Thursday, December 18, 2008

My son Evan

Ev made it home safely from India. He stepped out from behind a pillar at the airport and my heart soared. We spent the day together-lunch, then grocery shopping at our local international market, picking up spices and delicacies from India, so he could prepare our evening meal. Curry leaves and mooyng lentils and lots of delicious spicy foods. Tonight I send many prayers heavenward.

Tick...tock, tick...tock, tick...tock

I wound the mantel clocks early this morning. Fourteen cranks clockwise in the right winding arbor to keep time moving forward; eighteen cranks clockwise in the left winding arbor to keep them chiming every half hour.

The clock in the dining room was my first one. The kitchen clock, my second, is white adamatine, with an ornate face. The large ebony, three-pillared one is in Paul's office. The oak clock is in the dressing room; Paul would not allow it by our bedside. And there is one on the mantel in the living room with a battery-operated, musical/chiming mechanism. This was a garbage sale find; a pretty face without any guts. John, the clockmaker, assured me he could make this clock sing again. And it does. My latest acquisition is a clunky old clock which whirs, bangs, and creaks, trying to shake out its chime. This one sits atop the bookcase in the hallway at the top of the stairs.

These clocks are on eight-day cycles, but when I am gone all day at school, I don't hear their silence. Being home now over winter break, I noticed that the house was eerily quiet. By 9 o'clock this morning, they all chimed in unison. Even the finches broke out in song. It was glorious.

It's late afternoon now and the house is filled with the rhythmic tick...tock of the clocks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


This morning I arose at 5 A.M. to get ready for the trip to the airport to pick up our son. Orbitz called at 3:20 A.M. to alert us to his pending arrival at 9 A.M. Once showered and dressed, I hurried downstairs and heated water in the kettle for my morning cup of French Press. I mixed cookie dough last night, so I set out to make some fresh cookies for his arrival. This recipe is the only one I make for the holidays. It was Great Grandma de Vries', passed along from a Mrs. Charles Speaker in the church ladies 1923 recipe book. These cookies are filled with dates, apricots, raisins, currents, dried cherries and walnuts, all slow cooked 'til thick and sticky.

My mom would spend days baking a large assortment of Christmas goodies, then deliver platefuls to friends and family. When my sisters and I tackled the job of cleaning out her house after her death last year, I found the big old tin she filled with these cookies. Mom's cookies were delicious, made from her grandmother's recipe. Of course, mine never taste as good as those that came from her kitchen. But for two Christmases now, I have retrieved the old tin from the top cupboard and got busy in the kitchen.

This morning I donned my apron, one that I picked up at a garbage sale after I became a stay-at-home mom. It is old and soft, with two small pockets. It covers me from neck to mid-thigh, with small pink and purple dabs of color along tiny red and aqua vines. I often wonder who wore this apron, and for what recipe she was best remembered. Was it a triple-layer chocolate cake? Lime green, cottage cheese Jello salad? Christmas cookies, or a tender pot roast? Did she sew this apron with its pink bias tape edging, or did her aunt make this for her bridal shower when she was about to become a "lady of the house"?

I started collecting aprons tens year ago after I found my pink coverup. Now I have a drawerful. When I arrived at Mackey Church one morning to help serve Christmas breakfast to the congregation, I wore the red and green organza apron with a ruffled lower edge. The church ladies were impressed.

That following spring, a postcard arrived announcing our first church circle meeting of the year. We were asked us to bring a favorite apron and a memory associated with aprons. That made me smile. Look to the right for their stories.....

Recipe for Great Grandma Cora de Vries' Filled Cookies

Dough -
2 cups sugar
1 cup lard, or shortening
1 cup sour milk
6 cups flour
2 eggs
4 tsp. cream of tartar
2 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla

Filling -
1 cup water
1.5 cups sugar
1 lb. gold/brown raisins
1 lb. chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped apricots
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup currants

Set oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Add milk, alternately with flour mixture of soda, cream of tartar and salt. Roll thin and cut good-sized circles. Use generous spoonful of filling to center of bottom circle. Wet edge with cream. Cover with top circle and press with tines of fork to seal edge.
Bake cookies 'til edges are golden brown. Cool on rack and store in air tight container. Make early so they flavor well. Makes 30 large, or 60 small cookies depending on size of circles cut. Mom's note- "these are Dennis and Cathy's favorite...I should make them more often, but to me they are Christmas only!"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I can hardly wait....

I am so excited. I feel like a kid the night before Christmas. Ev, my college-age son, will arrive home tomorrow morning from a semester abroad in India.

I ran to the market this morning to pick up some chicken breasts to roast for our evening meal. As I stood at the meat counter, I started to think about preparing all my son's favorite foods-potato soup, rhubarb crunch, homemade rolls, roasted red pepper soup. What started as a quick stop for chicken ended with two bags of groceries filled with pistachio nuts, clementines, avocados, fresh PICKET FENCE CREAMERY cream, teriyaki beef jerky...and the chicken breasts.

With finals over, and winter break stretching out before me, I can be mom again. I decorated the Christmas tree, wrapped some presents for Paul,Ev, and Tess, shoveled snow TWICE!, and got busy in the kitchen. Ev will be home in the morning.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Louisiana Bayou- the ultimate wetland

Musings from my drafting table

It is finals week here at the university; I just finished a required agronomy course in soil science. My classmates have complained all semester about the relevancy of this course, but I found this introductory material fascinating…and very relevant. I have never had chemistry, or physics (I have an undergrad in business), but I studied this as if my life depended on it. I had read an article in LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE magazine last summer that suggested that we, as a profession, would truly be “greener” landscape architects if we better understood soils and hydrology.

My interest in landscape architecture centers on wetlands. I grew up on a farm in the Midwest during the 60’s and early 70’s. I remember the clay drainage tiles laid on the fields, awaiting burial in the trenches snaking across the land of our farm and that of surrounding farms. Most days throughout my childhood began or ended with my daily tromp which led me through the fields and the pastures, along the creek, and into the stand of grasses at the edge of the sloughs and marshes of north central Iowa. Tiling dropped the water table and drained these glacial depressions. It brought more acreage into row-crop production, all with the encouragement of Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz and his “fence row-to-fence row” farm policy. Now the wetlands are diminished, as are our forests and tall-grass prairies.

Our township cemetery was native prairie, so fifteen years ago I bought a burial plot-Lot 3 in Block 4-for $150. I never intended to be buried there; I wanted to safeguard some virgin prairie soil. A nearby farmer was hired by the cemetery board to plow the last section of the virgin prairie to “control the weeds”. He did just that, but my far corner plot escaped his plow. My mother passed away last January and before she died, she told us that she wanted to be cremated, but one of my sisters objected. She insisted that she be able to visit Mom’s gravesite, so I gave my mother permission to place a marker on my plot so Cathy would be able to place flowers there to memorialize Mom. There was no grave dug, and no coffin lowered, but there is a granite marker that will safeguard forty square feet of precious Iowa prairie soil for eternity.

Today at 7:30 AM the temperature was 40 degrees; it was calm, with crystal blue skies. And then it cut loose. The wind blasted in around 9:30 this morning, bringing with it charcoal gray clouds. The calm before the storm. Tonight the temperature is 0 degrees and the wind is furiously howling at the moon. Today when I was driving south on the interstate, I noticed the blackened the snow. With a little “digging” around on the web, reading some research done at the university I am currently attending, I found the following stats. Iowa topsoil erosion is pegged at about 5 tons per acre per year. The soils course taught me that an acre furrow slice (the area of one acre one plow depth (a little over 6.5 inches) weighs about one thousand tons. Iowa farmers cultivate around 25 million acres of cropland. “The Earth’s Carrying Capacity”, a 2007 report compiled by Bruce Sundquist estimates that in the U.S., wind and water erosion of cultivated land averages about 8 T/A/year. Think of it this way. U.S. farmers lose about one inch of topsoil every 8-10 years, which is ten times the natural rate of soil creation. Now hold this information for just another minute…

Last fall in my landscape ecology course, we read from Jared Diamond’s book COLLAPSE. The author described a people, the Anasazi, who perished about A.D.1200 because of their short-sighted vision with regard to intensive agricultural production. The deforestation of the land led to serious soil erosion and the inevitable decline in soil productivity. I wonder why we aren’t doing more to save this precious resource?

This posting began with the sound of the furious wind blasts rattling the window panes. As a future landscape architect, I am starting to connect the dots with regard to how we shape and mold the land. If we don’t appreciate Mother Nature and her brilliant design of this good earth, we don’t stand a chance.