Effigy Mounds | Winter vs Summer Views

Joe emailed last week and asked if I wanted to hike Effigy Mounds National Monument with him on Friday December 12. My calendar looked open. We agreed on a place to meet and made our plan. It is a two hour drive from where we live to reach the park. It is along the bluffs on the west bank of the Mississippi River in far northeast Iowa upriver from the old small towns of Marquette and McGregor. McGregor has only 850 residents now. In the 1870s, it swelled to 5,500 and was one of the busiest shipping ports west of Chicago. Then, the railroads came. Steamboat travel and shipping declined.

The day dawned quite foggy and about 33˚. The weather forecast called for the fog to remain most of the day. We ventured forth anyway. It had been many years since Joe was last in the park. He took the day off from work to get a much needed break. What normally would be a beautiful and scenic drive was now a trip through a fog shrouded countryside. The rolling hills were invisible.

I was at the park with Melanie in May of this year. The banner on this page looks upriver that day. We hiked the same trail then as Joe and I did this day in December. We stopped at the same overlooks along the bluffs to see the river below. Here is our view in May. Click any picture to embiggen.


Looking across to the east into Wisconsin.

Southbound barge traffic. Click to embiggen.

Southbound barge traffic.

The river took on a much different look this time. No river traffic went by. The locks are closed at the dams for the winter. Some ice is drifting by from an earlier cold spell. We did see some Bald Eagles nearby on the bluffs. Very little else was active this foggy day.

Looking east toward Wisconsin...barely visible.

Looking east toward Wisconsin…barely visible.

Downstream toward Marquette and McGregor.

Downstream toward Marquette and McGregor. No barges until spring.

Thanks for joining us on this little adventure.

Mom’s Oat Scones

It was time to bake something. I chose a recipe Melanie got from her Mom for Oat Scones. They are made with steel cut oats in addition to white and wheat flour. They turn out hearty and healthy. Below is the recipe you can print out if you wish.


Mom's Oat Scones

  • Servings: 8 wedges
  • Time: 30 min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup wheat flour
  • 1 cup oats…may be rolled, quick, steel cut, or old fashioned
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 Tsp sugar…white or brown
  • 1/4 cup cold butter cut into several squares
  • 1/2 cup milk


Mix the dry ingredients. May use a food processor pulsed a few times. Add the cold butter pieces. Pulse the processor to cut in the butter.

Place the mix into a bowl and add the milk. Stir to form a soft dough. Flour a surface. Pat out the dough to form a circle 1/2 inch thick. Cut into wedges and place on a greased baking sheet.

Bake at 425˚ for 15 minutes or until golden. Serve warm with butter and honey.

Here is a very close up view to show the texture. Nice and flaky. Great with coffee or tea.



We have a small opossum that hangs around under our feeders. It shows up most days in the mid-afternoon, to graze on seeds and bits left by the birds and squirrels. Cute with its fur sticking out wildly all over, it’s not very big. Based on the one-pound grey squirrel on the left of the photo, I guesstimate it’s only three or four pounds. A “typical” opossum is about the size of a large house cat, and weighs in at 10 to 13 pounds.


The title calls it a “possum,” but that is actually a different animal native to Australia and New Guinea. In North America, the animal is an “opossum.” Both are marsupials. With its prehensile tail and opposable thumbs, the opossum is an excellent climber.

Besides the seeds my opossum enjoys, they are foragers and will eat carrion, rodents, insects, frogs, and plants including fruits and grains. As they are nocturnal, usually they are out at night. However, in the winter sometimes they change their patterns to take advantage of warmer temperatures during the day.

If you’re hungry, you could try this recipe for roast opossum. “The opossum is a very fat animal with a peculiarly flavored meat.” The linked recipe also includes stuffing.

3.  It is dressed much as one would dress a suckling pig, removing the entrails, and if desired, the head and tail.

4.  After it is dressed, wash thoroughly inside and out with hot water.

5.  Cover with cold water to which has been added 1 cup of salt.

6.  Allow to stand overnight. In morning, drain off the salted water and rinse well with clear water.

7.  Stuff opossum with opossum stuffing … ; sew opening or fasten with skewers.

8.  Place in roaster, add 2 tablespoons water and roast in moderate oven (350°F) until tender and richly browned, about one and one half hours.

9.  Baste every 15 minutes with drippings.

10.  Remove skewers or stitches, and place on heated platter.

11.  Skim fat from gravy remaining in pan.

Okay, and this was too funny and too weird to leave out. Listen to Cy Scarborough and the Bar D Wranglers at the Bar D Chuckwagon in Durango, CO.

Medicare | Deadline Near | Decision Time

December 7 is the last day to choose another Medicare plan if you want to change for 2015. I decided to stay with the Part B and Part D I have. What about you?

Have you enjoyed getting lots more mail every day?

Do you like how easy it is to cut through the marketing language and make a smart choice?

Do you have thoughts about the process for either Medicare or Affordable Care?

This is your chance to praise or vent. You have the floor.



I have been accumulating lots of paper from companies that want me to sign up for their Medicare plans. A friend of mine says it makes good kindling for his fireplace. My fireplace starts with a wall switch. So, I have been recycling my ads.

Did You Get Enough to Eat?

Ah, the holidays… From Thanksgiving until after New Year’s, it’s like the feast that never ends.

Turkey and ham, oysters and smoked salmon, potatoes and green beans, casseroles and fruit salads, pies and cream puffs. Not to mention all the cheese, crackers, cookies, and nut bars that seem too small to count. We taste and nibble, take more than we intend, fill ourselves, then fill our trash cans with food waste. When clearing the table and scraping plates from one holiday meal, we dump enough food to nourish several other people.

But what about the rest of the year? Did you get too much to eat to even finish it? Did some go to waste in your cupboard, your fridge, on the counter before you even had a chance to fix it? What left your plate or serving dishes for the trash can? How many times did you find forgotten leftovers and bid them adieu?

In the U.S. we waste a shocking amount of food at all points in the farm-to-fork chain. At the consumer level, you may waste more than you know. The National Geographic says, “Spills, spoilage, table scraps, and other losses from the typical American family of four add up to 1,160 pounds of uneaten food annually.” Doing the math, that means in that average household, there are 24 pounds of waste per person per month. This doesn’t include food loss at the producer’s end of the chain.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC,)

In households, fresh products make up most of the wasted food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that a typical American throws out 40 percent of fresh fish, 23 percent of eggs, and 20 percent of milk. Citrus fruits and cherries top the list for fruits, and sweet potatoes, onions, and greens are commonly wasted vegetables.(12)

Much of household waste is due to overpurchasing, food spoilage, and plate waste. About 2/3 of household waste is due to food spoilage from not being used in time, whereas the other 1/3 is caused by people cooking or serving too much.(13)

It can be hard to visualize the consequences of wasted or lost food. modernfarmer.com says

The environmental toll for throwing away so much uneaten food is also costly. Of the millions of tons that we waste in America each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 96 percent ends up in landfills. And currently, food waste is the number one material taking up landfill space, more than paper or plastic. This produces methane gas, one of the most harmful atmospheric pollutants.

In case you didn’t get that, let me repeat: food waste is the number one material going into landfills, creating methane gas. Methane gas is a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

If that weren’t enough, production of food we don’t eat requires tremendous resources including petroleum, chemicals for fertilizers and pesticides, and fresh water for irrigation. Again from the NRDC, wasteful production and use of food requires 25% of all freshwater used in the U.S. and 4% of total U.S. oil consumption. It costs $750 million per year just to dispose of the food and creates 33 million tons of landfill waste (leading to greenhouse gas emissions).

There is no way to soften this: producing and landfilling wasted food is environmentally hazardous.

What can you do to help? These tips from NRDC give great ideas for using your food dollars more effectively, and reducing resources used for producing, delivering, and landfilling unused foods.
Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 4.20.55 PM

Or for much simpler tips, consider these created during World War I. Nearly 100 years ago in the depths of the war, we recognized that wasted food was wasted resources, which could otherwise be used to support freedom from tyranny. We are fighting a different kind of tyranny now, that of environmental change. This tyrant, too, must be defeated, and we have a role in that fight.

Pipeline Across Iowa? | Why I Oppose It

An oil pipeline is proposed to bisect the entire state of Iowa from the northwest to the southeast corner. The route is superimposed over a map of our Iowa rivers. Public information meetings are scheduled. Iowa residents can express their opinions at those meetings. I plan to attend and voice my opposition to the proposal.


Click to embiggen

Some of the cities near the proposed route…


The proposed route would deliver crude oil to an existing pipeline at Pakota, Illinois. From there, it parallels and crosses the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers down to the gulf coast in Texas. The company also plans to ship crude by rail to the east coast.


Why Do I Oppose This Plan?

  • Fossil fuel use around the globe is driving increased Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere. That in turn is raising our average global temperatures. Global warming is an issue we should be doing more to combat. This pipeline would not reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. The pipeline would increase our dependency by making crude oil more available.
  • Instead of pouring money into a pipeline, we should be investing more in alternative and renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind. Our children and grandchildren deserve a future with clean air and normal climate. By building another pipeline, we are not investing in technology that will help secure a better future climate. We are continuing on the same path toward global warming and the resultant problems. Our children and grandchildren will pay for our mistakes and lack of action today.
  • I worked as a public school physics teacher for my career. I understand the technologies of both the current fossil fuel infrastructure and the emerging alternative energy sources. These were discussed at length in my classrooms. The dominant attitude shown by young people is that we can do better than continue the status quo of high fossil fuels consumption. They know their lives will be impacted negatively and want to see change for the better. We can make a positive difference for them.
  • Pipelines leak or burst and spoil large areas of environment and water supplies. The residents of Mayflower, Arkansas experienced that in 2013 when a pipe burst spilling thousands of barrels of crude oil into their neighborhood. Trains of tank cars derail and cause death and destruction as experienced in 2013 by the residents of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Forty two people died. Half of the town center was destroyed. These are not isolated one-time events. Similar disasters could occur with this proposed pipeline.
  • As shown in the first graphic, this proposed pipeline crosses the Missouri River, Floyd, Little Sioux, and Maple which feed into the Missouri. It crosses the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers. It parallels between the Skunk River and Des Moines River as they reach the Mississippi River where it crosses into Illinois. Pipeline leaks and bursts anywhere along the route has the potential to permanently damage the environment of major Iowa rivers and the ecology of the two largest rivers of this country. I am not willing to accept such risk.

For these and other reasons not mentioned, I urge that this proposed pipeline not be built. We are at a turning point. We can choose to take the path of less fossil fuel use. We can choose the path of renewable alternative energies and reap rewards for the economy, the environment, and our grandchildren.

Tiffany | Cultural Center | Chicago

by Jim and Melanie

After viewing the Tiffany ceiling at Macy’s in Chicago, we walked toward Michigan Avenue with plans to visit the Art Institute. At the corner of Washington and Michigan Ave, we noticed the Cultural Center building. We had never been there before. It was something new to explore.

We were greeted by a friendly older gentleman who asked if he could help us. We told him he could and that we had never been in the building before. What interesting things were there to see? He opened a brochure and started describing the highlights. First on his list were the extensive decorations by Tiffany and Company. They have the largest stained glass dome in the world done by Tiffany at 38 ft in diameter. It was completed in 1897 when the building opened as the public library. Click either image to embiggen.

I want to see more of this place.