It’s never too hot to bake cookies

Summers in Iowa are unpredictable. It can be 60 degrees in the morning, but  by the afternoon, could easily be 100. Not usually, but I’ve seen it happen.

Baking in the summer can be unbearable and a lot of people avoid it all-together. But not me. The heat doesn’t faze me a bit. But as a courtesy to others, I try to bake in the morning when it’s cool.

My ultimate chocolate chip cookies

I love to bake as much as I love to write. I was 8 when I started experimenting in the kitchen. Cream puffs and muffins were my specialty, though I could make a mean Rice Krispie Treat. My dad was the King of banana bread and strawberry rhubarb pie, but my mom held the title of Cookie Queen.

I watched them both as they measured, stirred and baked, gaining much-needed knowledge as to how long is too long to bake, never over stirring, and no, brown sugar is not a substitute for white sugar.

I took everything they taught me to heart, gaining a passion for baking to the delight of my family and friends,

I won the Gazette Best-Tasting Cookie Contest two years ago and second place last year, but I think my days of competing might be over. Other interests have taken precedence and I don’t have a lot of spare time.

Unless of course, someone asks me; then I would be more than happy to bake, even in the summer.

Nothing personal, it’s just business-Week 6

Every week I try to learn something new, and I usually end up learning way more than I bargained for. This week it’s all about learning the business side of running a newspaper, the financial aspect.

Feb. 29, 2012-only 8 short months away! (image from morethanjustamother.com)
While tweaking my business plan to submit to local lenders, I learned that, “it looks great on paper, but let’s be realistic…” How do I know that what I have down on paper will really go the way I want it to? While posing this question to my accountant, he reminded me that we don’t really know, but we have to have faith that it will, in fact,  go in that direction.

I keep reminding myself that the entrepeneur class I’m taking in the fall with take away some of that anxiety, but let’s face it; there will always be that fear that things won’t go as I plan, no matter what it says on paper. But at least having everything in black and white can ease some of the stress.

Do I have a handle on things? Am I doing what I’m supposed to? Are things going as they should? Is February really only eight months away?

I do, I am, they are, and it is.

My website is attracting a few readers, I am learning more about the community every day, and I am gathering my information in anticipation of meeting potential advertisers. I am editing my business plan, learning how to use Quick Books, and writing, writing writing. Am I missing anything?

Oh yes. I am having the time of my life!

How many people can say they get to do what they love? Even if things don’t go as planned, I’ll still be able to say it was worth it.

A “fair-ly” great start to the summer

Summer in Iowa; the start of backyard BBQs, trips to the local beaches, corn that should be “Knee-high by the 4th of July,” and of course, the many, many small-town festivals and carnivals.

Corn dogs, funnel cakes and popcorn; all the good things carnivals are made of!

No summer is complete without the barking of the carnies, the gooey sweetness of cotton candy, the tantalizing aroma of popcorn, the mouth-watering temptation of steak on a stick, or the ever-impressive wonderment of a fried Milky Way.

Not a weekend goes by that there isn’t some kind of celebration going on in Iowa.  While searching for local activities near Cedar Rapids, I came upon a calendar full of fun things.

Art festivals, car shows, 4th of July celebrations, and music festivals are among the choices that Iowans can partake in this summer. From the looks of it, a whole summer of weekends can easily be filled just by traveling around the state and taking in the different celebrations.

(For more information about  what’s going on around Iowa, check the Fairs and Fun website)

Lisbon, which sits next to Mt. Vernon 30 minutes east of Cedar Rapids, will be celebrating its 102nd Sauerkraut Days Aug. 10. Hiawatha, which sits on the edge of Cedar Rapids,  just celebrated its annual festival though the efforts of the local Lions Club, Hog Wild Days. St. Ludmillas in Cedar Rapids, home to delicious and savory homemade kolaches, has been holding their festival since 1930. The Great Jones County Fair, known for their musical talent and attractions, will be held in Monticello July 20-24 and will include shows by Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean and Seether.

Here in Cedar Rapids, the Freedom Festival is in full swing. The festivities began a week ago with activities at Kirkwood Community College and will continue until the fireworks finale on the Fourth. Between now and then there will be lots of things to do around town, including ski shows at Ellis Park, concerts in the park, a parade through downtown on the 25th, Usher’s Ferry western weekend also on the 25th, and lots more activities downtown on the Fourth of July. (To see more, visit their website)

The Iowa State Fair, a 10-day event, will be held in Des Moines Aug. 10-21. The ultimate Iowa  fair, the fair among fairs, this celebration includes such attractions such as Janet Jackson, the Battle of the Butter and lots and lots of agricultural competitions. (http://www.iowastatefair.org/)

Growing up in Iowa, I couldn’t wait until the now-defunct All Iowa Fair came to town. My mom would give us $10 and we’d take the bus to Hawkeye Downs, then the outskirts of town, and spend the entire day walking around, seeing the attractions, and saving our money for the best rides. The fair would last a week and end with one big night of fireworks. We’d pack into our family station wagon and drive out to watch them, signaling the end of what I considered to be the highlight of my summer.

I’d like to say that I still get that thrill when I step onto the fairgrounds, amidst the crowds and noise, but I don’t. The traffic, the crowds, the incessant heat; these are all things that I try to avoid in my old age. However, I do enjoy it once in a while, if just to relive that magic of my childhood. Once a year is just about right.

I recently attended Hiawatha’s annual celebration and was intigued by their advertisement for fried Oreos, Twinkies, and Milky Ways. Being a huge fan of Milky Ways, I dismissed the gruesome thought of how much grease was used to fry it, and inquired as to how they were made.

“We’re out,” said the attendant, even before I had a chance to ask.

Disappointed, but still curious as to how they’re made, I pushed the issue, noticing the impatience in his voice.

“We make ’em with the funnel cake batter and put a stick through it, and just stick ’em in the grease,” he said.

He said the magic word; funnel cake. And funnel cakes and Milky Way together would just be Heaven on Earth.

I like the idea of fairs. They take me back to what summers really meant when I was a kid; no school, no work, no worries. We didn’t have computers, cable, video games or cell phones; just our imaginination…and fairs.

Loverboy and Arch Allies turn back time

I loved being 17. I spent that summer going to rock concerts around Iowa, hanging out at the park and spending time with my friends.

Loverboy

As I’ve matured, I sometimes wished I could return to the age, if only for one day. The memories of my last summer before the reality of life set in (marriage, kids and a job) made me long for that freedom once more.

Last night I got my wish, sort of. For five hours I was 17 again, no cares, no worries, and had more fun than I’d had in a really long time.

Arriving an hour and a half early to the ‘80s Classic Rock concert at Kirkwood Community College (part of the Freedom Festival in Cedar Rapids), my friends and I sat in almost-front row seats to the ‘80s rock group, Loverboy, and the almost-as-awesome warm-up band, Arch Allies. In this case, “almost” was just as good as the real thing.

Both bands encouraged audience participation, though the guitar player from Arch Allies greeted the crowd with, “How you doing Cedar Falls?” There were a few in the audience who took offense, but he quickly apologized and explained that they played there last night.

All was forgiven when they belted out songs by Styx, REO and Journey. The lead singer, who was from Buenos Aires, Argentina, donned various wigs and costumes that were eerily similar to lead singers of respective groups, but it was his likeness to Steve Perry of Journey, in both image and voice, that stole the show.

Arch Allies

After a short intermission, Loverboy took the stage and immediately began playing the hits they’re known for. “Working for the Weekend” and “Turn Me Loose” were my personal favorites, though many in the audience cheered and danced to other favorites.

After the last song, the band exited the stage, saying they had to go, but with a little encouragement, came back onstage to play a new tune, “I Should have Known a Little Bit Better.”

It was a great night and ended with a spectacular fireworks show. Though my throat was a little sore from yelling (something that came back instinctively, like riding a bike) I left feeling as though I’d been given a great gift; the chance to be 17 again.

awesome fireworks!

Week 5-Where does the time go?

It’s been a busy week, but then, they have all been busy lately.

iMovie 2011-Apple.com

My video lessons are going well; playing with all the iMovie bells and whistles has opened a whole new world for me. If someone would have told me few years ago that I would be shooting and editing my own video, I probably would have laughed at them.

I took a video production class at Kirkwood and had a tough time trying to figure it out. I told myself I probably didn’t need to know anyway, since I was going into print journalism. I had no intention of ever becoming a video geek or get in front of a camera, so it didn’t make sense to worry too much about it.

But it’s apparent that the spectrum of journalism is broadening. Not only do I need to know how to write well, but if I want to keep up with the times, I will have to become multi-media. That means video, websites and social media, whatever it takes to reach those people who have shied away from print news. I know that’s what my professor was thinking when he introduced our class to video and websites this past year.

I was hesitant to learn video because I didn’t understand it; websites, too, for that matter. Now I see that they’re important parts of the success of my newspaper, and there is no way to get around it.  I actually enjoy making videos and working on my website. Who would have thought?

This is a busy weekend for me. It is the highlight of Hiawatha’s social calendar, Hog Wild Days, and I really wanted to be able to post pictures, stories and videos before it’s all done.  Now if I could just learn to manage my time. I’d better get used to it.

Weiner not a winner

The pressure must have gotten to Anthony Weiner.

And why shouldn’t it? If a regular person had sent half-nude pictures of themselves via cell phone, no one would probably even care. But this man is a United States congressman. It makes it an issue for the entire country.

It’s no secret that the behavior of our state representatives has declined in recent years, (or maybe we just didn’t know about it before). The fact that the majority of the country agreed that this act was wrong says something about our values; that it is inappropriate and unacceptable behavior for those who run our country.

Whew. I was beginning to worry a little about that lately. The report last year about the partying that took place at a National convention made me wonder what kind of people run our country.

Well, I’m still not 100 percent sure, but knowing that so many agree with me on this one, helps put it back into perspective.

There are still a few who think that we were way too harsh on the poor schmuck (especially with a name like Weiner-can you imagine his childhood?). Maybe the psychologist on Good Morning America was right when she said that he could suffer from low self-esteem and was looking for ways to raise his confidence.

OK, I can understand that, but why not buy a new suit or get a cool haircut? Get a hobby or do something really cool for humanity. And I do get that male ego. They need to be reaffirmed that they are manly. That’s perfectly fine. Unfortunately, some people just don’t think before they act and get themselves in a whole bunch of trouble they didn’t anticipate.

Poor Weiner. I do feel a little sorry for him. Maybe he should change his name.

In full bloom

I have stated before that I’ve never had a green thumb. I have tried my hand at raising gardens many time during my lifetime and it’s apparent that I just don’t have the knack to keep anything alive.

Day Lilies, I think

I’ve planted tomatoes only to have them sputter and croak before their tiny blossoms had a chance to burst. My onions grew a little, only to have their growth stunted by a sudden lack of water (what can I say? It was a very dry season). I planted cucumbers and radishes and even corn, but nothing ever produced from the fruits of my labor.

Flowers are no different. I watched my grandmother and mother spend hours planting and replanting flowers every spring, weeding in the hot sun, and thought to myself, is it worth it?

The one time I tried to raise  flower garden, it failed miserably, with only a few stems popping up, but they quickly withered away. I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t have the green thumb my grandmother did and found it a good excuse not to have to even attempt it. Until now.

This year (maybe it’s old age settling in) I have worked more in the yard than I ever have before. I find serenity in raking and weeding, something I once saw as the worst possible punishment. And I also took the chance planted flowers. I’m happy to say that my hostas are coming along nicely, and even bragged about it, until someone told me that anyone can grow hostas (my ego thanks you) and that they’re more of a filler. Which is fine. I love green.

They will be daisies someday

I also planted flowers from seeds, lots of them. I babied them, watered them, even talked to them,but only 3-4 little plants survived. But they survived. A miracle. I transplanted them into a cute little planter and will do what I have to to see that they bloom. Or not. It’s totally their call.

My petunias are not doing so well, but I blame the heavy rain and location of the planting, next to an eaveless garage. Not so smart on my part, but I will know better next year. Someone suggested I plant perennials, tulips maybe, my favorite. Not a bad idea.Here are a few pictures of flowers I found growing around my mom’s and at my boyfriend’s house.

Whoever said “We all need to stop and smell the roses,” knew what they were talking about.

Very pretty, but can't remember what they're called
Iris
Daffodils
Roses

Migraine sufferers closer to getting relief

As a migraine sufferer, I know what it’s like to lie in bed and pray that the throbbing pain in your head would subside and that every little noise, every ray of light wasn’t so excruciating.

Photo from psypost.com

But I’m lucky; I’ve been diagnosed with cluster migraines, but my migraines can be controlled with over-the-counter medicine. My brother, niece and sister have headaches so severe that they have to inject themselves with Imatrx, a potent migraine pain killer. They end up going to bed for hours, even a day, and wait for the pain to stop.

A June 12 article on Yahoo Health, entitled, “Scientists find genes linked to migraines,”  told about a study done on men and women with migraines and noticed that certain genes might be responsible for migraines. It said that those who suffer from migraines have a neurological condition that involves their neurons ‘speaking” to each other differently than those who don’t have migraines.

The article also said that women suffer with migraines 3-4 times more often than men.  Specific genes, they concluded, are responsible for migraines. Though it’s not a cure, they seem to be on the right path to finding out exactly what migraines are and how they can alleviate the suffering for so many.

Not so long ago, migraine sufferers didn’t have the resources to relieve their headaches.  They had to rely on aspirin to try to take their pain away. But today doctors know more about migraines as they used to. They now know that the flashes of light, the ringing of the ears, and the sensitivity to light and sound are indicators of a migraine coming on, and can usually be “headed off at the pass.”

Through years of suffering myself, I have come to terms with my headaches and have devised a plan on how to deal with them, which I think is different for everyone. I have tried extra doses of riboflavin, suggested by my doctor. I’ve taken Paxil (an anti-depressant)  which I didn’t like. I have tried Imatrex, which is usually great for migraine sufferers but didn’t help me much. I have tried Tylenol and Advil. But what has helped me the most is a combination of ibuprofen, Excedrin Migraine and Sudafed. I’m not sure why it works for me,  I just know it does, and when I get a migraine, I just want the pain to stop.

I refuse to let migraines run my life, but there are days when all I can do is lay down and hope it will go away. However, it sounds as though researchers are getting closer to figuring out what causes migraines. And when they do, it will finally ease the suffering of millions of people.

Learning as I go-week 4

I started college almost 4 years ago knowing that it would be a challenge. Not because I wasn’t very smart, but because it had been a long time since I’d had to study, do homework or take tests. I knew that I had the brains, but did I have the drive and motivation to keep going?

I had been to college before when my kids were little. I had tried my hand as an executive secretary, which I found out later was just another word for slave; I went to school to become a veterinarian assistant, but the first time they euthanized a dog in class and pulled out his brain, I was done. I also went to school to become an elementary education teacher but I got sick and had to quit.

But this time was different. I had thought long and hard about what it is I wanted to do the rest of my life. I loved to write, but was I good enough? Did I have what it takes to be persistent, to get the story and then turn around and write it in half an hour? I wasn’t sure, but I knew I wanted to try.

School wasn’t as bad as i thought it would be. I found out that I really enjoyed learning about different things that I hadn’t known before. It was kind of tough at times, but not having to take care of kids freed my time to concentrate more on my homework. (I applaud those parents who can go to school while raising kids–it’s extremely difficult!)

So I found my niche. My time in college taught me a lot about myself, things I hadn’t known before; I was too busy taking care of other people to even think about who I was. I learned that I loved being a writer, an editor, and even deadlines.

I also learned that I learn as I go. Trying to learn from a book is extremely excruciating for me and I learn better hands-on. Give me a computer and I can mess around with it until I find out how it works. Give me five chapters to read about how to do it, and you’ve lost me.

There was a time when that frightened me. Being thrown into something I have never done before is a scary thought but I have found that that is how I learn best. Throw me in and let me learn on how to swim on my own. Fortunately, I have people around me in case I do flounder, but I know this is the way I have to do it.

Week Four of the Hiawatha Advocate has gone well.  I’ve written a few stories and decided to use WordPress (hiawathaadvocate) as an addition to my website and personal blog. I produced my first video, and even though it was not the best, it also wasn’t the worst. I am confident that I will get better as time goes on.

So I’m learning as I go, what works, what doesn’t. My website is starting to look like an actual news publication. I know it will keep changing until I come up with something I really like and really works.

I’m also getting out and meeting people in the community, handing out my business cards and learning more about the community.  Tomorrow I’m going to a children’s concert at the Hiawatha library and I’m actually excited about it;  a great story and a great photo opportunity! Oh yeah, I’m sure the music will be good too.

The answer to the ultimate question is … 42

The movie, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” strikes me as extremely funny. It uses humor to explain some of the most sought-after questions of the Universe, the answers to questions we wouldn’t consider to be very important, questions such as, “Did you bring your towel?”

courtesy of Google Images

The recent failed doomsday prediction may have reminded us that, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” but it also once again raised the proverbial question, “Is there something greater than ourselves?”

My boyfriend, a very quiet, but intelligent man, explained to me that people let their emotions control them, and he knows there is a greater power out there through reasoning and logic.

A nuclear engineer by trade, (if you remember, he taught me about nuclear fusion over coffee) Jeff relies on numbers and calculations to explain everything, including life. I love to listen to his explanations of those things that I have accepted just as Is. Listening to him explain them in terms I can understand helps me to see that there really are logical explanations for everything, including God and life, in general.

He told me that life is unnatural. There is something making order out of chaos. Life is constantly breaking down. But there is something, some kind of energy that is keeping it all together. Nothing is random, we didn’t just happen, he said. Something is keeping order in the Universe.

I was brought up to believe that God was a vengeful entity, who punished us for being bad. But as I have taken a journey to find out the meaning of life for myself, I have come to believe that no one really knows anything about what or who God is.  But my faith in Something Greater comes from someplace deep within my being, from my soul-I just feel that it is so.

I wasn’t too worried about the doomsday prediction because if the Bible is right, no one will know the exact time that God will follow through with his plan. If he chooses to, that is. After all,  He can do anything he want. He’s God.

Everyone has their own beliefs, their own opinions, and everyone is always trying to get others to see things the way they see them. I think everyone has the right to their own beliefs, and really, what works for them. But I believe that we should all believe in something. What is life if we don’t have purpose?

courtesy of Google Images

Without giving too much of the movie away, (see it if you haven’t) it just goes to show that we really don’t know the answer to the ultimate question, and those who say they do, really don’t.

There are two givens in life; we are born and we die. The cycle of life. What we do in between is up to us. The secrets of the Universe have been eluding the most intelligent people of the world forever. People who say they have it all figured out are usually the ones who know the least.

However, I believe that people like the Doomsday Prophet are sent to remind us that we can’t dismiss any of the unanswered questions of the Universe, just because we don’t understand. Who knows? Maybe the answers are far too complex for the mere mortal to understand and none of us will understand it until we do, whenever and wherever that may be.

So for the time being, all we can do is ponder the questions and come to our own conclusions. After all, according to Plato, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

Maybe that’s really all we’re supposed to do while we’re here; strive to be better than we were before and just enjoy life while we’re here.

And if there comes a day when we are all surprised by circumstances beyond our control, we may want to hitch a ride with the dolphins and echo their sentiments, stated so eloquently in the Hitchiker’s Guide, “So long, and thanks for the fish.”