Entries to Win Afghan

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Tale of Eight Walnuts


young black walnut tree

Once upon a time [in 1996], a dreamer [uninformed gardener] traded in some magic beans [hard-earned dollars] for eight baby walnut trees. The babies had been raised in a loving nursery [shady tree farm- pun intended], and announced to the world as healthy infants [advertised as fast-growing foot-high trees].

young black walnut tree

The dreamer [increasingly skeptical gardener] received her bundles of joy [plastic bag of dead-looking twigs] by special birth delivery [US mail], and promptly set about creating an environment that would please the babies [dug a row of holes along the railroad tracks and put them in].

young black walnut tree

Then she waited. The little trees burst forth with [got a few] leaves. The first winter, the little trees thoughtfully helped the wildlife flourish [were eaten by the deer- aren't walnut trees supposed to taste bad?]. Come spring, the babies developed a shy streak [were now only 3 inches tall and completely hidden in the grass.] The dreamer [disillusioned shopper] became involved in other pursuits and left the youngsters to learn and grow [figured they were dead and forgot about them].

young black walnut tree

Skipping ahead [let's condense this a bit], after a time of seasons [maybe in 2005] our heroine [ok, it's me] went hunting for the eight little trees. Lo! Here was a mystery [this was freaky]! Six of them had miraculously survived, but two had tired of living by the tracks and had moved closer to the path [what the heck? trees don't walk, do they?].

young black walnut tree

Then she remembered! After first tucking the babies into their bassinets [sticking 'em in their holes], she had sprinkled the leftover fairy dust [dirt] around their new home [in the general area rather than dragging home a plastic bag full of grunge]. Despite the continued thoughtfulness of the trees toward the wildlife [being trimmed by the deer every single doggoned winter], after yet more moons and suns [last year], the little trees began to fulfill their destiny [you could see them above the grass].

young black walnut tree

But, alas, the little trees, although sturdy [4 survivors of the original twigs and two sprouts from roots that weren't even planted], have never lived up to the promise of being fast-growing [they're about 15 inches tall in full leaf]. But life is good [what the heck, I changed my mind]. The dreamer now likes to watch the chuffing blue monsters [trains], so all is well. The little trees are content [these six seem to be hangin' in there], and have chosen not to block the view [aren't in danger of hiding any trains in my lifetime].

See Report on the Baby White Pines

Monday, August 30, 2010

Saved by the Breeze

This isn't anything earth shaking... just tree-shaking (chuckle). Today was yet another horribly hot day (supposedly one more to go), but it was saved by a bit of a breeze. If you look just above the tree tops you'll see a daytime moon. These are quaking aspen, and they tremble in the wind. I just like it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I Want S'more

Back in the middle of last week, Carol from the UK asked what a s'more is. That's one of the interesting things about blogging; it's really an international forum. S'mores are such a quintessential part of American summers that I never even considered that others might not recognize the name. In the interests of international friendship, I hereby present the s'more.

There are three ingredients: Graham crackers, marshmallows, Hershey's plain milk chocolate bars.

roasting marshmallow

You begin by roasting the marshmallows. Burned or browned... whatever suits your style. Cautious folks use one per s'more. Those with fewer inhibitions go for two. It's a challenge to eat, but they are willing to step up to the task.

Hershey bar

You have to have plain Hershey's chocolate bars. I don't know why. You just do.


Place half a chocolate bar on a graham cracker square. Place a hot marshmallow on top of that and top with another cracker square. Squish. If you can wait a minute the chocolate will soften too. Most people proceed directly to: Eat.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ruby Meadowhawk

ruby meadowhawk dragonfly

Look at this wonderful dragonfly! It was perching on the top of a small flag decorating a grave in the cemetery. Armed with pictures and my dragonfly book (see Amazon Widget at bottom of page), Stokes Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies, I've determined that it is a Ruby Meadowhawk. They like to perch on top of stalks just like this one is doing.

ruby meadowhawk dragonfly

The focus isn't as good on this picture, but I like the way he (yes it's a male) is holding his wings, and you can see the long legs.

ruby meadowhawk dragonfly

Here' my best shot. I love how the red showed up in the sun! These are late season dragonflies, and like to hang around sluggish streams or ponds. This all fits. The genus is Sympetrum, but the book says that exact identification can be difficult even for experts because they can have white faces, or brown, with variations in the wing veins... well... I'll stick with the basics for now. Here's my new fact to remember. It's in the family of "skimmers." Most of the dragonflies we see. The book says they are the "most common, diverse, and easily recognized" dragonflies.

ruby meadowhawk dragonfly


P.S. I worked all day and got "Get Off the Couch with Joan" done. It's now available as an eBook. It includes ten essays, most were previously published as newspaper columns, chronicling two years of hikes on the North Country Trail.

See Dragonflies

Friday, August 27, 2010

Writing, August 27

Devotions for HikersI have two pretty exciting things to tell you about today. First, I've published my first eBook. This is an electronic version of a booklet I've been selling for a few years.

I'm actually working on a series of eBooks that are collections of the essays I write for my monthly newspaper column. But as I've been struggling to format the first one correctly, I decided to start with Devotions for Hikers, because it's all text except for the cover photo. It made a really good test case to be sure I was doing things right. It went through the "AutoVetter" on the first try! (In other words, I did it right.)

The second book, and first collection of essays, should be done this weekend, and will be called "Get Off the Couch with Joan." The column is "Get off the Couch," so these collections will all have that theme in the name. I'm having a hard time deciding on a price though. I'm open to suggestions. What would you think is a reasonable price for an electronic book of about 5000 words with about 30 photos? I'm seriously looking for help here. Most of the eBook catalogs don't tell you how many words you are getting for $X.XX, and there are no pages in eBooks.

Devotions for Hikers

Off the Sanctuary WallMy second announcement is the beginning of another blog. I'm a little scared about this one. It's something I've wanted to do for a long, long time. But it's also going to require some serious work. It's called "Off the Sanctuary Wall," and the tag line is "Exploring Christian faith with intelligence and integrity (and a quirk or two)." This blog is meant to provoke thought about Christian living, Christian philosophy, and interpretation of Scripture.

I know that not all readers of this blog will find "Off the Wall" appealing. That's ok. But, anyone who wants to stop by and read, comment, play the Friday games, is more than welcome.

Off the Sanctuary Wall

Tomorrow... something RED!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Meet Lyle

Lyle Bialk

I kind of got sidetracked from introducing fellow hikers to you. Tonight you get to meet Lyle Bialk. The way I got to know Lyle is kind of a story in itself.

I had signed up for a Volunteer Vacation with American Hiking Society in 2003. This was my first serious effort to find out just how challenging it was going to be to hike the Minnesota Arrowhead. The trip goal was to work on the Kekekabic Trail portion for 5 days. Since it's a long drive, I took a look at the sign-up list to see if anyone else from Michigan was going, and found Lyle's name. We talked on the phone, discovered that we had actually met once, and agreed to ride together in his jeep, sharing expenses. I thought, "How bad could it be?" The worst I could imagine from a fellow trail enthusiast might be that he would turn out to either be a braggart or a bore, and I figured I could tolerate either of those to save a few bucks.

Well, Lyle was neither of those bad "B" words, and he's become a really good friend. Because I got to know him on that "vacation," we stayed in touch. He got more involved with the North Country Trail, and is now on the Board of Directors.

In the spring of 2009, many of you were following this blog, and you may recognize that Lyle was one of the group who did hike the Minnesota Arrowhead with me. Believe me, I did not invite anyone about whom I had any misgivings concerning their skills or personality on that trek.

Lyle just barely snuck into North Country Cache in the third from last chapter. Of course he'll be in the sequel, North Country Quest.

"We begin [Thursday] by putting six people in two canoes and paddling to the top of Lake Gabimichigami again. Four of us, Claire, Paul, Lyle, and I stay there and start working westward. Bob and Julia return to the campsite, and then, with Derrick, begin a long paddle across this lake and the entire length of Agamok Lake, towing the two empty canoes. Once there, they will work east, toward us, until we meet somewhere in the middle.

I've hardly seen Lyle since the trip began, and he and I now seem to naturally separate into a sub-group, comparing notes of our experiences. The day is cooler, the trail is hillier, and thus more interesting without being particularly difficult."

From chapter 66, "Non-Coin-Operated Amusement Devices"

In real life, Lyle is an EMT. He's a soft-spoken guy who won't impose his agenda on you, but if asked to step up to a task he performs it with confidence. I'd feel quite safe having him be the responder if I were in an accident.

See Live Post, What a Hike!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Biking Date

bikes on car rack

Om and I had a "date" today. We haven't had time to do anything together all summer. So, we made a plan for one day this week. We put the bikes on my car and headed to Grand Haven.

Lakeshore Connector Trail

We biked part of what is called the Lakeshore Connector Trail. It follows Lakeshore Drive from Grand Haven to Holland for about 20 miles.

Lakeshore Connector Trail

This is an interesting trail. It's not a rail trail, but more like a widened sidewalk, but better. It winds through residential areas, with lots of shade, which made it a really pleasant ride. We rode 9.5 miles and then turned around, so did a total of 19 miles.

Pigeon Lake

This is the view toward Lake Michigan where the trail crosses Pigeon Creek. It looks like it is popular for other kinds of recreation too.

Finally, we went to eat at a Russ', a W. Michigan restaurant franchise. Very uncharacteristically, we both ordered the same thing, a salad with grilled chicken strips and mandarin oranges. It was good, but I thought they could have thrown in a few greens other than just iceberg lettuce. We split a piece of chocolate-cherry cake for dessert. Fun day!

Maggie Sniffs Out a Gift from Dennis

dog sniffing in the grass

Sniff, sniff. Always something interesting to smell in the grass. Sniff, sniff. What is this?

dog carrying placard

Why, it's an award from my buddy Dennis the Vizsla Dog and his Diary of Destruction. Hey, Dennis called me a good dog, Hey, didja hear? Dennis called me a better dog! Hey, hey, hey! I'm a good, good, dog.

OK, I'll tell you why Dennis sent this award over to my yard. It's 'cause my mom has a big mouth, er... busy typing fingers. This is for pro-lif-ic blogging. Dennis says that means obsessive, as in posting every day. I don't care if she does... as long as I get my walk and my treats. Dennis just wants stuffies and treats. He can keep the stuffies, but I want all my share of the treats.

Oh wait, I'm supposed to give this away again. I'll try to think of some other prolific bloggers. Maybe they'll send treats too.

prolific blogger award

OK... you know who you are... you obs... er.. prolific blogger friends of my mom.

1. Duck and Wheel with String (hi Hobbes & Grace)
2. Spinning Lovely Days
3. Secondary Roads (hi Midnight)
4. Carmen's Chronicles
5. Ann's Snap Edit Scrap (hi Duke)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Walking Stick

walking stick

Can you find the insect in this picture? Of course, the title of the post will help you a lot if you know what this is.

walking stick

Does this help? I haven't seen one of these wondrous insects for quite a few years. It's about 3 inches long, not counting the long antennae. They belong to the order Phasmatodea, although the taxonomy keeps changing.

walking stick

They don't bite, and in fact, I picked this one up to move it to the cooler to show it off better. The picture on the tree was actually taken last as I returned it there. One of the volunteers found it crawling up his shirt initially. He didn't know how it got there.

walking stick

As you can guess, its defense mechanism is to look like a stick. Here it sits up and poses. If it were on a tree limb while doing this it would be nearly invisible... looking just like a stick.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Last Official Toenail Casualty of My Quest

black and missing toenails

Remember my toes from a year ago? Both big toenails were black, and two others. By the time we started hiking this year the big toenails were finally grown out and healthy again, with the smaller toes in good shape too.

Despite 350 miles of "official" hiking this summer, only three toenails were damaged. Sadly, the worst was that nice healed left big toe. I smacked it, hard, on a rock, and knew it was a goner. At least the old nail has come off cleanly instead of remaining on top of the new nail in a messy double layer that is really hard to cut.

Now, don't go saying "gross," or "ouch." They don't hurt at all. If you are going to be a hiker, this sort of thing is a fact of life. But, don't you think it's a little sad? These are the last toenails I can damage as part of my official North Country Trail Quest.

See You know you're a long-distance hiker... for last year's toenails

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Peach Cobbler Recipe

peach cobbler

I'm not sure I'll be able to stay connected, so I'm going to just pass along the peach cobbler recipe. It's an adaptation of one I found on line. Thanks for all the great comments. I'll try to respond as the new week begins!

preheat oven to 425 degrees F
six servings:
6 fresh peaches, peeled and sliced
1/4 c sugar
1 T lemon juice
2 t cornstarch

toss the peaches with the other three ingredients
Grease an oven-safe 8x8 inch pan
Spread peaches evenly in pan
Bake for 10 minutes

Meanwhile, use your favorite biscuit recipe and mix up enough for one biscuit per serving. Add just a little extra milk so the dough is soft. Drop dollops on top of the peaches and bake an additional 10 minutes till the biscuits are slightly browned.

Serve warm, with whipped cream or topping if desired.

Internet Problems

Since the big thunderstorm last night we've been having trouble connecting to the internet. I may be able to do a real post... maybe not.

Friday, August 20, 2010

More Food and Those Who are Enjoying It

canopy tent

I actually have time to catch my breath today, so I will explain this whole crazy food week a little better. This is a "Volunteer Adventure," organized by the North Country Trail Association, and hosted by our chapter, Spirit of the Woods. People have signed up to come work on a big trail project for a whole week (or parts of one). They are volunteers; no one is paid. But they are fed by the host group. That's where I come in.

I haven't been able to do very much for my chapter the past couple of years, as I was off hiking so much. So when I learned that we were hosting this work week, and that it was after I would be home, I said I would cook for them. I knew it would be a big job... but that's ok.

Pictured above is a canopy borrowed from another group. It hasn't rained yet, but this would have been a lifesaver if it had, and it also provides shade.

people at picnic table

So, every day I am going to the site at about 6 pm with the next 24 hours of food in my car. That is supper, breakfast, stuff for them to pack their own lunches and morning snack, and an afternoon snack for when they finish work. I set up dinner, serve and clean up when everyone is done. Then I have been staying overnight, cooking breakfast and putting out the lunch stuff. Then I pack it all up (can't leave food out in the open in a camp site!), come home and get the next 24 hours worth of food done again. The trip is 22 miles one way.

I know this just looks like a bunch of people at a picnic table to you! But these folks have worked all day digging post holes, sawing boards, drilling holes, and bolting them in place. The project is more of the boardwalk we've been building for 2 years. There's a link below for more about it, and I'll show you some pix of the new work next week, but I haven't even had time to go out there, with this food project! Oh, this is where Vicky and I went for the frog walk.

snickerdoodle cookies

The food is winding down now. Most people are going home tonight or in the morning, although some are staying through Sunday morning. Today I made snickerdoodles for the last lunch bags. The main course is going to be hamburgers. Big hamburgers!

apple crisp

The dessert tonight is apple crisp. I'm glad I've tortured you all, all week. It's been kind of fun!

See Getting Sterling Marsh Out of the Mud
See Vicky and Joan Go Frogging

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Today's Entree

tuna curry

Today's entree is tuna curry and rice. It could look better, but I cooked the rice too soon and it lost it's shape
cinnamon rolls

Tomorrow's breakfast is cinnamon rolls.

Gotta scoot. Too much haste!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Of Course it's Food Again!


Hey, at least today I'm showing you a three-course meal of the healthy stuff. Chili is the entree.

vegetable medly

I made a smaller amount of this last night and it was scarfed down so fast that I made more for tonight! How awesome when grown men eat veggies?

And to go with the chili? Cornbread of course! We're making s'mores for dessert. So easy!