Happy campers might appreciate a little history lesson near Elkhart, Indiana

Next time they’re traveling I-80 in Indiana, camping fans need to make a pit stop at the RV/Motor Home Hall of Fame.

RV.Motor Home Hall of Fame

Yeah, I thought there was nothing to see between Chicago and Toledo either. Wrong! This well-appointed museum dedicated to preserving the history and honoring the pioneers of the recreational vehicle industry is quite interesting. Especially if you’re my Beloved. Who, if you toured the museum with him ,would have given you the opportunity to hear the phrase, “hey, I owned one like that!” at least six times.

The museum is filled with full-sized campers of every size from nearly every year in the history of camping: pop-ups, pull-behinds, coaches, trailers and more including a Model T with a “telescopic apartment” and Mae West’s Chevrolet house car. Museum goers can explore inside most of them.

We laughed our heads off when we came across a 1985 Pace Arrow that looked eerily familiar:

It was a slightly more modern clone of the 1983 Pace Arrow motor home we were using as recently as 2014. We sold that beauty — a classic, apparently — to a neighbor with three kids who’s already ventured to the Black Hills and elsewhere in it. Made to last, that’s for sure.

There is also a hall dedicated to modern RVs and motor homes (if you’re in the market for such things). Admission to the Hall of Fame is $10 each and worth every penny.

Grandma’s china speaks of gracious hospitality

When Grandma moved from her apartment to her new home in a senior living community earlier this year, she had quite a lot of stuff to shed.

Grandma turned 100 in March. A lifetime of household items still contained in her apartment was distributed among her four children. Thanks to Dad’s keen eye and frugal nature, a set of flatware and a collection of her china were among the pieces passed along to me. Dad rescued the flatware literally from the garbage.

Maybe some readers wouldn’t be so pleased to inherit china, but I couldn’t be more tickled. Grandma’s new china coordinates with and expands my own collection beautifully.

grandmas china

The plate with the flowery pattern on the top is from my original china collection, which I acquired upon my first marriage: Vintage Floral Splendor by Johann Haviland. All the other pieces with the platinum striping (really! platinum!) are Grandma’s: Nora by Harmony House.

The Nora plates are just slightly larger and flatter than my Floral Splendor pieces so they’ll make great charger plates or, when I’m serving a crowd, they’ll mix-and-match much better than my functional-but-not-very-elegant Longaberger pottery. Grandma’s collection includes a gravy boat (oh, joy! to serve gravy properly in a pretty boat instead of a mixing bowl with a spout) and a couple of other serving pieces that will be a treat to use at the next holiday dinner we host.

I distinctly remember eating off of Grandma’s china when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. Grandma is a hostess bar none who appreciates a tasty side dish and a beautiful garnish. I can see in my mind that little saucer filled with a canned peach and cottage cheese, and there was always a spoonful of sweet pickles or pickled beets to accompany the ham or turkey.

Coffee with grandma is always an occasion. It’s never just coffee. At the very least, there would some sort of cake or pie and cookies (cookies are always accents, not the main dish), but usually it would also include little sandwiches, mixed nuts and one of those aforementioned pickles. Coffee with Grandma is a meal.

Served, more often than not, on pretty china.

Grandma’s pretty china is now beautifully stacked in my dining room buffet awaiting company. Can’t wait to put it to gracious use.


A story of travel, a T-shirt and beer cheese

Here’s the thing about traveling the world: It’s not so much what you learn about new places but what you learn about home by visiting new places.

When I was working for an international company in the long ago past, it wasn’t the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World I found so interesting (not that I saw any of those), but it was the little things:

  • I thought hot tea wasn’t complete without a squirt of lemon until I worked in a little office outside of London where milk was part of the office supply budget. Tea with milk! How novel! And delicious! I also discovered prawn sandwiches there. Imagine an egg salad sandwich made with salad shrimp instead of eggs. Whodathunkit?!
  • Never was I more grateful for the mostly crime-free town where I lived in Minnesota than when I traveled in South Africa, where I learned women never leave their purses in the passenger’s seat for fear of a “smash-and-grab” marauder who might break a car window at a stop light and make off with the bag.
  • I learned a new appreciation for port-a-potties when I was forced to use a public toilet in Toyko that was simply an open trench in the floor. With no toilet paper. Prior to that experience, a poop-smeared pair of ladies’ underwear in the latrine on Grandma’s Marathon route was the most horrifying thing I’d seen in a loo. To be fair, Japanese produce counters are 100 times better arranged and maintained than the lettuce bins in any American supermarket.
  • Speaking of vegetables … for all the times I’ve resented having to eat yet another salad, I really missed them when I visited Mexico City, where foreigners avoid eating fresh produce that might be rinsed in local water known to cause Montezuma’s Revenge. Oh, the joy of finding dependably fresh, clean water in one’s boring old kitchen tap at home!
  • I had no idea what kind of messages I was transmitting when reading in public until I read Bill Clinton’s memoir My Life on a trip in Munich during George W. Bush’s second term. Let’s just say Germans weren’t Bush’s biggest fans, and they draw a lot of conclusions about America’s residents by the politics here.

Recently, since we’ve acquired a fifth-wheel camper, my travels have been limited to domestic locations, but one learns a lot about home even when one is only a few states displaced.

Like, did you know Clark County in Kentucky is the birthplace of beer cheese?

My Wisconsin friends are expressing great skepticism right now. Wisconsin, of course, is known for two things: It has the highest number per capita bars and cheese shops. Beer plus cheese equals beer cheese, right?


Beer cheese is a cheese spread found most commonly in Kentucky, so saith Wikipedia. And Clark County is capitalizing on this little known fact by promoting the Beer Cheese Trail, a network of eight restaurants in and around Winchester, Ky., that boast “the most authentic” beer cheese.

Visitors who visit at least five participating restaurants and imbibe the delicious beer cheese can earn a free T-shirt. Free?! Sign me up! It’s a brilliant marketing campaign I imagine might work for lots of touristy locales (wild rice soup in Minnesota? statues of Lincoln in Illinois?). I collected four of the five required stamps in my official Beer Cheese Trail Cheese Log (get it? cheese log?), and I was eagerly anticipating acquiring the addition to my wardrobe. At the fifth restaurant, I couldn’t find my log so I collected the stamp on a new log, thinking I could simply combine my logs.

But then I couldn’t find my hard-won log with four stamps. I looked everywhere. Never was I so disappointed (that’s how great “free” is to a frugal native Minnesotan).

Not to worry. This story has a happy ending. My Beloved ripped the console of his pickup truck apart when a styrofoam glass of pop sprung a big leak, and lo and behold, my log which had disappeared into a crevice was revealed. I sent proof of my completed mission to the tourism bureau, and my free T-shirt arrived yesterday.

I would flip this image for you, except I think the mirror selfie is sort of hokey, not unlike getting acquiring T-shirt on a trip. The last line on the T-shirt? "Clark County, Ky.: The Birthplace of Beer Cheese." Just in case you doubted.

I would flip this image for you, except I think the mirror selfie is sort of hokey, not unlike acquiring T-shirt on a trip. The last line on the T-shirt? “Clark County, Ky.: The Birthplace of Beer Cheese.” Just in case you doubted.

And the beer cheese? Was it the most amazing stuff ever created for carrot and celery sticks?

Sure, it was good. Better than ranch dressing. But then, I’ve never visited Hidden Valley Ranch.

The setting is war, but the story is pulse-poundingly beautiful

It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year, so I don’t need to waste my breath telling you it’s a good book, but I will share a tiny shred of some of the writing that makes All the Light We Cannot See so lovely to read:

Doerr“Don’t you miss the world?”

He is quiet; so is she. Both ride spirals of memory.

“I have the whole world here,” he says, and taps the cover of [a book by] Darwin. “And in my radios. Right at my fingertips.”

Her uncle seems almost a child, monastic in the modesty of his needs and wholly independent of any sort of temporal obligations. And yet she can tell he is visited by fears so immense, so multiple, that she can almost feel the terror pulsing inside him. As though some beast breathes all the time at the window panes of his mind.

Anthony Doerr’s novel is summarized thusly by the Pulitzer Prize committee: “an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore human nature and the contradictory power of technology.”

I don’t always agree with folks who award Pulitzers (see my review of The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, a book I hated quite passionately despite its status as a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2012), but in this case, I concur with the powers that be. All the Light We Cannot See is haunting and beautiful, and I enjoyed reading it very much. You might, too.

Spring cleaning … about four months late


Among the tasks on my to-do list last week was “file absolutely everything in my office.”

I’m admitting this deficiency, not because I am proud of my ability to procrastinate basic maintenance activities (yes, that is literally a foot of papers on the right side of my credenza), but because I know other people have piles of s*** on their desks, too, and I want to be a vision of hope for these a-messy-desk-is-a-sign-of-an-active-and-intelligent-mind apologists.

I actually spent an entire day last week filing “absolutely everything” in my office. This required not only hours, but several dozen manilla folders, endless inches of labeling tape and, in the end, a hefty bag filled with the chaff of six months of receipts, mail and pages torn from magazines (possibly more than six months; could have been eight months; or nine).

But I did it. And here’s how the top of the credenza in my office looks now:


Here’s to a brand new week without fifty pounds of baggage. I swear, this week I will tackle the cabinet in the bathroom filled with dried-up moisturizer and nearly empty bottles of conditioner.

A recipe for the grill this weekend

Dads are great for many things, but they might be best when there’s a spatula involved.

Why? Dads aren’t experimental cooks. When they’re making a meal, they’re relying on tried and true ingredients and techniques.

Hungry for breakfast on your camping trip? My dad makes the best fried eggs and bacon on the planet. No kidding. (I wax nostalgic for Dad’s eggs here.)

You gotta trust Dad’s instincts when it comes to cooking. So when Dad suggested a recipe for Beer Bottle Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Buffalo Burgers, I was all, “You had me at bacon.”

Even better? He provided the ground buffalo burger.

buffalo on the grill

So I made these meaty delights earlier this week, and I think you need to make them, too. Like right now. They are tasty! Why? Well, there’s bacon. But the Caramelized Vegetable and Mozzarella Stuffing is to die for! Butter? Yup. Onion and mushrooms sautéd low and slow for a half hour? Yup. Sun-dried tomatoes? Of course! And I, being without mozzarella, used a combination of smoked gouda, parmesan and swiss cheese to magnificent results.

Don’t be sloppy — follow the directions (although I’m sure you could substitute lean ground beef for the ground buffalo). You won’t be sorry.

stuffed buffalo burgers

I served my juicy buffalo cups with a green salad — literally, green — based on Martha Stewart’s Edamame and Mint Salad (I used fresh basil instead of mint and I added a balsamic dressing and roasted pumpkin seeds).

Make it this weekend. You won’t be sorry.

Thanks, Dad! Great idea!

Hope in the form of cement and two-by-fours, beauty in the hot air

This morning’s tally:

  • 3.48 miles
  • 14 houses under construction
  • 4 new houses or duplexes completed since the beginning of the year
  • 2 hot air balloons

I decided to monitor the new home construction in my neighborhood this morning as I ran a circle around my house. It was eye-opening.

My house sits in the midst of a subdivision on the edge of the “old” part of town — old meaning pre-1990, when little Hampshire sat on the edge of the prairie. The houses on my street were constructed in the boom years, roughly 1995-2005, when Hampshire sat at the edge of suburbia.

A dozen other empty subdivisions dot Hampshire’s landscape. They have streets and curbs and gutters and street lights, advertising promise and hope pre-2008, when new home construction came to an abrupt halt.

I’ve lived in Hampshire for eight years, and in the past seven, I’ve seen only a handful of new homes built along those empty roads.

But the times, they are a changin’.

I was out-of-town for five weeks, and when I came back, three lots with only dandelions last month now sport insulation board on wooden skeletons above cement foundations. Houses are growing! The trickle that began at the beginning of the year has become a wave. Besides the 14 structures under construction (just on my side of town!), there’s a lot of earth moving happening on at least a half-dozen other lots.

It is evidence of the rebounding housing market, and it’s thrilling. Not because I think the world needs more houses that look like every other one on the block but because people build houses because they have jobs and new babies and hope! And a rising tide raises all boats. Maybe the value of my house will someday equal what I paid for it.

I also saw two hot air balloons as I huffed and puffed down the asphalt in my hot pink running shoes. They were so far away, I couldn’t even tell you what color the balloons were, but they were distinctive against the absolutely clear blue horizon, hanging like Christmas ornaments in the stillness of dawn.

They were beautiful.