A Fantastic Friday Iowa Who

The politicians & media moguls wasted no time leaving our state after the Iowa caucuses. I'm feeling like a homecoming queen the day after graduation.Only one Gravel Road post cuts the mustard for the Fantastic Friday after the Iowa Caucuses. Here it is, as timely and true as it was eight years ago when it made it’s debut appearance on this blog.

Iowa Who?

I feel like a high school homecoming queen the day after graduation. Washed up, dated and insignificant. It’s like I don’t matter anymore. Don’t get me wrong. I was never a homecoming queen. But today, the morning after the Iowa caucuses, I have a great deal of empathy for all of them.

For the last couple of months, the citizens of our state were popular. Our phones rang nonstop. Everyone wanted our opinions on everything. Famous people called us daily – former presidents, senators, congressmen, family and friends of the wannabe movers and shakers of our country. Our mailboxes were stuffed with glossy flyers and Christmas cards from total strangers.  Radio talk show hosts begged us to call in. Our state, not Idaho or Ohio but IOWA, was mentioned on the national news every night for weeks. Even out here on our icy gravel road, a few potential suitors braved tromped through the snow and rang my doorbell. We were important. We really mattered. The nation worshipped at the feet of little old Iowa.

Today I’ve gotten one phone call. It was my Minnesota sister. “Iowa who?” she kept saying. “Iowa who? I hear New Hampshire is the place to be.” She gets so miffed when I get all the attention. But she made a valid point.

Though my state’s present tumble from the national throne has thrown me into the depths of despair, I’m reaching out to the people of New Hampshire. They need to know that popularity is fleeting in our political system.  It’s pretty heady stuff for innocent country folk. It can kinda turn heads, all the attention from important people with their fancy hair, great dental work and tailored suits with matching shoes.

Don’t fall for it, New Hampshire. No matter how pretty the candidates are, don’t dispense your political favors to every John, Mike or Hilary who sashays through the state. Come January 9, those sweet-talking, love ‘em and leave ‘em politicians will drop you like hot potatoes and move on.

I don’t want you to get hurt like we Iowans did. It’s not worth it. Stay home. Turn off the TV. Throw away your mail. Bar the door. Save yourselves for the general election. It’s the only way you’ll be able to live with yourselves tomorrow.

Three last words: New Hampshire who?

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Downton Abbey, love according to Dorothy, and the loss of a wonderful man in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. Unless Julian Fellows has something up his sleeves, there’s no way Isobel Crawley can pull ahead of Lady Violet in their zinger contest before the series ends.
  2. At the end of my last visit with Mom–after I’d taken her to the doctor, squired her to lunch, and restocked her supply of library books–she said, “You’re so good to me, Jolene. Don’t change, okay?” That’s as close as she gets to “I love you” without coaching.
  3. Melvin Aspengren, the most outstanding elementary school janitor I ever worked with, died earlier this week. He took pride in his work, cared about kids, and was a role model to children and adults alike. Oh, Mel, you will be fondly remembered and dearly missed.

Who are you missing today? Leave a comment.

Play Dough Time Again!

This easy, scented play dough recipe can be made in a variety of colors and flavors. Make it with your kids for twice the fun on a cold, winter weekend.We went to see the grandkids last weekend and had a blast, as usual. We spent part of our time making scented play dough in an effort to beat the winter blues. Here’s the recioe, just In case you’re looking for something to wile away the long winter days that keep kids cooped up inside. This recipe first appeared on Gravel Road about a year ago…just before my grandson and I made our first batch together.

The recipe also makes a big batch, so we put half the ingredients in one saucepan and the other half in another. Then we added a package of Koolaid to each pan and cooked one panful and then the other. Last weekend, we made yellow, green, purple, and orange, enjoying ourselves immensely.

Scented Play Dough


2 cups flour
2/3 cup salt
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 packages unsweetened Koolaid
2 tablespoons oil
2 cups water


Mix the dry ingredients together in a sauce pan. Then add the oil.

Play Dough 2Add the water, about a quarter cup at a time, whisking as you go. Keep whisking until all the lumps are gone.

Play Dough 3Play Dough 4 Play Dough 6 Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan frequently…

Play Dough 6….until the dough stops sticking to the side of the pan.

Play Dough 8Let the first half-batch cool while you make the second. Then, turn the first batch onto the counter and knead a few times. Once the second batch cools, do the same thing again.

play dough 1It is very, very important to play with the dough as soon as it’s cool enough. You don’t want to miss the sensation of warm, juicy-smelling dough squeezing through your fingers, do you?

Top 10 Epic Fails of 2016 So Far

Only one month into the new year and it took hardly any time at all to come up with my top 10 epic fails of 2016 thus far. The first month of January is now history, and with its passing I am painfully aware of what I did not accomplish. Here’s a look at my top ten epic fails so far in 2016.

10. I overbaked some chocolate chip bars for a weekend church function. Thankfully, we were out of town the weekend they were served, so I didn’t have to watch people discover how dry they were.

9.  The historical paper photographs that have been sitting on a chair for 2 1/2 years waiting to be organized remain untouched. The same can be said for my collection of  digital photographs, too.

8.  I keep meaning to up my lunch game and eat three square meals a day. But it never happens. Instead, I graze from about 11 to 1 almost every day.

7.  Too late, I discovered that if a sweet, cuddly granddaughter’s first birthday falls shortly after the New Year, waiting until January to buy a card means the sweet, cuddly granddaughter will receive her card a day late.

6.  The weekend shopping trip to update my winter wardrobe did not happen. So I have to keep my by my sides at all times so people don’t see the holes in my sweater underarms.

5.  My grandson and I have not yet found the right flavor of Koolaid to make bright, purple play dough. Our best effort yielded a dingy color we call “gray-ple” that’s nothing to write home about.

4.  My sister and I were not discovered by a Hollywood mogul during our beach walk in southern California. Perhaps because the surfers were more interesting.

3.  I did not get nominated for an Academy Award. For the 59th year in a row. It’s enough to make a person quit trying.

2.  My Cindy Crawford look-alike make over was a bust.

1.  Neither the Democrats or Republicans asked me to join their last debates before the Iowa caucuses. So I was unable to throw a hissy fit and withdraw because the moderator was a mean girl. It’s not fair!

Want to share your epic fails thus far in 2016? The comment box is waiting for you.

Night Is Coming

When death draws near for loved ones, we comprehend the truth God whispers to his people. “Work as long as it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.”We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day;
night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.
John 9:4–5

Hiram and I are back from visiting family in Arizona. The weather was perfect, and knowing we’d escaped the sub-zero temperatures in Iowa made it feel even better. Part way through the week, my sister and I road-tripped to southern California to visit an elderly relative. I’ll spare you the description of our barefoot walk on a sunny beach in January the morning after we arrived, and skip straight to Muriel, the elderly relative.

She’s 87, sharp as a tack, and an amateur historian who has researched and compiled the story of her grandfather (my great-great-grandfather) during the Civil War. But, her sight is failing rapidly, as is her stamina and mobility. All three of us knew this might be our last visit together, so our hugs were extra long and hard when we said good-bye. Muriel was still waving when our car turned the corner. Leaving her was hard, but she is a woman of deep faith, not afraid of walking through the door from this life into the next.

The Monday after Hiram and I returned to cold and snowy Iowa, an email arrived from a friend in a nearby town. She’s also a writer, and I thought she was confirming the let’s-talk-about-writing coffee date we’d scheduled. Instead, this active, fit mom of three boys (ages 8–13) wrote to cancel because she had just been diagnosed with cancer. She and her husband hoped to know more after meeting with the doctor later in the week. Her note ended with these words. “We’re trying to just do the normal life things, and trust that God knows what he’s doing. I don’t doubt him. I really don’t. I don’t like what he’s doing, but I don’t doubt him.”

The tears that never came while saying good-bye to Muriel fell hard and fast after hearing from my young, talented, and very dear friend. My heart broke for her husband, for her sons, for the fight she faces, and for the words she will not be writing during her treatment. Even though my friend and I are certain of the glory waiting for her if she loses her fight, I am praying she will live to see her boys become men and husbands and fathers, and to experience the joy of being a grandma before she walks through that door.

Like Muriel and my young friend, I don’t doubt what God is doing. I know that though his thoughts are not my thoughts and his ways are not my ways, he can be trusted. I know we pay more attention to God’s voice when health fails and life grows short. We better understand his truths when we realize our days on this earth are numbered. The work he has for us to do on this side of death’s door will end.

When death draws near for those we love, we finally comprehend the truth God whispers into the ears of all his children. “Work as long as it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.” As we cry out to him in our grief and through our tears, we realize that our time on earth is precious and finite. And we redouble our efforts and redeem the time by doing his work with passion and purpose. Until the day he calls each of us to walk through the door of this world into the next.

The Goodness of Light for this Fantastic Friday

For this Fantastic Friday, a much needed reminder that light is stronger than darkness even in the dead of winter.This week’s Fantastic Friday post comes in the form of a poem written in January of 2012 when the weather was cold, the morning dark, the moon brilliant and full. The perfect antidote to the winter blues both then and now.

Light Stronger Than Darkness

In winter, the extra hours of darkness
Weigh upon my shoulders,
Press upon my eyelids,
Make me groggy and slow and stupid.

Still last week, when the moon was full,
And the air was winter-warm,
I took my camera into the darkness
As the sun waited patiently to start her day
Until after the moon went to bed.

The darkness was too thick
And my hands too shaky
To capture the glory of the moon,
And finally I quit trying,
Trudging home with shoulders bent,
Eyelids drooping in a darkness
That lingered until yesterday
When I finally looked at the pictures.

Disappointments, all of them but one,
Where the bright moon waited
In the blue-black sky.
Not behind bare black branches
As it was in reality,
But in front of them,
Eclipsing them,
Engulfing them in silver light.

Looking at the picture,
My shoulders straightened,
My eyes opened wide,
When I saw the truth.
Light is stronger than darkness,
Waiting patiently to be found by those who seek it.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Alan Rickman, airline pilots cheering on their teams, and flight attendant gossip in this week's 3 thoughts.

  1. Alan Rickman, you are and will be dearly missed.
  2. If you are ever on a Southwest Airline flight to Arizona while an Arizona Cardinals play off game is in progress, the pilot commandeer the loudspeaker to provide color commentary and lead a few cheers.
  3. Nabbing the last available aisle seat in the last row of an airplane comes with a couple unexpected perks. Not only are you mere feet from the lavatory, but you can also hear the flight attendants gossip when they’re seated during take off and touch down.

Non-Dairy Hot Chocolate Mix

This non-dairy hot chocolate means you can make a cup of cocoa and snuggle under a blanket while watching the snow fall.What’s better on a cold winter day than snuggling in a chair with a cup of hot chocolate while watching the snow fall? This version of an instant hot chocolate mix from the Live Simply website is dairy-free and delicious. It’s also very easy to make and keeps well.

Non-Dairy Hot Chocolate Mix

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Kirkland chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 vanilla bean, scraped


Put the brown sugar, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and vanilla scrapings in a food processor or blender. Pulse until the chocolate chips have been ground into a fine powder.

This non-dairy hot chocolate means you can make a cup of cocoa and snuggle under a blanket while watching the snow fall.Pour into a glass jar (place the vanilla bean husk in the jar first), cover, and store in the refrigerator.

This non-dairy hot chocolate means you can make a cup of cocoa and snuggle under a blanket while watching the snow fall.To use, warm 1 cup of milk or nut milk.* Add 3 tablespoons** of hot chocolate mix to the warm milk and stir.

* I prefer half nut milk and half strong coffee so it’s not quite so rich.
**3 tablespoons makes a very thick drink. Start with less and add more to taste.

Top Ten Differences Between Phoenix and Iowa

What's the difference between Iowa and Arizona? This list's top ten is a good place to start.The Man of Steel and I are home after a week in Phoenix visiting relatives. During this, our first winter vacation to warmer climes, we noticed these ten differences between Arizona and Iowa.

10. In Iowa, you’ll see trees similar to this one being propped up,

treebut you’ll only find these in Arizona.

cactus9.  Iowa hiking paths are strewn with wood chips or gravel. Arizona hiking paths are strewn with boulders poking every which way and then topped with large rocks so the boulders become even more hazardous.

8.  The walkways to airplanes in Iowa sport large thermometers right outside the airplane so passengers know the walkway is a balmy 20 degrees and not below zero like the great outdoors. Passengers in Arizona walkways don’t want to know that walkways in Iowa are a balmy 20 degrees.

7.  In Arizona, people sport flannel scarves for walks in 68 degree weather. In Iowa, people sport flip flops when the temperature is above freezing.

6.  Iowans shiver while drinking morning coffee outside Starbucks. Arizonans shiver inside while sipping their AM java.

5.  Arizonans carry yoga mats over their shoulders on morning walks. Iowans carry snow shovels.

4.  Arizona grocery stores carry delicious avocados and terrible beef. Iowa grocery stores offer the exact opposite.

3.  Arizonans put their dogs in purple and pink strollers for outdoor walks in the winter. Iowans put their dogs in black and gold, red and gold, or purple and gold sweaters.

2.  Arizona has more urgent care pet clinics, pet spas, and upscale pet stores than pediatrician offices. Iowa has more urgent care clinics for little people than pet stores.

1. In Arizona dogs wear sunglasses. In Iowa, eye wear is limited to adults.

What makes your Arizona/Iowa top ten list? Leave a comment.

See Jane Smile!

Jane's smiling because her creator came up with a new name for the mystery series in which she's the protagonist. Get the skinny here.Lest the title of today’s post gives you the wrong idea, Jane’s not smiling because the mystery novel, See Jane Run! has found a publisher. She’s smiling because her creator and author (that would be me) has come up with a new name for the series.

Some of you may recall that copyright issues nixed the original moniker, which was The Fun With Dick and Jane Mystery Series. Thanks to brainstorming sessions with my big sister (who wanted the series title to reflect the remoteness of the setting) and my agent (who thought Tipperary, the name of the fictional county where the novel is set, should be used) and the history of the far away corner of South Dakota where we once lived, a new name for the series has been chosen. Are you ready?

The Tipperary County Mystery Series

Here’s why I–and the Man of Steel agreed with me once we reviewed the history behind it–think the new series title is superior to the previous one. Far, far away in Camp Crook, South Dakota in Harding County where the Man of Steel and I lived for 7 years, and long, long before we moved there a colt was born just across the border in Montana. Not an unusual occurrence in 1905 before the automobile age began. The owner hoped to break the colt to ride, but the 4-year-old horse was spooked during a thunderstorm and became unmanageable.

In 1915, the owner took the horse to Camp Crook and a highly regarded, local bronc rider saddled up the horse and gave him a whirl. As it turned out, the horse gave the cowboy a twirl, bucking him to the ground. The cowboy was carried to the hotel to recover. When he caught his breath, he quoted the lyrics of It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary, a popular song of the era. The horse was immediately named Tipperary. Over the next ten years, only 1 cowboy completed a successful ride on Tipperary, an event that occurred at the very end of the horse’s fabled career. During our years in Camp Crook, Tipperary was still the talk of the town. We were friends with an old bachelor rancher whose father had owned the horse.

Back then, the name Tipperary intrigued me for two reasons. First, my uncle, who also my high school world cultures teacher, mentioned it became a sort of anthem for British World War 1 soldiers headed for the Western Front. Second, just a year before we moved to Camp Crook, the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show sang it at the end of the season finale. So the tune ran through my head when my husband and I first drove the winding road to and through Harding County for job interviews.

30 years later, the name Tipperary intrigues me for two more reasons. First, the lyrics are more than 75 years old, so they are public domain. That means no pesky copyright issues. Second, the chorus to It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary still ring true. They come to mind whenever I think of the dear people we left behind in 1985 when we moved to Iowa.

It’s a long way to Tipperary,
It’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know!
Goodbye Piccadilly,
Farewell Leicester Square!
It’s a long long way to Tipperary,
But my heart’s right there.

In so many ways and on so many days, my heart wings its way back to the little town where cowboys still ride broncs and the descendants of Tipperary’s first owners still live. My dearest wish is that one day, if the first book in The Tipperary County Mystery Series is published, Tipperary will win the hearts of all who read it, too.

It’s a long, long way to Tipperary,
But my heart’s right there.