Mar 052017
 

This morning I ran across an Etsy watercolor print, My stash, explained, by Julia Mills of JMillsPaints, that chimed a true note with me—so true, in fact, that I purchased it.Do you crochet or knit? If you do, you know that yarn is a Space Gobbler. When guests visit, they can sit on the couch only if you sweep away your tools of the trade and balls of yarn into a bag or basket.

When it’s time to take your son’s girlfriend on a tour of the house for the first time, and he cheerfully announces that you should show her your yarn stash, you hope she is not crushed by the stacks of tubs.

Yarn can be expensive, so you never throw out the leftovers. Instead, balls of yarn reside in baskets, bags and maybe even a couple of plastic tubs.

On the positive side, you have the joy of knowing that you keep the Ziploc® company in business.

On the negative side, your house will never be on a Tour of Homes. On second thought, there is no negative side because there’s no pressure to keep your house tidy all the time. It’s simply not in the cards.

The admission that you crochet or knit is rather freeing because you no longer need to make excuses when . . .

  • you make 85 scarves from a combination of eyelash yarn and acrylic yarn long after the fad has passed, and then end up donating them because they won’t sell;
  • you say yes to your younger brother when he asks if you can use 52 pounds of doily-weight crochet cotton that he discovered at a yard sale;

  • you donate half a dozen grocery bags of baby fingering yarn to the senior community center because you don’t crochet baby blankets anymore;
  • you shop yarn sales at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michael’s, even if you have 21 tubs of skeins waiting for you in your basement;
  • you teach your husband how to crochet so that he joins you, not teases you, when you go yarn shopping;
  • your yarn habit leads to a button stash that is the envy of your sewing friends;
  • you’ll always have a gift ready because it’s just a ball of yarn away; and
  • you have a growing circle of friends because you’ll teach anyone who listens how to crochet or knit.

Enter my home at your own risk. You never know what you’ll take away.

© 2017 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Jan 082017
 

We visited my mother-in-law over New Year’s weekend in Rib Mountain, Wisconsin, where we celebrated her 84th birthday. If you’re unfamiliar with Rib Mountain, it is known for its ski slopes on Granite Peak (originally called Rib Mountain) and its ice fishing on Lake Wausau. We knew we had arrived in northern Wisconsin when we stopped for gas in Cadott, halfway between Rib Mountain and the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. Hanging from pegboards in the shop aisles were retractable ice picks for pulling yourself out of holes in the ice (should you fall in), as well as ice tip-ups (flags) that pop up to tell you when you’ve hooked a fish.

Located near Wausau about an hour away from the home of the Green Bay Packers in north central Wisconsin, Rib Mountain is a beautiful area studded with forests and lakes, hiking paths, and snowmobile trails. Winters are long and cold, so you learn to dress for the weather. When we arrived at John’s mother’s house, the wind chill factor was -17 degrees. Needless to say, the weather is always a topic of conversation in northern Wisconsin. Before we returned to Iowa, we pulled out our iPhones to check the weather app. Roads close during blizzards when there are whiteout conditions, or when the roads are completely ice-covered. Checking the forecast won’t change the weather, but it prevents you from getting stuck.

This photo of my mother-in-law and me was shot half a dozen years ago in December, up on Granite Peak in the town of Rib Mountain, Wisconsin.

Snow showers were forecast in the vicinity of Minneapolis, the edges of which we normally cross on our way home. To avoid the prospect of icy roads, we headed straight south on Interstate 39 from north central Wisconsin. This added about an hour to our usual seven-hour drive home, but we consoled ourselves with the thought that the road less traveled often yields unexpected surprises. That’s when we saw it—the unexpected, that is—in Windsor, Wisconsin as we stopped for gas. Across the street was a tiny building topped by a jaunty mouse.

That washed-out sky told us that either rain or show showers were behind us, further north.

Who could resist The Mousehouse Cheesehaus, especially in Wisconsin, the Land of Cheese, where Green Bay Packer fans are fondly referred to as Cheeseheads? Besides, it was dinnertime and we knew we’d find something tasty inside. While our orders for ham and chicken salad sandwiches were being filled, John and I browsed the aisles. In the cold case we discovered a Swiss & Almond Cheddar Cheese Spread. A second stop at the sausage tasting counter netted us a 1-1/2 pound log of Old Wisconsin Beef Summer Sausage. As we rounded the corner, a glass case with 23 different homemade fudges caught our eye. Buying four squares of fudge and getting two free ones was a no-brainer. It was tough to narrow down our choices to Chocolate Walnut, Rocky Road and Dark Chocolate Caramel Toffee, but we got the job done. If you’re diabetic, they even offer two types of fudge made with sucrose-free chocolate.

After we returned home, we visited the Web site for The Mousehouse, and discovered that it has garnered various awards. The Swiss & Almond Cheddar Cheese spread, for example, which uses a white cheddar base, earned 1st place in the 2011 U.S. Cheese Championship. The summer sausage logs are hand-tied and made in what is called the “old style Wisconsin tradition.” I’m not sure what that means, but I can tell you it tastes much better than my grocery store’s summer sausage!

The cheeses that you buy at The Mousehouse are purchased from 19 different cheese-making factories in Wisconsin, each with its own specialty. What makes these cheeses so special is that many of them are crafted by Wisconsin Master Cheesemakers, a distinction earned by only 51 cheesemaker artisans in the state. The title is earned by graduating from a three-year apprenticeship program administered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison by the Center for Dairy Research, whose standards are more rigorous than any other cheesemaker certification program in the nation. Veteran cheesemakers can enter the program only if they have a minimum of 10 years of cheese-making experience. Five of those years must be in the specialization of up to two different cheeses, which is the maximum number of cheeses in which an artisan can be certified each time he or she enters the three-year program. During that time, candidates take required courses in cheese technology, artisanship, grading and quality assurance. They select from a set of elective courses that include applied dairy chemistry, water and waste management, and whey and whey utilization. Finally, apprentice cheesemaker artisans submit samples of cheese for taste and consistency evaluations, and pass a final written exam.

The tradition of cheese-making in Wisconsin goes back more than 160 years, when Europeans first arrived in America and sought the best environmental conditions for crafting cheese. They found it in Wisconsin’s pastures and limestone-filtered waters, perfect for the cows whose milk begins the process of cheese-making. You can learn about The Art of Cheesemaking in the fascinating 12-minute-or-so video shown below, produced by the University of Wisconsin Extension Office.

Making unplanned stops when you travel definitely produces surprising discoveries. You can bet we’ll visit The Mousehouse in the future, either in person or online.

© 2017 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Dec 292016
 

The week the Christmas tree gets taken down always feels anticlimactic to me, especially after the excitement that precedes its decorating. Because our tree is decorated with both our own family’s ornaments and those of my late parents, each decoration marks a moment in time: our son’s birth, his earliest handmade ornaments, a favorite storybook character, family members’ hobbies, the first Christmas we visited our parents after being married, my father’s love of flying. It’s fun, too, to add new ornaments to the tree, especially when they are handmade, but also purchased ones that carry a special meaning.

Our own tree still stands in front of the living room window, and probably will stay up for another full week before we remove the ornaments and put the tree away. Where I work, however, the trees in the atrium are coming down every day this week. Yes, trees. Earlier this month, 10 groups of employees—mostly different departments—were represented in a Parade of Trees decorating competition that challenged employees’ creativity. Bottlebrush tree trophies were presented at the annual holiday party for the Most Unique Tree, Best Themed Tree, Best Traditional Tree and Best Overall Tree—and each one was special in its own way.

Although not officially part of the Parade of Trees, the corporate tree in the lounge near the main entrance of the building drew everyone’s eyes.

The atrium was lined with five trees on each side. You can see a Parade of Trees banner hanging from the walking bridge that crosses the atrium.

My department decided it would focus on a traditional-themed tree, so my contribution was handmade paper ornaments, some of which are shown below.

Although the awards have already been presented, at the end of this post you can vote for your favorite tree. Unofficially, I have nicknamed each one, so I hope that doesn’t sway your opinion one way or the other. Here we go!

Tree #1 – O Starry Night

Tree #2 – Naughty & Nice

Tree #3 – Protecting Livelihoods & Futures

Tree #4 – Cookies & Milk for Santa

Tree #5 – Surfin’ Santa

Tree #6 – Hot Toasty Fingers & Toes

Tree #7 – Better Homes & Gardens

Tree #8 – Football Fantasy

Tree #9 – True Heroes

Tree #10 – Santa’s Workshop

Let me know in the comments below what your favorite tree is.

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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