30 August 2011

The Minnesota State Fair - I had to go

I realized over the weekend that I have lived in this state too long. It's growing on me.

There is an attraction to the Minnesota State Fair that is hard to explain. I suppose in every region there is some activity that people go a bit overboard. Some good, wholesome activity that people seem to take in just a bit too much. But if you don't do it, you somehow don't fit in with the natives. In St. Louis it had something to do with restaurants in the Italian section of town and/or grilling pork steaks, in Arkansas it was football. Here, it's the state fair.

Everyone goes, and I'm only exaggerating a bit. It is a topic of conversation at church, the beauty shop, bars, baseball games, business meetings. The questions is not "are you going to the fair this year?", it's "have you been to the fair, yet?"

I went this weekend, early, and watched the crowds roll in. I suppose in many ways it is like any other state fair, full of home baked pies, eating contests, 4H kids with prize animals on display, sideshows, junk food.

What's different is that the people here are some predominately Minnesotans. Few from out of state would come to this for a vacation. Only the toddlers are here for the first time, the rest of us have been coming year after year after year. Mom and Dad have baby in a stroller and you sense they are here not just for the fun but almost out of a sense of obligation. They have to bring junior to the fair, even if he can't hold his head up yet. They have to immerse him in this Gopher State stuff, and the fair is a big part of that. Somehow they might get in trouble if they don't. The state police will show up at the house, bag of cheese curds in one holster, a few rolls of lefsa in the other, and start asking questions, dontcha know.

My junk food foray this year was a simple one. Lefsa and butter, followed by an ice cream cone, and then about an hour later another ice cream cone. Speaking of butter.... all my trips to the fair have included a stop by the Dairy exhibit which includes the butter sculptures of the fair princess, Princess Kay of the Milky Way, and her court. This year I actually got to see a sculpture in progress. You hang around Minnesota long enough, you see people do all kind of things with butter that you wouldn't have thought possible, or necessary.

27 August 2011

The essential pork shoulder

This is the barbecue cut that is hardest to mess up. There's great pork shoulder and there's good, it's hard to make it bad as long as you keep it cooking low and slow.

Today's shoulder is for my youngest brother, who is the biggest fan of my smoking. Hopefully he'll share it with some of the others in the family. I put the meat on about 7 am and will take it off around 8pm. Prepped it with a dry rub last night that was fairly simple, salt, pepper, some paprika, that's about it. I have learned to keep the lid closed on the smoker and only opened this a couple of times during the day, to cut off a sample or two.

Thirteen hours with the temp between 200 and 250. Low and slow. Slow and low.

The finished product looks black, but it's not. It'll be beautiful when pulled. If I did it right it won't need any sauce or anything else. It'll stand on it's own.

24 August 2011

Pondering Waco

Twenty years ago if you asked most people what they knew about Waco, you'd get a blank stare. The knowledgable few would know it as the birthplace of Dr. Pepper and the home of Baylor University. It's much more than that, but for a city its size being known for two big things is not so bad. Then came the situation in 1993 and Waco took on a new meaning.

I was there last week and visited Mount Carmel. The David Koresh, Branch Davidian, Janet Reno stand-off, Mount Carmel.

What was really fascinating is that for a few minutes last Thursday afternoon I was the only person in the whole world who had an interest in this place. No one else was there. No media, no tanks, no self-proclaimed Messiahs, no troops, no lost souls looking for an answer. There is no sign that anything important ever happened here, except for these markers.

Once the whole world was watching the tragedy unfold. For weeks and weeks. Now it's only me. I'm the only person who is watching what is going on at this place.

For a while this was home to a band of people who lost their way. There is a church on the property, I assume it is where the old compound stood. I think the final chapter in this story has yet to be written.

20 August 2011

Big Road Trip

We took Caroline to college this week. While it was hard to say goodbye it was also wonderful to watch her say hello to her new world, Baylor University. It took us two days to get down there, but after a taste of the 108+ heat, only one day to get back. Here's how our drive of 1060 miles went. The one day drive back included 15:02 hours of driving time and 54 minutes of stops. Multiple cups of coffee.  Not bad.

Monday August 15th                 Wednesday and Thursday - Orientation and move-in
7am left the house                        Friday August 19
8 Faribault, MN                           5am Waco
9 Clear Lake, Ia                           6  Burleson, TX
10 Story City, Ia                          7  Sanger, TX
11 Des Moines                            8  Ardmore, OK
12pm Leon, Ia                             9  Norman, OK
1 Pleasant Ridge, MO                  10 Orlando, OK
2 Liberty, MO                             11 Wellington, KS
3 Ottawa, KS                              12pm El Dorado, KS
4 Emporia, KS                              1 Neosho Rapids, KS
5 Wichita, KS                               2 Overland Park, KS
6 Blackwell, OK                           3 Cameron, MO
7 Guthrie, OK                              4 Lamoni, IA
8 Oklahoma City                          5 Jewell, IA
Tuesday August 16                     6 Clear Lake, IA
930 am - Left OKCity                  7 Owatonna, MN
11 Davis, Ok                               8:55 pm home.
12pm Gainesville, Tx
1 Fort Worth
230 Waco

10 August 2011

The Rehearsal Dinner

Rob and Laura's wedding was this past weekend in St. Louis and it was my role to say a few words to the crowd at the rehearsal dinner. This was really a difficult speech. What I wanted to do was talk for hours about my son and his sisters and his mother. How beautiful they all are and how great it will be to have Laura join our family. How he had made this stunning leap from a 16 year old showing the occasional glimpse of responsibility to grownup in what seemed like a flash. How proud we were of him. I wanted to tell them all about him and the side of him they did not know. Unfortunately I was only given about three minutes. I took what I could get and my comments follow...

Thanks all of you for coming. Rob told me to be short and funny and to bless the food. I promise you son, I will be as obedient to you as you were to me.

You’re here because you are part of Rob and Laura’s inner circle. A relative or a very good friend. Somewhere along the line you played a part in these two little kids becoming adults. You were the uncle who took them to a ballgame, the aunt who put a band aid on a skinned knee, the high school or college friend who kept them out of trouble, or got them into it. Most of you were a very good influence on these two. We have parents and grandparents that we all owe much to. And for both Laura and Rob there are family members who have passed that we cannot help but remember on a night like this.

We are so glad to have Laura as part of our family. I know the Oeltjens feel the same way about Rob. We are still getting to know Laura. When Rob told us about her, we knew we wouldn't get an objective answer if we asked about what type of person she was, so we asked about her family. And as we heard him talk about this uncle and that aunt and brothers and extended family we felt very good. We asked about her parents – married forever was the reply. We all want Rob and Laura to be a strong family, and we are grateful for all the wonderful examples she had and he had from their first days toddling around Christmas trees.

Laura, you have a hint of what’s in store in joining Rob’s family. As you know, it is a very strange and wonderful American casserole. As I know is true of the Oeltjen family, our faith in Christ, more than blood ties is the common glue that hold us together. And it will hold you together as well. Because when you look beyond that, Rob’s extended family is a real murderers row of knuckleheads and goofballs. It's a circus, its a human zoo. We have tea-sippers and teetotalers, liberals and libertarians. We’ve got poodles on the couch and coon dogs on the front porch. Vegetarians on one end and lifetime members of the NRA on the other. We even have an actuary. We like our peppers hot, our gravy thick, and our people warm.

Once you get past the normal people like Rob, you find one of the oddest collections of human beings that genetic ties ever brought together. Some saving souls, some saving the planet, others saving the leftover cole slaw for breakfast. Laura, it's a family in desperate need of someone like you.

So Laura, good luck. We're glad that you trusted Rob when he asked you to spend the rest of his life with him. While he's always been rock solid on important things, sometimes he's on a different plane than the rest of us. He did not start life with the a real good sense of where his make believe world ended and the real world started. When he was six the checkout girls at Schnucks knew him as the kid whose dad played for the Cardinals, or so he told them. In second grade he insisted to his teacher that a weekend trip to Springfield included not just visiting Lincoln's tomb but also digging him up and playing with his bones. Tucking him into bed at night always included the plea, "hey dad, talk to me like I'm Robocop".

That kid is now a very good man joining a very good woman and we are hear tonite to let you know that we are all on your side.

Those are some funny stories, and there will be a lot of them told this weekend. But the best story of all will be the one that Rob and Laura start this weekend, the one that begins... "we were married in St. Louis on August 6th, 2011..."

Closing prayer went something like this.... Lord, thank you for calling Rob and Laura to life and for the circumstances that brought them together. We believe, as they do, that they should spend their lives together as man and wife. Keep the love they have burning strong -- make it stronger. Help us to be there when they need us and to stay out of their way when they don't.