Saturday, January 31, 2009

Weekend Forecast: Sunny and 38

Ok, so it's not Florida, but it is sunny and relatively warm considering the winter that we have been having here in Iowa. We took advantage of it today and spent some time outside. Snow was melting; birds were singing and things just seemed brighter; warmer.

One of the BIG projects of the day was for Steve to lay new wire for our underground 'invisible' dog fence that we have. After 11 years of working GREAT in the winter, the fence chose this year to get a break in it that we won't be able to fix until the ground thaws some in the Spring. Sophie had taken to wandering and not coming when we knew that we'd have to do a 'temporary' fence until the main one can be fixed. It doesn't cover as much ground as the main one, but the dogs still have over 3 acres to fun free in, so I think they are ok.

Dog Fence Wire: $150.00
Time spent laying it down: 4 hours
Not having to worry about dogs wandering: Priceless!!

My big project these past few days is to FINALLY put the finishing recipes and touches on a family 'Tried and True' cookbook that I have been working on for 8+ years. It has close to 200 recipes in it that have been given to me over the years by friends and family and sometimes complete strangers that have come to be our all time favorites. I sent it as a Word document to my family and friends and hope they enjoy it.

Sophie is a little put out by the newly laid fence and the squashing of the freedom that she had come to love. (She LOVED to run up to the road and chase cars down the drive etc.. etc...) Now the fence collar is on again and doing it's job. I keep telling her it's for her own good.... (Ok, anyone out there think she looks EXACTLY like Nikko????? It's almost eerie....)

Sumo takes it all in stride. He's not quite sure why she would want to go that far from home in the first place. Puppies!!

Here is the progress I've made on my Alpaca scarf. These are the softest, warmest scarves I have ever felt!! I think I will do 5 more rows of each color and call it good. It's been a great mindless knit to do in the car; on the plane; watching movies etc..

On a rather sad note, I show you my last remaining Bruegger's Bagel that is in my freezer.
K usually keeps me very well supplied with the BEST bagels ever, but somehow I've run out. Hmmm, must plan a trip to see her soon.

Well, typing all of the recipes for the cookbook has inspired me to try a few new recipes. Here is one I tried tonight and it is delicious!! Enjoy!

Mediterranean Style Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups corn flakes
1/2 ounce feta cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp basil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Trim chicken of any visible fat.
2. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender. Blend until finely crushed.
3. Transfer mixture to a shallow dish.
4. Dip each chicken breast into the cornflake mixture and turn over to lightly coat both sides.
5. Place coated chicken in greased baking pan.
6. Bake until cooked through, 18-20 minutes. (Mine took more like 40 minutes)

Until Next Time....

Monday, January 26, 2009

Weekend Forecast: Sunny and 70

No, not here in Iowa, but in Florida! That's right, this past weekend I found myself in Florida enjoying a few days in the sun and on the beach. It all started Thursday when Steve got home from work and told me I had 5 minutes to grab my 'essential' knitting; put on my shoes and coat and get in the car. I was in the middle of cleaning out a kitchen cupboard, but did as he said.

My next series of 'tasks' involved putting an address into our GPS unit and opening a large bag of almond M&M's to be shared with the driver (Steve). I recognized the addressed as a Minneapolis address but was rather perplexed.... Once we reached our Minneapolis destination (a hotel by the Mall of America) we went out to dinner where Steve handed me two handmade tickets to Florida. He had made all the arrangements for a weekend getaway to the sun. I am not easily surprised, but I did NOT see this coming!!

Friday morning we woke up very early and started our trip to Fort Lauderdale. I cannot tell you how heavenly it was to feel the warmth of the sun and to be able to take off my socks and shoes and enjoy being barefoot!

My toes enjoyed the warmth of the sand....

And the feel of the ocean.....

We spent part of Saturday at Las Olas walking along the beach and going in to a few shops... not many, tho, as I didn't want to give up much time in the sun!!

We even spent a little time just soaking in some rays... I can't say enough how I LOVE to be warm!!

Back at our resort hotel (which was in a western suburb) we had time at the pool and enjoying the peace and quiet of of a stroll along the pond across from a beautiful golf course. We walked barefoot in the grass as well, but forgot to take a picture!!

Everything was perfect. At times it was hard for me to not be 'in control' (I am the detail/organizer/planner of the family) but it was so special to feel so incredibly loved by someone. I am so blessed!

We ate out several times and I got all my favorite foods.... Thai and Chinese; pizza; Chipotles; Mexican and some yummy desserts. Here is some of the gelato that we indulged in at the airport. I tried 3 different kinds.. the Tiramisu was my favorite!!

But all good things must come to an end. Late Sunday morning we began our trip back to the reality of winter and subzero temperatures. But it's all good.. I have the memory (and sunburn) of a wonderful warm weekend and the reminder of the incredible love I have being married to my best friend. That's a inner warmth that no amount of subzero temperature can take away. Thank you Steve for a wonderful wonderful weekend and for loving me!!

Until Next Time.....

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Has it been a week?

It is hard to believe that it has been a week since my last post. And even with a whole week gone by, I am having a hard time finding much to blog about. Life is just kind of in a holding pattern until work starts and then who really wants to read about tax preparation? (Ok, I'm sure there are a few of you out there.. but you are the minority!!)

Anyways. This is what I do know. We still have snow and lots of it. It has warmed up quite a bit, so I have started taking Sumo again on our walks in the back field. He does ok as long as he stays on the beaten path. He can usually make it around 1 time and then waits for Sophie and I to finish up our walk.

I have found it helpful to have Sophie walk with a frisbee. This helps in a multitude of ways.
1. With a frisbee in her mouth she is not able to pick up and eat disgusting things.
2. With a frisbee in her mouth she is not able to nip at Sumo's back legs.
3. When needed, I can throw the frisbee far into the field and have her retrieve it, which is another way to wear her out a bit.
4. She likes it.

I've been doing some knitting on my multitude of scarves. I finished my second Noro Kureyon scarf, but sent it off in the mail before taking a picture. Here is one that I started with some Noro Silk Garden. Loving the feel of this.

I also have finally decided on the yarn to join the Clapotis knit a long that is going on right now. Yes, that's right. Everybody else is knitting one, so I must too. I hate to feel left out. I'm going to use some Socks that Rock in medium weight in the Watermelon Tourmaline colorway. I've had it in my stash for another project, but am going to retask it to this. Hope to cast on today.

Other than that, this past week we enjoyed some time with the kids. We played lots of games and found other ways to amuse ourselves. I mean, who says that fruit just needs to be eaten??

In REALLY BIG news, R & M have bought their first home! It is a very cute 2 bedroom home only about 10 minutes from us. It has a wonderful open layout with a great kitchen. Perfect for having friends (and family) over. We are all very excited for them. They'll move in the end of March. I'll post pictures hopefully in the near future.

Until Next Time....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Snow Day!

The white stuff just keeps on coming! Seriously! We got another 7+ inches last night on top of everything else we already had on the ground. Here is the top of our air conditioner.... Good thing we don't need it for a few months!!

Our deck is full of snow again. Just shoveled most of it off yesterday before the snow started again. I guess we won't be grilling tonight....

The trees are heavy laden with snow. It is actually very beautiful out! Cold, but beautiful!

I continue to take Sophie out to the back field twice a day to run off some of her puppy energy!
I bundle up and it really isn't too bad. Steve gave me snowshoes for Christmas which really help in this deep snow!

Sumo has a little trouble with the deep drifts. He comes out for a bit, but isn't up for the field excursions. The spirit is willing, his body just isn't up to it! I do believe he appreciates me wearing her out a bit, tho.

For Sophie, the bigger the drift the better! Today she was completely engulfed in snow more than once! Oh to have the energy of a puppy!! It is refreshing!

Well, one last shot of Sophie before I go curl up on the couch and knit for a bit. Still working on one of a mulitude of scarves I have on the needles right now, with more in line to be cast on. K and
SC are here as well, so I see some game playing in the near future. Yeah!!

Until Next Time....

Friday, January 09, 2009

Scarf Central

Well, back to the unadventurous life of an Iowa knitter. (vs.. the exciting Antartica adventure her son just had....) Thought I would share some of the projects that have come off and some that are currently on my needles. They are all scarves. Don't know why. They just are. Some are mine, and a couple are K's that I thought I would share with you.

The first is the finished Alpaca with a Twist scarf that K made for SC. I have to say that these Alpaca scarves are the warmest, yummiest scarves I have ever felt!! These are made by casting 70 stitches onto a size 6 circular needle with Color A and knitting in the round, so it's double thick AND double warm. After about 18 inches or so, you transition to your second color by knitting 1 row of Color B and then 10 rows of Color A; 2 rows of Color B and then 9 rows of Color A; 3 rows of Color A; 8 rows of Color A etc.. until you knit 10 rows of Color B; 1 row of Color A and then finish another 18 inches or so with color B.

K also made a similar scarf for Steve for Christmas, but just put a couple of stripes on each end. The color is really more of a hunter green and it is gorgeous. Steve has never been one to wear a scarf, but this one has made him a true believer and he never leaves home without it on.

I finally finished my second fan and feather scarf out of Wollmeise that I was making for A's girlfriend CB. I think that it is on it's way to Spain today as she flew out of Chicago to study there for a semester. I am so jealous of all of the incredible opportunities kids have these days! So glad that they are taking advantage of them!!

I've been working on a two-toned Noro scarf with some Noro Kureyon I had in my stash. It is so fun. Got a little carried away, however and it ended up being like 100 feet long. I snipped it part way up and unraveled the ends and bound off again and added more fringe and have scarf # 1.

The other end is on my needles and I'll plug away and get a second scarf as well. But for now it's going to be set aside so I can cast on one out of some yummy Noro Silk Garden that I picked up at The Crazy Girl yarn shop downtown. I hope to cast on today, and will show my progress on my next post.

I had started this scarf for M to match the beautiful purple coat that she got for Christmas. It is using the Newbie Scarf pattern with some Briar Rose yarn I picked up at the Midwest Fiber Festival last June. Lo and behold, she came over with a different coat on the other night. She had returned the purple coat. Sigh. But she loved the Noro two-toned scarf, so it is now hers. And this scarf will sit for a bit until I decide if I want to finish it or use the yarn for something else.

I also have an Alpaca with a Twist scarf on the needles. It's kind of my Cat-in-the-hat version of the one's K has done. I started this before she started either of hers. Sigh. If only I was a monogamous knitter like she is. She starts one project, and doesn't cast on another until she is finished. I have about 7-8 projects cast on and my mind is already pondering what I will cast on next. I don't know. It may be a disease....

Well, Sophie wants to let you all know that she celebrated her 6 month birthday on Wednesday by spending the day at the Vet having surgery. (No puppies for Sophie...) We picked her up and brought her home that afternoon instead of having her spend the night there. She was a little groggy and sore, but by the next day was back to her perky, pesky self. (Just ask Sumo!!) She surprised the Vet by weighing in at 60 pounds, which is much more than what one would think. She's such a good girl!!

Until Next Time....

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Antarctic Dream

I had a dream. An Antarctic Dream. That was the appropriately named ship that carried me to the ends of the earth and back. It has been said that your life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but the number of moments that take your breath away. If that's the case, then I lived more in the last few weeks than the rest of my nearly 22 years. This picture is one of the many breath-taking views I was able to see on my recent trip to Antarctica. When I looked up, I was surrounded by these mountains covered in snow and ice, the tops lost in drifting clouds. And when I looked down, I was surrounded by ocean full of drifting ice.

And here is my Dream. This ship was my home for the 9 day voyage. The first two days were spent crossing the Drake passage from a small city called Ushuaia, Argentina, proclaimed to be the southernmost city in the world. The Drake passage was fairly smooth on the trip down, but even so, I'm afraid I spent most of the time in bed with a small case of seasickness. On the third day, I woke to see a small island that was actually an active volcano called Deception Island. This was to be our first stop.

We disembarked on little rubber zodiacs that were able to fit about 10 people. There were only about 80 people on the ship, so by using 2 zodiacs, we were all able to go ashore in short order. This zodiac was called the Condor. The other zodiac was called the Orca, and that was the first one that I rode on to go ashore. The place we initally landed at was an abandoned Argentinian station. There were a few penguins walking around, and they were the first ones I got to see. By the end of the trip, I had seen hundreds, if not thousands of the flightless birds.

This is a nesting Gentoo penguin. It is adjusting the eggs that it is laying on to make sure that they stay warm. It has laid these eggs on the nest of small rocks that it has made with its mate. The nest is important to keep the eggs off of the ice, as well as allowing for drainage created by the parent that lays on top of the eggs. While this penguin sits on the eggs, its mate will go out and fish as well as look for more rocks to make the nest even larger. The size of the nest is the way that these penguins show their social status. The bigger the nest, the more successful the penguins. However, these rocks are in low supply, so these penguins must be on constant alert, lest other penguins come along and steal rocks from their nest, which was a common occurrence.

Here, you can see a Gentoo penguin as it is returning to its nest with a small rock to add to its nest. The nest takes a long time to make, as it is composed of hundreds of these small rocks, and each rock is individually carried to the nest by the parents.

Most of the penguins that I saw were Gentoo penguins, which are easily distinguished by their white headbands, but I was able to see a few Adelie penguins, like this one here. They have an all-black head with white rings around their eyes. The other kind of penguins that we saw were Chinstrap penguins, which have white faces and a black line under their chin, from which they derive their name.

Here, two Chinstrap penguins are seen right next to two Gentoo penguins. Different species of penguins tend not to get along, as they fight over nesting areas, but on my trip, I saw the three species get along fairly well. The Gentoo penguins especially seemed to get along well with either the Chinstrap or Adelie penguins. However, I never saw Chinstrap and Adelie penguins alongside each other, so maybe they were the ones that fought.

The penguins were quite fun to watch. This penguin is scratching an itch that's a little difficult to reach. It also has a chick that's getting a little too big to fit under its warm belly. These chicks were very cute to watch as they moved around, but they always stayed very close to their parents, and their parents kept them under their protective wings.

This penguin chick gets a feeding from its parent. As you can see, this Gentoo penguin has two chicks that it is raising. This is because Gentoo, Chinstrap, and Adelie penguins lay two eggs every year, while King and Emperor penguins only lay one. The two chicks will normally fight for the right to remain close to the parent that stays to watch them. This means that one of the chicks will be dominant, and has a better chance of surviving because it tends to be fed more, as well as be guarded closer and kept warmer.

As the chicks grow larger, they are able to wander farther away from their parents. This chick here takes part in chasing off an adult penguin, helping to protect the nest from would-be rock thieves. It was quite funny to watch an adult penguin get chased around by a little fuzzball. I don't know what the chick would've done had it actually managed to catch up.

Here is an entire colony of penguins, showing just how many we were able to see close up. However, this isn't even half the number of penguins that were nesting on this island. And they weren't alone on the island. There were several other birds nesting on the island called Skua. Skua are brown birds that feed on penguin eggs and chicks. They will also scavenge penguin carcasses left behind by other predators, such as the leopard seal. I was able to watch the Skua as they flew over the penguins, causing the penguins to let out a screeching warning to others. And when the Skua landed near them, the penguins brought their chicks close under them as they menaced and chased the threatening birds.

This penguin is letting out a call, quite a common act for them. This is a common mating behavior, and has earned the Gentoo penguins their nickname of Jackass penguins, due to the fact that the call sounds quite similar to the braying of a donkey. The call is very loud, and when they do this call, their chest blows out like a croaking frog, then sucks in as they draw a breath, and then blows out again as they repeat the call over and over.

I was able to see more than penguins on my trip. This is a whale that I was able to watch up close and personal, since I was in a zodiac as it swam around us. It would come up for a breath, then go under the water and swim around and under our zodiac. It was thrilling to see such a large creature as it went under our small zodiac, which it could easily have capsized if it wished. But it was just having fun and playing with us. I was able to see Fin, Humpback, Minke, and Killer whales on my trip. The Orcas were quite a sight, as they were surrounding a Humpback whale, most likely in an effort to secure themselves some lunch. Orcas are the dominant predators in the Antarctic food chain, eating whales, seals, penguins, and fish. Leopard seals are right below them eating penguins and other seals. A picture that I took of a leopard seal is in the previous post.

This is an elephant seal that was just off the coast of an island that we landed on in the South Shetlands. It seems that the seals were about as curious in me as I was in them, as they always looked at me. However, they were content to remain where they were while I walked around. Soon after I took a picture of this seal, it swam away, but there were several more on land laying around, and they barely moved at all as they lay in the mud, basking in the sun.

This friendly-looking seal is a Weddell seal, which, as can be seen, is quite fat. Weddell seals are very friendly and easily approachable, which makes them easy to study. This is why the most is known about Weddell seals of any of the Antarctic seals. I saw quite a few Weddell seals and leopard seals, and I saw one Crabeater seal.

Here are the other Elephant seals that I had mentioned. They were laying around in the sun and molting. There were no males in the group, just females. The males are easily distinguished by their longer nose which slightly resembles the trunk of an elephant, for which they are named. Elephant seals are very territorial, with one male mating with all the females in its territory, which is why there were no males in this group. The male of the territory was most likely out looking for food.

I had a blast on this trip. Even in Ushuaia before the trip started, I was having adventures, like going to a glacier where this picture was taken. But perhaps one of the most memorable adventure I had was the Polar Plunge at Deception Island. That's right. I had my swimsuit on underneath my winter garb, and when the time came, I took off all but the swimsuit and ran into the 2 degree Celsius water. I swam back to the shore, staying in for as long as I could. When I got back, there was a little puddle of water that was geothermally heated that I washed off in. I even got a certificate from the ship for doing this.

Despite my wish to stay in this beautiful scenery, we eventually had to turn our backs to Antarctica and make our way back to Ushuaia. That meant another 2 days to cross the Drake passage. This time, we had a somewhat rough time, with one day having some very high waves. We were always impressed with the waiting staff at meals as they managed to carry trays of food and drinks to the table as the ship rocked severely back and forth. One instance, one of the waiters actually set his feet and slid about six feet along the floor before coming to a stop, and he did it without dropping anything off of the tray he was carrying.

I will end my post with this happy penguin picture. It is one of the family's favorites of all the pictures that I took. It seems to be so carefree. I am very glad for the opportunity I had to be able to go to Antarctica with a class from Iowa State, and it is a memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. While I was there, I was constantly in awe of God's creation. The beauty that surrounded me was simply stunning, and I thank Him for allowing me to see it.