Holiday Pay and other things I've started to miss

Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Some people, like Meri over at Meri-Goes-Round, viewed yesterday's Memorial Day holiday as an opportunity to post about what the holiday is really about. But I'm having a "she stoops to conquer" sort of moment and have to admit the thing I associate most with the day is not picnics or placing flags on gravestones. Honestly, when I think Memorial Day, I think holiday pay.

I spent three summers on the federal payroll and while working for the feds submerges you in some unique challenges and one could argue that federal agencies foster bureaucracy and incompetency, the job came with some perks. Namely, if I showed up for a regularly scheduled shifts on say, Memorial Day or Fourth of July, I got time and a half pay. 

Andy rolls his eyes whenever I wax poetic about holiday pay and I know what you're thinking: "This girl claims she wants to be a freelance writer. Has she not yet accepted her fate as never having disposable income ever again?!" 

To be honest, I've pretty well excepted my fate as a penniless writer. And when I really think about holiday pay, I realize it wasn't really meant as a perk. In reality, it's there to promote the idea that Memorial Day (or whatever the holiday du jour) is a special day for Americans  If you aren't able to get the day off, you deserved a little extra pay to "remind" you of the holiday.

When I accepted my current job, I basically kissed summer holidays (and weddings and any other special occasion not scheduled on my days off) good-bye. Holidays roll past without me even noticing them. I've been known to ask, "oh, was it Labor Day yesterday?" Around here, life doesn't pause for holidays. We barrel through them like they don't exist.

And I suppose that's okay. But maybe it would have been nice if yesterday I'd thought less about closing out the cash register and more about my great-uncle Peter who died in WWII when his plane was shot down over France. Or about my great-uncle Frank, who was a WWII paratrooper. Or a little about my gramma.

If I'd received holiday pay, would it really have affected my mindset yesterday? Who knows? All I know is when it comes to holidays, I'm not getting them off and I'm not getting paid any more for showing up for work on them.

Welcome to summer at Of Woods and Words.
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Monday, May 30, 2011
Yesterday, we had a break in the drizzly, cool weather and I managed to sandwich transplanting all seedlings into their forever homes of raised beds and flower pots around a full work day. This meant changing into my grubby clothes twice in one day, but really, it had to be done. 

I know half of you have had your gardens in for at least two weeks so least you think I'm a slacker, let me assure you that around here we don't dare plant outside until Memorial Day weekend. June 1 is pretty much the unofficial "it probably won't freeze again until September" date. Then again, it might freeze on July 4. You've got to keep your head on a swivel in these parts.

And this shall be dubbed "Salsa Escalade" (Peppers, tomatoes and tomatillos)
I've been feeling a bit transplanted myself lately. The whole return to work thing has turned my weekly schedules and daily routines upside down. While I know I should feel like the transplanted seedlings, all refreshed with a cool drink of water and ready to spread out my roots, the truth is that I feel more like I've gone from my roomy home in the raised bed and am now trying to shove myself back into a seed starting tray. Just . . . not.  . .quite . . . enough . . . room.
Hmmm, they looked bigger when they were in their trays. (Broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage; zucchini and squash in the plastic bottle "cloches")
It's the time of the year when both my successes and my failures become a little more obvious to the entire world. Plants that have been nurtured along all spring get put out in the elements, where they'll either thrive or flop. (I've already managed to kill off one basil plant.) We'll see just how much the plants really like the "soil" (a mixture of sand, peat moss, top soil and humus and manure) we placed in the new raised bed garden. And we'll see how long I can maintain perpetual busy-ness before I just want to curl up in a ball in bed.
Sometimes I forget that transplanting is an adjustment period for both me and the plants. It's a shock to suddenly find ourselves submerged in brand-new surroundings we're supposed to feel instantly at home in. "But this place is a little shadier than where I've come from," we think. "I'm not sure if this soil is quite ready for us."  
Onions, garlic, carrots, radishes, herbs, and mystery plant
But with plenty of water and a bit of sunshine, this will all be feeling like everyday in no time.

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It's Teatime!

Thursday, May 26, 2011
Alexis, over at North on Harper, wants to bring back the tea party. And this morning, as I stumbled out into the kitchen to put on the kettle for my morning cup of English Breakfast tea, I decided she was right. What this world really needs right now  is more tea parties. 

I've always loved a good tea party. Back in the day, my brother and I used to fill up my miniature Peter Rabbit teapot with water and host tea parties between us and our stuffed animals on our bedroom floor. If we were really lucky we got a couple brownies or cookies from Mom to serve as a teatime nibbles. My family often made real, live tea in the evening (usually herbal) as a way to relax and unwind after an eventful day.

As I grew up, I became well-steeped in English literature and my fascination with all things English, especially the tea party, only grew.

In college, several friends and I made tea parties a semi-tradition. The events always involved way too much sugar and usually ended with a sort of tea party hangover. (No, we weren't drinking sweet tea . . .)

To be honest, a good tea party, in my book at least, should end with an upset stomach and insomnia: it's a natural side effect of one too many scones all washed down with caffeinated tea.
While in London, I even got to have a grown-up tea party at the Ritz. We felt pretty fancy.
And really, when's the last time you got all gussied up to drink a cup of coffee? Tea speaks of elegance and tradition; it's fun and stately at the same time.

While I love a good cup of Starbucks when I can get it, the vast majority of my mornings kick off with a cup of tea. To me, a cup of tea means everything is going to be all right. 

Who's with me on the tea party thing? I'm tired of drinking my daily tea at laptop, staring at the screen through sleep-deprived eyes as I hammer out the morning blog post. What I need right now is an excuse for romance and charm. So let's put on party dresses, decorate the back garden with paper lanterns, and pull out our best china. Remember, pinkies up! 

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Wordless Wednesday: It's A Mystery!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I planted a seed back in April. I thought it was kohlrabi. Then I thought it was cabbage. Now, I don't know what to think. Anyone have any guesses about this year's mystery plant?!

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I Am Not The Doctor

Tuesday, May 24, 2011
"You see it's too much to ask for and I am not the doctor." -Alanis Morissette

You've probably figured this out already, but just in case there's any confusion about this fact, let me clarify: I am not a doctor.

Shocking, I know.

The college I attended is well known for being a nursing school -- so I went ahead and got a liberal arts degree from them . . . see above comment about not being a doctor -- and when people ask what college I attended, but don't bother following up to ask about my degree or career, they sometimes assume I'm a nurse.

Okay, stop laughing.

(Oh, and for the record, Alpha Chi actually was the name of the dorm hall I lived in during college. While Alpha Chi once was a sorority at my school, the sorority ended long before my time when someone died, but the name lived on. Sorry, no sorority sister stories here!) 

While I have a couple brilliant friends who just graduated with their M.D.s (Congrats Sandi and Donna!), I am not a doctor, or a nurse, for a myriad of reasons. Namely, while I consider myself a patient, understanding person, I don't have a whole lot of empathy for those feeling a little under the weather. In fact, on Friday I was accused of "not having a sympathetic bone in my body." Harsh, but probably true.

Andy's not been feeling well lately and every time I pass the bedroom door and spy him lying, pale-faced under the crumpled comforter, it takes me clenching every nerve in my body not to bellow into the room, "SUCK IT UP!"

While Andy would most likely fluff up my pillows, bring me a cool washcloth to lay across my feverish forehead and make some homemade chicken broth to spoon into my mouth if I were ill, I just usually toss a glass of flat 7-Up at the ill person and ask repeatedly if they're feeling any better yet.

I have vivid memories of my father lying on his back on the living room floor when I was little, suffering his way through the flu without any painkillers. I come from a family that, unless you count a genetic disposition for high cholesterol, doesn't get sick too often. A head cold is usually about as ill as we get and that's something you can just power through as long as you have enough Kleenex at hand. We deal it by not dealing it. Whenever someone consistently complains of headaches or backaches or heartaches, or any aches, I usually start to think the person's a hypochondriac.

Sometimes my "we all deal with crappy stuff . . . get over it!" attitude just isn't what an ailing person wants to hear. And sometimes, yes, I wish I had a little more of a "Chicken Soup" outlook on life.

But I am not the doctor.

Still, feel better Andy.

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Dressing to Impress

Monday, May 23, 2011
I believe in the power of fashion. I believe looking nice and together and wearing clothes that fit and flatter will help your case in getting ahead in life. I also believe in comfort, which is why occasionally you'll still find me dressed like a college freshman on laundry day.

Take this weekend for instance. It's been a drizzly string of days with nothing but bad internet so I saw no reason not to pull on my ratty sweatpants with the words "Alpha Chi" (the name of a dorm wing I lived in during college) emblazoned on the hiney, a loose-fitting t-shirt, and a Hard Rock Cafe Dublin sweatshirt I bought in 2005 when it started snowing on me in Ireland. (You can take the girl out of Minnesota but you can't take the snow out of . . . wait, I never did figure out how to make that saying clever and applicable for this setting.)

The sweatshirt in its infancy
But remember how it's been rainy around here? Over the weekend, I ran out of indoor tasks and without being able to work in the gardens, I felt a little lost. So I decided to pop over to work for a minute yesterday to deliver some boxes.

When I pulled up to the gate at work, I discovered I'd been locked out. (Yes, I drove all by myself!) Because the museum leases the property from a federal agency, both the feds and the museum peeps have separate locks on the gate. (The feds use a universal key system, so if they gave us the key to their gate padlock, they'd give us the key to a whole lot of other things too.) So there's one padlock for each end of the chain . . . not exactly rocket science. Except when there are new employees, or if another agency is working in collaboration with our feds, sometimes they get confused by this complex lock system and end up locking us out. Which is exactly what happened.

I spent the first half hour minutes of the three hours I'd planned to spend at the museum, on the phone, trying to get someone over to unlock the gate.While I cradled the phone between my shoulder and chin, I looked around to see what creature was making such a ruckus in the other room. Which is when I spied a squirrel dancing across the rafters.

After forty minutes the gate was open and the squirrel had gone on his merry little way. With the gate open, I hauled my load into the museum and started working away. Which is when all the people started showing up.

First a family with artifacts they wanted to donated. Then some volunteers dropping off more boxes. And another volunteer who wanted to test the alarm system and troubleshoot some electrical problems.

"Man, I better get out of here before anyone else shows up," I thought to myself. But I really wanted to finish the project I was working on. Which is when two separate groups of community members showed up to wander the grounds. Since one of the said individuals helped get the museum a large grant without which the museum would not exist, I was in no position to kick them out. And besides, remember the gate? I can't leave and lock up until everyone's cleared out of the parking lot anyway.

Once everyone had cleared out, the agency who'd locked us out and who had been using our parking lot, pulled up to the dock in their boats. For the next half hour, they worked to load their boats on trailers, effectively blocking the driveway and cutting off my escape route!

5 and a half hours later, it was after 4 p.m. and I'd only had a granola bar for lunch. Could it get any worse?

I looked down.

I'd been wearing my ratty sweats the entire time.

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Broadband, Where Art Thou?

Saturday, May 21, 2011
After my friend Sarah came up for a visit last month, she told her coworkers about her trip "up North"  to a fairly well-known vacation destination in Minnesota.

"Ah man," said one coworker. "That's where I want to live."

Sarah raised her eyebrows. "Really?"

The coworker nodded vigorously.

"Well consider this," Sarah said. "If you lived up there you have to drive 50 miles to get gas and groceries. You have no cell service. You have to drive three hours to get a Target or movie theater. And your internet costs $90 a month and you can't even watch Youtube."

The truth is, the very things that make people revel in their vacations up here are the things that can make everyday life around these parts downright frustrating.

Yes, we play $90 a month for internet service and that's no packaged deal that included phone and cable service too. Nope, that's just for internet. It's the highest "quality" satellite internet package we can buy up here and that hardly means we always have internet.

With satellite internet you're presented with how many MBs you can upload and download at any given time.  Exceed that limit and the service provider will punish you like a bad child by either slowing down your internet to dial-up speed or just completely shut off the internet all together. The download and upload limits are on a rolling quota which Wild Blue keeps intentionally ambiguous. Frustrating!

To avoid going over the limits, we do very little Youtubing around here and Pandora and Grooveshark listening are kept to a minimum. If you post a vlog, chances are, I won’t watch it. Not because I don’t want to see it, but because the consequences of going over the limit just suck.

While I was off in Chicago, we managed to cross that invisible line with Wild Blue and until this Thursday we’ve been treated to snail-like internet. That’s 10+ days of barely there internet!

Weather also affects the internet. So while the internet’s supposedly back in full force, because today’s rainy, I’ve spent most of the day refreshing and refreshing and refreshing pages, trying to get them to load.

It kind of makes me feel like this:

I know lots of people are kind of down on President Obama for promising broadband to America's rural residents and then not instantly getting internet to everyone as soon as he took office. To this I say, when has any government ever done anything quick-like? Furthermore, isn't it usually the government's quick-like actions that often prove most regrettable?

In the past year, it’s become official: broadband’s on its way to this forgotten corner of northern Minnesota. But while it warms my heart when I spy the electric coop workers out laying fiber optic cable along the road, when we really needed broadband was yesterday.

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Stealth Rhubarb

Thursday, May 19, 2011
When we moved into the cabin last spring, I discovered the only rhubarb plant on the property looked like it came from Alice in Wonderland's miniature world. The stalks were approximately the size of my pinky.

Having grown up on my great-grandparents' homestead, which at one time hosted seven massive rhubarb plants, I didn't know if spring could really be spring without rhubarb pie, rhubarb cobbler, rhubarb muffins, warm rhubarb sauce over vanilla ice cream, rhubarb marmalade, so much rhubarb it oozed out your ears. And the neighbors, the ones on the other side of the bay who were only up a week or two at the most each summer had a garden choked with rhubarb, chives, and raspberries. It was a bramble of neglect and invasive edibles. Surely they wouldn't notice . . .

"Just take it," Andy's aunt, the longest permanent resident of the bay said.

Just take it?

So under the cover of dusk Andy, his cousin, and I stole over to the neighbor's cabin, shovel in hand. From the far corner of the garden, we took just a shovelful of rhubarb stalks and roots, hardly making a dent in the sprawling plant. Back at our cabin, we planted rhubarb in a raised bed and as we watered them, we giggle softly at our stealthy feat.

Thinking back on things, I'm not sure why I was so adamant about needing better producing rhubarb plants. The two stolen plants needed time to adjust to their new home and we didn't harvest any stalks last summer. Despite that fact, we ended up being gifted with so much rhubarb from other acquaintances that we had enough rhubarb to make a pie, muffins, sauce, and a batch of marmalade.

Barbara Kingsolver writes about zucchini season being the only time of year when people in small towns lock their houses and car doors to avoid gifts of unwanted zucchini. In northern Minnesota, rhubarb is the spring equivalent of zucchini. Even if you don't grow it, you'll manage to end up with an overabundance. It's like organic plant bombing.

Still, maybe I want to do some organic plant bombing of my own. Maybe I won't really feel like I've come of age until I can thrust Ziploc bags stuffed with fat rhubarb stalks into people's hands amid protesting.

I worried a little that karma might affect my stolen rhubarb plants. But every day the stalks grow a little bigger and we get one day closer to rhubarb pie. I have a feeling stealth rhubarb will taste just a little sweeter than any rhubarb I've ever had before.

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Wordless Wednesday: Mid-May Scenes

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The days are getting long and we're currently in a string of beautiful, calm, sunny days that have me running around in a tank top during my outdoor chores. Although the spinach, onions, carrots, and lettuce I sowed last week would really like a hit of rain, it's hard to argue with . . . summer! While it's been "heigh-ho, heigh-ho" back to work for Andy and I this week, we have stolen away down the lake on a couple boat rides and even hiked a nearby trail on Sunday. There's a lot to discover in the woods this time of year.

Sandpipers in a row
Water ripple along a portage
Wood Anemone along the Centennial Hiking Trail
Monday night cookout
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Don't's into Do's

Tuesday, May 17, 2011
"You know," Andy said the other night as we driving down the road, "I can pretty accurately predict your future by paying attention to what you say you'll never do."

"What?!" I spluttered.

And then I thought about it. "I'll never move back to my hometown." Wait a minute . . . "I'll never live in the woods." Oh yeah. "I'll never drive a stick shift." Hmmm . . . 

That's right, as of Sunday afternoon, Andy and I are now the proud owners of Subaru Baja. (It might not be a looker, but I feel like my life could use some all wheel drive right about now.)

You might remember back when I penned my cryptic, "Catching an Edge" post in March. That's when the dear old Corolla and I had a bit of a wrestle with some black ice. The wrestle ended fine for me, but poorly for the Corolla. While I'd like to say we can easily survive as a one car household, the truth is that two months with just one car was plenty long enough.

So when our neighbors put their Subaru up for sale, the opportunity seems right for all involved parties. There's only one problem. I don't drive manuals.

When I really look at my life, I'm surprised by all the "don'ts." I find. I don't eat seafood. I don't drive stick shifts. I don't crochet. I don't, I don't, I don't.

Life is short. Too short for "don't"s.

So when you see me lurching off from a stop sign this summer, you'll know I'm busy turning my "don'ts" into "dos"

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Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho

Monday, May 16, 2011
The pussywillows have turned into downy ovals, tipped with pollen. On the porch, yesterday afternoon, the sunshine warmed my face and scalp into a nice bright red glow. It's northern Minnesota's second spring.

As you've probably noticed, our winter isn't usually ready to let go when spring pops up on the calendar. When March 20th rolls around, it signals little more than a growing anxiousness that someday (soon?) all this winter stuff will be behind us. It's not until mid May, when the ice goes out and wildflowers start to bloom that it really, truly start to appear to be spring like the rest of the world knows the season.

This second spring seems to spark productivity. It's hard to resist the allure of the outdoors when you can run around in a t-shirt and play in the dirt.

We were meant to be out on a canoe trip this past week, but the late ice out and my absence earlier in the month hampered planning. So instead we spent Andy's vacation time last week at home . . . building this monstrosity. 

Here's a little "did you know" for you: a 8' x 16' garden needs an awful lot of soil. Three trips to town and we've finally got it nearly filled with soil. Now, will anything grow in said soil remains a mystery!

Other "late spring" chores got done too. The boat is in, the perennial beds are mostly weeded, the shed has been cleaned out. 

Even some knitting got (mostly) finished up.
Second spring also means a return to full-time, out of the house work for me. It's always pretty bittersweet: hooray for secure finances, boo to 40 hours of not exactly soul satisfying work. But heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it's off to work with me today.

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Guest Post: Book Club Weekend Holly-Style!

Saturday, May 14, 2011
Note from Ada:  It's one late Book Club Friday, but I'd like to blame the delay on Blogger, who started eating all posts and comments on Wednesday and didn't stop until yesterday morning. (Epic fail!) I wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to read Carissa's Small Town Traditions post before post Holly's Book Club Friday (weekend?) post. Holly writes over at Wuthered Window and shared some of her favorite childhood reads. Seems we've been talking about childhood favorites on Book Club Fridays a lot lately. Enjoy! P.S. Of Woods and Words regularly scheduled programming resumes on Monday. See you then!

Of Woods and Words

As part of my gap year I haven't been doing much structured written work or reading until a couple of months ago and therefore have not performed to a deadline in a long old time. BIG MISTAKE! (cue quote from Mystery Men)

After a lovely day helping my grandparents sort a new carpet out and watching The King's Speech with them, I drove home and was about to go to bed when I thought, I'm just gonna check my emails (it's something I do to pass and waste time – as I nearly always have signed up for spam). I saw to my horror (at 10:30pm) an email received yesterday from Ada saying very nicely, any time on Thursday would do for getting my guest post. Well I sure hope she meant that.

Books of my childhood (oh lord, what's coming next you say, a drivelling account of the fact you loved to read) is a topic focused on by Jayne Fordham in her post "Memories... books I read as a child.” And whilst a little bit of insight into her choices it opened up great memories for me. These sorts of posts are only ever interesting if you happen to like the same books and can revel in the stories with the writer, or it leads you on a trail entirely of your own reveling.

Such was the case in Jayne's post when she mentioned James and the Giant Peach and writing your name in the front of books. Having seen the film at around the same time (and later discovering David Thewlis was in it all along) as reading the book, it meant I didn't conjure up the world for myself but used the scenes from the film. This is half, if not more, of the fun in reading on your own and as a child, that you are the creator and the characters become your friends as you are drawn in. (I still always cry when my literary friends die – Akkarin!)

And now I have a terrible secret to reveal... I own a first edition paper back of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (you know, the edition before the illustrator realised Dumbledore was an old man), and like every small child, it was mine and I will make sure no one takes it, therefore I will write my name in large letters in the front and colour in the Hogwart's crest (wrongly). Rendering it now worthless to everyone else but myself. Hurray for childhood greediness and love of HP!

They were the first books that began me reading like a maniac every night till stupid o'clock in the morning (meaning I now need glasses, idiot), and the first ones where I had the characters, scenes and world firmly in my head and all as my own creation. It's a good job the films are so great else that would have been ruined.

(Yada Yada stop talking) Finally a quick fire round of other childhood and teen favourites that I will forever love and give to my kids/any child who will listen to my good sense and taste:

  • Artemis Fowl (I was seriously going to audition if the film had been made, for the part of Holly of course. Weirdly my boyfriend would have done the same thing for Artemis, meaning we might have met completely differently.)
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
  • The Magician's Guild.
  • Jedi Apprentice (cue laughter).
  • Wizard Apprentice.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events.
  • Mister Monday series.
  • George's Marvellous Medicine.

And hand on heart not, never, never will be Twilight.


What were your favorite childhood reads? 
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Guest Post: Small Town Community Events aka living in Stars Hollow

Friday, May 13, 2011
Note from Ada: This week I'm asking some of my bloggy friends to help fill the Of Woods and Words soundwaves. Today Carissa of Kissed A Frog talks about the wacky traditions of her own small town in the woods. Coming from a small town with an annual summer festival that involves a fish toss contest (yes, literally hurling dead herring at your partner down the street to see who can throw it the farthest) I know exactly what she's talking about! Enjoy!

I grew up in a small Canadian town of about 4000 people. They say with the outlying area we make up about 7000 people. They claim town is growing but that's the same numbers I remember hearing since I was in elementary school. It's a quirky little town where almost everybody is connected somehow. Either you know them or know of them or know people who know them.

If you're from a small town or spent any amount of time in one, you'll know there is a limited amount of activities you can do. Don't get me wrong... we have our share of things to do. We've got an ancient bowling alley, an ice cream shop my parents went to when they were in high school, and a one screen theatre that only takes cash and seats about 75 people. But when those fail to entertain you, you can either drive an hour to the city or engage in some good ol' community events!

This town loves to bring in seasons with a big community event! We start the year off with the tree that tells us when it's spring . April we have a huge bull sale. Then in May we celebrate the snow leaving by having a home trade show. June we've got the classic car show that takes over a parking lot or park in town.

July marks one of the town's favorite summer past times... tubing down the river that runs through town! Everybody does it! And they do it in some pretty random looking groups! Don't be surprised if you find a cooler strapped to a dingy floating past you. Or a greased up watermelon.

August hosts the fall fair and if you're lucky a festival or two. Some years we have the Savor the Flavor festival, where all booths must be food related. Yum! Our town's mascot is the Canadian Goose.
I mean, I guess it makes sense and all. Our town's name has a goose related word in it. But it doesn't really assure people we're all that normal when we invite out-of-towners to attend our Festival of the Goose. Or as I refer to it the Festival of the Quacks!

September, well we're sort of too busy getting back to work/school and harvesting to really organize anything. But October we take over the local park/campground on Halloween and the whole town comes out for a pumpkin walk and hot chocolate. We follow it up by watching fireworks! The only time of year we have a firework display.

December we have the Festival of Lights or parade if you will. Followed by all the stores being open far past their usual 5:00 close time. The one night of the year that they are open till midnight!

We have a lot more events but those are the most interesting. What are your favorite events in your town/city? What events could you do with out?
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Guest Post: Simple Frozen Dessert: The Semi-Freddo

Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Note from Ada: This week I'm asking some of my bloggy friends to help fill the Of Woods and Words soundwaves. Today, Emily, a writer and blogger over at the DIY blog The Happy Home, helps us think summer  . . . and let's be honest, here in MN these chilly May days, we need all the help we can get when it comes to thinking warm, summery thoughts!

Summer is hitting most of the US right now, so many of us are in the market for easy frozen desserts. I bought the ice cream maker attachment to my KitchenAid last year, but it definitely cost an arm and a leg. It barely fits in my kitchen, too! Sometimes, I wish I'd saved my cash, especially now that I know how to make a semi-freddo.

If you don't want to spend the money on an ice cream maker, or if you don't have the room for the big, bulky, one-purpose machine, the semi-freddo a frozen dessert that can be a lifesaver in the heat.

Essentially, it's a frozen, flavored whipped cream. It just takes a bit of of creativity and a hand mixer to make an endless series of delicious desserts.

For my latest experiment, I made a mango-strawberry semi-freddo, adapted from a recipe from A Bird In The Kitchen.

2/3 cup sugar, plus 2tbsp additional for the strawberries
2/3 cup mango juice
3 egg yolks
1 cup strawberries, chopped
1 cup heavy cream

In a small saucepan, heat the mango juice and the sugar. Boil until sugar dissolves, and a simple syrup is made. Cool to room temperature.

Place your chopped strawberries in a bowl, and cover with two tablespoons of sugar. Put aside in the fridge.

In a metal bowl, whip your egg yolks until pale and are one and a half times the size.

Slowly pour in the room-temperature syrup into the egg yolks while beating.

In a separate metal bowl, whip the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks.

Fold the yolk mixture and strawberries into the whipped cream.

Transfer the mixture to a freezer safe mold, and freeze for 8 hours, or overnight.

To serve, either scoop, or turn out of your mold and slice!

Semi-freddos are light, airy, sweet and cold. You can swap out the fruit flavors for absolutely anything, and even add chocolate if you want to. A basic semi-freddo is the perfect recipe to keep in your summer collection!
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Guest Post: Making Dreams into Reality

Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Note from Ada: This week I'm asking some of my bloggy friends to help fill the Of Woods and Words soundwaves. Today Amanda of Digital Zen Ink shares the story of her freelance writing journey. Prepare to be inspired!

I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries lately from several of my readers about how I started a freelance writing business, so when Ada asked me to guest post I saw it as the perfect opportunity to share my story.

The long version is that I’ve been in love with the written word for as long as I can remember. While the rest of my family worked in computers and technical fields I always had my head in a book or a pen in my hand. When people asked me what I was supposed to do with an English degree I would simply say “Write. Duh.” The answer was always crystal clear to me and I’ve really never imagined doing anything else.

The short story is that I didn’t have a choice but to start making my dream a reality. Like many members of my generation, I had fallen victim to a horrible economy with no particular path right after college. So I fled to Europe in an attempt to have some sort of epic self realization, or at the very least some semblance of one.

When I came back to the States and realized how bad the situation actually was, I found myself with two options: a) cry about it or b) do something about it. Consequently, I strapped on my boots and dove head first into starting a freelance writing business.

I started like most everyone does. Writing for pennies for content mills until I worked my way up to $15 an article, then $75, then $125. I founded my own freelance business in December 2010, Abella Media, and just launched a joint venture with another freelance writer and friend this month, Digital Zen Ink. In just a couple of days our page views on our individual blogs have soared and we’re getting a lot of support from people we’ve never even met. Most of all, we’re just excited to help others of our generation do the same.

But aside from all of that, my favorite project has been writing my personal blog Grad Meets World, where I discuss topics that are relevant to today’s generation. I basically chronicle my adventures into adulthood while helping others get their foot in the door of the rest of their lives. That alone is enough to make me want to get up in the morning and write.

Of course, this has all been a learning process. Even as I write this now I am still learning new things about running a business. But I am living proof that someone can find ways to turn their dreams into actions.
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Blown In From the Windy City

Monday, May 9, 2011
I just blew in from the Windy City of Chicago last night and thought I'd attempt to catch you up on the whirlwind that was the last eight days. Be forewarned, this post is going to be a long one. Prepare yourself for an excessive amount of pictures and text.

But before we go any farther, can we get a shout out for K. Syrah, Meri, Megan, and Betsy who provided fabulous guest posts during my absence? Thanks so much guys!!

My week "away" kicked off with a friend's bachelorette party two Saturday nights back. Because I live at (what sometimes seems like) the ends of Earth, I don't get to see these friends nearly as often as I'd like. It's always fun when we figure out a way to spend time together despite the miles and schedules.

After a "layover" in the Twin Cities, on Tuesday, my friend Sarah and I headed down to the Amtrak station to catch the early morning train to Chicago only to find flooding on a western segment of the track had delayed the train by six hours. Rather than expecting customers to wait that long for the train to arrive, Amtrak provided inconvenienced travelers with complimentary bus travel to Chicago. While I was happy to avoid the delay, traveling on a packed coach bus wasn't exactly what I'd been imagining when I'd booked the tickets.

Nevertheless, we made it to beautiful Chi-town, where it was actually SPRING!!! I cannot express in words my excitement to find beautiful blossoms bursting out of every planter and garden in the city.

Sarah jokes that vacation with me should really be called "boot camp." In my mind, unless our feet throb at the end of the day, we haven't really traveled. Although I've been to Chicago many, many times before, this was the first time ever I'd spent days (four to be exact) on end in the downtown Chicago and I wanted to make sure we took every advantage of our hotel's convenient location right on the Chicago River, just a couple blocks up from Millennium Park. We spent a fair amount of time down on the Museum Campus on the city's south peninsula.

Hobnobbing with Sue, the T-Rex at the Field Museum

Watching the Jellies at the Shedd Aquarium

Hanging out with the lions over at the Art Institute
 I've often heard it said that Chicago is an East Coast city stuck in the Midwest and I rather agree with the sentiment. It's easy for me to forget just what an incredible amount of culture Chicago really has, especially since Minnesotans tend to (over) glorify the Twin Cities. While the Twin Cities are fine, Chicago, with its tremendous museums and transportation system, really makes every other Midwest metropolis look kind of . . . cute. 

In between our "cultural" experiences, we got in some shopping at Macy's, including dinner in the Walnut Room, (I'm really sad the store is a Macy's now instead of Marshell Field) and up on the Magnificent Mile, where I was very happy to find an H&M. While I love/prefer/can only afford fashion that stores like Target and Kohl's offer, sometimes as a Minnesota girl living in a sea of Target stores, it's really nice to get some clothes that aren't Target brands!

We had excuses to get gussied up for a couple evening shows: Spring Awakening (ugh) at the Oriental Theater in downtown and the Blue Man Group (amazing and indescribable) up in Belmont. 

Pretending to wash the Hancock Building windows.
We didn't visit the top of the Sears/Willis Tower, but we did check out the Observatory at the top of the John Hancock Building. I have to say, the Hancock offers much better views of the City and you really get to soak in Lake Michigan's "Great Lakey-ness".
While we were in the Hancock building neighborhood, we spotted the Water Tower, which is one of the few structures in the City which predates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

We visited both of Chicago's ball fields. We caught the Minnesota Twins playing the White Sox (go Twins!) and the Cubs playing the Cincinnati Reds (go Cubs!)The Cubs lost, the Twins won. For some reason, I'm not surprised by this outcome.

We DID get to take the train back to Minneapolis. I really do think the train is an awfully romantic way to travel, even if it is laughably inefficient. (While it takes about 7-8 hours to drive to Chicago from Minneapolis, it took us nearly 9 hours on the train, even without any delays.) I would recommend the train for its roomy seats and the unique experience. Just be prepared for lackluster customer service (at least, before you actually board) and remember, the Amtrak's timetable is more of suggestion than it is a promise. 

Bye-Bye Chicago
Sunset on the train, near Winona, MN
Of course, we can't consider it a successful trip to the big city without a celebrity sighting. Who did we spot this time?

Vern from TLC's "Trading Spaces." (I know, I know . . . who?) He was on board our river architecture tour!

Hope you've all had a wonderful start to May! Andy's got vacation days at the end of week, so where we'll end up is anyone's best guess, but there'll be plenty of guest posts to tide you over until I really truly return.
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