The Road to Farley

The Road to Farley

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Still Hear the Sounds of Summer Fun...

I took the parents on a little Saturday drive today. Neither of them had been up to Lake Delhi in years. I'm talking like 35 years, maybe, since we stopped boating in Delhi and started boating on the Mississippi.

My Grandpa and Grandma Scherrman had a cottage on Lake Delhi, or Hartwick Lake as it was once called, since the early 1930s. We have lots of old photos of my grandparents, my dad, and my two aunts up at the cottage swimming and boating. It was a family tradition. Every Sunday in the summer, rain or shine, we would go to the cottage. For a number of years, we would also spend a week there. That was our version of a family vacation and the closest we ever got to camping. The cottage was pretty bare bones. It had running water (just cold -- no hot) and an indoor flushable toilet and electricity. But, that was about as far as the luxuries went. It had an old cast iron pot belly stove that you could fire up if we got a sudden cold spell in the summer and the temps dipped down to 50 degrees at night. Oddly, we have hardly any pictures of our summer days at the cottage. I suppose my mom was busy enough trying to corral five kids and a dog most of the time to try and be all Ansel Adams or Annie Liebovitz.

Going to the cottage seemed like the quintessential childhood summer.
  • Swimming for hours and playing on old tractor inner tubes for flotation devices. Of course, swimming was allowed only after the requisite hour had passed since we ate!
  • Eating hot dogs cooked on the grill.
  • Attempting to fish (the boys...not me). Jerry, mostly, he got particularly frazzled one summer with a bullhead that kept showing up on his hook time and time again.
  • Sleeping 7 people in one bedroom.
  • Going a week with no shower! Well, we did spend most of the time in the "clean" lake water.
  • Lighting sparklers on the dock.
  • Running around with my cousins, who also spent Sundays at the cottage.
  • Hearing the Cubs game playing on the black and white TV that barely got reception. Grandma Scherrman was a die-hard Cubs fan.
  • Ignoring my Grandma's friend Meta (an old spinster) who constantly yelled "Don't slam the door!" The cottage had one of those old wooden screen doors on it with a loose spring. Of course, we would push it open and bolt out...letting it slam against the wooden door frame at least 50 times per day.
  • Packing up our life jackets, inner tubes, and toys in the "brooder house." Yes, my Grandpa, the farmer, repurposed an old chicken coop to be our storage shed. (Maybe that's where I get my MacGyver skills.)
It was a good time. But as we got older, and the lake got busier with more and more boat traffic, my dad decided we would move our boating adventures to the Mississippi. I can't remember exactly when we last spent the summer at Delhi, but I think it was the year after Tim graduated from high school, which was 1976. 

Fast forward to 2009. Thanks to Facebook, I started conversing with my cousin Mary Jo. Her family had continued to go to the cottage every summer. She and her husband bought the cottage next door to my Grandma's, and her daughter Rachel and her husband bought the cottage that was originally my Grandma's. Jerry and I went to visit Mary Jo at the cottage in September of 2009. They had already taken the boat out for the winter so we weren't able to take a cruise on the lake that day. We promised to come back in 2010. 

The "cottage" - it looks so small
from what I remembered 

The chair Grandma listened to the Cubs
in - now recovered and looking (almost) like new.
The view from the cottage - it's one of the
best spots on the lake.
Mary Jo - Jerry - Me
On July 24, 2010, after nearly 10 inches of rain fell in Delaware County, the Lake Delhi dam failed. The lake that was the home of so many summer memories for so many families disappeared. A week after the dam failed, this was the view from the cottage.

After the levee broke - July 2010
I didn't have my camera with me today, but there is even less water flowing through the Maquoketa River than in the picture above. And, where you see sand, you now see weeds that are over your head. It's a long road ahead to restore this area to its former glory.

There is much debate about whether the dam should be rebuilt at all. Of course, I am biased because I know what the lake has meant to my family. Although a private association had control of the dam, the lake was open to the public and had several public areas. The now missing dam has closed a county road because a 30 foot gorge now stands where a road once crossed over the dam. The surrounding areas are negatively affected by the non-existent recreation dollars that were once spent in local businesses.

I have seen some criticism against rebuilding that the lake catered to the upper class. I take issue with that. In fact, I think it is quite the opposite. Sure, in recent times, some large gorgeous homes were built along the lake -- I guess you could call them nouveau lake people. In my opinion, the lake association was built by common lower and middle class folks, like my family, who weren't able to take fancy vacations to California or Europe. Instead, we spent our summer vacation in a little two-room cottage without hot water or a shower. We ate hot dogs and roasted marshmallows, and the bigger the tractor inner tube the better. No, the lake was designed for people who spent time with their families enjoying the simple things in life and who passed on that tradition generation after generation.

I, for one, think Lake Delhi should be restored so that generations to come can have the same memories of innocent childhood fun that I have. Besides, Mary Jo and her husband Todd still owe me that boat cruise from one end of the lake to the next...and I'm holding them to it!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

We Call it Maize...

Corn -- glorious corn. You know, it was actually corn that inspired my very first blog. 'Memba that commercial from the '70s about maize...well, actually for Mazola Margarine:

You Tube: Mazola Commercial

I had my first sweet corn of 2011's one of the pure joys of summer in my opinion. There is simply nothing sweeter. 

Fincel's Sweet Corn - Accept No Substitutes
Fincel's Sweet Corn, locally grown in East Dubuque, IL, can't be beat. It's so popular, they have their own website and Facebook page

Fun facts about corn: 
  • Although considered by many to be a vegetable, corn is actually one of the few grains native to the Western Hemisphere, where it has been cultivated for centuries.
  • Corn is America's number one field crop. It leads all other crops in value and volume of production.
  • In the U.S., corn production measures more than 2 times that of any other crop.
  • Over 55% of Iowa's corn goes to foreign markets. The rest is used in other parts of the United States.
  • Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota account for over 50 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. 
  • The "Corn Belt" includes the states of Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky.
  • Corn is produced on every continent of the world with the exception of Antarctica. 
  • The area known as the "Pacific Rim" region (in Asia) is emerging as the world's fastest growing market for U.S. corn. There, most of the corn is fed to livestock to produce food for humans. The majority of the world's population is located in the Pacific Rim region. 
  • Farley, IA bills itself as the "Heart of the Cornbelt."  

Corn conjures up a lot of memories from my childhood: 
  • Buying produce, including corn, from an old man in Farley--Hank Otting--when we were growing up. We may have been farmers, but we were not gardeners. We let someone else do the work. 
  • Picking rows and rows of corn when my brother Dave decided it was a good idea to fill up the corn planter with sweet corn seeds and making 6-8 rows of sweet corn the full length of the field. Helping Pearl freeze the corn was hot sweaty work...and there always seemed to be a bejillion flies buzzing around when we were shucking the corn. 
  • Running through the cornfield on hot summer days -- the lush green leaves that retained moisture would feel cool on our skin. 
  • Wondering if the corn really would be "knee high by the 4th of July." With hybrid corn, fertilizer, and insecticides, the corn was usually well over my head by the 4th of July. This was true even when I was "grown." 
  • Hanging out in the cornfield next to the Farley Park with my friends when we were like 15 years old and splitting a 12-pack of beer among about eight of us. We thought the beer tasted awful, but we thought we were "cool." We probably were buzzed after one beer. 
Every season has its particular rituals. For me, it is eating enough sweet corn in a span of week to not crave it again until next year. Next homemade salsa, concocted when the tomatoes are "just right" and the jalapeno peppers are so hot I think I can feel a hole burning in my stomach.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summertime...And the living is easy

It's hard to remember that just about six months ago, it looked like this outside:

I don't think the really heavy stuff
is going to come down for quite a while...
We were all bemoaning the snow and the cold and the long dark days of winter. Mother Nature finally gives us a reprieve, and now we are all complaining of the sweltering days and the excessive heat warnings that have been in effect since last Saturday. I'm reminded of a country song that was popular when I was in my "country" phase living in Texas: 
Why do we want
What we know we can't have
Why don't we want
What's in the palm of our hands
Why we always looking
At what's just out of our grasp
Why do we want
What we know we can't have
Isn't it just typical human nature? We are rarely happy with whatever weather we are experiencing. I do my share of whining about the weather, particularly when I'm out walking Bailey in temps that can swing from -30 to +105. But, honestly, I LOVE IT! 

I've blogged before about the awesome power of Mother Nature, and I love the dramatic changes of our Midwestern seasons. Just when we think we can't take another day of cold and snow, the soft rains of spring fall upon us, turning everything green, and the earth comes alive with beautiful flowers and fertile farm fields. Summer brings long lazy days spent lying on a beach or siting on the porch watching fireflies. When we think we are going to melt from yet another hot day, we begin to feel the cool crisp air of autumn. The landscape becomes ablaze with vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. We begin to think of pumpkins and hot chocolate and big bowls of chili and creamy macaroni and cheese. We await the first snowflakes  with the anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve, and homes and businesses come alive with twinkly lights and big red bows. Then, the cycle begins again with the new year. 

Here's my summer snapshot of Willow Creek Park and my attempts to document the changing seasons in my neighborhood. 

July 2011
"Relish the moment" is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24, "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, swim more rivers, climb more mountains, kiss more babies, count more stars. Laugh more and cry less. Go barefoot more often. Eat more ice cream. Ride more merry-go-rounds. Watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we go along.
(Excerpted from Robert Hastings, "The Station")

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Deep Water Starts a Breeze!

As you may recall if you follow my blog, back in early May I blogged about the new slalom ski I purchased that was going to solve all my water skiing issues. Well, I'm happy to report -- thumbs up to the Pilot.

Old School -- New School
Here's the comparison of my "equipment." The ski on the left is what I have been using basically since I finally mastered (if you can call it that) slalom skiing about 27 years ago. It's actually my sister-in-law Janis' ski. Back in the was pretty awesome. Enter the Pilot. As you can see, the Pilot gives a lot more surface area, which is what is supposed to make skiing so much easier.

I think my blog on May 1 included some customer testimonials that you would "pop right up" with the Pilot. Well, I can't say that I popped right up, but I will say that the deep water start was significantly easier with the Pilot. I didn't nearly drown myself before exiting the water, and I did not displace my contacts on the start. So, what was probably a 15-20 second (I'm speculating here) ordeal with the wooden Connelly, was reduced to maybe 7-10 seconds. That might not seem like a lot of time, but try it when you are:
  • Old
  • Fat
  • Out of shape 
  • Holding on to a rope attached to a boat that is going 25-30 mph
I did, however, still get a wedgie coming out of the water. For the sake of the poor people we might pass on the river, I always address that issue first. Here's an action photo of the Pilot at work.

This is about as good as it gets!
It's perfect getting out on the river early in the morning (that's before 10 a.m. in our family). Smooth waters, few boats, cooler temps. Now, here is my niece Amanda really showing how to put the Pilot to work. Oh, to be 23 again, although I'm not sure even at 23 my form was this good.

This is what I wished I looked like!
Here I am with a post-water skiing after glow.

Me and my new best friend!
We tried to get our littlest skier out of the water today. As stated in his own words, "That was not gweat!" He then asked if I could box the skis up and send them back to the store because he would not need them anymore. Oh, Carter....
All decked out.
All in all, a great day skiing. I think my Couch to 5K has improved my skiing stamina as well. I guess we can call that a win win.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Little Red Corvette

On the road to Farley today, I was caught up in a Corvette Cruise. I got sandwiched in the middle of them just outside of Marion and didn't shake them until I hit Cascade.
We got a big ol' convoy...
As I drove along, I remembered that my cousin Mike once blogged about, "Will I Ever Buy a Corvette?" His blog was actually included in the Michael Dregni book celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Corvette, "This Old Corvette: The Ultimate Tribute to America's Sports Car." I think Mike's answer to the question was "yes," it was more just a matter of "when." His essay reflects on the effect the common car has on our every day lives and the lust many of us have to own a Corvette.

Funny thing about passing these 20-25 corvettes -- gray hair is required! Every single driver of the Corvettes I passed had to be 60+ years old. I guess the thing about owning a Corvette is that it is a totally impractical car, and you have to have it as a weekend toy. Most of us commoners can barely keep one vehicle operational, much less having a car that you can drive only on a handful of weekends in the year (at least in this part of the country).

But, this group of Corvette lovers sure seemed enthusiastic. Almost all had personalized plates on their cars:
  • CRZN247
  • JCUB
They take this Corvette cruising seriously. Another apparent requirement must be a CB radio. 10-4 Rubber Ducky.... Most of the 'vettes were outfitted with big radio antennae.

They all jockeyed for position on the highway. Who was going to be in the lead? Like a flock of geese, they kind of took turns being the leader, eventually falling back and letting someone else head the pack. They liked being all in a row, too. Ummm, yeah, so there I am in my 2005 Accord...I'm sure I was annoying them, but they could not maintain steady speed! First they were going 60, then 75, back to 65. I didn't know whether to attribute this to "old age" driving, the fact they might not have cruise control, or if it was part of their master plan to keep in "funeral formation." JCub (with a handicap plate no less) in the red Corvette must have gotten annoyed because he blew ahead of the pack. I found him on Highway 136 at the Cascade exit, but I think he got goofed up because he was just sitting off the highway like he was lost and waiting for the rest of his Corvette buddies to catch up.

When I was 17 and got my first car, a Camaro, I swore I would *never* drive anything but a sports car. Now, I think I am more impressed with a distinguished looking man driving a Jaguar or Lexus or BMW. I guess I'm just too practical. I honestly don't see myself driving around town in a two-seater again.

Shortly after his high school graduation in 1976, my brother Tim did a short stint as a car salesman at the Chevy dealer in Dyersville. I can recall him trying to convince my father to purchase a 25th anniversary Corvette as an investment. Well, if you know Raymond (my dad), you would know he was like "hell no, I am not buying that." In retrospect, it probably would have been a pretty cool thing to do. Tim would totally fit into the Corvette Club look (you know, the white/gray hair required look):

Tim (with Pearl)
So, the answer for me to "Will I Ever Own a Corvette?" is most likely "no." As for my cousin Mike, well, the jury is still out. He did recently buy a pretty sweet little red Mazda Miata he's getting closer. His kids are out of college now, so he said he finally had the extra cash to indulge.


I'm blogging again today because I'm totally in work avoidance. I need to write a proposal section for an effort at work. Of course, I'm thinking of 99 other things I'd rather be doing. It's sort of like being in college again with a 10 page term paper due tomorrow.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Julie and Julia and Carol

"Life itself is the proper binge."

Great quote? Who said it?

The blog title is a clue. It is a tale of inspiration, information, and execution. Flashback to November 2009. I was flying to Perth, Western Australia to visit one of my best friends. What I tell people about going to Perth is that it is far…very far. To get to Perth from Cedar Rapids, it is a total of 25.5 hours in the air. With layovers and crossing the international dateline, it takes two full days to get there. LAX – Melbourne is 15.5 hours trapped in a flying tube. Needless to say, I got caught up on a lot of movies on that trip.

Enter Julie and Julia – the inspiration. This was the 2009 movie with Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell, a woman who blogged about cooking her way through Julia Child’s book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Watching that movie on my long long boring flight made me (A) hungry and (B) inspired to attempt to master French cooking myself. Before watching this movie, my limited knowledge of Julia Child was that she had some cooking show on PBS when I was a kid and that Dan Ackroyd did a spot-on spoof of her once on Saturday Night Live. It’s no secret that I love food and I enjoy cooking for my family and friends. I thought to myself that French cuisine would be a new challenge for me, and I could impress my friends with my culinary delights. I mentioned this lofty idea to my friend Liz shortly after my return from Australia, and a few weeks later on my birthday, she gave me a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

I got to the third page of the forward before my blind enthusiasm started to turn to fear. I’ve always been comfortable working in the kitchen and experimenting with new recipes. Part of the forward reads, "Our years of teaching cookery have impressed upon us the fact that all too often a debutant cook will start in enthusiastically on a new dish without ever reading the recipe first." Guilty!! It continues, "We therefore urge you, however much you have cooked, always to read the recipe first even if the dish is familiar to you." I read on. I have been breaking many of Julia’s rules. I needed more information.   
  • "Precision in small details can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food." I’m in trouble here…I never measure anything, I just eyeball it.
  • "Allow yourself plenty of time." Hmmm, I like to work fast when I cook, it allows more time for the cocktails with my friends...this will be a challenge.
  • "Be sure your oven is hot before the dish goes in." Really? I never wait for the preheat bell to go off.
  • "A pot saver is a self-hampering cook." Evidently, Julia promotes the use of every bowl and pan in the kitchen.
Oh, I have so much to learn. I read and re-read the cookbook for over a year before I finally worked up the courage to attempt some of the recipes.

Normally, I would invite a group of friends over for dinner whenever I was in the mood to cook, but Julia had me scared of my ability to execute a dinner of French food. For my first foray, it was going to be a party of 1. My selections: poulet au porto, risotto, and peas. The risotto and the peas were fairly straight forward, the poulet au porto on the other hand proved a bit more challenging.

First of all, I had to purchase a whole chicken. Typically I’m a boneless, skinless chicken breast kind of gal and occasionally will buy some wings for the grill. The recipe called for a 3 pound fryer. Well, a lot of chickens must be on steroids these days because all the chickens I saw at the grocery store were more like 5 pounds. OK…I can adapt, right?

The first step in the recipe is to smear the inside of the chicken with 2 tablespoons of softened butter. That is messy. Next, it says to "truss the chicken." OK, now here’s where not reading the recipe in its entirety has already gotten me in trouble. I needed a mattress needle and string for this procedure. I had neither, so I had to improvise with a needle and thread. The goal is to basically tie up the legs, wings, and neck skin so it all stays in a neat little package when you cook it. It was a very awkward procedure. I felt like I was manhandling a baby. That slippery little chicken did not want to cooperate. Per Julia, a 5 pound chicken should take a little under 2 hours to fully roast. I was thinking I’d have a little time to relax before I started working on the risotto. Not so much…I had to baste the chicken with more butter every 10-15 minutes and flip it around in the roasting pan three or four times. I see now why Julia recommended learning how to handle hot food.

In between my basting duties, I was chopping shallots and slicing mushrooms to begin preparations for the cream sauce. By now, I’ve got every burner on the stove and nearly every pan I own in use. The risotto and peas were coming along without any real issues. As the chicken was finishing its roasting time, things got a little hectic. I had to deglaze the roasting pan with the port wine. Meanwhile, I was supposed to be cutting up the chicken into serving pieces and placing them in a large skillet. I’ve never actually cut up a whole chicken and attempting to do so to a chicken that just spent 2 hours in a 350 degree oven was even more of a challenge. I finally managed to hack off the drumsticks and wings and cut hunks of the breast meat off the bone. I’m sure this was totally incorrect, but Julia did not include any instructions on the proper method for carving a chicken.

But, then, came the exciting part. With the cut up chicken in a "well buttered" skillet on the stove, I got to add ¼ cup of cognac and light it on fire. Whoosh! Now, where was my fire extinguisher? After the flames burned out, I added in my mushroom cream sauce and let it simmer. It was time to pull it all together and rate my execution. The chicken was very moist and buttery, the port cream sauce seemed a little on the salty side…my fault for eyeballing instead of measuring. The risotto was a little dry, but I might have bought a different type of rice than what was called for in the recipe. The peas….well, there was more butter there, too. Total execution time, not counting my planning period, was 3 hours. That seemed like it took a really long time. Of course, I was painstakingly slow. Thank God I hadn’t invited anyone over to eat it.

What I learned during this initial foray in to French cooking:  
  • Julia was right – Precision in small details. I’ll measure everything next time so I don’t inadvertently get salty food.
  • Allow plenty of time – Check! I have figured out where I could do some of the chopping and prep work in advance.
  • Plan to use every bowl and pan in the kitchen. Man, you’d have sworn I had cooked a meal for 12 by the amount of dishes I had to wash.
  • The French love their butter. Wow…I guess I’ve tried to eat low-fat for so long that I was overly sensitive to the buttery flavor in everything. But, again, I probably wasn’t always precise on the amount of butter I was using.
"Life itself is the proper binge."

That’s what it’s all about…enjoying the journey of life. So I’m no Julia Child…and will never be. I may not master every recipe in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," in fact I may not even attempt every recipe in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," but the joie de vie is trying new things and sharing them with friends and family. It was a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon…in solitude…with my dog watching me and waiting for me to drop scraps of food to her. A day to recharge doing something I enjoy.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday America!

It was 235 years ago today that church bells rang out over Philadelphia, as the Continental Congress adopted Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence. The opening lines read, in part:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
As I read these words, I am reminded how truly lucky we are to live in America. Certainly, America is not without its problems, but there are so many things we take for granted that thousand -- millions -- around the world have to struggle for.
  • When I wake up each morning on my super-comfortable pillow-top mattress, I do not have to worry about walking a long distance to fetch water. I walk 10 feet and turn on a faucet from which I can drink the water without worry of contamination or parasites. Then, I turn on the shower that pulses warm water. The thought of hiking to a river or lake to bathe is not even a consideration. Similarly, I can carry my pile of dirty clothes downstairs and throw them in the washing machine, instead of trying to clean them against rocks and allowing them to dry by putting them over a bush.
  • I don't worry each morning whether I will have enough to eat that day. Sadly, for me and millions of Americans, we have too much food!
  • As a woman in a America, I embrace and cherish all my personal and professional freedoms. I go to work without fear of sexual harassment, abuse, or exploitation. I assume that I have equal opportunities for advancement and compensation. I trust that upper management values my work based on my knowledge and experience and that the fact I am a woman is immaterial. I do not feel awkward being a nearly 50 year old single woman with no kids. In fact, I love all the choices that my status affords me.
  • I am grateful for the educational opportunities that I have had. Of course it was assumed I would graduate from high school and it was almost certain I would go to college. Around the world, many women are restricted from seeking education.
  • I've been driving since I was 14 and think nothing of it. Yet another freedom that not all women across the globe are entitled to.
  • If I am ill, I have the luxury of going to a world-class teaching hospital and receiving the best in medical care. I am lucky to have health insurance. I have access to simple over-the-counter medications to cure ailments that cause death for some in third-world countries.
  • I'm sitting in my comfortable climate-controlled home...protected equally from heat and humidity in the summer and from cold and rain or snow in the winter.
  • I have access via the Internet, public libraries, newspapers, news shows, and bookstores to information on any subject imaginable. Many citizens across the world still receive news that is filtered/censored by their governments. With knowledge comes power.
  • Our government might not always be doing what we think it should be doing, but I can at least feel confident that we have a voice in the government. At any time, I can fire off a letter, e-mail, or phone call to any of my congressional representatives or the president without fear of retribution. I know that if the government does not act, we have the power to vote them out of office. We do not need to stage ongoing protests and riots to try and remove someone from power who as been in control for over 40 years. 
So, yes, it's easy to complain about what's wrong in our lives. But, for many Americans, we have no room to gripe. I still believe that the U.S.A is the greatest country and we are all lucky to live here. With props to Lee Greenwood:  

And I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.