Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day

As I often do on Memorial Day, I like to draw your attention to a set of remarkable photos taken a few years ago by a reader (Katie) and her husband, who were formerly stationed in Germany. Katie learned that Don's uncle, Donald Sowers, who was killed in World War II, was buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in Liege, Belgium. She and her family visited the cemetery and sent these photos. (The entire collection can be seen here. Go look at them. They're remarkable.)

Later, a reader named Kathy left the following moving comment on that blog post I shared:

I searched for 2 years to find my mother's first husband Harold Norris, killed 4/4/44 @ 2:04 PM over Romania. I received a photo of his grave from Belgium and walked over to my mother's home and said, "Mom where is Harold buried?" She said, "New Jersey". I said, "Mom, sit down, we need to talk."

Her mouth dropped open when she learned that her first husband was buried in Belgium! He has been there for (then) 65 years. All I started with was his purple heart, his name and service number. It has lead me down a path filled with new compassionate friends and a new understanding of the word sacrifice. Harold was an airman, navigator and top turret gunner. His plane the Miasis Dragon was shot down after delivering a fatal blow to an oil refinery in Bucharest Romania. The plane was hit at the waist by a land-to-air missile. The plane nose dipped, the pilot pulled it up, then it went nose-over-tail to the earth in a fireball. 4 crew were "carbonized" and were buried together in one grave by Romanian Monks. Later, in 1949, with dental records my mother provided, the US was able to locate his remains from the others and he was buried for the 9th and final time in Ardennes. The other 3 airmen are still together buried in the US.

One of the beautiful things I noticed was that each man's life is symbolized with a marble cross. They all worked and sacrificed as a group and from above, all of their individual crosses make up a larger cross. This collective larger cross can only be seen by people in airplanes and God. 3/5ths of the graves hold the remains from airmen who lost their is to those who fly that the larger cross is visible...a beautiful way to honor them.

The other thing I learned in 2010: the people of Belgium, France and other countries meet and honor our heroes. At Ardennes in 2010, there was approximately 100,000 people present, not many were from the USA. It seems that in life, we considered these men to belong to us, but in their death, the European people consider that these men belong to them, whom they thank and honor every year. Most graves have been adopted. Harold's grave was adopted many years ago and now the lady who adopted his grave is teaching her young grand daughter to care for it. She obviously does not want her grand daughter to forget the gratitude she has for the men who lost their lives saving hers.

I wrote to a man who was age 7 when the bombs were falling on to his town. He was scared and saw more than a 7 year old should see. He remembers the American forces and he remembers liberation. For those who know what happened, who saw the cruelty and oppression, who had no hope, our US Military saved them, their children and their grand children. The maximum gift was given, freedom was restored at a great price, those receiving the gift are grateful....and other airmen and God can see their collective cross, a memorial for their sacrifice, from the air. This has put many things in perspective for me...I hope it will for you too. --Kathy


This is an essay Don wrote many years ago in tribute to his fallen uncle:

Forever Young

I don't know how he died, really. No one does, since everyone who was with him died at more or less the same time.

I'll bet he was afraid. I would have been.

It must have been hell on earth – above earth to be exact. A booming, banging, grinding, shaking, shattering horror. Especially it must have been tough on him, hanging as he was below the belly of a crippled plane, a bubble of glass exposed to the flak and the fire from enemy aircraft. A tasty and too-visible target.

His B-24 Liberator was powerful, true. But it was also lightly armored and easily damaged in combat. When damaged, the B-24 often lost the electrical power needed to rotate its gun turrets, and the gunners would have to hand-crank their turrets around, trying to follow the enemy planes.

Too slow. Too slow.

He was probably the youngest man on board. He was certainly the lowest-ranking member of the ten men who made up the crew. That first day of August in 1943, he'd only been in the Army Air Corp for a year and a half. He'd only been overseas for six months. He was 19 years old. He came from a farming family that lived in a very small town in Kansas. He had one sister, two brothers, and two very worried parents.

He was assigned to 98BG, a bomber group stationed out of Benghazi, Libya. His mission that day? In coordination with 178 bombers and 1,700 crew members, the 98BG was to attack and destroy the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. These facilities provided the Third Reich with one-third of its fuel … and the Nazis were very hungry for fuel in the waning days of 1943.

The oil refineries at Ploesti were protected with massive anti-aircraft batteries and hundreds of German and Romanian fighter planes. The distance traveled by the Allied bombers meant that no fighter protection could attend them. They were alone.

"Fire over Ploesti" by Roy Grinnell

It was a tremendous undertaking, a gamble of men and machines desperately needed for the war effort. A 2,400 mile, eighteen hour trip there and back again, with only a half-hour of available time over the target.

And in the end, for over 500 airmen and 52 bombers, there was no going home.

They say he's buried at a cemetery near Liege, Belgium. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. The records show that his B-24 was shot down over the refinery, but that it happened before the crew could disgorge the plane's 8000-pound payload of high explosives. And the B-24 Liberator was well known for burning merrily when it crashed.

But his name is on one of the white crosses standing in formation at the lovingly well-tended cemetery.

His parents back in Kansas received the medals that he was awarded posthumously at a ceremony, probably one of many such ceremonies on that same day. The medals were: a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Purple Heart, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Both his brothers eventually went to war as well. One went as another tail gunner, the other as a pilot. His younger sister stayed home, grieving for the older brother she would never see again on this side.

Eventually she married my father.

The parents, the brothers, and the sister passed away some time ago. There is now no one who can tell me anything more about Donald Phillip Sowers – Sargent, United States Army Air Corp. The uncle I never knew and whose name I share.

Donald Philip Sowers never woke to the face of his bride on the day after his wedding. He never paced the floor late at night singing softly to an infant daughter who just couldn't sleep. He never got to hold his child's hand the last time she needed, or wanted, help to cross a street. He never felt the aches and pains of a long life, well lived. And well loved.

But I will remember him and so will my children. If you've taken the time to read this, tip a glass in his name and remember him. And all the other lost brothers and sisters as well.

Think of the things he missed, for the things you have.

Donald Philip Sowers died fighting the greatest evil of our time – a young man of 19 who will never grow old.

A mighty "thank you" to our past and present veterans, whose sacrifices too many of us are willing to overlook, dismiss, or forget.

Sunday, May 30, 2021


This gif brings me to tears every time. Here's a man meeting the officer who saved his life 19 years ago. Watch it here. Get the Kleenex.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Homemade Hamburger Helper

A few years ago I put up a post called "Recipes for the boxed stuff" in which I invited readers to submit homemade versions of boxed (or canned) common food items, such as macaroni and cheese, bread stuffing, chili, muffins, etc.


It was a lively discussion and lots of people contributed some great ideas in the comments.

The reason I bring this up is this week I found a terrific recipe for homemade Hamburger Helper. Another one for the recipe list!

Frustratingly I didn't copy down the source – that's something I'm usually fanatic about – so I apologize for not giving credit to whomever pulled this recipe together, because it's terrific.

In the true frugal fashion of Hamburger Helper, I was able to pull everything together from ingredients we already had on hand.

Here's the recipe:

Homemade Hamburger Helper


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion cut into ½-inch dice
  • 3 medium carrots scrubbed and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef I used 93% lean
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 14-ounce can reduced sodium beef broth
  • 2 cups water plus additional as needed
  • 8 ounces whole wheat elbow pasta
  • ½ cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup chopped chives divided (optional)


  1. Heat a Dutch oven or a large, deep 12-inch skillet with a sturdy bottom over medium-low heat. Add the oil onion, carrot, salt, and pepper. Let cook until the onion turns brown and soft, about 10 minutes (don't shortcut this step; it builds a lot of flavor).
  2. Add the garlic and let cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high and add the ground beef. With the back of a large spoon or a sturdy spatula, break the meat into small pieces. Continue to brown, stirring periodically, until the meat is browned and cooked through, about 6 minutes.
  4. Remove pan from the heat and carefully drain off any excess fat, leaving just a little bit in the pan to keep the meat moist (if you are using meat that is 93% lean, you likely will not need to drain it).
  5. Return the pan to the medium-high heat. Stir in the hot sauce, Dijon, and smoked paprika. Add the beef broth. Scrape up any browned bits stuck to the pan.
  6. Stir in half of the chives, then sprinkle the remaining chives on top. Enjoy hot.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool 1 minute. Add the Greek yogurt and cheddar. Stir until the cheese is melted and the ingredients are well combined.
  8. Once the liquid is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package instructions, stirring often and scraping a spoon along the bottom of the pan to keep it from sticking. If at any point the pasta becomes to dry, splash in a bit of water.

I started with onions. You can never have too many onions, in my humble opinion.

Next: garlic, canned carrots, and beef broth.

Throw it in the pot and let it start cooking down.

Ground beef:

This was frozen, so I put a lid on the pot and let the heat gradually defrost the meat amidst the veggies.

Spicier stuff: paprika, hot sauce, Dijon mustard. Next time I make this, I'll add a bit more hot sauce than the recipe called for.

Grated cheese, plain yogurt.

I used radiatore pasta because that's what I had on hand.

Then it was just a matter of waiting for the pasta to cook within the juices of the other ingredients.

The result was ooh-la-la delicious. Definitely better than the boxed stuff!

Friday, May 28, 2021

Whoa! New visitor!

This morning we had a new visitor at our bird feeder. At first I thought it was a Baltimore oriole.

Honestly, doesn't it look like one?

But it didn't seem likely since their range is much further east.

Readers kindly pointed out this is NOT a Baltimore oriole, but a black-headed grosbeak. The beak is a dead giveaway.

These readers are right, and I thank them for the correction. I've never seen one of these critters before. What a handsome bird. I hope he returns to the feeder.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Ricing cauliflower

Last year, Older Daughter introduced me to the wonders of riced cauliflower as a low-cal substitute for rice.

Apparently riced cauliflower is available in the frozen foods section of grocery stores. "Riced" in this case merely means finely chopped up, and since cauliflower tends to be on the crumbly side anyway, it's easy to "rice" it with a food processor.

So I've taken to purchasing a case at a time of cauliflower and ricing it myself. This week I went into the city and came back with (among much else) a dozen heads of cauliflower.

The first step is to trim off the leaves...

...then cut the cauliflower into chunks.

After that, I chop it into smaller pieces, and put it in the food processor.

What I like to do is freeze the riced cauliflower in two-cup increments for meal convenience. With a dozen heads to process, I got into a rhythm. That included pre-opening a bunch of Ziploc bags, ready to fill.

As the bowl got full with the riced product, I stopped to scoop it into bags.

It tends to be a messy process, with crumbles of cauliflower everywhere, but at least it's not dirty or greasy.

I didn't count how many bags I ended up with, but it was dozens. I flattened these and popped them in the freezer.

They're the handiest thing in the world for a fast meal. My favorite is a quickie stir-fry with meat, onions, broccoli, and cauliflower. The result is filling and low in calories. Who could ask for more?

Monday, May 24, 2021

My new (introvert) hero

I like to save any links or references I come across on the subject of introverts, since that's what we are. Introverts have sort of "come into" their own during the pandemic lockdowns, since suddenly everyone wanted to know what it is they do all day.

In fact, the pandemic highlighted introverts as no other incident has ever done.

Extroverts have had it tough over the last year, no mistake. "Before the pandemic, I would spend a couple of hours at home, and then I would just get bored and want to go walk around or sit at the coffee shop or see if a friend wanted to get a drink," noted one extrovert in an interview. "It would just start to psychologically wear on me if I was alone for too long." The lockdowns made this woman realize "I’m even more of an extrovert than I originally thought."

But introverts and lockdowns? They go together like bacon and eggs.

In a piece on What Introverts Wished Extroverts Would Understand, one respondent wrote, "I live alone on a farm. I don't go out to the local bars. I don't try to date any locals. Some weeks I don't ever leave the property. And people always ask me how I can stand to live in the middle of nowhere. Well [bleep], that's the easy part."

When Don and I first got married in 1990, I was working a corporate job. Fortunately our office was small and the situation was fine for introverts, but once or twice a year I was required to attend a conference and "network" (that was the buzzword at the time). Don actually had to rehearse me on how to "work" a room full of strangers, because my first inclination would be to retreat into a corner and simply observe.

I've come a long way since then, but make no mistake, that's still my first inclination. It's every introvert's first inclination, no matter how much they train or rehearse to overcome it. This is not an issue of shyness I'm not the least bit shy but of preference. Introverts simply aren't built for socialization on a loud or large scale.

Introverts, as it turns out, are likely to be less politically active, less active on social media, and less likely to be corporate leaders. As one (introverted) psychologist concluded, "This state of affairs leaves many of the decisions relating to the daily life of introverts in the hands of the extroverts."

This psychologist also noted, "Introversion is not something to be fixed – but a blessed source of human diversity." In a world built for and by extroverts, introverts bring their own set of strengths to the table.

Yet, through it all, introversion is still seen as something that must be "fixed" for the happiness and well-being of those poor misguided introverts. In a 2019 University of California study, 123 people were tasked with acting like extroverts for a week. Participants were "asked to be talkative, assertive and spontaneous in their daily interactions with other people." The following week, the same group was asked to act like introverts.

The findings, apparently, were "remarkable": "'It was the biggest effect we've ever found in any of our studies,” says Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, the lead researcher. 'When people acted extrovert, they experienced more positive emotions and satisfaction. When they acted introvert, they experienced fewer positive emotions.' She speculates that this is because, at heart, humans are social creatures. 'Social relationships are inherently rewarding for us. We have a need to belong and to connect with each other.'"

In other words, introverts would be happier if they'd just, you know, stop being introverts. Got it.

Personally I'm more inclined toward this article: "Acting Like an Extrovert Has Benefits, but Not for Introverts" which quoted a team of researchers led by the psychologist Rowan Jacques-Hamilton at the University of Melbourne: "Until we have a well-rounded understanding of both the positive and negative consequences of extroverted behavior, advocating any real-world applications of acting extroverted could be premature and potentially hazardous."

Rock on, Dr. Jacques-Hamilton.

The reason I decided to post about introverts today is because I just saw a funny anecdote about someone who was unaware of the whole pandemic:

Talk about the ultimate introvert! Whoever this guy is, he's my new hero. I, too, look forward to the day when I can go months without leaving the homestead and be blissfully clueless about whether or not there's even a pandemic.

Now excuse me, it's time to go get some oats.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Building a gate

We have a broad elevated deck off the back side of the house. It's a beautiful deck, but there was no way to keep Mr. Darcy from taking the walkway around the side of the house, down the stairs, and out into the driveway. So ever since we moved in, we've just been blocking off the stairs with a piece of cattle panel. It was very annoying to have to move it out of the way whenever we used the steps.

So today Don decided his project would be to build a gate on the deck.

 He assembled all the tools and pieces...

...and started fitting things in place.

He began by building a frame to shorten the space. We didn't need a six-foot gate there.

These brackets help keep the 4x4s in place.

Then he built the gate frame and attached it with hinges.

Progress so far.

He also installed the clasp, which will help hold the gate frame in place while he installs the rails.

He made the rails as a stand-alone unit that he simply inserted into the gate frame and fastened in place.

Ta-da! Finalized gate. We still have to paint it, of course, but now Mr. Darcy can go out on the deck whenever he likes.

And at last we can get rid of that infernal chunk of cattle panel blocking the steps and use it somewhere less annoying.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Country moment

Don and I heard shrieks of laughter this afternoon. We looked outside and saw three young people galloping their horses up the road. A few minutes later, they went galloping down again.

Just healthy high spirits on a spring day.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Re-using disposable canning lids

A couple weeks ago, I saw an interesting piece on SurvivalBlog entitled "Reusing Canning Jar Lids."

I've been following the issue of lid shortages with great interest, so this article definitely caught my eye.

The writer addressed the issue of re-using disposable lids with a scientific approach, testing his technique for recovering the use of disposable lids. "Some websites warn that reusing canning lids is 'unsafe,'" he writes. "That's simply not true. The lids either work or they don't work and there’s no middle ground. ... The same rule applies whether you're using brand-new lids or recycling used lids for the 17th time: if the button on the lid is down after the jars cool, the contents are safe. If the button is up, the contents are safe as long as the jar is put into the refrigerator to be used first."

In my canning experience, I must agree he's right.

In a nutshell, his recommendations for successfully re-using lids is:

• Parboil the lids (meaning, drop them in water that is boiling hot, but with the heat off) to let the gaskets soften and return to their original shape;

Confirm the jar rims are perfect (no nicks) and perfectly clean.

Over the last few years, most of my canning has been done with Tattlers, but I still use disposable lids once in a while. More importantly, I've used disposable lids on some of my past canning projects, but I was always careless when removing the lids – uncaring if they got bent or distorted during removal.

So from now on, I'm going to save my used disposable lids and give this fellow's technique a try.