Happy Halloween!! (Aka, what I did while the internet was out)

Monday, October 31, 2011
Our internet's been out since Thursday afternoon.

Please, take a minute to be horrified by this with me for a moment.

I swear, one minute I was happily downloading emails into Outlook (does anyone even use Outlook anymore? Maybe that's what killed it . .  .) and the next minute the internet was gone. Like not there one little bit. While our satellite internet is sketchy at best and it's not unheard of to go for days with extremely slow internet, it would appear that this time our modem has completely given up the ghost. No matter what the cloud cover outside, no matter how many times we unplug and replug in our router, all we get from our modem is a bunch of twinkly lights. *sigh*  I might feel slightly calmer about this if I didn't keep getting voicemail every time I called our service provider's customer service line.

So no, the internet's not back up and running yet. Currently, I'm in town, doing laundry and updating the blog. Kind of tricky running freelance business from my home that depends a good deal on access to social media, but ah well, we'll persevere.

In the meantime, I've . . . .

  • Tried to get some writing done. You know, you can completely write short essays in just one morning when you aren't popping in between the Word document you're typing in, seven blogs you're trying to keep up with, while simultaneously trying to think of a witty Tweet. On the other hand, focus = not that much fun.
  • I've stacked some firewood. Not that much though.
  • Done some deer scouting with Andy. Deer season starts Saturday. Andy is getting excited.
  • Cleaned the bathroom. At one point this summer, I was cleaning the bathroom every week. Things have slipped a little bit. Looks like we're back on my "once I can't stand it any longer" bathroom cleaning schedule. 
  • Vacuumed
  • Filed paperwork
  • Scoured the kitchen
  • Listened to this weekend's edition of "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" three times.
  • Helped  Mom tear out a sweater. 
  • Read almost the entire series of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. 
  • Spent an exorbitant amount of time carving Smokey Bear's head into a pumpkin. 

That last point, carving Smokey into a pumpkin (design chosen because of this year's high proportion of both bears and fires), will probably be the extent of our Halloween celebrations. We're almost guaranteed not to have trick-or-treaters and our cabin remains a Halloween candy free zone. Today also marks the 20th anniversary of the 1991 Great Halloween Blizzard.Looks like we'll be spared two feet of snowfall this Halloween though. (Hooray!)

Anyone dressing up for the holiday? Do you get trick-or-treaters?

Hoping everyone has a lovely Halloween/Samhain. Hard to believe the holiday season is truly upon us now. Yikes!
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A Second Fall

Thursday, October 27, 2011
For a long time, I've believed that we have two springs every year. It's a Northwoods sort of thing. The first spring comes when mud replaces snow. The second spring comes when green nubs of grass push through the brown grass and the teeniest of wildflowers begin blooming.

This year, I've decided we also get a second fall. The first fall comes with all that expect blue skies, nip in the air, and glorious fall colors. But sometime in the last week or so, we transitioned in our second fall, when the skies cloud up, the nip in the air turns downright chilly and the leaves are all but gone. Now we're in a dead time, an interval before snow.
Honestly, I think it's a lovely time of year.
Andy and I took a break from cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood yesterday to head out on a deer scouting forage. Warm temperatures stretched so far into October this year that it's hard to believe it's the end of October and nearly Halloween, let alone almost deer season. Apparently the deer don't believe it either; there's very little deer sign out there right now, although our cooler temperatures as of late should get the deer moving around again. 
But even if there are no deer to be found, there are still plenty of reasons to be out in the woods.
I wanted this funky lichen to be "British Soldiers" but I don't think it is.
This morning I woke up to thick, fluffy snowflakes falling. A dusting of snow settled on everything. 
It's time to enjoy this second fall as long as we can before it slips into a colder, snowier type of season.
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Moving Mountains: Together

Tuesday, October 25, 2011
You think this is hard? I'm passing a gallstone as we speak! *That's* hard!
- Sue Sylvester

There's another reason I keep fairly mum about my freelancing. Usually, when I try to explain how I make my (albeit: supplemental) income, I get one of two reactions.  Reaction 1) Person has no idea what freelance writing is. Acts like you're the cleverest thing since sliced bread. Reaction 2) The doubt niggling at the corners of the person's smile and they proceed to explain how hard it is to make it as a writer.

Neither reaction is really preferable, although it is nice to feel clever for a bit, even if the feeling's fleeting. But I feel particularly uncomfortable when someone tells me I've chosen a difficult way to make a living. Because really, I don't feel like I've chosen a more difficult way than anyone else. With the decaying traditional job market, I'm not sure there is such a thing as a secure job anymore, especially if you're a 20-something.

It can be trying to hear from someone retired or close to retirement tell you how hard your life is. (Know what's hard? Listening to people tell you how hard your life is.) Although we're all in this less than stellar economy together, there seems to be a certain disconnect amongst older Americans about what work possibilities really lie out there for young Americans. The work world they knew, the one that was secure, doesn't exist anymore.

If you're a 20-something out in the world right now, chances are you didn't you just fall into a traditional 9-5 job, you know, the kind that provides health insurance and retirement options, right after college.  Or if you did, words like "layoffs" and "downsizing" are enough to make your stomach turn on a regular basis.

I know I'm anything but alone when it comes to working to make a living in an unconventional manner. There are so many people out there going beyond the 9-5 hustle to make a more satisfying living. People like Ashley who quit her day job and now make her living with her crafts. Or Amanda, who like me, works a full-time job, but has a freelance writing "side hustle." (By the way, if you haven't checked out my guest post over at Amanda's blog, Grad Meets World, you should check it out now!)  Or Carissa, a photographer and jeweler.  

So when someone acts like I'm doing something extraordinary,  a part of me wants to say: You're the one putting the proverbial mountain in here. We 20-something freelancers aren't really out to prove anything, we're just trying to live a comfortable, fulfilling life.

Sure it's hard. But there's one thing that makes it easier: we're all in it together, 

And we're up to the challenge.

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Things I Wish I'd Known Before Freelancing

Monday, October 24, 2011
A friend recently reached out on her blog for some advice on starting freelance writing. It got me thinking.

write you a song
I've been dabbling with freelance writing since I was a college sophomore. In those early days, freelance writing was something I dipped my toes into each summer. It wasn't until a year or so after graduating that I actually waded in. The deeper I wade, the more I've learn, and some of what I've learned sure would have been nice to know while I was still sitting on the shore.

1) It's Never Too Early To Think of Taxes 

Maybe I've been dabbling in the freelance writing world too long, because boy was I surprised last year when my freelance earnings last year bypassed what the IRS considers hobby earnings and had to be claimed on my tax return. I'm only grossing a couple thousand dollars annually, so I don't bother to pay quarterly taxes yet.However, your life will be infinitely easier come tax time if you've actually spend the year acting like you'll be making oodles of writing money that the IRS'll want to know about.

You should:
  • File a W-9 with every freelance writing job contract.    
  • Track your mileage on freelance assignments. 
  • Keep all your receipts for office supplies and other freelance writing related purchases. 
  • Hold on to those thank you letter from any charitable donation you've made over the year. (Despite being poor I do make a couple of those every year.) 
2) The Books Will Help . . . to a Certain Extent 

There are all sorts of writing books out there. Some will provide you with helpful insight you'll return to again and again. Others, you won't even finish. You've heard this hundreds of times by now, but no book has the power to transform you into a freelance writer. Time and perseverance are the only fail proof ways I know of to become a freelance writer.

That said, there are a couple books, I think every beginning freelance writer should have on their bookshelf, or, even better, their desk:

You should also purchase, or at least subscribe to the online listing of the current year's Writer's Market. The book is the definitive listing of literary agents, small presses, trade markets, literary markets, magazines, and contests. If you have no idea where to start submitting your writing, this 1000+ page puppy will give you so many possibilities your head'll spinning after 15 minutes of leafing through its listings.

As you become more comfortable with the query process, you'll become less dependent on this massive tome. While I haven't bought the book for a couple years, I'm extremely grateful for both the advice Writer's Market gives on how to query probably and the eye-opener the book was about how much possibility still exists in the print world.

3) Query Thoughtfully

It's very easy to read through the paragraph descriptions of a publication in Writer's Market's listings and think "Oh my goodness, that one piece I wrote would be perfect for this magazine. I'm going to query them immediately." Hold. Your. Horses.

There's a little rule when it comes to querying. A rule that says you should be familiar with the publication before you query them with an article. Luckily, in this internet age, you don't necessarily need to head down to the library to leaf through back issues. A couple minutes spent poking around on a publication's website should give you a pretty good idea of whether or not your writing would be a good fit. It's also a good idea to do a search of the publication's website to see if they've published anything recently on the topic you'll be querying about. Chances are pretty good that about half the time "that perfect match" of a publication won't be at all what you thought.You're not necessarily wasting an editor's time by sending in an ill-fitting query  . . . you're wasting someone way more important's time: yours!

4) Your Queries Aren't Just Another Drop in the Ocean

It's really easy to get down on the query process. If I can use an ice fishing analogy, sometimes it feel like you're going ice fishing on a fish-less lake. You spend all this time crafting the perfect query, you send it off and then you wait, and wait, and wait. Most publications won't tell you they're not interested; after a certain point, you can assume you won't be hearing back. That said, you should never give up hope completely on a query unless you've heard a definitive "no" back on it. I've gotten assignments out of queries more than a year after I sent out the query, which, to me, makes the whole process worthwhile.

However, if you want more instant gratification (and less pay), pursue online freelance writing opportunities which are more prevalent than traditional print ones.

5) Recognize Writing As A Part of Your Life

Write daily. Figure out a process for getting queries out on a regular basis. Find other writers to hobnob with, both on and off-line. Subscribe to a writing magazine. (I get Writer's Digest although, I've heard better things about Poets and Writers.) Look into continuing education possibilities. If you only have time to read on writing publication a week, subscribe to C. Hope Clark's Funds for Writers e-newsletter. That lady knows what she's talking about.

6) It will take a lot of time

If you want to be a freelance writer, you need patience. Lots and lots of patience. Because, you guessed it, if you're spending years waiting for people to respond to your queries, making it as a freelance writer is one of those "slow but steady" sort of things.

One of the best things I did when I was getting serious about making a living as a writer was analyze the local writing market for opportunities Now I have a regular (paying) gig writing features for a small monthly publication and I write a biweekly commentary for the local radio, which does not earn me pay, but sometimes results in awards.

How about you? Is there a newsletter for a local nonprofit you could help with? A small monthly magazine that you could be come a regular contributor to? 

Start small and build as you go. In the process, you'll hone your writing chops and build a portfolio.

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Going in Circles

Friday, October 21, 2011
Earlier this month, I wrote about the cyclical nature of seasonal employment. Despite realizing that switching between two jobs and lifestyles each year is a process not dissimilar to going through the complete cycle of grief biannually, this go-around, I'm having trouble adjusting. When I mentioned how odd I was finding this fall's transition back to working from home, my friend Sarah pointed out that this might just be because there's nothing "new" about the transition. 

While this was my second summer at the museum, I'm used to my summers repeating themselves. It's what I've done in the winter that's been different every single year since I graduated college. This is the first time in a long time that my life has completely repeated itself over the course of an entire year. I'm literally going in circles.

This is not a bad thing. But it's a little disorienting.

"Didn't I just go past that rock last October?"

Granted, the museum's only just closed on Sunday and this is actually my first "normal workday" morning that I've spent at home. Still, some things have changed around here. For instance, just yesterday morning I had a desk.

(Granted, it's not really my desk. For one thing it's a table. For another, it actually belongs to Andy's mother.)

Now? Not so much.

Let's look closer at what's going on here. What once contained some houseplants, reference books, notebooks, stationary and a laptop, suddenly sprouted a desktop computer, a ginormous printer/scanner/copier, and many, many more piles of, um, "files" yesterday afternoon. 

While I've complained about my less than tidy desk before, it's really the winter months when desk space is most at a premium around here. Because during the off-season I work a few hours a week for the historical society that operates the museum, I end up adopting several pieces of office equipment on a seasonal basis for a couple reasons: 1) so it doesn't freeze in the museum 2) to avoid spending half my day transferring files.

There are about a gazillion things I could spend this first morning working from home doing. But something tells me, if I don't get this clutter straightened out, I'll spend the day going in circles. And while, I might feel fine about going in circles annually, during a work day "going in circles" is really just code for "spinning your wheels."

Can you work in clutter? What do you do to make transitions easier?

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Wordless Wednesday: The Mythical Firewood Arrives

Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Since, I don't know, February, Andy's been planning out our firewood for this winter. We got a cord of firewood a couple months back which, in reality, was probably plenty to get us through this winter, but we'd also been planning on getting some un-split, uncut firewood to put up to dry for next year. It finally arrived today!

Approximately 4 cords of firewood. (For the record, we use between 2-3 cords a winter.)

The wood kind of instantaneously multiples as soon as it falls out of the truck.
Guess these two tools'll be getting a workout in the next couple weeks. We're going to be nice and toasty this winter, for sure.
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The Power of A Post-It

Monday, October 17, 2011

Despite having slowly but surely pursued my goal of wanting to be a writer (whatever the means), for over a decade now, I still hide in humor when anyone asks me terribly pointed questions about my writing. I still feel like those writing goals and dreams still exist in a very dark, secret place in me, a place where I prefer to keep the light off for most people and sometimes, even for myself.

The truth is, I write about what interests me and what I feel like writing about at the moment. (How's that for a crappy answer to "what inspires you?") Other than becoming a financially self-sufficient freelance writer, I can't spell out specific goals that I want from my writing: fame doesn't seem too important, but I do want to succeed at living a thoughtful life doing what I love.

When people ask what I write, I really flounder. I'm not a niche writer (unless you count "Northwoods living" as a niche) and lately the only writing I do is stuff that pays me. The novel I worked so diligently at two winters ago has reached the point where it either needs to be abandoned or completely re-done and frankly, I'm kind of leaning towards abandonment. Don't they say the first two novels you write should never be seen by anyone's eyes other than your own? If so, prepare for greatness on my next effort because that'll be novel #3!

With my fiction (and most certainly my poetry) writing all but forgotten during the summer season, the other day, when a visitor at work asked about my writing, I forced my creative nonfiction writing into this nice little box: Northwoods memoir.  Memoir?*ugh*

But as I stood there babbling on in an effort to make my writing life sound mildly interesting, I realized the visitor wasn't the one cringing at my descriptions; I was. The guy seemed genuinely interested in what I do. He'd just bought a book my volunteer of the day had written a couple years back. (She was the one who mentioned that I wrote.) Turns out the visitor was a singer and he'd made it his mission in life to support the arts and artists.

I told him about my commentary. I wished my business cards weren't in a crumpled mess in the bottom of my backpack. He asked how he'd know when my book came out.

My book? The latest novel seemed like a slightly sad, if not valiant effort that might live for eternity on my hard drive. In the last couple years, I feel my writing has shifted towards a much more nonfiction focus, although I can't imagine publishing a nonfiction book. It seemed silly to talk about a book. Not because it seems impossible, but because it still feels like something very far off to me, something that has yet to be realized.

When was my book coming out?! The question baffled me. And maybe more than baffled, it embarrassed me. I'm so very far off from having a book published.

So I laughed. "Oh, I expect it'll be a very big deal," I joked, trying to play it cool and not expose my awkwardness; trying to force the conversation back into that dark, safe little place where we just don't talk about such things. 

"Well, give me something to write on," he said. I handed him a pad of orange Post-Its.

"Here," he said. He handed back the Post-It note pad. He'd scrawled his address across it and at the bottom he'd written a note: "1st signing of your book please!"

Validation in the form of a Post-it. In the light of day, that whole book writing thing didn't seem so silly after all. 

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Book Club Friday: Comfort Reads

Friday, October 14, 2011
Of Woods and Words

I've posted about comfort food before. (Mmmm, oatmeal.) But today, I'm thinking about comfort reads.

Yesterday, we had an entire day of rain. Although the inch + of rain we got was much needed right down to the very last drop, the grey, chilly weather signaled a decided turn in the weather. Good-bye sunshine and balmy highs in the lower 70s; hello autumn's windy gusts, chilly rain and highs in the low 40s.

Drizzly weather always makes me think one thought: time to make some warm beverage (preferably mint tea, cocoa or cocoa and Baileys) and cuddle up with a good book.

Granted, when I say "good book," let us not get that term confused with "great literature." Rainy days are good days for books I like to refer to as "fluffy puppies." Kind of like how whenever I was sick when I was little, the only books I could muster the strength to read during my ailment were The Boxcar Children, when the weather's grey and chilly, I don't want to really have to think about anything while I read, I just want to be transported to whole different place through the turning of pages.

On the way home from the wedding last month, we swung by my parents' house and I loaded up my tote with a bunch of what I call comfort reads.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants quartet. By Ann Brashares 
Technically I'm far too old to still enjoy these books. While I didn't much care for the movie renditions of these, (I love you Alexis Bledel but you don't even look Greek let alone like Lena.) I will always have a soft spot for these teenage novels. Through the eyes of Tibby, Lena, Carmen and Bridget, you get an honest look at confusion we feel about a myriad of topics our entire lives: love, family, friends, work, death. Without falling victim to being a solely romance driven novel, I give Brashares big props for talking about the full spectrum of life experiences and taking these novels well beyond the "there's this boy . . ."  cliche.  Besides, at times these are snort through your nose funny. And I still like to remind people at work of Duncan Howes rules for customer service: "Rule #1: the customer is always right. Rule #2: if the customer is not right, please refer back to rule #1."

The Anne of Green Gables series. By L.M. Montgomery.
If ever there were books that were meant to be paired with a rainy day, some hot tea and maybe a buttery cookie or three, Montgomery's classic Anne books would be it. I've read the entire series of eight novels, not once, not twice, but three times.  A couple summers back, I decided to go through the whole series again, but only got through novel #1. (Damn you adulthood!) Anne's life on Prince Edward Island is by no means idyllic -- she comes from a place where you're expected to work for what you have and her life is punctuated by mishaps and tragedies, both big and small. And maybe that's why she's so likeable; because her world seems so very true. I'd like to think Anne and I are kindred spirits. (But apparently I share one love with Montgomery's other main heroine - Emily - that of italics.)

44 Scotland Street books. By Alexander McCall Smith
I've only read these books once and I've only read the first three, back in 2007, when there only were three. Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, the novel covers the antics of the varied inhabitants of 44 Scotland Street which include a University student, an anthropologist, and an overbearing mother.  This is fluff at its finest. The plots are never fully realized and the characters are missing that one final touch that would truly bring them to life. But there's good reason for the basicness of the books: although they reads like a novel, the books were first published in serial form in an Edinburgh newspaper.  And something about those Dickens-ish roots (or Anne of Green Gables-ish for that matter) makes it all the more appealing.

What's your favorite comfort read?

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Wordless Wednesday: The Zucchini

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Last week, I pulled the last loaf of chocolate zucchini bread out of the freezer. It was kind of a bittersweet (or should I say, semisweet) moment.  But something tells me our zucchini bread days of the year are anything but behind us.

Yes, that is a zucchini the size of my forearm.

I know, I know. I said I was going to pull up the zucchini last week. But I didn't get around to it and now I'm paying for my negligence with many, many loaves of chocolate zucchini.

And I thought that cuke was big . . . 

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In the night . . . in the dark . . . things are brewing

Monday, October 10, 2011
It always comes just when you've let your mind wander. Outside the dark windows, the wind howled. I could hear aspen leaves pinging against the window screen and the dock grinding against its moorings out in the roiling bay. Occasionally, a distant creak and crash came from somewhere deep in the forest. The power flickered once . . . twice . . . three times, then prevailed. I re-queued the DVD, pulled at my ball of yarn and started another row of knitting. Nothing bad was going to happen. Not tonight.

But the phone rang at a time all too late and the wrong day (Friday) for it to be a friendly "check-in." And just as I said "hello?", Andy's emergency pager went off. So while I took a message from our neighbor that a tree had tipped into a live electric line down the road and nothing could be done to extinguish the small fire until the electric company came (from 70+ miles away) to switch off the power and would Andy come and help turn on the wildland fire sprinkler systems around the bay, Andy was wriggling into his fire gear. And suddenly, I was switching my pajama bottoms for real pants, shoving my feet into tired sneakers and running down the gravel road, the flashlight throwing a jiggling white light out into the darkness in front of us.

I should have known that a morning that dawned red could only mean calamity. But the unease I felt rising to a reddish orange glow in the northern sky dissipated as the day wore on, even as the wind kicked up. It was a red-flag day for the fire danger and the local agencies had banned fires of any nature. Not even charcoal grills were allowed. Water levels were so low that our "floating" dock sat on the lake's bottom and the dying grass and leaves in the woods crackled underfoot.

I left the flashlight with Andy and returned to cabin after it became apparent that my biggest contribution to the firefighting effort would be to stay out of the way. To the moan of approaching sirens, I crouched beneath the porch, fiddling with our own sprinkler pump. When I filled bottles of water from the lake shore for the pump's reservoir, the wind blew so hard that it flipped the bottom of my flimsy button-up shirt up over my chest and twisted the shirt around me.

The smoking tree burnt a 10'x10' patch under the power line before the electricity was shut off and the fire department could extinguish it. By the time I walked over with a thermos of coffee for the quickly fading volunteer crew, it was nearly midnight. Under the flashing glow of red emergency vehicle lights, I watched the firefighters rolling hoses and packing away chainsaws.

The wind still buffeted the cabin when I finally rustled under the covers. But as I listened to the floor boards creak and Andy toss and turn next to me, I tried to lull myself back into that sense of security I'd had earlier in the evening.

Nothing bad was going to happen. Not tonight.

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Fall's Fruit: Apples

Friday, October 7, 2011
I've been noticing a lot of posts popping up on the blogosphere lately about apples and what to do with them after picking a bushel or so of them.

There's no apple tree on the cabin property and honestly, I'm not sure if there is an apple tree on the Gunflint Trail; I suppose they constitute bear bait.

Growing up in my great-grandparents' house, we had three apple trees in the backyard, all in the "winter" of their life. For years we gathered loads of apples from the yellow transparent apple tree and turned out pies, applesauce, apple butter, and crisps. But after sustaining considerable bear damage, the trees finally kicked it and my parents planted two new apple trees the spring I graduated from high school. This year, eight years after the seedlings went in the ground, my parents' apple trees produced enough apples for a single apple crisp.

While I have fond memories of peeling apples and rolling out pie crusts, I wasn't expecting to join in the annual apple harvest this year. But Andy's mother's neighbor has a well-established apple tree that they apparently don't use and I was more than happy to take some apples off their hands.

I thought I'd share a couple of my favorite uses for apples in this post, besides apple pie. 
(Why is it that I can only ever get a picture snapped of mostly eaten pie?) I just used Joy of Cooking's apple pie filling recipe. The crust recipe is a secret. ;)

What with my new water bath canner and all, I knew I wanted to make a big batch of applesauce with the apples I scored this year. While some people (ahem, Andy) may say I eat like a kindergartener, to me applesauce is the ultimate comfort food.

Our family recipe for applesauce is pretty specific:
Fill a soup pot with apple slices. (At best guess, I'd say this is approximately 2 gallons of apple slices)
Add just enough water to keep the slices from sticking - start out with about a cup and add more water as necessary
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar.

Cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Puree if you like, but I prefer it chunky. Place hot applesauce into hot, sterilized canning jars. Process in water bath for 20 minutes. Makes approximate 3.5 quarts.

When I made applesauce earlier this fall, I rushed it along a little bit, which resulted in me using a high heat when cooking it and adding a lot of water. It still tastes homey, mildly sweet and delicious, but it's got some big chunks in it. If I were to do it, I'd probably simmer it for much longer over lower heat.

If I had more time (and apples) I'd have probably make a small batch of unsweetened apple sauce too for using in baking. I've made apple butter in the past and to be honest, I'm not over the moon about it. I guess I prefer berry-centric fruit spreads. Another favorite use for apples that are just about to turn is Magnolia Bakery's Apple Pecan Quick Bread.

May your baskets overflowth with apples this fall and may your home smell of cinnamon.

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Travel Thursdays: Where Would You Go?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Almost exactly four years ago, I was sitting in Chicago's O'Hare airport, waiting for my Aer Lingus flight to London, England, via Dublin, Ireland. I was participating in BUNAC's "Work Abroad" program, which provided me with a U.K. student work visa for six months. I'd booked a week in a downtown London hostel and I had a single job lead, but for the most part, I was heading off, all by my lonesome, to foreign shores, assuming everything would work out fabulously. (I think I was a lot braver back then.)

If you've been hanging around my blog for a while, you know everything did work out fabulously. Despite an unexpected return home at Christmas and more shuffling around through temp jobs than I really cared for, it was a wonderful six months of making new friends, sightseeing and life lessons.

But here's the rub: after wrapping up the adventure with a whirlwind tour through Ireland and returning home, I have yet to see foreign shores again. Various circumstances -- being a 20-something in a less than great economy, not exactly having a backpacker's mentality -- have kept me stateside since April 2008. Sure there have been other travels, but I haven't left the contiguous United States in 3.5 years!

The other night, as we sat around a campfire, my brother asked where I'd go if I could go anywhere in the world. He wasn't terribly impressed with my list (I've always been a rather elitist traveler) but here's my top 5 "to-see" list du jour.

5) Antarctica

I've been fascinated by Antarctica ever since reading the Shackleton/Endurance story in middle school. And also, who doesn't love penguins?

4) Alaska
 I think I'm drawn by the sheer magnitude and majesty of the place. I am admittedly, a little nervous about the grizzly bears.

 3) Australia
While both Alaska and Antarctica serve up plenty of snow and cold (which I'm all too familiar with), I've always wanted to see Australia because it seems like such a drastic departure from everything I know both from a climatic and cultural point of view.

2) Prince Edward  Island, Canada

When I first read the Anne of Green Gables books, I knew I need to go. What's not to love: beaches, countryside, wildflowers, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Sounds like just the sort of place to let your imagination run wild.

1) Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen's been at the top of my "to see" list for quite some time. I'm not really sure why. Despite the pickpockets and repeated vandalism of the Little Mermaid statute, I think it sounds quite lovely. I'd hate to say The Prince and Me had some influence in this matter, but perhaps on some unconscious level, it has.

If you were sitting in an airport today with the ability to go anywhere in the world, where you go?!

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