Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Turtles and Frogs

We have a fairly large pond next to our house. This is a view from Google Maps Earth.

Kev had it built several years ago. Unfortunately, it does not have a lot of nice, cold spring fed activity going on... so during the summer months, it gradually gets more and more shallow. But that's ok, because it's pretty deep on one end. The shallow end does suffer the most. This cycle makes our pond what it is, with the plant growth and critters that live in it.

We stocked it with fish a few times through the years, but the winter before last killed pretty much all of our fish. This happened to ponds all around our area. As it was explained to me, there was too much snow on top of the iced-over pond, causing extreme cold temps... too cold for the fish. Last summer, I noticed a few fish whenever I'd mow around the pond. This year, though, none so far. And what that winter didn't kill, the herons have done their best to catch and eat. But the frogs and turtles are having a heyday!

When mowing the other day, I noticed the big patch of horsetails and how the center is all bent over and forms like a mat of horsetails.

 My first thought was that it looked like a deer bedding area, but the horsetails are basically floating on the water... so, no, not deer. Then I saw the turtles.

Painted turtles. I've seen a lot of turtles swimming on the surface of the pond. A few on the sides of the pond, but those turtles disappear into the pond immediately. They are all very much aware of my presence whenever I'm near. Obviously, the lawn mower is a big clue for them, but even walking quietly... basically trying to stalk them for a photo, they know I'm there, and they do not stick around. 

The turtles that are out swimming in the pond are constantly diving and resurfacing, trying to avoid me. There are so many that the whole, entire pond surface is slowly popping with turtle heads all the time.

It's pretty good entertainment when I'm mowing. Little buggers will not let me get a good photo, though. At one time, I counted to 23 and then lost count... too much diving and resurfacing activity. Suffice to say there are a lot of turtles in our pond. They eat a lot of plants, but the turtles also eat frogs. We have a lot of frogs now... I'm supposing it's because we now have no fish, so there's no fish feasting on them, and since no fish, the birds that prey on fish, and also frogs, are not visiting our pond much these days. Banner time for baby frogs.

I took this video while mowing; this was around the end of June. There were thousands of baby frogs.

There a still a lot of frogs, but not as many as the baby boom in the video would make one expect to find. Though, whenever there are any on the edge and I get close to them, those suckers jump in and disappear almost as fast as the turtles... so an accurate idea of the true population is pretty much impossible for me. And I suppose if I were a frog in that turtle-filled pond, I'd be extra jumpy, too.

Some of the larger, older frogs, were very cooperative in letting me get a photo... possibly because they've lived that long and gotten that big, they have less worry about turtles and other dangers.

I could have posted a lot more photos... so many frogs! Beautiful, beautiful frogs. Of the many, many things that I will miss about living here in this house on this property, the pond is in the top of the list. We are definitely building a new pond at our new house.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Homemade Pizza Pie

Many years ago, my folks started getting deliveries from Sysco, which is basically a restaurant supplier. My dad placed the order and handled the boxes that arrived. That lasted for a few years, and during that time, their freezers and cupboards were full all the time. Joycie and Sammy loved it. Gramma and Grampa had HUGE boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios and Oreos. Then a Sam's Club came to a nearby town and then Gordon's, and so on. No more Sysco deliveries. I think they quit doing residential orders. I think my dad is still using styrofoam cups and lids from those Sysco years...

One thing they always had was frozen pizza dough balls. Dad and Mom would make the best pizza. Usually just tomato sauce with very few if any spices, lotsa, lotsa cheese and spicy good pepperoni. Really good pizza. Then, as it usually goes, the homemade pizza time waned.

I made a ton of pizza during that time, too. Had a lot of pizza parties. Bought some great pizza pans on sale after Christmas one year, the insulated kind with holes in it to make a nice well-baked bottom crust. I bought 8 of those large pizza pans, and used all 8 of them on many, many evenings.

We still buy take out pizza all the time. Last week, we spent over $55 on 2 pizzas and breadsticks from a local pizzeria (not a chain). Really good pizza. But then we make our own, and wonder why we ever buy pizza. Ours is so much better.

Now that it's usually just me and Kev for dinner, my favorite pan to make pizza in is an old Sunbeam electric fry pan; the kind that unscrews from the plastic feet and handles. That leaves a screw on the bottom of the pan, so it doesn't set on my counter flat... but three thick hand-crocheted potholders that my Mom made do the trick. It makes a nice kind of deep dish pizza. Thick crust anyway. Yum.

A few years ago, I caught a TV show on one of the food channels that is about 2 guys from New Jersey (I think) that go around and highlight pizzerias. Kinda like Diners, Drive-ins & Dives, only all pizza, all the time. They were at Buddy's in Detroit, and they showed how they make pizza there. Cheese on the dough then sauce. That's my style now, too.

I buy frozen pizza dough balls from Gordon's, the 17 oz. size. They come larger, I think, but 17 oz. is perfect.

I get a couple of balls out of the freezer in the morning, put them each in a gallon-size bag and liberally add olive oil. Then moosh them around in the bag so the dough and bag are both coated well with the oil. If I get them out later than planned, I'll set them on the stove top and turn the oven on.

Then let them set all day.  They thaw and rise.

When I'm ready to make the pizza, I turn the oven on to regular bake (not convection) to 500 degrees F. It takes my oven quite a while to get to 500 degrees. Then I, once again liberally, coat the bottom of my pan with olive oil.  Liberally and olive oil are words that go together often in our kitchen. Then put the dough in the pan; it deflates as you do it. Because I use so much olive oil, the dough slips right out of the bag.

I push the dough around and stretch it here and there to fill out the pan. Then I sprinkle on garlic powder, salt and pepper. I know the pepper is kinda odd, but Kev and I love black pepper. Next is the cheese. I don't use mozarella; I use a cheese I buy from an Amish store called "Farmer's Cheese." It's a kinda soft cheese, like moz, but it's creamier... it's really, really good. I buy a whole log of it at the store's deli counter, then take it home, cut it in chunks and freeze it. Sometimes I shred it and sometimes I just crumble it apart.

I use a LOT of cheese for one pizza. Then I put on the sauce, which for this pizza is plain tomato paste to which I added some beef broth to thin it out just a bit. I also use just tomato sauce (a large can) to which I add paste (a small can). Whatever is handy and whatever I feel like using. No herbs. I usually make more than I need, so I freeze the rest in bags, each bag enough for one pizza. It's pretty handy, coz I just cut the corner off the bag and squirt it all over. I also have been using a lot of Vadalia onions that I froze. I got them on sale (19 cents per pound!) and bought a huge bag, peeled them, cut them in half, sealed them in bags and froze them. I take them out of the freezer, in the microwave for 15 seconds, and easy to cut and slice. So easy and so good. Just as I was finishing making our pizza, Joycie called me and suggested putting parmesan cheese around the edge, so I did that this time. I had sent home a bag of dough for Joyce and Mike to make for their dinner (Joyce had the really good parm, I had the standard Kraft). Good call, Joycie!

Then I wait, for the oven, and also for the pizza dough and toppings to get to know one another really well while they're waiting in that pan. It's really good if you can just let it rest for about a half hour or more even. Since Kev was still outside working when I made this pizza, I had plenty of time to wait. Then into the oven, and for this pizza that's just cheese and onion (my fav), 8 minutes, turn the pan so the front's to the back for even baking, and then another 5 minutes. (With more toppings, more like 8 minutes then another 8 or 9 minutes. Not long though, coz 500 is pretty hot.)

Smells so good. And because of the liberally applied olive oil, nice and crispy, and slips right out of the pan onto the cutting board.

Two pieces is super filling. Kev ate 3 and then took the last 3 into work for his lunch the next day.

It's not really good to nuke the leftover pieces... soggyish. Kev put them in foil and heated them up in the toaster oven they have at work. Really excellent that way.

This pizza was so good, that I made pizza again last night. Cheeseburger pizza, which is ketchup squirted on top of the sauce (that's on top of the Farmer's cheese), then fried ground beef (lots of it, and fried really dark), then onion, then some good shredded cheddar, then a bit more sauce (tomato sauce and paste this time) with a little more squirts of ketchup. Freakin' yum!

And the best part, easy clean up, and doesn't cost $55...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Joyce Marlene

Being with baby Nora has brought back so many memories of being with my babies. Especially, of course, Joycie. Not only because Nora is her daughter, but also because she looks like her momma.

When Nora was first born, she looked more like Mike than Joyce.  As the months passed, though, Nora began to resemble Joyce.

Joycie is on the left and Nora on the right.  Both photos taken after their bath and in their Daddy's arms. And when I think about the years ahead with Nora, I can't help but remember all the years of my baby girl growing and changing and becoming the wonderful woman she is today.

Having an adult daughter who has given me a granddaughter is kinda like a surreal experience. I still have those moments when I think of Joyce as a I did when she was, for example, still in high school. Sometimes, though not real often, it's like my brain doesn't want to admit that Joyce is now a grown up, capable, smart, strong woman. She's all of that and beautiful and amazing. Joyce is also a very talented writer. Composition was always her strength throughout her school years, especially high school and college, and during her post-grad studies. I love reading what she writes. Which is why I'm so happy that Joyce has started her own blog.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nora Grace

My good friend, Merrie, has told me many times that I am "livin' the dream". She is, as she usually is, spot on.

My mom and dad took care of our two kids while Kev and I worked full-time. I always knew how very fortunate we were to have Joyce and Sam cared for by their grandparents. Without them willing to do so, our lives would have taken a very different course. I wouldn't have worked full-time, and we've had a lot of fun through the years paid for by that income. Opportunities and experiences that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.

My dream was to be able to babysit my grandchildren. Back in 2010 when I turned 50, I had all the points I needed to be able to retire with full pension benefits. I didn't retire then because Sam was still in high school and our mortgage was (and is) still alive and kicking. Then Joyce and Mike married in 2012, and I began to feel pressure (of my own making)... worried I wouldn't be able to retire before those two gave me a grandbaby.

Unexpectedly, but very, very happily, I did retire toward the end of 2012, and then waited until late in 2014 for my babysitting years to commence. Nora Grace was born on September 26, 2014.

All the stuff you hear and read and all those sayings posted on facebook about how great it is to be a grandparent... it's all true. So true. It's truly amazing. It's fucking awesome!

Nora is the love of my life.  Kev is completely smitten as well. I keep telling my daughter that she and Mike must procreate again soon, because this much love is gonna suffocate our little Nora.

Nora is almost 10 months old. She is a happy, beautiful, smart little baby girl. She's almost walking, seriously, any minute now. She's waving bye-bye and saying bye; she's blowing kisses. She dances to music, especially when the theme to "Doc McStuffins" comes on the TV. She is too adorable for words.

I love, love, love babysitting her every weekday. It's a lot more work and commitment than I thought it'd be, and I believe I had a pretty good idea beforehand. But it's made me so happy. Too happy for words. I'm livin' the dream. 

It's also made me appreciate my mom and dad so much more, and my appreciation for them already ran very deep. 

Nora is very observant; she is constantly watching everything. Her resting face is very serious, so her smiles really light her up. She has 5 teeth already. She never took to a pacifier. When she's tired, she loves to suck on the end of her blankets... whichever one is handy. When I rock her to sleep, I hum the Christmas carol, "We Three Kings," and this week, she's begun to hum with me. She's well used to being photographed already, and she loves to see photos of herself. And videos. I've given her toys that belonged to her momma and her Uncle Sam as babies, and she loves them. Makes my heart flip-flop.

From the very beginning, Nora has screeched with happiness. Joyce and Mike make her screech a great deal! I love watching the three of them together. Nora screeching with gusto and so happy that her little body is just jumping and wiggling. The more we laugh, the more she screeches. Her screeches can get pretty piercing. I'm enjoying them, even with bleeding ear drums... soon enough, I think her screeches will be replaced with words as she learns more and more verbal communication. Or at least that's the plan... sometime before Kindergarten anyway.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sultans of Swing

It's another hot and muggy day. I went into the pottery studio... the air conditioned pottery studio. And I played and had fun and went out to lunch with my friend, Carl.

Kev worked all day. Seriously, the man never stops. He got called into work this morning, and didn't get back home until early afternoon. Then, in the hottest heat of the day, he works on putting CWF on the cedar siding of our huge-ass two-story house. He's been doing that gigantic project for weeks. And it's fucking hard work.

Sam was home this weekend, and he helped Kev yesterday. The two of them moved a ton of boxes out of the house (and... very likely, literally a ton), as well as a 3-piece 8'x10' wall of bookcases and other furniture, odds and ends. They put all that into the pole barn, as we're trying to clear out the house as much as possible... she goes on the market in two weeks.

Kev could hardly move last night; he was so tired. Still sore this morning. And he's out there as I type this, still working. He's loading up the pickup for another load to the dump. But I'm in the very cool house (Kev had the AC set to 73, and I moved to 69 as soon as I got home), playing around on my laptop, high as a kite, listening to Kev's radio blaring classic rock.
Currently:  Fleetwood Mac.

When they moved stuff out of the house yesterday, Kev found 3 old radios. Boomboxes, man. When's the last time you used one of those? He actually almost went and bought one when he started on the CWF project, so he could blast music and make the job go faster. Wish I'd known he wanted one. Better late than never, as music is most definitely blasting now... and I think he actually finished the last of the cedar siding this afternoon. Not to worry, he has plenty of blasting hours ahead, coz the porch isn't finished. Such a fucking ton of work. For Kevin. Poor old man.

We always used to blast rock and roll on a radio whenever we worked around the house and property. Back in our younger years. Back when it was called "rock and roll" instead of "classic rock". (And now our old Coleman cooler isn't just a cooler, it's a vintage cooler!)

Music was with us nearly everywhere we went and in most everything we did. That music will now trigger so many memories, especially from camping trips and other road trips. Campfires with just us two or with family on so many, many summer evenings. Always music. Usually loud music. That changed quite a bit after we had Joycie, then six years later, Sammy. Kids gotta get a nap sometime...

It's nice to hear it again, coming from outside. And I totally forgot how abrasive some commercials are on classic rock stations. Such noise! Shit, I'm old!

Gimme three steps, gimme three steps, mister, gimme three steps towards the door...