My life-1 snapshot at a time…

So one of my hometown childhood friends challenged me on Facebook a couple weeks ago. Nothing as exciting as a duel with black powder guns at dawn. The challenge was to show a black and white picture from my life. One picture a day for a week. Pictures without any people in them. Yikes. But even worse than no people in the shots, no explanations allowed describing the pictures! Double yikes. I’m a wordy person, I need to try and explain everything. In bulk. Multiple times.

Neese, 3-1/2…

I thought about just ignoring the challenge. Seriously. But I must confess, my curiosity was piqued. So with a big sigh and a little muttering under my breath, I started going through my 4,000 pictures on my iPad to see if a certain picture stopped me in my tracks. And needed no explaining. As if.

This silly challenge had been all over Facebook. Each time I saw it on my newsfeed, I cringed thinking, if you are indeed one of my friends, don’t pick me, don’t pick me. Please. Most of the pictures I saw were taken the same day they were posted. Simple life moments like clean folded laundry, cooking a meal, the speedometer of their car. But no, that wasn’t what I was thinking. I was leaning towards pictures I already had about my life. It didn’t worry me much about having good material without people in them. All my favorite landscape pictures are people-less. Who wants to see a throng of folks at Niagara Falls? Not me. Just give me the Falls please. Wild waves or an oddly calm day on Lake Michigan-spectacular-just hold the people please. But I wanted to tell a story with each picture. It’s what I do. Now that was gonna be the impossible part. (Photo taken by Jeremy Church in his kayak).

Lighthouse at Muskegon on Lake Michigan…

After the first 2 days I was already stewing about the number of pictures I wouldn’t be able to use because my 7 measly days were up. Yeah, thanks for that Anne. Just put a very short leash on this piss-poor-writer-picture-taker-constant-explainer. I decided long before my 7 black and whites were history I needed to do a mostly picture blog, plus words. But this time on my terms. People allowed, maybe some color and certainly words. Can’t forget to try and ‘splain it all for you. Over and over. Just in case you didn’t get it the first 3 times.

Here goes. Don’t think I’ve ever made a big deal about my heritage, when actually I’m quite proud of being Dutch. The reason it was never a big deal growing up was because approximately 80% of my small town was Dutch too. Guess I assumed the whole world was of Dutch ancestry. But after I moved to different parts of the country, I realized there’s a whole lot of nationalities out there and I’m a very small part. (Just happens to be the best one). Huh, who knew? Sorry, this explanation was already way too long for one simple wooden shoe. Let me try again.

My great-grandma’s wooden shoe. Mom painted it in the ‘60’s. Sigh…

With another shoe picture. My Mom’s first pair of baby shoes which were bronzed. The way families made keepsakes in the late 1920’s. That’s better.

Mom’s bronzed baby shoes, 1928…

This one is similar to the heritage thingy. Can’t say I really, really loved Iowa until I left the great state. It was simply the only home I’d ever known. That was 30 years ago. Things I never gave a second thought about. Acres and acres of corn crops, the richest, blackest dirt-needed to feed the world, wide open spaces, the mighty Mississippi, abundant sunshine. The older I get, the longer I’m away, the more I love my native state of Iowa.

An Iowa field. Thanks God…

My beloved little hometown. Immense love, loyalty, gratitude. My childhood wasn’t pain free, but whenever I think about Rock Valley, I smile and thank God I grew up there. Kind of like Opie in Mayberry. Hokey, I know. Still, the truth.

Main Street of Rock Valley during the 1960’s…

Rock Valley Community School. I wasn’t a good student, wasn’t very popular, but had a very close circle of friends (partners in crime too). Basketball games on Tuesday’s and Friday’s, pep bus rides, dances, cheerleading, bowling alley pizzas, slumber parties, stealing cars, vandalizing buildings. Lots of warm fuzzies for that huge part of my life. Neese, the thug. Ah, the good life.

The new addition grade school in the late 1950’s…

My Dad, driving the Iowa State snow plow during one of our way too frequent blizzards. He was forever grateful for his job and benefits that it provided.

Dad driving the snowplow near Rock Valley…

I never saw this picture until after my Mom died and I cleaned out their house when Dad was moving to Michigan. Summer of 1950 Mom was pregnant with me. Aww, too cute. She was 23.

Pregnant with me in 1950, Larry is behind her on his trike…

Well, I’ve finally made my entrance. That’s me, about 6 weeks old on the kitchen table. Next to me is Larry, 4-1/2. Neither of us realized how much we would enjoy the few short years we would have together. Mutual admiration society. Wasn’t he just the cutest?

Me and my big bro, 1951…

I know, I know, thousands of folks eat them everyday. But as far as I know, only Northwest Iowa call them Taverns. Not maid-rites, not sloppy joes, simply Taverns. Why this one word is of vital importance to me, I’ve not a clue. But it remains so.

Taverns still served for hot lunch at all area schools by Rock Valley…

My home all through school. One of the oldest houses in Rock Valley. It had more additions Dad was not an architect, every add-on (Dutch word is haukee) was a different level by a couple of inches. I wrote a whole blog about Dad and his odd way of building. But it was my home and I loved it.

The house where I grew up…

A huge part of my upbringing, Rock Valley’s First Reformed Church. The youth groups were phenomenal, Sunday school, choirs, RCYF. (Being part of a group was very important to me).

Part of Mom’s legacy. She had more talent in her knitting needles and ability to read complicated patterns. I still have several of her wool, handmade sweaters she made for me. She was really proud of her work. Me too.

One of my favorite sweaters that Mom made for me in high school…

A frequent place to visit. Located about 70 miles from Rock Valley, it was a huge draw for teens. Lake Okoboji, one of the world’s bluest lakes, Arnold’s Park with gobs of crazy carnival rides, The Roof Garden, known for the hippest bands, concerts and dances. Thee Cat’s Meow, for sure. Fond memories.

The best day trip destination as a teen…

Not to worry, this is just the first installment of my life in pictures. A snippet of a small town girl growing up. I’ve got lots more of my life to show and share. Next year. Thanks for tagging along. Stay tuned…

Ah-So…

I’m not very adventurous. I don’t like heights, boats, (hey, there’s no brakes) roller coasters, or even scary movies. Although this seems more pronounced as I age, I’ve pretty much been like this my whole life. That enticing scraggly bridge across a gorge, or zip lining through a jungle are not on my bucket list. About the most daring thing I’ve ever done was scuba diving in Cancun. And the instructor led me by the hand under 20 amazing feet of the Caribbean and did everything but breathe for me.

Me about the time we vacationed in California in 1961…

This somewhat irrational fear has even hampered my food choices. And I believe it all started while Mom, Dad and I were in California during the summer of 1961. We were visiting relatives on both sides of the family. We went to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, a Dodgers game, Mexico, and had a chilly picnic on the Pacific Ocean beach. Fabulous time. The relatives made great plans to squeeze as much California lifestyle in our little hicky bodies as possible.

Disneyland with Mom & Dad in 1961…

So one night Mom’s uncle is taking us out for supper. Something new for the small Gerritson family. We went to a Chinese restaurant. I could tell by the scowl on Mom’s face, she was not pleased. She was less adventuresome than me and I was 10. I don’t know how much normal (I’ve never been normal) pre-teens are influenced by their parents, but that simple look on Mom’s face told me I would not be liking any Chinese food that night. I supped on tea and fortune cookies. This one evening’s destination exposing us to new and different cuisine was about the only part of the trip I remember which none of us enjoyed.

Hubs is a foodie. He likes all kinds of food, hot-spicy, and always enthusiastic about trying new dishes. I love food too, but only my usual food. Oh, I might add a few new recipes to my boring cooking routine each year, such as Shepherd’s Pie, or Chicken Corn Chowder, but rarely move out of that little comfort zone I’ve been in since my first decade of life has passed.

I’ll borrow a line from the opening of one of my favorite programs called The Goldberg’s. (Hilarious BTW, mirrors much of my own life as a Mom/with-kids/and married life). “It was July, 1980-something.” We were living in the Quad-Cities (Davenport-Bettendorf-Rock Island-Moline) and John and I were going out for supper together-without kids-a-rare occasion. The hot summer night was threatening with thundering black clouds, stifling humid air, and there was no doubt we would see a rain storm before getting back home. Shannon, in her mid teens was foreman over her 2 younger brothers. A job she hated but relished at the same time.

Davenport in 1985…

Hubs promised me Pizza Hut. Yup, it’s Top Shelf when we venture out by ourselves. No kids running around, spilling pop, arguing, or disinterested rolling eyes. Except John drove right past our Pizza Hut. “Hey, where we going, turn around, you missed it dipstick.” Calmly he answered, “no, we’re trying a new restaurant tonight. I think you’re really gonna like it. Kinda fancy and just opened. It’s called The Mandarin.” “Are you out of your ever loving mind? I’m not going to a Chinese restaurant. I repeat, I’m not eating Chinese food. Take me somewhere else or take me home,” I said in a huff. “No Denise, you’re gonna try Chinese food tonight. That California fiasco was 25 years ago. You’re all grown up now and I want you to try it again. I really think you’re gonna love the food.”

As God is my witness John parked the car, came around to my door (we had been married for about 17 years here, he never opened my door-nor did I expect him too) gently tugged on me until I was free from clutching the dashboard for dear life. Romantically hooked my arm in his so there was no escape and led me down the dark hole of hell. Oh wait, maybe it was the lovely restaurant entrance. Same thing. I was furious, livid and pissed off beyond words. Completely shut down. I walked woodenly as we were being seated. Beautiful decor, real tablecloths, Chinese paintings, pretty much red and white everything. Which I really didn’t see. Because I was crying, I was so mad.

Aunt Wilma, Dad, me with cousins Terry & Sherry behind Dad, 1961

Not to be deterred, John opens my menu and says, “order anything you want.” Tears streaming, I sob, “I want pizza. I want a cheeseburger and fries. I want a steak. What I don’t want is Chinese food. Let’s go.” He quietly closes my menu, smiles at me, then at the pretty waitress and says, “she’ll have Mongolian Beef, egg drop soup, an egg roll and hot tea. I’ll have blah-blah-blah.”

With my tears dripping in my egg drop, I hesitantly picked up the soup spoon. O-fricking-k, I’ll try one sip. Gag, gasp, hmmm. Not bad really. John moves a small dish of sweet sauce closer to my plate and says, “take a spoonful and dip your egg roll before you try a bite.” It looks like thick corn starch/water mixture tinted pink. I sniff and deem it non-poisonous, but I could be wrong. The tiny waitress moves in with a tray which quite possibly weighs more than she does. Sets down an oval plate in front of me. Small, white crispy noodles on the bottom, topped with rice. Covered with very thin slices of dark brown beef, vivid green 2 inch strips of onion, and a weird smelling gravy. Kind of sweet and gingery. Never smelled anything like it before. Well, I was only 35. First time my tongue had an orgasm.

Holy Hannah, I didn’t want to leave. More, I need more. I’d like to say I was mature and decided that very night I would try everything on their menu before the end of the year. Heck you know that just isn’t me. Now how long has it been since I started inhaling Chinese food? Little over 30 years. I’ve watched John order 50 various dishes when we eat Chinese. Wanna guess how many different dishes I’ve ordered? Well, it’s more than 1 but definitely less than 5. Although I love pineapple I would never order sweet & sour anything. I have tried one other soup besides egg drop called Sizzling rice. Made right at your table. (Hubs has ordered it several times). All my dishes contain beef. Beef & vegetables, Beef with Pea Pods, Beef & Broccoli, you get the drift. See, I can be daring and seek high adventure. And I want water chestnuts in everything. Love their crunch.

Marinating the steak…

Of course I couldn’t leave well enough alone. Why couldn’t I make Chinese food at home? Because there are some things I’m not suppose to try to replicate. Chinese food happens to be the third food item. Lasagna and Reuben’s are the other 2. Foods I adore but hate to make, and I don’t know why. I usually like to kanooey around and enjoy several different steps. It’s what I love about canning. But not about preparing any of these 3 dishes.

This makes the gravy…

The steps involved in a simple Chinese supper drive me to drink. I put this in the same category as prepping for a colonoscopy. The actual test is a breeze. They knock you out, a couple minutes later you’re awake and groggily shuffled out to the car, where someone drives you home to sleep it off. Butt (ha-ha some colonoscopy humor) it’s the prep work the day BEFORE the test that knocks your socks off. Do not work. Do not eat. Do not plan on leaving the bathroom for 24 hours. Drink a small portion of this gag worthy gallon of crap (yikes, more bathroom humor) every few minutes, and leave the cramping to me. The prep for the test is more miserable than the actual colonoscopy.

My last attempt at Chinese food started something like this. I had a tantalizing hunk of steak in the fridge. Just wanted steak, Texas toast, and a small salad. John was not enthusiastic. He doesn’t really care for steak as much as he used to and a sirloin is on the bottom of his list. Sirloin is my favorite next to prime rib. Alrighty then, I’ll use the steak for Chinese Beef and Vegetables. Off to the store for broccoli crowns, green onions, snow peas, fresh mushrooms, shredded carrots, bamboo shoots, and sliced water chestnuts. Holy cripes.

What’s with those tough stringy things that need to be peeled off?

Browning the steak…

First, throw the steak in the freezer for half an hour because it’s much easier to slice thin if it’s a bit solid. Make a marinade of soy, sugar and sherry for the beef. Then stir together a big bowl of what will be gravy. Beef stock, soy sauce, cooking sherry, ginger, cornstarch, hoisin sauce, minced garlic and sriachi sauce. Well there’s 30 minutes I’ll never get back. And I haven’t even started with those dang vegetables yet. Rinse, give the veggies a friendly pat down and start chopping all of the above except bamboo shoots and sliced water chestnuts. A big thank you for the 2 canned convenience foods. Yay. Take out the steak, slice it thin and plop in the marinade mixture. Start a pan of white rice cooking. Throw the dripping beef in a large nonstick fryer (no I don’t have a wok-I may never do this again) and brown the meat for 3 minutes. Remove meat to a bowl. Add a bit of water and oil to the pan, dump in the broccoli, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and carrots and cook for a couple minutes. Add the meat back to the pan cook another 2 minutes. Toss in the snow peas, green onion and heat through.

Just cook the veggies a couple minutes…

Although the cooking times are short in duration and I really like my Chinese food veggies crunchy, this is very time consuming. And the kitchen looks like a tornado struck. When you add up the steak, rice, fresh veggies and my time this meal cost is astronomical. An hour to prep and cook, measly 10 minutes to eat, and at least a half hour to clean up my disastrous kitchen. Pros, yes it was tasty, fresh and homemade. Cons, probably more expensive than eating it out. The final casting vote: Hubs and I are both hungry 5 minutes after I walked out of the kitchen…

Delicious but what a pain in the ass. My last colonoscopy joke, I swear…