For a thicker broth, you may add 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste during the cooking process. I substituted a 1-lb. package of Trader Joe's (frozen) Seafood Blend for the shrimp and scallops. That's why you see calamari rings.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cafes, hoarfrost, vacuum cleaners and Miss New Kitty

This week I needed to take my year-old vacuum cleaner in for its first annual checkup, so off I went to West Liberty, Ohio, where I purchased it. The night before we had fog that froze on the trees and bushes, otherwise known as hoarfrost.

This huge tree was all alone in the middle of the field.

After dropping off my cleaner at Mr. McCulla's, I walked across the street to have a bit of lunch at the Cream and Sugar Cafe.

It was a charming restaurant with small town friendliness. Not only did I have a bowl of tomato bisque soup and a chicken and spinach salad, but I also had a pot of English Breakfast tea. Made the proper British way with loose tea, not tea bags. They even gave me a complimentary lemon muffin which was just the right size, not one of those giant ones that most bakeries serve.

I had a table by the window and it wasn't crowded the day I was there, so they didn't mind my sitting for a while, sipping my tea and reading while I waited for Mr. McCulla to finish. I was saddened to hear that my favorite book store had closed due to the owner's retirement. She always had cats in residence and I had planned to take pictures of them and her store. I had to make do with the thrift store across the street. There I found a used hardback copy of The Mists of Avalon, which will make a perfect book to read for the Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge (in the sidebar) in which I'm participating this year. I have a whole year to read four books and watch the movies to compare in a blog post. That shouldn't be too difficult for a challenge-phobic person like me!

Update on Miss Sassy Clementine New Kitty:

She's still here, as you can see, and is currently running the household. See the word on the back of the little chair? Just remove that last letter and that should have been her name!  She keeps the other cats hopping.....and running, wrestling, and playing! She has doubled her size and is in danger of developing a little kitty fat belly. Unfortunately, her right ear and the tip of her tail was frostbitten. She has already lost about a fifth of her ear. She's going to the vet tonight and we'll see what Dr. Julie says. I don't know if she needs to have the damaged parts removed, or not. I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, Sassy says "Hi, y'all! And can I bite your cheek? Or your fingers, toes, stray body parts? It's all good!"

Monday, January 11, 2010

Book Review: Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America

This is my first attempt at writing a book review, so please be gentle with me!

Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America,  by Linda Lawrence Hunt, was a story that begged to be told but was almost lost to history. If not for the daring action taken by a granddaughter-in-law, we may never have known about this courageous woman's journey.

In 1896, things were looking bad for Helga Estby and her husband Ole, both Norwegian immigrants. They had moved from Minnesota's prairies and large Norwegian enclave to Spokane, Washington. They were eager to escape the harsh living conditions in Minnesota:  the Siberian-like winters, the tornadoes that destroyed everything in their paths. The difficulty of making a living in such condtions and the encouragement of brochures about the splendid Northwest convinced them that they should relocate to the state of Washington. 

The brochures, which were published by the new Northern Pacific Railroad, made promises of a better climate, affordable housing, exciting educational opportunities and an already thriving Scandinavian population. That was enough to convince Ole and Helga to take their growing family west.

The brochures didn't lie, but failed to mention that the rapid growth of the region had resulted in an inadequate infrastructure which caused conditions that led to Helga having a life-changing accident on the streets of Spokane. She won an unheard of (women did not sue the government in those days) settlement of $5,000 for her pain and suffering. With the money, she was able to have risky surgery to correct her health problems and they also bought a farm outside the city where they built a comfortable house and Ole found work as a carpenter making a good living. Unfortunately, the financial crash of 1893 intervened. Banks failed, foreclosures on new constructions were common, work came to a standstill (sound familiar?).  Without work, Ole was unable to keep up the mortgage on their home and the bank threatened foreclosure.  This is when Helga's story really began.

Things were getting desperate for the family when Helga received an offer through "the instrumentality of a friend in the East." A wealthy woman in New York offered to pay $10,000 to Helga and her daughter Clara if they would walk without male escort across America. It was proposed as an advertising scheme to introduce a new kind of bicycle skirt that had been introduced at the Chicago World's Fair.

This is a fascinating tale of two women who crossed the continent armed only with a couple of revolvers, a can of homemade "pepper spray" and only a few days' worth of food between them (they were instructed to earn food and shelter along the way). In an age where women were not supposed to have a brain or do anything physical beyond fanning themselves, just the walking itself was a marvel. But the hardships and danger they encountered along the 2,800 miles of their journey made it extremely remarkable. And to make it even harder was the fact that Helga left behind eight other children, one of whom was only two years old, in the care of their father. She encountered prejudice and hatred along the way, especially among the Norwegian community that she left behind. To Norwegians, and to most Americans at that time, motherhood and the all the responsibilities it entailed were sacred. They were considered loose women by many, but were admired by many more.

This is not only a tale of two women, but of all women, as it occured during the early days of the women's suffrage movement. It also encompasses the pivotal election of William McKinley vs. William Jennings Bryan.

Unfortunately, Helga's journey did not have a happy ending, and because most of her family hated her for the consequences of her bold action and the terrible hardships that they faced themselves, they destroyed almost all of Helga's records with which she intended to write a book. Because of her granddaughter-in-law's actions, the author was able to piece together this story with the help of a great-grandaughter.

My son Jaye found this book for me at Goodwill. At first I was a little ho-hum about it, but when I started reading, I couldn't stop. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lookie what I found

About 4:30 yesterday afternoon I was walking out to the mailbox and heard crying, very loud crying. Trying to determine from which direction it was coming, I kept calling "Kitty". There it was, over in the woods! As I tramped through the snow, I could see a little kitten near a tree stump that was uprooted. It had been down in a hole underneath the stump. Who knows how long it had been there.  I quickly picked up the shivering bundle of fur and wrapped it inside my coat to warm its thin little body and brought it inside to the warmth and some food.

The kitten turned out to be a female which you would guess by the calico coloring. She looks like she is about eight weeks old and has the most beautiful coloring.  She was starving and wolfed down the small portion of food I put in the bowl. 

Being a little trepidatious about David's reaction when he got home (we already have three adult cats), I was planning my speech. He agreed with me when I pleaded my case about how I couldn't let the sweet little thing stay out in the frigid cold. When we were eating our supper of chili, this is where the kitty spent the whole the crook of David's arm.

How could anyone be so heartless and cruel to drop a defenseless kitten in the dead of winter by the side of the road not really close enough to my house to be easily seen?!! It was just pure luck that I went out to get the mail. I almost waited to have David do it when he got home, which would have been well after dark. I don't think she would have survived the cold last night.

We have new neighbors who live a couple of houses down the road. I'm going to check with them today to see if they lost her. I noticed that they have young children.  If she isn't theirs, maybe they would like to have a sweet little kitten to call their own. I would love to keep her, but my big cats are freaking out. You would think that I introduced some evil devil child into the household!

Right now she's sleeping all warm and snuggled inside my robe. I warm her and she warms me.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Eighth Wonder: The Fabulous Waterloo Wonders

The Bumbles'  Monday Movie Meme theme this week is Game On about favorite sports movies. I'm not participating, but the most-listed movie so far is "Hoosiers", a favorite of mine. If you haven't seen the movie, it is a great movie about a small-town basketball team taking on the big city teams to win the Indiana state high school basketball championship in 1954. There are great performances by Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper, as well the unknown actors playing the basketball stars.

The mention of that movie reminded me, as it always does, of the hometown heroes basketball team where I grew up in southeastern Ohio. The Waterloo Wonders.

The five main players: Stewart Wiseman, Curtis McMahon, Orlyn Roberts, Wyman Roberts and Beryl Drummond.

Waterloo, Ohio (Lawrence County), in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, was actually more bustling than it is today. It boasted an inn, a mortuary, two doctors, a barbershop, and three stores. Today there are very few jobs, but the people are a close-knit community of farmers and teachers. There are no movie theaters for kids to go to, no bowling alleys, no libraries, no malls in which to hang out with their friends. There is one restaurant and a post office. In fact, Waterloo High School (later Waterloo Elementary) no longer functions as a school, though it is still standing.

But in the mid-thirties, Waterloo had something to brag about. Their basketball team. The Waterloo Wonders. It consisted of five players (with three subs) who grew up dirt poor. They didn't even have a real basketball when they learned to play on backboards made out of baskets nailed to the barn door. They wound rags that they begged from their mothers' rag baskets until they had something comparable to the size of a regulation basketball. When they could get time away from working on the farm, they played basketball. And boy did they ever play!

In 1933, under the brilliant coaching skills of Magellan Hairston, this team came out of the woodwork to win the Ohio state high school championship. And then they did it again the next year. The story of how they accomplished that is the stuff that legends are made of. "In two remarkable seasons, Waterloo played nearly 100 games, winning all but three, most of them on the road against much bigger schools. In one stretch the team won seven games in nine days; it boasted a 56-game winning streak. That makes the Wonders more akin to the great professional barnstormers of that pre-NBA era." (Sports Illustrated)

At that time, basketball was a very static sport. Players weren't in constant motion as they are today. After every basket, the ball was returned to center court for a jump shot and most shots were made with feet firmly planted and with two hands. When the Wonders came on the scene they wowed the audiences with their trick shots (running hook shots) and ball passing. In fact, the ball rarely ever touched the floor. The boys learned to play with those rag balls and rag balls don't bounce, so they were continually passing. The other teams soon found themselves bumfuzzled and feeling out of their league. The Wonders "wasn't just beating other schools, it was destroying them by football scores: 52-14, 40-14,69-9". (SI)

Their schedule was grueling, sometimes playing five games in seven nights, and most of them weren't at home. "On (one) occasion, due to a scheduling mix-up, Waterloo found itself playing two different schools on the same night. Rather than cancel one game,  (Coach) Hairston had his starters run up a big halftime lead in the first contest, then left behind his subs to mop up as the starters took off for the nightcap. Waterloo won both games." (SI)  Another time, the boys got held up by a bad snowstorm while traveling to Cleveland for a game. Coach Hairston managed to find a telephone and called the other coach saying they would be very late, or maybe not make it at all and so he would forfeit the game. They were urged to try to make it so they pressed on, arriving at 11:00 p.m. The gym was still packed and they played the game which, of course, they won.

After those two championship seasons, college coaches were breaking down the gym doors to recruit those five players onto their teams. University of Kentucky's famous coach, Adolph Rupp (for whom Rupp Arena is named), tried to recruit the whole team!  Sadly, only one of the boys went to college, Stewart Wiseman who was a teacher's son. He played basketball at Rio Grande College (pronounced ry-oh grand) which was close to home and which boasts a pretty famous basketball player of its own, Clarence Bevo Francis, who singlehandedly scored more than 100 points in a single game. 

The four other starters eventually ended up forming a barnstorming team which played such teams as the Harlem Globetrotters, the New York Rens, and even the (then) New York Celtics. "In 1937, after two narrow losses to the dominant pro team of the day, the New York Celtics, the upstart Wonders beat the Celtics in a third game, 47-39, before a crowd of 7,000 in Cleveland." (SI) World War II ended their basketball careers, but they could still be found occasionally in an exhibition game or showing off one of their trick shots in front of a crowd.

By the time I was a teenager, Waterloo H.S., along with Windsor, Aid and Mason schools,  had been incorporated into Symmes Valley High School, my alma mater. I went to school with kids who bore the names of those Wonder boys and an awful lot of those Wiseman kids became teachers. Our basketball team rarely had winning seasons and none that were remotely close to those of the Waterloo Wonders, but the star players on the team were usually boys from Waterloo. In that little village, they still loved their basketball.

If you would like to read the entire Sports Illustrated article, here is the link.

And here is a link to a YouTube clip from a documentary filmed by WOUB-tv, Ohio University's public television station.