Submit   Hi. My name is Susan Becker and I'd like to share my view of rural Iowa. I live in a renovated nineteenth century schoolhouse with my husband, Tom, son, Beau, two dogs, a couple of cats and a flock of chickens. I spend April through October tending our acre of gardens and creating outdoor sculptures, and the rest of the time trying to capture all of this on paper. At this time, I'm busy working on pastel drawings for a spring show, so most of my posts will be art related. As spring unfolds, I will take you out to our garden to see whats growing and upcoming outdoor projects Tom and I are working on. If you picture rural Iowa as mile after mile of corn and soybean fields, you are partly right, but keep on looking . . . you might be surprised what the view holds at Beckervue.

Kitchen Upgrade

As much as we love our small home, when entertaining during the cold months, i.e. inside — we always wish we had just a bit more room.  One idea we’ve always toyed with was making some kind of breakfast bar around my prep table - of course we had no idea how to implement our plan.  Enter Marty Jess, carpenter extraordinaire - as usual, with not more than a few notes jotted down on a sheet of paper, he came up with this gorgeous piece.  He and his wife, Joanie stained and varnished it (the color matches our existing woodwork perfectly).  Tom and Mart carefully maneuvered it into the house, and for some reason it was decided that I would finish it off with glass block and brick.  I’ve done plenty of mosaic work and grouting in my day - how hard could it be?  Let me tell you, it was HARD. Tom was a terrific assistant and mortar mixer, but after nine hours on my hands and knees, scrunched under the table, things not lining up right because I couldn’t see the level bubble, I have learned a lesson.  Some things are better left to professionals.  I’m happy with the additional prep space, and I’ve got my eye on a couple of galvanized bar stools to add a little extra seating.  I’ve still got some caulking to do once my knees recover, but all in all, it’s a beautiful addition to our kitchen.

— 2 months ago

#glass block  #kitchen island  #custom wookwork  #Beckervue 

A Charlie Brown Christmas 

Christmas 2013 was a very different one for the Becker’s - instead of our traditional country Christmas eve hike, early dinner - something fancy like steak or shrimp - and then opening gifts, Tom and I found ourselves on a road trip to Denver to spend the holiday with Beau and my Aunt Marcia and my cousins.  We managed to skirt storms across Iowa, squeezing in a visit with Tom’s Aunt Virginia in Waterloo, and a memorable dinner in Souix City with our good friends, John and Cynthia Donovan, Rick and Frank and Jason and Ron.  The next morning we breezed through Nebraska and arrived in Colorado under sunny skies and fifty degree temperatures.  We arrived at Beau’s apartment with a Charlie Brown Christmas cedar from home and a couple of silly ornaments - next year I will improve upon that. 

Christmas eve was spent catching up over cocktails, snacks and my cousin, Tim’s, smooth-as-silk fudge at Aunt Marcia’s condo, and then over to my cousin Sheila and her husband, Ara’s home, for beef stew, homemade molasses bread and egg nog. These two are no slouches in the cooking and entertaining department as we found out the next day - they had enough room, table space, silver, china - even festive holiday napkin rings for all twenty three family members who were coming for Christmas dinner - which was spectacular - glazed hams, green bean casseroles, oven-roasted potatoes that my cousin Matt made - about forty pounds of them! - and gingerbread cake with the best lemon sauce I have ever tasted.   But several hours before we ate the Becker’s headed downtown for an urban hike in Confluence Park - where the Platte River and Cherry Creek combine, under sunny skies with the Colorado Rockies in view - lots of other folks had the same idea - even Santa was paddling on his long board on the Confluence.  

Back at Sheila’s we ate, played cards, I made origami cranes with Matt’s daughter, Katie and Johnny’s daughter, Gracie, and then we opened gifts.  The next day I shopped a few after-christmas sales at Cherry Creek Mall while Tom and Beau picked up Beau’s new-to-him Subaru Legacy GT - a car that gets good gas mileage and has an engine (and transmission!) that will get him out to those mountains.   

And later that evening when it came time to say goodbye to Beau, I did my best to be stoic and not cry - there would be plenty of time for that on the way home - but a part of me couldn’t help but be happy - we did our best to raise our son to be independent and here he was, a thousand miles from home, reconnected with family he barely knew, working hard to pay for his own place and a nicer vehicle, has a few new friends and even more plans for the future.  

This was not the Christmas I am used to, but it was good.  No, it was better than good.  I feel reconnected, too.  And the new year?  I think it will be as zesty and delicious as a bowl full of Sheila’s luscious lemon sauce.

— 3 months ago with 1 note

COOKIE-VUE

 As far as Christmas traditions go I would have to say baking and decorating cookies is one of the tops at the Becker house.  Over the years I’ve amassed quite a collection of recipes -  spicy lebkuchen, sugar twists, swedish jelly slices, linzer cookies,  buttery spritz, chocolate- frosted toffee squares - I could go on and on.  But the single cookie I identify as the most Christmas-y are decorated sugar cookie cut-outs.  I haven’t made them for years, not since Beau was young - that was something we all did together - Beau, Tom and I - dabbing and carefully spreading the colorful icing on trees and angels and funny looking santas, adorning them with colored sugars and sprinkles.  This year we decided to have a little cookie decorating evening with a few friends, their children and grandchildren - it’s just more fun to do with a group.  So, the cookies were rolled, cut and baked, icing was made and colored, and I pulled out every colored sugar and sprinkle I could find (and I had stacks of them).  The kids arrived right after school, and I must admit they were as excited as I was.  Parents trickled in as work ended.  Beautiful, edible works of art ensued, and while it was discouraged, I’m afraid sprinkles were eaten by the handful - especially the tiny marshmallows from Calico Bean in Dubuque.  All in all everyone had a very, merry time, and I think a christmas cookie- decorating party will become a new Christmas tradition.

— 4 months ago

#Christmas Cookies  #Iowa Christmas traditions 

Meet Queen B

Last week was parent-teacher conferences which meant several long nights for Tom, but his reward was getting Friday off - and it was a picture perfect day.  We drove to Green Island for breakfast at the Hilltop, went to Gravert’s Orchard for apples, and then back home to do a little end-of-season yard work.  Tom headed for the woodpile and I went to get a wheelbarrow full of compost. I mindlessly stuck my shovel into the “ripest” bin and something gray and furry scurried out of the corner into the adjoining bin. I screamed, thinking it was a baby possum, or worse, a rat, but no, at closer inspection, crouching under a clump of decomposing lily stems was a tiny striped kitten.  I reached for it, even though feral cats (even small ones) can bite and scratch with the best of them.  This kitty was anything but afraid of me - it snuggled up in my flannel shirt as the dogs sniffed around trying to lick (I think) and meet the new little interloper who would soon be sleeping on their bed.  So, long story short - after a trip to the vet for shots and worming medicine, we now have a new family member - Queen B.

— 6 months ago

Ninety!!

We spent the weekend in Milwaukee celebrating my Dad’s ninetieth birthday.  Our group of about twenty gathered at Libby-Montana’s in Mequon, WI - a charming restaurant that not only serves delicious food (and cocktails!) but was very gracious in allowing us to bring in our own table decorations, tiny boxes of chocolates for each place setting and beautiful cupcakes - all the way from Des Moines - from my sister’s favorite cupcake shop that last year was featured on “Cupcake Wars”.  My camera battery died early on in the evening, but I did manage a few photos of my beautiful nieces with their Grandpa (Kimberly coming all the way from Phoenix) and a nice shot of my dad.  I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes it seems my dad’s memory is actually getting better with age - he throws out facts and figures about current and past events that amaze me - just a few weeks ago we were driving to Elkhart Lake (he worked there for a few summers as a young man), Beau was driving, and my Dad would shout out the turns and signage long before Beau’s GPS kicked in - we were all in awe.  He likes to talk about things he reads in the paper instead of complaining about his failing eyes or aches and pains.  I truly enjoy my bi-monthly visits - we talk a lot about food, too, and that will be the focus of my next visit - he would love to head to Sheboygan for hard rolls and bakery, then to Cedar Grove for cheese, and then to Farm and Fleet for fresh bird seed - what’s not to love about a trip like that?  Happy Birthday Dad - and many, many more.

— 6 months ago

#90th Birthday 

Melon-choly? NOT!

Like most garden seasons, we have several hits and always a few misses.  This year our shelling peas and snow peas were abysmal, and our radishes never did materialize - just prickly tops that bolted the first week of June. Other crops fared better - we are still picking cukes and zukes from the original plants and despite our pitiful attempt at a new method of staking tomatoes, if one searches underneath the tangle of vines there were plenty of beautiful fruits.  But  I think our biggest success this summer were the Noir Des Carmes melons - a french heirloom cantalope.  I planted my seeds in early June, and fortunately we had decent rain for most of the month.  Soon I had a patch full of lush vines, leaves and shiny green-black melons.  I had read that you could tell when they were ripe when they turned a mottled gold-orange, and it would happen almost overnite - and that’s exactly what they did!  And pretty much all at once - so we were eating melon daily - sometimes savory, with basil and feta cheese, and sometimes sweet - with ice cream, berries and a drizzle of caramel sauce (really gilding the lily!).  Mostly we just ate them plain and simple - they were sweet and juicy and a manageable small size - one melon fed the two of us perfectly. I know most folks like their melon chilled, but to me there is nothing quite like eating melon that is still warm from the sun.  I think our hen, Sugar, would agree.

 

— 7 months ago

#Noir Des Carmes Melon  #Iowa Garden  #Heirloom melons 

August - Skate Reverse …


The first couple weeks of August were refreshingly cool - low temps at night to cool the house off and no humidity to speak of.   September-like weather.  Comfortable. Perfect.  Until this week.  Summer made it’s return in full force - mid nineties temps and ridiculously high dew points.  No baking.  Little cooking.  Living on heirloom french melons, pico de gallo and BLT’s and s’mores.  Cold pinot grigio.  And iced coffee … not necessarily in that order.  The window A/C has been working overtime, along with the hose - early watering helps, but at times it seems endless.  But it’s hard to complain - the dahlias and tithonia are stunning, volunteer Grandpa Ott morning glories are beginning to bloom everywhere and one of my favorite fall flowers - tall, pink anemones - are just beginning to pop. The weather is suppose to break in a day or two - and I’m afraid summer will soon be a sweet memory.

— 7 months ago

FLOWERS!

Many factors go into this seasons beautiful flower display - plenty of early-season moisture, adequate sunshine, no major wind-damaging storms, and a certain amount of luck!  Most of these I grew from seed this year - inspirations to be used in future drawings - but maybe a series of square format flower photos might be in order, too!  Now it’s out to water - we are pretty dry with no rain in the upcoming week’s forecast.  With enough water, these and more should bloom for many weeks to come.  This is the time of year you feel all the hard work of summer and spring is definitely worth it!

— 8 months ago

#flowers  #iowa gardens  #orange flowers  #rural iowa 

Only The Strong Survive … And Some Even Thrive!

Several years ago I decided it would be nice to have some periennel flowers planted around our mailbox at the bottom of the lane.  I knew they would have to be extremely hardy - in the summer they would be continuosly “dusted” with gravel dust from the road, and in winter they would be plowed over time and time again, and because of the distance from the house, they would definitely be on their own water-wise.  So here are the plants I chose and how they fared.  Wild roses - with their lovely pink scented bloom and bright red hip, they are state flower of Iowa.  Because we had lots of them growing wild along the lane I figured they were a natural, and fortunately they acclimated well and are spreading every year.  I then added some tall, purple garden phlox - I’ve seen this grown in so many neglected farm yards and still manage to look good, and it, too, has adapted well and the small patch gets larger each year.  A few years later I threw in several handfuls of blackberry lily and hollyhock seeds - you don’t hear about blackberry lily’s very often, and I think that’s a shame - they will grow in a crack in a sidewalk if need be, they have iris-like foliage, a cute orange flower on a tall stem which grows into a pod that opens in fall resembling a shiny, fat blackberry, which then re-seeds so you get more each year.  The hollyhocks were not as successful - they grow, but the stems are spindly with only a few blossoms - could be the poor soil or not quite enough sunlight.  Last year I tucked in a few hostas to round out the planting - even though their roots are actually planted in the road, they look better than some that I’ve babied along for years.  Now that the flowers are looking so good, it’s time to re-paint that mailbox! 

— 8 months ago

#Rural Iowa  #black berry lilys  #Wild rose  #Iowa State flower