We Be Jammin'

Thursday, July 28, 2011
No doubt, you've surmised that it's berry season here at Of Woods and Words. Or, as I like to call it . . . "the most wonderful time of the year."Nearly every evening for the last week, I've headed out with my berry picking bucket (aka, a lidded Tupperware container) and have been steadily amassing berries. With two gallons of berries in the freezer, one pie made, and a batch of blueberry vinegar steeping away in the corner, it was time to focus berry picking efforts on restocking the jam pantry.   

Although there are berries galore in the woods, this year, as my scrapped-up shins can attest to, you have to work a little harder to get them. Last year the berries seemed to favor easily accessible open fields. This year, they've tucked themselves away at the top of granite cliffs and in crevices. They're as big and juicy as ever, but sometimes I feel like I could use shin guards. . . or climbing gear. It's been handy to have various watercraft at our disposal to use in this year's berry picking adventures. This is probably just classic, "the grass is always greener on the other side" but I swear the biggest, best berries live down the lake, where you have to paddle or motor to them.   

We took out the canoe on a nearby creek on Tuesday. We found a sandy beach, a ton of berries (and people . . . ah, wilderness!), and towards the end of our time out, we meandered down the river until we reached some rapids. We forded the river, which forms the border between the U.S. and Canada, and found the mother load of berries. With no container on me other than my camera case, I quickly filled up the case with big Canadian blueberries in about five minutes. Best use of my remote area border crossing pass ever.

This past Christmas, I received not one, but two water bath canners. (One got returned . . . there may be no such thing as too many blueberries, but there is such a thing as one too many water bath canners.) I'm feel blessed to have so many people who encourage my berry-picking obsession and on Tuesday evening I got to test out the canner for the first time. There were some nasty smells for a while as the water heated up and the canner burned off some paint/finish fumes.
But in the end, it did a great job of transforming this:

Into this:
Five pints of blueberry/raspberry jam.

Last night, I put up another three pints of straight-up blueberry jam. I've become enamored with the blog "Food in Jars" which could mean very good things for our winter pantry and very bad things for my social life/writing life/anything but domestic goddess life. More canning adventures to come soon!
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My sweaters miss me

Monday, July 25, 2011
If I was the kind of person who made fashion statements, sweaters would be an italicized, bolded part of whatever that statement might be.

Since before I can remember, sweaters have been a staple in my wardrobe. As a March baby in northern Minnesota, my parents had plenty of time before summer's arrival to swaddle me in sweaters during infancy. The sweater trend continued through childhood and today my hangers and drawer still overflow with a rainbow of sweaters in all sorts of fibers: wool, cashmere, angora, mohair, cotton, even some *gasp* acrylic fibers.

A few years back, I started to take my own knitting a little more seriously. Now there seems to be a trend towards my knitting a sweater each winter.

Although I love the opportunity summer provides for wearing swingy skirts and dresses and ridiculous shoes, I really feel most like myself when I'm wearing a sweater.

Each morning I open up my drawers to determine what I'll be wearing. And each morning I glimpse a stack of sweaters tucked away in the drawer's far corner. I can't help running my fingers over their familiar fuzziness. Ever so briefly, I wonder if I should pull one out to wear before I realize it's too blasted hot to even think about wearing a sweater. I can't help but miss them. I miss the snuggly way they cling to my body. I miss their breathability. I'm pretty sure they miss me too. 

Minnesotans might complain about the cold, but the truth is, I'd take the cold over tropical dew points any day. I'd rather have a sweater on then be sweltering in my swimsuit. 

It's moving into my favorite part of the year. Berries are ripe, the garden's reaching harvest point, and soon? Soon it'll be sweater season again.

What's your favorite piece of clothing? Happy Monday!
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Breathing Room

Thursday, July 21, 2011
This sounds kind of dumb, but sometimes I forget that I'm a writer. You know what I blame? All the writing.

I'm not sure what I expected when I signed on to "be a writer." Maybe mornings spent in front of the laptop, calmly sipping my tea while rearranging the characters and plots of my imagination? Maybe long, leisurely walks spent searching for inspiration?

One thing's for sure; I didn't expect I'd be hauling my arse out of bed long before my mind wanted to be awake to plunk in front of the computer to tackle the latest writing assignment: trying to feed myself breakfast with one hand while typing with the other, frantically shaking the words in order before it was time to get dressed for my "real" job.   

It's been quite the month or so, now.  There's been one freelance assignment on top of another to deal with. Good news for my portfolio. Bad news for those awful black bags under my eyes. Then throw in some pretty impressive humidity to top it all off and it's been kind of tricky to catch my breath.

But this morning I sat down at the computer and realized I had no lingering writing obligations hanging over my head. No commentary, no article, no guest post to write. For the next week and a half, I'm assignment-free.  These morning moments at the computer are mine.

Actually, more than just these morning moments. For a little while, I'm blessed with total control over my "non-work" hours. A very good thing indeed, since a certain favorite berry is ripe and ready for the picking.

Here's to the lazy, carefree days of summer. May your berry buckets grow full and heavy. May there be plenty of room to stretch and take a nice deep breath.
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Call Me Audrey

Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I have a hard time thinking of vegetables as scary or intimidating. I grew up with a huge vegetable garden in the backyard and tend to view vegetable plants as pretty innocuous and even, kind of friendly. So I was surprised last month when the neighbors expressed fear that our tomato and broccoli plants might "eat them."

But as time goes by, I have to admit, the tomato and squash plants are looking rather bad-ass. I've taken to calling them "Audrey", ala Little Shop of Horrors.

I oblige their cries of "Feed me" with plenty of water and a little plant food every couple weeks. But not too much plant food. Andy devoted a portion of yesterday to tying back the rambunctious tomato plants so we can actually pass them on the deck walkway and get in and out of our cabin. We still have to kind of angle ourselves sideways to get around them.

Meanwhile, over in the new raised bed, things are progressing at a similarly "wild" pace. We've been harvesting broccoli and kohlrabi for the last week and a half now. I'm letting the cabbage get huge though. Just because I can. 
Visions of sauerkraut danced through their heads
The zucchini, yellow squash, and pumpkin plants are taking over one half of the raised bed and exceeding expectations. I had little hopes when I planted the pumpkins. I picked the package of seeds up on a whim when the Gold Nugget winter squash seed I'd ordered didn't arrive due to crop failure last year. Now the pumpkin is climbing the fence, sending tendrils willy-nilly, and bearing teeny-tiny pumpkins. Exciting!

Granted, it's only fair if I share our gardening failures too. The onions have once again committed massive hari-kari. I spent last night pulling out all of the spinach and arugula which immediately went to seed after sprouting. We're still figuring out what will and won't grow in our shady terrace gardens. In our extreme heat, one Thai basil plant kicked it when I wasn't looking (or was too hot and miserable to care).

As Andy said yesterday, "Now I know how people have massive, productive gardens."

To which I said, "And why all the people with productive gardens are like 57."

This gardening stuff is most definitely a work in progress. You learn what to do and perhaps more importantly, what not to do, every day.

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Guest Posting At Narragansett No. 7

Monday, July 18, 2011
I'm guest posting over at Narragansett No. 7 today. Check it out!

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Friday, July 15, 2011
We have a heat index warming today that the index may reach 110 today. That's less than great news for this gal who'd prefer to have summer highs between 65 and 70 degrees, especially since I'm already feeling a little toasted.

There's no reason to subject you to photos of my sunburn, but I can assure you that despite quite liberal sunscreen application on Wednesday, there are certain strips of skin -- my forearms and a patch above my back waistline -- that are lovely shades of painful fluorescent. Nothing I can do now but keep the aloe vera close at hand. The burns' sting seem to have diminished significantly overnight and I'm hoping that means I'll feel a little more with it today. It always amazes me just how much a day in the full sun can take out of you. Mix a full day of sun with a sense of being overwhelmed by laundry, articles, and various other obligations and Wednesday evening was one cranky, emotional mess.

Still, the pre-toasted part of the day was pretty darn nice. Andy and I headed down the lake for a day's paddle. I think the high temp was somewhere in the low 70s: no absurdly high heat indexes here! At least not yet . . .

We found our first loon chicks of the year, just as we were turning the corner into the Boundary Waters.


Another feathered friend followed us for a while once we reached the far end of the lake and started heading up the river that connects the lake we live on to the next lake.
This little duck (she didn't even have full wings yet) stayed close by the entire time we were on the river, even when we made a lengthy stop halfway upstream to do some catch and release fishing. There were a ton of hungry bass hanging out in the river, just waiting to grab our night crawlers.

After the fish had several bites of yummy worm and we'd had a bite of lunch ourselves (not of yummy worm), we headed on to the next lake. Why both portaging when you can just press on upstream through the river?

The sunburn no doubt happened on our return trip to the cabin. Turns out SPF 45 just doesn't hold for six hours and several miles of paddling. As the French would say: "Eh bien." Something tells me that as the temperature soars these next few days, I'll soon be wishing I was back in the river, feeling the cool current tug and swirl around my ankles.
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In Which Ada Catches A Fish

Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The first few weeks of July, before berry season is in full swing, seems to be the time of year when the call of the lake and the boat are most answered. For the last week or so, we've been heading down the lake nearly every night to spend an hour or so at sunset dropping ciscos on weighted lines into the lake's depths and drifting across a reef, waiting for the big one to bite.

Although there are also walleye and bass (et al) in the lake, I've always gone lake trout fishing with Andy. Every time we're out, we get plenty of nibbles, even a fair amount of "robbed" hooks, but during the summer months, I've never seen a fish at the end of my line. (During the winter, I've caught a couple "waterbottle" sized baby lake trout that have gotten thrown back.)

Honestly, I'd started to wonder if this fishing stuff was some really long-winded practical joke Andy was pulling on me. "We never catch any fish," I grumbled to a neighbor who asked after our fishing success on Saturday morning.

But on Saturday evening as we bobbed about, I felt three sharp tugs on my line. I opened my bail, let the fish run with the bait, then yanked up to set the hook and started reeling. When Andy glanced over, his eyes grew wide. "You've got a big fish on there." I'd never landed a fish before and had no idea that when the line makes a terrible cranking noise you should stop reeling and let the fish do its own thing for a bit before reeling some more. With some instruction from Andy, I got the fish to the surface. Andy netted the 4-6 lb beauty and brought it in the boat to inspect. 

"Can we keep it?" I asked.

We did.

I had no idea there was so much meat on a fish. We grilled it up on Sunday evening and I made a simple rice pilaf out of the leftovers yesterday that we'll be eating on for a good long time. I'd always thought trout tasted too "fishy", but this particular "landlocked salmon" was pretty darn tasty.

This is probably the only trout we'll keep all year. They're such slow growing, long-lived beasts that it seems only fair that the vast majority of them spend their days down in the dark, cool lake water. 

Moral of the story? Don't stop complaining.You never know how a well-timed grumble might be answered.

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(Water)Crafting Weekend

Monday, July 11, 2011
When people ask why I knit or "craft", I feel the same way as when people ask me why I write. I really have no idea why I do any of it. Part of it is that I can barely remember a time when I wasn't churning out words or knit items from the tips of my fingers. But mainly, it just feels good to take something relatively ordinary like a pile of words or ball of yarn and transform them into something extraordinary.  

The weather was too gorgeous this past crafting weekend to devote too much time to actual crafting. We diligently pulled out our projects on Tuesday afternoon when the group of five girls arrived and moved (temporarily) into the old, unused lodge building down the road. But when Wednesday dawned just as gorgeous as the day before, we shoved the projects in the corner and spent the entire day out on the dock.

Despite our sunbathing tendencies this crafting weekend, we still managed to do a fair bit of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. 

Just take floating in the lake, for example. Pretty awesome just the way it is, but when I mention our need for floating noodles, Katie's eyes lit up. She turned to Emily: "You have your air mattress with, don't you?"

Some people might be deterred by the air mattress's very clear labeling that it was not meant for use as personal floatation device. This group was not. "Bullsh!t!" declared Betsy.

It took some doing, but we managed to turn the mattress into a multi-person floatation device.
The canoeists in the background of the picture below pretended to be amused by our antics. But given their marked avoidance of us the rest of crafting weekend, they were obviously afraid . . . very afraid.
After we'd proven that the raft could indeed hold five grown women, four of us took the air mattress for a spin out to the island at the mouth of bay. Yep the island, in the blog header above.

Of course some things require no transformation. The double rainbow that appeared on the last evening of crafting weekend was pretty extraordinary just the way it was.

It's been one busy, beautiful week at Of Woods and Words. Stayed tuned to hear about the "miracle" that happened Saturday evening.
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Perfect Days

Thursday, July 7, 2011
In Minnesota, we don't spend too much time praising the weather. It's either too hot or too cold. Too dark or too buggy; just always, too something. I think we all feel our grumbling keeps us grounded. Heaven forbid we become one of those sad saps who smile at everything!

But sometimes even the most cynical of cynics have to admit that what's going on outside their window is pretty nice.

This "weekend," the Tipsy Crafters arrived for a Northwoods crafting retreat and were greeted by blue skies and temps in the mid-70s. Very little crafting has been done. And why would you devote any time to crafting when there's a big ol' lake to splash around in, air mattresses to convert into floating rafts, islands to swim out to, and ducklings to exclaim over.Crafting can wait until the evening hours, when the sun starts to slowly dip into the far horizon and the warm glow of sunburn is creeping into all of our faces.  

Like we like to say around these parts, "You couldn't have ordered better weather than this."

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Happy Fourth!

Monday, July 4, 2011

A happy Fourth of July to one and all! Hope you have a wonderful, refreshing summer day filled with celebration. I'll be spending the holiday at work and trying to finish up a freelance assignment (and other sundry tasks) before the Tipsy Crafters descend on the great North Woods tomorrow for a long "weekend" of crafting mania. It should be one busy, happy week. Please forgive me if I'm MIA.  

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Summertime . . .

Friday, July 1, 2011
. . . and my spelling is terrible!

"You can tell it's summer," Andy said the other day. "You have way more typos than you usually do."

Yep, it's summer. And if you haven't noticed (I bet you have), my spelling, grammar, and general typing tend to deteriorate in these sticky months.   

Generally I'm kind of stickler about good grammar. Nothing rubs me wrong faster than viewing some public display of bad spelling or bad grammar.

Like this little gem I found at the 2007 Chicago Marathon:

I mean, figure out the difference between "your" and you're" already! Same goes for there/their/they're, et al. And misplaced apostrophes? Don't even get me started.

But as much as sloppy spelling and grammar give me gas, I'm just as guilty as the next schmuck. I've been known to type "one" when I meant "won." Sometimes messages get crossed and confused during the trip from brain to fingers. I'm a master at not finishing conjunctions. Lots of times I mean "don't" or "can't" but instead end up with "do" or "can" in my text instead. Kind of changes the meaning a little bit. . . .

I wish everything I ever typed has an outpouring of perfectly formed, grammatically correct, error-free sentences. But the truth is, everything I write needs good looking over, with lots of editing and proofreading, before it's really worthy for the world's eyes: editing and proofreading that doesn't always happen in the summer months as I move quickly from task to task.

I don't think life is too short to proofread. But I do think sometimes life is too distracting to do a very good job of it.

And you know what is too short for proofreading? Summer.

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