Monday, November 30, 2009
After an extremely mild November, the weather’s shifted over the past couple days. It seems all the world’s hunkering down for winter. This afternoon snow started falling down gently, about half an inch accumulating in the course of a couple hours. As much as I protest against winter, I’m glad for the definite change of seasons. The weird, rainy, dark extension of fall I had my winter in London was a little off-putting when you’re used to winter being something completely different from anything else you see all year.

We moved the bird feeder on Saturday to the window on the other side of the Shack and chickadees started flocking to it even before we’d gotten it completely secured. Mr. Squirrel's none too pleased with the feeder’s new locations. No more free lunches for him, although after a good half day of planning and surveying the new reality, he managed to reach the feeder by launching himself from the window. Unfortunately for him, the momentum of the leap seems to be too much for him to stay on the feeder for more than a moment. Soon he won’t be making the leap at all when we remove the screen window he’s been clinging to.

I just submitted our first Project Feederwatch tally: 5 chickadees and 3 blue jays. For Feederwatch you don’t count how many birds you see over the course of watching your feeders, but rather the highest number of a species you saw at one time. I’m hoping for a little more variety of species –that’s not to demean the fascinating behaviors of the ever polite chickadees – and I’m sure that will happen once we’ve established ourselves as consistent source of sunflower seed. Currently, the chickadees are going through an entire feederful of seed each day. They’ll eat us out of house and home if they keep that up!

This morning, I managed to finish editing the last novel chapter on November’s “to do” list. That’s all well and good, but it’s only one line of that particular list. Tomorrow we flip over to the December writing goals list and I’m hoping for a few more checkmarks on that than on November’s. That said, I may not have done terribly well with what I expected to get done in the month of November, but I did end up with a bunch of unexpected paying work. It hardly seems I’ve been squandering my time.

I held my first interview of several for the articles that need to be written over the next couple weeks. The full time housekeeping job comes to a close this week and that will free up plenty of time for interviews and writing. I’ll be glad for it.

We had a felting frenzy on Saturday and Andy’s now the proud owner of a lovely felted cap. I put in another yarn order yesterday. There are plenty more Christmas presents to fashion and felt before the holiday’s upon us. The Christmas cards will have to be addressed and sent sometime soon as well. All's cozy and well at the Shack.
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Tis the Season

Saturday, November 28, 2009
Tis the season for sleeping schedules to fall out of wack, writing schedules to become mere memories and eating habits to completely disintegrate. I woke up at quarter to five this morning and lay in bed thinking I would fall asleep again but instead mulling over interview questions for the articles I’m writing, the plot of the short story I started yesterday, and wondering whether or not it was too early to get up. At long last, I gave in and went downstairs to start the coffee. Since the holidays have already begun to monkey with my writing schedule (neither yesterday nor the day before qualified as “writing days”) I have plenty to do to stay on track before this month quickly draws to a close.

Although it seems early for the holidays to be upon us, they most certainly are. I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving. We had a rip-roaring community dinner, shattering attendance records and running out of turkey. Luckily, the turkey shortage only really affected the volunteers who had visions of leftover turkey sandwiches the next day. Most of us never did sit down to eat during the dinner; we were too busy refilling serving bowls and restocking the pie table. As my mother noted, we either need to stop promoting the dinner so ferociously or find a larger venue.

While my cynical side generally serves as my guiding light, that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize all the things in my life to be thankful for: friends, family, love, employment, travel, reasons to write, a teeny home office, good books to read, non-modem internet, plenty of food in the fridge.

My business cards, stating “freelance writer,” arrived in the mail yesterday. They’re so pretty and though I feel a little silly for having them (only 250 and they were free besides the shipping and handling), I also realize that if I don’t take myself seriously, there’s really no reason why I should expect anyone else to do so either. Besides, yesterday I received two more article assignments, due three days after my latest article assignment. It may be time to relearn the lessons of time management.

Although I’m sure we’d find some place for Mary and the Christ Child if they came knocking, there’s no room in the Shack for a Christmas tree, but we still managed to string up a fair amount of Christmas decorations. A teeny tree, only about a foot high, is sitting on top of the shelf that holds everything from books to bullets and the curtain rods on the two windows facing the hill are wrapped with garland and hung with ornaments. Although many of my decorations are meaningless and thus should be discarded before they get put away in January, I love all the memories associated with so many of them. La Befana , the Italian Christmas witch I bought in Rome, hangs in the kitchen beside the multi-colored snowflakes from the V&A in London. Among the ornaments hanging on the other window are the Hallmark ornaments my gramma has given me over the years, a little teddy bear Harrods’ doorman, and many memories of Christmas pageants and plays participating in years past.

We’re overcoming Thursday’s turkey deficiency with a family dinner in town tonight. I need to make triple ginger cookies, a new recipe, to bring with us. I also could stand to get some felting started, along with other laundry, to get me one step closer to completing the Christmas presents. I finally picked up Christmas cards yesterday, which brings about the wild goose chase for everyone’s correct address.

The coyotes are howling somewhere not to far away and the sun is rising over what could be the season’s first completely ice covered lake. Time to move on to the day’s next project.
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A Cinderella Story

Tuesday, November 24, 2009
After a sleepy month of deep cleaning, the lodge nearly fills up tomorrow with Thanksgiving visitors. For the past couple days, everyone’s run around with a “company’s coming!” attitude. Most days have been spent scouring floors with a Cinderella-ish fervor, washing furniture, cleaning windows, and if you’re me, managing to step off of the fireplace ledge (only a foot drop) and scraping your arm against the stonework.

It’s no time to count bruises though. Since I work a half-day tomorrow in order to spend the afternoon in town helping Mom with preparations for the community Thanksgiving dinner she coordinates, tomorrow morning will be spent running around from cabin to cabin, making sure everything’s just so. Unlike Cinderella, we don’t have any little birds and mice to help us and the clock’s already dangerously close to the proverbial midnight hour.

I’ve acquired another article assignment from a regional publication I haven’t yet written for. Pressure’s on to do a good job and turn it into a regular writing gig. I have another article I need to conduct interviews for soon and I’m anticipating another assignment or two in the coming week. Good Lord. Could I actually be turning into a writer?!

In other, non-deadline oriented, writing news the novel continues chugging along happily. I realize I’m in the rewriting stage, but each morning when it hits 7:00, marking the time for me to eat breakfast and think about heading to work, I don’t want to stop writing because I’m genuinely excited about what happens next. It’s pretty fun turning an abysmal rough draft into a decent first draft, although I acknowledge that the story will probably get edited at leastone more time before I let a professional editor looks at it.

I must be doing something right though if I want to stay in the story all day. The pacing is definitely evening itself out; a huge relief considering the clunky state of the rough draft. The rough draft mostly consists of plot enabling events kept separate by a few hundred extraneous words to serve as a “transition.” Now the story’s beginning to read like, well, a book. I’ll refrain from calling that a miracle, but I kind of think it is.
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It's Cozy

Sunday, November 22, 2009
The Shack has taken on a decidedly wintery tone this evening. There’s bread baking in the oven, Andy’s up and running again, and with a cup of cocoa and Bailey’s by my side, I just finished reading Bob Cary’s Root Beer Lady about Dorothy Molter, the lady who ran a resort and lived on Knife Lake (more on the Ely side of the Boundary Waters) from the time she graduated college and until her death, nearly 50 years later. Of course part of what’s made the night so cozy is that I’ve been running around in long johns and brand-new wool pants.

I feel a little bit like the Channel 4 News Team in Anchorman. “New suits!” they cry when they’re thinking of ways to cheer themselves. I answer that with “wool pants!”

In the advent of living in the woods, in the fall and winter, it’s come time to admit that my beloved jeans are lousy winter pants. In the past few weeks, I’ve been out stomping around in the damp brush with Andy on deer scouting expeditions, while moisture rapidly creeps up to the back of my knees from the hem of my jeans. Enter the wool pants.

I’d been looking for decent pair of wool pants since the summer and last week Andy ordered a pair from L.L. Bean for me. While in my searches I’d always been faced with dichotomy of women’s dress wool pants or men’s outdoor wool pants, Andy managed to find women’s outdoor wool pants fitted enough that I don’t feel like a complete lumberjack in them.

For a long time I fought the fact that I live in the woods and no aspect of my life reflects that more than my clothing. Sure there are plenty of sweaters, but I never replaced the snowpants I grew out of when I was fourteen and I’m decidedly fonder my peacoat than the bulky Columbia parka with a broken zipper I’ve had since eighth grade. I finally broke down and bought a pair of snowpants this fall: nice bibs from Cabela’s to me dry and my tummy warm all winter. With Andy’s enthusiastic help, the winter wardrobe continues to steadily grow, with chopper mittens and the, now, infamous wool pants. I may be somewhat apathetic to the snow’s arrival, but I’m more ready for it then I have been in quite sometime. And the wool pants are unexpectedly causing me to wax poetic about frosty winter days.

The ice saga continues. In Ojibwa tradition, November is Gashkadena Geesis, or, the Ice-Forming Moon. This weekend brought temps in the mid-forties and this morning, the rising sun revealed an ice-free lake outside my window. I’m hoping this will give the lake a chance to freeze over in one solid, smooth mass when it does freeze, but it’s pretty obvious that Mother Nature will do whatever she darn well pleases.

That’s okay. Whatever the weather throws at us soon in the inevitable thrashings towards winter, I know I’ll be cozy.
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Negative Capability

Friday, November 20, 2009
”Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” -- John Keats

November and April, those infamous in between months, seems like good times to ponder Keats’ idea of Negative Capability. The world is in a certain limbo at these times, shifting in quiet ways that often go unnoticed. My own life kind of feels like that right now too.

The lake’s bay is completely covered with a thin skim of ice. Considering that it was 38 degrees when I was driving home from trivia last night, I’m not surprised that we don’t have solid ice yet. When I pressed the tip of my shoe against the ice this morning, water instantly welled up and rippled over the half-inch layer of ice’s surface.

Tickets for Avenue Q’s April run at the Orpheum in Minneapolis went on sale this morning. I snatched up two tickets for the Saturday evening performance and it looks like we’ll have seats that aren’t completely in the nose bleed section . . . unlike Phantom last June. With the tickets booked, the basic infrastructure for April’s travel plans is completely laid out. Now to figure out the details like city passes, rental cars, and of course, which Broadway show to see when I’m actually in New York City proper.

Andy’s sick again with sinus junk. It’s times like these that I remember why I didn’t go into nursing. I want him to feel better, but I come from a family that is loath to take painkillers and who adopts the “suck it up” attitude until truly dreadful illness strikes. I bring him ice packs and cold water, but not a whole lot of empathy. Last night I bought him some Haagen-Dazs coffee ice cream to sooth his sore throat. Hopefully I’ll stop self-medicating myself with the ice cream and actually save some for when Andy feels like eating it.

The cookie article is done and was well-received. It looks as though this may turn into a regular gig. One step closer to actually making my living with my pen (and keyboard.) That gives me some momentum for the rest of my writing projects and I’ve picked up steam with the November goals’ list this week. I really want to make some buttery Norwegian holiday cookies now though. It’s probably time to start putting serious thought into what this year’s gingerbread house is going to look like.

The mundane knitting of go around and around in circles on Mom’s Christmas present is nearly over. We’ll see if I can get it finished up, for the most part, over the weekend. Then on to some more Christmas presents and a rather exciting wedding present project.

I’m on the first of two days off now and I’m not quite sure what to do with them. We don’t really need groceries so a trip to town isn’t warranted although I do have a paycheck that could get deposited. I should probably keep my butt parked at the desk and actually finish up the current chapter of the WIP I’m editing, but it’s such a lovely crisp autumn day outside, a good long walk may be in order first.

It's also time to figure out a new location for the bird feeder. I caught the pine marten in the act of pilfering sunflower seeds. He's cute enough to look at, but I have a feeling there's plenty of food out there for him without him having to eat the bird seed.
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The Science of Ice

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
A year ago from tomorrow, the bay outside my window was being skated on. Tonight, with lows in the teen, it’s likely the bay at least will freeze over, although I don’t think I’ll be skating on anything tomorrow. By all accounts, this November’s been a mild one and while I’m vastly enjoying the absence of snow, the cooler temperatures will have to persist for a few more days before I’m trusting any ice I see.

Honestly, I’m hoping the temperatures will warm up a bit, then drop suddenly. Currently, ice is slowly forming in bits and pieces, covering the majority of the bay in a feathery puzzle of ice. It’s pretty, but it’s hardly a smooth skating surface. In scientific terms, what I want is spontaneous nucleation. What we’re getting is heterogeneous nucleation. If only this piecemeal ice would melt off so a smooth, uniform ice could replace it some night soon.

It’s the first year I’ve lived close enough to a lake that ices over for the winter to really watch the freezing process and many perplexing questions about the science of ice have surfaced as we anticipate the inevitable freeze. For example: can the lake be completely liquid one day and completely ice covered the next? We won’t get answer to that question this year since we’ve had bits of ice bobbing around for a few days now.

Here’s another: do shallower areas freeze before deeper areas of the lake because there’s a small quantity of water that needs to reach the freezing point? The resident muskrat, who takes to swimming back and forth in front of the house, may or may not be affecting the answer to that particular question.

Common sense dictates that shallower water would freeze first. After all, ice is formed by the cooling water temperature. When the top layer of water cools, the cooled water sinks, pushing up more warm water until the body of water has reached a uniform “cold” temperature and ice forms on the top of the lake. Of course, water is less dense in its frozen form which is why we can ice fish: the ice floats to the top of the lake, the little fishies keep swimming in the chilly water below. That said, there is no ice on the bay until at least fifteen feet from the shore. Are the movements of the muskrat enough to prevent ice from forming?

While I want answers to my questions, the science of ice appears to be somewhat volatile. Even the simplest ice-related question – why is ice slippery – lacks a straight forward answer. It seems the experts can’t decide whether ice is slippery when we step on it because of the heat we create from the friction of our boots or whether the molecular composition of ice alone causes the substance to be, well, slippery.

I’ll let you know when the ice gets here. We may not know how, why, and are when the ice forms, but we do know it will.

My skates are waiting for it.
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Driving by Braille

Saturday, November 14, 2009
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” -- E.L. Doctorow

This weekend must be making up for deer season’s glorious beginning last weekend. It’s been rainy for the last 48 hours and the temperature stuck in the mid-30’s. I wouldn’t want to be sitting in a deer stand, but then again, I’m not. After tromping about briefly in the woods with Andy this afternoon, looking like hunter orange marshmallow, I’m now curled up in the cabin with a wood fire, polarfleece pants on and thinking about hot cocoa.

Yesterday when I drove up in the rain to meet Andy at the cabin, I spent most of the 30-mile drive in fog bank. It felt a bit though I was driving by Braille. The light from my bright beams reflected straight back at me in the fog so I spent most of the trip traveling by low beam. Driving at night always messes with my perceptions of speed and distance and driving on low beams really confused my orientation. Instead of admitting that I wouldn’t really know where I was until I got to where I was going, I started to think I recognized individual birch trees along the drive. Suffice it to say, I was very happy to see the bright halogen porch light Andy installed last weekend shining when I pulled in.

Doctorow’s quote about driving at night in the fog rang especially true last night. It seems writers do a lot of driving in the fog, not knowing quite what to do, forging our way down a lonely road, and believing in the miracle of suddenly arriving exactly where we want to be. As a writer just starting out, I occasionally ponder the logic of driving anywhere in such inclement weather. But as my writing gigs have grown this year, I guess I’ll keep driving on, albeit on low beams.

Yesterday, I acquired an article assignment about Scandinavian holiday baking that’s due on Wednesday. Considering that I grew up in northern Minnesota, I should be able to write the article in my sleep, but unfortunately I must come from the one family in the county with absolutely no Scandinavian ancestry. I can talk scones and pasties, but krumkake? Lefse? Lutefisk?! The phone calls have begun and will continue into next week until I’ve gleaned all the necessary information for the article from the local Lutheran ladies.

By all accounts, it’s been a busy few days in the woods. Andy turns 25 tomorrow and I spent a good portion of yesterday at my parents’ house in town, wrapping presents and fashioning a chocolate stout cake which is now frosted and sitting in the fridge looking dreadfully and wonderfully rich. I’ll start in on making baked rigatoni pretty soon. We’ll do the birthday dinner tonight since we both work tomorrow. He’s somewhat opposed to any birthday fuss, but I think any excuse for pasta and chocolate cake is a good one.

Our trivia team came in second on Thursday night and yesterday, the Lodge’s cleaning crew had green tea with our Chinese coworker’s house to say good-bye to another coworker who headed home today. It’s been busy and I’m not writing or knitting as much as I should. But all’s well, even if the rainy day may quickly turn into a snowy evening.
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Early Morning Rewards

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The words may not have come particularly well this morning, but there was a beautiful sunrise over the bay outside my window.
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Thirty Miles for a Beer

Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Last night, Andy and I drove thirty miles, one way, for a beer. I’d say a pint of beer, but it wasn’t. It was a cup of beer. But all for a good reason.

Last night, one of the local bars hosted a Surly Darkness release party. Surly’s a fairly new Minnesota brewery based in Brooklyn Center, actually just a mile or two away from where I wintered last year. Over the past few years, Surly’s been gaining national recognition for its hoppy concoctions. Last night’s beers – Darkness and Wet – were served in 12-ounce glasses due to their high alcohol content. Neither beer is normally tap and after tasting Darkness – a syrupy coffee and chocolate inspired draft – last winter, Andy was hot to trot to get his hands on some more.

To have any sort of party here during November is somewhat laughable. It’s such a tourist economy here that few businesses stay open year-round and the months of November and April, which sit firmly in between nice weather and snow, are the months when business is at its very lowest and the locals all have to cook for themselves. Exactly why one ends up deep-cleaning cabins in November and traveling in April. Last night could have been any old night at the bar, but despite the somewhat frivolous nature of our trip to town (I did need gas and some oil) it was worth it to spend some time together and drink something you can’t find every day. Despite working at the same establishment, Andy and I have been ships passing in the night as of late.

In other news, the pine marten got the suet feeder the very first night the feeder was out on the line. I’m baffled as to how he got away with the clunky contraption, but not really surprised. I spend all the hours of daylight at work so I’m unsure if the birds have found the feeder yet. The only critter I’ve seen near it was a squirrel furiously cleaning itself about a foot away from the feeder over lunch break today.

March was the last time I consistently worked forty hours a week and now that I’ve had my first full week back in the forty-hour grind, I’m remember why I don’t necessarily seek out full-time employment and why I so prefer 10-hour days which lead to three-day weekends. If I can make enough money to cover my expenses, I’m happy to give up some profit to have time for writing, research and reading. Right now I feel like I’m constantly trying to squeeze extra time out of the day. I’ve adjust my sleep schedule so I have a half hour of writing time in the morning, but I know I should really tweak that so I have a full hour. More often than not, it takes half an hour to get the words flowing.

The house is a mess, I need to exercise more, I’m tired and a little cranky, but the November writing goals will get met one way or another. Even with arbitrary trips to town for a cup of beer.
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A Small Lot of Wonders

Sunday, November 8, 2009
The deep cleaning at the lodge is taking its toll on me. Little bumps and bruises appear mysteriously on my shins and forearms at the end of days spent scrubbing walls, moving furniture, and swabbing at the crease between wall and floor with a Q-tip. After the gloriously warm deer opener of yesterday, today’s rainy and it’s a bit of a shock to return to the menial labor grind after a weekend spent reading, writing and knitting in the sunshine. But rather than bemoaning my bumps and bruises here’s a list of the little wonders from this November day:

• The philodendron has two new leaves slowly unfurling from the little growth nubs that have been growing and growing over the last month. The spider plant has been growing steadily fuller and the Christmas cactus, despite having been moved during flowering, is holding its own.
• The bird feeders were put up this evening with the aid of Andy’s headlight: suet for the woodpeckers and sunflowers for the songbirds. The nuthatches have been eating dried corn soup mix out of a coworker’s palm. We’ll see how long before the birds discover our feeders tucked away in the wooded hillside beside the Shack. Hopefully the pine marten will let the feeders be for the time being and the birds will find the feeders by November 14, the start of Project Feederwatch.
• The elusive printer installation cd was discovered and I finally have a working printer hooked to my laptop. Alas, no black ink or printer paper. Yet.
• Mom’s Christmas present is knitting up quickly. Another skein needs to be joined the next time I sit down to work on it.
• The past few evenings I’ve had a chance, and ingredients, to make a few recipes that have been clipped out for the last few months, waiting to be tested. The results have been savory, but the real miracle is that they’ve made enough for substantial leftovers the next day, despite Andy’s seemingly insatiable appetite.
• No deer to deal with yet, although Andy spent a good portion of yesterday up in his stand. I feel a little like my mother did when my brother and I would go fishing when we were small. “What do I do if they catch a fish?” she would wonder. What am I going to do with a deer?
• A muskrat has made it a habit of paddling around the bay each morning.
• November may mark early, early sunsets, but we had a beautiful sunrise of deep pink and blue-bruised purple this morning on the way from the cabin down to work.
• Rain falling on the roof at bedtime.
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Dreams of Ice and Cold

Friday, November 6, 2009
Yesterday, the temperature hovered just below freezing, the wind never blew, and in the stillness, the lake began to form the first feathers of ice. When we drove home last night from trivia and fire training, the small lake visible from the road was almost completely iced over. Today is warmer, blustery and the ice is gone for now. Although the ice now shimmers and disappears with the weather’s whims, it won’t be long before the ice grows strong enough to hold humans and vehicles.

I wouldn’t call myself a winter sports enthusiast and as such, I don’t spend my summers pining for snow. In truth, snow does offers a plethora of enjoyable activities – sledding, snowshoeing, skiing if only I knew how to – but it quickly grows tedious when it consistently affects travel plans and routinely needs to be “relocated” by shovel. But surprisingly, I don’t grow tired of ice in the winter, as long as my driving surfaces are free of it.

There’s only one thing I’ve been doing longer than writing and that’s skating. My father is a hockey enthusiast and I’ve been skating since I was three years old. As a kid, I played, coached, and refereed hockey and as a teenager, my brother, father and I maintained a teeny ice rink in our backyard. In college I had an opportunity to play for the club team and made some of my best college friends through the experience. One of the biggest highlights of the year is the high school boy’s hockey tournament, so much so that I’ve had the championship game taped for me when I was out of the country for the tournament.

Minnesota may be the hockey state of the U.S., but here, the winters are dominated by downhill and cross-country skiing. That’s just fine by me, but I’m grateful to have some from a hockey family. There’s a freedom on the ice I don’t feel anywhere else. Having control on top of a generally fickle surface, feeling the cool winter wind against my flushed cheeks, even the burning in my thighs are some of the best feelings in the world, rivaled only by diving into a cool lake on sultry summer afternoon.

Last year, the ice was skate-able on November 18th, less than two weeks away from where we sit now. I picked up my skates at my house last week and they, along with my hockey sticks, have been riding around expectantly with me everywhere. There’s talk among the Thursday trivia crowd of pick-up hockey games on Wednesday nights this winter at the community outdoor rink. (No cushy indoor arenas for us!) Over the last few winters, school, travel and work have all kept me from being the rink rat I was in my teens. I miss those days and a return to the skates and the rink will be happy consequence of this first winter back in the woods in six years. The skates seriously need a visit to Stewart’s in Duluth to be sharpened before the ice arrives though.

In other news, we’ve signed up for Project Feederwatch, broadband internet is on its way to the county, and tomorrow marks the start of deer season. We’re up at the cabin, since it’s closer to the location of Andy’s more promising deer stand than the Shack. He claims he’ll be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow and I’m looking forward to a day of research and writing before heading back to the deep cleaning on Sunday. That and looking out across the lake and waiting for the ice to form.
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Some Of Us Work For A Living

Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Whenever I’m grousing about my current employment, or lack there of, Andy always has one standard comment for me. “Well, Ada,” he’ll say, “some of us work for a living.” Depending on my mood, that comment can be Andy at his most perturbing. No one wants to be reminded of their marginal contribution to society, but the truth of the matter is that I am not a good candidate for a bank loan. (I’ll spare you my joke about the frog went into the bank for a loan . . . .)

Yesterday I started my four job of the year when I joined the deep cleaning crew at the lodge where Andy works. The restaurant was put to bed on Monday, but I’ll return the restaurant when its seasonal hiatus ends on the day after Christmas and I’ll stay on until April when I’ll travel and reassess. In this past year I’ve been a temp for a major national retail corporation, a government employee, a waitress, and a housekeeper. I suppose that’s what you get when all you really care is doing the job well and getting a paycheck.

The seemingly constant hopping around from job to job can be hard to explain, both to myself and others. With a college degree in tow, the conventional thing to do would be to find a full-time, year-round job that offers health insurance and a retirement plan. On the flip-side of the coin, I am plagued by a worry that I’m undermining my artistic integrity by consistently finding ways to eat more than beans and rice.

On Saturday I spent some time at my parents house, picking up another shelf and some more supplies and books to make my home office in the Shack a little roomier and user-friendly. I flipped through a binder of writing information I’d put together in high school. The book fell open to an internet article entitled “How to be a freelance writer.” Sometimes I have to remember that I’ve wanted to be a freelance writer for a really long time.

There’s a reason for job hopping and the sometimes wacky employment. Although it can be scary to admit, there’s a bigger dream at stake. Every freelance guide I read stresses the need to have a bit of money – enough to cover a year’s worth of expenses – saved up before boldly setting out as a freelancer. And yet the financially imperative day job drains time from writing. So the eternal battle between heart and stomach goes.

There’s no real way of knowing if I’m doing this the right way and more than that, beyond writing, there’s no set (or right) way to become a freelance writer. It’s a slow path, riddled with obstacles and filled with wishing things were different. But I hold my laptop near and do the job before me, all the while clinging doggedly to the American Dream, knowing I’ll be a good candidate for a bank loan, some day, even if it means scrubbing wood floors on my hands and knees today.

Some of us are still working on working for a living.
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Project Feederwatch

Sunday, November 1, 2009
Now that the clocks have been turned back an hour for Daylight Savings Time, night will come an hour earlier this evening. Although the growing darkness has been notable since September, there’s nothing more shocking than the sudden loss of afternoon daylight that comes with the time change. In truth, days begin to grow again in a mere month and a half, but even after crossing the winter solstice bump, there’s still a lot of darkness as the days slowly lengthen over the remainder of the winter.

But Minnesotans are well prepared for darkness. We string up Christmas lights. We wallow in our dark sarcasm. We go for moonlight snowshoe treks. Through frost patterned windows, we watch the natural happenings outside.

Even when all is frozen and dark, if you take the time to observe it, the natural world is humming with activity. Nothing demonstrates this activity better than one of my father’s favorite winter pastimes, a nationwide birding program sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology called Project Feeder Watch. The project involves setting aside two days every two weeks between mid-November through April to record the bird activity at your backyard feeder, then turning in the data to the lab. When my parents were homeschooling my brother and I, they were always looking for science projects for us to participate in and my father’s beloved Project FeederWatch was one such project. At the time, I found counting chickadees for “science” inane, but as with many things that I once ridiculed my parents for, as time passes I’ve begun to see the beauty of it.

For the last couple weeks at work, we’ve been filling the large cast-iron skillets on the porch railing with fish sticks for the jays. The feeders are filled with sunflower seeds and there’s a ball of suet hanging for the woodpeckers. Last Wednesday, during the mid-afternoon lull, the cook and I stared out the back window, watching the interactions between the greedy squirrel and jays, the polite chickadees, and the somewhat impaired woodpecker. It was great fun; so much so that later we both mentioned the activity to our significant others at separate times.

This morning, as the pine marten stopped scampering about the hillside beside the west wall of the Shack and peered into the kitchen to watch me make toast, I was once again reminded of the joy that comes from observing the natural world, especially in the winter months. Instead of losing ourselves in the darkness and cold, we become involved in an intricately webbed world that exists far beyond our immediate interactions with it. As we curse cars that won’t start in the bitter cold of February, baby grey jays are hatching. Even when we’re in no mood to admit it, there’s always something amazing going on outside.

Perhaps it’s time to set up feeders outside the Shack. The window beside my computer offers prime bird watching. Now to sign up for Project FeederWatch . . .
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