Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Legacy of Music...

You might wonder why in the world would I take a pic of the back of this man's head as the focal point? 

Well, actually the answer's quite simple as this man, Greg Balfany, will now have a place in the audience after 35 years of being on stage directing the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's Jazz Band. In fact, creating a Jazz band was his idea. 

Sunday afternoon's end of the year Jazz concert was dedicated to Balfany. About a dozen varied selections were played to highlight the year by both Jazz  Ensembles I and II.
                                                          Of course the 'real concert's highlight  solo was when the soon to be retiree was invited to play his saxophone in the selection aptly named "Beautiful Friendship." This won't be the last time Greg Balfany will be on stage,  just not in the same campus role.  After serving some 14 years total as chair this La Crosse native will continue other community musical endeavors since he has been the director of the ever growing popular Gertrude Salzer-Gordon Jazz in the Park series since 1980 and also director of the La Crosse Jazz Orchestra for 25 years.
Working his magic...

I along with thousands have certainly benefitted and enjoyed Greg Balfany's efforts and student concerts as he definitely leaves UW-L a great legacy of music... KUDOS to more than a job well done.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Power of ONE

This week has been declared Holocaust Memorial Week by President Obama.  In this southwestern part of Wisconsin there will be 3 official remembrances one at Fort McCoy, one at UW-L's Neuman Center and one at the Congregation  Sons of Abraham. The latter held their program of music, poetry and reflection this past Sunday .

Memorial Candles lit and stones placed lest we forget.

Each year the Congregation Sons of Abraham in La Crosse bestows recognition on Holocaust educators.  Last year's recipient, Sue Hessel, historian, gave a provoking reflection on the Actions by One.  The actions of just 'one' person make a difference.  Through writing personal histories Sue's interest in the Holocaust has become more prolific. She has completed 3 books for Wisconsin residents whose heroic WWII acts all mattered.  "Squirrel Is Alive:  A Teenager in the Belgian Resistance and French Underground" about Mary Rostad, who lived in Houston, Minnesota.  "Every Day in My Mind I Have This: A story of Survival," is about Dora Russek's experience. She  resides in Mequon, a Milwaukee suburb. "Denying the Deniers: A Soldiers Intersection with the Holocaust,"(book signing Thursday) about Stevens Point John Regnier, a Sargent who made a conscientious decision to be witness to the first U.S. liberation of a camp recognizing the importance of dispelling future allegations of its severity /very existence. 
( BTW all 3 books can be obtained through Amazon.)

Congregant members,  Maureen Freedland, daughter of Holocaust survivors, and husband Bob shared their efforts having established a Holocaust Education fund through the Public Schools. Not only do our educators now have grants to attend Holocaust workshops and order materials but monies have also been donated to have Holocaust curriculum in all the middle schools. 

Sonja Larson, Viterbo senior Vocal major and poet
Viterbo University senior Sonja Larson integrated her interest in the Holocaust and musical studies in investigating the positive effect of music during horrible situations. She recited her own Holocaust poetry on Sunday and will sing the music she wrote for these lyrics at the Neuman Center on State Street this Thursday at 7pm. 

The synagogue's program's musical renditions included a haunting melody by the Cowan trio of 2 harps and a bassoon and Busya Lugovier playing the moving Kaddish (mourners prayer) by M. Ravel on her viola.

This year's recipients of the Gregory P. Wegner Excellence in Holocaust Education Recognition were the cast and crew of Appleseed Community Theatre’s January 2014 multimedia production, "And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank" by James Still.  The Historical Director was Darryle Clott, a past recipient of the award.

Darryle's in orange

Not quite everyone could be present  but many made it to receive a personal plaque in addition to a leaf being adding to the Tree of Life on the synagogue's wall.

The award leaf plaques also serve as I-pod holders.

Each play participant enabled their audiences to be witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. Thank you all for your important  presentations and making a difference. The future seems brighter as a result of all these individual efforts... 

 Elie Wiesel said, "Thou shalt not stand idly by. " Zahor, we all need to remember the power of 1.

* Clip of Busya and Kaddish thanks to Jennifer

Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy Bookers...

L to R Sally, Susie, Monica, Mary, Connie, yours truly and Nancy (missing Violeta)
Wednesday was the perfect overcast English day for Book Club in the End of the Rainbow Valley as the discussion centered about our month's British book, "Life after Life" by Kate Atkinson. Besides analyzing characters there was a lot to discuss both historically and psychologically.  Fate, destiny, free will, parallel lives... Our group never is lacking in conversation even when we don't like a book yet this author's writing style gave us 'food for thought.' 

Food's always part of our gatherings and this particular evening everything served and its presentation was symbolic to the book. It certainly jumpstarted and guided our book conversation. Since the book took place mainly in England pre and during the Blitzkrieg, with hors d'oeuvres and dinner we imbibed in various wines as one of the characters had an extensive wine cellar. There was also 'tea time' with dessert. 

English fare lent itself to a Steak and Ale Pie and it was so different than what usually comes out of my kitchen, I thought I'd share since it's been a while since I posted a recipe. Like items grown in the book's country estate garden, this pie had veggies from the End of the Rainbow Valley garden too - potatoes, carrots, onion and parsley. We made our plates clean so I figured should share. As usual I have also noted my additions/changes.  

Steak 'n Ale Pie
The Original recipe below makes 1 - 9 inch pie  although recipe says for 8,
 I doubled the recipe using a very deep big pie dish and an add'l smaller pie pan. 

1 1/4 lbs cubed beef stew meat ( I used nicer cut )
1 onion, diced
1 (12 fluid oz) can pale ale or lager beer (I used Guiness)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t dried thyme
1 1/2 t chopped fresh parsley
2 T Worcestershire sauce ( I also threw in some hickory smoke flavor)
salt and pepper to taste
2 c peeled and cubed potatoes
1 1/2 c quartered fresh mushrooms
1 T all-purpose flour ( I used cornstarch)
1 pastry for double-crust pie (I used phyllo dough)

.                Place  beef stew meat, onion, and ale in large saucepan. Simmer over low heat until meat is tender, about 30 minutes.
.                Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
.                Season beef with garlic, thyme, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Mix in potatoes and mushrooms. Cover and simmer over medium heat until potatoes are just tender enough to pierce with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes. Whisk small amount of sauce together with flour in small bowl, and stir into beef. Simmer until slightly thickened.
.                Fit one pie crust into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch pie plate. Spoon the hot beef mixture into the crust and top with the remaining pie crust. Cut slits in the top crust to vent steam and crimp the edges to seal them together. ( I just topped with 8 olive oil sprayed sheets of phyllo, tucking it in around the perimeter and cutting slits to vent the steam.)
Bake in preheated oven until golden brown crust and gravy's bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes. 

Well if you don't opt to make the savory pie, then perhaps you'll just enjoy this different well written book and the challenge to reflect on all those parallel lives... ENJOY!

Friday, April 25, 2014

FOTO FRIDAY: Uninvited Guest

This week Romeo, our ever companionable dog, has been very busy. Yesterday I noticed some darker spots on the hillside  and Romeo standing guard near them. It was time to investigate...
Someone had been digging. Was it Romeo burying treasures/ finding them? As I approached the area Romeo moved as if to say, I'm done with my business and there lying near the farthest mound was a darker but furry blob.

Can you recognize this digger claw ?

The darker furry blob was this interesting looking fellow below.

If you guessed mole, you guessed correctly. These guys can destroy a lawn by using their digger claw paws creating tunnels
 so the good part is one : we really don't have a lawn and two we are less one mole. Send me a pic of some good/bad uninvited guest.

Jennifer's son can't resist picking these guys up.  Eegads! No matter how big they are, I tend to scream. Go figure.

Now compare how big these guys get in Georgia's humidity. Serious snake in Lori's friends raised garden beds.

But actually when I wrote this entry about uninvited guests I knew I would be one this Friday in Atlanta. Unbeknownst to daughter Lori she was chosen as Teacher of the Year. SURPRISE. Boyfriend Evan and I are her surprise guests. I follow behind him shielded by the flowers so she can't see me. We are truly unexpected.
Lori's reaction when she sees Evan

Now she sees me. It was a terrific surprise!

If you haven't seen last week's FOTO FRIDAY, click HERE

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Damsel/ Dragon Sex...

I am willing to bet most of you have not thought much about damsels /dragons. Am I right?  But I am not talking about medieval fire blowing dragons/ damsels in distress.

When friend Colleen asked if I would be interested in  a presentation at the Public Library about Damsels and Dragons I immediately replied, "Sure" since I assumed it was about Fairy Gardening to be honest. 

But what I was treated to was a very enthusiastic and informative talk by the local Audubon president, Dan Jackson, who not only is a bird aficionado but for the last five years has become a Damsel and Dragonfly expert due to his penchant for photography. OK, don't roll your eyes because the main emphasis of the talk was about SEX.  Uh huh, I knew that would get your attention. 
I had a lot to learn as I have just been an admirer of these flying species not only in our garden but also on canoe trips.

So before we get to the sex talk, do you know the difference between dragonflies and damselflies?  Well, I learned the dragonfly's front and back wings differ in shape and size, how they are held separately and open perpendicular compared to the damselfly's same size wings which are held together over their back (1 exception) As you might guess the dragonflies are more powerful fliers too.  Damselflies also have a more slender body and their eyes are more widely separated. 

We might not be able to boast about our employment rate/ much else any more in Wisconsin but we do have more species of these flies than our Minnesota neighbors. 

What's also interesting about these guys' life span is that most of their lives are spent in the nymph stage in water (anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 years) with very little time as adults.  They get to leave the water to be come an adult. Below's one emerging as an adult.

The thin wings will need time to air out and dry with hopes that the new adult won't be picked off by birds/ other dragonflies.

Below are the various stages of emergence.

Once emerged it's time to go feed and so the adult flies will go to dry land. These flies have a very powerful extender pair of jaws and they will even eat each other. I guess they live in a 'dragon eat dragon 'world.  One species of dragonfly can even take down a hummingbird. That's pretty dang strong.

If you plan on catching one of these guys, you had better have a net as you can't get closer than about 4 ft before they flit off. Then if you don't hold all their wings, you will get bitten, more of a pinch but startling and smart.

 Once fed and strong, it's time for their purpose which is to reproduce and that means yes, SEX. The adult fly will now return to the water looking for the opposite SEX.  In the back of the female's head there are grooves/ indentations onto which the male will grab. Then he will fertilize the eggs remaining attached / hovering while the females lays the fertilized eggs. He wants to 
prevent another male from flying in for his 'woman' and jeopardizing his  investment and prodigies. After depositing the eggs where the plant will end up in water, the female will go rest on dry land and can return up to 2x more to repeat the process with other males. She can lay up to 1000 eggs. Whew what a life! 
Called the  'Circle' (the ACT)

I bet the next time you see a damsel/ dragon you'll have a new appreciation and respect now for both. I know I do.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Morning After...

I know I've mentioned that our dog Romeo taps on our glass doors when he wants to come in but Sunday morning was different as I was awoken by more than a tapping, it was more like repetitive thuds. Over and over again. I got up and double checked all the doors and it wasn't the dog. He was lying on his bench on the patio.

Thud there it went again. I walked into the work room and there in front of me a robin kept flying into the same window pane. What a crazy bird!  I even tried turning on various lights, closing the door, all to no avail. The poor thing kept smacking into the window. If I got close to the window, he would just fly to another perching spot... Take a breather and go right back to body slamming the window.

I went to see if I could deter this misguided bird. I positioned myself in the garage to walk out and frighten him away from  the AC unit but he continued with the same pattern flying into the window. (He left a bit of mess on the unit.) Gee, I wonder how long he was there.

Then to my relief one of his friends flew up to convince him to fly away but he was back a couple minutes later.

There were no  bugs/webs with anything. I thought this guy is going to have a nice headache if he doesn't knock himself out first.

Of course when I tried to film, he had slowed down / wanted you to think that I made the whole thing up. 

Take a look now, remember you'll have to be patient...

I think he'd better take 2 Advil, he's not going to feel too well tomorrow here in the End of the Rainbow Valley...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Unknown Substance

Residue on track near Hixon Forest
 Due to Natureman's involvement in C.A.R.S (Citizens Acting for Rail Safety) this past Saturday late afternoon we received a call 
regarding a strong smell and unknown substance from the railroad tracks in a residential area in central La Crosse. According to the caller the residue was as far as the eye could see and it is... 

It's the kind of news we have been dreading as train traffic has increased 400% in the last 5 years due to transporting both frac sand and crude oil.  

Ironically, a question and answer meeting regarding train safety had been set to take place April 22nd this Tuesday for 7pm at Central High School for concerned area residents. None too soon regardless of this incident...

Since we happened to be heading downtown ourselves we decided to make a couple of stops en route as we follow the same route as the trains along the Mississippi. The first town rail crossing is five miles from us at Stoddard where we were relieved to not witness anything unusual but that was short lived...

since about five miles farther north at the Wild Refuge Observatory pullover, we didn't have the same luck.
Although not on every cross tie there were dark shiny stains.

A mile further where the tracks cross the entrance to Goose Island and where trains tend to wait for opposite trains to pass, the stones and ties were not so clean.  Take a look at this rock, Natureman had a tough time removing the residue from his fingers.

We made two more stops as we entered La Crosse and it was the same story but now we are talking about at least 10 miles of trail. 

Police in 2 counties were notified as was the Department of Natural Resources.  The incident is being investigated by Burlington Rail to determine what the spill is and its length... Hopefully the culpable train can be stopped before it travels the entire country. We can hope is it's not what we think it is, now that would be real good news. 

Perhaps more important for all of us is this 'wake up' call to understand the magnitude and impact of this particular train traffic. For right now to insist  Burlington Northern replaces old tankers with new safety oil tanker cars and for the City to instigate safety plans ASAP. Maybe whatever this is won't be just a 'dribble' next time... The last  dribble was an hour away and went for 70 miles.

It started raining on Sunday. Imagine pools of this stuff whatever it is entering the streams and the Mississippi. Not a pretty thought at all...

Friday, April 18, 2014

FOTO FRIDAY: Don't Be Such a Turkey

This FOTO FRIDAY is to remind us that there are always turkeys in our lives. And so it was yesterday a wild Tom decided it was his driveway and just stood his ground not letting me pass and head to town. Turkeys are not known for their intelligence and I guess he didn't really know a car could run him over/ maybe he just wanted his picture taken.

Finally he decided to walk up the hill with me creeping along behind him. I had time to spare and it's not every day you have an escort. Some days you need more patience than others.

When he eventually saw the neighbors greening grass he left the road.  Winked at me, bidding me farewell and to have a good day. What a turkey! 

Send me your pics of a turkey/s in your life.

Jennifer thought she was trading in coulee scenery when she and her family headed South for spring break. She sent her week's photo from vacationing where she informs us: "Turkeys in Orlando walk freely at the resorts and on the golf courses." 

Who knew they flew South for the winter and were "snowbirds?"

I guess they are smarter than I first thought.

 If you missed seeing the additions to last week's FOTO FRIDAY  click: Al Fresco

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The word NO , Creates Demand...

Have you ever noticed there's something psychological about knowing you can't have something because then you want it even more?  

So it is with the removal of bread, specifically the leavening agent, yeast,  at Passover time.  But there's always a way around everything, isn't there?  Ya know, where there's a will, there's a way.

AND... if you use enough eggs you can fake a 'risen' look. I have to admit I usually go through at least 5 dozen eggs cooking for the Passover week.  It does seem like cheating. Hey, those Passover Bagels baking in the oven tonight do smell pretty good. 

6 eggs for this double recipe... Can we say cholesterol?
I bet the double batch won't all be there by morning...  'Can't wait for  bagel halves schmeered with cream cheese and tuna fish  for lunch here in the End of the Rainbow Valley... Thank goodness the girls are keeping up their supply with the demand. They know they get really good chicken garbage at Holiday time.

NOTE: Film makers will definitely be jealous of this video clip and my special chicken talking voice. Do notice my excitement as  Southern accent reenters my Midwestern twang. Special. So special.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chad Gadya... An Only Kid Goat

At Passover time there's a lot of talk about goats. Those shepherds in the old days weren't just tending sheep, goats were a very common animal to own and they were used as sacrifices according to the Torah ( Old Testament).

 On the seder plate one of the symbolic foods is a shankbone (Z'roa), the only meat BTW on the seder plate. Today people tend to substitute a chicken neck/wing besides the traditional roasted lamb / goat Pesach sacrifice offered in the days of yore in the Temple in Jerusalem. It's a visual reminder and not eaten.

Since living in the End of the Rainbow Valley, this goat shankbone definitely has new meaning because those beautiful kids that were bred last spring tend to have a limited life span.  Last year there were 3 kids born, we lost one kid, Little Bit to natural causes. You may remember the story of me bottling feeding the tiny newborn only to lose her and her mother later on for overeating something that wasn't good for them. That was so sad. Anyhow, that leaves Mancha, a girl who was bred this December and Blanco, a male whose destiny is to  become hamburger, literally. 

It's time for a confession.  OK, it's difficult for this city girl to not become attached to this livestock that tend to be like pets with personalities.  Animals are here to serve a purpose on the homestead to either give milk/ breed/ be used for meat. It is with sadness I see that sacrificial bone sitting on the seder plate and know that when I return from visiting my folks in May for Mother's Day, Blanco won't be with her Mom Jacqueline and Mancha out in the pasture grazing... He will be in our freezer. Some days I don't feel very cut out to be a country girl...

Blanco's on the far right.
It's certainly a time I feel like becoming a vegetarian...

Here's the Passover song, dedicated to the goat in the English. At least it was the cat that ate the goat...
Chad Gadya, an only kid

* a day after this published Mancha miscarried... Sadly, there will be no new 'kids' this year.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Party's Over, It's time to Call it a Day...

I am always in awe how some people can get a Passover Seder dinner together in one day. For me it's hours and hours of prep for days beforehand and isn't it incredible like any Holiday meal, it's over in a couple hours?
The party's over...
Our Florida guest Penny and grand-children braved the crazy Wisconsin white landscape trek from an hour away to join us at our table. Snow had melted on our road albeit some nice ruts left by torrential rainfall pre snow. 

We sat down to an earlier than usual dinner as I was hoping to allow the littles to eat before they were passed the point of no return.  It's tough enough for adults to sit at the table so long.  
Natureman tried to get heavy on us reading about liberation and doing numerology looking for the numbers 4 and 10 and their relationship to 1.  Hey our commonality '1' was everybody wanted to get to the food.  Seriously. 

When it did come around to eating we did make a dent in the fixings.  As usual leftover containers refilled the shortly emptied fridge shelves and there was even brisket to be frozen. So I have a question for you cooks, if brisket is cut the wrong way, will it become any more tenderized if it's cooked longer?  Just checking. 

As we all know the important thing is sharing the Holidays and getting together to break 'Matzo'.  I had sent son Steven a 3 minute seder video so he could still partake and daughter Lori shared the evening with cousins in Atlanta.  We missed them and  the older grandchildren as they were on Spring Break with the other half of their family but maybe next year...  

It may not be next year in Jerusalem for us but perhaps we can aim for all of us in the End of the Rainbow Valley... 
From our Home to Yours,  Happy Passover!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sacrifices... Tis the Season

We feel pretty special having had a week of 60 degree temps helping melt all that remaining hillside snow  ... we won't mention the hail storms on Saturday and now 3-5 inches of predicted snow.

I have a lot of food awaiting company for the Seder so I sure hope they can make it out to the End of the Rainbow Valley... 

Even with his cold Natureman got out to work on the driveway to fill a huge rut caused by all these rain showers. He postponed chores as long as he could and then went to investigate the status of the road. He was going to need some sustenance in order to dig ditches to divert some of the water for the next downpour.  So, lunch came first, followed by playing his Scrabble games. Once he got out to the road he didn't have long at digging before the rains started again. Let's talk sacrificing his health...

This is all that's left.
Then with the temps dipping, it was time to light the fire to not only provide his preferred method of heating but actually to light up the night. Yep, we lost electricity. 

Wait, do you remember how that wood pile looked when we started the heating season? 

Last summer's wood pile

We've made  quite a dent in the supply of 7 cords. 

We are down to barely one left.

OK, back to the loss of electricity on our date night of TV in the middle of 'Midwives' and 'Mr. Selfridge.' Sacrifice again.

Fortunately, I hadn't waited for cleaning/cooking. I did set the table by candlelight. Then it dawned on me, what if we didn't have electricity to heat everything up? Oh yeah, the wood stove in the old house. The sacrifices we will make...

Oh, I forgot I needed one more egg boiled for the Seder plate. With the electricity came back on, I put a small pot of water on the stove with the egg and totally, yes, totally forgot about it.

I went to bed exhausted until I awoke panicked this morning remembering the egg to a truly roasted egg and pot. We are so lucky that I didn't burn down the house as that sacrifice might have been way too much.

The exhaust fan's on but I don't think I should open the doors, 
do you?

* I must add as I have used the word 'sacrifice' tongue- in -cheek in this entry, our hearts go out to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and  lost their lives yesterday in Kansas City to a 70 year old gun wielding man for no other reason than answering "yes" to his question of being Jewish. Some sacrifices are too big.

"May the time may not be distant dear Lord that hatred will cease and we may all live together in peace..."

Friday, April 11, 2014


This week's photo challenge: Al Fresco
Your interpretation as always... send on your pics.

After spotting this fellow having his morning meal in the pond by our End of the Rainbow Valley mailbox after his being away for the winter, I was reminded Spring gets us back outdoors even to eat...

So Natureman and I made it over  to our favorite Chaseburg restaurant, The Hideaway, last night. You've heard me  talk about its great back screened in porch before. It is so wonderful to be able to eat outside again.
Our flowers might not be up yet with a limited amount of 60 degree days so far and temps predicted to be back in the 40's again next week BUT one thing's for sure - 
I am one happy camper to be able to eat outside and not be bundled up in winter gear.

I'm not the only one either. I have dubbed friend Pam from Milwaukee the "Queen of Patio Dining." She makes it a personal challenge to eat Al Fresco as much as she can. This year she had to start in Illinois while visiting family since Wisconsin weather wasn't cooperating... Here's to good patio times !

Jennifer submits this  "A friend's cat who can't see his bowl (he had emergency surgery)." Poor Baby.

Colleen's al fresco is in Chicago with a selfie. I'm still looking for you Colleen!

To see last week's additional FEATHER submissions:
 click on GO FISH