Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chop Wood, Haul Water

There's been a lot of rumblings around these parts about it being "a long winter." In fact, if my friends and I had it our way, #wilderbrothers and #buckwheatstash would have been trending on Twitter for the last month and a half. There have also been jokes a plenty about rationing out one shriveled potato a day and worrying about how we'll tunnel out of our homes through the snowy depths.

Are you picking up on the Laura Ingalls Wilder The Long Winter allusions I've been throwing down?

But here's the truth: It hasn't been a long winter. Last year was a long winter (perhaps we think this winter is just an extension of that one, since summer kind of barely happened), but as far as actual time elapsed with wintery conditions in winter 2013-2014, there's actually nothing extraordinary going on. We've had snow cover since late November and it'll probably hold until early April, just like it does every year.

Nope, the only extraordinary factor about this winter is how bloody cold it's been. As a result, we've been hemorrhaging firewood since December and by mid-February we were down to the "new" wood - the birch firewood we'd stacked in the autumn to dry out for winter 2014-2015. Argh. This means, for the last month, we've basically been trying to burn wet cardboard for heat. Needless to say, it was not going very well.

But before you send the Wilder Brothers to save us, I can happily report that we live in a wildfire recovery area, which means there's no shortage of dead trees to burn when the heating gets tough. This cheers me considerably, although a part of me has always fancied breaking up the dining chairs and chucking them into the woodstove ala Doctor Zhivago. To me, there is nothing so romantically dire as having to break up the dining room furniture with a hatchet. 

On our last days off, Andy felled a couple of dead jack pines from the property, which will tide us through until spring days (which are already partially upon us, despite the -20F temps this morning) and allow us to save the not free firewood until it's seasoned properly. As an additional bonus, removing those trees also mean more sunshine for the potato patch come summer.


In other news, this isn't exactly a spring tiding, but one of the Meyer lemon seeds has finally poked its sunny little face out of the dirt. I'm really looking forward to harvesting my own lemons sometime in the next decade . . .

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blizzards and Blossoms

Got snow?
After a break from snow during much of January, we received more than 18 inches of snowfall in the last 12 days. The recent snowfall lead to a surge of snow days and other cancellations and although the local school schedule has absolutely no effect on my life, last week's schedule ended up a bit topsy-turvy as I tried to time my trips into town between major snow events. It may not have been the week I originally imagined, but I did get some major dental work wrapped up and met deadlines for two freelance articles, so we're just going to mark it down as a good week.

I thought I'd catch you up on the photo roll. There was a full moon on Valentine's Day and Andy and I snowmobiled over to a neighboring lake to see if I could get any decent shoots with my little point and shoot. Although I won't be giving up my day job any time soon to pursue photography, I'm pleased with the results and think they give you a good idea of just how bright the moonlight was.

Earlier on Valentine's Day I made a batch of these: cream puffs from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. You know how you get those ideas that worm into your brain and just won't let go? At Christmastime, a jar of chocolate sauce arrived in a gift basket and the jar label suggested you use the sauce on ice cream, cake, fruit, and profiteroles. Profiteroles! Since New Year's, I've been haunted by the idea of cream puffs and I finally decided Valentine's Day sound like a good time to throw roughly a dozen eggs into a dessert that disappears in the blink of an eye. Also, I resisted the temptation to make the filling out of instant vanilla pudding and Cool Whip (don't knock it 'til you've tried it) and instead followed Julia Child's recipe for Creme St. Honore. It was worth the extra effort.

Blizzard-y conditions kept us off the lake most of the week, but we sneaked in a few minutes of ice fishing before sundown on Thursday as the large snowstorm rolled in from the west. Speaking of Thursday - who watched the U.S./Canada women's gold medal hockey game? My heart and nerves are still exhausted. Ladies, ladies let us not rest upon our laurels once a 2-0 lead is secured or liefer Canada will bet us 3-2 in overtime. Moral of the story: the U.S. women have not won an Olympics since I was twelve. Cammi Granato and Karyn Bye, wherefore art thou?!

The snow that was predicted for Thursday didn't arrive until late that night. While the forecasters were a bit off on the timing, they were right about the quantity: lots.

To help break free of this monotone environment, I actually purchased flowers this week on a whim. They even smell nice.
The amaryllis is blooming too, so we have lots of dramatic flowers in the house at the moment.

If snow's got you down, remember: "Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough." -Earl Wilson

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Friday Fishing: A Photo Essay

Andy wanted to go fishing on Friday, so he decided on a destination down the lake and packed up the snowmobile. Just another grey winter day with gusty winds, brightened a bit by the prospect of catching a lake trout.

We parked the snow machine on the border of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and started the trudge down to our destination, about a mile and half down a island dotted corridor of lake. The wind was really whipping by now and the prospect of serving as a human wind break dulled the promise of expedition, but we trudged on.


About a mile into our trek, the sun came out!

However the wind didn't quit, and our destination still felt a long ways off.

As pretty as it was, we decided to turn around and head back to the cabin to reassess.

After a bite of lunch, we were ready to tackle plan B. Enter the winter camping tent doubling up as an ice fishing shelter. We headed out just about a half mile from the cabin and set up "camp."


Blocked from the wind, with a fire crackling in the portable wood stove, plan B was pretty cozy. 

Hot beverages on demand always make things better.


And look, we even caught fish! It would have been dinner that night, but it froze solid in the time between the catching and us packing up camp for the evening. Instead, it was Saturday's dinner.

Not too shabby.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sunshine, Growth, and Refreshing

This time of year, I always get that sappy John Denver song stuck in my head. You know: "Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy. Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry."

It's true. There are times when the sun comes out in late January and early February when I feel like I could literally weep with gratefulness. That doesn't sound like SAD at all, does it? *snort* 

Because it's warmed up a teeny bit, we've been getting a far amount of overcast days, so when the sun does shine, I feel like a thirsty dog, lapping it up in big, sloshing gulps.

Of course the one day I didn't want the sun to shine - Sunday, Groundhog's Day - the sun was out bright and early. Six more weeks of winter. She says as though there was any possible alternative to that on February 2nd - of course there's six more week of winter . . . if not more. Le sigh.

Now that the newness of the new year has worn off, the winter doldrums are settling in. I figured one sure way to make spring feel like it's coming really fast was to start a massive knitting project that must be completed by the end of May. Wedding afghan #4, day 1: 

Last Thursday, I consciously avoided Facebook and all other social media all day. And it was glorious. Far too often, I poke that little blue box on my iPad and start mindlessly scrolling through other people's lives, clicking on links, looking for the next dopamine hit. Turns out, a lunch break spent reading a book is far more fulfilling than one spent on Facebook or Bloglovin'. . . .

Speaking of social media, does anyone else use Buffer to schedule social media posts? I just discovered it this week and may be in love. It allows me to schedule posts and tweets days in advance and I can use a little "Buffer" button on my browser to put any website I stumble upon that I want to share into my Buffer queue. I just started using it for some of my social media work this week and so far, it's saving me time and keep me from getting sucked down the social media rabbit hole.

Also, happy 10th birthday Facebook. And now I feel ancient, although my Facebook account is only 8.5 years old. Still.  . . wowzer.

My little Meyer lemon seeds haven't sprouted yet, but the rosemary plant above has been putting on all sorts of new leaves lately. It's so lovely to have something growing this time of year. The lemon seeds take about two weeks to sprout and apparently that tests my limits of "gardening faith" because I had to root around in the pot until I found one of the three seeds I planted to make sure it wasn't rotting. Glory be, it wasn't rotting, it was sprouting so I tucked back under the soil. We should have the first little shoot of lemon trees in a couple days now.

I brought home my mother's sewing machine a couple weeks ago, because I feel the need to develop my sewing skills. I used to sew quite a bit in high school, and a teeny bit in college, but I was never especially good at it, which may (or may not!) have stemmed from the fact that I never actually read the machine's manual. . . . First things first, eh?

How are you beating cabin fever this winter?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Frost nip and other sundries

You know it's been a rough winter when Minnesotans can't bring themselves to discuss the weather anymore. I'm tempted to throw a "F*ck It's Freezing" Party where we drink hot cocoa, play board games, watch bad movies, and maybe even whimper a little bit.

But take heart: it's February on Saturday, and at some point in February there's almost always bring a brief and temporary thaw. So that's something!

It actually warmed up a bit this past Friday, so Andy and I packed up ye olde snowmobile and head down the trail to one of the large lakes in the area. Of course, temps in the 20s just meant the wind was howling as the next batch of frigid blew in. I'd never actually been on this particular lake before and it was a nice change of scenery.  We'll be back, maybe even when the wind isn't blowing 30 mph.

We didn't stay long enough to catch anything. I was hot to trot to get home to make a batch of boeuf bourguignon. As it was, the infamous beef stew wasn't ready until well after 8 p.m., but it was well worth the wait and I feel that Julia would approve of us eating European style (aka, real late). 

I had my first real brush with frostbite on a brief snowmobile ride in -12 temps on a windy lake on Tuesday. It's just frostnip really, which nipped at my cheek and bridge of my nose through a leaky snowmobile helmet visor. I'm familiar with the warm burn of windburn on winter evenings after a day outside, but whereas windburn kind of makes you feel alive, the sting of frostnip is a humbling reminder of just how deadly cold can be.

That said, when I was a little girl playing hockey on an outdoor rink, I used to come into the warming house at the end of a game and sit crossed legged on the bench after taking off my skates, trying to warm up my painfully cold, bright pink toes and not cry. The frostnip pictured above did not make me clutch my cheek and softly sob, so it really wasn't that bad. 

Turns out, frostnip feels a lot like sunburn and by Wednesday morning, it was kind of itchy. A friend suggested I put honey on it, but I had visions of sticking to everything I touched if I did that, so I opted for some dabs of Smith's Rosebud Salve throughout the day instead. Really just glorified petroleum jelly, one of Andy's coworker's dad's company packages Rosebud Salve, which is how we ended up with a tin of it. We've actually had it for a few years and I wasn't sure what to do with it, but lately have been using it as lip balm, and now, frostnip salve. The tin describes the salve as "all purpose skin preparation," which "aids in the relief of chapped skin, diaper rash, blemishes, detergent burns, and rough cuticles, and it softens rough hands." They sell it at Antropologie, so you know it's cool.

On a warmer note, I made my annual batches of marmalade over the weekend - a batch of Triple Citrus (grapefruit, lemon, and orange) and Meyer Lemon. Making marmalade is exceedingly tedious and at almost every step of process (but especially when you're in the midst of supreming 12 citrus fruits which takes forever) you wonder why you bother. Then you see those jars of processed marmalade lined up and it's like you've bottled up sunshine - in the throes of January no less - and suddenly it's all worth it. Plus it tastes pretty good, even if my Triple Citrus got a little gummy. 

Don't laugh, but I actually planted a few Meyer lemon seeds in the pot above. It felt so good to touch dirt. We'll just see if they decide to sprout. . . Meyer lemon marmalade with homegrown lemons in as few as six years, you guys! ;)


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