Honey, Come Help With the Bear

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Earlier this summer, I told a concerned visitor at work that I don't worry too much about bears.

The visitor's eyes grew wide. "Why not?" she gasped.

"Well," I said. "I've run into bears when I walk to work before. And really, all you do is make a little noise and they move on."

Really, the only time I feel mildly concerned about my safety during my mile and a half wilderness wander to work is in October, when the moose are in rut.

But my blasé attitude towards Bruno got me in trouble with my beloved earlier this week.

We've had a bear around all summer. It's probably a two-year-old: a small bear, kind of lost without Mom, looking to make his mark on the world. Mostly Mr. Bear likes to leave his mark in the form of big seedy blobs all over the road. He's also fond of getting into our neighbor's bird feeders and he's been known to crash into our compost pile, although he doesn't often find much to his liking in there. Early this spring, when we were putting together the raised bed, he bit into one of our bags of peat moss, rolled it around, and moved on.

But in the last couple days, he's grown nervier. On Sunday, another neighbor's dog came back to the house with a bear bite in the rump. And on Sunday night, the bear decided to pay us a noctornal visit.

It was my fault, really.

We always get fruit flies this time of year. But I just can't bear putting the fresh tomatoes and peaches in the fridge to save us from a fruit-fly-pocolypse because frankly, putting tomatoes and peaches in the fridge makes them taste of cardboard. So in an attempt to rid the small house of fruit flies, I put the compost bucket out on the porch when I got home on Sunday. Then I sat down during the couch and during the 3 hours that is American Gangster, I forgot about the compost bucket.

I forgot about the compost until I woke up in the middle of the night to find Andy peering out the window with the porch light on.

"What are you doing?" I asked, when I padded out to the kitchen.

"There's a bear out there," Andy hissed.

"The compost bucket," I mumbled.

We both looked at the porch railing where I'd left the compost bucket. The rail was empty. The bear however was standing right at the base of the terrace garden, about 12 feet away from our front door.

"Get me something to throw at the bear," Andy whispered.

"Bang some pots and pans," I yawned. Then I went back to bed. Having imparted that stellar advice, I felt my work was done.

Meanwhile Andy stayed up for the next hour. The bear returned after Andy scared him off once. Now there's shotgun sitting by kitchen counter. I guess sometimes you have to do more than just "make a little noise" for the bears to move on.

On Monday morning, both Andy and I searched for the compost bucket. Nothing. No bent branches where the bear took off in the woods, no spilled compost, no nothing. The only thing Andy found was the little filter that sits in the bucket's lid. I suspect the bear had a lovely compost picnic, probably complete with napkins and a tablecloth, somewhere out back.

If you find a green compost bucket out there missing its filter top, please return it. I use that bucket all the time. And after my lackluster assistance with Bruno, getting the bucket back is the least I could do. Seriously, anyone seen that bucket?!

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My Inspiration . . . in a bag

Thursday, August 25, 2011
Lately, I've taken to keeping my inspiration in bag on my desk. It sits in the corner, right on top of my dictionary, the phone book, and a pile of Writer's Digest. 
There's only one catch. . . .
It's empty!

It's no secret that I've been coveting the Tiffany Setting engagement ring ever since I spied in the Bellagio shopping court in Vegas three years back. I think it's perfect in every way: sparkly, chic, elegant. But there's one little catch: the yowsers(!) price tag. Obviously there's a bit of writing success that needs to happen before we can bridge the gap between me and the ring, not to mention a small portion of my lifetime spent saving. 

Sure, it's frivolous and silly to dream of someday owning a 15K ring. And if I did manage to squirrel away those funds, chances are they'd end up being a down payment on a house or something else slightly more . . . substantial.

But a girl can dream.

I remember the story a volunteer at work told me the other day about her mother. Although her mother grew up as one of 11 children on a small town southern MN farm, in her adulthood she traveled to all the major cities as a buyer for a retail store. When she visited New York, she insisted on having the most fashionable hat from Saks 5th Avenue, the one with an entire small bird on it. (You know, the kind that prompted the Everglades to be designated a national park to save the birds from hat-hood.) The volunteer still has that hat of her mother's.

Moral of the story: if you work hard and make deliberate fiscal decisions, nothing is out of reach, as long as you don't want everything.
So when a lampshade showed up at work with two harps tucked into a taped up Tiffany's bag at the bottom of the box, I decided to pull off the tape and keep the bag. Because someday, I know I'll fill it.

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Wordless Wednesday: The One That Got Away

Wednesday, August 24, 2011
I could have sworn . . . .

When I selected a cucumber to take to Andy's mom last week, I could have sworn there was another cucumber nearly ready to be harvested. But when I poked around the plant the rest of the week, all I could find were mini gherkins. Then on Sunday I stumbled across this baby. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be right.

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Writer For Hire

Monday, August 22, 2011
After what seemed like forever of standing in front of my dresser determining what outfit wouldn't be too unbearable to wear, it finally happened. Somehow, in the blink of an eye, summer decided it had had enough and when I woke up on Saturday to a 54 F degree sort of morning, I knew the time had come again for sweaters.

As pleased as I am at the weather's turn for the chillier, as much as I adore the faint nip in the air whispering of fall's impending arrival, fall means changes in more than just the weather around here. In less than two months I'll be wrapping up the day job for the season and returning to the lowly little desk where I sit right now to attempt to eke out a living with my fingertips and my brain. Oh geez.

While I'm thrilled to be nailing new freelance gigs every few months, the truth is even with the new gigs, my freelance earnings make up a mere fraction of what I need for winter wages. Which means I need more work. Which means I better get looking.

It also means I somehow need to transform this into a productive work place again.

Notice all the piles scattered on the desk and on the floor? That's how this summer's gone. When I've finished with something it just gets thrown into a pile to be dealt with at that magical time known as "later." As the summer's progressed, some of the piles have achieved "teetering" status. I work well in a general hodgepodge that only I can make sense of, but this is getting out of hand, even for me.

The mess of a desk I currently sit at is just the cherry on top of a hefty dose of confusion and frustration.  From my experience with queries it can take 9 months to a year to get an affirmative response. In truth, I should have started the whole "look for winter work" project last winter. Why did I wait so long to start putting serious thought into this? And since my winter writing partner from last year decided to move to India (!), it'll be a truly solo venture this winter.

Luckily, a good friend gave me the Rick Allen print below, called "The Trapper's Daughter Crosses the Lake", yesterday.

I propped the print up on my desk, within view when my laptop is open. When I look at the print I see a young woman doing what I want to do: heading across the lake, chin up and looking forward into the unknown. No floundering, no self-pity, just a bag packed with all the tools she might possibly need and a confident stance.

Maybe as I glide across this vast unknown on my trusty loons' backs, I'll do so with "writer for hire" printed in bold letters on my back.

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My Hot, Steamy Love Affair

Friday, August 19, 2011
Andy looked me in the eyes. He'd cornered me by the pantry.

"Are you having an affair?" he asked.

I gulped. I hadn't thought he'd noticed how distant I'd become or how my evenings have been spent focused on matters other than him.  But I had to tell him the truth. I was having an affair. One that was hot and steamy, with just a tinge of danger.

"Yes," I fessed up. "With my hot water bath canner."

It's true.

What started out as a single batch of jam, quickly turned into an obsession. Things have only escalated since the "putting up" post. The last four weeks have been a frenetic flurry of food preservation. If I wasn't out picking berries, I was buying a lug of peaches. I've spent so much time standing at the kitchen counter, chopping, stirring, scooping that I developed shin splints this week.

Here's the damage:
From left to right:5 pints wild blueberry/raspberry jam
4.5 pints raspberry jam (tame raspberries, from Mom's garden)
7 pints peach salsa
4 quarts blueberry pie filling
3 quarts peach slices
3 quarts sauerkraut
4 pints peach jam
3 pints blueberry jam

Like any affair, I feel a little shame about the whole thing. When did I get so stinkin' domestic and focused on home economics? What 26-year-old in her right mind can't wait to get home so she can stand in front of boiling vat "canning things for winter?" I've been known to cackle in delight when I hear the "click" of the can lids sealing. It's all disconcerting.

But while I might wish from the bottom of my heart that I could quit the whole thing, by this point, things are too complicated for that. Anymore, it's hard to relax if I don't have a spoon or knife in my hands. I feel a little lost if my face isn't flushed from the steam of the burbling canner.

Still, at some point, it has to end. (Doesn't it?) Andy's tired of sharing me. Heck, there are even times when I want the life I had before back. I have to promise Andy (and myself) that it will all end soon  . . . right after I make another batch of salsa . . . and pickle some jalapenos . . . and . . . .

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Watch out: Mercury's in retrograde

Tuesday, August 16, 2011
I'll admit it. I don't take astrology very seriously. I find it amusing and occasionally coincidentally enlightening, but I definitely have a "grain of salt" attitude towards it.  

I think astrology, for the most part is about as scientifically accurate as a fortune cookie. On the other hand, Andy's a Scorpio (and Pisces and Scorpios are supposedly good love matches) and two of my closest friends have the exact same birth date (albeit, a year apart) so I'm not above thinking that the time of year you were born does affect your personality and how you interact with the world. . . slightly.

I'd love to blame all my shortcomings on the fact that I'm a dreamy, somewhat impractical Pisces. However, it strikes me that all of the supposed personality "faults" associated with the sign are things we can overcome with a little diligence. The biggest downfall of astrology signs is the fact that they provide us a label (something we're all more comfortable with than we like to think). We can slap on an astrological sign and suddenly our faults are fate and thus, out of our hands.

Despite my qualms about all this, I have grown to dislike when the planet Mercury goes into retrograde. In astrological speak,  "The planet Mercury rules communication, travel, contracts, automobiles, and such. It goes in a retrograde motion—or motion that makes it appear to be going backwards in the night."

Many people associate Mercury retrograde with mass miscommunications, delays, difficulty contacting someone, car and other technology problems, and angrier people.

In fact, it's recommend that you avoid any of the following: 
  • Start anything new
  • Make important decisions
  • Buy computers, appliances, TVs, radios, etc.
  • Travel without back-up plans
  • Sign contracts
  • Buy a car
  • Negotiate a contract
  • File a lawsuit
  • Start a new job
  • Begin a new class
  • Go on a “first” date
  • Expect things to move quickly
  • Take anything for granted
Instead, astrologists recommend you spend the time revisiting and renew projects and other things which may have been sit by the wayside for a while.

Mercury goes into retrograde three times a year and each retrograde period lasts three weeks. Nine weeks is an awful large chunk out of the year to put your life on hold. It's hard to believe a distant planet could really hold that much sway over us.

Still, it was one week filled with miscommunication and misunderstandings at work this past week. Nothing major: but invoices no one could make sense of, vendors sending us the wrong products (or not sending the product at all), people who linger longer at the museum door, deciding whether or not going through the museum is "worth it."  Yesterday, one of my volunteers couldn't make in because of car troubles.

So when I got a phone call last week about an exciting new freelance job, I knew I needed to find a way to not sign that contract until the 27th.

Mercury retrograde ends August 26. For now, I'm off to the studio to finish up a project I should have wrapped up months ago.
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Investing In Yourself

Friday, August 12, 2011
You might have noticed that over the last couple days, the markets have been a bit . . . volatile. To put it mildly.

As the person who did the big grown-up thing and put a chunk of her savings in Roth IRA at the beginning of the world, all this economic drama, drama makes me feel kind of like this:

I feel like I go over this all the time, but I'm constantly struggling to determine if the pennies I manage to squirrel away are better utilized by being tucked into long term savings or spent on an airline ticket. Security or experience? Experience or security? Hard to know which is really the truest investment in yourself.

If I opt for security, I  get a posh nursing home room with a great view. If I opt for experience, I get to be the kookie lady who pulls her great-nieces and nephews to her and croaks, "Did I ever tell you about the time I met Prince William." (Obviously, in my old age, I'll be a bit demented.)

We've reached that point in the summer where anywhere, anything sounds better than blah, blah everyday I currently exist in. During last week's hot snap, I took to checking the forecast for London (England). Highs in the 60s! I almost cried!

Then the bimonthly newsletter from the London Ritz Hotel showed up in my inbox. I've received the newsletter since having tea at the Ritz 3+ years back and I've never bothered to unsubscribe. I enjoy a bimonthly dose of unattainable luxury.  And as I read through the Ritz's newly announced tea menu, it was all I could do not to get over to kayak.com and start searching for the most affordable flight.

(Granted after this week's senseless rioting in the U.K., London kind of slipped down on my list of dream destinations, at least until they've all settled down. . . . maybe time for Australia. It's winter there right now, right?)

In an ideal world, we're able to invest in ourselves fully: to opt for both experience and security. But in a crap economy, with a schizophrenic Wall Street to contend with, it's easier said than done.

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10 years from now . . .

Tuesday, August 9, 2011
My town just held its major summer festival/small town hoopla this past weekend. If you're from a small town yourself, you know what I'm talking about. Our festival is fish themed: four days focused around vendors peddling fish burgers and contests such as the fish toss where contestants partner up to don trash bags and hurl herrings at each other from increasing distances. There's a craft show, a parade, kids' activities, fireworks, and various sport tournaments. It's also the designated time of year for class reunions. Of course, now that I'm not a preteen, I avoid it like the plague.

As a homeschooled jungle freak, I was surprised last week when I was  added to a Facebook group for people who graduated in what would have been my graduating high school class had I stayed in public school. I was an actual part of this class for just shy of three years before my parents decided to homeschool my brother and I once I'd finished third grade. I remained somewhat involved with the peers who made up my "class" through sports and various other extracurricular activities, but it wasn't until college, when you begin being linked to your peers through common interest and not just common birthdate, that I felt I'd found "my tribe."

While I do happen to live with one of my public school classmates, the truth is, Andy aside and not counting the boy who came home from college to work at the local grocery store, I don't see much of my "classmates." In fact, there's only one other classmate who I communicate with on a "Christmas card" level and who I try to meet up with when our paths cross.
But when I looked at that list of names in the Facebook group, something happened. In the odd sensation that only Facebook provide, I felt myself being drawn in, fascinated by what these people had done with their lives. My jaw sagged as I realized just how many were married with children already. I wished everyone had more job info posted.

After all, looking at that list of names was a class reunion in a way. And the whole idea of class reunions appeals to very strange aspect of the human personality. The judgmental side. The competitive side. They foster a shallow interest in others which is there mainly because you want to see how your life stacks up to theirs.

And if I did happen to find myself in a room with all these people, I'd love to act like I'm an award winning author. I always got a kick out of being the one who seemed to have it all together. I'd want to be the calm, confident one who, if I suck in my stomach and give up breathing for a while, could still zip up her prom dress. 

But I know how it'd really go. My left hand's ring finger would start to feel awfully naked. I'd feel a surge of horror when I realized the job I tell people have (the seasonal, full-time manager postion) isn't how I define myself at all. I'd watch the toddlers falling about at everyone's feet and I'd start to wonder if I'm wasting a perfectly good uterus. The niggling doubts would burble up.

We're only 2 years shy of our 10 year reunion. Of course, I plan to avoid it like that plague.

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Slug Watch!

Thursday, August 4, 2011
Andy and I went out for a paddle late yesterday morning and as we neared the cabin on our return, Andy said from his seat in the stern, "Remember the show Baywatch?"

Where the heck did that come from?

I can only surmise that our warm, sunny weather put him in the mind of Cali.We were also about to turn into our bay. Maybe simple brain word play with "bay"?

Regardless of how it popped up into conversation, the show in which Pamela Anderson got her start (and end?), doesn't get discussed too much in these parts. But last night we tried out a pilot of a new, exciting reality program I'm sure we can spin to the networks as kind of a Northwoods version of Baywatch . . . .SLUG Watch!  

Yesterday, Andy picked the first cabbage. For the last month or so, we've both been noticing a growing number of holes on the cabbage's outer leaves. The holes seemed to appear pretty rapidly over the course of a couple days and then slow down or stop appearing all together for a little bit. With none of the tell-tale moths that come with cabbage worms, I put the holes on the cabbage into the "I'll think about it tomorrow" category.  I probably should have done a little more inspecting because yesterday it became very apparent what the problem was: slugs.

Now, I think slugs and snails are kind of cute. And by cute I mean, a nice little motif for a notecard. Watching their little rear ends disappear into a head of cabbage is not cute. It's disgusting. 

Since the slugs feed at night, last night, after an evening of berry-picking, Andy and I headed out back with our flashlight to catch the little cabbage eating blobs in the act. We pulled them off and dropped them into a cup of soapy water, then sprinkled liberal amounts of "Sluggo", a slug bait around the base of the cabbages. 

By the time I'd rid the remaining eight cabbages of approximately 20 small slugs, my fingers covered with a thick layer of goopy mucus that should only be allowed to exist in places like the nostrils of that troll from Harry Potter. It took more hand soap then I'd like to admit to remove the goop. I hope they take the bait, because I don't really fancy going out and plucking them off the cabbages again tonight.

But if I sense my cabbages are in distress tonight, you'll know what it'll look like: me running in slow motion towards the raised bed: my flannel shirt flapping behind me, a flashlight, a cup of soapy water, and a can of Sluggo under my arm. It may not be sexy, this Slug Watch, but someone's got to do it. 
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The Dog Days

Wednesday, August 3, 2011
I've recently stumbled across a couple quotes about August.

The first one was shared with me by an Of Woods and Words fan: 

"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color." — Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting 

The second quote I found while leafing through the latest issue of Minnesota Monthly:

"If the calendar were a family, August would be the great, bosomy aunt who turned down her first proposal and never again had the chance to marry. Here she comes, all smothering warmth, smelling of Aqua Net, and accompanied by a slight sense of sadness for opportunities missed." -- Shannon Olson.

I found the second quote last night when I'd finally put my feet up after an afternoon and evening of what some people might call homesteading and what I prefer to refer to as "fridge damage control."  It all started when I went out to survey the gardens and came back with four more large zucchinis in my hands. Which brought our total of harvested zucchinis and yellow summer squash that had not been transformed into anything edible and delicious up to eight. EIGHT. 
Too much zucchini
"Okay," I said to Andy, holding up the latest zucchini harvest, "who can we plant bomb?" It's that awful time of year when everyone has zucchinis (too many zucchinis) and there's no one out there to accept the (gracious, selfless) gifts of zucchini. And so, instead of setting up a "free zucchini (!!!)" stand on the side of the road, I turned on the oven, and got busy. I cranked out a double batch of both zucchini lemon muffins and chocolate zucchini bread, and chopped up two of the larger zucchini to dehydrate for later use in soups and chilis. Before I dealt with the zucchini, I had to do some reorganizing in the fridge, which resulted in a vat of fruit salad and another cold savory salad. 

"Congratulations," Andy said as I worked to get the water bath canner up to a boil to seal four quarts of blueberry pie filling. "You've successfully made it 20 degrees warmer in the cabin than it is outside."  

At the time, the thermometer in the kitchen said the indoor temp was 87, while the outdoor temp was down to 73. (Thanks for exaggerating, Andy.)
Steamy stuff
I'm not going to lie. When I looked at all those zucchinis piled on my counter, my first thought wasn't a prideful "we totally grew that." Nope, it was a feeling of sheer, body-surging horror: "What the heck am I going to do with all of these." By the time I got around to the blueberry pie filling (which had really been my sole ambition for the day), I stood over the pot, stirring the 25 cups of steaming berries and muttering under my breath "just fucking boil already." I think I lost points off my "happy homemaker ala1950s image" for the profanity. C'est la vie. 

So yes, the first week of August is certainly hanging hot and heavy in these parts. Thank goodness there's a lake 20 paces or so from the sweltering stove to provide instant heat relief.

As for the sense of missed opportunities, already Andy and I are heading out to the gardens to survey both the successes and failures and saying those fateful words: "Next year . . ."

Next year? Already the kohlrabi and broccoli have had their time in the sun. The evenings are becoming noticeably shorter. The first load of winter firewood has been ordered. It won't be long until that autumn crispness starts to sneak into the air.

But for now I'm planning to enjoy this first week of August, with all its warmth, all its sunshine, and all its zucchini.

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The Joy of Putting Up

Monday, August 1, 2011
No, not the joy of putting out. . .That would take us in a completely different direction. A direction I dare say Of Woods and Words has never been before.

Nope, today is much more Laura Ingalls Wilder than it is Carrie Bradshaw. Honestly, I've always been more Laura than Carrie, although I did spend many of my young adult years assuming my future held many a cosmopolitan and several pairs of expensive heels. While not exactly how things ended up, I'm also happy to report that my future (thus far) has not contained a single covered wagon. So that's a relief.

Ever since reading Little House in the Big Woods, I've been fascinated with the idea of self-sufficiency. Through the years, that fascination has taken me down many a twisted path. Thankfully, my long suffering mother patiently let me use up her entire stash of yarn for my knitting attempts, didn't fuss too much when my attempt to dry juneberries in the oven resulted in cookie pans that are still scarred, let me use her canner to make some not so great chokecherry jelly and apple butter. She didn't say a word when I decided to use the garden's red clay to make "bowls."

Now that I'm all grown up, my self-sufficiency attempts are a little less haphazard. And now that I have a garden of my own, my putting up habits have to become a little more focused. Letting any bit of that fresh produce that we've been working to cultivate since late March go to waste would just be a waste. (Yep, pretty swift this morning, eh?) At the very time the blueberries are peaking, I also have zucchinis coming out of my ears and the grocery produce (cherries, stone fruit, etc.) is at its most luscious. I'm trying my best to get it all "put up" for the winter months.

Here are the fruits of my labors so far: a batch blueberry jam, a batch of blueberry raspberry jam, a batch of blueberry vinegar, and a jar of cherry bounce. I also dried a quart of blueberries last night to be used in granola throughout the year.

Last weekend, I finally developed a salsa recipe that's to both of our liking and I'll put that recipe to good use if I can save our tomatoes from the blasted bottom blossom rot. Don't rot on me now little tomatoes!

There are also currently four massive zucchini/summer squash in the fridge that must be dealt with. I think I'll trying dehydrating a couple and will probably make a double batch of zucchini muffins for the freezer.

It all seems very old fashioned, but there's a joy in taking what you gathered and grew and transforming it into something that will feed you for months to come. I love seeing the jars lining up on the shelf, the bags stuffed with frozen blueberries and other foods stacking up in the chest freezer. It makes the sunburned neck and scrapped up shins well worth it.

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