Monday, August 24, 2009

Jelly Weekend

Duane and I headed to Tingley this past weekend for our annual jelly making EXTRAVAGANZA!! It's a tradition I vowed to "keep alive" after my grandma Reynolds died a few years back. She "put up" wild plum jelly and strawberry jam for DECADES, and it was always a treat to descend the dark, creaky steps to the CRAMMED FULL OF EVERYTHING basement, to retrieve a jar or two to take home with us after our visits.

I USUALLY make wild plum jelly in her honor, but this year, the wild plum crop was NON-EXISTANT. It's a challenge EVERY year to find wild plums in the ditches along the gravel and dirt roads around town, but this year it was IMPOSSIBLE. Mom and dad have been looking for WEEKS, and only found ONE tree with just a few plums on it.

I've heard that the wild plum crop flourishes every OTHER year. We found a WONDERFUL thicket of wild plum trees last year (across the road from the cemetary featured in a previous, recent blog entry), but this year there wasn't a single wild plum on ANY of those trees. I'm hoping NEXT year we'll find the trees full of plums, once again.

Luckily, a few years back, I also started making crabapple jelly, because the tree in my parent's neighbors' yard is always JAM-PACKED ("jelly-packed"?) with these AMAZING, bright red, juicy crabapples, and because I like having two varieties of jelly to eat, and give as gifts. So...this year we JUST made the crabapple.

We got up bright and early Saturday morning to pick, stem, slice, boil, strain, boil again (with pectin), sugar, and jar crabapple jelly. We made FOUR batches (about 12 jars in each batch), and worked at it from 8:00 a.m. to about 9:00 p.m. (with breaks for lunch, dinner, and a trip to Mt. Ayr to buy a sofa...).

The AMAZING thing to me, it that we barely scratch the surface when picking crabapples from the tree every year. A few years ago, an Amish family came and stripped the tree bare. I have NO IDEA how they did it! They must have worked like CRAZY to get them all prepped for cooking and canning!

Here are some shots (courtesy of Duane!) of the process:

It was a TON of work, and my back and knees are STILL killing me, but I SO love doing this. It's stressful, but theraputic at the same time. I LOVE thinking that the jars of jelly on the counter were fruit hanging from a tree branch earlier that same day, and I LOVE keeping the jelly making tradition, carried out for DECADES by my grandmother, alive in our family.

I'm not sure HOW I managed making it before Duane was "in the picture". He was an AMAZING help, and it was really fun to do it together.

Here's hoping YOU have a family tradition that brings meaning to YOUR days, and that you find it as rewarding as I do!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Boston: 2/3 FABULOUS, 1/3 SUCKY, SUCKY, SUCKY!!!!!

I love Boston. I love the history. I love the food. I love the Freedom Trail (even though it IS completely "touristy"). What I DIDN'T love, this time, was the "standby" ordeal to get OUT of Boston.

Let me backtrack. Duane and I were trying to figure out where to go for one of our FINAL "standby" journeys. His "employee status" changes from ACTIVE (part of his severence package) to RETIREE at the end of September, which, basically, means that we'll be somewhere below DEAD PEOPLE on the priority list.

So...we've tried to cram a TON of travel in this summer. It's actually been AMAZING...since March, we've seen Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Paris, Montana (Glacier National Park), Chicago, and now Boston.

I went to Boston in college, as part of a tour for the Old Gold Singers, of which I was a member. It was a DELIGHTFUL trip (except for the whole "getting there by tour bus" thing), and I LOVED the history and COOLNESS of the city.

So...I hadn't beent there since the early-80's, and Duane hadn't been there since the mid-90's, so we decided to give it a shot. Getting there was a piece of cake. We flew in, and arrived mid-afternoon. We checked in at the hotel, and headed immediately out to explore the city.

We decided to start a Feneuil Hall, which we BOTH remembered from our previous visits. We found the "food court", and Duane found the "turkey sandwich" that he remembered, and I found an AMAZING macaroni and cheese booth (ordered the bacon mac and cheese, and thought I'd DIED and gone to heaven!). UNFORTUNATELY, I didn't find the "macaroni and cheese potpie" booth until I was already full!!!!

After gorging ourselves with AWESOME food (I also found the hot dog booth, and had a "not so good" cheese dog), we looked around the other buildings in the Feneuil complex, then headed SOUTH on the Freedom Trail.

We saw the cemetary where Paul Revere is buried...

We found the "Cheers" bar...

...and we found Boston Common.

I TOTALLY forgot that "Make Way for Ducklings" by Robert McCloskey is set in the Commons, and, when I saw the swan boats, had a MINOR fit. It was SO cool to experience a part of that book in person! I LOVED it!!

After going as far on the southern end of the Freedom trail as possible, we headed back to the hotel. Every evening, from 5:30-7:30, they have the "managers reception" in the restaurant area. Cheese and cracker, veggies, and other yummy munchies. It was a REALLY cool feature of the hotel, and we TOTALLY took advantage of it. REALLY cool!

I needed Ny-Quil for my cold, so, after sampling the treats, we headed out into the East Boston neighborhood around the hotel. I can't say that it was a particularly "ritzy" area, but we found the White Hen, bought our drugs and bottles of water, and headed back to the hotel.

Saturday, we got up, and headed back downtown to do the "north" part of the freedom trail. We started at Feneuil Hall, headed to the wharf area to check out the harbor...

...and then headed to the Paul Revere House. The FUNNY thing about the Paul Revere House, is that it is now located in the HEART of "Little Italy". There are gelatto shops, and Italian Bakeries, and Italian "goods" stores all around it. TOTALLY wierd!

The Old North Church ("one if by land, two if by sea") is also in Little Italy, and it was TOTALLY cool to see this FAMOUS piece of American history!!!!!

Duane in the "Revere" seats at the Old North Church (the entire
congregation area of the church is divided into "cubicles",
and the ancestors of Paul Revere maintain this one).

After looking around the church and grounds, we proceeded along the Freedom Trail, but, LUCKILY, I had seen an advertisement in a magazine in our hotel room for an Italian Festival that was coming up, so we diverted from the trail and explored the neighborhood.

We found the most AMAZING gelatto, at Sappori di Napoli, in the HEART of Little Italy. I had the limonatta gelatto, and it was FABULOUS. The BEST I've ever tasted.

After finding an AMAZING bakery further down the street (and sampling some AWESOME pastries), we continued along the trail. We stopped to see the USS Constitution, but it was being refurbished, so we opted NOT to stand in line for an hour to go below deck.

We continued north along the trail, and spent a little time at Bunker Hill. We watched a demonstration of how the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought, watched the musket get fired by a park ranger (in costume), and then climbed the 294 steps to the top of the monument. I was SO tired by the time we got to the top, that I, BASICALLY, just stood at the top, panting, while Duane took pictures out the windows!

After Bunker Hill, we finished walking the trail, took the subway to the Harvard area, looked around a bit (it was a BEASTLY hot and humid day, so by this point, we were ready to go back for the "Manager's Reception").

The day before, while looking for cold medicine in East Boston, we passed a pizzaria called Santarpio's ( There was a line a MILE long outside the door, so, we thought it was probably a GREAT place to eat, and decided to go there for dinner Saturday night.

I am SO glad we did! It was the BEST pizza I have ever eaten IN MY LIFE!!! Typically, the edge crust (my nieces call it the "bones" of the pizza) is the part that you "skip", if you want to go on to another piece of pizza. This crust was SO crispy, and SO flavorful, and SO good, that you HAD to eat it before moving on.

The sauce is amazing, the crust is amazing, the pepperoni was ESPECIALLY flavorful, and the cheese was fresh and salty and FABULOUS!!! We weren't very hungry, but polished off an ENTIRE medium pizza without taking a breath in between slices.

If you are EVER in East Boston, You MUST go there (the waitress said that GQ Magazine voted it number 25 IN THE WORLD for "best pizza", and I TOTALLY agree)(based on the pizza I've eaten in my life...which is A LOT!!!). WOW!!!

After WOLFING down our pizza, we headed back to the hotel, packed, and went to bed.

Sunday, we TRIED to get home, but here's where the SUCKY, SUCKY, SUCKY 1/3 comes. We got to the airport around 9:00, in hopes of getting on the 10:45 flight. We didn't get on. Nor did we get on the 1:00, 2:35, or 5:00 flight either. We spent 9 hours at the airport, and couldn't get on ANY flights back to Minneapolis, or Detroit!

I'm NOT fond of "standby" travel.'s "free"...but there's a HUGE "uncertainty factor", and I like things in my life to be a LITTLE more "dependable". If this had been our FIRST "standby" travel experience, it would also have been my LAST! It SUCKED, SUCKED, SUCKED!!!!

Duane kept calling Northwest to figure out alternate routes, as we sat, and tried to get on flights, and sat, and moved to other gates, and watched all of our flights leave (without us on them), and sat, and moved to other gates. UGH!

Apparently, an earlier flight cancelled, most of the flights we tried to get on were "oversold" (bastards!), and the 9:00 a.m. flight (that delayed until 6:00 p.m., and then cancelled because an engine needed to be replaced) was our last "not going to happen" shot of the day.

So...we called the hotel that we had checked out of earlier in the day, took the shuttle back, got another room, and, basically went to bed as soon as we got there (well...not EXACTLY true...I had TWO glasses of wine in the hotel bar, while Duane looked at flight options for the next day, and then we ran back down to Santarpio's for another pepperoni pizza!).

Monday, we got up at 4:00 (ugh!), went back to the airport, took a shuttle flight to New York City, and JUST got the last two seats on a flight from La Guardia to Minneapolis. We BARELY got on the plane...FOUR people didn't show, and a couple of other "standbys" got on before us. The ticket agents had to go on the plane to make sure the two seats listed on the manifest were truly empty, while we stood outside the plane and waited with our fingers crossed to see if we'd get on (I can no longer swear using the big "JC" or "GD", as per my "please let us get on this flight" deal with God...).

We made it back to the cities around 11:30, sped home, Duane took a shower and headed to work, and I rushed off to meet with my 6th grade team to work on stuff for the coming school year. Ugh! What a HORRID ending to an otherwise LOVELY weekend!

I have to say that I'm TOTALLY "over" the travel thing for now! I'm looking forward to spending weekends at home, and I'm actually TOTALLY okay with BUYING plane tickets from this point forward. "Free" travel is nice, when it works, but, actually having a seat on a plane, and getting to where you want to go, AS PLANNED, is an entirely new concept, and WONDERFUL thing!!

Here's hoping YOU did something fun this past weekend, and that YOU were able to get to WHERE you wanted to be WHEN you wanted to be there!!!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chicago for a Day!!

Duane and I celebrated our TENTH anniversary last Monday, but, with him working all day, and me heading off for rehearsal in the evening, didn't get to spend much time together.

SO...we decided to take a day trip to Chicago. We celebrated our FIRST anniversary there, and thought it would be fun to see the city again (we haven't been there since!).

We were able to get first class (both ways!), and the only BAD thing about it (besides having to get up at 5:00), was that it was too early to take advantage of the "complimentary bar service"...7:00 is WAY TOO EARLY for "wine shots"!!!!

We got there around 8:00, and took the orange line to "the loop". It was cloudy and a little rainy, but we headed for the river, so that we could get tickets for one of the architectural boat tours of the city.

We bought tickets for the "Chicago's First Lady" tour, sponsored by the Architectural Society of Chicago. It was an AWESOME 90 minute tour, with a docent who knew EVERYTHING about the buildings along the river.

Highlights: seeing the spot where Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern that started the great Chicago fire, seeing all of the AMAZING condos that have sprung up along the river, and the smell of chocolate that permeated the air from a chocolate factory upwind of the boat!

After learning about all of the cool buildings along the river, we walked around the city for awhile, saw MORE cool buildings, and found the Calder "Flamingo sculpture" at Federal Plaza. I remember the Calder sculpture, from a trip I took to Chicago, while on tour with the Old Gold Singers in college...AGES ago!

We also walked by the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower), on our way to one of my FAVORITE "windy city" destinations....Giordano's Pizzeria!

We tried to get to the Giordano's on Wabash, but, it apparently closed (AWHILE AGO..."411" SUCKS!). We called the number listed (I DO love the text message that is sent after a 411 call that gives the address and phone number), and LUCKILY, the hostess was able to direct us to another location near by.

We had an AWESOME pepperoni and green olive stuffed crust pizza that was ABSOLUTELY divine! "Chicago-style" pizza ROCKS!!!!

After Giordano's, we walked around the city (in REALLY intense heat and humidity), fighting to get through HUGE crowds of "20 somethings" who were headed to the lakeshore for Lollapalooza (how OLD do I feel??!!), then headed back to the airport for the trip back to the cities.

What an AWESOME way to celebrate 10 years of "being together"!!! Hope YOU were able to do something this weekend to commemorate a special event in YOUR life!!!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Old Cemetaries

There's an old cemetary near mom and dad's house, on a gravel road on which we found a TREASURE TROVE of wild plums last year (for jellymaking...see "Jelly Man" entry...September 3rd, 2008 for details...). Most of the tombstones date back to the mid-1800's. Many of them are hard to read, as time has worn away the information carved on them.

I wonder about the people buried there...were they related? How did they die? How old were they? Why that particular spot for a cemetary? So many questions that will have more and more elusive answers as time continues to wear away at the words written to document these people's existence...

Make YOUR mark upon the world...a positive "something" that you can do to improve this planet for all of us!!!!