Thursday, September 29, 2011

Travel Thursdays: The Food Poisoning Edition


I spend a fair amount of time here at Of Woods and Words dreaming about travel. While I was quite a globe-trotter back in my early 20s, now having reached the ripe old age of 26, my travels have taken on a shorter, more localized flavor. After spending a good portion of my day off yesterday playing in QuickBooks, it's become apparent that unless I give up on, say, health insurance, that trip to Antarctica is still a good five years off.


But when Mama Kat posted a writing prompt on food poisoning, I knew it was time to introduce "Travel Thursdays," a weekly feature on Of Woods and Words devoted to travel tales, tips and "to-see" lists. I can think of no better excuse to share my food poisoning story and start talking travel on a regular basis.

I've spent nearly seven years trying to reclaim Paris. I've watched nearly every Parisian flick Netflix has ever recommended. I've purchased Paris wall calendars. Last Christmas, I sent out Madeleine cards. But, although I'd once planned to minor in French,  to this day, when I think of Paris, I feel tired and slightly nauseous.

During my semester in Ireland, I was part of a group of six girls who decided to spend a long weekend in Paris. As a 19-year-old whose only prior travel-abroad experience had been spending 12 days in London, England, the thought of jetting off to the most romantic city in the world for a weekend seemed positively surreal. The Eiffel Tower, boulevards, croissants, the Seine; it was enough to make me squeal and want to don a beret and jaunty striped shirt. But my stereotypical daydreams of sipping coffees outside a cafe or strolling through the flower garden behind Notre Dame while nibbling a crepe were by far the most romantic aspects of the entire trip.

Too poor to afford a night in the hostel, we spent the night before our flights sleeping in the Dublin airport. It wasn't until we arrived in Paris the next afternoon that we realized not one of the six girls on the trip had thought to throw in a map. Cue sleep deprived wandering through the streets searching for our hostel. As we became increasingly frustrated with Parisian street signage, it started to snow.

By the time we'd found the hostel, we were tired, cold, cranky and hungry. One of the other girls, Melissa, and I ran to the bakery across the street to pick up a late lunch. As I munched down on my baguette sandwich, I thought the mayonnaise perhaps tasted a little extra tangy. Never mind that, I thought, that was probably what Parisian mayonnaise tasted like. I ate the whole thing.


We spent a lovely evening in the Montmartre section, climbing the gazillion steps to the Sacre Couer, visiting the windmills, and taking in stunning nighttime views of Paris's lights. Under the glowing streetlights, we nibbled Nutella crepes and threw spare Euros into the street musicians' open cases.

But I woke with a start in the middle of the night. I didn't feel so good. A vicious growl from my stomach got me out of bed and as I knelt in front of the room's toilet, it became clear that I really, really didn't feel so good. 

The next morning, it became apparent that Melissa and I were the only ones in our group in this predicament. Achy, retching, dehydrated  and shaky, we were also the only baguette eaters in the gang. It seemed that funny tasting mayonnaise was the most likely culprit.

At the Louvre, I wandered aimlessly through the sculptures, feeling as heavy, lifeless and grey as the sculptures themselves. I tried to act disappointed that the bell tower was closed at Notre Dame, but with my shaky legs, I couldn't imagine climbing countless steps just for some vistas and gargoyles. In the Musee D'Orsay, I sprinted up at long escalator to the sixth floor bathroom to attempt to discreetly barf into a toilet.

For the most part I rallied. After sleeping for approximately 16 hours that night, I spent our final day in Paris touring Versailles and the Opera house.  But truth be told, I was still feeling pretty dodgy as we sat in the Dublin train station wiating to make our final leg of the journey home. As we waited, I kept making some pretty uncomfortable sprints to the public toilet. And let me tell you, when the public toilet is one of those European numbers with a pay turnstile that you have to insert coins into to access the bathroom, that is not a great situation to be in.

Even my pictures from that weekend are blurry.

Oh Paris. Je t'aime? I think not. Je puke.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Terrible Tale of Tuesday's Two Flat Tires

Tongue tied yet? Even if the Ts of the post title didn't trip me up, I'm certainly speechless. I'm still working my brain through the fact that at this time next week, Andy and I will be the proud owners of not one, not two, but eight new tires.

Pourquoi?

Well, yesterday morning, I woke up to the sound of Andy heading off to work in the truck. Only I didn't just hear tires crunching on gravel. I heard: thump, thump, thump.

I may not be a mechanical genius, but even I know something up when your tires make a decided thump: something known as a flat tire. And this was an all or nothing flat tire. It wasn't just low on air, it was out of air. The passenger's side back tire was resting on its rim.
It wasn't a huge surprise.Andy'd spent most of Monday out grouse hunting on the county's back roads and had driven on one road currently under-construction which, in the past week, has gotten a bit of  a reputation for causing flat tires. It's gotten such a reputation in fact, that local residents who live along the road are encouraging anyone with a flat tire to contact the construction company. But 6:45 in the morning, is no time for pointing fingers. Andy needed to get to work.

The only issue (other than that I'd be planning to take a vehicle to work myself . . . hello walking!) was that our alternative vehicle, the Subaru, has had a slow leak in its passenger's side back wheel for most of the summer. I'd driven the Suby around last and the tire had a reached a level of lowness where I didn't feel comfortable driving it anymore until it got some air in it. Nevertheless, Andy headed off in it on his 25 mile commute.

When he got to work, Andy called. The Subaru'd had a blow out on the way to work. According to Andy, the tire now "has a hole you could put your fist through." I guess that was one way to fix the slow leak.

By the end of day, the Subaru was rocking a donut, the truck has a spare on, and both vehicles had appointments for new sets of tires.

There are plenty of bright sides to this. For one, we'll now have brand new tires just in time for slippery winter driving months. For another, no one was injured in the tire drama and it's caused only mild inconvenience.

But, let me tell you, this was not on my little Post-It note of planned expenses for the month.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Home Stretch

I spent all summer viewing this past weekend's wedding as "the end." At "the end" of summer we had a wedding to go to. It always seemed a long ways off.

When I bought a dress to wear to the event back in May, it seemed absurd to be thinking so far in advance, almost as if the end of September would never roll around.

But it did.

This past weekend we headed down to central Minnesota for the hitchin'. Before we'd really gotten our bearings, the couple was happily married and we were heading home again. 

Now, there's absolutely no denying that autumn is here. When I walked home from work last night, I was shocked to discover docks anchored in the middle of our bay. The ice and snow may still be a month or two off, but the summer residents clearly already have their hearts set on warmer locations. Getting the cabin closed up for winter is a task all summer residents face; a task that involves draining pipes, shutting off pumps, and detaching docks from the shore so the ice doesn't destroy them. Soon our cabin will be the only light shining out over the bay each night.

 It's not like autumn hasn't given me any warning signs. The tomato plants on the deck have been dead for nearly two weeks now and the woods have been filled with the musty, almost sweet smell of decaying leaves. But it's been such an odd month of strange work schedules and perhaps a few too many commitments, that I hadn't been paying that much attention to the changing world around me. I finally noticed that fleeting autumn light yesterday when Andy and I headed out for an early morning stroll. 



It's true we're on the home stretch of the summer season. Soon that nip in the air will be downright cold. The leaves will fall; the snow will come. But until then, I plan to marvel and exclaim over the world's beauty; to take a minute and soak it all in. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Oh Those Wedding Bells

I finally turned a corner with this whole wedding thing. It's no secret that I've had some anxieties and neuroses to deal with when it comes a dear friend's wedding on Saturday. There's nothing like having both the mandatory strapless bra and Andy's "dress" clothes arrive with plenty of time to spare before the big day (and have them all fit) to really calm you down for someone else's big day.
Now that I'm a picture of serenity and calm, Andy and I are ready, we are set to head to central Minnesota for the biggest, bestest Lutheran wedding bash of them all. Granted there are few things to worry about. It better be cold, because Andy's wedding appropriate wear consists of khaki pants, a chamois shirt and wool sweater.  And I had better start practicing my readings for the wedding or else I'm going to have phrases like "exquisite excitements" twisting my tongue in every which way.

In the last couple days, I've stopped looking at the wedding as obligation and started seeing it as an opportunity. An opportunity to spend some time with some of my favorite people in the world:




Hard to believe we're all old enough to be married, engaged, or otherwise attached, but I think Charlotte from Sex and the City said it best: "Maybe we could be each other’s soul mates. And men could be these great, nice guys to have fun with."

Oh those wedding bells are ringing and Andy and I are on our way to make a toast or two. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Do You Say to Taking Chances?

In honor of the new Glee season (just added the final four discs from season 2 to the Netflix queue . . . or should I say *ahem* Qwikster queue), here you go:



So what do I say to taking chances? Well, I'm kind of a risk adverse person. Sure, I've had my share of brave moments, but for the most part the thought of being uncomfortable makes me uncomfortable. Fear of  failure tends to debilitate me. 

I've spend a good amount of time on this blog talking about freelance writing and the day when I'll be self-employed with my writing. Obviously, I'm not there yet. Although I tell myself I'm being prudent, that I'm taking my time and building up clients and work so when I do go to writing full-time, it won't be so scary, after a certain point, prudence turns into stalling.

And stalling is a way to keep all those little voices in my head at bay. What if there's not enough work? What if there's not enough money? What if I . . . *gulp* fail?

We've reached the point in the season at work where it's time to have "the talk."  If you've ever temped or worked seasonally, you know what I'm talking about. "The talk" is that wonderful conversation with your work superiors where you talk about future plans like they're something concrete and you make important and unalterable decisions about contract extensions.

While theoretically, I should have had all summer to think of what I'll say during this talk and whether or not I'll sign on for another year, the truth is, I'm as muddled about how I feel about the whole thing now as I was in May. A big part of me wants to kiss this charade of me pretending to be a museum curator good-bye. The less impulsive side of me tells me I'm not quite ready to be off all by myself in work world yet.   Where will the money come from?

"Maybe don't garden next year," my friend Sarah said on Monday as I regaled her once again about my torn feelings about my employment options. "Sign the contract, work at the museum again next year, but spend your spare time focused on getting yourself set up for freelancing."

Don't garden?

It was horrifying thought. You mean, I'd have to give up something I love in order to get where I claim I want to be? How would I make it through the long winter if I didn't have seeds to start at the end of March?

But Sarah, who is by far more career focused and as such, much more successful than I am, had a point. I've been distracting myself with hobbies: canning, gardening, knitting. As much as I love them, as much satisfaction as they give me, I might just be using them as crutches. I could keep complaining about not having enough time to have it all, or I could . . . alter how I use my time. I'll repeat: it was a horrifying . . . horrifying thought. She'd just pointed out that I was the stick in the mud who created the situations I like to complain about.

So, what do I say to taking chances?

I'm not quite sure yet. Change is as scary as chances. But sometimes they're both necessary.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Women Who Don't Drive

Women who don't drive kind of fascinate me. Maybe because not so very long ago, I was one. Ever a reluctant driver, I didn't bother to get my license until age 21. Sometimes I wonder why I bothered then.

I know exactly two women who don't drive at all. One is my aunt. She used to drive back in the day, but my now she gets around courtesy of my uncle, grandfather, and coworkers. The other, the manager at the restaurant where I worked the winter before last. Thanks to friends and her life partner, she manages to live in the middle of nowhere sans car. I don't blame them at all. Honestly, driving makes me feel like this:

You might remember back in May, the newly deceased Corolla (RIP) was replaced by the sporty Subaru Baja. The Subaru Baja with a manual transmission.  The manual transmission that I had a very limited idea of how to operate.

Over the summer, thanks to various independent berry picking voyages, I've gotten really good at driving Andy's schmancy truck, but driving what is technically my car still fills me with dread. All summer, I've basically been a woman who doesn't drive. Why fight with the sticky clutch and risk my life when I could just have Andy chauffeur me around my errands?

But there come a time when the codependency has to end. When the grocery store is an hour away and your and your significant other haven't had a shared day off in, oh, I don't know, a month, and since things like eggs and milk are nice to have on hand, there sometimes comes a time when a solo trip to town is necessary.

Today I drove to town. There was a commentary to record, some groceries to get and the car needed gas. The drive wasn't pretty and it wasn't flawless, but I made it and once again, I've joined the ranks of women who do drive.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

On Why I've Made No Plans for the Winter

I've had to cover up the finally fruiting green beans up two nights in a row. Last night it dipped down to 22 degrees and steam rises off the lake each morning. But despite the chilly temps, I've spent very little time thinking about the winter months to come.
It's a summer Emily over at the Happy Home and her fiance have labeled "bummer summer." Here at Of Woods and Words? Maybe not a bummer summer, but certainly a static one.

Projects that sat unfinished at the start of the summer remain half done. Gigs I enjoy doing have fallen by the wayside until I finish with the 40 hour work weeks in a month's time. It feels like in this push to make ends meet, by balancing writing and a full-time, seasonal job, everything suffers. My performance at work would be much improved if it was my sole focus. My freelance writing career might not feel so prone to fits and starts if I contributed a consistent amount of attention to it year-round.

The truth is, I've been distracted. By pumpkins, among other things.
To really make summer work and to make the extra money and procure the work necessary to get me through the lean winter months, I really should put in a 10-20 hour work week from my home office each week on top of my 40 hours outside the house. You can probably guess by the dwindling blog posts this summer that that's not be how things are going. Instead, I've spent the summer berrypicking, having cookouts, paddling, hiking, gardening. When given the choice to write some query letters or bake up some pumpkins to mash and freeze, I've inevitably chosen pumpkins.

The other week, my brother asked me what my short-term goals were; where I wanted to be in three years or so. I wasn't really sure how to answer. Lately, I've spent very little time thinking about goals, although I know goals are the stepping stones to get where you want to go. I have a general idea of what I want: more financial security, more independent work, more travel opportunities, maybe some chickens.

And in a slow shuffling way, I feel like I am moving in that direction and I don't want to have a life so career focused that I don't get moments to watch Netflix with Andy, or knit up a pair of socks or can some applesauce. If these sound like excuses, they're really not meant to be. Really, they're realizations; that there are more important things to me than putting my foot on the gas of my career and going full steam ahead. There's a certain level of contentedness I'm not willing to forgo, even if making myself a little more uncomfortable would mean more money and opportunity.

Of course they say, it's about the little things. It's the big picture that's evading me, and maybe that's okay. So no, I haven't made much in the way of winter plans. Instead, I guess I'll "open my heart and come what may."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Smoke Gets in My Eyes

When I'm at a campfire, it seems like no matter where I sit, I always end up with smoke blowing straight in my face. Sometimes my life feels like that too. There's always smoke in my life, coming from somewhere.

Although we had lovely damp summer which kept wildfire danger at bay, we've now gone for several weeks without any significant rainfall. Recently, the extremely dry weather's been paired with high winds which is bad news Smokey bears for a small wildfire that's been smoldering on the far side of the national forest we live in. The fire that was 11,000 acres yesterday morning is now 60,000+ acres at the very smallest. A mandatory evacuation been instated for residential areas in the fire's path and wilderness crews have spend the last couple days evacuating Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness visitors out of the woods in effected areas.

The fire may be 30 miles off, but depending on how the wind blows, we've been getting pretty smoked out.  Yesterday at noon, the smoke masked the sun casting the world in an unnatural hazy orange glow.  As the wind howled past the windows, little bits of black ash blew through the window cracks onto the museum exhibits. The fire produced its own severe thunderstorm system yesterday afternoon, creating cloud to ground lightning and a downpour that dropped both raindrops and burnt pine needles in the area where Andy works.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where were you?

One World Trade Center construction (April 2010)
If you're looking for a reprieve from the endless 9/11 remembrances this isn't the place for you. Today I'm posting a piece I wrote in a college writing class about what happened in my life on September 11, 2001. This isn't gripping stuff. I was just a homeschooled jungle freak a thousand miles removed from the events. Like most people shocked and horrified by 9/11, I was a nobody who suffered no personal loss.

But it's funny how we hold onto our memories of that day. In fact, the reason writing about September 11 was even assigned was because it was our only common experience as classmates and Millennials.   Reading through the piece below, I'm surprised by how much my writing has improved detail I remembered about the day at one point (this was written in September 2005) that I can't recall now.  As we all said in the days immediately following the event: we remember and we will never forget. Where were you for September 11? 

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Happy Ending

Back in early June of this year, I penned a rather tragic post about the fate of the loons' nest at work. Back in May, Andy and another volunteer buoyed an artificial loon nesting platform constructed of PVC pipe, mud, and grass clippings out in the bay in front of the museum. Within days, a loon couple had moved in and laid two egs. But when eagles raided the nest on day 12 of the eggs' incubation (loon eggs are incubated 27-30 days before hatching) and destroyed the eggs, it was just life in the North Woods, I figured.

For a couple weeks, the loon couple made infrequent visits back to the nest. When they visited, they'd both climb onto the nest, cooing softly at each other before slipping off the nest and disappearing up the lake again.

But one morning, I found a loon sitting on the nest and the loon didn't move. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When Wedding Appeal Meets Wedding Apparel

I've known we'd have a wedding to attend this September ever since the happy couple got engaged last autumn. Apparently, my friends and I are late bloomers. At the ripe old age of 26 and a half, this is the first wedding of a friend I'll attend and only the second wedding of a close acquaintance that's even occurred.

Now, we all know I have no issues with wedding hoopla and as the bride's personal attendant and a reader in the ceremony, I'm happy, honored, thrilled to be a part of her big day. Besides, it's awesome excuse to nab a new pair of ridiculous heels.

But this morning, I hit a wall with the whole wedding business.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The garden: in review

Sometimes, it's really easy to forget how far you've come. Just a few short months back, I had trays of seedlings in the window. Now looky:

Zinnia
Ripening Thai Peppers
Tomato Escalade

 I mean, remember when it looked like this?

Granted, the above picture of the raised bed isn't really the best portrait of how far the little garden has progressed. For one thing, we've picked all the kohlrabi and all but one of the cabbages. Also, all the onions died. I have no idea why.

But just because the onions decided they didn't like the little patch of earth I'd provided for them, that doesn't mean the other seedlings didn't take a liking to our pots and raised beds. Just take a look at these tomatoes. 


Your loss, onions, your loss.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bears . . . and what the heck was up with the pots and pans?

If you're wondering what was up with my pots and pans comment to Andy in yesterday's post when he was fending off the black bear and I was groggily dispensing advice, let me explain.

We live less than a mile from the border of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In addition to our general proximity to the Boundary Waters, I also spent three seasons as a federal employee issuing permits to Boundary Waters visitors. Throw in another summer working at a canoe outfitters and basically, I spent four summers of my life listening to the user education video that each Boundary Water party must watch before embarking on an overnight camping trip.

And that sage advice about how to deal with bears, well, you'll have to get to about 7:55 mark into the flick to see where that came from.



In other notes, holy schnikes it's September 1st today! Hard to believe the majority of summer's behind us already, but there's plenty to do before we're ready to hole up for winter around here. There's pie social and sidewalk sale at work on Sunday, a Saturday night cookout and plenty of garden chores to keep me on my toes through Labor Day weekend. Safe travels to anyone taking an extended weekend!

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