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I had a couple outside projects to finish before winter. The leaves were already turning deep red, bright orange and brilliant gold. I would rather have gone for a drive taking in the beauty of Lake Superior’s north shore, but those fall colors mean winter isn’t far off. I utilized the nice weather to install new galvanized wells around the basement windows.
I had done about as much as I could for the day. Melissa would be home from work in an hour, so I gathered my tools. I’d take a quick shower then start dinner.
Inside the back door, our black cat was on the counter with his paws curled in, tucked under his chest. “Edgar Allan, get down from there
.” He closed his eyes, ignoring me. I gave him a nudge, “Get off the counter, Edgar.” He jumped down and ran to the dining room. I slipped off my shoes by the back door, then walked to the living room where June was sprawled out on the couch.
“Get off the couch.” I said. She did, then curled up on the rug by the front door. I gave her a rub on the head. "You're the best dog in the world." I told her, then went to turn on the water for my shower.
While I was waiting for the hot water, I went back to the living room to get my coffee cup. The best dog in the world was back on the couch. "Off." I told her again. She climbed down, returning to the front door. I love that dog and her innocent ways of acting like she didn’t know she wasn’t to be on the furniture.
Carrying my cup to the kitchen, I found Edgar back on the counter. “Edgar Allan! Get down.” He closed his eyes, acting as if he didn’t hear me. I clapped my hands, “Now, Edgar!” He jumped from the counter, high-tailing it to the dining room, meowing all the way to give me a piece of his mind. I love his subtle ways of letting us know who really runs this house!
I poured the last of the coffee into my mug. The phone rang; it was my cousin calling. I went out on the deck where we chatted for about thirty-minutes, then I went back into the kitchen. “Edgar, get off the counter and stay off!” He jumped on the floor and sat on the throw rug. I set my cup in the sink, then walked to the other room.
Guess where June was. I gave her a stern look and pointed my rigid arm toward the front door. Without me saying a word, she slithered off the couch, returning to the rug. I went back to the kitchen, expecting Edgar to be on the counter, but he was laying on the rug by the back door, taking long licks from the middle of his front leg, down to his foot. He ran his paw across his head and face, repeating this several times.
I ruffled the fur on his head. “Good boy Edgar, taking a bath. You look so clean and pretty.”
Edgar pulled away, “Hey! Don’t touch my clean head with your dirty paws. Now I have to wash it again.” He continued his bath.
In the living room, June was licking her paws. I gave her scratch on the ears. “Good girl, washing your feet so you’re nice and clean.”
I stood up and smiled. “The dog and the cat are both grooming themselves; it must be bath time!” I started to laugh then said aloud, “Oh crap. The shower.” I ran to the bathroom, June followed close behind.
I pushed my hand around the end of the curtain and under the water. “Ice cold. Darn it!”
June looked at me, “Are you getting in? It is bath time, ya know.”
Edgar, now standing behind her, was snickering, “Yeah, Dad. It’s bath time. Get in there.”
Humph. Maybe I’ll just wash up and go start dinner.
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I baked three pies, one Granny Smith apple, one strawberry-rhubarb and a cherry pie with a lattice top. I gave the pies to the Lake County Humane Society for their silent auction at their annual fundraiser. I posted photos on several social media outlets to help promote the event. The pies generated a lot of interest, which led to some really fun and entertaining comments and conversations. I enjoyed that.
My brother told me the strawberry-rhubarb pie was a waste of time. “No one is going to bid on that thing. Rhubarb is awful; it’s a weed, not food!” he declared. Obviously, he doesn’t like rhubarb.
A lady complimented my lattice top on the cherry pie, asking if I was a Master Pastry Chef. I was flattered, but laughed out loud. No, not a pastry chef. Just a guy who found a bag of flour on sale one day and said, “I think I’ll take this home to make some wheat paste,” then later found out I could do other things with flour. Several people commented on the cherry pie. Another lady asked “Where did you learn to make a lattice top like that?” Her question caused me think.
Mom taught me to cook and bake, but she never taught me much about pie crust. Over the years, many people have shared secrets and given me tips on baking, but I don’t recall anyone ever teaching me anything about pie tops. I myself started to ponder, “Just where did I learn to make a lattice top?”
I thought back to my days of higher education; kindergarten! (“Higher” because I learned more in kindergarten than some of my other years.)
I suppose it was late April. Mrs. Murphy was teaching us to make May Baskets from construction paper. We made a simple cone shape and fastened the edge with Elmer’s Paste, then decorated the basket. Elmer’s was made by Borden and came in a white container with blue and orange print. There was an applicator wand fastened to the inside of the lid. The wand poked down through the paste even when the jar was full. Elmer’s paste smelled good and it didn’t taste too bad either – but that’s another story.
After pasting a colorful strip of construction paper over the top to make a handle, we could fill our little basket with real flowers, or make flowers from construction paper. I stuffed mine full with early spring grass and dandelions from our yard.
On May first, I was supposed to hang the basket on the door knob, knock and run, leaving a cheerful surprise for the unsuspecting recipient. Unfortunately, my little hands didn’t make much noise on the door and we didn’t have a bell on the back door. The grass and yellow flowers proved to be too much weight for the basket and the handle came off on one side. I went inside and handed the arrangement to my mom; she loved it, broken handle and all.
In first grade we moved on to more complex, advanced basket making. Mrs. Sales taught us to cut strips from various colors of construction paper. We would lay out the first strips flat on our desktops, then weave different colors through them. Over, under, over under, over, under. The next strip went under, over, under, over, under, over… You had to do it just right, or you’d end up with a mess and a basket that hand no strength.
When the bottom was done, Mrs. Sales showed us how to use a ruler to bend the edges upward, then weave more colored strips through the vertical pieces. We folded them to follow right around the corners until the ends of the strip met. After pasting the two ends together, we’d repeated the process with a new strip, thus building the sides of the basket. All I had to do was paste a strip over the top to make a handle and voila! I had just made an Easter basket.
Comparing my basket to the one Mrs. Sales made, I was disappointed. I copied her lead all the way through the process, even using the same color strips; pink, green and yellow. But her basket was much better than mine; her weaving was much tighter and there weren’t fingerprints of paste all over hers like there was on mine. My work was sloppy.
I remember looking in the bottom of my basket. There were gaps between all the strips, making small square holes. Sand and dirt, small rocks and other things of importance to a first-grade boy, could easily fall through my basket. I remember thinking, maybe I should cut a piece of paper and lay it in the bottom to cover the holes.
All these years later, thinking about the floor of that basket, it looked like – well – it looked like a lattice top on a pie. The mystery is solved. It was Mrs. Sales, my first-grade teacher, via my beginner’s art skills, who taught me the concept of making a lattice top for a pie.
I smiled, fondly recalling those first-grade memories as I read through the comments on social media about my baking and the cherry pie with the lattice top.
The day after the fundraiser, it was good to hear the pies drew a lot of attention. Of the three, the cherry pie raised the most money, but the strawberry-rhubarb pie created the most interest. (That shows how much my brother knows about pies.) It was most gratifying for me, knowing that a little over twenty bucks worth of ingredients and a few hours of my time turned into more than one hundred dollars for the Lake County Humane Society in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
I think next year I’ll get crazy and put a lattice top on a strawberry-rhubarb pie! Woot-woot! That’ll create quite a stir. Bidders will go wild and the puppies and kittens will eat really well!
Author’s note: you don’t have to wait for a fundraiser. Your local animal shelter will be happy to accept a donation anytime – even today.
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After living there for many years and trying corn from other states, I’ve concluded the best sweet corn in the world comes from Iowa. Returning from our camping trip in Ankeny, we brought home extra corn to share with friends and neighbors.
When I took a few ears across the road, Bonnie asked me to come inside, “I have something for you and Melissa, too.” She brought a baking dish of something that sure looked good, to the table. “It’s a blueberry dessert I made,” she said, while cutting two pieces, each about three inches square. She placed them on a paper plate, “I’m not going to cover this. The plastic wrap will stick to the whipped topping.” I told her it was okay I was going straight home.
Smelling the fresh blueberries, I said, “I hope this makes it home.” Then added, “I don’t think we need to tell Melissa about this dessert, just in case it doesn’t.” We shared a good laugh about that. I thanked her for the dessert; Bonnie and her husband, Kenny, thanked me for the corn. I was barely off their steps when I caught another whiff of those berries. I smiled thinking I sure got the better end of this deal.
About halfway on the short walk home, the two pieces shifted a little. Sliding them back into position, I got some whipped topping on me. Obviously, I couldn’t go home with dessert on my finger; it would look as if I had sneaked a sample. Mmm. The square had a small dent where I pushed it, so I evened out the edge. “Oops, I accidentally got some more on my finger. My bad.” Mmm.
At home in the kitchen, I took a fork and cut a small corner from Melissa’s piece and tasted it. “Oh my. That is good.” I said, then tried another small bite. I took a third bite to Melissa, who was sitting at her computer. “Close your eyes and open your mouth.” I said, then waved the fork under her nose.
“Blueberries!” She said with excitement, then opened her eyes and ate the bite. “That’s really good! Where did you get it?” She sprang up from her chair and followed me to the kitchen. Her eyes lit up when she saw two big pieces on the plate – one missing a few small bites. Taking the fork, she tried another bite, as if to give a second opinion. “Mmm. That is so good.” She pointed the fork at the piece we had been sampling and declared, “That’s your piece.” We shared a good laugh about that.
“Bonnie gave it to me when I took them the sweet corn.” I explained.
Melissa took another nibble, “Honey, we got the better end of that deal. Go ask them if they need some more corn.”
“This is for dessert tonight.” I said, snatching the plate from her and setting it in the refrigerator.
With the dessert safely tucked away, I drove to the Finland Co-op to get a couple things I needed for dinner. When I got back, Melissa confessed, “I have to tell you, I already ate my piece of the blueberry treat.” I laughed. Somehow, I knew that was going to happen. I decided to have my dessert before dinner, too. I took the plate from the fridge and looked at the small piece that remained, about half the size it was when I brought it home.
“I thought Bonnie cut the pieces bigger than this.” I said, giving Melissa the stink eye.
“Oh,” she smiled, “Your piece had that bite out of the corner, so I evened it up for you.” Hmph. I ate the rest before anything else could happen to it.
Sunday morning after mass there was a pancake breakfast in the church hall. Kenny is one of the cooks for the Knights of Columbus. They don’t always have them, but on this day, they had both regular and blueberry pancakes – I had the blueberries and sat with our neighbors to eat. I learned it was Kenny’s birthday, which gave me an idea.
When I got home, I made a pie. After it cooled, I took it to the neighbor’s house. “I made this peach pie and I wanted Kenny to have the first slice for his birthday.” I told them. Bonnie got a plate from the cupboard. I cut into the pie; it was still warm. The aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg escaped from the flaky crust. I gave them two big slices, then walked down the road to visit another neighbor.
Gene was in the driveway working with his tractor and a trailer full of gravel. He said, “Peach pie is my favorite.”
I reminded him, “Gene, you told me every kind of pie is your favorite.”
“Well, it is.” He said, “But peach is my favorite, favorite.” We shared a good laugh about that. I carried the pie up to the house where Lois took a plate from the cupboard. I gave them two big slices, then walked home.
Melissa and I enjoy sharing pie with friends and neighbors. It gives us a good feeling inside and it keeps us (me) from eating the whole thing! After dinner we each had a slice of pie, leaving the last two pieces for the next day.
I suppose it was around seven p.m., when I walked to the kitchen. Melissa quickly turned away. “Ah ha!” I said, “And just what are you eating?”
“Nothing.” She replied, acting suspiciously innocent, but I knew what it was and she knew that I knew that she knew it. She justified, “It was just a tiny bite.”
When she left the kitchen, I removed the foil from the pie pan. Her bite left a small divot in the side of one of the slices. “Look at that.” I said, shaking my head. I took a knife and fork from the silverware drawer, “I’ll have to even up that edge...” Mmm.
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We were on a mission to find a different pickup truck to pull our Scamp fifth wheel. We wanted a particular brand and model year truck, so it took a bit of looking. After a search spanning from southern Texas to northern Minnesota, we finally found one in the small town of Defiance, in northern Iowa. It wasn’t far from Omaha. The man we bought the truck from told us the highway we were on was the one Bob Seger sang about in the song, Turn the Page.
The first line of that song is: “On a long and lonesome highway east of Omaha, you can hear the engine moanin’ out his one note song…” I love the part where Bob sings about stopping at a café. It was in the early seventies – the hippie era. The locals would look at him; a stranger with long hair, then ask one another, “Is that a woman or a man?” I can relate to parts of that song – especially about being on the road.
The following week, I would take the truck to the Scamp factory to have a hitch installed. It’s a bit of a drive, but that's no problem. I like to drive and it's always a pleasure to visit the people at Scamp.
Rather than leaving at 4:30 in the morning, I hitched our 16' Scamp to the truck, then headed out around eight pm. I would arrive in Backus, Minnesota between 11:30 and midnight. Perfect! I would sleep in the Scamp, then already be in town to drop off the truck at eight-o-clock the next morning.
Arriving in Backus, I pulled into the local restaurant parking lot. There are always semi-trucks parked there, so I just nuzzled right in with them. I climbed into bed in the camper, fell asleep and slept like a baby all night.
If you've never been to Backus, Minnesota, it's worth the drive. It's a small town of just a few hundred friendly people. Some would say there's nothing to do in Backus...but then, some people can go to the Mall of America only to find themselves bored, with nothing to do. Personally, I like small towns.
About 5:30 in the morning, the little town begins to wake up. A semi started his engine, warmed up, then drove away. I laid in bed with the covers pulled up, counting as he shifted through the gears. I got to seven before he was far enough down the road that I could no longer hear him. I went back to sleep.
Just before 7a.m., I rolled out of my bed that was so cozy and comfortable I was reluctant to get up at all. After washing up and brushing my teeth, I challenged the cowlicks in my hair. I wetted my hands with water, then tried to smooth my hair, without success. The cowlick was strutting like a rooster on my head. I did the best I could trying to fix my hair, then went into the restaurant for breakfast.
The waitress greeted me with a smile and a very pleasant voice, "Good morning!" Each time she looked at me, she smiled even bigger. It was obvious she found me irresistibly handsome. I thought she was flirting with me. If she asked me out on a date, I would have to break her heart, wave my wedding ring finger and say, "Sorry, ma'am! I am spoken for!" Well, that's what I thought at first. Then it occurred to me, the rooster on my head was causing her smiles. Stupid cowlick!
I ordered the breakfast special: a ham and cheese omelet with a side of homemade wheat toast and a cup of coffee. The waitress walked by with a plate of sausage gravy and biscuits for another customer. I began second guessing my choice.
I thought about changing my order and I did. "Ma’am, could I add a half order of biscuits and gravy to go with my omelet?" I asked? "Sure thing." She said, as she kept walking in stride, looking back over her shoulder and smiling at me again.
Breakfast came and I ate...and ate...and ate. Partway into the biscuits and gravy, she stopped by the table, filled my coffee cup and asked, "Did you get enough to eat?"
I answered, "You should have stopped me at the omelet!"
"I'm not your mom." She replied, laughing, “If I was, I would have told you to fix your hair before leaving the house.” We shared a good laugh about that. I left her a nice tip since she humored me.
I arrived at the factory at eight-o-clock sharp. They got me right in, installed the hitch perfectly and had me out the door in far less time than I expected. Since I had extra time, I asked them to install a new kitchen faucet in the trailer. Perhaps with a new faucet, I could better wet down my head and control the cowlick in the future.
While they installed the new fixture, I stopped into the office. I wanted to toss my name in the hat to possibly deliver Scamps in the future. "Anywhere around the country would be fine with me." I told the man. He seemed distracted but still smiled as he said, “We have plenty of drivers right now.” He was smiling and yet giving me an odd look at the same time. Maybe I just caught him at a bad time. I gave him my contact information, then headed out the door.
Back in the driver's seat, I started the engine. I looked up to adjust my rearview mirror - although I don’t know why. The only thing I could see in the mirror was the front of my camper…and the hair standing straight up on my head. Good Lord! It looked like a plume on the headdress of a Las Vegas showgirl. No wonder he was distracted. I licked my fingers and tried to smooth it down with my hand as I drove off the lot, turning north on Highway 371.
I only got about seven miles up the road when I came into the next town and I saw the sign for Viddles and Joe. I don't know why, but this place always reminds me of my friend, Joe. Hackensack, Minnesota claims to be home of the Sasquatch. Most of the stores in town sell some sort of Sasquatch memorabilia and there are numerous life-size, metal cutouts of Sasquatches around the town. Joe is a fan of Sassy. I think he would like it here.
The café has good food - especially their pie. I thought about stopping but it was only 10:00 - way too early for lunch. I turned into their parking lot anyway. I could have coffee and write for a while.
Inside, I sat at the horseshoe-shaped counter, where I ordered a slice of blueberry pie and a cup of coffee. The waitress sported a big smile as she tried to talk me into ice cream. Pie a la mode sounded tempting, but I refrained. "Just the pie, please." She smiled again, then went to get the pie. I opened my iPad and started writing. She returned and smiled as she set the pie plate in front of me, asking if I needed anything else. I smiled back. “No. Just the pie, thank you.” She kept smiling as she walked away.
With each bite of the pie my tastebuds danced with delight. Each dance step was overshadowed by another thought: I should have stopped at the omelet. Whew! I was stuffed! I closed my tablet. It was time to get going.
When I paid my tab, the waitress gave me a big grin and wished me a nice day. I returned her salutations and was ready to go, but before leaving I stopped in the restroom to wash my hands. I looked in the mirror and saw my cowlick still standing up. “Oh my gosh! It’s still there. No wonder the waitress was smiling.” I cupped my hand, filling it with water, then leaned over the sink, dousing my hair in an attempt to tame the wild beast on my head. After repeating the process several times, I dried my hair with a paper towel. I managed to get the unruly hair to go from vertical, to laying downward but still sticking out from my head at a forty-five-degree angle. It looked like a wing window on a camper.
Unable to get my hair to cooperate, I walked through the restaurant as if it was supposed to be that way. I felt like everyone was looking at my goofy hair. I complained to myself, “I’ll bet no one laughs at a Sasquatch if he wakes up with bad hair.”
I thought about Bob Seger’s song again; how back in the early seventies he would walk into a small-town café as a stranger with his long hair and the locals would ask one another, “Is that a woman or a man?” I chuckled thinking, if anyone asked me what was up with my hair, I would look at them and say, “It’s a cowlick!” Then I remembered, Bob sang in his song, “… and you always seem outnumbered, you don’t dare make a stand…” I didn’t need to say anything, the people were all friendly, I was just a little self-conscious about my hair.
I got in my truck and pulled onto Highway 371, headed north. After pushing a couple buttons on the stereo in my truck, the lonely sounds of a solo saxophone came wailing through the speakers. Bob and I sang together: “On a long and lonesome highway east of Omaha, you can hear the engine moanin’ out his one note song…”