Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Appetite for Idaho Sponsor List

A HUGE thanks to those who are making the "Appetite for Idaho" book possible:

YouBeingSocial/ Jennifer Quinn
(Yes, Jennifer, I put you first, out of alphabetical order just because we joked about that!)

Alavita/ Cameron Lumsden

Bridgetower Chiropractic/ Dr. Scott and Debbie Gibbons

Canyon West Guitars/ Thomas Duncan

Chime Runners/ Aymee Michels

Deb and Eric McGrath

Dog Bark Park/ Frances Conklin

Elk Valley Resort/ Caddyshack Deli/ Kathi Lewis

Flatbread Pizza

IdahoMagazine/ Kitty Fleischman

Janet Hobbs

Laurel and Lloyd Blackstone

MoMo Food of the Himalayas/ Bijaya Pudasaini

Point Rider Publishing/ Yvonne Rousseau Ron Gardner, Videographer

Sarah Nash 

The Culinary Club

The Orchard House/ Sherri McCoy, Kris Thompson

V Squared Creative /Tobe Brockner

Wholistic Beauty Boutique/ Colleen Fletcher

WOW 104.3 FM 

Do YOU or your business want to be a sponsor, too?

Here’s the basic run-down:

$50 gets you or your business in the next volume of a series of very cool books I’m producing, but not without the community’s help. 

Info Stuff:

Idaho writer Amy Larson shares her love for the Gem State in Appetite for Idaho: Volume One, through adventure stories and recipes of well-known Idahoans like the Idaho Press Tribune’s long-time managing editor Vickie Holbrook, radio personalities Randy Scott and Alana Lynn, 3 Girls Catering co-owner Gretchen Pelsma, The Sushi Bar McCall’s Jordan and Jennifer Ragsdale, weatherman Larry Gebert, Buffalo Gal sous chef Jake Totter, and more. 
She believes the combination of stories and food will instill warmth while connecting people, and the result is tasty. Beta readers (who include historians, local business owners, and a State of Idaho International Tourism Division Specialist) call Appetite for Idaho ‘a treat’, ‘engaging’, ‘stories with humor, reverence, and Idaho history’, ‘much more than expected’, and ‘an experience.’ 

Ms. Larson is currently a Treasure Valley writer, editor, book coach, and regular contributor to Idaho Magazine, Edible Idaho South, Eagle Magazine, Greenbelt Magazine, and Idaho Family Magazine. She is featured weekly on WOW104.3 FM as a guest entertainment editor on Randy & Alana’s Morning Show, and has a ‘Friday to Friday’ blog that lists family-friendly, mostly free events on WOW104.3 and KIDO radio’s websites. Her Appetite for Idaho blog, Facebook page, and Twitter micro-blogging attracts the attention of thousands throughout the state and beyond.

The first in a series, Appetite for Idaho: Volume One is expected to arrive in bookstores and eateries by summer of 2014, with a new volume of little-known stories, adventures, and recipes from some of the Gem State’s favorite Idahoans set to be produced yearly.

Amy's Note: It was suggested to me by a 30-year veteran of marketing that I acquire sponsors through the many friends I’ve made along the way. For a donation of $50, sponsors will be listed on both a gratitudinal blog link, and have their business or personal names appear with wording similar to this in the back of the book:

“Since its inception, Appetite for Idaho has been a community effort.
Special thanks go to:

Super Business
Great Magazine
Terrific Store
Tasty Restaurant

I would be thrilled if you’d consider contributing and becoming a part of this fun venture. I’d be happy to send you the testimonials/ reviews I’ve already gathered.

Send $50 sponsor donations to:

(Message me on the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page for address details)

Thank You for Your Support!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Eh Capa Queen

She Speaks Horse

A Young Equestrian with a Gift

“Karmel’s a great storyteller,” said my friend, Larie Horsley. As Karmel Laursen began giving a mother’s account of the miracle that had unfolded before her eyes over time, I had to agree. We were at the Sun Valley Wagon Days, because Larie knew of my interest in a group that would be performing there, the EhCapa (“Apache” spelled backwards) Bareback Riders Club. Her daughter, Brandi Horsley Krajnik, is the owner of BK Arena in Nampa, where the club practices. I had come hoping to hear the tale of Karmel’s daughter, a girl named Ecko, who had tamed a wild mustang and was now riding it, two years later, as the EhCapa Queen.

To understand the gravity of becoming an EhCapa Queen, a little history is in order. In 1956, looking for a way for children to benefit from horsemanship without the exorbitant cost of tack, the club was created. With a style reminiscent of American Indians of old, the EhCapa dress the part and paint up their horses as Indians once did. There are no bridles or bits. Control is through voice commands, cues from the riders’ legs, and a one-inch leather tack rein. Riders turn right, left, stop, gallop, and jump their mounts over horizontal poles several feet in the air. Accomplished riders put arms behind their backs, as if flying, and don’t hold on at all. The EhCapa Queen is an extremely good rider with an extremely good horse.

I had pondered all this as I drove up to Sun Valley with my friend Janet to watch the parade, and hopefully to spend a few minutes with Queen Ecko Laursen and her mother. Larie said she would introduce us.

Something about this group of country folk I’ve fallen in with just gets me. When we met up with Larie, right away it was, “Here’s a couple of chairs, have a seat,” and “You should’ve camped with us this weekend,” and “You’ll both have to come to the barbeque.” Always warm and welcoming.

Larie led us to a shady canvas near the parade site, saying the EhCapas would ride past us within thirty minutes. Beneath the canvas was Karmel Laursen, mother of the EhCapa Queen, who offered us camp chairs beneath the cool tent. I set my digital recorder and we all got ready to listen.

Karmel told us of the time Ecko was eight years old, visiting her grandfather in Wyoming during summer vacation. Ecko’s granddad took her up to the Bighorn Crags to see the old mustangs, part of the true Spanish breed, some of the last of their kind.  Looking at the herd from about a mile away was the first time Ecko had seen such animals. When, amazingly, a mustang approached the fence, she reached out her hand and touched its nose. Her brother snapped a picture. That ignited a determined spark in Ecko that some day, somehow, she would get a mustang of her own. Later, when she told her grandpa she’d touched a wild mustang, he didn’t believe her at first, but her brother had the proof. She said to her grandpa, “I’m going to buy a mustang someday, and I’m going to train it, just for you.”

Every year since that summer, Ecko asked her mother to take her to the BLM mustang sales. Year after year she begged, knowing exactly what day and time the sales were held. “Mom, can I have a mustang this year?” she’d ask repeatedly. Her mother always said, “You have a horse. You’ve got two horses. Go take care of them.”

“But I want a mustang,” Echo persisted.

“No,” was the yearly answer.

By age fifteen, she’d worn her mother down. When she said, “Mom, let’s go up to the mustang sale,” she hit pay dirt. Karmel said they could go, but only to look.

There were many mustangs at the sale, and Ecko intended to visit every stall, but at the second one, she came to a stop.

“I really like this one,” she said.

Karmel believes Ecko was drawn to the palomino in the stall because it resembled a former horse of theirs, which had died of colic. The horse they were viewing was by no means a kid’s horse. He was four years old, appeared to have shire or draught horse blood, and had feet the size of dinner plates. Karmel directed her daughter towards the two-year-olds, more appropriately-proportioned horses for a petite girl. She reasoned that a younger, smaller horse could grow up with her, unlike a horse that had been on the range for four years, learning bad habits.

“No, Mom,” said Ecko firmly. “It’s this one.”

She agreed to look over every horse before making a decision, for by now it was clear that the Laursens would be getting a horse. A few more hours were spent looking carefully over each pen, yet Ecko kept returning to the palomino.

“He’s huge,” said Karmel. “He’s almost frightening.”

“Mom,” Ecko insisted, “this is the one.”

Karmel told us she began praying the first of many prayers, such as, “What am I supposed to tell her now, God?” She sighed, turning to her daughter. “Explain just one thing to me. Why is this the one?”

Ecko asked her mother to look at the palomino’s eyes. Karmel stared and stared. Finally, taking a deep breath, she said, “Okay. I understand.”

The horse had the kindest horse eyes she’d ever seen. She just couldn’t say no. She made Ecko call her father, not wanting to be the only one responsible for an enormous horse that, who knows, could possibly end her daughter’s life. Ecko’s father told her, “It’s your horse,” and then asked to speak to Karmel.

“What do you think?” he said.

She replied with a phrase that would soon become common. “He’s huge!”

How huge was he? So huge that it took five or six men to load him while he put up a fuss. Almost too big, too tall for their large stock trailer. Once the horse was in the trailer, a man approached Karmel and asked who the rider would be. Karmel pointed to her tiny daughter. The man handed her a card and told her to call if they had any trouble, he’d come and pick him back up.

“Has this horse been returned?” she asked, and the man admitted that the horse was a “gimme back.” She didn’t share this with Ecko, even when they were driving down the road with the mustang kicking the tar out of the trailer, causing them to swerve and almost run off the road.

When they got home, they soon discovered that the fencing around their pasture was far too short. They borrowed a round, eight-foot tall corral from a lady down the street.

“He’s huge,” Ecko’s father said.

“I told you,” said Ecko’s mother.

Each morning while Ecko was at school, Karmel fed Durango, who stood on the far side of the corral, talking to him so he’d get familiar with her. The dog had another method, running right into the corral, and horse and dog got along fine. When Ecko got home from school each day, she went right to the corral, talking to her new horse. A couple of weeks later, she announced she was going inside the corral. Karmel told her she would stand aside and pray, not able to watch what she feared was her daughter’s demise. When Karmel finally felt brave enough to turn around, she watched Durango as he sniffed, nudged, brushed against Ecko, and walked all around her. The girl acted disinterested. When he put his nose up to her face, she leaned away. Durango got closer and she leaned back even farther, way down, as if doing the limbo. Ecko later admitted she was shaking like a leaf.

Thus began a process of getting to know her horse, slowly reaching hands out, gently talking to him in a low, soothing voice. Never pursuing or pushing him, she let Durango do the initiating. Brief touching graduated to the slight rubbing of his coat. Karmel said he looked like a little kid with oversized snow boots who’d gotten up out of bed in the morning, not bothering to clean himself up. Anxious to brush him, Ecko began taking the brush with her into the pen, but Durango was skittish. So Ecko continued to spend hours with him, just rubbing his coat and talking. This soon turned to a moving motion of walking around, touching ankles, flanks, face, until one day she picked up a foot, still rubbing, and then another.

Durango was smitten with his new “mother.” He’d often lift his head, sniff the air, and know when she was home. While he kept his distance from Karmel, when Ecko was present he was on the closest side of the corral, nearest to her.

We were interrupted from this reverie by shouts of, “They’re coming!” from the surrounding EhCapa parents, who play a critical role in the organization, both moms and dads. Club parents with their children and farm dogs had gathered to watch the Big Hitch Parade. As we all wandered to the curb, I was impressed once more by how quiet horse parades are. No radio music blares, no car horns blast. It’s just laughter and talking and the clip-clopping of hooves. Soon the EhCapas trotted past, regal riders in their leather, feathers, and painted faces, their majestic mounts painted with markings of the riders’ handprints. Queen Ecko led them, in costume and black braided wig. She looked like royalty, sitting straight and proud atop Durango. Knowing a bit of their history made my eyes mist. As the EhCapa Bareback Riders passed by, I could easily see the look of accomplishment on each face. They’d learned to ride bareback, acquiring knowledge not many others had.

We watched more of the parade at the curb, then returned to the cooler seats under the shelter, where Karmel picked up the story.

“Ecko had always been able to do things with horses like no one else”, she said.

They had a high-strung horse named Doc, who also was not made for kids, but Ecko handled Doc more easily than even the horseshoers or vets could do.

“I would have never dreamed of the things she’s done,” Karmel told us. “She just speaks horse.”

With dangerous or spirited horses, the phrase with the Laursens is often “Send Ecko out first.” Even when she was a small eight-year-old and new to EhCapa, Ecko taught Doc to stretch his front legs out, almost as if he were reclining, while she shimmied up his leg, grabbed his neck, and mounted. When club members first saw her unique way of getting on her horse, they asked her to do it again so they could watch. The same patience she had with Doc was the patience she had years later with Durango. Karmel told us she’d had plenty of ideas about how her daughter should do things when it came to the horses, but had learned to keep her mouth shut. She eventually just sat and watched the small steps her daughter took with each animal in her care.

After countless hours with Durango, the day came when Ecko decided to drape her body over the horse, and once again, Karmel prayed. When Ecko asked her mother to take the rope and lead him around the pen while she was lying on him, Karmel prayed harder, knowing how easily this massive beast could crush her child. What happened then was as natural as Ecko and Durango’s relationship had always been. Durango sniffed and licked Ecko in an affable way, as if to say, “Oh, it’s just her. It’s okay, because it’s her.

A few days later, Ecko announced she was going to swing her leg up and sit on Durango. Karmel prayed again. Really, really hard. She heard Ecko become upright on the beast, then Ecko startled her by exclaiming, “Whoa!”

Karmel quickly turned around to see if Ecko was all right, and was immediately told to face forward. She carefully asked what the “Whoa” had been about.

“I can feel the power under me,” Ecko told her mother excitedly.

The parade was winding down, and Karmel ended her story. Our group of city and country women stood up and joined the EhCapa, gathered now near the red Sun Valley barn, sweating under their Indian garb, but looking happy. They’d performed and paraded for large crowds over the weekend, and had been enthusiastically applauded. I turned to Janet and said, “These country friends share stories like this with me all the time. Isn’t that just incredible?”

Janet and I found our way to Echo and her horse, Durango, who was busy slurping water and getting a well-deserved bucket of oats. I touched his golden coat.

I wasn’t sure what a real live horse-whisperer would look or be like. I wondered if, like several animal-lovers I know, Ecko felt more at ease with animals than with people. This was not the case. The EhCapa Club is also involved with 4-H, an organization that emphasizes public speaking and showing animals, as well as excellent training in animal care. Ecko is a 4-H product. She repeated some of the story her mother told us, adding her own perspective, such as what had been going on inside her mind when she first laid eyes on the mustang.

“I looked at his eyes. I saw how calm he was. It was as if he were trying to tell me something, trying to tell me he wanted me. I needed this horse. He spoke to me like no other horse did.”

Although everyone else discouraged her, Ecko had wanted the challenge, wanted to prove to people that she could do it. “So I did,” she said simply. She admitted that she’d been scared out of her mind, and mentioned the moment she first sat up on Durango. “Holy cow, I’m on a mustang,” was her thought, followed by, “and I don’t know if he’s going to buck.”

I asked how she’d done it, this incredible mustang training, and Ecko said, “Baby steps. First of all, I had to build trust. He needed to know I was not going to hurt him.”

Her eyes brightened as she described her feelings for the horse munching hay a few feet away. “Loving and adoring,” was how she put it. “He’s my best friend. If he were to be sold or should die, I don’t know what I would do without him.”
Now seventeen, Ecko plans to be a horse trainer. “There are people that stay on the same horse for years that don’t ever get to experience the challenge of training a new horse. New horse, new challenge.”

She talked a little more about the day she was in the Bighorns with her grandpa. “He was the first person I called when I bought my mustang.” She knew that her grandfather talked about her around Powell, Wyoming, because every time she visited she’d hear, “Oh, so you’re Ecko”’ She had loved sharing stories of Durango with her grandfather, who died early last year before he got to see her as the EhCapa Queen. Or, we both surmised, maybe he did get to see her.

“Actually,” she said, “he did. I know he sees me. I told him I was going to buy a mustang and train it, just for him,” she added, eyes shining. “And I did.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reynolds Creek

Good and Lost

By nine-thirty, two things were obvious: my friend, Miss Direction, and I had missed the Eagle Scout flag-raising ceremony at Reynolds Cemetery in Owyhee County, and somewhere along the line, we’d missed a turn. The pavement had ended long ago, narrowing and dwindling to gravel before becoming packed dirt. Driving over a hillside into an expansive valley, we gazed out at miles of nothingness, in awe of the beauty and perhaps a little unnerved. Our map was inadequate, we had no GPS system, and we were surrounded by unapologetic mountains. Along the way, we could have taken about a half-dozen roads, and after traveling for more than an hour, we now weren’t as keen on trusting our instincts as we’d once been. Already, we had inadvertently found several muddy dead ends.

“It astounds me that there are even roads out here,” I said. “Why on earth did people make these? Where were they headed, anyway?”

I was getting a little nervous about our gasoline supply, which was still ample, but with another hour or two of driving aimlessly, that could change. I also felt remorse for not having brought any provisions beyond bottled water, which I merely sipped, in the event I’d need the remainder later. This seemed like a region where one could get good and lost.

Rounding a snow-filled corner, we were shocked to encounter a lone runner in matching long-sleeved shirt, running pants, cap, and shoes. I blinked, thinking I was seeing things. He turned, slightly annoyed at the disruption of his ponderings and privacy, gave a half-wave and moved closer to the edge of the road to allow us to pass.

“Okay, that was weird,” I told Miss Direction, “Where would he have come from?”

Neither of us could say; if we had known, we’d probably have been back on a main road.

A few minutes later, we came around another bend and spotted six more runners in full attire, moving in a formation small enough to allow discussion. The next corner revealed two runners. The corner after that yielded a lone athlete.

“It’s a runner’s mecca!” I exclaimed.

The fitness enthusiasts gave way to the occasional cow and, surprisingly, to ranches and farms, each nestled in its own valley. “Why would anyone want to build out here?” said the city in me. My question was answered almost immediately. Near each of these places was a row of telltale trees and saplings, meaning only one thing: water; exactly what the forefathers of the area had been looking for.

Eventually, we found our way back to Highway 78, coming upon what looked like the same road we had taken into the Owyhees. I now suspect that many of the roads out there connect to each other; I just have no idea how. Our search for the cemetery was abandoned, but I was determined to try again the following week.

During the days in between, I did a little research and found that the area where we’d been was actually Wilson Creek, not Reynolds Creek. We were only a couple of mountains off. The Wilson Creek area, I discovered, was indeed a hot spot for Saturday morning and afternoon runners.

Seven days later found me with a full tank of gas in my car, a generous lunch and plenty of snacks and beverages, plus an ample amount of company for moral support in the form of Mr. Larson, son Jared, daughter Erika and Gracie the gray dog. We were going to find that cemetery, no matter what.

“Turn here,” suggested my husband, who chose to act as navigator while I drove. He was looking at instructions we’d gleaned from the Internet.

“Is that Rabbit Creek road?” I asked, mildly concerned. No way did I want to get confused in this area again.

“Yeah, I’m sure it is,” he replied. Still, we traveled mile after mile without seeing a sign that proved the name.

“Do you think we’re heading in the right direction?” I asked.
“I’m sure we are,” Mr. Larson replied, possibly irritated by my apparent lack of trust.

“I’m turning around,” I said finally, and headed back towards Highway 78 and Murphy. Once back on the Highway, I found the local mercantile and pulled in.

“They’re just going to tell you we were on the right road,” Mr. Larson called out knowingly. We’d just see about that.

Like a scene out of a small-town movie, I walked into the practically-empty store to find the proprietor seated at a café table near an older couple, enjoying their company. He rose from his chair and smiled when he saw a new customer.

“We’re trying to find the Reynolds Cemetery,” I breathed, feeling a little silly. “We got lost last weekend trying to find it and I don’t want to get lost again,” I over-shared. “Could you tell me how to get out there?”

“Well,” said the man, “the only way to get there these days is by helicopter.”

“You’re kidding me,” I said, deflated. “Really?”

“No,” he answered, and then smiled. “You go down Old Highway 45, which turns into Rabbit Creek—”

“The one without the sign,” I muttered. “Rats. That means I’ll have to tell my navigator he was right.”

“Not necessarily,” said the man, “You can always go down a couple of roads beyond Rabbit Creek and turn left there. It ties in and will lead you to the exact same spot. He’ll never know the difference.”

I liked the way he thought.

Thirty minutes later our group pulled up to a farm, next to which was the sought-after ancient cemetery, complete with ornate iron gating and looming archway. Headstones were in varying states of tilting and dipping, seeming to undulate without actually moving. Some were only crumbling pieces of antique cement, time-warped wood or metal posts while others were made of intricately carved marble with shrouds, angels and bibles depicted on the alters of loved ones lost.

Wind, sun and rain had combined to wipe clean many of the epitaphs, but a few were still readable:

“Tis a little grave, but Oh! Have care! For cherished hopes are buried there.”

“How much of light, how much of joy, is buried with a darling boy.”

“Sleep, oh dearest babe, and take thy rest. God called thee home and thought it best.”

“Meet me.”

In several cases, children that had only lived to be eighteen months or so had the same size and quality gravestone as the parent they’d been laid beside. It seemed these were people that had valued a soul, no matter the age. I would eventually learn that diphtheria had often been the culprit, causing families to lose more than one member within days’ or weeks’ time. One man, I was later informed, returned home from business in the East to discover that two of his children had already been buried. A third child died the next day, and a fourth child died not long after.

I ran my fingers along the iron gatepost’s cool, smooth lines, curious about the long-gone hands that had fashioned it all. Curling, straight, pointed and exact, whoever created the only physical barrier for stray livestock, dogs and perhaps the coyote did so with care.

“Look over here!” called my daughter. Beyond the cemetery sat an old, abandoned schoolhouse. As we approached it, two farm dogs ran to greet us, joining our gray dog. They escorted us up the dilapidated steps and onto the school’s tired front porch; the setting, no doubt, for plenty of long-ago greetings and departures. The interior sported signs of multiple visits from birds, an olden-day attempt at decorating with a curtain still attached to its rod, and what I guessed was late nineteen-sixties fluorescent lighting and blackboards. 

Catching my attention and holding it hostage were the now glass-less windows, placed side-by-side to create a panoramic view of pastures and hills beyond. Had I attended school here during any era and at any age, I would not have been able to focus on my studies with that landscape calling. 

The basement was nearly as intriguing with its cement walls and high ceiling. I remembered that similar schoolhouses often had their lunch rooms and held plays and recitals downstairs. I wondered if this had been the case here, too. While the others lingered, I found myself drawn back to the cemetery, having an unexplainable desire to somehow connect with the people who had once been a part of this land. The Bernards, Brunzells, Drydens, Hallbergs, McDonalds and a whole lot of Giffords. As I looked around, “Native of Sweden” or “Born in Germany” was a frequent sight. I marveled that these folks could hail from so very far away, and yearned to know their stories. What choices had been placed before them that had brought them to this random, isolated place?

Once again, I was learning the lesson that life has many twists and turns; even more than the ones we’d seen last weekend on these winding Idaho country roads.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Twin Springs Resort

Just about the time I began to pray I wasn’t lost in the wilds of Idaho, we found our destination.

Twin Springs Resort (population: 2) seemed to come out of nowhere, and I was beginning to lose hope of ever finding it. The dubious sign informing us that we were now ‘leaving the Boise National Forest’, seen seconds before arrival, hadn’t been reassuring.

“Are we SUPPOSED to be leaving the Boise National Forest?” I nervously asked my daughter and niece. They didn’t know, and neither did I.

We’d passed many an ideal fishing hole and campground; and I couldn’t help but exclaim as we bumped along, “We’ll have to check that out sometime!”

The gravel road had been a little harrowing, but I was betting on the journey being worth the trip; great experiences, after all, often required sacrifice. Jaw-dropping scenery of the Central Idaho Mountains upped the enjoyment factor.

Taking Highway 21 from Boise up the hill, we turned right after the More’s Creek bridge. Passing a very populated Spring Shores Marina, we kept going. And going. And going, until eventually spotting a sign for the Cottonwood Ranger station where the road split. We kept right, but I began to have doubts. Should we have gone left? Twelve more miles, and I still didn’t see anything that looked like the cabins my sister and brother in law had told us about.

As hope dimmed, we rounded the curve and were instantly there. Rustic, authentic Idaho. Eclectic furniture on the front porch of the office/common area/ bar/ store. A welcome sign, assuring cold drinks and friendly conversation within. “We’ll be waiting for you at the end of the road with a cold one,” the signs said. The establishment also touted snacks, the game on TV, a pool table and a meal table surrounded by chairs, and a common area that seemed more like a Man Cave.

It became clear that no one would be a stranger by the end of the weekend, unless they craved solitude, and then there was plenty of that to be had, too.

“We are here to help you have a good time,” the website had claimed.

I was ready.

Three roomy cabins and the two-storied Gatehouse awaited visitors; each with its own peaceful view of the Middle Fork and built-in hot tubs on the back decks, fed by some of Idaho’s blessed geothermal activity.

Something was missing, though.

“Where are the power poles?” I asked the other guests. They shook their heads. I hadn’t seen any, either, yet our cabin had electricity. I later discovered that Twin Springs was a hydro-powered community. The power lines must have been underground.

Easing into the magical, restorative mineral waters and breathing the fresh air, accompanied by rushing river sounds and sunset colors bursting from just behind the mountains, our resident weekend barbeque king (my brother in law, Lloyd) handed us our dinner plates. We had all the makings of a beautiful stay.

After a long soak and catch up chat with family, hearty meal, and much-needed rest on a good mattress, I awakened the next morning to a body that felt ten years younger. As others slept on, the crisp air and gravel road leading up the mountain called to me. Taking pepper spray, sunglasses and camera, I set out, at that time happily ignorant of the area’s high bear population.

The sunset inspired thoughts of poetry. Not mine, but that of favorite Robert Frost.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I---
I took the road less traveled by.
And that has made all the difference.”

I wondered what it would be like to spend a week or two here, writing.

Upon returning to the cabin, I learned that the morning’s fishing excursion had yielded abundant results, with one fisherman, glowing with excitement, sporting her very first catch. The crew went to work,  creating fillets for the kitchen’s little freezer that were to be enjoyed at an upcoming meal.

The next day, our group piled into one vehicle and rode up the gravel road to a spot called Neinmeyer, a campground reported to have good fishing and even better shade. We played in the water, snacked, and lazily talked and napped while the sportsmen cast out and reeled in.

Back at Twin Springs, I continued my search for the fabled sauna, which I hadn’t been able to locate all weekend. I’d become a sauna convert during a trip to Europe, with my European friends testifying to the benefits sweating out toxins had on overall health and complexion. I was determined to find the place.

It wasn’t as if I hadn’t asked.

“It’s that stone house right over there,” another guest told me, but we’d talked when it was dark out, and I hadn’t been able to see where that person had pointed.

“Oh yeah, it’s that stone place thataway,” yet another guest told me, pointing too quickly for me to catch the general direction. Had I not been too proud to ask again, I'd have avoided an extended search.

So I wandered from stone dwelling to stone dwelling. I approached one, ignoring the DANGER: KEEP OUT sign, assuming it was only there to keep the public out. That’s how I wound up in the pump house. 

Thirty minutes before it was time to leave, I found the sauna, the same little hut we’d passed on our way down to the river all weekend long. Missing it had taken some talent. 

I’d have to save the sauna for next time.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Resolution Revolution

I’m sure by now that we’ve all realized, whether consciously or not, that the word ‘resolution’ is only one letter off from the word ‘revolution’.

For my purposes, the resolution def I'm using is the visual one that talks about showing an image clearly, with lots and lots of detail. As a writer, editor, and artist, I’m a superbig details person. Coupled with ‘revolution’ (which has got to be at least a close cousin of the first word), ‘a dramatic change in ideas or practice’…I think I’ve got a pretty good frame to work with for the coming year.

I want details.
I want the story behind the story.
I want the ingredients.
All of them.

It’s been said that we don’t really choose the food we like, that any favorite dish is a combination of the knowledge we have of it, the memories surrounding it, the atmosphere in which we partake of it, and the people we choose (or don’t choose) to experience it with.

While I’m not a psychological expert (although I definitely pretend to be, and read everything about psych within possible reach), I can tell you this:

When I was younger, I did not like mushrooms.
But now I do.

My mother (an uncreative cook), forced me to eat them, thinking it a shame to waste such good (and, she told me, expensive) mushroom slices on one so reticent to enjoy them. I often assured her that she need not bother, since the result was the same each and every time, but her stubborn German blood, (a severe handicap) never allowed her to quit that easily. She determined that someday, somehow, I would like mushrooms, and must have assumed my prolonged exposure to the food would, one magical moment, suddenly snap me out of repulsion.

At the mushroom-laden dinners, I picked them out of the each and every main dish, and Mother would scold me, at which point I’d offer them to her, an offer she impatiently declined. I was compelled to stay at the dining room table until into my mouth the then-graying, drying slices were deposited. Mother didn’t know they went from mouth to paper napkin to wastebasket, because I never talked when leaving the table and taking my plate to the kitchen sink. This routine was not discovered until many months later, an unfortunate event for both of us.

As an adult in my thirties, I tried the same trick at a somewhat festive birthday dinner. Disguised under a dark yet transparent sauce, what appeared to be a strip of Chicken Masala was instead, a healthy slice of Portobello mushroom. Its rubbery texture shook me, and I made the discreet attempt to transfer slice to napkin, but was caught in the act.

“Don’t you like Portobello mushrooms?”  my good friend Mona asked, stifling an amused laugh.

“Is that what that is?” I asked, relieved it wasn’t the previously suspected huge slice of chicken fat.

I bravely stabbed at another mushroom slice…and in the safety of the moment and the longtime friendship surrounding me, liked it.

I'm not a picky eater, but this story begs the question, "How many other foods that I don't currently like could I actually like?"

I haven't many dislikes. I don't like menudo. I've tried it twice and disliked it to an equal degree an equal amount of times. I don't particularly like large chunks of cooked celery. I'm not a big caramel person, either...but...could I be? What if I tweaked some things, changed it up, changed who I ate the non-favorites with, or the location of consumption, or created new memories around the food items in question, like I did with the mushrooms? What if I learned a story about the foods I don't like...and then liked them?


What are the ingredients of a favorite?

Amy's Ideas on the Ingredients of Favorite Foods:

--And many more---

For me, a details person, nitty-gritty thinking isn’t new, but this next year I’m campaigning for more depth when it comes to our meals. Whose hand stirred the pot, and why and how have they found themselves in the kitchen? Why did they go with the savory when they could have gone with the sweet? What's with the mint leaves? What messages are they trying to convey through their food? And...most especially...if we don't like something, can we change it up and then like it?

In 2014, I want to see what I’m eating more clearly, I want to engage in a ‘dramatic change of ideas or practice.’ I want...resolution.

I'll call it….the Resolution Revolution.

*No doubt I'll be doing a large portion of this sampling with my good friends and the only other two members of The Culinary Club in existence, Sarah Nash and Deb McGrath, who've also written New Year's Resolution-type blog posts of their own. (Just click on their names and you can read them, too.)

Wishing You a Tasty 2014.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lake Lowell: The Friendly Neighbors Club

The Friendly Neighbors Club

 A Rural Idaho Women’s Tradition

as seen in IDAHO Magazine 

By Amy Larson

“Would you like to go to lunch with me sometime?” said Jean, a senior lady I’d just met. She was short, and her sparkling eyes, crisp voice, and white hair reminded me of an elf. It was 2001, and we’d just moved out to the rural Lakeshore Drive area near Lake Lowell. Each home in the neighborhood had at least an acre or two, and I was out exploring. Jean walked to her mailbox at the same time I trudged up the steep gravel road, and our chat led to a lunch invitation. Initially worried that I’d be lonely living the rural life, I said, “Sure.” She was a spitfire, and I had plans to be that way at her age. I was ready to watch and learn.

 A few days later, Jean picked me up in her sports car. I got inside and simply held on, certain she was a Nascar fan. We stopped to pick up Thelma, who lived nearby. Thelma laughed a lot, and told great stories. Three seemed like a good number for a get-to-know-you lunch, but at the restaurant, I was surprised to find nine others waiting there. They called themselves the Friendly Neighbors Club, comprising women who lived around Lake Lowell. They needed new blood . . . and that was me.

I can’t say I minded. Each had a tale that would familiarize me with area names, farms, and who was who. I got a crash course in rural Idaho by attending a two-hour, once-a-month luncheon. These ladies were really funny, and their club was an entertaining diversion from doing our business’s paperwork and our house’s housework.

I continued to ride to meetings with Jean and Thelma, who amused me with their Abbott and Costello act.  Sometimes Thelma would pass along a recipe she’d clipped from a magazine, knowing I had a family to cook for.  When I walked or drove up the hill, I’d either wave or honk at Jean. She became “Grandma Jean” to my children, who visited her every now and then. During morning workouts, when I rode my bike past Thelma’s little house down the road from mine, I’d wave at the big picture window I couldn’t see into, just in case she was nearby. She often spotted me.

Phyllis, another member, was a published writer, educated and well-spoken, who gave great devotional readings. Ruth made me laugh so hard I’d have to gasp for air, and she regularly invited the kids and I over for lunch and a dip in the pool. Charlotte, both smart and funny, was an artist who knew how to create just about anything. Midge, under five feet tall, shocked me at many a luncheon by ordering a big, juicy hamburger, and then eating it all. Soft-spoken Idella and her husband lived on our road, too, and year after year I took the kids trick or treating or Christmas caroling there.

Peggy, who claimed never to have had a toothache, earache, or headache, had supervised a corn topping crew in her forties, even during pregnancy. She never sat still, canned hundreds of quarts of this or that, crocheted blankets or anything else possible to crochet, and bowled with her league, who named their team Peggy’s Pickles in honor of her famous pickle recipe. “The secret’s in the water,” she told me. “It’s my special well water, and no one else can duplicate it. Many have tried.” 

Our entire family went yearly to the July potluck picnics held on Peggy’s front lawn under her huge shade trees on Walker Lake Drive. Because of these ladies, I never felt lonely living at the Lake Shore house. They took in my family and I. Nor was I the only one who felt that way about the club. Several of the members shared how they’d been transplants from other states, had needed friends, and the club had been there, making them feel that they had a place. The ladies were there for each other with a comforting sort of steadiness. Together, they mourned losses and celebrated gains. Their children were practically like siblings.

One summer, I developed a bike route past the houses of Thelma, Peggy, Idella, and Charlotte, which I rode almost every morning. The hunting dog of Peggy’s son followed me down the road one day and was struck by a speeding delivery truck. The dog didn’t survive, and I was heartbroken. A family came out of their home to help with the dog while I wondered how on earth I’d tell my friend. I rode back to Peggy’s and knocked on her door, but got no answer. At home, heavy-hearted, I called Peggy, and when she finally answered, I told her what had happened.

After a long pause, she said, “I just lost my son two weeks ago to an accident. He loved that dog, and now his favorite dog is with him in heaven. It’s okay, Amy.”
I cried a little, not having heard the sad news yet. Peggy, in her strong, corn-topping-while-she’s-eight-months-pregnant-way, consoled me, and after a moment said simply, “I sure miss him.”

I’d been a member of the club for five years before I had the good fortune to be entrusted with “the box.” One of the secretaries asked me to keep it for her. The cardboard box was clean, white, and carefully tied up with a thin turquoise string. At home, I went through it like a hungry child. It turned out to be filled with journals, minutes, old black-and-white photographs. What I learned filled me with a deep reverence for the club and the women who’d been a part of it all of this time.

I learned from its contents that the Friendly Neighbors Club had been formed on April 5, 1928, by farmers’ wives and mothers of school-age children. The first meetings were held twice monthly in a small building that became the district’s first schoolhouse. The club wasn’t unique. Many of the surrounding farming areas had such groups, and their heads would gather every so often to find out who was doing what within the communities, and sometimes coordinate their activities.

The Friendly Neighbors saw many needs to meet, one of which was proper school lunches. Long before a lunch program was instituted in the schools, the FNC made sure students had a good midday meal. Within the club, there were committees for just about everything, among them: flowers (weddings, funerals, illness), programs, membership, school, press and publicity, helping hand projects, ways and means, amusements, showers, books, decorations, the Marsing Auction, a scrapbook, and welcoming.

From about 1930 on, meticulous club meeting minutes were kept, which had the incidental effect of capturing the members’ cleverness. For example, each roll call featured a theme, as a way for people to get to know each other better. Here are some of them: “Name a Current Event,” “Name a Woman Writer,” “Yes or No: Does the Modern Girl Make a Better Homemaker Than Her Grandmother?,” “What I’d Do with a 25th Hour,” “My Secret Ambition,” and “What I Do When I Do What I Please.”

The minutes also provided evidence of stunts, riddles, card playing, games and contests, book and movie reviews, gift exchanges, spelling bees, and jokes played on husbands. Once, the members even held a “little kid party,” for which they all dressed as children.

The meetings often included the Pledge of Allegiance, readings of part of the Constitution or Gettysburg Address, and prayers. The “club collect” or motto, written by Mary Stewart, was: “Keep us, O God, from pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.” Activities changed with the seasons: a family picnic in July, spook stories in October, family Christmas dinners and parties in December, Irish jokes in March. In the spring there was an early bulb and seed exchange, and the anniversary luncheon in April was always a big, fancy affair.

Within the box, I also found tiny, handmade booklets titled, “In Memoriam.” One for each year contained the names of lost members, frequently with the same quote beneath each name, “As if a rose had climbed the garden wall and blossomed on the other side.” It was evident that as the list got longer of original members who’d passed on, the ladies found ways to celebrate their lives. Instead of a regular monthly meeting, candle ceremonies were held and memories shared of the friend lost.

The women were conscientious, determined to make their contribution to society, and the minutes showed their specific concerns: Public Welfare, What the Community Hall Needs, Winter Care of Poultry, Favorite Breed of Chickens and Why, What Can I Do for My Community, Ways to Conserve Sugar, What I Can Do to Help Win the War, Suggestions for Club Work for the Coming Year, Putting Something Christmassy on Helen Johnson’s Nursing Home Door.

The Lakeview School attended by their children was their pet project. They oversaw last-day-of-school picnics, teachers’ receptions, tokens of appreciation for cooks and custodians, presents for the teachers, blankets for emergency use, and assisted with the repair and/or purchase of the furnace. I believe they even helped to purchase a piano one year.

            Most of them were mothers, and children were welcome at club meetings. After a fire at the schoolhouse in 1967, students were bussed to different schools, but the tight-knit farming community and the club helped them to stay in touch.

If a farmer decided to sell or went bankrupt, club entrepreneurs discovered a way to make money. A crowd of people would descend upon those farms on the day of the auction, which many times continued during lunchtime. The Friendly Neighbors set up shop, selling home-made goodies to hungry buyers and bystanders. The money they made went right back into the FNC fund, which was often used to help each other or someone else.

Turning the pages of minutes and journals, I was amazed at the many ways these women had made their mark. It seemed they’d been everywhere in their heyday, lending  helping hands and making donations to the Salvation Army, Red Cross, American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Marsing Disaster Fund, Children’s Home, Lizzard Butte Easter Association, Hope House, Mercy House, Youth Ranch, and Polio Fund. They donated turkeys during the holidays, granted modest scholarships, baked cakes for receptions, sent cards to anyone they knew going through a loss or a hardship, sent money to heart transplant recipients, and bought get-well gifts. They even “adopted” a resident of the state school to give birthday and Christmas gifts.

It wasn’t all work, though. The minutes revealed pranks played on members’ husbands, who often did the heavy lifting for events and fundraisers, in exchange for a hearty and tasty meal or two. The members were famous for their cooking. By way of pranks, one year the husbands got a little good-natured revenge during a club meeting. When the ladies went to their appointed luncheon at Lakey’s on Highway 20/26, they were told reservations had not been made, and that the restaurant had not been expecting them. Not sure what to do, the women sweated it out for a few minutes before a back room was suddenly opened with tables neatly set up for lunch and their smirking husbands inside, who were no doubt proud of themselves for finally getting even with their prank-playing wives.

            At one time, membership had climbed to fifty or more. The club was quite the social event at its height, with mothers, daughters, in-laws and sometimes grandmothers on the roster. Longtime FNC member Mabel Farner created a book called Yesteryears in Lakeview, documenting memories of the area before there was a lake, the farming life and other histories, and of course, the club. Mabel had passed away before I’d moved to the country, so we’d missed each other.

In 2006, when the Friendly Neighbors Club held its eighty-third anniversary luncheon, I was made an “honorary” member. I laughed, thinking I’d been a member all along, yet the main criteria for being in the club had been that the women were from the Lake Lowell area (what was once called Lakeview), and by then, I had moved back to the suburbs. Perhaps this was their way of letting me know that I still belonged, no matter where I lived. They were, after all, friendly neighbors.