Wordless Wednesday: A Bird on the Head

Wednesday, December 29, 2010
And they wonder what we do all winter . . .

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Walking the Line

Tuesday, December 28, 2010
They say that every day you should do something that scares you. Because I am scared of a lot of things and generally wimpier than I like to admit, I find this pretty easy advice to follow. Still, some days offer especially scary challenges. Take last Thursday for example.

A good friend is working at a nearby environmental learning center and she offered to take a group of girls for a day of fun at the center. She promised visits to Chickadee Landing where chickadees eat seeds out of your hand and off of the top of your hat; a chance to meet the center's owls and other animals; rock climbing; the center's skylab; and, of course, the infamous ropes course.

Because I was a homeschooled jungle freak, I didn't go on the epic multi-night field trip that all fifth graders at the local public school make to the center. While I am not lamenting my homeschooled-ness, I am saying that when I was ten years old is when I should have overcome my fears of the rope course. (In all honesty I had a chance to do the ropes course when I was fourteen and attended an open house at the center and I totally wimped out.)

So on Thursday I was a 25-year-old scared of the ropes course.

Luckily, the other three girls went ahead of me, I was feel pretty confident as I watched them go around the course, which consists of five segments: a suspension bridge, a single wire with two wire rails, two parallel logs, a single wire, and a single log. Then they got to the end of the course - a zipline which transports you (very quickly) back to the course's starting platform.

Hmm. . . . Not feeling quite so confident now.

Still, I gamely strapped myself in.

It started out just fine.
Ireland, 2005

As you can see, bridges suspended at absurdly high heights do not scare me. (This is the Carrick-a-rede, which is about 600 ft above the ocean below.)
And two parallel logs? Not too bad.
Then we reached the single wire. This is where I wimped out before. But this time I was determined. I set out, cursing both the springiness and length of the wire and focusing on getting one foot in front of the next. 

And I made it! Maybe not raring to go at it again, but pleased to have proven to myself that I can walk the line if need be.

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Saying Thank You

Monday, December 27, 2010
Thank-you Note
I wanted small pierced earrings (gold).
You gave me slippers (gray).
My mother said that she would scold
Unless I wrote to say
How much I liked them.

Not much.

- Judith Viorst

I'm not sure when it started, middle school probably, but a long time ago, I got on a kick of writing thank-you notes for all the Christmas gifts I received from relatives. Just another manifestation of a good-two-shoes personality, I suppose. Writing the notes made me feel somewhat morally superior, but more than that (and unlike the narrator in the poem above), they made me feel good and more aware of my blessings and gifts.

I still write thank you cards, but they've become more of an obligation: just another line on the to-do lists, something I mean and want to do, but which often get bumped down on the priorities. The thank you notes get sent out later and later each year and I spend more time wondering if I really need to do that again this year.

Yet every holiday season, I am overwhelmed with gifts and an abundance of good food. Beyond gifts of lovely things, this holiday season has also brought  time to spend with family and friends. On Christmas, after all the festivities had wrapped up, my brother came home with Andy and I to spend the night. Yesterday morning we sat in the living room, drinking coffee and talking about life as we know it at this current moment. And I realized something about this life in the cabin. 

It might not be the most exciting life. It certainly isn't the most lucrative. But it's a very happy life.

I believe happiness is an accomplishment. And those who contribute to our happiness deserve more thanks than we can word. And they definitely get a card . . .

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

       -- W.S. Merwin
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May Your Christmas Be Merry and Bright!

Saturday, December 25, 2010
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The Christmas Balls

Friday, December 24, 2010
This marks Andy and my third Christmas together and ever since that first December, Andy has been waxing poetic about bourbon balls. I had no idea what bourbon balls were when he first dropped them into conversation. Coming from a rather teetotaler household, we only ever made peanut butter balls (also called Buckeyes in some parts of the country) for the holidays, but it turns out bourbon balls are quite similar: bourbon soaked pecans mixed with powdered sugar, butter, rolled into balls and dipped in melted chocolate. Despite his talking about bourbon balls every December, for the last two Christmases, we just didn't get around to making them. Maybe I was just a little nervous about trying out something new . . .

As a college kid, fresh to the adult world and anxious to engage in Christmas merriment, my roommates and I almost always did some holiday baking. Despite all being pretty confident (and competent) in the kitchen, when working with unknown and unreliable appliances, these Christmas baking adventures resulted in a number of notable disasters.

My freshman year, my roommates and I decided to make sugar cookie in the dorm kitchen. A number of sprinkles got on the cookie sheets before they went into the oven and while the cookies were baking, the sprinkles proceeded to burn. The smoke alarm went off and the entire building was evacuated. (Luckily, it was 6 p.m. on a Friday night -- not a whole lot of people were affected.) I remember standing in the neighboring building, clutching a pair of hot pads to my chest, while we watched the emergency vehicles arrive.

Oh look, the fire engine . . .

Funny story . . .

Then my sophomore year, my dear friend (and at the time roommate), Sarah, decided to make peanut butter balls. I had made peanut balls a ton of times with my mother, but had never done it by myself. I think the same goes for Sarah. When it got to the part where you melt the chocolate, Sarah and I decided the chocolate didn't look smooth enough . . .so we added water. Of course the chocolate immediately ceased and we ended up with peanut butter balls dabbed with bits of chunky chocolate. We dubbed them Shitballs. They tasted delicious though.

Ever since, Shitballs, aka, peanut butter balls, have been a holiday tradition, something that Sarah and I make together almost every Christmas. Because of something pesky call being adults and have hundreds of miles in between us and crappy schedules, Sarah and I didn't get around to making Shitballs this year, so it only made sense that bourbon balls fill the void. 

After making a test batch last week, Andy tweaked the recipe a little bit and prepared a second batch to share with coworkers, family, friends, etc. The chocolate didn't cease, the butter in the balls didn't melt in the chocolate, and the fire alarm didn't go off. Boring really.

I still prefer the Shitballs (yes, I do choose peanut butter over bourbon) however it's been fun to watch Andy so diligently plug away at a project. Perhaps a new Christmas tradition has been born.
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Where Streets Have No Lanes

Wednesday, December 22, 2010
If you've read this blog for a while, you know I'm no great fan of winter driving. One might wonder why I ended up spending each winter deeper and deeper into the woods and, truthfully, I don't really know how this keeps happening either. This year finds me tucked back on a road filled with steep hills and sharp curves and sometimes, even steep hills with sharp curves. In fact, it's not uncommon for cars to go sliding off said hills and curves and into the woods for a fluffy, but abrupt stop at the base of a jack pine tree.

Now that everyone under the sun is home for Christmas and the Corolla is back from the shop with new brakes (thus losing its nickname "Squeaky"), it seems I'm running to town every other day. I love the chance to see everyone, but each trip to town, I must face my fears of sliding on ice, not making it up hills, or hitting moose. Not to mention that the trips take forever. On these snow-packed roads, I consider speeds over 45 mph a little reckless. (Call me Grandma, but I'm not into being the damsel in the ditch.)

Lots of times when I make the 55-mile trip to town in the winter,  I can count the number of cars that pass me on one hand. And that's a good thing.

It is rare for the main road to be reduced to bare pavement. The road's snowpack means winter driving rules and winter driving rules are not that different from winter parking rules: you know, in the absence of parking lines, you just stop your car in a parking lot in the general vicinity of  a parking space. The winter world is all about the path of least resistance and on Monday when I toodled into town, I was amused to see the road no longer has curves. Instead, the vast majority of drivers have taken to making multi-lane diagonals on the curves.  

Yellow line, what?

In the winter, in the woods, our lives are dependent on our isolation. (The road into the cabin in just barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other during the summer months.) There isn't really room for two cars on these roads.

So what's a girl to do?

I just grip the steering wheel with both hands, pray to all the saints I know, and hope for a Christmas miracle.
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Is it okay to be cheesy?

Monday, December 20, 2010
At my last writing date, the question came up: is it okay to be cheesy? That is: is it okay for our writing (even our nonfiction writing) to acknowledge a somewhat glorified truth removed from the harsher realities of life? Can we ever talk about moonbeams and fairy kisses in our writing and get away with it?

Christmas spirit has been running high around the cabin lately. The tree went up last weekend and the presents are wrapped and carefully tucked beneath the tree's lowest boughs. The stockings aren't quite hung up with care (they're just flopped over the kitchen chairs), but we're getting there. The point is that things are merry merry.

My mom and aunt have a huge Christmas cookie baking day every December for an annual Christmas bake sale. The sugar, butter, and flour started flying around on Friday morning and this year my uncle and I got in on the action. One of the "cookies" we made were chocolate mice made from a chocolate dipped maraschino cherry, a Hershey's hug, two almond slivers, and dabs of melted chocolate for eyes and noses. We tried not gush too much about how cute they were, but it was hard: they turned out freakin' adorable. 

Then on Friday night, I met up with a group of college friends for a wine and cheese party aka gab fest. As per usual, there was a lot of talking, too much wine, and not enough sleep.

So is it okay to be cheesy? I think there are times in our lives when circumstances are especially warm and soft and kind. And during those times, I have absolutely no qualms with being cheesy. Bring on the moonbeams and fairy kisses. It's Christmas. 
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Oh That Pesky Little Freelance Life

Thursday, December 16, 2010
Ah life as a writer in the woods. The solitude. The scenery. Just me and the laptop, setting my own schedule, typing away when I please.

Or at least, when I wrapped up full-time, out of the house work in mid-October, this is what I thought my winter would be like.

Sometimes I suspect that Andy thinks I spend my time lounging around in my pajamas, drinking coffee, taking multiple naps, eating bonbons, my focus trained chiefly on what to make for supper. While I admit I'm still in my pajamas as I type this, the truth is that I've also wrapped a freelance project this morning and will tackle another project shortly. My weekly hours are in for another job, I'll have to work on another project over the weekend.

Back in the summer, before I started this whole working from home business, I assumed my winter days would basically revolve around my whims. Sure there would be things that needed to get done, but I could tackle them on my own pace. I didn't need to worry about any set schedule: things would flow along at their own accord and get accomplished in due time. 

In November, it became apparent that the days were a'flowing, but nothing was getting done. No matter how I played my cards, it seemed like there was always something I hadn't gotten around to. So I sat down last week and wrote out everything that needs to get done in a week while Andy's off at work.  (Because let's be honest: nothing gets done when Andy's around.) Low and behold if, I counted all the writing work I mean to get done, I was looking at a 40-hour week. A 40-hour week of getting out of bed at approximately the same time every day, working all morning, taking a lunch break, working until a set time in the afternoon. What the heck? When am I supposed to get my knitting done?!

The worse part? I have not written something that I a)didn't get paid for, or b)doesn't somehow concern my personal existence in the woods for a very, very long time. Like months. Fiction writing has gone out the window. Hmmm, hard to be anything more than an aspiring novelist if you're not actually writing anything that resembles a novel. So today, today is a writing day. Not a freelance writing day but a day for characters and fictional scenarios. Once the last little project is finished, I'm shoving aside the truly "paying" work for the day. 

I love the freelance life, really I do. But it's starting to look an awful lot like work.
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The Lebkuchen Came!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010
On Monday I was sitting at the computer, working away, when I heard a knock at the door. I figured it must be the last Christmas present I'd ordered arrived, but when the FedEx lady handed over the box, it looked a little big for what I was expecting. I flipped over the box and found a pleasant surprise: lebkuchen from Paula over at Love is a Journey had arrived!

Lebkuchen is a traditional gingerbread-like cookie baked at Christmas time in Germany. When I opened the box, I found an assortment of charmingly packaged lebkuchen of all different shapes and size, which I tucked under the Christmas tree. 

"Hey what's this?" Andy asked, spying the assortment of goodies beneath the tree when he got home from work. He opened of the boxes. "Oh my gosh, did you see these?" he asked, his eyes growing wide. "HUGE chocolate cookies!"

Everything is so beautifully packaged that I'm hesitant to open anything. We are nibbling our way through the package of HUGE chocolate cookies and I have to admit that the package of Butterzeug (butter cookies) are nearly gone. (Hey, I like my butter.) I love holiday traditions, and I'm thrilled to be incorporating German Christmas traditions into Christmas 2010 at the cabin.

The closest I've ever come to being in Germany at Christmas is switching planes in Munich for a J-term trip to Italy back in 2006/07. But this isn't my first brush with lebkuchen. Back in high school, I worked on an online teen e-zine and one of my fellow editors lived in Germany. One Christmas, she sent all of the e-zine editors an assortment of German Christmas candies and included a small lebucken ornament in the parcel. There's been a piece of plasticized lebkuchen hanging on my Christmas trees for years!

While studying in Ireland in 2005, I had a chance to visit my fellow editor and experience Germany for a long weekend. Although this picture of snowy Heidelberg in the Rhine Valley was taken in March, this how I imagine a German Christmas: all snowy castles, brightly lit storefronts, lebkuchen and mulled wine. 
Thank you Paula for a taste of German Christmas. That first sweet bite of lebkuchen brought back equally sweet memories of Christmases and travels gone by.
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It's Greek to Me

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
When I was little, my parents read Greek myths to my brother and I as bedtime stories. I suppose it all started because the myth of Persephone and Demeter was in one of the bedtime story anthologies we had as toddlers. Then one Christmas, when I was probably in first or second grade, we got D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths . We read and reread the book, drifting off to sleep with the ancient antics of Zeus, Hera, Athena, Jason and so many others, racing through our heads. In high school I took a mythology course, one thing lead to another, and an English major was born.

Greek myths did more for me than inspire a love of a literature and storytelling. Myths infused our daily lives as children. Our winter night stargazing were directly influenced by Greek mythology.

I've been thinking about Greek myths lately, maybe because it's been really cold lately, or maybe just because it's winter and the nights are long and the stars abundant:

For the record, 0F.L is not a real temperature. That just what the thermometer displays when it goes below -26 F. And it got down to -30F last night. As you can see, the new wood stove keeps thing plenty warm enough inside though.

Could it be all this watching the Mercury that's got my mind thinking about myths? (I realize that Mercury is the Roman messenger god, which deviates slightly from my Greek myth theme here, but nevertheless, it's Mercury who stuck in the thermometer, not Hermes.)

Despite the mild Arctic temps, Andy and I have been bundling up each night and heading out in the moonlight of the waxing moon. (And yet people laugh when I say I want to visit Antarctica . . .   seriously, I could take it.)  In the cold temperatures, the lake ice cracks and booms all night, as well as for a good portion of the day, as it expands. On these still, cold nights, the cabin's bay sometimes produces an echo and as we're out checking on the ice forming at night, our voices often come back to us, making my mind drifts to the myth of Narcissus and Echo. 

But the big show is what's happening up in the sky above us. The winter constellations, Orion, Gemini, Taurus, et al. with all their mythical stories are beginning their seasonal journeys across the night sky. Yesterday also marked the peak in the annual Geminid meteor showers. This annual meteor shower is the most dependable show of the night and the meteors come from the general vicinity of Castor's head in the Gemini constellation which is made up of the twin brothers Castor and Pollux. We caught a few meteors yesterday evening when we were out on the lake, but the bright waxing moon flooded out lots of the stars, shooting or not. Knowing that the meteors were set to peak between midnight and 5 a.m. this morning (and despite a famous childhood story when my father woke me up to look at Comet Hyakutake at 4 in the morning which I looked at  for .2 seconds before dashing back to bed), we set the alarm last night for early morning so we could see the meteor shower at its finest.

The alarm clock went off at 3:30 and we stumbled into the living room to pull on boots, socks, mittens, coats, hats. In -30F weather, we stood on the frozen lake and looked west, to see watch the world traveling through a stream of debris: bright sparks shooting across the winter

This winter living in the woods: cold, dark, stark, and beautiful. And that at least, is not Greek to me.
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The McRib (a post not for the faint of heart)

Monday, December 13, 2010
Here at the cabin, we live a good 2.5 hour drive to the nearest McDonald's. We're not so far removed from fast food culture that I haven't heard about a little sandwich called the McRib. Apparently this barbecue pork sandwich is fashioned to look like a faux rack of ribs (on a bun) and people go crazy for it during its brief, semi-annual stints on McDonald's menu.

At the cabin we have a slightly more intimate relationship with the food eat. When Andy shot a deer last month, we dutifully butchered the deer and stuffed the new chest freezer full of steaks and ground meat. Throughout the process, we put the meat and suet scraps out for the birds. When we'd gotten every bit of meat we would use, we were left with a carcass. More specifically, a rib cage.

What to do, what to do?

Andy had an idea.

Now we have a "McRib" sandwich screwed to the pine outside the kitchen window.

For the record, the birds love it. At any given moment throughout the day, you can find woodpeckers, jays, chickadees, and nuthatches taking a nibble of suet. Squirrels will chomp down on the bone to get their daily calcium quota. And I think we've had a nighttime pine marten visitor stopping by for a midnight snack as well.

I realize we might be a opening a can of worms and that this all kind of sounds like an entry for one of those "You Know You're a Red-Neck" daily calendar. You know, January 4: "You know you're a red-neck when you nail a deer carcass to the tree 'for the birds.'"

(Note: Paula, we missed every bit of the huge snow storm that hit more southern parts of Minnesota.We're not too sad about it. We have plenty of snow for the time being. It is a bit nippy though: temps below zero F)
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Thank Goodness for Mailboxes and Pies

Friday, December 10, 2010
I forgot it was going to snow yesterday. Maybe because Wednesday was sunny, glorious and subsequently cold: so cold in fact, that Andy and I spent a good portion of the evening watching the outside thermometer dip down below zero. But when I got up yesterday and saw the temperature had risen to 20 degrees outside, I knew something was up. Sure enough, all yesterday I looked out the window and saw nothing but white: the far shore of the lake disappeared in a howling swirl of wind and snowflakes.

On Wednesday, I also had a great writing day with Rose & Co. As we sat around the table working on our writing prompts, Rose set about writing a short story about “woe.” In the story, she artfully described all the ways we keep ourselves miserable during the winter months. You know: no exercise, too much chocolate, dwelling on the darkness and cold, staying up too late and subsequently starting our days too late.

The story struck a chord.

After a blah, blah, blah snowy November, I’ve tried avoiding woe this December. That means throwing myself into work, adopting a nearly daily exercise routine and not “eating my feelings.”

But oh when it’s blustery and cold and snowy, it’s hard to make yourself go outside.

Luckily, yesterday I had to go outside. The wintery weather had pretty much depleted our wood rack inside and I needed to fill it. And then there’s the mailbox, the hallowed mailbox. The possibility of mail waiting for me in the mailbox each afternoon is so alluring, it gets me outside making the mile-long round trip out to the mailbox even on days like yesterday when I was so bundled up you could just see my eyes peering out from between my hat and my scarf.

I finished my work hours for the week early yesterday and this felt like a major accomplishment. (Never mind the gazillion other “to-do” commitments I need to address before the week’s done). When I got back from filling the wood box and getting the mail, I couldn’t stand the thought of parking myself in front of the computer again. So I thought to myself: “I’m going to bake a pie.”

Regardless of your feelings about the overall quality of the movie Waitress, I adore the idea of
baking pies as therapy.
And yesterday baking a pie full of blueberry loved seemed like a really good idea.

It was a good idea.

Sometimes life needs to be simplified if we’re to escape woe’s clutches. Things like Christmas cards arriving from faraway friends and or making a flakey pie crust while filling the house with the wonderful smell of baked goods are perfect antidotes to winter woe.

Just one more reason why life is better with butter.
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Wordless Wednesday: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
They said on the radio the other day that December is actually sunnier than November. Thank goodness, I say. With the days getting shorter and shorter, we need every bit of sunshine we can get.

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What To Do When A Bird Hits the Window

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The cabin is surrounded by windows overlooking the lake. Almost every morning, I look out the window and see something breathtaking. Since the majority of the windows face south, on sunny winter days tons of passive solar energy comes in and helps keep the cabin warm. The windows are great.

There's just one little problem.

We invite birds to feeders in the yard during the winter. And, well, you see where I'm going, birds flitting around everywhere, a ton of windows, there's bound to be a collision sooner or later.

Since we put up the feeders in early November, the majority of days have been cloudy and birds have been navigating to the feeders without incident. It's sunny days when the windows reflected the sky, clouds, trees and other environmental elements that birds are most prone to go pell-mell into the glass. And there must have been something in this morning's sunshine that had the backyard wildlife confused. 

Late this morning, while I was working away at the computer, I thought I saw something hurl itself past one of the windows. When I went out to investigate I found Mr. Squirrel apparently trying to jump in through the window. He'd perched on the woodbox outside the front door and would jump at the window with his paws outstretched, hitting the glass above the windowsill, only to slide down the pane with a skitter, landing back on top of the wood box. "Come on," I thought. "I just filled up the feeders. Now you want a warm place to take a nap too?!"

Bemused, I headed back to work, but not ten minutes I heard: BAM!

Creeping back into the living room, I looked out the window and saw a smattering of feathers stuck to the outside glass of one pane. Knowing what I would see, but not really wanting to see it, I peered below the window. Sure enough, a stunned male hairy woodpecker lay on his back on the porch.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology  has a great article on why birds hit windows and how to make your windows safer for birds. They suggest placing stunned birds into a shoebox and letting them sit in the darkness for fifteen minute intervals.

I prefer not to handle wildlife any more than absolutely necessary, so I went a slightly different route with the woodpecker. A lady who volunteered at the museum this summer, who also has a cabin filled with windows, said she always covers stunned birds with a tea towel. It's the same principle as the shoebox: the darkness not only calms the birds, but also helps them orient themselves. (How would you feel if you were flying along and all of a sudden, BAM, you're on your back, apparently walking on the sky?) The tea towel is light enough that the birds still get plenty of air and won't be smother the bird. Where today's woodpecker landed, I could drape the towel over him without me or the towel touching him at all.

Fifteen minutes later, I went out and removed the tea towel. Sure enough the woodpecker had righted himself, but he lay hunched up, breathing heavily and blinking a lot. I left him for a while and when he showed no signs of flying off 20 minutes later, I decided to check on him. Once I got close to him, he took off like a bolt and flew off into a nearby grove of trees. Hopefully now he's just suffering a massive headache, but he may not be so lucky. Lots of birds die of internal bleeding even after they fly off.

The tea towel trick won't work for every bird who collides with a window, but it's a good way to lend a helping hand without interfering inappropriately.
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Boots: a mail-order bride sort of love affair

Monday, December 6, 2010
This is my foot:

Nothing too exciting. Wears between a size 7.5 and 8, depending on the brand. Often found clad in wool socks.

I enjoy sticking shoes on that not-so-exciting foot. I mean really enjoy sticking shoes on it. As cliche as it is, as much as it seems like "this is my brain on Sex and the City", I really, really like shoes. Sometimes I have to strategically plan my trips to Target to avoid passing the shoe aisles to guarantee I won't walk out of the store with a $20.00 pair of questionable quality shoes under my arm. You know, like this:

Practicality is not to be reckoned with when it comes to the shoe fetish. It is a sick, sick love affair. On more than one occasion, I've been caught wearing shoes which I know hurt me. Hello knee pain:

In my office working days, I consistently crammed my feet into shoes which are just a teensy, weensy bit too small.

I put up with an awful for the sake of footwear, that is, until it comes to actual down-to-earth, "you need this so your feet don't freeze and fall off" footwear. Anyone who's read this blog for a while knows that I have yet to come to terms with the less than cute reality of good outdoors apparel. Give me $100 to spend on shoes and I'll come back with some sort of configuration of heels, flats, and sandals.

Which explains why I've been tromping around for the last seven or eight winters in these:

These boots are the result of a rather flabbergasting shoe trip. They are fine boots, but they are two sizes too big. Still, I couldn't be persuaded to replace them. Who wants to spend a $100 on shoes and just come back with some clunky ol' winter boots?!

Knowing this, Andy decided to take matters into his own hands. On Saturday, he brought home these:

They're the right size for my foot, much warmer than my old boots, yet, I hemmed and hawed over the new boots. I wondered if they might just be a little too snug. (Keep in mind that I have often worn shoes that make my feet bleed during the "break-in" process with little to no complaining.) Were they a little too clunky? Did I care for the way they looked? Did they make me walk funny? Gosh, I just didn't know if they would work. Maybe they would . . .

It struck me that if I love frivolous shoes in a head over heels, love at first sort of way, my feelings towards practical footwear are more akin to a "mail-order bride" kind of affection:
You think you can just stick it out the way it is. It's really not that bad, after all. No matter how frequently you tell yourself and others that "you're fine," there's always that niggling knowledge in the back of your mind that things could be better. When you finally muster up the near to make a change, there's apprehension and some angst. And you're not so sure about things when the new person (boots) show up on scene, Yet, slowly you warm to each other and over time you form a partnership where you wonder what you ever did without the other.

Sometimes you need things thrust upon you to really get what you need.
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Let's fly, let's fly away . . . .

Friday, December 3, 2010
"When the last time we had a sunny day?" Andy asked this morning. We both looked out over the nearly frozen lake in front of our windows. A small swirl of snowflakes fluttered past the windows.

I can't remember the last time the sunny really shone for a day straight. I can't remember the last time it wasn't snowing.

I know this is the time of year for Christmas carols to be bouncing about in our brains. But whenever, I look out the front windows, I don't hear "Silent Night" or "Jingle Bells." I hear Frank Sinatra: "Come fly with me. Let's fly, let's fly away."

Joni Mitchell wrote about "an urge for going," that deep longing for something different that sets in when:
the frost perched on the town
It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down
When the sun turns traitor cold
and all the trees are shivering in a naked row

In these December days, it's easy to long for some new, exciting sights. Like this:
Or this:
Or this:

But flying away doesn't happen on a whim. It takes planning and funds. This coming April is the first April since I graduated when I haven't had definite travel plans. While I'm tempted to go with my parents to Ireland this coming spring, something tells me this isn't exactly what I'm looking for this year. I've lived in both Ireland and England. I'm ready for some place new and exotic: like Australia or Spain, or, or . . . .

So I'll keep peering out the front window, waiting for inspiration to strike and money to appear. You never know when the urge for going will become strong enough to get me out the door.
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Happy Hanukkah! (With a potato latke tutorial)

Thursday, December 2, 2010
This may come as a shock, but Hanukkah isn't a real big deal in northern Minnesota. We're all too busy being Lutheran and Scandinavian this time of year to bother with dreidels, latkes, and menorahs. Unless you're at my house.

Growing up in the great Northwoods, I swear sometimes it felt like we were the only non-Scandinavian household in a 250 mile radius. (We're Irish and English). And for whatever reason, my mother opted not to educate my brother and I about Scandinavian Christmas traditions like St. Lucia, lefse and lutefisk, but instead about the Jewish Celebration of Light: Hanukkah.

We read books like The Chanukkah Guest, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, and Stories for Children. We attempted to make latkes, although that project always ended with the house filling with smoke and the fire alarm going off. There was no menorah, no blessings, just an acknowledge that any chance to celebrate light in these dark December days is a very good thing.

I've been reading Sarah's Key (which is excellent) this past week which discusses the French roundup of Jews in 1942 in compliance with the Nazis. When I noticed that Hanukkah was right around the corner, it seemed like a good time to try out those potato latkes again. Last night I gave it a whirl and surprised myself with successful (and delicious) results.

Here's how to make potato latkes. (I got this potato latke recipe out of Better Homes and Garden's Heritage Cookbook.)

Step 1:  Place your smoke detector within easy reach. Surprisingly, ours didn't go off last night when I was making these, which is quite shocking because it likes to go off when we make toast. Anyway . . .

Step 2: Place in a bowl:
3 cups shredded bakers potatoes
1/2 cup minced onion (it said to shred these, which probably worked with a food processor, but I found it much faster just to mince these.)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt.

Mix together and drop in tablespoons on a hot, greased griddle. Flatten out the latkes slightly with the back of a spoon.

You want your griddle to be very well oiled with chicken fat or vegetable oil, but not so well oiled that the vegetable oil is actually standing on the griddle. (You can see this skillet has a little too much oil in the far right corner.) We're going for pan-fried not deep-fat fried here. The recipe said to cook the latkes for 2 minutes on each side. My griddle must not have been hot enough because it took more like 4-5 minutes per side to get these golden brown and crispy.

Voila: latkes. Lots of recipes tell you top these with applesauce but I have distinct memories of not liking that much as a child. Personally, I'd recommend going the savory route: sour cream, cheese, etc. etc.

While I made the latkes, Andy roasted pieces of venison over the wood stove.To me, the holidays is all about mixing up traditions, Christmas pageants and potato latkes, or in this case: Northwoods Barbarianism and Judaism.

Happy Hanukkah!
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Wordless Wednesday: Meat and Potatoes

Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I didn't grow up in a meat and potatoes kind of household, but with a chest freezer chock-a-block filled with venison, things are changing around the cabin. No more prissy stir-fried tofu stuff. We're talking venison steak and mashed potatoes.

 As you can see, some of us are more enthusiastic about this than others.

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