Friday, March 22, 2019

The Joy of the Big Round Table

Entertaining is something I love to do. Over the years I've served dinner to family, friends and clergy in California, Louisiana, Texas and Colorado. I've collected dishes, serving pieces and flatware to enhance most any celebration. I'm versatile in indoor or outdoor events as well as tackling small, intimate gatherings or larger shindigs. I entertain with tea parties, ice cream socials, barbecues or holiday dinners.

Family Backyard BBQ Fun!

To pick up hints on entertaining in the best way possible, I have perused many books on the topic. I have tea party books, bed and breakfast books, Martha Stewart books, theme party books, regional books and many more.

Tea Parties are a Favorite of Mine!

I even have another blog started with my love of tea cups:

One book (sadly I don't remember the name of it) inspired me to rethink my dinner table. When the children were young, I had a rather large, rectangular table with two leaves that easily sat 8 to 10 people. When all the children had left home, I thought I'd be down-sizing so I passed the table on. I didn't realize I would still he hosting a growing family, only now one including adult children, grandchildren, college friends and other visitors.

Grandkids Have the Most Fun Sitting at Their Own Table, Even When We Eat Out!

At one of my holiday meals a while back my guests were seated at two smaller tables put end to end. The table looked beautiful but it definitely hampered the conversation between everyone. Waving down the long table was the only way to connect with those at the far end.

I started to notice that my favorite tables in restaurants were round, about 60-inches across and could fit a bunch of us around it. It might be a little crowded but it was easier to converse with everyone. No one seemed to mind the coziness. 

I got it in my head that I "needed" to find a round table! Preferably one that was five-feet across. I already had a smaller round table and loved it but it wasn't round after I put a leaf in it. After starting my search for the perfect table, I found one that was intriguing. It was in a decorator store with a rather high price tag. What I liked about it was that it had leaves that attached to the edges of the table, thus maintaining its round shape when it was enlarged. What I didn't like was the heavy, strange base and the soft wood that would chip easily. I even brought my husband, Rex, to the store to show him what I had found. It was close to what I wanted but this wasn't it. 

Since another holiday was nearing, Rex and I were prompted to do a serious search for a larger table. A round table was my preference but it appeared that the need outweighed the availability. We considered a number of rectangular tables with leaves, almost buying one that luckily was out of stock. After a day of searching, we had one more stop to make.

We had looked in lovely, pricey stores but our final stop was at a consignment store in a new shopping mall. Immediately we felt hopeful as we wandered around the showroom. There were a few table sets all reasonably priced and worth considering. As we made a complete circle through the building we spotted what we wanted in the front corner of the store.

Our table had been waiting for us! There sat a 72 inch round, wooden table with drop down sides and a green wooden base. As we marveled at how perfect this table was, another couple noticed it and indicated interest until they saw that we had dibs on it first. So, with our new-found prize, we were additionally excited to find that with the drop down sides, it would fit in the back of our SUV which saved a hefty delivery charge. As I waited for Rex to back the SUV up to the door, a lady who worked at the store came over to visit. She told me how she wanted this table and she even went home and measured her dining room to see if it would fit. Lucky for us, her dining room was too small!

Our Table is Considered a Carpenter's Dream. I Love the Folding Legs.

A few days after bringing the table home we had our first holiday dinner on it. We had 10 people and it was delightful having everyone sitting around the new table. I had achieved my dream. 
A Family Christmas Dinner

However, we found out quickly, getting in and out of the table arrangement to go through a buffet line was complicated. It was decided that we needed a very large lazy-susan that everyone could reach. Another search began. Since nothing was available in the size we needed, a perfect round cutout, 36 inches across was found at a hardware store. Rex stained it and put a contraption on the bottom so it would spin.. I don't know what the proper name for it is but it works wonderfully!
Lazy Susan in Place for Easter Dinner

Our new lazy susan became an immediate focus of fun. At our Easter dinner we put all the hot dishes on it and passed the cold bowls between us. As the lazy-susan spun for each person to serve themselves it often was moving before the serving spoon got put back in the proper dish. We were a crowd of hungry people that kept the circle moving!

Thanksgiving rolled around and it was fun  looking forward to another family gathering. I love Fall and the time of Thanksgiving. Even the quilts I make lean heavy on the autumn colors. My Fiesta Ware helps me in celebrating the colors of each season with colorful plates to mix and match with even more added color in round placemats that reflect the shape of the table. 
Ready for the Festivities and Family to Arrive!

Let the Feasting Begin!

Please Pass the Butter

Major holidays aren't the only time we load up our table for fun gatherings. We use the table all year round. Birthday parties, summer gatherings, celebrations of all kinds brings the family together. 

The table sits quietly most of the time with one leaf dropped down, thereby making room to push the table against the dining room wall. The base has movable legs that fold up when a side is dropped. I was told that the table is a replica of an antique style. I sometimes wonder who had the foresight to own this unique table before us and why they were willing to give it up. However, it's found it's place in our home and it feels like it was always meant to be ours. A round table is welcoming and I hope all family, friends and clergy we entertain feel this warmth and welcoming in our home.

Welcome to Our Home and Table!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Petrified Wood Hunting

When my family started planning their first get-together in Nebraska, my husband, Rex, offered to take everyone on one of his favorite childhood hunts. He was to lead the pack on a hunt for petrified wood. Rex knew that petrified wood could be found not too far from the South Platte River.  

Petrified wood starts out as a tree or a tree like plant and eventually turns into a fossilized stone. This occurs when the wood becomes buried under sediment and is preserved by lack of oxygen when the organic wood is replaced with minerals and in time turns to stones of various colors. The colors are due to the elements in the sediment. This process can take millions of years. 

On a very hot Friday afternoon when the temperatures were soaring over 100 degrees, the family donned hats, grabbed water bottles and plastic bags in search of a likely place to search for petrified wood. Our car caravan pulled off the side of the road when this sand draw looked hopeful. 

One by one everyone took turns climbing through barbed wire in pursuit of  ancient fossil wood.  

Even my youngest granddaughter was ready to find her treasures. 

Once the first piece of petrified wood was spotted by my son-in-law, Gabe, the whole gang got into a competitive hunt looking for a bigger piece. Sometimes everyone stayed close together and other times they spread out trying to out-find the others. 

After searching for over an hour the kids decided they were pleased with their finds and wanted to head to the air-conditioned car. I was most happy to accompany them to a much cooler spot while the others kept their look-out for another 45 minutes. 

Abbi was delighted with her find. I did hear that the bigger piece "might" have been her Dad's find but Abbi was quick to claim it as her own. Everyone was hunting together so sharing is caring. 

Once back at our lodge, show and tell was a lively time. An old fashioned scale in the entryway  was brought back into service to weigh the fossil wood of the bigger pieces. The eye can be deceiving. From the day's efforts the all time winner of the largest piece was my son-in-law, Jeff. His petrified wood weighed 815 grams. His piece is the lower one on the picture below. The second place went to his daughter, my granddaughter, Maddie, with a weigh-in of 808 grams on the top of the photo below.  Maddie took the close call all in stride by declaring "it's only the difference of 7 paper clips".

To follow-up on this wonderful field trip, we all visited the Petrified Wood Gallery in Ogalalla, Nebraska. The museum displays petrified wood from all over the world including one case with petrified wood from the South Platte River which flows through Ogalalla. My husband, Rex, and his family know the twin brothers Howard and Harvey Kenfield who started their collection of petrified wood in the 1950's. In 2000 they donated it to be displayed in Ogalalla in this gallery.  Many art pieces are made from petrified wood. The Kenfield brothers have made 3 dimensional pictures of rustic cabins, barns and buildings. You can get a peek at a few of these on their Facebook photo page. I am happy to say we have one of their pieces which Rex's mother, Louise, had bought many years ago. I would love to include a picture of it here but it's currently crated in a special case for protection. When it's out again, I'll add a picture to this post.

The family gathered around the display case showing petrified wood from the local region at the gallery. It's a lovely museum not to miss if you're passing through Ogalalla on I-80.

Field trip anyone?

Saturday, July 7, 2018

School Starting Soon

It's July, 2018, and already thoughts are turning to the start of another school year. My daughter-in-law, a teacher, starts August 1st. The summers are much shorter than when I was a kid. 

As summer melts into school days and even though my own children are grown and out of school I still dabble in carpool lines with my grandkids. Just as when I was in Kindergarten, the time held tradition continues. (I'm third from the right)

When visiting my two oldest grandkids in Minnesota, Grandpa and I were always along for the ride to drop them off or pick them up. This year they are in eight and ninth grade. I remember when they were little and watching for them to find us in the carpool pick up line. Time goes by so quickly.

I always know when our local schools start because an elementary school is my backyard neighbor, I love hearing the kids' noise out on the playground and the school bells ringing. A school zone slows the traffic on my street as school buses rumble past my home.

Grandma Rita in Kindergarten! 

This year another of my grandchildren starts Kindergarten. I remember my Kindergarten days. They were fun and exciting times. One day I had the joy of driving my enthusiastic granddaughter, a Kindergartener, to her school. I think I was as excited to be in school mode as she was. It was a bit intimidating finding my way into the proper place for drop-off and then pick-up. I know all too well there are strict rules about such things. I may be a grandma but such adventures bring back lots of memories of driving my own five children to school.

I had a big, custom van that I drove my children in. I would be waiting for them in the school parking lot and not only my own but all the neighbor kids would come and pile into the van for a ride home. We didn't have to follow a seatbelt law back then so kids sat on the floor in the middle of the row of seats or crowded in however they could. I laughed because most didn't have far to walk home but they loved the social of riding with the others. Once the sliding door was closed, I often didn't even know who all was in the van so I asked for directions to the closest drop-off house. It was a fun time. 

With school starting in August, summer heat still lingers.  Today it reminded me of something I wrote in 1992 while living in Texas. It was a hot carpool day 26 years ago. I don't think the experience has changed very much when the temperatures are soaring. 

Mom's Taxi

It is so hot today!
The soles of my feet burn on the asphalt.
The top of my head smolders.
My clothes are wet and sticky.
Even my eyes burn in the intense heat.

Droplets form across my forehead and
I feel drips sliding down my neck.

I'm in my sun-scorched van
waiting in the carpool line.
School will be out soon.
When the bell rings,
I search the crowd for the little faces
I know.

From one school to the next
I travel.
Waiting at each school 
in the August heat,
in  the carpool line,
for my children.

Post updated from August 28, 2013

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Crawfish Boil

A family crawfish boil has been on my Baton Rouge-born sons' minds for years. Living in  land-locked Colorado, such a thing is rare indeed but they were determined. My boys, Paul and Andrew, checked into the possibility one Mardi Gras. The price was too high at that time so they waited. The next opportunity presented itself when we gathered the immediate family for a reunion in Lewellen, Nebraska over Father's Day weekend, 2018. 

The boys ordered 40 pounds of live crawfish from the Louisiana Crawfish Company in Natchitoches, Louisiana. They arranged to have it flown to Denver and delivered to the home of our oldest son, Paul.  Since Paul had to work he hadn't come up a few days earlier with the rest of the family so it was exciting waiting for Paul to drive up to Lewellen from Denver bringing the big Styrofoam container of live crawfish on Saturday morning. The squirming, smelly crawfish added such excitement when we all took turns peeking into the big white container carefully cradling our anticipated dinner.  

Andrew had the pot, burner, paddle and all the ingredients prepped, the corn, potatoes, onions, garlic and seasonings, ready to start the party once the crawfish were on scene. 

In go the crawfish!  Before our trip I mentioned our impending crawfish boil to local friends, I had to explain they just resemble tiny lobsters. I was hoping that would sooth their imagined disgust. As it turned out my daughter-in-law instigated a bowl of melted butter with creole seasoning added to the table to dip her delicately peeled crawfish in, pretending it really was lobster . I did try it and admit it was a good taste. Of course I like all things butter. 

Andrew stirs the crawfish, corn, potatoes, onions and garlic so they absorb the seasonings well! This boil broth turns everything to eating perfection. 

This golden broth becomes the messy juice that soaks your fingers and runs down your arms.  Even though it's drained off, it perfectly soaks the added sides to complete a most delicious meal.

40 pounds of crawfish and trimmings perfectly cooked and ready to pour onto the newspaper coated picnic table. The newspapers soak up any extra juices and makes for easy clean up of discarded shells and corn cobs. 

Steaming hot, heavy and drained Louisiana goodness brings the excited family to the table with picture opportunities of this amazing and memorable family event.  

My grandkids couldn't wait to make acquaintances with these strange crustaceans.  
My granddaughter, Morgan,  named her friend Sheila and carried her off to play. When I asked her later where Sheila was she replied "I left her under the tree."  Below Jeb is being  introduced to crawfish. 

Maddie's crawfish friend was named Gary. When the pile of crawfish dwindled, it was a time of accusation when Maddie said "Uncle Paul ate Gary". It was all in fun. Luckily no trauma ensued. 

Finally time to dig in! Twist, pull, peel and eat! No forks, spoons or knives, just plenty of paper towels, napkins and messy fingers. To add to the ambiance we even had Cajun music playing to tap our toes to while we slurped the flavorful juices and tender meat. 

Participating in this ultimate outdoor bash, sitting or standing elbow to elbow with our family the spice level on this boil considered that kids would be eating with us. All the same spice is a special flare to enjoy;  beer is the recommended beverage. Note the koozie from our wonderful supplier of the fresh and live crawfish. 

Finally, here's a picture of the happy crawfish eating gang. Notice our family T-shirts designed by my son, Matt.  

Monday, July 2, 2018

Ham Radio General License KE0EUS

After getting my Technician License in May, 2015, I started thinking about getting the next license, a General License. I bought the book and started to study. I hadn't gotten past chapter 5 out of 7 chapters before I had to have shoulder replacement surgery and a follow up repair.  By the time my head was clear enough to consider studying again, the book I was studying from had expired. The questions for the test and the books are changed every 5 years. I told myself I had no interest in chapters 6 and 7 anyway so I gave up the idea. 

As time passed I joined the Denver Radio Club and pursed my VHF and UHF contacts along the Front Range of Colorado. I was plenty happy with that using my Yaesu RT-60. One day while playing around on, a call sign data base, I decided to look up the town in Minnesota where my daughter lives to see if any licensed hams lived near by. I thought it would be good to have a contact in case I needed someone to check in on her and her family. Going through the 125 names listed, I found Eric, K0EAP, whose address sounded like it could be somewhere near my daughter. He had pictures of his antennas and lots of info on his call sign page so I sent him an e-mail. He immediately wrote me back and said he could see my daughter's house from his house, they were about 500 feet apart. 

I should have known I was starting to branch out beyond my Front Range contacts with a new Minnesota email friend. It didn't take long for Eric to tell me how fun it is to have an advanced license and I should go for my General. That same week one of my local ham friends from our Denver Radio Club told me I needed to get my General license. So the idea grew on me. I got a new book, signed up for a cram class given by the Patriot VE testing at the Red Cross Center and studied for the two weeks before my test. Study I did too. I was intimidated by the math and parts that I really had no interest in. I told a few people what I was doing and to please pray I can pass this test .During the classes I felt confident that I knew quite a few answers and that I had a chance to pass fairly well. 

The General test was given the same day as our second class. I was ready, so I thought. Looking at the test before me, I wondered where did these questions even come from. Even the equations I memorized in the book did not have the answer in the multiple choice to choose from. It was like I was working my way through a foreign language exam. I handed in my test sheets and just shook my head I was sure I hadn't passed. I was feeling embarrassed and deflated.

The 7 of us taking the exam waited in the lobby for our results. We compared questions that were on our individual tests and what answers we had chosen. I realized then that I had been given one of the harder tests. Some of the people had easy questions with basic answers. I had none of those.  As we waited, the examiner came into the lobby and called out one name at a time, congratulating them. It was hard waiting for the examiner to return again and again wondering each time if this was news for me. Finally I saw the examiner heading towards me. My heart truly dropped as he had an expression that I thought wasn't carrying good news. Guys before me had received perfect scores and the level of elation in the room was high. I was feeling quite devastated. When the examiner got to me his words of Congratulations almost dropped me to my knees. I was shaking and in total disbelief. It felt like an act of God's Mercy. As the examiner returned to get my paper work to sign, I tried to clear my head and even wondered if he made a mistake. I decided if he did come back with my temporary license, I would sign the paper and leave as soon as possible before he changed his mind.

I'm happy to say it all went through. However, I did find out I most likely did have heavenly intervention. The success wasn't all mine. I called my dear Mother who I had been praying for me and told her the joyful news. It was then I learned how this all happened. My dear 88 year old Mother told me what she prayed. She said "I asked God and Daddy to be with you. If you wrote down a wrong answer, I asked them to change it to the right answer." You know, I truly believe that's how I passed my General License. It keeps me humble as I had heavenly help. I don't know what happened to my test after I turned it in but I believe it received some blessed attention.   Thank you, Mama, God and Daddy for your help! 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Giant Pumpkin's Grand Finale

Do people wonder what happens to my son's huge pumpkin after the initial fanfare?
The answer is that the fun of being the proud owner of a 700+ pound pumpkin continues after the official weigh-in. If you haven't already read about the weigh-in story you can read it here to see what all the excitement is about.

Now that my son, Andrew, has his winning ribbon and cash in his pocket, he drives his pumpkin around the streets of Arvada, Colorado, delighting on-lookers. It's quite a sight to see a huge pumpkin hanging over the back bed of a pick up truck. It's worth a double take.
People always ask me about making pumpkin pies out of this monstrous pumpkin, especially since Thanksgiving is not far away from the weigh-in. I think pumpkin pie enthusiasts are dreaming of dozens of pies lined up on their kitchen counters. It could be done but the meat from these huge pumpkins doesn't have much flavor. Lots of spices would be needed to make a tasty pie. Andrew's wife, Sarah, and I never took this prospect on and this year Sarah bought our pies already baked. So much easier. I approve, especially after all the effort it took to grow the tasteless pumpkin in the first place!

After the pumpkin's parade of glory it's time to make it's celebrated appearance. This year it was displayed at the Campbell Elementary School Carnival. Getting it delivered to the school grounds was no easy task. It was thanks to our local Home Depot Arvada #1502 who sent an extendable forklift  to unload and place the pumpkin in front of the school. It made a wonderful photo opportunity for the school children and families. Climbing on top of a huge pumpkin was a unique experience for one and all. A few people didn't even realize at first that it was a real pumpkin. It's hard to believe a pumpkin can grow so large. Once it's identity is verified, it's popularity sky rockets. Below is the proud pumpkin-owning family at the carnival, Andrew, Sarah, Mackayla and Andy. I was so impressed with the help from Home Depot as they returned at the end of the carnival to load that heavy pumpkin back on my son's truck. That is real community help and support.

Once the over-size pumpkin has been cut from the stem and weighed, it can last about 2 months without refrigeration or 6 months in a refrigerator before it starts to disintegrate. Not having that  much space, though, it's just easier to deal with it in other ways. Some years the pumpkin has been cut up and mulched. This year as it graced our son's front yard, and Halloween was fast approaching, he decided to carve it for the delight of his children. Below you can see our almost 3 year old grandson standing next to their creepy creation.  What a fun family I have. I never know what my kids will be up to next. Keep tuned and I'll let you know what that might be!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Giant Pumpkins

This is my son, Andrew; he grows GIANT pumpkins in his backyard. 

He's been doing this for 7 years. This mighty pumpkin above had its official, impressive weigh-in today at Nick's Garden Center and Farm Market.  

Since I have no green thumb what-so-ever, I totally delight in the success my son has keeping these huge pumpkins alive for months. This pumpkin started out from an Atlantic Giant Seed, patented by Howard Dill. Seeds are an important part of growing big pumpkins. Seeds can be found from reliable growers in the Rocky Mountain Giant Vegetable Growers Club. Looking on their web site will help to get you started. Not to scare you off but one seed from a prize winning pumpkin in Wisconsin was sold in 2010 at auction for $1600. The seed was not even guaranteed to germinate. The giant pumpkin had so few seeds that value of the seed went for a premium. For beginners it's suggested, though, that you don't get fussy and get some seeds just for the asking. 

Giant pumpkins come in all sizes, shapes and colors. The goal is to grow a bigger one next year. Many things can go wrong during a growing season so it's exciting when a pumpkin makes it all the way to the weigh in.  Andrew has had an interesting history with his pumpkins. His rookie pumpkin was 24 pounds. The second year he raised a 176 pounder. I wrote a blog post about it on Roaming Rita that you can read here.  His third year hit 230 pounds, fourth year was over double the weight the previous year at  551. Fifth year was a wipe-out. The pumpkin didn't make it. The squirrels ate it up making it ineligible for any competition. Other growers have too late found families of mice taking up residence in their pumpkins. Weather and hail are other culprits to a pumpkin's good health. Last year Andrew had a mighty 331.5 pound pumpkin so this year's was over double that. They do keep getting bigger. 

Taking on this giant pumpkin project requires a constant watch to nurture this growing monstrosity. Usually the pumpkins end up with a name as they grow. This pumpkin was named Dorito. The seed was planted April 20, 2016, pollinated July 7th, 2016, and  was cut from its vine September 30, 2016.  For five months, water and attention are focused on the growing patch. 


Growing a giant pumpkin is one thing but how do growers move their masterpiece? It's not an easy task and it takes plenty of help. Here is how this year's pumpkin was lifted from the backyard. Andrew built this hoist with the help of his brother, Paul. A neighbor was on scene to help as well. Other years with smaller pumpkins a group of six guys lifted the pumpkin on a tarp. This year another method was needed for the project. 

Loaded and rolling down Interstate 70 on it's way to the weigh-in, Andrew said people slowed down to look at his cargo as they passed his truck. That's a sight you don't see very often. 

Having safely arrived at the weigh-in, the pumpkin is lined up with the other entries. Since Andrew is a board member on the Rocky Mountain Giant Vegetable Growers Club, he assisted in tape measuring the size of the pumpkins. This gives a hint as to the weight of the pumpkin and is one of the recorded measurements. 

Since all this excitement is dependent solely on the weight of the pumpkin, the color, size and shape are not considered. Therefore, the scale is the most important object on this day. In this picture you can see the heavy duty scale. The red and white ribbons will go to the top 10 heavy entries. Money is also an incentive for all the effort involved. First place garners a dollar a pound. This year that came to a whopping $1420. If your pumpkin doesn't get one of the top three honors, but are among the others in the top ten you are a happy winner of $50.00. 

Once the weigh-offs start, they are done in order by their estimated weights (from the tape measures) smallest to largest. There is a junior division so they go first. When a pumpkin is up for their long awaited official weigh-in, it is lifted and checked on the bottom. This is to look for holes, animals or any tampering of the pumpkin.  
While Andrew's pumpkin is being examined, he's on stage waiting for the results.

Results are in. The pumpkin weighed a whopping 702 pounds. This put Andrew in 7th place this year so he was happy to be $50.00 richer today. Sarah, Andrew's wife, was standing next to me as I took this picture and she was cheering loudly as she had put in lots of effort helping to keep the pumpkin viable. She's been known to run out and cover the pumpkin when a hail storm hits. She needs to he recognized as a co-owner of a successful pumpkin this year. 

There are only 2000 pumpkin growers in the world. As Andrew said "I can't think of any other fruit or vegetable that makes people smile." This Rocky Mountain Giant Vegetable Growers isn't all about pumpkins, even though it is the main draw. There are also categories for giant tomatoes, sunflowers, long gourds, green squash and more. If you have a green thumb consider this as your next project. There is lots of room for more giant vegetables on this table.

These giant pumpkins are often sold for fall decorations. They don't make very good pies unless you use lots of spices. Even then it's not obvious if the inside of the pumpkin is going to be a good eat or not. There are pumpkin drops at nurseries where you can watch them go splat. That's another whole day of fun! 

Great job growing this year, Andrew (and Sarah).