Aug 162015

Earlier this evening, John and I returned from a quick-but-memorable trip to Wisconsin for a summer reunion with some high school friends. Last summer I reunited with these same friends after 40 years of absence, met their significant others, and got acquainted with a couple of family dogs. You can read my post about that get-together in Reuniting 40 years later if you missed it previously. We vowed at that time to “do it again,” and one of the women, Bev, volunteered to host the 2015 gathering at her country home in Burlington, located in south central Wisconsin.

Five Friends

Left to right (circa 1974): Bev, Deb, Judy, Linda, Pat

We packed our bags and headed east on Interstate 80 after work Friday evening, and arrived at the hotel in East Troy about 12:45 a.m. Not even 12 hours later, we were on our way to the home of Bev and Bryan. “This year we’ll be surrounded by corn,” pointed out Bev in her invitation. Because she knew the house would not be visible from the road, she tied balloons to a sign, pointing everyone in the right direction.

Balloon markers

Bev and Bryan’s 21-acre property is surrounded by cornstalks, with corn bordering the curving driveway on both sides. The feed corn is grown by her nephew, reducing the size of the lawn that is still large enough to require the use of a riding lawn mower. A combination of trees and cornstalks also provide enormous privacy in the back yard. The grass is actually much greener than the photo shows. I had some difficulties photographing the yard in the bright sunlight and probably should have waited until later in the afternoon.

Back yard

We were amazed to see sandpiper cranes feeding in the shaded part of Bev and Bryan’s back yard.

Sandpiper cranes

I was standing inside the house when I snapped this picture, so it isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be. I suspect, however, that if I had taken it while I was outside, the cranes would have flown off in a big hurry!

Bev prepared a feast for all 10 of us, while Bryan grilled up a storm of hamburgers and hot dogs.

Bev prepares a feast

After a delicious lunch and dessert, great conversation and much laughter, we gathered in the living room to take photos. We started off traditionally, splitting up into girl-and-boy groups, just as we did in grade school.

Five Friends in 2015

Left to right: Linda, Judy, Deb, Pat, Bev

Five Men Behind a Couch

Left to right: Jeff, John, Jeff and Nicky (dog), Bryan, Mike

But then things got a little bit out of hand. Our only excuse is that we ate too many sugary foods. Even Deb and Jeff’s dog got into the act, donning a pair of sunglasses with a little help from Jeff.

The Five After Too Much Sugar

Here we are again after ingesting too much sugar. Left to right: Linda, Judy, Pat, Deb, Bev.

Five Men After Too Much Sugar

Left to right: Bryan, Jeff, John, Jeff and Nicky (the dog), Mike

It was sunset before our gathering broke up, with three couples heading back to their homes in the Milwaukee area, one couple driving back to Illinois, and John and I driving back to our hotel in East Troy. Before we left, Bev presented each high school friend with some monogrammed note cards and a handmade bracelet. I thought both were a gracious touch, but also that we should have presented Bev with a gift, not the other way around!


As we said our farewells to Bev and Bryan, she provided us with a recommendation for breakfast the next morning at a cafe called Simple, located in Lake Geneva. This turned out to be a wonderful suggestion. John and I ordered a delicious garden omelet made with egg whites, mushrooms, fresh spinach, gruyère cheese, roasted tomatoes and sweet red peppers.

Breakfast at Simple Cafe in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

All around, our quick trip to Wisconsin and back this weekend was worth repeating. I hope all 10 of us, as well as one other friend and her husband who were unable to join us this year, will get together again next year. Neither John nor I have ever attended an official high school or college reunion, but a small gathering with some close friends is the perfect way to celebrate old memories and make new ones.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Jun 252015

Summer in Iowa is a see-saw of rising heat and humidity, counter-balanced by thunderstorms that pour all of that moisture into the ground and cool the air before the cycle begins again. This past month, however, there has been more rain than feels usual—and the temperatures have been striking 90 degrees more often than I would expect. June, in other words, feels more like July and August. There has been so much rain, in fact, that many of the creeks are overflowing and flash flood warnings have been extended. We drove past a loop of the Walnut Creek this evening, and discovered a church parking lot next to the creek, filled with water.

Church Parking Lot

We checked out the same creek where it flows past our hair stylist’s building, and noted the creek is filled all the way to the edge of the banks.

Walnut Creek

And behind our house, where there is a woodsy walking path parallel to North Walnut Creek, the grass is swept flat in the direction of the lower-lying homes on the other side of the creek. Tree debris and logs are pushed back into the woods.

North Walnut Creek Tree Debris

A few years ago at this time of year, the bridge leading to our walking path washed out because of heavy rains. It was rebuilt, but you can see how full of silt the muddy-colored water is.

North Walnut Creek Bridge

When we went on vacation in northeastern Iowa earlier this month, we came home to a damp basement with some water in the carpeted area of our home office. Apparently there had been a power outage that lasted just long enough for our sump pump to turn off (it needs electricity to work, of course), and that allowed ground water to seep through the tiles beneath the house to soak the carpet. But it could have been worse. We used a wet-dry vacuum to remove as much water as we could, and ran a utility fan to dry out the carpet. John will shampoo the rug soon, and we should be good until the next sump pump crisis.

To combat the ever-present summer dampness in the basement, our dehumidifier is working full-time to remove moisture from the air. Every day, we dump the tank that pulls about a gallon of water from the air. Too bad I can’t send dehumidifier water to parched California these days!


But all of this is normal in Iowa, overall. People share similar stories about water in their basement every summer, and we all know that Fleur Drive in Des Moines experiences flooding every year. We don’t enjoy the water issues, but it’s a fact of life. We deal with it  and move forward. It’s life in Iowa, after all, and life goes on.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Aug 282014

This is the fourth and final post about the 2014 Iowa State Fair, but this one wouldn’t have been written at all if John and I had followed our original intentions, which were to take in the sights, sounds and tastes at the fair, but not to go shopping. Well, you know that old phrase about the “best laid plans of mice and men?” Our plans evaporated when we entered the Walnut Center Crafts building because that’s where you’ll find many of the handmade products that are for sale. And we handcrafters have to stick together, you know. We support each other not only with words of admiration, but also with our wallets. So, here we go with a show-and-tell!

What captured our eyes immediately was a display of hand-hammered plates made from recycled aluminum by American Forging, a company owned by Dan and Nick Davenport, with locations in Des Moines, Iowa and Millington, Michigan. Their process involves hand engraving a design in reverse into a block of steel with a hammer and chisel, then placing the recycled aluminum onto the block and forcing the metal into the engraving. This creates a “forward image.” The piece is then cut to size, edged and colored, and polished. This process is actually based on an art form called repoussé, a French word related to the Latin verb pulsare, which means to push up, and describes exactly what happens when you hammer a design from the back into a piece of metal. The process takes advantage of the elasticity of metal. Because we have a nautical theme in our guest bathroom, we thought the plate below would fit in nicely.

DSCN8348John fell in love with a carved wooden hedgehog made by Jan Dwyer of Bridgewater, Iowa. Jan and her husband, Dean, have been carving from catalpa wood for more than 30 years. The wood itself comes from catalpa trees that need to be cut down for one reason or another.  Catalpa wood is apparently very soft, and when it is dried, the bark shrinks with the wood and doesn’t come off. The Dwyers work with the bark side of the wood, with Jan drawing the designs and Dean cutting them out with a band saw. Jan then does final shaping with a palm sander, spindle sander and Dremel tools. The wood is stained to bring out its beautiful grain, and then finish coats are applied. Melissa of Mulberry Creek blogs in more detail about the Dwyers in her post, Jan Dwyer Collectibles, so please visit her post to learn more about this crafting couple. The Dwyers do not have a Web site, but you can e-mail Jan at, or call her at 641-369-2791.


We have been buying pottery pieces for a number of years from Connie Braunschweig of Alta, Iowa, who has been running Braunschweig Pottery since the 1980s. Her work is distinctive in that her inspiration from nature is always evident. You’ll often see, for example, leaf-shaped dishes, or leaf-inscribed trays. And her work is just as clean on the back as it is on the front; you don’t have to worry about the bottoms of her pieces scratching the surface on which they rest. Connie’s decorative-but-functional pottery is hand-built from rolled-out clay slabs, and she uses leaves and grasses for texturing. The photos below show not only the wall vase and leaf tray (which I am using as a spoon rest) that we purchased this year, but also a cracker tray we bought previously. You can wash Connie’s lead-free pottery by hand or in the dishwasher, and you can heat it up in the oven. You can bet we will be purchasing future pieces!

Connie Braunschweig

Our final purchase at the Iowa State Fair was found not at the Walnut Center, but instead in the Varied Industries Building at the Kalona tourism booth. If you’re unfamiliar with Kalona, it is a charming rural community located in eastern Iowa. Known for its rich quilting history, the Amish, cheese curds, and the Kalona Historical Village, the town offers visitors numerous ways to take a trip back in time and learn about life in the mid 1800s. This is one of those places John and I have been wishing to visit during the entire time we’ve lived in Iowa, and this fall may prove to be the time when we finally do so. At the state fair booth, however, we supported Kalona’s tourist industry by purchasing some caramel corn for John, some beverage coasters we can use when we do our annual cabin retreat at Backbone State Park in northeastern Iowa, and a wooden bookmark for me. The bookmark is handcrafted from an assortment of laminated hardwoods by JK Creative Wood in Kalona, and reminds me of a quilted border pattern. “JK” stands for Joel Brokaw and his wife, Karma, master craftsman and design artist, respectively, who own the six-generation family business. The kiln-dried wood that goes into their products uses woods I have never heard of, plus others that are familiar: cherry, maple, walnut, elm, mahogany, cedar, purpleheart (South America), padauk (Africa), jatoba (South America), ziricote (Central America), chakte coc (Central America), and wenge (Africa). The wood is never stained, so what you see is what you are truly getting. If you want to see what these woods look like, a great visual resource is the World Timber Corporation Web site. Or, you can visit the JK Creative Wood page on Facebook to see some of their products.


One of the wonderful things about any state fair you attend is that you grow your appreciation for all that your state has to offer. Wherever you live, I hope you take advantage of your local, county or state fair’s offerings.

© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.