Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Perfect Song - End of Summer Version

We listened to Nick Drake's "Northern Sky" when we were driving back from our camping trip last week. This time of year, the light is at such an angle that the sky seems so big, especially in western Minnesota over the broad expanse of the prairie. I think this is my favorite Nick Drake song. It swells like your heart when you fall in love. Listen especially for the piano, which adds a beautiful complicated jazz layer that draws you even deeper into the song.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wild Life

It seems like every time I log on to Facebook these days, one of my friends has a story about bat invasion. Seriously, what's up with the bats this late summer? We had our own bat experience a couple of weeks ago when we heard rustling in our house in the middle of the night. Josh and I woke suddenly and both had the same thoughts: "Crap. The mice are back," and "Has that two-year exterminator warranty run out yet?" Then the noise seemed to stop and we hoped that whatever critter that had gotten in had found it's way out. We drifted back to sleep.

I woke startled by Josh's shout. It was wishful thinking that the creature left. Josh had felt it sniffing around his arm on the bed. When we turned on the lights, it had disappeared again into the night leaving a trail of dust bunnies from where it had been hiding under the bed after Josh yelled. Josh went down into the basement to check on the mead, fearing some sort of varmint infestation. I made fun of him that this was proof that the mead was his new true love. We slept uneasily for the rest of the night. There was no sign of any critters the next day.

Two days after our sleepless night, I was cleaning up the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher and starting a new load of dirty dishes. As I reached for some bowls to rinse off, I saw this:

Now, I am not a squeamish person, but I yelled pretty loud encountering some wet furry thing that looked like it had no head perched on our cereal bowls. I called Josh at work who talked me through the process of covering it with a strainer and carrying the bat and bowls into the back yard. The poor thing was so scared it didn't move at all, which was lucky for me because I think I would have had a heart attack. Josh had his turn making fun of me, until I emailed him the picture of what I was greeted with in the morning and he agreed it was pretty creepy.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer Reading Re-Cap

It's been a great reading summer. For the first time in years, instead of having a clear idea of what I wanted to read, I've enjoyed perusing the shelves on weekly visits to the library and picking up books that look interesting. I love that the Biography/Memoir section is closest to the children's section in our library branch so I can dig around in my favorite genre while still being able to keep an eye on the boys.

Three books stood out as my favorites this summer. Two of them are memoirs from local authors. The third falls in the "self-help" category. I stumbled upon all of them:

1. The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang. An exceptionally beautiful story about the author's family's escape from Laos, time in refugee camps in Thailand, and eventual immigration to St. Paul, MN.  The family triumphs through tremendous hardship by remaining committed to each other. The author's relationship with her grandmother is especially touching. The overall message is that family is a resource not a burden. This is perhaps the most emotionally engrossing memoir I have ever read (and I've read a lot).

2. The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd by Mary Rose O'Reilley. Another St. Paulite, the author builds a spiritual practice out of an apprenticeship learning to care for sheep at the agriculture school at the University of Minnesota. The book chronicles in detail the mindfulness that comes out of dealing with the bodily realities of livestock and juxtaposes it with her experience on a Buddhist retreat in France with Thich Nhat Hanh. O'Reilley's spirituality is planted firmly in the world, and I appreciate the way she struggles with her own surliness and frustration with trying to get along with other people.

3. Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything that You Love by Barbara Sher. A self-help book is most effective when it is asset-based and gives a name to a common phenomenon. Sher's book does both. She identifies the fact that while our culture values specialists as the most successful people, there is a whole group of creative people who pursue a wide variety of interests, activities, and careers who are successful in a non-traditional way. She calls these folks scanners and shows there is tremendous value (on a Leonardo DaVinci level) in their more prolific approach to their lives. As an incorrigible scanner,  I appreciate Sher's validation of my myriad projects (even the ones I've started and never gone back to.) My favorite quote is "the worst thing you can say about a scanner is that they finish things before other people think they should."

What were your favorite reads this summer?
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Great Minnesota Get Together

I admit it. I used to be a Minnesota State Fair hater. It's hard to ignore how much the event messes up traffic in our neighborhood. However, I started taking the kids a couple of years ago and I can now say I get it. I love the Fair. I have figured out a system that ensures that both the kids and I enjoy ourselves without burning out or breaking the bank.

First, we always go on a weekday early in the day. It's way less crowded and everyone in the family is freshest in the morning. I set a specific budget and bring that in cash. When the money is gone, we go home, which is usually around the time it starts to get more crowded and the kids are tired of walking. It's a win-win. We make sure our favorite things take priority for how we spend our money, we share treats, and take advantage of the Culligan stand with its free water instead of buying pricey drinks. We're lucky that we can take the city bus from our house to the fair so parking is never an issue (plus the bus ride is added fun!)

Here are some of our State Fair favorites:

Rides on the Kidway. This year Charlie was big enough to go on the rides with Ellis. It's going to be a big deal when we graduate from the Kidway to the Mighty Midway.

Robot Demos in the Education Building. This was a new activity this year. My friend Amy turned me onto this and Ellis just loved watching high school kids compete with robots they created. I need to figure out how to get Ellis more involved with Minnesota FIRST Robotics Competition. It's right up his alley.

The Skyride, which gives a great view of the whole fair and plops you down right by Sweet Martha's Cookie Jar.
And speaking of food:

You are not officially at the Fair until you eat your first deep-fried cheese curd.

The boys share one Hawaiian Shaved Ice very nicely. It's not my favorite, but they sure love it and it keeps them hydrated.

Cookies and Milk from Sweet Martha's (always the take home bucket size so we can have a little reminder of our fun day when we get home later). I ration them, and after cookies, I always make the boys burn off the sugar by walking back through the Fair to our bus stop so there are no sugar beast meltdowns.

It's worth it to see their chocolate-smeared happy faces.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hairy Dilemma

I just took the boys for haircuts. As a general rule, I cut their hair short every six months or so and then let it grow out until they look pretty shaggy. I take them to Kids' Hair, which is a bit pricey, but worth the money because the boys actually enjoy going to get their hair cut. They get to watch a video in the chair, there's plenty of toys while you wait, and they get suckers and stickers at the end.

It's a relief to be so low-maintenance about the boys' hair. I've had a life-long battle with my own hair to get it to look the way I want. I have a great stylist, but I shell out big bucks for it every two months, plus all the goop I put in my hair. Josh has tended to be more like the boys, getting shorn periodically at the cheapest possible price and letting it grow until it begins to bother him. I admit that I haven't always been positive about his haircuts, hating those first super short days, but getting used to it as it grows out. Finally last year, he began to let his hair grow because I tend to be a fan of long-haired men. Now it's super long and almost always back in a pony tail (I would kill to have that gorgeous blond mane, but that's another story).

He's growing tired of his long hair. Fair enough. It's pretty long. He asked me what he should do and I suggested that he get his hair cut like another bearded super-hottie, Ray LaMontagne:

The problem? He's never actually gone into a salon and asked for a specific haircut and doesn't know where to go. Also, he will then have to get his hair cut on a regular basis and the maintenance just seems like too much work. I told him that, if that's the case, he should just take advantage of the fact that nobody really cares what a guy's hair looks like and go back to his old cut, grow, cut strategy. Somehow that's not satisfying either (perhaps because I don't ever like how his hair looks when it's first cut?). Is there some solution that we're missing here?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tick Tock

Yesterday, Amanda at SouleMama posted her "Summer's-Almost-Over List." Here at the tail end of August, I find myself making the same list. The kids start school two weeks from today, the State Fair starts Thursday, and I just received the email with the Alaska grandparents' itinerary for their annual autumn visit. "Not so fast!" says I.

Here's my list of things I want to do in the next two weeks to squeeze the most out of these last carefree days:
  • Go on a day trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior.
  • Take the kids to the State Fair.
  • Make pickles with some of our huge crop of carrots.
  • Have a front porch camp out with Ellis.
  • Have at least one more beach day.
  • Visit Papa at the Zoo.
  • Enjoy the last days of super slow mornings.
There may be some chores that need to be neglected in order to accomplish all this good living, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 22, 2011

Camping Adventure

Friday we drove west through small towns out into the prairie to Glacial Lakes State Park for a one-night, low-key family camping trip.

Did you know that many Minnesota state parks have camper cabins that you can rent for just $50 a night?

They are lovely wooden cabins that sleep up to six people in bunk beds.

Since this was our first attempt at camping with the boys, we had a very mellow itinerary. We did a little swimming in the lake, some short walks, and cooked food over the fire. Next time, it will be tempting to rent a canoe to paddle around the lovely pristine lake.

It rained most of the evening, but we didn't mind. We were cozy in our cabin. Papa played guitar and harmonica. I read aloud chapters of Little House on the Prairie. Before going to sleep, we sat in the dark on the screen porch listening to the rain fall.

The best trips are always the simplest ones. Charlie said, "Can we do this adventure all the time?"

Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 19, 2011

On the Bank of the Mighty Mississippi

It seems the weather gets better with each passing day. We take every chance we get to be outside. Yesterday, we headed to Crosby Park and our favorite stretch of the Mississippi River shoreline. You know it's a good place when Charlie takes his shoes off to spin, climb and run around barefoot. It was gloriously muddy. Ellis took a stick and drew pi over and over in the sand. I sat on a log watching the sun-sparkled water flow by and marveling at the gnarled exposed roots of old trees. We lingered and then took the path deeper into the woods, Ellis on his bike riding ahead and me walking with the still barefoot Charlie and the sticks, rocks and mud balls he collected along the way.

There's something about that river and those primordial-like woods that makes me feel connected in history to every moment that preceded us in that space. Our story is part of the great fabric of stories of people drawn to the power of the Father of Waters.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Highest Use of Scavenged Black Raspberries

Not to be outdone by all my pickling, Josh has found his own way to store up the good things of summer. All the wild black raspberries that were picked back in July are being put to use for tasty adult beverages to enjoy throughout the winter. Josh started making mead with friends last year and decided to branch out on his own this summer with supplies from Northern Brewer Homebrew Supply. The pictures above show part of the process for creating a black raspberry melomel (the fancy word for mead with fruit in it). He started with a plain mead (fermented honey), then transferred it and added black raspberry mash. After more fermentation, he transferred it again to clarify it and get out all the seeds and fruit mash. There's a bit more waiting and fermentation before bottling.

I joke that the mead is his new true love because upon arrival home from work in the evening he immediately goes down to check how it's faring. Of course, with that beautiful reddish purple color, he certainly picked a looker.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Libraries are Cool

I'm enjoying the opportunity to take full advantage of the St. Paul Public Library system this summer. I just found another cool service they offer to library patrons. It's a free music download service called Freegal (a cute play on free and legal). All you need is the same login account that you use to access online renewals and requests for materials, and you are allowed to download up to three free songs per week (access resets every Monday). The catalog is pretty large, including many different genres.

If you don't live in St. Paul, you should see if your local library offers this service, which libraries can pay a fee to belong to. You should also make sure to support funding for your local library system, many of which are facing cuts in these tough financial times.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Farmer's Market Tuesdays

One of my favorite weekly rituals that I established this summer is the Tuesday trip to the farmer's market. The farmer's market is a great way to fill in the blanks from my vegetable garden for things we didn't grow, or in the case of our curious non-fruit producing but otherwise healthy zucchini plants, things that just didn't work out. I'm a total supporter of local vegetables, if only for the reason that they stay fresher much longer in my refrigerator than the grocery store variety.

Is it strange that I find vegetables really creatively inspiring? In addition to giving me all sorts of cooking ideas. The range of colors and shapes are so visually rich that I feel a beauty-induced uplift when I walk through the stands of the market.

The rhythm of our life is about to change again as the kids head back to school in a couple of weeks. I'm glad the Farmer's Market will be open until the end of October to bridge the journey from the easy, outdoorsy, relaxed summer days into the more structured schedule of the school year.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tomato Time

Sorry, carrots. My apologies, green beans. My regrets even to you, wonderful fresh herbs. I would never dream of having a favorite child, but I feel no guilt about preferring one crop far above all the others. Oh, tomatoes, you are the whole reason I started vegetable gardening in the first place. You are like candy to me. I'm so happy that we have reached the time when I can head out in the yard each day and find some of you bright red (or bright yellow), sun-warmed, and perfect with a level of deliciousness right off the vine that can never be matched in any grocery store or even farmer's market.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Day At the Park

Glorious weather + free mini-golf game won by Mama last week + a city park full of fun things to do + the courage to ride the horses this time on the carousel + harmonious fraternal relations = Carpe aestatem (seize the summer).
Posted by Picasa