Wintery Day Is Just Right To Stay Inside and “Chill”

Morning greetings of winter white out the door--Lyons, Kansas.

Morning greetings of winter white out the door–Lyons, Kansas.

Just like family get-togethers and exchanging presents, snowstorms seem to be a tradition of every Christmas holiday visit I make back to my home state of Kansas.  This morning we woke up to a couple inches of the white stuff on the ground, with even more swirling around in the air.  The snow itself made for a pretty scene outside, but the cold blast of 7 degrees when I opened the door was more than what I’d call “brisk.”

The first thing I had to do was sweep a path on my sister’s patio and then out on the grass for Annie to take a “go.” Finally, she did, at lightning speed.

With the snow still coming down most of the day and the cold wind zipping at the skin, other than re-sweeping the doggy paths, I haven’t wanted to venture out.  It was just the kind of day to keep the house cozy by using the oven to cook up the pork roast and sauerkraut we got yesterday in preparation of a cold day.

Tonight the forecast is for 5 degrees, but I’m sure that the blankets and quilts on the bed will keep me–and Annie–warm.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Annie stays near--or on--a warm lap on these cold days.

Annie stays near–or on–a warm lap on these cold days.

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Tis the Season To Dig Out and Decorate

The mantle is fiilled with Santas and other shiny treasures.

The mantle is fiilled with Santas and other shiny treasures.

I don’t know why the Christmas decorations are put away in so many different places: some in the guest bedroom closet, some in the big closet under the stairs, and others out in plastic bins in the garage.  Well, yes,  I do know why.  When it’s time to put them away, they end up in the place that’s most convenient to get to at the moment.

Outside light crawl up the skinny tree trunks and cover the holly bushes.

Outside light crawl up the skinny tree trunks and cover the holly bushes.

Like most everyone else on my street, I started to put up the outside lights and other yard ornaments the day after Thanksgiving.  Our little cul-de-sac street is the most well-lit of the neighborhood.  I like to take it all in a couple times every evening when I take Annie out.  I’ve pulled out the pieces for the mantle bit by bit; some haven’t been up there for a couple of years.  The tree is still well-lodged at the back of the closet under the stairs.  It may just stay there this year as it is a big task to put up and load with all the red ornaments.  I love it, but as I haven’t made plans for any celebrations at home, it may not be worth it this year.  There’s a smaller tree that can be pulled out and lit up, which can go at the top of the stairs.

The best reason to have a mantle is to have a place for Santas.

The best reason to have a mantle is to have a place for Santas.

The decorations add to the flavor of the season, but as I look around my living room, because the room is already furnished mostly in golds and reds, it has a Christmasy feel all year round.

Holiday Road Trip and Day Trips To Boot–All Made for a Great Winter Break

Wind turbines of the Smoky Hills Wind Farm line the wintery horizon in pastures along the Lincoln and Ellsworth county line, not far from Wilson Resevoir.

A wet, grey afternoon with some unexpected early hours off from work make it a good time to try out one of my Christmas gifts.  I received a set of silicon baking pans, so the square one is being used for brownies–mix-type–with a lot of goodies added.  We’ll see if I pack them up to share at work.

I can hardly remember a better Christmas since I was a kid back in the Santa Claus days.  I can’t put my finger on it exactly, maybe mostly because I was prepared and things went as planned.  I even enjoyed the shopping and wrapping gifts, which sometimes I find tedious.

With the car all loaded the night before, Annie hopped onto her place on the passenger seat, and we headed out the morning of the 23rd for Kansas.  Even at the more than 11 hours (mostly stops for gas and a dog walk here and there), the drive wasn’t that bad.  The weather was mild and putting the car on cruise for long stretches of the interstate made the drive almost easier than my two hours each week day of commuting to work.

Needless to say, it was one of those Christmases of too many presents and too much food, what with a table-filled buffet spread at my sister’s and her kids and families.  Then the next day we headed off to my brother’s, the second year in a row that I was together with my two brothers and sister for Christmas dinner.  Until last year, there were a good many years in between that for one reason or another we all hadn’t gotten together for the holiday.  I think we all realize that we are a pretty lucky group that have our health (yeah, we all have a prescription for high blood pressure, but, hey!) and get along well to boot.

I headed back to Houston on the first day of the new year, but before that I spent some relaxing day drives with my sister as part of what I would say was one of the best vacations for a long time.  One of my goals during the trip was to load a cooler with some Kansas cured meat.  I like to go back to the very store that I went to with my dad when I was a kid and pick up smoked sausage.  Back in my tag-along days, it was called Klema IGA; now it’s Wilson Family Foods, in Wilson, Kansas.  The store hasn’t changed all that much, but it’s still a good store for a small town.  I wish I could have broad back some of the fresh meat from the cooler because there’s no comparing  it to plastic, no-taste stuff I find in the big name super markets out here in the suburbs.

Another place we like to go is Brant’s Meat Market in Lucas, Kansas, about a 20-mile drive that passes by Wilson Resevoir, which is much more impressive to me these days than it was when I passed by it back when I was a college kid going to and from a summer job.

Locally, it's called Ralph's Ruts (Rice County, Kansas). This is one of the few places where you can still see the Santa Fe Trail, which was dug out by the thousands of teams of wagons that passed through in the 1800s.

Geese feeding in a field near Odin, Kansas. These are part of the large numbers of ducks and geese that stop annually at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area not far away.

The parking lot at Meridy's Restaurant in Russell, Kansas. The buffet is loaded with mounds of fried chicken, homemade mashed potatoes, and gravy that rival Mom's. It's basically a "have-to" on every Kansas trip. (It's right off I-70 if you're making a trip through western Kansas.)

Over the several day trips, we didn’t go but a county or two away from my sister’s house in Lyons, Kansas, but each outing held a new discovery or re-discovery in the central part of the state where I grew up.  My car brought back with it some dried Kansas mud from some of the few dirt roads that had not but a few days before been plowed clear of snow.  I can say that even though I’ved lived a good long time outside of Kansas, I’ve still got some of that same dirt in my blood.  (I’ve got other photos that I wanted to include, but WordPress is kicking my butt right now as I try to insert them.)

This old limestone schoolhouse has been empty and looked the same since I was a kid riding by on the school bus. This is one of the landmarks I was looking for on a day trip filled with memories. This was also the road that kicked up all the mud onto the sides of my car.

The train still passes by the local wheat elevator in my hometown of Dorrance, Kansas, pretty much the way it has for many years.

Happy Holidays to All from Trip to the Outhouse

All of the Christmas cactuses are blooming at the same time this year, giving me time to enjoy them before taking out on the road.

The year is quickly coming to an end.  I’ve got the car almost packed, and in the morning, I’ll add the last few items and stick Annie in the co-pilot seat for our annual Christmas road trip to Kansas.

Although the mostly interstate drive can get long and monotonous, I’m ready for a change of scenery and a break from work for almost two weeks.  I’ve even enjoyed getting out to the malls to do Christmas shopping this year.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been organized and know exactly what I want to get for people, so I don’t do that much wandering from store to store trying to figure out what I might be looking for.

I even washed and cleaned out the car today for its first long trip, and I’m anxious to see whether I can make it through Oklahoma without having to buy gas.  That is not one of my favorite states (you might guess why), and I don’t like to spend any more money there than I have to.

Oh, my.  Am I being a Grinch? 

I hope that I will be more inspired to write here in the coming year.  Somehow 2012 may be a better year.  I’m optimistic about it.

I know here in the last few months I haven’t given those who might pass through this blog much to read.  In a minute, I’m going to pack the camera in the car in its special corner; keep your fingers crossed that there will be road trip photos!

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012!

A Christmas Road Trip, Digging Up History, and a Garden for the New Year

It’s a little late to say it, I suppose, but “Happy New Year” to anyone who slips and falls upon this page.  This is the first post of the new year, as other interests, including just lying around, have gotten in the way of writing.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions, but on January lst, I felt motivated to plant a “winter garden” in my little plot behind the garage.  There were already several pepper plants still producing from last summer and a couple of tomato plants that I planted in November with several tomatoes on each; now I’ve set in 80 red onions and 10 shallots (let’s see), a couple of rows of yellow beans, and several varieties of lettuce.  It’s been a rainy evening here, with more than an inch already, so this moisture should get everything going.  Although the thermometer has read 29 or 30 on several occasions, everything down inside my back yard seems to have been protected.

A few days before Christmas, I loaded up the car, and with Annie for a co-pilot headed up to Kansas for the holidays.  Even with quite a number of short stops for gas, dog walks, and grab-and-go food, we made each way in between 11 and 12 hours.  Both driving days were grey and dreary, and coming back took longer because we ran into rain and, of course, more traffic coming into Houston. 

Driving that far in one day is always a bit grueling, but stopping to stay somewhere along the way just never seems worth it, and it’s always so good when I arrive up there, and just as good when I get back home.

The Christmas festivities carried on over several days, of course, with a lot of presents and too much, but really delicious, food and goodies.  Even though Mom is now gone, almost every one of her kids and grandkids (including in-laws) seems to enjoy cooking and is pretty good at it as evidenced by all the variety.

My sister and I are both history buffs, and whenever I get back to Kansas, we take some kind of road trip to “the old stomping grounds.”  The beauty of the mostly treeless, somewhat stark, rolling plains of central Kansas, where I grew up, always amazes me.  When I was living there, it was something I couldn’t see.  Another noticeable thing is that life is changing; there are fewer and fewer small farms, and you have to drive more and more miles between farmsteads where someone actually lives.  And thus, the small towns, and even not so small ones, are losing population.  Some of the smaller places will soon be just a spot on the road.  This is not something new, though; if you look at the census numbers, the decline in rural counties in Kansas started as far back as the 1920s.

We had a good drive, though, taking us back down memory lane, and finding answers for some of the questions about places that we had been talking about.

The Smoky Hill River from the Dlabl Bridge southeast of Wilson, Kansas. We encountered this new bridge after taking a scenic sand road north from Holyrood.

An old tombstone with German inscriptions in the tiny Immanual Cemetery southwest of Wilson, Kansas. The Smoky Hills can be seen in the back.

One of the markers that were erected to show the route of the Butterfield Overland Despatch (sic) that followed the Smoky Hill Trail through Kansas. Down the draw from this marker is the spot where I believe the Hick's Station was located.

Rolling farmland (winter wheat in the foreground) surrounds my old hometown of Dorrance, Kansas.

Another Item on the Gay Agenda: Giving the Dog a Bath

The hair on Annie's ears is full of static electricity. She's trying to help me make the bed right after I pulled the sheets out of the dryer. But if she isn't 5 pounds of cute, I don't know what is.

As the year winds to an end and Christmas edges near, I’m taking a few days off from work to get ready.  Today, I had a lot on my agenda–yeah, the gay agenda–this must be what the ‘phobes are always talking about: getting the plants in the beds watered–the ground is really dry again; washing up the bedding and getting it all back on (with a dog trying to help do it); washing up a little dog who’s been trying to act clean so that she doesn’t have to have a bath; and even canning what may be the last two jars of veggies from the garden–Peter Piper or no, I never thought I’d be pickling peppers in December or otherwise.

So it was a good day, one of those productive-feeling days.

Annie's Christmas greetings to all that know her as well as those who don't. She was getting tired of hearing "Sit" by this time.

Even if I haven’t been very productive on this blog as of late, I discovered that the blog is listed as one of  the “100 Best LGBT Blogs” by a surprising site–Guide to Online Schools.  I don’t really know what to make of that, but it’s nice to be listed anyway.  There’s quite a variety of blogs there, and any such listing is a good way to find a blog just in the right niche to fit one’s interests.

I’m waiting to find the gay papillon owners’ blog.  Oops, maybe that’s mine.  Annie will be 5 in March, and now I’m thinking about getting another one.  It’s a big debate in my head because I don’t know if I’m ready to work through puppydom again or how having a second dog would work out.  But the decision is something that is on my gay agenda as well as getting the trees in the front and back yards trimmed.

A View from the Suburbs: Not All the Dips Are in Washington; Here Are a Couple That Everyone at Your Holiday Festivities Will Want To Socialize With

The counter was filled with recipes, and then later filled with the results.

In less than two weeks Christmas will be here. 

I know that I haven’t posted anything for over a month.  I’ve been bummed by the entire political scene and just haven’t even wanted to write about any of that, but there are many other sites that express my viewpoint (check out my blogroll–“Places I Frequent”–esp. Towleroad and AmericaBlog Gay), so “my two cents” would only be just that.

More than anything, I’ve been busy, and with the time change, it’s usually dark when I arrive home from work, so the evenings seem shorter even though the actual clock time is the same as before.  Then too, there was Thanksgiving and an entire Sunday afternoon putting up a storm door on the backdoor, the continual necessity of sweeping up the acorns, and now the leaves, dropping from the otherwise wonderful oak tree which shades my house and patio.  More recently, another birthday decided to pass my way.

But most of my time has been spent preparing and decorating my house for a holiday open house for my colleagues and friends.  I had never gotten myself together to have a party after I had bought my house and moved in, now more than a year ago.  So as my mom used to say, “It was ‘high time.'”

I think my house looks plenty “Christmasy,” not over-decorated, but something in every part to say “tis the season.”  The dining room window is just the place for the tree, a white one trimmed in red and gold.  (Take a peek at the banner above.)

This was my first big party in years, so, of course, I overdid it.  Every evening for more than a week, I was cooking or baking something–9 pounds of meatballs, a turkey, even a roast made on the barbeque, plus a variety of cookies, a sugar-free fruitcake, queso and chips, some dips, and who knows what else.

I had dug out my recipes, wanting to make things I hadn’t had the chance to for years.  A couple of the dip recipes are even better than I had remembered.  And if you want to try them both, you can make them both, one right after the other, and only have to clean up the food processor once!

This first one is so good it will knock your socks off!

Beau Monde Dip

  • 12 ounces sour cream
  • 12 ounces mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons minced onions
  • 2 tablespoons Beau Monde spice (I used Spice Islands brand)
  • 3-4 tablespoons fresh dill (my recipe calls for 2 tbsp. dry dill weed but I think the fresh dill is what makes this dip so good)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh or dry parsley (I used dry)
  • 1 large unsliced round loaf of pumpernickel rye bread (if you can’t find pumpernickel, any kind of heavy, coarse bread will do)
  • 1 small sliced loaf of pumpernickel rye bread

I used to mix this up in a bowl, but it’s super easy using a food processor.  Put a couple of green onions into the processor and pulse into fine pieces.  Add a generous handful of fresh dill and pulse again.  (If you’re using fresh parsley, pulse it in now.)  Add the sour cream and mayonnaise, then the Beau Monde spice and dry parsley.  Pulse until well mixed and the color is consistent.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Just before your party starts, hollow out the center of the round loaf of bread with a knife to form a “bowl”; be careful not to cut through the bottom of the loaf.  In fact, leave at least a couple of inches of bread on the sides of “the bowl.”  Put the “bread bowl” on a large plate or platter.  Cut or tear the bread removed from the center into pieces to be used for dipping and place them around the bowl.  Cut or tear more pieces from the second loaf for additional bread for dipping. 

Most people love the dill taste and using the bread makes a nice change from chips.

This second dip recipe is a great alternative to traditional guacamole.  Not only is it easy–and tasty–but it will last in your refrigerator for a week and won’t turn brown.

Guacamole Cheese Dip

  • 2 large avocados
  • 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 green onions
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pulse the green onions into fine pieces.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until smooth.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.