Life Without Television

Tuesday, January 31, 2012
I feel like I talk a big talk about the fact that we don't have a television. I feel like I've lead people to believe that we lack a t.v. because we prefer more intellectual entertainment such as listening to NPR or sipping boxed  fine wine and having compelling discussions about foreign politics over dinner. Perhaps I've lead you to believe that our nightly entertainment is annotating the margins of literary classics.

And I wouldn't be lying if I told you that MPR is on at least once every single day in the cabin or that I've spent the last three nights cuddled up on the couch reading an increasingly tattered copy of Anne of Avonlea.

But here are some truth facts about the whole "sans tv" situation.
  • We don't have room for a tv.
  • I don't want to pay the bills the service
  • I prefer to get my TLC and Bravo fix in short but intense doses when visiting others.
And remember that Netflix account?

Yep, this weekend Andy totally upped our Netflix account so we can have three DVDs at a time.

Can we claim superiority over all t.v. owners out there? I think not.

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The Freelance Writing Trenches: Get Organized

Monday, January 30, 2012
typewriter Freelance writing isn't exactly rocket science. Honest.

No matter how daunting the query system may appear, freelance writing is simply a perpetual game of cat and mouse between you and various publications.

Boiled down, the freelance system looks like this:
1) You pitch a job.
2) You get the job. (Or you don't, in which case, return to step 1)
3) You complete and submit the job.
4) Job is accepted and publication is scheduled
5) Upon publication, you get paid.
6) Rinse and repeat.

The only teensy, weensy issue with the above system is that you're hopefully going to have multiple jobs at various stages in the above system all the time. Suddenly things aren't so linear.

That's where a freelancer organization system comes in.

Using the freelancer organization system, let's revisit the freelancing system.

1) You pitch a job. (Record in your pitch log.)
2) You get the job. (Record in your pitch log.)
3) You complete and submit the job. (Record in your submission log)
4) Job is accepted and publication is scheduled. (Create and submit invoice)
5) Upon publication, you get paid. (Record payment in submission log or using your accounting software.)

I use basic Excel spreadsheets for my pitch and submission logs*. Because I'm a nice person, here are downloadable templates of the spreadsheets I use to organize my freelance writing jobs:

Pitch Log 
Submission Log

I find these have all the columns I need but you can tweak the templates however you like. I'm not a stickler for filling in every column either - for example, if it seems irrelevant to fill in the publication's physical address, I just leave it blank.

I use the pitch log quite faithfully because it keeps me accountable and also prevents me for duplicating queries, which would be mighty embarrassing. You'll notice at the very far right column, I have a spot where you record alternative publications where you might pitch the same idea. It's always good to have a contingency plan in case your first choice market doesn't bite. If it's an idea you're sold on, pitch it until you have a nibble!

If I'm being honest, in the excitement of actually getting a job, I often fail to record the job in the submission log. Instead, the submission log is normally where I record any submissions to literary magazines. If I was going to be super organized, I would create a second sheet in the submission log devoted for pieces that are either submitted "on spec" or are submissions to literary magazines.(What's "on spec?" Click here!) That way one page would be devoted to awarded jobs and another page would be devoted to submissions of fully written pieces to publications for consideration (just a pitch with a finished product, really.) Use the submission log however you like.

When I'm ready to invoice, I use QuickBooks because I have all of my finances running through the program. However, you can create your own invoice system easily using an invoice template and your submission log. Be sure to save each unique invoice somewhere on your computer. Record both the date you submitted the invoice and the date you expect to be paid by in the submission log. Upon payment receipt, record the date in the submission log and somehow mark the invoice as paid. If payment hasn't appeared by the follow-up date, it's time to send another invoice. 

*Spreadsheets are both adapted from examples from full-time freelancer Devon Ellington.
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Blog Goals. Oh, Blog Goals.

Friday, January 27, 2012
"So what are your current goals with Of Woods and Words?" Andy asked the other day.

We were in the middle of nowhere on yet another ice fishing adventure and frankly, at the moment, I was more concerned with downing a couple of cheesy crackers in front of the crackling fire than talking writer goals.

Goals for Of Woods and Words, you say?

When I started Of Woods and Words back in October 2009, of course there was that niggling thought in the back of my mind that it would be pretty bomb if my little blog went viral. Nearly two and a half years later I'm still here, but far from being the next Pioneer Woman. (But a girl can dream, right?)

When I post that first blog post, I was pretty ignorant of all things bloggy. I had no idea that blogging was such an industry. I quickly learned that your blog's success can be measured in any number of ways:
  • GFC followers
  • Page views
  • Facebook page likes 
  • Twitter followers
  • Ad revenue
  • Number of comments 
  • Etc. etc. 
There are many, many blog posts out there railing against the popularity contest that can be blogging. This isn't going to be another one of those posts. After all, success when it comes to blogging demands readership and the best glimpse of that readership comes in the form of statistics. I'd be lying if I said I didn't pay attention to my follower numbers. It feels good to be recognized by Minnesota Moments  as a Minnesota blogger. Recognition and growing numbers are always nice, think. 

Growth is important and will always be one of my goals with Of Woods and Words, but I'm not willing to achieve that growth by compromising the voice that's been long established on this blog. (There's a reason why you don't see giveaways here. . . maybe someday, but it seems out of character at the moment.) Quality over quantity any day.

When I started the blog, I wanted a place where I could write on a regular basis and gain some exposure as a writer. I feel I've been successful with that simple goal, but I also feel that's a goal without an expiration date. The only way to keep meeting that goal is to keep writing. So I will.

In addition to that basic founding goal, in the coming months, I'll likely be:
  • Continuing to explore sponsorship options - the blog might as well earn its keep and at least pay for its annual domain registration. 
  • Working to provide my wonderful group of readers with helpful and interesting content; namely, I'd like to make this blog more of a resource for aspiring freelance writers.
  • Recording more mundane details about life in the woods. If the blog is nothing else, it's an excellent diary/photo album and that in and of itself makes it invaluable to me.
Maybe someday, I'll have 1000 followers. Maybe someday I'll go back through the post and publish them as a collection of essays. Maybe.

Until then, I'm glad to have you along for the ride. I don't say it enough, but thanks for stopping by.

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A Dog Story

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
"You didn't tell Jack's story," Andy said, looking up from reading through Thursday's post.

It's true, when I posted the picture of Jack, the little Shetland sheep dog I dogsat on and off this weekend, I just didn't have time to share Jack's dramatic little tale.

Get your hankies, folks. Here comes a dog story ala James Herriot and Greyfriars Bobby.
Jack belongs to an elderly couple who live on the other side of our lake. In the last couple years, both of Jack's owners have been dealing with some major, serious illnesses. Then, after the Mrs. had been moved into an assisted living facility, the Mr. drove into town with Jack when they were in a single vehicle accident. The vehicle rolled multiple times while Jack bounced around like a ping-pong ball inside. Eventually the vehicle wrapped itself around a rock. 

Amazingly, both Jack and his owner survived. There were lots of broken bones and bruises on both counts. Although Jack popped right out of the damaged vehicle and was walking on the side of the road when the emergency vehicles arrived, he was rushed to emergency surgery where his spleen was removed.   

That accident changed a lot of things for Jack. Once he and his owner had recovered, his owners moved to a nearby city where it's easier for them to receive care and assistance for the time being. Unfortunately, Jack couldn't come with. Jack's owners hope to return to their home in the woods some day, but until they do, one of our neighbors up here is taking care of Jack. Jack visits his owners from time to time and according to all accounts, it's those reunions when he's happiest. 

I shared my dog sitting duties this weekend with another neighbor who lives not far from Jack's owners' place. While Dogsitter 2 was at work, yet another neighbor came over to let Jack out. (Jack's kind of a community dog by this point.) Dogsitter 2 always keeps Jack on a leash when he's let out, but the neighbor just let Jack out, assuming he'd do his business and head back inside. (This is a fair assumption as Jack usually does do this.) Instead, Jack took off down the road. The neighbor called and called, but Jack would not come back.

By the time Dogsitter 2 returned, the neighbor was panicked.

"Don't worry," said Dogsitter 2. "I think I knew where he is."

Dogsitter 2 walked over to Jack's owners' house. There were little pawprints leading up the steps to the front door of the dark house where Jack had pawed at the door, hoping to be let in. The pawprints then went back down the steps and wound underneath the porch. When Dogsitter 2 peer beneath the porch, he found Jack sitting underneath the porch where his pen used to be, his tail wagging like mad, waiting.

It's been months since the accident, but puppy dogs never give up hope on their beloved owners returning.

I told you that you'd need hankies.

P.S. Remember how I felt Jack was less than thrilled with how we spent Thursday? (And for the record: slow cooker yogurt was a bust.)

Don't worry. I totally won him over on Sunday.
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The Freelance Writing Trenches: Query Away

Monday, January 23, 2012
The morning started with a county-wide power outage. By the time the power was back up, it was snowing and it hasn't stopped yet. As the hours tick by, the snow's intensity grows. Currently, the far shore of the lake and even the ice house in the middle of lake have disappeared in asnowy whiteout. It seems like a good day to spend in front of the wood stove, drinking cocoa and planning next year's garden.
But as much as the wood stove beckons, after running my latest batch of receipts through QuickBooks, it appears that my time would be better spent sending some queries out. Time to up the income levels at Of Woods and Words!
Oh queries. A pain in the arse really. Yet without the query letter, where would any of us freelance writers of be?

There may be editors out there just dying to give you some work, but unless you specifically and articulately ask for that work, they're going to give the work to another writer who they already know exists. The query letter is our chance to both announce and prove ourselves. When starting out, query letters often seem like time-consuming missives sent off into the ether, but you really do need to query if you want paying gigs. The more you query, the more writing credentials you earn and with more writing credentials, the greater success you'll achieve with your query letters.

Moral of the story: just send out some query letters already!

Even though I now have a much higher rate of success with my query letters then when I started out three years ago, the truth is I don't query as much as I should. I find it easy to get overwhelmed by the process, even though I've done it many times.

Here's the basic process of how to write a query letter:

1) Research the publication you'd like to query.
2) Determine if the publication's a good fit for your writing. Be honest about this. Trying to get a square peg into a round hole really is a waste of time.
3) Come up with a brilliant article idea for the publication. Make sure this idea is fairly original and truly a fit for the publication. (You don't want to come off like Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, interviewing Julia Roberts for Horse and Hound.) You'll also need to check the archives to make sure the magazine hasn't recently published something similar.
4) Carefully outline your article idea. This means you need to use specifics - who you plan to interview, how you plan to organize the article, etc. Sell yourself as the best person to do the job by listing your credentials and highlighting anything else that might make you an especially good choice for writing this particular article. 
5) Submit - making sure you've addressed everything to the appropriate editor, have a completely error-free letter/email that make it sound like you actually know what you're talking about.

There are many, many how-to books devoted to the subject of query letters. My favorite remains Michael Perry's Handbook to Freelance Writing.

On average, a good query letter should take you at least an hour to complete. It's time consuming, which is why I like to procrastinate with them.

Happy querying!
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Fish dinner, dogsitting, and subzero days

Thursday, January 19, 2012
We had another ice fishing adventure yesterday. A much more successful adventure, I might add.

We returned to the same lake, but set up shop in a different area. It was another pretty cold day of ice fishing. It was below zero when we set out down the trail and the temperature probably rose to about 10 degrees while we were out fishing.
Luckily, there was a handy area to set up a little fire so we could boil water for tea and cocoa and warm up hands. We didn't spend too much time by the fire though because we kept having to run out onto the ice to check our tip-ups. Not a bad problem to have and all those trips back and forth on the ice sure keep you nice and warm!

In the end, we brought home three lake trout, some of which will be dinner tonight.
Today's shaping up to be the first day of completely subzero temperatures this year. Looks like we'll have a high of about -4 F today. Happily, it's a sunny day which means the cabin stays nice and toasty with passive solar. The pine grosbeaks at the feeders don't seem to mind the cold at all.

I also have a companion today. This is Jack, the neighbor's dog, who I'm sitting, on and off, over the weekend.
So far, Jack is pretty underwhelmed by daily activities at Chateau du Bois et Mons. Sorry Jack, some of us work for living. After yesterday's adventure, today's excitement is limited to work, making slow cooker yogurt (this is an experiment), bringing the night's firewood and pretty soon, a trip to the mailbox.

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Of Wind, Wool, and Stash Busting

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
A couple of you - okay, one - asked for some shots of my latest knitting projects after I posted about my knit-wit ways a couple weeks back. I'm happy to oblige.

I've declared 2012 the year of stash busting. I never meant to built up a stash of yarn (honest!), but somehow, with little bits being leftover from a project here and a project there, my yarn bag runneth over. Rather than devoting the winter months to a major sweater project like I have the last two winters, this year I'm all about using up the little odds and ends.

Let the stash busting begin!
I mention yesterday that I need new chopper liners. (Read yesterday's post if you don't know what chopper liners are!) However, after seeing my dad's literally disintegrating chopper liners over Christmas, I knew he need them more than I did. I used some red wool left over from a pair of mittens for Andy and a bit of almond left over from a wedding afghan for these guys. The mittens are double knit, which makes them extra cozy and much more wind resistant than most knit goods.

Andy's a big fan of the double knit concept (so much so that he has two pairs of mittens like the ones above) and when he found a couple bits of bulky yarn in my stash - leftover from some felted men's caps - he requested a double knit hat. So I improvised . . . 

Obviously, my off-the cusp pattern needs some perfecting since this was made to fit Andy, but just barely squeezes over my head. In my defense, I just barely had enough yarn to finish the cap as is. It's definitely not colors I would have chosen for myself (but are colors I had chosen for others' presents . . . ? Again in my defense, the presents were for men, if that makes an difference. . . .) but after taking this cap on last week's ice fishing adventure, it's proven itself to be a warm wind stopper.  I wear this cap when I walk out to the mail and am often so warm by the end of the walk that I have to take my mittens off.

My latest project is destined to be a stash busting failure though. Why? Because I'm going to run out of yarn before I finish with these anklets, made out of leftover yarn from another sock project! Not terribly good stash busting if you end up going out to buy more yarn, eh? Ah well, I'll just have to make another pair of socks with my new leftover yarn. ;)

If you're on Ravelry, feel free to friend me. I love seeing what everyone else is working on.

That said: What knitting projects are you working on - knitting or otherwise? 

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Ice Fishing: It begins

Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Ice fishing season is in full swing in the Northwoods. It's been lake trout season since December 31st on lakes completely inside the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and this past Saturday, the winter lake trout season started for all Minnesota trout lakes. Our lake was transformed into a veritable ice fishing village (above) this past weekend. Then Monday came and *poof* everyone disappeared.

This past week, before we could just head out the door and down the lake to fish, we set off down the road a piece and hiked about a mile into a BWCAW lake for the first ice fishing trip of the year.
Despite the fact that it was just above 0 (Yes, Fahrenheit), we set out in high spirits.Cold temperatures usually means sunshine and by the middle of January, you take sunshine over just about anything.
Headed up the Topper Portage, auger in hand
I'm not really sure why people ice fish. You know, when you boil it down it's basically: drill a hole in the ice, wiggle a string around in the water through the ice, get cold, go home.
But I suspect views like this have something to do with this chilly sport's appeal.
Beautiful South Lake with the Rose Lake Cliffs in the background
We didn't catch a single fish, nor even get a single nibble. Then again, we didn't stay out that long - only a couple hours because my hands got cold, probably because one of my chopper liners (aka, wool mittens which go inside large leather mittens, now in northern Minnesota as "choppers" for those who don't know Minnesotan) has a massive hole in it that need to get repaired before my next subzero excursion. On the portage out, we passed a guy who'd camped out on the lake the night before. In his sled, he had two large trout. "I'm not done with you yet, South Lake," Andy vowed.

To be continued . . . 
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The Freelance Writing Trenches: The Joys of a Professional Website

Monday, January 16, 2012
typewriter I've been punching at random buttons on websites and verification links in emails for the last hour and a half. I'm in the process of renewing my "professional" website's domain. Last January, when I set up the website, I assumed renewing my website's domain would be a walk in the park, something I could do in a semi-conscious state.   

Au contraire!

Why do I even have this &@#%! website, I grumbled to myself as I searched for yet another authorization code. And why do I bother with a "professional" website when I already have this kick-ass blog, you may wonder.

I have a few reasons for wanting a professional website for my freelance writing business:

1) It looks fancy. I believe the whole "dress to impress" business applies to the web as well. If I want to be viewed as a professional freelance writer than I bloody well ought to act like one. Having that website in my email signature just makes me feel more legit. And by feeling more legit, maybe you become more legit? (I don't know.)

2) It's good organization. This blog is lovely, but this blog is also all over the place. While I'm sure editors are dying get my wild rice venison sausage recipe or know that the Christmas tree finally went up, unfortunately, most editors probably don't have time to read through the Of Woods and Words archives to figure out who I am and whether or not I'm able to handle the writing gig they're thinking about giving me. My website provides a terse presentation of who I am and what I'm about. I can organize clips and link to my published works on a portfolio page which makes my professional website an easy place to send editors. And yes, I have referred editors to my website and have ended up getting a contract out it. Bam!

3) I own my domain. Granted, the domain I own for my professional website probably wasn't going to get snapped up anytime soon. But if I put off buying my domain, it might have gotten taken for some flukey reason before I could get to it. That would have made me tres unhappy. So I own my own dot com; no one can take it from me.

As you've probably guessed, it's point 3 in that little argument that's causing the problems. Since I built the website last year (through, I've been getting a slew of increasingly urgent sounding emails from Network Solutions about renewing my domain until it was going, going, gone.  When I actually got around to logging in to see how much they wanted for renewing my domain, I nearly spit out my morning Earl Grey.

You know that game where you take a number and you hold it in your mind?

Let's just say, I was holding a number under $10 in my mind for the annual renewal and Network Solutions was holding a number between $30 - $50 in their mind. (More too, if they could get you on various "extras.")

Time to transfer my domain. Enter GoDaddy.

This afternoon, I transfer my domain to GoDaddy to the tune of $8.17 for the year. Why was I with Network Solutions in the first place? When I signed up for wix last year, I qualified for a free domain for year. And hey, free bets $8.17 any day.

Is a professional website integral to my success? Probably not. But it's nice to have and it's generally headache free. Normal maintenance is an occasional "freshening up" of copy and updating the portfolio portion with new links and clips. On average, I probably spent about an hour a month on it. I used wix because a friend recommended it and because it seemed easy to use. You could also easily fashion yourself a website through wordpress or a variety of other website builders.

Let me know if you have questions.

Don't worry; I'm a professional.

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Why Women Need Fat: a book review

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Queen was right. Fat bottomed girls really do make the rockin' world go 'round.

At least, that's the claim Drs. William D. Lassek and Steven J. C. Gaulin lay out in their new book, Why Women Need Fat: How "Healthy" Food Makes Us Gain Excess Weight and the Surprising Solution to Losing It Forever. The book grew out of Lassek and Gaulin's anthropology study on why men prefer women with an hourglass figure. (Like all things evolutionary, it boils down to babies.)

Through the study's research, the authors noticed that women started to lose their hourglass figures when Americans began increasing their  consumption of vegetable-based (or omega-6) fats in 1950s. Vegetable oil is cheap and used in many of our processed foods. At the same time, we've been reducing our consumption of the fat we really need, omega-3 fat which comes from animal based fats such as butter and lard. While omega-3 fat is stored in our hips and legs until it's needed during pregnancy, omega-6 fat tends to go to our waists, Gaulin and Lassek say. 

With its catchy title, it's tempting to use this book as an excuse for seconds of dessert. But as much as American women should likely be increasing their omega 3 fat intake, the authors state that an increase of omega 3 fat needs to met with a decrease in omega 6 fats, especially corn and soybean oils.

The book doesn't offer a quick fix diet. In fact, the authors claim that dieting as it's practiced in the U.S., with attempts to drop significant portions of weight in a relatively brief period of time, is destined to fail. Instead, Lassek and Gaulin outline a compelling, easy to read argument for permanently changing our eating to center around whole foods. By moving away from processed foods and bad fats, they say, over time (we're talking years here) you'll shed unnecessary. One the things I most enjoyed about the book was how articulately it encouraged women to look at their weight in a more thoughtful way.

As long time member of "Team Butter," this book confirmed many of my suspicions - that the best thing you can do for your body is ditch the diets, make a permanent change to your eating habits, and keep real food on the table. 

You can join "Team Butter" yourself over at the BlogHer Book Club. Here's to a healthy lifestyle that's surprisingly delicious!

Disclosure: I participated in this review for the BlogHer Book Club. I was compensated for my time and received a complimentary copy of the book, however all opinions expressed in the review are my own.
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Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Wolf tracks Andy and I discovered on a walk last week
One afternoon, back when the ice was forming in December, I watched two large dogs carefully pick their way across the slick new ice at the mouth of the bay. Orange and rosy hues from the sunset reflected in the ice, casting the two dogs in a golden glow. The larger of the two dogs had disappeared onto the shore by the time I'd grabbed the binoculars. As I peer out at the smaller dog, who was obviously struggling to keep her footing on the ice, I realized she was a dog, yes, but not one I'd  be playing fetch with any time soon. I'd just watched two wolves cross the ice I'd been skating on not long before.

Wolves aren't an unusual sighting in these parts. In fact, in the last year, I've seen more wolves in the wild than I've seen moose. Minnesota has the wolf herd of approximately 3000, the largest wolf herd in the contiguous United States. Last month, the wolves were delisted from the endangered species list in the western Great Lake states and that means there's the possibility of there being a wolf hunt in Minnesota this year. 

Although they're fairly ubiquitous, I can't help feeling a little apprehensive about it all. I know it's silly, probably just childhood conditioning from stories such as Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs kicking in. My senses prick up when I hear the faint howl of wolves in the evening. As fascinating as it was to stumble upon a pair of wolf tracks when Andy and I were hiking down the lake last week, it also reminded me that I'm sharing these woods with some large predators.

This summer, a wolf grabbed the neighbors' dog by the ruff before the wolf was scared off. (Granted, this same dog was also bitten in the bottom by some critter, probably a bear, this summer. Curiosity got the black lab?) More recently, just this month, another acquaintance's dog was killed by a wolf. The local radio station is issuing warnings like this.

The other day I was bemoaning my lack of activity this winter. When Andy suggested a solo hike down the lake, I quickly poo-pooed the idea. I said I don't like trudging through the snow, but frankly, the wolves kind of put me on edge.

"You're right," Andy said (ironically?). "It is wolf mating season."

Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf? Not me . . . ?
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The Winter That Wasn't

Tuesday, January 10, 2012
It might look like winter outside, but don't be fooled. This morning I woke up to a 71 degree inside temperature and a 32 degree outside temperature. Absurdity!

About this time last year, we were bundling up through -30 degree temperatures. That's a 60 degree difference between then and now!

Last year, it was perfectly normal for me to bring sled loads of firewood into the house each afternoon. This year, I bring in 1-2 loads that I can carry in my arms in each day. If this weather keeps up, we'll have enough firewood left out back to get us through the next two winters. (Heck, I'd be okay with that!)

I've been around long enough to have experienced the unseasonable weather cycles that El Nino and La Nina have thrown at us before. I remember walking the dog in a jean jacket (does that date me?) one January during my high school years. I remember the next winter delivered bone chilling temperatures. This ebb and flow of "real winter" and "fake winter" has become normal in recent years. Global warming? I'm tempted to lean that way, but I don't claim to really know what's prompting the swing in winters. 

I may fully acknowledge the "normalcy" of this "unseasonable-nsh", but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

This "half" winter is wearing, almost more wearing than a "real" winter. During a "real" winter, you can bundle up stoically and act all tough and hardy. But a "half" winter holds out the optimistic promise of spring just out of reach, until we start to feel like Pavlov's dogs. 

Because it's just winter enough to be a total pain in the arse. The days are growing longer, but it's still dark the majority of the time. With my winter driving paranoia, it still takes me nearly two hours to get to town.(I wish I was kidding. Anyone who's ever gotten stuck behind me on this slow moving journey wishes I was kidding too.) Normally, a string of 32 degree days means a big melt up ahead (spring! flowers! migration!) but in "half" winter, a string of 32 degree days is just par for the course. It just a God damned play on your emotions and hopes, that's what. 

And I know the local businesses are lucky to have the snow that we have. As one of the few places in the state country with snow, it should be a decent winter season. This is a good thing. The little snow makes it easy to move the woods and we should have some downright balmy ice fishing adventures if this warm weather keeps up. More good things.

Still, me and my seasonal affective disorder can't help hoping that this "half" winter gives way to "full" spring in the blink of an eye.

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The Wild Rice Venison Sausage Recipe

Monday, January 9, 2012
Happy Monday y'all! It's another sunny morning in the Northwoods and it looks like it's going to be a warm one. Andy mentioned last night that if this warm weather keeps up, we're going to have four cords of firewood left at the end of the winter. I'm not going to complain about that, but this unseasonable weather does make me think I should be starting seeds any day now. Unfortunately, my friends, that day is still a long ways off.  *sigh*

This morning, I had an email waiting for me, asking if I ever found a recipe for wild rice venison sausage. I sure did!
In fact, we're just finishing up a batch of Northwoods pasties, made with a pound of the wild rice sausage we made back in November. I'm not sure how my Cornish ancestors would feel about "Northwoods pasties" which are definitely a departure for the traditional Cornish pastie, but wild rice venison sausage wrapped in pastry with potatoes, onions, rutabaga, and carrots = yummy in my book.

So I figured, no better time than now to share the recipe. Hopefully by sharing it, we'll give Google an actual useful search result for "wild rice venison sausage recipe" and spare others the frustratioof just finding a lot of web results about serving wild rice with venison sausage. (In the end, not what I was looking for.)  

Wild Rice Venison Sausage
1 lb ground venison
1 lb ground pork
2 cups cooked, cooled wild rice 
3/4 cup chopped onions
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning (I used McCormick's)
2 teaspoons dried chicken stock
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well combined. (I always just dive in with my hands, but be warned, the raw onion may react with your skin. Don't worry, the tingling will go away after a couple minutes - the sense of having an allergic reaction is only temporary. ;P ) Run the mixture through your meat grinder to further combine ingredients, then cover bowl and place in fridge overnight. The next day, after testing for seasoning by frying up a small bit, divided in pound portions. Package in freezer bags, then wrap in freezer paper, label, and freeze. Alternatively, you can package this in casings. I have never done this; for me, it's easier to just freeze the sausage in bulk and I've always found more than enough use for the bulk sausage. 

Please note: I quadrupled this recipe, so all measurements are approximate. Best practice is to measure out the amount of the spices that seem right to you (i.e. you might want to cut down on the pepper, but increase the salt, depending on your taste). You can always adjust seasonings the next day after they've had a bit of time to "marry" in the fridge.

We use the sausage in egg bakes, pasties, or just fried up in little patties. Use it anyway you like and let me know if you make improvements to the recipe.

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Friday, January 6, 2012
There are certain signs that your knitting "hobby" has morphed into something slightly uncontrollable.

For example, just last night, Andy and I sat down to watch The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I'd heard good things about the film adaptation and I loved, loved the book as a kid, so I was looking forward to it. But almost as soon as the film began, it became clear that film was trying too hard. It just didn't match the cozy, funny, and slightly dark children's book I remembered reading over and over again. I could have considered the movie a bust, but there was some take away value in the film: Mrs. Fox had some great sweaters in that film. And yes, I do realize I'm talking about the wardrobe of a puppet right now.

Keeping an eye out for knitwear can really get you through some dogs of films. Honestly, if the makers of the Lifetime biopic of Coco Chanel hadn't dressed their leading lady in such a beautiful sweater throughout various scenes, I doubt I would have made it through the whole thing. (I mean, Shirley Maclaine as Coco Chanel? Please . . . .) But the sweater is gorgeous. So gorgeous that I stalked the internet for stills of it so I could fashion a pattern after it.

I went to Sherlock Holmes: the Game of Shadows over the holidays. Like any Guy Ritchie film, I spent most of the film wondering what the heck was going and why everyone was beating each other up all the time. By the time I left the theatre though, I had an idea that maybe I could make a sweater or vest with cables based off of the motifs in the Oriental rugs showcased in the interior decor throughout the film. 

I'd feel a little self-conscious about this, but I know for a fact that Maggi over at Just Add Glitter and Stir does that exact same thing. Whatever floats your boat, eh?   
What are unusual things you notice in movies?

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What's In A Name?

Thursday, January 5, 2012
Despite not sending any Christmas cards out this year, we received a fair amount of holiday greetings. They spread out over the tops of three shelving units in the living room, forming a merry hodgepodge that inspired a major feng shui attack on Saturday. The cards are all packed away now (why I don't just recycle them, I don't know, but I always pretend I'll use them for "craft projects" at some undetermined date) but the memory of these cheery little greetings live on.

This holiday season that's just passed us by marked Andy's and my fourth Christmas together and our third living together. Ever since that fateful day when I moved in, how the joint mail we receive is addressed has been a source of amusement. More often than not, our holiday cards come addressed to me - my full name - with Andy's first name tacked on after that.  Occasionally it goes the other way though, with my name tacked on in an "afterthought" sort of way. Rare is the sender who lists both our full names (all spelled correctly) and uses our correct address. 

It's a common misconception, but Andy and I are not married. Or engaged. The vast majority of mail we receive recognizes and reflects this fact in its own awkward way.  

So it was a little surprising this holiday season to receive a card addressed to what my married name would be if I weren't planning to hang onto my maiden name anyway. No mention of Andy was made anywhere on the card - just my first name and Andy's last name . . . combined. Andy and I exchanged bemused looks as we examined the envelope.

The percentage of women taking their husband's last names is higher than ever. (The big exception to this rule are women who are firmly established in their careers before marriage.) I have no issues with taking your husband's last name; especially in this land of _____sons if taking your husband's last name lands you with a more unique and interesting name.

But I have no desire to change my name. It's unique, it sounds nice, and it earns me the distinction of being the only person on Facebook with such a name. Sure it gets mispronounced all the time (sometimes I feel like that Ting Tings song - "That's Not My Name"- was written about me), but as a freelance writer, my name is my brand and contains an idea of who I might be.

I looked at my name printed on the envelope with Andy's last name and I felt like I was looking at a ghost of myself. Just let me grabbed my pearls, heels, and the vacuum and call me Mrs. Andy.  Who needs feminism when you've got a man?

One thing that's always irritated me is when a married women's name is reduced to just a "Mrs." in front of her hsuband's full name. I mean, what are we? Chopped liver? Silent partners? Yet, I've been going through the guest books from work lately and happened upon a woman who wrote out her full name then put in parentheses "Mrs. John." I know for a fact her husband has been deceased for years.  

What's in a name? Ideally the person we are most proud of being.

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2012: A Freelancer's Fiscal Resolutions

Monday, January 2, 2012
The finished product
As I sat in the back bedroom on New Year's Eve, smoothing out tissue paper, folding it up, and piling it in a box for use during next year's holiday season, it seemed like a good time to make some fiscal resolutions for 2012.

Don't get me wrong, although I am the anal person who opens her presents by carefully lifting up each piece of tape on the package to minimize wrapping paper damage, things are not so tight around here that I iron wrapping paper for reuse. (I only do that if the paper's real cute.)

However, I am cheap enough to see no point in piling all the tissue paper into the recycling bin, when there's absolutely no reason why I can't use it again next year. It's just going to get all crumpled up again when it gets used: who cares about a few wrinkles?

Kind of like how Scarlett O'Hara shoves a dirty turnip into her mouth and melodramatically proclaims, "I'll never be hungry again" at the end of Gone with the Wind, I sat there smoothing out the tissue paper and thought, please 2012, allow me to smooth tissue paper not out of necessity but because I abhor unnecessary waste.

Here's how am I resolving to make it through 2012 without feeling like a poor person:

1) Christmas Fund 
Every December, I have that "reach for the paper bag and hyperventilate" moment when I realize I have extremely limited funds to figure out lovely, meaningful presents that don't look cheap. To prevent this horrifying experience from repeating itself in 2012, each week in 2012, I'm setting aside $10 into a Christmas fund. By December, I'll have nearly $500 saved up for Christmas presents and related expenses (i.e. tissue paper) - more than enough to cover everyone on my gift checklist. 

2) Freelance pay check percentages 
I've been making my way through Joseph D'Agnese and Denise Kiernan's  The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed. The book does a great job of charting out a system for freelancers to manage their sporadic payments. One of the key ideas pushed in the book is to take each incoming payment and immediately take out a set percent for taxes (taxed income does have its perks!), retirement and the emergency account. I'll be putting that method into practice for all of my freelance checks this year so those funds are used more effectively and thoughtfully, rather than just throwing the payments at whichever bill is most in need at the moment of receipt.

3) Invoice tardy clients 
I have a regular client who pays me whenever they feel like it. Whenever they feel like it is usually months after my work's been published - around the time when I've forgotten what I wrote and what I'm owed, actually. This method is stressful and also makes it difficult for me to catch discrepancies. Now that I have all my financials running through QuickBooks, this client's totally getting invoices. At least one of us can be on top of things that way. 

Do you have plans to make 2012 a less stressful financial year?
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