Welcome to Her Frontier

I always tell people that I grew up in a small town in Nebraska. The town where I spent my formative years had somewhere around 10 or 12 thousand citizens – give or take – when I lived there. Population specifics don’t really matter, however, because what I learned during my recent trip to Oklahoma is that Columbus, Nebraska, wasn’t really Small Town America.

Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is Small Town America…..

When you see little towns portrayed on television, they are generally lovely little communities with thriving small businesses adorned with striped awnings and flower boxes, and friendly people who greet one another with smiles and waves. In real life America – especially in rural areas in the bread basket of the United States — small towns are almost always sort of sad-looking, with crumbling abandoned buildings, and struggling businesses, there only out of a vital need. You know, grocery stores, hardware stores, a saloon or two.

I imagine that is the way Pawhuska, Oklahoma, looked three or four years ago. But no longer, thanks to renowned blogger and Food Network star Ree Drummond and her husband Ladd. Ladd Drummond grew up on his family’s ranch outside of this northern Oklahoma town. His ranch – which has likely been in his family for decades — consists of literally hundreds of thousands of acres of land, and innumerable heads of cattle.

At some point a few years ago Ladd and Ree decided that it was time to breathe some life into their little rural community. I don’t know who said the words first, but one of them said to the other, “Let’s revitalize Pawhuska.”

They purchased a building that was crumbling, and breathed life back into it. Their efforts – and money – has resulted in The Mercantile, a store so bright and cheerful and full of life that it nearly hurts your eyes. It certainly takes a toll on your pocketbook. And trust me when I tell you that there are very many pocketbooks in the Merc on any given day, and the people carrying those pocketbooks are spending lots of money. What’s more, they’re having fun, and little Pawhuska is the beneficiary…..

Being great fans of The Pioneer Woman, which is the moniker by which Ree Drummond is most well-known, Jen and I checked off a bucket list item last week and paid the Merc a visit. We flew into Tulsa, and drove to Bartlesville, which is the nearest sizeable town to Pawhuska, where we bedded down for the night. The next day (and half of the day after), we lived and breathed All Things Pioneer Woman.

We drank the delicious coffee, including a wonderful concoction called the Spicy Cowgirl. It is a blend of strong coffee, chocolate, and rich vanilla cream whipped into a frenzy and served over ice. The sassy beverage is served over tiny ice cubes that magically don’t melt, and finished off with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper……

Other treats we enjoyed included cinnamon rolls sprinkled with crackling cinnamon sugar that the Merc Bakery calls sugar buns, and Jen enjoyed a pancake breakfast with a variety of syrup choices, including orange clove, vanilla, and caramel that I wanted to eat with a spoon.

One of the things we most wanted to do was take a tour of the Lodge, and we were able to do so the first morning. The Lodge is where the Food Network program The Pioneer Woman is filmed. It takes about 30 minutes to drive to the Lodge, and you drive by the Drummond ranch on the way…..


And let me tell you, what you see on her television program when she’s driving into town isn’t fake news. The road to the Lodge is gravel, and requires slow speeds and great concentration…..

According to a woman whose job was to make sure visitors didn’t make off with the silver, the Lodge had been built some years ago to provide a place for people visiting the ranch to stay. The kitchen was added about the same time that the show began appearing on FN. It was great fun to see the place in which we watch Ree cook each week; however, the really fun part was that, as we walked around the Lodge, we came upon the place where the cooking is actually done…..

Ree’s television kitchen (l) and the working kitchen (r). Notice the pots and pans, which look just like mine.

I will admit to being tickled by the fact that the enviable Pioneer Woman’s pantry stays so clean because there is a REAL pantry behind the scenes…..

The Drummonds haven’t ended the revitalization of Pawhuska with only the Mercantile. They recently opened an eight-bedroom boutique hotel that we also were able to tour. The hotel is adjacent to the Merc, and part of the building that they rehabbed. There are two floors of four rooms each. Ladd supposedly was responsible for decorating the third floor while Ree gave the second floor her touch. The difference in styles was notable. But even more impressive was the fact that as the work began on the rehab, they unexpectedly came across an amazing mural that was decades old and part of the original pharmacy. Rather than painting over the mural, they painstakingly cleaned the mural and left it as part of the wall decoration…..

The Merc’s food was amazing, and served by the nicest people you could ever hope to meet….

Jen and I split a spinach salad and brisket that was so tender there was no need for a knife.

Who wouldn’t enjoy this delicious skillet that was tasty and had just the right amount of kick?

It’s astounding to think about the number of people being employed — both as staff, and as construction workers as the rehab efforts continue. They have a pizza place scheduled to open any second now that is in a building across the street. There are also plans for a steak house and a saloon. The economic boosts just keep on coming.

In fact, now that the Drummonds have started their revitalization efforts, investors in a building across the street plan on opening a 20-unit hotel in July…..

Me, being of a nervous nature, can’t help but wonder what will happen if and when the Pioneer Woman brand goes south. As well-planned and well-run as everything is, I am keeping my fingers crossed that there are long-term plans as well.

In the meantime, we enjoyed our little two-day adventure very much, especially the Ladd-sighting that we had one morning at breakfast. It was nice to see that the Drummonds actually maintain a presence.

As for Jen and me, on to our next adventures…..

The view from the Lodge in our background.

This post linked to the GRAND Social



Saturday Smile: Small Town America

If you looked up Small Town America in the dictionary, you are liable to see a photo of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Pawhuska is a very small town in northern Oklahoma. It is so close to the Oklahoma state line that you could practically throw a stone into Kansas. Jen and I spent a couple of days this past week in this little town for crazy reasons about which I will explain next week.

In addition to being a perfect example of Small Town America, Pawhuska is also the headquarters for the Osage Nation, giving it a true western flavor. As we made our way around this community (and it doesn’t take long to get from one side of town to the other), we ran into a few things that tickled our funny bones…..

In Cattle Country, which defines this part of Oklahoma, you’d better have a beef-sounding name, even if you’re serving pork.

While it’s referred to as the ORIGINAL, I’m pretty sure there aren’t a lot of offshoots.

Hail to the cow! And the piano, I guess.

These aren’t the election signs we’re used to seeing. They are common, however, in the Osage Nation.

Such a deal!

As the two of us drove around in our rental car, whenever we would connect our iPhones to charge it up, the radio would come on and play a song from one of our playlists (depending on whose phone we were using). So, from my phone, here is the song that kept popping up as we were driving around the prairies of Pawhuska…..

Not only was it Christmas music, but it was sung by Bing Crosby. Yes, people, it’s true. I listen to Bing Crosby at Christmas time. Neither one of us wanted to listen to it in June in Oklahoma, however.

Oh Bing. Oh Nana.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Book of Polly

Having (thankfully) not had the angst so typical between teenage girls and their mothers, I generally have little interest in reading coming-of-age books. There have been a few exceptions. For example, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, was one of the best books I read in 2013. (That reminds me; I should reread.)

I made an exception also for The Book of Polly, by Kathy Hepinstall, quite simply (I’m somewhat embarrassed to say) because of its title. How can that title not intrigue a reader? The book was wonderful, even beyond its title.

When the book begins, Willow is 10 years old. Her mother, Polly, gave birth to her when she was in her late 50s – a miracle birth of sorts. Willow’s father died while Polly was pregnant, so she never knew him. But with an older mother and no father, Willow lives in fear that her mother will die and leave her all alone.

As for Polly, she is a feisty southern woman who lives for gardening, her margaritas, and her daughter. Despite her love for Willow, she is tough as nails, recognizing that she has to prepare her for a world without her in it for much of Willow’s life.

Willow’s fear of losing her mother leads to her beginning to search for clues about her mother’s past, a search that takes several years. Polly has no interest in sharing her secrets with her daughter, leaving Willow to wonder why her mother left her small town in Louisiana and why she refuses to talk about it. It isn’t until tragedy strikes that she agrees to take Willow back to her home town.

The Book of Polly is sad in parts, and laugh-out-loud in other parts. Its characters are likeable and mostly believable, if somewhat bigger than life. Polly quickly became one of my favorite book characters in recent memory.

The ending was satisfying, something that can make or break a book for this reader.

Treat yourself to this poignant story of love.

Here is a link to the book.

First Time

When was the last time you did something for the first time?
Yeah, let yourself go, follow that feeling
Maybe something new is what you’re needing
Like a real life, let your hair down, feel alive
When was the last time you did something for the first time? – Darius Rucker

Before we even got back to Colorado, I had begun thinking about my summer. I decided that I was going to issue two edicts to myself when we returned to Denver. The first was that I was going to make my summer work easy. My days of pulling hoses around the yard are over, as I tripped over the hose too many times last year.  This meant that I changed the foliage in our front yard to drought-friendly plants. My flowering plants now are in the back yard where they are easier to manage.

The second edict I issued to myself was to take the words of Darius Rucker’s song to heart: When was the last time I did something for the first time.

I don’t know exactly what this means, but – as they say – I’ll know it when I see it. As a matter of fact, we’ve already started. A couple of weeks ago, we got tickets to see a comedian at the Comedy Works. Bill and I both like comedy. Bill, in particular, loves watching good comedy specials on television or via Netflix. Netflix, in fact, is where we came across the comic we saw – Nate Bargatze. By the way, should he visit a comedy club near you, get tickets. He’s family friendly and funny as hell. We both literally laughed until our sides hurt.

We also have arranged to do something in which we have been interested for some time. In July, we are boarding an Amtrak train and taking the California Zephyr to San Francisco, where we will meet up with Dave and Jll and the kids who, as you know, are driving around the western United States in an RV. I am always eagerly optimistic about train travel, never failing to picture Hercule Poirot in a tux in the dining car. My limited U.S. train experience thus far hasn’t met those expectations. Still, it may happen this time. We have a sleeping car arranged, which includes our meals in the dining car. We won’t go so far as to put on a tux or a gown, but we nevertheless have high expectations.

We are tentatively planning on traveling with the McLains from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, and will board an airplane to return to Denver. By the way, the McLains are unaware of any of this, so if they are reading my blog, well….. Their itinerary may change!

I can count the number of big concerts I have attended in my life on two hands (maybe one, sigh). But a few months ago, Jen called me and said, “Would you and Bill like to go see Keith Urban at Fiddler’s Green in July?”

It only took a few beats before I said, “Hell to the yes!” I am packing my flat vodka pack and Bic lighters as soon as I finish this blog.

Finally, as you read this blog post, I am busily doing what is perhaps the kookiest thing I will do all summer. Jen and I are flying today to Tulsa, Oklahoma – where the wind comes sweeping down the plain – and getting in a rental car to drive to Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Tomorrow morning, we will drive to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where The Pioneer Woman lives, films her Food Network television show, and operates her store called The Merc. We will spend the day shopping at The Merc, taking a tour of The Lodge, from where her TV show is filmed, and being all-around cowgirls-for-a-day. We will return to Colorado Thursday night.

When I question my sanity, I remind myself about doing something for the first time.

Stay tuned for stories about our adventures. In the meantime, Nana’s Whimsies will not be posted for a couple of days. See you on Friday.

And ask yourself, when was the last time you did something for the first time.

Messy Kitchen

I wanna thank you Lord,
For noisy children and slamming doors,
And clothes scattered all over the floor
My never ending messy kitchen
And dirty dishes.
Noisy kids are happy kids,
And slamming doors just means we live
In a warm and loving home
Your long hours and those dishes in the sink
Means a job and enough to eat. – excerpted from Dirty Dishes, by Scotty McCreery

I love to open up Pinterest and see just what it is in which they think I’m interested on any given day. For a long time, Pinterest was offering me suggestion after suggestion about how to build chicken coops and what is the best thing to feed your chickens. I found these posts particularly puzzling because the closest I’ve ever gotten to looking into raising chickens is perusing recipes for frying them.

More recently, Pinterest has apparently decided I’m looking for creative ways to wear a pony tail, interesting in that my hair has been like this…..

…..for at least two decades. Should I ever try to wear a pony tail, it would be like the two little sprouts you see on some 18-month-old girls.

But recently, what popped up was a post entitled 10 Tips for Cooking All Day Without Making a Mess. The title struck me for a couple of reasons: 1) I wonder when I last cooked all day; and 2) I quite literally can’t cook for 15 minutes without making a mess. So, I bit. I clicked on the link.

The author of the article started out by saying Cooking all day is fun! (No, it isn’t.) Especially if it’s blizzarding outside. (Still no. If it’s blizzarding, I want to curl up in front of my fireplace and read Agatha Christie.)

But, by that time, she’d hooked me, so I kept reading to glean the tips to cooking without a mess.

Suggestion 1: Start with a clean kitchen.
So, here’s the problem. My kitchen is never clean. There are always dishes in my sink. My coffee cup stays on the kitchen table where I left it after breakfast until I get ready to set the table for dinner when I finally put it in the sink. So, see above: there are always dishes in my sink. The bread I pulled out of the bread box to make toast might not make it back into the bread box for three or four days. The toaster crumbs don’t get swept up until I finally break down and wipe off the sink when it becomes so sticky from the jam on the toast that the napkin sticks to the counter.

Suggestion 2: Make a game plan before you start.
She suggests that you plan all your meals for the day, and then chop all of the vegetables, zest all of the citrus fruit, cut all of the meat, and measure all of the sugar or flour for all of the dishes that you will be preparing that day. Such a great idea, but seriously? I generally don’t know what I’m making for the next meal until about 20 minutes before it’s time to eat. Unfortunately, my lack of planning not only prevents me from chopping all of my veggies for the day, but requires about three trips each day to the grocery store.

Suggestion 3. Pick the right tools for the job.
Her example is to make sure you use the right sized bowl for the job so that you don’t have to switch bowls halfway through, thereby resulting in dirtying two bowls. Another good idea, and one which I seem completely unable to embrace. I seriously say — OUT LOUD TO MYSELF — at least three times a week, “Kris, do you think you get a prize for using the smallest bowl/baking pan/skillet?” as I dump ingredients into a larger container.

Suggestion 4. Have canisters large enough to fit your measuring cups.
I have that one nailed. I’m dying, however, to buy one of the two-cup measuring cups that The Pioneer Woman uses, thereby rendering my canisters too small.

Suggestion 5. Measure over the sink.
My sink is filled with dishes.

Suggestion 6. Use a plate as a giant spoon rest.
Great idea. Then you can use it to hold measuring spoons, knives, and so forth, resulting in clean counters. Except see above: My counters are never clean.

Suggestions 7 and 8. Aluminum foil and garbage bowl.
Done and done.

Suggestion 9. Tidy up as you go.
Really? I’d be happy if I just remembered to close the cupboard doors. That way I wouldn’t hit my head quite as often.

Suggestion 10. Schedule cleaning breaks.
The thought makes me tired. Maybe I should schedule nap breaks.

The reality is that I am truly a very messy cook. I spill. I really do leave cupboard doors open. The food on the floor by my feet looks like what I would feed my chickens if I did, in fact, have a chicken coop as Pinterests suspects. My Roomba works way harder than I. Still, most of the time, I wouldn’t be too awfully horrified to have someone drop by.

As Scotty McCreery said, dirty dishes and a messy kitchen are the signs of a happy home.

This post linked to Grand Social.

Saturday Smile: He Would Never Pull Jen Out of the Well

Among many things that made me smile this week was a lunch with four of my favorite people: my husband, my sister Jen, my nephew B.J., and my stepmother Shirley. We don’t see Shirley as often as I would like, for no good reason whatsoever, as she only lives 60 minutes north of us. But we made up for it by enjoying lunch at 3 Margaritas in Fort Collins on Thursday, where we caught up, laughed, and solved the problems of the world. Perhaps the funniest story we heard was that the fence between Jen’s house and her neighbors to the north blew down in one of Fort Collins heavy windstorms. At some point that evening, she began looking for her Bijon Frise Tucker (also known as Mr. Shenanigans). She finally found him comfortably sleeping on her neighbor’s patio. So much for a loyal dog/friend.

Our lunch gang should meet more often…..

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel

I will be completely honest here. I didn’t even know that Tom Thumb was a real person. As far as I knew, Tom Thumb was no more than the character in a book of old fairy tales that was on the bottom shelf of our bookshelf when I was growing up. So I certainly didn’t know that there was a Mrs. Tom Thumb.

Author Melanie Benjamin has fictionalized the life stories of a number of famous people, including Anne Morrow Lindbergh (the wife of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, and herself an author and aviator) in The Aviator’s Wife;  and Hollywood legends Mary Pickford and Frances Marion in The Girls in the Picture. Benjamin seems to do a very good job of researching her characters, at least based on the information I gleaned from Wikipedia as a read The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel.

Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump was born in Massachusetts in 1841. She was one of two daughters born to loving parents. She was exceptional in that she was 2.66 feet tall and weighed 29 lbs. as an adult. She was what is referred to as a proportionate dwarf, meaning that while extremely small, her extremities were proportionate to her size. Her sister Minnie was even tinier.

It being the mid-1800s, opportunities for all women were scarce, and for a woman the size of a large doll, the prospects would seem to be even direr. Nevertheless, she became a teacher, and was quite successful. And yet, she was bored with her life. Her desire to travel took her down an unfortunate road until she met the famed showman P.T. Barnum. Barnum had already made a very successful career for Charles Sherwood Stratton, better known as General Tom Thumb, and also a proportionate dwarf.

The two eventually fell in love and married, in what was the wedding of the year in New York City. The story of their fame, their career, their relationship to Barnum, and their life in the spotlight was ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING. I simply couldn’t put the book down. I was grateful to be reading the novel as an e-book because I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I stopped to look up some information about Lavinia Warren (which became her stage name), Gen. Tom Thumb, P.T. Barnum, and the other performers who they loved like family. The most amazing thing about their lives was how their fame allowed them to rub shoulders with high society in 1900 New York City.

I read the book just before seeing the The Greatest Showman – the movie about P.T. Barnum – and it was fun to be familiar with some of the characters in that movie.

I heartily recommend The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel. While it is important to keep in mind that it is fiction, the book was wonderfully researched and incredibly readable.

Here is a link to the book.