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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lopsided Meatballs

Alyssa's wedding is one week from today. One week! This week has been very busy trying to get things ready that I can help with from here. I've made eight corsages, and three bridesmaids bouquets. I bought my dress. I've made meatballs.

I've made and frozen many meatballs. I am still making and freezing many meatballs. Many, many meatballs.

All summer I have felt a little guilty, I bought and planted a bunch of herbs. I planted rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, parsley, sage and chives. Then this summer, I never felt like cooking anything. At all. The herbs kept growing and I kept not using them. I felt bad for spending the money, on them and not using them.

 Well, the guilt is gone. I have harvested, washed, picked through and chopped so many herbs the last week that my fingers may be permanently green. I have used just about all of the herbs except the sage and chives. They have paid for themselves many times over now. If I had bought all of the herbs for the meatballs at the store it would have added up very quickly. I probably would have had to use dried herbs just because of the cost.

I have smelled like a walking talking meatball for days! No matter how many times you shower or wash your hands the smell just stays with you. And then of course there is the onions and garlic.

Anyone who knows me, knows I HATE onions. I hate them with a passion. I don't like them cooked, I don't like them raw. I know, and this is the ONLY reason I will ever use them, that they do add flavor to dishes. When I do decided to use them, which is very rarely, there is only one way I can do it, I "slap chop" the hell out of them. I dice them up very, very small with my knife, and then put the tiny dices in my slap chopper, and pulverize them. After that, I must cook them down to nonexistence, or I won't be able to eat them.

So.... that's what I have been doing. Chopping, slapping, mixing, cooking, frying and of course testing meatballs.

Yes, I said frying. I guess there are many thoughts on how to cook a proper meatball. When I was growing up, my mom pan fried her meatballs to brown the outside, and then put them in the sauce to finish cooking. I have always made them that way as well.

I am a big fan of the Food Network. Out of curiosity, I have watched many different shows about making meatballs. Alton Brown says that my way of making meatballs is NOT "Good Eats." He says to bake them. Tyler Florence, says to bake them too. He says, "it's how we  do it in our restaurants." They hold their shape better, they said. You can cook them faster, they said. Valerie, my daughter, said that she had baked them and it worked great. Ok, so I decided to bake them....once. They tasted fine, but they had a weird spongy texture that I did not like. I did not like it at all. Then I started thinking. I have never meant a restaurant meatball that I liked. Never. I mean they aren't awful or anything, well, sometimes, but they are never good. I rarely ever order meatballs when I'm out, even as much as I love them, because they always disappoint. Even as a child, I remember being unhappy with any meatball but my mom's. So..... why would I change that?

Now, my meatballs are not perfectly shaped orbs of meat. Pan frying them leaves them flat on two sides. I fry them on one side for five minutes and them turn them over and fry them on the other side for five minutes. They have two flat sides. But, I can't say that I care. I just want them to taste good. I've been writing this post in five minute intervals. I can fit about sixteen meatballs in my frying pan at a time. I have made approximately 247 so far. That's a lot of five minute intervals.

I may never make meatballs again.......

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001

I woke up early as usual. I was a school bus driver for Van Meter School District at the time and had to be to work at 6:45 am. I woke up the kids to get ready for school. Sierra, our cat came with me, as she did every day, jumping on each bed as I turned on their lights and roused them. I gave them each a hug and then left for work. It was a beautiful September morning. I was thinking to myself about what I needed to get done for Alyssa's birthday supper. She turned eleven that day. It was her "spirit birthday" or so she was told by one of her teachers. A "spirit birthday" is the birthday where you turn the age that the date of your birthday is. Alyssa believed that that meant it was going to be a special birthday. Being newly eleven, which is still young enough to believe in magic, I'm sure she believed she would have a magical birthday.

I got to the school, got my bus ready and headed out. My route went as usual, I must not have had the radio on that morning. I parked my bus and went to my car. I wanted to go and vote in the school board election so I could get it out of the way so I could get on with my day. I turned on the car and the radio.

I turned off the radio, I turned off the car. I walked into the school. I walked into the cafeteria. There was a study hall of high schoolers in there. What would normally have been a buzzing noise of students talking, and lunch ladies working, was replaced with a strange hush. I looked around and went into the kitchen. I asked if they knew what had happened. The head cook, looked at me with a stunned face and said yes, and remarked on how quickly the study hall had changed. How quickly these high schoolers had changed. I looked through the kitchen serving window and looked at the students.

Faces, young faces, were dazed, fighting tears, reddening with anger. Boys, suddenly realized how quickly they may be asked to become men. Would their college plans change to a military future. Girls, some weeping openly, wondered what was happening to the world around them. What seemed important when they walked into school, fifteen minutes earlier, faded quickly to frivolity. I looked at the faces. I wanted very much to collect my children and take them home. I went to the office, the elementary principle was talking to someone, saying that counselors were saying it was important to let kids stay in their normal routine. Keep them in school, keep them busy. I left and went to vote. Suddenly, voting seemed even more important.

I went to vote, the people there hadn't heard. Shock froze their faces when they were told. I voted and went home.

I was riveted to the TV. I couldn't stop watching. I got on the computer. At that time AOL was the main way to get onto the Internet. I got on, and looked for more news even as I had CNN on the TV. I saw my brother was online and I IM'd him to ask where exactly my sister lived in New York. I wasn't very familiar with New York City, at all, and didn't know if she might be in danger. She was safe. As we were messaging back and forth I saw something that said that one of the towers had fallen and said something to him about it. He told me, no, he could still see the tower there, they had to be mistaken. After I finished reading his comment I turned back to the TV to see if I could see the tower through all that smoke. As I studied the screen, the second tower fell. There goes the second tower, was all I could write back. I turned away from the computer and just stared at the TV. I wondered if this was a bad dream, was it some strange "War of the Worlds" dramatization? The world seemed to have stopped for an eternity. Words left the reporters, people that you are used to hearing babble on and on, had nothing to say.

"You have mail" screamed my computer. It had interrupted me from my tunnel vision with a start. My heart jumped from my chest, it was like an alarm clock waking me from a deep sleep. I turned, it was an email from my friend Dawn. "All those people," are the only three words I remember about it.

Later that afternoon I went back to work to take kids home from school. I brought red, white and blue ribbons back with me. Each of us drivers tied one on our bus rear view mirrors on the door side of the bus so the kids could see them when they came out of the school. My afternoon route did not go as usual. I left the radio off.

Kindergartners to high schoolers were on my bus. The older kids sat, still in a stunned silence. Looking out the window as the world went by. A world that looked so much different than the world they went by just that morning. The younger kids asked questions. Questions I didn't know how to answer. Questions that had no answers.

I got back to the school, got in my car, turned on the radio, and went home. Conferences were that night at school. The principles decided to continue with them, again keep the kids in their routine. I got home, I asked the kids if they wanted to go to conferences, they said no. We stayed home. We tried to enjoy Alyssa's birthday dinner. I can't tell you what we had. I don't remember making anything. Willie's cousins were there. The four of us tried to make the evening as normal as possible for Valerie, Josh and especially Alyssa. Her magical birthday was not to be. We ate, we sang happy birthday, we opened presents. We watched President Bush address the nation.

Iowa usually seems so far away from New York City. Iowa usually seems like a different world than Washington DC. Shanksville, Pennsylvania, was not even known to me. That day, that horrid horrid day, suddenly they felt like next door. Suddenly, every single one of those firefighters, police officers, and people from many countries, faiths and creeds, they were all family. The world had shrunk exponentially that day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ramdom Stuff

 I haven't been in much of a inspired mood lately. I've had a hard time thinking of things to blog about, unless it is bad mood stuff, and I don't want to do a lot of that. So, I was looking at some photos I took recently and decided to just tell little tidbits about them.

I have decided that this is my new dream vehicle. Now, I know that since it is my new dream vehicle I should know everything about it. I don't, you can ask my kids, knowing things about automobiles is not something my brain does. I seem to have a finite amount of room for information in my brain. If I start remembering detailed information about cars, I'll forget something else. That something else might be something important, like, how to get to work, for instance.

All I know is that Willie and I saw it at a car show at the Hoopston Sweetcorn Festival. It is a Ford, I know this because it says Ford on it. It is old, it is reddish orange, and it has white walls. I don't have real big desires when it comes to cars. If it goes forward and backwards, turns right and left, stops on demand and has a heater, I am pretty well set. Oh, and not having the engine belt fall off every time it rains is a big plus, but I can work with that. I just really like the way this truck looks. I can see me tooling around in it. It looks fun.

 Now, from the lets point out the obvious, department. I just couldn't resist taking this picture, Someone drove by while I was taking it and probably wondered what the heck......

 This spider is living in my garden. As ferocious as he looks, I decided to let him be. I figure he is eating the bugs we don't want on our vegetables. Plus, he is way in the back yard and not in my house. As long as he realizes that he does not belong in my house, we can coexist.

 Kahlen has figured out how to take pictures on my phone. She has not perfected the art, but everyone has to start somewhere.

And finally, I have a definite love hate relationship with this bridge. It is the bridge over the Mississippi river between Iowa and Illinois on interstate 80. When I am going west on it I love it. It is a welcome sight, it is beckoning me home. It is the bridge to my family. When I am going east on it, well, I said no bad mood stuff for this blog, so I will stop. Soon, I will be going west on it again for Alyssa's wedding. That makes me happy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Trying This Video Thing Again

This is the sound of the thirteen year locusts when you have thirty-seven trees in your yard. (if the video works this time) If you can't get it to work try this link to youtube

This year is the year of the thirteen year locust in Illinois. For those of you who may not have experienced this phenomenon, it is a sound to behold.

These little critters come out in mass once every thirteen years. I'm not completely sure how the whole process works, but here are the basics. Once every thirteen years, these locusts who have been underground dig their way to the surface. They climb into the trees. They make a whole heck of a lot of noise, and mate. They shed their skin, leave a big mess and die, leaving even a bigger mess.

The birds and other insect eaters, get very fat and happy.

The last time they came to visit, we were in Iowa. I think they come in a different cycle there. Joshua, was seven or eight. He had been fascinated with these strange and new creatures. We went on a lot of walks in the woods and heard the loud humming most of the summer. Then one day we went for a walk at Walnut Woods State Park in Des Moines. The locusts were starting to die. There were locusts all over the ground, some already dead. some still dying. Josh, not ready for the end of this experience was trying to save the little guys. He would carefully pick up a locust that was on the ground still moving. He gently placed them back on the tree they had fallen from. Once he was satisfied that locust was safe he would move on to the next.  He was determined to save these rather disgusting looking bugs. I didn't have the heart to tell him his mission was doomed to fail. We spent the better portion of that afternoon saving locusts. Valerie was disgusted by the whole thing, the crunching of the carcasses under her feet grossed her out. Alyssa, helped Josh, but I think she was pretty disgusted too.

Monday, September 5, 2011


After a long summer of hot, hot days, disappointing   job searches and missing my kids and granddaughter terribly, I'm not so sure I am sorry to see summer go. One thing I love to do in the summer is go camping. Due to many factors we have not had a chance to camp this summer. I am not happy to see the chances to camp go swiftly by.

This last weekend of the summer season, Labor Day weekend was not our chance to go camping, we both had to work the whole weekend. I have to say, however, I'm not too upset about that. Friday and Saturday, the temperature was near 100 degrees. Not lovely for camping. Sunday it rained, and rained. Today, Labor Day proper, was beautiful. We both had today off. Made me want to be out camping, very much.

Since,  camping was not to be, and today was a beautiful yet chilly day, We decided to do the next best thing. We built a fire in the fireplace. It has seemed to have a very calming and soothing effect on my nerves. I have been in a rotten mood for weeks now. I've spent much time feeling sorry for myself, and pouting. My luck has been one catastrophic ( ok not catastrophic, but very unpleasant) event after another, and my nerves have been on the tipping side of on edge. A week out at a camp site, sitting next to a campfire, would do a world of good for me.
That said, having a roaring fire in the fire place is the next best thing.  We went across the street to Casey's and got a bag of marshmallows. I put the fresh soft marshmallow on a long fork. I found the perfect spot in the fire to toast yet not char the perfect white pillows of sugary puff.

I watched the embers glow as my marshmallow poofed up and swelled. Quickly the outside browned and bubbled. I turned the fork and let it brown evenly on all sides. Until, toasted marshmallow perfection was achieved.
As I put the tasty toasted tidbit in my mouth the crispy outside crackled as it broke and gave way to the warm melted goo inside. It was a tiny moment of indulgence in this summer of scrimping, sweating and general unpleasantness.

I was so glad this chilly weather made a "campfire" possible. It may not have been  outside, it may not have been in the woods, but it was an almost perfect replacement. The warmth from the fire, contrasting the cool fall air breezing through the windows was a perfect relief, not only for me but also for Mia. Who sat happily warming herself in the yellow glow.